25th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. ACTING SPEAKER (Mr. Lucock) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
-It is my pleasure to inform the House that a party of members of the Legislative Council of the Territory of Nauru is present in the gallery of the House. On behalf of all honorable members I extend to them a very warm welcome.
Honorable members. - Hear, hear!
Mr. HARDING presented a petition from certain electors of the Commonwealth praying that the Government implement Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by providing increased social service and housing benefits for the aged, the invalid, the widowed and their dependants.
– I ask the Prime Minister a question. What justification has General Westmoreland, the commander of the American forces in South Vietnam, for inquiring when the third battalion of Australian troops is to arrive in Saigon? As the Government has to date ignored the inquiry by General Westmoreland, when can the House and the country expect a statement from the Prime Minister on the subject?
– I suggested yesterday that the honorable gentleman might indicate the sources of these questions that he is putting to us. The communications which would proceed between General Westmoreland and this Government relating to service matters would be of a confidential character.
– So he has broken the confidence.
– The honorable gentleman made that terrible statement and I hope he will have the decency to apologise for it.
– The Prime Minister is very touchy.
– No, I am not touchy. I have been a long time in this place and I can give it as well as take it. The honorable gentleman will be discovering that as the next few weeks pass. But when the distinguished leader of allied forces is accused of acting in an improper and irregular fashion, I will speak up and defend him.
– Let the Prime Minister defend himself.
– I will do that very effectively. I am afraid the Leader of the Opposition cannot. He would need some assistance in that direction.
– Back to Westmoreland.
– Well, back to proper conduct as between the leader of an opposition and the head of a government. I repeat what I have said before on this matter: The disposition of Australian forces is a responsibility of this Australian Government. In any decision we take, we will exercise our own unfettered sense of responsibility.
– Has the Prime Minister any information regarding accusations by the Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia that China is backing and planning an armed uprising in the Borneo State of Sarawak? Is this activity consistent with the impending clashes forecast in Indonesia for 1st October and the intrusion of Communist China in the affairs of all South East Asian countries? I ask the question in view of the credibility of the Opposition regarding the intentions of Communist China in South East Asia.
– It is true that the Malaysian Government has recently issued a White Paper on Communist activity.-
– I rise to order. This is supposed to be an answer to a question without notice, but the Prime Minister is reading a prepared statement.
– Order! There is no substance in the point of order.
– This is a very important matter affecting the security of this country.
– Then why not make a statement on it?
– Order! The honorable member for Reid will resume his seat.
– It is true that the Malaysian Government has recently issued a White Paper on Communist activity in Malaysia. The White Paper states that the Communist organisation in Sarawak is well advanced in its preparation for armed struggle, that it is a fairly extensive organisation, that it is militant and that it is basically Chinese Communist, having links with, and drawing its inspiration from, Peking. The White Paper also declares that the Communist threat is a real and serious menace and that it should be studied in relation to similar events in other parts of Asia, including Vietnam and Laos, lt is known that the Indonesian Communist Party has many links with China. In this sense, its activities are similar in pattern to those of the Communist Party in Sarawak. They clearly work to similar patterns.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister, ls he aware of the criticism levelled at the policy of the Government of the United States of America by the Treasurer, Mr. McMahon - now referred to as Huckleberry Bill - on the ground that the United States is pumping millions of dollars worth of aid into South Vietnam while it restricts the flow of American capital to Australia? Will the Prime Minister also state whether the Treasurer has been instructed by the Government to negotiate for further financial support to Australia by offering an extra battalion of troops for service in Vitenam?
– Honorable gentlemen opposite, in the questions that they put to us in this place, reveal their thinking, their policies and their general attitudes to life. The honorable gentleman has just given us an example of this. Does he seriously believe that a democratically elected Australian government would trade Australian lives in the way that he has suggested?
– This Government has done it already. It has promised another battalion, but the right honorable gentleman will not say so.
– The Leader of the Opposition seems to get more desperate and more reckless every day he comes into this House. There is no foundation in the suggestion made by the honorable member for East Sydney. What my colleague was reported to have said about economic matters and the general relations between Australia and the United States of America read extremely impressively in my opinion and sounded like a very important and significant statement to the representative body of American citizens assembled in New York to hear him.
– Before calling the next questioner I point out to the House, as I did yesterday, that question time is a time for seeking information. The interjections that have been made have prevented answers by Ministers from being heard. I suggest to the House that it come to order. Certain suggestions were made yesterday about things being named after people. I suggest that if the House does not come to order there will be more than woods and forests in Israel being named.
– I address a question to the Prime Minister. He will recall that some months ago I asked whether the Government would place at the disposal of the Leader of the Opposition facilities to enable him to visit South East Asia, and Vietnam in particular. On that occasion the right honorable gentleman said that the Government would find the proposal quite agreeable. I now ask: Does the offer still stand? If it does, will the Prime Minister take an early opportunity to communicate this fact to the Leader of the Opposition, more particularly as that gentleman still seems to be. overwhelmed by some rather quaint views on Vietnam?
– Of course the offer is still open to the Leader of the Opposition at any time that he chooses to accept it. I think it was very valuable for several members of the Opposition to go to Vietnam. It has certainly led them to modify the views which they had been putting inside this Parliament. 1 think that the Leader of the Opposition would find, when he came face to face with the realities of the Vietnam situation, that he, too, would modify, perhaps quite radically, the views he is putting in this place.
I was extremely interested to learn that apparently a party of members of the Opposition were given some instruction in not only the realities of Vietnam but also those of Singapore and South-East Asia generally. If the report is correct - I invite honorable gentlemen opposite to deny it if it is not - the Labour members who went to Singapore at the invitation of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew were told by him that the fall of South Vietnam could lead eventually to the fall of Singapore itself. This is consistent with the argument which we have been putting from this place ever since this struggle began.
– I direct my question to the Minister for National Development. Has the Minister read the interim report of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority which tabulates work being done by the Authority for other organisations? Was he impressed by this additional activity which included undertakings for a number of States, Conzinc Riotinto of Aust. Ltd. and the Department of External Affairs, as well as projects in Thailand under the Colombo Plan? If the Minister is impressed by the proud record of the Snowy Mountains Authority, will he now face the realities of the position and tell the House of the Australian Government’s proposals to use the skilled and experienced staff of the Authority on projects which come within the Commonwealth’s responsibility in the Northern Territory, the Australian Capital Territory, and the external Territories and on projects being carried out by Government agencies? If the Government intends to rely on the States for the continuation of this important national development organisation, will he immediately call a meeting of State Ministers to ascertain their views? Finally, will the Minister assure the House that, irrespective of the attitudes of the States, the Snowy Mountains Authority will be retained for national conservation projects?
– I informed the House not very long ago in answer to a similar question that the Snowy Mountains Authority is undertaking a considerable amount of investigation work for various organisations, both inside and outside Australia. I think I mentioned at that time that there was a list of some 32 projects being undertaken by the Authority - some in SouthEast Asia, some in Borneo, some, in Papua and New Guinea, some in New Zealand and some in all the mainland States. This was all investigation work. The total cost, which was repaid to the Authority, was fairly small. lt was certainly insufficient to justify the retention of an Authority which is spending such a huge sum as $65 million this year. It is true that there are some projects likely to come forward in Commonwealth Territories.
