21st Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Archie Cameron) took Um chair al 2.80 p.m., and read prayers.
Mr. Arthur Samuel Drakeford made and subscribed the oath of allegiance as member for the Division of Maribyrnong, Victoria.
– .My . question is addressed to the Minister acting for the Minister for Labour and National Service. As the Commonwealth Arbitration Court has indicated that it will not proceed with the hearing of disputes concerning ships under the control of the Australian Shipping Board because of the question of legal ownership, will the Minister take the necessary- action to inform lbc court where legal ownership resides, even going beyond the instructions already given which do not appear to have clarified tho position to the satisfaction of the court?
– Attention has already been given to this matter by the Government, and we are at the present time taking such stops as will clarify the position and make it possible for the judge to proceed with the nearing of the case.
– I ask “ the Prime Minister whether, in view of the great difficulties met in clarifying the legal ownership of Commonwealth ships, a complete clarification’ would not be achieved beyond a doubt if the Government established a Commonwealth shipping line by act of parliament, in the same way as Trans-Australia Airlines was established.
– My colleague, the Minister for Defence, answered a question asked by the honorable member for Petrie in relation to this mutter, and pointed out that the position was being clarified. If it needs to be clarified, then I must confess I do not understand the mystery.
– Will the Prime Minister tell the House, whether, in consequence of the continuing decline in the balance of trade, the Government has - decided to impose, or contemplates the imposition of, additional import restrictions? If so, what will be the scope , of those restrictions, and when will they come into operation?
– I hardly think that the honorable member for Darebin expects me to give, notice, in that fashion, about a matter of this kind. The whole matter is’ under the close and almost daily attention of the Government.
- Is the Prime Minister aware that the indecision of the Government in regard to an announcement about import restrictions has aroused grave “uncertainty in the minds of the business community, and that a rush of imports is occasioned by the uncertainty about whether import restrictions are impending? Will the Government make an early announcement of its intentions in relation to this matter?
– The Government will announce a decision when it has one to announce. It is very, well aware of the circumstances. They are rather exaggerated in the question asked by the honorable member for Yarra, but we are watching them. It is not to be supposed that the Government will make announcements in other people’s time. It makes announcements in its own time.
– I address a question to the Prime Minister regarding a request that children’s films be admitted under special tariff to this country. I point out that on the recommendation of the Minister for Trade and Customs, the Victorian Council for Children’s Films appeared before the Tariff Board on the 3rd June and requested that children’s films be admitted under a special tariff. The application was not opposed by any other interested body, and the Chief Film Censor, Mr. J. Alexander, was instructed to draft the necessary by-law to cover the application made by that body. In spite of the satisfactory decision made by the Tariff Board, films for children on special tariff are still being withheld by the Department of Trade and Customs.
– What is the honorable member’s question?
– Will the Prime Minister have an inquiry made in order to ascertain the cause of this hold-up, as the Victorian Council for Children’s Films has had nothing but obstacles placed in its path for the last three years ? Unless relief is forthcoming, regular screenings of these special children’s films will probably be postponed indefinitely because of the high tariff payable on them.
– I shall refer that matter to my colleague the Minister for Trade and Customs.
Mr. CREMEAN. In view of the statement made recently by the Minister for Health regarding the solvency of the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia Limited, and also in view of the fact that the revenue of approved societies is overflowing, will the right honorable gentleman advise the House when he proposes to honour the promise that he made in his second -read ing speech on the National Health Bill last year that either benefits would be increased or subscribers’ contributions would be reduced ?
– The honorable member has completely misquoted me. I have never said anything of the kind that he has attributed to me. This matter is entirely one for approved organizations, but so far the surplus funds of the various bodies are hopelessly inadequate to meet possible commitments. The societies will need to increase their funds at a much quicker rate than they are now doing. As an instance, I point out that whereas in the last quarter of the last calendar year 40,000 services were rendered by the organizations in one State, in the last quarter of the financial year, that is six months later, that total had increased to 400,000 services; and in the next six months the amount will be greater still. It is obvious that approved societies will require’ to have substantial sums in hand to ensure that they shall be able to meet payments in respect of sickness and hospital benefits as the occasion arises.
– I address a question to the Prime Minister. I should like to point out, Mr. Speaker, that the matter I am about to raise should concern you also, as well as all honorable members, although, unfortunately, by force of hard circumstances, we are removed from the effects of the subject. Is the right honorable gentleman aware that considerable confusion and loss is being caused to the business world as the result of the new design and colouring of the new note issue, particularly in identifying £1 notes from £5 notes and 10s. notes from £10 notes? Is he aware also that many discrepancies have occurred in cash balances since these notes were circulated, and that many experienced cashiers and tellers have been unable to balance their takings? Finally, will he have instructions issued to discontinue the new note issue and that we return to the colour scheme of the “blue fiver” and the “ the green quid “, and thus render a service to the business community, bookmakers, bank tellers, cashiers, punters, barmaids and friends ?
– I am indebted to the honorable member for enriching my knowledge on the matter that he has raised. I read something about it in a newspaper, and I am securing some advice upon it from the Treasury. I am bound to say from my own limited experience of the currency that virtue is now found in what is said to be a clear distinction between a 10s. note, with which I am familiar, and a £10 note, which I do not see unless some honorable member shows me one. I cannot say that the old distinction seemed to he very clear. The colours were not entirely dissimilar; but the only material difference was that I always had a 10s. note but never had a £10 note.
– Will the Prime Minister take immediate action to prevent the continued export of stud merino sheep to rival wool-growing countries on the subterfuge that such sheep are required only for experimental purposes?
– Order ! I am afraid that that matter is not under the Prime Minister’s control.
Question not answered.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. “Will the Minister lay on the table of this House the file that deals with the imposition of the ban on the export of merino sheep from
Australia, and the recent relaxation of that ban?
– Order ! The Minister is not in this House.
Question not answered.
– I believe that the export of merino rams is of such vital importance to Australia, and that the consequences of it could be so serious, that it is only reasonable that the Prime Minister himself should reply to this question. Will he take prompt action to prevent the export of merino sheep from Australia? Merino rams and ewes are being exported on the pretext that they will be used merely for experimental purposes.
Mr.- MENZIES.- I am completely unaware of any change in the policy that has been pursued on this, matter for a long time.
– There has been no change.
– There has been no change in the policy at all.
– Oan the Minister for Defence say whether the Australian Government regards the unexpected decision of the Chinese Communist Government to return seven divisions of troop3to Korea as having any particular significance ? Is it possible that this move by Communist China will in any way affect the present disposition or intended movements of Australian troops?
– I have no doubt that the announcement by the Peking Government that it was returning seven divisions to Korea is being considered by the United Nations Command, but I remind the honorable member that the decision to take United Nations troops from Korea, which was made by the United Nations Command, and particularly by the United States of America, was for the purpose of creating a strategic reserve which would give greater flexibility in sending troops to any threatened area. I doubt very much whether the announcement made by the Peking Government will vary the decision that has already been made by the United Nations Command, but I have no doubt that the matter will be considered.
– In view of the importance of New Guinea to the defence and safety of Australia, will the Prime Minister advise the House of the steps that are being taken with governments of British Commonwealth countries to have them support Australia’s point of view when this matter is being discussed by the United Nations?
– This is a question, of course, that should be directed to the Minister representing the Minister acting for the Minister for External Affairs, but I may say that the very important matter referred to by the honorable member is being dealt with by the Minister for External Affairs at the United Nations with great vigour and determination on behalf of the Government.
– I ask the Minister for the Interior, as the Minister in charge of civil defence preparations, whether he is aware of the report by the DirectorGeneral of Army Medical Services advocating the adoption of civil communities and authorities of protective measures against atom bombs. I understand that this report states that the effect of radiation from atom bombs could be reduced, if not eliminated, by the adoption of protective measures. Will the Minister say whether the Government is taking measures for the protection of the Australian community against atomic warfare similar to those mentioned in the Director-General’s report ?
– I am aware of the report mentioned by the honorable member, though I have not as yet seen it. The Government is taking all the action considered necessary by the Defence Council in the matter of civil defence and has quite recently decided to establish a school - I cannot name the actual site at the moment - in order to get further trained personnel for civil defence purposes.
– I wish to ask the Prime Minister, in the absence of the Postmaster-General-
– Order ! The honorable gentleman cannot address the question to the Prime Minister. The right honorable gentleman cannot possibly know the answer.
– Well, I am told there is no Minister here-
Mi. SPEAKER,- I cannot help that.
– Surely we must have somebody-
– If I may intervene, Mr. Speaker, I inform the House that the Postmaster-General, I regret to say, is ill and, I learned this morning, will be absent from the House for some time. By to-morrow I shall be in a position to announce who will represent him, and then perhaps the honorable member could renew his question.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Supply. Can the Minister inform the House whether the Government is planning, in co-operation with the South Australian Government, to construct Australia’s first industrial atomic plant in South Australia? If so, can the honorable gentleman indicate when the work will be commenced, and what part of South Australia is likely to be chosen for such a momentous undertaking ?
– There is no proposal at present for the Commonwealth to build an industrial atomic power plant in South Australia or, for that matter, anywhere else. The view of the Government’s advisers is that any such action should be preceded by a good deal of research and development work.
– I direct a question to the Prime Minister. In view of the importance of fitness in sustaining the national morale of our youth, and in view also of the outstanding importance of the national code of football to the maintenance of fitness and morale, will the Prime Minister consider inviting to Canberra, Australia’s champion Australian rules football team - Footscray?
– Order ! How does the question concern the Prime Minister’s administration?
– It concerns national fitness and morale. Will the Prime Minister consider taking this action to educate the residents of Canberra and to teach the real Australian game to persons who follow other codes of football?
– I shall consider the proposal. The honorable member’s thought is very valuable. I think that if the Footscray team visited Canberra and had a real go with the Opposition, it would be fun.
– Has the Minister for Civil Aviation any information regarding the present position of the British Comet jet aircraft? Were the inquiries of the investigating authority completed, and are any of the mark I. and mark II. aircraft again in operation? Also, does the Minister know’ whether production of the mark III. Comet has recommenced, and is there any probability of these aircraft being used on Australian overseas routes in the future?
– The most exhaustive tests have been conducted in relation to the mark I. and mark II. Comet aeroplanes, bt* I have no precise information as to the outcome. A court of inquiry has been convened and will meet in London next month. The prototype of the mark III. Comet has flown, 1 believe successfully, but whether the mark III. will ever be used on the routes between Australia and the United^ Kingdom is something that cannot be determined at this sta’ge.
– I address a question to the Minister for Civil Aviation. I invite his attention to the fact that a spokesman for the British Overseas Airways Corporation has stated that the corporation desires to use the Perth airport as its port of entry to Australia. He said that the whole airport is at present in the hands of the Australian Government. Will the Minister facilitate the use of Perth as an entry for British Overseas Air;ways Corporation services?
– During the time that I have administered the Department of Civil Aviation no approach has been made to me by the British Overseas Airways Corporation, for permission to go through Perth, although I understand that the matter has been raised from time to time, and is not an easy one to resolve. At present, British Overseas Airways Corporation aircraft and Qantas Empire Airways Limited aircraft enter Australia through Darwin, and consequently do not interfere with our domestic airlines. If they should enter through Perth, immediate complications would ensue. Their services would conflict with those of Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited and Trans-Australia Airlines, and difficulties would arise in connexion with air mails and a number of similar matters. However, when the British Overseas Airways Corporation makes an official approach to me I shall consider the matter.
– I ask the Minister for Social Services whether he is aware that in South Australia a person has set himself up in business a3 a pensions expert. This person advertises in the newspapers that he will complete claims for social services benefits. ‘ For this, I understand, he charges a fee of fi ls., and, if he is successful in obtaining a pension or an increase for an applicant, a charge of f 5 5s. is made. In view of the fact that the officers of the Department of Social Services, who are always sympathetic to claimants for social services benefits, will complete forms without charge, as do members of Parliament, will the Minister investigate the position and ascertain whether it is possible, if it is thought to be necessary, to introduce legislation to prohibit people- from taking advantage of the misfortunes of others in the community?
– I was not aware of the practice mentioned by the honorable member. Unfortunately, there is no provision in the Social ; Services Consolidation Act to prevent persons from holding themselves out as professional experts, and charging pensioners for the filling up of their forms. Every opportunity is given to pensioners to go to the department, post offices and similar places, to obtain all the help that is needed. I am very glad that the honorable member has brought this practice to my attention. I shall ask the Director-General of Social Services to investigate it and see whether it can be stopped. I might inform the honorable member that during the last six weeks action has been taken to reduce the number of the forms that must be completed by applicants for benefits, and to simplify them to a great extent. I think that this will considerably help pensioners and persons who assist pensioners in filling in their forms.
– Will the Minister for Social Services consider making officers of his department available at post offices in outer centres on specified days of the week, in order to give information to the public about pensions and other social services ?
– Normally the officers of the Postal Department give advice to the public about filling up their forms of application for social services, but nevertheless the honorable member’s suggestion deserves the closest consideration, and I shall ask the Director-General of Social Services to consider it. Then I shall give the honorable member a written answer to his question as soon as possible.
– I ask the Minister for Social Services whether his department can assist in any way the Boer War Veterans Association in making provision for one of their members who was discharged this week from Prince Alfred Hospital. The association has arranged for this man to go to a private home, at which the cost will be £8 a week, and it can arrange to supplement his pension of £3 10s. with a further sum of £2 19s. a week. Is there any way in which the Department of Social Services, or the Repatriation Department, can provide the balance of 31s. a week of the expenditure that will be involved in this instance?
– I shall have a look at the matter that the honorable member has raised and provide him with an answer as soon as possible.
– Is the Prime Minister, as Minister acting for the Treasurer, aware that recently the chairman of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development announced the placement of a 50,000,00.0-dbllar tissue of United States bonds, and that these were taken up by 23 countries including Australia? Will the right honorable gentleman indicate first, in view ‘of the shortage of dollars in Australia, how dollars were made available for Australian subscriptions to this loan? Secondly, has he any idea of the amount of these subscriptions; and, thirdly, will he inquire whether there are any loopholes in Australia’s control over the export of capital to dollar areas?
– I know about this matter, but an answer to the honorable member’s question would be more like a statement than an answer, even if I endeavoured to deal with the matter now. With the consent of the honorable member, I shall circulate a statement about that matter to-morrow, as if his question were on the notice-paper.
– In view of the fact that in certain important respects the evidence given by the Deputy-Director of Security differs from the statements made to the Parliament by the Prime Minister, does the Prime Minister propose to give evidence before the Royal Commission on Espionage so that the position may be clarified ? ‘
– I ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether questions about the Royal Commission on Espionage are in order?
– Order ! The honorable member’s question sought some information about whether the Prime Minister proposed to give evidence in certain circumstances. I should say that that would be in order.
– Like all other good citizens, when the Royal Commission on Espionage directs me to attend and give evidence, I shall do so.
– Will the Minister for the Interior consider having a survey made of the apprenticeship position in the construction trades in the Australian Capital Territory, in order to ascertain whether apprentices are coming forward in sufficient numbers to ensure the future of the skilled building trades, whether employers are cooperating fully in the employment of apprentices, and whether pay and conditions are adequate?
– I think that the facts concerning the apprenticeship situation in the Australian Capital Territory are already known, and I do not think we could gain any further information as a result of a survey. However, if the honorable member would like to have, the figures I shall be pleased to get them in full for him. The position in the building trade in the Australian Capital Territory is the same as it is practically all over Australia. As far as can be ascertained there are not sufficient apprentices coming forward in order to meet probable future demands. That is not necessarily due to any one cause in particular. In all skilled trades, not only in the building trade, one of the main difficulties of the apprenticeship system is that youths who start an apprenticeship are no sooner started than they are offered high wages to drive lorries or do other jobs, and, consequently, they, do not continue with their apprenticeships. In addition to the relevant figures I shall let the honorable member have any other information in regard to this matter that he may wish to have.
– Has the Prime Minister received a request from the Australian Road Federation Limited seeking the provision of an all-weather road between Western Australia and South Australia on the route known as the Eyre Highway ? Bearing in mind the importance of such a road for defence requirements, as well as for normal purposes, will the right honorable gentleman give favorable consideration to the provision of finance by the Government for this project?
– I do not think that this matter has actually come before me.
It does not bring itself to my mind readily. However, I shall find out about it and inform the honorable member.
– I ask the Minister for the Interior whether the building of the new Commonwealth Bank in Hobart was referred to the Public Works Committee? As the finished work appears to be on an unnecessarily lavish scale, will the Minister approve, or investigate the possibility of, a visit of the Public Works Committee to Hobart in order that it may inspect and report on the building?
– I am afraid I cannot answer the honorable member’s question, because the new Commonwealth Bank building in Hobart was started long before I became Minister for the Interior. As a matter of fact I think, subject to correction, that it was started in 1948 or 1949. Any original investigation would have been carried out at the instigation of the Labour Government that was then in officer
– In view of the remarks made by the President of the Australian Council of Trades Unions at a meeting of the Good Neighbour Council last Friday night, to the effect that the Australian economy could well absorb considerably more immigrants than the proposed intake for the current year, will the Minister acting for the Minister for Immigration give urgent attention to the possibility of increasing the proposed intake ?
– I noted the observation of the President of the Australian Council of Trades Unions in support of a vigorous immigration policy. That is also the view of the Government. Not long ago we increased the intake of immigrants over the previous year’s intake, and the matter of a further increase will be kept under consideration.
– Can the Minister acting for the Minister for Immigration say whether there is a vast number of immigrants in this country with rural training, who cannot obtain access to the land either as proprietary farmers or as rural workers? Will he endeavour to ensure that some action will be taken to enable those people to be absorbed in the occupations for which they are most suited ?
– I do not think it is true that there are vast numbers of migrants with rural qualifications who cannot get on to the land, or obtain employment on the land. To my knowledge, there are a good many vacancies for rural employment in Australia. We are constantly receiving applications for rural workers. It is the policy of the Government to encourage as many rural workers as possible to come from other countries to, Australia, and that policy will be continued.
– Is the Minister for Health aware that nurses on duty at the Concord Repatriation Hospital, in the event of sudden illness, are denied treatment on the spot, and are sent to other hospitals? Will he take steps to ensure that this practice shall cease, and that nurses employed at the repatriation hospitals shall be treated at those institutions, thus avoiding the risk of moving them, sometimes considerable distances?
– Repatriation hospitals are entirely under the control of the Minister for Repatriation. I should be surprised if the custom, which the honorable member for Bennelong has mentioned is general, but, in any event, I shall ask the Minister to examine the position with a view to seeing whether it is possible to ensure treatment on the spot.
– On the 7th September last, I asked the Minister for Supply a question about the distribution of mild steel, and he said that he would obtain a reply from the responsible Minister. As the position in relation to the distribution of mild steel for the manufacture of dairying apparatus is still most urgent, is the Minister now in a position to give a reply to my query? I referred to the unequal distribution of steel particularly to oil companies as against the manufacturers pf dairying apparatus.
– I may be wrong, but I think that I signed a letter to the honorable gentleman late last week on that matter. If I did not, I shall see that he receives an answer within the next few hours.
– Can the Minister for Supply say whether it is a fact that the concentration plant at Radium Hill, in South Australia, will be ready to commence operations shortly? Will the uranium oxide from that plant be exported to the United Kingdom and the United States of America? Will this plant be solely under the control of the Government of South Australia?
– I understand that the concentration plant at Radium Hill will be opened within the course of the next few weeks. That concentration plant, as I understand it, will not produce uranium oxide. A further treatment process will be necessary, and the plant for this process will be opened early next year. It is true that by an arrangement made with the Combined Development Agency, the South Australian Government, and the Commonwealth, the uranium oxide from that treatment ‘ plant will be sold to the Combined Development Agency.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Supply been directed to the very great concern expressed in grazing and agricultural circles in New South Wales about the continued shortage of essential material for fencing, carrying out the necessary improvements on the land, and the control of vermin? If his attention has not been drawn to the position, will he make inquiries to ascertain whether this shortage can be more speedily overcome? Has consideration been given to the adoption of some method of equating the cost of imported materials and locally manufactured materials by joint action between the State price fixing authorities and the Commonwealth which controls export and import arrangements? I point out that the locally manufactured material is only about one half the cost of the imported material to the consumer, and that is a tribute to Australian efficiency in this particular section of the manufacturing industries.
– The matter of the distribution and price of steel and steel products is one for the Minister for National Development. I shall direct his attention to the honorable member’s question, and let him have a reply as soon as I can.
– I direct the attention of the Prime Minister to the “fact that a meeting of more than 2,000 applicants for membership of co-operative housing societies was held in the Richmond town hall last night. That figure is not a political estimate; it is an accurate estimate of the number. Those persons were applicants who cannot be accepted for membership because private financial institutions and the Commonwealth Bank have either ceased to provide the necessary finance for the co-operative housing societies, or have drastically restricted it. The Commonwealth Bank has reduced its advance for this purpose from £12,000,000 up to last year to only £1,500,000 this year. Because of the promise of the Government to assist co-operative housing, will the Prime Minister give directions to the Treasury officials and officials of the Commonwealth Bank to confer immediately with the Federation of Co-operative Housing Societies with a view to increasing the amount of money made available to them?
– I shall, first of all, if I may, ascertain the facts.
– Will the Prime Minister institute an immediate inquiry by a parliamentary committee, representative of all parties, into the desperate condition of pensioners and those in receipt oi small incomes, due to the inadequacy of pension rates and income, having regard to the high and continually increasing cost of living and also the lack of housing and hospitalization, with a view to bringing to the notice of all governments in Australia the urgent need for joint action to alleviate the tragic situation of this deserving section of the Australian community, such committee to recommend a plan of action to be submitted to a conference of representatives of the Australian and State Governments for consideration?
– I am not willing to set up a committee of the kind to which the honorable member for East Sydney has referred. The relevant facts on this great matter are well known, and this Government has had the pleasure of doing a great deal about them.
– Can the Prime Minister say whether the DirectorGeneral and the Deputy Director of the security service are permanent or temporary officers of the Public Service? What salary does each receive? What is the reason for not disclosing their salaries in the budget papers that have been submitted to the Parliament?
– The Australian security service was set up not by me, but by the previous Government. It has not been the practice either of that Government or- of this Government to go into particulars of the votes. I propose to pursue the existing practice. I have made it abundantly clear in this House time after time that this matter is so vital to the security of this country that it no more lends itself to discussion now than it did when the honorable member for East Sydney was a member of the Cabinet that set up the security service.
– Can the Prime Minister say whether the Director-General of the security service is still receiving the same salary that he received when the service was first established by the Chifley Government; or has his salary been increased ?
– I really do not know; but as the salary of the honorable member, and even my own salary, have been increased since then, there may have been some changes. I am sure that the salary paid to the Director-General of the security service is not out of proportion to the services that he renders.
– by leave - I promised the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) to make a statement concerning the attitude of the Government to the Japanese request for admission to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. It was suggested that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen), on the eve of his departure for the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade review session, had said that Australia would support the admission of Japan to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. What, in fact, the Minister said was that the admission of Japan would be considered at the forthcoming conference on the General Agreement ou Tariffs and Trade and that this question was of major importance to Australia.
Japan’s application to enter into tariff negotiations with the contracting parties to the general agreement with a view to acceding to the agreement has been before the contracting parties for some two years. The application has recently been renewed and it is listed on the agenda for the ninth session of the contracting parties which will open at the end of October. These tariff negotiations are a necessary preliminary to the admission of a new member, and at the ninth session contracting parties will be asked to decide whether tariff negotiations with Japan are to be programmed and whether any special conditions are to be attached to Japanese accession. The actual decision on accession will not be taken until tariff negotiations have been completed.
It will be recalled that last year the contracting parties to the general agreement drew up a declaration enabling any country, which so desired, to undertake to base its commercial relations with Japan upon the provisions of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade pending the formal admission of Japan as a full member. Australia is not a party to this declaration.
Japan figures largely in our overseas trade, and it is important for us to see that our trade with it is not unduly frustrated particularly because of the significance of Japan’s purchases in the wool market. While the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade continues to be the instrument regulating so much of world trade there are undoubtedly advantages in Japan becoming a member and being subject to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade rules. Nevertheless, Japanese accession presents problems for Australia and for other contracting parties, too. As an original contracting party, Australia would not necessarily be obliged to apply the agreement to Japan even though Japan’s accession was approved by a majority of contracting parties. The Australian Government must first be satisfied that its own trading and industrial interests are adequately safeguarded; and it is currently examining the problems arising from the application and, indeed, the general problems of our trade relations with Japan.
Under the most expeditious consideration of the application by the contracting parties it would he mid-1955 before the actual question of Japanese accession is decided by the contracting parties. In the meantime, the review of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade will have taken place, and one of the factors which will influence our ultimate decision will be the nature of the changes in the general agreement which will emerge from that review.
I lay on the table the following paper : -
Japan and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade - Ministerial Statement.’ and move -
That the paper be printed.
Debate (on motion by Dr. Evatt) adjourned.
– by leave - The budget provides for a defence vote of £200,000,000, to which can be added £12,000,000 now held in the Defence Equipment Trust Account. In a statement on the 10th April, I said that the basis of defence policy had been transformed from preparedness by a critical date, to the capacity to maintain it at’ a level that can reasonably be sustained for a “ long haul “. In outlining the measures being taken to re-balance the programme, both within and between the services, I emphasized that it was an interim statement. I shall now outline for the information of honorable members the defence programme as ‘approved by the Government. Later, the Government will submit the .South-East Asia
Defence Treaty to Parliament for ratification, and, then, an explanation will be given of its implications insofar as Australia is concerned. At this juncture, it will be sufficient for me to link my statement with certain important points that were made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) on the 5th August regarding the relation of Australian defence to the regional defence of South-East Asia.
