22nd Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Mr. BEAZLEY presented a petition from certain citizens of Fremantle and electors of the federal division of Fremantle praying that the House take such steps as are possible to solve the unemployment problem in Western Australia.
Petition received and read.
Mr. GEORGE LAWSON presented a petition from certain members of the Pensioners League of Queensland praying that the Parliament give immediate consideration to the question of increasing pensions to 50 per cent, of the basic wage as a minimum.
Petition received and read.
Mr. E. JAMES HARRISON presented a petition from certain electors of the Division of Blaxland, and others, praying that the Government will give early consideration to the question of giving effect to the findings of the World Health Organization, as embodied in its third report on environmental sanitation.
Petition received and read.
– I desire to announce to the House that, during the absence abroad of the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride), the Minister for Supply and Minister for Defence Production (Mr. Beale) will act as Minister for Defence.
– I wish to announce that, during the absence overseas of the right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt), F shall act as Leader of the Opposition.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Civil Aviation a question without notice-
– He is not in this House.
– Then I shall ask it of the Deputy Prime Minister. He will be just as hopeless.
– Then do not ask him, because he will not answer the question.
– You are not going to answer it?
– No. If I am hopeless, why waste your time?
– Order! The honorable member for East Sydney should ask his question.
– I ask the Deputy Prime Minister whether the Skymaster aircraft which made an emergency landing at Darwin, last week-
– I rise to order. I ask for your ruling, Mr. Speaker. Having regard to the observation made by the honorable member for East Sydney, and since the Deputy Prime Minister has indicated that he will’ not answer the question, is the honorable member in order in taking up the time of the House by asking a question that he knows will not be answered?
– The honorable member for East Sydney is in order.
– As I always am. I desire to ask the Deputy Prime Minister the following questions: Was the Skymaster aircraft which made an emergency landing at Darwin last week operating under charter to Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited? Was the number of persons, inclusive of members of the crew, namely 88, onboard that aircraft, in excess of the number normally carried by this type of aircraft and, if so, to what extent? Will the private company responsible for this flight be called upon to meet the expense incurred in the emergency arrangements made by the Commonwealth authorities following advice that the aircraft was in difficulties? What action has the Commonwealth taken to ensure that the lives of people travelling to Australia will not be endangered as a result of the avarice of private airline operators?
– If the honorable gentleman will place his question on the notice-paper, I shall bring it to the notice of my colleague, the Minister for Civil Aviation.
– Can the
Minister for Trade tell the House whether there is any immediate intention to review certain tariffs, as permitted under the terms of the new trade agreement with the United Kingdom? If so, what kinds of imports are likely to be affected?
– A tariff list is in the final stage of compilation and will be presented to the Parliament before the end of the present sessional period. It is a list of non-protective tariff items and is designed, by lowering the margin of British preference in terms of the recent United Kingdom trade agreement, to reduce costs of Australian production and manufacture.
– I ask the Minister for External Affairs what steps the Government is taking to ensure that trips to Communist China, as now provided by the Chinese Government, are not being used to further Communist activities in Australia. If such is not their object, what return does the Chinese Government expect for such hospitality? Has the Government any knowledge that the people invited are sympathetic to, or tolerant of, the Communist regime in China, or that the conditions under which the visits are conducted are such that an impartial judgment of life in that country could be expected from the visitors?
– The Government has consistently taken the attitude that it neither encourages nor discourages such invitations from the Government of Communist China to groups of personalities in Australia to visit China. It is left to the good sense of the individual visitor not to be - I think I might say - taken in by the obvious propaganda to which the visitors will be exposed when they are in China. I think that if one looks at the composition of the groups that have been invited to, and have visited, Communist China over the last twelve months, one will see that there is no great fear that the groups as I recall them will be taken in. The particular groups, as I remember them, included a group from the National Union of Australian University Students, Professor Fitzgerald’s group, a group led by His Grace, the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, a group of trade unionists led by the president of the Australian Council of Trades Unions and, more lately, a group of doctors. I have been kept informed of the names of the members of these groups, and I think that very few, if any, of the individuals making them up can be said to be in any way tinged with the type of politics which would make them susceptible to propaganda of the kind which undoubtedly they would receive when they reached Communist China.
As to the motive of the Communist Chinese Government in inviting these groups, I can only believe that that government thinks that it enhances its prestige to have groups of personalities of that consequence - in this case Australians - visiting China, and I take it that it would expect the groups, when they return home, to talk tolerantly, or even sympathetically, about what they saw in China. I do not myself believe that there is any evidence that the latter has happened. I believe that the visitors to China have not been individuals of the type who might be sympathetic with what they found in Communist China and I expect that the Government will continue to adopt the attitude that it neither encourages nor discourages such visits. I think we can rely on the good sense of decent Australians in that respect.
– In view of the approaching budget session and the need for working out a system of taxation concessions for areas such as the north-west of Western Australia, the Northern Territory and northern Queensland in order to assist development there, will the Treasurer confer with the Commonwealth Commissioner of Taxation with a view to having that gentleman visit these areas to investigate and report on their needs so that concessions can be incorporated in the forthcoming budget?
– I assure the honorable member that I will have his observations taken into account in connexion with the construction of the next budget.
– I ask the Minister for Immigration: Is it a fact that State development officers have been appointed in connexion with the “ Bring out a Briton “ campaign? Has one of these officers been appointed for Western Australia? If not, can the Minister give any information about such an appointment in that State?
– Appointments of these officers have been made in most States, but one has not yet been appointed for the State of Western Australia. I will let the honorable member know later in the day how far matters have gone in connexion with the appointment for Western Australia.
– I ask the Treasurer whether a new Commonwealth Bank building is to be erected on the corner of Hay and William streets, Perth. If this is so, can the right honorable gentleman advise when the work is likely to be commenced and whether it can be started urgently to relieve unemployment?
– The honorable member has raised a matter of administration, responsibility for which lies with the Commonwealth Bank itself. I shall have the question brought under the notice of the Governor of the bank.
– I ask the Minister for Trade: Will he take into consideration the importance of the Australian cotton spinning and weaving industries to the growers of cotton, in Queensland particularly, when he is finalizing the terms of the new trade agreement with Japan? Will the Minister ensure that no clause in that agreement will in any way react to the detriment of the Australian cotton industry?
– I am acutely conscious of what one might describe as the sensitivity of the Australian textile industry, particularly certain sections of the cotton-textile industry, to competition from low-cost Asiatic countries, of which Japan is one. Because I am conscious of this, prior to the negotiations with the Japanese Government for a new trade treaty, and, indeed, during the negotiations, I consulted with the Australian Chamber of Manufactures and with various sections of the Australian textile industry, including what I think is called the Cotton and Rayon Weavers Association. I had personal conferences with representatives of that association in the presence of the president of the Australian Chamber of Manufactures and engaged correspondence with that section of the industry. The honorable member can be assured that nothing will be done without the most careful consideration of the implications of the agreement for all sections of Australian industry and for the Australian economy.
– My question to the Minister for the Interior refers to the increased tariffs shortly to operate in hostels conducted by the Department of the Interior in Canberra. Recognizing that it has been a practice for some years to apply one-third of the basic wage increase to the individual tariffs at these hostels and accepting that as a reasonable proposition when living costs have demonstrably risen, will the Minister give special consideration to married men with dependent wives and families living in at least one of the government hostels at Canberra? Will he recognize the fact that with the recent basic wage rise of 10s. a week, a married man with a dependent wife and two children will be financially worse off because of the proposed increase in tariff? Further, will the Minister discuss with the Public Service Board the general question of the payment of allowances to men who are required to serve in Canberra, and to sustain themselves and their families at hostels while awaiting the allocation of a house, so that this charge will be shown not against the administration of hostels but, more properly, against the Public Service Board or the departments with which the officers are employed?
– I am sure that the honorable member will appreciate the magnitude of the problem which he poses for the department, and also the intricate nature of this matter of giving assistance to those who are required to live in hostels.
It is one of the unfortunate facts of life that as costs rise we must, if we are to keep the hostel accounts in reasonable condition, increase charges accordingly. However, I will have a look at the question that he raises and see whether there is any possibility of relief being afforded.
– Has the Minister for External Affairs any information about the campaign of aggression which Communist China has recently conducted - and probably still is conducting - against the people of Tibet? Is this on the same pattern as recent Soviet aggression against the people of Hungary? Have observers from the free world freedom of access to Tibet and its borders, and are guests of Communist China usually allowed to visit these areas and contact the Tibetan people freely? Has Mr. Nehru expressed to the Commonwealth Government any views in respect of Chinese Communist behaviour towards the Tibetan people?
– The story of Communist China and Tibet is now, unfortunately, an old and lengthy one. Towards the end of 1950 Communist China invaded Tibet with force of arms and about six months later imposed - I do not believe that that is too strong a word - a treaty on Tibet under which that country was incorporated in Communist China as a so-called autonomous unit. Foreign affairs and defence were to be dealt with by the Peking Government, but otherwise, under the treaty - in words at least - the normal institutions that had been built up in Tibet over the centuries were to remain. In fact, that has not happened. There has been a continuous incursion of Chinese migrants into Tibet. They have settled on the land in very considerable numbers, and this has been greatly resented by the Tibetans. Over the last five, six or seven years, from memory, in eastern Tibet particularly, there have been many uprisings - some supported by arms - against the new Chinese masters.
Clearly, the treaty of mid-1951 was imposed on Tibet by duress. The Dalai Lama is still the spiritual head of Tibet and a force in the land, but recently, ostensibly for medical purposes, he has been to Peking and the current fear is that, being physically in the hands of the Communist Chinese, he may have improper pressure brought to bear upon him to permit the final subjugation of the Tibetan people and the incorporation of that country as an ordinary part of Communist China. The honorable member asks whether this has a parallel with Hungary. I should think it could broadly be said that this is another example of the enforced subjugation of a people under an international Communist regime. As to Mr. Nehru’s views on the subject, I have not the benefit of his confidence in this regard.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister for External Affairs, is supplementary to the question asked by the honorable member for Mackellar. Does the right honorable gentleman recall, at the time of the Communist aggression in Tibet, any vigorous protests being made by the Leader of the Opposition against that act of unwarranted aggression?
– Search my memory as I may, I am unable to recollect any protest being made by the Leader of the Opposition in respect of the plight of the unfortunate people of Tibet.
– I ask the Minister for Primary Industry a question which does not fall within the province of any State government or any Commonwealth department other than his own. Did the Minister over a year ago approve of a Commonwealth extension service grant for two officers of the Western Australian and South Australian Departments of Agriculture and an officer of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics to proceed to the United States to study means of raising the efficiency of our poultry industry? Is it a fact that the three experts arrived in the United States last July and returned to Australia six months ago but have still not presented a report? Will the Minister, as a matter of urgency, ascertain the main views of the members of this team, so that he can take into account the comparative efficiency of our poultry industry when considering submissions for assistance to it? If these officials have found that Australian poultry farming methods compare well with those in the United States, will he inform the public of this fact to dispel any wrong impression created by the Prime Minister’s statement that the industry should put its house in order before receiving assistance?
– I get a little bit tired of the somewhat juvenile statements of the honorable member for Werriwa when he constantly wishes to remind people of the constitutional functions of the Commonwealth and State governments. It becomes very wearying and very tiring at the end of a long session. So far as I am concerned, his presumptuousness is not even regretted; it makes me just a little bit disappointed in him.
I come now to the questions that he asked. It is perfectly true that, in order to gauge, first of all, the efficiency of the poultry industry in Australia and particularly in Western Australia and South Australia, I did give approval for technical experts to visit the United States to find out just what the latest developments were and whether they could be applied here. If the latest developments were known in Australia, then the money would not have been misspent. A member of the Division of Agricultural Economics visited the United States and, I think, other countries, and has since returned. The experts have not submitted a report to me, it is true. There is no necessity for the officers of the Western Australian Government to do so, as they went for purely State purposes and would report to the Western Australian Government- and perhaps the Australian Agricultural Council. I am hopeful that the officer of the Division of Agricultural Economics is preparing a paper now, which will be included in the quarterly journal of the bureau. I think, if it is included in that journal, it will be of much greater benefit than it could ever be if it were passed across to the unfortunate member for Werriwa.
– I desire to ask the Deputy Prime Minister a question. As friendly society dispensaries, which provide medical requirements for the members of friendly societies in Victoria, are being restricted in their operations by the tax on total turn-over imposed by this Government, will the Government in the interests of co-operative enterprise abolish the inequitable and unjust tax that is imposed not on profits but on the total proceeds of all sales by Victorian dispensaries?
– This matter has been the subject of investigation, and a deputation has discussed it with me. I hope that the formula may be varied in some aspects so as to alleviate the position in the way desired by the honorable member. Nobody knows better than the people concerned that the formula has to be experimental, and improvements must be effected by trial and error.
– Is the PostmasterGeneral aware that the efficiency of his department in rapidly expanding telephone services in country districts of South Australia, and the consequent rapid multiplication of exchanges, has resulted in the listing of many subscribers in the South Australian telephone book under exchange names that have no relationship to the postal addresses of the persons concerned? Is the Minister aware that this has made it almost impossible for persons without local knowledge to locate the telephone numbers of subscribers? Will the Minister consider the listing of country subscribers in South Australia in alphabetical order in the new edition of the telephone book, in addition to listing them under exchanges as at present?
– The problem of preparing telephone directories in a manner that will give the best and most reliable information to telephone subscribers is constantly engaging the attention of the department. Various methods of presenting the names and numbers of telephone subscribers have been tried. The honorable member has suggested that it might be an advantage if, instead of using the present system, telephone subscribers were listed in alphabetical order, particularly in country areas. That proposal has been investigated on several occasions but its adoption would mean an estimated addition of about £100,000 to the cost of preparing directories. I. suggest that, although this method might be effective in some areas, there are other areas in which it would give rise to greater difficulties than now exist. In an attempt to deal with the situation outlined by the honorable member, a fairly extensive system of cross references has been developed. In districts in which there are two exchanges, or an exchange with a different name from that of the district that the exchange is serving, cross references are put into the directory. So far, this has been found to be the best method of dealing with the situation. I think the honorable member will agree that cost is a factor which has to be given considerable thought in the publication of directories. The method suggested by him would considerably add to costs.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Supply whether the United Kingdom is playing a lone wolf part in the Pacific nuclear tests at Christmas Island. If it is not, why were the New Zealand and Australian Governments not notified that the hydrogen bomb would be dropped over Christmas Island on a certain day last week? Has the United Kingdom Government already made arrangements with the Australian Government to step up its nuclear tests in Australia before the end of this year?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is, “ No “. The United Kingdom Government is not playing a lone wolf game, as the honorable member so pleasantly calls it. I saw the report of some comment by the Leader of the Opposition to this effect the other day. He went so far as to suggest that some alleged failure to inform the Australian Government was an indication that this Government was being reduced to a cipher, as I think he put it. I thought at the time that he was emulating the Mauretanian tiger, which used to lash itself into a fury with its own tail. The whole basis of his allegation, like that of the allegation of the honorable member for Wilmot, was quite false. In the first place, these are British tests, not Australian tests, and, therefore, the position might well be that this Government would be no more entitled than any other government would be to specific and detailed information about these tests. In any case, nobody can tell the precise time - the “ exact time “ was the phrase used by the Leader of the Opposition - when a test is to be held. Our experience at Maralinga, where we had to wait some days for favorable conditions, shows that. However, the Australian Government was given a great deal of information about these tests, including the timing of the tests, and the best proof of that is that our observers were sent to the Christmas Island area some time before the tests took place and they actually witnessed the tests. I cannot speak for the New Zealand Government, but there is no justification whatever for the allegation that the Australian Government was not properly informed.
– I ask a question of the Minister for Defence Production: Has the Minister’s attention been directed to the possibility of a strike of inspectors at the Avalon aircraft factory, near Geelong? If so, could the Minister give any information concerning the reason for such an unfortunate development and state whether any steps may be taken to adjust the situation in a more satisfactory manner than by direct action?
– Yes. I received a teleprinter message about this matter a few minutes ago. It appears that some inspectors, have threatened to stop work owing to a dispute between themselves and the management of the aircraft factory. Action was immediately taken by the Department of Defence Production to refer the matter to the Public Service Arbitrator, Mr. Galvin, who has set it down for hearing at 10.30 a.m. on Monday next, when every effort will be made to reach a settlement. I hope that the inspectors, who are a fine body of men, will think over this matter very carefully and see whether it is possible to have it adjusted in the amicable and friendly way that such disputes should be settled and have been settled in the past.
– Is the Minister for Supply aware of statements made by the principal scientific officer of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, Mr. W. Busbridge, in a radio interview in Melbourne? Mr. Busbridge said -
Australia will be able to pump de-salted ocean water into “ The Centre “ at a cost of five shillings for each 1,000,000 gallons. Atom power stations in “ The Centre “ could provide all the electricity Australia would need in a year on 4 tons of uranium. Australia has big resources of uranium and of thorium, which could be converted into uranium fuel-
In view of that statement, I desire to ask the Minister whether he has made any investigations into this subject because of its great scientific and economic value to this country.
– In answer to the honorable gentleman, this matter now falls within the jurisdiction of my colleague in another place, the Minister for National Development, but I have some personal knowledge of it, first, because, until recently, I was Minister in charge of it, and secondly, because my own department has been examining a kindred matter. Yes, we are aware of the possibilities of the desalination of water through nuclear power, and indeed, through other sources of power. A few days ago, in this House, I mentioned a very interesting development which had been taking place at Maralinga in the same connexion. I agree with the honorable gentleman that the possibilities of pumping desalinated water from the sea into the interior of Australia are very encouraging if nuclear power plants come up to our expectations.
– In view of the restriction of television broadcasts to the States of Victoria and New South Wales, and particularly to the capital cities in those States, will the Postmaster-General consider a remission of licence-fees to those enthusiasts in other States who can get occasional television broadcasts and whose experimental work might make it possible to extend reception areas considerably, and thus avoid the building of costly new stations?
– Is the honorable member’s question related to the remission of licence-fees to the owners of television receivers in areas of poor reception?
– In States other than Victoria and New South Wales.
– No licence-fees are being collected in those areas in which there is no reception. However, if I have failed to get the import of the honorable member’s question, I shall have another look at it and give him a considered reply.
– I ask the Deputy Prime Minister a question. I am given to understand that in London to-day it was announced that the British Prime Minister had apologized to the Prime Minister of
New Zealand for the failure of the British Government to inform the New Zealand Government about the pending date of the explosion of the H-bomb. I ask the Deputy Prime Minister whether he will look into the matter of the advice that the British Government has tendered to the Australian Government from time to time as to when these explosions are to. be detonated, and ask him, also, whether he will, after he has made his investigation, make to the House before it rises a statement indicating to what extent any improvement is necessary in the relationships between the British and Australian Governments in regard to these matters. This question is not asked in derogation of anything that the Minister for Supply has said this afternoon.
– I shall be pleased to look into the honorable member’s question and ascertain to what extent I can comply with his request.
Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) agreed to -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn to to-morrow at 10.30 a.m.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay).I have received a letter from the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Cope) proposing that a definite matter of urgent public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely -
The urgent necessity for the Government to grant immediate substantial increases in rates of pensions and benefits to alleviate widespread distress amongst aged, invalid, widowed and repatriation pensioners and recipients of other social services including the unemployed and the sick.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places. (More than the number of members required by the Standing Orders having risen in their places) -
.- This Government has shown a callous disregard of the widespread distress suffered by many age and invalid pensioners in their struggle to live on a paltry income of £4 a week. When members of the Australian Labour party have brought the issue of pensions before the Parliament from time to time, they have been accused of doing so merely in an endeavour to win political kudos. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Australian Labour party is committed to, and devoted to, a policy of obtaining the best possible living standards for every man, woman, and child in Australia, regardless of station in life. It does not believe in prosperity being enjoyed by some and denied to others. I should like honorable members to realize that most pensioners had to raise their families the hard way, in times when there was no government assistance in the form of child endowment, and no unemployment or sickness benefit if the breadwinner were out of work or ill. Naturally, this greatly restricted their opportunities to save for their old age. I should like to remind the House, also, that many age pensioners suffered from unemployment during the dark days of the depression of the early 1930’s, and this also placed them at a great disadvantage compared with those who are raising families to-day.
Pensions were last increased just before the 1955 election - on 1st November, 1955, to be exact. No doubt, the increase was given in an attempt to win a few votes. However, I do not think that such tactics will help the Government at the next election, because the pensioners will not again be deluded into voting for supporters of a government that will increase pensions immediately before an election and allow pensioners to starve for the next two years.
– I thought that the honorable member was raising this matter in a non-party spirit.
– Doubtless, if the honorable member had his way, the pensioners would be reduced to eating chaff. I think all honorable members know that pensioners pay just as much for the bare essentials of life, such as food and clothing, as do the rich - if they can afford to buy even the bare essentials. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) budgeted for a surplus of £108,000,000 in the current financial year. When he brought down the budget on 30th August of last year, he said that this surplus would be set aside for the financing of State public works. All Opposition members recognize the importance of State public works, and the need for funds to be set aside to finance them, but the Opposition considers that it is of first importance also that no under-privileged people should want for food, clothing, and other necessaries. Therefore, some of the budget surplus should be set aside to help the pensioners. The fact that this has not been done is a blot upon the Government’s record.
Last year, during the debate on the Social Services Bill 1956 the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) cited the report made on the results of a Victorian survey of the conditions of pensioners. However: he read only the part of the report that high-lighted the bright side of the picture, and did not mention the dark side. In fairness, I shall read to the House the part that high-lights the dark side of the picture. The report is entitled “ Raising age pensions. A five-point programme “, and it was prepared by Professor R. I. Downing, Ritchie Professor of Research in Economics at the University of Melbourne. It states -
The Victorian survey mentioned earlier suggest* that it is reasonable to assume that nearly half the pensioner population own their own homes or have a life interest in the houses in which they live. Unofficial information suggests that when allowance is made for those who are living either with their own families or in decent rooms at rents reasonable in relation to the pension, it might be assumed that 75 per cent, to 80 per cent, of the pensioner population has satisfactory living arrangements. The remaining 20 per cent, or 25 per cent, may not only be living in grossly substandard accommodation but may also be paying as much as half their pension in rent. The £2 a week left after rent has been paid is simply not enough to provide an adequate diet and all the other things needed - washing, heating, lighting, clothes, newspapers, tobacco or sweets, fares, entertainment and so on.
Among pensioners, there appears to be very little cash income apart from the pension. Presumably those who are able to earn anything at all are mostly able to earn enough to bring them more than the allowable income. As they pass the stage where they are still able to earn, they go on to the pension, and few have annuity or superannuation income to supplement the pension.
The majority of pensioners (65 per cent.) are single, widowed, divorced or separated, and presumably most of these people do not share their living expenses, especially housing, heating and light. A small number live in communal homes run by the State or by private organizations. These homes vary greatly in quality of accommodation and many are particularly bad in failing to provide occupation and interests for their inhabitants. Some even segregate husbands and wives or accept only one sex. In any case, with all their shortcomings, there are reported to be far more people wanting this communal accommodation than there are places available.
So it can be seen that the Minister told the House last year only about the people who were adequately housed, and neglected entirely to mention a very large group of people who, I suggest, are living in circumstances not fit for human beings.
There are in Australia, at the present time, 537,000 age and invalid pensioners. If one takes the figure of 22i per cent., which is mid-way between the limits of 20 per cent, and 25 per cent, mentioned in the report of the survey, one arrives at an estimate of more than 120,000 people who are paying up to £2 a week rent out of their pension of £4 a week. I am sure that no member of this Parliament would suggest for a moment that the remaining £2 a week is adequate for their support. Only a few minutes ago, my friend and colleague, the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser), asked the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Fairhall) a question about increased tariffs in government hostels in Canberra, the Minister, in his reply, stated that, if wages were increased, hostel tariffs must be increased. Why not raise pensions also?
As I have pointed out, pensions were last increased in November, 1955. The cost of living has increased sharply in the succeeding eighteen months; yet the pensioners are expected to keep themselves satisfactorily on the paltry sum of £4 a week! Last year, the Minister for Social Services said that, when Labour went out of office in 1949, the age and invalid pension was £2 2s. 6d. a week. He said that it had been increased to £4 a week, and then he threw out his chest, stood to attention, and announced with pride that that represented an increase of 88.2 per cent. However, let us consider the real value of the increase. When Labour went out of office in 1949, the basic wage in New South Wales was £6 12s. a week, and the age and invalid pension was £2 2s. 6d. a week. At the present time, with the inclusion of quarterly adjustments, the wage is £13 8s. a week in New South Wales - 103 per cent, more than in 1949. Yet pensions have increased by only 88.2 per cent. It takes, therefore, only a little simple arithmetic to find that the purchasing power of pensions has decreased considerably since 1949.
I have not used those figures as the actual basis of my argument; I have used them to refute the claim of the Minister, because I do not believe in arguing about pensions on the basis of what has been done by governments, Labour or otherwise.
The point is that this is a bread-and-butter issue, involving the question of whether £4 a week is sufficient for people to live on. I submit that if it was good enough for the members of this Parliament to claim that they could not struggle along on the money that they were receiving and to ask for, and be granted, increased salaries, surely the pensioners also are entitled to more. It is of little use only to look after the people at the top. TheGovernment must look after the whole of the community. It has always been my sincere belief that every person in Australia is entitled to a decent standard of living. The Australian Labour party supports the Colombo plan, which embodies a principle which I favour very much, but unlike the Government parties, the Australian Labour party, before it supports an organization which operates outside this country, tries to ensure that every person in Australia is adequately catered for.
In the course of the survey to which I have referred, reference is made to a book entitled, “ Social Security in the British Commonwealth “, by Ronald Mendelsohn, in which the author stated -
It is not official policy to <lo much in the way of housing the aged . . . their living conditions are rarely investigated and still more rarelyimproved. It is surely disgraceful to us, one of the five richest nations (per head) in the world, that that could be said.