There is nothing in the Australian Capital Territory that we can foresee because the latest dam for Canberra has been designed. Any future water supply for this place will be likely to come from Tantangara Dam and will need only the laying of a pipeline. In Papua and New Guinea, however, there are a couple of hydro-electric projects under consideration. This again, while being important, would not be sufficient to retain an organisation the size of the Snowy Mountains Authority. The Commonwealth Government, therefore, has taken what it regards as an essential step and has approached the States to learn what use they would have for an organisation of this kind. It is true that they are most interested in obtaining assistance in the fields of investigation and design but it is untrue that any of them have shown a desire for further assistance in the matter of supervising construction because, as I have pointed out previously, they all have public works and water conservation authorities of their own which they believe are perfectly competent to undertake any necessary work provided they can obtain the money to do so.
– Is the Minister lor Primary Industry aware that Australian citrus fruits growers are seeking stabilisation of their industry on a basis as near as possible to that which now operates in the wheat and dried fruits industries? Has he met representatives of the citrus industry in this regard? ls any progress being made towards the stated objective of the growers?
– I know that there have been some discussions in the industry but there have been no representations to mc to meet the industry’s representatives officially on this matter. Of course, my departmental officers who have considerable experience in stabilisation plans in respect of other industries are always available for discussion and can give the industry “s representatives considerablie assistance. The doors are always open for discussion but. as I have said, so far I have received no request to meet a deputation.
– Has the Minister for National Development seen a report in yesterday’s “ Age “ under the heading “ Water from the Sea “ which states in part that residents of Los Angeles will be drinking sea water by 1971 at a cost no greater than the cost of supplying natural fresh water, and also that arrangements are in hand to supply a city of the size of San Francisco with this water? As arrangements have been made between America and Russia to exchange information on this matter, will the Minister consider requesting that Australia be allowed to participate in any discussions because, as I am sure he will agree. Australia needs to conserve all the water that it can?
– Yes, I have seen the article referred to by the honorable member. My Department has been very interested in desalination. In fact, the Australian Water Resources Council, which is composed of myself and State and Territory Ministers in charge of water conservation and irrigation, set up a panel to inquire into desalination, lt has only very recently produced a most informative booklet. If the honorable member would care to have a copy I would be very glad to supply it.
– Could all honorable members see it?
– Yes, it is available for all honorable members. In fact, I issued a Press statement about a fortnight ago informing people where it could be obtained through my Department. The Water Resources Council holds the view that while there is a definite need in Australia for some small plants for converting either salt or saline water into fresh water for use in remote inland areas, mammoth schemes of the size now being considered or undertaken in the United States do not have a place in Australia certainly within the next decade and possibly within the next 25 years because the output of power necessary to obtain an output of water at a cost which would be at all feasible for use in irrigation would be fantastic and just could not be absorbed in a country the size of Australia. For example, a plant of the nature mentioned in the newspaper article would produce perhaps six million kilowatts of power and this just could not be absorbed in the Australian community.
But we are watching very closely the development of desalination. In fact, the report which I mentioned said mat there are some seven different processes. At the present moment the only ones which appear to be economic are the distillation process and the electro-dialysis process. However, there are a number of other processes of desalination, such as reversed osmosis and a resin process which has been developed by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and which has been most successful. The honorable member will be interested to know that four plants are in operation in Australia today which are converting either sea water into fresh water or saline water into fresh water.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Has the right honorable gentleman seen a Press report, attributed to British sources, to the effect that, under the defence treaty subsisting between Britain and Malaysia, Britain is not called upon to provide military aid in dealing with the kind of situation which has arisen in Sarawak? Can he say whether this is also true under the corresponding arrangements embodied in an exchange of letters between the Australian and Malaysian Governments?
– I would not like to offer a comment on hypothetical possibilities in that area, but the fact is that by exchanges of letters between the Australian Government and the Government of Malaysia Australian troops became part of the Commonwealth Strategic Reserve. As part of the Commonwealth Reserve they have been on station in Borneo and Sarawak. They have been engaged in border operations there through the period of Indonesian confrontation. Arrangements have been made with the agreement of the Malaysian Government for the withdrawal of our forces from the area, but they still remain part of the Commonwealth Strategic Reserve. In a public statement made on 5th July the Malaysian Prime Minister commented that Malaysian troops were capable of looking after the safety and security of the people of Borneo.
– I rise to order. Is this a question without notice? This is a prepared statement. Why is it that these statements are not made after question time?
– Order! There is no substance in the point of order raised by the honorable member.
– These are matters in the public domain. I must bc prepared to meet a wide range of questions which may be asked at question time and. of course, I fortify myself accordingly. The honorable member for Bradfield expects information and I want to give it to him. But I must draw attention to the fact that this is the fourth occasion this week when, on a question relating to Communist activities being raised in this place, the honorable member for Reid has risen to prevent me from giving the information sought.
– This is the sort of filthy thing the Prime Minister should not say.
– lt is a fact.
– The Prime Minister arranged for the question.
– It is without notice.
– I rise to order and in so doing refer to Standing Order No. 145 which states that an answer shall be relevant to the question. The Prime Minister has during the recent part of his answer made statements about our policies and attitudes. I ask for the withdrawal of those remarks and your ruling, Mr. Acting Speaker, that they are out of order in future.
– Order! There is no substance in the point of order.
– On this question I have been making a purely factual statement of action taken in relation to events in this area of the world following Australia’s arrangement entered into some years ago with the Government of Malaysia. I have pointed to the withdrawal of our own troops and to the statement by the Malaysian Government that so far as internal disorder was concerned it was capable of handling this with its own forces. That is as the matter stands at present.
– The Minister for Primary Industry will recall representations made to him in the past for the subdivision of vacant farms on King Island and the allocation of those farms to strengthen existing war service land settlement dairy farms in an attempt to further the economy of King Island. I ask the Minister: Have plans been finalised for the subdivision of the vacant farms for the purpose of strengthening existing dairy blocks?
– Field investigations into possible transfers of settlers have proceeded. It is understandable that some settlers do not want to leave their present properties, but the investigations in respect of those who are willing to transfer are almost complete. As the honorable member knows, the procedure is that when a settler is on a farm that is not quite up to full development and there is available a vacant farm up to the necessary standards the settler is offered the opportunity of transferring. Some settlers have accepted transfers. The answer to the honorable member’s direct question is that the investigations are almost complete.
– I address a question to the Minister for Shipping and Transport. Has the Minister been approached by any shipping company for permission to have built overseas two container ships for a proposed Sydney to Fremantle container service? Further, has there been any recent change in Government policy relating to the subsidy for ships built in Australian yards, and does the Government still see a need to maintain an efficient shipbuilding industry in Australia?
– No, I have not received any application for permission to have ships built overseas, or to import into Australia ships built overseas, for a container service between Sydney and Fremantle. I imagine the honorable gentleman is referring to a recent Press report which stated that Associated Steamships Pty. Ltd. was contemplating placing an order in Japan for two container ships to inaugurate this service. This would be a little surprising in view of the fact that Associated Steamships already operates the “ Kooringa “, an Australian built ship, on the Melbourne to Fremantle container run and it has proved, I understand, highly profitable. I see no reason why there should not be an order placed in an Australian yard. There has been no change in the Australian Government’s policy of trying to encourage Australian built ships to be used in the Australian coastal trade. The House will be aware that a 33i per cent, subsidy is paid to encourage the building of ships in Australian shipyards. An efficient Australian shipbuilding industry is still regarded as essential for Australia, and the best way of having some continuity in this industry is having Australian built ships operating on the Australian coast.
