20th Parliament · 1st Session
Uranium 1607 in a statement that emanated from London, to the effect that Australia was selling uranium oxide, because it is only the oxide that we are selling, at 16s. 3d. a unit. That statement meant that Australia was selling its uranium oxide at something less than 9d. per lb., which was ludicrous. The matter rested there for a while, but yesterday the Mirror newspaper published a categorical assertion that repeated this old London story, and alleged that the price was 16s. 3d. a unit. I denied that in the House yesterday, and gave the House very specific assurances. It is significant that in a later edition of the same newspaper the price was jacked up 22 times by an allegation that the price of our uranium was 16s. 3d. per lb. I want to say that the newspaper is still wrong.
Mr. LUCHETTI- I direct to the Prime Minister a question that deals with Australian uranium resources, the price being paid for Australian uranium, the reserves of fissionable material in Australia, and the exchange of atomic information between Australia and the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Will the Prime Minister, if he is not prepared to take the House into his confidence and disclose the price being paid for our uranium abroad, give favorable consideration to the appointment of a select committee which may be informed regarding the price being paid, the quantities of fissionable material that are being retained for Australian atomic development, and of what difficulty exists at present to prevent the free exchange of atomic information? Has any action of the Government hindered the free exchange of information between the United States of America and Australia? Has the nest of traitors which was once referred to by another Minister anything to do with the refusal of the United States Government to pass atomic information on to the Australian Government?
Mr. MENZIES. - The honorable gentleman’s question embraces many questions, and I do not profess to remember them all accurately in their order. If I may take the last aspect first, the matter of appointing a select committee, the honorable member knows, because I have stated it myself on at least one prior occasion in this House, (that ‘ the only uranium that has been sold prospectively - because at the moment our uranium is in a stage of development - has been sold to the Combined Development Agency, which represents the United Kingdom and the United States of America. One of the terms of the sale is that there shall be no disclosure of the price, and it would be absurd to suppose that this Government, or any other Australian government, would violate such an important term of a contract. The honorable member is concerned, as we all are, about having an adequate exchange of technical information on this important matter. I. venture to say that there would be no exchange of technical information with us if the’ first thing we did was to disclose a secret term of an agreement with the Combined Development Agency.
Mr. Morgan. - Who are the members of that body?
Mr. MENZIES.- They are the Government of the United Kingdom and the Government of the United States of America.
Mr. Morgan. - Are there no outside bodies ?
Mr. MENZIES.- No. This is purely a governmental agency with which we have made a contract in relation to uranium to be produced in Australia. The contract is limited both in point of time and in point of quantity. I have indicated previously - and I think it is high time that this was fully understood all over Australia - that we cannot disclose the price without disclosing quantities. That is elementary.
Mr. Ward interjecting,
Mr. MENZIES.- Even the honorable member for East Sydney, if he were given the price, could look at the revenue of the Atomic Energy Commission and discover the quantity by dividing one sum by the other. This Government has made no contract of any other kind and has not entered into a commitment of any other kind. It knows just as well as anybody else - and it ought to know better than anybody else - that it is essential, in the event of uranium being put to civil uses, whether for power production, medical research or some other purpose, that we should retain command over our own uranium resources. No argument arises on that issue. We agree also, in reply to other parts of the honorable member’s questions, that there is a powerful case for a fuller exchange of technical knowledge, primarily between the United States of America and the United Kingdom. Most of the research work in this field in the free world is being carried out iti those two countries and in Canada. We know perfectly well, and we have said so at every convenient opportunity, that we might easily reach a point at which one country was concealing from its friends information that was already in the hands of its enemies. I am well aware of that possibility and I have emphasized it on behalf of Australia as strongly as possible in the appropriate quarters. However, we are not the masters in this matter. There are laws and conventions in other countries. The process of changing them is not sudden, but gradual. We are continuing to exercise our persuasive capacity in that field.
Mr. GALVIN”. - My question is directed to the Minister for Supply. Did the South Australian Government outsmart this Government in negotiations about the price to be paid for uranium oxide ? Is it a fact that the price received by this Government is much lower than the price received by the South Australian Government?
Mr. BEALE. - The honorable member has got the bull by the tail. The South Australian Government did not outsmart this Government. In the negotiations that took place with the Combined Development Agency, this Government was a. party to the arrangements made by the South Australian Government. Indeed, it is a curious thing that in all this hoo-ha. that has gone on about the price of uranium, there has been no criticism of the South Australian Government, although the price of uranium sold by that Government has been fixed upon the same basis as the price of uranium sold by this Government.
– Will the Prime Minister, when he visits northern New South Wales towards the end of this month, be good enough to take time off to visit the steelworks of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited at Newcastle? 1 make this request because it has come to my knowledge that the Prime Minister, as head of the Government, has not yet visited this industry which produced so much to defend this country in time of war and to develop it in time of peace.
– This is a’ very embarrassing question. Of course, I have seen the steelworks many times. Whether I have seen them in my present term of office, I do not know, but I was under the impression that I was reputed in some quarters to be a spokesman of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited. I am indebted to the honorable member for pointing out that I seem to have neglected my clients shamefully.
– I understand that the Premier of Tasmania has requested that a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers be held to discuss the situation brought about by the suspension of quarterly adjustments of the basic wage. Will the Prime Minister indicate to the House his attitude in relation to such a conference ?
– I have had communications from the Premier of Tasmania on the subject. I think that the honorable member will realize that he should have a reply from me on the matter. I have noticed the developments that have taken place since the decision of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court was announced. Some of them are remarkable and deplorable. Any proposal that the Government should depart from its traditional policy of supporting the authority of the court will have no encouragement from me.
– Will the Prime Minister tell the House what transpired at the recent economic conference held in London? To what broad policies has Australia been committed ? Will the right honorable gentleman arrange an early opportunity for the House to discuss the outcome of the conference and of previous similar conferences?
– The conference of Commonwealth Prime Ministers in London was followed by a lengthy communique which dealt with those matters which were susceptible to public statements. Probably the main part of the work done at the conference was the development of precise proposals of a financial kind which, as they involve international negotiations, do not lend themselves to public statements. But I arn able to assure the honorable member that whatever plans were then evolved are calculated to help this country in common with all other countries in the sterling area.
– I address a question to the Postmaster-General. 1 crave I lie indulgence of the House to read a part of a very important letter which I received this morning from the secretary of the Leeton Branch of the Ear West Children’s Health Scheme. I regret that I am not permitted to mention names. The letter reads in part -
Last Friday, a doctor asked me if I would ii mingo for the immediate treatment of a girl nf eleven years to save her from going blind. I explained this to the telephonist at the Leeton Telephone Exchange. She replied, “ Just one moment, please “, and immediately I was talking to the matron of the Far West Home at Manly. I explained the case and, while I was talking to her, she got the eye specialist, then the appropriate person at the Children’s Hospital, and t was advised to send the girl and her mother to Sydney immediately.
Within five minutes of the doctor’s original request to mc he was advised of the arrangements. The doctor was greatly relieved, and lie expressed his heartfelt thanks.
This is not the first time that lives of children in this district have been saved by the immediate action of your telephonists.
– Order ! What is the honorable gentleman’s question?
– The letter continues -
Not. only have the parents of the child been greatly moved . by the co-operative spirit of the telephonists, but wo, as members of the lininch, have been greatly moved, too.
-Order ! What is the question ?
– Is the PostmasterGeneral aware of the valiant services rendered-
-Order ! I think the honorable gentleman is transgressing the Standing Orders.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral whether he is aware of the valiant services rendered by telephonists in remote localities, and whether he will convey the sentiments expressed in the letter to the appropriate people?
-Order! Expressions of opinion are out of order. The Postmaster-General may reply to the first part of the question if he desires to do so.
– The honorable gentleman has asked me whether I am aware of the public-spirited response by telephonists at Griffith to requests for immediate action by them in order to facilitate the procurement of medical advice and the transfer to hospital of a child who might otherwise have gone blind. I was not made aware of it prior to the honorable gentleman’s question, but . I should like to say that it is in keeping with the tradition of the postal services and Postal Department employees, particularly telephonists, when they are made aware of circumstances that necessitate immediate aid on their part. I think that the department’s employees will appreciate, as I, the Postmaster-General, certainly appreciate, the fact that the honorable gentleman has brought this matter before public notice, because too frequently the employees of the department are criticized when they might, instead, be praised.
– I ask the Minister for Health to describe the progress that has been made with the Australian Government’s campaign to eradicate tuberculosis in Queensland. How much has the Commonwealth contributed to the cost, of the campaign in that State?
– During the last four years, the Commonwealth has managed to provide an additional 400 beds for tuberculosis patients in Queensland. Only a few weeks ago it arranged also for the building of a hospital to provide 600 additional beds at Chermside, in Brisbane, at a cost of approximately £1,000,000. The Australian Government has provided 80 per cent, of the total expenditure by the Queensland Government on maintenance of all kinds, and it is arranging also for mass X-ray surveys to be conducted throughout the State and for the establishment of many decentralized units at which tuberculosis can be detected and treated.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister, and relates to the recent atomic weapon, test at Woomera. Will the right honorable gentleman issue a direction that, before another test takes place at Woomera or anywhere else in Australia, a thorough examination and investigation shall be made into the extent to which radio-active particles from the recent explosion could, or may, have caused harm to human beings, animals and all vegetable matter? If the answer to my question is in the affirmative, will the Prime Minister ensure that the examination will be concentrated particularly on rain water used for domestic purposes, such as drinking water that is stored, or has been gathered from the roofs of houses, and dam water used for stock, and also on the general effect of the radio-active particles on vegetable life?
– It has been stated most authoritatively that no conceivable injury to life, limb or property could emerge from the test that has been made at Woomera. That condition will be constantly observed in relation to tests in the future, but, as the honorable member for Grey has raised this matter, I should like to say to honorable members generally that it would be unfortunate if we in Australia began to display some unreal nervousness on this point. The tests are conducted in the vast spaces in the centre of Australia, and if it is to be said, however groundlessly, that there are risks, what will be said in other countries? Are we then to reach the position in which we shall not conduct these experiments? Believe me, the enemy will conduct them. If the experiments are not to be conducted in Australia, with all our natural advantages for this purpose, we are contracting out of the common defence of the free world. No risk is involved in this matter. The greatest risk is that we may become inferior in potential military strength to the potential of the enemy.
– In view of the repeated claims by the Premier of Queensland to the effect that Queensland has not only had its loan requirements cut, but is the only State which has been denied a major Commonwealth project, will the Treasurer give the House some information about the true position, so that the people of Australia in general, and Queensland in particular, may not be misled ?
– I welcome the question asked by the honorable member for Oxley. As a matter of fact, I expected that a representative of one of the electorates in Queensland would raise this subject on account of the tedious misrepresentation in which the Premier of Queensland has indulged recently in connexion with the Australian Government’s associations with the loan programmes of the States, and the loan market. The statements of the Premier of Queensland on this matter are a complete but tedious misrepresentation of the facts. This Government has not cut the loan funds available to Queensland or to any other State. On the contrary, the loan moneys paid to the Queensland Government for its works programmes have been increased to record levels in recent years, as a result, not only of special Commonwealth action to provide financial assistance, but also because the Menzies Government has completely vacated the loan market in favour of the States, and has financed its own capital works and services programme by the unorthodox but inescapable method of allocating the necessary moneys from revenue. Had the Queensland Government relied exclusively on public loan raisings for its works programmes, it would have received approximately £32,000,000 in the last three years. However, special financial assistance has been arranged by the Menzies Government to supplement loan raisings for the States. This Government, from its own resources, will have supplemented the loan raisings by the end of the current financial year by the enormous amount of £380,000,000.
Owing to the action of this Government in relation to the States’ loan programmes, no less than £26,000,000 has been added to the amount that otherwise would have been received by Queensland. Thus, in the last three years, the Queensland Government has received £5S,000,000 for works other than housing, compared with only £19,000,000 in the previous three years. Comparing the last three years, during which the Menzies Government has been in office, with the previous three years, when there was a Labour administration, Commonwealth advance to the Queensland Government for housing have increased from £3,000,000 to £11,000,000, road grants from £4,100,000 to £8,300,000, and tax reimbursement and special assistance grants from £28,000,000 to £55,000,000.
– I rise to order. Is the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), in replying to this question, showing the same intelligent anticipation of the information sought from him as was shown apparently on the occasion of the visit of Mr. Irish to the federal capital?
– I can see no point of order in that.
– When the Treasurer has concluded his statement, will he move for the printing of the paper, so that a debate may ensue on a very controversial matter ?
– That is not a point of order.
– Do you rule, Mr. Speaker, that there is no limit, either of time or quantity, to a statement made by a Minister in answer to a question alleged to have been asked without notice, but in fact asked by pre-arrangement?
– I do not know whether there was pre-arrangement on this occasion. There is no limit to what a Minister can say in reply to a question asked of him. The way in which a Minister replies to a question, or whether he replies to it at all, is entirely his own a if air.
– The huge sums provided for Queensland show conclusively that this Government has contributed far more to the development of that State than has any previous federal government.
– My question, which is addressed to the Prime Minister, relates’ to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund. Does that fund still exist? If so, is the Common^ wealth still a contributor to it? Have any steps been taken to apply the assets of the fund to the relief of child victims of the wars in Korea, Indo-China and Kashmir ?
– The question deserves a precise answer. I shall have one prepared and let the honorable member have it to-morrow.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Civil Aviation been drawn to a statement, attributed to the mayor of Tamworth, that he has double-crossed the Tamworth City Council in the matter of a new aerodrome at Tamworth ? Is it a fact that the Minister gave an undertaking that the Department of Civil Aviation would take over Tamworth aerodrome on completion? If the Minister did make such a promise and if effect ‘had been given to it, would Tamworth have been honoured by a Royal visit next year ? Will the Minister inform the House of the effect of the promise made by him? Will he say whether it would have been possible, in any event, to complete the aerodrome at Tamworth in time for the Royal visit?
– Any undertakings that have been given to, or any agreements that has been made with, the Tamworth City Council by this Government or the Department of Civil Aviation will be honoured. The agreement, made with the council provides that the council must first construct an aerodrome. That is required of every local governing authority that desires a civil aerodrome to be established in its locality. In such cases, when an aerodrome has been constructed, it is taken over by the Department of Civil Aviation, subject to proof that civil aviation companies are taking full advantage of it. The Tamworth aerodrome would cost about £100,000. The council offered to raise the money by loan if it were recouped at a later stage. I told the council that it would be recouped, but I could not state at what particular time, because one cannot bind a succeed ing parliament, and the provision of funds would be subject to the decision of that parliament. I have no doubt whatever that the Tamworth aerodrome, because of the importance of that city, will be taken over. The Royal visit does not enter into the question. It is for the Tamworth City Council to decide when it will proceed with the construction. I understand that arrangements were made for Her Majesty the Queen to visit the northern tablelands and to land at Glen Innes, but those arrangements are entirely in the hands of the State authorities. This Government will honour any undertaking that is given in connexion with the Tamworth aerodrome.
– I desire to ask the Treasurer a question in relation to the appeal now being made in connexion with the Westminster Abbey Restoration Fund. Has the Treasurer made any decision in relation to taxation concessions of the kind that have been granted in the past in respect of similar appeals? If any decision has been made, will the Treasurer inform the House of such decision?
– A decision has been made, and it is in conformity with the procedure that has always been followed by Australian governments; that is, that funds raised in Australia for activities or organizations or institutions outside Australia, except in special circumstances which have been defined, are not allowable as deductions under the Income Tax Assessment Act.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister. It arises from three clear, separate, distinct and deliberate statements made by the Premier of Queensland in the Queensland Legislative Assembly with reference to war service land settlement, which have caused considerable confusion in the minds of ex-servicemen. The three statements were-
– Order ! Is the honorable gentleman asking for information or is he giving it?
– I am asking for information. Unless these three short statements are repeated the import of the question will be lost. It is an important question, and unless the Prime Minister understands it, he will not be able to answer it satisfactorily. The statements were, first, that the Premier of Western Australia was irresponsible; secondly, the Premier of Tasmania was irresponsible and, thirdly, the Premier of South Australia was irresponsible for having accepted agent-state status under the war service land settlement scheme. I ask the Prime Minister whether, in view of those statements, the Queensland Government did approach the Australian Government for agent-state status, or whether some special clauses were included in its request for agent-state status, which would, give it a preference that was not available to the other States acting as agent States within the meaning of the War Service Land Settlement Agreements Act?
– I am sorry to say that the matter inquired into by the honorable member for Lilley does not come within my knowledge. It is the concern of the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes), who is not here. In the absence of the Minister for tin.Interior I shall treat the question as though it were on notice, and will have an answer provided.
– Will the Minister for Health include in the health and medical services legislation, which is to be brought before this House, a provision to reimburse pensioners for ambulance charges incurred by them in attending hospitals ? At present neither the Federal nor State governments are responsible for such charges, although New South Wales subsidizes ambulance services. This should be a Commonwealth social services matter, and reimbursement should be obtainable on production of a pensioner’s card.
– The honorable member’s representations will be considered.
– I ask the Minister for Health whether any consideration has been given to granting to members of the dental profession the right to prescribe certain drugs which are necessary in dental treatment? If so, how soon may a favorable decision be expected?
– This matter has been considered, but in order to carry out the request of the honorable member State laws would have to be altered. The legislation that the present Government contemplates bringing before the Parliament will deal only with medical benefits.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. As wheat-growers must make their financial arrangements in advance, I ask whether the Minister can give some definite indication of when they can expect repayment of the £11,000,000 contributed by them to the wheat stabilization fund from the No. .14 wheat pool?
– Yesterday I was unable to give precise details about this matter, but since then my colleague, the Treasurer, has concluded his arrangements. I am now able to say that the £11,000,000, which was the tax contribution, to the No. 14 wheat pool, will be repaid on or about the loth December. Legislation will be introduced to provide for the payment.
– My question to the Treasurer relates to the new Australian £1 note which, was issued to-day. Will the right honorable gentleman consider inserting in brackets the real value of the £.1, namely 8s., alongside the nominal value, as a memento of his achievements as Treasurer?
– The honorable member has not made any reference to the Chifley £1, which was worth a lot less than its face value, and was left as a legacy to this Government. The answer to his question is “ No “.
– My question to the Treasurer concerns the decision by the High Court of Australia that Joint
Organization profits were not taxable, and the subsequent appeal by the Commonwealth to the Privy Council against that decision. If the Privy Council upholds the decision of the High Court of Australia, will the Government repay the taxes collected on the distribution of Joint Organization profits, whether or not taxpayers objected to their assessments?
– This matter is sul) judice. The action that the Government may take about the future of Joint Organization profits, or taxation of those profits, will depend entirely on the decision of the Privy Council, and will be considered as a matter of policy when its judgment is available.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether he promised in 1949 to eliminate the means test on agc and invalid pensions, and produce a plan for this purpose for submission to the people by 1952? If so, I ask him whether that scheme is to be proceeded with and when we can expect an announcement about it? Or has this promise been added to his collection of broken promises which includes the promise to impose an excess profits tax?
– The question is obviously one that touches on a matter of policy.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Immigration. I am concerned about crimes of violence that have been committed by immigrants, and which are always given spectacular prominence in the press. I am in favour of the immigration policy that was initiated by the Labour party, but can the Minister say how many immigrants are in Australia, and what percentage of them have come before the courts charged with having committed crimes of violence? Are such cases increasing?