– When was that written?
– In 1951. Those are the opinions, not of people looking for political advantage or kudos, but of people who have actually seen the conditions about which I am speaking. They have made a survey, and they know what they are talking about. When the Minister for Social Services was speaking on this subject last year, he said that it was constantly in his mind, and in that of the Government, that these unfortunate people must be looked after. I have here the relevant excerpt from “Hansard”, although I know it by heart. If that statement by the Minister was correct, then he and his colleagues in the Government must be suffering from amnesia.
In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, may I say that I admire very much the charitable and church organizations which are assisting pensioners, as I do the Sydney City Council for its “ meals on wheels “ scheme, and the New South Wales Government for the many concessions that it has granted to pensioners. I submit, however, that responsibility rests with this Parliament to eliminate poverty in the community and that it should not rely on others to provide the needy with bowls of soup or leftoff clothing. In my electorate, and in those of the honorable members for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), West Sydney (Mr. Minogue), Grayndler (Mr. Daly) and Dalley (Mr. O’Connor), there is irrefutable evidence to support the facts that I have placed before the House to-day.
– Order! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
– It is most unfortunate for the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Cope) that he should have been selected by the Australian Labour party to bring forward this proposal concerning “ the urgent necessity for the Government to grant immediate substantial increases in rates of pensions and benefits to alleviate widespread distress amongst aged, invalid, widow and repatriation pensioners and recipients of other social services, including the unemployed and the sick “. I should like to be generous to the honorable member, but this proposal, after all, is a very serious matter. It is designed, of course, to confound and confuse the credulous and the uninformed. Because of that, I must reply to the honorable member in a factual way. Every literate member of this House, and every literate member of another place, knows the record of this Government measured against the record of the socialist government that preceded it.
Opposition members interjecting,
– Honorable members opposite asked for this and they must be prepared to take it. Not only does every literate member of this House and of another place know the difference between the record of this Government and that of the previous government, but every interested and literate person outside this Parliament also knows the difference.
Opposition members interjecting,
– Order! Will the Minister please take his seat? The honorable member for Watson was heard in silence and I am going to insist that the Minister also be heard in silence. I shall take action if there are interjections.
– On a point of order, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker-
Order! There is no point of order involved. The honorable member for Scullin will resume his seat.
– I am sorry if the Opposition is going to take umbrage before I actually start my speech. Obviously, when an honorable member opposite brings forward a matter of urgency, some one must reply to it. Surely it is competent for an honorable member on the Government side, particularly if he is the Minister responsible for the administration of the department concerned, to answer the criticisms that have been levelled at the Government!
Every literate person interested in the question of social services generally knows the circumstances of the aged, the young, the bereaved, the lowly, the sick, the unemployed, the maimed, the broken and the homeless when this Government took office in 1949, and they know, too, the circumstances of people in receipt of social service benefits and assistance of every kind to-day. This is not a matter of interpretation or speculation. It is not a matter of what I think has been done or of what honorable members opposite think has been done; the important thing is what the record shows in arithmetical facts which are not to be contradicted by me, the honorable member for Watson, or any other honorable member.
The cold facts are that in 1949, social service benefits for the Australian community were confined within the financial limits of £80,000,000. That was the best that any socialist government had ever been able to do for people who might be considered to be in necessitous circumstances, no matter how minor the degree. The total expenditure on health and social services was £80,000,000. Year by year, as I have told honorable members in this place on a number of occasions, these social service benefits have been increased, expanded and liberalized to include hundreds of thousands of people in the community, until to-day the total expenditure on health and social services exceeds £227,000,000 a year.
That is the record in hard cash, if honorable members opposite understand the term. The range of increase was from £80,000,000 to more than £227,000,000 in respect of health and social service benefits alone.
But the proposal for discussion now before us alludes also to repatriation. Although I am not willing to do so, I must include expenditure on repatriation among the facts that I have to give in answer to the contentions of honorable gentlemen opposite. In 1949 the best that the socialists could offer in the way of discharging the repatriation responsibilities of the Australian people was £20,000,000. To-day, the annual expenditure on repatriation benefits is £45,000,000. Yet, there are those who say that this Government has been inactive in respect of repatriation benefits.
So, the annual aggregate expenditure on health, social service benefits and repatriation benefits has risen from £100,000,000 in 1949, under the socialists, to £272,000,000 to-day. Yet, honorable members opposite try to disguise these facts; they try to confound the credulous and the uninformed; they try to harrow the feelings of those unfortunate people who are in necessitous circumstances, and to excite the cupidity of people in receipt of social service benefits, no matter what their social circumstances may be. So, the case submitted by the Opposition during this discussion must be rejected. Every literate member of this House, and every literate person outside this House-
– I rise to order, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker. Is the Minister in order in implying that there are in this House honorable members who are not literate?
– Order! The Minister may think that, but he did not say so.
– The honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory might have some cause to take exception to the adjectives that I use from time to time, but I have a variety of other adjectives that the honorable member might be interested to hear at some more convenient time.
Opposition members interjecting,
Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER.Order! There are too many interjections. I shall take action unless they stop.
– Every literate person knows that the rates of social service benefits, repatriation benefits, and benefits of the kind, are determined each year by this Parlaiment and by nobody else. I have no hesitation in saying that if the determination were mine exclusively I would do all that lay within my power to increase social service benefits to a maximum amount, within the financial capacity of the people to pay for them, even to the impoverishment of honorable members of this place and of another place. That is my personal inclination in the matter. But the determination does not rest with me; it rests with the Government in the first place, and with the Parliament in the second place. So I say, once again, that since this matter has been raised it is my duty to point out the increases that have taken place in the entire range of our social services benefits. I know that honorable members opposite will not like it. I do not want to do it, but it has been forced upon me and forced on the Government. The cold facts are that in 1949 the age pension was £2 2s. 6d. a week; it is now £4 a week. In addition, permissible income has been increased, and the limit of permissible property has been raised. These are the cold facts of the case, and honorable members opposite must accept them. Similarly, the invalid pension, which was £2 2s. 6d. a week in 1949, is £4 a week to-day, plus 10s. for each child after the first.
– How much does that cost the Government each year?
– I have already told the honorable member for Watson that; and I have already indicated that there are people who, because of their limitations, cannot understand simple facts.
– I am talking about the children.
Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER.Order! The honorable member will cease interjecting.
– Similarly, in 1949, the Class A widow’s pension was £2 7s. 6d. a week; to-day it is £4 5s. a week, plus 10s. a week for each child under sixteen years of age, after the first. The Class A widow’s pension was confined in 1949 to a widow with one child under the age of sixteen. The socialists said that if she had three or four children under the age of sixteen years they could do nothing extra to help her. The result was that the Class A widow with ten children was in exactly the same financial position as the Class A widow with only one child. It remained for this Government last year to bring down an amendment of the Social Services Act to provide an increase covering each child after the first by 10s. a week. B and D Class widow’s pensions, which were £2 2s. a week in 1949, are now £3 7s. 6d. a week. The Class C widow’s pension also has risen from £2 7s. 6d. a week in 1949 to £3 7s. 6d. a week. Blind persons received £2 2s. 6d. a week in pension in 1949; to-day they receive £4 a week and with no means test.
– That is not true. There is a means test on the blind, and you know it.
Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKEROrder! The honorable member for East Sydney must remain silent.
– It makes no difference, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker. A pest is a pest wherever it is to be found, and one must do the best one can. The Government is paying child endowment of 10s. a week for each child, after the first, under the age of sixteen years. The only child in a family was ignored by the socialists. A young man and woman bringing a child into the world were ignored by the socialists. They said, “There is nothing we can do to help in a situation of that kind. We are interested in families only after they are established. We are not at all interested in establishing the family in the first place”. Just as it remained for a Menzies-Fadden Administration to introduce child endowment of any kind on a Commonwealth basis, so it remained for the Menzies Government to introduce child endowment for the first child, for the first time in the history of social services in this country.
Unemployment and sickness benefits, a subject that is frequently flogged by honorable members opposite, were each £1 5s. a week when the socialists were in office; to-day they are £2 10s. a week. And so it is through the entire range of social service benefits.
– Including child endowment?
– Covering the entire range. These increases have moved up year by year, and budget by budget. Prior to the election of this Government to office, the homeless among the aged were completely ignored by the socialists. It remained for this Government, again for the first time in history of our social services, to bring down legislation to give assistance to churches and charitable organizations which alone had been engaged in this kind of work for a great many years.
Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
– I regret very much that the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) in his remarks departed so far from fairness as to talk about literacy and illiteracy. I do not think the Minister should have done that.
Mr. Whitlam interjecting.
– Order! The honorable member for Werriwa must remain silent. I shall not warn him again.
– I would say that when it comes to a question of literacy, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, you will find there is equality on both sides of the House, because we have on this side men of as high intellect and just as well read as honorable members on the other side of the House. However, I do not desire to continue with that matter. I tell the Minister that we did not put this proposal before the House for discussion in order to make any comparison with what a Labour Government may have done eight or ten years ago. What the Opposition has done has been to bring before the House, as a matter of urgency, the pensions that people are receiving to-day. It is not a matter that has come from the ranks of the Labour party alone. I have received letters “ galore “ from pensioners’ associations, imploring me to do everything possible to get an increase for their members, who are going through such a difficult time. We have had representations also from the highest dignitories of the various churches, pointing out the terrible plight that many pensioners are in to-day.
The Minister for Social Services has said that the amount paid in social services benefits has risen from £80,000,000 in 1949 to £227,000,000 in 1957. If one took into consideration the value of money to-day, one would find that no more could be purchased with the increased amount given to pensioners now than could be purchased with the smaller amount in 1949. Apart from that, a declaration has just been made by the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission to the effect that it is the duty of industry in this country to pay to the workers what the country can afford. I contend that it is the duty of the government of the day to pay as much as it can afford to those who are in receipt of pensions. The increase from £80,000,000 to £227,000,000, which was mentioned by the Minister, is almost a three-fold increase, but the increase of the pension from £2 2s. 6d. a week in 1949 to £4 a week in 1957 is not even a two-fold increase. If the weekly amount paid to the pensioner had been increased to nearly three times £2 2s. 6d., I doubt whether members of the Opposition would be arguing this matter to-day.
– Three times the taxation would be required to pay three times the pension.
– I agree that the extra money necessary would have to be raised by way of taxation, but when we find the Government saying that it can apply £100,000,000 of taxation revenue to enable State public works to proceed in all States of the Commonwealth - not Commonwealth works - I say that we can afford to pay extra taxes in order to give something more to those on the bottom rung of the economic ladder. It is all very well for the Government to talk about what it has done in making increases. The Minister has rightly stated that the permissible income has been increased, but he has not said that approximately 70 per cent, of those receiving pensions have no other income. Any increase of the permissible income does not help those people at all. A similar position applies in regard to the increase of the value of property owned. I admit that I have been arguing through the years for increases of permissible income and of the value of property permitted to be owned, but those increases do not help the 70 per cent, of the pensioners to whom I have referred. Many of these people do not know how to get along on the pension of £4 a week. I agree that since this Government has been in office it has brought in the pensioners’ medical benefits scheme, which is good for the pensioner. I do not dispute that. I agree that the Government has brought in the allowance of 10s. a week for children, other than the first child, of A-class widows and invalid pensioners. But the great majority of pensioners are people who have no children. The great majority of them are elderly people who depend absolutely on what they can get in the way of a pension.
Last year, when the Minister went to Adelaide, a deputation representing the pensioners waited on him. It was just before the budget was presented to the Parliament. He told the deputation that the matter of pensions had been settled. I agree that the Minister can spend on pensions only what the Government or the Treasurer allocates for that purpose. He told this deputation that the rate of pensions had been dealt with and that it was too late to make any alteration. I had people coming to me - deputations from pensioners’ associations - asking me to push the matter in the House so that they could get higher pensions. Even after the budget was introduced, people came to me, saying, “ Can’t you persuade the Government to give us something more? “. My answer to them was, “ It is too late to do anything now. The budget is framed, taxation proposals are framed, everything is settled and the Government will not make any alterations “. That would have been the position no matter what government was in office. A government must have time to decide what it will spend, where it will get the money and what it will spend it on. As a result of last year’s experience, the Opposition decided that before the budget was drawn up and presented to Parliament, it would raise the matter in the House. We felt that that would be better than waiting until after the budget had been presented and then moving an amendment, as I moved an amendment last year, seeking an increase in the pension rate. I knew when I moved my amendment last year that there was no hope of getting an increase. This year we have decided to raise this matter months before the budget is prepared and argue the case now in an effort to influence the Minister to move for an increase in the rate of pensions.
The Minister interjected to say that extra taxation would be needed to meet an increase in pensions. I tell the Minister that members on this side of the House are quite prepared to support any move for additional taxation to be levied if that is necessary to give the pensioners enough to live on. I am quite prepared, as are the other members of my party, to move in that direction. If the Minister is worried about levying more taxation to give these people a higher pension, he may accept our assurance that we will support him in such a move. I have addressed big meetings of workers and pointed out to them that if they want to do away with the means test and to have higher pensions, they will have to pay more in income taxation. Their reply has been that they are quite prepared to do that if they can have an assurance of security when they are too old to work. They do not mind paying a bit extra so that they will be able to have security when they come towards the end of life’s journey. What members of the Opposition are trying to emphasize to-day is that no matter what was paid in 1949, we can argue that the value of that amount was much greater than the value of the £4 paid to-day. But I do not want to base my case on comparisons of that kind. What I want to ask the Government is: Are we paying enough to the pensioners to give them a reasonable standard of living, in view of the economic condition of the country? Are we doing enough? I say very definitely to the Government that we are not. Pensioner couples to whom the increase in permissible income applies can earn £7 a week in addition to their full pension. I am not worried about them, because I know that they can get along - even though not as well as they did previously. I am concerned most with the 70 per cent, of the pensioners who have no income other than the pension and who cannot possibly exist on the present pension.
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for Watson (Mr. Cope) in opening this debate, suggested that the question of social services should be above party politics. With that sentiment every member of the House agrees. It was unfortu nate, therefore, that in the latter part of the honorable member’s speech he dragged the debate down to the level of party politics. Social services legislation should be based upon the principle that pensions should be the highest that the economy of the country can stand. I personally believe that pensions and other social services should be payable as a right - as a result of contributions - as they are in many of the most progressive countries of the world. At present almost all our social services are based upon need. If need is to be the basis, we must first examine the position and ascertain from what source the social services are to be paid. That necessarily brings the answer that all social services must come out of tax revenue. Therefore, in deciding the highest amount that a country can pay, we must examine the highest amount of taxation for the purpose of social services that the economy can stand. Secondly, we must ask, “ Should persons on a lower range of income be taxed more so as to give social services to persons already on a higher range than their own? “
At present it is possible for married persons to receive, in income and age pension, a total of £15 a week. Would it be just to tax a married man on the basic wage of £12 16s. a week so as to enable an aged couple who now receive £15 a week to receive more? I suggest that we ought not to dismiss this problem of social services by simply saying that the rate of pension should be raised. Just as we can say that it would be unjust to tax a man on the basic wage so that an aged couple could receive more than £15 a week, we can say that a single person, or a widow, paying about £2 a week rent cannot reasonably be expected to live on the remaining £2.
Therefore, when looking at this question of social services, we must realize that if we are to do justice to the community - and that, I believe, should be the aim of all of us - we must examine it much more closely than simply on the basis of the quantum of the pension concerned. Modern thought is tending to the view that, insofar as we base a social service upon need, needs must be examined individually rather than as a group. Therefore, I think that in our future approach to this problem we must ascertain the maximum amount that the economy of the country can stand, then decide the division of that amount between the various social services in operation. For example, we have to consider the problem of the aged through the medium of the various benefits provided for the aged. We have to consider the problem of the young through child endowment and matters of that nature. Having decided the maximum amount that the economy of the country can stand, we have to segregate the various classes of social services offering in this country at the present time. Having achieved that division, we must decide which group of persons we are aiming to help, and decide how we can help the maximum number to the greatest extent possible.
If we look at the problem of the aged, I think we can agree that some of them are at present having a most dreadful struggle. But others, who are in receipt of a pension, have their own home, furniture and motor car and, with superanuation, receive a total income of £15 a week. They are able to manage quite comfortably. Those who are paying rent are undergoing a great struggle, and we must examine how we can best help those who are really in need. The Government has made a tremendous advance in this direction. For example, it has provided free medical attention and free medicine for all aged pensioners. This has been far more beneficial than would have been the provision of monetary payments. In addition, under the Aged Persons’ Homes Act the Government has been able to give accommodation to elderly people who hitherto have been living in almost slum conditions, or at a low standard. They are now able to live in reasonable comfort in magnificent homes for a very reasonable charge. One of the ways in which we can best help the aged is by providing accommodation to a much greater degree than we have done so far.
As to the quantum of the pension, two main principles will have to be adopted. First, we must get the whole community to realize that old age, sickness and widowhood are all contingencies of life which must be provided for. Therefore, in our younger years we should be prepared to make a contribution so that in later years we will all have real age security. In addition, we must appreciate that the total fund that is payable for social services must be so allocated as to remove want from every section of the community. It is very loose thinking simply to advocate an increased pension not only for those who are in dire need and distress but also for those who, compared with many of their fellow men, are really not in need at the present time. I suggest that this matter is so important that it should be examined by members from both sides of this House on the basis that I think is acceptable to all, namely, that social services should be the highest that the economy of the country can stand. Secondly, it should be examined on the basis of the allocation of the available moneys between the various classes of social services, according to need.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Mr. MINOGUE (West Sydney [4.4].- Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker-
Motion (by Mr. Cramer) put -
That the business of the day be called on.
The House divided. (Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker - Mr. W. R. Lawrence.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
– 1 move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to permit the integration into one service of the two law enforcement agencies of the AttorneyGeneral’s Department, that is to say the Commonwealth Investigation Service and the Peace Officer Guard. The Commonwealth Investigation Service is a civilian or plain-clothes detective force charged with the general responsibility of investigating offences against Commonwealth law. It was established by administrative action in 1917, and its officers are employed under the Public Service Act. The executive and investigational staff numbers 54. The Peace Officer Guard is a uniformed constabulary established under the Peace Officers Act 1925. Its primary function is protecting Commonwealth premises and property. It numbers approximately 650 and operates outside the Public Service Act, under the Peace Officers Act. The bill seeks to amalgamate these two agencies in the Commonwealth Police Force.
Although in constitution and function the Commonwealth Investigation Service and the Peace Officer Guard are now quite separate, an administrative link exists between them, since the Director of the Commonwealth Investigation Service is also appointed superintending peace officer, and his deputy director in each State is appointed a deputy superintending peace officer for that State. In recent times, demand for the services of the Commonwealth Investigation Service has been far greater than can be expeditiously met by the existing establishment, which is small, and which has no readily available source of competently trained people to draw upon. Moreover, the extension of the field of Commonwealth activities since the establishment of the Commonwealth Investigation Service and the wide range of matters now falling to the officers of that service for investigation is making demands upon skill and ingenuity which can only be expected of properly trained officers of the highest ability. All these things are emphasizing the necessity of having within the Commonwealth a properly planned Commonwealth Police Force which, by its system of recruitment and training and the avenues of employment offered, will not only ensure the availability at all times of an adequate force of investigators to carry out the needs in this field of the Commonwealth, but will also attract the best available investigators. The divided authority under which the Peace Officer Guard and the officers of the Commonwealth Investigation Service are employed and the different fields and methods of recruitment have in the past placed severe limitations upon the extent to which the two services can operate towards a common end.
This bill establishes a Commonwealth Police Force and empowers the AttorneyGeneral to appoint persons to be Commonwealth Police Officers. The officers appointed will not be subject to the Public Service Act and their terms and conditions of service will be such as the AttorneyGeneral, with the concurrence of the Public Service Board, determines. The officers will nevertheless continue to have access to the Public Service Arbitrator, and the bill makes no change in this regard. The AttorneyGeneral, as he has been under the Peace Officers Act, will be responsible to Parliament for any determinations he makes. The consequences of the establishment of the Commonwealth Police Force are that the functions now performed by the Commonwealth Investigation Service and the Peace Officer Guard will become the functions of the Commonwealth Police Force and the personnel of those services will be merged administratively into the Commonwealth Police Force. The resources of the two existing organizations will be able to be employed more efficiently and with more flexibility than has been possible in the past, and proper training facilities established to ensure a higher standard of efficiency in the officers.
I have mentioned that the officers of the Commonwealth Police Force will not be subject to the Public Service Act. The basic reason for placing the whole force outside the Public Service Act is that the conditions of recruitment, the conditions of promotion and the conditions of service under the Public Service Act are inappropriate for any police force. No police force anywhere in Australia serves under a public service act and a public service board of commissioners.
The outstanding characteristic of the Commonwealth Public Service is the sharp line, difficult for an officer to cross, between the fourth, or general duties, division - that is to say, the division which includes the artisan and the tradesman and a large body of unskilled workers - and the third and higher divisions, which comprise the clerical, administrative and professional ranks. The requirements for entry into the fourth division are, obviously, much lower than those for the third and higher divisions. From the point of view of the Public Service Act, peace officers and investigation officers would fall within the fourth division. The administrative posts in the Commonwealth Investigation Service, however, are in the third division. It is, therefore, difficult to get recruitment into the Peace Officer Guard or the lower branches of the Commonwealth Investigation Service because the barrier between third and fourth divisions operates as a hindrance to promotion, no matter how competent the officer as an investigator might be.
So far as the larger body is concerned, the Peace Officer Guard, the bill really does only two things. First, it gives them a new name. Second, it opens to them possibilities of promotion and transfer to the upper investigation and administrative ranks, and some permanence of employment which at present is, in effect, denied to them. The powers, responsibilities and duties of the guard, under this bill, are virtually unchanged from what they are and always have been under the Peace Officers Act, Lest there be any doubt «r misunderstanding as to what these are, let me add that, in relation to Commonwealth law, a peace officer is clothed with all the powers, privileges and immunities, and is subject to the same duties and responsibilities as a constable or other officer of the police of a State or Territory is subject in relation to State or Territory law. This is the effect of clause 6 of the bill.
I emphasize at this stage that the establishment of the Commonwealth Police Force has no effect upon the responsibilities of the police forces of the several States or Territories under the laws of those respective States or Territories. Moreover, the responsibilities of the State and Territory police, in relation to Commonwealth law, are in no way taken away by this measure. So far as the Commonwealth Investigation Service is concerned, the bill merely removes the investigators outside the Public Service, thus opening up to them opportunities for advancement to the top of the service, which are not at present available to them.
As honorable members are aware, a number of departments, such as Social Services, Repatriation, Customs and the’ Postal Department, have their own departmental investigation services. The duties of these agencies involve a number of special departmental functions which are really outside the range of what is ordinarily thought of as a police job. Honorable members are assured that the autonomy of these agencies of other departments will not be affected in any way by the creation of the Commonwealth Police Force. However, the Commonwealth Police Force, being the principal investigational and law enforcement authority of the Commonwealth, will be required, as has been the case with the Commonwealth Investigation Service and the Peace Officer Guard, to foster the cooperation and co-ordination of action of these other investigational agencies so as to bring about a more efficient and economical working in the conduct of the investigations into offences against Commonwealth law. The best method of achieving co-ordination will, of course, be left to the interested departments and the Public Service Board to arrange through consultation, but examples of the field intended to be covered are the training of personnel and the exchange of information concerning offenders, type of offenders and methods used.
I should, perhaps, refer particularly to clause 10 of the bill, which makes provision for the appointment of special police officers. A similar clause has stood as part of the Peace Officers Act since 1925. Its primary object was to meet national emergencies. However, departmental records do not disclose any instance of its operation for emergency purposes. But throughout its history, it has been a useful method of giving to selected officers of the specialized departmental investigation services the powers and protections of constables by enabling them to be appointed as special peace officers under the 1925 act.
This bill seems to me a relatively minor but exceedingly sensible administrative change within the Department of the Attorney-General. Nobody who is familiar with the history of the two agencies affected ought to see any dangers in the bill. The activities of the force will be the subject of an annual report by the Attorney-General to Parliament, and by this means, and through the Estimates, parliamentary control of the force is assured. I commend the bill to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Ward) adjourned.
In committee (Consideration of Senate’s amendment):
Clause 7 -
Section seventeen of the Principal Act is amended by adding at the end thereof the following sub-sections: - “ (3.) A person who is deemed …” *****
Senate’s amendment -
In clause 7, before proposed sub-section (3.) insert the following sub-section: - “ (2a.) Sub-section (1.) of this section does not apply to a person included in a prescribed class of persons.”.
– I move -
That the amendment be agreed to.
This amendment arises out of discussions that took place in this House when the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt), I think in answer to representations made by the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfred Kent Hughes) concerning the notification of changes of address, told the honorable member that he would go into this matter and that, if it were found practicable, he would try to meet the wishes of the honorable member. Inquiries have been made, and it is recognized that circumstances may arise in which it would be necessary to relieve certain people of the obligation to notify changes of address. They would include those found to be medically unfit, and no doubt there will be other categories. So the amendment that was made in another place has given the right to the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) to relieve certain persons of the obligation to give notification as provided in other sections of the bill. The Minister himself will determine the prescribed classes of persons. It is a simple common-sense amendment, and I do not think that any exception can be taken to it.
– The Opposition offers no objection to the passage of this clause, particularly if it will help the Government to make its peace with the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfred Kent Hughes) and some other honorable members who, for reasons which seemed to themselves to be good, offered some strong criticism of the Government when this measure was before us in the second-reading stage.
– I should like to inform the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) that there is no need to make peace because there has been no war between me and the Government.
– It was a storm in a teacup.
– On this side of the House we are allowed to make suggestions.
– We made the suggestions.
– But they were not sensible ones.
– I think that the Government is always ready to consider suggestions. I thank the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) for having had another look at this clause, and for having had this amendment inserted in another place. In thanking the Minister for so doing-
– The honorable member will get the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) on side, yet.