The aim of our defence policy is to co-operate in repelling Communist aggression. As the Prime Minister said -
We must, by armed strength, defend the geographical frontiers of those nations whose self-government is based upon the freedom of the spirit.
TheUnitedNations Charter authorizes the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence against aggression, and the creation of regional arrangements.
The Prime Minister has stated in respect of South-East Asian collective defence -
We will become contributing parties. We will, in association with other nations acting similarly, accept military obligations in support of our membership . . . The nature of those commitments must be worked out in consultation with the other parties to the treaty. What they will involve in terms of military preparation, nobody can as yet say, though as soon as negotiations have proceeded far enough we shall take the House and the country fully into our confidence. What effect any specific commitments will have upon the present shape of our defence programme or the methods which we now employ is a matter which I will not presume to judge in advance. All I want to say is that we shall not hesitate to make any changes which are necessary for the full performance of our commitments. This does not mean that the defence expenditure will necessarily or suddenly mount to the skies, but it does mean that it must at all times be adequate to ensure performance.
With the development- of communications, the growth of international trade, and the interdependence of nations, the world has become small and peace indivisible. Security is global, and defence arrangements such as the North Atlantic Treaty and the South-East Asia collective defence treaty are parts of a global pattern. An advantage of the establishment of collective defence for South-East Asia is that it will fill a gap in regard to our own role in the region in which we are located. We look to the development of planning in consultation with our Sir PhilipMcBride. allies to define our task, and to indicate precisely the nature and extent of the forces we need for the most effective contribution, within our capacity, towards the common effort for the defence of this area.
The nature and scale of attack, to which Australia is liable, depends on the potential strength of the aggressor, his geographic location, and his ability to move his forces for offensive action. At present Australia has defence in depth from possible enemy action, whose nearest springboard was South China, but has now become the northern part of Viet Nam. His naval forces would have to operate from remote bases. His land forces could not invade Australia without superior sea and air power. His air forces also would have to operate from remote bases, which limits the probable scale of attack.
It is a matter of vital importance to maintain the gap between Australia and the present high-water mark of the southward flow of communism. Should this gap narrow, the nature and scale of attack on Australia would become intensified as distance shortened. Finally, should the tide of aggressive communism lap on our shores, we would face an intolerable defence burden and a scale of attack which would bebeyond our capacity to repel alone. There is, therefore, every reason strategically and economically why Australia should co-operate to keep aggressive Communism within its present boundaries, and to stem its onward flow.
I shall now furnish the House with an outline of the defence programme provided for this financial year, subject to any review that may be necessary in the light of developments in South-East Asia. Before discussing the naval programme, I shall deal with the subject of air power and naval defence. In view of the probable nature and scale of attack laid down by the Defence Committee, it has been decided that priority should be given by the Navy to surface antisubmarine vessels, and that the responsibility for air protection at sea within the range of land-based aircraft should beassigned to the Air Force. Close operational cooperation will be maintained between the
Navy and the Air Force. As I shall indicate later, the Fleet Air Arm will be retained at a reduced, but nevertheless substantial strength in balanced relation to the other Services.
The Navy programme provides for the following ships to be in commission: - One aircraft carrier (operational), one training ship (the second carrier will be used for this role on a non-flying basis), four destroyers, six frigates, two surveying frigates, five ocean mine sweepers, and various auxiliary craft. One destroyer and one frigate are with the United Nations forces in Korea, and one destroyer or. frigate is constantly maintained in northern Australian waters on patrol duties. In addition to the ships in commission, there is a substantial reserve fleet, which is being maintained in good condition against any future emergency.
The approved personnel establishment of the Navy is 24,400. It is made up of 14,400 Permanent Naval Forces, the present strength being 14,100, and 10,000 Citizen Forces, the present strength being 8,200. The Citizen Forces include national service personnel, the intake of whom will be maintained at the present figure of 1,200 per annum.
The Fleet Air Arm will be maintained on the reduced basis of one operational carrier, one air station and five front-line naval air squadrons. Four squadrons will be re-equipped with modern Sea Venom and Gannet aircraft under present plans. It might be noted, for comparison, that Canada, which is subject to a heavier scale of naval attack, also has one operational carrier and air station, but four air squadrons as against our five.
I refer now to ship construction, conversion and modernization. The aircraft carrier H.M.A.S. Melbourne and the fleet tanker, which are being built in the United Kingdom, are nearing completion. Local construction includes three Daring class ships and four anti-submarine frigates at present on order, together with two inshore minesweepers and other miscellaneous vessels. Also, three “ Q “ class destroyers are being converted to antisubmarine frigates in addition to one already completed. The modernization of the second Tribal class destroyer is nearing completion, together with the last of the twelve ocean minesweepers.
The programme provides for the shore establishments essential for bases for commissioned ships, and provides administrative, storing, repair and training facilities. The Navy allotment for 1953-54 was £45,800,000. The proposed expenditure this financial year is £48,200,000. The increase of £2,400,000 is mainly for the reequipment of the Fleet Air Arm with modern aircraft, as already mentioned.
In the Army programme, the chief feature is the step now being taken to bring the provision for equipment more into balance with that for man-power. It is fruitless to train men unless the ways and means of providing the necessary equipment are planned and provided for. This involves consideration of local and overseas sources of supply, and, in the case of local supplies, the relation between production capacity and the stocks to be held. I shall refer later to the additional provision for these purposes.
In accordance with my previous statement of the 10th April, the Government has been giving careful consideration to the strength of the Permanent Army in the light of -
Our existing commitment in Korea. I recently announced that reductions would be made in the First British Commonwealth Division in Korea which will result in the withdrawal of one Australian battalion and other elements by the end of 1954. There will be consequential reductions in Australian base troops in Japan. However, Australian Army personnel will still be required to serve in this theatre for some time yet.
The first contingent of 20,000 men was raised by the end of September, and sailed early in November. It completed its. training in Egypt and landed on Gallipoli in April, 1915. In 1939, war broke out early in September. The first contingent of 20,000 men was raised by early December and sailed towards the end of January, 1940. It completed its training in the Middle East and fought its first action in the Western Desert in January, 1941.
National security requires that we should develop the ability for a much better performance in the event of further aggression in South-East Asia. As soon as the Communists advance beyond their present frontiers and lines, they are shortening our defence in depth. We must be prepared to hold them at the farthest point advantageous to us, and we must consolidate our strength there as quickly as possible.
Until the release of the forces in Korea - and we are aware of what will be necessary in the light of developments in South-East Asia - no change is being made in the present organization and strength of the Permanent Army. This strength is 24,230, comprising a field force at present organized as one infantry brigade group of three battalions and supporting units, of which two battalions and certain administrative units are in Korea and Japan; cadres and staffs for Citizen Military Forces, national service training units, and cadets; training installations; command and maintenance organizations; and miscellaneous units.
The present strength of the Citizen Military Forces is 72,000, against a planned strength of 75,000. These forces are organized in three infantry divisions: one armoured brigade group; selected corps and other units. The national service intake will be maintained at the present rate of 29.250 per annum. The total present strength of the Army is -
With the addition of national service reservists, the total strength is 119,350, the mobilization requirement being 115,500.
I turn now to the matter of equipment. I referred earlier to the objective of improving the balance between manpower and equipment to enable increased provision to be made forthe latter. Having regard to the availability of supply, provision is made in the Army programme for the authorization in 1954-55 of £17,000,000 towards deficiencies in Army equipment required on mobilization. The expenditure will be spread over a longer period than the current financial year. A further £9,600,000 is also provided in the Estimates for 1954-55 for subsequent allotment towards Army deficiencies in equipment or additional production capacity. To refer to finance, the Army allocation for 1953-54 was £73,700,000. Subject to the considerations I have mentioned relating to the strength of the Permanent Army, provision is made for an expenditure of £72,200,000 in 1954-55.
I come now to the Air Force programme. As mentioned in my statement of the 10th April, there will be a weighting of the defence effort in favour of the Air Force. The initial step, as stated earlier, is the assignment to the Air Force of the responsibility for air protection at sea within the range of land-based aircraft. To undertake this task, the Air Force programme provides for an increase in the size and efficiency of the maritime reconnaissance element of the Royal Australian Air Force. The programme provides for a force of sixteen squadrons, including five Citizen Air Force squadrons -
In addition to head-quarters and subformations for control and direction, there are ancillary units covering the various aspects of operations, equipment, servicing and training, and other specialist units.
I refer now to the overseas units. No. 91 Composite Wing is in Korea and there is a bomber squadron in Malaya. As announced recently, No. 7S Fighter Wing in Malta will shortly be brought back to Australia on completion of its tour of duty, and No. 77 Fighter Squadron and portion o’f No. 36 Transport Squadron are also being withdrawn from Korea in .the next few months.
The strength of the Permanent Air Force will be increased from 14,900 to 3 6,907. In addition, provision is made for an active Citizen Air Force strength of SOO - the present strength is 700 - an active reserve of 1,700 - present strength is 1,600 - an Air Training Corps of 6,000 - present strength is 5,300 - and a national service intake at the present rate of 3,320 trainees per annum.
The re-equipment of the Air Force with various types of aircraft is a continuous and progressive task planned many years ahead to cover the time required for design, development, tooling-up and production of each type. It is planned to order the following new types of aircraft: - Jet fighters, which will ultimately replace the single Avon engined Sabres; medium jet bombers, which will ultimately replace the twin Avon engined Canberra light bombers; jet trainers to replace Wirraways; arid transport aircraft to replace Dakotas in one of the two transport squadrons. Provision is made, also, for the modification and conversion of the Lincoln aircraft that will be required for the maritime reconnaissance role, in addition to the Neptune aircraft already held. Substantial provision is made for aircraft spares, and other equipment and stores, including ground radar. It is planned to augment the radar system, in order to develop the most, satisfactory reporting system for the defence of vulnerable areas.
Constant attention is being given to the aerodrome requirements of the Royal
Australian Air Force, including the extensions and improvements necessary for modern aircraft. Provision has been made in the Royal Australian Air Force programme for major aerodrome projects at various Royal Australian Air Force stations, including Townsville, Amberley, Williamtown, Richmond, East Sale, Pearce and Darwin. These projects involve reconstruction or extension of runways, taxiways, aprons and hardstandings, and the provision of improved control and communication facilities. Many are already in progress. The estimated cost in 1954-55 exceeds £2,000,000. The Air Force allocation of funds for 1953-54 was £56,400,000. The proposed expenditure this financial vear is £57,400,000, an increase of £1,000,000.
As already stated, the number of national servicemen to- be trained will continue at the present figure of 33,750 annually. However, the Government has been examining the means whereby the national service intake may make an even more valuable contribution to the effectiveness of our citizen forces, and to problems that would confront is in an emergency. There is no point in training more men than are actually required in relation to our overall defence plans. Equally would it be a mistake to assign to the training of excess numbers, resources that can, with greater advantage, be devoted to other sectors of our overall defence programme. The House is well aware of what happens when too much is attempted at a time when available resources are overstrained.
Much of the training of national servicemen in the Army is centred on the Citizen Military Forces units. We have already found that it is impracticable for young men living away from Citizen Military Forces training centres to be fully effective members of their units. On this account, registrants in remote areas have so far been deferred, and those who do not live within handy distances of training centres have been excused of part of their training. This same sort of problem had to be provided for in the case of the old universal training scheme. Moreover, our national service training scheme has to be thought of in the context of mobilization plans. ‘Such plans have to give expression to the critical importance of ensuring, in an emergency, the most effective use of Australia’s manpower. It is not in the national interest to train men who are unlikely to be called up in the early stages of an emergency. It is, however, not possible to build into our national service scheme any absolute or. complete system of selection based on occupations, relevant to the needs of mobilization, which would be both practicable and equitable as between individuals. There is, however, a limited number of jobs that would be of great and immediate importance in an emergency, having regard to Australia’s strategic role, and in which it would be particularly difficult to replace men if they were mobilized for the services. We know this problem only too well from the last war. I refer to rural workers engaged full-time in the production of food or raw materials. In addition to the Government’s policy of expansion of primary production, it has been made clear in British Commonwealth planning for an emergency, that great reliance will he placed on Australia as a source of supply in war for foodstuffs and raw materials of which we are important producers. Against this background, two decisions have been taken by the Government.
First, for the present, the call-up of young men, who do not live within reasonable distances of Citizen Military Forces centres, will be deferred. In the country, generally speaking, those living beyond a radius of 5 miles will be deferred. However,’ when built-up areas continue on, those living within them will be included in the call-up. As in the metropolitan areas and some other large centres of population, transport facilities shrink distances and travel times, the 5 mile general rule will obviously be inappropriate. There will, therefore, be some flexibility in the delineation of boundaries to provide for the circumstances in each case and to avoid the glaring anomalies that would occur if some rigid radius rule applied. Second, the training of rural workers, as I have defined them, will also be deferred for the present. As it happens, roughly fourfifths of the rural workers live beyond what may be regarded as handy distances to Citizen Military Forces training centres and would be deferred on that score.
Let me make quite clear, however, that there will be no variation of the present universality of liability for call-up and no extension of the. present grounds for exemption from training. All young men on turning eighteen will continue to be required to register. Subject to medical fitness, they will remain liable for call-up until, generally speaking, they reach 26 years of age. However, for the time being, a proportion of them, those falling in the categories I have mentioned, will not be called up for actual national service training. I simply desire to add that we do not and cannot know yet what new circumstances may arise, in South-East Asia or elsewhere, affecting the nature or form of our defence obligations and the preparations needed for their performance. The Government will, in the new year, in the light of those circumstances, review the proposals which I have just outlined.
The Department of Defence Production is responsible for the manufacture and supply of munitions and aircraft for the defence forces and the development of capacity in private industry to meet war needs. The Joint War Production Committee within the Department of Defence, in consultation with the production and service departments, is responsible for surveying the industrial capacity of the Commonwealth to meet the needs of the services on mobilization and for war. Provision is being made for further progress with the defence production capital programme for the expansion of production capacity, and the replacement and modernization of existing facilities.
Capital expenditure under this programme is being undertaken on the following basis : -
The expenditure to the 30th June, on the capital programme was £5,800,000, and provision is being made over the next three years, 1954-55 to 1956-57 for a further £10,400,000. As I have indicated earlier with regard to the Army, special provision is being made for additional production capacity for the deficiencies in Army equipment on mobilization.
The allotment for the Department of Defence Production in 1953-54 was £8,700,000. This included £2,200,000 in respect of certain overhead costs which, in the future, are to be borne by the service and supply departments. The amount has therefore been deleted from the defence production programme and vote, for re-allotment to those departments, and the adjusted defence production allotment is £6,500,000. The proposed expediture by the Department of Defence Production this financial year is £6,500,000.
The responsibilities of the Department of Supply include -
The Defence Research and Development Policy Committee within the Department of Defence in consultation with the supply and service departments, advises on scientific policy in the defence field, including the machinery and major projects for research and development.
The Long Range Weapons Establishment, which is the major feature of our research and development programme, is a joint project in conjunction with the United Kingdom. The total expenditure by Australia on this project since its inception up to the end of last financial year is over £36,000,000. Provision is being made for increases in staff, and in operations and works projects, to meet the United Kingdom guided weapons trials programme. The allotment for the long-range weapons project in 1953-54 was £8,800,000, and the proposed expenditure this financial year is the same amount. There are also other important research and development projects in the general fields of aerodynamics, aeronautical structures and materials, aircraft power plants, solid and liquid fuels, rocket motors, explosives and electronics. The overall allotment for the Department of Supply for 1953-54 was £14,800,000. The proposed expenditure for 1954-55 is £15,000,000 - an increase of £200,000.
As announced recently by the Minister for the Interior, discussions on civil defence have been held between federal and State representatives. Agreement has been reached on certain measures, including the establishment of a civil defence school for the training of key personnel as a nucleus of a civil defence organization. Provision of £90,000 for this school has been made this financial year.
The Department of Defence is responsible for the formulation and general application of a unified defence policy relating to the defence forces and their requirements. It controls the joint service and inter-departmental machinery, which is responsible for advice on the various aspects of defence policy, and for planning for war. It also administers the Joint Intelligence Bureau, and the Defence Signals Branch. The allotment for 1953-54 was £712,000. The proposed expenditure this financial year is £715,000.
In my previous statement of the 10th April, I pointed out that a defence programme costing £200,000,000 a year, and entailing a substantial allotment of our financial, man-power and material resources, bad to be considered in conjunction with the demands of our immigration and development programmes. In view of the international outlook, and any commitments arising from SouthEast Asian defence, it is apparent that a defence programme of at least this magnitude must bg sustained for a “long haul”. It is equally evident that the long-term security of Australia requires that there should be no relaxation in the efforts to increase our population and to develop our resources, The result of these is to expand our economy, and to build up our future potential strength.
A significant feature of the underexpenditure of the defence vote last financial year was the inability of supply to meet demand. An illustration of this was the unexpended balance of £6,700,000 on the works programme. It will, therefore, be apparent that under present economic conditions, the allotment of the gross national product to the various sectors of the economy is somewhat finely balanced.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) outlined the general position in his statement of the 5th August, as follows: -
Our policy will be to prepare such forces to the limits of our financial capacity. What do I mean by this expression? The answer is that unless we are to put the nation upon an actual war footing we must always have regard to the impact which the diversion of men, money and materials may have upon the general economy’ of the nation. It is of real importance to the national security that we should have financial and economic stability, that we should maintain industrial activity and employment and that wc should achieve that development of our resources which is needed for a rapidly growing population. This means that we must balance our efforts, remembering always that it is a designed part of the Communist cold war technique to put such a strain upon the democracies that defence expenditure and social and economic stability will come into conflict, with advantages either way to the potential- aggressor.
As announced in my statement of the 10th April, the aim of the Government was to undertake the necessary measures for re-balancing a defence programme costing £200,000,000 a year, both between’ and within the services. The policy and the programme, which I have outlined, do this in a most effective manner. The organization and strength of our forces are linked with those of the United King* dom and New Zealand in the commonplanning that has been proceeding. The relation of their organization and strength to the wider regional arrangement for the defence of South-East Asia remains to be determined. The broad basis of the policy and the programme I have outlined is readily adaptable to meet this need. 1 lay on the table the following paper : -
Defence Policy and Programme - Ministerial Statement. , and move -
That the paper be printed.
Debate (on motion by Mr. CHAMBERS) adjourned.
Debate resumed from the 23rd September (vide page 1614), on motion-, by Mr. Francis-
That the bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Mr. Haylen had moved: by “way of amendment -
That nil words after “That” be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof thefollowing words: - “ a Parliamentary Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the decisions and interpretations made under section 47 of the Repatriation Act”.
.- We have just listened to a review by theMinister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) of the nation’s defences, of national service training and of” of other matters that affect thefuture well-being of this nation.. One would think, in view of the defence needs of the nation, now and in thefuture, that greater consideration would’ be given by the Government, under this: bill, to the men and women who have borne the burden, and who bear the scars of two world wars. Since the beginningof this debate Government supporters have whipped themselves into a frenzy in justifying the past activities of theGovernment. The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) has submitted to the House the Labour party’s proposal’s in relation to repatriation. There is noneed at this stage for any viciousness or hard feelings in connexion with this matter. We should deal with this bill tolerantly, in an endeavour to do justice to ex-servicemen and their families. J ustice must be done to those people, so I suggest that the amendments foreshadowed by the honorable member for Parkes should not only be considered by the Government, but should be accepted by it. It might be as well at this stage to recapitulate the policy that the Labour party desires to be carried out in connexion with repatriation. That policy is as follows : -
That the totally and permanently disabled rate for war pensions be £12 10s. a week with proportionate increases for dependants; that dependants of totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners caring for such pensioners be granted sickness and hospital benefits similar to those extended to age or invalid pensioners; that the totally and permanently incapacitated rate be applied to totally blinded pensioners.
That the pension of a partially blinded soldier who has lost an eye, or who is suffering 50 per cent, loss of efficiency from an eye injury classified as 75 per cent, be increased so as to bring him on the same level as a. limbless soldier who has lost an arm below the elbow or a leg below the knee.
That a parliamentary select committee be appointed to inquire into the decisions and interpretations made under section 47 of the act.
That all ex-service men and women shall be entitled to treatment in repatriation hospitals for disabilities, whether war caused or not; that a similar right to treatment in repatriation or other hospitals shall be given to war widows; thai there shall be automatic entitlement to repatriation benefits for mental or nervous disorders of an ex-member of the forces; that benefits shall he provided for the progressive deterioration of one of dual organs where the other suffered a war-caused injury.
I suggest that here is an opportunity for Government supporters, who have in the past few weeks demonstrated some degree of rebellion against the Government’s legislation, to show exactly how they feel about the treatment meted out to ex-servicemen and their dependants. These honorable gentlemen now have an opportunity to show that they are sincere in their desire for prompt action by the Government to help ex-servicemen and their dependants. One way in which they could ensure the taking of such action is to support the projected amendments. Let honorable gentlemen opposite show that they are not sham fighters by taking this opportunity to do something on behalf of the organizations that, in the main, are responsible for their presence in this House.
We shall hear from Government supporters during this debate a great deal about what Labour governments did, or failed to do, in connexion with repatriation. I say to the House that the present inflation v has caused the need for increase repatriation benefits, as well as for increased social services benefits. That inflation has resulted from the Government’s policy and has caused the people of this country to demand a better deal for the impoverished sections of the community who are most affected by increases of prices. The basic wage has increased by more than £6 during the Government’s period of office - that is to say, it has more than doubled. But no social services or repatriation benefit has doubled in that time. The vicious inflationary conditions, which are the result of the policy of this Government, are causing all sections of the community to demand a better deal. Wages have been pegged for nearly twelve months, yet the prices of butter, meat, tea, clothing, shoes, and shoe repairs have increased. It is all very well for Government supporters, who have sources of income in addition to their parliamentary allowances, to be smug and complacent. They should put themselves in the place of the unfortunate pensioners and realize, if they can, how those people are faring at the present time. The Labour party appeals to the Government for justice and righteousness. We ask honorable members opposite to support our efforts to secure a fair deal for exservicemen in receipt of repatriation benefits. Australians have enjoyed, and are are continuing to enjoy, prosperous years. Profiteering is still rife. It is easy for the Government to throw to pensioners a few crumbs in the form of increased social services benefits, but the proposed scale of assistance is not enough to enable people in want to combat the terrifically high cost of living.
The papers presented by the Treasurer (Sir “ Arthur Fadden), after he had delivered his budget speech, show that wage and salary earners and members of the defence forces constitute 87 per cent, of the population, and receive only 57.6 per cent, of the national income. The other 13 per cent, of the population receive 42.4 per cent, of the national income. The Labour party claims that the minority, who are receiving the biggest slice of the national cake, should make a greater contribution to the wellbeing of the people in want. “We submit that all should have a reasonable share of the national income, and no section has a stronger claim than the people whose health has been impaired, or who have suffered physical injury, in the defence of their country.
When the bill is in committee, certain amendments will be moved on behalf of the Labour party in an attempt to give effect to our opinions on this matter, and we shall ask -Government supporters to state their attitude towards them. I know perfectly well that honorable members will say, in effect, “ It was the Labour party that made lavish promises to exservicemen’s organizations during the recent’ general election campaign. ‘We did not make promises at all “. That reply may be true up to a point, but it is not wholly true, as I shall show. The Prime Minister, in a supplementary statement to his policy speech, addressed the following remarks to ex-servicemen’s organizations : -
Ex-servicemen may be assured that our policy will be continued and that, as in the past, we will co-operate with their organizations in the closest possible way. I would like to pay a tribute to those organizations. The3 have zealously watched after the interests of their members. They have maintained their traditional standards of good and responsible citizenship. They have not engaged in party politics.
The Labour party is not eager to engage in party politics this afternoon. The subject of repatriation should be above- party politics. The honorable member for Parkes has proposed that a committee should be appointed to examine repatriation benefits, and make recommendations, so that justice will be done to ex-servicemen who are in need. We should never forget that those men received the disabilities from which they are now suffering in the service of their country. I urge the Prime Minister to barken to the plea which has been made by ex-servicemen’s organizations for justice and righteousness. The right honorable gentleman assured them during the last general election campaign that the Government would continue to look after the interests of their members. Ex-servicemen’s organizations have sent deputations to plead with the Prime Minister, the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride), the Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis) and the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) for greater assistance for their members. I have in my hand a letter from the Federated T.B. Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen’s Association of Australia, which I propose to read to the House. A similar letter has been sent to other honorable members. It reads as follows : -
The Budget speech of the Right Honorable The Treasurer, Sir Arthur Fadden, says inter alia “ The Government has decided to increase the general rate of War Pensions under the Repatriation Act by 7s. 6d. per week “.
That seems a fair enough statement and one which should be welcomed by organizations of ex-Servicemen.
But, it is a somewhat misleading statement not accepted by any association of ex-Service personnel as being fair and equitable.
When one speaks of increasing “ the general rate of War Pensions “ any person listening to the speech would naturally assume that all War Pensions payable under the Act come within the ambit of the phrase. This is not so.
The most deserving group of War Pensioners covered by the Act is the group coming within the definitions contained in the Second Schedule.
They include, the Blinded, the Totally and Permanently Incapacitated and those suffering from pulmonary Tuberculosis. There is no provision in the Budget for an increase in the Pension of these most dreadful maimed and seriously ill classes of Pensioners, despite the fact the War Pensions in the main is their sole source of income.
