23rd Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I wish to ask the Prime Minister a question of great importance, not only to Australia but to all nations. As the proposals of the Russian Premier for disarmament have been admitted to full discussion by the General Assembly of the United Nations, will, the Prime Minister consider instructing the Australian delegation at the United Nations that, subject to the necessary safeguards in such a matter, the proposals should be adopted in principle? Secondly, will the Prime Minister consider, because of. the importance of the matter, the desirability of obtaining a confirming vote for such action from this House and from the Parliament? Thirdly, will the Prime Minister take into immediate consideration the possibility of making contact with President Eisenhower and the leaders of the other summit powers, informing them of the factors to which I have referred and that the Government - and I hope the Parliament - have adopted the disarmament plan in principle, subject to the safeguards that are necessary for the enforcement of the plan? Will the Prime Minister and the Government consider those three matters?
– The problem of disarmament is a great one and has attracted the close attention of the disarmament commission now for some time - indeed, I would think for some years. Some small headway has no doubt been made, but not a great deal. I myself doubt very much whether problems of this kind can be dealt with on a sort of second-reading basis in large assemblies. I believe that, if there is a summit meeting, as I hope there will be, disarmament might very well prove to be the most useful topic to which the first of such meetings - I would hope there would be several - could direct itself. I had occasion to have discussions on this matter on my recent journey abroad, and at least two of the heads of government. concerned are familiar with my view that disarmament might prove to be the most fruitful first matter to be raised, since some headway has been made in relation to it.. Quite obviously, however, many practical details have to be worked out before any conclusion is reached.
I sincerely hope that at a summit meeting priority would be given to this great problem. However, I hasten to add that disarmament, though it may usefully be the first problem to consider, is not the only problem. The greatest problems in the world are the problems of the tensions which exist to-day in various parts of the world - in Asia, in Europe and in the Middle East: - and I think it may justly be said that we and our allies have not been the creators- of those tensions- and that we expect the Soviet Union and the Communist powers generally to contribute something positive to the relief of the tensions and to the restoration of liberty to people who have lost it.
– 1 direct my question to the Attorney-General in his capacity of acting Minister for External Affairs. Is there any official confirmation of reports that red China has stationed several thousand troops along the border of the Indian protectorate of Sikkim, that some Chinese Communists recently penetrated into north Sikkim but were driven back by Sikkimese border guards, and that arms have been supplied to subversive elements in Sikkim?
– I have no particular confirmation of that report. As honorable members know, there have been Chinese Communist troops adjacent to this border for some time, but I have no particular confirmation of the events of which the honorable member speaks.
– I should like to ask the Prime Minister a question without notice. Will the right honorable gentleman state whether any progress has been made by the Cabinet in considering, the report of the Privy Counsellors into the practice of telephone tapping in the United Kingdom?
- Mr. Speaker, I have not yet reached the point of obtaining a Cabinet conclusion on that matter, but I hope to do so fairly soon.
– In the meantime, of course, as the honorable member realizes, whatever practices exist to-day - whether you call them snooping or not - were begun by the government of which the honorable member for East Sydney was a distinguished member.
– That is not correct.
– Oh yes it is.
– Does the Minister for Health know that many people believe that the 5s. prescription fee included in the Government’s present Budget proposals will be charged under the pensioner medical service also? Is he aware that members of some organizations claim that they have been told by their doctors that this 5s. fee will be charged in the near future? Can the honotable gentleman provide me with an answer that will make it quite clear that the fee under the proposal has no reference to the pensioner medical service?
– Mr. Speaker, if any number of people hold this belief they have no ground whatsoever for doing so. The fact is, as the honorable gentleman is well aware, that the pensioner medical service provides at present a great range of drugs and pharmaceutical benefits without cost to the pensioners. This will continue under the proposed amendment which the Government will soon introduce into the House.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Labour and National Service a question. The Minister made a public statement in Sydney last week that a new surge of inflation would develop in Australia in the coming months. Will the honorable gentleman say on what he bases this opinion? As a responsible Minister, what does he or the Government propose to do to prevent this happening, in view of its serious effect on those depending on fixed incomes, such as pensioners, and also its general adverse effect upon the Australian economy as a whole?
– What I did say in Sydney at an industrial officers’ conference last week was that there was a possibility that inflationary forces could emerge during this year. Last night I gave the reasons why I expressed that opinion, and if the honorable gentleman cares to read my speech on the second reading of the Social Services Bill he will find the reasons set out in full.
– Is the Minister for Primary Industry aware of the low prices being received for fat lambs at current sales? Is he also aware that, owing to adverse seasonal conditions, fat lamb producers are being forced to meet the market? Finally, are prices being paid at fat lamb sales comparable to the level of floor prices under the fifteen-year meat agreement?
– I am well aware of the position of the fat lamb industry, which is due to adverse seasonal conditions in some of the main lamb-producing areas and to a depressed market in the United Kingdom. Because the state of the British market is reflected in our own domestic prices, I asked the Australian Meat Board to examine the position in relation to the fifteen-year meat agreement that we have with the United Kingdom. A special committee, representative of lamb and mutton interests, met in Sydney to consider the matter. That was followed by a full meeting of the Australian Meat Board in Melbourne yesterday. Later to-day a delegation from the meat board will meet me to discuss this matter. With regard to values, the price paid for prime light lamb at Newmarket last week would be about on a par with the guaranteed price under the United Kingdom agreement for lamb of that particular class.
– I ask the Minister tor Trade why it is that he does not deal directly with correspondence from members concerning import licences. Is it because he does not want to commit himself in writing that he passes on members’ letters to the honorable member for Darling Downs who, whilst he is most courteous, is known as the “ abominable no-man “? Does the Minister consider that he is busier and more important than the Treasurer and other senior Ministers who always personally reply to representations forwarded by members?
– The volume of correspondence that has come from all sources, including members of Parliament, on the subject of import licensing has been too great for me to give my personal attention to it. The honorable member for Darling Downs occupies the position of Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Trade, and it is accepted that one of his delegated functions is to acknowledge correspondence and convey decisions in certain cases to members of the Parliament. I think that this is completely acceptable and understandable to people.
– I wish to ask the acting Minister for External Affairs a question concerning the recently re-established Australian mission to Moscow. Are any restrictions imposed by the Soviet authorities upon the movements of our charge d’affaires and his staff? If so, what are they? Do members of the staff have to report their movements or seek travel permits from the Soviet authorities? Is it known whether, and if so to what extent, the Russian employees of the mission report to the secret police or other government authorities?
– The Australian Embassy in Russia and the Russian Embassy in Canberra have been reestablished on a basis of reciprocity so far as restrictions on travel are concerned. It is true that restrictions are imposed by the authorities in Moscow. It is true also that restrictions have been imposed in Australia. While these restrictions may differ in point of detail, in substance and in practice they do not diverge from any notion of reciprocity.
– When the Minister for Immigration was recently overseas, particularly in Vienna, did he make some arrangement whereby a special class of migrant was to be allowed into Australia? Will the Minister explain the terms of this agreement and the extent of its operation?
– I think that the honorable gentleman probably is referring to one of the contributions that the Australian Government is making towards the World Refugee Year to which 1 alluded in replying to a question that was asked last Thursday by the honorable member for Darling Downy It is true that whenI was in Vienna in July 1 handed vises to four families who can be regarded as being difficult to resettle or as hard core cases. In all, we have agreed to bring 60 of these families to Australia. They have been residents in refugee camps in Europe for some years. Upon seeing the four families to whom I handed the vises, I was so favorably impressed that I can say now that I am hopeful that if the other families measure up to their standards, Australia may be able to advance one stage further next year and perhaps help to a greater extent in the solution of this very difficult problem.
– Is the Minister for Defence aware that the House Committee on Government Operations in Congress at Washington has recommended unanimously a merger of the Army and the Air Force? Has he seen the reports to the effect that Lord Mountbatten has returned to London from Washington highly impressed with the case for unification of the services? In view of the strong recommendations that have been made in this House continuously from as long ago as 1951-52 and until 1958 by the honorable member for Indi for integration of the services under one combined command, and the recommendations contained in the report of the Morshead committee, does the Government propose to give any consideration to this matter? In view of the rapid rate of technological advances and their effect on tactical appreciations, is it not time that we considered our defence forces as one service, in one uniform, under one leader?
– I am sure that the House will agree that the honorable member’s question is rather lengthy. As the honorable member was speaking I made a few notes. He has covered an enormous amount of ground. In the first place, he asked me whether I am aware of the decision of a congressional committee in Washington. Yes, I have seen the committee’s recommendations, but 1 have not seen yet any follow-up to the recommendations. In other words, I do not know whether any action has been taken. I was not aware that Lord Mountbatten had returned to England and had said that he was very impressed with the idea of merging the Army and the Air Force. As the honorable member was speaking I wondered whether Lord Mountbatten would have been as enthusiastic about a merger if the Navy had been included in the proposal There is nothing very novel in the question of merging the Army and the Air Force because the committee was set up to discuss that very matter.
The honorable member has referred to the report of the Morshead committee. I am pleased to be able to say that with the exception of the constitutional problem that was dealt with quite exhaustively in this House by the Prime Minister, the whole of the recommendations of the committee have been established and either have been put into operation or are in the process of being put into operation. Design and inspection have been merged; research and development have been merged; canteen services have been integrated and we are now looking at stores, medical services, the possibility of electronic data processing and a multiplicity of other things, all of which lead along the road to closer integration of the services. I would not say that at this stage we should take the revolutionary step of coming out as one force, but that may be the pattern in the future, particularly in war-time.
Reverting to the first aspect of the honorable member’s question in which he spoke of the merging of United States forces under one commander-in-chief, or words to that effect, I do not think that that would be possible because, as I understand it, under the American constitution it is not competent for a government to appoint a commanderinchief in time of peace.
– I desire to direct my question to the Minister for Trade, and I need to make a few explanatory remarks first. For some time, 1 , nave been endeavouring to get the Government to take measures to protect an industry, the federal organization of which consists of retailers as well as manufacturers, and which, as a consequence of that fact, faces problems which are more than usually difficult. Is the Minister aware that a statement supplied to me by the Department of Trade indicates that the department has a most misleading misconception about the value of the trade done in Australia during the last two years by the cane furniture manufacturing industry? Is the right honorable gentleman aware, also, that, for the past two years, almost half of the value of the trade in this industry has been in the rubber cushions and backs of the heavy kinds of cane chairs now popular with some buyers of kitchen and lounge furniture? If the Minister is aware of the true situation in the cane furniture industry, which has been the victim of grossly unfair competition by merchants based on Hong Kong, will he endeavour to have steps taken swiftly to protect this small but important Australian industry from extinction pending an application to the Tariff Board?
– I am not aware of the circumstances of the cane furniture industry. If there is a problem, and if the honorable member, or, with respect to him, preferably the industry itself, will bring the problem before me, I shall examine the matter promptly and sympathetically in order to see what, if anything, can be done to aid the industry.
– I wish to direct my question to :the Minister for Health. During the week-end, the Cahill Labour Government, in New South Wales, gave notice of the dismissal of 180 men employed by the New South Wales Board of Tick Control in the districts surrounding Lismore. I ask the Minister whether he can clarify the Commonwealth’s position in respect of its functions in controlling ticks in this area, as the New South Wales Government is trying to put the blame for the dismissals on to the Commonwealth. If the responsibility for these sackings rests with the State Government, this is the first indication that the people of the Lismore district were taken in by a real confidence trick when they were induced to elect a Labour representative to represent them in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly.
– As the honorable gentleman will know, there is a joint project for the control and eradication of cattle tick in north-eastern New South Wales. The Commonwealth contributes very considerable funds to the project, usually about £500,000 a year. Last financial year, the Commonwealth Government provided about £578,000, and it will provide £500,000 this financial year. I do not know what are the administrative arrangements made by the New South Wales Government, and I did. not know, until the honorable gentleman told me in his question, that that Government had in fact dismissed men from employment. I point out that although the Commonwealth grant this financial year will be £78,000 less than that made in the previous financial year, it is an undoubted fact that the New South Wales Government will receive from the Commonwealth, as a result of decisions made at the last Premiers’ Conference, several million pounds more this financial year than it received last financial year. If it is Labour policy to reduce employment in such circumstances, I suppose that is the New South Wales Government’s own business.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Can the right honorable gentleman say when legislation will be introduced to increase the value of superannuation units? In view of the many anxious inquiries being made on the subject, will he elaborate on the Government’s broad proposals given in the Treasurer’s Budget speech?
– I will make inquiries into this matter and advise the honorable member.
– I address my question to the Minister for Social Services. What right of appeal is available to an applicant for a social service benefit when the Minister for Social Services and the Department of Social Services decline the application? If no right of appeal exists at present, will the honorable gentleman consider making provision for one?
– I know of no specific process of appeal if and when an application for a social service benefit has been rejected, but in practice it is the invariable custom that if and when an application is rejected for any reason, the applicant contacts an appropriate representative of either the State or Federal Parliament and the application is renewed. Indeed, the department from time to time advises applicants to renew their applications if there has been any change in circumstances, and those renewed applications are always considered on their merits. I could not imagine a situation arising where a Minister for Social Services of his own volition rejected an application.
– My question is directed to the Postmaster-General. Is it a fact that television programmes, either filmed or animated, which are produced in Australia cannot be televised in Australia unless they have been televised overseas? Is it also a fact that in order to overcome this restriction, at least one Australian company producing television programmes has had to enter into an agreement with a London television film distributor to arrange for the televising of its programmes overseas? If these are facts, will the PostmasterGeneral take immediate action to ensure that Australian companies producing programmes for television are not forced out of business because of this unfair and restrictive practice?
– I know of no conditions or provisions which require the producers of Australian films to send those films overseas before they can be televised in Australia. If the honorable member has any definite information which he can present to me with regard to this matter, I should like to have an opportunity to look at it.
The position is that at present most of the film produced in Australia for television is used for advertising purposes. The only film that is imported and used as advertising film is brought in for the purpose of enabling a check up to be made on the know-how of production of such film. Otherwise the market is available to Australian film producers and they are supplying that market. It is my sincere hope that as television is extended, the expansion of the available market will ensure further development of Australian film production for programme purposes as well as for advertising purposes.
– I ask the Attorney-
General a question without notice. Can the honorable gentleman inform me whether the Commissioner of Taxation has lodged notice of appeal to the High Court following a decision of the Commonwealth Taxation Board of Review which upset a previous decision of the board that the fees paid on behalf of a student child represented assistance provided by the Commonwealth in connexion with the education of the child and so the concessional deduction was reduced accordingly? If the appeal has been lodged, when is it likely to. be heard?
– I can understand the honorable member’s interest in this matter of fees paid in respect of school children. In truth, however, appeals of this nature do not come directly under my administration. If the Commissioner of Taxation does appeal it may be that the notice of appeal will go through my office. I will have inquiries made to see whether I can answer the honorable member’s question, and if I can, I will do so in due course.
– I address a question to the Prime Minister. I ask the right honorable gentleman whether it is a fact that at the Twelfth Session of the United Nations General Assembly the Australian representative said, when debating the question of disarmament, “ We feel in Australia that a disarmament agreement that did not impose suitable obligations upon Communist China would not be of much use in our part of the world “.If it is a fact, will the Prime Minister say whether the Government seriously believes that the Government of mainland China is likely to accept peacefully obligations of this kind imposed by a body upon which it is denied representation?
– The question is, of course, purely argumentative. I do not know what the Australian representative said. If he said what the honorable member suggests he said, I would have thought it pretty sensible; indeed, so sensible that I have said it myself before to-day.
– But you are likely to say anything.
– It depends entirely on the audience, which fluctuates. As to the proposition involved in the question, about the recognition of red China, my colleague, the Minister for External Affairs, made a most comprehensive statement on that matter not long ago in this House, and I have nothing to add to what he said.
– I ask the Minister for Social Services a question. The honorable gentleman recently referred to the excellent housing of some 7,200 elderly men and women as a result of the operation of the Aged Persons Homes Act, under which almost £6,000,000 has been provided by the Commonwealth. To stimulate further community interest and to ensure the continuance of the invaluable help of organizations in this field, is the Minister in a position to inform the House whether any survey has been made of the number of aged people whose existing accommodation arrangements are sub-standard, and who would represent a potential demand for assistance under the Aged Persons Homes Act?
– The Department of Social Services has no information of the kind. From time to time social service workers within the department carry out personal investigations of the domestic circumstances of people receiving social service benefits, but there has never been any comprehensive survey. I may say that we are well aware of the fact that a great variety of voluntary organizations are engaged in carrying out social services, including the provision of accommodation for those of our aged people who are homeless. It was to further this splendid end that the Aged Persons Homes Act was introduced into this Parliament by the Government. Since its introduction it has been an unqualified success. Every year brings an increasing number of applications covering a variety of proposals to extend the accommodation available to our homeless aged people.
– I desire also to address a question to the Minister for Social Services. Is it a fact that returned ex-servicemen who are eligible for and receive service pensions at the age of 60 years are precluded from entry to homes established under the provisions of the Aged Persons Homes Act because they are under 65 years of age? If this is the case, will the Minister take up with his Government the desirability of amending the act at a very early date so that these people may be admitted to these governmentsubsidized homes?
– It is true that at the moment the Aged Persons Homes Ac*, covers only men and women of pensionable age, in other words, men of 65 years and women of 60. It is true that a strict interpretation of these provisions excludes, for the time being, those under 65 who may be receiving the service pension. I have considered from time to time extending the provisions of the act to cover those receiving the service pension, but, after careful consideration, I have formed the opinion that our first duty is to provide accommodation for the aged people in our community who are homeless. When a major solution to that problem has been found, as it is rapidly being found year by year, then the question of extending the act to include other people will naturally arise. Of course, other people are excluded as well as service pensioners. There are the people who suffer from grave physical and mental handicaps of every kind. For the time being, the act excludes the payment of any grant for their accommodation.
– Did you get my letter?
– Why did you not acknowledge it?
– It was replied to forthwith.
– Has the attention of the acting Minister for External Affairs been directed to the endeavours of the Government of India in the United Nations Organization to have the seat now occupied by the Government of Nationalist China on that body filled by the despotic Communist regime in Peking? If so, will the Minister say what is the Australian Government’s attitude to this proposal?
– I understand that there is a motion or a proposal for putting this suggestion into cold storage for another period, and the Australian Government supports that move.
– I ask the Prime Minister: Is it a fact that a decimal coinage committee appointed by the first Parliament in 1901 presented a 117-page report to Parliament on 4th April, 1902? Did this report recommend the speedy adoption of the decimal coinage system on the grounds of economy and efficiency? Did it fully outline the methods by which the committee’s recommendations should be implemented? As 57 years have elapsed since this first favorable recommendation was made, is the Prime Minister able to say whether or not this Government has yet determined its attitude on this important national issue? Has the Government appointed yet another decimal coinage committee and if it has, can any positive developments be expected as a result of its activities?
– I compliment the honorable member on his research, going back 57 years. If he had gone back just a few months he would have found that we had made a statement on this matter and that we had appointed a committee to advise us on practical problems which are not necessarily the same in 1959 as they were in 1901, because in the interval there has beer* a great development in the complexity of: industry, as he knows. But we have appointed a very powerful committee which is busily engaged on this matter and I look forward with great interest to receiving its report.
– When do you expect to get it?
– I do not know yet. I am to see one of the members of the committee this afternoon and he may be able to tell me. I know that the committee has been most actively engaged in its work.
– I ask the Prime Minister, in his capacity as head of the Government and acting Treasurer, a question which relates to overseas investment in Australia. Will the right honorable gentleman consider the preparation and presentation to the Parliament of a white paper on the implications of overseas investment, whether public or private in this country, more particularly dealing with such matters as the quantities and kinds of imports involved in the transfer of such capital from abroad and the control exercised over these; the extent and pecuniary value of the employment, direct and indirect, given to Australians; the extent of the Australian participation in terms of capital, control and management; the implications in terms of royalties, revenues and taxation directly and indirectly accruing; the present and prospective commitments in terms of import requirements, dividend remittances and the possible repatriation of capital; and, generally, upon the ramifications and implications, desirable or otherwise, of this increasingly important feature of the Australian economy?
– My honorable friend suggests a pretty formidable investigation, which, I should imagine, would require a very long time to complete and would give rise to a fairly substantial volume, but I do not know. I shall take this matter up with the Treasury and find out whether such a report could be made within a reasonable compass. If that could not be done. I should have to consider the question for some time before I would engage in something which could resemble the inquiry of a commission or involve the making ‘of a fairly elaborate report. However, before I say “ Yes “ or “ No “, I will find out whether this lends itself .to fairly compendious treatment.
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister a question supplementary to that asked by the Leader of the Opposition.
Does the Prime Minister’s answer mean that the Australian Government’s policy is total disarmament with satisfactory safeguards? If so, have specific and definite directions been issued to the Australian delegates at the United Nations to promote every opportunity for discussion of disarmament, without any consideration whatever being given to what the delegates of other nations may do or think?
– I thought it was quite well known that the policy of this Government is, and was, one of achieving the highest possible measure of disarmament on an all-round basis, not confining it merely to nuclear or thermo-nuclear weapons but extending it to conventional forces - to all forces of all kinds. In order to work towards that end, there has been for some time a commission engaged in discussing this matter and, in particular, in trying to work out systems of effective inspection. I remind the honorable member that the stumbling block to the success of that commission has not been ourselves or those associated with us; it has principally been the Soviet Union. It has dragged -its feet on that matter. The commission has gone along for some time and has made a little progress, but not very .much. Now, apparently, my honorable friend is “delighted to find that the Soviet Union, not in discussion with the President of the United States of America, as one might have expected, but in a public speech by its leader, has announced that it is all for complete disarmament.
All I can say is that I hope that it is. I hope that the truth of the announcement will be shown by a willingness to have a much more effective system of inspection and check than is normally possible behind the iron curtain. I remind the honorable member that it is one thing for a democracy to say that it will abolish or reduce some forces, because what democracies do is a matter of daily notoriety; they are free countries and every one knows what they are doing. But in a country that is not free, who knows what is going on? The essence of this business is that the Communist countries should come clean on this problem of inspection and give the world some guarantee of good faith and of proper intention, as well as a resounding rhetorical general proposition.
– Mr. Speaker, may I be permitted to add a word to the reply I gave to the honorable member for Lalor a few moments ago?
– I did not hear the honorable member for Lalor refer to a letter that he wrote to me a fortnight ago, I think. As is my invariable custom, I replied to his letter forthwith. I always do so when I receive letters from honorable members. It is a deplorable state of affairs if a Minister can reply to an honorable member and some fourteen days later the honorable member has no knowledge of it.
– I accept unreservedly the Minister’s explanation, but unfortunately I have not yet received his letter.
– I lay on the table of the House the following paper: -
Tariff Board Act - Tariff Board - Report for year 1958-59, together with summary of recommendations.
The report is accompanied by an annexure which summarizes the recommendations made by the board and shows the action taken in respect of each of them. It is not proposed to print the annexure.
Ordered that the report be printed.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s message):
Motion (by Mr. Adermann) agreed to -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of moneys ‘be made for the purposes of a bill for an act to approve the borrowing of moneys for a defence purpose, namely, financial assistance to the States in connexion with War Service Land Settlement, and to authorize the expending of those moneys.
Standing Orders suspended; resolution adopted.
That Mr. Adermann and Sir Garfield Barwick do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Mr. Adermann, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill provides for the raising of loan moneys amounting to £7,000,000 for war service land settlement during the financial year 1959-60. This amount will be supplemented by an estimated £3,860,000 expected to be received during the year from repayments of advances by settlers, State and Commonwealth contributions to the excess of cost over valuations placed on holdings, sales of surplus land and payments by settlers who exercise the right to freehold the farms now leased by them.
It is expected that the total of £10,860,000 will be made available to the States in the following proportions: -
Over £8,500,000 was advanced to the States by the Commonwealth in the financial year 1958-59, making a total of about £80,000,000 since the inception of the war service land settlement scheme.
As honorable members are probably aware, the Commonwealth provides the whole of the capital moneys required for the scheme in the States of South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania, and, over recent years, has been making special advances ‘to New South Wales and Victoria in an effort to accelerate the settlement of ex-servicemen in those States. These arrangements with New South Wales and Victoria were to have terminated on 30th June, 1959, and the amounts proposed to be advanced to those two States during this year represent a carry-over, at the request of the States, from last financial year, due to the impracticability of bringing all expenditure to account by 30th June, 1959.
Honorable members will recall that it was decided not to acquire any -additional land for the scheme in South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania after 30th
June, 1959. Properties under offer to the States at that date will be considered on their merits, but future expenditure on acquisitions will not be large. Efforts will be concentrated on completing the larger projects at present in course of development, and provision has been made for finance which will be required for this purpose and by settlers for working expenses and the purchase of stock, plant and equipment.
Up to 30th June, 1959, the number of farms provided under the scheme in each State was -
While the number of classified exservicemen in each State is much higher than the number allotted farms, many classified exservicemen have for some years shown little or no interest in applying for available farms. They have very probably entered other vocations or have acquired farms privately. For example, agricultural loans under the Re-establishment and Employment Act, totalling over £10,000,000, have been made to 14,300 ex-servicemen, and about 2,800 ex-servicemen were assisted under the Victorian single unit farm scheme.
Projects in hand are expected to provide farms for those ex-servicemen still genuinely interested in the scheme in Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania. Despite concerted efforts over recent years it has not been possible to obtain sufficient areas of suitable land in South Australia to provide for all applicants. It appears there may also be a number of unsatisfied applicants in New South Wales. Efforts the Commonwealth made to accelerate the scheme through special advances to the State failed. The net result was a drift of State funds to purposes other than war service land settlement, despite the fact that New South Wales initially insisted on financing the scheme from its own resources.
Apart from re-establishing ex-servicemen, the war service land settlement scheme has played a major role in the agricultural development of the Commonwealth. From land that was previously entirely unproductive Western Australia is developing some 600,000 acres to provide 240 farms, Tasmania 160,000 acres for 366 farms and South Australia 250,000 acres for 172 farms. In addition, 254 irrigated horticultural and viticultural farms have been established at Loxton, in South Australia.
With steadily rising costs over the period of development, part of the cost of these farms will most likely have to be written off to meet the requirements of the scheme. This does not necessarily mean that the cost of the development of the farms was uneconomic. It is, rather, a corollary to the 100 per cent, credit basis on which the scheme was planned. From the net proceeds of their holdings settlers have to pay instalments of principal and interest on advances they have obtained up to their full requirements for the purchase of structural improvements, stock and plant. This naturally has a very marked effect on the amount they can afford to pay in rental for the land and non-structural improvements.
As an offset to the part of cost which will have to be written off on these farms the nation will have the benefit over the years to come of the production from land which, formerly, contributed little or nothing to our national wealth.
Despite the fact that economic conditions over recent years have had a heavy impact on settlers under the scheme, particularly those allotted holdings more recently, and have therefore made it necessary to devise ways and means to see them over this difficult period of establishment, I have every confidence in the ultimate success of the farms. Factors outside the control of the settlers which could prejudice their prospects of success are constantly being watched by both the Commonwealth and the States.
Financial assistance to all States for noncapital expenditure - for example, living allowance to settlers, interest and rent remissions, writing down the cost of holdings, &c. - which is estimated at £2,000,000 for the present financial year, will be met by the Commonwealth from Consolidated Revenue. Expenditure to 30th June, 1959. for these purposes amounted to approximately £11,000,000.
I commend the bill to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Clarey) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 22nd September (vide page 1270), on motion by Mr. Roberton -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Mr. Allan Fraser had moved by way of amendment -
That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: - “ the bill be withdrawn and re-drafted to provide rates of social service payments adequate to present living costs and representing a fair and reasonable share of the national income, such rates to. take effect from the first pension pay day in July”.
– This bill continues the Government’s policy of gradual extension of social services. It raises the base rate pension, and by so doing keeps it in line with rises in costs, and a little above that line, so that the base rate pension, in terms of purchasing power, is now greater, by quite a considerable margin than it was at the time this Government first took office in 1949. In addition, during that time the Government has made other improvements and ameliorations in social service conditions, not all of which are amenable to statistical evaluation. The greatest of all, I think, and perhaps one of the Government’s greatest monuments in the social services field, is assistance in the provision of homes for aged people. This is a bit of legislation which has widespread support in the community and which, I feel sure, is supported on both sides of this House. It is a piece of legislation which will have a cumulative effect because the houses built under it are available, not simply for the year in which they are built, but for generations to come. Looking at it in the long term, this is, perhaps, one of the great things that has been done in the social services field.