– There is no row between the Minister for Trade and myself. I think that he made a very wise decision, as a result of which the price of tea has already dropped. Secondly, I want to ask the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) whether the amendment actually has the meaning the Minister implied in his explanation to the House. The Minister said it was recognized that there would be certain people in the prescribed class, or, as he said, certain blocks of registered persons who would be declared exempt. The Minister agreed that it would be only wasteful for a large number of clerks continually to register changes of address and for the registrar to have to issue new registrations.
Section 17 reads - (1.) A person who has registered under this act, not being a person -
Penalty: Fifty pounds. (2.) Upon compliance by a person with the requirements of the last preceding sub-section, the Registrar shall issue to that person a new certificate of registration.
I should like to know what is meant by “ a prescribed class of persons “. There is nothing in the definitions section of the act to show what “ a prescribed class of person “ is. Section 29 reads - (1.) The following persons are exempt from liability to render service under this act, so long’ as the employment, condition or status on which the exemption is based continues: -
I suppose “ prescribed physical or mental disability “ must come into the Defence Act. I should have thought that even there it would be better to say “ persons who are declared to be medically unfit as determined by the medical board under this act “.
I cannot see anything which defines “ a prescribed class of person “. Under section 29 provision is made in respect of persons who are physically or mentally unfit - apparently the mentally unfit as well pre viously had to notify changes of address - and persons who are students of theological colleges, ministers of religion, members of religious orders who devote the whole of their time to the duties of their order, and conscientious objectors. They are all exempt from liability for service, but not from registration. Then, under section 31, this general over-all power is granted to the Minister - (1.) Where it appears to the Minister to be necessary or desirable to do so in the public interest, he may defer the liability to render service under this act of the persons included in such classes of persons as he determines.
Is that the “ prescribed class of persons “ which is referred to in this particular amendment? If it is, that agrees with what the Minister has said and it will mean that not only every one who is not liable or is exempt from liability under section 29, but also every one whose liability is deferred under section 31, will not have to comply with this requirement of notifying the change of address and will not have to receive a fresh registration certificate. I ask the Minister whether he knows what the “ prescribed class of persons “ is. That is not in the definitions section of the act. If the prescribed class includes those in section 31, the result will be considerably different from what it would be if it only applied to the people under section 29.
– The prescribed class is referred to in the sub-section itself and can be dealt with by regulation as prescribed by the Minister. The amendment reads -
Sub-section (1.) of this section does not apply to a person included in a prescribed class of persons.
That is the amendment and that is the prescribed class, which means a class prescribed for the purpose of the sub-section, by regulation.
– Section 17 deals with the notification of change of address. That will mean that the Minister will have to prescribe persons who are exempt from liability under section 29 or have liability deferred under section 31 separately as not liable to notify changes of addresses. He will have to prescribe them under section 17.
– In any case, they will be prescribed by regulation. At this moment the Minister is not in a position to prescribe them.
– I think I have it now. Under section 17, the Minister will prescribe the class of persons under the regulations who will not have to notify their change of address. Therefore he can make it as wide as he likes.
– That is right.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Resolution reported; report adopted.
Debate resumed from 16th May (vide page 1484), on motion by Sir Arthur Fadden -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– I suggest to the Government that the four associated bills - the Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 1956-57, the Appropriation (Works and Services) Bill (No. 2) 1956-57, the Supply Bill 1957-58, the Supply (Works and Services) Bill 1957-58 - be taken together. The House can then debate them together now but deal with them independently at subsequent stages.
Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER.Is it the wish of the House that the course suggested by the Acting Leader of the Opposition be followed?
Honorable members. - Yes.
- Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, the Government proposes under these four measures to appropriate a very large sum of money. In the Supply Bill the amount to be appropriated is £184,212,000. The amount to be appropriated under the Supply (Works and Services) Bill is £34,956,000. The amount to be appropriated under the Appropriation Bill (No. 2) is £15,305,000. The amount to be appropriated under the Appropriation (Works and Services) Bill (No. 2) is £2,139,000. Members of the Opposition - and I have no doubt members of the Government parties too - will offer some critical and constructive observations upon the manner in which the Government is carrying on the services of the country. We on the Opposition side have very strong views about what the Government ought to do and equally strong views on what it is failing to do for large sections of the Australian community. We believe that pensioners of all sorts - civil pensioners and repatriation pensioners - have been neglected since this Government took office and continue to be neglected by it. We believe also that the mothers of Australia who have had no increase since 1948 in the endowment for second and subsequent children should be allowed increased payments in the next budget. The endowment paid at present for second and subsequent children is only 10s. a week. Every one knows that the value of the £1 has fallen considerably since 1949, when the Chifley Government went out of office.
– It had fallen a bit before then.
– It is true that the value of the £1 had fallen before 1949, but it fell between 1940 and 1949 only because of Australia’s participation in a dreadful war during which the labour power of 1,000,000 workers was withdrawn from production.
– The value of money has fallen in all other countries as well.
– Yes, but it has never fallen anywhere else as catastrophically as it has fallen in Australia since this Government took office in 1949. Wages are still chasing the fleeting £1. It is easy to obtain from the reports of the Government Statistician, the Commonwealth Bank and other authorities ample information to show the extent to which the value of the £1 has fallen in the last eight years. It used to be said in the days of the Chifley Government that the Chifley £1 was worth 12s.11d. as compared with a value of 20s. in 1939. This was a true assessment, but the value of the £1 had fallen over the war years for the reasons I mentioned earlier. To-day, the £1 is worth less than 6s. Indeed, its value is probably only about 5s. The formerly much-derided Chifley £1, which was worth 12s.11d., has been replaced by the Menzies £1, which is worth something about 5s.
– Why not compare the value of the £1 to-day with that of the £1 of Edmund Barton’s day?
– On any ground of comparison I can show conclusively that the £1 always bought more when Labour governments were in office than it has when anti-Labour governments have occupied the treasury-bench. If the honorable member wishes me to make an up-to-date comparison, let me tell him that the Menzies £1 is worth less than the Nasser fi. According to financial reports I read over the week-end the Nasser £1 is worth 6s. I wish the Australian £1 under the Menzies Government had as much purchasing power.
It is up to this Government to do something for the great mass of the people who have fixed incomes, and particularly for those who live on pensions. It is impossible for any of these people to get cost of living adjustments in respect of their incomes through the industrial courts. It is impossible for them to have their incomes determined by some industrial authority, as are the incomes of those who work under awards of Commonwealth and State industrial tribunals. The earnings of workers under awards are adjusted to some extent according to the value of money, though honorable members on this side are not satisfied with what is being done for them. We feel that they are entitled to a much better deal - particularly those on margins and those who have been denied cost of living adjustments.
However, for the time being I direct my attention to the plight of old people, of mothers raising children and of war pensioners. This Government in its next budget must do much more for them than it has done in past years. The plight of age pensioners is distressing and is beginning to influence people who ordinarily would not take particular interest in a matter of this sort. Recently a group of professors and lecturers in the University of Melbourne considered the situation of pensioners, and their findings have been printed and circulated. This Parliament and the nation are indebted to the people who prepared this document and published it at their own expense. Their motives are completely disinterested and the sole reason for their action is the outrage that their consciences have suffered through the plight of so many of our fellow Australians who are living in misery and undeserved destitution. Such poverty demands action. The persons responsible for the pamphlet are Professor R. I. Downing, Ritchie Professor of Research in Economics, University of Melbourne, Associate Professor K. E. Fitzpatrick, Associate-Professor J. Polglaze, Dr. J. E. Isaac, Dr. G. S. L. Tucker, Miss
– When the Government talks about pensioners, it mentions only the ones who are comparatively well off.
– The Government has a guilty conscience on this matter. It does its best to make its weak case appear sound, but its arguments are nothing more than a hollow facade to the facts. The Downing committee to which I have referred suggests that the Treasurer should appropriate £12,000,000 more for pensioners in his next budget. This sum would provide, first, 7s. 6d. a week more for pensioners who do not share their household expenses with another person. The cost of this benefit would be only £5,000,000 a year. The committee wants £3,500,000 of the £12,000,000 to be set aside for special assistance to pensioners who can demonstrate actual need. This appropriation would enable an extra 10s. a week to be paid to one-third of the pensioner population. The committee wishes also to have housing allowances paid to those pensioners who cannot get suitable accommodation at reasonable rents. The cost of this benefit would be £2,500,000 a year, and it is estimated that it would average 10s. a week for each of the 100,000 pensioners considered to be in this situation. The committee wishes to have £1,000,000 spent each year on subsidies to State, local government and voluntary organizations for a greatly expanded provision of communal facilities and domiciliary services for the aged. The committee’s five points are, in short, a payment of 7s. 6d. a week extra to the pensioner living alone, special help for special needs, housing allowances, home services and social amenities, and the encouragement of self-help for old age.
We of the Australian Labour party consider these proposals excellent. We believe further that age pensioners, as of right and in accordance with the Labour party’s election programme, should receive a payment equivalent to the same percentage of the basic wage as they were being paid when the Labour government was in office. This would probably mean the payment of an extra 15s. a week on the present pension. I believe that every shilling a week more on the age pension requires at least £1,000,000 more a year to be obtained in revenue, so the 15s. a week extra in the pension would mean an extra appropriation of more than £15,000,000 a year for this extra social service.
Pensioners should not be left in the coming winter months to starve and shiver while the Government makes up its mind whether it will do anything for them in the next budget, which will be introduced in September. Any benefit to pensioners will be enjoyed only by those who happen to survive the hunger and cold of the winter months that will pass before the budget is brought down. Many people will suffer very greatly in the next three or four months while the Government makes up its mind. We who belong to the Australian Labour party are being attacked because we believe in democratic socialism. We believe in it, and we preach it, and practise it.
– What is it?
– It is a system of society which is very different from the one out of which the Minister has done so well. It is a system in which production is based on use, not on profit. It is a system that does not envisage a section of the community at one end of the social scale having more than it needs, while, at the other end of the social scale, large numbers of good Australians, many of whom are better than those of the wealthy classes, cannot get sufficient for a healthy existence. We want to change society. When Labour was in office, we set about changing it. First, as a matter of war policy, we taxed large incomes as much as we could - up to 18s. 6d. in the £1 for taxable incomes of more than £5,000. If we made a mistake, it was in reducing the taxation on big incomes after World War II. In the United States of America to-day, a person with a taxable income of 400,000 dollars pays 92 cents in every 100 in taxation. That is equivalent to the rate of 18s. 6d. in the £1 which applied in Australia during the war. In Great Britain - another citadel that has been half-captured at least by the democratic socialists - a very high rate of tax is still imposed on big incomes.
– Many people are trying to emigrate from Great Britain.
– I am not sure about that. British people are not coming to Australia in the numbers that we want, and no political party in Great Britain seems to want to encourage them to come. But that is another question. People are not emigrating from the United States in large numbers, either. That is certainly true. The population of the United States is growing rapidly, and, at the same time, standards are rising.
– That is private enterprise for you.
– Under private enterprise, the Americans are being taxed at the rate of 18s. 6d. in the £1 on big incomes.
– Their productivity is much higher.
– They are certainly being taxed heavily on high incomes, and their productivity is high. Ours would be higher if, as the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) mentioned some time ago, the Australian worker had at his disposal as much horse-power as the American worker has at his disposal. Indeed, if that were the case, productivity would be as high in this country as it is in the United States. At the present time, the ratio is about 5 to 2 in favour of the Americans. It is because of the comparative inefficiency of Australian industry that productivity in this country is not much higher. However, it is still very high by any standards.
To return to the question of taxation, the Labour government, after the war, reduced taxation from the high level of 18s. 6d. in the £1 on all taxable incomes in excess of £5,000 to 13s. 6d. for each £1 of taxable income in excess of £10,000, plus ls. 6d. in the £1 social services contribution, making a total of 15s. in the £1.
– Did Labour reduce taxation?
– Labour reduced the war-time level of taxation to the extent that 1 have stated.
– Does the honorable member think that the Labour Government made a mistake in reducing it?
– I think that we may have done.
– Does he suggest that, if Labour were returned to office, it would increase taxation again?
– It would, if necessary, on big incomes. I shall answer that question fully in due course. This Government has reduced taxation on big incomes to 13s. 4d. on each £1 of taxable income in excess of £16,000.
The Labour government redistributed the income of the community in order to finance the welfare state that it established on such a firm foundation. Indeed, the welfare state is a part of democratic socialism; and it is so firmly established that this Government dare not attack it. So, to the extent that the Government supports the welfare state, it condones and supports democratic socialism. The present Government reduced taxation on big incomes, and, at the same time, increased taxation on small incomes by fostering inflation. The galloping inflation for which it was responsible took the basic wage from about £6 12s. a week when Labour was in office to approximately £13 in recent times. As a result, a married man with two children who earns the basic wage pays a lot more in taxation than he did when the Chifley Government was in office. In the days of the Chifley Government, a married man with two children who was on the basic wage paid no income tax. On the basic wage, which is the equivalent of approximately £644 a year, a married man with a wife and two children to-day pays income tax totalling £14 1 8s. a year. Therefore, he is £14 18s. a year worse off under this Government. A man with a taxable income of £16,000 a year pays only 13s. 4d. in the £1, whereas, under the Labour government, a man with a taxable income of £10,000 paid 13s. 6d. in the £1, and ls. 6d. in the £1 social services contribution.
As I have pointed out, this Government reduced taxation after the financial year 1953-54, and the rates have remained the same during the last three years. However, a man with a taxable income of £600 received a benefit of only £1 16s. a year, or about 9d. a week; whereas a man with a taxable income of £10,000 a year received a benefit of £400 a year, or nearly £8 a week. It is evident, therefore, that this Government is attempting to redistribute the national income in the opposite way from that favoured by the Labour Government. That is wholly wrong. In addition, this Government has imposed a heavy sales tax which hits the family man - particularly the man with a large family - on the basic wage much harder than it hits the wealthy man and the single man. It is a vicious tax, and is totally wrong. Labour considers that the sales tax should be abolished as quickly as possible.
Now I want to make a plea on behalf of former public servants who are dependent on superannuation, and, therefore, are on fixed incomes. There are many thousands of them throughout Australia, and, doubtless, they are to be found in every electorate. They feel that they should not be forgotten after having served Commonwealth, State and municipal instrumentalities through many years of public service and active citizenship. I ask the Government to give relief to those who contributed throughout their working life to superannuation funds, whether as railwaymen, teachers, police officers, customs officers, clerks, or in any other capacity.
– What can the Government do?
– The Government can increase the rate of pension. I think that it should also ease the means test. This would be of particular benefit to those who have been thrifty.
– That would apply to every one, not just to superannuated public servants and the like.
– That is so, but most of the people affected by it are former public servants. Until recent times, not many private businesses and organizations supported superannuation schemes. They are steadily increasing in number.
– What about those who live on the income from assets that they have accumulated in order to keep themselves in their old age? They would be in the same position.
– We should like to see them also benefit from the easing of the means test. There are many people who depend on the income from an equity in a property, or on small dividends, rents, and interest on investments in government loans. Indeed, there are many investors in government loans who are greatly annoyed because, having, as a matter of patriotic duty, put their money into liberty loans, victory loans, and the like, they are being asked to accept a return of from 3 per cent, to 3 per cent., compared with a return of 5 per cent paid to more recent investors; although I regard 5 per cent as being too high a rate of interest.
– There is no key money now!
– I am not interested in key money at the moment, but I am interested in the matter of housing, as we all are. Quite a few of the people in Australia to-day are not satisfied with the achievements of either the Commonwealth Government or the State governments in regard to housing. I believe that the Commonwealth Government should provide the extra millions which the States will ask for at the forthcoming meeting of the Australian Loan Council, but I think that the States have a concomitant obligation to prevent the big oil companies from knocking down decent houses to provide service stations on every third corner of the large centres of settlement in Australia. I think, too, that the State governments should prevent private enterprise from knocking down habitable buildings in order to provide extensions to hotels, office space and the like.
– And stop the owners from selling them?
– Yes, I would do that too, if necessary, because-
– It comes back to the point that the honorable gentleman does not believe in private ownership at all!
– I do, but I do not believe in private exploitation of the people. While there is a tremendous shortage of houses, no decent house should be knocked down.
There is a shortage of from 200,000 to 300,000 houses in Australia, and the rate of construction has slowed down in the last couple of years. The point I want to make is that it is the obligation of this Government to step up housing production from 80,000 a year to something like 120,000 a year in order to supply the needs of the Australian people and to house the migrants who are coming to this country. There is criticism of immigration to-day because of the shortage of houses.
– What would the honorable member do with 120,000 houses?
– I should quickly fill them with people if the houses were here to be filled. It is all very well for the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) to try to defend the existing situation. There is nobody in Australia, outside the ranks of the Ministry, who believes that there is not a housing problem.
– The honorable member said that he would build 120,000 a year.
– Would he gear up the building industry to build them?
– Then he would ruin Australia.
– No! The only people who would suffer would be those who are building luxury homes, luxury picture theatres, luxury hotels and all the rest of it. If this country cannot build 120,000 houses a year we are not going to be the prosperous nation that we tell ourselves we shall be.
– We could not do that now.
– Of course, we could!
– That is a childish economic argument.
– The Minister for the Army may be a real estate agent, but he has never built anything.
– Have I not? I have built more than the honorable member for Melbourne.
– The Minister is wrecking his reputation by interjecting - that is, such reputation as he has already for ministerial capacity. If we cannot build 120,000 houses a year, we can at least aim at that figure, and the Australian people are entitled to that number of homes.
Why, 25,000 returned service men and women are still waiting for houses, twelve years after the end of the war! They are told that they can get finance eighteen months to two years hence.
– And also some of the World War I. people.
– That may be so, but whether they are World War I. people or World War II. people, they are entitled to houses in the country which they helped to defend.
– How could you do that?
– People used to say, “ How can you possibly bring 50,000, 60,000, or 70,000 immigrants into the country “ ? You can always find people to give you reasons why you can never do anything, but if the Minister, or the ministry corporate, will address themselves to the problem of housing, they will find means of solving it.
– We would need to gear the building industry to that rate of production.
– First of all, we would have to be able to gear the Minister up, or sack him, because he has been one of the flies in the ointment at every stage.
Having said all that I want to say on this question at the moment, I wish to make a few remarks on some other matters. I think that the Public Accounts Committee has done a reasonably good job, but I am never happy about it. It was suppressed by the Scullin Government and was not re-established by the Lyons Government during the depression. I should much prefer to see the committee constituted as a committee on expenditure. I should rather see a committee appointed by both Houses of the Parliament to safeguard the finances of the nation and investigate the spending of money before it was spent, rather than eighteen months after it had been spent-
– Hear, hear!
– I hope that the Government will consider this matter as quickly as possible. There are such committees in the United States, and they cut down the budget considerably. As a matter of fact, they are in process of cutting it down now, in both houses of the American Congress.
– You have converted the honorable member for Moore.
– I advocated this before the honorable member for Moore made his appearance in this Parliament. I have always believed in such committees. I am of the opinion that the Government should do something about putting value back into the £1. It promised to do so seven years ago, and I do not propose to allow it to neglect its obligations or to break its promises. Most members on the Government benches would very willingly forget all about this matter, but we must not allow them to do that, nor must we let the Government fail to realize that, in the opinion of the great majority of the Australian people, it has become stale, stolid and stubborn. It lacks determination, imagination and inspiration. The current sittings have proved conclusively that the Government has no business to put before the Parliament. We have sat here for the last two or three weeks waiting for measures of major importance, and all we have heard have been nice stories about prosperity, about what the country is going to do in the future, and about how many people we will have ten years hence. Even when honorable members opposite speak about the population of the country ten years hence they are hopelessly conservative and speak only of a population of 12,000,000. If the Government was really as active as it ought to be it would seek an increase of the population by 1,000,000 every three and a half years, and if the tempo of immigration had been maintained at the rate at which it was moving in the days of the Chifley government, and as it was moving when this Government first came to office, with the necessary provision of finance for housing, social services generally, hospitals and the like, this country would have 12,000,000 people sooner than ten years from now.
– But did not the honorable member, only recently, second a censure motion, complaining bitterly about the immigration programme?
– No. The honorable member for Canning must have misunderstood the situation, as he often does. We still stand by the Chifley Government plans on immigration, and we are telling the Government to speed up expenditure on roads, hospitals, schools and private housing to make it possible for us to bring in more immigrants. Not only should the Government provide loan money for those purposes, but it should also tell the private banks and the Commonwealth Bank to make overdrafts available to people who want to do something worth while with them, rather than make them available to finance such projects as the building of a luxury hotel in Melbourne which is to cost £4,000,000, another luxury hotel in Sydney to cost £3,500,000, and a sumptuous place at a town called, appropriately enough, Surfers Paradise. Of course, it is paradise for those who have the money to go there and enjoy its luxuries, but how foolish-
– Wait till we get on to the High Court!
– I hope that if the honorable members for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) and East Sydney (Mr. Ward) ultimately are members of the High Court bench - and I believe that there is a plan to that end in the course of preparation - they will do something to look after the interests of the Australian people.
– Mr. Cain enjoys his visits to Surfers Paradise.
– He may. I do not go there. I have no concern about how people spend their lives or what they do with their money, but what I object to, and so do all my colleagues, is the provision of luxury homes for the wealthy and luxury hotels for purse-proud millionaires from overseas. I would prefer to see houses for the people than these luxury buildings being erected. Where do you find the age pensioners living? Where do you find many basic wage workers living? Not in luxury hotels! Not even in houses that are a little better than sub-standard! You will find thousands and thousands of them in fowlhouses, garages, shanties, bag huts, caravans, tents and hovels all round Australia. While that condition of affairs exists we have not a healthy social life.
– The fowls have nowhere to live now.
– Well, you see, in accordance with our philosophy, capitalism breeds Communists. Because it denies economic justice, because it denies social justice, to so many people, capitalism breeds
Communists just as a swamp breeds mosquitoes. If this country is going to be a great and prosperous country the sooner we erect the houses we need so much the better will it be for all of us.
I think that the Government ought to consider the reports of the two committees, one from each side of the House, which, having consulted the same authority, produced identical reports on rail standardization. I admire their enthusiasm. I think the job both committees recommend ought to be undertaken. I am sorry that the Ward plan was not carried out. If the Labour Government made a mistake in this matter, it was that we asked the States to contribute to the cost of rail standardization. If we had said that it would be done as a Commonwealth job we would have had rail standardization well on the road to completion now. We dealt with the States, however, and, as usual, we could not get unanimity among them. Ultimately, we did not even get a reasonable degree of cooperation. Nowhere was that truer than in Western Australia, where the honorable member for East Sydney, when Minister for Transport in the Chifley Government, offered to finance the construction of a standardgauge railway from Kalgoorlie to Perth.
– He did not agree that the Commonwealth would bear the whole cost.
– We did offer to do that ultimately. An anti-Labour government in Western Australia turned us down, and a succeeding Labour government was just about as co-operative. I am sure that, to-day, we all believe that it is vital to the development and defence of Western Australia that the rail gauge between Kalgoorlie and Perth be standardized.
– Standardization of it would be mainly to the benefit of the trade of the eastern States.
– It would also be to the benefit of Western Australian trade.
– Not so much as it would be to the benefit of the trade of the eastern States.
– I advise the honorable member not to be so parochial. Occasionally, he can develop a wider outlook on these questions.
I urge the Government to do something to meet the wishes of the people who believe that the whole of the revenue from the petrol tax should be handed to the States. I cannot see why the Government wants to continue to hold on to that £16,000,000, which is the difference between the amount it collects from petrol tax and the amount it hands to the States.
– The Labour Government did not give the States as much as this Government does.
– That may be, but at least we started the disbursement of this revenue.
– Labour opposed it in this House.
– It is all right for the right honorable member for Cowper to tell us what he did. We were the first government to give the money for feeder roads.
– Yes, we were. It is completely true that we were the first government to insist that the States did not expend all the money on speedways. We said it ought to be used for developmental roads. Of course, that has been extended since. What we want the Government to do is to hand to the States that extra £16,000,000, plus another £4,000,000 from a tax on diesel road trains. If we really envisaged this country as having a great future, and were determined to develop Australia as quickly as possible, we would build a road between Cape York and the south, which would not only be developmental in character but would also have a great defence value. We would also build an east-west road from Carnarvon in Western Australia to Bundaberg in Queensland, and finance its construction from the proceeds of the petrol tax. Now that members of the Australian Country party are becoming vociferous, let me remind them that their leader in 1 949 promised a loan of £250,000,000 to the States for road construction to be financed from the proceeds of petrol tax. The Government did no more about that than it did about keeping its promise to put value back into the £1.
I spoke about taxation a while ago, and I want to go on record as saying that nobody likes taxation, and that everybody wishes to see all taxes reduced as soon as possible.
But if it is necessary to increase taxes so that the pensioners may be paid an amount at least sufficient for their frugal needs - in fact, so as to give the pensioners the amount that would be required to bring their pensions to 37 per cent, of the basic wage - we shall have to consider increasing the rates of taxes on individuals in the higher income brackets and on the big wealthy companies which have produced, and are producing, balance-sheets which show profits running into millions of pounds annually. I put this to the Government: We have now reached a stage where the investment of foreign capital in this country - British and American - is requiring an annual provision of dollars for the payment of dividends abroad that is equal to the amount of money we are able to raise abroad annually in loans. I think that the position is becoming quite bad.
