22nd Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– 1 desire to announce to the House thai the Vice-President of the Executive Council and Minister for Defence Production (Sir Eric Harrison) having resigned, for reasons that are no doubt well known to honorable members, from the post of Deputy Leader of the Liberal party, the Minister for Labour and National Service and Minister for Immigration (Mr. Harold Holt) has to-day been appointed to that office.
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear!
– I have appointed the Minister for Labour and National Service and Minister for Immigration to be Leader of the House in place of my right honorable friend, the Vice-President of the Executive Council and the Minister for Defence Production.
– Some months ago at the early stage of the Prime Minister’s mission overseas, the right honorable gentleman made an important statement, and wrote an important article, advocating the establishment, in connexion with Commonwealth conferences, of a secretariat - a proposal much in line with that originally put forward by Mr. Curtin. Can the Prime Minister tell the House whether the proposal was discussed at the recent Commonwealth conference? Has any discussion been held in relation to it? Has there been any examination of the merits of the proposal, which appealed very strongly to us when it was originally made by Mr. Curtin, when he was Labour Prime Minister of this country, or has the question just been dropped?
– I did write an article. I do not acknowledge that it is precisely summarized in the right honorable gentleman’s question, but it speaks for itself. The matter was not formally discussed at the Conference of Commonwealth Prime Minis ters. It has been the subject of a good deal of informal discussion. I am bound to say that I think that the general body of opinion in Commonwealth countries is against it. I have myself advocated, from time to time, not only recently, but as far back as the better part of twenty years ago, the establishment of such a body, but I do not think it can be regarded as a matter of practical modern politics.
– ls the Minister for the Army aware that the State executive of the New Guinea branch of the Returned Servicemen’s League has decided to support proposals for educated territory-born Asiatics to join the Papua and New Guinea Volunteer Rifles? Has the Minister yet examined this proposal, and is he able to indicate whether such a proposal will be put into effect?
– The matter raised by the honorable member is of great importance. It is one that I investigated very fully during my recent visit to New Guinea. There are two problems involved - first, there is the Pacific Islands regiment, which, as most honorable members know, is composed of native battalions, and incidentally, is doing an excellent job in training; and, secondly, there is the Papua and New Guinea Volunteer Rifles, which is the equivalent of the Citizen Military Forces in Australia, membership of which is limited to Europeans. There are a number of groups, consisting of Asiatics and others born in New Guinea, which are prohibited’ from being included in the operations of the Papua and New . Guinea Volunteer Rifles. While I was there, I interviewed representatives of those groups. I made it my business to secure all the information possible on this question, particularly from the returned servicemen’s league, which is very strong in New Guinea. It has very definite opinions on this matter. Probably the resolution referred to by the honorable gentleman was passed as a result of the discussions that I had while I was in New Guinea. The whole matter was referred by me to the Military Board last Friday. As it is a very important matter, the board will require considerable information. In view of our position in Papua and New Guinea. there are certain fundamental considerations to be looked at. However, I can assure the honorable member that the matter is being fully investigated. At the appropriate time I shall submit for the consideration of the Government the views of the Military Board and my own views.
– Is the Minister for External Affairs in a position to tell the House who will represent Australia in the Security Council of the United Nations when the Suez Canal dispute comes before that body for consideration?
– Australia will be represented by Dr. Ronald Walker, our permanent ambassadorial-ranking representative with the United Nations.
– Will he have instructions?
– Most certainly. Instructions have begun already to flow to him and will be developed in the course of the next day or so.
– Can the Minister for External Affairs inform the House how many times the veto has been used in the Security Council, and by whom?
– I cannot give a completely precise answer. Certainly the veto has been used more than 50 times by the Soviet Union over the course of the years. It has been used twice by France and once by the Nationalist Government of China. I do not think it has been used by anybody else. The United Kingdom has not used it and the United States of America has not used it.
– Is the Minister for Primary Industry aware that the New South Wales Minister for Agriculture has ordered an inquiry into the alleged manipulation of the potato market in Sydney by importers and merchants? In view of the seriousness of this matter, which is highlighted by the fact that last week Tasmanian potatogrowers were receiving £143 a ton whilst the New South Wales housewives were paying for them at the rate of £224 a ton, will the Minister assist the State Minister to track down the cause of this scandalous state of affairs, which involves at least three States? Will he assist the State to discover who receives the £81 a ton that is added to the price of the potatoes from the time they leave the grower in Tasmania to the time they reach the housewife in Sydney? Is the housewife in New South Wales being exploited by numerous middlemen, who could thereby gravely prejudice the market for Tasmanian growers next season? Is not this serious enough to warrant a royal commission to inquire into the whole set-up?
– That was a very interesting second-reading speech by my friend from Wilmot. Potato production falls within the province of the State governments, and though I am always anxious to do what I can to help primary industries, and especially the potato-growing industry, I am afraid that the Commonwealth has no jurisdiction in this matter. Internal marketing also is a State responsibility, and if the New South Wales Minister for Agriculture has already commenced a public inquiry, or has had a royal commission established, I think that it can be left to him to investigate the matter fully, and that he will not need any help. Therefore 1 am hopeful that, if there has been any exploitation, the State governments will themselves be able to find a prompt and satisfactory solution of the problem.
– Has the Minister for External Affairs seen a report that the Russians are establishing a base, ostensibly for the purpose of the geophysical year, on an island adjacent to the Australian Antarctic mainland, and that their preparations for this scientific event seem to bc out of all proportion to what is required? Would the Minister comment on the suggestion that the Russians intend to retain this station as an Antarctic base after the geophysical year has ended?
– I have seen the report to which the honorable member refers. The Soviet Union has a scientific station at Haswell Island, very close to the Antarctic mainland. Another island, Drygalski, lies a little to the north of the Antarctic mainland, but we have no information that any Russian station has been established there.
The Haswell Island station has been established at the invitation, and with the agreement, of Australia for the purpose of the geophysical year. We have no reason to believe that it has been established for any other purpose. Indeed, no fewer than a dozen countries have established stations in the Antarctic - many on the territory of other countries. Certainly, we have no reason whatever to believe that there h anything sinister in the Russians establishing a station in the Australian sector. In fact, the Russians are to establish, if they have not already done so, two similar stations well inland. Here again, we have no reason to believe that the purpose is other than scientific.
– I ask the Minister for Primary Industry whether the Nor’ West Whaling Company Limited, which purchased the Government’s whaling station at Carnarvon, in Western Australia, has this year, using its original licence plus ‘ the Government’s licence, processed 1,000 whales at Carnarvon. Is it a fact that the net profits this year - based on those that the Government station made last year - from the processing of this number of whales will amount to more than £400,000? If these are facts, do they not clearly indicate that the sale of the station for £880,000 was not a legitimate sale, but a gift to the company?
– The honorable member for Lalor has the information - if it is information - before I, as Minister, have received it from the company.
– I have it from the press.
– As the season has just ended 1 doubt whether any accurate information on the state of the company’s accounts is yet available. Secondly, if it so happened that, because of increased efficiency and a slightly greater catch of whales, the profits of the Nor’ West Whaling Company Limited had increased, this Government would not object. I believe that the company is efficient, and if it is making the profits suggested by the honorable member, I and my colleagues, believing as we do in private enterprise, will be the first to congratulate it.
– I address a question to the Minister for Primary Industry, regarding the Fisheries Development Trust Account established from the proceeds of the sale of the assets of the Australian Whaling Commission. Can the Minister give me any information regarding projects planned for this year, particularly those that may affect the electorate that I represent?
– I have not been a Minister for very many years, but one of the things I have learned is the necessity for a government to exercise great caution before it embarks upon enterprises that can be regarded as of a somewhat hazardous nature. I regret, therefore, having to tell the honorable gentleman that although investigations have proceeded over the last six or eight months, the Department of Primary Industry cannot yet make positive recommendations to me as to either research or developmental projects that should be carried out. However, an interdepartmental committee is looking into the matter, and as soon as I have something positive to convey to the House I give my assurance that I will convey it.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether it is a fact that the Australian armed services are approximately 5,000 men short of normal strength. Doer the right honorable gentleman agree that it is essential to maintain the services at full strength, and can he give any legitimate reason why Australian youths are not offering their services to the nation’s armed forces more freely? Does the Prime Minister know that in many cases servicemen are discharged from the permanent defence forces, after more than ten years’ service, bodily and mentally ill, without receiving repatriation or compensation benefits? Does he agree that a consideration of such cases might prevent others from offering their services to the armed forces? Will the Prime Minister have inquiries made to ascertain whether either the Repatriation Act or the Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Act, or both, need amending, so as to ensure that no serviceman shall be discharged medically unfit without arrangements being made for him to receive proper care and attention until he is restored to normal health?
– The honorable member’s questions apparently should more properly be directed to the Minister for Defence, and I shall refer them to him. If the honorable member is pleased to refer to any deficiency in the strength of the armed services, may I say that I can hardly ever remember his putting a question in this House which was not calculated to discourage persons who might have considered entering the armed forces.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister for Primary Industry, is supplementary to the one that has been asked by the honorable member for Lalor. Can the Minister say whether, at the stage of preliminary negotiations for the sale of the assets of the Australian Whaling Commission, those assets were offered to the Western Australian Government? Can he give an indication of the price quoted when these assets were offered to ihe Western Australian Government, or of the amount that was offered by that Government?
– The information implicit in the questions posed by my colleague from Petrie is, as usual, correct. After giving this problem the most careful consideration, and when the Western Australian Government had shown no active interest in procuring the assets of the Australian Whaling Commission, the time for tendering for the purchase of those assets was extended to enable the Western Australian Government to enter the field. As the House is probably aware, the offer made by that Government was much lower than that made by the successful tenderer. I may say that if the Western Australian Government had procured these assets for the lower amount that it offered, its profits, considered as a percentage of capital, would have been considerably greater than the profits that may be made by the successful purchaser. 1 mention one other matter that may also be of interest. If the Western Australian Government had wished to purchase, even at the lower price, it would have hed to use for that purpose funds provided by the Australian Government.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Primary industry. Id reply to three questions asked of him in the last ten minutes, the Minister has admitted that he has no information on the whaling position in Western Australia and this year’s production, even though it has already been published in the press, that he has no control whatsoever over primary production and that he has no control over the marketing of primary products. Can he inform honorable members on this side of the House what are his functions as a Minister so that we will know to whom we should direct questions or what sort of relations we should have with him?
– I am glad that the honorable member has given me an opportunity to answer this question. Although it is provocative, I shall give him a simple reply. He will, if he cares to make investigations, find that in Australia we have what is called a federal system of government. I do not want to lecture him about these things.
– He has never heard of them.
– No; I agree with thai comment. Even if he had heard about them, I do not think he would have been capable of understanding them. Nonetheless, I get provoked into answering these questions, as I was very nearly provoked into answering a question asked by the honorable member for East Sydney yesterday on the fruit fly and the damage that can be caused by the fruit fly. 1 come back to the question asked by the honorable member for Wills. I shall not give him a lecture on the subject, but I point out that there are certain functions which are directly within the province of the Labour governments of New South Wales and Tasmania. Should those governments be incompetent, I venture to suggest to the honorable member for Wilmot and the honorable member for Wills that they should let the people know that those governments are totally incapable of doing their jobs and, therefore, should be replaced by Liberal governments. I am glad that I have been asked these questions. I like answering questions, but if they are irrelevant I am sure that you, Mr. Speaker, would be the first to say, “ Let them know that they are irrelevant and let them know that their State colleagues have some responsibility for these problems “.
– Will the Minister for Territories agree that Australian patrol officers in New Guinea, displaying singular heroism and devotion, have carried out the immensely difficult task of bringing law and order to warring and remote village communities in that Territory without bloodshed and with extraordinary success? Will he agree that the work of educational, agricultural and other technical officers in bringing the arts of civilization to the peoples of this Territory is also a stirring story? Will he further agree that all this work and the conditions under which it is carried out are little understood, either by our own people or by 0Jr great allies and friends, and that our administration is increasingly under challenge from hostile and captious critics in the United Nations? If he agrees upon these points, can he say whether any documentary films showing the activities of the administration have been prepared for distribution both in Australia and overseas, and whether the urgency of this matter is fully appreciated both by himself and by the Government?
– Without committing myself on every detail of the text of the question asked by the honorable member for Bradfield, I can say that 1 agree with his statements and indeed, have a great deal of pride as an Australian in the achievements to which he has referred. In the latter part of his question, the honorable member for Bradfield drew attention to what is a real need in our national responsibility for Papua and New Guinea. Probably, up to date, we have been more concerned with doing the tasks to which he referred than with telling other people about them. There is a very real need, both in Australia and overseas, to give fuller and more accurate information in a suitable form both to those whom we should like to understand what we are doing, and those who are predisposed to criticize us. That extends far beyond the making of films. It is something that has to be done in a variety of forms. We have undertaken a programme of preparing documentary films and the first of a series of these is to be made in the Territory by the News and Information Bureau this year. I am hoping also to put before the Government some proposals for a more extensive information campaign regarding work in the Territory.
– I ask the Minister for Territories whether it is the intention of the Government to proceed this financial year with the construction of the extension to the Darwin wharf which was recommended by the Public Works Committee last year as an urgent step for the efficient handling of shipping at the port. I ask this question in view of the fact that the new wharf is nearing completion, and if a decision to continue with the extension is not made in the very near future the contractors will leave the Territory, thereby adding to the cost of the work when it is eventually proceeded with.
– The new wharf at Darwin is about to be put into commission. It has not yet been used. The general lines on which we are working are to observe the operation of the new wharf over a period of some months to see whether the berths that are provided at the new wharf, plus the berth that is still available at the old wharf, are sufficient, in the total, to provide for the needs of Darwin. On a close observation of actual experience of the working of the port, we shall then have material on which to base any proposal that may be necessary for obtaining funds. The actual planning of the extension and the approval in principle of the extension to the wharf have been completed, but we have not yet presented, and are not yet in a position to present, a convincing case for the provision of funds for the work.
– I preface a question to the Minister for Social Services by saying that I have been asked by the Aboriginal Welfare Council at Robinvale, Victoria, for information concerning the eligibility of aborigines for social services benefits. As. this is a matter of general interest, will the Minister give the House particulars ot benefits available to aborigines through the Department of Social Services?
– The importance of the question addressed to me by the honorable member for Mallee deserves a comprehensive answer, and I hope to be able to give him one. In the meantime, Mr. Speaker, may I say briefly, from memory, that section 51 (xxvi) of the Constitution empowers the Commonwealth to make laws with respect to “ the people of any race, other than the aboriginal race “, thus reserving to the States exclusively the power to make laws with respect to aborigines. Under the Social Services Act, social services benefits are available to aborigines who have received a certificate of exemption from the State laws. Where no such certificate is available, aborigines may be granted qualification by State authorities on the grounds of social development and education. In such cases, aborigines become eligible immediately for benefits administered by the Department of Social Services.
– Has the Minister for Labour and National Service seen in to-day’s press a report to the effect that Mr. Cochran, the chairman of the Joint Coal Board, has said that another 145 men are to be dismissed from the Waratah Colliery, which was known as the “ Old Raspberry Gully Colliery “ when I worked there? Is the Minister aware that, if the report is correct, there are now 2,500 miners unemployed? Since the importation of slush oil for use in diesel engines is now causing a decline in the use of coal, does the Minister not think it is time that the Government commenced the extraction of oil from coal? Does he not agree that, if that were done, Australia would not need to import slush oil but could use locally produced oil and provide employment for our own people?
– I have seen the press report to which the honorable gentleman refers, and it is in accordance, apparently, with some retrenchment which has been going on in the coal industry, due to a decline in the demand for that commodity. I cannot accept his figures regarding the number of coal miners unemployed. It may be that many coal miners have left their employment in the coal-fields, but the total number of male persons on unemployment benefit in the whole of New South Wales is 2,300.
– That has nothing to do with> it.
– Last week’s figures showed a further decline in the Australian total of unemployment benefit recipients.
– There is a means test for applicants.
– Would the honorable member for East Sydney allow me to answer his colleague? As the honorable gentleman will be aware, there is in existence a committee representative of thisGovernment, the Government of New South Wales, the mining employers and the miners’ federation. It has examined every aspect of this matter, as I understand the position, or at least it would be in a position to examine any fresh aspect brought to its notice. The honorable gentleman will also be aware that a re-employment committee is in existence, which places as promptly and as suitably as possible anybody displaced from his coal-mining employment. lt would appear that adequate machinery exists to investigate the matter to which the honorable gentleman has referred.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister for Air, relates to the new arrangement, in the interests ofsafety, whereby aircraft seats face towards the rear. Will the Minister advise why the making of regulations to cover this new safety precaution on all commercial and service aircraft in Australia has been deferred until next year, while in the United1 Kingdom and the United States of Americaservice aircraft are being fitted immediately with this type of seating accommodation, which has already been responsible for saving many lives in aircraft crashes?
– It is true, as thehonorable member suggests, that rearfacing seats do appear to have quite a lot of advantages in case of accidents to aircraft. It was decided that we in Australia would support this form of seating in our commercial and service aircraft, but wewant to make sure that it has the approval’ of the International Civil Aviation Organization, because we consider that the arrangement should be adopted by all countries or by none. If, for instance, we gave- effect to our decision and we subsequently purchased American aircraft the seats of which had to be converted to a completely different configuration on their arrival, the complications would be quite confusing. The matter is being considered now at the level of the International Civil Aviation Organization conference.
– Is the
Minister for Trade able to confirm or deny the report that Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited was refused a licence to import cathode ray tubes, and that, as a consequence of that decision, it proceeded to erect a factory, or to make provision in a factory already existing, to manufacture its own tubes here in Australia; and that subsequently the company was able to purchase from a person or firm an import licence obtained for this purpose, which enabled the company to import cathode ray tubes, so obviating the need to manufacture them in this country? If it is true that Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited was first refused a licence, but is now able to import these tubes, will the Minister ascertain how this happened, and, if it is true that an import licence was purchased, will he ascertain from whom it was purchased? And, in any event, if a licence has been purchased, will he cancel it?
– I have no information or knowledge whatever on the issue, but as the honorable member has put a very explicit question, I shall ascertain the facts and tell him.
– Has the Prime Minister received’ a specific request from the South Australian Government for financial aid for the relief of the flooded Murray districts of South Australia? In view of the magnitude of this disaster, the prolonged duration of the floods and the tremendous damage caused to houses, public buildings, orchards, vineyards, pastures and roads, will the right honorable gentleman treat this matter as urgent and behave, in the most generous way possible to those so afflicted?
– I cannot answer by the book about the receipt of a request. For obvious reasons, I have not quite caught up on these matters yet, but I have no doubt that there is some such request before us. These floods have been disastrous. 1 know about them, both from the honorable member and from other sources. We all have a very profound sympathy with the people who have been affected by them. I have no doubt that, following the usual practice that has been established in the past, the Commonwealth will contribute with the States in cases of distress on the normal formula. I understand, from what the honorable member has said, that there is a request that goes beyond that point. That request will be very carefully and earnestly considered by the Government at the earliest possible moment.
– My question, which I address to the Minister for Primary Industry, is prompted by the question previously asked by the honorable member for Lyne. Will the Fisheries Development Trust Account, comprising an unspecified portion of the proceeds of the sale of the assets of the Australian Whaling Commission, be used to buy or build for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization a fisheries research vessel capable of remaining at sea? Does the honorable gentleman recollect that the last six annual reports of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization have pointed out that the activities of its Fisheries Division will be seriously restricted and incomplete unless such a vessel is in service? For how many more years does the honorable gentleman believe that it will be necessary to show, in this matter, the great caution which he pleaded in answer to the honorable member for Lyne?
– The department has under consideration the problem of the purchase of a fisheries research vessel, but it was thought that if a proposal were put to the Government for such a purchase, it would not be appropriate to take the funds out of the trust account which would be used for other purposes, particularly with regard to fish. The reason given is this: That the amount of money involved for the purchase of a research vessel is so high that such an allocation would deplete the fund to an extent that the department and I do not wish. I am sorry that the honorable gentleman has had to come into this debate on a provocative issue, but nonetheless, I shall let that pass. I now give him the assurance that the problem of a research vessel is being actively considered now, and 1 hope to be able to put a proposal to the Government about it. 1 do not think that the moneys involved will be taken out of the Fisheries Development Trust Account.