– About 700,000 new settlers have come to this country since the end of the last war. I am glad that the honorable member has given mc an opportunity to mention that number, because the odd instance of crime among the immigrants, which is given prominence in the press, gives a false impression about the great body of new settlers who are law abiding, and are making a satisfactory contribution to the development of this country. This whole matter was examined by a thoroughly competent body of people under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice Dovey, and that body’s conclusion was that the incidence of crimes of violence among immigrants was substantially less than the incidence of such crimes among the Australian community as a whole. That is as one would expect it to be, because the immigration scheme is based on selection. That conclusion has been endorsed by the commissioners of police of various cities and by the Citizenship Convention. The Government deplores crimes of violence wherever they may occur, and whether they are committed by immigrants or other people. However, the Government is in a relatively stronger position in relation to crime among new settlers, because we have power to deport immigrants who commit serious offences. That power has been exercised by me, as Minister for Immigration, from time to time, whenever I have considered that course to be proper. When doing so I take into account the remarks of the trial judge and all the circumstances surrounding the particular case.
– Will the Treasurer, as a matter of urgency, consider an immediate amendment of the provisions of the Superannuation Act governing the extension of benefits to temporary and exempt employees of the Commonwealth by adding a clause to authorize the presiding officers of this Parliament to sign the necessary certificates of employment for certain temporary employees of the Joint House Department, so that they may become participants in superannuation or provident fund schemes from which they are debarred at present only by this technicality?
– The question of the honorable member obviously concerns policy.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that the Australian Shipping Board does not furnish reports of its activities to the Parliament? In view of the fact that the Auditor-General’s comments on the activities of the board appear in his report which is circulated to honorable members, will the reports of the Australian Shipping Board be presented to the Parliament, or is the right honorable gentleman prepared to make available to honorable members the reports that are at present sent only to the relevant Minister?
– I shall bring the question to the notice of the Minister for Shipping and Transport.
– I lay on the table the following paper -
Text of an appeal of the National Council of the Republic of Poland to all Parliaments of the Free World with reference to an act of aggression against the Polish Nation.
– As chairman, I present the report of the Public Accounts Committee on the following subject: -
Tenth Report - Department of National Development: Further report.
Ordered to be printed.
Bill returned from the Senate with amendments.
In committee (Consideration of Senate’s amendments) :
Clause 4 - (1.) Section eighteen a of the Principal Act is amended by omitting paragraphs (a) and (b) of sub-section (1.) and inserting in their stead the following paragraphs.
Senate’s Amendment No. 1. - In sub-clause (1.) after the word “amended” insert “ (a) “.
Senate’s Amendment No. 2. - At the end of sub-clause (1.) add the following words:- “; and (6) by adding at the end thereof the following sub-section: - ‘ (3.) In this section, “ widow “ includes widower.’.”.
– I move -
That the amendments be agreed to.
These are simple amendments which are designed to remove an anomaly. The Estate Duty Assessment Bill, as passed in this chamber, provided that where the whole of the estate of a deceased person passes to the widow, children or grandchildren of the deceased, there shall be a statutory deduction of £5,000, whereas the reduction is only £2,500 where no part of the estate so passes. It has since been represented that, in cases where the whole estate passes to the widower of a deceased person, the same deduction should be granted as in those cases where the estate passes to the widow. Ever since the inception of the Estate Duty Assessment Act in 1914, estates that pass to widowers have been excluded from the concessions granted in respect of estates that pass to widows. The reason for that is not recorded, but it was apparently based on the view that when the husband and father dies, there is a greater need to allow the family property to pass intact to his dependants than is the case where the property passes from a wife to her widower. However, there are numerous instances in which family property is vested in the name of the wife although it has been built up wholly or substantially by the efforts of the husband. There would be other cases in which husbands, owing to invalidity or other cause, are dependent on their wives. In these circumstances, it is considered that there is no sound reason to exclude estates that pass to widowers from the benefit of the higher statutory exemption. The amendments are designed solely to ensure that estates that pass to widowers shall be treated in the same way for estate duty purposes as estates that pass to widows.
– As the purpose of the amendments is merely to extend to estates that pass to widowers the conditions that apply in respect of estates that pass to widows, the Opposition welcomes them.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Resolution reported; report adopted.
Debate resumed from the 20th October (vide page 1604), on motion by Mr. Townley) -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Mr. Allan Fraser 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 bill be withdrawn and redrafted to provide for -
the new pension rates to operate from 1st July, 1953; (2)the rates set out in the bill to be further increased to the same percentage of the basic wage as before this Government took office;
3 ) the amounts of permissible income and permissible property under the means test to be further increased in accord with the change in money values ;
similarly appropriate increases to be made in those social service rates which have not been so increased “.
– I express my complete disapproval of the mean and paltry proposal in this bill to increase the rate of pensions to age and invalid persons and others by only 2s. 6d. a week. This is undoubtedly one of the most paltry increases that have ever been granted in the history of pensions in Australia. With this miserable increase the pensioners will be worse off than they have ever been in the past. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley), in his second-reading speech, said that the Menzies Government is the only government which has consistently each year increased the rate of age and invalid pensions. That may be so.
– It is so.
– It is true that the Government has increased pensions each year, but it is also true that the Curtin and Chifley Labour Governments increased the rates of pensions in every year but one during which they were in office.
– That is not so. No increases of the pensions rate were made in 1947 and in 1949.
– The honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) and the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) repeated the same old catcries that honorable members opposite used during the last three or four budget debates. The honorable member for Sturt said that no Labour government had provided benefits for the pensioners. I hope to be able to prove that under the beneficent administration of Labour governments pensioners were better treated than they have been treated by other governments. Indeed, a Labour government pioneered the provision of social services in Australia. It is on record and plain for all to see, that of the ten social services benefits now provided for in legislation on the statute-book, eight were introduced by Labour governments and only two by anti.Labour governments. The latter are the age pension, which was introduced in 1909, and child endowment, which was introduced in 1941. Every other social service benefit provided for in legislation on the statute-book was introduced by a Labour government. I have cited these figures on other occasions, but it is desirable that I should cite them again, because honorable members opposite are continually twitting the Opposition with not having done anything in the interests of the pensioners. The Labour party introduced the invalid pension in 1910, the maternity allowance in 1912, the widows’ pension, the allowance to wives of invalids, and funeral benefits in 1943, and unemployment and sickness benefits and the rehabilitation of invalid pensioners in 1944. It introduced eight new benefits in all, compared with two that have been introduced by anti-Labour governments. I am proud of the Labour party’s record and I take second place to no honorable member in my advocacy on behalf of age and invalid pensioners.
The honorable member for Capricornia stated that no increase was granted to pensioners by the Chifley Government in 1947. That statement is completely untrue, because in that year the Chifley Government increased age and invalid pensions by 5s. a week, which was at that time one of the greatest increases ever granted to pensioners. It is true that the Government has increased pensions in each of the successive budgets it has introduced, the aggregate increase being about £1 7s. 6d. a week. Labour governments, under the leadership of Mr. Curtin and, later, Mr. Chifley, increased pensions by an aggregate amount of £1 ls. They granted eleven separate increases during their periods of office, compared with four separate increases granted by this Government in the last four years. The provisions that the present Government has made for pension increases must be regarded in the light of its promises to the age and invalid pensioners in 1949 and 1951. It has not fulfilled those promises, and I am convinced it has no intention of fulfilling them. It promised the pensioners that it would put value back into the £1 and thereby increase the value of pensions. The pensioners now realize with sorrow that they were foolish in heeding the Government’s promises in that regard. Only a few moments ago the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) stated in reply to a question that the Chifley £1 was worth only 12s. 6d. That is not correct, but even assuming that the £1 in 1949 was worth only 12s. 6d., it is certainly worth much less now. Nobody is more aware of that fact than are the pensioners to-day. I venture to say that the value of the Menzies £1 is not more than 5s. or 6s.
The Government has betrayed the pensioners by failing to honour its promises. The fact that the aggregate Labour component of the pension, which amounts to £1 ls., is less than the aggregate antiLabour component, which amounts to £1 7s. 6d., composed of increases made during the last four years alone, provides a conclusive proof of the inflation that has occurred under this Government, because pensioners to-day are much worse off than they have ever been in the history of pensions. I believe that if there is one section of the community more than others which should be protected it is that which includes the unfortunate people who are unable to look after themselves. The Minister’s second-reading speech was nothing more or less than an attempt to camouflage the pensions issue. It amounted to a mere manipulation of figures. I am sure that few of the people who heard or read his speech understood the meaning of the mass of figures that he gave. Whatever that mass of figures may mean, it does not mean a benefit to the average pensioner. The increases of pensions and the liberalization of the means test for which the Government is providing will not benefit more than a few pensioners, because 70 per cent, of the pensioners rely solely on their pensions for their livelihood. The pensioners to-day are in a sad plight. The figures prove that pensioners to-day are worse off than they were under the former Labour Government.
I direct the attention of honorable members to the relationship of the pension rate to the basic wage at various stages of Labour’s administration and of this Government’s administration. The practice since I have been a member of this Parliament has been to relate the base rate of pension to the basic wage, not to the C scries cost of living index figure.
– That is not so.
– Only on two occasions has the base rate of pension been tied to the C series index. The first of these occasions occurred when the Lyons Government was in office about 1937. ‘ The legislation that provided for this method of establishing the pension rate was later repealed, and the system was not applied again until the Menzies Government came into office, in 1939. The Menzies legislation was repealed by the Chifley Government because the pension rate fell by 6d. a week at a time when the cost of living was about to soar. At all other times, pensions have been related as closely as possible to the basic wage. The figures that I shall cite will demonstrate to the House that the situation of pensioners has deteriorated seriously under this Government. In 194:5, when Labour was in office, the basic wage for the six capital cities was £4 8s. a week. The pension rate was increased that year to £1 12s. 6d., which represented 33.1 per cent, of the basic wage. In 1947, the basic wage was £5 10s. a week. The pension was increased to £1 17s. 6d. a week, which represented 34.1 per cent, of the basic wage. In 194S, the basic wage was £5 16s. a week. The pension was increased to £2 2s. 6d. a week. which represented 36.6 per cent, of the basic wage. This Government was elected to office, of course, in the following year. Et claims that it has done a great deal for the pensioners and that these unfortunate citizens are better off to-day than they have ever been. But the figures belie that boast. The basic wage in 1951 was £9 13s. a week. This Government increased the rate of pension in that year to £3 a week, but that figure represented only 31.1 per cent, of the basic wage. In 1952, when the basic wage had risen to 11 15s. a week, the pension was further increased to £3 7s. 6d. a week, which represented 28.7 per cent, of the wage. This year, the basic wage is approximately £12 a week. The Government now proposes to increase the rate of pension to £3 10s. a week,’ which will be only 29.1 per cent, of the basic wage. From these facts, honorable members can see that the situation of the pensioners has become steadily worse under this Government. The figures cannot be refuted.
Pensioners to-day cannot afford to live in reasonable comfort. All that they can do is strive merely to exist. Thousands of pensioners live in the electorate that I represent, and the plight of most of them is distressing. Very few of them own their own homes. The others are obliged to live in rented rooms and similar lodgings. How they manage to exist on their paltry income of £3 7s. 6d. a week is beyond my comprehension. Fortunately, Queensland has a humane State government, which has set itself out to assist pensioners. I am sure that the Minister for Social ‘Services is aware of its activities, because the State Minister has communicated with him recently on the subject of the Eventide Homes in Queensland. Although this Government expects pensioners to maintain themselves in reasonable comfort on a pension of £3 10s. a week, the State Minister for Social Services has acknowledged in n statement, which was reported in the press, that the average cost of maintaining a pensioner in an Eventide Home in Queensland is £5 13s. 6d. a week. The Commonwealth contributes only £2 4s. of that amount, and the Queensland Government provides the balance. That is the situation in relation to at least three of these excellent homes that the Queensland
Government has provided for pensioners. The generosity of the Queensland Government in this matter deserves our praise. It treats pensioners as human beings, but it receives very little assistance from this Government. A new Eventide Home at Rockhampton has accommodation for 300 pensioners. It provides 35 rooms for single pensioners and six cottages for six married couples. The average cost of maintaining a pensioner in that home is £5 13s. 6d. a week, which is exclusive of any charge for capital expenditure, redemptions, interest or depreciation. This Government contributes £2 4s. towards that amount, and the Queensland Government finds the balance of £3 9s. 6d. The State government provides that money without complaint, but I am pointing out that the Australian Government should be prepared to grant additional financial assistance in order to make the lives of the pioneers of this country as happy as possible. The Queensland Government also provides amenities of many kinds, particularly in the Eventide Homes with which I am conversant in the vicinity of my electorate. The amenities include bowling greens, motion picture shows, a library, and in short, all kinds of recreation suitable for elderly folk. The pensioners receive free medical and optical attention.
The Menzies Government is not treatmg age and invalid pensioners in the way in which they should be treated. Indeed, this Government has betrayed the pensioners, because it has failed to maintain the relation between the pension and the basic wage that existed when the Chifley Government was defeated at the end of 1949. The pensioners will not forget their betrayal when they have an opportunity to record their disapproval of this Government at the next general election. I disapprove of the failure of the Government to increase the allowance payable to the wife of an invalid pensioner, or to the unfortunate person who is -injured in an accident and is compelled to seek the sickness benefit. The unemployed person is in a similar plight, because the unemployment benefit has not- been increased by this legislation. I was deeply interested in the speech of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Eraser), and I support the amendment that he has moved. If this Government recognizes its responsibility to the pensioners, the amendment will be agreed to, and the pension will be increased to £4 a week, which will place it in the same relation to the basic wage as that which existed at the end of 1949.
– It is unfortunate that the Labour party, in its hope of regaining tho treasury bench, has to descend to the tactics of attempting to buy the votes of the pensioners. I propose to remind the House of the treatment that was accorded by the Chifley Government to the pensioners between 1946 and 1949. The Chifley Government did not increase pensions in 1946. An increase of 5s. a week was granted in 1947, and another increase of 5s. a week was granted in 1948. Nothing was given to the pensioners in 1949. Therefore, the Chifley Labour Government increased the pension by 10s. a week in the course of four years, or an average increase of 2s. 6d. a year. Yet members of the Labour party have the audacity to declare that the increase of 2s. 6d. a week which is to be granted to pensioners by this Government, is niggardly, and is evidence of the Government’s total disregard of the plight of thu pensioners.
The former Prime Minister, the late Mr. Chifley, promised during the general election campaign in 1949 that the Labour Government, if it were returned to office, would increase pensions by 10s. a week. The present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) did not make a specific promise to pensioners during that campaign, and statements to the contrary by Opposition members are not true, and are made merely for party political propaganda purposes. The present Prime Minister said - and his words can be verified - that he refused to enter ‘into a competition to buy the votes of pensioners, or any other section of the community. He assured the pensioners that he was prepared to deal fairly with all sections of the community. The treatment, accorded by this Government to pensioners compares most favorably with that accorded r,o them by any Labour government. The Menzies Government, although it only promised to deal fairly with all sections of the community, has increased the pension by fi 7s. 6d. a week in the course of four years.
– By how much has the Menzies Government increased the cost of living during the same period?
– This Government has not increased the cost of living. I remind the House that the late Mr. Chifley, when he was the Leader of the Opposition in 1950, said that inflation was caused by influences beyond the responsibility of this Government or any other government. He asked the Menzies Government to take vigorous and fearless measures to combat inflation, regardless of whether they were popular or unpopular. The so-called horror budget attacked the problem of inflation, and brought about an improvement of economic conditions. I emphasize that the Government took those fearless measures partly as the result of the urging of the former leader of the Labour party, and that the people have benefited from the improvement in the economic situation. It is ridiculous to suggest that this Government is responsible for the increase of the cost of living that has occurred in this country. The cost of living has increased in every country. Is this Government responsible for the increase in Denmark, Holland, Great Britain or the United States of America? That suggestion by the Opposition is only an attempt to deceive the unfortunate pensioners and belittle the proud record of this Government in relation to pensions. Present pension rates are not all that could be desired, but the Government must consider the interests of the taxpayers, because it is with their money that pensions and other social services payments are paid. The Labour party, now that it is in Opposition, says that pension rates should be increased considerably, but when it was in power it did not do much for the pensioners. This Government, which has been accused of neglecting the pensioners, has increased pensions by 27s. 6d. a week during the four years it has been in office, whilst Labour gave increases amounting to only 10s. a week during the last four years of its administration.
As a result of the easing of the means test, many people now in receipt of only a part pension will become entitled to a full pension. Honorable members opposite, with the irresponsibility of members of an Opposition, ask why the Government has not abolished the means test. It has been estimated that the cost of abolishing the means test would be between £127,000,000 and £170,000,000 a year. The Labour party says that a full pension at the new rate is not sufficient to meet the needs of a pensioner. If we abolished the means test, people already in receipt of a full pension would not receive a penny more. The only people who would benefit from the abolition would be those who previously, because of the means test provisions, were receiving no pension or only a part pension. If we abolished the means test, expenditure on pensions would rise by £170,000,000 a year. If we abolished the means test this year, taxes .would not be reduced by £118,000,000 a year but would be increased by £170,000,000 a year. Age and invalid pensioners already in receipt of a full pension would not receive a penny more, but people who had money and did not need pensions would become entitled to them. This Government has decided to increase pensions by 2s. 6d. a week and, in addition, to ease the means test so that many more people will become entitled to pensions at the maximum rate.
As a result of the increase of the pension rate and the easing of the means test, expenditure on age and invalid pensions will rise by about £11,000,000 a year. The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) has said that this Government has done nothing for the pensioners. In 1949, when Labour was in office, annual expenditure on age and invalid pensions was about £42,000,000. This year, it will be, not £42,000,000 but over £83,000,000. This Government, in addition to increasing pensions, has made other benefits available for pensioners that Labour did not think of providing. I refer to pharmaceutical benefits, and free medical treatment. Expenditure on pharmaceutical benefits for pensioners this year will amount to £850,000, but when Labour was in office, the pensioners had to buy drugs and medicine out of their pensions, which, as I have already said, were increased by only 10s. a week during the last four years of Labour administration. This Government has provided pensioners with medical benefits free of charge and with hospital benefits greater than those applicable to other people. It pays to the States Ss. a day in respect of every person who enters a public hospital, but it looks after pensioners by paying an additional 4s. a day in respect of every age or invalid pensioner who enters a public hospital. The increased amount is paid in respect of pensioners in order that they may receive extra attention while in hospital. Expenditure on hospital benefits this year for all classes of the community will be no less than £3,500,000, and for pensioners alone it will be over £2,000,000. Pharmaceutical benefits for pensioners this year will cost £S50,000, and medical benefits for pensioners will cost £2,035,000. Under those two items alone, expenditure on pensioners this year will be £2,885,000. I ask honorable members to bear in mind that under Labour administration free medical and pharmaceutical benefits were not available for pensioners.
All this has been done by a government that refused to try to buy the votes of pensioners yet nevertheless won their confidence. During the 1949 general election campaign, the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) said that he would make no promise to the pensioners other than that he would treat them as fairly as he would treat all other sections of the community. The pensioners believed the right honorable gentleman and voted for the present Government parties. The result has been that their pensions have’ been increased by 27s. 6d. a week in four years, compared with the total increase of 10s. a week made by a Labour government in a comparable period. In addition, pensioners will receive this year medical and pharmaceutical benefits worth £2,S85,000. Up to that time, the pensioners had to put their hands in their pockets and pay for medical treatment and medicines.
Honorable members opposite have asked, ‘"”What about the means test?”