It is of the nature of this problem that when we debate a social services bill we ask ourselves, not what has been done, however much it is, but what remains to be done. I think it is a characteristic of this Govern ment - it is certainly a characteristic of the supporters of this Government on the back benches - that it is not satisfied with the status quo, whatever it is. We look for something better to be done although we do not necessarily believe that everything can be done at once and we certainly do not demand the impossible to be done at once. Nevertheless, all the time we are edging and pushing forward, hoping to improve the system.
Many notable speeches have been made in the course of this debate. I think the House will remember the speech made by the honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner), a speech in which he put forward detailed constructive proposals and looked at this problem both as a human problem and as an economic problem. The House will also remember the remarks of the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) and other honorable members who have been concentrating on the need to ease the means test, perhaps by progressive stages. This is the aspect on which I want to concentrate to-day, but before I do so I think I should remind the House of another matter which, perhaps, has not achieved the prominence in this debate that it might have achieved. I refer to the fact that the bill makes a major change in our pension treatment of the aboriginal population of Australia. However, this is a subject that deserves full treatment by itself. It is of great interest and significance but I do not intend to pursue it to-day. I want to turn back to the question of the means test.
I am of the opinion that our attack on this problem is too tardy and should be pressed forward with much greater vigour. If I may summarize the facts, I would say that the means test in its present form is an extravagance which Australia cannot afford. Looked at as a whole, I believe that the means test costs us more in indirect expenditure than is saved by its imposition on pensioners. Let me explain what I mean: There is an obscure chain of economic cause and effect here. Not only because of the means test, but very largely because of it, the savings ratio in the Australian economy is insufficient and, consequently, we face creeping inflation. Whatever else we do, while our savings ratio is insufficient either we must have that creeping inflation or we must, balance our books by the importation of overseas capital which, however, comfortable it may be as an immediate amelioration, is by no means an unmixed blessing.
This is something that I do not say now for the first time. It is something that 1 have said in this House over the last six or seven years. Honorable members will know that I am returning to a thesis which I have endeavoured to bring to the attention of the House for quite a long time and on numerous occasions. What is happening is this: Because our savings ratio is insufficient, we cannot, through our local savings, produce the capital goods that are needed for the economic servicing of the community and for the production of the goods and services which the community requires for consumption, as this itself is determined, in part, by the savings rate. It is an economic truism that there is a lack of balance in this.
This lack of balance can be made good in one of two ways. First, it can be made good, to some extent, by the importation of capital from overseas which, as I have said, is not entirely an unmixed blessing. Secondly, it can be made good by a rise in prices. Insofar as this imbalance is not made good by the importation of capital from overseas, the savings deficiency must of necessity, whatever else we do, exhibit itself in the form of rising prices. This, by and large, is the history of the Australian economy over the last ten years, and this is- the fundamental reason why prices rise. The other things are subsidiary; they are secondary. Here is the core of the whole of the costs problem - the savings deficiency.
This, Sir, as I have said, is not a thesis which I put forward now for the first time in this House. It is a thesis that I have put forward over the years and at many times. It now seems to be gaining a more general measure of acceptance. I notice, for example, that the present Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, in an address given at Perth only a few weeks ago, subscribed to this view. But it is no good just subscribing to this view unless we do something to increase our savings ratio. Without this, however much we may use the damping down of credit or anything like that in order to control prices, we will, over the long run, fail to control prices. This will happen unless, as I say, we go to the heart of the problem and correct this fundamental inbalance. This lies at the core. The other things are only secondary. We can get short term effects. Of course, we can stop the rise in prices over the short term, by restricting credit. But, over the long term, unless the savings factor can be raised, short term efforts will be stultified and will fail. This leads me back to the means test. You have been very patient, Sir, in allowing me to digress so far, but I think it was relevant.
The means test, over the long term, has been one of the things which have predisposed our community to reduce its savings ratio because people say that it is not worth saving. They say, “ I will only save myself out of a pension “. These two things happen. First, people who naturally would be thrifty and would want to save for themselves or their children, deliberately refuse to do so; and secondly, people who have saved deliberately dissipate their assets as they approach pensionable age. That negative saving must be deducted from the total amount of savings available. They buy things which perhaps are not the things that they would have chosen to buy if it were not for the fact that they needed to spend their money in order to qualify for a pension. This is a very bad state of affairs.
I shall return, as indeed one should always return when dealing with problems of social services, to the human values which must be considered as the basis of our economy. But for a moment let me be, in the phrase of the honorable member for Bradfield, hard-boiled and regard this purely as an economic problem. Let me look at it as an economist would. What has happened? Because people say, “ We must not save; we must dissipate our savings in order to qualify for a pension “, the total amount of savings available in the community declines. These perhaps are the little people, but their number is so great that what they do in total is of importance to the economy.
This savings deficiency shows itself in the form of rising prices because there is not enough capital available to build houses, factories and telephone exchanges, to make roads and to do the other things that are so necessary for the maintenance of the fabric of life. Because of competition for scarce resources, prices rise. This savings deficiency means also that the Budget is imbalanced in itself. We have been told that this year we are budgeting for a cash deficit, but in actual fact we are not budgeting for a real deficit. We have a large surplus in our accounts - considered in the correct way and in accordance with, normal practice - running into hundreds of millions of pounds. There is a cash deficit which we will make good by tax revenue and by other means but, as I have said, there is a real surplus in our accounts amounting to hundreds of millions of pounds. We have to take money out of tax revenue and put it into capital assets for the very reason that the savings to which 1 have referred do not exist. Therefore, we must create savings by raising income tax funds and putting them into capital works for the Commonwealth and for the States. However, in terms of normal accountancy and in terms of what an- ordinary commercial firm does in the presentation of its accounts, we have for the year a large surplus. It is perfectly true too that at the same time we have a cash deficit.
The Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) looks at the matter in two ways. First, he- looks at it, as he must, in terms of the impact of a cash deficit on the money supply in the economy as a whole. This is something which does not apply to the individual. The Treasurer does not have to worry about the individual because the individual’s transactions are so small that they may be regarded as independent of the total money supply. But with a government the position is different. A government’s transactions are so large that their impact upon the total money supply must be taken into consideration. Let me illustrate the position very simply in this way: Suppose you take a rubber ball and bounce it on the ground. Technically speaking, you are bouncing the ball and the earth together but the ball is so small in comparison with the earth that you consider the earth to be a stable platform. You simply look at the mechanics of the ball bouncing and you regard it as bouncing off a stable platform that is unaffected by the ball. That is the position with the individual. His transactions are so small in comparison with the transactions of the system as a whole that they may be regarded as not affecting the system. But the position with a government is quite different. A government’s transactions are so large that they affect, as it were, the earth on which you bounce them, just as the moon affects the course of the earth. Here we have a system in which two bodies revolve around each other. One is large enough to affect the course of the other. But we cannot look at this problem as we do the mechanics of bouncing a ball on the earth.
The Treasurer, very naturally and properly, has to take account of the cash deficit as affecting the total monetary supply. In that regard he is quite right in directing the attention of the House and of the country to its significance. In terms of normal accountancy, we have a. surplus for this year; in terms of normal commercial accountancy, we are running at a profit. Bur we can- run at a profit only because we take money from tax revenue for the service, of capital’ projects which normally should be financed from loans. The reason why we cannot finance them from loans is. because: savings are insufficient, and one of the basic reasons why savings are inrsufficient is the existence of the means test in. its present form.
Honorable members will remember for how long the theory that malaria was caused by mosquitoes was derided by men of common sense all over the world. How could a small mosquito have any connexion with the kind of fever which did not develop on the day on which a person was bitten? It was only by tracing through the connexion that people saw how the mosquito brought the malaria and how, if malaria were to bc controlled, the mosquito first must be controlled. So if the creeping inflation in our economy is to be controlled and if something is to be done about costs, then something must be done about the means test.
I repeat the phrase that- I used at the outset of my remarks - the means test in its present; form is an extravagance which the Australian economy cannot afford.. Perhaps we are being- conservative but we’ are not being prudent in retaining the meanstest in its present form. We are being spendthrift. I know that savings and expenditure patterns do not change overnight. They have, a momentum; they have an inertia. These are patterns in our economy that have been built up by the means test over 30 or 40 years. If we take away the cause of the patterns, they will not readjust themselves overnight. They have a persistence, a momentum, an inertia. So perhaps it is not possible to treat this problem with complete simplicity, because of the time lag in the patterns reacting to the removal of the thing that causes it. This makes the problem difficult for the Treasury. But it must deal with this problem, and it must go forward faster than it is going.
I hold to the view, Sir, that one or two things which have been suggested are good and should be done without delay. For example, we could remove the ceiling on property. We could arrange that the pension diminish, not by £1 for every £10 of property which affects it, but by £1 for every £20 of such property. This would make the property means test less onerous. We should be moving in on the front along which those matters present themselves. There may be better ways of easing the property means test, but, if there are, I am not conversant with them. We should be going forward on this front, and, for the sake of the economic health of the community, we should be going forward faster than we are going at present.
A have spoken of this from the point of view of the economist, Sir. From the point of view of humanity, also, it should be spoken of. There is an injustice in our present means test, and its complexity bears very hardly on the individual case. It is no small problem for a man who has been accustomed to save during his lifetime to be faced, during the last years of his life, with the difficult decision presented by the fact that he must dissipate his assets in order to qualify for a pension. This imposes a psychological hardship on people - a psychological hardship which we should not impose if we can avoid imposing it. There are some who will say that the removal of the means test is only socialism. I do not believe that. I believe that the removal of the means test is the opposite of socialism, because it would allow those who have done something for themselves to reap the fruits of what they have done and to be a little better off than are those who have not done anything for themselves. That does not seem to me to be socialism. That seems to me to be the antithesis and the very reverse of socialism. Our living standards rise with increasing productivity, and it seems to me that as they rise we should raise the threshold level, as it were, by raising the level which we consider to be the minimum for an Australian, and thereby allow those who can do something for themselves to do better than that minimum. The raising of that minimum does not seem to me to be socialism, lt seems to me to be the antithesis of socialism, provided that the raising of the minimum gives to those who have done something for themselves an opportunity to do a little better.
This brings me back to the economic argument, Sir, because, if we are to raise our living standards, we must mobilize our labour capacity to the full and give to people who are willing to work an opportunity to work. We must give to old people who, perhaps, do not want to work at the full pressure at which they worked in the days of their youth, an opportunity to take parttime employment and to make a few shillings or a few pounds here and a few tens of pounds somewhere else. We do not want to drive them to it. We want to give them an opportunity, if they so choose, to use their labour power to the full. And many old people would prefer doing something to doing nothing. In many respects, the present means test causes a waste of labour power, and therefore, a waste of productive potential. This means that the basic standard of living of the Australian people rises a little more slowly than it would otherwise do. So, in addition to the frustration of saving caused by creeping inflation, the existence of the means test in its present form reduces the productivity of the Australian people by condemning to idleness some people who would prefer not to be condemned to that state, and it therefore reduces the level of productivity available for the attainment of the higher living standards to which I have referred.
These effects are not to be seen only on one front. These factors operate on many fronts at the same time. It seems to itv that, if we are to get from our people the maximum productive effort which they themselves want to make, we should ameliorate the effect of the means test not only on age pensions but also on widows’ pensions, which were discussed by the honorable member for Bradfield yesterday, and on other pensions. And we should be doing this faster than we are doing it now. There is something to be said for the view that it cannot be done all at once. That argument depends upon the inertia of the pattern of savings and the inertia of human habits, and it is an understandable argument.
I have tried, Sir, to put a case which is not a human case, although I think that the human case is in itself the most important of all, and is an overwhelming case. 1 have tried not to base my arguments on the human case because I think that that case does not need putting. I am sure that honorable members will agree with me that the arguments in support of the human case speak for themselves. I have tried to put the not quite so clear economic case for moving on the means test front faster than we are moving at present.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker, I think, after having heard the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth), who has just concluded his remarks, that it is a pity this bill is not being treated as a non-party measure, like the Matrimonial Causes Bill 195% which is commonly spoken of as the divorce bill. lt is a pity that all honorable members in this House will not be allowed to vote on this Social Services Bill in accordance with their consciences, because Government speakers in this debate invariably have condemned the Government for its treatment of the social services problem. The remarks of the honorable member for Mackellar and the honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner) clearly indicated the attitude of Government supporters. Those two honorable members have dealt with this measure in such a way as to discredit and condemn the Government for increasing age, invalid, widows’ and other pensions by only 7s. 6d. a week. This is the only increase that habeen given by this Government to pensioners in the last two years, and, for each of those years, it represents only 3s. 9d. a week. The Government has spent much time upholding its actions and declaring what a good government it is for handing out to the most deserving people in the community paltry pension increases representing only 3s. 9d. a week in each of the last two years.
The honorable member for Mackellar said that there was no shortage of money and that the Budget was not a true reflection of the country’s wealth. Indeed, he said that there was plenty of money. It is a very good thing that the proceedings of this House are not being broadcast this afternoon, because our attitude when we tell the people of Australia what we are doing for them is nothing short of hypocritical. How often do we hear the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) tell the people how buoyant the economy is and how healthy our trade balances are? To-day in Queensland 1,000 tons of sugar is being ploughed into the ground at a time when the most deserving people in the community have to pay high prices for sugar. That sugar is being destroyed so that the Government’s friends can keep the price of sugar high. Instead of talking about the means test we should take some positive action.
To-day less than 15 per cent, of pensioners are able to supplement their pensions by working. I am surprised to hear Government supporters say that a single pensioner can earn £3 10s. a week, thus making his total income from pension and earnings £7 17s. 6d. a week. The Government makes great play of the fact that something like 15 per cent, of pensioners are able to increase their income by working and that a pensioner couple can have a total income, made up of pension and earnings, of something like £16 a week. This Government has tricked the people in the last four or five years. In 1955 the Government suddenly decided that pensioners who were earning more than £2 a week should not be entitled to pensioner medical benefits. To old people the privileges of the pensioner medical benefit were more valuable than the added income of £2.
In my electorate many pensioners supplement their pensions by earning a few shillings each morning at the City Markets, but the department stands over them and wants to know how much they earn each day. The department tells them that they must keep accurate records of their earnings. I know of one case where an inspector from the department visited a home in Glebe and disputed with the occupant how much money he had. The pensioner concerned said that he had no bank account. He said that he had about £6 or £7 all told. The inspector told him to count it in his presence, and he did so. On the table was a tobacco tin in which the pensioner placed pennies until he had sufficient money to enable him to buy some tobacco. Those few pennies in the tin had to be counted out to satisfy the inspector. Is it any wonder that some honorable members have said that they are ashamed of the way this Government is treating the old people? It is high time that we did something to remove the means test. Last year the Government brought down legislation to provide a supplementary allowance of 10s. a week to pensioners who paid rent. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) admitted that it is hard to prove that pensioners do not earn a few shillings a week and he said that many pensioners, because of the fact that they had some small earnings, were afraid to apply for the 10s. supplementary allowance. The Minister said that surprisingly few pensioners had applied for the allowance. But all applications for the allowance were very carefully investigated by the department and about 80 per cent, of them were rejected.
Many pensioners have come to me seeking assistance to obtain the 10s. supplementary allowance. I have listened to them and told them just what they are entitled to receive. There have been cases where pensioners have managed to obtain the 10s. supplementary allowance, but the department after investigation has forced them to pay that money back.
We have not yet had an explanation from the Government as to how the 5s. fee for prescriptions will operate. Many pensioners who are constantly in need of medicines are shivering in their shoes .because they .do not know how they will be able to pay this 5s. for prescriptions. I have spoken to chemists in my electorate and they do not know how the scheme will work out. One has told me that the pharmaceutical guild is looking into the matter and that it will work out satisfactorily. I am sure that it will work out well for the chemists, but not for pensioners in receipt of £4 7s. 6d. a week. Once again the Government has tricked the people with regard to this charge of 5s. for all prescriptions issued under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme.
The Government’s action in dealing with the people in this way is deplorable. We, as members of Parliament, have treated ourselves very well with regard to salaries. We have treated other people very well, but nobody can say that we have treated the recipients of social service benefits other than very badly. The Government’s action is nothing short of highway robbery. Many honorable members opposite have said that people should save money during their working lives, but they forget that under the Stevens Government in New South Wales and under the Bruce-Page Government here in Canberra the people were treated as if they were serfs and given no chance to earn anything. When people were able to obtain work it often took husband and wife nine or ten years to buy back a little furniture for their homes, which had been empty all that time. As late as 1949 the basic wage was about £6 13s. a week. How on earth could any family man earning the basic wage or a little more manage to save enough for his old age?
Inflation has .increased since the Menzies-Fadden Administration came to power. The Government has made allowances for the effects of inflation in financing its defence services ‘and various instrumentalities, but it has not sufficiently recognized the effects of inflation when considering social service benefits. Many unfortunate men and women visit me complaining of their plight, and I have to tell them that while the Menzies Government is in office there is no hope for them. I do not like doing so, because two years will pass before we can change the Government, and I do not think it is right to have to tell these people that they must suffer for another two years.
There are many people unemployed in Sydney. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) has told us at different times that .there are 60,000, 70,000 or 80,000 unemployed in Australia. If I am .wrong in .the statement 1 am about to make, I hope the officers of the Department of Labour and National Service in Newtown and other Sydney suburbs will contradict me in to-morrow morning’s press. I have sent dozens of people to the Commonwealth Employment Service looking for work. They have included many unfortunate men who- fought for their country in the war, who applied to the Repatriation Department for a pension and were told, after examination by doctors of that department, that they should get some light work. It is just impossible for a man over 50 years of age to get a job in Sydney. I repeat that if I am wrong I hope I will be told to-morrow where jobs are available for these people. There are about 30,000 persons in Sydney at the moment looking for jobs, and who cannot get them.
When people approach retiring age and finish work in the factories or other places, the first thing they do, if they are ablebodied men, is to look for other work. A man will possibly continue looking for work for some weeks before he finally gives up hope after having been knocked back several times. Then he may apply for the unemployment benefit of £3 5s. a week. After he has gone through all the rigmarole of filling in a card and doing everything else necessary in connexion with his application, he is told, “We cannot do anything for you because you are over 65 years of age. You had better take this card to Carrington-street.” He then goes to Carrington-street and fills in another form for the age pension. All this takes time. Inquiries are made by highsalaried employees of the Department of Social Services and I think every honorable member on this side of the House will agree that the pension is seldom granted until seven or eight weeks after the first application was made. In some cases it takes ten weeks.
The unemployment position in Sydney to-day is grave. The able-bodied person does not have much difficulty in finding a job. As a matter of fact, he will be offered a job quite readily, because it is obvious that he will give a handsome return for his wages. But there are very few jobs for men between 50 and 60 years of age.
Let me now refer to the Repatriation Department and the matter of hospitalization. Returned ex-servicemen have frequently approached me and asked me to help them. If they were injured in the war, or if they have been receiving some small pension, then you can make some claim for them. But if they have not been in receipt of a pension of any kind, it is just impossible to do anything for them, no matter how seriously ill they are. I have seen men who have been pronounced unfit by three or four Macquarie-street doctors, but who have been told by the department, “ Light work for you. We cannot give you any pension “. It is almost impossible to get them into a repatriation hospital such as those at Concord and Randwick. You then have to try to get them into the Hospice for the Dying or some other home in which the accommodation should be left available for needy elderly people. However, it is necessary to comb these places to find accommodation for returned ex-servicemen.
It is a disgrace that the Government should allow such a situation to continue. After all, there are few men remaining of pensionable age who served in the first world war, and there are not so many from the second world war. Surely the Government should be big enough to say that the repatriation hospitals are available for any ex-serviceman who needs them, so long as he has an income below a certain figure. I do not suggest that a rich man should have access to these hospitals if he can afford to go to a .private hospital. I believe, however, that these hospitals should be available for ex-servicemen whenever they need them. In this regard I have before me a letter, which I passed to the Minister for Repatriation (Sir Walter Cooper) yesterday, pleading that liability be accepted by the department in the case of a particular person, at least for the purposes of hospitalization. In this case the department has previously turned a deaf ear to my pleas.
An honorable member opposite spoke this afternoon about homes for the aged. In 1954 the Labour Party advocated that such homes should be subsidized by the Government on the basis of £2 for £1. The .honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) is smiling now, but the Government he supports set the subsidy at £1 for £1.
– Who started it?
– It is a matter of who is going to finish it, not who started it.
When I spoke on that legislation I suggested that the whole of the money necessary should be made available by the Government. What cheaper way is there for the Government to house our aged people than by enlisting the help of church and other organizations and advancing the money to them? I have heard the Minister speaking at the opening of several of these homes, and he has thanked the organizations concerned for the excellent services they are rendering. If the Government can find people to run homes in which men and women can be catered for in their old age for about £4 a week, it should give every possible assistance. I understand that no hospital in New South Wales charges less than about £20 or £24 a week for each patient. The Government has boasted that in the last four years it has spent £6,000,000 on homes for the aged. I have had Church of England ministers, people representing the Roman Catholic Church, and others, asking me why the Government will not grant enough money to build these homes, so that the old people will be set for the rest of their lives. The Government adopts a paltry attitude about it and says, “ You have to find £1 before we will give you £2 “. It takes time for the organizations to raise sufficient money, and in the meantime the old people are deprived of this benefit. The Government could, if it wished, say to the interested organizations, “Here is the money. Build the homes and we will look after you.” I understand that the homes that are in operation accept from their inmates only about £1 10s. or £2 a week, so that the remainder of their pensions is available to these old people to enable them to procure a few essentials.
This Government has not altered the rate of child endowment during the past ten years, but in that time inflation has made it necessary to increase the basic wage. Whereas it was £6 in 1949 it is something like three times that amount today. This is the measuring stick of the cost of living. The representatives of the workers who seek an increase in wages for the members of their unions have to go to the court and fight very hard. They have to establish that the cost of living has risen. They have been successful so far in proving that the average cost of living for a man and wife is £15 or £16 a week. But child endowment payments remain the same as they were in 1949 and the maternity allowance has not been increased for years.
Honorable members on the Government side have pointed out that in 1949 social service payments were a particular figure but now they are so much greater. I am sorry for the people outside of Parliament, who have to listen to these statements and still try to live on the miserable sum of £4 7s. 6d. a week, out of which they have to pay £2 for a house or even the use of a room.
The allowance of £1 15s. a week for the wife of an invalid who receives a pension of £4 7s. 6d. is tragically small. I should hate to predict what would happen to pensioners of all kinds in New South Wales if it were not for the help given by the State Government. Under the State welfare grants, pensioners are allowed to obtain free dental treatment and dentures if they have no income other than their pension. Similarly, they are able to obtain spectacles without cost and hearing aids to a lesser extent. Some of them have got beyond the time when hearing aids are of much help to them. The State Government also provides clothing and blankets. These people are also allowed to travel on trams and trains at half fare. The Sydney City Council has also made its contribution to the welfare of pensioners by remitting rates on properties owned by pensioners who have no other income.
To-day I received a circular letter, a copy of which was probably sent to all other honorable members, from the Old People’s Welfare Council of New South Wales. It is pleasing to note that the patrons of that body are the Governor of New South Wales and his lady, the vicepatron is the right honorable the Lord Mayor of Sydney, the chairman is Sir Hugh Poate and the vice-chairmen Mr. M. C. Alder and Miss K. Ogilvie. The treasurer is Dr. A. Ungar. These people have been willing to give their assistance to relieve in some way distress which should have been relieved already by the Commonwealth Government.
In the remaining three and a half minutes left to me to speak I should like to abuse the Government if it would produce any results for the people for whom I am speaking.
– When is the pensioners’ dance to be held?
– There should not be any necessity for a pensioners’ dance. This event has been held every year for the last ten years and it will take place this year at the Sydney Town Hall on 16th October. It is hoped that £1,000 will be made on that night which will be devoted to helping the pensioners. Probably 7,000 or 8,000 people will attend. Members of the Old People’s Welfare Council of New South Wales, such as Sir Hugh Poate and others in good positions, have rallied again to the Lord Mayor’s aid and very often the wives of these good people help to provide meals on wheels for aged people in Sydney. For a cost of 2s. these people can have a good meal but if a pensioner is not able to pay that sum, the cost is met by the Government.
In conclusion, I hope that something will be done for these people. The Government should not wait until the Budget session to consider them. During the election campaign last November the Australian Labour Party promised that if it were returned to office it would make an immediate increase in pensions of 10s. a week and a further increase would be provided in the Budget.
– What about increasing it to half the basic wage?
– The honorable member would not be able to earn half the basic wage if he were not a member of Parliament. To any one who studies the needs of pensioners it is obvious that the Government should make a substantial grant to help them. If this Government does not do anything for them, at the end of the next two years when the Labour Government is returned to office the means test will be abolished and action will be taken to see that these people are treated in a Christian, charitable way and enabled to live in a reasonable degree of comfort and security for the rest of their lives.
.- Ever since I have been a member of this Parliament I have noticed a similarity in the debates on social services. If one looks through the records one finds identical speeches being .made on each occasion by members of the Opposition at the time and by members on the government side. They never change at all. Constantly, the issue is the same with regard to social services: Government versus Opposition. The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Minogue), who has just concluded his speech, was not a member of the last Labour Government but if he had been apparently he would have suffered the agonies of the damned because of the way that government administered social services. Every time this question is discussed the party which is in office says, “ What wonderful fellows we are “ and the party in opposition says, “ Not enough “.
One small distinction, however, is that this Government has used much more initiative and ingenuity and has dealt with this social problem in a sensible way. For example, it has established the scheme of housing for aged persons. That is a sensible approach. Further assistance to pensioners has been given by way of the pensioners’ medical scheme and the supplementary rent allowance. Whatever government is in office, however, will pay what it considers the country can afford for social services, but I say again that this Government does it more ingeniously and gives the pensioner a better deal.
I feel that the question of social services should be taken out of the political arena. Unfortunately this subject is made a political issue by people outside Parliament. As an illustration I refer to an article which appeared in the “ Canberra Times “ on 4th September last. The caption, in large black type, read, “Pension Increase More Than Sufficient’ Roberton Tells House”. The “Canberra Times” is a very moderate newspaper and its reporting is very sound but the only interpretation that could be put on those headlines was that the pensioners were receiving more than they should get. In my opinion a statement of that kind brings the matter into the political arena. I cannot believe that the editor of this very responsible paper who seldom errs, could have passed that headline. If a member of Parliament were to make a statement like that he would be hauled over the coals.
What the Minister said was that age, invalid and widows pensions were more than sufficient to cover the changes in the cost* of living since the last pension increase, which is a totally different thing from the interpretation that has been put on his statement by honorable members opposite.
I say that social services should be taken out of the political arena. Only yesterday the honorable member for Bonython (Mr. Makin) quoted from an International Labour Organization report a comparison of Australia’s expenditure on social services with social services expenditure in the United Arab Republic of Egypt and Syria and Iraq. The honorable member should know that the basis of the comparison is completely inaccurate. Included in the social services provision of those countries are hospitalization, education and every other sort of social activity. But the Commonwealth does not deal with these matters. We have a federal system, arid those matters are reserved to the States. So, to compare Australia’s provision for social services with that of those countries is grossly misleading. Sometimes I find it hard to believe that the Opposition does this kind of thing unthinkingly, because the same report was used in a debate in another place last year, where it was trotted out in an effort to deceive the public listening on the radio to the proceedings.
The more one sees of this great social problem the more one realizes the need to take social services out of the political arena. When we are dealing with social services we are dealing with the question of decent people who may have reached old age and have lost the capacity for selfhelp. Naturally, those people have done very wonderful work for this country. During the last sessional period we were subjected to a series of petitions the object of which was the fixing of the base rate of pension at half of the basic wage. Anybody who reads the book, “ Masters of Deceit “, by J. Edgar Hoover, director of the great American Federal Bureau of Investigation, will realize that on every single front the Communists try to take control. In America there is not nearly the strength of Communist interests that exists in Australia. There is no trade union in America which is afflicted with Communist control. In Australia we have a number of trade unions afflicted with Communist control. Even the central organ of trade unionism) in this country, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, is afflicted with near-Communist control. Can anybody imagine that the Communist programme in America, where the Communists are not strong, will not be adopted in our country?
To my mind there is no question but that a great deal of the pushing in regardto raising the pension rates to half the basic wage has been done with the direct inspiration and the help of the Communistsat work in these fields. The Communists are always looking for opportunities tobreak down our society. Without question their ultimate objective is to break down the parliamentary system. You can see how easy it would be to auction gradually one’s right to represent the nation in Parliament. One side can say to the electors, “ We will give you so much more in social services than the other side “. How quickly could the parliamentary system be broken down as a result of promises to pay more in social services! Indeed, it is to the very great credit of the pensioners that that has not happened in this country, because the pensioners! who number more than 600,000, each of whom has a vote, have not allowed themselves to be swayed by such tactics. It is to their credit that they have not fallen for the blandishments of political intrigue. I advise the Opposition that this technique can work both ways. If the Opposition tries to make the theme of this debate that they will give so much more in social services than wedo, I remind them that if they get into office we could do the same thing on the hustings, and say that they were not giving enough in social services. That is why I stress that social services should be taken out of the political arena.