– 1 address a question to the Minister for Trade. Has the Government any indication yet whether the arrangement made some little time ago between the Minister acting for the Minister for Trade and the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited has resulted in additional steel supplies being made available to fulfil export orders placed with Australian manufacturers?
– I have some information on the subject. The arrangement which the Government made with the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited
Was related to the Government’s desire to increase export earnings, and it was proposed thai the Broken Hill company should make available some adequate quantities of steel for Australian manufacturers who desired to export. The company readily acquiesced. My advice is that at least two important Australian companies have taken advantage of that situation and it may be that more smaller companies have taken advantage of it. This arrangement has not been in operation for very long. 1 believe it is quite a useful arrangement that is proceeding as intended.
– I direct a question to the Minister for the Interior, who represents in this chamber the Minister for National Development. In view of the importance of the matter to the coal industry and to Australia generally, will the Minister direct the attention of his colleague in another place to the claims made recently by three leading scientists in Sydney that oil and chemicals can be produced from coal economically by new methods?
– As the honorable gentleman understands, this question can be dealt with only by my colleague in another place. 1 shall have pleasure in referring it to him.
– 1 desire to ask the Treasurer a question. Does the right honorable gentleman’s recent assurance that the Government has no intention of devaluing Australia’s currency cover the question of devaluation of the Australian £1 to maintain its position relative to the £1 sterling should action be taken to devalue British currency?
– My assurance embraced everything.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Supply. Has the Minister seen a report alleging that upon the further postponement of the atomic tests last week members of the Parliament “ hotfooted it out of the desert by the next plane and returned no their plush air-conditioned offices “? Will the Minister answer this allegation and give the House the facts?
– I shall be glad to reply to that allegation. I would answer, first, that 1 have yet to see these plush offices of which the reporter wrote. 1 saw this report in a paper called the “Mirror”, which seems to have sunk even lower than usual. There are in this Parliament 26 witnesses who will say that the allegations in this report are grossly false. The suggestion is, of course, that members either displayed cowardice or were unwilling to put up with the discomfort of staying on the site until the test took place. What happened was this: A party of 26 members of the Parliament, as representatives of the people, were to view the test at Maralinga. They were to leave Canberra at 10.30 or 11 p.m., fly all through the night, and arrive at Maralinga about dawn to witness the test and inspect the installations, and return immediately to their homes.
– What a hazardous adventure!
– I should not have thought it was very hazardous, but it was rather uncomfortable. The test was postponed, lt would have been impossible for the members to stay at Maralinga, because there is no accommodation for them there; so they returned. Most of them travelled between 3,000 and 4,000 miles on the trip. The suggestion that honorable members, as distinct from other persons present, in particular the gentlemen of the press, were unwilling to put up with discomfort is completely untrue.
– 1 ask the Minister for the Interior whether the Department of the Interior has received applications for permits to mine for rutile and other metals on the shores of Jervis Bay within the Australian Capital Territory. If such applications have been received, can the Minister say what action has been taken on them, and whether beach mining of this kind will be permitted in the area referred to? If it will be permitted, will proper safeguards be adopted to ensure that the sand is replaced with as little disturbance as possible?
– I can assure the honorable gentleman that, as far as I know, no application has yet been received by the Department of the Interior for the right to mine rutile and so on in the Australian Capital Territory. When such applications are received, if at all, 1 shall be glad to pay particular attention to the matter that the honorable gentleman has raised.
– On behalf of the Public Accounts Committee, I lay on the table the following paper: -
Twenty-sixth Report - Commonwealth Office of Education. 1 should like to add, for the information of honorable members, that this report covers various commitments of the Commonwealth that come within the field of education.
Ordered to be printed.
Debate resumed from 25th September vide page 840), on motion by Mr. Roberton -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Mr. Thompson had moved by way of amendment -
That all words after “ That “ be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: - “the bill be redrafted to provide, in the light of the declining purchasing value of money. increases in the rates of social services payments to the maximum extent that the national economy will permit, and, particularly, to ensure as a minimum that each of these payments is restored to the same- percentage of the (unpegged) basic wage as it was under the adjustment of rates by the Chifley Government in 1948 “.
.- This bill seeks to amend the social services legislation, the purpose of which is to provide for needy people. This period of the Parliamentary year, immediately before and after the presentation of the budget, is the time when the Government is placed in the position of assessing the needs of the recipients of social services benefits. It is the Government’s duty to adjust, where necessary, social services payments so that people who find themselves in the unfortunate position that they are no longer able to provide for themselves or their families will be given some assistance. Among the people in need of such assistance, through no fault of their own, are the aged who are no longer able to engage in gainful employment, because of their years, the sick and the invalid who are forced to apply for sickness benefit or invalid pension, and the unemployed who have to rely on unemployment benefit. Among other social services benefits are child endowment and maternity allowance. Resting on the government of the day is the great responsibility of ensuring that people who are in need, and entitled to receive assistance, receive such assistance as is necessary to provide for the well-being and the comfort of the individual or the family, as the case may be.
Social services legislation is an essential feature of our present-day society, and the Cabinet - the government of the day - has a responsibility to bring down the necessary legislation. If the government of the day fails to fulfil its obligations then, upon this Parliament, and especially upon the members sitting behind the members of the Cabinet, rests the responsibility for this failure. Finally, as the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) said in this chamber not long ago, the responsibility rests on the Parliament as a whole to see that those people who depend on the actions in this Parliament in respect of social services receive justice.
The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) is at the table, and I am reminded of the fact that in his second-reading speech he said that he did not intend to touch on the financial measures of the Government. One can readily understand why he was not anxious to speak about the financial policy of the Government or the financial measures it has taken, because it is as a result of the Government’s financial policy and its legislation and actions that the recipients of social services benefits to-day find themselves in such a dire position as they are in. The aged, the invalid, are suffering. They are living in want. The sick are in distress, mothers are forced to see their children go without, because of this Government’s failure to adhere to its election promise to maintain, at least, the value of social services payments. Because of the Government’s inaction, because of its inability to cope with inflation, because such actions as it has taken have forced up the cost of living throughout the Commonwealth, the needs of the pensioners, the unemployed, the sick, the children, become more desperate. The immediate responsibility for all this rests on the Government because, quite apart from the inadequate provision it makes for the needy through its social services legislation, it has itself created the position in this country which has produced high costs. The inflation that has been caused by the Government makes even more necessary an adjustment of the payments made to people who are in receipt of social services benefits.
Among the very many famous - or should I say infamous? - -broken promises made by the parties now in office, is that dealing with social services. The Prime Minister promised in the joint policy speech which he delivered during the 1949 general election campaign that the Liberal party and the Australian Country party, if elected to office, would nol only maintain the purchasing power of social services payments as made by the Chifley Labour Government, but would, in fact, increase it. Unfortunately, their promises can no longer be regarded as promises in the true meaning of the word. The word “ promise “ has taken on a new meaning under this Government. No longer can the people regard a promise made by the anti-Labour parties as they could formerly have regarded a political promise.
– An anti-Labour promise is not a pledge.
– Exactly! As my friend the honorable member for Macquarie says, such a promise is not a pledge. The promise to maintain the purchasing power of social services benefits is just one of the many promises made by the parties now in office in order to gain power in this country, and since broken. The pity of it is that the needy are suffering hardship as a result. They have to bear the consequences of the Government’s failure to honour its solemn promise to maintain the value of social services benefits.
On this Parliament, as I have already said, rests the final obligation in respect of social services legislation. We all know that the Minister for Social Services is a very sympathetic fellow, and probably would be quite happy to give justice to individual social services pensioners if he were left to do that. But he, as a member of the Government, as the Minister responsible for this legislation, must share a great part of the blame for the Government’s failure to face up to its responsibility. The same grave responsibility that rests on the Cabinet, as such, rests on every honorable member on the Government side.
The honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) has moved an amendment to the motion that the bill be now read a second time, and the division on that amendment, which will come at the end of this stage of the debate, will give all members of this chamber the opportunity to see that, as far as this House of the Parliament is concerned, justice will be given to the recipients of social services benefits. 1 say to honorable members on the other side who are so fond of saying how, as individuals, they want to do the right thing for pensioners and the recipients of other social services benefits, that this is their great opportunity to show, by the way in which they vote on the amendment, just how sincere their protestations are. The vote that they cast on the amendment, yea or nay, will be the vote on which their sincerity in relation to the needs of pensioners will be judged. It will be very interesting to see just where they stand. This is their opportunity to show that they are really concerned about the welfare of the needy people of this nation.
The Parliament must make its decision to-day. The time of the next budget. or even six months from now, may be too late. The pensioners are in a very serious plight. Many of them will not be able to exist for much longer unless this Parliament accepts its responsibility and gives them the justice to which they are entitled. Their physical condition is such that they will not be able to carry on for much longer under present circumstances. That is a fact that every member of the Parliament must face. He must decide whether he is prepared to allow aged and invalid people to suffer during the next twelve months to such an extent that many of them may not be with us when the next budget is presented.
We find ourselves in a grim and serious position to-day. The honorable member for Port Adelaide has given us an opportunity to do justice to the pensioners. It is up to all of us to take advantage of that opportunity. I have no doubt that, as an individual, the Minister is very sympathetic to needy pensioners whom he meets. I believe that if any member of this House met an aged or sick person who was in want, he would go out of his way, as an individual, to do all that he could to help that person and to give him some comfort. But when we assemble here to act collectively, honorable members on the Government side appear to forget what they think as individuals. They forget that they would not allow a person whom they met outside the Parliament to remain in want, if they could do anything for him. They forget that if any help they could give would mean the difference between life and death for anybody, they would, perhaps, give more than they could afford. But when they assemble here, they remain inactive. Although the members of the Government parties would be sympathetic to individual pensioners whom they met outside the Parliament, when they are facing in the Parliament the problem of helping the aged and the sick people of the community they forget the needs of those people, shut their eyes to their wants and ignore the fact that aid must be given to-day, because tomorrow may be too late.
Who are the age pensioners of to-day? In most instances, they are people who have given of their best to this country. Many of them suffered during the depression years. Having emerged from the depression, they must now apply for the age pension. The honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart) referred to an American Labour movement song about old people. The theme of the song is that they are too old to work, but too young to die. That is typical of many age pensioners here. They are too old to work, but too young to die. Many of them were forced to retire from their employment by the operation of legislation passed by this Parliament and by State parliaments. On reaching the age of 65 years, they had to leave their employment and live on a pension of £4 a week. How many members of this Parliament could live on £4 a week? How many of them could provide clothing, food and shelter for their wives and themselves, even on the double pension of £8 a week? The age pensioner is just as entitled to smoke his cigarette or his pipe, to buy his newspapers and to travel by tram or bus as is anybody else. But the wants of the pensioners are forgotten.
I ask the Minister, If he can, to pui himself, for a minute, in the position of a pensioner who is living with his wife in a cottage for which he pays £2 10s. or £3 a week in rent, and who has to pay for his groceries, electric light, fuel and other necessaries with the little money that remains to him after paying his rent. It is said often that a married couple in receipt of the age pension are well off if they own their own home and the husband is able to work. In a very small number of cases, pensioner couples are comparatively well off. I know such a couple. They own their own home and the husband earns the permissible income of £7 a week. Their income is £15 a week. They are getting along quite well, but even they have their difficult times. In view of increases of their rates and of costs all round, they are wondering for how long they can continue to own their home. A couple such as that represents an extreme case. Let us go to the other end of the scale and consider the- plight of a pensioner living alone, or of a married couple who do not own their home. Many such people are paying £2 or £2 10s. a week for a room and the use of conveniences. They have to meet their other commitments out of the few shillings that are left to them. I do not know how they do it. I am sure there is not a member of this Parliament who can say how they do it. They manage to exist by going without many small comforts, such as a daily newspaper or a smoke. They walk because they cannot afford to pay tram fares.
This Government is charged with a responsibility to ensure that pensioners shall receive payments at least the equivalent in purchasing power of those they would have received if the Chifley Government had remained in office. We say that the purchasing power of the pension now should be at least equivalent to the purchasing power of the pension payable at the time when Labour left office. We do not say that that would be sufficient. Wc say that that is the very least thai should be given to the pensioners. Much has been said about the funeral benefit.
– It is too dear to die now!
– In that jocular remark, the honorable member for Grayndler has summarized the position, lt is a very serious matter for a pensioner when the partner of a lifetime dies and he or she is left with the responsibility of paying for the cost of the funeral. The funeral allowance is still only £10 - the level at which it stood in 1943. To-day, the cost of a funeral is £60, £70, or even £100. If we cannot do better than to pay £10, we might as well give nothing at all. Many old people are worrying themselves into their graves, as it were. They are wondering how they will be able to pay for the funerals of their partners.
While J am dealing with age pensioners, I think that 1 should make some mention of the Aged Persons’ Homes Act. Although I am not satisfied with what the Government has done for age pensioners, 1 admit that it has put into operation a scheme which, if improved and built upon, will do a great deal to meet their needs. There is an aged people’s home in my electorate. Nothing gave me greater pleasure, when it was opened about six months ago, than to find settled in it some married couples whom previously I had seen living under deplorable conditions. They were happy md contented because the low rental helped them to get by, but they are more fortunate than most old people. Very few can gain entry to these homes. Thousands and thousands are turned away yearly. It is not an easy problem to solve, but this Government, and the Parliament, must face it and not ask too much from the religious and charitable organizations of this country, k is loo much to ask them to provide £1 for £1. I congratulate the Government, upon inaugurating the aged persons’ homes scheme. Now that it has been such a success 1 plead with the Minister for a more substantial subsidy - if possible £2 for eac
El provided by the religious and charitable organizations.
The invalid pension, with the allowance for the wife remaining at £1 15s., is as seriously inadequate as is the age pension. One cannot but wonder how these people exist. The wife of an invalid must look after him and cannot go out to work, but the Government seems contented, at least until the election year approaches, to let such a couple do little more than exist.
Unemployment and sickness benefits have also been forgotten. Many people must, when their fortnight’s sick pay runs out. fall back on the Government’s miserable unemployment benefit of £2 10s. a week, plus £2 for the wife, struggling on in this fashion for ten or fifteen weeks. Surely this Government is not so hard-hearted that the Minister cannot persuade it to do more to assist the sick people in this community.
I come now to child endowment. The mothers and the children are the forgotten people of this nation. We are for ever being told of the need for greater population, and the fulfilment of our immigration programme, but the encouragement and assistance that child endowment can give is completely overlooked. Many mothers must go without in order to pay for shoe repairs, or an extra pint of milk for their children. The Government has paid little attention to the wants of young mothers, who are doing their best to raise the families thai this country needs. The Government talks lightly of spending millions in bringing immigrants to this country, but refuses to give a few shillings a week extra in child endowment to the mothers of the bes immigrants that this country ‘ can eve have.
– There are only three Liberal party supporters in the chamber
– That indicates how Government supporters view this measure, but they will be here to vote on the amendment, and on, that they will be judged bv the people of this nation.
– 1 can tell the honorable member the result now.
– How can ons expect i he honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) to be concerned about the need: of the children and the aged of this nation? I wonder if he would care to live on the £4 a week provided for the aged pensioner.
– - He is a bachelor.
– So, too, is the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon), a former Minister for Social Services. The Government seems to have adopted the practice of changing its Ministers for Social Services frequently, so that they will not become too sympathetic. The Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr. Townley) was formerly Minister for Social Services and took up that portfolio with enthusiasm and zest. He did a great deal, and had visions of improving the social services legislation. He promised to carry out the pledge of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) to abolish the means test, but he was very soon given another portfolio and replaced by a wealthy and eligible bachelor, the present Minister for Primary Industry. No doubt the Prime Minister thought that the new holder of the office, in common with the honorable member for Gippsland, would not appreciate the needs of the family man. However, the new Minister also began to get the feel of things. His conscience was aroused and he, too, became anxious to do something. Before he could act, however, he was pushed elsewhere and replaced by the present Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton). The Prime Minister probably thought that the Scottish background of the present Minister might lead him to keep a tight grip on finances. No doubt, as has been the case with other Ministers, his conscience will in time be aroused and he will have to be whisked away and, perhaps, replaced by the honorable member for Gippsland. But the Minister for Social Services, whoever he may be, must face up to his responsibility of meeting the needs of the people. 1 would like to mention, in the few moments left to me, the application of the means test to the blind people of this nation. The Prime Minister and some of his colleagues promised to abolish the means test. Instead, they have re-imposed it. The honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Chambers) has received correspondence on the subject from the Australian Federation of Organizations of the Blind. The federation has pointed out that previously blind people could receive medical benefits without first being subjected to a means test, lt believes that the Government has broken its election pledge progressively to liberalize the means test. The federation points out that the 1955 amendment re-imposed the means test on those who sought a blind pension. Surely blind people are entitled to special consideration. As the Government intends to gag this debate and the honorable member for Adelaide will probably be unable to speak, I take this opportunity of protesting, as he would have done, on behalf of the Australian Federation of Organizations of the Blind, at the Government’s action in re-imposing a means test upon those seeking a blind pension. 1 sincerely trust that honorable members on the Government side will vote with the honorable member for Port Adelaide on this amendment. The honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) is honorary secretary of the pensioners’ association in South Australia, and he knows what the wishes of that organization would be in regard to this amendment. If the officers of that association were in this House to-day they would applaud the honorable member for Port Adelaide. I ask the honorable member for Sturt to consider their wishes when he records his vote on this amendment.
.- This bill is designed to remove certain anomalies in the pensions legislation, and, so far as it goes, it undoubtedly has considerable merit. It is designed to implement a portion of the programme outlined by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) when he made his budget speech recently.
The budget provides for £11.000.000 more for pensioners this year than was provided for them last year. No member of the Opposition has mentioned that fact, lt is difficult to concentrate one’s attention sufficiently to listen carefully to speeches of Opposition supporters, because they tend to roam over such a wide field. However, no matter how carefully I have listened, 1 have not been able to find in their speeches any reference to the fact that the Government intends to provide £11,000,000 more for pensioners this year than has been provided in any previous year. After having listened to speeches by Opposition members, one is inclined to wonder how much Labour governments provided for pensioners. Opposition speakers would convey the impression that Labour governments had done everything for pensioners, and that the present Government has given them nothing. I remind honorable members that in 1949, the last year of its office, the Labour government provided £81,000,000 for pensioners. In the present year this Government will provide £227,000,000 for them. There is a vast difference between the two amounts.
– Has the honorable member considered the value of the Menzies £1, as given in an article in to-day’s Melbourne “ Argus “?
– The facts that I have given cannot be refuted, no matter what may be said by honorable members who interject. No member of the Australian Labour party was prepared in this debate to face up to the position that this Government is providing so much more for the pensioners than was provided by the Labour government. They could not give an answer to this, because no answer is possible. Although they suggest that the rates of social services payments be extended to the maximum extent that the national economy will permit, and although the honorable member for Port Adelaide has moved an amendment to that effect, no figures have been given to demonstrate that the national economy will permit greater social services payments than the Government is at present making. The speeches of Opposition members have consisted only of hot air. They have complained in broad terms about the dreadful position of pensioners, but they have produced no concrete cases of hardship. They have contented themselves with general statements. In fact, the last speaker, the honorable member for Kingston (Mr. Galvin) found such difficulty in continuing that he was reduced to making personal remarks about certain honorable members of this House.
Let me deal now with a matter that was referred to by the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) during this debate. He mentioned three classes of pensioners whose circumstances differ widely. One class consists of the married couples who own their own homes, and are comparatively well situated. Another class includes single pensioners, with no assets, living in rooms and paying substantial rents. -The third class consists of persons who receive no pension at all because their savings are just sufficient to render them ineligible. It is apparent that great inequality does exist under the present pensions system. There are two matters to which I wish to give consideration in my discussion of the pensions system. The first is the existence of a means test, and the second is the fact that some persons have a hard time because the pension gives them barely sufficient to carry on. These persons include those who live in rooms and have to pay substantial rents for them. As has been said during this debate by honorable members on both sides of the House, such persons must be having a very thin time indeed. I suggest to the Government that when the pension legislation is revised, consideration should be given to the payment to such persons of something in the nature of a hardship or necessity allowance.