I think I have dealt with that very reasonably. I think I have shown that the age pensioner would not get one penny if this Government were to abolish the means test to-day. No age pensioner or his wife on a full pension would receive one penny more, but John Brown or somebody else with plenty of money and assets would have the right to got it. Three or four times as many people would get a cut out of it, but the pensioner, the needy man, would not get it. This Government made no promise on the hustings to abolish the means test. To say it did so is to deceive the pensioners. Members on this side of the House would not deceive the people of Australia who require more than an election promise or more than a pre-election stunt in this House such as the taking of £170,000,000 out of the people’s pockets in order to finance some ill-considered scheme. It is all very well to suggest that it should be done when the other man is paying for it. This Government has succeeded in improving the position by easing the means test and by providing for the payment of an extra £10,662,100 for ;ige and invalid pensions. If there are experts and earnest honest men who have advocated and believe in the abolition of the mean? test, they are to be found on this side of the House, because I have known the views expressed by supporters of the Government in party meetings throughout the years. That remark relates particularly to the present Minister, who is sympathetic and who has expressed himself more openly than any other Minister for Social Services. Honorable members on this side of the House know his wishes.
Honorable members opposite have said that, in relation to the basic wage and the C series index, the Government is not contributing as much as the previous Government did. The Social Services Consolidation Act formerly provided that the pension had to be related to the C series index or the basic wage. If the Labour party wanted this Government to so relate the pension, why did it delete that provision? Legislation attaching the pension to the basic wage was passed by the Menzies Government for the benefit of the pensioners. The Attorney-General of the Chifley
Government, Dr. Evatt, was responsible for the deletion of that provision and now the Opposition asks why we do not relate the pension to the basic wage. The Labour party took away the machinery which made it obligatory for us to relate the pension to the basic wage. The Labour party, because it found that the provision made by the previous Government was an embarrassment, deleted it. That is why the pension is not related to the basic wage.
I think it can be said, and that it is known by all the pensioners in Australia, that they have received sympathetic consideration from a government that makes only honest promises. In the doubling of payments to age and invalid pensioners in the last four years, in comparison with all earlier increases since federation, I think this Government has done something of which it can be proud, something that is not put forward in order to obtain the support of the pensioners, and, something that indicates honest and fair administration in the face of difficulties and rising costs. This Governmenthas been honest with the pensioner and its record is one that any honest pensioner would say has been a very faithful facing of the problems that affect him.
. - I take exception to the adjectives so liberally used by the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser), and suggest to him that such terms as “dishonorable”, “irresponsible”, “deceit”, “trying to buy the pensioner’s vote “ and “ preelection stunt “ are unworthy, both of him and of this House as a whole. The remainder of his remarks can be dismissed, because they have very little relevance or potency in relation to the subject under discussion. I refer also to the remarks of the distinguished member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce). When he accuses the Opposition of being sinful and wicked because it proposed an amendment that it thought was appropriate to the needs of the moment, I strongly suggest to him that his remarks would be more appropriate in a convention of holy rollers than in aparliamentary discussion.
I join with other honorable members on this side of the House in supporting the proposed amendment. I think, as do they, that very little social justice has been extended to the pensioners in the Government’s budgetary proposals and that the Opposition, as well as every other competent body of opinion in Australia, is fully entitled to press for acceptance of the amendment. I take as the basis for my opening remarks a statement by the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley). I shall not be so foolish as to suggest that the bill does not contain any good points. It provides for a certain liberalization of the means test. If the Minister’s speech in support of the bill is carefully analysed, however, it will be found that a great deal of it is very skilful padding. It will be found also that his remarks constitute a series of mere arithmetical progressions. For example, he says that £3 will go to a pensioner and, by the same deduction, that £6 will go to a pensioner and his wife. That is perfectly obvious. Other points inhis speech were merely padding and mean nothingto the great number of people in receipt of age, invalid and widows’ pensions, who are in urgent need of some relief and who are getting nothing from this “ most benevolent of all governments”.Now let us consider two comments made by the Minister for Social Services when he introduced this bill. He said -
Thus, an invalid pensioner and his wife, . . will be able to have an income of £6 a week in addition to the husband’s pension.
At one stage of my career I was an officer of the pensions branch which was then associated with the Treasury. From my experience in dealing with pensions, I can assure the Minister quite positively that there are very few invalid pensioners and equally few wives of invalid pensioners who have any opportunity of earning£6 a week. The great majority of thosepersons are entirely dependent uponwhat may be provided bythe Government. Nevertheless, a sentence” such as theone I have just quoted sounds very well in a ministerial speech. In another part of his speech the Minister said -
The fourth liberalization relates to rever sionary interests … In future, reversionary interests will be completely disregarded as property for pension purposes.
They should have been disregarded many years ago, and as a matter of fact they havepracticallynoeffectuponpensions atthepresenttime.But,astatementlike thatalsosoundswellwhendeliveredina ministerialspeech.TheMinister,inhis second-readingspeech,alsosaid-
Anotheramendmentrelatestofuneral benefits…Atpresentabenefitre- ceivedfromacontributoryfuneralbenefit fundmay,ifitislargeenough,affectthe amountoftheCommonwealthpayment.The amendmentwillenablethefuneralbenefit fundsoftradeunionstobetreated,forthis purpose,inthesamewayasthoseoffriendly societies.
Noneofthoseconcessionsaffectpensions tomorethanamicroscopicdegree. Whatdoesaffectthegreatmajorityof pensioners,istheactualamountofcash thattheyreceivefromtheGovernment. Fullythree-quartersofage,invalidand widowpensionersareentirelydependent upontheirpensions,andanyliberaliza- tionoftheincomeorpropertyprovisions areasnothingtothem.Duringtheyears sincethesepensionswerefirstintroduced, theaverageannualrateofpensionhas alwaysbeen95percentofthefullrate. Inotherwords,almost90percent.ofthe pensionershavenomeansatallorhave meansonlywithinthestatutorylimit,or havenoincomeatallorhaveincomeonly withinthestatutorylimit.TheMinister saidthat120,000peoplewouldbenefitby theliberalizationofincomeandproperty restrictions.MayIaskhimuponwhat hebasedthatassumption?Figureshave neverbeenkeptintheDepartmentof SocialServicesfromwhichsuchdetails asthosementionedbytheMinistercould beelicited.Iwasoneoftheofficerswho helpedtoestablishthestatisticalprin- ciplesunderwhichthatdepartment atanytimewhichwouldshowhowmany pensionerswouldbeeffectedbythe liberalizationoftheincomeandtheproperty restrictions.TheMinister’sstatement isameresmoke-screen.
Isupporttheamendmentthathas beenmovedbythehonorablememberfor EdenMonaro(Mr.AllanFraser)andI supportallthathasbeensaidonthis matterbymycolleaguesonthissideof theHouse.Weareconcernedwiththe greatmajorityofthepensionerstowhom theadditionalhalf-crowntobegrantedby theGovernmentisadeliberateinsult.
Even since the 1953-54 budget was introduced, the increase of the cost of living has eaten up the extra 2s. 6d. granted by the Government to pensioners. I support the statements made by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) when he introduced his amendment which was designed to restore the intrinsic value of pensions to their value during the years from 1941 to 1949. When Labour vacated office the age pension was 36 per cent, of the basic wage. This Government has the unenviable record of reducing that proportion, and in the first year of its regime the pension became 30.8 per cent, of the basic wage. Then it went down to 28 per cent., and the last amount granted by the Government has increased it to only 29 per cent, of the basic wage.
I represent one of the poorest parts of the city of Melbourne, and there are 4,000 pensioners in my electorate. Most of those people receive the full rate of invalid or age pension, because they have no means or income other than their pensions, and most of them scratch out only a precarious existence. Surely this Government does not expect that the additional half-crown that it has granted to them will provide them with anything in the nature of the comforts of life. Possibly some honorable members on this side of the House have more pensioners in their electorates than I have in mine, but my electorate includes an old and poor district, and the majority of my pensioners scratch along somewhere, somehow and sometime. Indeed, their only ambition in some instances is to save enough to pay for their funerals. This Government has put itself forward as being benevolent, and the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) said that during Labour’s last four years of office it increased pensions by only 10s. That is a deliberate fabrication. In 1941 the age and invalid pension was 21s. 6d. a week. When Labour vacated office it was 42s. 6d., which was an increase of 21s. During the same period the basic wage had increased from 87s. to 116s. In other words, the pension increase more than kept pace with the basic wage increase.
The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) taxed the Opposition with sinfulness and dishonesty. No doubt that sort of thing appeals to his juvenile imagination, but I ask Lim to put himself in the place of the pensioner and try to imagine how he would struggle along on an increase of half a crown a week. During the course of this debate very few references have been made to widow pensioners. Let us consider class A and class B widows. There are 17,424 recipients of class A widow pensions. Labour introduced that particular social service, and in 1942 the rate for a class A pension was 30s. a week, while the basic wage was 90s. a week. Therefore, the pension was 33$ per cent, of the basic wage. All the time Labour held office, the pension did not fall below 33-?( per cent, of the basic wage, and when we loft office the pension was 55s., and the basic wage was £6 15s. Therefore, at that time, the pension was 41 per cent, of the basic wage. At present the rate is 75s. a week and the basic wage is 235s. a week. Consequently, the pension has depreciated to 31 per cent., which is the lowest percentage of the basic wage that it has ever touched. If only the average rate of increase had been maintained, the class A widow pension, instead of being 75s. a week, would now be 89s. a week.
Now let us consider the class B widow pension of which there are 24,000 recipients. The same process of deterioration as was marked in the class A pension is also apparent in the class B pension. When Labour left office the class B widow pension was 31 per cent, of the basic wage. To-day,’it is only 24 per cent, of the basic wage. Yet this Government has stated that it is benevolent and that its social services programme is something to be proud of. The Government has said that it has done a good job. It certainly has done a good job, but only for big corporations to which it has granted £40,000,000 in tax concessions. It cannot by any stretch of the imagination be said that the Government has done a good job for pensioners. There are 12,000 wives of invalid pensioners, and 7,000 children of invalid pensioners under sixteen years of age. Neither of those classes of persons will receive anything under the budget proposals.’ Those in receipt of unemployment and sickness benefits, of whom there are 10,000, will also receive nothing. None of those persons will get anything, but because the Opposition has had the temerity to submit proposals that are consistent with humanity and with a recognition of our existing economic circumstances, it has been told that it is wicked and sinful.
The prerogative of any government is to care for its needy and its sick, and to give relief to those who require relief. The Minister, although he skilfully padded his speech, could not disguise the fact that this Government, in regard to social services, has shown itself to be the most parsimonious in history. I submit, as has been submitted by all honorable members on this side who have spoken in the debate, that if the cause is worth fighting for it is worth fighting for frankly and whole-heartedly. In the course of our contributions to this debate we have tried to keep to the point and to prove, if not to the satisfaction of Government members and supporters, at least to the satisfaction of the people of Australia, that this Government has shut its eyes to urgent needs and has opened them wide to any prospect of the advancement of its own interests. When reference is made to the liberalization of the property income qualifications I am somewhat astonished to see that very little reference is made by honorable members opposite to the circumstances in which certain pensioners, or prospective applicants for pensions, find themselves to-day. When the Labour party returns to office in the near future it will consider favorably the position of applicants for pensions who, because of certain circumstances, are unable to live in their normal home properties but, because of the ownership of the properties, are deprived of pension rights. Consideration should be given to the position of a pensioner, or an applicant for a pension, who has vacated his or her home because of infirmity or illness and who finds the full value of that property maintained against the pension right. The Department of Social Services might reasonably consider that if a good case can be made out to show that if a property in that category is not income producing its value should be disregarded for pension purposes. Consideration should be given to the plight of those who, because of illness or other causes, have vacated their homes, have subsequently tried to re-occupy them, but- have been prevented from so doing by the decision of a court, and are now paying rent for a small room, but whose pensions have been reduced or cancelled because the value of the home exceeds the permissible income limit. In such circumstances, the value of the property should be disregarded for pension purposes. This Government has shut its eyes to the economic plight of the pensioners. I should like honorable members to see for themselves the conditions under which many pensioners arc living in such suburbs of Melbourne, as Fitzroy, Collingwood, Port Melbourne, Richmond and other industrial areas. They are dragging out a miserable existence and depending on the pension which they receive from the Government to keep body and soul together. They do not receive the consideration that they should receive and they will not receive it from this Government which has dismissed their claim with the grant of a mere additional 2s. 6d. a week. The Government claims that n.n additional 2s. 6d. in the pension ate is amply sufficient for them. It is however, far from sufficient to meet their needs. As was stated by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro in proposing his amendment, if reasonable justice had been extended to age and invalid pensioners they would now be receiving a pension of at least £4 a week. They are being robbed of 10s. a week by this allegedly benevolent Government.
– Order! The honorable member might select a more appropriate word than “ robbed “.
– As I said in my opening remarks, members of the Opposition have been attacked on the ground that they have told lies, that they have been deceitful, that they have robbed the pensioners and that they are voicing canards in an attempt to win votes at the next general election. Honorable1 members opposite who used those terms to describe us were able to get away with them. When we seek to tell the truth we are told that the terms we use srr> unparliamentary. However, I bow t-“> your ruling, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker The Labour party, through the course of its history, has upheld the rights of the underdog. It has recognized primarily our obligations to Australians who have given their best in the development of their country ‘but who, in their decline, either by the passage of years or the loss of health, do not get the place in the sun to which they are entitled and which should be given to them by a benevolent or justly inspired government.
– I noted the remarks of the honorable member for Hoddle (Mr. Cremean), particularly his reference to the juvenile imagination of the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce). That is a term that we could not use to describe the imagination of the honorable member for Hoddle. When we look at his head we are forced to the conclusion that his imagination is not juvenile but senile. The honorable member, having admitted that he was at one time a member of the staff that dealt with social services, one would have thought that he would have made a more enlightened contribution to this debate than he did make. If he was an officer of the department, and occupied a position of responsibility higher than that of office boy, one would have expected him to know of the relation of the pension to the C series index figure rather than to the basic wage. It astonished me that an Opposition member should make statements of the kind made by the honorable member and suggest that only honorable members on his side of the House are telling the truth. However, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, if I sought to enlarge upon that matter I am afraid that I should earn your strictures for so doing. Accordingly. I merely direct attention to the honorable member’s statements and leave them there.
I support wholeheartedly the bill now before the House and I vehemently oppose the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser). It should not take the House very long to dispose of the amendment. The estimated cost of social services benefits provided by this Government this year amounts to £152,840,000. In addition, the Government will provide medical and health services estimated to cost £31,200,000, or a total amount of approximately £184,000,000. I doubt whether Opposition members will be prepared to substitute for that estimated expenditure a total social services commitment of £266,370,000 which would be involved if the proposals advanced by the Opposition were given effect to. If the proposals of the Opposition were accepted, income tax levied on individual taxpayers would have to be increased by more than 20 per cent. One is entitled to ask Opposition members whether they desire the Government to withdraw the income tax concessions granted by it in the budget. That, to my way of thinking, is the test that should be applied to determine the Opposition’s sincerity in this matter. If the proposal advanced by the Opposition were given effect to, the Government would be involved in additional expenditure of approximately £30,000,000 which represents almost to the <?ry £1.000.000 the value of the tax concessions granted to the taxpayers of Australia in the budget. Opposition members have not mentioned the means by which they would finance their proposals. One can only assume that they would finance them either by the withdrawal of income tax concessions, or, as has been suggested by thi! Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) in relation to other matters ever since he has occupied his present position, by the issue of treasury-bills. Does the Labour party suggest that the Government should issue treasury-bills to financethe payment of social services including pensions? It is notice.able that there is complete silence on the part of Opposition members. If an honorable member suggests increased rates of pensions or of any other social services benefits it i.« incumbent upon him to indicate the source of revenue from which money to finance the :>ddi tiona.] expenditure will he obtained. Not a word has been said by Opposition members on that point. “We are forced to the conclusion that the amendment was proposed by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro solely for political purposes with the knowledge that in a few months there will be another general election.
– And a victory for the Labour party.
– The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Fuller) may believe that victory will come to the Labour party at the next general election. Fortunately, the decision will not lie in his hands. Last night the honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond) reminded us that in 1948, when the present Opposition was in Government and honorable members on this side of the House were sitting in opposition, the then Leader of the Opposition moved an amendment designed to date the increased rates of pensions then proposed to the 1st July of that year, but it was summarily rejected by the Labour Government. I should be astonished if Opposition members disagreed with the views expressed by their former leader, the late Mr. J. B. Chifley. I have always understood that the right honorable gentleman held a very high place in the estimation of Opposition members. On the 14th June, .1949, the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) asked Mr. Chifley, the then Treasurer, the following question : -
I ask the Treasurer whether the Government intends to increase the rate of age anil invalid pensions. If so, will the increase he between 3s. and as. a week as suggested in the press, or will the Government ensure that the new rate shall have some practical relation to the cost of living?
– The pension had relation to the cost of living at that time.
– I appreciate the ‘ interjection of the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson). I invite him to recall his interjection while I am reading Mr. Chifley’s reply. Mr. Chifley replied -
No consideration has been given to .i further increase in pension rates. The Government considered this subject not long ago and made a general increase, and it is unlikely that a further increase will be considered si> soon after that. The. law provided at nintime that pension rates must bc related to thu cost of living, and must rise or fall according to variations of the cost of living index figure. However, when the G series index figures fell about three years ago, there was a pr<>at protest against any reduction of pension*. As a result, the provision that related pensions to the cost of living was removed from the law. Therefore, the pension rates are not now affected by the cost of living.
T suggest that there could be no greater indictment of the Labour party for its action in submitting the amendment, than the statement I have just read from the Hansard record.
In 1951 this Government introduced a budget that had drastic effects on the wool-growers. On that occasion members of the Opposition overnight became the professed champions of the woolgrowers. I did not believe at that time that the Labour party was sincere in its protestations and professions, and I am equally definite in my view that the amendment now before us has been moved for political purposes only, and that on this occasion also the Labour party is not sincere. Its sincerity extends no further than its desire to get a few more votes at the next general election.
Yesterday honorable members had an opportunity to hear a fine speech by the Vice-President of the United States of America, Mr. Nixon. He made one statement that no honorable member should ever forget. He spoke of a reduction of the United States defence vote and of criticisms that had been levelled, and might be levelled, in America about that reduction. He said it was desirable that a balance should be maintained between a nation’s defence expenditure and its general economy. I believe that that principle could easily be applied to the provision made for pensions in this country. This community must, as every community must, if it is to remain free, achieve a proper balance between the amount to be expended on social services and the general economy of the nation. It is often much easier to pay out money than it is to reach a balanced judgment on the problem of social services. I charge the members of the Opposition with advocating the easy course of paying out public money rather than of reaching a balanced judgment on how much we can afford to pay in social services out of the national income. It is easy for people who have not the responsibility for collecting the necessary money to talk about an increase of pension rates. Sonic State Labour governments, particularly the Queensland Government, show complete irresponsibility in relation to expenditure, because they have not the responsibility of collecting the moneys that they expend. Members of the Opposition evince a similar irresponsi- bility, because they have not the responsibility of collecting the money that they are now urging the Government to expend on increased pensions.
If expenditure is to be increased taxes must also be increased commensurately. If we were to give effect to even a small part of the Labour party’s suggestions for increased expenditure on social services we should run a real risk of overloading the economy. Expenditure on social services to-day accounts for no less a figure than 5.2 per cent, of the national income. That is, more than £1 out of every £20 of the national income is paid out by the Commonwealth in social services benefits. Added to that, there is a tendency for the number of people eligible for pensions to increase in relation to the number of producers in the working force. Ten years ago it might have required eight working people to provide for one pensioner. The increase of pensioners to-day means that probably six workers are now providing for one pensioner. These are not exact figures, because I have not the exact figures available, but they are close to the facts. If that trend were to continue, payments for social services would become a burden that the nation could not bear.