Sometimes I am disturbed by the careless thinking of good fellows who worry over social service practices and are willing to be generous in the spending of other people’s money. We in the Parliament are the custodians of revenue supplied by the people, and when we say that we will give so much of this- and so much’ of that we have to make out a case for our proposals. I am frightened sometimes of people of good will, because often they do enormous psychological damage to the nation by discouraging thrift, by making it seem that the responsibility of a person for his own care has been taken from him and become a job for the government alone. There is nobody in this House who does not recognize the last speaker in this debate, the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Minogue), as a man moved by great humanitarian motives. But is he doing a service to his fellow men by saying, as he did in his speech to-day, that Lord Mayor Jensen of Sydney and other people are doing the work that this Government should be doing? I say that he is not doing any good for the people he is supposed to represent here when he makes such a statement, because such statements have a very important social effect.
In the old days before there were pensions how did the old people of poor families survive? They survived because sense of family responsibility was there.
– Because the workhouse was there.
– No, I take the time of Queen Anne. Even in those days the authorities in England spent £2,000,000 or £3,000,000 on social services. That amount was a colossal sum then. Through the generations we have always had a responsibility to the indigent and the poor, and that responsibility is accepted by members of this party and by the Government exactly as it is accepted by members of the Opposition. But the question is: Do you always have to shift the responsibility from the shoulders of the person who is worried about it to the government, or should a man be allowed to maintain his own personal dignity?
Another question of great importance in the social services field is the sense of grave injustice felt by many people as a result of the operation of the means test. On whatever side of politics a man may be he must admit that if there is a national sense of injustice it is not a healthy thing to have in the nation. Those who have denied themselves by setting aside something to maintain themselves with dignity in their old age find that they have saved in vain because the indigent are getting more than they are. That produces a sense of social injustice. As long as you allow any sort of injustice to remain in a nation, whether in relation to the treatment of old people or any other problem, you have something that is nationally unhealthy. I think that that is something that affects both sides of politics.
What I am disturbed about in some men of good will is that, wittingly or unwittingly, they destroy the important human traits of thrift and personal pride, and are prepared to surrender their own personal care in old age to bureaucracy - to a government. That, 1 think, is a very dangerous thing in a young and vigorous country. If honorable members opposite want to make this country great they will not do it by teaching the people to rely only on the government of the day to look after them. Such an attitude does not seem to me to be the right base on which to build a young and vigorous nation in a part of the world - the Asian area - where we would have difficulty in surviving. I believe that the Government must concentrate on trying to develop some contributory scheme which will enable the removal of the means test. The honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) made a thoughtful speech on this subject, in which he pointed out that the means test discourages savings.
If the Opposition wants to increase the nation’s capacity to finance social services there is only one way to do it, and that is by achieving greater production and greater development. The richer your country is the more it will be able to pay in social benefits. You cannot become a rich country unless you invest money, and the only money to invest is either your own savings or the savings of other people. If we use the savings of other people, that amounts to importing capital, which is not so effective a method; but if we use our own savings the profit goes back into the national wealth. The task of the Government in social services, to my mind, is influenced by the nation’s capacity to pay. This in turn, has a very important influence on our prosperity. Paying money into people’s pockets increases purchasing power and that enables greater employment. But it must come from savings. I think we all know that some people will dissipate their savings towards the end of their working life so that they will qualify for a full pension. That is not a healthy state of affairs.
– That is not so.
– If you say that that is not so you have very little contact with aged people. The honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) has played an important part in trying to improve the lot of the pensioners. He and other Government supporters have suggested that the property means test should be eased. I hope that the Government will give consideration to that proposal. The honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Ian Allan) suggested that the permissible property limit be £1,500. This would encourage saving and, after all, the property held by hundreds of thousands of pensioners would amount to a great capital asset. The raising of the permissible property limit would avoid the dissipation of these savings.
This problem is not peculiar to Australia. In the United Kingdom, an old country, there is a national health scheme. I have been interested to see how that scheme is progressing. The United Kingdom Government is not particularly happy about its national health scheme. Although it has been in operation for many years and has stood the test of time yet there is to be a change in the scheme which will operate from about 1961.
In the United Kingdom, the employee over eighteen years of age pays towards national insurance 7s. 4id. a week, towards industrial accident insurance 8d. a week and towards the national health scheme ls. 10 1/2 d. a week, a total of 9s. lid. The employer, on account of the employee, pays in respect of national insurance 7s. 01/2d. a week, in respect of industrial accident insurance 9d. a week, and in respect of the national health scheme, 5id. a week, a total of 8s. 3d. So the total payment in respect of a man over eighteen years of age is 18s. 2d. The exchequer adds to the contribution of the employee ls. 3d. a week, and to the employers’ contribution ls. 2d. a week, a total of 2s. 5d. However these payments are not sufficient to cover the needs of the national insurance scheme. The exchequer has had to make increasing amounts available for the scheme. The scheme is not perfect.
The Australian system has been showing a constant improvement. I am not going to reiterate what other members have said about how good the Government is and how bad Labour is. But during the last ten years, as the Government has considered that the economy could stand better social services, increases have been made in pensions or in other benefits and means tests have been liberalized. But as time goes on, the cost of a change to a contributory scheme is becoming higher and higher. I feel that it is time for usto try to find some scheme which will meet the needs of future generations. All calls on social service benefits are calls on the national economy. If we can improve the national economy we can afford to improve our social services.
I will say this for the pensioners: They all carry themselves with great dignity. This is a great credit to themselves and to their race. But I believe that pension* should be taken out of the political arena entirely and that people in their old age should be able to obtain a pension which i* entirely the result of their own work. If they can improve their own lot by thrift and hard work, so much the better. But there should be an end to the annual debate about what you did and what we did. 1 have no doubt that if we were to lose office, there would be the same debate, but in reverse.
This is an important social undertaking. There is a considerable danger in shelving the responsibility from the individual to the Government. Freedom can be maintained only by raising a race of people who are independent and who are confident that they can care for themselves. The encouragement of that independence should be the task of every member of the Parliament. Of course, there are those who. because of ill health and through no fault of their own, have to be helped. But the encouragement of an independent outlook and the practising of thrift can only be to the great advantage of this nation and. in the long run, to the advantage of the parliamentary system.
.- The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) appeared to have a brief that his heart was not in. He seemed to lack his customary fire and vigour, and I strongly suspect that he, the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) and the honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner) would have desired a better bill than the one we are discussing to-day. In other words, I think that they are of the same opinion as members on this side of the House - that the bill should have provided for greater progress in the sphere of social services.
There are a couple of matters on which I would like to join issue with the honorable member for Hume because I think that his approach to this problem was distinctly unrealistic. For example, he said that if people relied on the Government to look after them we would never be a great nation. Then he said that it was not right to shelve the responsibility from individual shoulders on to the Government. All I want to say is that the average wage, to-day, makes no provision for large-scale saving. Irrespective of whether people would like to look after their old age, the incontrovertible, stark, economic facts are such that, in these days of creeping inflation, it is not possible for everybody to make provision for old age. In this debate and in similar debates during the last few years there has been a great demand for the easing of the means test. That is because the people who formerly made provision for their old age have found that to-day, because of inflation, what appeared to be a very good competence a few years ago is now by no means a good competence. As a matter of fact, it is not a competence at all. To-day, a set of circumstances has emerged which places the social services structure in an entirely different light to that of ten or eleven years ago. Unfortunately, inflation does not seem to have eased. Many well-meaning citizens desire to provide for their old age, but in a state of creeping inflation, rising prices keep ahead of people’s good intention to provide for their old age solely from their own savings.
The Labour Party has been twitted because it has moved an amendment which, in its opinion, will better the bill. Labour’s attitude towards the pensione as exemplified in the amendment that has been proposed by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), is by no means unusual. We have assumed a by no means unusual role because our policy always has been directed towards the uplifting of humanity, the rectification of injustices and the elimination of practices which would tend to degrade the dignity of human labour. Labour makes no apology for being always in the vanguard in any move calculated to improve the lot of the ordinary citizen. We complain that this bill does not do anything to improve the lot of the ordinary citizen. I say more in sorrow than in anger that the Government has lost a wonderful opportunity to place our social services structure on a plane that would be acceptable to the great majority of the Australian people because the circumstances that have arisen in the last few years make it inevitable that if the anomalies that have crept into the social services structure are to be corrected there must be an aggressive, courageous approach to the problem, not the parsimonious approach that is manifest in this bill.
As the Government has made so many statements from time to time about the abolition of the means test, the rectification of anomalies, and so on, I should have thought that it would have grasped the nettle in both hands and have said, “ We propose to translate our many-worded communiques into legislative enactment. We shall do something of a tangible nature.’* Unfortunately, the mountain has laboured and has brought forth a mouse. This bill fails to increase the pension rate with justice and fairness. It does nothing to eliminate the anomalies that have been pointed out by honorable members on both sides of the House. Honorable members have said that the Government’s social services committee has been trying for years to induce Cabinet to introduce measures designed to remove the inequalities and injustices to which people of prudence and thrift have been subjected. But nothing has eventuated.
Another communique appeared in the newspapers a few days ago - apparently a handout from the Government’s social services committee - to the effect that the committee had approached the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) who had said that he had been very impressed with the points of view that had been expressed by the committee, and that he would look into them. I suppose the committee’s representation; will be relegated to the limbo of forgotten things because on many occasions the Prime Minister, when pressed by popular public demand, has threatened to look into matters, but that is the last that has been heard of them.
Digressing from the subject for a moment, I remember that a couple of years ago we were told with a great fanfare of trumpets that the Government had appointed a committee of six members to look into the transport problem in Australia. That is the last that has been heard of it. If this Government runs true to form, the representations that were made two or three days ago by the social services committee will fall on deaf ears.
Metaphorically speaking, the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) has patted himself on the back and has looked at the halo on his head and has felt well pleased with the proposed increase of 7s. 6d. He seems to think that that is the alpha and omega of the social services problem - an increase of a miserable 7s. 6d. What is 7s. 6d. a week in these days of creeping inflation? It is hardly likely that it will cause an appreciable rise in the standard of living of the pensioners. In fact, the 7s. 6d. will not meet the rise that has occurred in the cost of living since the last increase was granted two years ago. The 7s. 6d. will not improve their standard of living but will bring them only slightly closer to the standard that they enjoyed before the last increase. It will not compensate for the rise in the cost of living that has taken place over the last two years.
It is time that the Government realized the pernicious effect of inflation upon the living standards of the pensioners. Inflation has robbed them of almost the whole of the income to which they are entitled by reason of our productivity, which has been increasing since 1910. The application of mechanization to industry has been responsible for increased productivity, and the whole national economy has gone ahead by leaps and bounds. The standard of living of many sections of the community has risen to an immeasurable degree, but the pensioners have never received the full benefit of our rising productivity.
We must face the unqualified fact that the pittance of £4 15s. a week is not enough to enable a person to maintain himself when one considers that inflation is eating ravenously into pensions. Any one capable of doing the simplest arithmetic knows that a household budget of £4 15s. per person will not meet that person’s needs. It is true that pensioners may earn additional income, and the Government has laid great stress on the fact that a pensioner couple can have an income of £16 10s. a week. That is quite right for possibly 10 per cent, of pensioners, but the plain unvarnished fact is that not less than 80 per cent, of pensioners receive no income other than the pension. It is high time that the Government, instead of talking about the £16 10s. a week that can be earned by a pensioner, realized that the number of pensioners able to earn that much is relatively small, and that the great body of them - over 80 per cent. - regard the pension as the beginning and the end of their existence. It is their only source of income. If the Government remains niggardly in its response to the pleas of this 80 per cent., then those pensioners must exist at a level below the normal standards of the community. This measure affords the great majority of pensioners no assistance in their bitter struggle to keep themselves going from week to week.
It is idle for the Minister to throw out his chest and to say, “The pension has never been higher than £4 15s. a week “. That is right. But a true assessment of the value of the pension should be not the nominal rate that has been promulgated by the Minister, but the purchasing power of the pension. When the matter is looked at from that angle, the highly exaggerated and extravagant statements that have been made by the Minister fall to the ground. When analyzed on this basis, the pension is woefully inadequate. No section of the community is more deserving of the right to a life of self-respect and freedom from economic insecurity than are the pensioners, but unfortunately the method by which the pension has been fixed always has been haphazard. It is time that this Government realized that the pensioners are a national responsibility. As such, their problems should be approached on a national basis and looked at in a considerate and responsible way. Unless the Government recognizes this fact, the pensioners will have to wait for a long time before their standard of living is anything like what it was before they ceased work. We must realize that age, illness and inflation have condemned 80 per cent, of the pensioners to a life, not of penury - although some are faced with this prospect - but of self-deprivation. Probably all of them, before they reached the age at which they were entitled to claim the pension, led lives of reasonable comfort.
I cannot stress too much the fact that this talk of the Government that pensioners can earn £7 a week does not touch the issue at all. Many persons who have reached 65 or 70 years of age are not given the opportunity to earn anything, even if they are physically able to do so. The jobs simply are not available. A number of men over 50 years of age have come to me and have said that they have applied for 20 or 30 jobs, but as soon as they disclosed their age the employer was not interested. Men of 60 or 65 years of age are not wanted by any employer to-day, even for part-time jobs. Employers want the young, vigorous men. Unfortunately, in the. declining years of one’s life; vigor is always absent from one’s physical and metal make-up.
The Government should have increased the property limit of £200 because it has not been altered since 1954, when it was £150. The decreased value of the £1 over the last five years warrants an increase in the property limit to £300 or even £350. A new criterion must be applied to modest bank deposits - and £200 is not a very modest amount to have deposited with a bank to-day - the value of which has been shrunk by inflation to rather a small fraction of what it was five years ago. The penalization of pensioners who have as little as £210 in the bank is most unfair to a pensioner who has in the bank, say, £300 or £400 which he keeps to pay the funeral expenses of himself and his wife or to meet an emergency. I do not suggest that the limit beyond which the pension is reduced should be raised to £500 or £600, but I suggest to the Minister for Social Services that, much more positive effect would be given to his talk about amelioration of the means test if the limit were increased to £300 or £350. The raising of the limit to this level would not cost the Government a great deal of money.
At present, many people who have, say, £300 or £400 in the bank spend that money immediately before they reach the age at which they become eligible for the pension, as the honorable member for Mackellar pointed out, so that they may bring their bank deposits below £210 and get the full pension. The expenditure is not necessary for household purposes, but they are determined to get the full pension. In this way, people sometimes waste £200 or more. If the minimum limit above which the pension is reduced were fixed at £300 or £350, pensioners could keep more of that money in order to provide for much needed expenditure in the years to come.
The means test is a vexed subject which has been discussed in this House many times, and which is always a fitting subject for discussion when a bill of this kind is being considered, and I want to say something about it again this afternoon. 1 think it is indisputable that the inflation which has occurred over the past ten years has dissipated much of the value of superannuation and retiring allowances towards the cost of which many people have contributed from their earnings over many years. Any fair-minded person must concede that the voluntary acceptance of a living standard 5 per cent, lower than could have been enjoyed during the years of earning justifies a relatively greater degree of living comfort and security during the years of retirement. But the means test prevents this. The present Government had a unique opportunity to ease the means test, but it has failed to take it. I suggest that the means test as it exists to-day represents a very harsh recompense to those worthy citizens who have sacrificed and been thrifty throughout their working lives. The distress caused to deserving elderly people whose efforts at self-preservation have been so ill requited should be relieved to the greatest possible extent, but the Government has failed, in this bill, to give any appreciable relief.
As I have said, the Government had a unique opportunity to ease the burden of the means test, but it declined to take it. The Minister for Social Services is very proud of the fact that he has held the portfolio longer than any other Minister has held it, but I suggest that posterity judges a Minister, not by the length of time that he held a portfolio, but by what he did during the years in which he held it. The Minister had a chance to make a name for himself on this occasion but, unfortunately for the pensioners of Australia, he failed to take it.
The Department of Social Services states that the possession of property is the major reason for the reduction of pensions. This opinion, which is authentic, of course, is based on the result of a survey of pensioners in Victoria. That survey showed that the pensions of 77 per cent, of the pensioners whose circumstances were examined were reduced because of property held, 8 per cent, were reduced because of income and property, and IS per cent, were reduced because of income.
I come now to the crux of the iniquity of the means test. It has been mentioned in this House a thousand times, and I propose to mention it for the thousand and first time. I suggest that all honorable members should continue to bring it forward until some government in the future does something to rectify the matter. If a pensioner has say, £2,500, or owns a house of that value which gives him an income of £100 a year, he receives no pension. In my opinion, it is absolutely scandalous that a pensioner who lives in his own home, and who has tried to provide for his future by saving £2,500 in his working years, or who has bought a second house of that value, from which he receives rent to help keep him in his old age, is deprived of a pension. I do not blame the present Government for that any more than I blame any previous government. Suffice it to say that successive governments have allowed this provision to remain in the social services law. It is high time it was eliminated altogether. It makes the possession of property a nightmare for any one who obtains a small income from property and who seeks to augment that income by a part pension.
Tangible alleviation of the hardship would have been achieved if the income from property, and not the value of property, were taken into account when computing the rate of pension. I know that at present the reverse operates, and the authorities ignore the income and take into consideration only the value of the property. However, if the value of the property were ignored and only the income were taken into account, the pensioner would be better off and would receive the benefit of the years of sacrifice in which he deprived himself often of the comforts of life in order to acquire the additional house which he hoped would help to keep him in his old age, although it perhaps brings him in only £1 or 30s. a week net after he has paid municipal rates and taxes, insurance, and other charges.
I can describe the present provision in the law only as iniquitous. It has the effect of making it a crime to be thrifty and to practice self-denial in order to amass * small competence for one’s old age. No self-respecting government, irrespective of its political colour should allow this anomaly to remain in the social services law any longer. All governments have been guilty in this respect in the past. To-day, inflation denies a person who owns a property in addition to the home which he occupies the advantage of keeping himself in his old age on the income from the second property. Such people have been caught by circumstances outside their control. 1 make an appeal to the Government on behalf of people who have acquired one or two properties over the years in the hope that those properties would keep them in their old age and who have not envisaged the rapid increase of inflation which has occurred. Such people are to-day gripped firmly in the vice of inflation, and the community should ensure that they suffer no longer. The inflationary trend has almost dissipated the little security which they have carefully accrued over a lifetime, but the property qualification denies them even elementary justice.
The supplementary rent allowance which was given to pensioners last year by the Government helped a number of people, so far as it went - but it did not go very far. I understand that about 10 or 11 per cent, of pensioners were able to take advantage of this new provision which was embodied in the Social Services Act last year. But to-day, I make a plea for people who live in a house of their own and do not pay rent. Old people who occupy their own homes naturally like to keep those homes in order. They like to keep up insurance payments so that if the house is burned down or suffers any damage it may be restored without loss to them. They like, also, to pay their municipal rates and water and sewerage rates. But all these charges are steadily increasing. Every time the basic wage rises, the cost of restoring or repairing a property increases.
Municipal and water and sewerage rates certainly increase every time a property is re-valued. This is clearly demonstrated in my electorate, where sewerage rates for most properties in the suburb in which I live have increased by 60 per cent, in the last year. People who paid £10 in water and sewerage rates last year will have to pay £16 this year. The additional £6 a year which the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works levies on householders in my electorate, including pensioners, will absorb more than 2s. of the additional 7s. 6d. a week which will be paid to pensioners.
Municipal councils are unable to carry on at the existing rates, owing to inflation, which is advancing apace on all sides, and which affects every council activity. This has forced councils to increase rates. The councils themselves are victims of the prevailing creeping inflation. Pensioners say that they cannot pay the rates, and they ask for remissions. Councils would very much like to remit their rates but, unfortunately, they, also, are in a sorry plight. They, too, are held in the vice of inflation, and, if they remit pensioners’ rates, they have to raise more in rates from other property owners who, in the main, are struggling under the burden of the increasing cost of living. Therefore, I suggest that any person who pays rates on a home should receive a special grant from the Government to enable him to pay those rates. It is unfair to expect municipal councils to forgo rates. Councils are incurring huge deficits and they wonder where the next £1 will come from. They do not know where they are going to get the money to repair potholes in roads and to undertake similar works, and it is unfair to throw on them responsibility for the maintenance and welfare of elderly people. That is the direct responsibility of the Commonwealth Government, and if the present Government had any feelings at all for local government bodies, which are the third arm of government, it would ensure that pensioners were not forced to request municipal councils to reduce or remit their rates, because the councils are not in a position to accede to such requests. When their requests cannot be acceded to, the pensioners are forced to pay the rates. Some pensioners go without the necessaries of life for two or three weeks in May and J une when rates are due and have to be paid. 1 know from cases that have come to my notice that this is a fact. Therefore, I suggest that the Minister for Social Services, if he wants to make a name for himself and be remembered by posterity not as the Minister who held this portfolio for longer than any other person, but as a Minister who has contributed something to the social service structure, should recommend to Cabinet next year that an amount be given to these property owners to enable them to meet their liabilities to municipal councils.
Another matter with which I wish to deal concerns pensioner medical benefits. I think it is wrong that pensioners receiving additional income of more than £2 should be denied free medical attention. Recently, 1 had brought to my notice the case of a married couple who are in receipt of income from a superannuation scheme - for which they paid for many years - of £4 2s. 6d. a week. That is 2s 6d. over the maximum allowable under the means test. The husband and wife are deprived of free medical service and medicines when they need them. They are in ill health and they are so upset about the matter that I am afraid they will be worried into an early grave. If they fall ill they will have to pay for medicine and medical attention, and judging by the look on their faces and the miserable tone they used when regaling me with their story, I think that before long they will cease to be recipients of any social services at all, because they will no longer be here. Those people contributed over many years for their superannuation of £4 2s. 6d. a week, and now they are cut off from any medical benefits. This Government did a grave disservice to many thousands of deserving pensioners like the couple I have mentioned when it introduced this means test in 1955.
Great stress has been laid on the fact that this Government has made a tangible effort to improve the lot of elderly people who require homes, and I take my hat off to the Government for having started thescheme. But I hope that, having started the scheme, the Government does not consider that the scheme as it exists to-day is sufficient. It is not. The Governmentshould encourage municipal councils in this mattei. In Victoria the Housing Commission will :build flats for pensioners - which are let at a nominal rate of 10s. or lis. a week - if the municipal councils will provide the land free of charge. The municipal councils are having such a hard time financially that they cannot pay large sums of money for blocks of land for this purpose. The Government should make money available to the councils on a £2 for £1 basis to enable them to buy land to be made available to the commission for the erection of flats for pensioners. That would help large numbers of pensioners who to-day are forced to live in rooms for which they pay exorbitant rents. Only last week a pensioner told me of his plight. He and his wife pay £3 10s. a week for one room and the use of a kitchen. Their only income is their pensions. The Housing Commission in Victoria is prepared to build more flats if the municipal councils will provide the necessary land free of charge. If the Government would make money available to the councils on the basis of £1 for £1 or £2 for £1, more flats could be built which would provide much needed accommodation for elderly pensioners.
In conclusion, I want to say that pensioners are largely the product of an age wherein any suggestion that wages came before profits was regarded as rank economic heresy. To-day I think it can be reasonably and intelligently assumed that age pensions can be regarded as a device whereby industry generally has passed on to the community a burden which to a degree is the responsibility of industry itself. Social benefits are a right which merely restore partial balance to an unbalanced structure. Wages and salaries were never higher than they are at the moment. Profits and dividends are reaching astronomical proportions and extravagant provision is being made for depreciation throughout the field of industry and commerce. The only thing that seems to be lacking in an era of high incomes is a full appreciation of the urgent necessity for ensuring that the elderly people of the community shall be treated in a manner befitting a country that is proud of its humanitarian outlook.
.- I am pleased to come to this important debate this afternoon and to note that the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) has spoken in support of the property owner. lt is splendid to hear a member of the Opposition so strong in his emphasis on that point. I am also pleased to note that we have the honorable member’s support with regard to some helpful liberalization of the property means test.
– That is something the Government will never do.
– Just wait and see! I give my support to the intention of the bill before the House, which is to provide for an increase of 7s. 6d. a week in the base pension. But whilst I do so I direct attention to the fact that the increase in the base pension accentuates a difficulty with respect to the property means test, and with that I shall deal in more detail later in my speech.
At the very outset, however, I want to say that I offer no apology .at all for pointing out that praise is due to the Government for sustaining over a long period of years a substantial increase in this base pension rate, lt is a statement of fact - a statement with regard to which the Opposition cannot contradict me - that Australia’s base pension compares more than favorably with the income of aged people and people in necessitous circumstances elsewhere in the world. That stands, I believe, as a statement of fact and I believe that on that count praise is due to the Government, of which I am pleased to be a representative.
Australia’s social service legislation is based on need. The pension is intended as a contribution by a thoughtful government to meet the personal need of the individual who receives it. It has, I believe, never been calculated or assessed as being an adequate livable income. There has been no formula worked out whereby one can say that a certain figure is adequate for any one individual person. In other words, the whole community is not lumped together with any common entitlement to an age pension. There is no one person who can say that the pension is his by right. He has come to the point of age whereat he becomes entitled to a pension and he has to prove that his personal need exists before the pension is his. Not until we have a national contributory scheme will the state of affairs exist when every one is entitled to a pension.
While dealing with this subject of a national contributory scheme I want to point out - it is well known, particularly to honorable members - that for years now this proposal has been debated. The cost factor has evidently scared off not only this Government but its predecessor. I believe, however, that a modified contributory scheme is worthy of consideration by the government of the day. The initial concern of all of us, I suggest, should be that people reaching the age of 70 years should have a pension income available free of means test. This would be a very helpful provision for those who, advancing some years beyond the retirement age, find that their permissible income has shrunk, unless they have been fortunate enough to receive annuity income or superannuation. It seems only just that there should be for them a retiring allowance under a contributory scheme. I believe that such a contributory scheme is within the realm of possibility, and so I join with many others who have spoken in this vein and commend the suggestion to the Government for investigation and, I trust, implementation in the not-too-distant future.
We have been reminded already in this debate how encouraging it is to have a public statement in this connexion by none other than the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, Dr. Coombs, who spoke at the science congress in Perth only a few weeks ago. When he made his presidential address to the congress he indicated that he was of opinion that modifications to the taxation scheme to increase public savings were warranted. He advocated also the establishment of a general contributory superannuation scheme. With great sincerity this eminent gentleman put the suggestion forward. I believe it is just another indication of a belief held by thinking citizens of Australia that a contributory scheme must come, if it is at all possible, within a reasonable time.
Now I want to turn to honorable members of the Opposition, who have started to interject. The principal Opposition speaker in this debate was the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser). The first claim that he made, and about which he seemed to be concerned, was that the pensioners of Australia have endured a decline in living standards in each year that this Government has been in office. I want to refute that. It is strange indeed, if his statement be anywhere near the truth, that so many pensioners readily express their gratitude to this Government, which has maintained over the years, as I have mentioned in opening this speech, increases in the base pension. It is difficult also to reconcile the honorable member’s criticism in this respect with the fact that there are many couples in retirement to-day who can receive an income far in excess of that which the husband brought into the home during the days when he was fully employed, before his retirement. I direct attention to the fact that with the proposed pension increases, which I am supporting in this debate, a couple may receive £16 10s. a week, including the additional permissible income which, if a person has been prudent enough, he may receive from superannuation, or, if he continues in good health, he may be able to earn week by week.
These, then, are statements of fact that I bring to refute the comment of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. I am not concerned about the interjections of honorable members opposite. It is apparent that they resent my bringing these facts to their attention. Let me deal also with the supplementary pension, for their colleague was strong indeed in his criticism of this very helpful provision which the Government was pleased to introduce last year. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro claimed that more than 80 per cent, of pensioners in Australia are dependent upon their pensions. Let me take him up on that point, for the fact is that 80 per cent, of all pensioners in Australia to-day receive the full pension; but although they receive the full pension they need not be entirely dependent upon that pension. Many of them receive other permissible income over and above the full pension.