– I direct a question 10 the Prime Minister. What are the Government’s instructions to our United Nations representative regarding any suggestion that the United Nations should supervise a ceasefire and a phased withdrawal of all combatants from, and the dismantling of all military bases in, Vietnam?
– I shall get a considered statement which can be made available to the honorable gentleman.
– I preface a question to the Minister for the Interior by congratulating him and his Department on the intro duction of a regular general weather report of conditions throughout Australia, which is proving of great benefit to many sections of the community. In view of the fact that while Victoria has 1 1 centres giving these reports and not one mention is made of the all-important wheat growing area of the Wimmera, will the Minister correct this position?
– I am pleased to hear that this monthly report is so well received by the honorable member for Wimmera. However, 1 am sorry to hear that no area in his electorate is included in the report. I know that Wimmera is a very important wheat growing electorate and I will try to have some of the towns, such as Horsham or Warracknabeal, included in the report.
– I address my question to the Minister for Civil Aviation who represents the Minister for Repatriation. Will the Minister explain in what respects the repatriation entitlements of servicemen who serve in Vietnam are inferior to those of servicemen who participated in the Second World War and Korea? Will he explain why “ aggravation “ is not allowed for members of the forces who have served in Vietnam?
– I will pass this question to my colleague in another place and obtain a detailed reply.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister. Has his attention been directed to a statement by the honorable member for Batman who, with five of his former colleagues, was recently the official guest of the Prime Minister of Singapore, that the Prime Minister had told the delegation that if South Vietnam fell to the Communists it would be only a matter of time before Singapore fell and that it was important that the Communists be stopped? Is he aware that the only member of the Labour delegation, which included the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, to pass on this information was the honorable member for Batman? In view of the importance of the statement of the Prime Minister of Singapore and the failure of the delegation to convey this important information to the Australian people, will the Prime Minister say whether the views of this Government coincide with those of the Prime Minister of Singapore?
– 1 would not be able to canvass the views of the Prime Minister of Singapore, as they have been discussed with me privately. If the reported views of the Prime Minister can be drawn on, quite clearly they are entirely consistent with the attitude we and other Governments in South East Asia have stated in relation to the challenge of Communist aggression and penetration in that part of the world. If this view was put by the Prime Minister of Singapore to six members of the parliamentary Labour Party - presumably they were members of some significance if they were a delegation from the Party - I believe that they had a responsibility to the Australian electorate to make it widely and publicly known.
– I want to ask the Prime Minister a question. In view of the grave uncertainty amongst apple and pear growers and their leaders over falling overseas returns and the substantial increase in freight rates to apply next season, with the grave effect this will have on the economics of this delicately balanced industry now facing its greatest crisis for many years, will the Prime Minister have an investigation made by the Department of Trade and Industry or the Department of Primary Industry into the situation to determine in what way the Commonwealth Government may be able to assist financially in saving the industry from at least partial collapse? Tasmania is anxiously looking for an answer, as it is Australia’s leading exporter of apples and pears, with an industry worth $17 million annually.
– The Minister for Primary Industry will answer the question.
– The question that the honorable member asks is of some significance, because the industry has its marketing problems ahead of it. However, I think the right action is being taken by the industry itself in that members of the Australian Apple and Pear Board are going overseas to investigate the aspects mentioned by the honorable member and no doubt will report to the Government. The Government is certainly interested and sympathetic.
– My question is directed to the Postmaster-General. I refer to the high regard in which Radio Australia is held by many people in countries to the north of Australia and to complaints sometimes made about the weakness of its signal in comparison with that of some other stations such as Radio Peking. I ask: What progress has been made with the construction of a new powerful transmitting station at Darwin?
– Radio Australia transmits from Shepparton, Victoria, on a power of 100 kilowatts. Because of the weakness of the signal the Government determined that there should be a new transmitter on Cox Peninsula at Darwin. This will provide a retransmission of the programme from Shepparton, and the relay will be transmitted on 250 kilowatts of power. Progress is being made on the installation. Already the wharf and roadworks are under construction. At the moment my Department is looking at tenders in relation to buildings and the power line. The equipment has been ordered for delivery in the second half of next year, and it is believed that the installation will be completed and operating in July 1968.
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been drawn to the report that President Johnson will seek United Nations assistance to end the war in Vietnam? Is the Prime Minister aware that this pronouncement by President Johnson is in line with official Labour Party policy? In view of the pronouncement by the President, will the Prime Minister now be prepared to go all the way with L.B.J, and the Australian Labour Party?
– As to the last part of the honorable gentleman’s question, because of the current state of the Australian Labour Party I think very few Australians would go all the way with the A.L.P. As to the search for peace, of course Australia supports this. We have so many constructive and positive proposals that we are anxious to get on with in the building of our own country, and for assistance that we can give to others, that we would be amongst the first to welcome an outcome which saw a just and secure settlement in South Vietnam. Australia is in South Vietnam to resist Communist aggression. 1 have yet to hear one honorable member on the Opposition side, other than the honorable member for Batman - to his credit - who has come out and said what the Labour Party would do to resist Communist aggression. lt has no policy whatever to resist Communist aggression.
To say that the policy of the President of the United States of America is the same as the policy of the Australian Labour Party is really beyond the realm of credibility. The United States, throughout, has genuinely sought a peaceful settlement, but a peaceful settlement which would secure the freedom of the people of South Vietnam and check any further Communist aggression directed by the Chinese and made through their channel, North Vietnam. Honorable gentlemen opposite will never recognise the realities of that situation, or those who do, remain silent, failing to discharge their proper responsibilities in this place. We know that there are in the ranks of the Opposition men who understand the realities; men who have been in the areas concerned; men who went to talk to Mr. Lee Kuan Yew about the possibilities for the rest of South East Asia. Why do they leave it to these spokesmen for the Labour Party who completely misrepresent the position concerning Australia’s security?
– Is the Minister for National Development aware that the strong call for a Murray Valley authority is now more pronounced owing to the increasing problem of water salinity in the valley? Does the Minister recall that some little time ago the honorable member for Riverina and I advocated the setting up of such an authority, and that he said he would investigate our suggestion? Has the Minister any further information on this subject?
– I am afraid I have very little additional information on this matter that I can give to the honorable member for Mallee. I am aware that there have been calls from time to time for the formation of an authority in the Murray Valley which would have a broader charter than that of the River Murray Commission. I have pointed out previously, and 1 point out again, that the responsibility for the development of water resources away from the Murray River lies with the States. The States should be in a position to know whether there is a requirement for this suggested authority. If they believe there is, they should approach the Commonwealth Government on the matter, but there has been no approach of any kind. As to the problem of salinity, I pointed out recently that there is a committee investigating this matter, which I realise is now quite a problem at certain times of the year particularly in the middle reaches of the Murray. I will be chairing a meeting of the River Murray Commission in Melbourne tomorrow morning and there will be some discussion about this question of salinity.
– Earlier at question time the honorable member for Reid rose to order on the question whether the Prime Minister was reading from a script in reply to a question supposedly asked without notice. The Prime Minister by interjection suggested or implied that the honorable member for Reid was acting on behalf of the Communist Party, or that he acted-
Government Supporters. - Hear, hear!
– He is the ambassador for Communist China.