Speaking for the Tubercular sufferers this Association asks why should this be so.
To. be seriously handicapped with a war disability is bad enough of itself ; to be so affected and in receipt of a Special Rate of War Pension which does not amount to sufficient to meet everyday requirements is not good either, but it is very much worse from the point of view of health recovery to be left out of the increase in general War Pensions.
There is yet time to remedy this anomalous and totally inequitable situation in the present Budget and with the support of all State Branches of this Federation, 1 enlist your help in having extended to the Second Schedule Pensioners the 7s. C<1. per week increase in War Pensions.
I have also received a letter from the Totally and Permanently Disabled Soldiers Association, which makes a similar plea. The Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison) is a vice-patron of that organization. [ urge him to heed the plea which is made in that letter. It tells a harrowing tale of the conditions under which members of that organization are living at the present time, and asks for an amelioration of their plight. The federal executive of the. Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmens’ Imperial League of Australia also makes a plea, which is in conformity with the amendments that will be moved in committee by the honorable member for Parkes. That organization has formulated a fifteen-point plan, and has asked the Government to adopt it. We invite Government supporters who are exservicemen, to show their courage on this issue, and not engage in a sham fight as they have on television and national service training. They should do something for ex-servicemen’s organizations which they have been elected, in the main, to represent. They went to those organizations prior to the general election campaign in 1949, and I recollect that the president of the New South Wales branch of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, Mr. Yeo, said, in effect, shortly after that election, “ On the backs of exservicemen they went to their places in the Parliament. It is up to them to show exactly where they stand to secure decent benefits for the men and women who worked and helped to put them into Parliament “. Honorable members opposite show by their interjections that they do not like to be reminded of that matter.
I shall now place on record some of the fifteen points of the plan formulated by the federal executive of the Returned
Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia and I emphasize that amendments to give effect to that plan will be moved in committee by the honorable member for Parkes. Some of the points are as follows : -
All war pensions based on the 10.0 per cent, war pension rate to be increased by 25 per cent.
The totally and permanently incapacitated pension to be increased by 25 per cent, with corresponding increases in dependants’ pensions and allowances.
War widows’ and dependants’ pensions and allowances to be increased by 25 per cent.
Pensions, allowances, medical and dental treatment of eligible children under the Soldiers’ Children Education Scheme to be continued after the age of sixteen years where, in the opinion of the relevant authorities, further education is desirable.
Pensions of service pensioners to be increased to £4 per week with commensurate increases for dependants.
Allowances payable on account of orphan children under Schedule 3, Repatriation Act, to be increased by 25 per cent.
I again remind Government supporters of the assurance given by the Prime Minister in the supplementary statement to his policy speech. I also ask them to remember how inflation has reduced the purchasing power of pensions. The Labour Government was in office for eight years, and the basic wage remained stable. The present Prime Minister and the Treasurer were the guilty men who were responsible for the defeat of the prices referendum in 1948, which resulted in the inflationary conditions that are causing so much suffering to-day. When the Labour Government vacated office at the end of 1949, the basic wage in all States was approximately £5 16s. a week. Since this Government has been in office, the basic wage has risen by approximately £6 a week. The basic wage has been pegged for the last twelve months, yet prices have continued to rise. I ask Government supporters to heed the plea that has been made to them by individual ex-servicemen and by organizations which represent ex-servicemen, particularly as they claim to protect the interests of those organizations. If honorable members opposite are really concerned about the interests of ex-servicemen, as they claim they are, they will have no need to engage in any more sham fighting, or to be in any doubt about the viewpoint of ex-servicemen. I appeal to Government supporters to join forces wit members of the Opposition on this issue in order that full justice shall be done to the relatives of those who laid down their lives in defence of this country and to those men and women who were maimed while on war service and are now incapable of earning an income. The Parliament must do justice to that section of the community, and I appeal to honorable members opposite to support the amendment that has- been moved by the honorable member for Parkes. [Quorum formed.’]
.–I shall deal first with the remarks of the honorable member for Phillip (Mr. Fitzgerald), because he suffers from the great disadvantage that as he has not engaged in research he is not aware of the record of Labour down the years with respect to repatriation. I trust that he will be much better informed on this subject when I resume my seat. He dealt with the rates and declared that the amendment that has been moved by the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) covered that aspect of repatriation. As a matter of fact, the amendment does not relate in any way to the rates but seeks the appointment of a select committee to inquire into decisions and interpretations under section 47 of the principal act.
– The Opposition intends to move further amendments.
– Only one amendment is now before the House. It may be that the honorable member for Phillip is stealing the honorable member’s thunder. Dealing with the rates, the honorable member for Phillip mentioned the general’ rate pension and the special rate of pension. .In 1949, when Labour was in office, the general rate was £2 15s. a week. During the preceding five years, Labour increased the rate to that amount, an increase by the huge and remunerative sum of 5s., that is an increase of ls. for each of those five years. During the five years this Government has been in office, that rate lias been increased by £1 15s. a week to £4 10s. a week, compared with the rate of £2 15s. when Labour was ejected from office. By 1949, Labour had increased the special rate of pension to £5 6s., the increase during the preceding five years having been 10s. a week, or an increase at the rate of 2s. a week for each of those years. Under this Government, the special rate of pension has been increased by £3 14s. a week to £9 5s. compared with the rate of £5 6s. in 1949. I do not want to say anything more to the honorable member for Phillip because I am after bigger game.
The honorable member for Parkes, who opened this debate on behalf of the ‘Opposition, used arguments that were completely nauseating to Government- supporters. His appeal that the Government should consider the interest of exservicemen was completely sickening to those who know the record of Labour and his own record with regard to repatriation. Let us look at those records. Let us see what the honorable member for Parkes had to say in this House in the course of the debate on the Re-establishment and Employment Bill in 1945 ; and, while wo do so, let us bear in mind the fervent appeal that he made to the Government, when speaking in this chamber last week, to forget party politics, to cease making of repatriation a political football, and to appoint a select committee to inquire into repatriation matters. The honorable member wept crocodile tears; but it is his record that counts, not his verses, intonations or the headlines in which he usually couches his speeches. In the course of the debate on the Reestablishment and Employment Bill on the 15th May, 1945, the honorable member, according to Hansard. Volume 182, at page 1697, said -
How oan we segregate the man who fired the shot from the man who made it, and the man who fed the soldier from the man who grew the food, and the man who killed the enemy from the man who made the gun?
I ask honorable members, and member7, of ex-servicemen’s organizations who may be listening to this debate, to check that statement by the honorable member. He made those remarks on a measure in respect of which the Parliament was discussing preference to ex-servicemen. His plea was not that preference should be given to the returned soldier, because, he said, it is impossible to separate the returned soldier from the man in the factory. That bill was designed to give to civilians equal treatment with exservicemen under the Labour Government’s rehabilitation and employment scheme. On that occasion, the honorable member made no plea on behalf of ex-servicemen. On the contrary, he pleaded for preference for unionists and tradesmen. On the 5th February of that year, the federal conference of the Australian Workers Union, meeting in Adelaide, had voted against preference to ex-servicemen. That conference, at the same time, had voted for preference to members of trade unions, and had urged the Labour Government of the day to give effect to that policy; and that Government gave effect to it.
Labour failed to give real consideration to the problems that affect exservicemen. In 1945, Mr. Dedman, whose fame has now been forgotten, was Minister for Post-war Reconstruction, in which capacity he had charge of the Reestablishment and Employment Bill to which I have referred. At that time, the Labour Government had a very slender numerical ‘ majority in this chamber. Mr. Coles who was a Liberal, had seen fit to throw his weight, for a consideration; in sup-, port of that Government. In March of that year, Mr. Dedman attended an Australian Labour party conference, and he was reported in the Melbourne Age of the 31st March as having said at that meeting -
When the Opposition–
That is the present Government parties - moved an amendment to give preference to returned soldiers, Mr. Coles told the Government that unless it accepted the amendment or gave some undertaking to grant preference in a later bill, he would no longer support the Government.
At’ that time, as I have said, the Labour Government was relying upon the support of Mr. Coles for its continuance in office.
– I rise to order, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker.
– The honorable member cannot take it.
– It is a question not of being able to take it, but of getting the debate back to the subject of repatriation. I submit, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, that the Minister’s reference to events that happened eight years ago is not relevant to the question before the Chair.
– Order! The honorable member has not raised a point of order.
– The honorable member for Parkes cannot face up to his record with regard to repatriation. When he stands in this House and whines that this bill should be a non-party measure, and makes nauseating appeals to Government supporters, although he knows that Labour has not a good record on repatriation, he must sit and listen not only to his own record but also to that of “the party to which lie belongs. The Re-establishment and Employment Act provided for the training of discharged members of the forces “ and other persons as prescribed “ ; and it was on behalf of the “ other persons as prescribed “, those working in factories or in munition works, that is, persons other than those fighting in the front line, that the honorable member for Parkes made his appeal on the occasion to which I have referred. One does not desire to go back still further into Labour’s record, but I recall that in 1930 Mr. Scullin, who was Prime Minister at that time, said -
Preference should ‘lie given - other things being equal - firstly to returned soldiers and sailors with satisfactory service who a remembers of trade unions, and secondly to members of trade unions.
Later, when threatened with a motion of censure against his Government because of its departure from the principle of preference to returned soldiers, Mr. Scullin abandoned that stand. That is Labour’s record with’ regard to repatriation. It is a record -that Labour has to live down and of which it can be heartily ashamed. All the prating and nauseating pleading of the honorable member for Parkes will not hide that record in any way. Labour, in the past, placed preference to returned soldiers on a purely party political basis, and it has maintained that attitude right up to the present. Labour is prepared to grant preference to ex-servicemen, or to make appeals to ex-servicemen, only when it is obliged to do so in order to save its own party political hide. Yet, the honorable member for Parkes now says, in effect, “ Let ns make repatriation a non-party matter “.
This Government helps ex-servicemen to . take every advantage’ of the machinery that is provided under the Repatriation Act. The department forwards to every claimant, who has been refused a pension, a form to enable him to appeal ; and the Government encourages such an exserviceman to .appeal so that he may make the maximum use of the machinery that is:provided under the act. In order that there shall be no avoidable delays in the hearing of claims; the Government has set up an additional appeal tribunal. It has also set up two additional assessment appeal tribunals. I have no doubt that it will set up others, if necessary, to streamline the procedure of dealing with ex-servicemen’s appeals. The Minister gives his personal attention’ to every one of these appeals. The position is under constant review by him, and he is kept informed by means of statements which are submitted to him at regular intervals.
The honorable member for Parkes has submitted an amendment which deals with what is commonly known as the “onus of proof” provision. I want to make the facts perfectly clear, not only to honorable members, but also to Australians generally. The detailed exposures of Labour’s record in relation to the onus of proof provision may be found in Hansard, volume 199, of the 19th October, 1948, commencing at page 1781, and of the 28th October, 1948, commencing at page 2333. I refer honorable members to the official record because I do not propose to go into such close detail as is given in the report. I propose merely to outline what happened on that occasion. This matter has come before the House on a number of occasions. The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), who was Attorney-General in the Government that held office in 1948, gave a legal opinion on section 47 of the Repatriation Act. That legal opinion was to the effect - and I take it in its broadest sense - that the onus of proof rested upon the Repatriation Commission and not upon an applicant for a pension. Up to that point, I travel with the right honorable gentleman. I should think that, as the Attorney-General and with very senior status in that Government, the right honorable gentleman was morally bound to see that his legal opinion was carried out. But he gave no direction whatever to the Minister for Repatriation at that time to ensure that the opinion should . be put into effect. Therefore, he rendered lip service only to ex:servicemen. It was a legal interpretation which, in my opinion, he was morally bound to have carried out,, but he failed miserably to honour his moral obligation.
What happened? The appeal tribunal at that. time, which was required tq make a statutory report to this House from time to time, had occasion to criticize the administration of the’ department’ .by the Minister for Repatriation. Tt criticized severely his handling of the provisions of section 47 of the act, and, in fact, thu entire administration of the department. But instead of presenting that statutory report to the Parliament, the Minister put it on one side and held it for a: period of months before he surreptitiously introduced it into this House between the leaves of another report. Now why did he do that? Upon receipt of that report from the appeal tribunal the Minister had sent for the chairman and threatened him with summary action unless he altered the terms of the report. In other words, he stood threateningly over the chairman of the tribunal. Then, when the chairman and the other members refused to be intimidated in that way, the Minister summarily dismissed the tribunal. The Attorney-General at that time stood pat on the fact that he had given a legal interpretation of section 47. But the right honorable gentleman took no action to look after the interests of ex-servicemen, or to see that the Minister for Repatriation should do so by retaining the tribunal. On the contrary, he was a party to the dismissal of the tribunal. Yet he rises in this House from time to time and says, “But I gave a legal interpretation “. It is true that he did, but I claim that he was morally bound to see that his interpretation was put into effect. In fact, when the Minister for Repatriation refused to carry it out, and when the commission refused to carry it out, the right honorable gentleman stood idly by and let the ex-servicemen’s interests go down the drain and rested in later years on the fact that he had given a legal opinion.
What happened after the appeal tribunal had been dismissed ? The matter was raised in this House and the Minister for Repatriation, in an endeavour to defend himself, pleaded that he had not been aware of the AttorneyGeneral’s interpretation.
– Who was the Minister ?
– He was Mr. Claude Barnard.
– And he did a good job, too.
– So the electors must have thought when they dismissed him when next he came before them ! The ex-servicemen knew the story, and they had ,’accurately assessed Labour’s attitude on this matter. They knew what the moral obligation of the Attorney-General was, and how he had failed them. Yet, at this late date, the honorable member for Parkes comes into the House and says, “ Let us have another look at section 47. Let us appoint a select committee to see whether its provisions are being carried out “. I tell the House and the country that, in view of the persistent propaganda statements made by the Opposition, the present Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) took steps to forward to all repatriation State boards, the Repatriation Commission, and the chairmen of the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunals, a statement stressing the legal position under the provisions of section 47 of the act. In the course of that statement, the AttorneyGeneral said -
The effect of Section 47 is that it is not for the claimant to prove that he is entitled to a pension, but it is for the opposing person or authority to prove that he is not entitled . . . the onus remains with the opposing person or authority throughout the proceedings … to satisfy the determining authority that the claimant is not entitled (to a pension).
The Government has always insisted that the onus of proof provisions of the Repatriation Act be enforced, and they have been enforced.
– Can I have a copy of the statement that the Minister has quoted?
– No. These are the notes of my speech. The right honorable gentleman, I suggest, would not hand over his brief to me. The Government has not neglected this matter. It has always insisted that the provisions of section 47 be carried out.
This is not a matter that is in dispute. Individual cases that members of the Opposition may have brought up from time to time do not lend colour to the claim that ex-servicemen demand that greater effect be given to the terms of section 47. In fact, the Repatriation Department has received no request from any organization of ex-servicemen with regard to that section of the act.
– Ex-servicemen are not satisfied with the administration of that section.
– They are satisfied. The honorable member knows full well that the most voluble section in any ex-servicemen’s organization - and naturally so - is the pensions section. If pensions officers in such organizations were not satisfied that applicants were receiving proper treatment under section 47, they would make a direct approach to the Government. The rates for which the bill provides are for general application and, as there have been no complaints to the Government or the- department that section 47 is not being properly applied, the only conclusion open to the House and the country is that the amendment moved by the honorable member for Parkes on behalf of the Australian Labour party has been introduced merely for party political purposes and to save the political hides of honorable members opposite. . Therefore, I do not propose to waste the time of the House with any further .discussion of the amendment.
This whining -that we hear from the Opposition must be assessed at its true value. We on this side of the House, who know the record of the Labour- party’s dealings with ex-servicemen, have become nauseated by the continuous protestations of honorable members opposite because .we know that there is no sincerity behind the appeals that they make to the Government across the table in this House. . That is why we feel that we have to rise and remind the country of Labour’s record. I draw attention to the wide diversity Between the rates of repatriation benefits during the last five years of the former Labour Government’s term of office and the five years for which this Government has been in power. Under Labour’s administration, preference to exservicemen was considered side by side with preference to trade unionists and workmen in the factories. The interests. of exservicemen went down the drain, and they were treated as though they had no special standing in the community. Finally, I draw attention again to the fact that the Leader of the Opposition, as AttorneyGeneral, gave a legal interpretation of section 47 of the Repatriation Act, but had not the moral courage to see that it was given effect.
.. - The House has listened to an appalling speech by the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison), quite inaccurate in fact and merely abusive of the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen), who has done a very good job for exservicemen. I propose to refer to both of the points raised by the Minister. He attacked the honorable member for Parkes first in relation to preference for exservicemen and referred to a speech made ten years ago. He seems to be quite ignorant of the fact that preference to ex-servicemen was passed into law by the Curtin Labour Government, and that, when this Government came into office after five years had elapsed, it followed the Labour party’s legislation word for word. Ex-servicemen are given the same preference under the legislation to-day as they were given under the legislation originally introduced by the Curtin Government. I was a member of that Government. The right honorable gentleman has complained that the Labour Government gave only pretended preference to ex-servicemen, and has referred to men who worked in factories as opposed to those who had combat service.
What was the < principle of the legislation? It was a principle agreed to by all members of the House at that time, and it was this: that there should be substantial preference in respect of war service, broadly according to the degree of service. That was an understandable and just principle. At any rate, it does not lie in the mouth of the Vice-President of the Executive Council to come here and attack the honorable member for Parkes, because he and the Government of which he is a member did exactly the same as the Labour Government did and continued the legislation after the period of the Labour Government’s act expired. So much for his hypocrisy about preference to ex-servicemen ! If it had not been for the Labour Government, there would have been none. The Government has had majorities in both Houses of the Parliament since 1949, so one would think that it would have put the legislation on a different basis if it had thought that the present basis of the act was not just and correct. What is the answer to’ that challenge? There is none. The VicePresident of the Executive Council cannot find an answer.
This is the man who gets up’ and roars against the honorable member for Parkes,, who has done ten times more for exservicemen than he has done. This is a hardy annual, or it would be so but for the fact that the right honorable gentleman raises the issue every three or four months instead of once a year. He sees a gentleman from the Repatriation Department amongst the advisers who sit near the ministerial bench in this chamber, and rushes over to get an opinion.
The Vice-President of the Executive Council reads to the House portion of an opinion given by the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer), but will not let the Opposition have a copy of it. He. asks, in effect, “What is this talk about the onus of proof?” The important question for the House to consider is not the posturing of the Vice-President of the Executive Council, who reminds us of the weaver in Shakespeare’s comedy, A Midsummer ‘Night’s Bream. The right honorable gentleman roars very much as the weaver roared when he was translated into another form.
The honorable member for Parkes has moved that a select committee of the House be appointed to inquire into thedecisions and interpretations made under section 47 of the principal act by the war pensions entitlement appeal tribunals. The Opposition has attacked this problem from different directions. Six months ago we attacked it by trying to have the law amended. Our present proposal is that the House shall examine the matter to ascertain whether section 47 is being given effect to by the entitlement appeal tribunals. “What is the use of the Vice-President of the Executive Council saying that no complaint has been made by ex-servicemen’s organizations? Other Opposition members and I have received deputations not merely representing ex-servicemen in some particular capacity, but representing the entire membership of the returned servicemen’s organizations. Their case is that the terms of section 47, which I shall read to the House, are not being observed by the tribunals. Sub-section (1.) of section 47 reads -
The Commission, a Board, an Appeal Tribunal and an Assessment Appeal Tribunal, in hearing, determining or deciding a claim, application or appeal, shall act according to substantial justice and the merits of the case, shall not bc bound by technicalities or legal forms or rules of evidence - -
These are the crucial words -
And shall give to the claimant, applicant or appellant the benefit of any doubt–
The existing section was substituted for an earlier section in the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act 1943, which was introduced by the Labour Government. It has not been amended since. I think that the original section was included in legislation introduced by the late Mr.W. M. Hughes at an earlier stage. He strongly supported Labour’s amendment in 1943.
From time to time, in this chamber, particular cases, in which the benefit of the doubt has not in fact been accorded to the applicant before the entitlement appeal tribual, have beenmentioned. At present there is no way of checking whether the benefit of the doubt is accorded to the applicant. No method of review of the tribunal’s opinion, except by rehearing before that body, exists. I do not suggest that the remedy is necessarily to be found in the British system, to which I shall refer in a moment, under which a distinguished judge examines cases referred to him to determine whether in fact this great and beneficial provision is given for the benefit of the ex-serviceman, or of his widow, in the event of a claim following his death. The English system should be considered, because it is reported to work very satisfactorily. It is shocking that a section in the Australian act that is designed to be at least as beneficial to the exserviceman or his widow as is the corresponding provision in the English Royal warrant concerning retired pay pensions, which establishes the rights of British exservicemen in these matters, should be so administered as to cause continuous complaints that the correct rule is not being applied. I have seen case after case in which it has not been applied.
Sub-section (2.) of section 47 reads -
It shall not be necessary for the claimant, applicant or appellant to furnish proof to support his claim, application or appeal but the Commission, Board, Appeal Tribunal or Assessment Appeal Tribunal determining or deciding the claim, application or appeal shall be entitled to draw, and shall draw, from all the circumstances of the case, from the evidence furnished, and from medical opinions, all reasonable inferences in favour of the claimant, applicant or appellant . . . .
The broad principle that I have stated shall be applied to every aspect of the case. “What does this mean in practice? Let us take, as an illustration, the position of a former serviceman who, years after his war service, makes a claim in respect of a disability caused by a heart complaint, and puts the facts before the entitlement appeal tribunal. The question for the tribunal is: Could the war service have contributed in some degree to that condition ? The onus is on the Repatriation Commission to show that war service could not have contributed to the condition. It would require a very courageous medical practitioner to say that war service, especially combat ‘service under arduous conditions, could not have contributed to the condition of the ex-serviceman. In fact, we all know, from our experience of similar disabilities, that war service must have been a contributory cause.
– It does not always need a doctor to say that.
– One would think that the Minister for Defence would have some regard for the position. The principal act, which the Minister should study, provides that, in certain circumstances, the entitlement shall be automatic for ex-servicemen with combat service who have contracted tuberculosis. The honorable member for Parkes has said that the fact that active combat service would be a contributory cause of nervous disease or mental illness would be so obvious that no medical opinion would be needed. Is that not a matter of common sense and ordinary humanity ? Sub-section (2.) of section 47 provides that “ in all cases whatsoever “ the onus of proof that the disability was not contributed to by war service shall lie on the party opposing the claim. The real question for the entitlement appeal tribunal is : Can we, as a responsible tribunal, say that war conditions could not have contributed to the disability or death? Labour has mentioned this matter repeatedly.
– Labour did not mention it when in office.
– What is the good of talking politics in connexion with this problem and harking back to what happened years ago? Labour introduced the 1943 legislation, which was interpreted more liberally by the Labour Administration than it is interpreted by this Government. The Vice-President of the Executive Council read from a piece of paper what was supposed to be an opinion given by the Attorney-General. According to what the Vice-President of the Executive Council read of the opinion, I think it is correct. The question is not whether the opinion is correct, but whether the entitlement appeal tribunals give the benefit of the doubt. There is no means of checking whether they do. No method of review exists, and there is no certainty that the former serviceman or his widow gets the benefit of the doubt. Section 47 is one of the most remarkable provisions ever enacted in legislation relative to repatriation benefits.
I want to refer, as I indicated a few moments ago, to the view that is taken in England. Lord Justice Denning, formerly Mr. Justice Denning, who is one of the greatest of English judges, reviewed cases in which complaints were made by ex-servicemen that they had not received the benefit of the doubt, which, in England, is called the compelling presumption of attributability. That means, of course, that there is a presumption that the injury or the illness is due to war service, unless the contrary is proved. Lord Justice Denning summed the position up as follows : -
In cases falling under Article 4 (2) and Article 4 (3) of the Royal Warrant Concerning Retired Pay Pensions, &c, 1043 (which are generally cases where the man was passed fit at the commencement of his service, but is later afflicted by a disease which leads to his death or discharge) there is a compelling presumption in the man’s favour which must prevail unless the evidence proves beyond reasonable doubt that the disease was not attributable tn or aggravated by war service, and for that purpose the evidence must reach the same degree of cogency as is required in a criminal case before the accused person is found guilty . . .
It must be beyond reasonable doubt. The benefit should be given to the former serviceman, and that is a clear statement of the law. In a very valuable article recently published in the Australian Law Journal, which is a widely recognized law publication in Australia, Mr. A. W. Riordan wrote -
It is hoped to show that provi sions in the Australian Soldiers’” Repatriation Act, which are so similar as to lead to the conclusion that they have been copied from the British legislation in force at an earlier date-
He was clearly referring to the 1943 legislation introduced by the Australian Labour Government - are interpreted much less liberally - a fact which is greatly to the detriment of the Australian ex-serviceman.
– How many times has the Leader of the Opposition made this speech, and when did he first make it?
– I should have thought that the Minister would pay attention to my statement of the position and that he would consider it. We have to appeal from Ministers to the back-benchers of the Government parties for justice, because we cannot get it from the Ministers, who are too self-satisfied and selfcomplacent to listen. I appeal to the House to support the proposal for the appointment of a select committee to inquire into this matter. The quotations that I have read from the opinions of Lord Justice Denning and from the article published in the Australian Law Journal prove, first, that the object of the legislation introduced in 1943 by the Labour Government was to give ex-servicemen or their dependants, in respect of the onus of proof and the benefit of the doubt, at least the same benefit as is given under the English Royal warrant provisions; and, secondly, that section 47 of the Australian act has not been interpreted with the same liberality as the British law has been interpreted. It is of no use for the Vice-President of the Executive Council, every six months, to come roaring into the House, throw an opinion across the table, and talk about what happened ten years ago when Labour was in office. In 1943, the gentleman who was then federal president of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia said that the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act 1943 was more beneficial to ex-servicemen than was repatriation legislation that had been enacted in any other country.