I turn now to the remarks of the honorable member for Hoddle about the relationship of pension payments to the basic wage, to which I have already referred. The attitude that has always been adopted in this House is as indicated in the passage I have quoted from Hansard. Accepting that the retail price index for the September quarter of 1949 was 1428, and that in the September quarter of 1953, which has just passed, it was 3231, it can be calculated that as the pension rate in 1949 was 42s. 6d. a week, the proportion of 2321 represented by 142S applied to the rate of 42s. 6d. gives the figure 69s. I remind the House that the proposed pension rate is 70s. How can the honorable member for Hoddle or any other member of the Opposition suggest that the pensioner is worse off now than he was in 1949, when a simple calculation of the cost of living index figures in 1949 and to-day show that he will receive from this Government one shilling more than the amount that he would receive if the pension had been pegged to the cost of living index ? I charge the Labour party with lack of realism regarding pensions.
Last night the honorable member for Eden-Monaro suggested that every member of this House had received letters from his constituents complaining about the inadequacy of the proposed increase of pensions. I admit that I have received one letter from a constituent about that matter. I wrote to him and I have received a reply that indicates that he is satisfied that the Government’s record on pensions is much better than was the Labour Government’s record, and that he is not prepared to jettison the Government at the next general election, even if the Labour party promises increases of pensions. I believe that that is the view held by the majority of pensioners.
I turn now to the statement made by the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) about the amount of money a person would have to invest in gilt-edged securities in order to produce an income of £3 10s. a week or £1S2 a year. A person would have to invest a total of about £4,992 in prominent companies that the honorable member for Capricornia mentioned in order to obtain an annual income of £181 13s. 4d. A pensioner couple who are to receive £7 a week in pension payments under the Government proposals would therefore have to invest about £10,000 to receive an’ income slightly smaller than their income from pensions. Honorable members should consider these facts when they are endeavouring to assess whether the Government’s pension provisions are reasonable or unreasonable. If honorable members opposite would adopt a reasonable attitude instead of a party political attitude we’ could pass such bills as this one much more quickly through the Parliament than is at present the case, because much of the debate on such bills is on a purely political level.
I turn now to a problem that I believe to be the greatest problem in relation to pensions. I do not think it is a problem in the case of a pensioner couple who own their own home or even in the case of a single pensioner who owns his or her own home, although I appreciate that there may be many single pensioners who own their own homes but are unable to look after themselves. The real problems of the single pensioner is accommodation. If governments had been prepared over the years, when capital costs were less, to make provision for this kind of pensioner we should not have to face the problem that now confronts us. I believe that within my electorate is the finest example of a project to provide accommodation for pensioners that exists anywhere in Australia. I should be astonished if the Minister for Social Services does not agree with that reasonable statement.
– Hear, hear!
– About seventeen or eighteen years ago the Methodist Church in Queensland decided to build a garden settlement for aged people in the Brisbane suburb of Chermside. It purchased an area of land and established an institution that was conducted on a semifarm basis. The upstairs portion of a large house on the property comprised about six rooms, which were made available for single male pensioners, whilst the ground floor was used for storerooms. The church built a central block to contain a dining-room, offices and accommodation for the matron. Around this central block it built 30 or 40 small units, each comprising a bedroom and a sitting room, a bathroom and other similar offices, and a verandah. These local cottages were for married couples or pairs of single women.
– Are they single buildings?
– They are single unit buildings.
– Are they connected with one another?
– No, not in any way. As time went on and the demand was recognized it was decided that in addition to increasing the number of these small single units two other large buildings would be erected. One of them became known as Settlement House, the other as Cooper House. They were built on the basis of long wings with rooms for single persons, with wash basin facilities, &c, between each two rooms. At present there are 150 or 160 pensioners in the home. Honorable members will be interested to know “that the running costs of the establishment represent less than £2 a week for each pensioner. ‘ That figure, of course, does not include the capital cost, redemption, interest or other such charges. That is an ideal example of the way to solve the problem of our single pensioners. I take this opportunity to pay my personal tribute to the man who had the foresight to envisage the scheme, the Rev. H. M. Wheller. who for many years was the minister in charge of the Central Methodist Mission in Brisbane. The low cost has. been achieved by careful planning and the wise use of the land surrounding the home. A dairy herd has been established, and every inmate can have as much milk as he wishes. Men are employed to work the gardens and grow vegetables, and at present an acre or more is devoted to the growing of potatoes, which are worth about £100 a ton in Brisbane.
– Does the average cost of £2 a week include the cost of all the food that the pensioners need?
– Yes. It provides all the food and services that are required. The value of the home has been recognized by the State Government, which has tried in recent years to develop a similar system on a State-ownership basis. However the State Eventide Home at Rockhampton costs about £7 13s. 3d. a week for each inmate. One can see, therefore, the superiority of private enterprise, or more correctly private trusteeship, over a complicated system of government ownership.
I need say little more about this bill. 1 regret that the Opposition has proposed .its amendment. In my opinion, it has done so merely for party political purposes. It knows very well that the amendment, even if it were adopted, would not help the pensioners to obtain oven a. penny a week more. The bill is based on exactly the same principles as the Labour Government’s legislation of 1948. which was the last occasion on which that Government increased pensions, although it had another opportunity to do so in 1949. If the Opposition adopted a realistic attitude, it would withdraw the amendment and support the bill so that the new rates could be put i into effect at the earliest possible moment.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The remarks of the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) followed many devious courses, but 1 shall refer to only one aspect of his speech. He said, in conclusion, that the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Eden- Mona.ro (Mr. Allan Fraser), in an admirable speech, was merely of a political character. I remind the honorable gentleman that similar amendments were proposed by the Opposition when social services bills were introduced by this Government in 1951 and 1952. Those amendments were moved because the Labour party considered, as it considers even more strongly to-day, that the living standard of pensioners had deteriorated since 1949 as a consequence of this Government’s actions. The amendment was submitted by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro in order that this issue might be discussed. In 1949, the pension rate of £2 2s. 6d. a week represented 34.3 per cent, of the basic wage at the 30th June that year. The best that can be said for this Government’.; social services legislation is that, after the proposed 2s. 6d. a week increase has been put into effect, the pension will represent 29 per cent, of the basic wage. I associate myself with the amendment and with the statements of previous speakers on the Opposition side of the’ House. Considerable attention has been directed in this debate to two methods of assessing the value of the pension rate. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) and his supporters contend that the pension rate should be related to the C series cost-of-living index. Members of the Labour party contend that the rate should be related to the basic wage. The Opposition’s method is the only proper means of establishing a fair pension rate.. In modern society, it is absolutely essential that persons in the lower income group should he entitled to share in the increased prosperity of the community. Pension rates should rise in proportion to the incomes of persons who are more favorably situated. Unless legislative provision is made for such pension increases, the situation of the pensioners must become desperate.
One of the notable advances of modern thought has been the recognition by the community as a whole that it has an obligation to those who, through no fault of their own, are unable to earn sufficient to maintain themselves. The development of this social attitude wa3 admirably demonstrated by decisions made at the International Labour Office conference at Philadelphia in 1944, at which 42 nations we’re represented. A great deal of ‘time was devoted at that conference to the needs of those who, - through age, invalidity, sickness or other causes, were unable to support themselves. The result of the discussions was the adoption of a convention which declared that every nation should provide, by means of social services, a minimum living standard for all persons who were unable to earn a living wage. Thus, throughout the world to-day, people acknowledge their responsibility to support the unfortunate citizens who cannot support themselves. The great advantage of this principle from the point of view of the community is that it results in a redistribution of the national income which maintains the purchasing power of the masses of the people. It means that a constant, if low, income is provided for the helpless members of the community. This enables them to purchase goods and services and so helps to stimulate the economic functions of society. Pensioners should be allowed to gain some advantage from increased national prosperity. Apart from humane considerations, the economic result of such a distribution of national income is of advantage to the nation. The greater the purchasing power of the masses of the people, the greater are the opportunities for business to expand and prosper for the general betterment of the entire community. “From the time the Labour party gained power in Australia in 1941 until it left office in 1949, the standards of persons in receipt of social services benefits, measured by reference to the basic wage, rose constantly. Therefore, I regret exceedingly the fact that, although the national income is steadily increasing to-day, this Government should consider it necessary to decrease the pensioners’ share of the national income. Production is increasing, and in every way the community is becoming more prosperous. The base rate of pension of £2 2s. 6d. a week in 1948 represented 36.6 per cent, of the basic wage at that time. The new rate of pension for which this bill provides represents only 29 per cent, of the basic wage. This retrograde step is most undesirable from a humanitarian standpoint and is not in line with the modern outlook in relation to social services. The fact that this bill will not effect any major improvement of our social services legislation is a matter for deep regret. The alterations for which it provides will effect some minor improvements, which we welcome, but the Government’s proposals are entirely unsatisfactory when considered in relation to the whole scheme of social services in Australia.
Age and invalid pensions are to be increased by 2s. 6d. a week, which is a regrettably low increase, and minor benefits are to be given to the recipients of various other social services, but certain social services have been completely neglected. The Government has tended, during the last four years, to improve social services in a spasmodic, or piecemeal manner. The necessity to improve some social services seems to have been completely overlooked. The maternity allowance has not been increased since 1944, and child endowment of 10s. a week, which is payable in respect of the second and succeeding children of a family under the age of sixteen years, has not been varied since 1948. I admit, in fairness to the Government, that endowment at the rate of 5s. a week was introduced in 1950 for the. first child of a family under the age of sixteen years. The funeral benefit has not been altered since it was introduced in 1945. The unemployment and sickness benefits remained unchanged from 1945 to 1952. and the increase which was granted last year was not commensurate with the increase of the basic wage a’1”’ the higher cost of living. and must bo regarded as exceedingly low.
I express my appreciation to the Minister for the adoption of some of the amendments that I have advocated over a long period. I refer particularly to the liberalization of the conditions under which occasional absences from Australia are treated as residence in Australia for the purpose of satisfying the residential, requirements for age pensions, which is twenty years’ continuous residence. 1 am gratified that that amendment has been made. However I must express my great regret at the little progress that has been made in the last four years with the modification of the means test. The property limit is to be increased from £750 to £1,250, but that increase does not take into consideration, in my opinion,” the tremendous change that has occurred in money values in the last four years. Economic factors have caused inflation, ‘which has also probably been added to by the policy of the Government. Therefore, the Government should ensure, in legislation of this kind, that pensioners and others will not suffer the consequences of the economic conditions. However, spasmodic and piecemeal modifications of the means test have been made. The position has been slightly improved by the Government’s latest proposals, but the modifications are completely insufficient to meet the present difficulties.
The means test confines the right to receive the benefit of social services to persons within a comparatively narrow circle. Many persons, whose condition is even more precarious than that of the pensioners, do not receive any benefit from this legislation. Those people are a thrifty and worthy section of the community, and they include superannuitants, and persons who possess some property, or have some money in the bank. Because of the operation of the means test, those persons are deprived of the right to receive a pension, yet the income from property, or the money which they possess, does not enable them to enjoy a standard of living even commensurate with the low standard of living of pensioners. One of the best illustrations that I can give of this matter has already been mentioned by several other honorable members. A person may have invested his savings in the purchase of a couple of houses. Perhaps because of ill health, he is compelled to leave one of the houses in which he has lived for years, and reside with other people. Property which may not have been worth £1,000 ten years ago, is now regarded, because of the changed money values, as being worth considerably more than that sum. The result is that such a person is not eligible to receive a pension.
People, when they reach middle age or are approaching old age, find that considerations of economic security are dominant in their thoughts. At the present time, middle-aged and elderly folk are acutely aware of the operation of the means test, and the abolition of this bar to their right to receive a pension is becoming a matter of urgency with them. I am astonished at the strength of the demand expressed by those persons for the abolition of the means test. Evidence of this sense of urgency is afforded by a happening in Bendigo. The Minister will recall that a little while ago, I forwarded to him a petition signed by 1,568 persons who were living within an area near the Bendigo Post Office. That petition was signed by the managers of businesses, shopkeepers, public servants, solicitors, persons engaged in industry, and others. Those petitioners advocated the elimination of the means test, and they suggested a method by which it could be gradually removed. I shall submit this suggestion to the House for consideration so that honorable members may be informed of the views of persons who are placed in a difficult position by the Social Services Consolidation Act.
The suggestion was that the means test should be amended, and the property disqualification raised from £1,000 to £5,000. The honorable member for Petrie pointed out that the investment of £5,000 would yield an income of approximately £180 per annum. Therefore, a person who invested £5,000 would receive a lower return, according to the honorable member for Petrie, than the full rate of pension. Frequently, a person is not able to invest £5,000 to give such a return. A pensioner may own a house, but by the time he meets the necessary commitments such as rates and taxes, insurance and repair bills, the actual return from the property, although the value of it may be high according to present-day standards, is small, indeed. The suggestion of the petitioners was that the first £225 should be free from deduction; that an amount from £225 to £4,000 should be scaled down at 2 per cent.; and that the amount in excess of £4,000 should be scaled down at 4 per cent., so that a pension would not be payable to a person who has £5,000 worth of property. The scaling down which takes place at the present time on £750 worth of property, which a pensioner is permitted to possess, works out at 17½ per cent, per £100, whereas under the scheme proposed by the petitioners, the scaling down would be 3½ per cent, annually. This suggestion was made, not as a means of overcoming the difficulties, but merely as the first step towards the abolition of the means test, so as to enable persons on the borderline who do not now qualify for a pension, to receive some income, in spite of the fact that they possess a certain amount of property. I ask the Minister to give that matter serious consideration.
The amendment moved by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, which, if it is carried, will give the Minister an opportunity to consider more generous means whereby the means test may be eased. If we are honest and sincere about the problems of invalidity and old age, we must recognize that it is the duty of society to ensure that those people who are wholly supported by social services, will be given by their pensions a standard that is at least equal to the improving standards of the community. “We must also remember that those persons who are approaching old age are vitally concerned about the modification of the means test. They might have made provision to ensure that they would be independent in their old age, but they find that the constant depreciation of the value of money has made their savings or investments almost worthless to them for that purpose. The whole matter of the means test should receive immediate consideration by the Government. The means test should be eased with a view to abolishing it at the earliest possible moment. When that is done, we shall have made a big move towards the provision of a system of social services that will give economic security to people who, through no fault of their own, have no income other than pensions to sustain themselves.
Motion (by Mr. Gullett) agreed to -
That the question be now put.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be left out (Mr. Allan Fraser’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. (The Acting Deputy Speaker - Mr. G. J. Bowden.)
Majority . . . . 7
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
.- The criticism that has been made of the attitude of the Opposition to this measure is that the proposals contained in the speech that the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) made on the budget would involve a great increase of the cost of social services. The issue is not the proposals made in that speech of the Leader of the Opposition, but the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), which expresses the attitude of the Opposition to this measure.
– Order ! That matter has been dealt with.
– The cost of the proposals outlined in that amendment would be in the vicinity of £14,000,000. It is a perfectly defensible attitude for the Opposition to contend that, in a budget in which the Government claims that taxes are being reduced by £118,000,000, the reduction should be not £118,000,000 but £104,000,000, and that £14,000,000, if that sum is justifiable, should be given to the pensioners.
I wish to discuss the problem of allowing pensioners to earn and the necessity for some modification of the provisions relating to permissible income, even if the Government is not prepared to accept the suggestion that was made by the honor- . able member for Eden-Monaro. It seems to me to be vital that in considering this measure we should consider the whole problem of the aged. We need a new outlook on these matters. I believe we should think in terms, not of the monetary level of pensions but of the necessity to do more for the aged section of the community than to make money payments to them. The honorable member for Petrie ( Mr. Hulme) touched the very centre of the problem when he spoke about the different positions of many categories of pensioners who are receiving the same [-elision payments. He referred, I think justly, to the single pensioner who has to live in a room as being worse off than any other pensioners. A married pensioner is relatively well off if he owns his own home, and not so well off if he does not own his own home. But usually the position of a single pensioner who has to pay for a room is desperate. Much of what local authorities in Britain do for pensioners could be done also for pensioners in Australia. The honorable member for Petrie said that one solution of the problem of the single pensioner had been found by the Methodist Church, which established a. garden settlement or farm for a group of pensioners. But that is not practicable in large urban communities. In Great Britain, some local authorities have established hostels or restaurants where pensioners can get their meals. The meals are cooked by people who serve the pensioners voluntarily, and the cost of a meal is only the cost of its ingredients. By that means, the purchasing power of pensions in Great Britain is extended. I am certain that a similar scheme could be organized in Australia. It could be done by the Commonwealth, if the States were not prepared to do it. In our country, local government is pretty immature and has not developed the great range of activities of local government that one observes in Great Britain, but the provision of meals for pensioners on that basis could be a. function of local government here.
I want to refer to the unnecessary burden that we impose upon ourselves by our archaic retirement laws. There is no valid reason why people should be retired at the age of 65 years. It is time we began to think, not in terms of age, but in terms of health. There are many people who do not want to. retire. My father died at work at the age of 71 years, having worked for six years beyond the normal retiring age. We tend to think of retirement as a great privilege, but a great many old people do not think of it as a privilege at all. If we believe that we can support a full employment economy and that we have learned the monetary techniques whereby we can do so, we must adjust our thinking about the retirement of aged persons. Under our present system, there is an immense waste of skill. I spent some weeks recently in Switzerland. That country has no structure of social services; but it would be wrong to assume that the position of aged and invalid people there is worse than in this country. That is very far from the truth. The Swiss farmers go on working m nd so do skilled men in their great watchmaking industry. The Swiss value the skill of many men of 70 und 80 years of age. The men are glad to go on working because they have the craftsman’s attitude to their work and do not regard it as drudgery. I do not want to push this suggestion to foolish lengths, because 1 realize there are many people, such as coal-miners, who, having done work that is drudgery, .want to retire, and ought to be allowed to do so.
It is time we began to think of the 500,000 aged people in this country, not as a block of pensioners, but as a section of older persons to whom we should apply a variable policy. It seems to me that we ought to do medical research work on the problem of ageing, but I am told that that field of medical research has hardly been touched. Another form of assistance is developing in a rudimentary way in Britain. “Welfare and social workers go round to find out what is happening to aged people and help them in their difficulties. Some old people, especially those who are incapacitated and really unable to look after themselves, although they are not classifiable as feeble or invalid, ought to receive the assistance of welfare and social workers. Some of them have lost the capacity to cook proper meals for themselves. In Britain, some local authorities have travelling canteens which bring a meal to the door for a payment that covers only costs. Another development in Britain is the mobilization of good neighbours - people who are prepared to work voluntarily for the old people. In Australia, we have parents and citizens’ associations, which can be regarded as organizations of the parents mid good neighbours of the children. An immense amount of voluntary work is done for the children by those bodies, and enormous sums of money are raised and spent on education to supplement government expenditure. In Britain, we see a similar development in the form of organizations of good neighbours of the old people. That is an extremely good development, because it tends to make the old people feel that they are valued. Its psychological importance is immense, because it brings the old people into a family community. In some local authority areas in Great Britain, district nurses go out to attend to infirm old people who are not feeble enough to be admitted to hospitals.
It seems to me that in dealing with the problem of aged people of this country, we must revise our ideas on retirement, cease to think of the problem in terms only of monetary payments, recognize that the problems of old people vary, and endeavour to develop by voluntary means; . through churches, neighbourhoods and local government authorities, services to meet the needs of people who are becoming increasingly infirm. As medicine prolongs life, the number of old people in the community is becoming greater. Something must be done to lift from the community some of the burden of heavy taxation that will be imposed on it as the ageing section of the population increases. A part of the burden can be lifted by not retiring people who do not want to retire and are capable of continuing to give good service to the community and to contribute to the support of other old people. To help the old people who are infirm, we should develop those intelligent services which would show them that we continue to value them. David Lloyd George, in one of the last articles that he wrote, said -
How we treat our old people is a crucial test of our national quality. A nation that lacks gratitude to those who have honestly worked for her . . . does not deserve a future, for she has lost her sense of justice and her instinct of mercy.