– That is a contemptible interjection from the honorable member for Mitchell. The honorable member for Reid has one of the best war records in this House and was interned. Will the Prime Minister say specifically whether he meant to accuse the honorable member for Reid of having Communist sympathies and whether he implied that anybody on this side of the House has any sympathy with Communism?
– I have a respect for the honorable member for Reid-
– But you have no respect for-
– I may not have any respect for the honorable member for
Wills but I have a respect for the honorable member for Reid. The fact of the matter is that in the course of question time this week, on no fewer than four occasions - 1 think “ Hansard “ will bear me out on this if these incidents have been fully recorded - the honorable member rose while [ was in the middle of answering questions which called for some revelation of the degree of Communist activity in a particular situation. When the honorable gentleman interrupted for the fourth time I took the opportunity to point this out to him. It is well known in this place that the honorable member for Reid has views which, by ordinary political definition, are views of the extreme left of the Labour Party. It is all very well for the Leader of the Opposition to say that he has not got a left or a right wing. I think the trouble with the Labour Party is that it has too many wings and not enough stomach, and the bird cannot fly.
– That is all right. We have brains and guts, which the Government Parties do not have.
– All this will be revealed in the fullness of time. I make no reflection on the honorable member for Reid. He holds strong views. He expresses them in this place, as he is entitled to do. If those views take him in directions which are similar in many instances to the line which the Communist Party takes-
– That is another smear.
– Well, the honorable gentleman cannot have it in all directions. I have just been reading a statement by the honorable member for Batman in which he points out that whilst he has been expelled from the Labour Party because he is associated with a body in which ali parties in the Commonwealth have felt free to join for the defence of Australia, members of the Labour Party are meeting in conference with a number of members of the Communist Party.
– That is completely untrue.
– The Leader of the Opposition says-
– It is a miserable lie.
– Well, it is not my lie.
– I know. I am not reflecting on the Prime Minister.
– Order! 1 ask the Leader of the Opposition to withdraw the words “ miserable lie “.
– Mr. Acting Speaker, I just want to indicate that I did not accuse the Prime Minister of telling a lie. I said that the statement made by somebody else was a lie.
– This is a matter on which others besides those of us who sit in this chamber will be in a position to judge. The actions and policies of the Labour Party have been stated repeatedly by the Leader of the Opposition and his colleagues, lt is clear from events of the last two days that we are within weeks of a general election. Nothing else could explain the conduct of honorable gentlemen opposite in any realistic terms.
– Or the Prime Minister’s evasiveness.
– The honorable gentleman will not find me evasive on these issues. These are issues which he and I agreed some weeks ago were the basic issues in the contest between the Government parties and the Opposition when we go to election on November 26th.
– Mr. Acting Speaker, 1 wish to make a personal explanation.
– Order! Does the honorable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– I do. During question time, the Prime Minister, in reply to a question asked by the honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner), said that I had interrupted on four occasions during replies to questions about Communism. The smear was that 1 was concerned about the content of the questions. I make it clear that I raised the points of order because it was time for questions without notice, not questions with notice. I object to the Prime Minister making such a smear at this time. I suggest that he should get out of gutter politics. We know-
– Order! I think the honorable member has made his personal explanation. I suggest that he not debate the matter.
– I thank you, Mr. Acting Speaker, for your indulgence.
– by leave - For the information of honorable members I present the following papers, which I understand have been circulated -
Australian Universities Commission Act - Australian Universities Commission - Third Report on Australian Universities, 1964-1969.
Advanced Education - Commonwealth Advisory Committee - First Report, June 1966 (Colleges of Advanced Education 1967-69).
Tertiary Education - Statement presented by the Prime Minister in the House of Representatives, 22nd September 1966. and move -
That the House take note of the statement.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr. Calwell) agreed to -
That leave of absence for one month be given to the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. O’Connor) on the ground of public business overesas.
Bill presented by Mr. Adermann, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
On 17th August 1 introduced Bills to amend the Poultry Industry Assistance Act 1965 and the Poultry Industry Levy Collection Act 1 965. At that time there was no evidence to indicate that there was any need for amendment of the Poultry Industry Levy Act 1965 which is the remaining legislative enactment implemented last year on behalf of the Australian poultry industry.
The Poultry Industry Levy Act imposes a levy in respect of hens kept for commercial purposes, including broiler-breeder hens - that is, hens kept to lay eggs for hatching chickens for rearing as broilers. Under a formula in the Act, owners of broiler-breeder hens pay levy in respect of only that notional proportion of their flock whose eggs are not used for hatching purposes. The Government’s attention has recently been drawn to the fact that the formula as it now stands can act inequit ably against one sector of the broilerbreeder industry, and this Bill aims to correct this situation.
The present formula in effect allows exemption for a large part of the broilerbreeder flock in the proportion that the number of hatching eggs bears to the total number of eggs produced over a preceding period of three months. The period of three months was adopted for the convenience of the owners of the hens and with the concurrence of the principal broiler industry organisation, the Australian Chicken Meat Federation.
The three months period operates quite equitably for the majority of the industry. However, one sector of the industry utilises a rigid system of rearing and keeping fowls until they reach 66 weeks of age and then clears them all out, rests the sheds for some weeks and starts the cycle again. For this sector of the industry, the period of three months as a measurement of performance of hens is too long and the amendment allows this period to be reduced to two weeks at the option of the owner. Any owner of broiler-breeder hens may exercise the option to use either the quarter or the fortnight as his base period, but once having exercised his option, he must maintain the base period he has chosen for at least twelve months.
The amendment, which appears complex, is only a minor one. However, its enactment will iron out an anomaly which exists in the present legislation. The Bill has the support of the Australian Chicken Meat Federation and I commend it to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Pollard) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr. Swartz, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
This is a Bill for an act to amend the Air Navigation (Charges) Act 1952-1965 for the purpose of securing an increase in the revenue from the various operators and owners of aircraft who make use of aerodromes and other facilities for air navigation provided, maintained and operated by the Commonwealth. It is the Government’s policy to move progressively towards the ultimate full recovery of that part of the cost of providing facilities that is properly attributable to the industry. Each year a careful review is made of the ability of the industry to absorb an increase in charges. Increases are not made automatically but. in the present case, the increase of 10 per cent. has been decided as fair and reasonable. For 1965-66, actual revenue from air navigation charges was $6.888 million. With the 10 per cent. increase now proposed and with higher revenues resulting from natural growth in the industry, it is estimated that total revenue for 1966-67 will be some $8.75 million. This Bill does not change the method of assessing charges but simply increases by 10 per cent. the unit charges which are based on the weight of the aircraft. The new scale of charges will be applied to all domestic and international airlines and to charter, aerial work and private operators. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr.Whitlam) adjourned.
Bill presented by Dr. Forbes, and read a first time.
.- I move-
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this Bill is to enable the improvements to the National Health Scheme announced by the Treasurer (Mr. McMahon) in his Budget speech to be implemented. The proposals contained in the Bill are threefold - firstly, for an alteration to the definition of “ pensioner “ as at present appearing in the National Health Act, to permit the enrolment in the pensioner medical service of those persons who will newly acquire an entitlement to a pension by virtue of currently proposed amendments to the Social Services Act and the Repatriation Act; secondly, for an increase in the rate of hospital benefit payable to public hospitals for the free treatment of public ward pensioners; and thirdly, for an increase in the special rate of hospital benefit paid to patients with long term or chronic illnesses, or with pre-existing ailments, who are contributors to the special accounts set up in registered hospital benefits organisations under the Commonwealth’s sponsorship.