The Government’s policy with regard to pensions, as I understand it, is to examine the position from time to time and remedy anomalies that appear. One of the anomalies, I submit, lies in the fact that some persons can get along quite well on their pensions, while others cannot do so. Another anomaly exists with regard to the means test. Honorable members will recall that in 1952 the means test in Canada was abolished, and provision was made for the pension free of means test to be payable at the age of 70 years. I also point out that in Australia a means test is not applied in the case of blind persons, and that it is not applied with regard to child endowment, nor, I think, in the case of the maternity allowance.
– That is so.
– It is, therefore, by no means a novel step to abolish or at least to modify the means test. 1 understand that the policy of this Government is to modify the means test from time to time, as it is found possible to do so, having regard to the state of the national economy. That is what the Prime Minister (Mr.
Menzies) has said. He has never said, in -absolute terms, that he will abolish the means test forthwith. What he has said is that the Government will make modifications as it is able to do so.
The means test undoubtedly penalizes those who have been thrifty. Persons who have managed to save a little money in the course of their lives, to the amount of more than £1,750, and who have, perhaps, been patriotic enough to invest it in war loans, in which they receive a very low rate of interest, are far worse off than those who have not saved anything, and who have perhaps been prevented from saving by force of circumstance. Let us consider the -case of a man who has managed to save £2,000, which he has invested in war loans. At the rate of interest of 3£ per cent, granted during the war years, he receives £62 10s. He does not qualify for a pension, but he has to live on £62 10s. He is far worse off than the persons who have £4 a week and whom the honorable member for Kingston (Mr. Galvin) suggested were unable to continue on £4 a week. I submit to the Government that this sort of case requires remedy. The pension is now so high that, even if one were getting 5 per cent, on one’s money, one would need to invest more than £4,000 to receive an amount equivalent to the present pension of £4 a week. How many ordinary men and women are able to save the sum of £4.000 in these days?
I turn now to the question of life insurance. The whole position of insurance is changing. At one time a man would take out an insurance policy for £2,000 believing that by so doing he would be able to leave to his wife a nice little amount when he died. But now a policy of £2,000 acts as a penalty. Once the wife receives that £2,000 after his death, she is immediately ineligible for the pension. Even in the present budget, the Government has granted, for income tax purposes, a further concessional deduction for superannuation and insurance. Although it believes in insurance, the means test makes insurance far less useful than it once was. That, of course, will affect the taking out of insurance policies. The existence of the means test will affect thrift, and will influence those people who would otherwise save money by putting it into life insurance.
Insurance companies are among the biggest subscribers to public loans. Surely we should endeavour to make subscriptions to public loans much bigger than they are! That is one of the essentials. Therefore, we should do our utmost to encourage people to put money into insurance. Savings generally are not being increased by the existence of the means test. On the contrary, savings are decreasing. People see no use in saving. They say that if they save, they put themselves outside the right to receive £4 a week when they reach the pensionable age. Whatever Labour members may say, £4 a week is a substantial amount even in these days. Therefore, thriftlessness is encouraged and people are encouraged to become thriftless and improvident because they know, as it is put so often, that a good government will look after them. The fact that the phrase “ a good government will look after us “ is used so frequently shows that the amount of £4 a week is regarded as an amount on which the average person can live comfortably.
I return to the question of savings. Unless we encourage further savings, particularly savings for the purposes of government loans, we will not be able to stem the inflation that exists. One of the greatest troubles in the country to-day is the existence of inflation. It exists because so many people prefer to spend rather than to save. Unless incentive is given to saving, inflation will continue. If incentive is given to saving, money will flow into government loans as it used to flow. Money will also flow into insurance, and insurance companies will have more money to put into government loans. But the existence of the means test prevents that sort of thing happening. Its existence means also that men retire as soon as they reach the pensionable age because they say, “ What is the use of continuing to work? If I go on working, the means test will prevent me from receiving the pension.” In that way the productivity which could be obtained by so manymore people working is lost to the community. To-day, we need the greatest productivity possible because of our present economic position, because of inflation, because of our need to export and so on. From whatever point the matter is viewed, whether it is considered from a broadly humanitarian point, from the point of view of praising thrift or simply from the economic point of view, the means test should go.
The question then arises: At what age should the means test go? As 1 have mentioned, the policy of the Government is to make variations and modifications from time to time. 1 submit to the Government that, as it made one decision with regard to the blind person, so it should make the decision here to remove the means test first at the age of 75 years, then, say, at the age of 72 years and finally at the age of 70 years. If the means test were removed at the age of 70 years to-day, the cost to the Government would be £38,000,000. If the Government were to approach the matter in three stages, as I have suggested, the cost would not be so much in any one year. It would be a matter of, say, £10,000,000 to £15,000,000 in each of three years. Those years need not necessarily be succeeding years. It would depend on whether or not the Government could do it at any particular time. But I submit that that is a practical solution to the problem of abolishing the means test.
Though the means test were abolished for those who reached the age of 70 years, as was done in Canada, a person could still get the pension at 65 years if he came within the existing provisions. He would not be hurt in any way, but people would be encouraged to go on working beyond 65 years of age. They would be encouraged to save their money and would be prepared to continue working, so that when they reached the age of 70 years they would have £4 a week and something in addition. I submit that a practical way of carrying out the policy to which the Government, is in fact pledged is to abolish the means test by stages, as it is able to do. It should be able to do so along the lines that I have suggested.
– That would be the cost each year?
– That is so. I want to come back now to some of the criticism that has been directed at the Government by members of the Labour party and at the way in which it has dealt with pensions since it has been in office. Listening to honorable members opposite, one would think that this had been a most hardhearted Government. In fact, no govern ment has ever been so generous to pen.sioners as the present Government has been. During the time this Government has been in office, the pension has been increased by 37s. 6d. a week. That is almost as much as the to.al pension in the days of the last Labour government. The Government has given two increases of 7s. 6d. a week, two increases of 10s. a week and one increase of 2s. 6d. a week. Labour was never known to give an increase greater than 5s. a week. Generally, Labour increases amounted to 6d. a week. If one looks at the 80s. of which the pension consists at the present moment, one finds that 58s. came to the pensioner from Liberal governments and only 22s. from Labour governments. In addition, the Government has provided a medical and pharmaceutical service for pensioners which Labour never provided at any stage of its administration. The Government has also provided a homesforthe aged scheme, so that aged persons without homes may be properly looked after. I should say that no finer thing has been done by the Government than this, lt is a magnificent piece of humanitarian legislation.
I cannot hear what the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) is trying to say, but let me remind the House of what the honorable member said when he supported the Labour budget of 1949. That was a budget in which Labour declined to give any assistance whatever to the pensioner. Did the honorable member for Brisbane support that budget? Of course he did! He was then in favour .of not giving anything to the pensioners. How did he describe that budget? The language he used was that it was a budget of hope, prosperity and progress. He might have said, also, that it was a budget of prayers, because the pensioners could only pray. They did not get anything. Labour gave no pension increase in 1949. but when the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) made his policy speech in 1949 he said that he would keep up the existing values of pensions or improve on them.
– Which he has not done! .
– The honorable member says that that has not been done. In fact, as the Minister for Social Services (Mr.
Roberton) has pointed out, if we were to give un amount equivalent to that given by Labour, on the basis of the cost of living figures for 1949, we should now be giving only £3 15s. 3d. a week, or 4s. 9d. less than the present rate. The position is that we are giving more by way of pensions than Labour gave in 1949, and honorable members opposite know that that is so.
Some members of the Opposition have been trying to ring the changes by substituting the year 1948 for the year 1949 to which, m tact, the Prime Minister was referring. The honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson), who moved the amendment, is fully aware that that effort is being made, because it was put to him during the debate yesterday that he should lake the 1949 figures and he said that he would not take them. During the course of his speech, he said -
Supporters of the present Government contended in 1949, when it took office, that (lie pension was not sufficient on 1949 cost of living figures. Yet they cite ihe amount paid in 1949 and the higher figure now paid to justify the Government’s refusal . . .
The honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) interjected and asked the honorable member for Port Adelaide to take the 1949 figures, but he said that he would nor do so. Honorable members opposite know perfectly well that when the Prime Minister said in November. 1949, “ 1 will keep up the existing values “, he was referring to the values that existed at the time he was speaking.
What is the position with regard to the suggestion that the relevant figures should not be the cost of living figures but the basic wage figures? The pension has never been pegged to the basic wage at any stage. Labour policy never has been that the pension should be pegged to the basic wage, and its policy even to-day is that that should not be done. The amendment that has been moved in this House, although it refers to the basic wage, does not bear the imprimatur of the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), who is the deputy leader of the party, or any of those who sit on the front bench. The amendment comes from a backbencher, so that the supporters of the Labour party will not be bound, when they go to the country on a future occasion, to say, “ We will, peg the pension to the basic wage “. They know it cannot be done. They know that the basic wage nowadays is not based on needs but on the capacity of industry to pay and that, in any event, it was intended originally for a man and wife and three children, lt is true that, at one stage, the pension was pegged to the cost of living figures, but what happened? The right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt) and the Labour party abolished that practice.
– Because we did not believe in it.
– According to the interjection of the honorable member for Brisbane, the Opposition would not even have a pension corresponding to rises in the cost of living. That is what his interjection means. 1 therefore put it to the House that it is clear, despite all the protests of honorable members opposite, that the great benefits that pensioners now enjoy have come not from the Labour party but from the parties on this side of the House.
– I am very pleased indeed to have the privilege of speaking to this bill. 1 am of the opinion that it is one of the most important measures to be introduced in this Parliament. At the outset, I protest emphatically at the action of the Government in failing to make provision in the budget for increased pensions for the majority of unfortunate pensioners in Australia to-day. 1 myself presented to the Parliament, earlier in the sessional period, a petition signed by approximately 8,000 persons living in my electorate, praying that the Government would increase all social services benefits, so that those who receive them might be better able to cope with increases of the cost of living since social services benefits were last raised. I have always endeavoured to have social services benefits brought to the highest level to which they can be brought.
I listened very attentively to the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske)-
– He made a very good speech.
– From his own point of view it must have been a very good speech, but from the point of view of the pensioners of Australia it was a very bad speech. The honorable member reiterated the statements and arguments presented by him during the debate on a similar measure last year. He said again that Labour had never tied pensions to the basic wage and he complained that the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) had been responsible for abolishing the system of fixing pensions according to the cost of living index. That is true.
– The right honorable gentleman introduced the bill.
– He did so under national security regulations during the war period. The first government to fix pensions according to the cost of living index figures was the Lyons Government, which was followed by the Menzies-Fadden Administration. That was done during the depression years, because the cost of living was falling. So that pensions would not be reduced in accordance with reductions of the cost of living, the present Leader of the Opposition was instrumental in changing the system. However, Labour has always believed that pensions should be fixed as closely as possible to the level of the basic wage. The basic wage, as everybody knows, is fixed by the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration to provide for a family unit of three persons. Pensioners were never better off than they were under a Labour government. I say without hesitation or fear of contradiction that to-day they are worse off than they have ever been since the introduction of pensions in 1909. The purchasing power of pensions has never been lower. I did not have the opportunity of hearing the Minister for Social Services deliver his second-reading speech, but I have read one of the copies which were circulated. The speech is very illuminating. The Minister could quite easily have put the contents of his speech in one or two pages, instead of using eighteen pages. I desire to quote one or two extracts from it. First, the circulated copy reads -
For some time past the Government has been obliged to develop its social services programme in the face of a rising tide of inflationary forces, which have become a very real threat to the stability of the national economy.
Surely the Minister and the Government cannot place on the pensioners the responsibility for the inflationary position into which the Government has allowed the country to drift. I desire to quote from a table which shows the percentage which social services benefits bear to the national income in a number of countries. In Australia, 5.1 per cent, of the national income is spent on social services, this being the lowest percentage in the seventeen countries listed in the table. In the German Republic, the percentage was 17.1 in 1949; 19.2 in 1950; and 17.5 in 1951. In France, the percentage was 13.7 in 1949; 15.4 in 1950; and 15.9 in 1951. In 1949, Austria expended 14.1 per cent, of its national income on social services, and Luxemburg expended 13.6 per cent. During 1955-56, of Australia’s national income of £4,312,000,000, an amount of £220,000,000 was expended on social services and health benefits. That proves that the Government cannot contend that social services payments have varied in accordance with stability and national economy.
The roneoed copy of the Minister’s speech continues - and it is, unhappily, within our experience that the first blast of disasters of the kind is visited on the aged and defenceless. Unless inflation is firmly checked, the inevitable point will be reached when, not only will the further expansion of social services become financially impracticable, but it will be increasingly difficult to maintain the complete range of payments even at their present level.
This Government came into power in 1949. having made all sorts of promises. One promise was that it would put value back into the £1. We all know the extent to which that promise has been fulfilled. Instead of £1 being worth 20s., the MenziesFadden £1 has decreased in value to about 5s. 6d., at a time when the Government claims that Australia is in a most prosperous position. In other words, the housewife can purchase only 5s. 6d. worth of goods and commodities to-day for the £1 note with which she could have purchased 20s. worth of commodities during the Labour government’s term of office. Foolishly, the people believed the Government when it said that it would, if returned, maintain pensions at least at their existing level, and indeed would raise them. Instead, the opposite has occurred. As I said earlier, the percentage which pensions bear to the basic wage is lower to-day than it was in 1909, when pensions were first introduced. I have some figures which I intend to cite.
– I think the honorable member should stick to my speech.
– I am not sticking to the Minister’s speech, because there is very little in it that I regard as being absolutely in accordance with facts. In that respect it is similar to the speeches of all those other honorable members who manipulate figures to suit themselves. The figures used by honorable members on this side cannot be refuted, because they were certified by the Commonwealth Statistician within the last three weeks. This table, which is verified by the Commonwealth Statistician, shows the values of social services payments under the Labour government and under this Government. The federal basic wage for the six capital cities in August, 1948, at the time when Labour presented its last budget, was £5 16s.; to-day it is £13, or 124.14 per cent, higher than it was in 1948. In 1948, pensioners were receiving £2 2s. 6d. a week. To the amount of £2 2s. 6d. one must add 124.14 per cent, of that figure, which brings it up to £4 15s. 3d. That is what the pensioners should be receiving to-day if they were getting their just dues and if this Government were to carry out its promise to keep die value of the pension at the level at which it promised, in 1949, it would be kept. As f have said, the pension should be £4 15s. 3d. instead of £4, as it is. To leave the pension at £4 means that the pensioners are losing 15s. 3d. a week every week of their lives, and that is a total loss each year of £39 13s. That is the position as indicated by the Commonwealth Statistician’s own figures, which cannot be refuted.
Let us take the position of the class A widows. Under Labour, the class A widow received £2 17s. 6d. If we increase that amount by 124.14 per cent., the class A widow should receive £5 6s. 6d. But, today, she receives £4 5s. from this Government, which means a loss of £1 ls. 6d. a week, or £58 18s. a year. The class B widow is in a similar position. Under Labour, she received £1 17s. a week. Adding 124.14 per cent, of that figure to arrive at the present-day value, we get £4 2s. lid. The pension, to-day, under this Government, is £3 7s. 6d. She is losing 1.5s. 5d. a week, or a loss over twelve months of £40 ls. lOd.
Child endowment is in a similar position. It is true that this Government has amended the legislation to make provision for the payment of endowment for the first child.
– The Labour party opposed it.
– No. The
Labour party did not oppose it. The Labour party did not promise to bring in such a provsion, but, when it was brought in, it was supported by the Labour party. Let me say this, too! I well remember when the original child endowment legislation was introduced into this Parliament. The Menzies-Fadden Administration did not introduce that legislation of its own volition. That was a well-known fact. The Government introduced that bill because it was practically compelled to do so by vested interests and employers in industry throughout Australia. I say that definitely. I mean it. There was a basic wage case before the court at that time, and everybody expected that a fairly high increase would be given to the applicant unions. All the powers-that-be outside the Parliament came to the Liberal government of the day, and said, “ In order to protect us from paying an exorbitant increase in the basic wage, we want you to bring in child endowment. That will save us, because the court will not increase the basic wage as much as it would if child endowment were not brought in “.
Notwithstanding that fact, Labour has treated the recipients of child endowment much better than this Government has ever treated them since it came to power in 1949. We find that in 1948 the Labour Government increased child endowment to 10s. To-day, that amount should be £1 2s. 5d., so the recipients sustain a substantial loss over twelve months. Nothing has been done to increase child endowment so as to assist the mothers who are responsible for several children, as the honorable member for Kingston (Mr. Galvin) pointed out, and who, no doubt, deprive themselves of many things which it is necessary for them to have in order to look after the interests and health of their children.
Unemployment and sickness benefits are in a similar position, even though this Government has doubled them. It is the cry of honorable members opposite that the Government has increased pensions by £1 1 7s. 6d. a week and that Labour increased them by only £1 2s. 6d. a week during the whole time it was in office. But what was the value of money then compared with what it is to-day? lt is deplorable that this Government has allowed the position to go on in the way that it has. As 1 have tried to prove by the Commonwealth Statistician’s figures, the pensioners and others receiving social services benefits are much worse off to-day than they were under Labour. They are worse off, to-day, financially than they were in 1909 when the pension was introduced, and the rate was only 10s. a week. But the 10s. in 1909 bought more than £4 buys to-day. So much lor that.
Stress has been laid on the question of unemployment and sickness benefits. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) told this House that the number of people registered for employment was approximately 35,000, and that only 10,000 of them were receiving the unemployment benefit. I want to say that even i he 10,000 who are receiving the unemployment benefit are not getting anything like (he amount which they need in order to keep body and soul together. If it is true that 35,000 people are registered for employment, there must be many thousands who are not receiving even that small benefit. As I have said, I often wonder how those unfortunate people carry on. I refer, too, to those who are receiving the sickness benefit. When a person is too ill to work and makes application for a social services benefit, it is necessary for him to purchase many things, particularly special foods, but it is impossible for him to purchase them with the small social services benefit. The same applies to other pensioners, particularly invalid pensioners. I am very disturbed about the unfortunate position, as I know it, of many thousands of people, particularly invalids and others who are receiving social services benefits. I repeat that I enter my most emphatic protest against the treatment meted out to these unfortunate people by this Government.
The Minister for Social Services stated, in the circulated copy of his second-reading speech, that if things go as they appear to be going the Government will be unable to expand the social services further and will find it difficult to maintain the range of payments even at their present levels,. If that is the case, the unfortunate people dependent on age and invalid pensions will not be surprised if the Government deals them another blow by reducing pensions as. was done during the depression years. The Minister said -
The Government’s record in social services has been given so often in this House that I am reluctant to go over it again, but memories arc short, and I regret to say that there are those who are not above taking advantage of thai situation to gain their own political ends.
I have said in this House on a number ot occasions that Labour members never speak on behalf of age, invalid and widow pensioners, and others in receipt of social services benefits, just for political purposes. I have always claimed that the Australian Labour party has always been the only party represented in the National Parliament that has continually had the interests of age and invalid pensioners at heart. Labour pioneered age and invalid pensions. One has only to study the history of social services in this country to learn that that is absolutely true. Every social service benefit now on the statute-book is the result of Labour’s advocacy since 1908.
– Rubbish! Labour was opposed to a lot of them.
– The Minister should examine the booklet issued by the Department of Social Services, which gives the complete history of social services in this country.
– More than half of the social services benefits came from the Liberal party.
– lt will be seen that eight of the ten social services benefits now provided for on the statutebook were introduced by Labour, and two were introduced by tory governments.
– Under pressure from the Australian Labour party.
– The first of these two was the age pension, which was forced on the Deakin Liberal Government by the Labour Opposition under the leadership of Andrew Fisher, who entered into an agreement with the Deakin Government that Labour would support a particular measure of that Government if it would introduce ;i pension scheme. Deakin stood by his word md introduced the age and invalid pension. The only other social service benefit introduced by a tory government is child endowment, which was introduced by the MenziesFadden Administration in 1941. Labour has eight out of ten social services benefits io its credit. If the Minister examined the booklet published by the department, a copy of which I have in my hand, he could say, with justice, “ Labour was right and we have always been wrong “. I suppose they will continue to be wrong always, because it is their policy to try to refute t-very statement made in this House b> Labour members.