The honorable member complained that only 14 per cent, of pensioners can qualify for the supplementary pension. Let me take him up on that point also, because I hate distortions of facts, by my own side if we are ever guilty of that, and definitely by the Opposition side, the members of which so often produce spurious arguments. I remind the honorable member and his colleagues of the Opposition that the supplementary pension was introduced to meet a specific need. It was not a base pension increase and was not intended for every pensioner. It was planned to adjust a paramount defect in the system about which so many of us had been concerned for a long time. I refer to the hardship suffered by the single person, receiving only one pension, as against the married couple who had a double pension coming into the home to meet the expense of rent. Honorable members of the Opposition are just as clearly aware as I am that this provision was introduced specifically for the purpose of helping such persons. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro should, I suggest, eat his words, because he was strong in his criticism of the Government on this point. He said something about this provision being the greatest fraud in the history of social services in Australia. Having in mind the facts that I present, I can say in all fairness that the people of Australia may discard the honorable member’s comment because it is not factual. I do not appreciate this kind of political humbug in debates in this House.
Social service legislation will, I submit, never be perfect. Why do I make such a statement as that? I remind honorable members that in this department of Commonwealth activity the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton), whom we are glad to see at the table in this debate, is dealing with human problems. He is dealing with them day by day, and the strain of dealing with them is apparent upon this Minister, as it has been upon his predecessors who held the same portfolio. He is dealing with human problems involving the varying traits of human character and personality. This is a department of Commonwealth activity which would challenge any Minister of any government. We must realize that notwithstanding the conviction and the sincerity of any government and any Minister, imperfections will always be observed and criticized from time to time. After every innovation, I suggest, we will still, with critical minds, be able to find anomalies to which we must give attention.
Having said this, I think I will be readily understood when I suggest that I am not unaware of improvements which the Government must still consider in its social service legislation. Let me mention the matter of funeral benefit, about which many words have been said by my friends of the Opposition as well as by honorable members on this side of the House. I believe that the Government should be repeatedly asked to increase the amount of the funeral benefit from £10 to £25.
– You are the first one on the Government side who has ever said that
– No, my friend, you are wrong. It was said here by the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Stokes) the other night, and by many others. It is true that since 1943 there has been no increase in the funeral benefit, and I think it is merely logical to suggest that the amount should be increased from £10 in order to help the unfortunate aged partner of a marriage who has to meet funeral expenses. I submit that there is ample justification here for the Minister to explore ways and means of increasing the amount of the funeral benefit.
In common with many other honorable members, I am concerned about the failure to provide social service benefits for our immigrants. I remind the House that the twenty-year residential qualification for entitlement to an age pension can operate very harshly indeed. As a result of the conclusion of reciprocal agreements with Great Britain and New Zealand, persons born in Australia, New Zealand or Great Britain, with few exceptions, are now entitled, under our legislation, to the age pension on reaching pensionable age. Generally speaking, the only persons who are now penalized by the twenty-year residential qualification are migrants from places other than the United Kingdom and New Zealand.
We all know that we have in this country a controlled migration policy. It is not intended, and it is not probable, that we shall have a great inflow of very elderly migrants. I am of the opinion that the retention of the residential qualification has, and will continue to have, an extremely bad effect on our migration programme, of which we can be justly proud. I believe that it makes migrants feel still that they are second-class citizens because they find they have to face this long term of residence in our country before they become entitled to an age pension.
With these things in mind, I say to-day in this House that 1 believe that the Government, at not very great cost, could look into the possibility of reducing this 20- year residential qualification to five years. A migrant becomes a citizen of Australia by passing through the all-important naturalization ceremony. Of course, the initiative is on him - and we would have it continue to be on him - and he himself must make personal representations for his citizenship. Ultimately, he receives his certificate of citizenship which, from my observations, invariably he accepts as a splendid gift from the Commonwealth Government. It is not an idle thing to come from overseas, live here for five years, be absorbed into our community and then find citizenship awarded to him. What a wonderful thing it would be if, on the night his citizenship certificate was placed in his hand and sincere words of congratulation were extended to him, he and his family could know that they have the same rights under our social service legislation as any one who has been born in this country.
I turn to the third point on which 1 find there is ample room for the Government of the day to improve its social service legislation. I am referring particularly to the property means test. I have commended my friend the honorable member for Batman who preceded me, on his comments in this connexion. I recognize that the total abolition of the means test is still a frightening responsibility. One estimate of which I have been made aware is that its complete abolition would cost an extra £121,000,000. I submit to the Minister and to the Government that urgent action must be taken to make a further liberalization of this iniquitous property means test so that people who, wisely, have been thrifty and careful during their working years, are not penalized.
I believe that this can be achieved by the Government at a relatively small cost to the country. As a matter of fact, after inquiries which I have made, I estimate that the cost would not exceed £2,500,000. The property means test as it operates today is, without any challenge, a deterrent to savings and general thrift. In these circumstances, I hardly think it is necessary for me to define “ property “ as we know it under this legislation. I think it is a splendid thing for us always to remind ourselves that provision has been justly made for the exemption of certain property which does not affect any means test. The home in which a pensioner resides, his furniture and personal chattels and insurance policies with surrender values up to £750 are exempted. When we talk about individual savings which affect the pension because of the property means test, we are talking of savings in excess of these items which I have mentioned as being exempt and the first £200 of the pensioner’s savings.
I am sure that I am not the only member who receives calls from aged people seeking clarification of the relative intricacies of our social services legislation. Every one who is elected by any community as a member of this honorable House knows that the reasons for a reduced pension have to be carefully explained to the would-be applicant for pension assistance. As we go through our various interviews and we find that a pension applicant has savings of £700, £1,100 or £1,500, we have to explain to him that the application of this property means test reduces the full pension to the figure to which he has become entitled.
In this connexion it is easy to see, by a careful analysis, how the thrifty person is penalized. We have not used idle words from time to time in recent years when we have said that the property means test is a deterrent to thrift. We have only to turn to figures that we care to prepare to show how this operates. Let me give one or two examples. Under the present legislation which provides this increase in the base pension of 7s. 6d. but which makes no further liberalization of the property means test, a man who has saved £2,500 is not entitled to any pension for there is a ceiling of £2,250. If he invests his £2,500 at 5 per cent., which could be achieved if he put his money into bonds, he would receive only £125. But it is a risky thing to suggest that he can earn any more than that. That man has to try to live on an income of £125 if he knows how to invest his savings to get 5 per cent. He is at a disadvantage compared with a man who has saved nothing, because the latter can receive from a beneficent government a sum of £247 per annum, which includes this new increase.
As another example, take a man who has saved £1,000. He is entitled to a pension of £167 per annum. If he wisely invests his savings at 5 per cent, he will receive £50 per annum. Because he has saved £1,000, which is the type of thrift which this House would surely recommend, his total income will be only £217, whereas his neighbour next door who might well have used his earnings in riotous living prior to his retirement can receive a full pension of £247. Is this equitable? We say that it is a deterrent to thrift and we must explore every avenue to try to find a means to correct this position.
– Who says this? Not the Government.
– I say it. I am talking as a member and I know that many of my colleagues on this side of the House endorse entirely the proposition I have stated.
What steps are taken to qualify for a pension? Because this situation exists which I have endeavoured to outline, we find, as members, that we have to go intoquite a long story with the would-be applicant for a pension. We must show him that if he has no superannuation or only a low figure of superannuation or other income, but also has savings, he should apply his savings so that he will receive an annuity. An annuity which provides an income of up to 70s. a week to the pensioner is regarded as permissible income.
We have to explain to elderly people who have saved a few hundred pounds that if they are prepared to take the very big step of handing over their savings - maybe £700, £1,000, £1,200 or more- so that this sum is no longer standing to their credit in a bank account and employ that money in the purchase of an annuity either from a relative or an insurance company, it is quite probable, unless their savings are very high and their annuity in excess of 70s. a week, that they can receive a full pension. Sometimes an old person will come back with his face showing bewilderment. He is not accustomed to giving away that which he has carefully saved year by year during his working life.
It is a very big decision indeed for any of our elderly citizens to-day to apply their savings to the purchase of an annuity. If they are not prepared to do this, their friends advise them to re-furnish or to repaint their houses and so use up some of their savings. Again they say, “ But I am not accustomed to spending £200 on painting my house. My furniture will do me until I die. Why do I have to spend my money in these ways? “ Many of them turn to stocking their wardrobes with clothing so that for the next five or ten years, if they live that long, they will not have to buy new clothing. This is a means adopted by some of them to use their savings.
Then, what about expensive holidays? It is nice to see some of our elderly citizens, before they reach the end of the road, going on a decent holiday. I hope that they enjoy it and come back refreshed. But the point is that many of them, not really wanting a holiday, find it is wise to have one and to spend some of the savings that rob them of a full pension. It is significant that a few days ago one ship moving out from Australia’s shores carried no fewer than 400 widows, many of them no doubt spending before the age of 60 years some of their savings so that they may get some income from the Government by the provision of the pension. Many scientific plans have been devised by friends of people who are nearing the age of 60 or 65 years so that they can dispose of assets before their retirement.
The proposition that I bring to the House in the few moments that, I trust, remain to me is that this position can be rectified by removing the present property means test ceiling of £2,250 for a single person or £4,500 for a married couple, and by making a slight but very important change in the formula. At present, the formula provides that £1 will be deducted from the base pension for every £10 of the excess property. I have given figures to show how the formula operates. I recommend that it be altered to provide for a deduction of £1 for every £20 of the excess property. This would be the result: A person with property worth £2,500 would receive a pension of £132 and his £2,500 invested at 5 per cent, would return to him £125. The total is £257, after allowing for an income of £10 from the £200 in respect of which there is an exemption. The second example concerns the person with £1,000. He would receive a pension of £207 and £50 from his investment. He again would have an income of £257. The person with £700 would receive a pension of £222 and £35 from his savings, if they were invested. He, like the others, would receive the full amount of the new base pension provided by the bill. All those with savings up to £5,150 would receive some pension, and this would offset the situation that exists now, where the thriftless and carefree person with no savings receives a base pension of £247.
These figures, I think, amply demonstrate the justness of my claim that the Minister and the Government should take urgent action to remedy the situation. We have talked about this long enough and I suggest that the day has come when, for the expenditure of only an additional £2,500,000, this very admirable liberalization of the property means test is within our reach. It should be done in the interests of those who have made a contribution to the development of this country by saving and by being careful. I think of members of the Fixed Income Association in Western Australia who have come to me time and time again with their requests. They say, “ We were professional men a few years ago; we were white collar workers. We carried our responsibilities in this sphere or in that. We were taught to be prudent and to put away our savings. We have invested our money in Commonwealth bonds year after year, and to-day we find that our savings will not bring in a reasonable income on which we can live. When we would like a little pension to make up our income from our investments to the level of the normal base pension, it is denied to us because of the property means test.” I can only say to them, “ 1 recognize your difficulty. I praise your prudence. I commend you for being thrifty and for working in the interests of a growing Australia. I hope the day will come when I, with my colleagues, can persuade the Government to remove this deterrent, this obstacle against your thrift, and give you that which I consider you justly deserve,”
We ask for nothing more than a levelling off process so that the thrifty are not placed at a disadvantage as against their nonthrifty and perhaps thoughtless neighbours.
.- The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Cleaver) concluded with an appeal to the Government to amend the property means test, and he put forward a plan which would enable this to be done. He used the word “ We “. I do not know whether he referred to the committee of which he is a member. However, I doubt whether his plea is anything more than a lot of political humbug. If he is sincere, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) may be willing to move an amendment along the lines that the honorable member has suggested. We will then see just how sincere these honorable members on the Government side are in their ranting about the need for this amelioration of the means test.
The honorable member for Swan chided the honorable member for Batman and said that at long last an Opposition member was concerned about property owners. I remind the honorable member tor Swan that the honorable member for Batman made an appeal on this matter to this Government before the honorable member for Swan was ever in this House. Honorable members on this side have repeatedly asked the Government to ease the means test. Since the Budget was introduced, some Government back-benchers have started great campaigns, but I suggest that they are using this debate for the one purpose of speaking to their electorates. They are trying to save their political skins by claiming that it was not their fault that the Government that they support failed to do anything concrete about this vexed question of the means test.
The honorable member for Swan spoke about a contributory scheme. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) spoke his thoughts on this matter on television in Adelaide recently, and in a few words revealed that he held out little hope for the introduction of such a scheme. The . Prime Minister has not yet honoured an obligation. He and a former Minister for Social Services who is now the Minister for Defence (Mr. Townley) had a great plan to abolish the means test. I feel some sympathy for the present Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton). He has to carry the burden of trying to explain why the Government has not adopted a plan which both a former Minister for Social Services and the Prime Minister said they would implement.
There is no doubt that the means test creates a great problem. All social services create problems and in a debate such as this it is impossible to say clearly what should be done about them. But the honorable member for Swan should not shed crocodile tears when he speaks about the funeral benefit. Why does he not raise this matter at a meeting of his party and use his influence with the Government? If he is so concerned, why does he not vote for the amendment so that this bill may be re-drafted and so that the pensioners may benefit by having the proposed increase made retrospective to last July? That is the real test of whether the honorable member and other honorable members opposite are sincere.
The honorable member spoke about reducing to five years the residential qualification making an immigrant eligible for a pension. That would be very nice. Probably we would all like to see that done; but if the honorable member thinks it is a good idea, let him vote for the re-drafting of the bill so that a proper investigation may be made into that aspect of social services, when something might be done about it.
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, that I am so suspicious that I believe that an argument like that of the honorable member is just another of those arguments put forward purely in the hope of gaining votes from immigrants at some future general election, when the Government the honorable member supports and the legislation that it brings before this Parliament will both be judged, and when the honorable member himself will be judged by the way he votes on the Government’s legislation. It will be no good then for him to try to explain to those people that he was not in favour of the legislation, that he was sorry that the Government did nothing about reducing the eligibility period. If he votes with the
Government on this bill he supports the Government on it; if he wants something done about reducing the eligibility period, then let him vote for the amendment.
– The same old amendment that has been put forward for 50 years.
– The Chairman of Committees, who is so severe with us when he is in the chair, is again interjecting in his place. After all, he would not know very much of the need for social services. I am sure that he would know little about the need for child endowment and many of the other social service benefits.
The amendment is designed to have this full proposal re-examined - and it needs re-examining. Even the honorable member for Swan remarked on the fact that the joint income of a pensioner couple may now be greater, in many instances, than the amount that the husband earned when he was a wage-earner. That is true in about 8 per cent, of cases. I know of cases here and there in my electorate of men in that position because sympathetic employers let them work so that they may earn the permissible limit of £7 a week without affecting their pensions. That is very good. Of course, these pensioners will not be able to keep it up for very long. However, the existence of that practice is something like the Budget itself. This is a Budget which, all the way through, gives benefits to those who do not need them - at the top, to the wealthy people, and right down into the lower scale, where it gives more benefits to pensioners who are better off than their fellows than it gives to others. For instance we have the plight of pensioners who live alone in their own properties, paying rates, taxes, and maintenance charges, and who are reaching the position where it is almost impossible for them to keep their homes. They are faced with the alternatives of selling their homes and losing their pensions because of the capital they will receive as a result, trying to find some other accommodation, or letting their homes fall to pieces because they are unable to meet the high maintenance costs.
Because of such anomalies there is an urgent need to re-examine this whole problem. That is why the Opposition has moved this amendment. It has been said before - the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart) said it in this debate - that this Government, which is so fond of appointing committees, could easily appoint a committee to examine the whole problem of social services. The Government appointed committees to investigate such matters as taxation, defence and education. It appointed a committee to consider what salaries and allowances should be paid to members of this Parliament. Surely if a committee can be got together quickly in order to investigate our needs, this Parliament and this Government could find men capable of thoroughly investigating the problem of social services, who would examine all angles of the problem and submit a comprehensive report to the Parliament that would establish once and for all the needs of pensioners and how they should be met. My colleague from Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) said that this could be done most speedily. I agree. Such a committee could be appointed just as speedily as the other committees of which I have spoken were appointed.
Even if the Government did not want to go outside this Parliament for the membership of the committee, I am sure that it could find among the members of this place alone, from both sides, men who could thoroughly investigate the problem and make a sound report on the needs of pensioners. I do not think that any member on either side of the House takes any delight in making a political football out of social services. However, one cannot help but have some feeling against Government supporters who pose as the great defenders of the pensioners, who see the need for changes in social services legislation, but who repeatedly sit in their places and support everything the Government does. They support a Minister who, as has been mentioned before, has occupied the position of Minister for Social Services longer than any previous Minister. We all know why he has established that record. We all know why the Prime Minister gave him the job of Minister for Social Services. Kc got the job because he said at one time that he did not believe in social services.
This is the 50th year since the inauguration of social service payments. Surely it provides a great opportunity for the Minister for Social Services to make it a memor able year for the recipients of social service benefits, lt would be a great year for the Minister to do something worth while, to make his record as Minister worth while, and at long last to let us see the Menzies Government move in the direction of keeping its solemn pledge that it would not only maintain, but also increase the value of social service benefits and bring into being a scheme to abolish the means test.
As 1 said earlier, it is difficult to make concrete suggestions on how to solve the problem of the pensioners, because the problem has a different effect on a married couple and on a single pensioner, even when the single pensioner receives the supplementary rent allowance. Payment of the supplementary rent allowance is subject to the qualification that a pensioner may not receive it if his income other than from pension exceeds 10s. a week. That means that a pensioner may have an income of 10s. from other than pension, plus 10s. supplementary rent allowance, giving him £1 over the base pension rate. But if his income apart from pension increases to 10s. 6d. a week he immediately loses the 10s. supplementary pension. The proposal made yesterday by the honorable member for Lang regarding this anomaly contains a great deal of merit. I suggest that this is a problem that can be dealt with speedily by regulation, and the Minister could institute a system under which disqualification for the receipt of supplementary rent allowance will be according to a tapering scale.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– Prior to the suspension of the sitting I was dealing with the question of supplementary pensions and the plan submitted by the honorable member for Lang for an increase of the permissible income. As honorable members know, if income apart from the pension is not more than 10s. a week, the supplementary pension is not affected. However, if the income apart from the pension is 10s. 6d. a week, no supplementary pension is received. The honorable member for Lang suggested that when the additional income was lis., the supplementary pension ought to be 9s., when the additional income was 15s., the supplementary pension ought to be 5s. and so on.
I would also mention the mock battle that has been staged by those Government supporters who fear the pressure of public opinion against the Menzies Government because of its failure to honour election promises of many years ago, and promises made by former Ministers for Social Services that a scheme would be introduced to abolish the means test. I mentioned that, as this was the fiftieth year after the introduction of age and invalid pensions, it would have been a suitable opportunity for the Minister for Social Services to make some move to abolish the means test. 1 pointed out that the reason that he had kept his position as Minister for Social Services for so long was that the Prime Minister had appointed him to this portfolio because of his own expressed opinion that there was no need for social services. Since the suspension of the sitting I have checked this statement with the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly). He has assured me that it is perfectly true that it is on record that the Minister for Social Services at one time opposed social service benefits.
I am sorry that the Minister is not in the House because a constituent of mine has asked me to read a letter which he has forwarded to me. He stated in the letter that he had constantly approached the Minister for Social Services by correspondence but had never received a reply to his letters. I must confess that that has not been my experience. I have always received courteous treatment from the Minister. I always receive an answer to correspondence immediately. But this man who lives at Brighton wrote to me and said -
This is a summary of twenty-one years of my life. In 1938 I became an invalid from acute stomach ulcers and arthritis in both knees. The highest wage I ever received was ?4 10s. a week. By extreme thrift and self-denial, my wife and I saved all we could. My wife had received a small legacy of ?700. This combined with our savings cut us out of any pension. In 1942 we decided to build our home in Smith-avenue, Brighton, my wife put all her legacy into this, I part of our savings.
Four years later, his savings being below the statutory limit, he was persuaded to apply for a part-pension. The result was as follows: -
In 1946, I was then 65, my wife 61, we were granted a part pension of 7s 6d. each week. This meagre sum only increased as our savings gradually diminished, until in 1954, we received a full pension. On October 23 1954 my wife was taken to Magill Hospital, on December 21st, 1954, she died. Her last request was that if I sold our home, her share should be equally divided between our son and daughter - she died intestate. I struggled on alone until May 6th, 1955, trying to keep our home and my pension. It was hopeless. I could not eat or sleep.
Because of his ill health, he had to dispose of his home.
For our home I received ?3,880 net. I notified the Social Services Office, Adelaide, at once stating reasons and all particulars. Within two days 1 received this brief and brutal note - “ Sir, your assets now exceed the statutory limit of ?1,750 therefore your pension is discontinued.” That was all. No inquiry, no consideration, no sympathy, just summarily cut off. Apparently their only interest then was to get rid of another pensioner. My condition was such, neither I nor my family thought I should live to need a pension again. My son has 6 young children and a five roomed home - he erected solely to accommodate me two rooms and a shed upon his land. My pension being taken away my son and daughter agreed for me to invest ?3,000 in Commonwealth Bonds, receive and use the interest from same until this persecuting Means Test was abolished as promised 10 years ago by Mr. Menzies. In March 1959 having lost hope of abolition, I returned to my son and daughter their mother’s share by transferring a ?1,000 Commonwealth Bond to each. I sold the other and with the cash paid my son for the two rooms and shed he had built solely to accommodate me. This was their just rights!
My assets were then ?600. On April 3rd 1959 I applied for the return of my pension. After 8 weeks of probing and spying into my private life, and interview at 3 Almond Grove by a person who treated me as though I was a criminal being tried for a felony. This person refused every statement that had not documentary proof, signed statements by my daughter, son and self. On May 28 I received this note - “According to the Social Service Act 1947/58 your assets have been disposed of by way of gifts must be taken into account. This makes your total assets ?3,570, and I have to inform you that it has been rejected.
Because my wife died intestate, the pledged statements of my son, daughter and self were brushed aside and totally ignored. We are classed as liars and perjurers. My daughter is the wife of a Methodist Minister, my son an honored State Public Servant. My record of 8 years upon a part pension counts for nothing.
Sir, if I had been a schemer ; I know all the rules of this rotten unjust law. A world tour in 1938 and I could have had a full pension for 21 years - instead I, an invalid 77 years, have received a full pension for only 1 year, 12 years entirely upon my own resources.
I am accused of this crude and idiotic method of disposing of property. This is not only an insult to my intelligence and character, but does not make sense, when all T had to do when I sold our home for £3,880 net was to go through the degrading, disgusting trickery of purchasing my son’s home. Then my son could have taken out his share plus the cost of the two rooms and shed he had built to accommodate me, given to his sister her share, and with the remainder paid transfer fee and stamp duties &c. I could then have made a will returning the property to him upon my decease.
Can any Member deny this? By this permissible unscrupulous trickery I could have received a full pension plus all amenities during the last 4 years. Simply because I refuse to join in the unclean beastly orgy, to act by stealth, and put into practice a contemptible and filthy trick I an invalid in my 78 year am refused the return of a pension which if any discretion and discrimination had been used, should never have been taken away. This means that you are content to exploit my integrity. Simply because I refuse to sink my christian principles to the level of your degrading disgusting unjust means test. Sir, a Social Service should not be conducted like a criminal court. If any doubt remains of my integrity, I think that you will agree that I, an invalid suffering from stomach ulcers, arthritis and blackouts in my 78th year, should be given the benefit of that doubt.
This gentleman is incensed and disgusted with the Menzies Government which has promised, year after year, to do something about this means test. Honorable members on the Government side who have been putting up this mock fight during this debate on the social services legislation and who have been holding up their hands in horror about this property means test, will be judged on the way in which they vote when the division on the amendment is recorded. That is the only test that will be applied to them. I should like to see them propose an amendment to the bill on this aspect of the property means test during the committee stage. They know that in their own electorates great hostility is felt at the failure of this Government to honour its obligations. Those honorable members who hold doubtful seats know that the slightest swing to Labour could sweep them out of this House. They are putting up this mock fight in the hope that their constituents will be persuaded that it was not their fault that something was not done to amend the property means test. It is of no use for honorable members on the Government side to say that pressure will be applied and that something will be done. Pressure has been applied since 1949 but without result. The Minister for Defence (Mr. Townley) when he was Minister lor Social Services announced a plan that would wipe out the means test, but nothing has been done about it. In the meantime, people like the man who has written to me are being penalized. He had money invested in Commonwealth loans, and it might not be a bad idea if that money could be disregarded in the assessment of the property means test, thereby encouraging elderly people to retain their investments in Commonwealth loans.
I should like to mention now the invalid pension and that miserable pittance of 35s. a week that is paid to the dependent wife of an invalid pensioner thereby increasing their weekly income to £6 10s. a week. Imagine an invalid and his wife existing on £6 10s. a week! Imagine an allowance for a wife of 35s. a week! Yet this Government boasts of prosperity and “ Australia Unlimited “! The Government members social services committee should get busy and try to convince the Government that adjustments should be made to many of the unjust sections of the act. The legislation provides that an invalid pensioner may earn up to £3 10s. a week. The Government talks of rehabilitating invalid pensioners. I know a man in my electorate who is a paraplegic. He was offered work in a bakery cleaning harness. This was an opportunity for the man to rehabilitate himself and to earn £7 a week, but when he told the Department of Social Services of his prospective employment he was told, “ If you earn more than £2 a week we will take away your invalid pension”. That proves that the Government’s talk of rehabilitation is just a sham and a mockery. Imagine a government saying to an invalid pensioner, “ If you go to work to try to rehabilitate yourself we will take away your pension “!
I support the amendment that has been proposed by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, and I hope that Government supporters who have expressed concern about this legislation will, when the time comes, show their honesty and sincerity by supporting the amendment.
.- At long last the honorable member for Kingston (Mr. Galvin) and other honorable members opposite have shown some enthusiasm about the abolition of the means test. It might be wise for me to remind them right now that it is not so long ago that the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) put forward an extravagant proposal concerning the abolition of the means test which did not find very great support among the rank and file of his own party. The honorable member for Kingston has referred to what he calls the mock battle that has been put up by certain members on this side of the House in relation to this difficult problem of the means test. He said, amongst other things, that nothing had been done by this Government to abolish the means test. Of course, that is not true. I could quote a number of steps that have been taken, but suffice it for me to remind him of the amendments that have been made in the income means test, the property means test to a lesser degree, the abolition of the ceiling limits of combined social service and repatriation benefits which a Labour government introduced, the wider benefits that have been made available by this Government in the field of pensioner medical services, which include both medical and pharmaceutical benefits, and the provision of homes for aged persons.
This is not the time to debate the merits of the suggestions that have been made by honorable gentlemen opposite because all honorable members know the reforms that we have found it possible to introduce.
I should like to make one further comment to the honorable member for Kingston. He said that investigations carried out by the Department of Social Services were conducted in a manner similar to investigations in a criminal court.
– I did not say that. The person who wrote me the letter said it.
– The honorable member read a letter which made a statement to that effect. I accept the correction.
– But he read the letter with approval. He approved its contents.
– Whichever way the matter arose, the statement should not be allowed to pass without comment. We all know the methods that necessarily are adopted by officers in the Department of Social Services. I know that to many people who apply for social service benefits those methods can be and are unpleasant, but unfortunately there are some people - a minority in our community - who submit applications that do not contain the exact truth of their circumstances. Investigation is necessary to protect the taxpayer who provides the money for these benefits. As in many other aspects of life, the great majority of the innocent suffer at least some inconvenience as the result of the crimes committed by the minority.
A few moments ago I said that I did not think it was necessary at this stage to discuss the various arguments that have been advanced by honorable gentlemen on both sides of the House, nor do I think it is necessary to recapitulate at any length, at this stage of the debate, the various provisions that are contained in the bill because that has been done already. However, I should like to mention very briefly some of the main proposals in the bill so that I can base some of my arguments on that foundation. I hope also to introduce into the debate one or two new points.
The bill provides for the raising of the base rate of age and invalid pensions by 7s. 6d. a week for a single person and by 15s. a week for a married couple. I recognize the need to raise the base rate of the pension whether it be for aged persons, invalids or widows. However, I do not think that that is the complete answer to the problem. As the responsibilities undertaken by the Commonwealth with respect to social services have increased throughout the years, the problem has become most difficult, lt has become difficult, first of all, because such great funds are needed to provide the social services which the Commonwealth now seeks to provide. The problem has become difficult, also, because of the economic impact which social services have upon the nation as a whole. As we all know, they account for the largest item of expenditure in the Budget which was recently brought down. More than £300,000,000 is to be spent on social services in the current financial year.
I am sure that all honorable members will agree that any individual case, whether it concerns a single person, a married couple or married people and their children, immediately arouses the sympathy of all. But, unfortunately, one cannot legislate for the individual case. Therefore, I think that we must try to find a solution to other problems, apart altogether from the need to increase the base rate of any particular pension - a need which I have already mentioned.