As to the first proposal - the change in the definition of “ pensioner “ - honorable members will be aware that the present definition of “ pensioner “ in the National Health Act limits enrolment in the pensioner medical service to persons in receipt of a tuberculosis allowance or to persons who are entitled to a pension under the provisions of the Social Services Act or the Repatriation Act as in force on 1st January 1966. The proposed amendments to the Social Services Act and the Repatriation Act that have already been presented to honorable members will mean that some 5,400 additional persons will become eligible for the first time to receive social services or repatriation service pensions. It is proposed that all these persons, as well as their dependants, will also become eligible for enrolment in the pensioner medical service as soon as the relevant legislation is passed. This will entitle them, and other persons who subsequently become eligible for pensions under these new conditions, to receive free general practitioner medical attention from medical practitioners participating in the service, free public ward treatment in public hospitals and free pharmaceutical benefits. With the addition of these persons, the benefits that I have mentioned will be provided to well over a million members of the Australian community at a cost in excess of$63 million a year.
These proposals will mean that a greater number of beneficiaries will be brought within the pensioner medical service arrangements. Because of this, the Australian Medical Association has been informed of the proposal and I am confident that doctors participating in the pensioner medical service will willingly provide these new pensioners and their dependants wilh free general practitioner attention. The Commonwealth, for its part, will reimburse doctors for services to pensioners at the agreed concessional fee. I take this opportunity, Sir, to express the Government’s appreciation at the co-operation of members of the medical profession in this matter. This co-operation has been a most significant factor in the success of the pensioner medical service.
In addition to the amendments necessary to extend benefits to the new pensioners that I have mentioned, the changed definition of “ pensioner “ contained in the Bill includes provision to permit parsons, who in future acquire a pension entitlement solely because of any subsequent increase in the rates of pension, to be enrolled automatically in the pensioner medical service. Amendments of the Act in future for this purpose will not be necessary. The Government wished to ensure that no unnecessary delay occurs in the provision of benefits to these new pensioners. It is therefore intended tha! this legislative change will come into effect on the same day as the amendments to the Social Services Act and the Repatriation Act commence to operate.
The second major proposal contained in this Bill concerns the provision of hospital treatment for the pensioner section of the community. Under existing arrangements, pensioners and their dependants are entitled to free public ward treatment in public hospitals. In return for this, the Commonwealth has been paying the hospitals concerned S3. 60 a day on behalf of each pensioner and dependant who receives free treatment as a public ward patient. The amending Bill now before us proposes an increase in the rate by 40 per cent, to $5.00 a day. This is in recognition of the increased costs incurred by hospitals in providing pensioners with accommodation and treatment free of charge. It is proposed that the increased rate of benefit will apply to hospital treatment received on and after 1st January 1967. This will permit a period for the necessary administrative arrangements to be finalised. This increased rate will cost the Commonwealth S6.6 million in a full year and it is expected that the additional payments will materially assist public hospitals.
The third proposal also concerns hospital benefits and is directed at what is defined in the National Health Act as the “ standard rate benefit “. This is the rate of fund benefit which the Commonwealth ensures is the minimum normally payable to insured patients. Registered hospital benefit organisations, in order to maintain financial stability, have rules enabling them to refuse payment of fund benefits on certain claims. These rules relate to chronic illnesses, ailments which were known to have existed before joining the organisation and maximum periods of hospitalisation. The Commonwealth, however, underwrites special accounts maintained by the organisations to ensure that contributors who otherwise would be refused fund benefits under the rules, receive combined hospital benefits totalling, usually, not less than S3. 60 a day. This combined benefit is made up of the Commonwealth benefit for insured patients of S2.00 a day and the standard rate fund benefit of $1.60 a day.
This Bill provides for an increase in the standard rate fund benefit to S3. 00 a day, which will mean that a minimum combined benefit of usually S5.00 a day will be payable. Insured patients will have to be insured for a fund benefit of at least $3.00 a day in order to be eligible for a standard rate benefit of this amount, otherwise the lower insured rate of benefit will be payable. Since some contributors to the special accounts of organisations are currently contributing for benefits of less than $3.00 a day, arrangements are being made so that contributors who transfer to a higher table in order to receive the higher standard rate benefit need not serve the waiting period that is usual before increased benefits are payable.
The increased amount of standard rate benefit will cost the Commonwealth a further $2.5 million in a full year. It is proposed that this increased rate of benefit will also apply to hospital treatment received on or after 1st January, 1967. This will enable the necessary administrative arrangements to be completed. In addition to the three major proposals which I have mentioned, this Bill contains provisions arising out of the introduction of decimal currency. The opportunity has been taken to convert to decimal currency existing references in the Act to amounts expressed in pounds, shillings and pence. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Daly) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr. Anthony, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this Bill is to provide for a separate Act relating to the filling of casual vacancies in the Senate at a general election of members of the House of Representatives. The existing legislation relating to the filling of casual vacancies in the Senate, namely, the Senate Elections Act 1903- 1948, applies only to the filling of casual vacancies when such vacancies are being filled at a normal election of senators to fill periodical vacancies. Members would be aware that, since the last Senate elections held in December, 1964, vacancies have occurred in the Senate in respect of the Slates of New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia. In the first three States there is one casual vacancy to be filled while there are two casual vacancies to be filled for Western Australia.
The Constitution provides that casual vacancies in the Senate shall be filled at the next general election of members of the House of Representatives or at the next election of senators for the State, whichever first happens. Accordingly, the vacancies in the four Stales must be filled at the forthcoming House of Representatives elections.
The Bill before the House provides that where there are two or more casual vacancies to be filled at a general election of members of the House of Representatives, the election to fill those vacancies shall be conducted as one election. The existing provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act provide for the method of scrutiny - a method usually referred to as proportional representation. The Bill also provides that where there are two or more casual vacancies in a State for periods terminating on different dates, each vacancy for a period terminating on the later date shall be filled before any vacancy for a period terminating on the earlier date. This will ensure that the longer term will be allocated to the candidate, or candidates, first elected.
While the proposed legislation includes the normal provision that an election shall not be held where the number of candidates is not greater than the number of vacancies to be filled, it also provides for an exception to that procedure. I refer to the situation where there are vacancies terminating on different dates and the number of candidates is greater than the number of vacancies terminating on the later date. In the last mentioned circumstances, an election will be held, even though the overall number of candidates may not be greater than the number of vacancies. This will be necessary in order to determine which of the candidates will fill the longer term and which will fill the shorter term.
Under the provisions of the Bill, a Senator elected at a previous Senate election will not be eligible to nominate for election to fill a casual vacancy unless he delivers a conditional resignation to the Commonwealth Electoral Officer for the State concerned. The conditional resignation, which will not be effective unless the senator is elected to fill one of the casual vacancies, will enable a silting senator to contest an election to fill a casual vacancy for a period terminating on a later date than the date on which his normal term of service expires.
This Bill follows closely the provisions contained in the Senate Elections Act 1903-1948 which, as mentioned previously, applies only to the filling of casual vacancies at the time of a normal Senate election. I commend the Bill to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Whitlam) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr. Howson, and read a first time.
.- I move-
That the Bill be now read a second time.