My time is nearly up, but I should like to my before I conclude that it is beyond my comprehension how age and invalid pensioners can keep themselves alive on their meagre pensions, in view of the cost of maintaining a pensioner in a government institution.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- It can truly he claimed that this bill, which was introduced by the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) last Wednesday, is one of the most important to be considered during this sessional period. Indeed, in every budget sessional period the associated social services measures must be regarded a-, among the most important to be considered. I make that statement because the consideration of this bill opens up once again the contentious question of what constitutes a fair and equitable measure of financial assistance to those people whose circumstances in a civilized community demand specific assistance in order to enable them to overcome the handicaps of age, widowhood, ill health and unemployment. A thorough understanding of these .factors and of the development of the means by which various classes of people can be enabled to overcome their handicaps is one of the most vital and urgent needs of to-day. The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) constantly alleges that this Government has never done anything and that Labour governments have done everything for the pensioners. If we are to achieve the desired results, measures such as this should be lifted above the usual rancour, dissension and differences of opinion and party outlook found in politics, and we all should do as much as is humanly possible to find a solution which, financially and socially, will be of the greatest possible benefit to those who depend on social services benefits, and of the least possible detriment to the economy and the development of the country.
One student of this problem in the United States of America recently said -
To an overwhelming extent therefore the costs of social welfare must be considered from two major angles - how great a drain do they represent on our economic resources and how great a measure of income redistribution will our country stand for.
That is actually the situation in Australia. I truly believe that, despite the constant peddling of the party line by Opposition members, many of them individually are sincere and are consciously aware of the needs of the various classes of pensioners, and in their own minds understand that the mere making of monetary disbursements is not the real solution to their problems. I believe that, along with many Government supporters, some Opposition members individually are probably striving to find a solution which will be to the benefit of all, not only by promoting physical welfare and financial security, but also - I feel that this is most important - perhaps by permitting the ultimate development of a system which will enable persons who depend on social services benefits to retain independence of spirit and to feel that they are receiving what is theirs by right and not merely being accorded a privilege.
Of course, there are other Opposition members who regard the various social services measures considered in this House each year as providing heaven-sent opportunities to swing a political bludgeon at the Government. We find emanating from them, as we have found to-day, the most extraordinary allegations and claims. If Labour were placed in a position in which it had the responsibility to put the proposals of some Opposition members into effect, those members would quickly show that, in terms of the old schoolboy saying, “ Promises are like pie crusts - made to be broken “. I dan say, with complete justice, that if it came to facing up to finding the money o provide the increases of social services benefits of which they speak so glibly, honorable members opposite would find that the wordy reef of promised gold would be as impossible to find as Lasseter’s reef.
Consider for a moment, in the light of a later statement made by the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), who is Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the extraordinary promise made by the Leader of the Opposition during the general election campaign in 1954 to abolish the means test completely. We know that that promise sent shivers of apprehension down the spines of many of his followers, some of whom are now former followers. They knew that the cost of abolishing the means test was so colossal that even if the Labour party had been elected to office on that promise it could not have honoured the promise. The point I started to make was that later, in this chamber, the honorable member for Melbourne, the Leader of the Opposition’s deputy, said that this Government would not give the pensioners an increase of 10s. under the budget introduced in 1955, and obviously he regarded -an increase of 10s. a week as a satisfactory one. To his utter surprise he was confounded when the Government did grant -an increase of 10s. a week in age and invalid pensions. Consider the implication of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that an increase of 10s. would be an adequate increase, with the promise of the Leader of the Opposition to abolish the means test completely.
Some anti-Liberals are jumping on what they think to be a popular band-wagon and with complete self-assurance and irresponsibility have been supporting a proposal that the pension rate be half of the basic wage. This figure has the appearance of a nice popular amount to work on and the proposal has obtained some measure of support from many sections of the community. But it is incredible that it is necessary to emphasize to anybody that the source of supply for the distribution of such an immense sum of money as would be represented in the payment of pensions equal to half the basic wage must come from the public itself. To increase pensions from £4 to £6 a week would cost another £51,000,000 a year, which would have to be found from the wages and profits and dividends of the people, and would represent an increase in taxation of about £15 for each taxpayer. In other words, it would represent a direct hit at the taxpayer, for whom, on other occasions, the Opposition resolutely seeks tax reductions. Now, with a sole exception, I have never seen in advocacy by any section which asks for increases of pensions, evidence that there was any realization of the inevitability of increased expenditure - and therefore increased collection of taxes - or any indication that, recognizing this factor, any one concerned would become cheerful and willing givers through their income tax assessments. The sole exception I can recollect was the Melbourne columnist, John Hetherington, who. belonging to our more balanced class of daily “ paragraphists “, if I may coin that term for columnists, had obviously not written so unthinkingly as so many of the fourth estate are liable to do at times. But, even so, one doubts whether he or any one else has any conception of the sum for which each taxpayer would be liable if the “ half the basic wage “ proponents moved on to the treasury bench. I commend those who are prepared to view this year’s social services provisions with a clear and unbiased mind to study the various items and explanations which the Minister for Social Services gave in his secondreading speech, and which clarify the position of the Government with regard to this year’s budget, and the Government’s record of consideration for the pensioner in past years.
The honorable member for Kingston (Mr. Galvin) said that honorable members on this side of the House sympathize, individually, with the pensioners but, collectively, give the pensioners no thought. I consider that it is well worth while for honorable members to take note of the fact that the Menzies Government has shown a consistent attitude to social services by increasing rates of pensions in five of the seven budgets it has brought down, and always providing some liberalization of the means test. Unbiased study of the relevant figures given by the Minister for Social Services will show that this Government, whatever the Opposition may say, has been deeply conscious of its responsibilities in this direction during a term of office which has been marked by some of the most difficult and violent fluctuations in our financial history - -fluctuations which made it extremely difficult to find a suitable basis on which to decide the amount that should be paid to pensioners. So, it is not to be believed that a government that has raised pension rates by 88.2 per cent, since it came into office, that has increased permissible income from £2 to £3 10s. a week and the property limit from £750 to £1,750 for a single person and to £3,500 for a married couple, that has doubled the property exemption for a married couple to make it £400, and that has introduced the pensioners’ medical scheme, is likely not *to have studied this year’s possibilities of -extra relief against existing circumstances. In passing, I point out that no mention has been made on the other side of the Mouse of the pensioner medical scheme, which has meant so much in the lives of the aged and the invalid.
Does any one really mean to say that a :government with such a record of concern for the recipients of social services would not have given thorough consideration to ;the granting of any relief possible in accordance with the economic position? No member of this House who has any spark -of sympathy in his make-up and who has dealt with the problems of . pensioners - those particular problems that deal with breadline living - has not had a strong com- > pelting urge to raise pensions to a height that will give the most unfortunate, underprivileged people a comfortable and secure existence. But merely to assess our commitments on that lower basis would saddle this country with a debt that would corn.pletely stifle initiative and the desire to progress, because of the heavy burdens which would ensue. In addition, to increase social services benefits without regard to the economy as a whole would, inevitably, create a class which would be diving far more comfortably, on government assistance, than the people who were -supporting them by taxation. It should be noted that every increase of ls. in the rate of pension costs £1,421,000 a year. Therefore, inevitably, the production and effort essential to provide the pension would diminish, and the laudable objective underlying the extra allocations would be lost.
Some two years ago, while travelling from Edinburgh to London, I was introduced to a doctor from Indiana who was making a special visit to Great Britain to study the problems of the aged, with a view to gaining knowledge and experience for application in his own state. He informed me that in Indiana the change in living conditions in the post-war era had made conditions for the aged particularly trying. As in Australia, when houses and families were large, aged parents could readily find a happy and comfortable existence in the community life of the households of their children. They could find there interest, pleasure and respect. But to-day, with smaller houses and modern apartments, the acceptance by children of responsibility for their parents has become increasingly difficult, and the old folks live with them so often on sufferance. The doctor said that, therefore, an increasing number of old people was living in rooms or in large semi-hospital homes, which catered for them only inadequately. With the span of life increasing, the number of old people seeking accommodation in their final years was proving to be a tremendous burden and worry.
He said that, perhaps, one of the most significant results of those conditions was the development of special hospital buildings for the aged. They were not elaborate or costly, but they were quite substantial. The organizations concerned had come up against a shortage of permanent staff, so they were using volunteer workers, who were prepared to work to a roster. They were not. mark you. elderly, mature citizens. They were members of that sometimes much maligned section of the community - the teenagers. The organizations found that the response to their appeal was splendid. The teenagers were prepared to give their time and sacrifice some of their pleasures in order to assist elderly people. An appeal was made to the best instincts of the younger members of the community. I have recounted that incident to support my contention that social service must not be allowed to become entirely a government responsibility, because that would dispel the need for the better and finer instincts of one human being to be directed towards others. Social service should be, rather, the instrument i h rough which those instincts are channelled. lt is with gratification that one notes the Minister’s reference to the success of the steps taken in the last budget to assist the building of homes for aged persons. If any proof were needed of the sympathetic and thoughtful consideration that we have given to aged persons, it is contained in that phase of our social service activities. I can speak with some personal knowledge of the advantages that have been derived from the Government’s splendid offer, because 1 have experience with an organization known as the Association for the Advancement of the Blind. There are various categories of pensioners. Some are in excellent health, some are incapable and some need the utmost care and attention. But it must be admitted that, of them all, the most helpless and deserving are the ageing blind - slow of movement, groping of action and utterly dependent on the help and assistance of others. To give them specialized super vision, certain types of homes are essential, with the hand-rails, the rounded corners, the strategically placed furniture and all the
The success and value of the grants made under this plan, and the other aspects of the work of this organization, suggest to me what I believe could be another step to help pensioners who, because they depend completely on their pension of £4 and medical benefits - because they are without relatives or other means of support - are, unfortunately, on the borderline of hardship. It is my belief, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker.. that immediately we remove some vested interest in an undertaking by the person carrying it out, there is a slackening of responsibility and supervision. That is .why an organization receiving £1 from the Government but obliged also to spend £1 of its own money maintains a very level-headed and businesslike outlook. The Association for the Advancement of the Blind has a list of blinded ‘ persons, apart from those in its homes, who are visited privately by a representative of the association. He is kindly and understanding, but he is most realistic. He knows each individual personally, and he knows whether an extra allowance is necessary in any case. Because I am referring to actual persons. T shall use the letters of the alphabet rather than names. At the last meeting of the association, a motion was carried that the following monthly allowances be continued fo- six months: - A. £3 5s.: B. £3 5s., C. £5 8s. 4d.; D, £5 8s. 4d.; E, £1 12s. 6d.: F, £4 6s. 8d.; G, £4 6s. 8d.; H. £2 3s. 4d.: 1, £4 6s. 8d.; and J, £3 5s. Those sums, added to the pensions, lifted the recipients above the level of penury and hardship. The allowance was needed in each case. The amounts vary considerably because the representative of the association has a close knowledge of each case and so can assess the amount necessary to enable each person to get through a month without distress or hardship.
The success of the operations of the organizations that have taken advantage of the offer of the Government to match, on a £l-for-£l basis, contributions made for building homes for the aged have proved that the scheme is practicable. Therefore, I feel that we should turn our attention towards subsidies for other organizations that are closely in touch with people on the borderline of hardship. I believe that great and recognized organizations such as the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Legacy, Apex, St. Vincent de Paul’s Society, Church welfare organizations, Rotary, the Lions’ Club, and Toe H could be given subsidies to match money that they raise themselves.
The Department of Social Services is a fine and co-operative department. I pay tribute to the sympathetic understanding that officers of the department bring to bear upon all cases that are brought to their attention. But a vast department necessarily must work on an organized basis. The officers have a very humane outlook, but I think they will be the first to admit that they cannot deal with individual cases of hardship - that they cannot adjust what they regard as anomalies outside the scope of their regulations, because to do so might create a precedent. Furthermore, an important question of citizenship is involved. The members of a modern society are better, morally and spiritually, as a result of the inspiration they receive from playing their part in assisting, personally and closely, less fortunate members of the community. Contrast with that the grey, drab, socialistic outlook of the Opposition, which strives to place everything on a governmental footing. That policy, on past performances, has not provided a complete solution of the problem. We do not claim that we have found a complete solution of the problem, but we say that we are moving towards it faster and with greater intelligence than the Opposition. We are doing our best, and we shall continue to do so.
This is not a negative bill. That is obvious when it is realized that this year expenditure on social services will be £11 ,000,000 greater than the vast expenditure of £215,000,000 last year. We are moving towards an alleviation of the plight of the pensioners, and we shall continue to do so.. Despite the criticisms of the Opposition, we on this side of the House are conscious of the needs of the pensioners. Our past performances, and the present bill, indicate that they are and will continue to be right under our attention and, as always, the energies of honorable members on this side of the House are directed towards making the best overall contribution that we can make to social services, bearing in mind the circumstances in which the country finds itself.
.- A significant feature of the budget debate of the last few weeks, and of this debate, has been the contempt with which Government supporters have regarded important matters such as this. During this debate rarely has more than one Minister been in the chamber, and Government supporters generally have been conspicuous by their absence. It is deplorable to see only a sprinkling of Liberal party supporters, and no Country party supporters at all, except you, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, present to hear a debate on a matter that concerns the welfare of every person in the community, and is so vital that it is occupying the attention of every government in Australia to-day. Country party supporters can, of course, almost be excused, because for generations theirs has been a low wage, long hours and non-social services party. Consequently, their absence from the chamber passes almost unnoticed. However, Liberal party members who represent, or misrepresent, metropolitan areas where thousands of pensioners and other social service recipients are suffering to-day, have a responsibility and an obligation to come here and listen to the constructive suggestions offered from this side of the chamber. If they did that they would show that they were interested in the basis of good government - social justice for the aged, the sick and the infirm, indeed, all who are dependent upon social services.
The present Government is a little uphill in this matter of social services. First, it has a terrific drawback in its Minister. 1 do not speak personally, but that gentleman possesses three attributes that completely negative his chances of satisfactory administering the social services of the Commonwealth. First, he does not believe in social services. His speeches over the years, as recorded in “ Hansard “, have shown that he does not appreciate the need for a huge social services programme such as being undertaken in this and other countries today. Secondly, he is Scottish and, so we are told, does not want to give much away. That, in itself, guarantees that he will not have the generous approach to this great problem which we might well expect from a sympathetic Minister. His third drawback - and it is very real - is that he is a member of the Country party. Throughout the history of this Parliament that party has been vigorously opposed to social service reforms. The records will show that in 1940 and 1941, when Labour tried to increase pensions by about ls. a week, its most vigorous opponents were those who occupied the Country party benches. Therefore, I point out quite sincerely, and constructively, that the wrong man is in the job, and that those who depend on social services cannot expect from him a programme adapted to both the state of the economy and the needs of the people. 1 want to review very briefly the Government’s record in this field. First, 1 shall refer to the Government’s promises and pledges and then to the way in which they have not been carried out. Most important of all, it will be seen that upon investigation, the Government’s boasts have been shown to be empty. Honorable members opposite should not need to be reminded that they were elected in 1949 on social service promises that they have since constantly repudiated, although they have had no hesitation in accepting the benefits that have flowed to them from the making of those promises.
I should like first to quote from a document which records indelibly the false promises as to social services on which this Government was elected. I refer to the joint opposition policy speech of 1949, which should be in every library in this country. It reveals what the Liberal party is prepared to promise, and what it in fact does once it has been elected. On page 22 of the document, the following appears: -
Australia still needs a contributory system of national insurance against sickness, widowhood, unemployment, and old age. lt 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.
During the new parliament we will further investigate this complicated problem, with a view to presenting to you at the election of 19S2 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.
That pledge was made, for the benefit of the pensioners, in 1949. It has since been repudiated, to the cost, not of the wealthy interests, but of those who are unable ta defend themselves - the aged, the sick and the infirm who are so dependent on social services. Is it any wonder that an Australian Country party Minister, who represents graziers and pastoralists - a wealthy, powerful and influential section of the community - and who would not know a pensioner if he saw one, does not mind repudiating those promises? He feels that, despite the sufferings of social service recipients, he has no obligation to them.
Every time that I think of the meagre social service benefits that this Government has granted, I think of an article that appeared recently in the “ Daily Telegraph “. Honorable members, knowing my opinion of the “ Daily Telegraph “, may rest assured that I would not quote from an article in that paper unless I thought that it was a particularly good one. It deals with this Government’s approach tosocial services and, in the following words, confirms some of the things that I have said to-day: -
Under its harsh exterior, the Federal Government has an odd streak of generosity.
For example, it recently exempted blind persons, from paying television licence-fees.
This week’s Budget is not quite so sentimental as that, but it contains one kindly feature.
The Treasurer has announced that no incometax will be charged on gifts to the Commonwealth for research in Antarctica.
The idea of this concession is to keep more of the people’s money on ice.
Referring more particularly to social services, the article gives the following advice to the Government: -
What about allowing bishops a lax deduction for income spent on poker machines? Or exempting one-armed men from a sales tax on boxing gloves?
It is a very facetious, but well-written, article and pertinent to the extent that thereis as much of substance in it, so far as social services are concerned, as there is in the budget or this bill.
The Minister’s opening remarks on the Government’s record contained a hidden warning for the Australian people. I have already pointed out what the Government has promised. I am not concerned with the point of view of professors or economists, whether they are quoted on this side of the chamber or the other. I am not concerned with opinions that people ought to be able to live on this sum or that, lt is all very well for any one on a high income to tell some one that he can live on £4 a week, lt is all very well for an individual in the Treasury, sitting back with £5,000 a year, and all that goes with it, to tell a man in Newtown, in the metropolitan area of Sydney, that £4 is a good weekly income. It is all very well for Ministers and wealthy people who are behind this Government to tell pensioners that they must make their full contribution to a reduction in the cost of living by taking a lower pension. I am one who believes that butter, sugar, tea and the other things that go towards keeping people alive, should be available to every one, and not merely to a select few. Therefore, I am not unduly impressed by statistics which prove that a pension will buy more than it did at some other time, or that the cost of living has gone up by some percentage. I know the cost of the commodities that must be bought if one is to live normally. I know how this Government has failed to give effect to a policy that will allow the people to buy these necessary commodities.
Take, for instance, the price of butter. In 1949, when a Labour government was in office, a pound of butter cost 2s. 2d. To-day it costs 4s. 7d., which shows an increase of over 100 per cent. The Minister, in his speech during this debate, said that pension rates had increased, on his own figures, by only 88 per cent. Pensioners, therefore, have fallen behind in the economic race in respect of that one commodity &t least. In 1949, a pound of tea cost 2s. 9d., and to-day it costs about 7s., representing an increase of almost 200 per cent. Sugar cost 4id. a pound in 1949, and to-day it costs lOd. a pound. The increase in that instance is over 100 per cent. In 1949, a dozen eggs cost 2s. lid., whereas to-day they cost 5s. 6d. As the Minister knows, they are too costly even to throw at Australian Country party election rallies. How can we expect pensioners and others to live on £4 a week, when the necessary foodstuffs that I have mentioned have increased in price from 100 per cent, to 200 per cent.? Honorable members must remember that pensions have increased, according to *he Minister, by only 88 per cent, during the period that 1 have been considering, lt is a shocking state of affairs, and I suggest that the economists who advise this Government as to what pensioners and recipients of social services can live on should themselves try, at the earliest possible opportunity, to live on £4 a week. They will then find out what pensioners are up against.
The Minister also said that it was possible that social services payments might have to be increased if inflation increased or prices continued to rise. Whose fault is it if prices continue to rise? Every member of the Government parties opposed the introduction of price control. They travelled the length and breadth of Australia speaking in opposition to measures designed to ensure that people on low incomes or in receipt of social services payments would have a reasonable standard of living. Subsidies then had to be paid on butter, tea and sugar in order to keep the prices of those commodities at a reasonable level. Whose fault is it if inflation is racing ahead at a pace that even Phar Lap in his heyday could not equal? It is the fault of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party, the members of which tell us to-day that inflation will increase, but make no contribution towards reducing the cost of living or maintaining the purchasing power of our money in accordance with the pledges that they made to the people of Australia.
The Government’s record in the social services field is a shabby one. The Labour government instituted a National Welfare Fund, and Mr. Chifley, great financier that he was, stated that his government would put enough money into that fund from time to time to provide safeguards against rising prices and inflation, in order to ensure that an adequate rate of social services could be maintained.
– And the Labour government left £100,000,000 in that fund when it went out of office.
– That is so. This Government froze the National Welfare Fund, and in that way removed the safeguards against inflation, which the present Minister tells us may increase in the near future.
– The Labour government did not leave enough to pay the war gratuities.