May I itemize some of these problems, Sir. Under the first heading, there are the problems of those whom we may regard as the younger members of our community who are in need. Under this heading, I refer to both civilian and war widows, and especially to those widows who have children. We are indebted to the honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner) for the information about the needs of widows which he gave us yesterday. I recall that the honorable gentleman told us, Sir, that approximately 46,000 children of civilian widows and about 8,000 children of war widows are dependent upon Commonwealth assistance. In that category alone, therefore, the Commonwealth contributes to the care and upbringing of 54,000 Australian children under the age of sixteen years.
While I am dealing with this category of people. Sir, may I point out that, as yet, no mention has been made in this debate of the position of widowers with children under sixteen. The Social Services Act makes no provision for them. We all agree that the widow who has children under the age of sixteen faces difficult problems, and we all know the sympathy with which the individual problems of such widows are approached. But I remind the House that the widower who is left with the care and responsibility of children under sixteen receives no assistance whatever from the Commonwealth. Nor, as I understand it, does he receive any help from a State government. There are two exceptions to this statement, however. A widower having the care and custody of children under sixteen years of age is entitled to receive Commonwealth child endowment on their behalf. Where he is in great need, State relief may be given, but his circumstances must be extremely necessitous before he receives it.
I do not mention this matter as something on which I base a theoretical argument, because I know of several young fathers who, unfortunately, have lost their wives and who have the care of children under sixteen. It is assumed that the father will be able to continue with his employment and provide for his family. If the family resides in the country, Sir, an additional problem is presented by the difficulty of finding people to care for young children, especially those under school age. Nor does the problem disappear in respect of children old enough to attend primary or secondary schools, because, in the absence of the father at his work, the children return to an empty home, unless special arrangements can be made. 1 think that it is not necessary for me to follow the line of reasoning further, and that you, Sir, and the House will understand what I mean when I say that problems exist when children return to an empty home after school and are not subject to parental direction in their leisure hours. Therefore, I would deal with that problem not as part of a problem dealt with under another heading, but under a heading of its own.
The third heading with which I wish to deal covers single persons who are age or invalid pensioners. In the amendment made to the act as a consequence of the terms of the Budget presented last year, provision was made for the payment of a special allowance of 10s. a week to single pensioners who pay rent. Admirable as this may be, it does not go far enough. We all know of the many problems experienced by single persons who depend on one pension and who have to meet expenses such as charges for rates, electricity and fuel occasioned in running their own homes - charges which are almost as great as are those incurred by married couples. Yet the single pensioner has only half as much pension out of which to pay them.
The fourth heading under which I would like to discuss these problems, Sir, covers aged persons whose savings prevent them from receiving either a full pension or a part pension. In this debate, speakers on both sides of the House have cited a number of examples of the problems of people who come under that heading. The problems here, also, are extremely difficult. In so many instances, the income earned on the savings is not as great as is the full pension rate.
Quite a number of suggestions have been made about how the problems of people in each of these four categories may be solved, and I should like to discuss some of those proposals before I make my own suggestions for the solution of the problems under the various headings which I have given. We must keep a number of facts in mind. The first thing which we have to remember is that the total of the funds which can be made available for the whole field of social services is limited, irrespective of how the money is to be spent. There are several ways in which it can be spent. On a number of occasions, it has been suggested that all the auxiliary social service benefits should be abolished and that only cash benefits at full rates should be given. By “ auxiliary benefits “ I mean pensioner medical benefits, homes for the aged, allowances made by State governments to cover transport costs, and so on. A number of people have promoted a scheme for national superannuation. We have also had a plea for the gradual abolition of the means test along the lines which the Government is presently taking so that we can include the auxiliary benefits to which I have just referred and in due course achieve complete abolition of the means test.
I think I should now come back and make some comments under those various headings. I take the first heading - that the money available should be expended in the best way. It is obvious that there is a limit to the amount of money that can be expended for social services in any one year. There are a number of people in organizations who give a great deal of thought and time to this difficult problem, but I believe that they look at it as a problem standing alone and try to solve it as a single problem without realizing the full national implications involved. If we are to accept the proposal that all auxiliary benefits should be abolished and only a cash benefit paid, we then accept the proposition that the individual pensioner will be better off by paying all his expenses himself. I do not think that is true because we have proved by the auxiliary benefits that are already provided that it is more economical for the Government to use a certain amount of money to the benefit of a large group of pensioners, such as providing homes for aged persons, than it is for the individual aged person, whether single or married, to build his own home, having bought land in any particular selected area. We have also proved that it is cheaper for the nation to provide a pensioner medical service than it is for the beneficiary to be paid a full cash benefit and pay the full ruling rate for his medical, hospital and pharmaceutical services. Therefore I say that it is not practicable for us to accept the proposal that all auxiliary benefits should be abolished and only a cash benefit paid.
I come to the second suggestion - a scheme for national superannuation. 1 think this suggestion has great merit and there are many aspects of it on which we could reach agreement. But I am not sure of one thing in my own mind. 1 do not think those who have proposed this scheme have made clear what they actually intend by a scheme of national superannuation. I understand superannuation in the accepted sense to mean a scheme by which the employee makes a contribution and the employer makes a contribution. When the employee comes to his years of retirement he receives either a lump sum or a continuing payment for the rest of his life. Therefore, in a scheme of national superannuation I should like to know whether the proposers have in mind that all citizens will pay an equal amount into the national scheme. Do they intend that employers in the full sense of the word, whether they be private employers or government employers, will make a contribution’ to this scheme and that the Government, apart from being an employer of its public servants, will also make the nation’s contribution to the national superannuation scheme?
– What about selfemployed people?
– I thank the honorable member for his reminder. Another problem with regard to a national superannuation scheme is that large numbers of people in this country are self-employed. To what degree will they contribute to such a scheme? Will they make a double contribution as employees and employers, or will a special rate be struck so that they will contribute a rational amount?
Under the present system whereby the government levies a tax from which it finances the National Welfare Fund, persons on the lower incomes contribute less than persons on the higher incomes. The person on a lower income generally receives a greater reward - if I can use that word - or larger payment when he retires than the person who has contributed more during his working life. That, of course, is the basic principle of taxation - that those in receipt of a higher income contribute more to the national income. As I see it, the proposal for a national superannuation scheme gets away from that principle. All citizens will contribute the same amount to the scheme. All citizens, irrespective of their private means, will draw from the scheme the same amount when they come to their years of retirement. Therefore, we are getting away from the principle by which we have worked since federation.
For my part 1 favour the gradual abolition of the means test. As you know, Sir, one of the objectives of the joint parties forming this Government is the complete abolition of the means test. As I pointed out earlier, the Government has done quite a number of things in the years that it has been in office. I think that, regrettably, we have not gone fast enough towards the complete abolition of the means test. It is a great pity that we have done very little towards the abolition of the property means test. We have done more towards assisting those people who are in receipt of income and not owning property. Let me give an example. Under our present law, a single pensioner may receive an income by way of superannuation of up to £3 10s. a week. In the case of a married pensioner couple the amount is £7 a week. But the self-employed person or a person who has been employed in an industry or organization that does not provide superannuation and who has provided for his years of retirement by savings, whether they be in landed property, shares, bonds or cash in the bank, is penalized. He suffers to a great extent compared with those people who are in receipt of other income as in the example I have quoted.
As we know, certain assets such as a home, personal effects and a motor car are exempt from the means test, but where a pensioner couple have more than £400 in savings, their joint income from pension is reduced. I join with other honorable members who have submitted that that is a great penalty on thrift and a discouragement to a large number of our citizens who deserve better treatment. Once again I ask the Minister for Social Services and the Government - I have submitted this proposal for a number of years now - when discussing amendments to our social service legislation, to put those people who have saved for their years of retirement on an equal footing with people who are receiving the benefit of the income means test. On previous occasions I have given examples, and I do not think it is necessary to do so again.
Let me conclude by summing up in furtherance of this plea. We know that social services were originally to assist persons who, through no fault of their own, were in need. In the beginning social services were not intended to provide a living wage. As the years have passed, the Australian people have recognized to a greater extent their responsibility towards those of their fellow citizens who, through no fault of their own, are in need, and the people are willing and eager to contribute towards the alleviation of that need. As has been pointed out from time to time, there are some people who have recklessly divested themselves of their savings, or have not saved at all. It is not possible, however, to legislate for individual cases. While we believe, as I do, and as I think the great majority of the Australian people do, that social services are necessary for a large number of people who, through no fault of their own, are in need, we must continually give thought to the problems that are involved.
Therefore I say to you, Sir, and to the Government, that it is unwise and unfair for us to make a distinction between two classes of people who have been able to save, but are in different categories. I think there is an urgent necessity for us to amend our social services legislation, first in order to put every one in the community on the same level. Having done this, we should then see exactly where we are going with our social services legislation and what our ultimate objectives are. I come back to what I said at the beginning of my speech. I do not think we are meeting this situation effectively by simply raising the base rate of the pension in the various categories. I admit immediately that it is necessary to raise the base rate, but that is not the only thing we should do. I believe the time has come for us to look at this tremendous social service problem in a broad way, to set ourselves objectives for the next ten years and see hew quickly we can achieve those objectives, and to establish our order of priority and so achieve our objectives for the benefit of the community as quickly as possible.
.- There will be a great deal of interest in the division that will take place when the amendment proposed on behalf of the Opposition by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) is put to the vote, because a good deal of criticism has come from Government supporters concerning the inadequacy of the Government’s social service provisions. I am of opinion that many of the speeches made by honorable members opposite were designed to satisfy people, particularly those in industrial areas, who are represented at this moment, unfortunately, by supporters of the Government. Those speeches were designed to convince the people that their representatives on the Government side in this chamber are doing their best to correct the situation.
The honorable member for EdenMonaro submitted a very cleverly worded amendment on behalf of the Opposition, which puts the acid test on every honorable member on the Government side. I happen to know, and it is probably within the knowledge of many other honorable members, that pensioner organizations have been very active and have been canvassing honorable members on both sides of this House, with regard to the social service proposals. There is evidence to suggest that many of the gentlemen who sit on the Government side have been encouraging these organizations to believe that when the social services legislation came before Parliament they would do their best to have it amended and improved. Well, the amendment moved on behalf of the Opposition will give those honorable members an opportunity to demonstrate in a practical way whether they are genuine and sincere in respect of this matter.
I do not propose to take up any of my time in discussing whether what is being done now is better than what was done in some years gone by. I merely make this plain, bald statement, which cannot be contradicted: While it must be admitted - and I frankly admit it - that never in the history of this country have social service payments been regarded as what could reasonably be considered adequate for the needs of the recipients, there is no doubt in the world that if a comparison is to be made of values, then the greatest value ever received by the pensioner was in the regime of the Chifley Labour Government.
This brings me to a consideration of the reckless statements that have been made, and no doubt will continue to be made, by Government supporters in an endeavour to refute this claim by Opposition members. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon), in making his contribution to the debate, said that to-day the pension has a purchasing power greater by 15s. 4d. than it had in 1949. He said that the calculations were not made by the Minister for Social Services, but by highly qualified technical officials in the Department of Social Services, and were supported by the official Statistician of the Commonwealth. Well, I say quite frankly that I co not believe the Minister. I would like him to produce the statement by the Commonwealth Statistician that contains this allegation that the purchasing power of the pension to-day is greater by 15s. 4d. than it was in 1949.
It is rather significant that we have only the Minister’s statement on this matter. If he has a written statement from the Commonwealth Statistician supporting his point of view, why has he not produced and tabled it in this Parliament? I am firmly of the opinion that no such statement was ever made. Any reasonable or sensible person who has had the experience of living among and talking to pensioners must have been impressed by the terrific struggle they are having to exist to-day. If any person argues that the pension now is of greater value than it was in 1949, all I can say is that that person handles the truth very carelessly.
Let us have a look at the question whether the present rate of pension is adequate. We have had some pretty hard Ministers of Social Services in this Government in the past, but never, in my opinion, have we had one like the present one. He is unsympathetic in his approach to these problems. Every time we make a request for the correction of an anomaly, involving a little more expenditure on the part of the Commonwealth, one would imagine from the way he treats the request that we were drawing one of his teeth.
– A Shylock!
– As my honorable colleague says, he could well be described is a Parliamentary Shylock. In his secondreading speech the Minister said that the pension increase is more than sufficient. Sufficient for what? £4 15s. a week! Does any honorable member in this chamber believe that he could meet his ordinary requirements adequately with £4 15s. a week? Yet this Country Party Minister said that in his opinion the pension increase was more than sufficient! Of course he said there were other considerations. He said that we had the pensioner medical scheme, and that we had the aged persons’ homes scheme. But to show how this Minister tries to distort the situation, let me remind honorable members that he said that expenditure on social services, as a result of concessions granted, would increase by £22,500,000 in the next year. If the Minister was frank and honest with this Parliament he will admit that without any of the additional concessions to which he now refers the pension bill this year would have increased by about £14,000,000. Therefore the amount of additional expenditure is not £22,500,000 as a result of concessions; it amounts to a little more than £8,000,000.
Let us consider for a moment what these people have to do on this amount, which the Minister considers adequate to meet their requirements. I venture the opinion that it would be a physical impossibility for any age or invalid pensioner to rent a room for less than £2 a week. In many cases that would not include the cost of light or heating. If he spent the remainder of his pension, that is £2 15s. a week, on food and he had three meals a day, the average price he could pay for a meal would be 2s. 7d. Where can any one get a meal to-day for 2s. 7d. in view of the inflated prices that exist in this country? Does the Government believe that these unfortunates should not be in the same position as other citizens and have three meals a day?
Further, the pensioner could make no allowance for the cost of cigarettes, fares, newspapers, clothing, footwear and so on.
Evidently these unfortunates are expected to depend entirely on charity or on what they can get from relatives and friends. At night, in any of the capital cities all available space in every park, doorway and railway station is occupied by many of these unfortunates because they are the only places where they can obtain shelter. For the rest of their life they will be striving to eke out an existence on their inadequate pension payments.
Some years ago the Labour Government decided that these unfortunate people ought to be assisted to avoid what was referred to as a pauper’s burial and it introduced a funeral allowance of £10. This Government has never attempted to increase that sum despite enormously increased costs. Only recently I was informed by one of these unfortunate people that when he made inquiries as to the cost of burial, the amount quoted was £67. That sum did not include incidentals - advertising and. so on. The amount of £10 allowed by this Government for burial is only a very small proportion of the cost involved. Many persons in the unfortunate section that the Labour Government of the day set out to assist are still faced with the possibility of pauper’s burial.
I turn now to the administration of the social services legislation because I have heard speakers on the Government side commending the Minister for his alleged sympathetic attitude and for saving a great deal of hardship which would otherwise prevail. I wish to give one or two cases to illustrate particular points of view expressed by members of the Opposition. The first is that of a 73 years old pensioner and his wife, each of whom has a savings bank account of £1,000. That is an insufficient sum with which to buy a home because of present inflated values. An amount of £2,000 would not go very far towards providing a home, so they have left the money in the savings bank and each year it earns them £60 in interest. But as a result of having this £2,000 in the bank, their pensions are reduced by a total of £166 per annum. This Government is penalizing the unfortunate couple to the extent of £118 a year. In my opinion, in such cases the means test should apply only to income while the means test is allowed to remain. This old gentleman said to me, “ If I were able to work I would be permitted to earn £7 a week, but I am unable to work and the position to-day is that my wife and I, between us, lose £3 3s. lOd. a week because we have a savings bank investment which brings us in £1 3s. Id. a week.” I emphasize that. They are penalized to the extent of £3 3s. lOd. a week because of their weekly income of £1 3s. Id.
Let me turn to another matter - the wife’s allowance. There are some extraordinary cases arising out of this provision. I know that members on the Government side will probably say these are only isolated cases, but I do not think they are so isolated. I think that quite a number of people are affected in the way this next case illustrates. It concerns a pensioner 76 years of age whose wife has not yet had her 60th birthday. Their total pensions amount to £6 2s. 6d. a week. In my opinion, in cases such as this, the wife should automatically become qualified for a full-rate pension. She has to stay at home and care for her aged husband who is in ill health. She cannot supplement the income into the home and, therefore, she should receive the full rate of pension. It is interesting to note, when we turn to parliamentary pensions that the Government is not so rigid in the restrictions it imposes. It may be said that it is extraordinary for a man of 76 years to have a wife who has not yet reached 60 years of age. But is it such a very unusual case? The right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) has married recently and the margin between his age and that of his wife is very much greater than the margin between the ages of this pensioner of 76 years and his wife. Honorable members on the Government side interject when I make this comparison because they realize the force of the argument. I raised this question in the Parliament some time ago and the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) said that if the right honorable member for Cowper should die before his present wife, she would not qualify for the parliamentary pension. I have since received a written reply from the Treasurer to a question which I put on notice, in which he admits that if the right honorable member for Cowper were to die before his present wife, she would be entitled, without any question or means test, to a pension of £21 a week.
In my opinion we ought not, on one hand, to be so generous with the public money and on the other, so niggardly when we are dealing with other less fortunate members of our community.
I now wish to deal with the question of medical benefits. The Minister has put this forward as one of the concessions being granted by this Government which are of great value to pensioners. Let me illustrate some of the anomalies which exist with the case of an unfortunate pensioner of 71 years of age and his wife of 70 years of age. He is still working and receiving £7 a week. He pointed out to me that if he had applied for the pension when he turned 65 years of age, six years ago, he could have been covered by the pensioner free medical benefits scheme. But because he delayed for six ‘ears in applying for the pension he is now denied the benefit of the pensioner free medical scheme. During that period of six years he has paid an amount of £700 in taxation. If he had applied for the pension when he turned 65 he and his wife would have collected £2,500 from the Government in the intervening period. By remaining at work for six years after attaining 65 years of age he has saved the Commonwealth £3,200. But he is now refused his card under the medical benefits scheme. He turned 65 in 1953 and this miserable Government did not introduce the means test relating to the medical benefits scheme until 1955. If he had applied for the pension in 1953, he and his wife, without question, would both have been covered by the pensioner medical benefits scheme. Now they are being penalized. This is one of the anomalies which should be corrected without delay. But every time any one refers cases like this to the Minister he replies, “ There is the act. That is the decision of Parliament and I can do nothing about it “. He could do a great deal about it, administratively. If he found any difficulty he could always take the matter to his party or to the Cabinet.
Let me turn to the case of a certain service pensioner to show how this medical scheme operates adversely against a great number of deserving people. This service pensioner receives £4 7s. 6d. -a week. He has a 40 per cent, war pension which .gives him £2 ls. a week, his total income being therefore £6 8s. 6d. a week. He receives the war pension for a gunshot wound, which is the only disability for which he is entitled to receive medical attention through the Repatriation Department. But he is suffering from a number of other disabilities - congestive cardiac failure, auricular fibrillation, bronchitis and dyspepsia - and because he is receiving ls. over the permissible income, which is £2, this exserviceman has to pay for any medical attention required for this large number of disabilities.
Now I turn to the position of a retired Commonwealth public servant, because I have made reference to how, in this particular field, we have given preferential treatment to one of the members of this Parliament. This man gave 26 years of his life in the Commonwealth Service. He receives a superannuation pension of £4 2s. a week, and a war pension of £4 4s., making his total income £8 6s. a week. He gets no age pension, and has no entitlement to be covered by the pensioner medical scheme. He is expected to exist on that £8 6s. a week. As a matter of fact, the Prime Minister gets a daily travelling allowance, when away from his home, that is about 50 per cent, more than this unfortunate ex-public servant with 26 years’ service to the Commonwealth gets to exist on for a whole week.
I come now to the supplementary rent allowance. The Government has taken a lot of credit to itself for introducing this scheme, but it introduced the scheme last year only for the purpose of avoiding ail the demand that was then being made for an increase of pension rates. The Labour Party believes that there is every reason to argue that some special assistance should be given to those unfortunates who have no income other than their pensions; but to hear the Minister for Social Services talk one would imagine that practically every pensioner qualified for and received the benefit of the supplementary rent allowance. The fact is that 80 per cent, of pensioners to-day have no income other than their pensions, yet only 14 per cent, of the total number of pensioners are able to qualify for the supplementary rent allowance.
For instance, I have the case of a war widow who is paying off a war service home. She has a blind daughter. She gets a war pension of £3 lis. a fortnight. But she fails on two counts to qualify for the supplementary rent allowance. First, she cannot get it because she is not paying rent. According to the Minister, paying off a home is not classed as paying rent. She also cannot get it because she gets a wax pension which brings her weekly income to £1 5s. 6d. over the permissible income.
Another case is that of an age pensioner with a son in a mental hospital. This person is buying a home - not a very pretentious home, as honorable members will realize when I tell them that its price was only £650. She had to borrow the deposit of £200, and still owes £40 of that debt. She is now obliged to pay £3 a week in repayments. She did not want to buy the home, but was forced to buy in order to avoid eviction, and had to borrow in order to be able to pay the deposit. As I said, this unfortunate person is now paying £3 a week in repayments. The Minister says that that is not rental. He says that she is a property owner because she is buying a property by instalments. Although she is paying more in repayments than she paid previously in rent she does not qualify for the supplementary rent allowance. She never expects to own the property, but merely entered into this purchase agreement in order to avoid eviction.
– And she has to meet rates and taxes as well.
– As the honorable member for Bass says, she has to meet rates and taxes. Then there is the case of a widow who owns a shack valued at £250 in one of the outer suburbs of Sydney. She gets no income from it, and has no other income than her pension. But because her assets exceed £200 in value she also fails to get the supplementary rent allowance.
Now I turn to a case which shows particularly how unsympathetic the Minister for Social Services is. Honorable members will recall what I term the “ Loughlin case “. It concerns an ex-serviceman who receives an invalid pension, and in addition receives a war pension of 10s. 3d. a week. He applied for the supplementary rent allowance, but the Minister rejected his application on the ground that he was receiving 3d. a week over the permissible income. On my advice he applied to the Repatriation Department to have his war pension reduced by 3d. a week so that he could qualify for the supplementary rent allowance. After months of waiting, caused by the fact that the matter was passed first from the Sydney office to the head office of the Department of Social Services, and then to the Repatriation Department, the advice that I received from the Minister for Repatriation read -
I regret the apparent delay in replying to your request, but this is obviously a matter which has a Commonwealth-wide application and it concerns the Department of Social Services as well as my department. It was also necessary to obtain legal advice from the Attorney-General’s Department
My department has now been advised that under the Repatriation Act Mr. Loughlin is legally entitled to voluntarily forego part of his war pension. However, I think I should point out that it does not necessarily follow that the DirectorGeneral of Social Services would approve of a grant of supplementary assistance in these circumstances. I think, therefore, Mr. Loughlin should consult the Department of Social Services on the above aspect, and in the meantime, as it may be in his interests, my department will continue his war pension at the existing rate until a formal request for reduction is received from him by the Deputy Commissioner of Repatriation, Sydney.
How kind they were to this unfortunate exserviceman! The Repatriation Department advised him to be very careful not to apply for a reduction until such , time as he had ascertained the viewpoint of the Department of Social Services. When I approached the Minister for Social Services about it he said, “Well, even if he does apply for a reduction of his repatriation pension to 10s. a week he still will not get the supplementary allowance because I, as Minister, cannot accept or recognize cases where persons voluntarily forgo any of their income “. So, if he voluntarily gave up 3d. a week of his war pension he still could not qualify for the supplementary allowance.
Now I turn to the subject of homes for the aged. To listen to the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) and the Minister for Social Services, anybody would imagine that the Government had done a tremendous thing in regard to the provision for homes for the aged. I took the trouble to get the figures on this matter. In this case I am accepting the Minister for Social Service’s own figures. The Minister said that up to this time 7,000 people had been provided with homes. As this scheme was introduced in 1954, that means that only 1,400 people have been provided with homes every year. Are honorable members aware of the number of aged pensioners in this country? The latest figure - and again I am giving the Minister’s figure - is 250,000. Assuming that only half of them want to take advantage of the homes for the aged persons scheme, and that there was no in crease in the number of age pensioners in the meantime, at the present rate of progress it would be another 185 years before the last person desiring a home under this scheme was placed. Yet the Government claims this is a great advance in social services in this country. The Government ought to be pressing on with the scheme, ought to be spending many more millions of pounds in providing homes for those people. No doubt the Government is working on the principle that it has nothing to worry about, because if it takes 185 years to house the existing pensioners who wan: homes under the scheme the problem will eventually solve itself without any intervention on the part of the Government.
Here is what the Minister for Social Services had to say about widows’ pensions -
Thus, a class A widow with three children under sixteen years of age will have her pension increased from £5 12s. 6d. to £6 a week.
I remind honorable members that we spend many millions of pounds bringing people to this country under our various immigration schemes. Here is an Australian widow attempting to raise a family of three children under the age of sixteen years. As she has three children under sixteen years of age, she obviously is unable to go out to work to supplement her income because she has to care for her home and her children. She is to get the “ enormous “ increase, according to this Government, of 7s. 6d. per week. Divided amongst the four people who are dependent upon her income, that works out at ls. 10)d. a week for each person. This is the increase that the Government is provided for widows!
I introduced a deputation from the civilian widows’ organization to the Minister for Social Services a little time ago. Members of the deputation put a proposition to the Minister which I thought was quite reasonable. They said, “ We are permitted only to have a permissible income of £3 10s. a week. We cannot exist on the rate of pension that is provided by the Government. If the Government is not prepared to give us a substantial increase in our pensions, at least let it lift the permissible income immediately so that we can go out to work and supplement our pension and help maintain our families at a decent standard.” That proposal would not have cost the Commonwealth Treasury a penny piece, but the Minister refused. He said, “ No. It would have widespread implications. If I do it in this case I will be pressed to ease the means test in respect of other social service benefits.”
Let me refer to the unemployment and sickness benefits and the means test that applies to those social services. I contacted the Minister wanting to know why, in respect of unemployed citizens and those who are unable to work because of illness, their allowances began decreasing the moment their income rose above £2 per week. The Minister wrote to me and said this -
A married person with a child can now receive earnings up to £8 2s. 6d. a week before being disqualified from unemployment benefit.
I say that that is deliberately misleading because a person cannot get £8 2s. 6d. a week without affecting his unemployment benefit. The moment he gets over £2 a week his unemployment benefit is automatically reduced by whatever amount he earns above £2 a week. It is completely misleading to say that an unemployed man with a wife and one dependent child can earn £8 2s. 6d. before being disqualified from unemployment benefit. The Minister may argue that his statement was correct. It is quite true that a man’s unemployment benefit does not completely disappear until he receives £8 2s. 6d. a week; but his unemployment benefit begins to fall from the time he begins to receive a separate income of more than £2 a week.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- At the very outset, I want to pay an unqualified tribute to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton). I have long been associated with him and I know him as a man of very kindly disposition. I know that he will give the age, invalid and other pensioners in Australia the best possible deal. I want to remind members of the Opposition and Government supporters also that a Minister does not always determine what legislation he is to present to this House. A personal attack on a Minister such as that made on the Minister for Social Services by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) is one of the unfairest tricks in politics.
This is not a new practice. I do not say that the Opposition alone is to blame in this respect. I recall that when the late Mr. Claude Barnard was Minister for Repatriation in a Labour government, members of the present Government parties, which were then in opposition, made attacks on him. They said, “This man is hard. He will not do anything for returned soldiers “. It is on record in “ Hansard “ that I had pointed out that, most probably, Mr. Barnard was not the man responsible for the legislation. Questions which I asked subsequently in the House and which were answered by the then respected leader of the Labour Party, Mr. Chifley, proved that I had been right.
Everybody knows that Mr. Barnard was a man who would do all that he could for ex-servicemen and for pensioners generally. I paid him that tribute. Yet to-night when the honorable member for East Sydney engaged in character assassination against the present Minister for Social Services, a man of high principles, other members of the Opposition supported him, saying, “ Hear, hear! “ When I see the efficient job that the honorable member for East Sydney is doing in character assassination, I start to wonder if there is any hope for the elected representatives of the people who are members of the Australian Labour Party. How can I answer the honorable member for East Sydney?
– You have not a hope.
– For once, the Opposition is perfectly correct. I cannot answer him because I cannot stoop to the depths of degradation that he reached. There are certain things in party politics that people can do to gain advantages. Sometimes they are unfair advantages, but we take them. However, we do not try to answer such attacks as have been made to-night by the honorable member - the honorable member, mind you - for East Sydney.
The logic of the member for East Sydney is often astray, but probably it has never been further astray than it was to-night. He told the Government to speed up its provision of homes for the aged because, at the present rate at which homes were being supplied, it would be 185 years before the last aged person was accommodated.
– You will get there.