Nobody begrudges General MotorsHolden’s Limited its well-deserved reputation for efficiency, nor does anybody wish to belittle the great service it is rendering to Australia in the provision of a car which is popular both here and abroad; but there is an amount of only £1,250,000 of United States capital invested in that company. The profit made is around £8,000,000 this year, of which about £3,000,000 is to be sent abroad. The amount of money being sent abroad represents 225 per cent, on the capital invested, and the amount of profit earned is about 800 per cent. We cannot stand a strain like that, and we have to tell all foreign companies which have put their money into this country, and particularly the English banks like the Australian and New Zealand Bank Limited, and the English, Scottish and Australian Bank Limited, and also the insurance companies, that the time has arrived when they will have to domicile portion of their capital in Australia, when they have to transfer at least 49 per cent, of their shares to the Australian register, because the Australian people are entitled to share in the equity that those companies earn or enjoy. It is too bad that the Australian people should have to see vast sums being sent out of the country to pay dividends abroad, when the price of the article from the sale of which the profits are made could be reduced. If profits of the order now being made by industrial companies are to be made, then a large portion of them ought to be ploughed back, and even more than is being spent on extensions should be thus spent. A big section of the profits should be invested in government loans in order that the States may be better able to provide the roads, school buildings, water and electricity services, and all the other things without which none of those companies would be making any profit at all.
I again emphasize the need for the Government to consider whether it has the constitutional powers to require companies registered here, although their capital is owned abroad, to transfer, over a period of years, a number of Australian shares to the Australian market, so that Australian citizens may own these shares and so partake of the benefit which accrues from the making of considerable profits - profits which are growing with the passage of the years. We are reaching a stage of crisis in this matter, and I think that the Government should take some action on it.
Having said that, I wish to say that the Opposition does not propose to deny the Government the Supply it seeks, because we want the pensioners to be paid even the inadequate amount they are being paid to-day. We also do not want to deprive the Government of sufficient money to enable the Public Service and the defence forces to discharge their duties until the House meets again to discuss the budget. When the budget does come down, we all hope that it will be a better budget than the last one or any other one, and we hope, also, that in future the Government’s activities will not be marked by procrastination, vacillation and trepidation.
.- I am always interested in listening to the Acting Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) speak on these financial matters, because he is always a very interesting clinical case. He always seems to me to suffer from what is known in the medical profession as partial amnesia; that is to say, he forgets all the things that anybody else has done and remembers only the things that his own party has done. During the last eight years this Government has increased by some £50,000,000 a year the amount paid to improve the health of the community. I remember that a non-Labour government, in the 1920’s, was the first government to raise the pensioners’ allow ance to £1 - which was the first time that the ratio of the pension or allowance to the basic wage had been more favorable than when the pension was introduced. I remember that the property qualification which I imposed in 1923 remained unchanged until 1945 - a period of some 22 years, although Labour governments had been in office for quite a considerable portion of that time. I remember, as well, that the present Government has made available approximately £1,500,000 for the provision of homes for the aged - something which is very highly appreciated. So one sees how much the honorable member forgets. I do not wish to comment on the other remarks that the honorable member made because I wish to suggest something that may possibly give us an opportunity to get those amenities that the Acting Leader of the Labour party spoke of. He painted a gloomy picture and said that we could not do this or that because we wanted more people and more money.
I wish to deal with one aspect of our financial system which I think needs altering very much and I am glad to see that the economic survey that has been issued by the Government deals with it. The survey criticizes the financing of our public works from revenue. That policy means, in effect, that this generation not only had to carry the whole weight of the war while it was being waged, but also has to carry the burden of interest and sinking fund charges that the war has involved. Apparently it is being asked, as well, by all governments, to carry, for 40 or 50 years, out of taxation, the cost of buildings and amenities that the governments are planning to provide for the people. That seems to me to be something like piling Pelion on Ossa. It is making the burden too hard to carry, and the time has come to deal with this matter.
The economic survey raises the question fairly acutely, and I shall quote exactly what it says. Haying said that the present system must be subject to criticism, the survey states -
It is not easy to contemplate the possibility that measures of that kind - which, I may say, have been put into operation since the end of the war by all the governments that have been in existence since then - may have to be continued in the future. A remedy must be sought.
That is a blank statement, “ a remedy must be sought “ -
The situation would have been sounder, as well as happier, had the money all come by way of loans from community savings … the policy has been self-defeating in that the higher levels of taxation it has made necessary have reduced savings and also reduced output by discouraging effort and enterprise.
This Supply Bill, which has now been brought down, is characteristic of those which have been brought down over the last thirteen or fourteen years. The idea seems to be to borrow some moneys and to raise the rest through taxation. I suggest that it is time to examine this question so that the budget may contain measures based on the advice given in the economic survey. I suggest that the right way to approach this problem is that which I suggested last year. We should try to see if we can handle the great production enterprises of this country by employing overseas capital, using a charter or a franchise for 50 or 60 years, during which time the money would be found and the men coming out here would find work. The money necessary to complete the work would be certain to be available from the very start, and we should be really able to do the job.
I ask honorable members to consider the operations of the Post Office alone, and what has been wrong with the way it has been run for many years? The only time it was on a sound working basis was during the regime of the Bruce-Page Government, when I made £25,000,000 available for capital works for a five-year programme. Now it is operating on allocations that are made from year to year. The same is true of our State undertakings. Although provision is made in their annual budgets, the money is not there all through the year to spend, and it is not always possible to know with certainty what part should be done or how to get the best men for the jobs. Therefore the States do not get results that they should get.
– The States do not know what they are going to get.
– That may be. Before this system came in, the same thing happened to the States. There was this business of budgeting year by year. Way back in 1929 we induced the Premiers Conference to agree to the general principle of using long-term franchises or charters that I suggest to-day, and which I hope will be incorporated in the next budget. This would enable us to deal with this matter of annual budgets and to reduce the taxation that is being levied at present for capital works. On this point of reducing taxation, the economic survey contained another statement which I wish to read. It is the last reference I shall make to this document. It said -
This problem of financing expansion-
We all desire expansion. I am 100 per cent, in agreement with the statement of the Acting Leader of the Opposition about getting more people and more development in Australia. I am satisfied that if we do not get more people into this empty continent, we will lose it. Therefore, we should take steps to ensure that we get expansion. The statement says -
This problem of financing expansion, in both public and private sectors, is unquestionably the core of the whole problem of growth. The level of output, upon which the rate of growth in all its aspects depends, must be governed largely by the adequacy or otherwise of our capital facilities and equipment. We shall, however, defeat our own efforts to provide that equipment unless we can find means and methods of paying for it which, on the one hand, avoid inflation and, on the other hand, do not subtract from potential savings and do not discourage effort and enterprise.
That is the advice given to us by the economic survey which has just been produced by the Government. I commend to the Government a study of those two sections which I have quoted before the budget is brought down, because I am satisfied that something has to be done to deal with this question. I should like, for a minute or two, to enumerate the advantages that will come from having some means whereby we can handle these undertakings in a workmanlike way, such as the way in which we have to handle our lives. We send our children to school with the idea that they will be there for four, five, six or seven years - not one year. We do not dream of budgeting for them from year to year, as governments do, but we look at their education as a whole. We must handle this matter in the proper way. Later on I shall tell honorable members about the machinery that I think is necessary.
The first advantage is to enlarge the Australian capital structure. If the population is increased by 24 per cent, in the next ten years - as has happened in the last ten years - our economy as a whole must expand on the same scale. Electricity and water services must expand faster. As has been said already, on the electricity side Australia is lagging hopelessly behind other countries. We have nothing like the number of electrical men, as we may call them, to put behind our working men as are available in other countries. These must be made available to industry if we want to increase competitive production. Australian consumption of electricity per head is a little over 1,000 units a year, compared with 3,500 units in the United States of America, 4,500 in Canada, 6,000 in Scandinavia and about 4,000 in Great Britain. We have to make up that lag for a start. When that has been done, we shall have to get going as fast as we can to make certain that, as our population increases, our development in the fields of electricity and water increases also.
The whole history of development reveals that electricity supply lends itself to the charter or franchise arrangement. One must envisage the finished job, not just the first or second year’s work. One must take into account the fact that output and consumption will probably grow by 20 per cent, or 30 per cent, every year. Such an arrangement helps our trade balance because, in effect, we are importing capital. It helps to remove the necessity for the curtailment of imports, and the protection of Australian industry is then a matter which this Parliament, through the Tariff Board, can deal with on its merits.
Thirdly, capital would come in on a long-term loan basis. If it is a 50-year franchise, the money remains for the whole of that time, and the debt is paid off year by year. Certainly, the whole of the investment capital cannot be suddenly withdrawn. Stability of that kind is needed in Australia so that we can rid ourselves of constant import fluctuations. As our exports consist largely of primary produce there are, because of seasonal conditions, great fluctuations in export income. A bad drought, or floods, gravely affect that income and we then have not the means to buy indispensable imports. A steady inflow of capital helps to remove or mitigate such a position.
Again, overseas franchise capital is much more readily obtained than is capital sought by way of Government loan or bonds. The figures reveal that in the last five years Government loans from overseas sources have totalled £91,000,000, but identifiable private capital amounting to £248,000,000 has been attracted and, in addition, profits amounting to £140,000,000, some derived from that capital, have been ploughed back into the Australian economy. Those figures show that four times as much private capital comes in for non-Government as compared with Government purposes. The inflow of foreign capital is accompanied by men sent here to look after the investment. We gain invisible capital - skilled men, technicians, men with “ know-how “. They, in turn, look around at the country near their own particular project and see there further opportunities for development. In this way, enormous progress is made and further capital brought into Australia.
Above all, the work must be undertaken as a whole, and not on a basis of yearly progress. Housing could quite possibly be dealt with in this way. Only last week the Carpenters Union of America offered 500,000 dollars to the Carpenters Union of Victoria for this purpose. They said, “We will lend you this money for houses. All we ask is that the Government should make certain that 25,000 dollars comes back to us each year for 30 years. We are willing to leave this money in your country with your houses “. Three or four years ago there was a similar opportunity to build 3,000 houses here in Canberra. They would have been paid for by the rents gathered over a period of 25 or 30 years. It would not have involved any Government investment.
– Why were not those houses built?
– PAGE.- The honorable member should not ask me that. I was not in charge of the matter. Many honorable members will know that I have been advocating this since 1929 when I placed it before a Premiers Conference, and that in recent years, especially, I have not been idle. The time has come to do something about it. Another advantage of the scheme is that half a dozen large projects can proceed in each State at the same time. At present a big dam in New South Wales or Queensland takes five or six years to build, and while it is being constructed everything else stops. The priorities for many works are virtually the same. We would be able to get these things done very much more quickly and increase our production very much more rapidly if we used foreign capital in the way I have suggested.
We would have to get on with the job because the share-holders in the franchise would be looking for some return. They could not afford to let the project drag on for years and years. My long experience in these matters convinces me that only governments can afford to waste years and years. The governments can always sting the taxpayers to pay for the delays. As I have said, under the franchise arrangement personnel from other countries will come here and, in time, begin new industries. Moveover, the considerable public savings of this country would become available for schools, hospitals and other projects which must of necessity be undertaken by the Government. It would not then be necessary to cry out that this school was inadequate or that that hospital was not big enough. Projects could be paid for on a self-amortization basis as has happened with the Hornibrook Highway in Queensland. The particular electricity undertaking, or dam, would not be a public charge at all. The scheme seems to me to be a ray of hope in the gloom that surrounds us at the moment.
I have been in this Parliament long enough to realize that every honorable member wants to see Australia developed. We differ only as to the methods of attaining that aim. I have a very deep conviction about that. Let us get on with the job. But how is such a scheme to be implemented? First, it seems to me to have nothing whatever to do with the Australian Loan Council. We would not be creating any public debt. It would merely be a matter of a private undertaking making a deal with a council or authority, or State government, to carry out certain work. It would have nothing to do with creating or borrowing new loan money for governments. I have discussed the matter with many honorable gentlemen who have sat on the Australian Loan Council, and they agree that it would be no concern of the council. We would, of course, need an organization to handle the matter. It seems to me that a national development council could best do this. It would comprise a representative from the Commonwealth’s own Department of National Development and representatives of the national development councils of the States. Those States which did not have councils could easily create them, as they did in the ‘twenties. I would hope that local government authorities, and particularly county councils, would be represented on the State development councils. Most of the natural resources awaiting development are to be found in the country. I refer to minerals, timber and the great rivers. It is essential that the local people, who know all about those resources, should be on the State development councils. County councils would have to be given full power to handle projects and see them through to finality, following the policy laid down by the national body. They must have complete freedom of action.
The pattern of organization which I have outlined would not involve the creation of new fact-finding bodies in the States. A tremendous amount of information has been gathered as a result of the investigations that have taken place in the last few years. I am very friendly with State organizations and executives. They are very keen and have displayed much enthusiasm and interest, and the amount of work they have done is amazing.
Having obtained the necessary information, our job would be to publicize it. We must have a federal development council to control the publication of data in Holland, the United States, the United Kingdom, France and other countries where we could attract a substantial amount of money. We have great opportunities in mining, timber, transport, agriculture and power. I am sure that investors in other countries would be willing to undertake the construction of toll roads. Such roads would cost more than the amount that could be obtained from petrol tax. The capital must first be raised to build the roads. Overseas investors could amortize the amount over 25 or 40 years, and the work would pay for itself. When we introduced federal aid for roads, we found that it more than paid for itself by the saving of tyres and such things, and by extending the life of vehicles. The work, therefore, cost practically nothing as it paid for itself.
I come now to the question of how we should mobilize these matters. I have already raised one point before the Constitution Review Committee, and I shall mention it now. The Constitution should be amended so that the States would be obliged to pay just terms for property acquired, as the Commonwealth is required to do under the Constitution. I am sure that would be an excellent advertisement for our integrity and would help us tremendously in other countries. If we could do these things and reduce our taxes because then we would not require the revenue therefrom to carry out capital works, the States could have their own taxing powers again and that would create a substantial amount of competition between the States for new industries. That is really what has happened in the United States of America. The Government there insisted that an effort be made to disperse industries. That not only helps the transport position but also makes the effects of an atomic bomb less severe.
Development commissions have been established in 46 of the 48 States of the United States of America to encourage industries to disperse. Every State, except California and Texas, has altered taxation laws to attract industries and assist development. California and Texas have wonderful opportunities of their own and feel that they do not need a development commission because they are growing at a fast rate. I mention Louisiana as an example. Louisiana offers a ten-years tax exemption from all State, parish and municipal levies to attract industries. Other States, such as Arizona, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania, have reduced their taxes. Pennsylvania offers 100 per cent, financing to industries to buy new machinery or, in certain cases, offers to lend money at 2 per cent, interest for 25 years. In Natchez, Missouri, the people raised 300,000 dollars to buy land to attract the International Paper Company. In other towns, plant valued at 500,000 dollars is being built to attract industry. As a result of this competition, the employed population of south-western States has increased by 47 per cent, since 1946 through the efforts they have made to attract industries. The employed population of the mountain States has increased by 33 per cent., and that of the mid-west States by 18 per cent.
I am satisfied that a similar upsurge of competition in Australia would contribute very greatly to development. It would lead to the dispersion of population, which would increase the safety of our people if there should ever be an atomic war, and it would help the dispersion of our industries for defence as well as for development. It would mean an influx of capital which would relieve the weight of government finance and that would indicate a just and fair means of restoring taxation powers to the States.
.- I have gone through the Additional Estimates for the Department of External Affairs and I find there an item of £4,700 in respect of representation in Ireland. That is an indication that the Government is determined not to carry out the promises it made at election time in 1949, more especially in Brisbane. It is determined to break the promise it made to send ahighranking representative to Ireland. In the next few months, Her Majesty the Queen’s No. 1 Irish pipe band will be in Australia and will tour every capital city. As that visit will cost the promoters £100,000, it signifies that the 25 per cent, or 27 per cent, of the Australian population who are Irish-born or of Irish descent deserve better recognition than they are receiving from the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) and the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden). The Government has been told over and over again that it is wrong not to send a representative to Ireland. The amount allowed for representation in India is £19,000, for Pakistan £16,000, and for the Union of South Africa £11,000; but the Menzies-Fadden Government is determined to be represented in Ireland not by an ambassador, but by a clerk. It has never said why it will not send a high-ranking representative there,, and that is something we still want to know.
I wish to bring another matter to the notice of the House. From time to time I have made requests for an air-strip to be built at Lord Howe Island. People there are dependent on the vagaries of the weather te- determine whether they can approach or leave the island. Through their own representatives and the State Government, they have requested that the Commonwealth give some help. This Government says that it is a State matter and that the island is controlled by the State Government. Yet, this Government, at the present time, has from twenty to 30 men working on the island on radar stations. Those men have become part and parcel of the island. If the Federal Government continues to evade its responsibilities in this way, it is not shouldering its responsibility to develop this country. The shipping companies have wiped their hands of it, and have said that they could not run a service to Lord Howe Island because it would not be a paying proposition; yet the Commonwealth collects pay-roll tax from every person there on the island who is liable to pay it. It also collects income tax from the people of Lord Howe Island, but gives nothing in return. So, as their member, I shall try to bring their case before the House every time the opportunity offers. Surely it would not be too much for this Government to look into the matter, and help the State Government to provide a service to this island.
In order to get to Lord Howe Island at the present time one may have to leave Sydney at two o’clock in the morning and arrive there about half-past five. The aircraft alights 200 or 300 yards away from the shore, and one has to get to shore as best one can in a dinghy. If the wind is not favorable it may be necessary to remain two or three days longer than one intended to stay. I was there in August, 1955, when young people who had intended to return to the mainland on the Saturday were unable to leave. They could not get away on the Sunday. They waited until Tuesday, and then the service had to go to Coffs Harbour. Those people were stranded on the island for four days more than they had bargained for, and they may have lost their employment as well as a week’s wages. There are over 200 people on the northern end of Lord Howe Island. They used to vote Liberal, but they are waking up to themselves and, at the last general election, I received 90 per cent, of their votes. They have sent delegations to Canberra and have been promised everything, but that is all that they got from the Government - promises. I appeal to the Government to do something now in this matter.
The next subject on which I wish to speak concerns telephone services in Sydney. Here again, it is a shocking state of affairs that people who applied for a telephone five or six years ago are still waiting. When they wrote to the Postmaster-General they were informed that they might obtain a service in six months or twelve months’ time but, on the expiration of that period, they still had no telephone. On one occasion, I rose in this House and told the Government about a man who had been waiting for ten years for a telephone, and within two weeks of my raising the subject he got his telephone. Surely honorable members should not have to cite every individual case in the House in order to have services provided. Hundreds of people in my electorate of West Sydney have been waiting for a telephone for five or six years. The applications are still outstanding of some people on behalf of whom the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) made representations when part of the present electorate of West Sydney was within the electorate of East Sydney. The applications are also outstanding of people on behalf of whom the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. O’Connor) made representations when he was their member. I hope and trust that the Government, in the very near future, will do something for these people.
I am also interested - and I think that every honorable member should be interested - in the supply of money for social services. It will be three or four months before the budget is presented in this House. Those persons who are in dire distress are waiting for the time when they will get some relief from the additional social service benefits which they hope will be provided for in the budget. I should have thought, with the cost of living rising week after week, that the Government would have seen some merit in the requests that have come from pensioners’ organizations, and would have made some provision for them in this bill. Pensioners are having a terrible time trying to pay rent and exist on the paltry few shillings that they receive at the present time.
It is pleasant to see that many people, church people and others, have been interesting themselves in the plight of the pensioners. There are about 4,500 pensioners in West Sydney and, perhaps, fewer than 100 have homes of their own, or any other permanent shelter. Night after night, they pay from 4s. to 6s. for a room, and that amounts to about £2 a week. Surely that state of affairs should not be allowed to continue. It is a problem that should be tackled immediately. The past ten years have been the best that farmers in this country have ever known, yet when a flood, a drought, or a fire affects them the first thing that they do is to appeal to the Government, and rightly so. In New South Wales, the other day, the Government cut the rail freight rate in country areas by 50 per cent, to enable feed to be carried to stock. Yet the pensioners are left, possibly to starve, and are given no assistance. If assistance can be given to the farmers who receive subsidies in connexion with many of their activities, surely it would not be too much to subsidize the butter and tea and other things which are out of reach of pensioners.
– Butter is subsidized.
– Butter is subsidized, but not for the pensioner, who has to pay as much for it as anybody else in Australia. He can see eggs in the shop windows at 6d. each, and that is as near as he can come to getting them. Yet butter is sold on the London market, possibly for half the price at which it is sold in Australia. Why not give the pensioner a subsidy or a special ticket to enable him to get butter? Surely it would be a humanitarian act to enable pensioners to meet the cost of living. But no! This Government is not concerned with them one way or another.
Let us consider the housing position of ex-servicemen who have to wait for two years for housing finance.- They have been placed in this position by a government which often tells us how much it is doing for them. The Government has told them to get temporary finance elsewhere. Any sensible man or woman knows what they are up against when they have to spend £4,000 to buy a home. Two or three years ago, the then Minister for Social Services said to honorable members, “Why not tell the ex-serviceman, when he comes to you, that if he borrows from a private bank or insurance company the Government will come to his aid in eighteen months’ time, and then he will be able to repay the money? “. Is that the act of a stable government which has said that it would support the returned servicemen? The soldier who raises a short-term loan has to pay interest at the rate of 10 per cent, or 15 per cent, in order to get it. It might not be difficult to pay 15 per cent, on a small sum, but an interest rate of 15 per cent, or 20 per cent, is a big item when it has to be paid on a loan of £1,000 or £2,000. This money is not available because it is being absorbed by hire-purchase companies, which are able to pay high rates of interest. Despite all that, this Government boasts of what it has done for the ex-servicemen!
I commended the Government for the aged persons homes scheme it started in 1954, but what has been done since? Three years have passed but less than £1,417,000 has been paid out for the erection of homes. The Government said it would give £1,500,000 each year for the erection of homes for the aged but it has attached a string to that. The organization concerned has to provide 50 per cent, of the cost and must have the land. That is an impossibility. It is useless to offer this money unless it is offered without strings attached. Many councils in Sydney would be only too willing to undertake the provision of homes for the aged if the Commonwealth would provide 50 per cent, of the cost as it does under the Aged Persons Homes Act.
This Government proudly boasts that it gives the pensioners £4 per week to live on. It is left to the State Government to provide them with free transport passes and free hearing aids, among other things. This Government prates about what it has done and quotes figures for the years since 1949 to support its case; but I say that figures will not feed people who are practically starving. Figures are no good when you have no bread and butter. The Government would do well to increase pensions by at least £1 a week, and even then the pensioners would not be getting enough. The Labour party believes that pensioners should get at least half the basic wage.
Budget time is not the time to deal with this matter. Pensioners want relief now, and this Government and the State governments could easily work out some better way of dealing with their plight. It will not be enough for the Government to increase pensions by 7s. 6d. or perhaps only 2s. 6d. a week in its budget. Any person who is living on £4 a week is in a desperate plight at the present time. The people of Australia would wholeheartedly support an increase of pensions if the question was put to them. The Minister said here this afternoon, “ Do not blame me. I would give it. It is the Ministers and the Cabinet who decide what the pensioners are to get and I am not responsible if it is only £4 “. But it is no good passing the buck. The Government must act to-day.
My colleagues, the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Cope) and the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) have told the House in no uncertain way of how people are living while they await action by the Government. In the last budget the Government did not increase pensions by one penny. It was waiting for an election year. I hope that does not happen again. If the Government proposes to hold an election shortly after Christmas it might decide to give the pensioners something this year.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– During the suspension of the sitting for dinner I partook of some Formosan tea. Honorable members and other persons outside the House have declared that such tea can be sold in Australia for about 4s. per lb. If this is so, and having tasted it, I must strongly recommend it. Indeed, I hope that some one will tell me where I may obtain some, so that I shall be able to take it back to organizations of pensioners in my electorate. I should like to give them the opportunity to try it so that, if they like it, the racket in tea at 7s. per lb. in Sydney and other capital cities can be broken. Pensioners receive only £4 a week to meet all the expenses of living. They have a constant battle and tea is only one of the items for which they have to pay inflated prices. Pensioners pay the same indirect taxes as every one else in the community. The Government, when it is framing the next budget, should give thought to some system that will enable them on the presentation of their pension entitlement cards to buy free of excise duty and other Commonwealth taxes commodities such as tobacco and cigarettes that are heavily taxed.
Men who have smoked all their lives are entitled to continue when they are receiving an age pension. This Government should be able to work out some form of subsidy that would enable pensioners to obtain commodities free of taxes, which in some cases represent as much as 50 per cent, of the prices they pay. No one can reasonably expect pensioners on a social service payment of only £4 a week to manage in these times of rising costs and prices even barely to exist. If I have repeated myself in emphasizing the inadequacy of social service pensions, I make no apologies. I accept full blame, though I have committed no fault. After all, when an injustice is being done to many persons in this community, it is the responsibility of an honorable member of this chamber to take every opportunity to call attention to it and demand its rectification. Members of the Australian Country party are the first to oppose any suggestion for the relief of pensioners.
– That is absolutely wrong.
– It is not wrong. Time and again members of the Australian Country party have objected; but when flood, drought or fire strikes in country areas, they are the first to expect the Australian Government and the State governments to come to the aid of victims of such disasters. Country residents have had ten years of prosperity, yet so soon as a flood or a fire hits them, the members of the Australian Country party rush to the Government, cap in hand, for assistance for them. This action is rightly taken and I commend the Australian Country party for its activity on behalf of those it purports to represent. I am taking action as vigorously on behalf of those I represent, many of whom are quite unreasonably expected to pay rent and live on the small sum of £4 a week. Millions have been spent on the Colombo plan and other aid to Asian countries, yet this Government is fearful of appropriating a few million pounds to improve the conditions of our own kith and kin during the present winter months. The budget will not be brought down for another three months, but action is needed now. This Government prates about what it has done for Australia but its last budget provided not one penny increase in social services, though the year before, which was, of course, an election year, it granted an increase as a bribe for votes. If there is no election next year the rise in pensions, if any, will not be worth getting; but if the Parliament goes to the polls early next year possibly a worth-while rise will be contained in the next budget.