– 1 cannot help but notice the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) when he interjects when I am speaking, lt should be remembered that when he was on this side of the House, as a member of the Opposition, and debates were in progress on social services and such questions, he was like a roaring lion. Now that he is on the Government side and is the Whip of his party, he is like an old, worn-out tomcat.
– The honorable member said that last year.
– He always interrupts, and he has all the answers and knows what to do, but he never does anything worth while, particularly in the field of social services.
I have pointed these matters out to the Government so that it may know how the Opposition feels about its record in the field of social services. The present Government went into power in 1949 on promises and pledges, and it was upheld by the performances of previous Labour governments in respect of social services. It is only since 1949 that it has bothered to deal with social services. It is only since 1949 that it has seen that there is a great demand by the people of this country for social justice. If the people had not insisted that the programme instituted by the Labour government should be carried on, the Liberal party and the Australian Country party would not have had any social services benefits in their programme to-day.
What is the position with regard to the budget proposals? Government supporters will say that they have no money with which to increase social services payments. Since last year they have granted a few meagre increases in respect of certain sections of the community who receive social services payments. The cost of living in Australia during the last year has increased considerably. Wages have increased by at least 6 per cent. Every member of this Parliament received an increase of salary. All sections of industry have received financial benefits. The incomes of company directors and property owners have all increased. Why should we not extend some consideration to the people who depend on social services payments, when we have taken pur increases and every section of industry has benefited?
– Because there is no election to be held in the near future.
– As the honorable member for Wilmot says, it is because no election is to be held. We must remember, however, that while we ask the sick and the needy, and others receiving social servicesbenefits, to remain on their present rates of payments, this Government has budgeted for a surplus of £108,000,000. What is. wrong with spreading a fraction of that amount among the recipients of social services payments in order to make some contribution towards increasing their standards of living?
Let me refer now to the means test, and to the promises that were made by Government supporters, particularly those who belong to the Australian Country party, to abolish it. Although it does not apply toblind persons, as has been stated, the means test has again been imposed on invalid pensioners in respect of medical benefits, even in the face of the solemn pledge of this Government that free medicine would be available, particularly to pensioners. Instead of abolishing the means test, the Government has maintained it on practically all sections of social services, and has reimposed it in the way that I have just mentioned.
I should like to know what the Government proposes to do to give practical benefits to the pensioners. Honorable members on this side of the House, particularly the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) during ‘the budget debate, and the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) last evening, told this Parliament of many of the problems besetting pensioners and social services recipients, lt is evident that they are losing ground all along the line under this Government’s policy. It is all very well for the Government to say that it has increased expenditure from £97,000,000 in 1949 to £220,000,000 to-day. On the Government’s own figures, the £1 in 1949 was worth 12s. 2d., compared with 1939, but, having regard to cost of living figures, it is now worth between Ss. 8d. and 6s.
– And there is no shortage of food.
– That is so; there is no shortage of food. We are told that the country is enjoying a full measure of prosperity. The Government should make it possible for those receiving social services payments to snare in the prosperity that is enjoyed by many other sections of the community. The Government should give particular attention to these matters, because the men and women who are suffering and in want, and who are endeavouring to make ends meet, deserve every consideration.
– But the Opposition denies that there is prosperity in the land.
– lt is all very well for the honorable member for Mallee to interject again. He does not care if potatoes cost 2s. per lb. To him that is all right, because he has about £3,500 a year to live on.
– The honorable member knows that is not true.
– I am including in that estimate just a fraction of the income that he receives from outside interests. It is all very well for him to say that he does not care about these things.
– 1 did not say that.
– I remind him that the pensioners of Australia, who have only £4 a week income, find it difficult to pay 2s. per lb. for potatoes. Every time I think of the increases in the price of foodstuffs I realize how necessary it is to do something to enable these unfortunate people to keep body and soul together. It is all very well for the Minister and other Government supporters at election time to make promises and to give a glowing account of what they will do later on. It is all very well for them to boast of the extent to which they have increased expenditure on social services, but they should also explain how they have decreased the purchasing power of those payments.
The Government should grant a substantial increase in the pension, lt is said that £4 15s. 3d. would be the amount of the pension now if the policy adopted b> Labour in 1948 had been continued. Why should pensioners be tied to a small amount and kept on the minimum while vw.)>es and other payments are rising? it is nearly time the Government realized that pensioners have to live. Possibly if the pension were increased to £7 or £8 a week it still would not be adequate to meet the needs of the people in view of the high cost of living for which this Government is responsible. In addition, a case could possibly be made for an increase of pension payable to persons who are well over 70 years of age. Similar proposals have been made by pensioners’ associations in respect of people in receipt of invalid pensions. Undoubtedly, a complete review should be made of the pensioner medical service, with provision for the removal of the means test and allowing unlimited treatment for pensioners. In my constituency, a doctor was reprimanded and, so to speak, brought to heel because he gave adequate medical attention to pensioners who came to him from time to time. Who but the doctor is to know that the pensioners did not want attention?
This Government on the one hand saves a few pounds and on the other hand spend:* extravagantly. The Minister had a little to say about housing for pensioners. I was in New Zealand a few years ago and I advise the Minister that, if he cannot go himself, he should send one of his officers there to sec what was done for pensioners bv the Labour government before the present Conservative Government came into office. In the centre of huge housing establishments are beauitfully appointed little apartments for pensioners. They live with other citizens and the cost to them is about 17s. 6d. a week. The apartments are adequate and provided at a minimum cost to pensioners. This Government has never attempted to undertake anything of that kind, and if the proposals enunciated now are a guide, never intends to do so. They are matters on which it might well spend money. What is £1,000,000 for the housing of pensioners? In my constituency, when the pension is increased, in many cases the landlord puts up the rent accordingly. The Minister saw fit to criticize the housing schemes of the New South Wales Government. He referred to what he called punitive tenancy laws under which pensioners cannot get into their own homes. Thank heavens some governments maintain a measure of control over these things and protect those pensioners who are in homes and would be thrown out of them if Liberal administrations took over!
These are just a few ideas that I give to the Government. The funeral benefit might well be increased. To-day, £10 is allowed towards the cost of burial of a pensioner. The Minister knows that he would probably spend that much in a week on a few inconsequential items and would not know that the money had gone for the simple reason that to-day, so far as meeting the cost of living is concerned, £10 is just a fraction of what it was worth at the time that funeral benefits were introduced.
One could run right down the line of this Government’s social services. The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) said recently that the child endowment of 5s. in terms of its purchasing power a few years ago is now worth only 2s. 8d. All the social services benefits are worth less and less in value, but the Government has done nothing to give effect to a policy which would maintain or increase the purchasing power of the pensions. 1 believe that a case could be made out for a complete overhaul of the social services legislation of this Government. Injustices by the dozen exist, and should be removed. In addition, a terrific increase in the monetary value of social services should be granted in the immediate future to enable pensioners to catch up on what they have lost in purchasing power under this Government’s administration. Right down the list, from age pensions to benefits for those who are sick, scant consideration is given to the granting of anything that would alleviate the distress of pensioners. But at the same time, the Government gives effect to policies in every direction which mean great benefit to many people who do not need it.
I hope that the Minister will reply to some of the statements that I have made.
They are not made wildly. I come from a constituency in which many thousands of pensioners and people receiving other social services benefits live. We are not interested in Country party statistics or anything of that nature. Give us a practical reason, why the Government, with a surplus of £108,000,000, is unable to increase pensions by even ls. a week! Let the Ministerexplain why this Government can squander £1,000,000,000 on defence with hardly an> aeroplane to show for it, but at the sametime cannot spend a fraction of that amount on the care of the sick and needy, in the community. Tell us why the Government is squandering money in administrativecosts but refuses to adopt a policy which: would increase pensions.
Having said so much, let me say that T thank the Minister for the meagre benefits, that have been handed out in the budget. I know that those who receive them will be: grateful because they are in such a position^ that they have to be. Whilst saying that, 1. point out that what has been done in respect of any benefits that have been given is. a case of too little too late. The value hasgone out of the benefits, and those whoreceive them know that they will not makeup for what others are suffering and, indeed, what they are suffering, through the lack, of purchasing power.
Despite the commendation given to theGovernment by members who bothered to come into the House to pay lip service to the proposals that have been made, let me say that this budget, the proposals that have been made and the social services programme of the Minister can well be summarized in these words: The Government has declared war on the aged, the sick, the infirm and those in want, and for that it deserves and should receive the censure of this House and of the people of Australia.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr_ Thompson’s amendment) stand part of the; question.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. John McLeay.)
Majority . . 26
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
. The Opposition does not intend to oppose the bill at the committee stage because we on this side of the House want to see the benefits for which it provides passed on as quickly as possible. However, I am not entirely happy about clause 7, which proposes to amend section 60 of the principal act by omitting paragraph (b) of sub-sectiom (1.) and inserting in its stead the following paragraph: - “ (b) a widow (not being a widow specified in paragraph (d) of this sub-section) who has not the custody, care and control of any child and -
The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) has informed me personally - and I appreciate his co-operation - that that provision will apply to any widow who has received a class A pension, even though she ceased to receive it before she reached the age of 45 years. In view of the fact that the words “ after having attained the age of forty-five years, ceased to receive that pension “ are used, I am a little uncertain of the meaning of the clause. As 1 say, I know that the intention of the Minister is that any widow, even though she may have been only 40 years of age when she ceased to receive a class A pension, should become entitled to a class B pension when she reaches the age of 45 years. If that is not the position, perhaps the bill could be amended in an other place to make its intention clear.
– I assure the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) that that is not only the Government’s intention, but also its purpose. The provision is consistent with all I led him to believe about it, and with all I led the Parliament to believe. It will apply not only to widows who lose their entitlement to the class A pension after the amendment comes into operation, but also to those who lost their entitlement prior to the amendment, so long as they are still between 45 and 50 years of age. Let me give a simple example: A class A widow, now aged 48 years, who lost the class A pension when her youngest child attained the age of sixteen years in 1955, or at any prior time, immediately will become eligible for a class B pension, subject to the means test, when the bill becomes law. Because
I am most eager that the bill should become law as soon as possible, Mr. Chairman, I shall leave it at that.
Alr. EDMONDS (Herbert) [5.43J. - I wish to take advantage of the short time available to bring to the notice of the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) two specific cases of hardship. In doing so, I propose to mention names in the hope that the Minister may be able to arrange for the cases to be investigated with a view to removing what I consider to be distinct anomalies. I bring forward these cases in an attempt to convey to the Minister and the Government the necessity to remove anomalies wherever they appear. The first case is that of a man in my electorate. Edward Cullinane, of Townsville, who is 58 years of age. He was previously a motor mechanic and was employed in that capacity for years. Then he lost an arm. Apart from the fact that he has only one arm, his health is not good. Yet the Commonwealth medical officer will not certify that he is permanently incapacitated. The fact is that he cannot carry on the work of motor mechanic, nor can he do ordinary work or clerical work. He is therefore not in a position 10 obtain a job as a clerk. He is registered with the Commonwealth Employment Service, and has for some time been in receipt of unemployment benefit. We know what that entails. It is the responsibility, first, of the recipient to find a suitable position, and it is the responsibility, secondly, of the Commonwealth Employment Service to find a suitable position for him. However, the Commonwealth Employment Service has not been able to find such a position, and I appreciate how difficult it would be to do so. He does not want a pension; he wants work, but he cannot obtain work because of his physical disability.
I took the matter up with the Department of Social Services in Brisbane, and I recently received a letter from the department to the effect that it could not regard him as being permanently incapacitated for work, and that the responsibility of finding a suitable position was on his own shoulders. This man has tried, and I and others have tried, to find a job that he can do. He is, to all intents and purposes, an invalid. I do not question Dr. Breinl’s attitude in refusing to certify him as per manently incapacitated. An officer of the department in Brisbane suggested that Mr. Cullinane might participate in the rehabilitation scheme. I put it to honorable members in all sincerity that we cannot expect a man of 58 years to engage in training of that sort. This man is deprived of all hope of receiving any income other than the paltry amount he receives in unemployment benefit. For the next seven years he is committed, for practical purposes, to living on what he receives from that source. At the moment, the matter is in the hands of the Director-General of Social Services. I have written to him, and asked whether he would investigate the matter and treat this as a special case for an invalid pension.
The second matter that I wish to raise relates to a man named Joseph Valinoti who lives in the Ingham district. He was granted an invalid pension because he suffers from epileptic fits. I received a letter yesterday from the Director of Social Services in Brisbane stating that this man is 85 per cent, incapacitated, but that with the aid of certain drugs he may be cured in six months. The department will not agree that he is permanently incapacitated. I put it to the Minister that, on the strength of the medical certificate that this man will be incapacitated for six months, he should receive an invalid pension for that period. At the end of that time he could be subjected to a further medical examination and. if it were found that he was cured of the ailment from which he suffers his pension could be withdrawn. An anomaly exists in this instance, as well as in the other instance to which 1 have referred. I ask the Minister to take these two special cases into consideration. I am sorry that I have had to work the parish pump, but as far as I know this is the best form of representation to make.
– In reply to the honorable member’s concluding statement, that this is the best form of representation. I want to say that, so far as the Government is concerned and as far as I am concerned, it is no better than any other form of representation. I shall give to these cases the consideration which I shall give to any case submitted to me by any honorable member. That attitude is consistent with the Government’s policy during the last few years.
.- I refer to proposed new sub-section (lc.) of section 28, and the instance of a husband and wife being separated, but not permanently, where the allowance for a child is paid to the husband, notwithstanding that the wife has the custody of the child. I understand from the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) that there is some other provision in the act whereby the department may pay the allowance to the wife if she has the custody of the child. 1 should like to hear (he Minister’s explanation on that point.
– The operation of the clause of course, is dominated by the simple fact that these additional payments are made in reality to those persons who have the care and custody of children. It is the normal practice, in the marital arrangements of human society, for the husband to be deemed to have the care and custody of the children, when the husband and wife are living together; but when husband and wife are separated for any reason the department almost invariably determines who has the care and custody of the children, and payments are made accordingly.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Sitting suspended from 5.53 to 8 p.m.
Debate resumed from 20th September (vide page 754), on motion by Dr. Donald Cameron -
Thai the bill be now read a second time.
.- The purpose of this bill is to amend the Repatriation Act. When one peruses this proposal, one can only come to the conclusion that the Government has failed to provide a reasonable and justifiable increase of repatriation benefits to which returned soldiers and their dependants are entitled. It is quite true that the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper), himself a returned soldier, has an outlook that is entirely sympathetic to exservicemen; and I think I can say with complete justification that the same goes for the
Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) who is in charge of the bill in this House. But, when one surveys dispassionately and impartially the proposals that are contained in this measure, one can come to only one logical conclusion. The proposals, whilst they do grant some concession to returned soldiers and their dependants, are inadequate to meet the requirements of the present situation.
There is not a word anywhere, either in the speech of the Minister in the Senate or in the speech of the Minister in this House, which indicates that the Government of the day is prepared to grant concessions or extensions of existing repatriation benefits which would place repatriation beneficiaries in a position similar to that which they occupied in 1939.
– Nineteen thirty-nine?
– The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Falkinder), himself a returned soldier with a distinguished record, desires me to emphasize that I am comparing 1939 with 1957.
– Nineteen fifty-six!
– I do that deliberate!) because, all too frequently in regard to social services legislation and other legislation, there is a tendency in this House, whether consciously or unconsciously, to compare what obtained in, say, 1929, with what obtained in 1957. Therefore, I wipe out completely all that has happened between 1939 and 1949, and 1949 and 1957, and I hope to bring back to the minds of honorable members the position of the returned soldiers in 1939, at the outbreak of war. and compare it with the present day situation.
Let us have a look at it. It is true that the present bill deals with education allowances, allowances to widows and their dependants, and minor matters of that character. Let us look at the fundamental features of the Repatriation Act. Let us look at the fundamental benefits that are provided under it. Here is what we find: In 1939 the basic wage was £3 18s. In 1957 the basic wage was £13 a week.
– Nineteen fifty-six!
– Nineteen fifty-seven or 1956. It does not matter. A year is neither here nor there.
– There is a difference between 1929 and 1939.
– Have it as you say. Whether there is a difference or not, in 1939 the basic wage was £3 18s. In 1957.. if one includes the cost of living adjustments which the Government pegged, the basic wage may be regarded as £13. Between 1939 and 1957, a period of eighteen years, the increase in the basic wage amounted to 233-Jf per cent. We must also take into consideration the fact that, over that period, hours were substantially reduced and increased amenities were the order of the day. Employment figures improved. Unemployment became a thing of the past, and educational benefits were granted in every State of the Commonwealth. In other words, not only did the basic wage increase by 233^ per cent, in that period but those things which are not measured in terms of money also substantially increased.
Let us have a look at the pensions approved for the returned soldiers in 1939 and those still obtaining. In 1939 the 100 per cent, general war pension rate was £2 2s. a week. In 1957 the 100 per cent, general war pension will be £4 15s. a week. The increase, therefore, is 126 per cent, compared with an increase of the basic wage in the same period of 233-J per cent. When I pinpoint these percentages, I endeavour to dismiss from my mind any possible consideration of party politics. That is the basic reason why I have selected 1939 for the purposes of my comparison rather than 1949, when the Labour government left office. I have taken 1939, the outbreak of World War II., rather than 1949, the year when a Labour government left office. Between 1939 and 1957, the basic wage, which is an indicator of the purchasing power of the workers, increased by 233-^ per cent., but the 100 per cent, general rate pension increased by only 126 per cent. That, in itself, is an indication of the inadequacy of the pension increases provided either by a Labour government - and lel us be non-party in this particular issue - or by the non-Labour government, as we know it, in office to-day. It would appear to me that, over seventeen long years, the position of the war pensioner, be he a general rate pensioner, or a totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner, has substantially deteriorated.
Let us have another comparison: In 1939 the totally and permanently incapacitated war pensioner - that is the man dealt with under the special second schedule provision of the Repatriation Act - received £4 a week. In 1957 the same pensioner will receive, under the special rate in the second schedule, £9 15s. a week. It is true that this represents an increase of 143 per cent. But is it adequate in view of the fact that in the same period the basic wage, which after all is the measure of rent and the prices of bread, clothing and other goods, has increased by 233^ per cent.? It is true, as is maintained by the Minister for Health, who is not a bad fellow personally, that the totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner, whose pension rate has increased by 143 per cent, since 1939, is somewhat better off than the man on the general rate pension, which has increased by only 126 per cent. - 17 per cent. less. How can the Government justify increasing the special rate pension by only 143 per cent, when the basic wage has increased by 233^ per cent.? I am not making a comparison between what was done by a Labour administration in 1949 and what is done by the present Government, but I am making a comparison between the position in. 1939, when World War II. broke out, and the present position, under peace-time conditions when we are enjoying some of the best seasons we have ever known and when the volume of production is at a record level.
Let me now take the matter further. In my opinion the most deserving repatriation pensioners are the war widows. The war widow’s pension was £2 2s. a week in 1939. In 1956-57 it is £4 10s. a week. It has increased by 114 per cent., whereas the basic wage, which, as I have mentioned, is a measure of the prices of bread, butter, clothing and other goods, has increased by 233-J per cent. I belong to a branch of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, and I wonder at the toleration which returned soldiers organizations have exhibited towards this Government and preceding governments for having increased the war widow’s pension by only 114 per cent, since 1939 although the basic wage has increased by 233 J,- per cent, and the wages of all workers, including artisans and professional workers, have been adjusted accordingly. These are the incontrovertible facts. The Government is ignoring the very key to the whole repatriation situation by blandly telling us that because educational allowances for children of repatriation pensioners and war widows are to be increased there will be a marked advance in repatriation benefits.
I turn now to the position of service pensioners. I do not want to dwell on this aspect of the measure except to mention that Opposition members have demonstrated very conclusively and effectively that the increased age and invalid pensions provided by this Government in the 1955-56 budget were totally inadequate and did not enable pensioners to keep pace with the increased cost of living during the last fifteen months. This applies equally to service pensioners, who in a sense are age pensioners, since the Government accepts them as being prematurely aged and perhaps unemployable, and entitled to a pension at 60 years of age instead of 65. The Government has not increased the service pension, although the cost of living, which affects both service and age pensioners equally, has increased by 26s. a week since 1955. How can either Government supporters or Opposition members believe that this represents a substantial advance in the repatriation scheme? Such a claim is absurd and does not make sense. I have stated the incontrovertible facts of the situation with respect to the cost of living and its effect upon the various classes of pensioners.