– I am in no hurry. When the tumult of interjections dies, I will continue. I say, subject to correction, that the honorable member for East Sydney said that it would be 185 years before the last aged person was accommodated. That sounds spectacular. But the fact is that the task of providing accommodation will never end. If the honorable member had said that it would take 2,000 years he would have been just as correct, because every year more and more people reach the prescribed age and become elegible. It is not possible to determine a period of 150 years or 200 years. The demand will continue to increase as more and more people become eligible. But the honorable member for East Sydney, in his usual style, decided to state a number. It reminds me of the old trick in which one is told to think of a number, and add another to it, and so on. The honorable member thought, no doubt, that a good round figure would be 185 years. Surely honorable members can see how foolish this is. Aged people are becoming eligible for homes all the time. To be extreme I may say it will be thousands of years before the Government catches up with the demand because more people are becoming eligible for them all the time. That is the kind of logic that we hear from the honorable member for East Sydney. The real fact about homes for the aged is that this Government introduced the relevant legislation in the early part of the ten years that it has been in office. One honorable member opposite had the audacity to say that he had advocated that instead of the Commonwealth contributing £1 for £1 with the States, it should contribute £2 for £1, and that finally the Government had agreed to contribute on the basis of £2 for £1 - acting, of course, on his suggestion. The Labour Party is absolutely devoid of ideas to give more amenities to pensioners. The proposal to provide homes for the aged did not come from the Labour Party. When the Labour Party heard about the proposal, it said, “This is good. We must get on this band wagon somehow, even if we have to crawl on to it.” And that is exactly what the Labour Party did! It tried to crawl on to the band wagon. As the conductors on the old cable trams, and as the drivers of the buggies used to do, the Government whipped behind and said, “ Let us push them right off the band wagon, because they are not entitled to travel on it “.
– The scheme was in operation in South Australia before this Government introduced it.
– The honorable member for Port Adelaide has interjected and has referred to some State matter. This is the Commonwealth Parliament. The honorable member does not seem to realize that, and he is seeking to introduce State matters that cannot be connected with the Commonwealth Parliament. I said that the scheme had not been thought df by members of the Labour Party in the Commonwealth Parliament, and when it was introduced they wanted to share in the credit as much as they could.
The honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) opened the debate on this measure for the Labour Party.
– It was a good speech too.
– It has been said that the honorable member made a good speech. I do not detract from him. Probably he made a good Labour Party speech. He proposed, as an amendment -
That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: - “ the bill be withdrawn and re-drafted to provide rates of social service payments adequate to present living costs and representing a fair and reasonable share of the national income, such rates to take effect as from the first pension pay-day in July, 1959.”
The first part of the amendment does not state any specific proposal. Later in his speech the honorable member said that he had not been specific so that the Government would not be able to say that any rate that he proposed was too high or too low. He did not have the courage to state any figure. I interjected at the time, and said, “ It is very tricky “ and the honorable member for Eden-Monaro then showed that he did not have any debating force whatever, because he became abusive. Everybody who debates knows that once a man becomes abusive he is meeting heavy weather and has lost his case. He replied to my interjection by saying -
To the devious mind of the honorable member for Mallee, I suggest, all things may be tricky.
– That was not abusive.
– It may not be abusive in your language, because your code is different from mine. There are different grades of abuse apparently. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro also asked that the application of the terms of his amendment, if carried, should be made retrospective. I have been in this House for a few years, and I thought that I would look at “ Hansard “.
– You have told us that one before.
– If I have told it before, it is worth telling again. I looked at the debate on the Social Services Consolidation Bill 1948. “Hansard” of 13th October, 1948, reports Mr. Harrison, later Sir Eric Harrison, who was then the honorable member for Wentworth, as moving -
That the words “ day on which it receives the Royal Assent” be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “first day of July, One thousand nine hundred and fortyeight “.
The clause, if so amended, would then have read -
This act shall come into operation on the 1st day of July, One thousand nine hundred and fortyeight.
I have referred to that debate to show that no Government will allow the Opposition to take the business of the House out of its hands. Rightly so!
– How did you vote?
– I voted in the normal way that Opposition members vote. You will do the same thing. It is proposed that these increases will come into operation on the first pay-day after 1st October, lt must be remembered that this Government has presented budgets much earlier than they were presented by Labour when it was in office and, therefore, on the average, any increases that have been granted have come into operation at least a month earlier than they otherwise would have. Returning to the matter of retrospectivity, in 1948 the then Opposition proposed an amendment in much the same way as the Opposition is doing to-day. I am’ not trying to protect the Government. We see the same thing happening, no matter what party is in opposition. Let us now see who voted against the proposed amendment in 1948 to make the payment retrospective to the first pay-day in July. One of the first names that I see is Calwell, A. A. followed by Clark, J. J. Then comes Daly, F. M.
– Order! I suggest that the House come to order, otherwise some honorable members may find that they are not in this House, whether it is for the aged or otherwise.
– Then we come to the Labour Party Whip, Duthie, G. W. A. We move on quickly to none other than Fraser, A. D. Wouldn’t that rock you! Here is the man who has moved the amendment that is now before us, the man who has risen in this House, and who would give the impression that he is sincere. He had me tricked until I read this “ Hansard “ - I thought that he was sincere. As I do not wish to be abusive, I shall let the matter stand at that. The next name that we see is Haylen, L. C. Later we come to Lawson, George, and a little further down the list we see O’Connor, W. P. Later on we come to Pollard, R. T., and Riordan, W. J. F., who is away just now. Then we come finally to Ward, E. J. All the members to whom I have referred act in different ways when in office and when in opposition. All Oppositions are the same. I am not trying to protect one Opposition against another. Some members of the present Government parties voted for that amendment. Although I have been in this House only thirteen and a half years-
– Too long.
– Too long for you. I always wait for that interjection and I always give that answer. Only two members of the Liberal Party in this House now were here when I came here first on 19th February, 1946.
– Who were they?
– One is the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the other is the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt). Only four Country Party members now in this House were here at that time. I think that I can count the members of the Labour Party who were here on fewer fingers than I have on one hand.
– No, you cannot.
– Who are they? Anyway, there are not many more. The activities of an Opposition do not change. It is time that the people knew the facts about these things. This Government does not intend to let Labour take over the business of the Parliament when in opposition, and the Australian Labour Party, when it was in office, did not allow the Australian Country Party and the Liberal Party of Australia, as the Opposition, to take over the business of the Parliament. No Government would allow an opposition to take control of parliamentary business, and that is why these things happen.
I want to mention something else now. We know that, in 1947, the base rate was increased by 5s., to 37s. 6d. a week.
– The base rate of what?
– Age and invalid pensions. In 1948, the base rate was increased from 37s. 6d. a week to 42s. 6d. - another increase of 5s. a week. I thought I would look up the records to see who voted for retrospectivity in 1949. But I was disappointed; there was no vote. The reason was that, in that year, pensions were not increased. I turned then to a question which I asked in this House on 14th June, 1949 - eight months after pensions had been increased by 5s. a week. That question, which was adressed to the Treasurer of the day was in these terms -
I ask the Treasurer whether the Government intends to increase the rate of age and invalid pensions. If so, will the increase be between 3s. and Ss. a week, as suggested in the press, or will the Government ensure that the new rate shall have some practical relation to the cost of living?
I asked that question because, in June, 1949, inflation was galloping.
– It was not even beginning, to creep.
– That is the response that I wanted, because the answer which I received from the Treasurer of the time indicates that it did not make any difference whether inflation was galloping or not. Whatever it was doing, Labour did not. worry about it. The Treasurer of the day gave me the following answer: -
No consideration has been given to a further increase of pension rates.
No consideration at all! I remind the House that, when the present Government took office, it increased pensions by 7s. 6d. a week; so, goodness knows, inflation must have been galloping. The Labour Treasurer’s answer continues -
The Government considered this subject not long ago-
Eight months before - and made a general increase ….
Age and invalid pensions had been increased, and pro rata increases of other pensions had been given.
– Why is the honorable member reading his speech?
– I am quoting from “ Hansard “, and if the honorable member cannot see that, he is more short-sighted than I thought.
– Is not the honorable member reading his speech, then?
– No. I shall return now to the answer to my question. It contains these words -
The Government considered this subject not long ago and made a general increase, and it is unlikely that a further increase will be considered so soon after that. The law provided at one time that pension rates must be related to the cost of living and must rise or fall according to variations of the cost of living index figures. However, when “ C “ series index figures fell about three years ago-
That would have been in 1946 - there was a great protest against any reduction of pensions. As a result, the provision that related pensions to the cost of living was removed from the law. Therefore, the pension rates are not now affected by the cost of living.
Despite that. Opposition members and Government supporters are putting up a case relative to the “ C “ series index. I have mentioned these things because my speech would have no force at all if 1 contented myself merely with attacking the Australian Labour Party without offering proof of what I say. As can be seen from the answer that I have read, Labour’s Treasurer stated Labour’s attitude in words that cut right across what has been said by Opposition speakers in this debate to-day.
The honorable member for East Sydney, a short time ago, said that, in certain circumstances, the means test as applied to war pensions caused war pensioners to be deprived of their pensions. But we must remember that this Government introduced legislation which lifted the ceiling limit of income under the means test in order to allow war pensioners to receive more income from social services and other sources without their war pensions being affected. At present, a T.P.I, war pensioner and his wife may receive, from earnings and social services, £16 10s. a week. This is a repatriation matter, admittedly, but this pension is affected by social service benefits, and I should like you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to note that I relate it to social services. The pension payable to a totally and permanently incapacitated exserviceman is to be increased by 15s. a week to £12 5s. a week, and the allowance payable to the wife of a T.P.I, pensioner will be £1 15s. 6d. a week, free of the means test, and £2 9s. 6d. a week may be received in social service benefits, subject to the means test, making a total of £16 10s. a week. But if this Government had not raised the income ceiling, the total income of a T.P.I, pensioner and his wife would have been £2 9s. 6d. a week less. These are items that Labour members do not mention in this House, but of which the people should know.
I consider that all Budget debates amount to nothing. Any change in a government’s budget proposals is brought about by events at government party meetings. No change has been made in the financial provisions of any Budget since federation by the advocacy of an opposition in debates in the Parliament. But changes have been made, as has happened in respect of increased postal and telegraph charges, as a result of discussion at government party meetings.
– Outside pressure forced the Prime Minister to announce the changes.
– Discussion at party meetings brought about the changes. It was only after that discussion that the Prime Minister announced changes in this chamber. They were not brought about by any pressure from the Opposition. For the reason which I have given, I regard Budget debates merely as a sort of safety valve. Members express their views in such debates and then say the same things again outside the Parliament, as did the-
– Honorable member for Eden-Monaro.
– No, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell). He made a speech in this chamber on the Budget, and then, in Melbourne, he took part in a radio broadcast known as “ Victoria’s Labour Hour”. In that broadcast, he said, “ This is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition bringing you- “
– “ Broadcasting on events in Canberra during the week”.
– That is so. Then the honorable member went over the whole old story again, as if he thought there was a chance that the Opposition could change things. Probably, we did much the same thing when we were in Opposition. I am not trying to protect the present Government parties from what was done by their members when in opposition. But the point is that Budget debates do not have any real worth in changing legislation. A couple of years ago, I pointed out in no uncertain terms - what I said is recorded in “ Hansard “ . but I shall not read it - that if members of this Parliament, whether they belong to the Government or the Opposition, want something to be done in the Budget, the time to work for the adoption of their proposals is during the Supply debate which is usually held about April, because, once a Budget is presented, the Government has already entered into its financial commitments and it will not change its Budget proposals. This Government would not do so, any more than a Labour government would. That is the situation, so all the talk that we have heard in this debate is really only a safety valve and counts for very little. The time to do something is when the Supply debate is held. If Labour speakers advanced in that debate any arguments based on fact, I would co-operate with them. All joking aside, any advocacy of proposals to be included in a Budget must be made at the time of the Supply debate and not at Budget time, when the Budget is an established fact. Those honorable members who have sat in this House longest know how true that is.
I just want to finish on the note on which I began.
– You are doing very well, Winton.
– Since the honorable member would apparently like me to go a little further, perhaps I may mention a matter which was dealt with by the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Jones) last evening. He mentioned certain index figures, and told us what pension rates were in 1948, what they were in 1954, and what they should be now. But he related all the figures that he had, whether they are accurate or not, to October, 1948. He did not seem to realize that Labour was in office for more than twelve months after that date and that during that period there was great inflation. If he had taken the figures from the time Labour went out of office the picture would have been different. I asked him where he got those figures. He invited me to interject. He said that the figures were in the Budget papers. Those figures are not in the Budget papers.
– How do you know?
– I have looked. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition apparently does not know whether they are there or not.
During the debate on the Supply Bill earlier this year I asked the Government to give the pensioners the best deal possible. I told the pensioners that I represent - those I met at Mildura and other places, and those from Rainbow whom I met in King’s Hall - that I would not support any amendments proposed by the Labour Party. When pay-roll tax was being discussed in this House I expected the Opposition to make some attempt to have municipal councils exempt from the payment of this impost. Several councils wrote to me suggesting that the tax should be abolished and I submitted their representations to the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt). I also told the councils that 1 expected the Labour Party to make some move in this direction and I said that I would not support any such move because in the past it has never given any indication of what the Opposition would do if it was returned to power. The amendment that has been proposed by the Opposition to the bill now before the House gives the people no indication what Labour is thinking. The newspapers weekly article tells us what Labour says, but I should like to know what Labour is thinking. I should like to know what the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is thinking, or even what is in the mind of the honorable member for Scullin (Mr. Peters) who interjects as if he wants some publicity. I sometimes feel that I would be a little apprehensive about knowing what the honorable member for East Sydney is thinking. I think I had better get away from that subject because some things are better not touched. He is more violent than the two other honorable members to whom I referred.
– He is a gentleman.
– I do not know. As a matter of fact he has even spoken to me on a few occasions. He had not spoken to me for seven years, and then we travelled in the same aircraft to Melbourne. He spoke to me all the way on that trip, but until recently he had not spoken to me again for another six years.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- As the member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) turned the Parliament into a burlesque show in his endeavour to bolster the failing fortunes of his party and of the Government, I was reminded of an article that I read recently in an American journal. That article is very appropriate to the honorable member.
It is contained in the August, 1959, issue of “ Scientific American “ and states -
On the mainland of Australia and the islands to the north lives a family of rather dull-looking black or white birds about the size of a domestic fowl. The Australian species, known as the Mallee Fowl, has big feet, rarely flies, has a raucous call and is seldom seen or understood by man. When everything else in the bush is still and resting the Mallee Fowl works. Its actions are suggestive of melancholy, for it has none of the liveliness that characterizes almost all other birds. It stalks along in a solemn manner, as if the dreary nature of its surroundings and its solitary life weigh heavily on its spirits, giving the impression that it has little to live for.
That, I think, is a fair comment on the Mallee Fowl of the Australian Country Party, surrounded by gloomy members of a decadent organization, with little to live for, depressed, frustrated, melancholy and not understood. That would summarize to a great extent the speech of the honorable member for Mallee. I do not intend to spend a great deal of time on his speech but I should like to make passing reference to some of the wild comments that he made in his few saner moments.
The honorable member paid a tribute to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton). I do not think that the honorable member will be surprised if I do not support his attitude on that issue, because we on this side of the House believe that although the Minister, with his limited capacity, is doing his best, it falls a long way short of the requirements of possibly one of the most important portfolios in this country. I do not want to offend any other members of the Minister’s race, but it is too much to expect generosity from a Scotsman in charge of social services even in a Liberal government. In the 1946 referendum on social services the honorable member for Mallee voted against Labour Party proposals which would have given the people of this country decent social service benefits. He was one of the people who stumped the country from end to end telling the people not to give the Labour Government the power that it sought. In this regard I should like to quote from the Australian Country Party policy speech delivered by Mr. Fadden, as he then was, at Toowoomba on 3rd September, 1946. I am pleased to see the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) looking at me in one of the few moments that he is awake in this Parliament. In 1946 on the occasion I have mentioned Mr. Fadden said -
The Country Party has always advocated a thorough and orderly review of the Constitution so that its provisions will meet the requirements of the changed national and international conditions of to-day. We believe that such review should be carried out by a properly constituted and representative convention.
Therefore, we are totally opposed to any haphazard submission of piecemeal proposals to the people, particularly in conjunction with a general election.
The Country Party is strongly opposed .o granting to this Government the powers it now seeks. Consequently, we advise the people to vote “ No “ on all three questions, and my colleagues and myself will, during the campaign, give considered reasons for this attitude.
The Australian Country Party, ever since its inception, has been opposed to social services. To-day its members stand in this Parliament and tell us that they have the needs of the pensioners at heart and desire to do something for them. That is sheer, downright humbug and hypocrisy, as exemplified this evening by the burlesque show put on by the honorable member for Mallee.
Why did not the honorable member say that in 1948 he crossed the floor of this House and voted that pensions be backdated until 1st July of that year? To-day he has said that he will vote against Labour’s proposal to back-date the increase in pensions to 1st July last. The honorable member is a downright humbug. He is confused and does not know where he is going. He gives the impression that he is sincere, but this is not the case. When his party was in opposition he was like a roaring lion, but when his party is on the government side of the House he is like a worn-out old tomcat. I must tell the House these things because I am sick and tired of the honorable member and those who sit behind him. They are completely oblivious to the needs of the pensioners.
Without doubt there are misfits in the Government. One is the Minister for Social Services. He is on record as having said, I think under the name of “ Peter Snodgrass “, that he does not believe in social services, that the people of this country are getting too much from the
Government and that they should work a little harder. He is a complete misfit in his portfolio if for no other reason than that he does not believe in social services. I do not criticize him personally. What I am saying is purely political. I think it is true to say that the Government contains many misfits. The Minister for Social Services is one of them. A submarine commander is the Minister for Air. I just mention those points in order to clarify the attitude of the Australian Country Party and its hypocritical approach to these problems.
It does not take long to explain what is in the bill. The Minister, in the space of a few short lines appearing in “ Hansard “ at page 928, told us the broad outline of the Government’s social service programme. He said -
The purpose of this bill is to give effect to the Government’s decision, announced by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) in his Budget speech, to increase maximum rates of age, invalid and widows’ pensions by 7s. 6d. a week, and to provide, in general, that the aboriginal natives of Australia, other than those who are nomadic or primitive, shall be eligible for pensions and maternity allowances on the same basis as other members of the community. Further amendments provide that a clothing allowance, payable by the Repatriation Commission, shall be excluded as income for the purpose of the means test on pensions and unemployment and sickness benefits.
That is the full text of the portion of the speech in which the Minister outlined the provisions of this bill. The Government says that it has not enough money available to do the things that have been suggested by the Opposition. Of course the cry of Tory governments, in this and other countries, is always that there is not enough money available for the social service commitments of the nation. But why should we hear this cry to-day when the Government reduces taxation to the extent of approximately £20,000,000 per annum - most of which will go to the huge vested monopoly interests, to the detriment of the ordinary people of the community? Those interests might well have been asked to continue to pay at the previously prevailing rates of tax, so that the people could have benefited from increased social services. This Government says that there is no money available. Everybody in this Parliament knows that if war broke out tomorrow funds unlimited would be poured in to ensure that this country would be protected and the sinews of war nourished. We quite agree that in such a contingency funds should be spent in this way, but in times of peace it has always been the policy of the Labour Party - and it should be the policy of any government that believes in social justice - to make money available for the purpose of peace, one of which is surely the important purpose of providing adequate social services.
I remind honorable members that during the last election campaign the Government adopted the slogan “ Australia Unlimited “. What must the pensioner think of “ Australia Unlimited “ under this Government, when the miserable pittance of an extra 7s. 6d. a week is granted to him? What must those people who have to submit to the means test in order to get a few extra shillings think of a government that says this is “Australia Unlimited”, while refusing to increase substantially the full range of social service benefits? Every one knows that since 1949 we have been blessed with good seasons for primary production. There has been a measure of prosperity, which has come about not because of this Government’s policies, but in spite of them. This being so, there should have been plenty of money available to provide substantial increases in social service benefits. What is the position? To-day there is prosperity for a very few people, and certainly it is not shared by those who depend on social services. The Government has continually refused to make increases in a wide range of social services, each and every one of which is vital to the persons concerned.
– The honorable member says “ Rubbish “. Let me remind him that the Government’s Budget provides £1,682,000,000 for the requirements of the nation. Of that sum only a pittance has been given to the aged, the sick and the infirm, while wealthy pastoralists from one end of the country to the other are living on money that they should not have, because they are in a position to pay increased taxes. Of course the Country Party will protect them. It is the party of the squattocracy, of the wealthy vested interests. I would ;not expect members of that party to support *he ordinary workers.
I remind honorable members, too, that the Budget provides for an expenditure of about £200,000,000 on defence. That will be quandered in many ways as it has been in the past. Our defence could be adequately provided for with a very much reduced defence vote, and the extra money could then be allocated to other purposes, among them the provision of adequate social services.
The Budget provides also for the expenditure of about £2,000,000 on bringing out migrants. Should we not, above all else, while bringing out these people, consider looking after our best migrants, the babies born in this country? We can do this by the provision of increased maternity allowances and other family benefits which are of such vital importance to the community. This Government has failed in the social service field because it does not believe in the policies that it has announced. It has promised to adopt these policies only for the purpose of persuading the people to cast votes for it. Let me say that these votes have been obtained under false pretences.
It should be mentioned also that the parties that comprise the Government in this Parliament to-day have continually, through the years, opposed every social service benefit that has been introduced. Despite what honorable members opposite may say, the policy of the Liberal Party and the Country Party, in this and in State Parliaments, has always been to oppose the implementation of social service benefits. When Labour introduced the free medicine scheme members of the Country Party and others voted against the legislation. Every great reform introduced in the social service sphere has found in this Parliament support from the Labour Party and opposition from members of the parties that comprise the Government to-day. These are matters that honorable members might well keep in mind when they are debating these important issues.
I hear much talk about the value of pensions. We are told that the pension will now be £4 15s. a week, whereas years ago it was so much less. The important point to consider, however, is not the rate of the pension but its purchasing power.
Looking back we see that pensioners were immeasurably better off under a Labour administration than they are under this Government. When the Chifley Government was in office butter was about 2s. 7d. per lb. To-day, the price of butter has just about doubled. When a Labour Government was in power the price of tea was a fraction of what it is to-day. It has increased 100 per cent, or more since Labour was in office. Sugar and many other basic commodities were subsidized by the Labour Government so that they would be reasonably available to pensioners and others. These commodities have increased in price to such an extent that the people cannot afford to buy them. For honorable members to say that the pension rate has kept pace with the decreasing purchasing power of money is absolute humbug and nonsense. It is an argument that cannot be sustained.
I am interested in a wide range of social services. I particularly direct attention to the position of age and invalid pensioners and other people who are dependent entirely on social service benefits, because 1 believe no other section of the community has been so adversely affected by the neglect of this Government. A few days ago, in quest of information, I put certain questions on the notice-paper, directed to the Minister for Social Services. I asked him when were increases of the various social service benefits last granted, and what was the amount of the increase in each case. Let me tell the honorable member for Mallee that the Minister gave me a rather extensive answer, which, with the concurrence of honorable members I shall have incorporated in “ Hansard “ in support of the comments I am about to make.
– Is leave granted?
Government Supporters. - No.
– Does that not prove my point? The Minister for Social Services gave me a written answer, and honorable members opposite have refused permission for it to be incorporated in “ Hansard “, because they do not believe it. That is the truth of the matter. I have here the reply from the Minister, but his supporters refuse to have it incorporated in “ Hansard “ be- cause they do not trust and do not believe the Minister. This is a damning indictment of the government of the day. I can only say that I am in agreement with honorable members opposite in that I do not believe the Minister’s answer either. As far as I can see, while it may be accurate from the Minister’s point of view, it does not provide any answer to my contentions. I never thought I would stand in this Parliament and hear honorable members refuse permission for a Minister’s answer to be incorporated in “Hansard “ in the speech of another honorable member, simply because they are afraid of the information that it contains. It is a scandalous and shocking indictment of the Minister, and it proves what Labour members have been saying, that deep down honorable members opposite are ashamed of their social service policy. 1 will tell honorable members what is the answer. He said -
In the case of -
No wonder honorable members on the Government side do not want to have this reply incorporated in “ Hansard “. It is a long way back since any increases were made and since that time inflation, under the Liberal Government, has galloped better than Phar Lap. The Minister further said, in his reply -
If I am not mistaken, that was before Mallee. He went on -
In 1944 the amount of maternity allowance was increased in respect of twins and triplets and in 1947 the provision was extended to cover each child in excess of one born at a birth.
So that not since 1943 has the maternity allowance been increased generally and not since 1947 was any increase made in respect of more than a single birth. Any Minister responsible for the implementation of a policy like that certainly should not have his answer incorporated in “ Hansard “, and should not be in the Ministry at all! The wife’s allowance was provided in the first place by the Labour Government, and according to the Minister’s reply -
The Government must have been looking for the women’s vote that year and it has had it ever since. What a scandalous, sorry and damning record for a Minister and a government to put up! It was sixteen years ago when some increases were granted, but to hear the honorable member for Mallee and other speakers one would think that the Government had extended the full range of social services. I will not read the rest of the Minister’s reply because it outlines the miserable amounts of increases that were made. Anybody who wants to read ft can find it recorded in “ Hansard “ of Tuesday, 15th September. All the dates on which the increases were given are recorded but the amounts are so miserable and pitiful that they are hardly worth the people taking them let alone trying to live on them.
There are other matters concerning social service benefits for which the Government might well be criticized. People would think that there were no unemployed in the community. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon), in answer to a question I asked a few days ago stated that on 31st July, 1959, there were 41,385 men and 22,238 women, a total of 63,623 registered for the unemployment benefit. In each State of the Commonwealth these were divided into a wide range of categories. But if one runs down the full range of social service benefits one finds no increase in unemployment and sickness benefits for thousands of people to-day who are unemployed.
In spite of what the honorable member for Mallee and members on the Government side may say, including the couple now in the House who are awake, about everybody in this country being well and happy under this Government, it might be advisable to remind them that in an answer given to me on 15th September last the Minister for Social Services stated that this Government had made 58,680 people sick because of its policy. During the twelve months ended 30th June, 1959, that number of people received sickness benefit payments. In addition, there are more than 60,000 people in the unemployed field. These people are receiving no extra assistance whatever from this Government. Because of its policy, no increases have been made in the amount of social service payments available to them. Surely that is a scandalous state of affairs.
A number of other social services in which other honorable members and I are vitally interested have been completely overlooked by the Government in respect of increases. There have been no increases in the pensioner’s wife’s allowance, children’s allowance and maternity allowance which I mentioned a few moments ago. A scandalous state of affairs exists in regard to child endowment. This has never been increased during the time the Government has been in office and as a result of inflation its value has been whittled away and almost entirely removed as a social service benefit.
The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) illustrated the desperate position with regard to the funeral benefit. It is almost too dear to die under this Government. The honorable member pointed out that the cost of a funeral is more than £60, and the miserable £10 provided by this Government is entirely inadequate. The amount of unemployment and sickness benefits remains unchanged and hospital benefits are restricted in many ways. One of the most vicious ways in which the means test is applied is in regard to sick and infirm people. The tuberculosis benefits could well have been increased by a government which boasts to the people that this country is enjoying a period of prosperity and bountiful seasons and speaks of it as “ Australia Unlimited “. Mr. Luchetti-
– Order ! The proper address is “ Mr. Deputy Speaker “.
– I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker; I hope that you will put down my lapse to inexperience. I shall now make what I hope will be regarded as some constructive remarks on social services and stress one or two pertinent points. First, I point out that this bill is remarkable, not for what it has in it, but for what is left out of it. In a time when the economy is said to be so prosperous, never has so little been given to the deserving sections of the community. There can be no excuse for the Government’s action in not backdating these miserable little increases to 1st
July. The honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti), who is occupying with distinction the Speaker’s chair at this moment, pointed out that this Parliament was adjourning from week by week, and that the Government was extending the time before these social service increases would come into operation because we were not passing the legislation. There is no excuse for not backdating the increases to 1st July last.
Honorable members on the Government side have said that the Government’s social service policy requires an overhaul. If that is their honest opinion they have an opportunity to give the policy an overhaul by supporting the amendment moved by the Opposition. The honorable members for Sturt (Mr. Wilson), Bowman (Mr. McColm) and Robertson (Mr. Dean) have said that the social service legislation of this Government does not go far enough. They will have their opportunity to prove their sincerity when the vote on this amendment is taken.
I understand that the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) is to be the next speaker. I hope that he will deal with the pledge made by his leader in his policy speech in 1949 concerning a national superannuation scheme. I have a copy of that speech here. On the front cover of the pamphlet is a glamorous photograph of the honorable member’s distinguished leader. I. know that the honorable member has had some rather painful differences with him, but I hope that he will make some comment on this part of the policy speech which appears on page 22. Under the heading of “ Social Services “ the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) who, on that occasion, was Leader of the Opposition, said in his policy speech -
Australia still needs a contributory system of national insurance against sickness, widowhood, unemployment, and old age. It is only under such a system that we can make all benefits a matter of right, and so get completely rid of the means test.