The national housing situation is disgraceful. Within a few days the Government of New South Wales will join the other States and the Commonwealth in an Australian
Loan Council meeting and will try to wrest from the Federal Treasurer an adequate proportion of the money that has been collected in New South Wales. I favour uniform income taxation but I consider also that it should provide some justice to the States in which most of the taxes are collected. The State of New South Wales gets back only about 4s. 6d. in every £1 that is collected there in taxes yet it is expected to build homes for the aged, and for the immigrants that this Government has brought into the country, as well as meet all normal housing demands of its population. In 1949 the immigration programme was approved on all sides of the House and the Menzies-Fadden Government promised that it would accept responsibility for housing the immigrants it brought here. Did it honour that undertaking? No. It invites the immigrants to New South Wales and expects the State government to find homes for them. This Government promised to meet that responsibility. In Sydney 85 per cent, of homes in the low-price range are bought by new Australians and thousands of the people for whom I am speaking to-night are thrown into the streets and the parks where they have no shelter.
This Government claims to be a national government, but what a sorry story its record reveals. Its actions are a travesty of justice. If the Government goes to the people next year, honorable .members on this side will be active to remind the voters of its deficiencies, and I am sure that the electors will not fail us. They will return a Labour government that will bring justice to the pensioners. A Labour government will bring justice also to young people, and to married men and women with children who are living under conditions of deplorable overcrowding. Every Monday morning married couples with two and three children come to my office, seeking my aid in obtaining a home. Many of them are living in single rooms. They are denied, through the failures of the Menzies-Fadden Government, their basic right to a home. At a meeting of the Australian Loan Council two years ago the States decided how much money they needed for their purposes but the Federal Treasurer said to them, in effect, “ Whatever you agree upon, I will not agree to it “. This world has had its dictators, but I have yet to see any dictator more ruthless than the Federal Treasurer was on that occasion. He said, in effect, “No matter what you decide on, no matter what the vote is, I am the boss and you will take what I give you “. I hope that his attitude at the next Australian Loan Council meeting will be different and that he will agree to allotting to New South Wales - the State in which I am particularly interested - adequate funds for housing. I am particularly concerned about shelter for aged people. I hope that the Government will consider also some alleviation of the plight of pensioners who do not get enough money to buy even the food that they need, and will give them an increase of at least £1 a week in their pensions. We have in Sydney such men as Sir Edward Hallstrom, who, every year, gives a prize to be competed for at a function for the benefit of pensioners. On 27th September next the West Sydney pensioners will hold a dance.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay).Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- It is understandable that, in debates on Supply measures, the Opposition should attack the Government’s economic policy. However, in the debate on this measure, the whole purpose of the Opposition’s exercise has been to indicate to the Government various ways in which more money could be expended. Although more money might be beneficially expended in a number of ways, no Opposition member has suggested a practicable means of financing such expenditure. I suggest that the best measure of the soundness of Australia’s economy is the confidence that we have inspired overseas. The flow of investment into Australia in recent years is some measure of it, and the willingness of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development to make loans to this country is another illustration. The World Bank, as it is often called, has lent Australia, perhaps, more money per capita than it has lent to any other country, after making much less inquiry into the stability of our economy than it has made in respect of other economies.
I was interested to hear the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), who is now Acting Leader of the Opposition, say this afternoon that Labour wants to bring about a change in society in Australia. That is nothing new to honorable members. We have heard it said by the honorable member for Melbourne, the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), and the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) in particular. We all are aware that they wish to bring about a change in society. They have made it clear, for example, ‘that they wish to change our present economic structure. They have clearly indicated that they intend, if they are ever returned to office, to change our banking laws. We have heard from the Acting Leader of the Opposition, and those who support him, that, in their own words, they will not make again the same mistake that they made last time. That is a reference to the amendments of the Banking Act initiated by the Labour Government in 1947 and 1949. Honorable members will recall that, in those years, Labour sought to change the economic and financial structure of Australia by legislation. The honorable member for Melbourne and his supporters now say that if, and when, they are returned to office, they will not adopt the same method, and will not make it quite so obvious to the electorate what their intention is. In other words, they will try to gain the same objective by means that are not so obvious. They think that they can do it by regulation. That indicates the importance of the present Government’s amendments of the Banking Act and the foreshadowed measures that it intends to introduce later this year.
In view of the propaganda that has been widely disseminated throughout Australia, I think that it would be wise to say that those of us who support banking reform in no way wish to weaken the Commonwealth Trading Bank of Australia. It is an effective and strong institution which functions for the good of the general public. From this, it follows that we on this side of the House believe in fair competition, because it is in the best interests of the Australian people. The remarks of the honorable member for Melbourne make it clear that, once again, he is trying to promote the class war that one section of the Australian Labour party has been encouraging for many years. He and his supporters want to force every one down to the same level by stamping out the spirit of initiative and free enterprise. They wish to remove all those things that have been the strongest inspiration of our nation.
This debate affords honorable members the opportunity to discuss some of the financial matters that they consider to be of importance. This is the last opportunity that they will have to make proposals affecting the budget for the financial year 1957-58 before it is prepared. I should like to discuss the problem of social services first. We had quite a lengthy debate on this matter this afternoon on a proposal that it be discussed as a matter of urgent public importance, and several honorable members have addressed themselves to it already in the debate on this measure. I agree with the remarks that have been made by some Government supporters and some Opposition members.
I should like to emphasize two points in particular. The first relates to the position of single persons who depend on social service benefits. I think that it is true to say that they are suffering most severely at the present time. Married people have certain advantages over them. Several years ago, the means test was modified in order to permit a married couple to receive the full pension of £4 a week each, or a total pension of £8 a week, in addition to a maximum superannuation income of £7 a week, making the total income £15 a week. It is true that the total number of persons entitled to this benefit may not be very great, but the fact remains that there are some, and in this matter, the Government has based its thinking on a consideration of the various items of income available to married couples. However, single pensioners, who must meet most of the kinds of expenses that married couples have, are less favorably situated. Let us consider, for example, the effect of the ownership of a home. A single pensioner who owns his home still has to pay the same amount by way of rates and taxes on property as a married couple who are pensioners. That is only one example. One finds, therefore, that the single pensioner is worse off, to a great degree, than are pensioners who are married. I think that the time has arrived for us to give special consideration to individual circumstances.
Another circumstance that comes to mind is that of married persons who have saved for their old age and who, by reason of their savings, are debarred by the means test from receiving social service benefits. Let me give another example. Take a married person who has saved sufficient to buy another house for rental purposes, hoping that, with some other income, he will have sufficient to sustain him during his years of retirement. I have before me the example of a person who, some years ago, bought a house for £2,300, from which the net income that he now receives is £1 5s. a week. Because of the value of that capital investment, he and his wife are debarred from receiving the full pension. Therefore, I suggest to the Minister that it would be wise to change the method of operation of the means test. At the present time, the means test takes into consideration the capital value of assets, and I suggest to the Minister that we should amend that provision in order to provide that the means test should have regard to the income derived from the investment, rather than its capital value. In other words, a pensioner couple would have to invest at least £9,000 or £10,000 to obtain an income equal to the money that is at present paid to them. If we were to amend the means test provisions along the lines I have suggested, those who have saved for their old age by their own initiative would be in the same position as those who are receiving the full pension but who invested a smaller amount in superannuation schemes. I am very glad that the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) is with us at the present time, because I hope that, since the budget has not yet been formulated, he will be able to take this suggestion into consideration.
I have listed social services and the allied services as the first topic on which to speak to-night, because that is the largest item of expenditure in the Commonwealth budget. Speaking from memory, in the present financial year the total expenditure on social services will be greater than the total defence vote.
I take as the second item for discussion, expenditure on repatriation services. Because, so often in this place, criticism is made of the members of the Public Service and those in allied organizations, I propose to read a letter from a repatriation pensioner who has recently been an inmate of one of our repatriation hospitals. He writes -
I would like you to inform the Minister for Repatriation, on my behalf, of a bouquet instead of the usual brickbat that comes the way of a
Minister. Would you kindly advise him that he should be very proud of the department that he administers? My treatment was a revelation. The extreme courtesy extended to me and others was a pointer to the treatment that I later received when I was admitted to the Repatriation General Hospital. The organization at that hospital is a credit to the department. I would like to advise that the administration there is, to my mind, something out of the box.
He then mentions the name of certain personnel attached to the establishment and says -
They are most efficient, kind, sympathetic and considerate. As for the sisters in the ward where I spent about three weeks, no praise could be too high. The nurses and orderlies were also very good. In these times when one likes to throw brickbats at Government departments, a word of genuine praise now and then must come as a tonic and I would like you to see if you could get these comments to the administration. Whether the persons mentioned will receive this praise i? another matter, but I cannot let this opportunity pass without some little effort to see that they get it. lt is with pleasure, therefore, that I have quoted the letter. I agree with the writer that, in many instances, those who are engaged in public service come in for a great deal of criticism. It is good to know that, although criticism is warranted on some occasions, there are those in the community who appreciate that a great number of the people who are serving the public do not always get the recognition they deserve.
During the week-end I had an opportunity to attend the annual general meeting of the War Widows Guild, at which several matters in connexion with anomalies in the act were brought to my notice. Some of us already know that hospital treatment for war widows is a matter that is administered by the Repatriation Department, and that, on the recommendation of the repatriation doctor in the relevant locality, a war widow may be admitted as a patient to a repatriation general hospital. If, however, a war widow in need of treatment lives in a country area and her illness is not sufficiently serious to warrant the attention of a specialist, she must seek treatment in a district hospital, where the benefits of the Repatriation Act are not available to her. In other words, she has to pay her own expenses while she is an inmate of such a hospital. The War Widows Guild has requested that, in cases in which repatriation doctors recommend that war widows should be admitted to public hospitals, the Repatriation Commission should make itself responsible for the expense of such hospital treatment. I think that that is a reasonable request and I ask the Minister for Social Services, who represents the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) in this House, to make representations on my behalf.
At the meeting to which I have referred, my attention also was directed to the fact that, in the near future, a conference will be held in Rome of several international bodies to discuss the problems of fatherless families. This is a problem which receives a great deal of attention from organizations such as Legacy and the War Widows Guild. I made some inquiries regarding this proposed conference and found that it was being organized by the International Union of Family Organizations, established in Paris in 1947, the constitution of which was adopted at the first General Assembly in Geneva in 1948. It is a consultative body of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. It is believed that Australia should have representatives attending that conference, and I can think of none better qualified than representatives from Legacy of Australia and the War Widows Guild. I bring this matter to the notice of the Parliament in the hope that the Government may see fit in some way not only to encourage that representation but also to give some assistance to the organizations that intend to promote the sending of delegates to the conference.
Later this week the State Premiers and the Commonwealth’s representatives will meet in the Premiers conference and the Australian Loan Council. I think, therefore, that it may be opportune to state once again the great objective which so many of us here have in mind in our relations with the Loan Council and the Premiers. One of the great problems which has faced Australia during the post-war years is the problem of expansion and how to deal with the tremendous number of public works which are necessary for our development. It is now well known that the Commonwealth’s representatives have pleaded with the representatives of the States for the establishment of a system of priorities for public works. It seems to me a simple matter of arithmetic that, with the comparatively limited finances available to Aus tralia because of our small population and huge size, we cannot do all the necessary public works at once. So it is necessary for Australia to have a system of priorities for public works. But in answer to the pleadings of the Commonwealth for the establishment of such priorities the representatives of the States quite rightly say that the States are independent entities in so many ways and are not subject to instructions from the Commonwealth. I think that the time has been reached when, whilst acknowledging the argument of the States, we should come to a more co-operative basis with them and establish such a system. As I have said, this could apply very well to public works; but we have other examples coming to us constantly of lack of cooperation between Commonwealth and States. There are organizations in Australia which are continually approaching members of this Parliament urging that the Commonwealth take a greater degree of responsibility in respect of education, roads, local government activities in general, hospitals and so on. But it is not just a matter of the Commonwealth taking over roads or hospitals. Under the Constitution these matters are entirely the responsibilities of the State governments. While it is possible for the Commonwealth to give financial assistance in respect of them it has no say in the administration of these matters within the boundaries of the States. So, I think that is a second sphere in which, at the forthcoming conference between the Premiers and the Commonwealth, true cooperation could take place for the benefit of Australia.
There is one thing going on in Australia at present which gives great cause for worry. That is the domination of parliamentary representatives, in certain spheres, by outside organizations. We see what is happening in Queensland at present. But that is nothing new. We have seen it happen in New South Wales on several occasions; but when it has happened in New South Wales the Premier of that State has not stood up for his rights as the present Premier of Queensland has done. Indeed, the Premier of New South Wales has bowed to the dictates of the body outside Parliament. We know the same thing is going on at present in Tasmania. We have seen what has happened in Victoria. I bring this matter forward once again because
I believe that it is absolutely necessary, no matter on what side of this Parliament we sit, for us to impress on the people that the Parliament is the stronghold of democracy in Australia.
Australia holds rather a unique position in this part of the world. We may not be large in numbers, but we are the oldest established democracy in the south-west Pacific, or South-East Asia, whichever term may be used. A number of countries which are at present developing their democratic institutions look to Australia for a lead. So, 1 think it is absolutely necessary for us in Australia not only to maintain the democratic institutions that we have inherited and enhanced but also to do all in our power to see that they do advance, and that we ourselves, as members of this Parliament, set an example to the people in the newer democracies.
I direct the attention of honorable members to the threats that are being directed from various places to the Parliament of our nation. I put this forward not in any party-political sense, but for the good of this Parliament, believing that we have a combined responsibility to see that the dignity of the Parliament is maintained, and that we shall continue to enhance the great progress that I know a democracy can make.
.- This Government has spent more money in less time than has any government in the history of Australia and it will continue to spend money more and more rapidly. Therefore, it is fitting that we in this Parliament should take the opportunity, when the Government comes to us seeking many more millions of pounds, to have a look at the recent history of this country and see the results of the recent expenditure by the Government. The war ended in 1945. The Labour government had been in office since 1941. It remained in power after the termination of the war until 10th December, 1949. The record of the Labour government during that war period and post-war period has never been impeached. The Labour party did not seek the government of this country. It governed Australia without a majority in either House of Parliament. It marshalled the manpower and resources of the nation for war, and with great success. When the war ended there were more than 1,000,000 men and women in the armed forces of Australia. There were nearly as many employed in the factories manufacturing exclusively weapons or materials necessary for war. Between 1945 and 1949, Labour had to put back into industry more people who had been engaged either in active warfare or in the factories associated with the creation of the weapons of war than were engaged similarly in other countries. Labour put those people back into peace-time industry. It made available for works of peace hundreds of factories which had been converted for the manufacture of articles of war or had been built during the war for that purpose. It did more than that. It initiated a land settlement scheme to place returned soldiers on the land. It inaugurated a housing scheme for the people. It initiated the greatest immigration scheme this country has ever known. It implemented, for the first time in the history of this or any other country, a policy of full employment. Such were the achievements in peace and in war of the Labour governments led by the late Mr. Curtin and the late Mr. Chifley that -
E’en the ranks of Tuscany,
Could scare forbear to cheer.
In October, 1950, the Treasurer of this country (Sir Arthur Fadden) said in this Parliament that he had taken over from the Chifley Government a country that was being fully developed. He said that great development was being carried out - as, of course, there was. He mentioned the Snowy River scheme. He said that great development was being carried on by the Commonwealth and the States. He said the confidence of the world was reposed in the people of Australia. He added that money was coming to this country from other parts of the world as well as from the people of Australia, to help in its development. If honorable members read his speech they will find that those were his words. He said, “ We have £750,000,000 in our overseas funds. Prices, of course, have risen in Australia, but they have not risen as rapidly as in other countries. It is in times like these that real progress is made “. But where has the real progress been made?
There has been immense expenditure, but what are the highlights of the history of this Government? In 1950, as I have said, tribute was paid by the Treasurer to the achievements of Labour. In 1951, the “ horror “ budget was brought down. In 1952, our overseas funds were dissipated and the nation was facing international insolvency. In that year, 100,000 of our people were out of work.
– Do not be silly.
– I remind the honorable member for Gippsland that in that year the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) was at the microphone, making a declaration to the people of this country about its economic plight. In 1955-56 our overseas funds were dissipated. Once again we are trembling on the verge of mass unemployment. Those are the facts. Those are the highlights of the history of the present Government.
But there is much more to the tale than that. Despite the confidence in Australia of investors overseas, and also of investors within Australia, this Government has raised the rates of interest considerably. Government supporters know the story of the first “horror” budget of 1951, and of the “little horror” budget of 1955. These are facts that the people of this country well know. They well know, too, that a section of the people - the age pensioners - are aware that their purchasing power has been consistently and persistently reduced by this Government. The workers have had taken away from them, not merely the quarterly basic wage adjustments, but also, for a considerable period, the payment of a margin for skill. In 1953 the quarterly basic wage adjustments were abolished. In that year the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration suspended the hearing of the case in connexion with margins. For a long period, the purchasing power of the vast masses of the people of this country, as a result of the actions of this Government, has been reduced.
But, of course, the story goes farther than that. The Government was gathering into its coffers more wealth than had ever gone into them before in a similar period of its history. Was it launching out on vast schemes of development? Where were they? The Snowy River scheme was the only one. But that had been inaugurated by a Labour government and was merely being carried on by this Government. Was this Government initiating, through the States, vast irrigation schemes in order to put thousands of people on the land?
– The honorable member for Gippsland says “ Yes “, but 1 say “ No “. I ask honorable members to think about Victoria. What happened about the Cairn Curran and Rocklands reservoirs? They had been in progress under previous governments. What about the NambrookDennison scheme? That was inaugurated, and was being developed before this Government came into office. This Government has not initiated or carried into effect: any major developmental work. That was. during a period when such works were moredesirable than ever before in our history. The flood of immigrants which was in.itiate.di by the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) and encouraged by a virile Labour government was continuing of its own volition. What provision did this Government make for the immigrants? Where better could it have placed them than in the unoccupied hinterland of this country? Where better could it have settled these people coming from overseas than on the land or in the country towns? That is where they should have gone, but did they go there?
– No, they were free.
– My friend says they were free. It is not freedom that induces men to go to a particular place. People do not live in hovels in Fitzroy because of freedom. Does my friend suggest that freedom causes people to live in the more congested areas of a city rather than to go out and help to develop the outback of this country? Does freedom cause the people who were once on the farmlands of other countries to seek work in factories when they come to Australia? They do that because of the ineptitude and incapacity of a government that does not provide for them an avenue of service that is essential to the development of this country. Development is something that has not occurred under the present Government, which stands condemned-
– By whom?
– It is condemned by the conditions that prevail in Australia. That fact is undeniable. Only this Government and its supporters could contemplate with complacency the fact that although 2,000,000 new settlers have been brought to this country in the last eight or nine years, during the same time the number of rural workers has declined by more than 30,000. In fact, there are fewer farmers and farm employees on the land to-day than there were in 1939. That alone is a serious indictment of the Government.
The, honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfred Kent Hughes) referred to decentralization and told us what was happening in the United States of America. He told us that, because of the threat of war, that country was uprooting people who had been settled near the great cities for many years and was moving vast industries beyond the mountain ranges and into the middle west, where they were far removed from the seaboard. The United States had to take that action in the interests of national survival, yet Australia, with every State capital city on the seaboard, is concentrating more and more population and industry in those cities. Such a course spells national disaster, inevitable destruction. Maurice Hindus wrote, during the last war, that Hitler and his armies could not conquer Russia because that country had no heart at which to strike. Her industries and her people had been dispersed, so she was able to recover from the smashing blows of the Nazi armies, and strike back. But the fighting power of Australia could be destroyed by six hydrogen bombs dropped in the right places from aircraft, delivered by intercontinental weapons, or launched from submarines or ships. They would destroy our industry and our power to retaliate.
As I have pointed out, this Government has failed the people, both in development for peaceful purposes, and the absorption of vast numbers of immigrants as well as in many other respects. It has destroyed the purchasing power of the pension and the average wage. It has allowed the housing lag to increase. Worst of all, it has spent £1,000,000,000 upon defence, but has not produced the essentials of defence. It has destroyed the very basis of national progress and prosperity. It has whittled away the things upon which our capacity to develop and progress so greatly depend. It consists, almost wholly, of political termites who are destroying everything essential to development. The land tax provided a means of enforcing the use of land for purposes of production and development, but this Government wiped it out.
The Government has also strangled the Commonwealth Bank. It was a bank which acted in the interests of the people, but the Government has made it a bank which acts in the interests of the private banking institutions generally. The primary-producing organizations of this country - of which I am no supporter - have, during the last few years, continually pointed out the difficulty of obtaining credit because of the restrictive credit policy operating in the interests of the private banks. They have called upon the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) to investigate the means of issuing credit employed by the private banks and by the Commonwealth Bank. People who wish to obtain houses can obtain credit from neither the private banks nor the Commonwealth Bank. Hire-purchase offers a more profitable field of investment and, to the hire-purchase magnate is sacrificed the housing of the people and the development of our farm lands. This Government is destroying a Commonwealth Bank that could be a medium of development in time of peace and a strong right arm in time of war.
Let us consider now what the Government has done in regard to shipping. The rates charged by the shipping companies which operate overseas, and by those which operate around our coasts, are everincreasing. The coastal shipping line which this country owns is also being strangled. It was not sold to private enterprise but, by legislation, it has been made subject to a commission, which entered into a twentyyears agreement not to compete with the private shipping lines. In every department one finds that the hand of private enterprise - the predatory hand of capitalism - directs government action. The honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Dean) said a short while ago that some governments were controlled from outside Parliament.
– So they are!
– The honorable member should know. When the bankers call the tune every member of the present Ministry dances. When the shipping ring calls the tune the same thing happens. Every Australian Country party member should be up in arms against the exploitation of primary industry of which the shipping rings have been guilty, but they are silent. The honorable member for Chisholm spoke about fair competition. “That is all we want “, he said. We are told in relation to the so-called “ strengthening “ of the Commonwealth Bank that the Government has merely sought to make sure that that institution will not compete unfairly with capitalistic institutions. If honorable members opposite were honest they would rise in their places and say, “ I am a defender of private enterprise. Private enterprise, free and unfettered, is the thing tor which I stand. I am out to destroy this Commonwealth Bank, which is the medium by which a socialistic Labour party hopes to develop this country in the interests of the masses “. The forebears of Government supporters said that in 1910. They said, “Bring this bank into operation and you will destroy the very basis of our national economy “. They said, “ Under Labour’s proposal for a national note issue you will have people with barrel loads of ‘ Fisher’s flimsies ‘ unable to buy a postage stamp or a pot of beer “.
I do not object to a fair and open fight with those who believe in things different from what I believe in, but I object to those who pretend that they believe in the things that I believe in and use that pretence as a camouflage under which to destroy the things for which I stand. An anti-Labour government destroyed the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers, and in recent years this Government has frustrated the Commonwealth shipping line operating around our shores. The anti-Labour parties have mutilated the Commonwealth Bank and are prepared now to mutilate it further. The Treasurer proclaimed, “ I will not be a party to the final assassination of the Commonwealth Bank “. He made that statement recently through the press. He said, “ Only over my dead body will you destroy that implement of progress, that national monument created by a Labour party “. He did that, of course, not of his own volition but because the primary producers and their organizations throughout the length and breadth of Australia were saying to him, “Hands off the Commonwealth Bank “. Ultimately, he looked around and said, in effect, “ Better be a Treasurer in a government that implements those things that the people I represent do not believe in, than be on the outer in this Parliament serving the ideals I have been expounding recently in the interests of primary producers “.
That, of course, is the story of this Government right through the years. We of the Labour party are aware of that. We are out to create national undertakings for the benefit of the people. We are out to protect the manufacturing industries. We are out to split up the vast areas of land that have become aggregated in the hands of a few to the detriment of the absorption of immigrants and the settlement of soldiers on the land. We are out to create vast developmental works, irrigation schemes and transport schemes, whether by road, rail or air, in the interests of the people. We are out to serve this country in peace and in war.
– What about the private banks?
– The private banks. We Labourites of Australia have this in common with the Labourites of England: The Labourites of England were once twitted that they did not love their country, and a noble and exalted lord of the Labour party replied, “ We Labourites love our country as the Athenians of old loved the city of the purple crown “. That is also true of the Labourites of Australia to-day. From whatever quarter the opposition comes, Labour stands to defend the best interests of this country; it will not allow a section of the community to build up for itself vast wealth at the expense of the masses of the people. Honorable members opposite have said that this country is prosperous. They pretend it is more prosperous than ever before in history. If that be so, then let the aged and the infirm have a share of that prosperity! If honorable members opposite believe what they say to be true, then let the purchasing power of the workers be continually and progressively increased so that they should have an expanding share in that prosperity. But, as was pointed out by an honorable member on this side, all this Government has done has been to whittle away the conditions of the vast masses of the people and to ensure an aggregation of wealth and property in the hands of the very few. Those things are detrimental to this country. They are detrimental in time of peace. They are blows at the building up of a state of affairs that would make Australia secure in the days of war. I have only two minutes left in which to conclude my remarks; but I want to say that a government that has already spent more money in less time to less effect than any other government in the history of this country will not receive my approbation to spend one penny more of the money of the people.
– After the denunciation of the honorable member for Scullin (Mr. Peters), I have a shrewd suspicion that he does not like this Government. He does not seem to agree with what the Liberal and Australian Country parties have done.
– I do not think you are too keen on it yourself.
– I am a good supporter of this Government and I know what I am supporting. That is more than the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) can say. He is not certain who his leader is or which section of the Labour party he is supporting. That applies also to the honorable member for Scullin. I have known him for a long time and the longer I have known him the more I have become convinced that, the weaker his case, the louder is his declamation on what he calls his political principles. It was an interesting speech, but I advise him not to go into training too early. I hate to disappoint him, but there is no sign of an election coming. If he goes into training too early he will over-train and become stale. He might practise in Queensland, but I am not certain whom he would support, Gair or Bukowski.