I know that the Minister for Health made a great play on the Government’s expenditure on repatriation during the last few years. He told us that it has increased from, I think, £20,500,000 to £50,000,000 a year. Although repatriation expenditure has increased, I say emphatically that the plain fact remains that most of the increase relates to the -increased number of service pensioners, because returned soldiers from World War. I. are attaining the age of 60 and becoming eligible for service pensions. When he claims that the Government has acted magnanimously in increasing repatria- tion expenditure from £20,500,000 to £50,000,000 a year, the Minister forgets that if a great deal of this money had not been paid out in service pensions it would have been paid out in age and invalid pensions. This would follow automatically, because, after all, in effect and in fact, service pensions are an extension of social services pensions inaugurated under the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act. It is quite true that in this measure the Government is providing some chicken-feed in the way of concessions to the pensioners. It has decided to lower the eligibility age, under the soldiers’ children education scheme, from thirteen years to twelve years. What a wonderful concession! What a marvellous concession! The people concerned will benefit from that scheme one year earlier than would otherwise be the case. That is all to the good, and I do not depreciate that concession. What I am depreciating is the Government’s overall approach to the question of repatriation pensions. The single war pensioner, be he in receipt of a 1 00 per cent, incapacity pension, or a pension for only partial incapacity, the totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner, single or married, and the war widow, are receiving repatriation benefits to-day which lag sadly and disastrously behind the rate of the benefits payable in 1939, before the war. No skulduggery, no juggling of a few facts concerning concessions to widows, or to children of pensioners, can obscure or effectively hide the fact that the totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner, the general rate pensioner, the proportional general rate pensioner, and the war widow pensioner, are all substantially disadvantaged to-day, and will remain so under this measure, compared with their position in the past. And I challenge the Minister for Health (Dr. Cameron), who represents in this chamber the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper), to prove otherwise.
I know that when the Minister replies to the debate he will point out that substantial concessions have been granted to widows and dependent wives, and in respect of all sorts of children’s allowances. But nothing that the Minister can produce will refute the obvious fact that the basic wage has risen by 233-^ per cent, since 1939, whereas in the same period the general rate pension has increased by only 126 per cent. - that is. from £2 2s. to £4 15s. Nobody can excuse that. Incidentally, 1 am citing the year 1939 in order that honorable members opposite may not accuse me of citing either 1948 or 194-9. or any other year that they may not consider applicable to the case, as was done so frequently during the debate on the Social Services Bill, when honorable members on this side of the House were told, when they cited the position in 1948, that they should use 1949, the last year of the Chifley Government’s term of office, as the basis of comparison. The totally and permanently incapacitated pension, second schedule, rose from £4 a week in 1939 to £9 15s. in 1957. an increase of 143 per cent., which is better than the increase of the general rate pension by about 17 per cent. No more! Not enough! It is completely inadequate. The war widow’s pension has gone from £2 2s. to £4 10s. a week in this so-called enlightened age - an increase of 114 per cent, compared with a basic wage increase in the same seventeen years period of 233: per cent.
The honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight), who is now interjecting, may argue as he likes. We know that the Minister, faced with a difficult case, will say that widows with dependent children are to have the benefit of improved educational allowances under the measure, that totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners with wives and families are to receive special concessions for their families, that the 100 per cent, pensioner and the service pensioner are to have special concessions for (heir ‘families. But all the talk in the world about those concessions, whether they be regarded on a percentage basis or any other basis, will not eliminate the fact that, basically, the individual general rate pensioner, the individual widow, the individual totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner, are receiving pensions that bear no decent comparison with the rates that similar pensioners received in 1939. In other words, Mr. Speaker, the ex-servicemen of this country have been, either consciously or unconsciously - and I think sometimes that the Government is unconscious - shamefully jinked by this Government. If we look at the speech made by the Prime Minister during the 1949 general election campaign, when he was in Opposition, and seeking office-
– I thought the honorable member said that his argument was to be non-political?
– Yes, definitely. In 1949, the present Prime Minister stressed that the Government would not only provide adequately for returned soldiers and their dependants, but would also make adequate provision to cope with any depreciation of the purchasing value of money. Could any member of the Opposition, or any member on the ministerial, side of this chamber, say that to-day, under existing circumstances, war widow pensioners, general rate pensioners, totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners, are receiving amounts that are in any way comparable with the amounts payable, not by the Chifley Government, not by the Curtin Government, but by the Menzies Government in 1939? The 1939 rates are in no way comparable with what is paid to-day in 1957.
– In 1956.
– All right. 1956. Perhaps I am a year ahead of myself, but I am anticipating that this Government will not be any more generous in 1957 than it is now; and. after all. we are in the financial year 1956-57, for which this budget rnakes provision. Honorable members opposite may laugh as they please about my saying “ 1957 “. but this budget covers the financial year 1956-57. However much they laugh they cannot controvert the facts about pension rates. What I am saying is that the Government has to justify itself in accordance with the purchasing power of money now compared with its purchasing power in 1939. when the first Menzies Government was in office - not 1949 when Mr. Chifley was in office. It must base any justification of itself on a comparison of the purchasing power of the pensions in 1939 compared with their purchasing power in 1956-57. and convince the returned soldiers and the electors of this country that it has fulfilled its 1949 election pledges. There is no answer to that, and honorable members opposite are out of the ring. That is regrettable, but it is true.
Now let me deal with several other facets of this problem. I have always endeavoured to deal with this matter on a non-party plane. I know that honorable members on the Government side would like to laugh my argument off, but it is not so easy to laugh off. Figures are conclusive or, if they are not conclusive, the goods which the general rate, the war widows’ and the totally and permanently incapacitated pensions bought in 1939, compared with the goods that those pensions, at their present rates, buy in 1956-57, are absolutely out of unison. The pension of 1939 bought almost twice the volume of goods that can be bought with the pension now. But, unfortunately, a section of the community has been deluded by this Government. Those people have the idea that because they are getting £X more than they got in 1939, they can buy more goods now than they could have bought in 1939. That is a completely false idea and, gradually but surely, those people are being educted in the facts.
I believe that the Minister for Repatriation is a humanitarian, but he is the victim of his environment. He is a victim of circumstances. He is a victim of the failure of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) to honour the promise that he has made at every election since 1949 - a promise so to shape the economy of the country as to put into the hands of the housewives greater purchasing power than hitherto. The fact is that this Government has failed lamentably to increase the purchasing power of the people, whether they be returned servicemen, recipients of social services benefits, recipients of superannuation payments, farmers or wage-earners. Notwithstanding the long explanations that we shall hear from members of the Government parties about how widows have been given a few more shillings a week, how some domestic allowance has been granted, how some educational concession has been provided and how the means test has been eased, I make bold to say that the basic fact is that returned servicemen or widows in receipt of repatriation pensions are, in relation to the. bread, butter, clothes and other things that they can buy with their pensions, 100 per cent, worse off than they were in 1939, when the present Prime Minister first held the office of Prime Minister. Never mind about the Chifley Administration or the
Curtin Administration. The plain fact is that those categories of people, in terms of ability to purchase goods, are 100 per cent, worse off now than they were in 1939.
I know the Minister at the table personally. He is not a bad fellow. He believes that he will be able to delude this chamber, as his colleague endeavoured to delude the Senate, that because the Government has reduced the age of eligibility for children’s educational allowances from thirteen years to twelve years, it has done a marvellous thing. I agree that that is a concession of some value and, therefore, that it should be applauded. 1 do not wish to detract in any way from the good things that this Government has done, but there are. still many things for it to do. In the field of repatriation allowances, it is lagging far behind.
In 1949, the Prime Minister, with “ hifalutin “ words, mesmerized the people. The returned servicemen believed that value would be put back into the £1. They believed that the 1949 pensions would be increased. I am honest enough to say that those pensions, even though they were fixed by a Labour administration, were all too inadequate. Despite the fact that the volume of production of wheat, wool and all the other primary and secondary commodities of this country has increased, iiic returned serviceman pensioner and hitdependants are to be substantially worse ofl in 1957 than they were, not only in 1949. but also in 1939.
Let me say a few words about another aspect of repatriation. For many years, repatriation has been a controversial subject in this Parliament. One of the most controversial aspects has been the onus o’ proof. Returned servicemen are supposed to be given the benefit of the doubt under the onus of proof provisions of the Repatriation Act. That means that the Repatriation Commission has the onus of proving that a disability is not due to war service. I do not care what other honorable members say. I take the view that wc shall never solve this problem until the Parliament concedes that any disability suffered by a man who has served in war must be accepted as due to war service. I see the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) looking at me earnestly. He is a lawyer. The lawyers have argued almost ad nauseam that the Repatriation Commission does give applicants the benefit of the doubt, whilst the laymen have argued strenuously that the commission does not do so. In my long experience in this Parliament, I have heard that question argued from the viewpoints of the Repatriation Commission and the returned servicemen. 1 have reached the conclusion that we must wipe aside all legalisms, and all lawyers on this side and that side of the House. In my view, the only solution of the problem is for the Parliament to concede that when a returned serviceman suffers from a disability, that disability must be accepted as war-caused. Otherwise, there will be no peace. There will continue to be arguments about obscure legalisms in which the honorable member for Balaclava and the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) will be up to their ears. As a humble layman, I say that the only solution is for the community to accept the proposition that whenever a returned serviceman suffers from a disability, that disability must be accepted as war-caused.
After all. we are not far removed from the stage when the community will accept that compensation for or treatment of all disabilities, whatever their origin, is the responsibility of the community generally. In other words, we are not -far removed from the nationalization of hospitals and medicine in this country, whether it be through hospital benefits and medical benefits, call them what you will, or by other means. lt is inevitable that future governments, whether they be Liberal governments or Labour governments, will accept the proposition that all citizens of this country, whether they be returned servicemen or not. irrespective of their means, have the right to go to a doctor or to a hospital, the charges being paid by the community.
Honorable members opposite may attempt to laugh it off, but in the days to come, when they look back at Pollard’s speech in this Parliament in 1957-
Honorable members interjecting,
– I refer, of course, to the 1956-57 financial year. When they look back and realize that there is actually in operation an untrammelled system, for both returned soldiers and civilians, of free hospitalization, and free pharmaceutical and medical benefits, paid for out of Consolidated Revenue derived from taxation levied according to ability to pay, they will realizethat I was not far wrong.
Prophecies are all very well, and very often are fulfilled, but I propose now toreturn from the realm of prophecy to the realm of reality. Even the conservatives of this country, as a result of the propaganda of the radicals - call us “ leftists “ if you like - will ultimately be forced to adopt our policy, lt is their bounden duty to doso and they will eventually do so by a series of voluntary processes. That will happen whether Labour is in government or not. Returning now to practical politics, all the Government has done in bringing down thisbill is to erect a facade. Such improvements as have been effected are, of course, very acceptable and I congratulate theMinister upon providing increased allowances for the education of soldiers’ dependants. Our main complaint is that the general principle has not been altered. The basicwage has increased since 1939 by 233 per cent., but what has happened to war pensions? The pension for totally and permanently incapacitated servicemen hasrisen by only 143 per cent. Widows’ pen.silons have risen by 114 per cent, and the- 100 per cent, special rate pension has increased by 126 per cent. By accepting the promises made in the 1949 policy speech of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) thereturned soldiers have been grossly betrayed, and will continue to be as long asthis Government remains in office.
.- At the outset of his speech, the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) said that he did not wish to indulge in party politics. I have since been vastly intrigued to watch the inner struggle on his part to live up to that statement. It is true that past debates in this chamber on repatriationbills have been very largely conducted on a non-party basis, and to the degree towhich I am able, I propose to adopt that course to-night. However, I must at least endeavour to correct some of the statements made by the honorable member for Lalor. He has endeavoured to set, as a standard start line, the year 1939, and tocompare the basic wage of that year with. the present basic wage. May I make it perfectly clear that, so far as I know, no government - and I emphasize the word government “ - has accepted the proposition that pensions of any kind should be tied to the basic wage. The returned soldiers league itself does not accept that proposition. For obvious reasons no organization would want to do that. Therefore, I think that the attempt to compare the basic wage of 1939 with that of the current year - which, incidentally, I believe to be 1956 - is in no way analagous to what has happened in the interim in regard to repatriation legislation.
Since 1939, and especially in the later years of the war, new and amending repatriation and re-establishment legislation has altered completely the face of repatriation. I would not, for one moment, forego this opportunity to give some credit to the Labour party for having improved upon the Repatriation Act in the later years of its term of office. 1 believe that Labour certainly did that, but I think that it is also lair to say that this Government has improved very considerably upon the Repatriation Act as it was in 1939. Therefore, there is no rhyme or reason in trying to compare repatriation in 1939 with repatriation in the current year.
I might mention one other thing in passing: Reference was made to the ceiling limits. In 1948 those limits were laid down by the then government as £2 3s. 6d. for a single person, and £6 2s. for a married person. AVe raised these limits and the present rates of war and service pensions are £7 10s. for a single man and £15 for a married man. lt does no harm, if one accepts the proposition that 1939 can be discarded, to make, without political comment, comparisons between 1949 and the present time, because they are comparisons between performances. As the honorable member for Lalor has said, in 1949 the total amount spent on all repatriation pensions was approximately £20,500,000. In the current year the figure is £50,000,000, which is two and a half limes that for 1949, the last year of Labour’s term of office.
– The honorable member’s salary is also two and a half times greater.
– I do not deny that. As a simple illustration of what 1 am saying, the pension rate for totally and permanently incapacitated servicemen was £5 6s. in 1949. It is now £9 15s. The general rate was £2 15s. and is now, in 1956, £4 15s.
Now may I. turn to the specific proposals that we are discussing at the moment? They are, first, increases in benefits to totally and permanently incapacitated members and war widows, by way of increased allowances for children who qualify for assistance under the soldiers’ children education scheme and the rehabilitation training schemes. There are also increases in certain categories of service pensions. An additional 10s. a week is given to all children, except the first, who are under sixteen years of age. In relation to the means test, as it affects pensioners, certain specific points are raised.
The sum of £120 a year which is given as a recreation, or car maintenance, allowance is no longer assessed under the means test applied to applicants for service pensions. I shall now refer to another matter relating to the effect of the means test on the service pension. I noticed that this matter was referred to in the last annual report of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia. I refer to the fact that a service pension is now assessed annually, whereas previously it was assessed fortnightly. This is a distinct improvement.
The bill makes provision for concessions to apprentices. I do not propose to consider those concessions in detail, as I believe they should more appropriately be dealt with during the committee stage. There are provisions for increases in allowances to trainees under the rehabilitation scheme. The allowance is to be increased for a single man by 12s. a week, for a married man without children by 15s. a week, and for a married man with children by 16s. a week/
The emphasis in this bill has been placed, quite properly, I believe, on help for the family unit. It is designed to help the family, and, after all, the family in these days is most in need of help. Most of us will agree that one of the greatest family costs is incurred in the raising and educating of our children. Practically every member of this Parliament knows from experience that that is true, lt is also true that, no matter what our walk of life may be, we are steadily endeavouring to raise the standards of education and general living standards of our children. These burdens of the family man have obviously shown a steady increase. That is why 1 believe that the emphasis in this bill has quite properly been placed on assistance to the family man. In this connexion I remind honorable members that this bill proposes to liberalize the soldiers1 children education scheme. 1 now wish to deal with one or two matters concerning repatriation. The first of these matters concerns the wives of totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen, who are not eligible for medical or hospital benefits. I think all honorable members have had experience of cases of wives who have to devote practically all their time to the care of their ex-servicemen husbands. It is fair to say, I believe, that such a task takes toil of the wife’s strength, and eventually of her health. If her health is undermined, the logical consequence is that she will at some time have to undergo treatment in hospital. I remind honorable members that she has undertaken the duty of caring for an ex-serviceman whom we would normally expect to be looked after in a repatriation hospital, and therefore she has saved the Commonwealth some expense, and in so doing has drained her strength and undermined her health. For these reasons I believe, and I have no doubt that other members on both sides of the House agree with me, that some provision should be made for these wives who need medical and hospital treatment. The suggestion has been made to the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper), and I believe he has tried to have the legislation amended, but, I regret to say, so far without effect.
The second matter that I wish to raise docs not concern a great number of persons, but it is important to the few who are affected. Under regulation 66 of the regulations made under the Repatriation Act. a totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman on the special pension rate is eligible for treatment at departmental expense of disabilities that do not arise from war service. I have had personal experience of two of these cases that I am about to mention, but 1 believe : tort? ;i-e several others in my State, and a mi in other Stales. The persons affected ar.- i H>.>e who served initially in the British .: -..c i forces, perhaps in World War I., and then served with the Australian Imperial Force in the same war. A particular case that I have in mind concerns an individual who qualified for a pension as a to. ally ali J permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman by reason of his service with the Australian Imperial Forces, but because he had served originally with the British forces he is not eligible, under regulation 66, for treatment at a repatriation hospital for disabilities nos arising from war service - although he is still eligible for his pension at a certain rate. 1 believe that there is every reason for providing that persons in such circumstances should be given the same opportunities for treatment as other totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen.
I now direct attention to a third matter affecting totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen. Most of us have had experience of cases in which an exserviceman receives treatment in a repatriation hospital, and is discharged within the specified period of thirteen weeks, with his papers marked “ Rest essential “. He is then given pension at the 100 per cent, rate instead of at the special rate for those totally and permanently incapacitated. It is quite obvious that the need for care and financial assistance upon discharge are as great for such a person as they are for the man who is discharged and is granted the full pension rate for a totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman. This has been u matter for contention for some time, and I believe that it is time an appropriate amendment to the legislation was introduced.
I now wish to mention a matter that concerns my own State, and which I have mentioned in this House on several previous occasions. I refer to the need for a women’s ward in the Hobart Repatriation Hospital, so that treatment may be given to eligible females, and in particular, of course, to war widows. Experience of the necessity for thi provision of this ward has nol been confined to me. Senator Marriot has had experience of one case at bast, and I believe that honorable members on the “ other side of the House have strongly urged that such a ward be provided. Tasmania is t.K- only State mat nas noi this provision for treatment of women. I know that a certain amount of building activity is in progress, as a result of which this need may be partially met. However, the provision of this ward has been deferred several times, and I ask the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) to convey to the Minister foRepatriation my hope that when provision i made for treatment for these unfortunate women, it will be adequate.
The only other point I want to make is in relation to a proposition that I have put before the Parliament previously and that 1 wish to repeat. In the social services sphere, the Government has done something quite outstanding in the assistance given on a £l-for-£l basis for homes for the aged. That is one of the best things that this Government has done. I should like to ask the Government to consider giving assistance on a £l-for-£l basis for homes which cater for the old and, shall I say, somewhat worn-out digger. There are certain homes around the Commonwealth which do this. One of them is in my own home State - Gellibrand House in Hobart. The diggers from the 1914-18 war are, slowly and regrettably, going on. Time, I am afraid, is not for them, but, in the same way, the time is not so very far distant when there will be a need to provide for those from the more recent war. Time is always moving along. I believe that the Government could well consider a proposition to assist these homes. That assistance should be given to enlarge existing homes or to build new homes which the Government considers should properly be erected to cope with this problem on the same basis as that very fine scheme which operates under the Social Services Act.
I believe that we are extremely fortunate in having a Minister such as Senator Cooper administering the Repatriation Act. He has always been willing to meet every member of this Parliament - not merely those from this side of the House - to discuss any matter that we wish to place before him. The same comment applies to any approach that we may have from any organization. He has always shown a very great human sympathy for the problems of repatriation. I feel that me’-nb”’-‘, on both sides of the House will agree with that comment.
I commend the bill. I hope that the few suggestions that I have made will come to fruition eventually.
.- I listened with a great deal of attention to the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Falkinder) He made some very good suggestions which should be considered by the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron). However, I disagree with him on one point, and that is the first statement that he made in reference to the basic wage. I do not suggest that any honorable member has advocated tying pensions to the basic wage, but I do say that we must use the basic wage as a measuring stick. Indeed, that is the only measuring stick we have to-day. I hope that I will be able to demonstrate quite forcefully before 1 have concluded my remarks that, when compared with the basic wage, the pension rate has deteriorated considerably since 1949.