– He did not say a word of what the Leader of the Opposition attributes to him.
– That was his opinion of Labour’s legislation. It is of no use for the Minister to mention some little benefit that has been given. The Opposition does not complain of the benefits that ex-servicemen have been given. We are arguing an important principle. Will honorable members assist in having the matter investigated? What is the use of taking the opinion of a few officers in the Repatriation Department, expressed in papers handed to Ministers ? The Government is merely allowing a complete bureaucracy to depart from a liberal interpretation that a provision in an act of Parliament was intended to be given. Why do Ministers not read the legislation for themselves? What is the good of telling the House what the Attorney-
General says? His opinion is substantially correct. We want to ensure that the express purpose that I, as AttorneyGeneral, enunciated in 1943, is carried into effect, and for that purpose we want the assistance of honorable members on both sides of the House. Is that not a fair proposition? There is no suggestion of party politics in it. The proposed select committee will make a report. Anything sound in the arguments of Opposition members will be given effect to, and anything unsound will be rejected. I have never heard or read that any expression of opinion in opposition to the important points that we have raised has been voiced in any British Parliament.
The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), the honorable member for Parkes, and the honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths) have mentioned time and again in this House cases that can be dealt with only in a common-sense manner in order to ensure that justice shall be done. What answer do Government supporters give to the arguments of Opposition members? They have hurled vulgar abuse at several members on this side of the House and have referred to something that happened ten years ago. An opinion that was given ten years ago is said to be correct, but the Government has not acted upon it. Does the VicePresident of the Executive Council never take a view that is rejected by his colleagues? His view would certainly be rejected often by Government supporters in this House if a free vote were taken. I appeal to honorable members to support an inquiry into the matter. Let the proposed select committee be appointed to examine the manner in which section 47 has been administered, and to consider the Attorney-General’s opinion, which, so far as I can ascertain, is substantially the same as mine. The provisions of the English law, which are substantially the same as those of the Australian act, are interpreted much more liberally than are the Australian provisions. And the decisions of the war pensions entitlement appeal tribunals may be reviewed. The entire system is based upon the right of appeal to an experienced judge, and that seems to be a provision which might reasonably be inserted in this legislation. Mr. Justice Denning criticized the way in which reports are given by medical officers, and I believe that his criticism proves the point that I am making. He referred to medical reports, and then said -
It is useless for a medical man to give an opinion that a disease is or is not attributable to, or aggravated by, war service, without giving his reasons. Such an opinion should be disregarded by a tribunal because it involves not only his scientific knowledge but also his views on causation, the meaning of “ attributable”, “war service”, and so forth, all of which are matters for the tribunal and not for him. Such an opinion Ls merely his view as to the, way ‘ the tribunal ought to decide, and is an opinion, which, if rightly formed, could only be drawn from’ the same premises as those from which the tribunals are to return in the matter. To be of value, a medical opinion should not be in general terms such as to usurp the functions’ of the tribunal, but should point out the probable or possible causes of the disease and of any aggravation of it, giving the degree of probability, and then leaving it to the tribunal to decide whether or not on the facts of the particular case the claim should be allowed.
Over and over again before our war pensions entitlement appeal tribunals, the facts are not stated by medical officers as they should be stated, but bald opinions are given to the effect that war service could not have contributed to an applicant’s condition. But the very nature of such opinions has been condemned by this great English judge. We require a system in which any benefit of the doubt that may be given to the applicant should be given to him. Therefore, officers of the Repatriation Department should prove beyond all reasonable doubt that war service could not have, contributed to the disease, injury or death of the ex-serviceman whose case they are dealing with. The provision that the last Labour Government inserted into the Repatriation Act was not generous, it was only just. However, I suggest that it has been interpreted too narrowly by many of the tribunals that have been set up under the act.
I suggest that honorable members on the Government side, despite tha ridiculous outburst of the Vice-President ‘of the Executive Council, should carefully consider this matter from the .view-point that repatriation tribunals are interpreting the onus of proof provision too narrowly. Indeed, that was the viewpoint from which the matter was considered by the Curtin Government, and by the all-party committee whose recommendations led to the passing of the repatriation legislation of the last Labour Government. At that time I believed that the onus of proof provisions were clear, and I still believe that they are clear. The point now is: How is the legislation to be enforced, and how is it to be made to function properly? At present there is no appeal from a war pensions entitlement appeal tribunal, and the submission of fresh evidence can only follow a delay of six months or twelve months. Even af ter the admission of fresh evidence, the tribunal may still refuse to recognize that an ex-serviceman’s incapacity was caused by war service. I suggest that these tribunals have even wrongly applied the statute. At any rate that is the viewpoint of the Opposition, and if honorable members on the Government side believe that that view has been over-stated, surely they must realize that the remedy is to appoint a committee to investigate the matter and place the onus of proof provisions on a proper and just basis so that ex-servicemen of both wars will feel that they are being dealt with reasonably.
The honorable member for Lalor gave way to me in this debate, because the Vice-President of the Executive Council attempted to cloud the issue before honorable members with a speech on preference to ex-servicemen, the substance of which I believe I have shown to be completely misleading. The preference provisions in the legislation of the Menzies Government are identical with the preference provisions in the legislation passed during the last war by the last Labour Government. Indeed, I do not believe that a single sentence of the Labour Government’s provisions has been altered, although the period during which preference shall be enjoyed by ex-servicemen has been extended by the unanimous vote of honorable members of all parties. So much for the frivolous talk of the VicePresident of the Executive Council about the honorable member for Parkes, to whose work in this connexion I pay a sincere tribute.
Ex-servicemen throughout Australia believe the onus-of-proof provision should be reviewed, and that in many cases justice has not- been done under it. Therefore, I appeal over the head of the Vice-President of the Executive Council - because it is of no use to make any appeal to him, or to the Ministers of this Government, who constantly interject without even listening to the argument - to the supporters of the Government who feel that this matter deserves some investigation. I ask them to support the move to appoint a committee of this House, with a majority of Government supporters on it if they will, free from party politics, so that it may work out a proper and just proposal to put before the House.
.- It is a sorry thing for the Labour party that the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) saw fit to allow the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) to usurp his position in this debate, because had the honorable member for Lalor spoken, honorable members would have heard a much more intelligent appreciation of the problems of ex-servicemen than that to which we have been treated by the Leader of the Opposition. It has become the custom in the Labour party, when matters of repatriation or defence are under discussion, that with the greatest of good taste and discretion the Leader of the Opposition sits quietly and allows the debate to be led by the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) or the honorable member for Lalor. After they have spoken, we are usually treated to a discourse from the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Chambers). Then, after he has spoken, the debate on the matter, as far as the Labour party is concerned, usually collapses. That particularly applies to any matter that has any reference to repatriation.
Therefore, there is a touch of novelty about the Leader of the Opposition putting forward, in this House, a case for the ex-servicemen. What a shaky basis he has built his argument upon ! He had the temerity to tell us about his interpretation of section 47 of the Repatriation Act, which is the onus of proof provision. For 30 minutes he be laboured the ears of honorable members with some wonderful interpretation of his own, and he finished up by losing himself in such a maze of words that he finally admitted to the House that when he was Attorney-General in the last Labour Government his own colleagues failed to agree to his interpretation. I suggest that the Leader of the Opposition admitted that much when ho asked of the Vice-President of the Executive Council, “ Has not the VicePresident ever advanced an argument with which his own colleagues disagreed ? “ Indeed, the fact that the Labour party refused to accept the distorted interpretation that the Leader of the Opposition gave when he was AttorneyGeneral, has already been proved. Colonel Dibden, who was chairman of a war pensions entitlement appeal tribunal, attempted to implement the interpretation of the then AttorneyGeneral, who is now the Leader of the Opposition. He was dismissed and his tribunal was dissolved, merely because he attempted to put into effect the interpretation of section .47 as made by the Leader of the Opposition. Was any consideration given to exservicemen when that tribunal was dissolved, or were their rights regarded ? Of course not. Moreover, honorable members should remember that a great number of claimants were waiting to be heard by that tribunal when it was re-constituted by the present Government. < The Leader of the Opposition and the Labour party, who claim to be sympathetic towards ex-servicemen, have proved conclusively throughout the years, and particularly during last year, that they regard ex-servicemen purely as people to be beguiled by false promises in the hope that they are too dumb to’ realize that the Labour party is only trying to buy their votes. Ex-servicemen have had practical experience, indeed too much experience, of the treatment meted out to them by those honorable members opposite who are to-day trying to tell ‘ us that they are” sympathetic towards ex-servicemen. Honorable members should consider the number of members of the Labour party in this House and in the Senate, and how many of them have suffered as a result of war. I suggest all too few. We heard honorable members like the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin) claim that Australia should be defended by a chain of soldiers, with rifles and bayonets, stationed around our coastline. Another honorable member, now a member of the Labour party executive, told us, in his maiden speech to the Parliament, that it was not ex-servicemen who knew what fighting was, but the men who had to fight in the trade unions to maintain our standard of living. He said that they were the men who should be considered. I suggest that it is sheer hypocrisy to come here and suggest that the Labour party has an interest in the welfare of ex-servicemen. I believe that I can speak about this matter with more authority than most honorable members of the Parliament, because I have appeared personally before a repatriation tribunal to make a claim, and I can set forth the whole process. Prom my experience in that regard, I know that justice is done by the Repatriation Department to all ex-servicemen.
– Did the honorable member win his case?
– No, it was rejected ; so I may claim to speak fairly, impartially and honestly on this subject. Any one who suggests that ex-servicemen are not getting fair treatment from this Government is merely being dishonest. Every ex-serviceman who is suffering from an illness or disability, has a right to make a claim on the Repatriation Department if he thinks that his illness or incapacity is attributable to war causes. If a prolonged diagnosis is necessary, the exserviceman is put into a local repatriation hospital, and is given a most searching examination by a series of doctors who examine him from head to foot. Moreover, his medical files are available, and even if a soldier cut his finger in the cook-house during training before going overseas, that incident would’ be mentioned in the repatriation file.
At the conclusion of the examination a report is made, and if the report states that his illness or incapacity is not due to war service, he still has the advantage of the diagnosis made after this very thorough medical examination performed by the Repatriation Department. If the report shows that his illness or incapacity cannot be related in any way to war service - not that it is not directly attributable to war service, but cannot be related to war service in any way - then the man is notified that the Repatriation Department will not accept responsibility. Then he has a right of appeal to the Repatriation Board, which is a local State body consisting of two persons nominated by the Repatriation Department, and an official selected by a reputable ex-servicemen’s organization. In Queensland, the State secretary of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia is the exservicemen’s association representative. That body impartially examines the claim of the ex-serviceman, and decides whether or not his illness is in any way attributable to war service. Again, it does not consider whether it is a direct result pf war service. If his incapacity is attributable in any way, no matter how indirectly, to war service, he is given the benefit of the doubt. In other words, if there is any element of doubt at all, it is resolved in favour of the exserviceman. If, however, the board can see no cause to link his incapacity in any way with his war service, the claim is again rejected. But the ex-serviceman has the right to still another appeal. He may apply to the Repatriation Commission for further consideration of his claim. All the evidence that can possibly be garnered from his file, evidence that he can get from outside doctors, including his own family doctor and specialists, and relevant evidence from anybody else that he may obtain, may be submitted to the Repatriation Commission for further examination. Again, everything is examined with a view to linking in some way the cause of the illness to his war service. If .the authorities again fail to find any reasonable cause for attributing his injury to war service the claim is again refused. But, after having had his claim refused by all these bodies, the applicant has still another right of appeal.
The present Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) introduced the principle that when an applicant is advised of an adverse decision by the commission, the advice shall be accompanied by an application form and an instruction to the applicant to complete the form, if he so desires, and return it to the commission. The completed form is accepted as an appeal to an independent tribunal, which does not consist of officers of the Repatriation Department. It consists of independent men who cannot be considered to be biased in any way in favour of either the Government or the Repatriation Department. They are prepared to examine the claim of the ex-serviceman with complete impartiality and, if it is possible, to link it in any way with war service, to grant it. An applicant who appears before that tribunal is entitled to the advice of special officers, who are supplied by the Repatriation Department, or, if he so desires, he may appoint his own advocate to appear on his behalf. He may have, to appear for him, an officer specially trained by the department, or a special officer who is maintained for that express purpose by the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, which deals with every case that is submitted to it, whether or not the appellant is a member of the league, or whether he is a returned serviceman or merely an exserviceman. The advocate of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia is given the privilege of examining the file of the ex-serviceman, which contains every item of his medical history from the day that he enlisted and signed his attestation papers to the day of his discharge, and includes the details of every application on his behalf that has come before the repatriation authorities from the day of discharge onwards. ‘ If, after an examination of that file, which includes all his medical history, even the A.42 which is, I think, the Army Sick Report, any relationship can be shown between the disability from which the applicant suffers and any incident that may have occurred during his service, the benefit of the doubt is resolved in the applicant’s favour. It is fruitless, irresponsible and dishonest, to try to suggest, as the Leader of the Opposition has done, that an exserviceman should be able to apply to an entitlement appeal tribunal in respect of an illness that has no relation to his war service, and that, although he may be completely incapable of producing any evidence that would suggest that his illness has even the remotest connexion with war causes, the tribunal should bear the full onus qf proof. That is a ridiculous suggestion and impossible of practical application.
– It is not ridiculous. That is what the act says.
– It is so impracticable that the Labour Government dismissed a tribunal that tried to implement it. But if an ex-serviceman has gone through the various stages, which include diagnosis and report, the appeal to the board, the appeal to the commission, and finally the appeal to an entitlement appeal tribunal, and has had his appeal repeatedly disallowed, that is not the end of the matter, as the Leader of the Opposition has suggested. The ex-serviceman is given an opportunity to garner further evidence that might suggest that his disability is war caused. If he is able to obtain any fresh evidence, he is entitled to be heard again by the entitlement appeal tribunal. Any suggestion by the Leader of the Opposition that the onus-of-proof provision in the act is all important implies a criticism of the sympathy and honesty of the officers of the Repatration Department. I suggest that justice has been clone if an ex-serviceman has had the opportunity to use, and has used, every one of the forms of appeal open to him.
The officers of the Repatriation Depart.ment are themselves all ex-servicemen. They have a profound sympathy for their fellow ex-servicemen, and understand their problems more intimately than does any other section of the community. They are prepared to go out of their way, to the very limit, in order to assist, and not frustrate, ex-servicemen. I pay the highest compliment to the staffs of the repatriation authorities, from the deputy commissioners down to the lowliest clerk. But the whole problem of repatriation is not involved in the appeals aspect, which the Leader of the Opposition has tried to make the issue of this debate. Repatriation has many aspects. This matter of acceptance is one of them, and I say that the principle applied in that connexion is very generous. Recently I had an opportunity to discuss the Australian repatriation system with a Canadian doctor who had come to this country expressly to study the system. After he had made an intense study of it he expressed the opinion that we had gone too far in the realm of repatriation in that entitlement to repatriation benefits was too widespread and that our benefits were too great. I emphasize that I do not subscribe to that view. It is the view of an outsider. Perhaps I am biased, but I consider that this nation owes everything to the men who fought for it. When we are dealing with the subject of repatriation we must give the maximum consideration to the benefits of hospitalization. It is admitted that no other nation on earth has repatriation benefits that in any way compare with those in Australia. I think that no honorable member opposite would fail to agree that no other nation has even remotely approached Australia in the field of repatriation, in the generosity of the pensions and medical treatment available to ex-servicemen, or in the fairness of the methods of acceptance of disability as due to war causes. We provide for exservicemen, through the Repatriation Department, the most up-to-date, efficient and well-equipped hospitals in this coun-try, which are not staffed by trainees, but are staffed by fully trained nursing “ sisters. There are more fully trained staff in any one repatriation hospital than in any two public hospitals, each of which nas the same number of beds as the repatriation hospital. So the exserviceman is assured of the finest possible nursing service. Repatriation hospitals do not rely only on the services of ordinary medical officers, however, good they may be. Any ex-serviceman has the right to demand treatment or examination by the finest medical men in the country, and it is not unusual, on visiting the Concord Repatriation Hospital, to find our most eminent physicians examining patients there. I refer to men like Sir Charles Blackburn and Dr. Noad, who give of their time to the repatriation hospitals.
Our repatriation system is by far the best in the world and I believe that it is almost completely free of anomalies. The bill seeks to increase certain rates of pension and to spread still further the benefits that are to be derived from the system. We have heard from the Oposition criticism of the Government’s general approach to the problem. Honorable members opposite claim that no special consideration has been given to totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen. Since the repatriation system was introduced a special pension has been payable to totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners. The rate of that pension has’ been approximately double the ordinary rate of pension. At times, when the Labour Government was in office, the rate of pension payable to totally and permanently disabled ex-servicemen fell well below that mark. In 1947, to the credit of the Labour Government, it exceeded the mark by ls.
-. - With an uninflated £1.
– I shall accept the challenge contained in the honorable gentleman’s interjection, and shall quote certain figures in order to refute his statement. I point out to the honorable gentleman that in 1945 and 1946 the general rate pension payable under the Labour Government was £2 10s. It was still £2 10s. in 1947, but in 1948 the Labour Government was forced by public demand to increase it by a miserable 5s. to £2 15s. It remained at £2 15s. in 1949, when the Labour Government was defeated at the general election. Yet the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) has the impudence to suggest that that rate of pension was not paid on an inflated £1, although the cost of living in 1949 increased by 9 per cent., and the Labour Government had refused to meet the demand of ex-servicemen for an increase of the rate of pension. When we took office in a time of skyrocketing inflation, that had been induced by the Labour Government, which had shown a complete disregard of the needs of ex-servicemen, we set about altering the position. I am proud of the efforts of the Government in connexion with repatriation. It has increased the general rate of pension to £4 10s. a week. But let nobody suggest that the increases of repatriation pensions are the be-all and end-all of the Government’s record on pensions, because the Government has not only increased the general rate of totally and permanently incapacitated pensions, war widows’ pensions, and all other pensions payable under the Repatriation Act, but, in addition, has increased the allowances payable to the wives and children of ex-servicemen. The Government has increased the education allowances payable in respect of children, and has extended this field. When the Labour Government was in office, a special domestic allowance was not payable to a widow in respect of children other than the first two. Under the present Government, the allowance is payable in respect of subsequent children.
I now ask the Minister to take special note of an important matter. An exserviceman who is to be an inmate of a repatriation hospital for at least three months, is immediately eligible for the totally and temporarily disabled rate of pension. If he is to be an inmate of the institution for a short period, he is eligible for the 100 per cent, rate and sustenance, which makes the income equal to the totally and temporarily disabled rate. An ex-serviceman, whether he is in a repatriation hospital for a long period or a short period, is frequently discharged with a “ rest essential “ qualification by the doctor. A patient who has been in hospital for at least three months, and is informed, on his discharge, that rest is essential for fourteen days, continues to receive the totally and temporarily disabled rate, or the special rate of pension. Another ex-serviceman, who has been in hospital for only two weeks, three weeks, or eleven weeks, and is discharged with fourteen days “rest essential “ instruction, is granted the 100 per cent, rate of pension, but he is not eligible for the totally and temporarily disabled rate.
I fail to see any justice in making a distinction between the two classes of patients. A doctor who, in his wisdom, orders a patient, upon his discharge from hospital, to have fourteen days’ rest, irrespective of whether he has been in hospital for fourteen years or fourteen days, obviously considers that the man should not work for fourteen days. In those circumstances, I consider that the two cases are identical, and that an exserviceman, if he is ordered to rest, is entitled to receive the totally and temporarily disabled rate of pension. If any argument is adduced to suggest that he is not entitled to that rate, then I suggest that consideration must be given to the whole position. Let us suppose that a repatriation medical officer has ordered “rest essential”, and that the patient disregards the advice, returns to work and suffers an injury or causes his disability to become greater. That must prejudice, to some degree, his treatment by the Repatriation Department. Perhaps I am wrong when I make that statement. It would prejudice his recovery under the treatment ordered by the repatriation doctors, and, consequently, the patient would have broken a bond, or faith, with the medical officers who attended him. An ex-serviceman who is ordered to rest after he has been in hospital, must be considered totally and temporarily incapacitated, and, as such, he must be granted the special rate of pension.
I congratulate the Minister on his sympathy for ex-servicemen, and on the manner in which he has always cooperated with them. I can assure the House that the repatriation benefits which have been granted by this Government to the ex-servicemen of Australia have met with the full approbation of every ex-servicemen’s organization.
.- This debate should be conducted without heat and undue party political spirit. Therefore, it is a pity that some honorable members have dragged the debate down to such a low ebb that they have had to tell untruths. I shall deal with one of them at the commencement of my speech in order to clear up the matter. Last week, the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) referred to a debate some years ago, when the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) was battling for the payment of a subsistence allowance of 3s. a day for ex-prisoners of war. The honorable member attributed to me the remark that the payment of such an allowance would encourage servicemen to become prisoners of war. As the honorable member for Canning well knows, such a statement was never made by me. When I interjected, he quoted the following passage from a speech which I made in this House on the 25th March, 1947, as follows:-
The plan fact is that the military authorities may view a demand for compensation of this kind as a precedent which may encourage men to become prisoners of war, perhaps in the hands of an enemy more merciful than the Japanese. These factors cannot be overlooked.
No interpretation can be placed on those words to mean that I said that the payment of the allowance would encourage servicemen to become prisoners of war. I said that the military authorities might view a demand for compensation of that kind as a precedent which might encourage men to become prisoners of war.
– What do the honorable member’s words mean?
– If the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) wishes to know what some members of the Liberal party thought about them, I shall tell him. This matter was raised in the Liberal party room, and a Minister “ leaked “ the news to me that I was defended there by two members of the Liberal party, who said that my service was a darned sight better than that of some of the men who wanted to fasten on me a statement which I had never made in this Parliament or elsewhere. The matter was not raised’ again in this Parliament until the honorable member for Canning revived it last week. He got down to the bottom of the dirt trap, and said untruths to sustain his case. I mention that matter in passing.
The second illustration of the depths to which some people will descend has been provided by the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison). To-day, he referred to the historic incident when a former member for Henty, Mr. A. W. Coles, voted with the Labour party, which was then in Opposition, and displaced the Fadden Government in which the Vice-President of the Executive Council was a Minister. The right honorable gentleman said that Mr. Coles had displaced the Government for a consideration. A consideration! All I have to say is that Mr. Coles was a. man of very great honour, and that he displaced the government of the day, of which the Vice-President of the Executive Council was a member, because he believed that the Labour party could obtain a more effective war effort, and give a better deal to Australian exservicemen.
The Vice-President of the Executive Council said, “ Look at the record of the. Labour party down the years in the treatment of Australian ex-servicemen “, and he also referred to some of the things which had transpired during the last five years. Let us leave them for a few minutes, and look down the long corridor of time at what the Labour party has done for ex-servicemen. What was the fate of ex-servicemen after World War I. ? My mates were working on the roads with horses and drays a few days a week. They were employed on relief work. Many more returned soldiers were camped under bridges, and were forced to cadge a bit of tucker. That was the state of affairs soon after the end of World War I., when a Liberal administration was in control of the destiny of this country. Those relief workers and unemployed had been told, when they embarked for service overseas, that they would return to a land fit for heroes to live in. That was what they “ fell for “.
Reference has also been made to preference in employment for ex-servicemen. Of what use was preference to men who were unemployed, and did not know whether they could get a job, other than a few days relief work from a shire council or municipality? A Labour government was in office from 1929 to 1931, during the financial and economic depression, but it was dominated by the torygoverned Commonwealth Bank, and by the Senate in which the anti-Labour forces had a majority. In those years, 30 per cent, of our work force was unemployed, and an enormous percentage of returned soldiers was included in that number. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), at the outbreak of World War II., said that 260,000 Australians “were unemployed. I can produce documentary evidence of that statement in the Melbourne press. It has never been denied. That was the situation at the beginning of World War II. in 1939. A great proportion of the unemployed at that tune were men who had fought in World War I.
I have not yet completed my remarks on the subject of preference in employment for ex-servicemen. Did the Liberal party, which has talked for years about the rights and privileges of ex-servicemen, elect an ex-serviceman to be its leader when the position became vacant some time before the outbreak of World War II.? Of course not! The right honorable member for Kooyong was chosen to be the leader, and therefore, the Prime Minister. When he resigned as Prime Minister, was the vacancy filled with an ex-serviceman? Of course, it was not! The present Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) became Prime Minister, and remained in office for a few weeks, after which he was thrown out by the Labour party. The Liberal party in 1940 nominated as Mr. Speaker, the honorable member for Perth, Mr. Nairn, who was not an . ex-serviceman. The famous General George Rankin, who was the honorable member for Bendigo at that time, was passed over. He was eminently suited in every way to fill that high and honorable office. I go a little further. Did honorable members opposite have in mind preference to ex-servicemen when they decided to choose the honorable member for Fisher (Mr. Adermann) as Chairman of Committees ? Oh, no ! Honorable members opposite were above the lair.. They were the privileged people. They chose the honorable member for Fisher as Chairman of Committees when a distinguished colonel, the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) could have filled that office.