The treatment of aged people is the crucial test of civilization. We all appreciate the potentialities of children, but there is nothing that we can get out of old people and our attitude to them is really determined by how we value human beings. I think that those intelligent developments in Great Britain which come in first at the level of local government are a model for our consideration.
– I am sure honorable members agree with practically everything the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) has said, especially with his statement that the provision of social services for aged people is not just a question of finding more cash. I think it is very easy - and I say this with respect to the honorable member - for one to be led down paths of over-specialization, and to imagine that the problem of old-age can be solved by raising it to the level of a speciality and conducting some special research into it. In fact, old age can be described as the central problem of medicine. The whole matter of growing old, of changes in the physiology of the individual and in the circulatory system, &c, is one which, without being segregated into a speciality, has occupied the attention of the medical profession for very many years.
This Government has taken a great step forward by providing aged people with pensions and free medical service. The greatest virtue of the system is not so much that pensioners get free medical service, although that is very important, but that they get it in their homes. The benefit of domiciliary medicine, the benefit to the pensioner of having his own family practitioner, has been preserved. That is the very fine principle underlying this legislation. I join with the honorable member for Fremantle in expressing the belief that we have not discharged our obligation to the aged when we find money with which to pay their pensions.
– I desire to refer to the section of the Social Services Consolidation Act which covers the A class widow. So far, honorable members have not dealt with that section. I think the A class widow has been rather poorly treated. I desire to cite one particular case, although I know that one particular case does not always prove what .should be done. A little less than twelve months ago, an employee of the Adelaide Tramways Trust took ill, was in hospital for some time and then died, leaving a widow and four children. He was a very fine young man. I have received a letter from his widow which I desire to read, because I think it is worth recording. That letter, addressed to myself, and dated the 13th October, 1953, is as follows : -
A lot has been said lately about aged and invalid pensioners, and while appreciating their sad positions (and they have my wholehearted sympathy) I would like to add my story.
Having been left a widow with four young children whose ages are 10 years, 8 years, 7 years and 3$ years am receiving £5 7s. 6d. a week including child endowment, on which to pay rent, feed and clothe us, an utter impossibility - no entertainments.
The budget allowed us to earn higher wages or income but what chance have 1 to go out to work. Our eldest girl having had polio and also attacks of asthma necessitating a rest from school periodically and youngest visiting hospital out-patients after burnt hand, my place seems to be at home.
It is a big task for one person to be mother and father to children in training alone, but it seems one has to provide as a father also. What becomes of pre-school children while a widow is at work.
Surely if it is true, we must populate or perish, we deserve a little more security at least until children are able to earn for themselves. I feel (as I know many others do too) our position has been somewhat overlooked.
Having had a wonderful husband and father in . . . our loss is very great and to do justice (as he would want) to our children I feel I must put in a certain amount of time to their upbringing and that is a weighty responsibility without his help.
That is only one of many cases. I think that we should take another step forward in the provision of social services. The woman who wrote that letter receives the ordinary pension of £3 7s. 6d., plus the 5s. that is granted to a widow with one child, a total pension of £3 12s. 6d. In addition, she receives 5s. child endowment for the first child and 10s. for each of the other three children, which makes a total income of £5 7s. 6d. Under the proposed legislation that woman would receive an increase of 2s. 6d. a week. I am sure the Minister sympathizes with her. I confine my remarks to the question of the A class widow when I suggest that an allowance for each child should be granted. An allowance is made to a person in receipt of a war widow’s pension for each child, irrespective of the amount she receives for child endowment. I think the Government should give consideration to that matter. If an allowance of 10s. a week for each child were granted, that woman would receive £7 10s. a week instead of the £5 10s. as proposed by this bill. When a woman with four children has to pay rent, school charges and other expenses, £7 10s. is a very small amount, indeed. The widow to whom I referred has to go to charitable institutions or elsewhere for assistance.
I ask the Minister for Social Services, when he is considering future amendments of the Social Services Consolidation Act, to take into consideration the position of the A class widow with a view to granting an extra payment for her children. I do not want honorable members to say to me, “ Why did you not do it when your party was in power?” Two wrongs do not make a right. I know that the present practice is wrong. Provision should have been made longago, but I do say that it is something which the Government and the Parliament should consider.
The woman to whom I referred used the expression “ populate or perish “. The best migrant we can get is the child who is born in this country. Legacy does much for the children of soldiers who have given their lives for their country and other organizations assist them, but the ordinary widow who is left as this woman was left is in a desperate situation. This subject is not new to me. In 1927, legislation was passed in South Australia to assist this class of people and I spoke very strongly at that time about the justice of doing something for them.
Another section of the community who have not been treated very well are those to whom the means test applies. I know that the level of the means test has been raised by £50 and that the extra £1 in £10 has been raised to £1 in £11, but those people without any income, or with an income of only a few shillings or £1 or £1 10s. from their property, are in a very unfortunate position. They are deserving of greater consideration. I do not wish to delay the committee any longer, but I do ask that consideration be given to the A class widow so that in future something better shall be done for them.
Motion (by Mr. Gullett) put -
That the question be now put.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. C. F. Adermann.)
Majority . . . . 5
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
Debate resumed from the 20th October (vide page 1572), on motionby Mr. Francis -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- This is a bill to amend the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act 1940-1952. It is a small measure consisting of only four clauses, of which the essential clause is clause 3. The original act was passed in 1940 in order to make provision for the payment of pensions and other allowances in respect of Australian mariners who had suffered death, disablement or loss as a result of World War II. Quite a number of amendments have been incorporated in that act because of changed general conditions, and because of the alteration of government policy in regard to pensions. In fact, two amendments were made last year. This bill is closely connected with the Repatriation Bill 1953, which will shortly be debated in this House, and many of the provisions of the latter measure will have a considerable effect upon the recipients of the benefits that will be conferred by this measure. In order to have had an adequate debate, perhaps it would have been better to have discussed the Repatriation Bill and this bill together, because there is a. close relationship between the two measures.
Clause 3 of this bill provides that the first schedule to the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act shall be altered. The first schedule refers to pensions payable to widows of Australian mariners and other dependants upon the death or total incapacity of Australian mariners. Of course, any such pension mentioned in the first schedule is payable only where incapacity or death has been due to service performed during World War II. In addition to the rates of pension for widows and mariners as set out in clause 3, the pensions payable to dependants, other than widows and children, of deceased Australian mariners, are also set out. It is important to notice that the bill proposes to increase the rate of pension payable to widows and to totally incapacitated mariners by 2s. 6d. a week, but it makes no provision whatever for an increase of the pension payable to dependants as defined in column 3 of the schedule.
The Opposition does not oppose this measure, but it believes that it should be strongly criticized because of the inadequate amount by which the pensions are proposed to be increased. I do not desire to go over the whole argument against the smallness of the increases, because that was well traversed during the recent debate on the Social Services Consolidation Bill, and it will again be traversed, to some extent, when the Repatriation
Bill comes before this House. However, if certain reasons, no matter what they may be, make it necessary to increase the pension granted to widows and totally incapacitated mariners, then surely the same reasons should actuate the Government to increase by the same amount pensions that are payable to dependants other than widows and children. One of the other peculiarities of this measure is that certain pension rates have been fixed by acts of Parliament, but other pension rates have been dealt with by regulation.
The Minister said in his secondreading speech on this bill that the measure was not designed to cover the whole of the alterations proposed in connexion with Australian mariners’ pensions. He pointed out that certain other increases and benefits for members and dependants would be expressed in seamen’s war pensions and allowances regulations. Apparently it is proposed that allowances to mariners travelling for treatment or pension purposes are to be increased from 25s. to 30s. a day. Apparently it is also proposed to increase, by regulation, the domestic allowances paid to the widows and children of deceased mariners or to widows who have attained the age of 50 years or who are permanently unemployable. In the latter case it is proposed te increase the domestic allowance by 2s. 6d. a week, which is the same amount as tilt; proposed increase of widows’ and mariners’ pensions. It cannot be stressed too strongly that the pension increase of 2s. 6d. a week is totally inadequate to-day, in view of our general economic conditions and the great increase of the cost of living during the last twelve months. It should also be remembered that the cost of living is not completely measured by the C series index. There is the widespread belief that the C series index accurately records the cost of living of the average householder, but all those who have studied the figures will agree that it’ by no means covers the whole range of household expenditure, and that at the best it can only be regarded as a figure that shows the price trend and not a figure that is an accurate measurement. Therefore, although the 2s. 6d. increase of pensions is inadequate even when compared with the C series index, it is more than inadequate when compared with the general increase of the cost of living.
Apart from that, the nation has a responsibility to ensure that the general prosperity of the community shall be shared by those who, through no fault of their own, are unable to earn an income that is sufficient to support them. If we do not recognize that principle, then we are lagging behind in our obligation to our less fortunate citizens. The schedule that is proposed to be amended by this measure is headed “ General pension rates - death or total incapacity “. The pension payable to an Australian mariner who is totally incapacitated- will be £4 2s. 6d. a week. If a person who is totally incapacitated is to receive only £4 2s. 6d. a week, it is obvious that that would be by no means enough to support him. Upon investigation one discovers that total incapacity is apparently some incapacity that has resulted from service as a mariner in World War II. Section 22a of the principal act provides that if a person is totally and permanently incapacitated and is unable to work at all, he is entitled to receive the benefits payable to totally and permanently incapacitated persons under the Australian Soldiers Repatriation Act. Consequently, the amount that such persons would receive would be much more than £4 2s. 6d. a week.
I desire to stress that the heading of the first schedule, although it mentions total incapacity, gives a completely wrong impression of the rights of injured mariners in- respect to pension payments. Whether that can be rectified by an amendment of the act itself to make clear the nature of total incapacity, is a matter that might be considered by the department that will handle this matter. The increase contemplated by the measure is completely unsatisfactory in view of our general economic condition, and particularly from the viewpoint .of our national income. The national income has increased from about £780,000,000 in 1938-39 to about £3,579,000,000 in 1952-53. In view of that enormous increase of our wealth, it seems absurd that we pay so little to those who have been injured as a result of their war service, whether in the active fighting forces or in the merchant service. We can afford to pay a higher rate than will be paid under this measure, and because of that the bill is open to criticism. However, the Opposition does not oppose the measure.
.- I support the remarks of the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey), particularly in regard to his criticism of the proposed increases under the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Bill. In offering that criticism, one must accept the fact that this Government is following a. certain pattern, and that one could hardly expect that the Government would award an Australian mariner an increase greater than that which it would give to a war widow or a disabled serviceman. I object to the paltry amount proposed in this measure, and I direct honorable members’ attention to the greatly increased cost of living and to the principles that the Government should nave followed, not only in drafting this legislation, but also in drafting all legislation that deals with the repatriation of those who fought and suffered and bled in the service of this country. If the men who will ‘be dealt with under this bill had not been members of the merchant service, our position as a nation might be greatly different from our present state.
I heartily commend those who have gone down to the sea in ships, have sailed those ships to the various theatres of war and have made their contribution towards the freedom of this country. We should regard the services of those who have given their time and energy and in some instances lost their blood while in the pay of a ship-owner as of the utmost value to the nation. My principal purpose in rising is to direct the attention of the House to the urgent need for the new approach to this matter. We should see to it that those who administer this law, as is the case with those who administer the laws relating to social services and repatriation benefits, view with sympathy and understanding the claims of men who in the process of serving their country have sustained injuries or suffered ill health. I have before me a letter signed by the officer in charge of the Legal Service Bureau, Sydney, which deals with the claim for compensation of Mr. C. E. Lewis, of 74 Megalong-street,
Katoomba. Mr. Lewis bad nearly 30 years’ service in the merchant navy, during the course of which he travelled the world. His service to the nation during the war was equal to that of those who fought on foreign battle fields. It was a part of his wartime duty to take food to beleaguered fortresses in the face of enemy action. In a variety of ways he played a useful part in the war. He had the misfortune to be a member of the crew of the motor vessel Macdhui, which was bombed for two days by the Japanese and finally torpedoed at Port Moresby, on the 18th June, 1942. Mr. Lewis was blown into the water and was later rescued and treated for injuries that hu had sustained during the attack on the vessel. He lost all his personal effects. The compensation awarded to him, which was paltry in the extreme, did not anything like meet the expenses in which he was involved for medical attention. I understand he had to pay eighteen guineas for the replacement of dentures lost during his submersion in the sea. The total compensation paid to him amounted to £26 13s. 4d. This so-called grateful Government failed to see that he was adequately compensated.
– This happened in 1942, long before the present Government assumed office.
– I regret to think that a man who had rendered service to his country as Mr. Lewis did cannot be adequately compensated under the provisions of this measure. The letter received by Mr. Lewis, from the officer in charge of the_ Legal Service Bureau, is in the following terms : -
It is with regret that I have to show hereunder, copy of a letter received from the Repatriation Department.
You are informed that this case has been carefully considered by the Repatriation Commission and as the ex-mariner is not suffering from a “ war injury “, as denned in section 3 of the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act, his claim has been rejected.
The ex-mariner has no right of appeal to the War Pensions Entitlement Appeals Tribunal.
To whom can this man appeal for justice? Surely there should be a court of appeal to which he could apply for redress. Surely there is an authority or tribunal that can say to him, “This is what you should do. This is the way in which you can obtain just treatment of your case”. Surely some Government department which functions on behalf of the people can ensure that justice shall be done to him. It should not be necessary for him to have to go through the labyrinth of various departments in order to ascertain how he can obtain the benefits to which he is entitled. The state-1 ment in the letter that Mr. Lewis is not suffering from a war injury as defined in section 3 of the Seamen’s “War Pensions and Allowances Act is difficult to understand. What constitutes a war injury within the terms of that section? Is it suggested that a person may qualify for compensation within the terms of section 3 only if he has suffered the loss of a limb or an eye or has sustained obvious bodily injury? A man whose ship has been blown up by an enemy is surely entitled to compensation. Mr. Lewis has been in grave ill health for eleven years as the result of his experiences. His nerves are in a serious state. He has obtained numerous medical certificates relating to his ill health, and he asks that the act be amended to enable him to be adequately compensated. Any government worthy of the name would be guided by past mistakes and consider all the circumstances that exist in relation to a claim made of this kind. If the Government feels that a wrong has been done to a man it should be ready to repair the damage and do the right thing. The nation would be sympathetic to this man’s case. I appeal to the Government to amend this legislation to provide for the right of appeal to be given against decisions of the Repatriation Commission in cases such as this. Furthermore, I suggest that the commission be given a shake-up so that in future it may be easier for unlettered and uninitiated persons to receive justice from it.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– I wish to add my plea to that made by the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) during the second-reading stage of the bill. The honorable member gave details of a case in which an Australian mariner whose ship had been bombed and torpedoed by an enemy during the war had suffered material loss and physical damage. From the correspondence which the honorable member read it is apparent that the case is not covered by the provisions of the act. The original act contained a seventh schedule which provided for compensation of Australian mariners in respect of damage to or loss of effects varying from £20 in the case of other ratings to £100 in the case of a master. When the act was amended in 1952, however, that schedule was repealed. It is apparent that this man, in addition to losing his personal effects, lost his artificial dentures and sustained injuries which have resulted in the loss of his health. As a consequence of his experiences, he has developed a serious nervous condition. It is understandable that a man whose ship has been blown up and sunk should suffer physical and, in some respects, mental injury. If the requisite medical evidence is forthcoming to prove that this man has suffered physical and mental disabilities as the result of the torpedoing and sinking of his ship a prima facie case can be established for his participation in the benefits provided under this legislation. But for the deletion of the seventh schedule by the amending legislation passed last year, he would at least have been entitled to claim compensation for the loss of his personal effects. The Government in its own interests should see that justice is done in this case.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from the 20th October (vide page 1571), on motion by Sir Arthur Fadden -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The Opposition supports the bill but, without unduly protracting the debate, proposes to offer some suggestions in relation to it. As the Treasurer (Sir Arthur
Fadden) indicated in his second-reading speech, the purpose of the bill is to give legislative .effect to the recommendations of the Commonwealth Grants Commission in relation to special grants for the claimant States. The commission has performed very valuable work over the years. Beginning without a charter, it developed its own procedures and laid down principles designed to give rough-and-ready justice to the claimant States. The commission examines the accounts of the claimant States, ascertains their difficulties and compares their standards with those of what are termed the standard States. It ascertains the per capita amount spent in respect of public services and social services and adds to it a percentage allowance for difficulties experienced by a claimant State in administering social services, difficulties caused by lack of population and, in some instances, by the extensive area of the State concerned. From that adjustment it gets a relative balance of the payments made to all the States. The balanced payments then provided for in the subsequent legislation constitute the monetary grants designed to enable the claimant States to bring their situation up to what is called the Australian standard which obtains in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.
The problem of Federal and State financial relationships will remain in existence as long as federation exists, although it may alter from time to time. The primary need is that the Federal Government of the day shall regard the problem as a national problem. I believe that past governments - the fault was not confined to any one government - have shown too great a tendency to regard the States as nuisances to be put off with as little trouble as possible. In consequence a continual wrangle between the Commonwealth and the States has developed. I think that the States have a responsibility that they have not always met with due regard for the good of the nation as a whole. They have adopted a bargaining procedure which is similar to that used in private life. They ask the Commonwealth for twice as much as they want because they know that their requests will be scaled down anyway, and they hope by that means to receive finally an amount approximating their wishes. That is a highly unsatisfactory way of running a federation.
The most satisfactory surveys of the financial relationships between the Commonwealth and the States, the problems of the States, and the situation in the standard States, are made by the Commonwealth Grants Commission. Able men have comprised that commission over the years. As I said earlier, starting without a charter, the commission developed a principle, which it laid down in its valuable third report, and on which it has subsequently acted. Briefly stated, the principle is that the claimant States which seek special grants should be enabled to have social services and such other services in line with the other States, to a standard which is regarded as the minimum national standard. To that end the grants made available were, in the early years, based upon the balanced budget standard. The war years produced substantial budget surpluses in the standard States, while the claimant States had little, or no, surpluses. In those years the commission examined the Australian situation in the complete detail in which it has examined it on every occasion. It decided that there was not warrant for recommending to the National Parliament the making of grants to the claimant States that would be sufficient to balance their budgets. The commission pointed out, however, that as the non-claimant States had made large contributions to reserves in war-time years, when reserves were drawn upon in ia-tar’ years the commission would have regard to the reserves that had been drawn upon. As a consequence, the amounts were adjusted in postwar years and that is the practice that it has followed since that time.
Whilst in my opinion, and in the opinion of the Opposition, the commission has done a very valuable job, it has not really got to the heart of the problem. In fact, it is possible that as a result of the method by which it determines grants, the payments it makes, and the deductions it makes in respect of various items, it imposes a penalty on a claimant State that is seeking to extend its educational services, increase social service payments, and generally to act in an enlightened manner towards its citizens. If a State which seeks special grants from the Commonwealth is expending more on education, social service benefits and so forth, then the standard States which provide the Australian average standard, a deduction is made from the assessed amount payable to that State. It is true that that is only arrived at in order to see what contribution the Commonwealth Parliament should make in order to enable the State to achieve the relative Australian standard. It has the effect, at least in some degree, of inhibiting State governments in the provision of better education facilities and increased social services payments. It seems to me that it would be f ar better if the Commonwealth were to arrange a regular liaison between the Commonwealth and State ministries in relation to every item of State and Commonwealth administration where comparative departments exist, and to have a continuing arrangement whereby the highest possible standard of educational and social service facilities could be attained throughout the Commonwealth. To achieve that result it would be necessary to go beyond the powers of the commission, but we shall not achieve a proper national standard until something like that has been put into practice.