Certain suggestions have been made that this matter should be discussed on a nonparty basis. I agree with that point of view, but I believe, also, that Opposition members have a duty to express their views and to express the views of the various exservicemen’s organizations. If the ex-servicemen’s organizations believe that their standards have deteriorated, then we should put that point of view for them.
I have not been in this Parliament long enough to make a full research of all the speeches that have been made on repatriation. However, the research that I have made has been sufficient to indicate that honorable members on the Government side were more vocal when they were in opposition, and, indeed, on many occasions asked for a royal commission on repatriation, although repatriation benefits were then more favorable to the ex-servicemen than they are to-day.
The honorable member for Franklin referred to the provision of free medical benefits’ and hospitalization for the wives of totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen. I agree completely with that suggestion, and I hope that I may have an opportunity later in my address to enlarge on what he has said. The third point that he made, which’, quite naturally, concerned me, as a fellow Tasmanian, was in respect of the Hobart Repatriation Hospital. That is a matter which has been under consideration by Tasmanian members, not only on the Government side, but also on the Opposition side, for some considerable time. At the moment, the Hobart Repatriation Hospital is the only repatriation hospital without facilities for wives of totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen. I distinctly remember that in 1949 plans and specifications were prepared and approved by the Chifley Government to provide this service for wives of service pensioners in Tasmania. 1 hope that this matter will receive consideration by the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper). It has been the subject of long correspondence by myself and various members on both sides of the House, and I believe that the time has arrived when our representations and those made by ex-servicemen’s organizations should receive further consideration by this Government.
The first comment I want to make on this measure is that even if I were not vitally concerned with repatriation and its effects generally on ex-servicemen, I should still feel bound to point out this fact: That if ever there was an issue of real human concern for the consideration of this Parliament, then it is the rates of war pensions generally. To-day my concern is not for the past but for the future and whether the current service pension rates - and I use the term generally - are adequate having regard to the tremendous increase that has taken place in the cost of living in recent years. I believe that is the question which this Parliament must decide, and not whether some long-forgotten government has been generous or otherwise in ils approach to the problem of ex-servicemen. Secondly, I want to refer, though only briefly, to what in my opinion is the indecent haste with which this and other measures are to-day being forced through this Parliament.
– Does not the honorable member want the benefits to be paid as soon as possible?
– Some of them will noi be paid until January, 1957, and I do not think that the Government can boast about that. I can assume only that the Minister who introduced this measure and those who support him are extremely anxious that this unhappy piece of legislation should be passed over as quickly as possible. I have no doubt that they hope, by limiting the debate, to be able to escape, to a certain extent, the criticism and dissension which their obvious disregard for the interests of ex-servicemen, quite apparent in this measure, so thoroughly deserves. That may or may not be so, though personally.! hold the opinion that that was and still is the clear intention of this Government. 1 assure honorable members on the Government side that I, and as many of my colleagues as will have an opportunity of speaking in this debate before the closure is applied, will endeavour to express not only our own views but also the views of the ex-servicemen’s organization. We shall try to indicate to this Government that, in our opinion, this measure is just one more example of a broken promise or, perhaps, a betrayal of confidence and a complete disregard of a very deserving section of our community.
It is true that it would be extremely difficult to speak at any great length on the proposals contained in this measure. In my opinion, the bill is completely colourless. The only concession contained in it relates to totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen and to war widows by means of increased allowances to their children for educational purposes. We, of course, applaud that concession; we have no quarrel with it. It is stated that it is proposed to increase the rates of educational allowances payable under the soldiers’ children education scheme by weekly amounts ranging from 5s. for children aged twelve to fourteen years and living at home to £1 7s. 6d. for students undertaking professional training and living away from home. As I have said, we have no quarrel with that provision. Indeed, we think that any concessions that are granted to exservicemen and their dependants should be applauded by honorable members on both sides of the House. It should be pointed out, however, if only for the record, that these proposals will involve the Government in expenditure of £116,000 this year and £221,000 in a full year. In a budget of more than £1,000,000,000, the share of the ex-servicemen is to be £116,000!
The Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) said, in introducing the measure. that in his considered opinion far too many people think of repatriation in terms of war pensions only. I do not believe that that is so. I think that most people appreciate that it is the responsibility of the Repatriation Department - a responsibility which, in my opinion, it acknowledges to a very great degree - to care for ex-servicemen and their wives, widows and dependants who are suffering in any way because of the tragedy of war. Most fair-minded people will agree that the Government also has an obligation to ensure that an ex-serviceman who has made ‘ a sacrifice for his country and, as a result, is unable to engage in the industrial and commercial life of the nation, should be accorded an income which will enable him to live at a reasonable standard. Honorable members will have noted, no doubt with some concern, that there is to be no increase of either the general rate or the special rate of pension. The special rate, of course, is the rate payable to a member for total and permanent incapacity. War widows, too, are to receive the same ungenerous treatment. Their pension will remain at £4 10s. a week, to which may be added, in certain circumstances, dependant’s allowance of £1 14s. 6d. a week, making a total pension, in these days of rising costs and prices, of £6 4s. 6d. a week. Service pensions also will remain unchanged at £4 a week. 1 want to say a few words in relation to those whom 1 consider to be possibly the most deserving recipients of war pensions. I refer to the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen who, to-day, are obliged to exist on the miserable pittance of £9 15s. a week. They are, of course, a rapidly diminishing group. Indeed, I have every reason to believe that they are dying off at an alarming rate. When a man has made a sacrifice for his country, the government of the country, whether it be this Government or any other government, has an obligation to ensure that his ill health is not further aggravated by financial worries. But that is exactly what is happening to-day. Far too many of these exservicemen are being denied the opportunity to improve their health because this Liberal and Australian Country party administration is not prepared to provide them with an adequate income to relieve them of the financial worries associated with the proper care of their wives and their families and the upkeep of their homes.
I am appalled at the position, particularly when I remember that there are many ex-servicemen in the ranks of the parties which constitute the Government. Indeed, I recollect that in 1939 it was the boast of the then Leader of the Opposition, now the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), that in the ranks of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party ex-servicemen were in the majority. Yet, so far, not one of those ex-servicemen, either in this chamber or in another place, has risen to criticize the colourless document we are now debating, to acknowledge the feeling that has developed in the community that there is something wrong, or to suggest that this bill ought to be withdrawn and redrafted in order to provide a far greater measure of security and justice for ex-servicemen. We must not forget that at the time that these totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen enlisted they were regarded as being both physically and mentally fit. The principle we heard expounded in 1939 was that if, as a consequence of a man’s war service, he or his dependents suffered in any way, responsibility for their care would become a matter for the community as a whole. That was in 1939. We are now in the year 1956, and that principle has long since been discarded by the Government.
Some honorable members opposite refer to new pensions that are paid to-day in relation to the basic wage rather than in relation to the C series index; but whatever measuring stick we use we find that the ex-serviceman is being treated unfairly. Let us have a look at some of the figures in regard to the prices and wages that have been published in the “ Treasury Information Bulletin “. Between the June quarter of 1954 and the June quarter of 1955, the C series retail price index number for the six capital cities increased by 2.2 per cent. Between the June quarter of 1955 and the June quarter of 1956, it rose by 6.4 per cent. Similar movements occurred in the newer interim retail price index number, which is more comprehensive than is the C series index. It increased by 1 .9 per cent, in 1954-55 and by 5.8 per cent, in 1955-56. That great increase has not been offset, so far as ex-servicemen are concerned. They are to receive no increase of their pensions.
I pass from a general discussion to an examination of the amounts which are now paid and which, as I remarked a few moments ago, are considerably less than the prevailing rates which applied when the Government was elected to office. Let me deal, first, with the totally and permanently incapacitated pension rate which, to-day, is £9 15s. a week, but which is considerably lower than the basic wage, which is now £12 4s. a week. I refer to the average federal wage; the average State wage is £12 16s. a week. Since, however, this is a federal matter, the usual course is to take the federal figure. If 1 were to use the State figures, obviously the results would be so much worse from the point of view of the Government. It will be seen, therefore, that the average federal basic wage exceeds the totally and permanently incapacitated pension rate by £2 9s. a week. Let us look at the position in 1949, with which the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Falkinder) dealt. That was the last year of office of the Labour administration. At that time, the totally and permanently incapacitated pension rate was £6 19s. a week. The basic wage was then £6 7s. a week. Therefore, the totally and permanently incapacitated rate exceeded the basic rate by 12s. To-day it is £2 9s. less than the basic rate. I want to hear honorable members opposite explain away these figures. There has obviously been a marked decline in the standards of totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners.
Now let us compare the rate for general rate pensioners to-day with the prevailing rate when Labour left office. In 1920 the general rate pension was £2 2s. a week. In 1943 it was increased to £2 10s. a week, and in the last year of office of the Chifley Administration it was raised to £2 15s. a week. The basic wage was then £5 16s. a week and the pension rate was 47.5 per cent, of the basic wage. Therefore, there has been a deterioration in these standards, too. The basic wage is now £ 1 2 4s so the general rate pension amounts to only 38.9 per cent, of the basic wage. During the term of office of this Government, the general rate pension has declined by no less than 8.6 per cent. During the last twelve months. I emphasize again, there has been no increase in the general rate pension, the totally and permanently incapacitated rate, or the war widow’s rate, but, as 1 believe some one remarked to the honorable member for Franklin, our salaries have been increased, Ministers’ salaries have been increased, and considerable increases have been awarded to public servants by the Public Service Board. There has been a general increase in income throughout the community. Indeed, there has been an increase of at least 10s. in the basic wage. In some States the basic wage has risen by as much as 26s., but the federal basic wage has increased by 10s. The totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner, the war widow pensioner, and the general rate pensioner have received no increases. These persons should be able to appeal to this Parliament; they certainly are not in a position to appeal to the Commonwealth Industrial Court. Therefore, in my opinion, on this occasion the Opposition ought to accept the responsibility of pointing out to the Government that it is failing in its duty. I acknowledge that in the 1955-56 budget some concessions were made to the recipients of pensions. For example, the Government removed the ceiling limit for income, but I suggest that the Government removed it because, in any case, the permissible income of age pensioners would have been £15 a week and it would have been anomalous if totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners had not been able to receive an income of £15 a week.
I wish to deal with just two anomalies that exist in regard to this matter. While it is permissible for a totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner and his wife to have an income, including pension, of £15 a week, let me refer to the instance of a totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner who is a widower with two or more children. He is denied the opportunity of availing himself of an increased service pension. He is not entitled to any increase. He cannot exceed the pension of £9 1 5s. a week, plus the income he would receive for his children. That is one anomaly that this measure does not correct. I suggest that, after all. the need of a t o t a 11 v and permanently incapacitated pensioner with three children is certainly far greater than the need of a totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner and his wife who are over the age of 60 years. I suggest that the Minister might rectify that anomaly.
A second anomaly exists in regard to the single totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner. His income to-day is £9 15s. a week. He cannot receive an increase by means of the service pension. He is obliged to exist on his income of £9 15s. a week. 1 suggest that if a totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner has to pay board it is quite obvious that he would have very little more than £3 15s. a week with which to clothe himself and meet all expenses incidental to his disability. That is the second anomaly which will exist in the terms of the bill. The position is equally unsatisfactory in respect of a war widow whose age is under 60 years. I do not believe that concessions to children and other dependants of pensioners should be considered when rates of pension are assessed. I refer particularly to war widows with young families. The allowance for a child to-day is £1 1 4s. 6d. A war widow with one child receives £4 10s. in pension, a domestic allowance of £1 14s. 6d. in some instances, and a child allowance of £1 1 4s. 6d. The total income of a war widow with one child is therefore £7 19s. a week. She is not in a position to supplement her income in any way. 1 suggest that if she has to pay rent of £4 a week nobody could reasonably suggest that she could feed and clothe herself and her child on an amount of £3 19s. a week. I remind honorable members that the husbands of war widows made the supreme sacrifice in the interests of their country. Recently a young man who had suffered a tragic accident, which resulted in his losing a leg. came into my office and informed me that he had immediately received in compensation an amount of £5,000. A war widow receiving £4 10s. a week would take 21 years to receive a similar amount.
The honorable member for Franklin referred to an anomaly in relation to the medical benefits available to the wife of a totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner. As he explained the position fully, there is no need for me to enlarge upon the matter. I fully support his representations. Another matter in relation to the wife of a service pensioner should receive the attention of the Government. All the arguments advanced by the honorable member for Franklin could be used in support of increased allowances for such wives. If a service pensioner is granted a pension be cause of permanent unemployability when he reaches the age of, say, 45 years, he receives £4 and his wife receives £1 15s. a week. I suggest that the Government ought to give immediate consideration to increasing the allowance to wives, aged under 60 years, of permanently unemployable service pensioners from £3 15s. a fortnight to £4 a week. That should be done immediately, in justice to the permanently unemployable service pensioners. Last year we unsuccessfully proposed an amendment designed to achieve this result.
I want to say, in conclusion, that it has been said that repatriation is a proud responsibility and with that sentiment 1 agree, just as 1 believe that the first responsibility of this Government should be to those whose sole income is their pension. I believe, in view of the tremendous increase which has taken place in the cost of living in recent years, that the totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner is entitled to more consideration than he is receiving at the present time. We suggested, in moving an amendment last year, that the totally and permanently incapacitated pension rate should be immediately raised to £12 15s. a week. Further, we say that all war pension rates should be raised to the 1949 percentage of the basic wage. We moved an amendment to that effect last year. We have not deviated from that policy and we believe that this Government has not given the justice to which exservicemen are entitled. [Quorum formed.]
.- This bill with which the House is at present concerned relates to certain increases in repatriation pensions, and the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard), who has just resumed his seat, thoroughly approves of the granting of those increases. But the honorable member, in the course of a long speech, in effect alleged that this Government was otherwise failing in its duty to repatriation pensioners. That is a somewhat curious statement, coming from the honorable member because this Government’s repatriation policy has been universally praised. The fact is that, under this Government, the Repatriation Department is regarded as one of the best-managed departments in the service. The contrast between the Repatriation Department a» it is managed at present and the department as it was managed under Labour has been frequently remarked upon. The truth of the matter is that the Repatriation Department was shockingly mismanaged under Labour, and two repatriation Ministers in the Labour government lost their seats in consequence of their mismanagement of the department. So I say that I was somewhat surprised at the honorable member making such a brash speech as he made in this House, seeing that one of those Ministers was a close relative of his.
– It was his father. Why be so nasty?
– The reason for the speech by the honorable member for Bass was that he was trying to justify his father.
– That is a frightful statement and a filthy insinuation.
– Order! The honorable member for Wilmot will withdraw that remark.
– I shall withdraw it, but I mean it.
You will withdraw it without qualification.
– All right. I withdraw it without qualification. Mr. Barnard is in hospital and is very sick.
– The facts of this matter are well known-
Order! The honorable member for Herbert is interjecting and must be silent.
– I propose to pass on to the subject of onus of proof, a matter which was dealt with in passing, by the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard). In the course of his remarks, the honorable member said that lawyers say that the section of the act relating to onus of proof is clear but that laymen do not find it clear. I must say that I was greatly impressed by that statement. I believe that it is true. The importance of the honorable member’s statement lies in this fact, that in the main this onus of proof provision has to be administered by laymen. Therefore, if laymen do not find it clear, the provision certainly requires clarification. 1 propose to deal with an actual case relating to the application of the onus of proof. Many persons in the late fifties, the middle fifties and the early sixties die from a heart condition. That heart condition, very often, is rejected by the tribunals on the basis that it has not been caused or accelerated by war service. The argument put forward is that that type “of heart condition - generally of a coronary nature - is due to the late years of a person’s life. In other words, it is said that the condition is a disease of old age and that it only appears in old age. It is said that, in each case, there is no history going back to the war years and therefore the fact that the disease has only appeared in old age is sufficient to remove from the department the onus of proof which then lies on the claimant. On the basis of that statement claims are frequently rejected. The whole point, therefore, is that this position depends upon the doctors taking the view that these conditions are diseases of old age, and of old age only. I shall bring before the House certain statements of medical men which indicate that that view, which is currently taken by repatriation doctors, is not necessarily correct.
I refer, first of all, to a statement by Major-General D. C. Ogle, which appears in the “ United States News and World Report” of 14th October, 1955 - that is, comparatively recently. In the course of that statement, the learned doctor referred to the work of the Army in analysing the hearts of young men who had been killed in the Korean conflict. In the 300 cases that were examined in which the average age was 22 years, the incidence of diseased coronary arteries was 77.3 per cent.
I refer also to the statement of Dr. Irvine H. Page, the president-elect of the American Heart Association, which appears in the “ United States News and World Report “ of 14th October, 1955, in which he said -
Hardening of the arteries begins much earlier than we ever thought before, around the twenties.
In the “ Science News Letter “ of 1st August, 1953, the following passage appears: -
In over three-quarters of autopsies of 300 battle deaths or accidental deaths of United States soldiers, mostly in their twenties, in Korea, the astonishing discovery has been made that they have gross lesions of their coronary arteries. A medical team consisting of Major William F. Enos, Lieutenant-Colonel Robert H. Holmes and Captain
James Boyer reported in the “ Journal of the American Medical Association”, July 18, 1953, that these seemingly healthy young men had varying degrees of heart disease that had gone unnoticed or had caused them no trouble. About a fifth of the men had autopsy evidence of real disease with 40 per cent, or more narrowing of one of the major vessels of the heart. Three per cent., or nine, had complete closing of one or more branches of the blood vessels.
At a health inquiry before the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce of the House of Representatives of the United States Congress in October, 1953, Dr. Irving S: Wright, past president of the American Heart Association and Professor of Clinical Medicine at the Cornell University Medical School, said -
Heart disease is a leading cause of death among children, lt is a misconception that it is a disease which primarily affects the aged, though it does affect a very large number of people as they grow older. It causes about one-sixth of all the -deaths in the military ages, that is between 20 and 39. . About one in every four social -security recipients with heart disease had had it for ten years or more. In other words, these diseases are long-term diseases.
If these statements are correct, the whole basis upon which repatriation doctors have been dealing with these cases of heart trouble in the fifties and sixties is entirely erroneous. They have been refusing claims on the basis that the fact that the disease has become evident in later years indicates that it has no relationship to war service. They are taking the view that it is only a -disease of old age. If these statements by medical men, which have been published in current scientific journals, are correct - and I see no reason to doubt them - the whole basis upon which the Repatriation Commission has been acting with respect to these heart diseases is wrong. The position is that if a person produces evidence of death from heart disease, which may or may not have been of long standing, the onus of proof being on the commission, it is bound to show that in the case before the tribunal the heart disease was actually due to old age, could not have been caused earlier in life, and could not have been due to or accelerated by war service. I believe that if this view that I am putting forward were accepted by the commission, as I think it should be, a great number of pension applications that have been rejected in the past would be granted.
Now I pass to the interpretation of the onus of proof provision of the Repatriation
Act. I should like to refer to a speech made by the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) on 24th October of last year at the Annual Federal Congress of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, held at Brisbane. The Minister said -
There evidently has been some misunderstanding in regard to the interpretation of section 47 of the Repatriation Act.
That is the onus-of-proof section. I think honorable members on both sides of the House will agree with the Minister that there has been misunderstanding in the interpretation of it. The Minister continued -
I am of the opinion that the law in relation to the “ benefit of the doubt “ and the “ onus of proof “ is quite clearly staled in section 47 of the act, and no re-drafting of the section could make it any clearer.
I agree with the Minister about that, but only speaking as a lawyer. I think it is quite clear to lawyers; but 1 think also that it is plain that laymen do not understand it, and, as I said earlier, this provision is largely administered by laymen. The Minister said also, referring to the former Attorney-General -
In April, 1953, the Attorney-General prepared a short statement explanatory of the provisions contained in section 47.
In the recent parliamentary debate on the Repatriation Bill, the Leader of the Opposition (and former Attorney-General), Dr. Evatt, agreed that this was a clear exposition of the law.
With great respect, I would agree with both those learned gentlemen that the statement of the former Attorney-General is an extremely clear exposiiton of the law - to lawyers. I doubt very much whether many laymen would really understand the content of the former Attorney-General’s opinion.