During the new Parliament we will further investigate this complicated problem, with a view to presenting to you at the election of 1952 a scheme for your approval. Meanwhile, existing rates of pension will, of course, be at least maintained. We will, much more importantly, increase their true value by increasing their purchasing power.
It is now ten years since the Government was elected and seven years since it was promised that a national insurance scheme would be brought down. Those members who are continually telling this Parliament what ought to be done should read again the policy speech placed before the electors on that occasion and ask their Government to do something about fulfilling it.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, in the long period of ten years that this Government has been in office the purchasing power of money has greatly decreased until to-day the value of the £1 is not much more than 5s. or 6s. Honorable members well know that accordingly the purchasing power of savings and of pensions and other social service benefits has likewise decreased. No government, irrespective of the amount of money involved, has whittled away to a greater degree the rights of the pensioners and denied them the justice due to them than has this Government. It should give them pensions and make available other social service benefits which will provide sufficient purchasing power to supply their needs adequately. It is scandalous that increases have not already been given and on that count the Government stands condemned. It is for this reason that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr, Allan Fraser) has moved the amendment. The Government deserves the censure of the Parliament on this important issue which touches the lives of all.
I conclude by saying that the increases proposed for pensioners and others can only be described as miserable and contemptible. This is a power-drunk and incompetent administration. It is saving a few pieces of silver at the expense of the aged, the sick and the infirm. For that reason, if for no other, it deserves the condemnation exemplified in the amendment moved by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro.
.- It would take far beyond the time allotted to me to correct all the incorrect statements made by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly). However, there is at least one thing that he said which should be corrected. He stated that he was quoting from the “ Scientific American “, but everybody knows that he was quoting from the daily news.
This bill relating to social services deals with a very large sum of money. This year, over £300,000,000 will be paid out of the National Welfare Fund for the purposes of social services That is £22,500,000 more than was paid for social services in the previous year. The Government, therefore, is increasing the amount paid for social services by £22,500,000, and that money has to be found by the taxpayers. As has been pointed out in the course of debates in this House, a great part of the taxation in this country is indirect taxation and is paid by every citizen. So, every citizen will pay part of this additional £22,500,000. It is no idle matter to increase social services in one year by that huge sum, and any government that does so is not ignoring the people who require social services. The statements made by honorable members opposite without due consideration but only for the purpose of listening to their own voices, are nothing more than idle and vague statements. The facts prove that a tremendous amount is being done by this Government in the way of social services. As I say, more than £300,000,000 will be spent this year in this way.
The increase of 7s. 6d. a week in the age pension granted by this Government will cost £12,700,000 in a full year and more than £9,500,000 in this year. That again is big money. I have not heard any Opposition members refer to the actual amount that is being spent. Instead, they jeer in a general way; they make general remarks but they do not come down to the hard facts of the case. They suggest that Labour has a wonderful record in the field of social services and that this Government’s record is something to be scoffed at. The truth of the matter is, as Opposition members well know, that when their Government was in power the usual increase that was given, if there was any increase, was the munificent sum of 6d. a week. This Government in the ten years that it has been in office has made no fewer than seven increases in the amount of pension, and of those increases two have been of 10s. a week and four have been of 7s. 6d. a week. Labour has never given an increase that could compare with either of those amounts. In addition, in every year of this Government’s term of office, there have been additions and extensions of social services. In other words, the Government has every year brought down a biD which has given further social service benefits. No other government has ever done that, and that has gone on for a period of ten years. But in face of that, we have the jeers of Opposition members that this Government has not done anything, and that it is letting down the pensioner, the person who is entitled to social services.
How honorable members opposite are able to talk in those terms is difficult to understand, but it is, of course, much easier to level general accusations of that nature than to examine the facts. I shall examine the facts and show that what has been alleged against the Governmentis completely unfounded. Not only has the Government made these very great increases in social services, but as a result of the good government that it has engendered during the past ten years, living standards are now much higher than they were when the Government took office. When the Government took office, as a result of Labour misrule, there were shortages of goods. It was very difficult indeed to get even the ordinary articles of food.
– Why does not the honorable member be fair?
– I am being fair.
– We had only just emerged from a war.
– I am merely stating the facts. When the Government took office in 1949, the war had been over for some years. One honorable member opposite, during the course of his speech, made the feeble excuse that Labour was governing during a period of war and a period following the war when the country was still subject to war-time conditions, and that, therefore, the Labour Government could not do anything about social services. Labour did something about social services in 1948; so, their excuse for not doing something in 1949 could not be that the country was still subject to war-time conditions. But let me come back to what I was saying when I was interrupted by the honorable member for Lalor. In 1949, there were tremendous shortages of goods. Of course, the reason the honorable member protests is that he was a Minister of the Government at that time and was one of those mainly responsible for finding food. He fell down on his job and he does not like to be told that he did.
– I think you ought to be a clown in a circus.
– There can be only one clown in a circus and I could never rival the honorable member for Lalor for that position.
There were many shortages when Labour was in office because Communist influence in the trade unions was very strong. The Communists had such a strangle-hold on the unions that there were constant hold-ups in industry and consequently great shortages of goods. We had what was known as the double £1; so much was paid for what was on the counter and twice as much for what was under the counter. You had to pay out that second amount in order to get the goods. That was the sort of thing that happened in 1948-49 under Labour misrule, whereas to-day, on the pension he receives the pensioner is able to enjoy thoroughly the high living standards which the present Government has brought about.
It is said by Labour that the Government was induced to increase pensions only by the fact that inflation had gone on. But inflation was going on during the years of Labour’s rule. I noticed that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell), by way of interjection to-night, denied that. If the honorable gentleman cares to read in “ Hansard “ the Chifley Budget speech of 1949 he will see there repeated references to the rapid inflation with which the Labour Government was unable to cope. Those references appear in the Budget speech prepared by Mr. Chifley, his own leader. When we succeeded to this inflation on coming into office we did the right thing by the pensioners. We increased pensions, yet Labour members were complaining, even at the time we increased the pensions, about the effects of inflation - the inflation which we inherited from them, and which was the result of their misrule.
Now let us look at the position regarding the proposed increase of 7s. 6d. a week in pensions. That means an increase of 15s. a week for a married couple and 15s. a week is the same amount as was recently awarded by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court as the basic wage increase. Now, an increase of the basic wage is not intended simply to meet the increased costs of a married couple. The basic wage was established primarily to meet the needs of a man, wife and three children. It is still recognized that in the content of the basic wage the needs of the family are considered. Also, there have been a number of prosperity loadings incorporated in the basic wage. So, in addition to the content of the basic wage which is based on the needs of the family unit, there is an amount based on the capacity of industry to pay. Consequently, the 15s. a week increase of pension which a married couple will receive after this bill becomes law is an amount which is equivalent to the increase of the basic wage paid to meet the increased needs of a man, his wife and children, plus the amount of loading included in accordance with the capacity of industry to pay. Consequently, it cannot justly be said that the increase of 7s. 6d. a week is in any way ungenerous. It is, in fact, an amount which, for a married couple, compares exactly with the recent basic wage increase - and Labour is always endevouring to link pension rates with the basic wage.
Not only is the increase generous, but it brings the purchasing power of the pension to a higher level than it would have if pension increases had been based on the cost of living index. The figures given by the Minister for Social Services show that the amount which will be received by the pensioners after this legislation has gone through will be 15s. 4d. more in purchasing power than the 1949 pension paid by the Labour Government. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) challenges the Minister’s figures. The Minister for Social Services made that statement on 3rd September - some three weeks ago. The honorable member for East Sydney is sufficiently astute to check the Minister’s figures and discover whether or not they were incorrect. This would be a fundamental thing for him and members of his party to do. It is apparent that any check made has not produced satisfactory results for the honorable member for East Sydney, so he does not produce any contrary figures. He merely makes the suggestion that, of course, he does not believe the Minister’s figures to be true. Fortunately, in this House we are not compelled to go by the beliefs or feelings of the honorable member for East Sydney. The figures supplied by the Minister stand unchallenged. In fact, they cannot be challenged by a mere dictum to the effect, “ I do not believe them “.
Members of the Labour Party during the course of this debate have been saying that the Government has behaved badly, and that if they were in office they would have behaved magnificently. This sort of statement has been made again and again during the debate. The honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) pointed out that in 1949 no increase of social service benefits was given at all. No bill to increase benefits was brought in in that year.
– Like last year
– The honorable member is quite incorrect. There was a social services bill brought in last year under which, considerable benefits were given. If the honorable member had been listening to my remarks he would know that 1 did not say there was any increase in pension last year. What I said was that in 1949 the Labour Government did. not introduce a social services bill. But last year a social services bill was brought in by this Government, which contained considerable benefits. In fact, it was that bill which provided for the supplementary rent allowance.
What happened in 1949? No increases of pensions were given by Labour. Nothing at all! Yet that was a year of greatly growing inflation, when there was a great cry for further benefits to be given to the pensioners. There was a tremendous cry for increased benefits. But when honorable members such as the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), the honorable member for East Sydney, the honorable member for Grayndler, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) - all very vocal members - saw that there were no benefits for the pensioners that year, what did they do? Did they come into the House and force the Labour Government’s hand? No! They were quiet, absolutely quiet. Not a word was heard from them. They did not have a thing to say about it. The poor pensioner they have been talking about to-night was not mentioned by them when they had all the power in their hands to do something for him. Some of the harsh remarks they made to-night rebound entirely on themselves, because they are the persons at whom the condemnations contained in their own remarks should be directed. Yet they come here and, in all coolness, make the statements they have made to-night, as though they themselves were completely immaculate. It is extraordinary how they can assume that garb and at the same time be such guilty men.
– There is a considerable amount of audible conversation on the Opposition front bench. I ask honorable members seated there to be quiet. There is too much noise in the chamber.
– I wish to add only one or two remarks. I want to allude to some of the highlights of the legislation on social services brought in by the present Government. There are such things as the blindness pension which is payable without the means test. Then there are medical and pharmaceutical benefits. To hear the scorn that the honorable member for East Sydney poured upon the Government’s pharmaceutical benefits scheme one would think that his Government had had a great scheme which had been in operation and had given tremendous benefit. We all know that the scheme that the Labour Government had in mind involved conscription and that it quite rightly was held to be unconstitutional and void.
Then there is the supplementary allowance which was introduced by the present Government and which has given benefit to no less than 70,000 people. That figure has not been used by members of the Opposition in the course of this debate. Those 70,000 people have no complaints about the supplementary allowance. They have found that it is of tremendous benefit to them. Again, in the present bill, benefits are being introduced for aborigines. That is quite novel and it will undoubtedly bring tremendous credit to the Government.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, at this hour I do not want to go further into these matters. I have endeavoured to be as factual as I could despite the efforts of members of the Opposition to get me away from the facts. I have dealt with this matter entirely on a factual basis because no facts whatsoever with regard to Government policy have come out of the Opposition’s speeches.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Costa) adjourned.
Melbourne Airport - Department of Works: Dismissals - Contract and Day-labour Systems.
Motion (by Mr. Cramer) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- As the Minister for the Interior and Minister for Works (Mr. Freeth) for whom my remarks are intended is not at present in the chamber I hope that some other Minister will convey the text of my remarks to him.
– I understand that the Government has finally decided to acquire an area of land at Tullamarine, a site to which it ultimately proposes to transfer the Essendon aerodrome. Perhaps, at a later stage, the Government will decide to utilize this area as a jet airport.
The request that I have to make of the Minister in his capacity of Minister for the Interior concerns the fact that if the area is required only for the shifting of the Essendon aerodrome, the acquisition of up to 20 or 25 farms will be. involved, also a substantial number of individually-owned building blocks, probably between 50 and 100 homes, and a considerable area of land held by private interests for subdivisional purposes.
The people in the area concerned who are likely to have their land acquired are completely in the dark about what is going to happen. Those people who have built their homes there and those who have homes in the course of being built are particularly concerned. People who have bought land on which to build houses are deeply concerned. Probably 400 or 500 people, ultimately, will be concerned in acquisition proceedings.
I suggest that these people’s minds would be put at rest or, at least, their troubles would be eased, if the Minister for the Interior were to get the officers of his department to send some sort of. circular as soon as possible, to all who are likely to have their property acquired, outlining to them exactly what the department intends to do. Everybody knows that acquisition proceedings are objectionable but, of course, all governments have realized that they are inevitably in the interests of the community.
It is desirable that governments should make the proceedings as merciful as possible and be as helpful as possible to those who are concerned. I would suggest, therefore, that it would help all those people if the Minister would issue a statement to them telling each one when he is likely to receive notice of acquisition or notice that the department intends to treat. I suggest that those whose land may not be required for some years should be told whether they are to be allowed to remain in occupation for say three, four or five years before ultimately having to quit. They could also be informed of the appeal rights available to them if they refuse to come to an agreement with the department as to price. I suggest that the circular to be sent out should clarify the whole situation.
I am quite sure that, from now on, a vast volume of correspondence will come to me and to the department in regard to this matter. I believe that a good deal of trouble could be avoided if the department would take some action along the lines that I have suggested. If a jet airport is eventually to go on this site, probably 10,000 acres of land will be required. If it is finally decided that only the existing aerodrome will be shifted not more than 6,000 acres may be required. In the meantime, it is highly desirable that some information should be furnished to these people. I make this request in a desire to help these people, the departmental officers, and the Minister in what is a very unpleasant task indeed.
.- As the Minister for the Interior and Minister for Works (Mr. Freeth) is now in the House, I desire to take this opportunity of again bringing directly under his notice a serious position of which he is aware and which has arisen as a result of action to dismiss, in the State of New South Wales, 61 employees who are to finish their term of employment next week. I am given to understand that 50 more will receive a notice to finish at the termination of next month.
This brings to notice the question of day labour as compared with the contract system, not only to carry out public works but also to carry out maintenance work in the various departments, lt is rather interesting to note the admission of the Minister in correspondence which he directed to my colleague the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) who only a week ago strongly presented the case of these men to the Minister and sought immediate action to have these dismissal notices withdrawn. In his rather interesting letter the Minister said -
It is not seriously contested that in a limited number of cases work can be carried out more effectively by day labour.
That is quite an admission from the Minister who sits in a Government which claims that it believes in the system of private enterprise. It is rather interesting also to note that the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) asked a question subsequent to the writing of that letter, but that the Minister on that occasion evaded the real issues. The honorable member for Banks wanted to know how many men were to be affected and what arrangements have been made to absorb them elsewhere. The Minister had already advised the honorable member for Werriwa that he reluctantly accepted the position that some dismissals were to occur. In reply to the honorable member for Banks he said -
It is true that we will be dispensing with the services of some men in the Department of Works. So far as possible, an attempt is being made to place them in other jobs, but that is not always possible.
Any one reading that reply would form the opinion that there was a contraction of available work in the Commonwealth Department of Works. But nothing of the kind! If the Minister is having difficulty in placing these men elsewhere - and he has expressed the view that he is reluctant to see them receive notice of dismissal - is not the obvious solution to reverse the policy of giving out work to private contractors, and to allow it to be performed by the staff in the department which he administers?
I have no doubt that he was playing safe when he included the statement to which I have referred in his letter to the honorable member for Werriwa in relation to day labour being more efficient than or superior to contract labour. If the Minister would produce the evidence and consult his own officers, it would be apparent that day-labour jobs are superior in every respect to those carried out by contract, both in regard to the quality of materials and workmanship.
It may be argued that specifications are provided to ensure that tenderers use material of a certain quality in the work, but we all know that private contractors have a reputation for evading their responsibility in observing the quality of the material that they have undertaken to provide. Even in the Australian Capital Territory, not very far from this House, we have the illustration of the great administrative building. The foundations that were put in by private contractors were so faulty that this country was faced with the cost - somewhere in the vicinity of £1,000,000 - of tearing out and replacing the foundations that were absolutely useless because the contractors had failed to observe the conditions of their contract. This expense was additional to the cost of the building.
The same position applies to the quality of workmanship. There is no doubt in the world that private contractors, in order to get the work, cut their price to the limit and they are then obliged to use al means and devices to ensure that they obtain a profit out of the undertaking. As a result, the quality of workmanship is not on a par with that of men employed under the day-labour system. The same may be said of the cost of the work because contract work increases the department’s overhead. The department may try to argue that the price quoted by the contractor represents the total cost to the Commonwealth, but there is the question of supervision, and the cost of overhead in adopting the contract system will increase.
Five years ago the day-labour force employed by the Department of Works was much larger than it is to-day. I am given to understand that overhead five years ago represented 20 per cent, of the total cost. To-day, with a reducing force, the overhead represents 33$ per cent. There are cottages in Canberra that were erected under the day-labour system at a much lower price than those erected by private enterprise. If this is not so, the Minister has the opportunity to produce the evidence to this Parliament. Let his own officers and his own experts speak.
In the east Windsor district of New South Wales where cottages of the same character were built by day labour and by private enterprise, those erected under the day-labour system compared more than favorably with the contract jobs in respect of the quality of the work, materials and price.
In Victoria, where an anti-Labour government is in office, the housing commission, I am informed, employs approximately 1,000 men and carries out all its own building projects under the day labour system. If the contract system were so much superior and so much more economical than the day-labour system, why is it that an anti-Labour government does not adopt it?
I could quote many illustrations of the advantages of day labour as compared with the contract system. Surely we have not forgotten the great St. Mary’s project that was carried out by contract. That project cost this country over £5,000,000 more than the estimated cost. Everybody knows exactly what went on; how costs were forced up because the contracts were on the basis of cost plus a certain rate of profit, so the higher the cost the greater the profit that was taken off by the architects and those who held the major contracts.
To give an idea of what is likely to happen, in the Australian Capital Territory, under a government that is pledged to support private enterprise, we find work being carried out near the American War Memorial by Civil and Civic Contractors Proprietary Limited. I have endeavoured to obtain information from the Minister in regard to what is happening there. I do not know whether Civil and Civic Contractors Proprietary Limited obtained a contract from the Government as a result of submitting a tender in response to a public advertisement, but I do know that Civil and Civic Contractors Proprietary Limited obtained a contract to build one block of offices at a cost of approximately £500,000. Since then - and, I understand, without any public advertisement or the invitation of tenders - Civil and Civic Contractors Proprietary Limited have now been given by this Government and by this Minister a contract to construct three identical blocks. That means they will build four blocks of a total value of £2,000,000.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay).Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I desire to support the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) in the statements that he has made in respect of the proposed dismissal of certain employees of the Commonwealth Department of Works. The matter that has been raised has a twofold effect, first, upon employment in New South Wales, and secondly, upon the quality of contract work as compared with that of day labour.
Dealing briefly with the question of unemployment, I understand that by the end of this month 61 employees will have been dismissed and that it is probable that another 50 will receive notices of dismissal at the beginning of October. It is unfortunate that these dismissals should take place, particularly in New South Wales, because if one looks at the latest figures that have been released by the Department of Labour and National Service one will find that unemployment in New South Wales is already high, compared with unemployment in other States. Unemployment in the country districts of New South Wales will increase. The figures to which I have referred disclose that, unfortunately, unemployment in country districts is high, and there are fewer opportunities to secure work there than there are in the metropolitan area. It is desirable that the Department of Works should reconsider its decision in order that the unemployment position in New South Wales will not become worse than it is.
I wish to refer also to the contract system as opposed to day labour. The latter system has been used by governments for very many years, and it has been used for a definite purpose. Governments which desire work of an enduring and permanent character, work which is entirely to their satisfaction, and work which meets their requirements, have found that it is far better to employ day labour than to engage contractors.
Briefly, the contract system means that the tenderer endeavours to obtain the highest possible price for the job that he does. Having received a contract, he naturally responds to his business instincts by endeavouring to do the work at the lowest possible cost in order that he may make the greatest possible profit from the contract. Unfortunately, in the past, many contractors have done work for both private persons and governments in such a way that, with the passage of time, very serious defects caused by bad workmanship have appeared, with the result that maintenance and repair costs have been extremely high. This does not happen under the day-labour system, which is particularly suited to maintenance work. That kind of work being of a special character, departments have their own maintenance men who are trained and who know exactly what the department for which they work requires. Such workmen, with their knowledge and experience in maintenance work, under the skilled supervision of experienced men, are able to give the very best results. They are able to do their work quickly and effectively because they are thoroughly trained in it. The department itself is able to ensure that the very best materials are used in its maintenance work and that the finished work will give permanent satisfaction. Surely the people are entitled to the best of materials and workmanship in public buildings, and to the best value for their money.
One of the great advantages of the daylabour system is that the experienced workmen employed know all the available shortcuts and they are able to do better work more quickly. Especially with the aid of the plant and equipment available in a big department, the work is done more cheaply. To me and to other Opposition members who believe in the day-labour system, it is disappointing that the Government proposes, at this time, when it is essential to promote the maximum level of employment, to abandon the day-labour system and turn to the contract system, particularly in respect of maintenance work.
The honorable member for East Sydney gave some examples of the effectiveness of the day-labour system. I should like to bring to the notice of the Minister for Works (Mr. Freeth) the work that is done by the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works under this system. That organization is controlled by the Melbourne City Council and the various municipal councils in the Melbourne metropolitan area. It has been in existence for many years, and all its water supply, sewerage and other works, including the construction of the many dams needed to supply Melbourne with water, have been undertaken by day labour. Only recently, the board completed the construction of the Upper Yarra Dam, which will hold 46,000,000,000 gallons of water - 150 times as much as the total capacity of all the dams previously used to supply Melbourne. The whole of this project was undertaken by day labour. I should like to point out, also, that only six of the 54 commissioners of the board are representatives of labour. The other 48 are drawn from the municipal councils. Many of them are themselves employers of large labour forces, and the excellent work that they have seen done by the skilled engineers, supervisors and workmen employed by the board has convinced them that better results are obtained more quickly and more cheaply by day labour than by the contract system.
The honorable member for East Sydney also spoke of the work done by the Victorian Housing Commission. At Holmesglen, a suburb of Melbourne, the commission has a factory for the production of pre-fabricated concrete walls and it employs a staff of skilled workmen who take the pre-fabricated walls out to sites by truck and construct homes that are very satisfactory to the commission and to the fortunate occupants. All this is done by day labour at lower cost than would be incurred under the contract system. Under that system it would not be possible for the commission to provide such good homes.
I am informed that the day-labour system, which has been adopted so successfully over such a long time by the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works, has been adopted also by the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board, in New South Wales, which is responsible for the supply of water to the metropolis of Sydney. I understand that all of the work done for that authority is now done by day labour. So I point out to the Minister that, in resorting to a reversal of policy which means the abandonment of the daylabour system in favour of the -contract system, he is abandoning a system which has been found by various important constructing authorities to be very satisfactory.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
- Mr. Speaker, the policy of the Minister for Works (Mr. Freeth) in adopting the contract system in lieu of the day-labour system in the Department of Works particularly concerns my electorate. There are many Commonwealth buildings and a great deal of Commonwealth construction activity in the military area around Liverpool, and a great number of persons who are employed there by the Department of Works live in my electorate for convenience and economy. In the last couple of weeks, I have received many indications of the uncertainty and disappointment created in the minds of these people by the Minister’s doctrinaire devotion to what he regards as Liberal principles. One would think, Sir, that any constructing authority - and the Commonwealth Department of Works must be among the largest constructing authorities in Australia - would seek to build up a competent, loyal staff and that it should hold out to its employees the prospect of secure tenure as long as there is work to do and as long as they are able to do their work.
I have received letters about the changed policy from men who have been loyal employees of the Commonwealth for many years. A deputation which came to me on the matter was composed of people whose service ranged from’ three and onehalf years at the shortest to eleven and onehalf years at the longest, and who had unblemished records with the Department of Works. There is no complaint that they have not performed their duties loyally and competently in the past or that they are not likely to perform their work equally loyally and competently in the future. But now, quite wantonly and unexpectedly, the Minister has decided to apply these Liberal doctrines. He has asserted that some economies will be effected. He has not illustrated how that will be done. The Hon. J. D. Kenny, M.L.C., secretary of the
New South Wales Trades and Labour Council, wrote to the Minister - many of us have supported his arguments - pointing out that the overhead of the department has increased where contract labour has been introduced in lieu of day labour, and instances of that have been given. The Minister in his replies has not referred to those instances. We can assume that he agrees that the instances were correct ones.
– Do not take too much for granted.
– Well, the instances were explicitly stated to the Minister in Mr. Kenny’s letters. We ourselves wrote for the Minister’s comments. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) has repeated those instances to-night and during three successive speeches the Minister has remained mute. He has not challenged the instances in correspondence; he has not challenged them in a speech; he just makes a non-committal interjection. The instances are there. He has had this warning. He has not refuted those instances. Let us assume, then, that they are valid instances.
Big contractors in the construction field, such as Civil and Civic Contractors Proprietary Limited and Concrete Constructions Proprietary Limited, in the interests of efficiency, make a point of employing permanently the full staff that they are able to use on their projects. One would think that if the Department of Works is to be an efficient body and is to follow the example of successful private contractors, it would adopt the same attitude. There is no suggestion in the Minister’s letter that work is not available for all the 61 people who are to be dismissed at the end of this month and the others who are to be dismissed at the end of next month. There is no suggestion that they are not able to do the work. There is no suggestion that they would not perform the work just as competently, quickly or honestly as any of the private contractors who are employed.
We all know of instances in our own electorates of contract jobs performed for the Department of Works where the performance has not been honest, competent or expeditious. I remember in May, 1957, asking the Minister’s immediate predecessor a question concerning the history of the contract to erect the hangars at Mascot and Richmond. It will be remembered that the hangar at Mascot collapsed, and the work on the hangar at Richmond was suspended. The work at Richmond had largely to be shored up and reinforced, but the hangar at Mascot had to be completely demolished and re-erected. Both those jobs were private contract jobs. One does not know whether the Commonwealth was put to extra expense in connexion with those jobs because the Minister’s immediate predecessor refused to disclose the terms of a secret settlement arrived at in those matters, but we know that firstly the contracts were not performed satisfactorily and that secondly they were not performed by the due date. Whether the Commonwealth had to pay out extra money one does not know, but one certainly does know that because of the fault of the private contractors engaged on those jobs Qantas at Mascot and the Royal Australian Air Force at Richmond were deprived for another eighteen months of the facilities which they said they urgently needed.
I wish to refer also to relatively small projects which happen to be near the borders of my electorate and which are in hand at the present moment. The Carramar telephone exchange was completed by a private contractor three and one half years ago; but at this very moment the Department of Works is employing day labour to underpin a corner of the building where serious cracks have developed. The Campbelltown exchange has been let to a private contractor; but the contract has been suspended for the time being while the Department of Works has engaged day labour to re-lay a concrete floor measuring 90 feet by 40 feet by 5 inches. There again work was let by contract, but the contract was not honestly or competently performed and day labourers have had to do the job. They will do it competently and honestly but they will not be able to do it by the original date and many people who are awaiting telephone facilities in the Campbelltown district will be deprived of those facilities for the time being because of the incompetent or dishonest supervision by a contractor.
The Minister in his capacity as Minister for the Interior has already shown his doctrinaire addiction to Liberal principles.
In the Grace Building in Sydney, which houses many of the most confidential departments of the Commonwealth - Taxation, War Service Homes, Repatriation - cleaners were employed until recently by the Department of the Interior itself. But the Minister has now put into operation a system of contract cleaning. Sixty cleaners were put off by the department and 60 other cleaners were employed by a contractor. The only difference is that the contractor also must make a profit for supervising his 60 cleaners. There are no fewer cleaners and the cleaning is not done as satisfactorily, according to some Commonwealth officials.
I brought these matters to the attention of the Minister three months ago. The Department of Immigration has refused to allow contract cleaners to enter its confidential offices in York-street, Sydney. In Phillip-street in Sydney the judges of the Commonwealth Industrial Court and the members of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, and, I believe, the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick), who has his lavish new suite, have forbidden contract cleaners to do the job. They have insisted that employees whom they know in the service of the Department of the Interior should do the job. There again the Minister has not achieved any saving in expense. He has not achieved any better performance of duties. All that he has done - I believe this is his idea - is reduce the number of people who appear on the Commonwealth pay-roll. The Commonwealth now pays by contract instead of by day labour and the only individuals who benefit are the contractors.
-Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– The first matter raised in this debate to-night was the acquisition of land for the jet airport at Tullamarine. I regret that I was not in the House when the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) commenced his speech and did not hear the full text of it, but I can assure him that the matter is being considered in relation to the order of priority of jet airports and some kind of decision will be arrived at by the Government as soon as practicable.