The commission points out in its current report that the States have had difficulty in deciding the size of the grants that they require in this financial year. That is due, we believe, and the report of the commission reinforces the opinion, to the continuing increase of costs. The States are not able to budget at the beginning of the year for the exact amount that they will need. They are not able to give to the commission, when the hearings take place, even roughly what their requirements for that year will be. That is, of Course, a responsibility of this Parliament and one that we must grapple with. While that difficulty remains it makes extremely difficult the problem of the State governments and the work of the commission. The commission also points out that losses on State railway services have had a big effect on State budgets. That is another of the problems which are not only State problems, but are national problems.
As I suggested earlier, and as the Opposition has stated on many occasions, there must be closer liaison and co-operation between the States and the Commonwealth in relation to vital development matters, especially those that have a defence significance. During the war years the State railway systems provided budget surpluses in the standard States because rail traffic was heavy. They have also been the cause of State deficits in the post-war years because rail traffic has fallen off. It is clear that, in order to allow the States to function as they should, the Commonwealth must take a large share of responsibility for the operation of the State railway systems. It has been pointed out frequently that without satisfactory railway systems this nation cannot develop its potentialities. But a State which is struggling against ti host of difficulties is in no position to implement a satisfactory rail policy and bear the heavy burdens that railways impose on the finances of the States. That applies particularly to States like Western Australia and South Australia which have a. great rail mileage. I believe that in order to deal with this situation realistically the Commonwealth should grapple with the problems of railway rehabilitation and railway finances. It is vital, in order to ensure that this problem is tackled on a national level - which is the only way in which it can be solved - that the Commonwealth have a conference with the States in order to achieve a uniform and settled Australian railway policy. Such a conference should lay down standards, achieve uniformity, and arrange for the provision of the most up-to-date locomotives and rollingstock, which is beyond the capacity of the smaller States. Such a development of our railway systems is vital to the prosperity and the defence of the Commonwealth. The railways are obviously the central core of the financial problem of the States and present a problem in regard to which the Government should move speedily and with determination in order to bring order where chaos at present exists.
The Commonwealth Grants Commission, following practice, divides the annual grant to the States into two parts. It provides for the accounts and the grant that it has made in earlier years to be the basis for an adjusting balance. That is the first part. It is in the way of an adjustment of the amount provided two years before. It is adjusted on the basis of the audited accounts of the claimant States whose affairs have been examined. The second part of the grant, which makes up the composite total provided for under this bill, is based on the estimated needs of the States in the year concerned, but an adjustment payment in respect of this year will be made two years hence, when the audited figures are available. Each of the States has its own separate problem in its endeavour to preserve some degree of uniformity. Western Australia, for instance, is faced with difficult problems at present. As the commission points out, its problems are due to a number of factors, including losses on its railway system, but they are due also to the large commitments that the previous Western Australian Government entered into in relation to the great new oil refinery at Kwinana. That project will provide much-needed industrial development in Western Australia. It will represent a turning point in the State’s economy. As a result of it Western Australia will change from an almost wholly agricultural State to an agriculturalcumsecondary industry State. In order to establish the oil refining industry, however, the anti-Labour State Government which left office at the last election, heavily committed the State. I shall not argue whether it did so rightly or wrongly. In order to ensure that the refinery would be established in Western Australia, with the good results that we believe will flow from it, the LiberalAustralian Country party Government gave generous terms to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited. Those terms appear now to be over-generous. Whether that be so or not, the fact is that a large proportion of the State’s resources, its loan moneys and its current income, is committed to make good the guarantees made to the company by the previous government. The present Government of Western Australia has, therefore, a difficult problem to face. It placed that problem before the Commonwealth and asked for some assistance to be given to it in order to enable the heavy burden of these commitments to be borne without the necessity of a reduction of the State’s normal services, or a too sharp reduction of the loan money available for all kinds of developmental work. 1 understand that the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) has told the “Western Australian Premier that the Commonwealth is unable to meet its request for a £l-for-£l grant to enable the work of establishing the refinery to go on without the undesirable consequences to which 1 have referred. I understand that the Treasurer is not willing to go beyond the grants that the Government has already made to “Western Australia in common with the other States. I think that that is an ungenerous and unrealistic attitude to take. The strength of the Commonwealth as a whole is necessarily dependent upon the strength of all the States, and on the vital developmental work performed in connexion with railway rehabilitation, water conservation and reticulation, and a host of other things, which will be impeded because the Western Australian Government’s works programme must be trimmed to enable that Government to meet the clear contractual obligations that its predecessor entered into in relation to the oil refinery, a project that is important, not only to Western Australia, but to th, Commonwealth as a whole. Whilst I support the bill and endorse the principles upon which the Commonwealth Grants Commission has operated throughout its existence, 1” believe that the Government should seriously consider the matters that I have mentioned. The States as a whole cannot function as they should function, and, in consequence, the Commonwealth cannot attain to the greatness of which we believe it to be capable, unless we solve the pressing problems that manifest themselves so- clearly at conferences of Commonwealth and State Ministers. The Commonwealth has an interest no less great than that of the States in the activities of big spending departments in the States, such as those which control the railways and the education systems. Unless the Commonwealth agrees to arrange for a continuous liaison between Commonwealth and State ministries, we shall not be able to develop Australia as it should be developed and exploit our productive capacity to the full, and we shall continue to hear the creaking of the constitutional machinery that has disturbed us in recent years. Although the Opposition supports the bill, it earnestly hopes .that the Government will take a more realistic view of its responsibilities as the central government in a federation, at future conferences of Commonwealth and State Ministers. [Quorum formed.’]
.- Like the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Tom Burke), I propose to speak from a State point of view in discussing this bill, the purpose of which is to give effect to the recommendations of the Commonwealth Grants Commission for the granting of financial assistance to the three minor States of South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. It is true that the Commonwealth Grants Commission bases its recommendations upon a careful survey of the social conditions in the various States. Its object is to enable the minor States to provide public facilities of a standard equal to that of similar facilities provided in the other States. I disagree with the honorable member for Perth, who has said that its decisions are rough and ready. I maintain that its recommendations are based on careful calculations and investigations of the finances of the minor States. However, the fact remains that they are based only upon figures. I should very much like the activities of the commission to be extended so as to include an examination of the actual physical conditions in the different States. It is all very well for it to examine, for example, the cost of maintaining education, hospital and transport services in Western Australia, but such an examination does not take into account the fact that many public services are not yet available throughout Western Australia. The commission should visit country districts and see for itself where facilities are lacking because of the financial difficulties of the State governments. If it did so, I am certain that it would recommend much larger grants than it has recommended in recent years. Of course, the Commonwealth Government would probably look askance at the recommendations, and perhaps for the first time in the history of the Commonwealth Grants Commission, the t recommended figures might be reduced.
Sooner or later there must be a reassessment of the overall relationship between the Commonwealth and the States. My opinion, which I have formed after a close study of the situation, is that this National Parliament is in grave danger of being unable to see the wood for the trees. I am glad to note that my view is confirmed by the honorable member for Perth, who has had longer experience as a member of this Parliament than I have had. There is a tendency in this Parliament, and therefore on the part of Commonwealth governments, to ignore the States. In trying to consider our responsibilities from a broad national point of view, we are likely to lose sight of the fact that the nation consists of separate units. The Commonwealth is made up of the States, the States are made up of communities, and the communities are made up of family units. How much do we know, either collectively or individually, of the plans of the State governments for the progress and development of their States? This Parliament holds the economic welfare of Australia in its hands, but it is not aware of the ambitions and aspirations of the State governments. It is true that individual plans are submitted to us occasionally, but, as a general rule, we are not informed of the programmes of the State governments. We are aware, of course, of the war service land settlement plans of Western Australia, because this Government has accepted the recommendation of the State government for the development of 250,000 acres of light land in order to provide farms for exservicemen. This is a splendid State project, and I hope that it represents only the beginning of an extensive development scheme. Nevertheless it is only one small matter.
Industrial development in Western Australia, is lagging many years behind similar development in other States as a result of the lack of a real national outlook in this Parliament. Our efforts have been concentrated too much in the eastern States to the detriment of Western Australia. I agree with the honorable member for Perth that good terms were offered to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company to encourage it to establish a new industry in Western Australia. That offer by the former Liberal-Country party State Government was not generous, but it provided for the expenditure on developmental works in the immediate future of an amount that normally would have been expended over a period of years. The important fact is that such an amount expended now will be of immeasurably greater value to the State, and to the nation as a whole, than it would be if it were expended over a long period. The development is needed now. The outlook of this National Parliament, if it is to be national in every sense, must be as big as the nation but also, when necessary, as small as . the individuals who make up the nation. Unfortunately, we tend to overlook the needs and wishes of the individual. That is a fundamental weakness. While the States, whether they be major or minor States, are required constantly to seek financial assistance from the National Government, they will continue to lose, little by little, their sovereign rights. Under the existing relationship, financial and otherwise, between the Commonwealth and the States, this Parliament has complete control of the destinies of the States without having any knowledge of the intentions of the governments of the States. How can we govern widely and wisely in the national interest if we are not fully informed of the plans of the component parts of the nation?
I submit that the Commonwealth Grants Commission should extend its examination of State requirements beyond mere budgets and the costs of maintaining existing services, and should make a critical, study of the services that are provided in each State. Its object should be to ensure that the services available in any State are equal to the general standard of such services. It should determine whether any State suffers because of its membership of the federal system and make its recommendations accordingly. Any citizen of Western Australia can speak at length on the many economic difficulties experienced by that State under federation. I do not propose to discuss them at this stage, but 1 point out that Western Australia has been at the mercy of, and is the victim of, its attachment to the Commonwealth.
– Western Australia, derives some advantages from its attachment to the Commonwealth.
– Those advantages are so small that I could not see them unless I wore simultaneously all the spectacles made in Australia. The development of Western Australia has been retarded because its financial resources have been limited as the result of its attachment to the Commonwealth. At no time in its history has Western Australia had to struggle to raise loan money. Other States have not been in that fortunate position. Western Australia, if it had to rely on its own resources in this connexion, would be in a happy position indeed.
Those are the circumstances as I have seen them during the comparatively short time I have been a member of this Parliament. I know that I shall continue to be a member of the Parliament for a long time, and I hope that, with the passing of the years, the position of Western Australia under federation will improve. The blame for the whole position cannot be attributed to a particular government. This National Parliament and a succession of national governments have failed to realize the importance of the little parts which make up the whole nation. I support the bill. I know that the grant of £7,800,000 will bc welcomed in Western Australia. As a matter of fact, the present Labour Government delayed the presentation of its budget to the State Parliament until it knew the size of the grant. This bill will enable the Labour Government to proceed with its plans, and time will show whether its administration is good or bad. I forecast that its administration will not be good, but then, it will be in office for only a short time.
– I was astonished to hear the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) announce that he would support the bill, because he accused this National Parliament and a succession of national governments of having failed to look after the interests of Western Australia as they should have been looked after. I appreciate his frankness in this matter, but “J. am amazed at his decision to vote for the bill.
– Does the honorable member expect me to ref use, on behalf of Western Australia, a grant of £7,800,000?
– The honorable member for Moore does not appear to be aware that the Chifley Labour Government looked after the interests of Western Australia very well. Approximately £2,500,000 was provided to Western Australia as a special grant for the south-west water supply scheme. The honorable member would be well advised to resign from the Australian Country party and join the Labour party.
Ever since federation, the financial relations between the Commonwealth and the States have been a serious problem for this Parliament. Trial and error, and experimentation have been tried by governments in their search for a solution of the problems of the three claimant States, Tasmania, Western Australia and South Australia. Those three States, because of their smaller populations, relative isolation from the great industrial centres, and limited economic capacity, have required special financial aid from this Parliament in order to place them on a basis of reasonable equality -with the more populous States. The story of the approach to this problem is most interesting. It had its genesis in section S7 of the Commonwealth Constitution, which became operative in 1901. Section S7 reads as follows : -
During a period of ten years after the establishment of the Commonwealth and thereafter until the Parliament otherwise provides, of the net revenue of the Commonwealth from duties of customs and of excise not more than one-fourth shall be applied annually by the Commonweal th towards its expenditure.
The balance shall, in accordance with this Constitution; be paid to the several States, or applied towards the payment of interest on debts of the several States taken over by the Commonwealth.
That section of the Constitution is virtually the basis of this bill. Three distinct attempts have been made to solve the problems of Commonwealth and State financial relations in the 52 years of federation in order to grant justice to the three less populous States. Those three attempts fall into three periods of our history. The first period was from 1901 to 1910, in the cradle days, or during the teething stage, of the Commonwealth, when payments were made to the States under section 87 of the Constitution, known as the Braddon clause. The second period was from 1911 until 1927, and was marked by a succession of surplus revenue acts. The third period is from 192S to the present day, and is covered by the Financial Agreement Act 1928.
An important development in Commonwealth and State financial relations occurred in 1933, when the government of the day appointed the Commonwealth Grants Commission. Another interesting event occurred in 1936, when the commission completely changed its approach to the financial problems of the three poorer States. In that year, the commission rejected the payment of compensation for difficulties arising out of federation. 35 years before as a basis of assistance, and chose the principle of the financial needs of each State, which it expressed in the following terms: -
Special grants arc justified when a State, through financial stress from any cause, is unable efficiently to discharge its functions as n member of the Federation and should lie determined by the amount of help found necessary to make it possible for that State by reasonable effort to function at a standard not appreciably below that of the other States.
The Commonwealth Grants Commission has acted on that principle in the intervening years, and the method of apply ing it has been adapted to meet changing circumstances. ,As the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Tom Burke) has pointed cut, a grant to a State is made in two parts. I shall not repeat the explanation given by the honorable member of the grants commission’s approach to the matter, other than to point out that one grant, is an advance payment, and the other grant is an adjustment of the grant made two years earlier. On this principle, the advance payment recommended by the commission for Tasmania for the financial year 1953-54 is £1,650,000, less £150,000, which is the adjustment of the grant paid in 1951-52. Therefore, Tasmania will receive £1,500,000 this year compared with £1,555,000 last year. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) worked a “ shrewdy “ in his second-reading speech. He knows that the grants to the claimant States this year will be approximately £400,000 less than the payments made to them last year. The Treasurer has added tax reimbursements and State grants. He reveals that the tax reimbursement to the three claimant States this year is £778,000 in excess of the amount last year, and that Tasmania will receive £229,000 more than it received last year. I point out to the Treasurer that the increased cost3 of the States have been so great that the increased grant this year will not nearly cover their additional liabilities.
One real difficulty which the Commonwealth Grants Commission faces is the .assessment of special grants to the three claimant States. The Treasurer of a claimant State presents his budget to the State parliament long after the Commonwealth Grants Commission has held its inquiry into the financial position of the State. Thi. ,fore, the commission must work on budget estimates of a most inaccurate and tentative kind for the following financial year. For instance, the commission held its public sittings in Perth on the 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st November, 1952; in Hobart on the 11th, 12th and 13th February, 1953; in Adelaide on the 9th, 10th and 11th March, 1953 ; and in Canberra on the 20th April, 1.953. I understand that 73 witnesses were examined in the three claimant States and that, by the way, is a remarkable achievement. However, the fact that the commission held its investigations so long ago meant that the treasurer of a claimant Sta.te had to forecast his receipts of revenue and expenditure six months or ten months before he was due to present his budget to the State parliament.
Admittedly, before the commission completed its report on the 15th September last, each of the three claimant States forwarded revised or additional information to it for consideration. However, this system obliges a. .State treasurer to prepare virtually two budgets a year - one for submission to the Commonwealth Grants Commission when it is examining the finances of the State, and the other forpresentation to the parliament during the budget session. This method causes State authorities a colossal amount of work. “Would it be possible for the commission to meet the representatives of the three claimant States later in the year, when the budgetary position for the next financial year is more accurately known to the treasurers? If that were done, all the facts and figures could be presented at the one time and would not be presented to the commission in dribs and drabs. Unforeseen happenings that affect the revenue and expenditure of a State could easily occur in the period of from six to ten months that elapses between the time a State treasurer makes a forecast of hisbudget to the Commonwealth Grants Commission, and subsequently presents his budget to the State parliament. By meeting later, the commission could reduce sudden eventualities to a minimum. I admit that the commission might have to pack its total work into a shorter period, but surely it would not be asking too much if the commission had to work hard for six months, and then rested for the other six months of the year. Some people think that members of Parliament do no more than that.
The analysis which the commission makes of the economy of each State is detailed and excellent. The report of the commission is a model of clarity, factuality, system and efficiency. The document examines and surveys the economics of all the States, because the commission has to arrive at the standard prevailing in the three more populous non-claimant States in order to assess the positive or negative position of the three claimant States. In other words, the commission compares the circumstances of the three poorer States with the standard of the three major States.
I should like to refer, in the second part of my speech, to several aspects of the Tasmanian economy. The expenditure of the State in 1951-52 amounted to £10,745,000 or nearly £2,600,000 more than the expenditure in the previous year. The expenditure was incurred on three main parts of Tasmania’s life. The first was education, on which expenditure in Tasmania was £71s.1d. a head of the population and was exceeded only by Western Australia with an expenditure of £7 3s. a head of the population. Secondly, expenditure was incurred on health, hospitals and charities at the rate of £6 2s.1d. a head, which was exceeded only by Queensland with an expenditure of £6 3 s. 8d. a head. Thirdly, expenditure was incurred on law, order and public safety amounting to £2 0s. 6d. a head. That is the highest in the Commonwealth. In that year, Tasmania spent £15 4s. 5d. a head of population on those three services - the highest rate in the Commonwealth. Western Australia was the second highest, with an expenditure of £14 7s. a head. Those figures are set out at page 100 of the report of the commission.
Honorable members who have been to Tasmania will admit that our educational and health services are renowned for their high standard of efficiency, comprehensiveness and modern approach to the problems of education and health. In my view, a government should be judged at the bar of public opinion on its record in relation to the education and maintenance of the health of its people. Judged on that basis, Tasmania has done an amazingly good job during the last twenty years. It leads the other States in many aspects of health and education, particularly in its area school system. I believe, as does the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Tom Burke), that health and education are the most important features of the programme of any government. But, unfortunately, the more that Tasmania spends on health and education, the less it gets from the Commonwealth Grants Commission. I should like to know why we are being penalized for our expenditure on those two services. If we were content to loaf, we should get money from the commission, but because we tax ourselves to pay for our educational and health services, we are hit by the commission. I believe in self-help. I agree with the principle adopted by the Commonwealth Grants Commission that a State should do its utmost to help itself before it approaches the commission for assistance. But we have been penalized for our expenditure in these two important fields of administration, notwithstanding that in 1951-52 revenue from State taxes in Tasmania was £9 12s. 3d. a head, the highest figure in Australia. Surely we cannot properly be accused of not trying to help ourselves when we have taxed our people more heavily than has any other State.