In his Budget speech the Treasurer (Mr. McMahon) estimated that the excess of expenditures over receipts - the borrowing requirement - would amount to $533 million in 1966-67. Towards this borrowing requirement there will be available an estimated$1 14 million from drawings on the credits arranged for defence purchases in the United States of America. This would leave about $4.19 million to be financed by other borrowings. At this stage, any estimate of net loan raisings in 1966-67 is necessarily largely conjectural. However, in the Budget we have used a tentative figure of $150 million for net loan raisings, which would leave about $270 million to be financed by temporary borrowings. The purpose of this Bill is to obtain authority for such borrowings and to provide authority to expend the proceeds of the borrowing.
Authority is being sought to borrow an amount of up to $300 million. This does not mean that we expect that we will have to borrow right up to that limit. However, because the figure of $270 million used in the Budget is subject to many uncertainties, particularly as regards net Joan raisings, we thought it appropriate to set the upper limit on the borrowing authority being sought in this Bill at the round figure of $300 million.
The borrowings for which authority is now sought will be made for defence purposes and the proceeds will be applied to finance expenditure from the Loan Fund on Defence Services. Total expenditure on Defence Services in 1966-67 is estimated at $1,000 million of which about $114 million will be mct from credit arrangements with the United States of America, leaving$886 million to be met from appropriations. It is proposed that, of the total estimated expenditure to be met from appropriations, an amount of up to $300 million should be charged to Loan Fund where it will be financed from funds raised under the authority of this Act. Provision for charging part of our defence expenditure to the Loan Fund has been made in previous years when net loan raisings have not been adequate to finance the excess of expenditures over receipts. I commend the Bill to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Webb) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 15th September (vide page 935), on motion by Mr. Sinclair -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
.- I move -
That all words after “ That “ be omitted wilh a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: - “ whilst not opposing the provisions of the Bill, the House condemns the Government because -
the proposed increase in pension rates still leaves the pensioner’s standard of living below what is a reasonable Australian minimum;
the Government is perpetuating the sub standard rate for married pensioners despite the glaring anomalies and injustices in this course;
there is still no change in the income means test which has now remained unchanged during twelve years of inflation and rising prices;
the Government has once against failed to put any value back into the child endowment payments and has repudiated its pledges by allowing many other social services to lose their value, and
it has failed to make benefits retrospective to the 1st July 1966”.
This is election year. This is the occasion when the Government sees fit to grant meagre benefits to some of those dependent on social services. At least the age, invalid and widow pensioners must look forward to election year because only at that time does the Government appear to believe that their claims merit attention. A close study of the Government’s record of legislation in the field of social services indicates that only in election year, practically without exception, is some concession granted to these people. In plain and blunt language it would be true to say that the Government treats social service legislation as a necessary process for catching votes. The pattern of the Government’s legislation in this direction is so consistent that my charge cannot be denied. Already there has been an announcement that an election will be held on 26th November. Once again the pattern is followed - miserable increases granted in a few benefits as a sop to those most in need. The Labour Party condemns this niggardly and unprincipled approach to a great social problem. The amendment I have moved expresses our dissatisfaction and is a clear indication of our condemnation of the Government’s unjust policies as they affect this deserving section of the community.
In his Budget Speech the Treasurer (Mr. McMahon) said that the needs of defence were such that they must receive priority and he implied that these benefits were given somewhat grudgingly. The Government’s decision may be explainable but pensioners must wonder why the Government can always find money for defence and war but rarely for the comfort and security of those who need it. Evidently it was no trouble to the Treasurer to produce an additional S250 million this year for defence without increasing taxation. Evidently the needs of the pensioners could not be met quite as easily as that money was produced. The Labour Party believes that social services should be provided on the basis of need so that people may live in comfort and security. During the second reading debate 1 intend to make a number of general observations on the Government’s proposal. The Committee stage, of course, will provide an opportunity to refer to the legislation in more detail. 1 want now to refer to the speech by the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair). He very proudly described these measures as “ an acceptance of the responsibility of the community to provide for its less fortunate members.” To say the least, I believe that he has retained a little of the extravagant phraseology of his predecessor. I shall now touch briefly on a few of the main features of the Bill, not in detail because the Minister did that but in order to keep the record straight so far as this side of the Parliament is concerned. They are: An increase in the standard rate of pension of SI a week to bring the maximum weekly rates payable to single age and invalid pensioners, and to widow pensioners with children, to SI 3 a week; an increase of SI a week in the pension payable to widows without children; an increase of SI. 50 a week in the combined pension of a married couple, raising the basic payment to them to S23.50 a week - the Government lumps them together and, of course, by this method hides its sins - and increase in the deduction for each child allowed from a pensioners income for means test purposes. The lastnamed increase means an increase of from SI to S3 in respect of each child before that income is taken into account for pension purposes. From figures given to me last year I think that proposal will not affect more than about 250 age pensioners. By this proposal a widow with two children will be able to earn 56 a week for her children as well as, subject to her property and other income, S7 a week for herself.
The Minister also mentioned increased benefits for certain patients on discharge from a mental hospital and gave in detail the reasons for the Government’s proposals. These may be debated at the Committee stage. The Government proposes also to repeal the nationality qualification for age, invalid and widows pensions. That is an important feature of that Bill. The Minister then referred to an amendment of the principal Act which will enable exservicemen to be granted unemployment benefit immediately upon termination of repatriation sustenance allowance; and he outlined a few machinery measures such as changing the words “ hospital for the insane “ to the words “ mental hospital “, deleting the word “ magistrate “ in the Act because it is a carryover from other days, and deleting also all references in the Act to “ Aboriginal natives of Australia”. At that stage the Minister detailed the costs involved in the Government’s proposals and I shall deal with them later. However, I might mention now the Minister stated that in a full year the cost of these increased benefits will total $40 million and in this financial year $29.6 million. Of course, there are certain adjustments to be made in the Aged Persons Homes Act and the provisions relating to nursing accommodation. I merely say that those briefly explained provisions of the Bill when listed by the Minister certainly gave the impression that the Government was doing a good deal hut they do not appear to be so good when one looks at them in detail.
The Opposition does not oppose the legislation, the proposed increases or the amendments of a machinery kind. We accept this morsel which has fallen from the rich man’s table but at the same time we condemn, on behalf of pensioners and those dependent on social service benefits, the amount of the proposed increases. We demand that they be substantially lifted to cope with the increased cost of living. Naturally we must accept the meagre increase in benefits, so while not opposing the Bill this must not be taken to mean necessarily that the proposed amounts should not be substantially increased. At the Committee stage we will have an opportunity to deal with a number of the more detailed amendments such as those relating to mental patients and matters of that nature.
It is true, however, that the usual pattern has been followed. No doubt, in line with constant Government policy, our right to criticize will be severely restricted. This is the usual method followed by the Government on the introduction of social services legislation. The proposed benefits will not be paid until this legislation is passed. This means, in effect, that proper criticism is denied because the Opposition would leave itself open to the charge that it was delaying payment of benefits for which people are in need. This could have been overcome by backdating the payments to 1st July but, once again, the Government, refuses to do this. The Minister has claimed that the proposed rates of pension have a substantially higher value than the rates in 1949 when the present Government came into office. 1 take issue with him on this. In the course of my remarks I shall show that although the rates are now higher, the purchasing power of pensions at all levels has never been less.
The Minister said also that Commonwealth concessions to each pensioner are now on the average in excess of $1.15 per week. He said that various concessions are also provided by the States and by some local authorities. He continued -
These concessions make a substantial contribution to the pensioners’ position. . . .