Those are interesting side-lights, but I want to ask the House to return to something which is more interesting at the present time - a few quiet moments over a cup of tea. In a debate on another matter earlier this afternoon, some honorable members opposite seemed to think that a very grave difference of opinion exists between the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) and myself on this matter. I assure them again that they are in for a very big disappointment, because both the Minister and I are in agreement on all the main points of this matter. As a matter of fact, if the Minister had not given the decision in the way he did, I do not think the subsequent events would have taken place. In a way, I was the catalyst and the Minister’s decision was what started the subsequent train of events. I realize that the Minister felt a little aggrieved that I had suggested he should give a decision against the advice of his departmental officers. On the case which I produced and which was in my hands at the time, the circumstantial evidence was strong, but apparently wrong, according to what the Minister has said. But I do not find it any detriment; it is a matter for praise that Ministers do sometimes go against the advice of their departmental officers. Otherwise, there would be no need for a Minister; the head of the department would be sufficient. On the other hand, when a Minister does not take the advice of his officers - and that is not so in this case - subsequent events will prove whether he is right or wrong.
The matter of the price of tea started in a very small way. I knew something about Taiwan tea, having had some myself, and I asked a firm, which I knew was in touch with Taiwan, to obtain a few samples and find out the price. I had no idea when I did that that a “ tea-bomb “ would evolve out of the action, and that the few samples that were obtained at my request would trigger off a series of very much bigger explosions. The price fell at once by 3d. per lb. It has since fallen by another 3d. in Adelaide and Brisbane to 6s. 9d. per lb., and it was selling at one of the big stores in Melbourne last Friday at 5s. 6d. per lb. So, I am hoping that this trend will continue, and that there will be further falls in the very near future.
There has been no explanation as to how the disclosure of the name of an applicant for an import licence was made to other people who already had licences. I am sure that the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) will have taken action in regard to this matter to ensure that such an event will not recur. It was a very serious leakage of information. The Minister seemed to feel - perhaps rightly, who knows - that if no licences were required for the importation of tea there would be an accumulation of vast stocks of tea in this country to the detriment of our overseas balances. I do not know whether anybody should be criticized for what has happened. If so, I take my share of the criticism, because I was a member of the Cabinet in the two years to which I shall refer. At least, I was a member for one month of the first year.
Apparently, the only time that there has been stockpiling of tea to any extent since 1949 was in 1950-51 and 1954-55. In 1950-51, 61,250,000 lb. of tea were brought into this country as against 54,500,000 lb. which were imported in the previous year and in the following year. In 1954-55, 65,000,000 lb. of tea were imported. In both those years, the tea board, which was appointed by the Government, was operating. If I remember rightly, in the firstmentioned year 6d. per lb. was taken off the government subsidy, and the subsidy was removed on 1st July, 1955. I do not want to make any wild accusations, but, ifI remember rightly, in both these cases a period of time elapsed before the price of tea was allowed to rise or be re-adjusted by subsidy. But it appears to an inexpert man, on the surface, that our main trouble with regard to the price of tea over the last two years has been the 65,000,000 lb. that were brought in in 1954-55 at the top of the post-war tea market.
I give the following figures subject to correction, becauseI have not done as much arithmetic for a long time as I did in trying to equate pounds worth with pounds weight of imported tea. But, as far as I can work out, in 1954-55, 62,000,000 lb. of the 65,000,000 lb. of tea were imported at an average price of 6s. 8½d. per lb. At that time, tea was stockpiled to the extent of about 10,000,000 lb. over and above the maximum consumption in Australia, and it has taken quite a considerable time to offload that tea on to the public at the price at which it was bought, even allowing for the government subsidy. Again talking subject to correction, I point out that the price of Ceylon tea has dropped from 6s.8½d. per lb. in 1954-55 to 5s. per lb. in 1955-56, the price which applied at the end of March of this year. For Indian tea, which was the same price in the last year of control, the relative figures are 6s. 8½d. and 4s. 5d., respectively. We bought less than 2,000,000 lb. of Indonesian tea during the time of the high prices, when Indonesian tea was only 5s. 6d. per lb. It subsequently dropped to 4s. 6d. per lb., and went up again to 4s.11d. per pound, but we bought 9,000,000 lb. of Indonesian tea in 1955-56, and 12,250,000 lb. of it during the first nine months of this year.
Therefore, if the pound weight is equated with the pound’s worth of tea it seems to me that there is a very interesting field for investigation into the question which I asked the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) to look into last Wednesday. That question was whether the cancellation of import licences for tea would not result in the public drinking tea for which top world price would not have to be paid, and which would therefore draw less from our overseas balances than we have been drawing in the past. I do not want to make any wrong accusations in this matter, but I think that an investigation would be interesting. In any case, I direct the attention of the Minister for Air (Mr. Osborne), who is at the table, to the fact that the only time that tea was stockpiled was during the period of operation of the tea controller and the tea board.
Tea is a perishable product unless it is stored under excellent conditions, and that again reduces the chance of stockpiling. Since 1949, we have imported tea from East Africa, Malaya, Viet-Nam, Kenya, Nyasaland, Tanganyika and various other places. I am not particularly interested in Formosa. I am interested to see that the public should get as wide a choice of tea as possible, and that prices should be competitive.
Another matter that needs to be looked into is how far the interlocking rings of licensed importers and capital interests in tea estates affect the price of tea. If a man has capital invested in a tea estate in Ceylon he is much more likely to want to import tea from that country than if he did not have that interest. I do not say that anything is wrong. But the influence of import licensing, combined with capital interest, might possibly lead to a wrong decision as to where large quantities of tea should come from.
I understand that a trade promotion delegation recently went to Ceylon and India. That delegation was promoted and assisted by the Minister for Trade, and was an excellent idea. But if trade is to be dealt with on a governmenttogovernment basis I think we have to be very careful that we do not tax one section of the people at the expense of another. I understand that one of these trade promotion delegations engaged in discussions as to whether we should buy extra tea from a certain country in return for which it would buy more of our wheat and flour. Every member of this House wants to see more markets for our wheat and our flour, but if it means - and everybody knows there has been an international price ring on wheat - that the housewife’s cup of tea is to be taxed because we have to buy more expensive tea than would otherwise be the case, the decision is wrong. In other words, if we are to make government trade deals of this nature, I think that any increased taxation should fall on the whole of the community by the payment of a subsidy or in some other way. I want to see all the markets possible for our wheat and flour, but if this means dearer imports the burden should fall on the shoulders of all taxpayers and not merely on the housewife who enjoys her cup of tea.
I would like the Minister at the table to take note of those points and discuss them with the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen). In fact, it might be even more interesting if it were possible for the Government to lay on the table of the House or of the Library the papers giving accounts of the discussions which our trade promotion people have had overseas. If some are confidential, I do not ask for those to be laid on the table.
Finally, I want to refer to something which is perhaps more in the nature of foreign policy. The Minister said last week that Formosa is a country with which Australia has friendly relations. I hope that means that the Government is at last going to send an Australian diplomatic representative to the Republic of China and so place that republic on the same basis as every other free country in the Western Pacific as regards diplomatic relations with Australia.
.- The remarks I propose to make in this debate on the granting of supply will deal with several questions. First there is the question of defence, for which £63,059,000 is being voted by the Parliament. I will deal then with the plight of the pensioners of this country and the needs of those in receipt of social service benefits. I hope also to be able to say something about the need for this Government, even at this late stage, to do something to rehabilitate those living in the mining communities of Australia.
I choose to deal with the question of defence first, because it is under this heading that the bulk of our money is being spent. Indeed, therein lies the mystery surrounding the spending of the taxpayers’ money. I feel quite confident in asserting that not one member of this Parliament, not even the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey), who is at the table, can say with any authority whether the money being voted by this Parliament for defence is being spent wisely and well. It is an extraordinary situation. The Minister cannot be expected to understand what is happening in another department. He cannot be expected to understand fully what types of aircraft are being bought. He cannot be expected to know whether the destroyers ordered by the previous government have yet been delivered. He would noi know the types of nuclear weapons that may come into the hands of the servicemen of this country. Nor would he be able to indicate just what is going to happen with the general defence set-up of this country. He is the policy-making Minister in the realm of foreign affairs - the Minister who is charged with the responsibility of trying to see to it that Australia has friendly relations with other countries, and that, if friendly relations are disrupted, we have an adequate and suitable defence force to meet the nation’s requirements.
– I can give a fair answer to those questions.
– If the Minister and his colleague are capable of answering my charges, I invite them to do so and to tell this House what is being done about the defence of this country. Can they tell us whether we are going to manufacture our own service aircraft or whether they are all going to be bought overseas? That is one of the questions that should be answered and it is a question that was posed in a leading article in the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ of to-day’s date. I believe that that article is worthy of reply by this Government. Incidentally, I want to say without any reservation at all just how heartily sick and disgusted I am - other members will agree with me - as an elected representative of the people, to have to depend for information on vital national matters upon the columns of the newspapers, which from time to time give sketchy patterns of the Government’s proposals. This is not good enough. Defence is a vital issue to every person in the country, and especially to every elected representative of the people. I join issue with the Government on this, and I say that in this House we should be given frank and straightforward statements on such matters. The leading article to which I have referred states -
It is nearly two months since the Prime Minister made his vague statement about the reequipment of the R.A.A.F., and more than a month since the Minister for Defence Production, Mr. Beale, added one - and only one - fact by way of amplification. The sole information available to the public is that the Air Force will re-arm with ground-to-air guided missiles, with transport aircraft “ of the type of “ the Lockheed Hercules, and with fighter aircraft, “ of a performance equivalent to “ that of the Lockheed Starfighter, which are to be built in Australia. These decisions are doubtless defensible, but only if the defence is announced in detail.
No announcement has been made in detail. Honorable members have been given no official information about this. Every patriotic Australian would like to know just what is taking place. Do the Ministers themselves know these things? Do the departmental heads come forward frankly and say “ These are our submissions; these are our proposals. We ask you to examine them and, having examined them, to let the public know what is occurring in connexion with these matters.”
I have a very special interest in this matter because of the tragic state of affairs regarding the manufacture of the FN .30 rifle. I hold in my hand a copy of the Sydney “ Daily Telegraph “, of Friday, 17th September, 1954, which reports an announcement by the former Minister for Defence Production, Sir Eric Harrison, that this rifle was going into production. The report adds -
He told the House of Representatives that the Commonwealth Small Arms Factory at Lithgow would manufacture the rifle. The rifle is selfloading
And it goes on with details of the weapon. The latest information we now have is that the weapon may be available in 1960. This is the measure of the defence of Australia! This is the measure of the security of the people of Australia - the weapon will be available in 1960!
– And it may not then be the most up-to-date pattern.
– It may not, as the honorable member for Bonython says. In any case, I am perturbed at the delay in this matter. I am concerned about a government, constantly talking about war, constantly sabre-rattling and telling the world just how ready we will be if anything eventuates, and yet in a simple matter like this, delaying indefinitely. The Commonwealth Small Arms Factory is pre-eminent in precision engineering. The workmen there, over the years, have been unexcelled in skill and productive capacity. They have built great weapons of war and many articles for peace-time use, including refrigerators, sound reproducing equipment and wool shears, combs and cutters. They have proved their ability to the world. The .303 rifle manufactured by these men at the Commonwealth Small Arms factory at Lithgow is sought after by marksmen throughout the world, who appreciate the excellence of its finish. What is the situation of the Commonwealth Small Arms factory at present? I told the House before, and I repeat it now to the shame of this Government. At present, that factory at Lithgow could not manufacture a weapon of any sort! I have repeatedly asked questions about this matter and have been dismayed, horrified and disgusted at the delay that has occurred even in giving me an unsatisfactory answer.
Other aspects of defence and defence production are equally alarming for all who are concerned about the security of this country. Nevertheless, the Government continues on its dismal way, devoid of any pattern for defence and planning haphazardly for some war that might occur ten years hence, five years hence or fifteen years hence. It is failing hopelessly to do anything to meet a war that might occur the day after to-morrow, a year hence or six months hence. The Government’s attitude is that at some time in the future Australia will be ready, but I ask: When, and to what extent? Thousands of millions of pounds have been spent and the House is asked to vote an extra £63,000,000. But what is the country getting for this money? I am all for spending money on defence, as is every true Australian, so long as value is obtained for it. It is my considered opinion that value will never be obtained for the money that is being budgeted for defence until a committee of this Parliament is appointed as a watch-dog in the service of the elected representatives of the people.
Such a committee should have the right to enter munitions establishments whenever it chooses, to obtain information from departmental heads and to do anything else it deems necessary in order to find out what is happening in respect of matters of defence. This committee, in addition to being a defence expenditure committee, should be a defence preparedness committee. A number of honorable members have expressed similar views in this chamber. The honorable member for Calare (Mr. Howse) has had something to say on this subject. The Acting Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) earlier to-day made a plea along lines similar to those I now put forward. The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) and other honorable members have directed attention to the urgent need for action, yet the Government goes fumbling along its uncertain way, unsure in all it does, but at all times arrogant. Its representatives in this chamber blithely declare that Australia is thoroughly prepared for any eventuality but they present . no facts to support their assertion. The people of this continent number fewer than 10,000,000, and in the present troubled world the Government of Australia parades a defence strength that is a myth; it simply does not exist at present. If it really exists, the nation ought to be told about it. The sooner a committee of this Parliament is appointed to do precisely as I have proposed it should do, the better it will be for the people of Australia. It has been suggested that a special select committee should be appointed, but I am opposed to that course. I do not consider a select committee necessary.
The elected representatives of the people bear the responsibility for these matters of defence and I know of no time better than a parliamentary recess for their undertaking the work that would be done by a committee of the nature that I have suggested. Such a committee would rapidly come to grips with vital questions and ascertain from those in authority exactly what is happening in defence matters. Many Ministers mean quite well and want to do the right thing but I have grave doubts about some departmental heads who apparently are not co-operating to the full. Nevertheless, this is a question of politics - of the Government answering for its administration of the country and of Ministers answering for their departments. Guilty men, whoever they are, should be unmasked and the representatives of the people should know who is responsible for the present sorry state of defence in this country. I have made my observations without bitterness or rancour. I am convinced that the Parliament has the responsibility to probe these things and to satisfy itself that the country is getting value for the money it spends on defence. Honorable members who were members of this chamber at the outbreak of World War II. and served here through the worrying, anxious years of that conflict know that Australia entered hostilities totally unprepared. They know the distress and the anguish that lack of preparedness caused, and they must feel now as I feel about the present state of defence preparedness. They will agree that something better ought to be evident for the millions of pounds that have been spent and that the people of Australia, through the Parliament of the nation, should know what is happening.
What is being done in the north of Australia? Alarming statements appear in the press and are made by Ministers, who are always willing to tell us that we are in jeopardy. But what is being done in the north of Australia for the security of this land? In fact, nothing is being done there. What is being done to promote the defence of the capital cities of the States? This Government has persisted in centralizing its defence activities in big cities. I have made plea after plea in this chamber for essential units of our defence organization to be established in strategically sound places, behind mountain ranges and in other areas that will afford them security. I suggested that the electorate of Macquarie, west of the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, would be a suitable area in which to establish a plant for the manufacture of ammunition for the new FN .30 rifle. The first representations I made went unanswered. On the next occasion I made the suggestion I was told that the Lithgow district would be considered. At the same time, an entirely different view on this matter is percolating through to me from other sources. I want to know who is responsible for the defence of this country?
Are the elected representatives of the people responsible, or the Ministry; or do some persons in the background make the decisions? These questions must be answered.
Essential defence units such as oil storages, atomic reactors and munition plants, are being gathered together in strategically unsafe areas. Why could not this development be undertaken in the north of Australia? The development of northern Australia and the dispersal of our population are important matters for the defence of this country. Units for the defence of Australia should be spread throughout Australia. The Government has spent some money on an airstrip near Penang. Perhaps that project is visionary - perhaps it will be helpful - but who can say what the political stability of Malaya will be next year, the year after or some years later? I should like to see more aerodromes in northern Australia. I should like to see more , of the modern weapons of war established there. I should like to see our land secure against attack from the north. I do not attempt to name any aggressor that might strike this country in the future, but it is obvious that such an aggressor must come from the north. Australia is not interested in taking any one else’s country. This nation has no territorial ambitions. It is clear that its defence must be directed at guarding against attack from the north. All the matters that I have put forward to-night demand an answer from the Government, though what answer will be forthcoming is doubtful. Honorable members have received no answers to their questions in the past.
The Minister for Defence is to make a tour of the United States of America. If he knows what he is going for, he has not told the Parliament; and if he does not know what he is going for, his mission must be fruitless. The elected representatives of the people should be consulted on all matters of defence. We are all vitally concerned and it is up to the Government to see that we are all informed. The continued employment of the people of Australia is an important aspect of defence. Over recent years hundreds of miners in my electorate have been dismissed from mines on the western coal-fields of New South Wales. At the end of June, another 200 miners are to be dismissed from a colliery in the heart of Lithgow. What will happen to these men? The Government is content that there will be a direction of labour and that the men will be told that there is work for them in some other part of New South Wales or Australia, but I am not content with that situation. It is not good enough. The Lithgow, Wallerawang and Portland areas and the great northern coalfields of New South Wales have all the advantages that a government needs if it wishes to do something to stabilize the coal-mining industry. In the event of war, we should have even greater need of fuel oil for heat and power, and we can get it, very often, only from the latent wealth of Australia, of which coal is an important part, although it is neglected by this Government. We should keep our mining industry intact, but this Government is doing nothing to preserve it. Pillars crumble, props collapse, and mines close down, but the Government does nothing. If any emergency occurred, and we needed the coal from mines that have been closed, a great deal of work would be required to get them into production again. But, in this atomic age, the Government neglects the coal mines, although they are still so important to us. The Commonwealth and the State governments concerned have a joint responsibility, which could be exercised through the Joint Coal Board or any other authority. All the governments concerned should come to grips with this problem and ensure that the mines are preserved for any eventuality.
There is an urgent need to develop the production of by-products from coal. In many respects, the burning of coal is a crude and wasteful way of using it, because power is wasted. Some of the great advantages of by-products from coal are mentioned in a very valuable paper submitted to a coal convention held at Newcastle on 13th and 14th April last by Mr. G. Curthoys, a Bachelor of Science on the staff of the Newcastle Technical College. As an expert, and an eminent man in his profession, Mr. Curthoys pointed out just what derivatives can be obtained from coal. The northern, southern, and western coal-fields in New South Wales could be greatly developed by the establishment of coal by-product industries which could take advantage of scientific research and obtain from coal many commodities that are urgently needed. The balance of payments problem is, of necessity, always worrying the Government. Much could be done to solve this problem if by-products were produced from coal in quantity to satisfy the demand for products that are now imported from overseas.
Coal tar dye, according to Mr. Curthoys, was one of the first products obtained from coal. It was first discovered in 1856 as a result of the work of a brilliant German chemist named Hofman. From that humble beginning, we can trace the wonderful story of the discovery of increasing numbers of coal by-products, all of which demonstrate the importance of coal to the national economy. A by-product of coal contributed greatly to the tremendous war effort of Hitler’s Germany by providing fuel to keep its industries working. Surely that is a lesson to the Government of this country where, apparently, flow oil has not yet been found. If this Government has not already heeded that lesson, I wonder when it will do so. I still believe that oil obtained from coal and from shale can play a most important part in Australia’s development. Mankind can derive great benefit from coal by-products such as carbolic acid, antiseptics, perfumes, flavouring material, explosives, insecticides, weed killers, plant hormones, and fertilizers, such as sulphate of ammonia. Coal derivatives can play a most important part in the plastics industry also, as Mr. Curthoys pointed out in these words -
Everyone is well aware of the tremendous developments that have taken place in the plastics industry since the war and yet it can be truly said that this field is still in its infancy. Last year Australia imported £5,000,000 worth of plastics which could have been made here ‘ on a coal-based chemical plant.
Another important field for the use of coal is the production of synthetic fibres for the manufacture of textiles. Synthetic rubber also can be manufactured from coal. Speaking of synthetic rubber products, Mr. Curthoys said -
More recently a German patent has been taken out for a synthetic rubber “ vulcollan “ based on coal chemicals. It is claimed that shoe heels made from this synthetic last about 2,000 miles compared with 300 miles for shoes made from ordinary rubber. In 1953 British and American firms were taking out licences for production of this new synthetic.
Australian imports of rubber last year were £17,000,000 which could have been made in local industry.
Agriculture also could benefit from the production of fertilizers such as sulphate of ammonia and ammonium nitrate. All these products are of the utmost importance to the whole community, and the Government should apply itself to the production of by-products from coal, if for no other reason, at least as an insurance for the future employment of the men who have served this country so well in the past in the coal industry so that others might live warm, comfortable, and secure. It is time this House realized what the people of Australia owe to the men in the coal industry. It is all very well for governments to make promises such as those that have been made in the past, and to neglect to honour them. -I hope that, in the present extremities in which the miners find themselves when they are being forced out of employment by synthetics, oil imported from overseas, and other factors such as increased production - which means that many of them have been working themselves out of jobs - the Government will show a sense of responsibility and do something to safeguard their interests.
I should like to mention the problem of pensions. In this connexion, I pay tribute to the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Minogue), and other honorable members who have discussed this subject to-day. I hold out very little hope that the Government will heed the exhortations that it has heard in this House to-day, but, at least, they have served to indicate to the Government that the Opposition is dissatisfied with its treatment of the pensioners and wants early action to improve their situation. I know that, when we return here to debate the budget, we shall be told that we are too late, and that we should have mentioned these matters earlier. We are mentioning them now in the hope that the responsible authorities will take heed, and, without delay, alleviate the plight of the aged and infirm and of those who are trying to rear families in these difficult times.
The rigours of our winter weather, particularly in my electorate, give me grave cause for worry when I think of the plight of the aged and the infirm, and of the cost of fuel, the cost of maintaining a home and the cost of food. The honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfred Kent Hughes) spoke at great length about the importation of tea from Formosa. The thing that amazes me in this matter is that a government which professes to be concerned with the cost of living has refused steadfastly to observe rises in the cost of living, as expressed in the C series index, and also has refused to permit the importation of tea which could reduce the cost of living for pensioners and everybody else. If for no other reason, the Government stands condemned for its failure to act in this matter. The question of the importation of tea is one that concerns everybody. If relaxation of import restrictions could be made in other directions, as it has now been made in respect of tea, I am satisfied that the cost of living could be reduced dramatically. Incidentally, the great profits that are being made by our retail houses have never been investigated, and they ought to be investigated. If all the matters to which I have referred received proper consideration, the pioneers of this country would have more just treatment than they have at the present time.
I conclude by saying that I believe that families ought to receive better treatment. In this connexion, I am concerned because of the inadequacy of the family endowment. I make a plea to the Government, and 1 ask honorable members to support me, to extend family endowment payments to include children who are still attending school after they attain the age of sixteen years. We are supposed to believe in equality of opportunity. If we do, then surely we must agree that the parents of a child who is going through one of the most costly periods of his life ought to receive endowment while that child continues to go to school.
.- The honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti), in concluding his speech, endeavoured to get onto the bandwagon by referring to the subject of tea. It is rather strange, however, that although the honorable member has known of this matter which has now been adjusted, ever since it was brought to the notice of the Government by an honorable member who supports the Government, the honorable member for Macquarie has not lifted a finger or uttered a word in this House to try to get the position rectified. It is a great habit of honorable members opposite to jump on the bandwagon, if they can, particularly at this time of the year.
– Get on with it!
– I shall deal with the honorable member for Scullin later. The honorable member for Macquarie also criticized the Government about its defence programme, claiming that no information on that subject had been transmitted to honorable members, who had to reply on what they read in the newspapers. I can recall very well that the honorable gentleman was sitting in this Parliament on the night on which the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) made his recent statement on defence, in the course of which the right honorable gentleman said -
It is for this reason that, as I will point out, we have decided, both in aircraft, in artillery and in small arms, to fit ourselves for close co-operation with the United States in the South-East Asian area.
I remember very clearly, as do other honorable members who are present, that the right honorable gentleman addressed the honorable member for Macquarie directly and said, in effect, “The honorable member for Macquarie will appreciate the fact that we are going to manufacture the F.N. rifle in his electorate”.
– In 1960!
– That may be so, but I thought that the honorable gentleman had all the answers to these matters. If he thinks that engineers - and I agree with him that Australian engineers are as good as any in the world - could start to-morrow to manufacture a rifle of any type without the blue-prints and a period of tooling up, he is not as smart as he would like the House to believe he is. I think that we can well ignore what the honorable gentleman has said in respect of defence.
The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), who is the Acting Leader of the Opposition, led for his party this afternoon. He charged the Government with being stale, stolid and stubborn. He referred to our immigration policy and said that in three and a half years’ time we should have a population of 15,000,000. I do not disagree with that ideal. I have never refrained, in this Parliament or anywhere else in Australia, from giving due credit to the honorable member for Melbourne for his part in the immigration programme, but I think that every member of this Parliament, as well as every citizen of Australia, will be most disappointed to know that on 20th March last, in this House, the honorable member seconded a proposal, moved by his leader, which amounted to a censure motion, to curtail the immigration intake. It is of no use the honorable gentlemen, for whom I have a lot of respect, doing that kind of thing and then coming into the Parliament afterwards and endeavouring to criticize the Government for its immigration policy.
– Would the honorable member read the terms of that resolution?
– The honorable member may read them for himself if he cares to look at the votes and proceedings of the House for 20th March last. I am not going to waste my time in doing so. The legislation before the House is a vehicle which may be used by honorable members to bring their fancy ideas to the notice of the Parliament, or the Opposition may use it to criticize the activities of the Government as much as it likes. I do not object to honorable members opposite doing that, but I do expect them at least to be truthful in these matters.
– That is too much to expect!
– If that is the true position, then it is too bad. The honorable member for Melbourne said that, in the 1949 policy speech of the Government parties, it was stated that, if elected, they would find £200,000,000 for development, and that that money was to come from the petrol tax. I give the deliberate lie to that statement, and for the benefit of those members of the Opposition who might feel disposed to support their acting leader, I propose to read from the policy speech of the Prime Minister. At page 17, he said -
Over a period of five years we shall raise loans totalling £250 millions, the interest and sinking fund on which will be provided out of the petrol tax.