If I may be so bold, I would suggest that if the Minister were to give to the laymen who have to administer the repatriation tribunals, and also to the doctors who have to give opinions to the tribunals, a clear statement in simple language, and not a learned legal opinion, the tribunals would understand the position and the probabilities are that they would give juster decisions. I suggest that a simple statement could very well be given to the tribunals, and thai copies could be given to repatriation doctors. This statement could be in the following terms: -
There is a presumption that the claim is to be allowed even though the claimant calls no evidence. lt is for those opposing the claim to produce evidence sufficient to establish that the claim should fail. Unless this evidence is produced, the claim must succeed.
A finding that the claimant has noi satisfied Iiic tribunal that his claim should succeed is a bad and inadmissable finding.
Unless the tribunal finds that the evidence establishes that the claim should noi bc allowed, the tribunal must allow the claim. 7.lai is a clear, concise and simple statement that no lay person should have difficulty in understanding. If a statement in that simple language were put before the tribunals, these claims about which there is a great deal of dissatisfaction, and a bom which, as the Miniser himself admits, there has been misunderstanding, would have happier results and better decisions would lie given.
.- The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) got away, I thought, to a bad start. He reminded me of the famous battle after which his electorate is named, of which it was said that it was magnificent, but not war. The things he said might have been politics, all right, but they were not decent in a debate of this kind. However, he followed his bad start, in my opinion, by making what I regard as a very worthwhile contribution to our consideration of the whole subject of repatriation. I remind the honorable member that if he examines the list of successive Ministers for Repatriation - I think they number about seventeen in all - he will find that several from his own side of the chamber have been defeated after holding the office. J think that the son of one of them sits on his side of the House. That Minister for Repatriation was a man with a very fine war record, and his defeat obviously had nothing whatsoever to do with his administration of repatriation matters, any more than fie defeat of others who .held that portfolio had anything to do with their administration of them. The fact is that each was the victim of a political swing.
I agree with the remarks of the honorable member for Balaclava about section 47 of the Repatriation Act, and its interpretation, but I shall refer to that matter later. 1 make my first speech in this Parliament on a repatriation bill, working on a few basic assumptions. First, 1 accept a duty, as an Australian, and as a member of this Parliament, to people who accepted their duty to the community in war-time. After all, between 1939 and 1945 and between 1914 and 1918, the individual was expected to accept, absolutely unconditionally, a duty to the community generally. I say that, on his return from war, we should accept an unconditional and unreserved duty to him in his moment of need, and that, whenever there is any doubt about his entitlement, he should receive, from the community, the same loyalty as he gave to the community. I believe - and I think that this view is shared by the whole community - that that is not the case with the repatriation legislation, administered as it is now. I would say, further, that a sound principle to apply in interpreting the Repatriation Act is that it is better to give pensions and free hospital treatment in repatriation hospitals to ten undeserving applicants than it is to have one person unjustly served. I believe that that principle does not apply now in the administration of the act. lt is not possible to measure the case of an ex-serviceman, a widow, a dependant, or their needs, or what we owe to them, in terms of money, and so I believe that there should no consideration of money in our acceptance of our duty to them. Two world wars have occurred in my life-time. Well over 1,000,000 Australian participated in them. In fact, nearly 1,500,000 Australians took part, in some way or other, in some one of the services. When we speak of repatriation we speak of something that concerns almost every home in Australia. The average member of the community does not need to step outside his own door to know of a case in which injustice, unfair treatment, and the lack of acceptance by the community of its duty, have been the lot of an ex-serviceman.
– That is an exaggeration.
– It is not! I do not need to step outside my own door to give the honorable member an example. In 1927 my wife’s father died. Three years later, after the widow had been left without help from the Repatriation Department, to care for herself and her two children, the department accepted the death of her husband as due to war causes. If any honorable member walks down any street in Australia he will find similar cases. I say categorically that nearly every Australian can find, in his own circle of friends and relations, some one who has a grouch against the Repatriation Department and its administration. So there is a good deal of dissatisfaction in the community in respect of repatriation. 1 do not lay the blame for that at the door of the present Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper). I support the laudatory statements that other honorable members have made about him personally, but 1 think that the Repatriation Act, as a result of our attempt to make it easy to administer, our atempt to achieve fairness, has become too complex. In fact, I am certain that a . great deal of dissatisfaction has occurred because of the complexity of the act.
There is a great deal of dissatisfaction particularly over the administration of section 47 of the act. As members of this Parliament who are approached by people who are attempting to obtain justice, to get what they believe to be their rights, we are in a position to discover how difficult it is to pin down responsibility to the Repatriation Department. I do not intend that statement to be a reflection on those who administer that department. In my dealings with the department, as an exserviceman, I have found its officials to be the soul of courtesy itself. I could not have received better treatment. But, somehow, I happened to fit in with the system. Our job is to see that the system fits the individual, to see that the odd man cit gets a fair go, but I believe that the act, as it stands, prevents the achievement of that objective. I think I can produce evidence of that fact. I can also give a recent instance of the difficulty of pinning down responsibility to the department. I refer to the case of the Anzac Hostel at Brighton, in Victoria. It was to be closed down, and there was a great furore about the proposal. Branches of the Returned Servicemen’s League, and various people, wrote to the Minister protesting against the proposal. Leading articles appeared in newspapers, making similar protests. The Minister stuck by his departmental advisers - just what he should do in the ordinary course of events - but eventually he decided to take’ a look for himself. The result was that he countermanded the decision of the officers ot the department, and the Anzac Hostel stayed put. I suggest that if we could bring that sort of humanity into closer relationship with the general decisions of the Repatriation Commission we would get the same sort of satisfactory result. There is a good deal in what the honorable member for Balaclava suggested about the need for the act to be simplified so that we would achieve a more humane, a better, and more just administration of it.
As a comparatively new member, I examined the bill carefully to discover whether it answered any of the questions that I have had at the back of my mind, not only since I became a member of thi? Parliament, but before I had that honour conferred upon me. After all, we have an act which is being amended for the thirtysecond time since 1920. Surely 32 amendments should bring the legislation to somewhere near perfection, and surely we could expect that the bill, and the existing act. would have answers to some of the things that the average Australian considers are deficiencies in the administration of repatriation services. The synopsis of the proposals in this bill in the Treasurer’s budget speech shows that the provisions in respect of educational allowances for the children of ex-servicemen are to be improved. We approve of that. Increased allowances are to be paid under the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme. We find that the total expenses in one year will be £221,000. The Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron), when speaking to the bill, pointed out how expenditure on repatriation would be increased by about £5,000,000 this year. But does this £221,000 that I have mentioned represent all the additional money that the community can really afford to pay for the repatriation of exservicemen? After all, it is reasonable that as national production and national income rise, the standard of living of the people to whom the community owes, and in respect of whom it accepts, a duty, should also rise. I believe that this bill does not provide for such an increase of the standard of living of those people. In fact, the bill makes no provision to solve, no attempt to solve, any of the problems that I have mentioned, and I think that any amendment to the Repatriation Act ought to answer these questions. I. agree with the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) that the bill should be withdrawn and that the subject of repatriation ought to receive the full blast of this Government’s efforts. It has said that the Government is capable of doing these things. It obtained office by promising, among other things, to see that the ex-serviceman was looked after.
One particular problem that is in my mind relates to the ex-serviceman of World War 1. That war was, without doubt, a much more dangerous affair than was World War II.
– That is a matter of opinion.
– I agree with the honorable member for Wills. I was in it.
– I am looking at the matter statistically. Personally, I found World War II. rather disturbing, and my participation in it was imbued with a good deal of discretion. In World War I. 329,88.3 fighting men went overseas out of a total enlistment of 416,000. There were 59,342 men killed, or something less than one in six of those who went overseas. There were 314,000 casualties, or well over 90 per cent, of the overseas force. Nearly every man who went overseas became a casualty. In World War II. - I am not decrying anybody who participated in it - there were 993,000 enlistments. The number of men killed was 33,826. There were 180,000 casualties - men who were recorded as being sick, wounded, injured, &c. We can add 23,000 prisoners of war, if we like.
The pensions statistics show that men of World War II. had, and I believe still have, a much better go than the men of World War I. This argument has no relation to the argument whether a bullet that went through a man between 1.914 and 1918 went faster and hurt more than one that went through a man between 1939 and 1945. I am dealing with statistics which show the chances of getting a decent go from [ne Repatriation Department. In World War L, there were 314,000 casualties. Ten years after that war, 74,000 pensions were in force. That was a good deal less than the total number of casualties. It was only about a quarter of that number. In 1955, the number of World War I. pensions in force dropped. That was only natural, because the men were passing away. In World War II., the total number of casualties was 180,000. Ten years after that war, 134,000 pensions were in force. So about 60 per cent, of the people who became casualties in World War II. were able to satisfy the Repatriation Commission that they were entitled to repatriation pensions of some kind.
Despite a high casualty rate and years of trench warfare and gas attacks which must have sapped human vitality, the men of World War I. have not, statistically speaking, received anything like the assistance given to the men of World War II. There are special difficulties associated with the people who fought in World War I. Apparently the records system then was not too good. The authorities did not keep a record of what happened to every man every day so accurately as was done later. They did not spend so much on records in World War I. as they did in World War II. In addition, some records were lost. So the soldier of World War I. had a great deal more difficulty in convincing the Repatriation Commission that his disability was war-caused than did the soldier of World War II. That is shown by a simple examination of statistics. An examination of the figures relating to appeals made to the commission shows that 10.6 per cent, of the appeals made by men of World War 1. were allowed, compared with 11.6 per cent, for men of World War II. I am not statistician enough to say whether that is a distinction that warrants closer consideration.
My view - I think it is the view of most people - is that the man who served in World War I. presents a particular problem. He is growing older. The rigours of that war were such as to sap the vitality of the strongest man. Human beings were not made to stand up to the conditions under which men fought then - at least, no human beings that I know. The number of deaths of men of World War I. is increasing. Last year, 3,460 of them died, compared with 1,106 men of World War II. That difference is not surprising, because the men of World War I. are 20 or 30 years older than those of World War II. lt would repay honorable members to study the statistics set out in this book. One does not have to go very far to find a reference to a returned soldier of World War I, who was discharged in 1919 after serving for 1,774 days, of which 1,512 days - that is four years and some months - were spent overseas. He was discharged as medically unfit and was granted a very small pension. For ten or eleven years he battled to get something from the Repatriation Department, but his claim was not accepted until 1940. Since 1940, his pension has been reviewed and reviewed. It has been increased and decreased. Now, at the age of 66 or 67 years, he is receiving a 90 per cent, pension. That man went back to the department and eventually received treatment, but there must have been hundreds or thousands of men who. being knocked back in the first instance, did not apply for treatment again. As I said earlier, I. do not think it is an exaggeration to say that an Australian does not have to look very far in his circle of friends to lind a case of that kind. We put into the field in World War I. a bigger proportion of the men of the relevant age groups than almost any other country which participated in the war. This age and generation ought to accept responsibility for those men, and if is prepared to do so.
An odd feature of the statistics published in this report is the method of recording deaths. The 3,460 men of World War I. and the 1,106 men of World War II. who died last year are shown on the credit side of the account. That seems to me to be a callous way of recording i he departure of those men from our midst.
I point out that the reports of the returned servicemen’s league refer to several instances in which expense has been the criterion. We should apply to the returned servicemen now the principles that we applied to them when they were in the forces. During the war we accepted all financial responsibility for them; money was no object. That principle should apply to them in peace as well as in war.
Some honorable members have mentioned war widows. T believe there are a few anomalies which could be rectified without a great deal of inconvenience and expense. At Heidelberg, in Victoria, there is a repatriation general hospital with a capacity of 1,267 beds, only 863 of which are in use at the moment. The average number in use over the last twelve months has been 757. That hospital is being used only to one-half of its capacity. An opportunity is available to use the resources of the hospital to give medical attention to war widows and their children at the expense of the Repatriation Department. I believe that the war widows with children should be a first charge on the community. As people who had a full family life in our youth, probably we cannot understand what it means for a family to be without a breadwinner. The plight of war widows is often rather pathetic, because many of them were deprived of their husbands at a very early stage of their married lives and had to rear their children unaided almost from birth. Many children of men killed in the war never saw their fathers.
We should give war widows and their children a reasonable standard of living. There are many things that could be done to help them without involving the community in great expense. I understand that a war widow does not receive a travelling allowance. It would not be very expensive to grant such an allowance. After all, most of the transport facilities in this country are State-owned. The pensions and allowances paid to war widows should be raised to such an extent that they will be at least equal to the wages that the breadwinner would have been earning, had he survived.
I have looked at the 32 amendments of the repatriation legislation. I have looked at the parliamentary report which sets out some of the developments that have taken place since the first weak efforts back in 1920 to define our responsibility. In my view the present gradual process of enlightenment in repatriation is not good enough. After all, the people with whom we are dealing pass this way but once. If we do not accept our responsibility and we allow them to lead an unhappy existence, we cannot make up the leeway later. Therefore I would like to see applied to repatriation the “ full-blooded “ action to which the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies”) referred last night. Let us have in the Repatriation Department some of the fullblooded responsibility which in another few years the Prime Minister may ask another set of people to accept.
The returned servicemen’s league has circulated among honorable members its report for last year. There are in the report a good many matters, both large and small, to which consideration might be given. One request that I think could be acceded to without incurring a great deal of expense is the giving of reasons for the rejection of claims. This matter of rejected claims, and the complexity of the system generally, cause honorable members a great deal of distress. The act says - (2.) lt 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, and in all cases whatsoever the onus of proof shall lie on the person or authority who contends that the claim, application or appeal should not be granted or allowed to the full extent claimed.
Despite that provision, one receives official letters stating, for instance -
In the event of an appeal being disallowed by a War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal, an appellant has no further right of appeal, unless he produces fresh evidence, which is admitted as being material to and having a substantial nearing upon the claim.
How many servicemen or servicewomen would be able to find fresh evidence which (net the requirements of the act? As far as I can see, the position is quite simple, and was put clearly by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske). If a man joined the services fit and was discharged unfit, it is necessary for the commission to prove that his disability was not warcaused. I do not see how it can avoid its responsibility to him. This does not necessarily mean that the pension must always be paid.
One of the vital aspects of repatriation is the payment of medical benefits. Medical expenses are a terrific charge upon any household, and the quickest and simplest way in which we can relieve , the anxiety of the serviceman, and give him the feeling that he will be justly treated, is to accept medical responsibility for him. I should think that at this stage that would certainly apply to every one who served in World War I.
Recently a case came to my notice of a totally and permanently incapacitated exserviceman who has been on a full pension, and has been discharged from a government department as unfit for further work. He ought to be able to receive the total and permanent incapacity pension without having to make his way any further through the maze that is the repatriation system.
The service pension was mentioned earlier in the debate. It is no more satisfactory or adequate than is the age pension. I recommend that the bill be re-drafted and the repatriation system overhauled in a forthright fashion.
I shall now tell honorable members some of the things that I would like to see done. We could, on our own initiative, call up for medical examination all veterans of World War 1. without waiting for them to go through the procedure required by the system. 1 understand that something of the kind is done with former prisoners of war.
– How many ex-servicemen from World War I. would be alive to-day?
– I should think not more than 100,000 who had not been through repatriation hands in a formal way, or accepted as the responsibility of the department, would be found. Dependants should be admitted to repatriation hospitals, not merely as an act of grace, but as of right. Hundreds of beds, all over Australia, ar available. The act recognizes the system but does not make it a matter of right. Repatriation hospitals are first class. I have never heard of any one receiving anything but the very best treatment in them.
Another simple concession would be lo state the reasons for refusing to accept a disability as being war-caused. This is no more than ordinary, simple justice. 1 do not think that the Minister’s answer on these matters - which I presume comes from a departmental quarter - that it would cause administrative delay .and serious maladjustment of the whole system, will hold water. The total and permanent incapacity pension rate ought to be more easily attainable by the man who has already been considered pensionable. Service pension > should be brought up to a reasonable living level. The opinions of local doctors should receive more respect than they do. The complexity of the whole system shouldbe reduced. There is a Repatriation Commission, repatriation boards, appeals tribunaland assessment tribunals. The system i confusing to the average citizen, who is not t rained to find his way through this bureau cratic maze. It is not merely a matter o: whether the people operating the system a sympathetic and courteous; it is a matter of t he system itself. The fact that we have had to consider so many amendments, that t here is so much dissatisfaction, and that a body such as the Returned Servicemen’s League spends a great deal of time discussing these things, reveals that the system requires changing. A parliamentary committee along the lines of that which sat in 1 942 and 1 943 could well be set up.
Numerous other points of importance have been made during the debate. It is obvious - and this has been supported by the last speaker - that a good deal can still be done to improve repatriation. 1 was intrigued by last year’s amendment to the act which perpetuated the old system of paying pensions according to rank. Under it all ranks higher than captain in the Navy, colonel and group captain are paid nearly double what the poor batman and the man on the Lewis gun at the bottom of the scale receive. So far as I am concerned every one is equal in their sacrifice for the community and the rates could well be levelled. Generally speaking, greater juslice could be given to ex-servicemen if the principles which I have recommended were adopted.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Leslie) adjourned.
House adjourned at’ 10. 1.9 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
n asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
TheCommonwealthBankisa central bank and does not lend for housing. However, the
Commonwealth Savings Bank is making available each month to individuals, both directly and through co-operative building societies, substantial amounts for home purchase and construction.
d asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
What amount has been paid overseas in each of the last ten years in respect of insurance premiums paid to insurance companies registered in other countries?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
Figures purporting to show the amount of premiums paid by or on behalf of Australian residents to insurance companies registered in other countries are not available. Because of the various ways in which premiums are paid, the effect of re-insurance here and abroad and the differing relationships between resident and nonresident companies, any such estimate would be -unreliable.
d asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
What amount has been remitted overseas in each of the last ten years in payment of dividends to non-resident shareholders?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
In his publication “ Survey of Companies with Overseas Affiliations 1947-1948 to 1954-1955 “ the Acting Commonwealth Statistician has estimated that dividends remitted overseas in respect of Australian company profits, and profits of Australian branches of oversea companies remitted overseas, in each of the financial years 1947-48 to 1954-55 inclusive were as follows: -
Figures for 1955-56 are not yet available.
i asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
The figure for 1955-56 is not yet available.
Note. - It should be noted that the figures shown above relate only to oversea investment in companies in Australia including Australian branches of oversea companies, and do not include other sources of new capital inflow (principally loans raised overseas by the Commonwealth Government).
a asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
What was the total of (a) Australia’s national -debt and (b) the interest owing thereon at the 30th June, 1956, in respect of (i) Australia, (ii) London, (iii) the United States of America and
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
n asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
What amounts have been paid to the gold.mining industry in Western Australia, Queensland, Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia and the Northern Territory, respectively, under the -Gold-mining Industry Assistance Act for 1954 and for 1955?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
The information sought by the honorable member in relation to the financial years 1954-55 and 1955-56 is as follows: -
e asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
e asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Bank of New South Wales Savings Bank Limited, Australia and New Zealand Savings Bank Limited and Commercial Banking Company Savings Bank Limited.
n asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
What is the “ agreed uniform minimum “ referred to in the recent annual report of the Commonwealth Bank, below which each bank has assured the central bank that the ratio of liquid assets plus government securities to deposits will not be allowed to fall?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
As stated in the 1955-56 annual report of the Commonwealth Bank, each trading bank has assured the central bank that its policy will be directed to ensuring that the ratio of its liquiI assets plus government securities to deposits will not fall below an agreed uniform minimum. The level at which the minimum will be maintained concerns the confidential relationship between the central bank and the trading banks and it would not be appropriate at this juncture to divulge the actual figure of the agreed uniform minimum ratio.
y asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
m asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: - 1, 2 and 3. I understand that four private trading banks hold shares in hire-purchase companies, as follows: -
Custom Credit Corporation Limited in 1954. Provided the bank has since subscribed for its entitlement of shares in new issues, it would now hold 4,800,000 58. ordinary stock units representing a 40 per cent, interest in the corporation;
The Commercial Bank of Australia Limited recently announced that it will take up 3,142,000 5s. shares in General Credits Limited, payable 2s. 6d. on application with a call of 2s. 6d. when the funds are required. These shares will give the bank a 45 per cent, interest in General Credits Limited, when the shares are fully paid.
d asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The information sought by the honorable member is not readily available from the records of the service departments. However, it is being compiled and 1 will make it available as soon as possible.
d asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The following information is given in reply to the honorable member’s questions: -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 26 September 1956, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1956/19560926_reps_22_hor12/>.