Let us examine some more history. The late Mr. John Curtin became Prime Minister in October, 1941, when Australia was facing probably the gravest crisis in its history. He realized that repatriation pensions had been fixed many years before, and had not been increased in the intervening years, and that they would probably prove inadequate both in respect of rates and the conditions under which they might be paid. He came to this Parliament and, like a man, he said, “ Repatriation is a non-party matter. I ask this Parliament to appoint an allparty committee to review the Repatriation Act in the light of happenings in the last two or three years and possible events before the termination of hostilities.” In 1942, the Parliament appointed a non-party committee, of which the Minister for the Army was an honoured member. Three members were chosen from the Government party and three from the Opposition parties. I throw back into the teeth of the Vice-President of the Executive Council, who makes the same hackneyed speech every time this matter is raised, the fact that the committee presented a unanimous report to the Parliament which was accepted in toto by the Curtin Government. Pensions were increased by from 20 per cent, to 25 per cent., and many anomalies which the committee had discovered were eliminated.
– The committee took evidence from ex-servicemen’s organizations.
– That is so. The inquiry was complete in every respect, and ex-servicemen were deeply grateful not only to the Curtin Labour Government but also to all the members of the Parliament who had taken this subject out of the arena of party influence. Until then, pensions had not been increased since 1919. In 1943 the Labour Treasurer. Mr. Chifley, promulgated national security regulations which pegged wages, salaries and profits, and controlled capital issues. The former Treasurer, by his policy, stabilized the economy. In 194S, the present Prime Minister and his henchmen stumped the country during the prices referendum, and advised the people to show, by their vote, that they were in favour of the abandonment of all controls. After that date, we experienced galloping inflation which decreased the purchasing power of pensions and placed service pensioners in a position from which they have not yet recovered.
The honorable member for Lilley cited rates of pensions payable under various governments, and, in doing so, patted this Government on the back. What are the facts ? In 1943, when the Curtin Government was in office, the basic wage was £4 19s. 3d. and the base pension rate was £2 10s, that is, 50.5 per cent, of the basic wage; and in 1948, when the Chifley Government was in office, the basic wage was £6 2s. and the base rate pension was £2 15s., that is, 46 per cent., or 4 per cent, less, of the basic wage. That was just after the defeat of the referendum at which the people rejected Labour’s proposal to place prices control on a nationwide basis; and inflation was on the move. In 1951, after the Menzies Government’ had been in office since 1949, the; basic wage was £10 7s., and the base rate pension was £3 10s. That increase may sound terrific, but the higher base rate pension was only 33.5 per cent, of the basic wage at that time. In 1952, when inflation was getting out of hand, and the cost of producing wheat had doubled “since the Chifley Government went out” of office, the basic wage was £11 11s. and the base rate pension remained at £3 10s., that is, only 34.4 per cent, of the basic wage. And, now, even allowing for the increase of 7s. 6d. a week to be provided under this measure to 100 per cent, pensioners, the base rate will be only £4 10s., which is only 38 per cent, of. the present basic wage of £11 16s. a week. Whereas the base rate pension represented over 50 per cent, of the basic wage in 1943, when the Curtin Government was in office, and 46 per cent, of the basic wage in 1948, when the Chifley Government was in office, the base rate pension, after allowing for the increase proposed under this measure, will be only 38 per cent, of the present basic wage. So much for those honorable members opposite who say that Labour did nothing to liberalize service pensions.
I do not suppose that ex-servicemen care a tuppeny damn about percentages, unless they are presented with great simplicity. Nevertheless, they will understand from the figures that I have cited the value of the present pension compared with that of the pension that they received under Labour. The pension payable to the 100 per cent, pensioner has increased by only 110 per cent, during the fifteen years from 1939 to 1954. That increase may sound impressive, but, during. the same period, the basic wage has increased by 205 per cent. Yet, this Government says it is dealing generously with service pensioners! I turn now to the position of totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners, whose case is the most deserving of all. Prom 1939 to 1954, the pension payable in respect of permanent and total incapacity has increased by 131 per cent., compared with an increase in the basic wage during the same period of 205 per cent. The only conclusion to be drawn from those figures is that the present pension rates are inadequate to enable pensioners’ “to meet their present need. I have received many letters from returned soldiers dealing with service pensions but, recently, for the first time in my experience as a member of this House, I have received numerous letters from ex-servicemen complaining specifically about the meagreness of the increase which the ‘ Government proposes to provide under this measure in respect of the 100 per cent, pensioner. One ex-serviceman, in a letter to me, said that the Government’s proposal makes repulsive reading. Dealing with statements made on this; matter by the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper), who is an old soldier, he said that the “ old warhorse “ had made heavy weather of the subject and that something was wrong somewhere, not with, the Minister, but with the Government. He also pointed out that totally and’ permanently incapacitated pensioner? .had their feet on a banana skin, and that their association had lost 50 members during July and August. He concluded his letter by thanking me for the fight that I had put up on behalf qf the totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner. Apparently, the honorable member for Lilley has been successful in making representations on behalf of applicants for service pensions, but he was incorrect when he said that no applications were refused if the cases were genuine. I received a letter from an old friend in Sydney whose application had been rejected by the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal. He pointed out that he was discharged on the 30th December, 1919, s medically unfit due to war service, and that he was given a 25 per cent, pension. He continued -
I have been under treatment continuously since discharge for rheumatoid and osteoarthritis which was diagnosed as due to haemorrhoids by the repatriation doctors at the Repatriation Hospital in 1938. The doctor who ordered the examination said that the haemorrhoids could result from the dysentery that I had on Gallipoli and advised me to apply to the Repatriation Department for treatment. I did apply, and in 1939 my appeal was heard and disallowed by the Tribunal. Twice since then, repatriation doctors have advised me to try again. I have tried, and each time the Deputy Commissioner has advised me that, “ As I have submitted no additional evidence the Commission does not consider sufficient reason exists for reviewing its previous decision “. In 1948, the Commission increased my pension to 40 per cent, because I was having pains in the head due to a nasty wound that I have there. I received the wound at Hell Fire Corner. Recently, I have asked my doctor and a specialist whether they could declare that my haemorrhoids were not due to war service. They have examined me, and have said” that I have third degree haemorrhoids and they cannot declare that they were not due to war service.
– Oan they declare that they were due to war service?
– If they cannot declare that they were not due to war service, the pensioner should be given the benefit of the doubt. His letter continues^ -
I think, owing to the onus of proof clause, I am entitled to treatment by the Repatriation Department. I am 62. I have been . unable to be employed for over 7 years owing to war disabilities. I intend to apply again for increased pension and treatment for haemorrhoids. Can you, and will you, help me to attain the benefits?
That is the case of a man who served on Gallipoli, and who was one of the original members of the unit with which I served at Pozieres. He served right throughout World War I. Yet, he has been told that he cannot obtain an adequate pension because his disability may not be due to war service. Having regard to the dreadful conditions which were experienced at Gallipoli and Pozieres, who would say that this man’s disabilities did not arise as a result of his war service? Of course, in some instances, disabilities are not attributable to war service. I cite another case in which I made representations. An exserviceman was seriously burned. He applied for a pension, but was not given the benefit of the doubt. Subsequently, his doctor said that he might have escaped the injuries that he received, if he had not suffered a certain disability as a result of war service. He was given the benefit of the doubt, and, later, his widow received a full war pension. The point I make is that honorable members, or other persons, should not be obliged to see that applications of this kind are adequately supported. That is the duty of the repatriation tribunals. Many persons who appear before those tribunals are authorized by individual applicants to peruse their official service records and they get sick and tired of going through files. They realize that many applications cannot be sustained. Consequently, when they appear before a tribunal they have neither the inclination nor the material to fight cases in which certain doubts exist. AH of us are aware of differences of opinion among medical men about whether certain disabilities are attributable to war service. Having regard to these facts, it would be to the advantage of ex-servicemen generally if the Government accepted the amendment that has been moved by the honorable member for Parkes and appointed a select committee to inquire into these matters, as the Curtin Government appointed an all-party committee in 1943 for a similar purpose. The proposed committee would not shoot at the war pensions entitlement appeal tribunals. All of us realize that those bodies have a very difficult j’ob. But such a committee would be able to send for relevant papers and files and investigate cases thoroughly in order to see whether some better method could not be evolved in the application of the onus of proof provision. The position at present is most unsatisfactory. I shall cite another case which I took up as a last resort. A widow who applied for a pension had given up all hope. She was so upset when she returned to me that I wrote a long letter to General Wootten. Subsequently, I was advised that the widow would be paid a pension. That decision was due to the exercise of further consideration on some one’s part. Why should that have to be ? The amendment proposed on behalf of the Opposition is reasonable. ‘I believe that when the all-party committee was appointed in 1943, some honorable members opposite suggested that the late Mr. Curtin himself should appoint the members of it. No repatriation tribunal could possibly have anything to fear from the appointment of a select committee to inquire into these matters.
The Vice-President of the Executive Council dealt with the subject of rehabilitation. I have already outlined what happened after World War I. when a Liberal Government was in office. It is all very well for some Government supporters to sneer at Dedman and Chifley; but it was due mainly to their efforts that following World .War II. Australia enjoyed a rehabilitation scheme that was more effective than any similar scheme in any other country. Doctors, artisans and tradesmen throughout this country owe their present position to the fact that they were trained under that rehabilitation scheme free of charge. That scheme was a statesmanlike achievement compared with any that was introduced after World War I. Why are Government supporters not prepared to give credit where credit is due? Following World War II., no man was out of work in this country.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Joske) adjourned.
Sitting suspended from 5.59 to 8 p.m.
Debate resumed from the 23rd September (vide page 1593), on motion by Mr. McMahon -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– This bill is to modify the provisions of the social services means test, which is commendable, but it omits provision to increase the pension itself and, in view of the present living costs, that omission is dastardly. In order to remedy that position, I shall move an appropriate amendment to the second reading of this bill on behalf of the Opposition. The Opposition favours the modifying of the pensions means test, but the Opposition says that first things should come first, and the first ‘ thing that requires to be done is to bring the pension into line with present living costs - to increase it from £3 10s. to a minimum of £4 a week - because that pension is the sole means of subsistence of over 300,000 people in this Australian community.
We suggest the figure of £4 as a minimum merely to restore the position which the pensioner occupied when the Chifley Government last adjusted the pension rate. At that time the pension was made 36 per cent, of the basic wage. By the time the Chifley Government left office, the pension had become 34 per cent, of the basic wage.
– And that Government had just presented a -budget in which it did nothing for the pensioner.
– As the Minister says, the Labour Government had just introduced a budget in which it had not altered the pension rate. I shall refer to that later. It is a very valuable interjection.
– It is a fact.
– It is a fact. By the time the Labour Government left office the pension rate had fallen to 34 per cent, of the basic wage, and it is now down to 28 per cent, of the basic wage and would be an even smaller percentage of the basic wage except for the fact that the basic wage itself is now frozen and no longer reflects the increases which are continuing to occur in the cost of living.
– That is plainly not true.
-The honorable member says it is plainly not true that living costs are continuing to increase. He apparently is not in a position where he has to measure what he has to pay for meat, what he has to pay for footwear, or what he has to pay for tea. There are three conspicuous examples of substantial increase in the prices of commodities which the pensioner has to buy every day of the week. Of course, it is true that the Government refuses to recognize a percentage of the basic wage as a proper measuring stick to decide the amount of the pension.
It is curious that the Government should refuse to recognize this measuring stick for pensions that it has recognized for so many other things in the community - the basic wage fixed by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. The Arbitration Court fixes the basic wage on the minimum needs of a family unit. The pensioner is denied access to the Arbitration Court, and so this Parliament instead is the arbitration court to which he looks for justice. Yet this Government refuses to apply and maintain a percentage of the base wage fixed by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court - a Government which professes its ardent belief in the principle of arbitration ! Instead, the Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon) insists on using as a measuring stick the C series index, and he makes quite a remarkable claim in his speech. He says this -
The pension to-day has a greater purchasing power than it did when Labour left office. Let there be no doubt on this score, nor any failure to recognize that the pensioner has been treated more understandingly by this Government than by the former Labour Administration. The official figures irrefutably tell the story.
All this is well worth repeating. He goes on -
When Labour left office in 104!) the G series retail price index was 142S and the rate of pension was 42s. Cd. a week. To-day the index is 2324. Based on these index numbers a pension of 60s. 2d. to-day would have the same purchasing power as a pension of 42s. fid. in the latter months of 1940 . . . The Menzies Government . has progres sively increased the value of pensions .
And on his own figures, on which he bases all this rodomontade, this Government has progressively increased the rate of pension over the years by a total of lOd. - by 2d. each year for five years! That is its proud record! That is, even if the basis which the Minister quoted was correct.
But, of course, the basis which the Minister quotes is entirely incorrect, false and unsound for two reasons. The first of them is that the C series index is not applicable as an accurate measure of the living costs of an individual. If the Minister is in any doubt about that, let him apply to the Bureau of Census and Statistics and it will so inform him, because that is the statement of the Bureau of Census and Statistics - that the C series index is not an accurate measure of the living costs of an individual. The Minister chooses an inaccurate measure.
– Just as accurate now as it was in 1949.
– But if he chooses to use it, then let him apply it accurately. The correct comparison is with the time of the last adjustment made by a Labour government. The Minister for Defen’ce (Sir Philip McBride) has made that point very clearly himself. He chides the Chifley Labour Government with having failed to make a necessary increase in the pension rate in 1949. But this Minister for Social Services is claiming to have raised the standard of the pensioner by taking the C series index at the very time that the Labour Government left office. Now every one knows that pension rates are not adjusted month by month.
They are adjusted as a rule by annual budget prepared on statisticians’ figures for some period before. Therefore, let us take the basis which the Minister chooses to use - the C series index. He has quoted the figure to-day as 2324. Now that is not the figure to-day. It is the figure for June, several months ago, and living costs, not only on the commodities I have mentioned, have substantially risen since then. The figure that he quotes is the figure for June, and the correct comparison for that is the figure for June, 1948, the last available figure before the Chifley Government, adjusted the pension rate in that year.
Government Supporters. - 1949,
– The last available figure before the Chifley Government adjusted the pension rate in 1948 - the last adjustment made by the Chifley Government - one which was accepted by every member of this House then in the House as being the minimum that ought to be provided for the pensioner, one which was severely criticized by present members of the Government at that time as being insufficient to meet the needs of the pensioner, and for which the Chifley Government was again severely criticized in the following year, when it failed to make any further adjustment in the pension rate. Therefore, the correct comparison is with the C series index for June, 1948, as against June, 1954. “Who will deny it? And here are the figures.
On that basis - that is, the basis of the C series index - the pension now should be £3 17s. 3d. a week.
– What was the figure in 1948?
-The June, 1948, index figure was 1278. To-day the index figure, as quoted by the Minister for June - the latest available figure - is 2,324. The Minister says “ The official figures irrefutably tell the story”. I suggest that they do. These are the official figures that I have quoted, and there is no need for the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) to check my calculations because the calculations and figures that I have quoted are also the official compilation of the Bureau of Census and Statistics. They have themselves taken out those figures and made that calculation at my request. Of course, ?3 17s. 3d., therefore, on the Minister’s own basis, should be the minimum rate of age and invalid pension to-day on the figure for June last. Now I say it is an inaccurate basis. It does not properly measure the living costs of an individual because the C series index includes a substantial figure for the rent of a four or five roomed house, and very few individual pensioners are in a position to keep a four or five roomed house. The rent of their single room is an entirely different factor in their total living, regimen. However, taking that figure alone on the Minister’s own basis and applying the correct comparison - June, 1948, the time of the last Labour adjustment, with June, 1954 - the pension to-day should be ?3 17s. 3d.
On this Government’s own figures, it is robbing the pensioner of 7s. 3d. every week in the year. Indeed, since June, living costs for the pensioner have risen more sharply than they have done for many months past. This very sharp rise in tea, an essential to the old person, this sharp rise in meat and this sharp rise in footwear, are all the very kind of price increases which affect the pensioner particularly. But there is no need - and I suggest this to every member of the House - for us to be guided merely by the official figures which can be produced by the statistician. Is there one member of this House who really believes that, at present inflationary prices, ?3 10s. is a sufficient sum to keep one person in this community for one week? I do not believe there is any member in this House who really believes that ?3 10s. is an adequate amount on which to keep one individual for one week at present living costs. But, if there is one member who so believes, his impression is contradicted by public statements made by ministers of religion, social workers, and all those who, in the course of their daily activities, come into contact with those poor, old, and sick people, and who know the very severe hardships indeed which they are enduring.
The Perth Daily News, which is a nonLabour paper, more than twelve months ago, after a special investigation of the position of pensioners in that city and after publishing a series of articles, summed up in these words -
Bluntly, these people are starving. In our own struggle to feed, clothe and rear our families so many of us fail to see people starving to death in our midst.
In a land of alleged plenty, enviously viewed by almost every country in the world, they can’t get enough” to eat.
Many aged pensioners are starving to death, dying of malnutrition, or call it what you like.
– I thought the” honorable member did not agree with newspaper reports.
– I agree very largely with newspaper reports, and I agree with that report, which is con-, firmed. I suggest the honorable member does not really disagree with me, but, if he does, or if any other member disagrees with me, then let this House call to the bar of this chamber an aged pensioner, or an invalid pensioner, and let honorable members opposite question him, and examine him and cross-examine him as to how he spends his ?3 10s. a week, how much of it ho has left at the end of the week, and how much of what he needs for the preservation of his life and health he has to go without on that most inadequate figure.
In his speech, the Minister deals with the total expenditure on social services.
– What is a reasonable amount ?
-The Labour party suggests that a reasonable thing for this Government to do is to honour the pledge on which it was elected. That pledge was at least to maintain, and, indeed, to increase the true value of social services in this country. We say that that requires at present a minimum pension of ?4 a week.
– Does the honorable member think that a pensioner can live on ?4 a week?
-(Hon. Archie Cameron). - Order! These interjections are out of order.
– Especially coming from a fool!
– Order ! I heard part of a remark that seemed to be disorderly.
– The guilty member is blushing.
– Order ! If the House takes liberties I shall not hesitate to apply the Standing Orders with the utmost rigour. I did not hear in its entirety a remark from the Opposition side of the House, which seemed to be out of order, but I did hear an interjection from the Government side that was out of order.
– The Minister quoted figures by which he purported to show that expenditure on social’ services at present absorbs a higher proportion of the national income than it did in previous years. For comparison he took the financial years 1938-39, 1949-50 and 1953-54. The Minister said that the total expenditure on social services in 1953-54 amounted to 4.68 per cent, of the national income. That comparison is completely misleading, for a reason that will be obvious to every honorable member who thinks about it. The reason is that, in 1938-39, there was no Commonwealth system of child endowment. Child endowment, in effect, was then paid as part of the wage as fixed by the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. At a later time, because the court would have had to increase the basic wage unless child endowment as a separate payment were introduced, that section of the wage which applied to additional children was taken over as a Commonwealth responsibility. The Minister’s comparison, therefore, is completely misleading. A correct comparison - and I have chosen to make it for the Minister’s benefit - would be made between the amount spent on pensions in 1938-39 and the amount spent on pensions at present. In 1938-39, Australia spent ‘2.2 per cent, of its national income on age and invalid pensions. To-day, despite all the claims made by the Government, the percentage has fallen to 2 per -cent. It is in fact slightly less than was considered proper in 1938-39.
– From where did the honorable member get his figures?
– These are official f figures. They are available to every honorable member. There is this additional fact to be noted : Owing to the increasing average age of the population, the number of pensioners has increased since 193S-39 from 350 to 430 for each 10,000 of the population. So that, although Australia now has to provide for an additional 80 pensioners in every 10,000 of the population, and consequently for a very greatly increased proportion of pensioners to the total population, it is expending a smaller percentage of the national income on their maintenance than it was allocating for that purpose in 1938-39.
I turn now to the subject of means test modifications. The modifications proposed by the Minister in this bill are substantial. I wish to give credit to him. so far as I fairly can give credit, for what he has done, but honesty compels me to give recognition to a number of facts. In the first place, all the modifications now made in the means test by this measure are directly and solely the result of the pressure exerted by the Australian Labour party on the Government. That statement may be easily proved to the satisfaction of any impartial judge. Twelve months ago the Government refused to increase the permissible income limit beyond £2 a week. At that time the Opposition moved an amendment ‘ to legislation then under consideration to make a modest increase of the permissible income limit to £2 15s. a week. The Government replied that £2 a week was the absolute limit and that it had no reason to go, and had no intention of going, beyond £2 a week. Have living costs increased in the last twelve months?
– Government supporters say “ No “.
– Has inflation developed further in the last twelve months? Honorable members opposite say that it has not. Then why does the Government now propose to make the permissible income limit £3 10s. a week, though twelve months ago, in a completely comparative economic period, according to itself, it adamantly refused to increase the limit beyond £2 a week ? There is .only one reason: The Government suddenly changed its mind after the Leader of the Australian Labour party, during the recent general election campaign, had announced Labour’s proposals for the complete abolition of the means test within three years. It was within four or five days of that announcement by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) that this Government, which, until that time, had steadfastly refused to increase the permissible income limit beyond £2 a week, suddenly announced its -willingness to increase the limit by 75 per cent., to £3 10s. a week. The Government’s decision was a clear and direct result of pressure from the Australian Labour party. If that pressure had not been exercised, pensioners would not now be enjoying this substantial modification of the means test.
It was observed the other day by a great British statesman that the success of one’s efforts as a politician can very largely be measured by the change that one succeeds iri making in the attitude of one’s opponents. Even the Minister for Social Services, who is now seated at the table, although in our view he is a crusty old tory, in the eyes of the crusty old tories of fifty years ago, would be almost a rabid bolshevik. That is a change that has been made by the active and persistent agitation of the Australian Labour party for the benefit of the people.
Another matter to which I invite the attention of the House is the fact that although -94,000 persons who are now receiving less than the maximum pension under the means test will enjoy increased pensions under the Minister’s proposals, the average gain to each of those 94,000 persons will be less than 10s. a week. Three-quarters of them will receive an average gain of about 7s. or Ss. a week, and none of them, even with this increase, will receive even now more than the rate of £3 10s. a week. Let us take the 71,000 persons who were not previously eligible for a pension, but who, under the Minister’s proposals, will become eligible for pensions. The average pension payable to them, on the Minister’s own figures, will be about 14s. a week. That is the only gain that they will make. When the position is looked at in that light, the gain is not so substantial as the Minister would have it appear to be. On the whole, what the Government, most belatedly has done after five years’ delay, is merely to restore the position in relation to the means test that existed prior to the occurrence of the Menzies inflation. Here are the facts to support that statement. When the Chifley Government was in office, the total amount that a pensioner couple could receive by way of pension and other income was £7 5s. a week, at a time when the basic wage was £5 12s. 6d. a week. The Government now proposes to restore the position to the degree that such a couple will now be able to receive, in pension and other income, £14 a week, compared with a basic wage, based on the weighted average for the six capital cities, of £11 16s. a week. The Minister for Social Services, with much self-adulation, has announced that the permissible income in future may be equal to the amount of pension - that is, that for a person in receipt of a pension of £3 10s. a week, the permissible income may be up to £3 10s. a week. Is the Minister aware that he is merely restoring the position that was established by the Government that originated age and invalid pensions in Australia ?
– Is that so?
– Yes. The Government that originated age and invalid pensions, provided, by legislation, that the permissible income might be up to an amount equal to the amount of pension - at that time 10s. a week. What this Government is doing now is merely to restore - it does not go further - the equality that was established in the original legislation providing for age and invalid pensions.
– The Government that did that was a non-Labour government, of course.
– The right honorable gentleman, as a student of politics, knows that exactly the same thing occurred then as is occurring now : Action was taken solely and directly as a result of Labour pressure. Indeed, the Government of that day could not have remained in office had it not acted on the instructions of the Australian Labour party, and that was so acknowledged by the leaders of the non-Labour Government at that time.
I can, however, with great pleasure, give a word of praise to the Minister, first, for straightening out the scale for progressive reductions on account of property by making the reduction £1 for every £10 of property. That is a valuable and useful reform, and I think it is the direct result of the Minister’s own initiative, but I would point out to him that he appears to be causing a new anomaly. As I work it out, a person with property to the value of £1,750 will be entitled to a pension of £27 a year, whereas a person with property valued at £1,751 - only £1 more - will be completely disqualified from pension. Secondly, I think that the Minister is entitled to receive congratulations for having succeeded in completing the abolition of the means test for blind pensioners. That, also, is very desirable and commendable, although I would again point out to him that blind pensioners who are without any income other than the pension will gain no benefit. On the contrary, they will suffer more than ever, because they will have to contend with the ever-increasing cost of living. Another action for which the Minister deserves praise - and one might fairly say that this, also, is due to Labour pressure - is the treatment of a pensioner who owns a house but is unable to obtain possession of it. In future - and this is a very commendable provision - the Director-General of Social Services will be able, at his discretion, to disregard the value of the house in applying the property means test, and the income from the house, in the form of rent, also, will not be regarded as being income from property. That will appreciably relieve the position of those people. The Minister deserves commendation also for his action in simplifying the method of assessment and calculation of pensions. I hope that it will result in a reduction of the delays that have recently occurred in the payment of pensions.