With regard to the matter in connexion? with which I have been subjected to some criticism, namely retrenchments that are currently taking place in New South Wales, I think it is desirable to try to get it into proper perspective. I did reply to the secretary of the Trades and Labour Council of New South Wales and, as stated by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), I did say that it is not seriously contested that day labour has its proper part in the construction of government works. It will always be, I suppose, a matter of some argument as to what precisely is that proper part. There are certain urgent works which can quite effectively be carried out by day labour - indeed they must be carried out by day labour - if they are to be done for other government departments at short notice. You cannot go through the rigmarole of calling tenders and letting contracts for work of that kind. Once that proposition is accepted you are faced with the problem of maintaining a certain daylabour force at a certain level to carry out certain work. Having done that you are faced with the problem of keeping that daylabour force efficient and effectively and fully employed. That is the kind of level of work for which this Government aims to keep the day-labour force. There will be - and honorable members opposite are entitled to take a contrary view - argument as to the relative merits of day labour and contract. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) has suggested, because of one example which came to his mind where some funny business took place, that all contractors are dishonest by nature and try to evade their responsibilities. The honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) tried to convey the same impression by quoting specific works where contractors had apparently not done the job satisfactorily. For each of those instances, Sir, of course, one can also point to cases where government employees have fallen down on the job in some respect.
– Your department’s own jobs have never been proved faulty.
– I will deal with that in a moment; but there is always the argument that pressure is constantly being put on the Government that it should not employ more people as members of the Public Service, in one way or another, than is absolutely necessary. The proposition boils down to this, so far as total employment is concerned, that if we achieve more total employment by keeping a large daylabour force than would be achieved in total by employing contractors to do a pertain proportion of the work, then quite obviously more men than are reasonably necessary are being employed to secure a given result.
– That’s got whiskers on it.
– Order! There is too much audible conversation.
– However, that is broadly the objective of the Government - to maintain a proper balance between day labour and contract in its Works Department projects. The situation in New South Wales is simply this: In that State in the post-war years, there were a large number of government departments with buildings and other projects urgently requiring maintenance work, and over the course of a number of years we built’ up a very large day-labour force in New South Wales because the labour was not available there through contract to do the job. This kind of principle which I am trying- to explain to the House to-night has been government policy for some time. In all the other States our day-labour and contract work is in relatively good balance, so there are no retrenchments currently taking place other than in New South Wales.
But several factors are combining to make the situation difficult. In the first place, the arrears of maintenance work which had accumulated in the various government departments for which the Department of Works is only the agent - the contractor, as it were - are running out. In the second place, there has been a Government decision - I think it is a wise one - that where a department has maintenance work which would cost less than £25 - and every honorable member will agree that you cannot get much done for £25 - it is far better and more efficient for that department to make its own arrangements to get that particular job done - it may be a broken window pane, some plumbing arrangement or something like that - than to go to all the trouble of ringing up the Department of Works and go through- the red tape required to get that small job done. That has had some effect on the total requirements of our maintenance staff. There is, as I say, this basic principle: We try to maintain an effective balance between the staff required to do urgent maintenance work and sufficient other work to keep that staff fully occupied and the general principle that by engaging contractors to do the substantial work we manage to maintain a stable and efficient day-labour force.
The honorable member for East Sydney referred to certain work that was done in Canberra by day labour which compared favorably with contract work, and the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) in his usual courteous way, produced persuasive argument to show that in certain cases day labour did carry out work efficiently. I will not argue about those instances, but to my knowledge the daylabour team that carried out that work was a day-labour team that had been pruned down and maintained at maximum efficiency. That is the kind of day-labour staff that the Government desires to maintain. In other cases, if you accept fully the principle of day labour and no engagement of private contractors, you must inevitably have a large and unwieldy force which expands and contracts from day to day as Government work comes to an end or as funds are used up>. That is the fringe of public works projects which the Government considers can be more efficiently carried out by private contractors.
As regards public opinion on this matter, I remind honorable members who have been quoting examples of Liberal governments using day labour in certain cases that the Government of New South Wales on all its large projects uses public contracts, and in my own State of Western Australia a general election was fought very largely on this issue quite recently. The verdict of the people, given quite unhesitatingly after all the arguments had been, placed, before them, was in favour of the principle of employing contractors wherever it was reasonable to do so.
Finally, Sir, I want to allay one cause of anxiety which has been mentioned. It was suggested by the honorable member for
East Sydney, and repeated by the honorable member for Werriwa, that a further 50 dismissals were contemplated during the next month. The day-labour position is that there were, at 25th July, 1,716 men employed. There were fourteen notices issued in the western division. The 50 dismissals will not take place. [Extension of time granted.] I am very grateful to the House for its courtesy, and I shall be brief. I was explaining the situation in regard to the number of men employed, the number who are under notice at the present time, and the number who will remain in employment. As I said, the day-labour strength, at 25th July, was 1,716. Notices issued in the western division to terminate on 9th September numbered fourteen. Notices issued at Williamtown to terminate on 4th September amounted to six, and notices issued to terminate at the end of September in the Sydney area amounted to 61, of whom ten were people who were only employed for the duration of a specific job - a total of 81. That will leave .1,623 persons employed in the department on day labour in New South Wales. It is not proposed to dismiss any further people on the ground of redundancy in the foreseeable future, that is, for the period of the current year at any rate. So, in some respects I am able to allay some of the anxiety that has been expressed by honorable members opposite. I have stated fairly fully to the House the Government’s views about the relative efficiency of day labour and contract, and I am satisfied that our policy in bringing New South Wales into the relative position as that which operates in the other States is the correct one.
.- After listening to the pathetic reply of the Minister for the Interior and Minister for Works (Mr. Freeth) to the charges that have been made by honorable members on this side of the House, the only conclusion I can come to is that the only crime for which men are being dismissed in New South Wales is that there are more day-labour employees in the department in New South Wales than there are in any of the other States. That being the case, the Government’s policy of employing contract labour in preference to day labour, must be implemented, and therefore these men must be dismissed. I feel, after listening to the
Minister’s speech, that this is the only conclusion that can be drawn. The Minister also demonstrated his inability to undertake proper organization, so that labour can flow from one job to another. If the Department were properly organized, men would be able to proceed from job to job and the Minister would not have this excuse available to him.
Let us have a look at the real facts and see what is taking place. I received a letter from the trade union affected in my electorate, the Australian Workers’ Union, as follows: -
The men who reside locally and in Newcastle, have service with the Department, ranging from one year to five years, were told that there were insufficient funds available to maintain their future employment, although major work at Williamtown Air Station and Rathmines Base was programmed.
The position is this: The money is there to do the work, the men are available and capable of carrying out the work, and there is no question of their efficiency or that the work they have been doing is first class. But the policy of this Government requires that these men must be displaced. Nobody is getting a profit out of their employment; that is the real issue. The Minister himself, in his pathetic explanation of the position, indicated that there would be no fewer men employed but that they would be employed by private contractors. These contractors, of course, will be able to obtain their pound of flesh or their pint of blood out of these fellows. That is what it amounts to. because the policy of this Government is to provide a cop for the middle man. The Government’s friends must get some return out of the labour of these men, and at the present time these employees do not “provide a profit for any individual, but only for the community as a whole. This Government has consistently indicated that it supports the exploitation of the masses.
I referred the letter, portion of which I have quoted, to the Minister. I accidentally referred it to the wrong Minister, but later it went to the Minister for Works (Mr. Freeth). The Minister met me on 17th September and sent me a reply the following day. It is amusing to note that the Minister received the letter on the 18th, having heard my representations on the 17th. Presumably he fully investigated the matter on the 18th because on that date he wrote as follows: -
I have examined the matter carefully and regret that as these men are apparently surplus to the Department of Works’ requirements there is no alternative but to give effect to the notice already issued. Wherever possible transfers to other suitable work in the Department of Works are arranged. There does not seem to be any available work at the moment to which the employees referred to can be transferred. Should the situation change in any way whatever, you may be assured that they will be given sympathetic consideration.
I ask you, Mr. Speaker, is that last sentence not complete and utter humbug, especially in view of what the Minister has said this evening about Government policy? As for giving these people sympathetic consideration, the fact is that irrespective of the number of years’ service the men have had with the department, the Government’s policy must be implemented and they will be thrown on the scrap heap.
The Minister pointed out in his reply that the percentage of day labour employed in this department in New South Wales is proportionately greater than anywhere else. This is possibly one of the reasons for the dismissal from office of the Minister’s two predecessors, the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes) and the honorable member for Paterson (Mr. Fairhall). Apparently the present Minister is determined that Government policy shall be implemented by dismissing these people. He is making sure that he will not get the sack because the friends of the Government are not given an opportunity to make profits out of these men.
– He will deliver the goods.
– Yes, he will deliver the goods for these friends of the Government who also follow a policy of exploitation.
What is meant by this private contract work that is spoken of? What additional work is involved? Under the old daylabour system we had the normal foremen and supervisory staff, who would prepare the work, submit estimates and specifications and then supervise the work itself. Now these self-same people will have to do the same work, then call for tenders and once again carry out the necessary supervision to ensure that the private contractors adhere to the specifications. We have had past experience of the contract system, and cases have been cited by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) and the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam). I have had similar dealings with private contractors in another sphere. Where people are carrying out subdivisions, and kerbing and guttering and road construction are required, they get private contractors to do the work. Local councils frequently have to order this work to be done a second time because it has not been carried out according to specifications. That is the kind of thing that happens when private contractors are called in, and we know that this is so from past experience. For these reasons we find that overhead charges have climbed from about 20 per cent, to more than 33 per cent, because of the policy of the Government in providing hand-outs to its supporters and friends. Yet Government supporters talk about contract labour being better and more efficient than departmental day labour!
I was at Williamtown on Monday. The union had a complaint that men had been laid off, and other men were under notice, but that there were insufficient labourers on the job to carry out the work in question. The union organizer had to complain to the foreman in charge that tradesmen and plant operators were being sent out to do work normally performed by labourers. Is that indicative of efficient and economical handling of labour? Obviously it is not. The Department has overstepped itself. It has laid off too many men and has had to call on tradesmen to do labouring work. The foreman explained to the organizer at the time that there were insufficient tradesmen for the work he had in hand, but that the work had to be done, and that some one had to do the labouring. This being so, the tradesman would go on to a job, do his own work and also that of the labourer. These things are happening as a result of the Government’s policy in reducing the day-labour staff and handing the work over to private contractors.
The Government should seriously reconsider this position. It is obvious that day labour, under correct supervision, can carry out a far better standard of work than private contractors can. The contractor is interested only in carrying out the work as quickly as possible and getting as big a profit as possible.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Jones) has made some extraordinary statements. I am sure he could not possibly have meant them. If he did mean them, the position is all the more extraordinary. He said that day labour produces better results than contract labour. Of course, as the Minister has pointed out, many of the men dismissed from the department will find themselves doing the same work, but doing it for private contractors instead of for the department. It cannot be assumed that they are going to lose any element of sympathy or enthusiasm as a result of the changeover. Indeed, the opposite is probably true.
The honorable member for Newcastle then went into flights of fancy about the need for local government bodies to order private contractors to pull up kerbing in subdivisions, and so on. That may be true of Newcastle, though I very much doubt it, but it is certainly not true of Victoria, where the very reverse is the case. In most municipalities, before a subdivider can subdivide, he must have the agreement of the council as to full road construction. He must then produce his specifications, which the council may or may not accept. Also, the contractor must pay lh per cent., or thereabouts, to the council for supervision. Therefore, the council, through its engineer, is constantly supervising the work during the course of construction. In those circumstances, if anything had to be pulled up it would be the fault of the council’s officer and not of the private contractor. If the contrary has been the personal experience of the honorable member, it is not the experience of most responsible local government officers throughout Australia, in Victoria especially.
Then the honorable member for Newcastle said that these poor men were being thrown on the scrap-heap. That is not very complimentary to the men concerned. I am sure that they do not appreciate being regarded as potential scrap. They certainly are not. They are capable of doing their job well. That fact has never been questioned. The reasons for the action that has been taken are quite separate and apart from it. In any event, I do not believe that the men would go on the scrap-heap in this country to-day, when such opportunities for work exist throughout Australia. The honorable member then spoke of the contractor wanting profit, and described that profit as being virtually a pound of flesh or a pint of blood. This criticism apparently applies to every one in Australia who makes a profit out of anything. In saying that, the honorable member is obviously reflecting the view of the Australian Labour Party. That is one reason why the Opposition cannot muster the support that it needs to bring it across to the treasury bench - and it will not do so within the foreseeable future.
The honorable member for Newcastle made the extraordinary suggestion that obviously the Minister for Works (Mr. Freeth) could not devise an organization that could ensure a flow of labour from one job to another. The work being discussed is maintenance work. Apparently the honorable member wants the Minister to arrange what is going to break down and be in need of maintenance. Such things cannot be foreseen.
The honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) referred to the Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works and said that all the sewerage extension in the metropolitan area had been carried out by day labour, not contract labour. That may be true. Indeed, as it has come from the honorable member for Bendigo I am prepared to believe that it is true, but the honorable member omitted to point out that the board is carrying out extensive developmental work - not maintenance work of the type undertaken by the employees under discussion.
The honorable member for Bendigo omitted to mention also that a parallel statutory authority, the Country RoadsBoard, is employing private contractors. Probably the biggest single bridge that isbeing constructed in Victoria to-day is the King-street overpass, which is being built by private contractors - after tenders had been sought - for the Country Roads
Board. The honorable member for Bendigo will recall,. I am sure, the publicity that accompanied the reconstruction of Johnson-street, which was also carried out under the same circumstances.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the speech of the honorable member for Bendigo was his statement that with day labour the department had at its command skilled men and supervisors, who were thoroughly experienced. Can it be assumed that these qualities are possessed by people while working for the department as day labourers, but are shed by them as soon as they become the employees of private contractors? A man has a certain skill and capacity no matter by whom he is employed -by the department on maintenance work or by, the private contractor on developmental or maintenance work. For these reasons, I regard the Minister’s reply as being quite irrefutable. Members of the Opposition are seeking a vehicle for the advancement of their claims, but in the attempt to advance them they are collapsing in despair.
– This has been a very useful debate. The Minister for Works: (Mr. Freeth) has at least given us an assurance: that there will be no more retrenchments. I hope that, upon reflection, when he reads the remarks of honorable members on this side of the chamber who have given reasons for the continuance of day labour; he will realize that the Government’s policy is not wise. It certainly does not result in cheaper work or in the work Being done as efficiently as it can be done with properly supervised day labour. That is probably the crux of the matter - properly supervised day labour. If day labour cannot perform work as efficiently and as cheaply as can contract labour, that is only because it is not property supervised; It is the fault not of the day labourers but rather of the supervisors.
The Government should not attack the principle of day labour. Rather should it attack faulty supervision. I do not admit, nor do I submit, that there are necessarily any faults in supervision, but if it is true that a properly supervised undertaking, employing day labour, cannot do the work as well and as cheaply as can contract workers, that can only be because there is some weakness in the Government’s own supervisory structure. Why cannot the Department- of Works, supervising its own workers do a job as efficiently as can private contract workers who, too, have to be supervised? There is a weakness somewhere along the line if it is seriously suggested that only work supervised by private contractors can be performed efficiently. Contractors, who must also employ supervisors, have to make a profit over and above the cost of labour and of supervision. They do not do jobs for fun. They do not do them to help the Government, nor do they do them out of a spirit of patriotism. They enter into contracts only because they expect to make a profit. If they discover that the price that they have quoted is too low, they run the risk of doing the job at a loss, or they cut their, losses by slumming the work. Work is often slummed because when these people undertake a. contract, the bricklaying, concreting and carpentering are let. out to subcontractors. The sub-contractors work at such a pace that they cannot possibly do the work efficiently. Take bricklaying as an example. One need not be an expert on building to be able to distinguish brickwork carried out by day labour from brickwork carried out by contract. One has only to go to an ordinary public school in South Australia where day labouring is done to see the kind of brickwork that makes one proud of that trade. Some of the brickwork that is carried out by contractors in all States is a disgrace to the trade. The mortar is not mixed in proper proportions, nor is the cement.
– That is only your opinion.
– It is the opinion of all the authorities. We had an example in the Administrative Building in Canberra. Private contractors put so much shoddy work into the original foundations and skimped cement and other materials to such an extent that the foundations were condemend and had to be taken out and thrown into the Molonglo River. That, I submit, could never have happened with day labour because there would be no incentive, under day labour, to slum the work such as there is when it is let by contract and the main motive is to do the job as quickly, as cheaply and as slovenly as possible and escape the notice of the government inspectors.
– Some contractors have an eye to the future.
– That is true, but there are many fly-by-night contractors who get government jobs because their contract price is cheaper than any other. When their work is unsatisfactory the Government sacks them and they never receive another contract. But the same sort of thing happens with other, similar contractors and it goes on ad infinitum with one fly-by-night contractor following another, and in the process the Government, gets shoddy work the whole of the time.
Let us now turn to the retrenchments. Some of the men have- had up to fifteen years service with the Government. This is the point I want the Minister to think of: When the men are retrenched they lose the whole of their accrued sick leave entitlement. Some of these men are good, decent, honest workers who never took their sick leave entitlements unless they were absolutely obliged to do so. It is quite conceivable that a tradesman who has been with the department for fifteen years has built up his sick leave entitlement to 30 weeks on full. pay. Yet, as a result of being sacked from government employment and transferring immediately to employment with a private contractor to do work which would normally have been done by government employees he loses the whole of his sick leave entitlement. I emphasize that. He loses the whole of the entitlement that he built up in. his. government service because of the Government’s decision to retrench him!. In addition, his break in service removes his long, service leave entitlement. He might work for a private contractor for six months and when that job is finished and the contractor has nothing more to offer him he might apply to the Government for work and be re-employed. But in the meantime he has lost his right to long service leave and to sick leave entitlement.
The Government should consider this matter from a long-range point of view. If it is not going to give some security of tenure to good, decent, competent tradesmen,, the stage will be reached when it will not be able to obtain the services of any tradesmen of this calibre. The greatest inducement which the Government can offer is to say, “ We, unlike many other employers of: labour, can give you security of employment. Whereas you might get a job with a private employer which will last for a. year or two years, the Government can give you something he cannot give. We can give you- long service leave. We can give you sick leave entitlement.” If the Government will offer these and many other conditions, that are available only in government employment, it will be able to obtain the services of the cream of the tradesmen..
– But there has to be a stable work force, not a fluctuating one.
– The Minister’s interjection would be valid if his reason for putting these men off was due to the fact that there was no work. But these men are not being retrenched because there is no work; it is because the work which the Government is offering is to be carried out by somebody else, under the contract system.
One aspect of the problem which the Government should take into consideration is that we are. talking about, not the material things of this country, but the lives of human beings. We are talking about the lives, security and happiness, not only of the men themselves, but also of their families’. That ought to be of some importance to us and weigh more heavily with us than the saving of a few pounds - even if that were a saving. We know that that is not the case. But even if it were true that some saving could be made, surely the position of these men and their families should be considered.
I believe; that it is true, in this day and age, and in this the richest of all countries in the world, that we have a duty to protect our fellow men from any fate which we would not like to befall us if we were in their position. I believe the position is as simple as that. The question is whether we are going to give some consideration to the position of the human being himself and his family, to his future and to his security and, what is more, to the standing of the Government as an employer of highly skilled men. If we do not give some consideration to these aspects the stage will be reached where good tradesmen will not be interested in government employment and will go to private contractors. If good tradesmen such as bricklayers, carpenters and plumbers can be attracted into the government service and will give service of a standard which no one else is capable of giving then there will be no trouble about the quality of the work.
-Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– Members of the Opposition stand for the principle of day labour as opposed to the law of the jungle. We believe that day labour, with correct leadership, will give greater and better results than can be achieved by contract labour. About three months ago I raised the question of dismissals from the Commonwealth Public Service with the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Freeth). There had been 32 dismissals at that time. 1 led a deputation from the building trades group of the New South Wales Trades and Labour Council and as a consequence the dismissed men were reinstated. The Minister gave the Trades and Labour Council representatives a good hearing and they were very happy with his attitude. It is disappointing to find that he will not agree to meet another deputation on this occasion. The New South Wales Trades and Labour Council’s officers have asked the Minister to meet their deputation so that they might again talk about the problems of day labour within the Commonwealth Public Service.
I wish to give a few examples of the difference between the quality of work done under day labour and that by contract. Before doing so, however, I want to suggest that there should be a proper relationship between men and management. This Government is prone to blame the trade union movement for industrial troubles. The trade union movement is asking the Minister to receive a deputation to discuss a problem that has arisen but the Government has refused to meet it. Last Thursday a 24-hour stoppage occurred over the dismissal of 61 employees and 450 men attended a stopwork meeting. Yesterday I received a letter from one of the members of the trade union movement in New South Wales which reads as follows: -
I am enclosing a copy of a letter which appeared on the notice board of the Commonwealth Department of Works depot, Stokes Avenue, Alexandria.
I ask the Attorney-General to listen carefully to this letter. It goes on -
Within a couple of months of the attache J letter appearing on the notice board, 61 employees received one month’s notice of dismissal.
The “ attached letter “ referred to is headed “ Commonwealth of Australia, AttorneyGeneral’s Department, Canberra, A.C.T., 26.6.1959.” It reads as follows:-
I have been very remiss in not acknowledging your note and thanking you for your assistance concerning the suite for the Attorney-General in Phillip House. I hasten to pass on my thanks and also congratulations to your officers on a really good job. I know that the AttorneyGeneral himself is very! pleased and he is quite comfortable in his new rooms.
We are now in the real cold weather and I envy you in the warmth of Sydney. In my next visit to Sydney I shall make time to pay my respects personally to you.
Kind regards, Yours sincerely, (Sgd.) Neale Sainsbury. (N. E. SAINSBURY)
The letter that I received continued -
At a 24-hour stop work meeting of members of 16 unions which was held last Thursday in protest against the retrenchment of labour, the attached letter was referred to by some of the workers at the meeting. One of the speakers said - “That while the Federal Government was issuing orders to have the work of the Commonwealth Department of Works done by private enterprise instead of day labour employees of that department, the Attorney-General had his offices in Sydney (Phillip House) renovated by a day labour force and he was very pleased wim the job done. The Crown Solicitors, who occupy the floor above the Attorney-General, had their section of the building renovated by contractors and are they screaming mad about the poor quality of the job “.
I ask the Minister in all seriousness to examine this matter and ascertain whether the remarks in that letter are true or not. This is what the workers have to say - “ So, we do a good job and get the sack, the contractors do a job which is not satisfactory and they get further contracts”.
The letter continued - lt can be seen from the above statement the feelings of the workers concerned, but one thing can be said in favour of the Attorney-General, and that is that he recognizes that day labour does a better job than the contractors.
I ask the Minister to give serious consideration to the shoddy work done by contract labour and to the quality of the work done by day labour.
Let me give a few more instances to the Government. First I wish to refer to work carried out by private contractors at the Regents Park stores, in my own electorate. A quarter of a mile ot road constructed by private contractors was condemned twice and had to be pulled up on each occasion. At the Concord repatriation hospital, a concrete path laid by contract labour had to be pulled up and the work carried out by day labour. I have not information as to whether the contractors were or were not paid. There are many other instances of this kind ot thing. One instance was pointed out to me by some painters. The fact is that when contract labourers do a painting job, after two years the job has to be done over again by day labour. Painting work that is done by day labour is still in good condition after three years, so that it is at least a 33-1/3 per cent, better job.
On the question of overhead, I point out that there was once a Works Department labour force of 3,800 employees in New South Wales. That force has now been reduced to 1,650. The administration overhead was 20 per cent, five years ago, whereas to-day it. is 33i per cent. In other words, the administration has become top heavy. If this Government is prepared to allow day labour to take the lead it will achieve better results. I point out that in Canberra, homes have been built by day labour at a cheaper cost than homes built by contract labour. I do not want the Government to get the idea that its policy must go through, or to say, “We are the masters, and that is the end of it.” There will be a great deal of industrial trouble if the Government takes that attitude.
The Minister should hear what the trade union movement has to say. After all, it is trying to do the right thing and to maintain industrial peace. I ask the Minister to grant an interview to officers of the Trades and Labour Council of New South Wales, so that they may state their case. I think he will agree that on the previous occasion that he saw them they presented a good case. This Government has been in office for ten years. If it has not the ability to get efficiency from government departments, it should get out of office.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.55 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
d asked the acting Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
y asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
– The Minister for National Development has supplied the following answers to the honorable member’s questions: -
It is not practicable to indicate the average delay between the approval and granting of loans, as this varies in individual cases and with the type of assistance required. However, the following will indicate the waiting periods applicable under the existing policy in respect of the main classes of assistance: -
Note. - The costs vary between States because of - (i) a preponderance of brick construction in some States: (ii) the average size of the homes in some States is bigger than in other ‘States; (iii) different building practices in the various States.
s asked the Minister for Trade, upon notice -
Will he follow the procedure of the Governments of the United Kingdom and the United States of America and publish the full list of goods which cannot be exported to Communist countries; if not, why not?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
It should be noted that the United Kingdom and the United States of America do not impose identical restrictionsfor strategic reasons on exports to Communist countries. The United Kingdom and certain other countries embargo the export of certain goods to all Communist countries and, generally speaking, allow all other goods to be exported to any Communist country, including mainland China. ‘On the other hand, the United States, although it prohibits the export to the Soviet bloc countries of the same list of goods as the United Kingdom, completely prohibits all exports to mainland China. Thus there is no uniform procedure adopted by the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Australia embargoes the export to any Communist country of any of the goods on the embargo list used by the United Kingdom. This list was published in the United Kingdom “ Board of Trade Journal “ of 15th August, 1958. Amendments were published in the “ Board of Trade Journal “ of 22nd August, 1958, 2nd January, 1959, and 12th June, 1959. Many commodities may be exported freely from Australia to any Communist country, including mainland China. A list of goods which may be exported freely is available, and has been available for some years, from Collectors of Customs in each State or from the Department of Trade. The Australian Government does exercise control over goods which could from time to time be of strategic importance but which do not appear on the United Kingdom embargo list. Goods so controlled can be exported if in the opinion of the Minister for External Affairs there are no reasons on strategic grounds for withholding approval. It should be noted that for security reasons no country which has exercised this intermediate type of control between complete embargo and complete absence of restriction has ever published a list of goods subject to such controls. In these circumstances, no such list is published by the Australian Government.
y asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
t asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Navy, upon notice -
– The Minister for the Navy has -supplied the following answers: - 1. (a) The tribal class destroyer “ Arunta “. (b) The Q class frigate “ Quadrant “. (c) The fast troop transport “ Sydney “. (d) Eight River class frigates, (e) The cruiser “ Hobart “. Other minor craft such as boom working vessels andtugs are also held in reserve.
Officers, 1,143; Leading rates, 1,214; Junior rates, 5,551; Naval Dockyard Police, 376; Papua-New Guinea Division, 100; total, 9,326.
See list already given.
These ships were laid down nineteen years ago but completely modernized five, four and two years ago, respectively.
m asked the Minister for Air, upon notice -
Has the Royal Australian Air Force yet decided, pursuant to his statement on 12th May, whether engine fire extinguishers can be fitted to Neptune aircraft?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
Engine fire extinguishers are not part of the designed equipment of aircraft of the Neptune type. The possibility of fitting a fire extinguisher system to the two main reciprocating engines of the R.A.A.F. Neptunes has been studied by the
Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation. These aircraft are now in the United States being fitted each with two small jet engines in order to increase their performance. The possibility of covering all four engines by the one fire extinguishing system is also being studied, but cannot proceed further until at least one aircraft has returned from the United States fitted with the jet engines. When these design studies have been completed, a decision will be made on the proposals.
d asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– On 1st September last the honorable member for East Sydney asked me a question without notice on this subject and which he later placed on the notice-paper. I said in reply to the original question that I would find out what information was available. My answer to both questions is that I have no information about any member of the Bolshoi Ballet company which visited Australia recently. However, experience here and abroad has shown that it is the practice of the Soviet State Security Service to have a representative in every Soviet delegation abroad, to maintain, at the least, a security watch upon the other members of the delegation. Such delegations are also sometimes used for the insertion of a representative to acquire foreign intelligence.
n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Australia is serious and a growing threat to the health of our economy?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: - 1, 2, 3 and 4. I am aware of the statement by Dr. Coombs at the Perth conference. In tha: statement he drew attention to the dangers of a slow but steady increase in prices. This is a problem, he points out, which confronts not only Australia, but the United States and other economically advanced countries. I believe the governor was right to draw attention to this problem, and I have myself said on many occasions in this House that there was no room for complacency on this issue.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 23 September 1959, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1959/19590923_reps_23_hor24/>.