I turn to the position of our railways. I was interested to hear the statement of the honorable member for Perth about the tragic condition of railways throughout Australia. The position is so alarming that I believe a royal commission should be appointed to examine the administration of all State railways. All State governments, irrespective of their political colour, are faced with a terrific problem in this connexion. Transportation costs are a nightmare, especially in this period of inflation. The debts of State railways are a Frankenstein monster. They amount to approximately £60,000,000.Although Tasmania has only a small railway system, the loss on our railways during the last fourteen years has been £6,698,452. During the same period, £1,699,149 was paid in interest charges on capital invested. Interest on capital accounts for 25.3 per cent, of the total loss on Tasmanian railways in fourteen years. The position in other States is similar to that in Tasmania. The honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Drakeford) has taken out the most interesting figures on railway systems in Australia that I have ever seen, and he will cite them to the House later. As a member of the Opposition’s transport committee, of which I am the secretary, he has engaged in a great deal of research into this great, problem. I venture to say that every honorable member will be staggered when he hears the figures presented by the honorable member for Maribyrnong on the losses incurred by Australian railways during the last fourteen years.
The Tasmanianrailwayslost £1,042,825 lastyear.Passengerrevenue dropped by £4,366,andgoods revenue rose by £238,121as the result of an increase of freight charges. No government likes to increase railway freights, because such an increase hits farmers, manufacturers and consumers, but the Tasmanian Government was forced to do so. By contrast, the Green Line service, a road passenger service established by the Tasmanian
Government about three years ago, made a profit of £34,046 last year. That profit will be used to help to offset the loss made by the railways, but it is a very small amount compared with the colossal loss by the railways of over £1,000,000. The Tasmanian Government has been criticized for establishing a road transport service to compete with its railways. There may be some ground for such criticism, but people like good, efficient and fast road transport services. In those circumstances, the Tasmanian Government was justified in providing a road service, although it is affecting the railways adversely. We brought Mr. H. Phillip, a United Kingdom railways expert, to Tasmania for a few months. He recommended the elimination of all railway passenger . services in Tasmania, except in Hobart. That was a most drastic recommendation. He said that if we did that, we should save £379,000 a year, but that is a very small sum compared with the total loss incurred by the railways. The Tasmanian Department of Transport has a railway rehabilitation programme. The rehabilitation of the Tasmanian railways by introducing diesel electric locomotives and better passenger cars, improving tracks and providing better workshops would cost £3,000,000. Work on the programme began two years ago, but now Mr. Phillip has recommended that we should abandon nearly all of our passenger services and use our railways mainly for the transport of goods. I cannot agree with his recommendation, which I consider to be too drastic.
In my opinion, the administration of railways in Australia is top-heavy. Nobody seems to look at the top of the administrative staffs. We are always urged to cut losses at the bottom by sacking employees. I admired the courage of the New South Wales Minister for Transport when he said this year that he was going to re-organize the New South Wales railways, and that he intended to begin at the top. That was a very courageous statement, but a very proper one. In Tasmania, and doubtless in other States, the cost of railways administration has increased out of all proportion to the expansion of the railways system. I have been told by old railway employees that twenty or thirty years ago more work was done on the Tasmanian railways than is done to-day with about a half of the present top administrative staff.
Shipping freights are hitting Tasmania harder than any other State. Since 1939, outward cargo freights have risen by 550 per cent. That increase has had an adverse effect on the Tasmanian economy, and is one of the reasons for the recent considerable increase of the cost of living in Tasmania. The crippling increases of freight charges made by private shipping companies have forced some of our industries to close. We have lost our markets on the mainland for some goods owing to the high prices we have to charge for them as a result of high freight charges. Other industries have been forced to slow down. Generally, the position is very grim.
Let me deal with the probable loss to Tasmania of Tattersall’s lottery. I am not interested in raffles or lotteries, and I have not taken a ticket in Tattersall’s during the time I have been in Tasmania. One-seventh of the revenue of Tasmania is derived from this lottery. Most of the money subscribed to it comes from Victorians and New Zealanders. Only 10 or 15 per cent, comes from Tasmanians. Anamazing feature of the economy of Tasmania is that it is thrown out of gear when this lottery proposes to leave the State. Tasmania has become so dependent on Tattersall’s that last year one-seventh of our total revenue, or about £1,400,000, was received from that source. I am opposed to lottery finance on principle, but I look at this matter from the viewpoint of the Tasmanian economy. If we lose this lottery, the consequent loss of revenue will have to be made up from some other source, because we shall be unable to raise the money in Tasmania which, as I have already said, is the highest taxed State of the Commonwealth.
– That is because it has a Labour government.
– That is a party political viewpoint. If Victoria is successful in stealing this lottery from us under the cover of darkness, the revenue that we shall lose will have to be made up by additional grants from the Com monwealth Grants Commission. That money will come from the proceeds of Commonwealth taxation. The Premier of Tasmania, quite rightly from the economic viewpoint, is trying to ensure that we shall not lose Tattersall’s. Ho is working very hard to solve the problem. The latest suggestion is that Tattersall’s shall stay in Tasmania and open a branch in Victoria. However, we still do not know what will happen. The matter is in the lap of the gods. The employees of Tattersall’s, who are shareholders in the business, have applied for an injunction to restrain the organization from going to Victoria. If Victoria succeeds in taking the lottery from us, we shall suffer a considerable loss of revenue that will have to be made good by additional grants from the Commonwealth Grants Commission.
The development of hydro-electric power in Tasmania is greater than in any other State. We are spending about 75 per cent, of our income from tax reimbursements on the development of hydro-electric power. At present, 91 per cent, of the houses in the State are linked with the hydro-electric power system. Only small pockets of people in isolated areas have been missed, but we are gradually linking them with the system. That is an expensive process - so expensive that we have had to increase our charges by 20 per cent, during the last twelve months. The Commonwealth Grants Commission should have paid a little more attention to the struggle that we are having to balance our budget and to keep our economy stable. By 1957 or 1958, the output of our hydro-electric power plants will be 770,000 kilowatts, compared with about 500,000 at the moment. We shall supply hydro-electric power for the big Bell Bay aluminium project.
-TheGovernmenthas given thatguarantee. TheFrenchfirm which received the contract tobuilda 2-mile tunnel from the dam on the South Esk River through to the Tamar River and to the power station has worked around the clock and several men have lost their lives on the job. The work has been delayed because the tunnellers encountered harder rock than was expected. 1 conclude by saying that members on this side of the House agree that the proposed amount of £15,400,000 is vital to the development of the three States concerned. They think the amount, should have been the same as for last year, but are thankful for these mercies.
.- The bill that we are now discussing is one of the few bills in respect of which honorable members on both sides of the House have been in the main in agreement. The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) is lamenting the loss of the lottery by Tasmania. I heard an honorable member near me say that the Tasmanians may lose their lottery but regain their souls.
– The first half of that is true.
– South Australia has never had a. lottery and does not look like getting one. This bill, which is designed to give assistance to the weaker States of the Commonwealth, is one that all honorable members can applaud. The States of South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania, are known as the mendicant States. I do not know how long that position will obtain, but it is possible that before many more years elapse at least one of those States will move up and that one of the so-called rich States will move down the list. South Australia has made great progress and is still making progress. The finding of uranium, the price of which the Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale) assured me to-day was on a par with that received by the Commonwealth, indicates that South Australia will probably need extra assistance’ to develop its vast uranium field. Uranium will make a big difference to South Australia. South Australia is gradually ceasing to be one of the Cinderella States of the Commonwealth, and is becoming an industrialized State with a very big future. In spite of the gerrymandering of electorates, which has forced on the people a government which the majority of South Australians do not desire, South Australia is making progress. Eventually, when the State becomes highly industrialized, in spite of that gerrymandering, the people will elect a Labour government, and much greater progress will be made. South Australia will cease to be one of the claimant States and will become one of the strong States of the Commonwealth.
As I have said, this bill is one that, all honorable members can applaud. It seeks to help the weaker States. It seeks to put into practice the principle of helping those who are a little less fortunate. Federation was a great event for this country, but because of federation some States have suffered slightly. This bill, and the practice that has been adopted over the years by this Parliament, show how, if we are determined to help others and bring about a better way of life without party bitterness, without, strife and bickering, there can be brought into being a scheme of assistance that will give the States a chance to give to their residents a fair and equitable system of social services, education, railways and the like.
The report of the Commonwealth Grants Commission, which forms the basis of this bill, is one for which I think this Parliament should be grateful. Parliament should be grateful to the members of the commission for the work entailed in preparing their report. T notice with regret that Professor Gordon Leslie Wood, who was a member of the Commonwealth Grants Commission for some years, died after the last report was submitted. Honorable members should be grateful to him for his service as a member of the commission and in preparing its reports. The loss which the Commonwealth Grants Commission has suffered in his death is shared by all of us. The report deals with all States of the Commonwealth, and sets out clearly their economic position. It is refreshing to see that at page 24 of the twentieth report of . the commission reference is made to the development of State resources and services. When referring to South Australia, the committee mentions the construction and expansion of electricity undertakings, housing, waterworks and sewers, railways and the production of uranium. The report states -
Within the limits of available finance the policy of concentrating developmental effort upon natural resources was followed.
Lack of finance has prevented the development of South Australia as rapidly as might be desired. It is unfortunate that in South Australia, and I suppose in many other States of the Commonwealth, people are suffering from a serious shortage of water in the metropolitan areas. A time limit on the use of water has become a regular feature of the life of consumers in South Australia. The honorable member for Boothby (Mr. McLeay), who is an amateur gardener of some repute in South Australia, suffers greatly from the lack of an adequate water supply. He is compelled to water his cabbage plot at very inconvenient times because the supply of water is not sufficient for him to do it in the very few spare moments at his disposal. I hope the proposed grant will be used by the Government of South Australia to speed up the construction of the MannumAd el aide pipe line so that those in the metropolitan area will receive a plentiful supply of water.
I mentioned that this report was full of very informative matter. I note that on page 27 the report states that loan funds available were not sufficient to maintain the full planned programmes, and curtailment resulted in some idleness of plant and some unemployment. As honorable members know, the Opposition has spoken about that unemployment on many occasions, but it is very pleasing to read in the report of the Commonwealth Grants Commission that the lack of finance caused by the policy of this Government caused unemployment in the States.
The honorable member for Wilmot mentioned that the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Drakeford) had taken out some figures in relation to railway services. Time probably will not permit the honorable member for Maribyrnong to cite those figures to-night, but they show clearly that irrespective of whether those railways belong to the States to which this bill proposes to give financial assistance or to the States of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, the railways are a great burden on the community. Perhaps the time is rapidly approaching in this country when the railway systems of the various States will be taken over by the Commonwealth.
If the responsibility for maintaining those systems were removed from the State governments, I am sure the State governments would be able to balance their budgets without any great difficulty.
– What would happen to the Commonwealth if it took over the State railways?
– If it were practicable for the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner to institute a uniform policy throughout Australia, great progress would be made, and the railways would not be such a burden. I believe that the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner has done excellent work since he has occupied his position. The Minister for Supply has asked what would become of the Commonwealth if it took over the railways. I suggest that that is not the proper way to approach this matter; the Minister should consider whether it is right and proper for the Commonwealth to take over the State railways. We must assist the State governments, and if in doing so we increase our own burdens we must be prepared to accept those increased burdens. Eventually State railways will have to be taken over by the Government, and the sooner that that is done the sooner we shall progress at a faster rate and plan with greater efficiency than ever before. The Australian Government could relieve the States of the tax on the pay-rolls of State railway organizations. If it should do that, then perhaps it would not need to take taxes from State organizations with the one hand and give them back, in the form of Commonwealth grants, with the other hand.
I now come to a matter that some honorable members may not consider to be very serious, but which I regard with a great deal of concern. South Australia lacks facilities for teaching children to swim. I suggest that the proposed grant will not be sufficient to allow the South Australian Government to provide such facilities, or to make effective grants to organizations that are willing to teach children and others to swim. Our facilities are not of the same nature as those that are provided by our rich neighbours, Victoria and New South Wales, who make enormous grants of money to the swimming associations within their borders. Moreover, swimming pools are available throughout the cities and in many country towns of those States. There is anolympic pool in Adelaide, and a pool of Olympic size at Henley Beach, but very few other swimming facilities of any great size in South Australia. Consequently, we have a large number of drowning fatalities each year, because children and others cannot swim. We have to rely on a newspaper in South Australia to assist us to spread learn-to-swim propaganda, but unfortunately we have not enough pools in the State to make the campaign a success. In New South Wales there are magnificent pools at North Sydney, Enfield, Campsie and Bankstown, also at Newcastle, Dubbo, Tamworth and many other country towns throughout the State. I pay tribute to the Premier of South Australia because he makes a grant to the swimming association within the State so that they can teach swimming, but if he were granted more by the Commonwealth perhaps he would be able to increase his grant to that organization. The two States which most lack swimming facilities, South Australia and Western Australia, will be granted assistance by this measure, but if the grants were a little greater, they would be helped immeasurably in their work of saving many lives each year through teaching children and others how to swim. I hope that when the matter of grants to the States again comes before the Parliament in twelve months’ time, the matter that I have mentioned will be taken into consideration and the grants to South Australia and Western Australia increased accordingly. I am glad that we have been able to reach unanimity on this matter, and I hope that on the next occasion when the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) is dealing with the State Premiers at the Australian Loan Council meetings, he will not treat them as school children as he has recently done, but as partners in a great enterprise.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Motion (by Mr. Eric J. Harrison) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I hope that the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Eric J. Harrison) and the Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale), who are at present in the House, will convey my remarks on the important matter to which I shall address myself to their colleagues in the Cabinet. It is not uncommon for visitors from overseas to express their surprise at the limited theatrical facilities in Australia. Enlightened Australians are fully aware that it is just as important to Australia’s advancement that we should have proper theatrical facilities, as it is that we should have chemical laboratories, technical universities and so on. The fact that ours is a young country is no excuse for cultural lethargy, for the worship of materialism and for the neglect of spiritual values. In a particular historical sense, Australia is a young country, but we must not forget our proud heritage of one of the oldest cultures in the world ; and it is true to say that our Mother Country, Great Britain, gave to the world such people as William Shakespeare, who contributed so much to the cultural development of mankind.
The director of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, that distinguished actor and producer, Mr. Anthony Quayle, who has recently been in Australia, said -
Australia needs a national theatre, and is producing more outstanding dramatic talent on a population basis than any other dominion.
The heart-breaking thing is that Australians gain little or no recognition in their own country, and are therefore driven overseas to find it. Mr. Quayle also said that the enthusiasm of Australians who are struggling against overwhelming difficulties to achieve a living Australian theatre is amazing. There has been a great deal of talk about the new Elizabethan era opening up a challenge to the subjects of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second to prove to the world that they are possessed of greater qualities than were the subjects of Elizabeth I. Two examples of our technical progress are to be found in the realms of atomic energy and supersonic aviation, but it is in the cultural sense that we would find ourselves at a disadvantage when compared with the people of the first Elizabethan era.
We in Australia could indicate our interest in culture by the endowment of an Australian national theatre, and show ourselves to be new Elizabethans in the true meaning of the word. In the reign of the first Elizabeth, British drama reached its highest glory and, indeed, history in general provides many great examples, such as the classical Greek period, to indicate that a time of greatness in a nation’s life is accompanied by a love and appreciation of the theatre. An Australian national theatre could give enduring expression to the same spirit of artistic adventure that fired the first Elizabethans. Theatres generally are particularly important in this country, where, because of the immigration scheme, there is a large population group consisting of diverse elements of various cultures. The theatre is one medium which would contribute largely to the fusion of these new elements with one another, and with our original Australian elements.
I submit to this Parliament, therefore, that we should establish an Australian national theatre committee. That committee might study the problem of establishing a national theatre, and those peculiar aspects of the problem which arise here because of the distribution of our population and our geography. We have already established . a Commonwealth Literary Fund to assist talented poets and writers, and it seems to me that the establishment of a Commonwealth theatrical fund of a similar nature should he considered side by side with that of the overall necessity for the establishment of a national theatre. There could be an advisory board, and a Commonwealth theatrical fund committee could grant fellowships to persons of merit who are desirous of devoting their entire time r-id talent to theatrical activities. The urgent importance of the establishment of an Australian national theatre and a Commonwealth theatrical fund is a matter upon which, in my view, all members of the Parliament and the culture-loving people of Australia will agree. Such progress as has been made is greatly to the credit of many Australians who have struggled against odds to develop the theatre in this country. People like the late Sir Benjamin Fuller and companies like J. C. Williamson Theatres Limited have been the real core of the Australian theatre, and the Government has made its contribution through the medium of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. 1 feel sure that the Australian Broadcasting Commission and organizations like J. C. Williamson Theatres Limited would be more than happy to support this suggestion for the establishment of an Australian national theatre, and I know that members of this House have already expressed ideas which indicate their support for such a move. In view of the visit to Australia next year of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the time has arrived for us to take a further step in the cultural progress of this country. I believe that that step should be along the lines I have outlined.
.-I had no idea that my colleague, the honorable member for St. George (Mr. Graham) intended to raise this matter. Having done so, it gives me great pleasure to support him. I hope that the VicePresident of the Executive Council (Mr. Eric J. Harrison) will take careful note of his remarks because, unfortunately, in this House what some people might describe as the cultural side of life receives very little attention and the case for it is seldom argued. There can be little doubt that in this country for at least twenty years the legitimate stage has been absolutely starved. I do not altogether agree with the tribute paid by the honorable member for St. George to many of our leading theatrical entrepreneurs such as the late Sir Benjamin Fuller and Mr. J. C. Williamson and others whose names he did not mention because I believe that those gentlemen, worthy as they are, have taken a rather cynical view of public taste in this matter. Rather than attract to Australia contemporary shows from overseas. especially from Loudon and New York, they have been content, year after year, in the main, to serve to the people antiquated revivals which are not produced in a particularly attractive or spectacular manner. Indeed, much as I regret having to say it, I believe that we could very well argue a case that private enterpri.se in the theatre has consistently for some time past underrated the Australian public demand. If the Australian theatre is to flourish in the way that I am sure that every honorable member would desire, the Government should step in and, without further ado, grant a worthwhile subsidy so tha.t a strong national theatre can be established. When I say that I do not mean that national theatres should be established only in the great centres of Sydney and Melbourne; I mean that they should be formed in at least every capital city, whether large or comparatively small such as Hobart. After all, there is nothing novel in this idea. National theatres have been instituted as a matter of course for decades in the countries of the old world. We see the movement now in the United Kingdom. It has existed for a long time past in all the countries of Western Europe, including even those that are on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain.
Honorable members and the VicePresident of the Executive Council may well ask how this should be doi’.e i.u Australia. J say at once that we would be wise to enlist the co-operation of the State governments which, I am sure, would be forthcoming if the matter were properly handled. It would be far better for the Commonwealth, instead of taking the sole initiative and action, to enlist the. sympathy of the State governments and act through them, making them instrumentalities for the establishment of national theatres in every capital city. I hope that the Government will follow up the suggestion made by the honorable member for St. George, and that instead of talking about this matter year after year, as some of us have been trying to do, we shall take positive action and thereby make a real contribution to the development of one of the finest phase5 of art in this nation.
.- There are a number of subjects with which I desire to deal on the motion for the adjournment of the House. One is the mysterious subject of uranium. I was wondering whether the VicePresident of the Executive Council (Mr. Eric J. Harrison) would tell us why there should be such a deep mystery about uranium. I can quite understand the need for withholding information regarding the vol tune of production; but I cannot understand why the Government cannot give straight-out answers to the question that has been asked by several honorable members in recent days whether Australia is receiving the same price as, or a greater or lesser price, if the case is such, than the Canadians receive for their uranium. There appeal’s to be no reason for evasion in answering a question of that kind because the information given need not disclose the exact price that Australia receives for its uranium. It would not give to anybody an opportunity to calculate the exact volume of uranium production in Australia. If the Government has nothing to hide it should give a straight-out reply to the question. Surely, the Government cannot dismiss the question, as it has been endeavouring to do, on the ground that the Communists seek this information. A very important section of the press is seeking the information and it is also making specific charges against the Government in regard to this matter. The conservation of our uranium resources is very important to Australia and if some of this metal has to be disposed of overseas honorable members are in agreement that it should not be sold at a bargain price. We should obtain for whatever uranium we send overseas the same price as is received by other producers. If the Vice-President of the Executive Council can awaken himself from the slumbers into which he has drifted. T should like him to elucidate this mystery, if he can do pp.