He did not say that £200,000,000 was to be raised out of the petrol tax for developmental purposes. What is the story in regard to development?. By 1954, this Government had raised approximately £760,000,000 for development. By now, the figure will be well over £1,000,000,000. Yet, the Acting Leader of the Opposition and other honorable members opposite have criticized the Government for not having a planned programme to carry out! That is not the fault of this Government, because in 1954 the Prime Minister appealed to the States in the following words, which appear on page 6 of the printed copy of his policy speech for the 1954 general election: -
We will therefore ask the States to co-operate in the creation of a small advisory body of highly expert persons to serve as a National Development Commission, acting in association with the Department of National Development to report to both the Commonwealth and the States upon the economics and relative importance of particular proposals. This will not only influence public opinion and Government action, but will produce authoritative reports upon particular projects, irrigation, power, land settlement, which may well attract private enterprise, both local and overseas.
What is the position? Has one State Premier been prepared to co-operate with this Government in setting up such a body? I well recall being present in this chamber at the Premiers conference of 1950-51, when the Prime Minister made the same suggestion to the Premiers. When they returned to Canberra after a short period of three or six months the first Premier to pour cold water on the idea was none other than the then Premier of New South Wales. Never since this Government has been in office has it been able to get the States to co-operate on a matter such as this, to get some system of priorities - first things first - and work on a plan of development for this country.
The honorable member for Scullin attempted to support the Acting Leader of the Opposition. I remind the House and the country that that honorable gentleman said that he is not a supporter of the primary producers. That confirms what he said some years ago to the effect that this country could only be built on a sound secondary industry policy. He fails to realize that the food he eats and the clothes he wears come from the primary producers. He fails to realize that the big bulk of the employment in this country, in secondary industry particularly, is made possible by the fact that primary producers produce the wealth which enables Australia to earn overseas currencies to finance imports of the materials needed by secondary industry. He said that the Treasurer had said that the Labour party had laid the foundations for the great development that is going on in this country. Where? I tried, by interjection, to get the honorable member for Scullin to tell me where I could dig up that statement of the Treasurer in “ Hansard “.
– It was made in 1950.
– If the honorable member will give me the page number and volume number, I will look it up. All I can remember the Treasurer saying is that the story that the Labour government had left £600,000,000 of developmental projects behind it was only a story, because when this Government came into office we found nothing whatever.
– We found an empty Treasury.
– That is so. The honorable member for Scullin talked about land settlement. How many men had been settled on the land when this Government took office?
– The scheme had only just started to operate.
– The honorable member says that it had just started. I recall the honorable member being told in this Parliament to get back into the tin when he was talking about rabbits and land settlement. The scheme was started in 1946, and there were very few men settled on the land by the time we took office. Similar remarks apply to the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme. The first sod had been turned, but very little work had been done. The bulk of the work on the Snowy Mountains project has been made possible by money made available by this Government - a very creditable performance and a very fine prospect of which the men and women of Australia will be very proud in the future.
The honorable member also referred to land tax. What has been the picture in respect to land tax? No sooner had this Government taken off the imposts of land tax and entertainment tax than the State governments re-imposed those taxes with even greater impact than before. Consequently, the Labour party in this House has no justification to talk about the abolition of the land tax.
The honorable member for Scullin went on to say that we endeavoured, by the use of the private trading banks, to strangle the Commonwealth Bank. That is to-day’s funny story. Honorable members opposite just have to use something with which to bolster up their case. Finally, the honorable member came out with the amazing piece of information that this Government is doing nothing but protecting the interests of manufacturing industry. Well, the policy speech of the Leader of the Labour party, at the last two general elections, contained, a pledge to re-institute the 40 per cent, depreciation allowance in respect of industry. What would manufacturing industry get out of such a proposal if it were implemented?
To my mind, the Opposition’s case to-night, in which it challenges the Government’s performance, is very weak indeed. Honorable members opposite could be blown out of the water, as the naval saying goes, at any tick of the clock, because in the years when they had the opportunity to do something they did precisely nothing. They talk about pensions. It was the present Labour Opposition which, when in office, refused to give age pensioners any increase of pension in 1949. It was the same gentlemen, who sat in government between 1946 and 1949 and refused to accept a war widow as a suitable risk for the purchase of a war service home. The same gentlemen also refused to remove the means test on war pensions. Those gentlemen, and others of the same party political kith here to-day, now accuse the Government of failure to act, but all the things that I have mentioned, I am glad to say, have been attended to since the two parties now in office were elected to power.
A suggestion made by the Speaker of this House and the President of the Senate for the building of a new Parliament House was published in the press recently. Somebody says that it is completely unnecessary.
I completely disagree, because I think that we all realize that modern buildings cannot be erected in a matter of minutes. They have to be planned well in advance, and building must be started long before they are needed. We are hoping to increase the population of this country as quickly as possible, and an increase of population of 2,000,000 people in the next five or ten years would mean that the representation in the Parliament would have to be increased, and that more accommodation for members of Parliament would be necessary. This chamber would have to be enlarged to hold the increased number of members of this House. Some very big structural changes would have to be made to it. For that reason, and knowing full well that it will take at least ten or fifteen years before the new Parliament House could be completed, I think this is the time when the plans should be made. Now is the time when we should be calling for applications all over the world from people able to design such a building. That cannot be done in five minutes. This building would not go to waste after a new Parliament House had been built. It would be eminently suitable to house the High Court, for instance. None of it will go to waste.
– It would do for the National Library.
– It could be used for the National Library. I do not care what it is used for, but there is no fear that it will not be used to the full. Some government must make up its mind on this matter and at least set the wheels in motion, or I am afraid this country will find itself without a suitable building in which to house members of its Parliament.
I am surprised by the comments of a gentleman in another place, who has been a member of this Parliament for a long time and who will be retiring very shortly. Because of the report that I have mentioned regarding the suggestion by the Speaker and the President of the Senate, this gentleman took the opportunity to criticize-
Order! The honorable member may not refer to what happened in another place.
– Well, I was going to refer to the futility of it. I saw something in the Sydney “ Truth “ on Sunday. It had to do with the same sort of thing that I have been talking about. This newspaper reported that an individual in Canberra had said that certain people were over-paid, under-worked and over-fed.
– Are you?
– Well, I do not look it, but, my word, you do!
– The honorable member for Kingsford-Smith has four chins.
Mr. Curtin interjecting,
Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKEROrder! The honorable member for KingsfordSmith must not interject.
– Anybody who looks at the “ Parliamentary Handbook “ will not see that face in it.
The report to which I have been referring went farther. It said that members of Parliament - a term which describes all the members of both houses - should have their salaries cut by half, and that the money thus saved should be made available to the pensioners. That sounds very nice; it reads very well. But it is merely pandering to poor unfortunate people who may be suffering as a result of the pension they are receiving. It is all very well for members of the Labour party to laugh, but I took the opportunity to-day to ascertain how many age pensioners there are in this country. The total number of age pensioners alone is 455,727. Half of the salaries of 183 members of this Parliament divided among that number of pensioners would give each pensioner a paltry 2.8d. a week extra. That is how the Labour party, or some of its members, would deal with the pensioners.
Mr. Curtin interjecting,
Order! The honorable member for Kingsford-Smith must be quiet.
– I say that any honorable member, irrespective of what part of the Parliament he serves, ought to be downright ashamed of himself for making these sort of suggestions. It is only cheap claptrap and humbug. It is an insult to those people-
– I rise to order. I wonder whether the honorable member is entitled, having referred to a statement he has read in the press, to link that statement with a member either of this House or in another place.
Order! In this particular case it is too late for the honorable member to take a point of order.
– I hope that the next matter I will raise is not too late. It refers to certain portions of-
– Mr Acting Deputy Speaker, I direct attention to the state of the House. [Quorum formed.]
– It is the first time that I have had the privilege of having a quorum called upon me by a member of this Parliament who is not entitled to vote and who is not entitled to be counted when a quorum is called. The matter I was about to raise is related to the Postal Department. In Western Australia, the Labour Government proposes to close one-fifth of the State’s railway system, involving 842 miles of railway line. Some of the railways are in my electorate. A telephone line has been constructed along these railway lines and is hired to the Postal Department to provide telephone services for country residents. If the railway lines are closed, it is a hundred to one chance that the Railways Department will not bother to send any one to maintain the telephone lines. I hope that the Postal Department will take warning from my statement and will discuss with the railway authorities in Western Australia, or with the State Government, the possibility of the Postal Department maintaining these telephone lines or of the taking over of the lines completely, so that it will be responsible for their maintenance and efficiency.
Another matter I wish to mention relates to the Royal Australian Navy. Some time ago, the then Minister for the Navy promised that ships from the Royal Australian Navy would hold exercises in the Indian Ocean, off the West Australian coast, but I think it is known - to most West Australians at least - that few such exercises have taken place. I do not deny that national service trainees from Western Australia have gone aboard training ships and have had periods of training in the Indian Ocean. However, if it was good enough for Admiral Stump of the United States Navy, on the occasion of his recent visit to Australia, to say that he would recommend the naval authorities of his country to send American warships to exercise in Australian waters, rather than to come here simply on official visits from Pearl Harbour or whatever their stations may be, it is good enough for the Royal Australian Navy to send some of its ships from the eastern seaboard to the western seaboard so that the people of Western Australia may see for themselves that the Royal Australian Navy is playing an active part in Australia’s defence scheme and may gain some appreciation of what is being done to train Australian youths in the Navy.
The last matter I wish to deal with in the few minutes that remain for me to speak, concerns the development of northern Australia. Some Western Australian members have received what I consider to be a most impertinent letter from the “ West Australian “ newspaper. It is asking us to support a scheme that the Northern Rehabilitation Committee has devised for the development of northern Australia. The newspaper is asking us, not only for support, but also to bring pressure to bear on the Government. The exact question that it has asked is -
Would you be prepared to apply pressure to the Government to invoke the scheme?
That means to put this scheme into effect. I do not take exception to the scheme that has been devised - its sponsors want a tax-free period for the northern areas - although, personally, I think that such a scheme would be unconstitutional. This Government has tried to help the people in the northern areas under the zoning system, and that scheme could be challenged on constitutional grounds. Therefore this request to exert pressure is unwarranted. Insofar as the Western Australian portion is concerned, I have suggested before, and I say again, that the people in the northern parts of the State should be given an opportunity to say whether they would like to remain under the control of the Western Australian Government or would prefer to come under the control of the Commonwealth Government, as the Northern Territory did some years ago. Since the Commonwealth has had control of the Northern Territory, and particularly since the Department of Territories has been in operation, the population of the Northern Territory has increased considerably and development has gone ahead apace. That region is really getting somewhere.
While the north-western portion of Western Australia stays under the control of the Western Australian Government, it is too big a charge on the Government and on the small number of people in the State. I say that the people in the area should be given an opportunity, by way of a plebiscite, to choose whether they will stay with the State Government or come under the wing of the Commonwealth. If they choose to remain with the State, the State Government should set up a commission or some authority with head-quarters at Derby or Broome, so that these may have some liaison with the Government, instead of having to travel thousands of miles south to the capital city to seek help. If a plebiscite were taken, it could be the first step towards the creation of a new State. In my opinion, that must come eventually, because of the size and importance of this area.
I think it is tragic for people to be asked to support schemes that have no constitutional foundation and that may be challenged at any time. I think that we should be doing the people of the northern areas - I do not care whether it is north Queensland or the north of Western Australia - a greater service by either encouraging the State governments to set up some authorities in the north which the people could approach or by giving the people an opportunity to come under the wing of the Commonwealth. That would be much better than putting forward a mad-cap scheme that could be knocked over before it had really made a start. I think that we must give the people of Western Australia who live north of the 26th parallel or whatever other line we take an opportunity to say what they would like to do. If they decide to remain under the State Government, then it should set up an authority of the kind I have mentioned. The State Government should work on lines similar to those on which we have worked in the Northern Territory. Before the Department of Territories was established, we had centres of administration in Darwin and Alice Springs, which worked through Canberra. I realize that, as a result of this activity such things as steel quotas became possible, but since we have had a Minister for Territories the area has gone ahead. I hope that progress will continue and that something similar can be done for northern Queensland and the north of Western Australia.
.- I propose to devote my time to discussing the dangerous drift in public hospital finance throughout Australia. I know that some Government supporters say that the financing of hospitals is the responsibility of State governments, but under the present system of uniform taxation the States are the poor relations of the Commonwealth, and hospital finance has undoubtedly become a national problem. It is no earthly use members of the Government throwing up their hands in horror and saying, “Let the State governments get out of the mess themselves”. Unfortunately the State governments, financially, are in a terrific mess. For example, the Government of Victoria will have a deficit of about £4,000,000 this year, and I understand that all the other State governments are in a similar position.
The Victorian Hospitals and Charities Commission expects that Victorian public hospitals will have a total deficit of about £3,500,000 this year. Obviously, such a state of affairs cannot be allowed to exist much longer. Our vital public hospitals cannot be left to flounder from crisis to crisis. This struggle for solvency has gone on for many years, and the hospitals are fast reaching a position of real insolvency. It is high time that the National Parliament recognized the situation and attempted to do something for what are, after all, national institutions. Unless a comprehensive programme of financial security for hospitals can be evolved, there must be grave consequences for the health of the community. Every hospital in Victoria - and I say this without equivocation - is leading a handtomouth existence.
At present hospitals are financed by a subsidy from the federal Government on the basis of 8s. per bed, a grant from the State governments, charges to patients, the proceeds of lotteries, and voluntary effort. This hotch-potch system has just about reached the end of its tether. It has failed to do the job, and unless this Government and the respective State governments get together and evolve some businesslike system of finance there must be a catastrophic breaking down of hospital services throughout the Commonwealth. At present, it is impossible for hospital managements to plan to meet the demands of a growing population. Many small institutions in the country areas carry on only through the generosity of tradesmen, who are prepared to allow their accounts to stand over for months.
I would like to cite the experience of a small Victorian country hospital in the electorate of Lalor. I regret that the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) will be unable to speak in this debate, but he has asked me to bring before the Parliament the letter that he received from the Kilmore Hospital recently. The hospital is only small, but its financial position is typical. The letter is from the president and manager, and reads -
It is the desire of this committee that I direct your urgent attention to the state of finances of this Institution. For some considerable time our activities have been severely curtailed due to inadequate maintenance grants being available from State governmental sources.
The writers are referring to the Bolte Liberal State Government. The letter further states -
All attempts to secure additional sufficient grants from the State Government have proved unsuccessful. Quite frankly, the hospital services in this State are in serious danger of breaking down as the various bankers refuse to finance additional deficits by means of further overdrafts. The reason given by the State Government for its inability to make adequate financial provision for its hospitals is that insufficient funds are made available from the Federal Government for its needs.
In view of this my Committee considers that the Federal Government should shoulder some of the financial burden of hospitals. Surely it must be recognized that hospitals play a most vital part in the affairs of the nation. At the moment they are being crippled and standards of service are starting to deteriorate, because of the inability of hospitals to pay their creditors or to maintain full staffs. The persons who will suffer will be those in need of medical and hospital attention.
– That was a circular letter, and was sent to every one.
– If it is typical of every hospital that merely reinforces my argument, and I assume that I may count on the support of the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) in my appeal to the Government on this matter. If the hospitals do not receive more finance, services must be curtailed. No civilized community should be asked to accept such a state of affairs. The Commonwealth is in a fairly affluent position and must find the money needed, on a big scale. Plainly, a new Federal-State effort is needed in order to achieve some sort of stability.
Some Government supporters query whether the Commonwealth should be asked to do more, but this is one case where a national viewpoint is essential. Greater federal assistance is imperative. After all, the federal Government has a real interest in this matter. Of all immigrants, 42 per cent, go to Victoria and at least 85 per cent, of these go to Melbourne. The federal Government must realize the problem that this places at the door of ‘the Victorian hospitals. For example, one in every three mothers at the Royal Women’s Hospital is an immigrant. In the Queen Victoria Hospital, the proportion is one in four. The same can be said of other hospitals, though, perhaps, to a lesser degree. The fact remains that much of the trouble experienced by Melbourne hospitals is due to immigration. As the financing of immigration is a federal responsibility, this Government should set aside funds to offset the effect that the immigration policy has had upon the State hospitals.
I understand that the CommonwealthState hospital benefit agreement expires in August. I urge the Government to act most generously in drafting the new agreement. At present, the Government pays a subsidy of 8s. a day for each occupied bed. This figure has remained unchanged since its introduction in 1945, with the exception that, under the national health scheme, persons who are insured receive 4s. a day extra from government funds and a further 6s. a day from the insurance organization. Speaking generally, the Commonwealth is contributing only 8s. a bed a day. When the Commonwealth began paying this 8s., it was costing hospitals only 19s. 6d. a day to maintain a bed. The Commonwealth is still paying only 8s. a day despite the fact that the present cost per hospital bed is £4 12s. a day. Surely, in those circumstances, this Government must realize that it has a case to answer, and that in drawing up a new agreement, it should recognize the huge increases in costs that have taken place over the last ten years. I suggest that at the very least the present payment of 8s. a day should be increased to £1 ls. a day because the cost of maintaining a hospital bed has increased with rising living costs over the last ten years.
I regret that the present agreement has not achieved the purpose its sponsors set out to achieve in 1945 because the Commonwealth’s contribution is fixed; it has not risen in proportion to rapidly rising hospital costs. I suggest that the increased contribution of £1 ls. should be made retrospective to last July in order to help hospitals to wipe out their accumulated deficits. I make that suggestion in all sincerity.
I suggest further that in addition to increasing its contribution, the Commonwealth should give very serious consideration to evolving a new national scheme to cover the cost of new buildings as well as maintenance costs. This seems to be a very real problem with hospital authorities. Take the position in Victoria. Only last year, work on additions to two hospitals almost stopped because the State Government did not provide sufficient funds. St. Vincent’s Hospital is a splendid institution with a wonderful record of service extending over many years. Much-needed additions are being made and, because of inability to obtain sufficient loan money from the State Government, the hospital committee was forced to seek finance from a private money-lending institution. It borrowed £250,000 in order to carry on with the work, but the great difficulty is that this £250,000 must be repaid out of contributions received from the Hospital and Charities Commission. Honorable members will readily appreciate that this borrowing is merely postponing the evil day. What is the position of the PrestonNorthcote Hospital? I happen to be a member of the Board of Management of that institution and I know the facts. We were extending some years ago, then we were forced to cease work, but we started again last year. The reason for closing down was lack of finance by way of State grant, and we are now on the verge of closing down for the same reason. It is a fine hospital, and its services are badly needed in a rapidly growing area but at the moment, because of lack of finance, only twenty men are engaged on erecting additions and it would seem that, at the present rate of government assistance, the work will take six years to complete. The hospital, when it is completed, will have accommodation for 360 beds and will be in a position to render a vitally-needed service to the northern suburbs of Melbourne. It is idiotic to expect a hospital to be built under those circumstances. Is it not uneconomic? The work is costing far more than it should because of delay. The position is tragic. This hospital which is urgently needed, is three-quarters completed, but work is unable to proceed because of lack of finance. I suggest that the circumstances which are delaying the completion of St. Vincent’s Hospital and Preston-Northcote Hospital are unnecessary, inexcusable and unpardonable in a civilized community. We should give more aid to hospital committees who are doing their best to see that money is made available.
In financing the Preston-Northcote hospital, we have almost drained the cash reserves of every citizen in the area, but that has not been sufficient to enable us to carry on with the work because, as all honorable members know, building costs have become inflated over the years. It is totally inexcusable that any State should have inadequate hospital accommodation, but we are certainly experiencing that situation in Victoria to-day.
Another grave defect in our hospital system is the condition of our teaching public hospitals. These institutions are the hub of the State’s hospital service. They have facilities for medical research and specialized diagnosis and treatment. I know that in Victoria - and no doubt this applies to the other States - the standard of hospital service for the State depends upon the service given by the teaching public hospitals, because these institutions also train medical undergraduates, graduates, hospital pharmacists, physiotherapists and other personnel who are indispensable to hospital work. In Victoria to-day there are six teaching public hospitals.
– There are eight.
– I stand corrected by the honorable member for Fawkner, (Mr. Howson) who I know, has some knowledge of this problem. He has been very sympathetic towards and very active on behalf of the hospitals of Victoria, and I know that what I am saying is striking a responsive chord in his ear. We have eight teaching public hospitals in Victoria. The staffs are working under cramped conditions, and the services of all are very strained indeed. According to an estimate, it will cost £30,000,000 to put these hospitals in first-class order. That amount is required for expenditure on capital works. The building programme of these eight teaching public hospitals is either being carried on at a reduced rate or has not been started at all, and this must have a very serious effect upon the training of essential professional personnel for the future, especially in view of the increased population brought about by the Government’s immigration policy. There is no earthly chance of the State Government’s providing the money for these teaching public hospitals. The Commonwealth Government must recognize its undoubted responsibility to these teaching hospitals by giving them special grants.
The Victorian Hospital and Charities Commission which is doing an excellent job with depleted resources has been given £4,100,000 for this financial year to finance the capital works programmes of all hospitals in the State, in addition to the numerous charitable and welfare institutions. Out of this sum, it is making available only £1,500,000 for metropolitan teaching hospitals. Obviously, this money will go nowhere. The Hospital and Charities Commission is responsible for capital works grants to the teaching hospitals, fourteen base hospitals in Victoria and over 100 district hospitals. Where will £4,100,000 go in that direction? Why, it is a mere drop in the ocean!
It has to be remembered also that the teaching hospitals_ are expensive institutions because of the complicated specialist departments they must have. To give honorable members some idea of the cost involved, I point out that an X-ray department of a modern hospital must have at least six X-ray machines, which cost between £10,000 and £20,000, and a staff of from 30 to 50 technicians. The hospitals are doing all they can. They are conducting public appeals, but there is a limit to what can be collected from the public. Unfortunately, public response to appeals, whilst it has been generous, has not returned very high sums in comparison with the huge increase in building costs. The response has certainly highlighted the generous instincts of the Australian people, but, unfortunately, the results have fallen far short of the desired target.
The Alfred Hospital is a very old institution. It occupies a very honoured position in the history of Victorian hospitals, but, unfortunately, it has only a very small balance in its building fund. This institution is now in need of £8,000,000 for reconstruction work, and it is making an appeal to the public, but there is a limit to what the public can give. Although the hospitals generally have received some hundreds of thousands of pounds as a result of public appeals, it is a fact that if they were to depend solely upon public subscription, they would not be able to build one story, let alone the five or six stories that are required.
St. Vincent’s Hospital, which I mentioned earlier, is in a very serious plight. The shut-down of its activities was obviated only because it was able to secure money from outside sources. All it has done is to delay the evil day, because that money must be paid back over the next few years. It is quite patent to all Victorians who have taken any interest in this subject that under the present arrangement it is manifestly impossible for the Victorian Hospital and Charities Commission to provide anything like the sum required to bring Victorian hospitals to the required condition. The Commonwealth should accept some responsibility for this all-important task. A special grant should be made for teaching hospitals because the training of doctors, which is a responsibility of the teaching hospitals, is an important educational benefit for the Commonwealth. The real need of our hospitals to-day is a closely knit State and Federal scheme which will ensure security of finance and adequate hospital facilities for all.
I trust that the Government, when it is renewing the agreement later this year, will give some consideration to the points I have made. They are, first, that the bed allowance of 8s. a day should be increased to at least £1 ls. a day; secondly, that a special capital works grant should be made for the construction of hospitals; and, thirdly, that the Government should give special consideration to the provision of the money required to modernize our allimportant teaching hospitals. If those things are done, this Government will make at least one notable contribution to the hospitals; and if it does so. whilst it is responsible for many grave omissions so far as our humanities are concerned, it has a wonderful chance of making its mark on this era of our political history by recognizing its financial obligation and saying, in effect, “ From now onwards, we recognize we have some part to play as far as finance is concerned, and we will not see people in a state of mental uneasiness because they are unable to obtain admission to hospitals. We will not have the spectacle of respectable citizens on hospital boards being almost on the point of collapse because they cannot find adequate money to finance their institutions “. I am glad to see the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) in the House, and I suggest that he give serious consideration, when preparing the next budget, to increasing considerably the grants for public hospitals. If he does so. I am certain that his action will meet with the approbation of every Australian citizen.
.- I congratulate the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) for commenting on the fact that the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) is present in the House to listen to the debate on the bill that he has brought down to secure supply until the budget is introduced. The honorable member should have gone on to refer to the fact that, of all the Treasurers this Commonwealth has known, the present Treasurer has consistently and persistently been present in this chamber when financial matters have been under discussion and has given heed to the discussions that have taken place.
The honorable member for Batman had much to say about hospitals and hospital finance. I commend him on the very worthy nature of the appeal that he has made, but I wish that he, with the good intentions that he has, would direct his energies in the proper quarters and explain clearly the position in relation to finance as between Commonwealth and State Governments. The honorable member knows, as does the honorable member for
Grayndler (Mr. Daly), that the State governments are extremely jealous of what they consider are their sovereign rights. The administration of health matters is the responsibility of the State governments. I have not heard of one State government that is prepared to hand over any of its sovereign powers in that respect.
– I did not suggest that State governments should hand over any powers.
– No, of course, the honorable member would not suggest that; but that is the key to the situation. In effect, what the honorable member has said, and what I am sometimes in misguided moments inclined to say to the Commonwealth Government is, “ Never mind about who will spend the money or how it will be spent; just pay it over and we will spend it”. That is exactly what is being suggested in this instance. I do not suggest that the States should relinquish any of their sovereign powers. In fact, I believe in the decentralization of government. However, I suggest that the State governments should accept their responsibilities and that when they come to the Commonwealth for assistance, as they have every right to do, they should come in an attitude which is clearly indicative to the public of the relationship which exists between the Commonwealth and the States. Instead of constantly slashing at the Commonwealth for failing to hand over money, in the spending of which the States will have the complete say, and instead of constantly accusing the Commonwealth of being irresponsible in its financial administration, the States should say clearly that it is their responsibility to spend the money according to their rights; and they should say to the Commonwealth, “ Here are our plans and our proposals “.