I notice that Government supporters have been claiming that this Administration has now, in effect, broken the back of the means test problem. “When, a little while ago, I stated that the Government had made a very substantial modification of the means test, Government supporters cried “ Hear, hear “ ! I should like to point out - and it is very interesting - the cost of the very substantial modification of the means ‘ test and the great step forward towards its eventual abolition, as the protagonists of the Government claim it to be. It- is estimated that the modification will cost £4,500,000 this financial year, and £6,000,000 in a . full year. If the Government’s claims for what it is doing and its own estimates of the cost are correct, how false and misleading were the extraordinary statements broadcast by Government speakers during the recent general election campaign relative to the cost of Labour’s proposals for the substantial modification of the means test this financial year ! Government supporters can have it either way they like. Either the Government’s proposals are a substantial modification of the means test, in which case all the charges that Government supporters levelled at the Australian Labour party on the ground of extravagance and cost were false; or else the Government’s proposals constitute, not a substantial modification, but merely a niggardly one.
I shall deal now with the justice of the abolition of the means test, because many Government supporters have recently deemed it fashionable to argue that the abolition of the means test is unreasonable and impracticable.
– The late Mr. Chifley did not want to abolish the means test.
– The honorable member is completely wrong. Mr. Chifley was in favour of the abolition of the means test, and he consistently worked to achieve that objective. As Prime Minister and Treasurer he three times modified the means test and was responsible, on his own initiative, for the appointment of the Means Test Abolition Committee, which formulated the proposals on which the Chifley Government progressively worked up to the time of its defeat. I therefore put an end to that slander.
– He just did not abolish. it. “’ Mr. A LT j AW FRASER. - Mr. Chifley went a long way towards abolishing the means test. He did a very fine job in times that were much more difficult than are those that this Government has had to face.
– - Did Mr. Chifley convince the honorable member for Fawkner ?
– I am dealing now with the question of the justice of the abolition of the means test. I should like to know where the VicePresident of the Executive .Council, who interjects, stands on that question. I remind him that his leader, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), still favours the abolition of the means test, and that together with every one of his supporters who was elected to this House with him at the ‘ 1949 general election, he was elected on a pledge to abolish the means test, and to bring down a proposal for its abolition not later than 1952. I remind the ever-diminishing number of Government supporters,., a band which becomes smaller and smaller as election follows election, that every one of them was elected in 1949 on that pledge to the electors. I also point out that a letter written early last year by the predecessor of the Minister for Social Services, read -
I may mention, however, regarding the suggestion that the means test be abolished, that the Government recognizes the unfairness of the means test and the penalties which it imposes uPon thrift. Efforts have been made accordingly to devise a new system -of social services whereunder pensions are paid as of right and without a means test. A solution has already been reached which, it is felt, will be suited to Australian social and economic conditions and which will meet with the general approval of the community.
Owing chiefly to the Commonwealth’s heavy financial commitments in defence and payments to the States, it has not been found possible to introduce the new scheme at present. As soon, however, as the economic and international position improves, the Government hopes to proceed with this important reform.
Therefore, the abolition of the means test is still Government policy, unless any Minister of this Government is prepared to repudiate that statement which was made by the previous Minister for Social Services as recently as last year. Although the abolition of the means test is still
Government policy, the Government moves towards its implementation as slowly as possible, and only when compelled by the direct pressure of the Labour party. I am satisfied that the overwhelming majority of honorable members of this House are. in favour, in theory at any rate, of the abolition of the means test. The most ludicrous argument against its abolition that I have heard, is the argument that it would be wrong to provide £200 a year for a man who already has an income of £20,000 a year. When I hear that argument put forward by the representatives of the people who do have incomes of £20,000 a year, I know that it has not been put forward honestly, but has merely been introduced to delude the innocent people on this side of the House. A man receiving £20,000 a year is paying about £14,000 a year in . taxes. Social services can be provided only from taxes, and if the means test is abolished, every penny to be provided for pensions will have to come from taxes and the man with an income of £20,000 a year will be required to pay his full share of them. Of course he will not be a beneficiary, and of course, therefore, those who really desire to preserve his interests endeavour to persuade people that it would be wrong to give him £200 a year more, when we are already taxing him at the rate of £14,000 a year.
There are 950,000 people in this country in the pension age group, and on the figures presented by the Minister for Social Services, 475,000 will still be totally excluded from receiving any age pension, even under his new proposal.
– Will the honorable member say that again?
– Certainly. Of 950,000 people in the pension age group, 475,000 will still be excluded from any pensions benefit even under the Minister’s present proposal. Of those receiving pensions, 140,000 will receive only part-pensions, so that 615,000 old and ill people are totally or partially excluded from receiving any pension in this country. The Government cannot claim that those 615,000 people, twothirds of the total number of people in the pension age group, are all wealthy citizens who do not need any pension rights. They obviously constitute the majority of the ordinary Australian working people. They are all social services taxpayers who pay their taxes week by. week, but who are penalized if they practise any thrift at all. I shall read the Minister’s statement about thrift, because’ it is one of the most illuminating statements in his very illuminating speech. He said - it is essentia] that people should be given incentives to work and save, and by this means to increase the amount nf property owned by them. Both work and savings are necessary if we are to ensure full employment’ and progress, with a reasonable level of ‘stability for the purchasing power of money! “
They are very beautiful sentiments, and very fine and splendid words. But contrast his words with the facts of the measure that he has put before the House. Even under his new proposal the man or woman who throughout a life- time has succeeded in saving as little as £250, is penalized by being refused a full age pension at the retiring age. If a man should save £10 a year for 25 years, that is about 4s. a week for 25 years, he will be penalized, even under the Minister’s new proposals, because of his thrift. That is not encouraging thrift, it is placing the most serious obstacle in the way of thrift.
– Why did not the last Labour Government encourage thrift?
– The Labour party, increased the property qualification limit three times, and it did that in days when money had a value - when there was a Chifley pound and not a depreciated Menzies pound. To my mind, the reasons for pressing on as fast as possible with the elimination of the means test are obvious. First, the injustice of penalizing the man or woman who is practising thrift, and moreover the economic and social folly of doing so. Secondly, that a retiring allowance should be recognized as a part of the wage system of this country. A’ deferred payment of wages in return for services that have been honestly rendered by the worker throughout his working life. He should not be turned out without a means of reasonable and modest subsistence; that should be part of the social pact, and should be given to him as a right whether he has succeeded in saving a few pounds or not. Thirdly, subservience to officials for existence should be eliminated’ and a sense of right should be substituted for a sense of favour. That would -also involve the elimination of a great deal of form-filling and administration work. Fourthly, a guaranteed purchasing power would be provided in the home market for basic commodities. That .should be of considerable importance , to every primary producer in this country’!’ In both good and bad times,’ irrespective of overseas prices, it is important to have a guaranteed market at payable prices in the home country, and that can largely be achieved by placing retiring allowances in the hands of each one of the 950,000 people that I mentioned before. Those people will riot spend their money on luxuries, they will spend it on essentials.
Finally, there is a growing proportion of persons in the higher age groups which will continue to grow for some years yet, and which can lead to resentment among the workers against social services taxation unless those workers have the assurance that they also will benefit in their turn and that they are in fact contributing towards” their own security in incapacity or old age. I believe that there is a considerable amount of resentment among people because they are required to pay social services taxes while they have no right to social services payments. But I have not yet met anybody, and I have talked about this, matter with thousands in my own electorate, who is not prepared or agreeable ‘to make a reasonable social services contribution week by week according to his means,- if he can have the assurance of a payment for himself and his dependants in a time of vicissitude.
With regard to the increasing age’ of the population, in 1920 there were eighteen persons of pensionable agc for every 100 males in the community work force. To-day there are 31 persons of pensionable age for every 100 males in the community work force, and statisticians estimate that by 1965 the figure will have increased to 36 persons in the pensionable age group and by 1975 to 39 persons in that category, for every 100 males in the community work force. That is a serious position, which should bring to the attention of honorable members the need for placing social services finance on a secure basis. I suggest that the only basis which will give satisfaction is one in which, in return for a contribution according to his means from each individual during his active years, he will be guaranteed a payment in time of need. But it is necessary to -point out to those who look for the abolition of the means test that social services, and their cost, must come from total production. Indeed, social services are a redistribution of income, and the income must be collected before it can be distributed. It can be collected only by taxation, and social services are therefore a redistribution of the proceeds of taxation.
A high level of distribution of social services, therefore, depends upon a corresponding level of taxation. If people want social services they can have them, but they must pay for them! However, the cost need not be confined to income taxation. Excise, pay-roll tax and. land value taxes are all alternative sources from which this revenue can be drawn. However, the case for the abolition of the means test rests on the premise that the people are willing, in fact, eager, to contribute according to their ability to a social services pool, on the guarantee that it will provide security for them and their loved ones against the vicissitudes of life. I- shall quote once again from the interesting speech that was delivered by the Minister, because in it he enunciated a patent truth. He said -
In no economic climate is social security loss likely to thrive than one in which there is instability of prices, more particularly when this instability takes the form of a decline in the purchasing power of money. With quickly rising prices the real value of benefits is destroyed or diminished as soon as the rates are - fixed.
Will any one deny the truth of that statement, and that the condition that the Minister there described is the condition that particularly applied between 1950 and the end of 1952, and which has applied also in 1953 and 1954? What does this Government intend to do about child endowment? In view of this statement by the Minister, then the Government may choose any measuring stick that it wishes - C series or otherwise - and it still will not be able to defend or justify its refusal to adjust child endowment rates in accordance with the increase of prices during the last five years. The rate for the second, third, and subsequent children remains at 10s. a week., although on the O series index the 10s. is worth about half its 1948 value. And the miserable 5s. that this Government gave in 1950 for the first child, is not worth more than 3s. now. So if the Minister has condemned himself in any part of his speech, he has done so in that part. I move -
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 that the rates of age and invalid pensions be a minimum of £4 a week: and to provide similarly for increases in the rates of child endowment, widows’ pensions, unemployment and sickness benefit, dependants’ allowances and other social services corresponding to the increase in prices so as to restore at least the former purchasing value of these payments.”
– I call the attention of the House to the growing practice of evading parliamentary procedure. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) is by no means the only one- who has taken advantage of the position. I think, as he pointed out to me this afternoon, that the procedure he has followed was allowed two years ago, and I propose to allow it to-night, on the understanding that I also intend to bring the matter before the next meeting of the Standing Orders Committee, because I think we are gradually getting into a groove which is not in the interests of the working of the Parliament. The proposal is that certain words be left out with a view to inserting other words in their stead, and the question now is -
That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the question.
.– The moving of this amendment came on top of an acrimonious speech, based on misquotation of figures, and which got as far away from the truth as possible. It is a most extraordinary amendment, as you have pointed out, Mr. Speaker. It is couched in the most vague terms. There is nothing in it that is conclusive in any way. If carried, it would mean that the investigation required by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) would delay for many months the payment of the increase of pensions to the people who are to benefit from it.
– Do not be so silly.
– Order !
– The honorable gentleman dealt at some length with a proposal to increase the pension rate to £4, but at the last minute of his speech he said it was his desire to provide for a similar increase of the rates of child endowment. What rates of child endowment? The honorable gentleman left us completely in the dark about what was in his mind, if he had anything in his mind, on that matter. Did he mean another5s. or another 10s. a week? He should let us know so that we shall be in a position to calculate the cost. Are we also to double widows’ pensions, and unemployment and sickness benefits? What figure had the honorable gentleman in his mind ? The truth is that the honorable gentleman had no figure in his mind, but came here to-night to present a speech that went very much against his grain. I say that, because my mind goes back to a speech that the honorable gentleman made on the 12th May which was reported almost in full in the Goulburn Evening Post. In that speech the honorable member said, in effect, “ I am going to fight to the utmost for the abolition of the means test. I am going to see it comes about. I will take no half measures.” Now he stands in front of his party and takes half measures. He goes even further than that. He eats the words that he uttered on the 12th May in Goulburn. The same honorable gentleman - and this is understandable - a. week ago told a meeting not far from here that the Labour party was now meeting as two parties, because it was split so wide apart. So the honorable gentleman, looking to his own part, eats his words about not taking half measures in relation to the abolition of the means test and moves an amendment that is purposely vague and means nothing. All that this most stupid amendment would mean, if it were carried, would be that the increase of benefit to the pensioners would be delayed for months and months.
The bill that the honorable gentleman seeks to amend gives effect, in absolute detail, to promises made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in his policy speech, as a result of which the Government was elected to office. It will put into the pockets of the pensioners the increases that the Prime Minister promised. It will do everything that he promised the people in that respect. I challenge the honorable member for Eden-Monaro to cite, from the printed copy of the Prime Minister’s policy speech, one promise in relation to social services that is not honoured in this bill. Within a few months after its election, as a result of its promises, the Government is taking steps to honour every promise it made. The honorable gentleman spoke to us at some length on the C series index which, he said, should not be taken as a guide. But it pleased the honorable gentleman himself, as a supporter of the Chifley Government, to take it as a guide. If it is wrong to take it as a guide now, it was equally wrong to take it as a guide when Labour was in office. Let me remind the honorable gentleman that there was a time when the pension rate was tied to the cost of living. It was untied by none other than the present Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) who as AttorneyGeneral in the Labour Government brought down a measure in this House and cut pensions adrift from the basic wage. The Labour Government refused to increase pensions before it went out of office in 1949.
The honorable member for EdenMonaro quoted C series index figures. He admits that the C series index figure is now 2324. He omitted to state that it has fallen since the last quarterly adjustment in March, when it was 2327. This great economist, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, who also, . in a notable speech at Goulburn, said he was going to use all the money devoted for public works in the Commonwealth for the payment of pensions, and did not say how he would finance pubic works, now says that he knows that the C series index figure has risen. But he has not given us figures to prove his statement. He went back to the year 194.8 for his figures. Why go back to 1948 ? There are more recent figures than the figures for that year.
Was the honorable gentleman just taking figures to suit his own purposes? Is he afraid of the true figures? The C series index figure of 1428 was arrived at in the September quarter of 1949. The figure was issued by the Government Statistician on the 19th October, 1949, at a time when the Chifley Government was being pressed to increase the pension rate. The Parliament was still in session, and continued in session until the 27th October. It was not dissolved until the 30th October. Thus, the Labour Government had plenty of opportunity to introduce legislation to raise the pension rate above 42s. 6d., if it considered0 that that amount was too small in view of the increase of prices that was reflected in the index figure of 1428. But the Labour Government did not do so. The honorable gentleman will forgive us, therefore, if we take the line of reasoning that he and his leaders adopted in 1949, and apply it in some measure to the pension rate of to-day. Based on the honorable gentleman’s calculations, the necessary adjustment to the pension rate to-day would bring it to 69s. 2d. But the pension rate to-day is 70s., and, in addition to the pension payable to them, pensioners have free medical benefits that they did not have when the Labour party was in office. In actual value to the pensioner, the pension is now far above the proportion of the cost of living that it represented when the Labour Government left office. If there are any doubts in the mind of the honorable gentleman about that, I shall turn to his other ground of complaint, which referred to the proportion of the national income represented by social services payments. For his benefit, I shall take the figures of the year 1938-39, and compare them with the figures of the last financial year. He cited correctly the 1938-39 figures, which show that expenditure on social services in that year represented 2.11 per cent, of the national income. But he misquoted the figures -for 1953-54 because, according to the Common- vealth Statistician, whose figures have been produced and cannot be altered, this Government expended last year on social services an amount that represents 4.68 per cent, of the national income. But the honorable gentleman did not cite that figure; he preferred te cite the percentage of 2.11 for 1938-39;
The Government has every reason to be proud of its social services record. When the Labour Government left office expenditure on social services represented 3.88 per cent, of the national income. We have raised that percentage to 4.68, or by one-fifth. But the honorable member says that we should not take these figures, because there are more pensioners to-day than there were when the Labour Government was in office. He neglected to state that there is also a far larger national income. In 1938-39 expediture on social services represented 2.11 per cent, of a national income of £780,000,000. This Government last year expended 4.68 per cent, of a national income of £3,776,000,000, a record of which the Government is proud and will continue to be proud.
The honorable gentleman who has now withdrawn from the argument by leaving the chamber had something to say about the abolition of the means test, but he did not devote much time to it. He certainly did not incorporate any reference to the means test in his motion because, I fear, there have been powers at work in the Labour party. Perhaps the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. W. M. Bourke) has gained some friends. Certainly he has gained a friend in Senator Kennelly, because I am reliably informed that at a special meeting of the Victorian branch of the Australian Labour paTty, which was held in June, and which was not the happy gettogether that was anticipated a month before, Senator Kennelly said -
I feel we are going to be haunted with this policy for a number of years. I have no objection to the abolition of the means test if you can prove to me how it can be done when you will not tax and will not risk inflation.
So the honorable member for EdenMonaro said that the Australian Labour party had taken the abolition of the means test to itself, and was not proceeding with it on this occasion, but intended to do something about it later.
Mr. Daly interjecting,
– I welcome the interjection, because the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) has, in the past, committed himself on this very point. The abolition of the means test has not been, until recently, part of the policy of the Australian Labour party. The Australian Labour party did not take the abolition of the means test from the Liberal party’s policy.
– Do not be so silly.
– Order !
– It did not take it from the Australian Country party policy, or indeed from fundamental Labour party policy. The Australian Labour party filched the policy of abolition of the means test from the Lang Labour group, because that has always been the policy of that group. The honorable member for Grayndler, who is now laughing, jumped to his feet when the former honorable member for Reid, Mr. Lang, spoke in this House on the abolition of the means test, and told the House that it was all part and parcel of the Lang Labour policy. I remind the honorable member for Grayndler of that fact because it will do his soul good for him to bc reminded of the source of his ideas. I find on reference to Mansard of the 31st July, 1946, that the honorable member said -
Let us examine what abolition of the means test would entail . . . How would the money be provided? We cannot print banknotes for the purpose of meeting the cost of social services . . . The additional estimated cost resulting from the abolition of thu means test on invalid and old-age pensions . . would call for a total contribution of 13s. per breadwinner and, of course, that could not be paid by unemployed persons, pensioners and persons over the age of G5 years- . . . and that does not take into account the expansion of social service plans, including health and various other schemes which Labour has in view.
The honorable member for Grayndler, who is now the Opposition Whip and a distinguished member of a not so distinguished political party, actually castigated the former honorable member for Reid, Mr; Jack Lang, when he dared to introduce his policy into this chamber. Your predecessor, Mr. Speaker, who gave to the i I ouse entertainment which you have -not yet given to us, by leaving the Chair and taking part in the debates, also joined in the discussion to which I have referred.
He is reported in Hansard as Having said -
If the honorable member for Reid concurs with the Opposition in the means by which the Opposition proposes to finance the abolition of the means test, he is in favour of an entirely new and additional scheme of taxation in the guise of a compulsory contribution to a national insurance fund. If he does not, there is only one way in which he can finance any scheme which involves the abolition of the means test. Governments cannot get money out of thin air. There is only one way governments can get money, and that is by taxing it out of the people … it would be interesting to hear some of the advocates of the abolition of the means test tell us exactly how they propose to abolish it without inflicting further taxes on the people of this country.
Time does not permit me to read passages from speeches by other members of the Labour party on this subject, but I point out that the late Mr. J. B. Chifley, the man who saw the light on the hill, which the Labour party said it would follow-, declared that it’ was not practicable to abolish the means test. Somehow, the light on the hill has since become very dim to the eyes of members of the Labour party. They advocated the abolition of the means test during the last general election campaign, but they have now climbed down completely, and the honorable member for Eden-Monaro has produced a vague, nonsensical amendment which means nothing. The Labour party obviously is engaging in a mock fight on this issue.
The aim of this bill is to alleviate the means test, which is a progressive step, so that the people who save ‘will not be penalized by reason of their thrift. This bill will place in the hands of pensioners an additional £6,250,000 in this financial year, and will make more people eligible to receive social services benefits. If members of the Labour party retort, “ These additional amounts are not enough”, I shall remind them that the Chifley Labour Government, during its last year of office, gave some additional money to the recipients of social services benefits. The amount was not £6,250,000 ; it was not £1,000,000; it was not even £500,000. The Chifley Government .gave the pensioners exactly £209,000. That was the additional amount that the great generous Labour party provided for pensioners in its last year of office.’ I say to honorable members opposite, “ criticize us if you clare, criticize us if you wish, but at least come to us with clean hands on this matter “.
This Government will give to the pensioners an additional £6,250,000 this year. Let honorable members opposite keep prominently in mind that the last time the Labour party had an opportunity to make an additional payment to pensioners it-, provided the miserable amount of £209,000. Let our political opponents, who dare to criticize us now, smile in their places if they feel that they have something to smile about. The Chifley Labour Government, in its last year of office, did not amend the act in order to bring additional people into the pensions field. This bill will bring actual help in cold, hard cash to an additional 94,000 pensioners throughout Australia. They will receive extra payments under this legislation.
Approximately 71,000 people who, to date, have not been eligible for the pension, will be entitled to receive it in future. The average amount that each of those. 94,000 persons will receive fortnightly will not be a mere pittance of half-a-crown. Some 73,000 of those persons will get increases up to £1 a fortnight by cheque or over the post office counter. Approximately 2,500 of them will receive more than £3 a fortnight. Those amounts cannot be described as miserable. Will the recipients say that an additional £3 a fortnight will not be of any help to them? Those contributions to the pensioners are real, because they are to be given, not in words and not in speeches delivered in a sham fight by members of the Labour party, but in cold hard cash, with which the recipients will be able to buy extra necessaries of life.
Under this legislation, an additional 71,000 people will be brought into the pensions field. In other words, twice the number of people who reside in this city of Canberra will receive a pension for the first time in their lives. In the past, they have been disqualified, even under the liberalization of the means test, which had been made by this Government. Approximately 56,000 persons will be brought into the age pensions field, and 9,000 invalids will receive the invalid pension for the first time. What have our carping critics to say about those matters? Is it not humbug to claim that people are not receiving their rights when an additional 56,000 persons are to be granted the age pension, and 9,000 are to be granted the invalid pension ? In addition, approximately 6,000 women will become entitled to, and will receive, the widow’s pension for the first time. This is real.
This is a. vital contribution to the welfare of the people of our nation. This is a great forward step in the march towards the goal, which is the abolition .of the means test. This is something that the people will appreciate, for the benefits will be lasting.
All these additional payments will cost money, which has to be provided by the taxpayers, and be distributed by the Government to the pensioners. The . Government is rather proud of the fact that it will spend £159,000,000 on social services in this financial year, and an additional £35,000,000 on the health of the nation. The Labour party, which has been guilty of a good deal of humbug tonight, cannot lay claim to such a proud record. The Chifley Labour Government, in its last year of office, spent £S5,000,000 on social services, and £7,500,000 on the health of the community. I invite the House to compare the record of the preceding Labour Government in that respect with the provision that is made by the present Government for social services and health this year. So we disregard this foolish amendment, because it means precisely nothing. The fact that it has been submitted shows that the Labour party has changed its mind again about socia.1 services, and is not prepared to show, by way of an amendment, that it was honest in its claims made during the last general election campaign regarding the abolition of the means test.
We stand before the people of Australia on our record, and we can say to them, in all justice and truth, that we have increased age and invalid pensions by 27s. 6d. a week, or 64.7 per cent., since we have been in office. We have lifted the property limit for age pensioners from £750, where the Labour Government had left it, to £1,750, an increase of 130 per cent. When, since the introduction of pensions by a non-Labour government-, has any government had such a splendid record in the field of social services as has the present Government? When has there been a government which has shown such sympathy for, and real understand ing of the people, who need social services, as has the present Government?
The permissible income limit has been increased by the Menzies Government from 30s. to £3 10s. a week, or an increase of 130 per cent. The property exemption has risen from £100 to £200, an increase of 100 per cent. Wives’ allowances have risen from 24s. to 35s. a week, and children’s allowances from 9s. to lis. 6d. a week. The allowances payable to widows with children have increased by 37s. 6d. and widows without children by £1 0s. 6d. in the case of a B class widow, and 15s. a week in the case of a C class widow. Blind pensioners have been exempted from the means test. The unemployment and sickness benefit has been doubled, and income from property is to be disregarded under the provisions of this bill.
Anomalies will possibly occur, and in order to meet cases of hardship, the Government has given a discretionary power to the Director-General of Social Services. Every honorable member will agree with me when I say that he is a gentleman who is entirely devoted to his task. He brings a kindly good nature to the job. To this man of proven service, the Government has given discretionary power to deal with cases of hardship which are brought to his notice. So, this Government has made a real contribution throughout the field of social services, and its policy in this respect is appreciated by the pensioners. Of all the contributions that it has made, possibly the greatest and the best contribution is to those people who have no homes of their own and who are left as derelicts by their sons or daughters, or by circumstances. For the first time in the history of this nation, a government has come forward in this city of Canberra, and said, in effect, “ If those people who have the care of the aged in their hands desire to build additional homes so that accommodation can be provided for those who to-day are derelicts and have no homes, and for others who may be so placed in the future, we shall contribute on a £ for £ basis up to a limit of £1,500,000 each year”. I am sure that this offer will be received with tremendous approval by the people of Australia. It is a bold step, and a new step, and is something which has been greatly needed. As I move among people in the cities, particularly those whose sons and daughters have no more use for them, I find that money does not mean a great deal to them if they have not a home. The Government’s offer to assist the good people to provide homes for the aged will be a great incentive to them to continue, and expand, their good work, and the result will be that many thousands of old people will enjoy in their old age comfort, leisure and contentment, which they richly deserve. This will be thoroughly appreciated by those of us who have the honour to share in the contribution towards their comfort and contentment.
I believe that this measure is a milestone in the history of social services. It is a bold step forward towards the goal set by the party of which I am a member. I commend the bill to the House, and I condemn the amendment which has been moved, by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, as being foolish, ill-conceived, not in the interests of the pensioners, completely vague, and something not worthy of presentation to the Parliament.