The second matter which T desire to discuss concerns what the Government terms the rationalization of the air services of Australia. It is well known to those who closely observe these matters that the Government ha= .«>< >vt t” destroy the government airline in the interests of the services operated by private enterprise. Trans-Australia Airlines is now excluded from the profitable service to the Riverina district of New South Wales, which, I understand, it wanted to retain, and is now saddled with what I am told are unprofitable services to the interior of Queensland. Does the Government argue that fair competition is achieved by the elimination of an air service? The elimination of an air service means the elimination of competition, which is the very reverse of what the Government said it sought to achieve by its plan for the rationalization of air transport. What are the wishes of the people in the Riverina district in this matter ? Probably they, like many honorable members on both sides of this House, prefer to travel the safe Trans-Australia Airlines way, but they are given no option in the matter. The TransAustralia Airlines service has been taken, away from them on the plea that the Government is rationalizing air transport services and thereby providing reasonable competition.
Another aspect of this matter should be cleared up. I have been advised that the Government is effecting economies in the operation of the government airline by reducing the aircraft maintenance staff. Everybody knows that Trans-Australia Airlines has gained a marvellous reputation for safe air travel. Its reputation for safety compares more than favorably with that of Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited, the private undertaking which, speaking from memory, has had five major crashes since TransAustralia Airlines came into existence. Is the Government trying to sabotage the government airline by cutting down its aircraft maintenance staff? Those who have given me information upon this matter are engaged in maintenance work. They say that the maintenance staff has been considerably reduced and that many aircraft which are now growing old in the service of the government airline are not now being maintained as they were when Trans-Australia Airlines operated under the administration of the Labour Government. I should like to know the number of aircraft now being flown, the mileage flown now in comparison with the mileage flown during the term of office of the
Labour Government, and exactly how many maintenance men have been retained to service the aircraft of the government airline.
While I am dealing with the subject of transport let me pass to a matter concerning land transport - the government pool of motor vehicles used for the carrying of passengers and freight in the principal cities of the Commonwealth. I have been given to understand that an enormous volume of business has been diverted from the government pool to private enterprise. I believe that the Government is gradually easing out a number of employees of the pool and is handing over a good deal of the business to private hire car owners who are reaping a harvest from the Government in the provision of services which were more economically provided by the government pool. It would be interesting to know how much the Government claims to have saved by this change in the operation of these services. It is quite evident that it has adopted this new procedure, not to provide more efficient or cheaper services for those who use this form, of transport, but to benefit private enterprise regardless of the cost to the Australian taxpayers. If we were able to obtain full information in regard to the extent to which the service provided by the government pool has been reduced in volume sud the work handed over to private enterprise, we would probably be astonished. I understand that the private hire car owners are now engaged almost exclusively to do the overtime work and that government cars are employed for services rendered only during the normal hours of business. Thus, the more expensive and more profitable part of the work, for which overtime rates are paid - the transporting of Ministers to various functions and waiting for them until the early hours of the morning - has been diverted to private hire car owners. The people would probably be shocked if they learned of the cost of this arrangement.
Let me turn now to another matter which has not yet been cleared up. To-morrow, or Friday, the Government proposes to hustle into recess and subsequently to prorogue Parliament, whereupon all items on the notice-paper will automatically lapse. The Government believes that when the Parliament is prorogued it will be able to avoid discussion of a number of what it regards as disagreeable items. . One of the items which the Government is eager to wipe off the notice- paper is the motion which relates to certain activities of the Capital Issues Board. Once the item lapses the Government hopes that it will never be heard of again. Let me tell the Government that that will not be the end of the matter, because the Opposition is determined to_ use all the means within its power to force the Government to give some satisfactory explanation of what happened in Canberra during that memorable week-end when government departments were being opened up for business on a Sunday, and government oars were running about the Territory picking up private citizens, when midnight telephone calls were being made from Sydney and heads of departments were being got out of their beds at night. We want to know a. little more about these mysterious happenings and about the leakage of budget information, because it does not matter how the Government tries to evade the issue, the fact remains that Mr. Irish said in sworn evidence, which is recorded in the official court transcript of evidence, that he had certain conversations in Canberra with unnamed persons from whom he was able to get information which enabled him to make an accurate calculation, to the very penny, of the rate of tax to be imposed on company profits. Because that evidence was given on oath it will be quoted-
– Order! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- I wish to raise a matter that I have raised in this House previously. It relates to a petition that I received from more than 350 residents of my electorate, who protested in it about low-flying aeroplanes in the vicinity of certain streets in the Mascot area, of Sydney. That petition brought home to me the fact that the people in that area are in such fear and trembling as a result of the danger of low-flying aeroplanes that they were moved to collect signatures for a petition to the Parliament asking that some action be taken by the Department of Civil Aviation to remove the cause of their fears. I realize that Mascot is an area over which it is natural to expect to see low-flying aeroplanes, but the fact remains that the residents of the streets concerned have regarded the matter so seriously as to petition this Parliament to take .appropriate action, which might include redirecting aircraft by other routes so that they would not pass over this residential area. I wrote to the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr. Anthony) about the matter, but I have received nothing from him in reply other than an acknowledgment, of my letter. I know that since I wrote to him he has been in New Zealand and other places. Surely the fears of people who consider that their lives are in danger demand urgent attention. I should like the Minister for Civil Aviation to give consideration to the matter and let me know whether he intends to ignore the request made to him, or whether the Government proposes to take some action to adjust the matter. Many petitions are presented to this Parliament. Action is taken on some of them, and no action is taken on others. I consider that this particular case must be viewed in a very serious light. People certainly would not go to the trouble of obtaining the signature of practically every person in several streets unless the position was urgent.
I hope that, now that the Minister has returned from New Zealand, he will give consideration to the matter. It cannot be allowed to remain unadjusted day after day. To ignore it entirely will mean that the lives of people will continue to be endangered, as was stated in the petition that I presented to the House on behalf of the residents. I see no reason to doubt the truth of that statement. If the matter is not adjusted there is always the danger that an aircraft might crash in the vicinity and cause serious loss of life. We know that an aircraft crashed into the Empire State Building in New York. Surely it must be admitted that when an aircraft could crash into a building in a big city like New York, the people in this area in Mascot, in immediate proximity to an aerodrome, are even more vulnerable. This is a matter that the Government cannot ignore. I do not wish the Government to dismiss the matter lightly by saying that Mascot is a place over whichplanes must fly low. The area concerned is a residential district where people must live because the factories in which they work are nearby. They cannot be expected to move from their homes in which they have lived for years merely because’planes are flying at a dangerous height. The area is not one which is to be taken over for the purposes of the extension of the aerodrome.
I endeavoured to raise this matter during the debate on the budget, but the Government side-stepped it on the ground that I should discuss it during the debate on the Estimates for the Department of Civil Aviation. I was unable to discuss it on the Estimates because of the application of the gag. Numbers of civil aircraft and civil air force planes approach the aerodrome over these streets at a low height, and the lives of the people living there are placed in jeopardy. Apart from the fact that the people concerned are important citizens of my constituency there is a humane side to be considered, in that people’s lives are in danger. I should like to hear the Minister for Civil Aviation on this matter, or to receive a reply to my letters, if he cannot come into the chamber to deal with the matter. In particular I should like appropriate action to be taken by the Government to meet the requests contained in the petition which was certified as correctly drawn up and was presented in accordance with the procedure of this House. As I have said I took the further action of writing to the Minister, submitting to him the exact number of signatures to the petition and asking him to take action.
– Leave it at that.
– I remind the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull), who represents a country electorate, that if it was not for the aerodrome at Mascot and the industrial activities in other parts of my constituency, his electorate would possibly be not sowell served as it is to-day. The honorable member may con sider this a laughing matter, but you, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, with your knowledge of low-flying ‘planes, will appreciate that itis a matter which should receive immediate attention.
.- The present position of the Australian match industry is of great importance to a. considerable number of my electors. Until it brought down its recent budget the Government levied both excise and sales tax on Australian matches. As a result, one very large Australian match manufacturing firm was compelled to close down, and dismissed hundreds of its employees. Another, Bryant and May Limited, was compelled to put almost all its employees on one-third time, as an alternative to dismissing them. Smaller factories in other States were in a similar position.
The Government referred this matter to the Tariff Board for investigation and report. The Tariff Board has reported on it.Whilst it is true that the Government has abolished the sales tax of 2½d. on a dozen boxes of matches, it is just as well to realize that, prior to the introduction of the budget, the Government collected 9d. on each dozen boxes of matches, which are an essential commodity. That 9d. was made up of excise. 6½d., and sales tax, 2½d. These imposts increased the retail price of matches by more than 65 per cent. In the last budget, as a result of considerable agitation by, and pressure from, both the manufacturers themselves and the trade unions, the Government made provision for the abolition of sales tax on matches, but it is still imposing the excise duty of 6½d. a dozen boxes. That means that the Government adds 38 per cent, to the retail price, which is now1s.11½d. a dozen boxes. The reason that I again raise this matter is that, the abolition of sales tax is not a sufficient reduction of the Government’s impost on. matches to enable this industry to operate once more to its full extent, because the industry is faced, as everybody knows, with extensive competition from cheap imported cigarette lighters which this Government permitted to come into the country in overwhelming numbers. Although the Tariff Board says in its report that it is not called upon to dictate to people whether they should use cigarette lighters or matches - which is a sentiment with which the Governmentwould agree, because it ignores the need to protect this Australian industry - and that it does not recommend to- the Government that it should force people to use matches, it did say that there was no reason for discrimination in relation to excise duties against the match industry. In effect, it posed the question that if the Government imposed excise duty on matches, why should matches alone have to hear such a duty? Perhaps the reason is that the use of matches is related to the smoking of cigarettes and the drinking of beer. But there is no more reason for imposing excise duty on matches than there is for imposing it on boot polish, kitchenware or any other domestic necessity. The Tariff Board reported to the effect that there was no earthly justification for this discrimination against the match industry, while cigarette lighters were completely free of excise. I put it to the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Eric T. Harrison), who is in charge of the House at the moment, and who, 1 know, is weighing every word that I utter and giving careful consideration to the case that I am making, that the Government, having asked the Tariff Board to investigate and report on the matter, should take notice of the board’s recommendations, which are that the Government should (a) remove excise duty from matches so as to allow them to compete freely with cigarette lighters; or (b) impose a similar excise duty on cigarette lighters. There can be no justification for discrimination against the Australian match industry, which has developed itself in the face of difficult circumstances. The employment of hundreds of Australians is involved in the Government’s policy on this matter. I should like to hear from some member of the Government, because I have yet to hear from anybody in the Department of Trade and Customs, the reason why excise duty is imposed on matches but not on other household necessities. However, since it is imposed on matches, I again ask ^ the Government why it should continue to discriminate in this fashion while imported cigarette lighters are allowed to come into this country in great numbers without having to bear any similar impost. This Australian industry is not asking for any unfair protection. It is merely asking for the right to compete on equal terms with imported cigarette lighters. If the Government really believes in the principle of full employment it has a duty to ensure that the match industry shall be given an opportunity to compete on equal terms with these imported cigarette lighters. The industry is willing to rely on the superiority of its product if it is allowed to sell in fair competition with cigarette lighters. It is entitled to have its requests treated seriously. I emphasize that unless something is done about the matter the industry cannot continue to maintain its present level of employment, and the unemployment that has already been caused, which affects, in the case of some factories, hundreds of employees, will continue. The Government has a simple problem before it. Is it in favour of giving the match industry the opportunity to compete on equal terms with alternative means of lighting, or will it continue to levy this unjust tax to the advantage of the manufacturers of imported cigarette lighters? The Vice-President of the Executive Council appears to be in a kindly mood to-night, and I am optimistic enough to believe that he will make a statesmanlike approach to this problem and will, with the greatest of vigour, rush into the Cabinet room at the next meeting of Cabinet and demand that the Government protect the workers and the manufacturers engaged in the Australian match industry. I thank him in advance for his ardent advocacy of their cause, and I am certain that his efforts will. lead to the abolition of this entirely unwarrantable impost upon matches.
– I support the protest made by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon) against the excise duty upon matches. This Government, of course, is a government of mysteries, and it is impossible for us to comprehen.d the purpose behind its policy on such matters. When it is asked to announce the price at which it is selling Australian uranium, it replies, “ Hush ! Wo cannot divulge that information at this stage “. Apparently it will not release the information until any impending damage has been done. The attitude of Ministers generally on issues of the gravest importance is that honorable members should not inquire about their activities but should have implicit confidence that the Government will do everything possible in the interests of those whom it represents. In fact, I believe that it does look after the welfare of the special interests that it represents. That is why I am always anxious to learn in advance of the policies that it proposes to adopt on important issues. The subject of tariffs raised by the honorable member for Yarra reminds me of a question that I . recently asked the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in relation to the proposal to admit Japan to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. I asked the right honorable gentleman what directions, if any, had been given to Australia’s representative at the overseas conference at which Japan’s application for admission to the treaty was being considered. He replied, in effect, “ Hush ! This is a most important matter. Delicate negotiations are proceeding, and it would be most inadvisable at this time to let the Australian’ people know the measures that the Government proposes to take to protect Australia’s secondary industries against a resurgent industrial Japan “. Therefore, he refused to answer my question.
Disastrous consequences have flowed from actions of this Government which have not been announced to the Parliament in advance. Not long ago, the Government took restrictive financial action against secondary industries for the purpose, it announced, of diverting men and resources to primary industries. The proposition, of course, was absurd. As a result of the Government’s action, 100,000 Australians were thrown out of work. The attitude of Australia to Japan’s application for admission to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade is of vital importance to us. Japan is eager to sell its products in other countries. It entered the world industrial arena after World War I. and practically crippled Great Britain’s textile industry. Now it is endeavouring again to engage in world trade and to dump its goods here, there and everywhere at prices that will lead to the destruction of industries in countries that have higher standards of living, shorter hours of work and better amenities for the workers than have the Japanese. This Parliament should not sit idly by and wait until the deed has been done. If the Government has its way, we are likely to be informed, “ Well, we have entered into the agreement, and it must be carried out even though it will lead to the importation of cheap textiles, matches, lighters and other goods in quantities that will lead to unemployment in Australia “. This is a vital issue. It is more important than many of the issues that have been discussed in this chamber for hours and hours on end recently because it involves the future development of Australia and the lines upon which that development will take place. I know that there are two opposing philosophies in relation to national development. One is based upon the view that Australia should be made a vast granary, cattle ranch or general primary producer for industrial countries overseas. If that philosophy be adopted, we must forgo forever our aspirations to national greatness because national greatness depends upon industrial capacity, which must be defended against the cheap-labour countries.
– I bring to the attention of this House again the situation of the people of Lord Howe Island.
– Where is it?
– I assure Government supporters that this is no laughing matter. Four hundred people live on the island, but this Government has refused to take an interest in their welfare. Until the present, Burns Philp and Company Limited has sent a ship to the island at intervals of two months to supply it with foodstuffs, but now the company has refused to continue the service. I promised the people of the island that I would raise the matter with members of this Government, and I approached three Ministers. They referred me to the New South Wales Government. The truth is that they did not want to interfere with private enterprise.
As a last resort, I appeal to the Government to ask the shipping company to arrange for one of its vessels to maintain the service to Lord Howe Island until some other arrangement can be made.
– Is there no shipping service for the island at present?
– Not now. The people of the island will be left without food supplies at Christmas time. They depend largely on the tourist trade, and the only alternative means of obtaining food is by air transport, which costs £60 a ton. This Government is establishing a radar station at Lord Howe Island. Fifteen men are employed on that project. Material worth £80,000 has been sent to the island during the last twelve months, and the Government has compelled residents to unload it from ships for a wage of 28s. a day. In other words, the islanders are expected to provide coolie labour for the” Government. They do not mind unloading their own provisions under the arrangement that has prevailed for the last ten years, but they object strongly when they are expected to work for 28s. or 80s. a day to unload cargo required for the construction of a government radar station and half a dozen cottages for the station staff.
I have spoken several times in. this chamber of the Government’s failure to provide, under its health plan, for the assistance of ambulance services. Many residents of Sydney who have been obliged to use ambulances have received bills of £1, £1 10s. and £2 for the service provided. The ambulance authorities say that they cannot carry the baby all the time for governments and they have told me, in reply to my representations, to speak to the Government about the matter. When I raised the subject in the House previously, the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) said that it was nothing to do with this Government. Therefore, I wrote to the State Government and was informed that the State provided’ a variable subsidy for ambulance services. Pensioners cannot afford ‘to pay an ambulance, charge of £1 or £2, and, if they are forced to call for an ambulance, they live in fear that the amount will be deducted from their next pension payment. Therefore, they ask their representative in this Parliament to appeal to this supposedly benevolent Government to have the charge remitted. This state of affairs must not be allowed to continue. The pensioners do their best to help themselves, but they should not have to rely upon their own initiative. I hope that the profits of the dance that they will conduct at the Sydney Town Hall next Friday night will be as high as last year’s profit, which amounted to £730. But it is no credit to this Government that they should be forced to take such measures for their own assistance. During the recent debate on social services in this House, the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer) said that the Government knew very well that pensioners could not live on £3 10s. a week, but that their friends could keep them. The honorable member should make a start by doing something on his own account to help the pensioners instead of merely talking about them in this House. The Government should enact legislation to provide accommodation for pensioners.
– Hear, hear !
– It is all very well for the honorable gentleman to applaud the suggestion, but the limit of his generosity appears to be to suggest that families should take pensioners into their already overcrowded homes. 1 have made my appeals on behalf of the people of Lord Howe Island and the pensioners of Sydney in the knowledge that, having lived through four years of misrule by this Government, they will have the endurance to continue for a few months longer until the Labour party gains office and dispenses justice to them, as it will do.
-11 (Mallee) f 10.44].- I propose to speak on this occasion because, although several members of the Opposition have taken part in the debate, no honorable member on the Government side of the House has yet done so. I have witnessed this evening another leader of the Labour party arise in the person of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward). I have watched closely the method by which he has tried to keep this debate, if it can be called a debate. in progress. I do not include the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Minogue), because I believe that he spoke sincerely on behalf of the people of Lord Howe Island, but I do include the honorable member-
– I rise to order. I ask for an unqualified withdrawal of the statement of the honorable member for Mallee that the only person who participated in the debate with any sincerity-
– I did not say that.
– I leave it to the Chair to judge whether or not the honorable member made that statement.
Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Bowden). - Order! There is no point of order.
– Does not the honorable member for Mallee have to withdraw that statement ?
– It is scandalous.
Motion (by Mr. Holt) agreed to.
That the question be now put.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Dairy Produce Export Control Act - Twenty-eighth Annual Report of the Aus tralian Dairy Produce Board, for year 1052-53, together with Statement by Minister regarding the operation of the Act.
Egg Export Control Act - Sixth Annual Report of the Australian Egg Board, for year 1952-53, together with Statement by Minister regarding the operation of the Act.
Judiciary Act -Rule of Court, dated 9th October, 1953.
Public Service Act - Appointment - Department of Supply - A. N. H. Cope.
House adjourned at 10.46 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 21 October 1953, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1953/19531021_reps_20_hor1/>.