The honorable member for Batman referred to the fact that hospitals are living from crisis to crisis and leading a handtomouth existence. I am prepared to say, from my close personal experience in the administration of hospitals, that, dire as their circumstances may be to-day, they are in a far better financial situation than they were before the Commonwealth came to their assistance.
– That is not right.
– That is right. From 1928, I was chairman of the board of a country hospital that was six months in arrears in the payment of the salaries of its nurses. When the board met each month, it had to consider not whether it could afford to buy new kitchen equipment but whether it could afford the ls. 6d. for the cardboard gadget that held a cork and tin fitment for plugging up holes in saucers. That was our position then.
– Did you take the fees?
– We worked in an honorary capacity; and a little bit of honorary work from the honorable member and some of his colleagues these days could get us out of some of our troubles. Our hospitals were in a shocking plight at that time. I am speaking about the position in Western Australia. The Western Australian Government realized its responsibilities and imposed a State hospitals tax. It gave certain free treatment to people, but it imposed a straight-out tax, similar to a pay-roll tax.
– Were you in the State Parliament?
– No, but I had the responsibility of trying to run a hospital. From that day onwards, our hospital troubles began to disappear. We progressed for a few years. Then the Chifley hospitals scheme was introduced. At that time I was a member of the State Government and I pointed out then, as I point out to-day, that that scheme was based on entirely wrong premises.
– That is not right.
– What Mr. Chifley did was to collate the average collections made by hospitals from patients for the time they were in hospital. He did not take into consideration the cost of running a hospital. The average collection for each day a patient was in hospital was 6s. so the Chifley Government said, “ That is the amount we will pay to the hospitals “. I argued at that time that it was entirely wrong to base the payments under the scheme on the amount collected from patients in hospitals in those days. At that time, we were just getting over a very dire economic period. In Western Australia, the payments were made by the Australian Government subject to the State Government repealing its hospital tax. I argued that the proper basis on which to make the payments was not on the amount being paid by the patient but on the average daily cost of each patient. Some of the hospitals did quite well under the scheme, but others did not do so well.
Our hospital costs, at that time, were in the vicinity of 15s. a day, and the hospital received only 6s. a day from the Chifley Government. Protest as we did, we could not get the Chifley Government to alter the formula which had been accepted in Western Australia by a Labour government. Consequently, it is useless for the Labour party to criticize the method of assisting hospitals, because it was their scheme. The honorable member for Batman had the grace to point out that this Government doubled the Chifley Government’s hospital benefits payments to a rate of 12s. a day.
– I rise to order. As the honorable member has candidly admitted that under his chairmanship a hospital went broke, is he entitled to make misleading statements in connexion with a scheme instituted by the Chifley Labour Government?
The honorable member for Moore is in order.
– The honorable member for Grayndler may think this is a laughing matter, but we are now concerned about human beings. No hospital in Western Australia has ever gone broke, because the people in that State would not allow that to happen to any of their hospitals. The hospital on the board of which I was a member was built at a cost of £30,000, of which a paltry £8,000 had been provided by the Government and the remainder had been contributed by the people of the district.
I am dealing with this matter honestly and I am concerned about the fact that the hospital benefit is 8s. a day plus the amount that is payable from the insurance funds. The position of hospitals is now vastly different from their position in the days before the Commonwealth entered the picture. If the Chifley Government had based its scheme on different foundations, the hospitals would not now be in serious trouble. Opposition members constantly stress that it is the Government’s responsibility to provide money to be spent without any guarantee that it will be used in the right direction. No honorable member does that in handling his own finances. He would not hand over an amount of money to somebody else merely because that person said that he needed it.
It is necessary for this picture to be placed clearly before the people so that they may understand exactly where the financial responsibility and the administrative responsibility rest. It is the States’ responsibility to administer their hospitals. If they find that some project that they have in mind is more deserving than the provision of adequate hospital facilities they will decide to spend accordingly the money that is made available to them. Every one of us has a limit to our resources. There is no bottomless pit to them. We have to provide for our most urgent needs first. The responsibility rests on the States to decide what things they will have and how the money available will be spent.
During this debate an honorable member mentioned pensioners. Quite a lot has been said about the necessity for an increase of pensions. There is not anybody in the country who is not in sympathy with the suggestions that the aged, the invalid, the widowed and ex-serviceman who is required to live on a pension should receive something more. But sympathy will not provide them with an ounce of sugar on an ounce of tea. I tell Opposition members who constantly urge the Government to provide more money for pensions that there is only one way to do that and that is by increasing taxes. It is useless to express sympathy without facing facts. The Government could pay pensioners fabulous sums of money if it had the funds available but it has to find the money somewhere and it can only obtain it from the people.
If Opposition members wish pensioners to receive additional benefits from the Commonwealth Treasury there is no need for them to stress the needs of the pensioners to the Government. The Government has proved how interested it is in the pensioners and has done its best for them. People who want the pensioners to receive additional benefits should say to the taxpayers, “ You write and tell the Treasurer that you think that pensioners should get more and that he should raise more money for that purpose and that the only way to do that is by increasing taxation “. They should tell the Treasurer that they are prepared to pay additional taxes in order to provide more money for pensioners. Sympathy will not fill an empty belly. But if the people who express this sympathy are prepared to provide the money out of their own pockets the answer to the problem will have been found. Let us face the difficulty honestly instead of trying to make party political propaganda out of the needs of less fortunate human beings.
– What about the Government’s surplus?
– The honorable member does not understand the position or, if he does understand it, he will not be honest with the people. The Government, in its budget for the current financial year, has undertaken to raise £108,000,000 more than it needs for its own use in order to provide the State governments with money for their works programmes. I will not argue the justice of that decision. I shall leave it there. But I should be interested to find out how many Opposition members have actively engaged in sponsoring government loans. Regardless of my own party political leanings, I and many members on my political side of the fence engaged actively in raising loans in the period when the Curtin and Chifley Governments were in office. I have halfadozen certificates signed by Mr. Chifley testifying to my activities in the national interest in inducing people to lend their money to the Government for urgently needed national development. That is the sort of activity to which no party barrier should exist. It should be regarded on a non-party basis.
Whenever the Commonwealth floats a loan, every member of Parliament, regardless of his political colour, should support the appeal of the Treasurer for finance in order to carry on the developmental work of this country. I like to see Labour supporters engage in that form of activity, as was done in earlier years by supporters of the anti-Labour parties.
Very soon, a meeting of the Australian Loan Council will be held in this chamber. I can only hope that the Premiers will realize that there is no bottomless well from which money can be drawn to be spent all over the place. I return to what I said earlier, and emphasize that I am just as jealous as are the States of their sovereign powers and of their right to develop their own areas in accordance with their local knowledge of the needs and circumstances. I believe that they are better informed of their needs than we in this chamber ever could be, but for goodness’ sake let them face up to the facts!
I should like the Loan Council to examine the factors that are preventing the States from obtaining adequate money for developmental works. One of those factors is the much-condemned hire-purchase system of finance. Money is being diverted to hirepurchase finance which could be far better utilized in providing, as my friend, the honorable member for Batman, said, such things as hospital and educational facilities. Unfortunately, the Commonwealth cannot do anything to curb or restrain hire-purchase activities. It is the responsibility of the State Premiers, but they will not accept that responsibility. I suggest that, if the State Premiers, when they meet in the Loan Council, discuss the limiting factors in Australia’s financial position with a view to introducing legislation to remove those factors, they will go a long way towards solving the problems that remain unsolved because the Premiers throw the responsibilty on to the Commonwealth Government.
I do not think there is any need for interference with hire-purchase deposits and interest rates, as has been done in other parts of the world. A small amendment of the law in some States and the passing of a new law in others to provide that the hirer - the vendor - of goods shall rely for his security only on the article hired, and that he may claim only arrears of payments should he be obliged to repossess an article, would go a long way towards overcoming the problem of hire-purchase finance.
– What about interest rates?
– The interest rate position would cure itself, because the hiring would have to be on a far more selective basis. Many people enter into hire-purchase agreements without understanding the tremendous obligation into which they enter, and ultimately they are faced with the need to return the goods or to make great sacrifices and continue to pay exorbitant rates of interest. If my suggestion were adopted, the hirer would know that, if he were to repossess goods, he could claim only the arrears of payment. He could not claim the balance owing under the agreement.
As I said, the position would cure itself, because the hirer would be more selective and the purchasers would be a little more careful about entering into a hire-purchase agreement. The hire-purchase people would be honest with the prospective purchaser and would say to him, “ Can you afford this article? We do not want to take it from you after a month or two if you find you cannot continue the payments. We must tell you this, because we can claim only arrears of payments. We suggest that you have another look at it “. My proposal, if adopted, would provide a simple solution of the problem and would control the hire-purchase people. It is a matter which the States could well discuss.
I wish to support, as strongly as I can, the remarks that were made by the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton), regarding the development of the northwest of Western Australia, and also the Northern Territory and perhaps part of Queensland. The honorable member for Canning, other honorable members from Western Australia and I have waited on the Commonwealth Government at different times with various suggestions about action that should be taken by it to encourage the development of the north-west of Western Australia. I do not propose to go into detail about the need for such action; I think it is understood only too well by most honorable members and by the Government. Again the question of the limitation of power arises. It would be quite easy for the Commonwealth, if it had a bottomless well of money, to say to the Western Australian Government, to the Northern Territory Administration and to the Queensland Government, “ Here is a sum of X million pounds. Develop these areas “!
An appeal has been made to the Government for tax concessions, particularly exemption from income tax, as an encouragement to develop these areas. I wholeheartedly support that appeal, but I believe that it is only a minor element in what is required to ensure the development of the areas. The Commonwealth and the States should have discussions with a view to establishing a development commission to develop these parts. I repeat that I support the appeal for exemption from income tax, but I do not think that it will go a fraction of the way towards meeting the requirements of this part of Australia.
Before I resume my seat, I wish to take a leaf from the book of the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Minogue) and to make an appeal on behalf of a new venture that has been undertaken overseas. In Western Australia there is a unit which is responsible for the rehabilitation of paraplegics - people who have been paralysed by an injury to the spine and who are required to use wheel-chairs. Formerly such people were condemned to death within three to five years of the time of their injury; but, as has been demonstrated overseas and is now being demonstrated in Australia, medical science has discovered a way of helping them. Each year for quite a long period a form of Olympic sports for paraplegics has been conducted in England. Last year, eighteen countries participated, and this year 31 countries have notified their intention of participating in the sports, which are to be held at Stoke Mandeville, in England. I am hoping that an Australian team will participate. Western Australia has the only complete paraplegic unit. It is a complete team of trained paraplegics, and it is aimed, this year, to send a team to the sports which will take place in Italy. An appeal has been made to the Commonwealth for assistance, but that is not my purpose in mentioning the matter at this stage. By the kindness of the National Library a film showing paraplegics in sports will be screened for members this week. One of the scenes that should attract the attention of members is the paralyzed boys in Perth beating the Harlem Globe-trotters at basketball, by 26 points to 21. As honorable members will see from the picture, the game was “ dinkum “. I mention that because I think it is something entirely new and I am sure every honorable member will be only too keen to see the film in order to learn what is being done in this country by medical authorities, by governments, and by voluntary institutions for the rehabilitation, and, indeed, the habilitation, of people who are not so fortunately situated in life as the rest of us.
I do not want honorable members to confuse this scheme with the spastic scheme. Generally speaking, a spastic is some one who has been crippled from infancy, but any one of us in this House could be a paraplegic to-morrow. Paraplegia is usually the result of an accident, generally in industry, and our aim is to place these people back in industry. Many of them are back on full-time work and one of the objects of these sports is to enable them to take their place in normal industry.
– I rise to make a few remarks about one or two of the matters that have been discussed in this chamber to-night. First of all I bring to the notice of the Government a complaint I received some few days ago from one of Queensland’s industrial organizations, the Transport Workers Union. The union complained to me that when some of its members who had been paying into a medical benefits fund had reason to apply for payments they were told that they were ineligible because officials of the benefit organization considered that they were entitled to compensation. I took the matter up with the Health Department in Brisbane. The department assured me that the fund was quite in order in refusing to pay benefits to contributors who were entitled to compensation.
One particular case that I wish to mention concerns a member of the Transport Workers Union who met with an accident but who was unable to prove that he was entitled to compensation as a result of the accident. He had been paying into the medical benefits fund for a considerable period, believing, as all other unionists believe, that once he joined a medical benefits fund he was entitled to payment if he was incapacitated through illness or injury. In making inquiries on behalf of the union 1 was informed by the Health Department, which controls these funds in Queensland, that in accordance with the regulations of the fund, this particular worker - or any other worker in a similar position - could not claim anything at all if the fund was of the opinion that he was entitled to compensation.
This case was indeed a very pathetic one. When the injured man’s wife went along to make a claim she was told, “There is no money for you here because we believe your husband is entitled to compensation “. The fund kept the contributor’s book. The injured man was off work for quite a long while and no money was coming into the house. He had two or three children. He approached the Department of Social Services with a view to getting some financial assistance until such time as he was able to have his claim to compensation determined. However, the officials of the Department of Social Services discussed the position with the medical benefits fund concerned and the administrators of the fund were adamant that they would not pay any benefits in this case. Let it be said to the credit of the Department of Social Services - and I played my part in this, too - that it decided to pay him the sickness benefit provided he signed a statutory declaration to the effect that if he received compensation he would refund the amount paid to him during his illness. This proposal was put into effect. I again say that I am indebted to the Department of Social Services for coming to that unfortunate person’s assistance. The union has written a long letter to me complaining not only about this particular case but about the position of members of the organization generally who have been paying into this fund in the belief - apparently erroneous - that if they become ill or meet with an accident, or are not able to work through any cause whatever, they will be entitled to the benefits they contributed for. The unionists asked me to bring this matter before the House at the first opportunity and this is the first opportunity I have had. I am not quite conversant with the act governing medical benefits funds, but I should think, as the union and its members thinks, that if a member pays into a medical benefits fund as an insurance against illness or accident, he should receive the payment for which he has contributed just as he would from a friendly society. If a person belongs to a friendly society, that society does not say, “We shall not pay you any benefit at all because you are getting compensation “. It pays the benefit irrespective of whether the person receives compensation or not; but apparently that is not the position with a medical benefits fund.
I would like the Government to look into this matter and see whether these people are carrying out the functions of their organization in conformity with the policy laid down by this Government under the National
Health Act. I make this complaint in the hope that the Government will have it examined.
Another matter I desire to mention briefly is the manner in which this Government is dealing with applicants for war service homes. Almost every honorable member has, for many years, complained of the way in which this Government has treated applicants for war service homes. In Queensland - as, I believe, in other States - there is a long waiting list from year to year. Queensland applicants are waiting for as long as eighteen months or two years, and the excuse given by the War Service Homes Division is that the funds are exhausted. In the last two or three years, I, like other honorable members, have expressed disappointment at the Government’s failure to provide more money in the budget for the purpose of overtaking ;the lag in the building of war service homes.
The Government is always twitting the States on not carrying out .their obligations to provide houses for the people, but this Government has the power and the wherewithal to look after the needs of exservicemen, without using the States at all. There is no constitutional barrier to that, but the Commonwealth is not looking after even the ex-servicemen. There are hundreds in Brisbane alone, and still more throughout the rest of Queensland, who have been waiting for homes for two or three years. In the interests of ex-servicemen who are anxious to have homes of their own, I ask the Government to provide in this year’s budget a much larger amount than the £30,000,000 which it has provided for this purpose in the last two or three years. The War Service Homes Division could then proceed to make up the lag and build homes for these men who have waited for so long. Quite a number of honorable members opposite also have said that the Government should provide more money for this purpose.
I want to say a few words also in connexion with social services. To-day I had the pleasure of presenting to the Parliament a petition signed by no fewer than 6,042 persons, praying that the Government increase pensions and social service benefits generally. The reason for the presentation of the petition at this juncture is the hope that before the onset of the cold winter months something extra will be made available. We do not know whether provision for increased benefits will be made in the budget, but we sincerely hope so. I listened very attentively to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton), who spoke on the Social Services Bill earlier to-day. It was very amusing to me to hear him try to compare what this Government has done for the pensioners with what the previous Labour Government did under the leadership of the late John Curtin and the late Ben Chifley. Pensioners are worse off to-day than they have ever been since 1908, when pensions were first introduced by the Deakin Government. In support of that contention, I have facts and figures that honorable members opposite cannot refute.
The Minister said that this Government had increased age and invalid pensions more than had any other government. But even the increases which have been made by this Government have not brought pensions up to the same percentage of the basic wage as in 1948. The value of the £1 has decreased, as the Acting Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) said to-day. During the 1949 general election campaign, it was claimed by the leaders of the present Government parties that the Chifley £1 was worth only 12s. lid. - I do not believe that that was so - but the value of the Menzies-Fadden £1 is about 5s. 6d. The increases in pensions granted by this Government do not compensate for that reduction in value of the £1.
In my opinion, and in the opinion of the many thousands of recipients of social service benefits, including age, invalid and widows’ pensions, child endowment, and sickness and unemployment benefits, people who depend on social service payments are worse off now than they have ever been before. Labour, contrary to the contentions of honorable members opposite, has always been a keen advocate of age and invalid pensions and other social service benefits, because Labour paved the way for social services, not only in this Parliament but also in State parliaments. That can be proven by a perusal of the booklet issued from time to time by the Department of Social Services. It will be seen that, of all the classes of social service legislation on the statute-books to-day, eight were introduced by Labour and two by anti-Labour governments, making ten in all. The basic wage has increased by a considerable extent, while pensions have remained almost static. It is true that at one time the rate of pension was tied to the C series cost of living index, but that provision was removed in about 1947.
Labour has always contended that the age and invalid pensions should be, as nearly as possible, 50 per cent, of the basic wage. To-day, the proportion of the pension to the basic wage is much lower than it was in 1949. I have here some figures prepared by the Statistician on the value of social service payments in 1948 and 1956 and these enable me to make a comparison of social service benefits under this Government with those provided by the Labour government. These figures disclose that had the federal basic wage remained unpegged it would now be 124.14 per cent, higher than it was in 1948. In the last budget of the Labour government in 1948-
– The honorable member should take 1949.
– The year 1948 was the last year in which the Labour government increased pensions. It must be realized, also, that the Labour government increased pensions on a greater number of occasions and by greater separate sums, taking into account the value of the £1 under the Chifley Government, than this Government has done. The increases granted by this Government have been fewer in number and lower in value. The age and invalid pension provided in the last budget of the Labour government in 1948 was £2 2s. 6d. a week. If one increases that sum 124.14 per cent. - the increase that would have occurred in the federal basic wage between that year and 1956, had it remained , unpegged - the result is an age and invalid pension of £4 15s. 3d. a week. Instead of this, it remains at £4 a week. The 1956 budget of the present Government fixed the age and invalid pension at £4 a week so pensioners have been losing 15s. 3d. a week since then. That represents an annual loss of £39 13s.. Persons in receipt of child endowment, unemployment and sickness benefits and other social service payments have suffered a similar loss. Unfortunate people who are compelled to apply for unemployment and sickness benefits have not fared well under this Government.
In 1948, under the Labour government, the unemployment and sickness benefit for a single adult was £1 5s a week. If this is increased 124.14 per cent., the wage increase mentioned by the Commonwealth Statistician, it becomes £2 16s. a week. However, this Government has fixed the unemployment and sickness benefit at £2 10s. a week, .which represents a loss to the recipient of 6s. a week, or £15 12s. a year. The unemployment and sickness benefit for a dependent wife in the 1948 budget of the Labour government was £1 a week. When increased 124.14 per cent, this becomes £2 4s. lOd. This Government has fixed the payment for a dependent wife at £2 a week; so the loss to the recipient is 4s. lOd. a week or £12 lis. 4d. a year. Similar losses have been suffered by recipients of maternity allowances and other social service payments. The cost of living has increased considerably more than wages. Between 1948 and 1956 it rose 139.7 per cent. The pension has risen only 88.3 per cent. I hope that this Government will endeavour to do something for the unfortunates who depend on social service benefits.
Age pensioners have been the pioneers of this country and most of them have reared large families. A considerable proportion of the Australian population works for the basic wage. Those people are the toilers, and they are continuing the pioneering work in this country. It is impossible for them during their working years to save out of the basic wage money enough to help them in the evening of their lives. When they reach the age at which they are compelled by circumstances to apply for the age or invalid pension, they have no other means. The pension is their sole income. This Government has increased age and invalid pensions only once in the last two years, and even then to a figure of only £4 a week, which I have shown is out of proportion to the increases that have occurred in wages and the cost of living. Had the Government increased the pension to the extent to which it should have been increased to maintain its ratio with the basic wage under the Labour Government in 1948, it would now be at least £4 lis. a week instead of £4. I hope that when the Treasurer prepares the next budget he will include provision for increased pensions for the aged and the widowed, and for exservicemen and service widows. The increase should be one that will enable them to live in some degree of reasonable comfort.
The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) to-day said that this Government had done fine things to help to provide homes for the aged. I commend the Government for what it has done, but I must point out that the Minister on this and other occasions has sought to convey the impression that this is the only government which has assisted charitable organizations and church bodies that are providing homes for aged persons. Other honorable members on the Government side of the chamber have endeavoured to convey the same impression. I attended a ceremony in my electorate for the opening of a church organization home for the aged at which a representative of the Government tried to make the people believe that this is the only government that has ever helped organizations of this character. The fact is that for the last 25 years the Government of Queensland has subsidized £l-for-£l all organizations that have undertaken to build homes for aged people. This Government cannot take credit, as the Minister attempted to do for it to-day, as being the only government helping in the provision of homes for the aged. It has voted money for this purpose, but it is not the only government to do so. Every supporter of the Government who has spoken on this debate has implied that this is the only government that has assisted persons in need. They have not mentioned the State governments. I want to correct the impression they have sought to create and remind honorable members that the Queensland Government has subsidized, on a £l-for-£l basis for many years past, every home that has been built in Queensland for the aged. I hope that this Government, when framing the next budget, will give careful consideration to the unfortunate persons who need help and cannot help themselves. I hope that the Government will give them an increase in their pensions and improve social service benefits.
Debate (on motion by Mr. E. James Harrison) adjourned.
The following bills were returned from the Senate without amendment: -
Papua and New Guinea Bill 1957. Public Service Bill 1957.
Motion (by Mr. Hasluck) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- Mr. Speaker-
Motion (by Mr. Hasluck) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. John McLeay.)
Majority.. . . 24
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.47 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
t asked the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
The General Assembly,
Recalling its resolution 323 (IV) endorsing the recommendation of the Trusteeship Council for the immediate abolition of corporal punishment in the Trust Territories,
Noting the several statements contained in the report of the Trusteeship Council to the present session of the General Assembly to the effect that such punishment is still being applied,
Recommends that measures be taken immediately to bring about the complete abolition of corporal punishment in all Trust Territories where it still exists, and requests the Administering Authorities of those Territories to report on this matter to the General Assembly at its next regular session - 316th plenary meeting, 2nd December, 1950. 562 (VI). Abolition of corporal punishment in Trust Territories.
The General Assembly,
Recalling its resolution 440 (V) of 2nd December, 1950, in which it recommended that measures should be taken immediately to bring about the complete abolition of corporal punishment in all Trust Territories where it still existed,
Considering that the said resolution does not establish any distinction between the native and territorial judicial authorities which are empowered, by law or by custom, to award such punishment,
Having noted the reports submitted in pursuance of the said resolution by the Administering Authorities concerned,
t asked the Minister for Exter nal Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
t asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice- -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
The following table shows -
the numbers of national service men in each of the services who at December each year were continuing to serve in the Citizen Forces in a voluntary capacity after completion of their statutory training obligation. These numbers are net totals, and exclude discharges subsequent to volunteering, and
the percentages and numbers in (a) represent the total national service men who have become eligible to continue training in this way as at the date shown since the national service scheme commenced in 1951.
b asked the Minister for Terri tories, upon notice - 1.Is it a fact that he has no first-hand knowledge of the Warburton Reserve?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Capital Punishment in the Territories.
k. - On 14th May, the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) asked me the following question: -
Will the Minister confirm or deny reports that 24 New Guinea natives who were sentenced to death by the Supreme Court at Wewak yesterday were defended by a patrol officer who had participated in the apprehension of the accused? Are patrol officers generally regarded as legally qualified, and as being sufficiently competent to defend persons accused of murder, and was the defence counsel in this case so qualified to appear for 25 natives on a murder charge? Will the Minister say whether it is usual for sentence of death to be carried out and will he consider tabling the transcript of the court proceedings for the information of the House?
I now wish to inform him that the accused natives in this case were defended by a patrol officer who did not participate in any way in their apprehension. Patrol officers are not qualified legal practitioners, but receive some instruction in legal matters. The patrol officer in this case is a member of the Court for Native Affairs under the Territory of New Guinea Native Administration Ordinance 1921-1951 and a magistrate for native matters under the Native Regulation Ordinance 1908-1952 of Papua. If, in any case, the presiding judge feels that the accused before him should be represented by qualified counsel he may suggest this and his suggestion is invariably acted upon by the Administration. The proceedings were held in open court and it is not customary for the judge’s own transcript to be referred to except on appeal. If any substantial question relating to the conduct of the trial could not be verified except by reference to the transcript I would consider requesting the judge to make the transcript available.
Collapse of Hangar at Mascot Aerodrome.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
y. - The following replies have been furnished: -
s asked the Minister acting for the Minister for Health, upon notice-^
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
z asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
s asked the Minister representing the Attorney-General, upon notice -
– In reply to the three questions the Attorney-General has advised me that the position of adopted children under the legislation referred to by the honorable member is at present receiving consideration in the departments which administer that legislation.
z asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
– The Minister for National Development has furnished the following replies: -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 20 May 1957, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1957/19570520_reps_22_hor15/>.