– I listened with interest to the speech of the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce), but I was somewhat disappointed in it. He complained that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) had not stated the position correctly, yet he himself deliberately went out of his way to try to mislead the people. I need take only one statement to justify that remark. The honorable member said that this Government has done a wonderful job. He stated that the Labour Government, in its last year of office, had spent £85,000,000 on social services, and that this Government proposes to expend £159,000,000 on social services during the current financial year. Honorable members know that during the last year of office of the Labour Government, £85,000,000 was worth more in terms of purchasing power than the sum of £159,000,000 is worth to-day. There can be no- question about that. The honorable member for Capricornia, in his great fairness as he put it, said that whilst the Labour Government, in its last year of office, provided an additional sum of only £290,000 for pensions this Government, this year is providing an additional sum of £6,277,000 for that purpose. The Minister,’ in his second-reading speech, indicated that that sum of £6,277,000 would be provided in a full financial year, but that this year only £4,500,000 would be provided. The honorable member for Capricornia, who sneered at the record of the Labour Government, was not very particular in citing figures in that respect.
The complaint of members of the Opposition is that under this measure the Government does not propose to do anything for the great majority of pensioners. The honorable member for Capricornia praised the Government for liberalizing the means test. I appreciate its action iri that respect. Since I have been a member of the Parliament, I have urged at meetings of the Opposition party and in this chamber, that the means test should be liberalized, and no one is more pleased than I am about the Government’s decision to alter the basis of deductions in respect of the value of property iri the application of the means test. Under the scheme now proposed, the rate of pension will be reduced by £1 for every complete £10 of the value of property above £200 up to £1,750. I advanced a similar proposal in this chamber in 1948. At that time, I urged that no maximum figure should be fixed in respect of the value of property, and that eligibility for a pension should be determined by reducing the pension by £1 for every £10 of the value of property possessed by an applicant above the £200 exemption. That would be a fairer system. Speaking on this subject a few years ago, I showed that when the permissible value of property was £400, it was unfair that a person having property to the value of a few pounds in excess of that amount should be ineligible to receive any pension at all, whilst a person having property of the value of £400 was entitled to at least a proportion of the pension. I agree with the honorable member for Eden-Monaro that a person should be permitted to own property to the value of £1,750 and be eligible to receive a pension; arid, that after deducting the sum of £200, in respect of the complete property .’exemption, the amount of pension should be reduced by £1 for every £10 df the remaining £1,550. However, if no maximum amount of permissible income was fixed, and the means test was applied by reducing the pension by £1 for every £10 of the value of property, a person would be rendered ineligible to receive a pension if he possessed property to the value of £2,020. Deducting £200 from that sum, the means test would be. applied to the remaining £1,820, and a reduction of the pension by £1 for every £10 of that sum which would amount to £182 which is the amount of the pension payable annually at present.
If that system were adopted the sudden drop over the deep end, as it were, in the case of a person having property to the value of a few pounds in excess of the limit would be eliminated. Years ago, this aspect of the pension was not so important because the pension itself was the sole benefit provided; but in recent years, a person in receipt of the age pension is automatically entitled to several other social services “ benefits. For instance, a person who receives a full pension of £182 a year, or any proportion of a pension, even if it is as low as £5 a year, is entitled to free medical benefit and free hospital benefit. That is an important consideration in the minds of pensioners. About three years ago, I was approached by an ex-sergeant of police who suffered seriously from, asthma and was unable to walk any considerable distance. Practically, every second day he had to be treated by his doctor. He was living on his police pension of £5 a week. He had some money in the bank, but he was obliged to use that money in order to pay his doctor’s fees and to. purchase medicine. He asked me whether, if he gave up his police pension, he could qualify for the age pension and thus qualify also for hospital and medical benefit. I was obliged to inform him that he would not be permitted to deprive himself of property, or income, in order to qualify for an age pension. I cite that case in order to emphasize the importance which many people attach to the additional benefits for which pensioners automatically qualify. The funeral benefit of ‘£10 is another benefit that is made available to pensioners. In addition, in New South Wales for instance, pensioners are automatically entitled to a 50 per cent, reduction of their rates and other taxes on the property on which they live, and they also enjoy concessions in respect of fares. Years ago, the difference between receiving a pension of £5 a year and no pension at all did not mean as much as it does to-day. In view of these facts, the Government should give consideration to eliminating the maximum permissible value of property altogether and apply the means test in the way that I have indicated.
When the honorable member for EdenMonaro left the chamber fifteen minutes after he completed his speech, the honorable member for Capricornia said that he was running away from the issue. It is not seven minutes since the honorable member for Capricornia completed his own speech, but he has already left the chamber. Apparently, he, himself, is running away from this issue. I deprecate the attitude of any honorable member who belittles another honorable member in that way. In any event, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro is now in the chamber.Furthermore, the honorable member for Capricornia, after resuming his seat, did not give attention for one minute to my remarks. I remind him of the old saying, “ Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.” The honorable member for Capricornia said that wherever he went he found that pensioners expressed pleasure at the proposal under this measure to liberalize the pension. I have taken the trouble to bring with me to-night a number of letters that I have received from pensioners during the last few weeks. I have received these letters from persons in different States. I do not know the writers of them. I shall refer to them because they indicate the reaction of all classes of pensioners to the Government’s present proposal. Mrs. “N”, of Henley Beach, Adelaide–
– Does she reside in the honorable member’s electorate?
– No ; none of the writers of these letters resides in my electorate. All of them have written to me on this subject after hearing speeches that have been made in this House, but they have not sought my help in their individual cases. Apparently, they have written these letters simply in order to express the view of pensioners generally with respect to the Government’s proposals. Mrs. “N “, of Henley Beach, Adelaide, who is an inmate of a denominational rest hospital is 70 years of age. She applied for a pension when she was 64 years of age. She was left with five children, the eldest of whom was twelve years of age. At that time, no widow’s pension was available, and the only aid she could obtain was that which was provided by the State Government for persons in destitute circumstances. She informed me that she was obliged to go out washing, or to do cleaning work or sewing, in order to earn sufficient money to rear her family. She points out that the cost of her accommodation in hospital is £7 7s. a week, and claims that she is justified in describing the Government’s treatment of age and sick pensioners as absolute cheating and despicable, having regard to the promises that it made to them. She adds, that if God spares her for the next election no selfish man will get into Parliament. I think that she was referring to the Government’s failure to do anything for her. Under this proposal, she will not be entitled to receive any increase of her present pension of £3 10s. a week. I do not think that woman would be among those whom the honorable member for Capricornia has claimed are pleased with the Government’s proposals. Another woman, is Mrs. “ M “, whose address is Camp Hill, Brisbane. Her husband died in 1938, leaving her with five children. She is now 54 years of age, but, although she has reared that family, she will not be entitled to any increase of the present princely pension of £2 17s. 6d. a week that is payable to a B class widow. That woman feels bitter because no increase of the B class widow’s pension is being provided on this occasion. The honorable member for Capricornia might call upon that lady and find out whether she thinks this is a good measure. Or he may care to call on Mr. “R “, who lives at Charters
Towers. This gentleman is blind. He points out that he receives a pension of only. £3 10s. a week, and says that the Government’s action in raising the amount that a pensioner may be permitted to earn without forfeiting any proportion of his pension does not .affect him at all. He adds that he cannot do anything, and is obliged to keep himself and pay rates on his present income of £3 10s. a week. He is afraid that he will lose his home, because he is unable to pay his way. He did not ask me to take up his case with the department. The Government should realize that many blind- persons are incapable of earning income, and should provide more assistance to them.
I was sorry to hear the honorable member for Capricornia refer to certain classes of pensioners as derelicts. I do not’ look upon persons as derelicts, because they are unable to help themselves. I know many persons coming within that class who are very fine people. The fourth case I cite is that of a lady whose circumstances are such that I was impelled to do her the honour of replying in a special way to her letter. She is Miss “ S “, of Lane Cove, Sydney. At nine years of age, she contracted rheumatoid arthritis, and, as a cripple, she has been confined to a chair for the last 25 years. Her parents spent all the money they had trying to have her cured. Eleven years ago they both died. She wrote to me that she had been from home to home, and at different hospitals, and described it as a terrible experience. At the time of writing to ma, she was staying with a lady who had kindly allowed her to live there for £5 a week. She had only £3 10s. a week from her pension and she had to knit fourteen hours a day for six days a week so that she could increase her income to £5. I do not blame the Minister for such things. I tell them to the Parliament so that honorable members on both sides will realize that they happen and will do something to help. This young woman was as brave as could be, as one can tell by studying her letter. One could only take one’s hat off to a woman like that. All she wanted was to have something done, not for herself alone, but for others like her. She had the same outlook as the woman in hospital whom I mentioned earlier, who said that she wrote for a number of people in the same position.
My point is that an increase should be granted to such persons now. I have studied the figures cited by the Minister in his second-reading speech. He referred to the .numbers of women over 60 and men over 65 years, and said that there were nearly 1,000,000 of them in the community and that about 405,000 were receiving age pensions. Let us include invalid and widow pensioners and make the figure a round 500,000. The payment of an extra 10s. a week to that number of persons, in the terms proposed in thi. amendment would amount to £13,000,000 a year. Are we justified in reducing taxation when the expenditure of an additional £13,000,000 a year would provide every body in receipt of age, invalid and. widow pensions with an extra 10s. a week? I am pleased that the Government has decided to ameliorate the means test but this bill will not help those who need help most. It will help not those who ,are on the lower standard, but those who are on the higher standard amongst the pensioners. The Minister referred in his speech to the number of pensioner couples who would obtain an additional income of £3 a week under the provisions of the bill. Most of those married couples already receive £11 a week from the pension and other sources. I cannot see any common sense or justification in easing the means test so as to allow a couple to receive £14 a week instead of £11, whereas a couple in receipt of £7 a week from the pension alone with no other income will not benefit at all. That does not seem to me to be the correct way to go -about this business.
I have here some interesting figures which deal with the effect of the Government’s proposals. The Minister cited figures which I was pleased to hear and the accuracy of which I do not dispute. However, I direct his attention to the position of a single person of pensionable age with capital of £1,000. At present, such a person may receive a pension of £52. Under the bill, he will receive a pension of £102, representing an increase of £50 a year. Consider the case of a man and wife with capital of £900. At present, they receive a joint pension of £152 a year each. Under the bill, the pension will be increased to £157. It is wrong that a man and wife with £900 should ben- -fit by only £5 a year each whilst a single person with £1,000 will benefit by £50 a year. I refer to a husband and wife, each with capital amounting to £1,250. At present they can receive pension amounting to £S a year each. Under the bill they will be eligible to receive £77 a year each, representing an increase of £69” a year. Thus, it appears that the more property a pensioner has, up to the limit of £1,750, or £3,500 for a married couple, the greater will be the benefit under this bill. The Minister may say, quite justly, that this is correct because they suffer more under the means test at present than do other pensioners. I appreciate that fact. But the truth is that, under the bill, the person who will obtain the largest pension increase will be the person with the greatest amount of property under the permissible maximum.
The bill provides that the permissible separate income for a pensioner shall be increased from £2 to £3 10s. a week. That is all very well, and, as the honorable member for Eden-Monaro has said, it will raise the total permissible income to the proportion of the basic wage that prevailed- some years ago. However, let us consider the case of a man who has been in government employment and is now in retirement on the old basis of a four unit superannuation pension of a little under £4 a week. That is a typical example. At present such a man and his wife, if they have no other income, are entitled to claim the full pension of £3 10s. a week each. Compare their situation with that of a former government employee in receipt of a superannuation pension of £7 a week. At present, he and his wife are entitled to draw a part pension to raise their joint income to £11 a week. The bill will increase the amount of their permissible income apart from the pension to £3 10s. a week each, or £7 jointly. Such a couple will benefit by £3 a week under the bill, although the man on a four-unit superannuation pension will gain no advantage.
Thus, although I appreciate what the Government proposes to do and acknowledge its desire to help pensioners, I offer the objection that the bill will confer the greatest benefit upon those who really are not in the greatest need.
I advocated some years ago that the property means test should be abolished so that income only would be taken into consideration in determining eligibility for pension. Unfortunately, the Government has moved in the other direction. It has paid attention to the property income means test and has decided that in future it will reduce the pension payable to owners of property by £1 a year for every £10 of property above £200 up to £1,750 and income derived from property will not betaken into account for pension purposes. I ask honorable members to consider the case of a man with wife eligible for pensions with a superannuation pension of £7 a week who own the house in which they live and another house worth £3,000 from which he draws an income of £2 or £2 10s. a week. That rental income will not be taken into consideration in the means test. Thus, his total income will be increased so that he and his wife will draw, in superannuation and social services pensions, £9 a week in addition to the £2 or £2 10s. that he receives from his property. Furthermore, should he, instead of house property, have stock in some of those good companies that are declaring dividends at the rate of 10 per cent, or 12 per cent., the income from that source, even if the amount invested is £1,000, £1,500 or even £3,000, will not be included in the permissible income, for pension purposes, of £14 a fortnight for man and wife. I admit that not many pensioners are in such a fortunate situation. Nevertheless, I maintain that the exclusion of income from property for the purposes of the means test will not help needy persons as they would be helped if the means test were made to apply instead only to income. The Minister has said that the liberalization of the pension scheme under the bill will cost £45,000,000 this year and £6,277,000 in a full year. I say that a lot of that money will go to people who do not need help nearly so much as do people whose sole income is the base pension of £3 10s. a week.
Class A widows constitute a body of women who are getting a fairly raw deal. My mind goes back to 193’8, when a woman came to me to obtain help with her application for a widow’s pension. I had known her husband well. She had two sons at college studying for the ministry, and another son aged about fifteen at home. Twelve months after she had obtained the pension, she came to me in a terrible state and said, “ I am 45 and my boy has just turned sixteen, so now I am getting no pension whatever “. Because she was under 50 years of age and had no children classed as being dependent, she was deprived of any form of pension although she still had to keep the home going and care for her children. The Department of Social Services could well give attention to the situation of such people. I do not expect the relatively new Minister for Social Services to be aware of all these problems, because he and many of his colleagues on the Government side of the House have not had the opportunity in their ordinary parliamentary life to meet many such persons. However, the need of these citizens is great. There is ‘another section of A class widows to which I direct attention. Under this bill, a woman will be permitted to have capital amounting to £1,750, instead of £1,250 as at present, and still draw the full widow’s pension for an A class widow - that is, a widow of any age who has a child under sixteen years dependent upon her. The serious anomaly is that, if her capital amounts to £1,760, she will not be eligible for any part of the pension of £3 15s. a week. I have spoken earlier of pensioners who go over the deep end under the means test, but the situation of the A class widow is even worse. If her capital exceeds £1,750, the means test will spell sudden death for her pension.
I urge the Minister and officers of the department to consider these anomalies. If the proposal to allow the permissible income for a married couple to rise from £11 to £14 a week can be justified, I submit that there is every justification also for helping A class widows. I have only a minute left, and I shall try to refer in that time to the situation of another group of unfortunate citizens. I discussed this subject recently, but I want to keep battling on in the interests of the children of A class widows. . As I have said previously, A class widows can obtain payments for their children in some .States but not in others. I know a widow in South Australia with about £500 or £600 who is in receipt of the pension of £3 15s. a week. She has four children. I went to the appropriate State department and asked if it could provide any help for her. I was told, “ Not unless she is in indigent circumstances “. When I explained that she had £500 or £600 left to her by her husband, I was told that she would not be considered to be in indigent circumstances and could not obtain anything from the State authorities. Thus, her income was restricted to the pension of £3 15s. a week as an A class widow. I appeal to the Government to make a payment for the children of those widows.
.- Once again we have witnessed the continuing deterioration of the Australian Labour party, which some of its members, over the years, have vociferously pronounced to be the “great” Australian Labour party. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) to-night put the case for the Opposition. The next Opposition speaker after him was the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) who, except for the last few minutes of his remarks, endeavoured to destroy the whole system of social services by citing individual cases. A system can never be destroyed by that means. I suppose that if one took the trouble one could find plenty of individual cases to support almost any argument. However, that is not enough to destroy a system that works, by and large, for the benefit of the people of Australia. The honorable member for Port Adelaide referred to the case of a former policeman in receipt of a pension of £5 a week. He stated that because’ he received £5 a week it was impossible for him to obtain any benefit under the medical and pharmaceutical benefits scheme for pensioners. My interpretation of the situation - and I think a similar view will be taken by other honorable members also - is that if that former policeman had no other property disqualification he would be entitled at least to some portion pf the pension.
– He had about £600 or £700 in the bank. I mentioned that.
– The honorable member did not mention it.
– I did. I said that it was gradually being expended on the purchase of medicines.
– I did not hear the honorable member say that. Obviously, when the ex-policeman had expended that sum on medical expenses, he would be entitled to some pension. If he were in receipt of any pension he would be entitled to the pharmaceutical and medical benefits made available to pensioners by this Government. Members of the Opposition should be careful not to misrepresent cases. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro has moved an amendment designed to have the bill withdrawn, and, as an act of justice - and I repeat the words “ as an act of justice “-
– Order ! Those words do not appear in the amendment.
– They are in the copy that I have received.
– Order! Those words were not in the amendment that was moved by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro.
– The honorable member for Canning has last year’s copy !
– No. I received this copy this evening.
– The Opposition has switched so much that we do not know where it is.
– That is so. While the honorable member for Eden-Monaro was putting the case for the Opposition his leader was sitting behind him looking rather sickly. ,1 was reminded, by his appearance, of a remark made by a gentleman in another place, when the Leader pf the Opposition (Dr. Evatt)was sitting in that other place, to the effect that the right honorable gentleman did not seem to have the faintest idea of hi? whereabouts. During the recent general election campaign, the Australian Labour party declared vociferously that the means test should be abolished, but to-night we have heard nothing about that proposal. The party declared vociferously, also, that child endowment should be increased, but to-night we have heard little of that matter except the reference to it in the amendment moved by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. It is apparent, as my colleague the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) has said, that the Labour party has been going back into history and finding out what it has stated on previous occasions. It is well remembered by every one in Australia that the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), when this Government proposed to make child endowment payments for the first child, proudly claimed that the proposal would ruin the national economy and have an effect upon the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. The Government proceeded with its proposal and child endowment of 5s. a week was paid for the first child. To the dismay and disappointment of the Australian Labour party, the first determination of the court upon the basic wage, subsequent to the introduction of child endowment for the first child, announced an increase of £1 a week.
The honorable member for EdenMonaro stated that the Government’s policy, as put forward by the Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon) was based on wrong premises and was misleading to pensioners, and that the C series index figure of 1278 for June, 1948, should have been used as the basis. I remind the House, that the Labour Government was not defeated until the 10th December, 1949, eighteen months after the determination of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration to which I have referred. In 1948, the Australian Labour party increased pensions by 5s. a week, but in 1949 it made no increase, even though it was admitted in this Parliament by the Prime Minister of that time, the late Mr. J. B. Chifley, that prices were rising- at ‘the rate of 9 per cent, a year. If Opposition members want further proof of that statement, they can find it in an answer given by Mr. Chifley to a question asked by the honorable member for Mallee (Mr.
Turnbull), who was then member for Wimmera, on the 14th June, 1949. The question, which appears at page 865 of volume 202 of Hansard, was -
I ask the Treasurer whether the- Government intends to increase the rate of age and invalid pensions. If so, will the increase he between 3s. and os. 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?
Mr. Chifley, who, I repeat, had stated that prices were rising by 9 per cent, a year, answered the question as follows : -
No. consideration has been given to a further increase of pension rates. “The Government considered this subject not long ago and marlo a general increase, and it is unlikely that a further increase will be considered so soon after that.
The latest consideration that the Labour Government had given to an increase of pensions was given in 194S, when the budget for 1948-49 was introduced. Mr. Chifley’s answer continued -
The law provided at one time that pension rates must be related to the cost of living and must rise or fall according to variations of the cost of . living index figures. However, when C series index figures fell about three years ago, there was a great protest against any reduction of pensions.
If I may interpolate, I doubt very much whether there was a great protest about pensions. Any protest that came forward was as a result of panic on the part of the present Leader of the Opposition, who was then Attorney-General; Senator McKenna, who was at that time leader of the Labour Government in the Senate; and a gentleman from Tasmania, because the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration had ruled that the price index warranted a reduction in the basic wage in Hobart, and an increase in Launceston, or vice versa. The Australian Labour party was caught up in the consequences of its own machinations, because in 1944 it had legislated to dissociate pensions altogether from the C series index. In fact, in that year, Labour legislated to validate a regulation that it had promulgated in the previous November. Mr. Chifley’s answer to the present honorable member for Mallee continued further -
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.
The honorable member for EdenMonaro this evening charged ‘this Government with dishonesty, misrepresentation, and everything else that he could think of, because it took into consideration the C series index figures relative to 1949 instead of those relevant to 194S. He knows full well that there had been an increase in prices and everything else in 1949, and that the Labour government of the day, though it had an opportunity to increase pensions, did not act. When asked about the matter, the Labour Prime Minister said that pensions had no relation to the cost of living. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro supported that Labour Government. The C series index figures of retail prices were available to the Labour Administration on the 19th October, 1949, and the Parliament was not dissolved for the general election until the 2Sth October. If Labour was so keen to do something for pensioners as it now claims and has claimed throughout the years; though it has still done nothing, it then had a golden opportunity. But it refused to do anything for pensioners. When the Labour Government found that the C series index figures of retail prices had increased somewhat, it should have increased pensions. Let us turn our attention now to the 1949 general election campaign. Did Labour even then tell pensioners that it would do anything to assist them ? It did not. There is not one word in the policy speech of the late Mr. Chifley for that general election in respect to pensions. He said, in effect, “ You will take us on our record “, and he fought the election on the bank nationalization issue.
The honorable member for EdenMonaro also stated that the pensions being paid by this Government should be increased by at least another 7s. 3d. a week. How does the honorable member explain the Australian Labour party’s advertisements published during the recent general election campaign in every newspaper and journal throughout Australia, including even the Australian Women’s Weekly? Even Communist publications printed that trash. One Labour advertisement announced that a specified list of goods could be bought in 1948 for 18s. 6½d., but that on the 6th May last, which was the date of the advertisement, those goods would have cost fi 16s. Gid. The 1954 figure was not double the 194S figure, but the basic wage, both Federal and State, at the time of the recent general election, was more than double the 194S basic wage. It does no good for the honorable member for Eden-Monaro to make wild charges that this Government is dishonest, and to do everything possible to mislead the people by referring to the 1948 figures when the appropriate figures are those for 1949. The honorable member said, also, that this Government has decided to increase social services benefits in the 1954-55 budget solely because the advocacy of the Australian Labour party has forced it to take this action. What did the Leader of the Opposition have to say on the 15th September, 1953, during the debate on the 1953-54 budget? He said -
We declare, further, that the Labour go- vernment will remove without delay the present vicious operation of the means test to the extent necessary to restore the more advantageous position for the aged, the invalid and the widows that prevailed in 1949.
The figures cited by the Minister for Social Services have adequately proved, whether one uses the C series index or any other figures as a barometer, that this Administration has restored to pensioners the purchasing power that they enjoyed in 1949. But that fact was not in the mind of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro when he made his charges. He was thinking of the policy speeches of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in general election campaigns. The honorable member said that the policy statement of the Leader of the Opposition forced the Government to take action to increase social services benefits. I have in my hand a copy of the joint policy speech of the Government parties for the 1954 general election campaign. On its cover appears a most admirable photograph of the Prime Minister.
– That is stretching it a little.
– It is a very good photograph, and if the honorable member were as photogenic he would do very well. The following description appears on the first page of the policy speech : -
Policy Speech of the Prime Minister (the Eight Hon. B. G. Menzies, C.H., Q.C., M.P.) delivered in the Canterbury Memorial Hall, Victoria, on May 4, 1954.
– Why does the honorable member not read the 1949 policy speech of the Liberal and Australian Country parties?
– I shall read it in a moment. The honorable member frequently interjects. I have a high regard for him, and, because he is a relatively new member, I should not like to tear him to pieces, but I shall have to do so in a moment. At page 17 of the 1954 policy speech, the policy on social services of the Liberal and Australian Country parties is clearly stated. I am very proud to be able to say that this Government is the first since federation that has given effect in toto to the whole of its policy in the first budget that it has brought down after an election. In this measure the whole of the Government’s election policy on social services is embodied. Because the Leader of the Opposition did not send me a copy of his policy speech I am forced to look for it in the press. I am not always ready to accept what I read in the press, but on this occasion I heard over the air what I read in the newspapers and I accepted it. The leader of the Australian Labour party delivered his policy speech in the Rivoli Hall, in the Sydney suburb of Hurstville, on the 6th May last.
– But the proposal to abolish the means test was announced a week before the Prime Minister made his policy speech.
– The honorable member may interject as much as he likes; it will not worry me. Two days after the Prime Minister had made his policy speech the Leader of the Opposition announced Labour’s proposal to abolish the means test. It is a deliberate mis-statement for the honorable member for Eden-Monaro to say that the announcement of Labour’s plan forced the Government to announce its social services policy.
– I rise to order. I direct your attention, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to the fact that the honorable member has accused me of a deliberate mis-statement of the facts in pointing out that the Australian Labour party’s proposal to abolish the means test had been publicly announced a week before the Prime Minister made his policy speech. I ask for a withdrawal of the deliberate mis-statement of the facts made by the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton).
– The honorable member for Canning will withdraw the word “ deliberate “.