The real fact is that if the States and local authorities did not do this the pensioners would be in a worse situation than ever. But at the same time due credit should be given to the States. We must never forget that the Commonwealth has, under the Constitution, the full and complete responsibility to provide for the age and invalid pensioners. The Government is shirking its responsibilities and is passing the buck to the States and to local government authorities, yet it is taking credit for these concessions. The Minister has also brought out the old story in regard to single and married pensioners that two can live more cheaply than one. That theory went out with Noah and the Ark. The cost of the Government’s proposal will add more than $40 million to the Commonwealth’s annual liability for social services, and in 1966-67 it will add a further $29.6 million to the Budget. I do not think the Minister should go mad with delight over this extended amount. Let us consider what it will mean in real terms.
Out of a Budget of $5,930 million, 0.7 per cent, is to be spent in a full year on social services benefits for the people of Australia. In the coming year the expenditure on social services will be 0.5 per cent, of the total budgetary expenditure, and yet it is for the most deserving section of the community. Anybody who can become excited about that is almost a case for a specialist. Recently the basic wage was increased by $2 per week, but the increase was absorbed almost overnight by increased prices for every commodity. To meet the increase the Government has increased the pension by $1 per week, which is about 15c per day. A married couple have received an increase of over SI. 50 per week in the combined pensions which is about 21c or 2s. Id. per day. Is not that an exciting prospect in this year of inflation under this dynamic young Government which, we are told, is leading the country to security? I can see pensioners and others becoming tremendously excited over an increase of 16c a day, and what an exciting prospect it is for the married couple. The Minister has said that there is to be an increase in the deduction for each child from a pensioner’s income for means test purposes. The increased deduction for each child of $2 will mean, in effect, about 30c or 3s. per day. The permissible income also should be increased. These increases are not very exciting. The proposed increases will not meet the cost of the increases in living standards for those concerned, yet they are the only benefits given in the Budget.
The Minister referred to the consumer price index and compared the rates in 1949 with those at the present time to prove that pensioners were better off. When will the Minister and the Government realise that pensioners cannot live on percentages? They want dollars and cents. That is what buys the food they eat. the clothes they wear and the houses in which they live. Furthermore, is it reasonable to take 1949 for the purpose of comparing today’s living costs? The year 1949 was in the postwar years when Labour was rebuilding a new Australia, after years of dreadful wartime conflict. Prices then were reasonably stable and the basic wage was much lower. Television was unknown and many of the present day amenities had not been discovered or sought by the people of that time. This was not the fault of the Government, of industry or of anybody else; it was part of the process of rebuilding the nation - in a time of austerity. Yet today the Minister says that pensioners are better off than they were at that time. The new rates of pension show that the minimum rate for a married couple is 71 per cent. or less than three-quarters of the present basic wage. This is at a time when costs for gas, electricity, the theatre and comforts and commodities are rising to astronomical heights. The Minister’s basis is that although married couples receive less than 75 per cent. of the basic wage, they are better off than ever they were before.
A single pensioner is even worse off than the married couples, so where does the Government get its basis from to enable it to say that these people are better off than they were in 1949? I think a fair comparison would be to compare the pension with the average weekly earnings per male unit in the community, namely$54.60. Although pensioners receive only a fraction of the average income, they have to compete at the same prices while receiving only 71 per cent. of the basic wage. They receive much less than 71 per cent. of the average weekly earnings. This is an age of affluence and pensioners are entitled to share in the prosperity. Some people in Australia have never had it so good - I refer to the wealthy, the powerful, the influential and those who control the means of production - but some people have never had it at all. They are the people who are dependent on pensions, people who under this Government have continually had to reduce their standard of living. The only comfort from all this is that had it not been an election year there would have been no increases at all. At least we must be grateful for some of these little things. Is it any wonder that a pen sioners association has issued a circular, which states -
Pensioners! You are great in numbers. Use your strength at the ballot box. Vote to power a government pledged to -
Lift living standards.
Give full pension to dependent wife of aged, invalid and service pensioner.
Gradually abolish the means test.
Free hearing aids - spectacles - dentures - artificial limbs and surgical appliances.
Completely free public health and hospital services.
Special grants to hospitals providing geriatric care.
Commonwealth housing subsidies to State and local governments to build low rental homes for pensioners.
Subsidies for bereaved and invalid persons to secure homes and for paying off their homes.
Increased funeral grant.
Reduction in telephone charges.
Pension retrospective to 1st July.
Record of present Government stands condemned.
PENSIONS- AGE AND INVALID.
1961- 50 cents rise. 1962- No rise. 1964 - 50 cents rise. 1965- No rise. 1966 -$1 single, 75 cents married.
The circular finishes on this note -
Pensioners! For self preservation use your power. Change the Government. Continue your fight for just claim of half the male basic wage. 62 per cent Australians agree pension should be $16 a week or more. . . . Present pension $1 1.75 for a married pensioner, $13 for a single pensioner. Give us this day our daily bread. Get your family to follow your lead.
The circular shows also signs bearing the words “Prices up”, “Food”, “Rent”, “Gas”, “Fares” and “Rates”. These people do not want to live on percentages of the basic wage; they want dollars and cents to provide the wherewithal mentioned in their circular.
A letter sent by Mrs. Ellis of the Australian Commonwealth Pensioners Federation to the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Sexton) stated -
Thinking over all we did while in Canberra for the Budget I feel very satisfied, because I think we are more united and see clearly the situation. This was shown by the unanimous decision to use our strength at the ballot box to change the government. The Federation covers all major pensioners organisations in 5 States, and we hope W.A. will follow our lead-
– They have already decided to do so.
– The letter continues- and from statements appearing from time to time in their “ Pensioners News “, 1 think they will do that.
They have done so. The letter continues -
The failure of the Government to curb prices is one of the biggest factors in our thinking, and of course the cheese paring in any general rises granted - the 75 cents for the married pensioner - gives ample proof.
These people know whether or not the Minister’s charges are right and whether the pensioners are better than they were in 1949. These poor old people who are dependent on pensions now have to go out and campaign for the defeat of the Government which has been in office for 17 years but which still refuses to acknowledge their rights, lt would be correct to say that this Government has not had a new idea on social services since it has been in office.It is true that from time to time it has thought of some new benefit, such as supplementary assistance or endowment proposals, but this is where it started and finished. It is true that the merged means test was introduced by the Government, but after all this was the brain child of the late Albert Thompson, the Labor veteran from South Australia. He proposed the change in the House but got little credit for it. The Government, quite unprincipled of course, plundered it and called it its own as time went on. The increase in the basic wage has been rapidly swallowed up by increased prices and charges, both public and private. This means that the pension increase of$1 to a single pensioner and$1. 50 in the combined pensions of married persons, has not only failed to make up the leeway but has left the pensioners worse off than ever and, like wage earners and others, facing spiralling prices.