– I withdraw the word “ deliberate “. In view of the magnanimous, truthful and fair-minded manner- in which the Prime Minister put the Government’s policy before the people of Australia, and particularly before the pensioners, the Leader of the Opposition was forced to declare that if Labour were returned to power -
Within the life of the ensuing Parliament, Labour will eliminate the means test entirely.
He proceeded to state that Labour would introduce retiring allowances for every one. . The whole announcement was misleading and wrong, because the Leader of the Opposition knew full well that the proposal could not be put into effect. If Opposition members care to go through the history of the social services legislation, they will learn that the late Mr. J. B. Chifley, as Prime Minister, the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Tom Burke), and the late honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) did not accept the idea that the means test could be abolished. On one occasion, when social services legislation was being considered, the late Mr. Rosevear vacated the chair of the house, and from the floor of the chamber debated the question, because the Labour Government was then in difficulty. According to Hansard, the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) when he was the honorable member for Martin also opposed the proposal. After the leader of the Opposition, on the -6th May last, had announced Labour’s policy on the abolition of the means test, the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. W. M. Bourke) publicly declared that the proposal was dishonest and impracticable. What happened? The next day he was hauled over the coals, as we say in the
Australian vernacular, to answer to the officials of the Australian Labour party for daring to contradict, or in any way disagree with, the pronouncement on policy made by his leader.
We find that some members of the Australian Labour -party at long last realized that the party’s approach was not what it should be. It is wrong for the honorable member for Eden-Monaro to claim this evening that the Government was forced to go one better than Labour in an endeavour to retain office. Through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I inform the pensioners of Australia that they had better keep the Australian Labour party in opposition forever, because the Government intends to give pensioners a fair deal. Labour, on the other hand, does not want to give pensioners a fair deal. I recall that the late Mr. Chifley said that we should not fool the pensioners. This Government will come straight out in the open and tell them the facts. We on this side of the House certainly believe in the introduction of a contributory pensions scheme for all, if it is workable, but we do not intend to rush headlong into any impracticable scheme.
The honorable member for EdenMonaro said this evening that this Government was elected to office in 1949 on a pledge to abolish the means test by 1952. The honorable member knows his statement to be very far from the truth. I have before me the Prime Minister’s policy speech for the 1949 general election campaign which the honorable member for Shortland a few minutes ago asked me to read. The Prime Minister said, at page 22 -
Australia still needs a contributory system of national insurance against sickness, widowhood, unemployment, and old age. It is only under such a system that we can make all benefits a matter of right, and so get completely rid of the means test.
So far there is no mention of a promise to abolish the means test. The Prime Minister continued -
During the new Parliament we will further investigate this complicated problem, with a view to presenting to you at the election of 1952 a scheme for your approval. Meanwhile, existing rates of pension wilL. of course;, be at least maintained. We will, much more importantly, increase their true value by increasing their purchasing power.
There is no semblance to a pledge to abolish the means test contained in that statement. Therefore, if the Labour party endeavours to mislead the people by saying that this Government has not brought forward any measures to carry out its pledges, the answer to that charge lies in the Labour party’s own attitude. When the Government attempted to increase age pensions, and introduce child endowment for the first child of each family, the Opposition’s colleagues in the Senate held up the legislation for weeks and weeks. When they found that the Government was prepared to bring in its legislation at all costs, they caved in. Their colleagues in the Senate also held up for sixteen weeks the Government’s plan for national training, and then when they found that we were adamant they again caved in.
-(Hon. Archie Cameron). - Order ! The honorable member’s remarks have nothing to do with the matter before the Chair.
– Finally, this Government had to drag the Labour party to the country in April, 1951, and the result of that general election is well known to all. The Opposition of that time had held up many measures of the Government and only ceased its obstructive tactics when it was told to do so by twelve men outside the Parliament. I believe that the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Webb) was on the Labour party executive at that time, and so he might have been one of the bosses who told the Opposition what to do at that time. It is not the fault of this Government that there was not another election in 1952. The Labour party can scream and squeal as much as it likes in that respect, but I suggest that it will not impress the electors. This Government gave no pledge to the people that it would abolish the means test. It said that it would place a plan before the people, and at the last general election the Government told the people honestly and straightforwardly that it was against abolition in one fell swoop, but that it would liberalize the means test as much as possible so that more people would get pensions, and so that many of those already receiving them would have their pensions increased. The result of this legislation will be that 90,000 people will have their pensions increased, and another 70,000 will fall within the pensionable field. The Government has also decided not to take into account, in assessing pensions, the income from certain property, and so I could go on with many further effective contributions by this Government to the welfare of the people. To-night myself and three or four of my colleagues are celebrating our eighth year in this Parliament-
– It is much too long.
– But in 1946 when we came here we told the then Labour Government that we were the first of the few. They laughed at us then, but in 1949 we forced the Labour party from office because of its continual misleading of the people. This Government is prepared to take the people into its confidence, and that is why it remains in office. Under our social services legislation the people are far better off than they would have been under the wild-cat schemes proposed during the recent general election campaign by the Labour party.
-Order! the honorable member’s time has expired.
.- Very little matter relevant to this debate was introduced by the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton), although to-night he appeared to be particularly pension-conscious. Having completed eight years in this Parliament, no doubt he has a high appreciation of the value of a pension. However, I expected something better from him than the contribution that he actually made. He started by complaining that the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) had introduced individual cases into the debate. I am very glad he made that statement, because I can now complain because the Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon) gave individual cases as good examples. The Minister endeavoured to use individual cases to bolster up his poor argument against further increases of social services. He quoted special cases of class A widows, and mentioned the case of a widow who had two children and who had a regular occupation. He then emphasized the maximum income that she could receive, as though that individual case was an example of all cases. Indeed, he mentioned many special cases throughout his speech and used them to illustrate what he thought was the general excellence of the whole of his case.
The honorable member for Canning stated that the Opposition’s amendment fell far short of the Labour Party’s policy on pensions. He complained that it was not an amendment to abolish the means test, nor did it relate to child endowment. His statements in that regard point to the validity of the Opposition’s amendment, because the whole of Labour’s programme could not be carried out by .moving one amendment. However, we do expect that some relief will be granted to those on the bread and butter line, and that social justice will be done, through this amendment, to that very important section of the community, the majority of the pensioners. Therefore, considering that nothing transcends in importance the plight of those on the bread and butter line, it was determined that that was the form the amendment should take, and the Opposition hoped that the Government would realize that the Labour Party was not asking for the introduction of the whole of its social services programme but would be content at this stage with an upward revision of the Government’s intentions.
– Does the honorable member know the nature of the amendment he is speaking about?
– The amendment is before the Chair, and I do not intend to occupy my time by reading it. The honorable member for Canning said that the amendment did not contain any statement in relation to the abolition of the means test or to increases of child endowment. Having stated his complaint, and having replied to it, I have fulfilled all the functions in that regard that I intend to fill at this moment. I shall keep to the bill before the House. It is interesting to note, that there are three large items of expenditure that we provided for in the Estimates. They are, defence, which is estimated to cost £200,000,000 in the current year, payments to the States, and expenditure on social services, which is estimated to cost £159,000,000. Added to the expenditure on social services is £35,000,000 to be expended on national health and medical services. That makes the total to be expended in the social services field £194,000,000. The slight difference between our expenditure on defence and our expenditure on social services is interesting. The incidence of longevity in this country is also of interest, because we have almost 1,000,000 people who are of pensionable age. We shall have a much happier augury for the future if we could point to a compensating birth-rate, because the babies of to-day are the potential producers of the future who would help to bear the costs of age pensions. The fact that there are 500,000 pensioners out of 1,000,000 persons of pensionable age in our population would not be such a great problem if the birth-rate was high, and if we had some prospect of a large potential population to bear the cost of age pensions. But- the disparity between the birth-rate and the number of age pensioners is disturbing.
It is estimated that the extension of eligibility to pensions to another 71,000 persons, under the provisions of this measure, will cost about £6,250,000 in a full year. This is a very modest extension. The people involved include about 56,000 age pensioners, 9,000 invalid pensioners and 6,000 widow pensioners. Since each of them will not receive more than £3 10s. a week from the Commonwealth, and may not have an income of more than £7 a week, it would appear to me that it has been well proven that the abolition of the means test is justified.
It is imperative that at this stage I should summarize the major proposals of the Government in order that we may be able to understand them better and to see more clearly just how much justice is being done to pensioners generally. The Government proposes merely a modification of the income and property means test for invalid and widow pensioners. The permissible income is to be increased and the exemption in relation to income from property is to be raised from £150 to £200, while the maximum value of property that a pensioner may own is to be raised from £1,250 to £1,750. There is to be a complete abolition of the means test for blind pensioners, and permissible income of people who receive unemployment benefits is to be liberalized. I think I am justified in describing that as a modest programme. I should be equally justified in saying that although it will fill a well defined want it does not go far enough. It will bring new pensioners into the pension field, but it offers no relief to people who are really in need. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon), evidently very conscious of this, spent much of his time in attempting to justify the lack of action by the Government on behalf of pensioners who are really in want. He gave us examples to show what the possible maximum income of a pensioner could be, and in this way he deliberately drew the wool over the eyes of the electors generally. He referred to sections of pensioners, which I shall summarize. He referred to pensioners who may supplement their income from super-, annuation, and to pensioners who have income from investments. He referred also to pensioners who may secure parttime employment, and to pensioners a member of whose household is in regular employment. He referred to a class A widow with two children who takes a job which returns her £3 10s. a week. By stating such a case he was able to indicate that such a person would have a weekly income of £9. The examples he used were remarkable for what was left to be understood and to be analysed, because it must be perfectly obvious that a widow with two young children would probably find difficulty in keeping a regular job, even if she could find one. She would have to find someone to care for her children while she was at work. The Minister also referred to the case of a class B widow of more than 50 years of age who is entitled to a pension of £2 17s. 6d. a week and said that if she could secure suitable employment she might have an income of £6 7s. 6d. a week. The “ if “ is a very real one. He used that kind of illustration to bolster his case and justify the Government’s attitude to the present position. ;
The Minister compared pension rates with the C series index, rather than with the basic wage, although he knows as well as every other honorable member knows, that the O series index has never been regarded as an accurate measure. This is particularly so when it is related to pensions. A pensioner’s diet is entirely different from- that of the ordinary working man, and most of the delicacies that a pensioner would require are not shown in the C series index. All that the Minister has succeeded in doing is to underline the fact that the pension, stark in its nakedness as it is for the great majority of pensioners, is totally inadequate. This can be the only explanation of his concentration on the maximum income of £7. Why otherwise would he refer to the opportunity for a class A widow to gain an income of £9 a week? The reason the Minister has used these examples is that he knows, on the practical side, that these are the figures most closely related to the purchasing power required by a pensioner household. He referred to £14 as the possible income of a household of two age pensioners, but only a very lucky minority of pensioners will be able to enjoy the security and comfort represented by an income of £14 a week.
The clear fact remains that the pension is still only £3 15s., £3 10s., or £2 17s. 6d. a week, as the case may be. The hypothetical cases which the Minister presented to us do not give us the real position in relation to pensions. In common with many other honorable members I have received letters from pensioners which press this point firmly. They ask us how we should like to try to exist on £3 30s. a week, after paying rent and other costs. People on the bread and butter line will get very little comfort from a review of the C series index, which has little, if any, relationship to the cost of living as it affects pensioners. They need more money to give them the independence they require for a healthy and happy retirement. It is my view that the Government has been most unjustly circumscribed in its approach to pensioners and their position. The total revenue from indirect taxation amounts to £457,000,000. It is authentically stated that wage and salary earners pay 80 per cent, of this amount, and are, therefore, responsible for £360,000,000 of the total. The amount paid in social services, both State and Commonwealth, totals about £218,000,000. That is, of course, only 60.5 per cent, of the amount that wage and salary earners have contributed to the revenue in indirect taxation. I believe that there is a strong case for wage and salary earners to get back the full amount they have paid in. A more realistic approach could have been made by the Government. It could have substantially reduced indirect taxes, such as sales tax, pay-roll tax and customs and excise duties, with consequent benefit to pensioners and workers who are rearing families, for whom no relief is offered in this bill. The point will doubtless be raised that the wage and salary earners who contribute the amount of £360,000,000 to which I have referred, should contribute to the costs of defence, administration, education and child welfare organizations, which total £122,000,000, but even this, totalling £340,000,000, is less than the £360,000,000 they have contributed.
My suggestions would offer welcome relief to those in need, who constitute a very large section of pensioners. Surely the existence of need is a valid reason for the presentation of a case along the lines of the case I have presented. According to the documents which accompanied the budget, the real national income has increased by 5 per cent. At the very least, pension rates should be increased by the same percentage, so that pensioners may share in the increase of national income. Last year the Government increased the pension rate by 2s. 6d. a week. This year, it offers no increase. I know of no reason that the Government could advance why the increase of national income should not be reflected in an increase of pensions. The pensioners have already paid for their pensions, as taxpayers. The principle of each according to his need should be followed. There are two .sound reasons why contributions of revenue should be made to the social services fund to make possible an increase of pensions. One source from which such revenue could be obtained is indirect taxation. I approve of the bill, so far as it goes, but I repeat that it does not go far enough. The Minister, whilst attempting to defend the failings of the bill, has underlined the parlous position of the pensioners in which the Government has indicated it intends to leave them. The age, invalid and widow pensioners are to be left without a share in the prosperity which this country enjoys. The married couple is offered no incentive to increase the ratio of children to the aged in the community. It would be a wise act on the part of the Government to withdraw this bill, and remould it, so as to give to pensioners the practical relief which they so urgently need. Attention has been drawn to this matter by the honorable member for EdenMonaro in an admirable speech.
The Minister has said that the means test must be abolished gradually. We have heard some criticism of the proposals of the Australian Labour party regarding the means test, and, therefore, I should like to state that policy once again. The Australian Labour party proposes that the means test should be abolished gradually. The policy which it presented to the people during the last general election campaign was that the means test should be abolished over the life of a parliament, and that period, in normal circumstances, would be approximately three years. I believe that the press and the people of Australia generally now realize that as the means test has been liberalized by the present Government, a good deal of the criticism which has been levelled at the programme of the Australian Labour party in this respect has been completely unjustified.
The proposal of the Australian Labour party for the gradual easing of the means test over a period of three years is almost in line with the statement made by the Minister. It remains to be seen whether or not the Minister will continue to liberalize the means test in future budgets. The Government, if it is to remain true to the pledges that it has made to the people, will undoubtedly pursue’ that policy. I think that it will be as well if I underline at this point the fact that the proposals enunciated by the Australian Labour party during the last general election campaign for the abolition of the means test can still be claimed to have been quite a logical, proper and economic programme, because even the present Government realizes that it should strive to attain that goal.
In conclusion, I pay a tribute to the sound administration generally of the Department of Social Services. There is, in my opinion, evidence of efficiency in the carrying out of work as expeditiously as possible, of healthy understanding, and of the extension of courtesy to the public. When delicate investigations are necessary, the general experience seems to be that very agreeable diplomacy has been exercised by the officers of that department. It is well that one should pay a tribute to valuable work that is performed by our Public Service. Recommendations which have been made by the administrators of the Department of Social Service will clarify the pension amounts to the general satisfaction of the department and pensioners alike. Interdepartmental co-operation has been a very happy circumstance. I believe that the postal services have rendered valuable aid, and have co-operated with the Department of Social Services in a most admirable fashion in the dove-failing of the work between the two departments to the great advantage of the people.
I believe that a sufficiently strong case has been presented to indicate that the Government should treat very seriously the amendment moved by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. It has been shown that the purchasing standards of the pensioners must be increased. The papers presented to the Parliament by the Treasurer in connexion with his budget speech prove that Australia is enjoying increased national prosperity. No case can be adduced against an increase of pensions by 5 per cent., based on the additional prosperity of the country. I have also advanced the argument that people who over the years have paid large sums to the Treasury by way of indirect taxes are now entitled to receive a larger payment from the Treasury in their years of retirement. The whole matter should be regarded as a superannuation insurance. Generally speaking, the pension has come to be regarded as the right of everybody in the community, and, ultimately, it will be available as the right of everybody in the community. Some attempt should be made at once, however, to even up thc standards of persons who are in receipt of pensions and have no other source of income either from a superannuation fund or from investments. They are on the bare minimum standard, and this country can afford to raise that standard.
The Government should take advantage of the amendment, withdraw the bill and make the alterations which have been proposed by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, so that pensioners in the poorest class may have a happier retirement than they have at the present time. Many of those unfortunate persons, in order to make ends meet at the present time, are reduced to cadging, or are obliged to depend on the charity of relatives, for whose welfare they have been responsible in the past. For those reasons, I ask the Government to give serious consideration to the amendment moved so ably by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro.
– This bill is one of a series of social services bills which have been brought down by this Government and which have added a succession of benefits under the Social Services Act. They all have been concerned with the liberalization of the means test and all, except this one, will direct increases of the pension as well. It is undeniable that they all have contributed materially to the welfare of pensioners and recipients of other social services during the whole time that this Government has been in office.
To-night, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) has moved an amendment to the motion for the second reading which would, of course, radically alter the whole bill. However, the amendment is couched in extremely vague terms, because while it provides that the rates of age and invalid pensions shall be a minimum of £4 a week, that is the only figure mentioned in the whole amendment, and even that is only stated as a minimum. The amendment proceeds to refer to. increases without stating the amounts of the increases in the rates of child endowment, widow pension, unemployment and sickness benefits, dependants’ allowances and other social services not specified,, corresponding to increases in prices, and so on.
That amendment is extraordinarily vague. It bears a remarkable resemblance to the proposals which were put before the country not very long ago. I thought that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, when he moved the amendment, did his best to disclaim his share of the responsibility for those proposals, but nonetheless this amendment bears a very remarkable resemblance to them. But even that was not all he did, because in the argument that he used to support it, he did not even stick to facts and accuracy. His main argument was concerned with the justification of the increases by reference to the basie wage, and, in doing so, he had this to say-
The Arbitration Court fixes the basic wage on the minimum needs of a family unit.
Of course, that is precisely what the Arbitration Court does not do. If the court does anything, it fixes the wage on the capacity of industry to pay; and so far from fixing the wage on the basic needs of a family unit, it has at least twice, in recent years, added prosperity loadings to the basic wage. So even the arguments which the honorable member brought forward to support his amendment are not in accordance with the facts. Furthermore, he went on to say that the percentage of the national income spent on pensions in 1938-39 was greater than it now is. I ask the House, does this really mean anything? In point of fact, even that statement is not correct, because 2.11 per cent, of the national income was spent on social services In 1938-39. In 1949-50, the expenditure on social services had risen to 4.03 per cent, of the national income, and in 1953-54 to 4.68 per cent. The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) pointed out this evening that it was not only a higher percentage, but a higher percentage of a much greater national income.
– I gave the percentage spent on pensions, not social services.
– I beg the honorable member’s pardon. I thought that he said the percentage spent on social services. However, those figures show the amounts spent out of the national income on social services. I strongly suspect that the figures do not account for all expenditures on social services ; for instance, expenditure on medical services, which this year reaches the very high total of £35,000,000. That expenditure was not mentioned by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro at all.
He went on to speak about the abolition of the means test. I should like to say to the House on this matter, and I have said it before, that when we talk of abolishing the means test, I wonder whether we are certain that, by doing so, we shall achieve the objective that we set out to achieve ; in other words, that every one will then receive a satisfactory retiring allowance. I remind the House of the situation in England, where the means test has been abolished, and it is now found that quite a large number of pensioners still have not sufficient, and their pension has to be supplemented by special grants. The basis on which those special grants are given is a basis of need. In other words, in real fact, the means test has had to be re-introduced in many cases.
But it was refreshing to hear the honorable member for Eden-Monaro dissociate himself from some of the statements that we have heard in the past in this House from members of the Labour party. He said that the provision of pensions and social services must come out of taxation, and that it is, in fact, a distribution of taxes. He went further than that, and said that the provision cannot come out of the national credit. Well, every one on this side of the House will certainly agree with him on that matter, but it is a very different thing from the statements we have heard from members of the Labour party in this House on more than one occasion. I want to say, in that connexion, that there is only one source that the money can really come from, and that is the productivity of the country. If we do not have productivity, we shall not have a national income that can pay adequate pensions in any circumstances whatever.
There are two approaches to the question of the provision of pensions and social services. One of those approaches is the method which this Government has pursued, and that is the gradual widening of the means test, and the gradual increase, in accordance with the national income, of the social services which the nation can provide. This Government, in every budget that it has brought down, has pursued that policy in accordance with sound financial practice. I want to say to the House that I believe that it has been characteristic of Liberal governments in Australia throughout the history of the country that all the advances they have made, and all the progress they have achieved in social services - and they have been great and varied - have always been on the principle that they must be consistent with sound financial policy. Every promise that was’.made by this Government with regard to social services has been fulfilled, but, more important than that, it has been done with the maintenance of a relatively stable economy and a relatively high degree of prosperity. The proposals which the Government has made and carried out have been financially practicable, and they have been based on the fact that there has been rising productivity in the country. In this year, it is proposed to expend on social services a total of £194,000,000. That is a large sum in terms of the national income that this country has enjoyed. Of that sum, £159,000,000 will be expended in respect of pensions and the sum of £35,000,000 will be expended upon medical services which to a large degree, are devoted to meeting the needs of pensioners. During the last financial year, I think, from memory, approximately £6,000,000 was expended on medical services for pensioners. That, of course, does not take into account other benefits that can be fairly described as being social services, such as repatriation benefits on which, this year, the Government proposes to expend £40,000,000:
I remind the House that not only has the Government adopted this gradual approach, consistent with sound financial policy, in dealing with social services but also that the country, a few months ago, made a choice whether it would continue with a Government which follows this type of policy or elect a government which has another kind of policy, which was designed to carry into effect very largely the proposals contained in the amendment moved by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro to-night. The country decided to stick to sound finance and to a practical financial policy.
– The Opposition gained five additional members at the recent general election.
– Not nearly enough ! No honorable member opposite has made any realistic estimate of what those proposals would cost the country. Practically all Labour’s financial proposals then made can be described as social services, and all of them have been mentioned in the amendment now before the Chair. At a conservative estimate, those proposals, including the proposal to abolish the means test in the life of one parliament, were designed to impose on ‘ this country’s economy a further expenditure” of £370,000,000. It is all very well to talk in those terms, and to make such offers, but, after all, Jio economy that would attempt to deal with enormous sums of that kind and expend them on social services would be stable. I remind the House that stability in the Australian economy has always ‘ been hardly held. There has .always been a fairly narrowbalance between prosperity and inflation; and only by the most vigilant and careful finance on the part of the Government has that balance been held. If we are to wander off and provide all sorts of social services, as the amendment invites us to do, we shall run the risk of disturbing the economy and throwing it out of balance, and, in fact, nullifying what we are trying to do to make social services effective.
I shall not pretend that all anomalies have been removed from our social services legislation. I shall refer to one, or two, of those anomalies, because in the years ahead I hope that the Government will be able to give attention to them. First, for example, I refer to a male age pensioner whose wife is say, in the early ‘fifties and ia not entitled to the age pension, and, as she is not an invalid she cannot qualify for the invalid pension either. If the wife is unable to earn income to supplement her husband’s pension, such a couple is in a difficult position. I sympathize with the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson), who always speaks with great sincerity on the subject of social services, in his remarks with respect to the position of widows. I hope that one objective the Minister will keep before him when the next budget is being drafted will be to ameliorate the position of all classes of widows, not only A class but B class widows as well. However, some notable advances have been made under this legislation this year. One of them is the removal of the means, test for blind persons. That is a great advance, and I join with the honorable member for EdenMonaro in congratulating the Minister on having achieved it. There have also been slight improvements with respect to unemployment benefit in instances in which the wife is a pensioner and the husband is unemployed. Several administrative improvements have also been effected this year under this legislation, and these add up to fairly considerable improvements. But, apart from these, there have been really solid advances. As the honorable member for Capricornia pointed out in a very able speech, 71,000 persons are being brought into the ‘ pension field this year. That is a considerable advance for any government to make. Of that number, 56,000 will be age pensioners, 9,000 will be invalid pensioners, and 6,000 will be widows. That is a very considerable advance. In addition, the rates of pensions being received by 90,000 persons will be substantially increased in many instances. I think that on the average, that increase will be approximately 15s. a week. That puts the position with respect to pensions. The Government is making solid advances under this measure. It will continue to carry on a sound, liberal, progressive policy, because Liberal policy is a progressive policy and is consistent with sound finance, in ameliorating the means test and liberalizing social services benefits. /Jr. Donald Cameron.
In addition, medical benefits are being: increased. The amendment, as I have said, is vague. It is not based on any financial calculation. I am afraid it is not based even on sentiment but on sentimentality which is a far worse emotion. This Government has the responsibility not only of financing social services this year, but also of looking to the future, and it would be useless to pass to succeeding budgets financial burdens that it would be difficult to bear. The Minister is to be soundly congratulated on the proposals that he has presented to the House. I support the bill and I have no hesitation in condemning the amendment out of hand.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Daly) adjourned.
The following paper was presented: -
House adjourned at 10.54 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
Mr.Ward asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
asked the Minister for Territories, upon notice -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation,upon notice -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
Is ita fact that at the present time members of the Repatriation Commission, repatriation boards and assessments and entitlement tribunals consist entirely of ex-officers of the services?
– The Minister for Repatriation has supplied the following information : -
Commonwealth Handling Equipment Pool.
Mr.George Lawson asked the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
Mr.TOWNLEY–The Minister for Shipping and Transport has supplied the following information : -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 28 September 1954, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1954/19540928_reps_21_hor5/>.