Almost every year since this Government came into office the Labour Party has moved amendments to legislation that have been designed to improve the conditions of pensioners, but on every occasion the Government has opposed our amendments. This was the position with the pensioner medical service, but subsequently the Government adopted the proposals that it had opposed in previous years. Pensioners and others in receipt of social service benefits may well give due credit to the Labour Party for having pressed the Government for reforms that were essential in their interests. 1 want now to refer to the substandard rate of pension. The Government still insists on perpetuating a substandard rate for married pensioners despite the glaring anomalies and injustices that occur. At the time it was introduced into this Parliament I said it was unprecedented, unjustified, discriminating and against all principles of social justice.I said it was unparalleled in the history of this country, that it was arbitrary and scandalous and would create anomalies and perpetuate injustice. The years have not dimmed my opinion or the Opposition’s views on this issue. We still maintain there should be a standard rate of pension payable to all pensioners, with a special national assistance scheme for all in need. The Labour Party condemns the Government’s unjust approach, which is actually an attack on the sanctity of marriage. Even now a married couple receive $11.75 each and a single person $13. One can see the discrimination, and can appreciate the anomalies that this causes. They are well known to all members of this Parliament. The Labour Party does not seek to reduce the payment to the single pensioner; it seeks to have a base standard rate and to give special national assistance to all those people in necessitous circumstances.
Once again, for the benefit of the House, I mention the question of making payments retrospective to 1st July. The Government refuses to backdate the increased pension payments. What is the reason for this? Surely it cannot be the difficulty of compilation. It seems strange that the poorest section of the community, and only a section of it. getting a meagre increase cannot have it backdated until 1st July. Pensioners seem to be the only section of the community which suffers in this way. It does not apply to judges of the High Court, to top public servants and to business people. In fact, increases for the judges of the High Court amounting to$80 a week and more were backdated from 16th December 1960 to 1st October 1960. Similarly, public servants, salaries were backdated; so why this discrimination against the pensioners? The Labour Party again expresses its dissatisfaction and we move our amendment accordingly to provide for the payment of these pensions from 1st July.
I was intrigued by a study of the social service facts and figures documents distributed by the Minister. I congratulate the
Department and the Minister on the facts provided. They are extensive, and except when they are camouflaged to disguise the fact that the Government’s policy has broken down they present valuable information to the Parliament. But not all of the valuable information is complimentary to the Government. A study of the information shows that many benefits remained static for a long time and then were increased only by a minimum amount. The information proves the point I made at the beginning of my speech, namely, that increases, no matter how small, have been given by this Government mainly in election years. As an illustration, consider age and invalid pensions. Small increases were granted in 1951, 1953 and 1955. By coincidence they were election years. Then in 1958 supplementary assistance was granted. By a remarkable coincidence this, too. was an election year. Similarly in 1963 - another election year - a slight adjustment was made. The same situation applied in 1964 - the year of the Senate election - and it applies again this year.
Consider the wife’s allowance. It was increased in 1951 and 1952, but then a period of nine years elapsed until 1961 when an increase of SI .25 was granted to make up for all the cost of living increases that had taken place during the years of suffering that these women had to experience. Significantly, 1961 was an election year - and a disastrous one for the Government. In 1963 - another election year - there was a further increase. Very little change took place in 1965. Consider the child’s allowance. In 1951 - election year - there was an increase of 25c. Ten years later in 1961 it was increased by 35c. a week. Two years later in 1963 - another election year - a minor change was made and in 1965 a further slight adjustment was made. Next, we can consider the means test. In 1949 the permissible income was $3 a week. Four years later, in 1953 - election year - it was increased to $4. In 1954 it was increased to $7. This was also an election year. The permissible income has remained unchanged for the last 12 years. If it were brought up to date in accordance with the present value of money it would be no less than $9.33 now. I will deal further with the question of the permissible income later so that honorable members will know the situation.
The widows pension has followed much the same pattern, with election years being the deciding factor as to whether there should be any increases or other adjustments. It evidently did not matter to the Government that it skipped a year in respect of the widows and let them bear the brunt of its action. Similarly with the means test on the widow’s pension. The permissible income has risen from S3 a week in 1949 to S7 in 1954, and it has remained stationary for the last 12 years. Of course, 1953 and 1954 were election years. In 1955 there was a slight adjustment to the children’s allowance. No further change was made in the means test until 1960 - a period of five years. In the case of additional permissible income where there are children of widows, there was no change between 1952 and 1966. Until today’s legislation, which increases the amount from $1 to S3, there has been no change for 14 years. What a remarkable achievement this has been. What a scandalous state of affairs it is. In the case of class A widows the property limit remained unchanged between 1954 and 1958 and 1958 and 1960. It then remained unchanged until 1963, and a further two years elapsed before it was changed in 1965. This information, incidentally, is taken from the Minister’s own documents.
Consider unemployment and sickness benefits. There was no change in the rate of unemployment and sickness benefits between 1949 and 1952. It was a further five years, until 1957, before it was changed. Another four years elapsed before the next change in 1961. There has been no change since 1962. The basic wage is now $32.80, but a man with a wife and two children will get only $22.75 from unemployment and sickness benefits, which is $10.05 less than the basic wage. The rate has not changed since 1962 and there is no prospect of its being changed, yet costs are increasing substantially all the time, as is unemployment. Child endowment has remained at 50c for the first child since 1950 - a period of 16 years. It has remained at SI for the second child since 1948 - a period of 18 years. In fact, there has been only one change in the endowment payable for the second child in the last 25 years, and that totalled 50c. What a scandalous state of affairs. Similarly, endowment for the third and subsequent children has increased by only SI in the last 25 years. Maternity allowance has remained unchanged for 23 years. This, in itself, is a scandal. It is a tragic state of affairs. In these circumstances, is it any wonder that the Australian Labour Party condemns the Government for having allowed many other social services to be pegged and so to lose their value? 1 want to deal in a little more detail with child endowment, because it is important to the Parliament. Let us take 9th November 1948 as a starting point, when child endowment was 10s. or SI for other than the first child. This should now be 52 because prices have doubled since then. Two other things have happened since that date. Child endowment has become payable in respect of the first child at 50 cents a week and. since 14th January 1964, the amount for third and subsequent children has become $1.50. I could give many facts and figures on child endowment, but I do not want to use too many figures in my speech. I want to state the position clearly and leave it at that. The astonishing fact revealed by the figures 1 have is that, despite the fact that a far higher percentage of the population was in receipt of child endowment in 1965 than in 1949, it actually took only two-thirds as much of the gross national product in 1965 as it did in 1949. The position is only marginally improved if we add to the 1965 figures the $11 million spent on student endowment to children over 16 years. In 1949. the Australian population was just over 8 million and in 1965 it was just over 11 million. So, in terms of total population the number of endowed children was nearly twice as great in 1965 as it was in 1949. But the figures we have show that, in terms of the gross national product, the real financial cost in 1965 was proportionately less than in 1949. This raises at least these questions: Was the amount of child endowment paid in 1949 extravagant? I do not think it was. I think it was a just amount, in view of the stability of prices under Labour. If it was not extravagant, why can we not pay the same real amounts now? Have we different priorities now from then? They are questions that the Minister should answer for the information of the Parliament and the suffering people who need adjustments to be made to rates of social services.
I want to pass from child endowment to the means test, which has become a politi cally contentious matter, ft is not mentioned in the speech delivered by the Minister. He has not done anything about it.
– That is quite understandable.
– It is. A Press statement last year recorded that he did not sec much hope of it being changed at all in the near future. In 1949 the Liberal Government was swept into office after presenting to the people the largest collection of promises ever made by any political party. One of them was to put value back into the fi, but th,e Government fixed that up by changing the currency from pounds to dollars. It has long since repudiated that promise. Another promise related to the means test. I now want to refresh the memories of honorable members on this question, especially in the light of demands from some honorable members on the Government side for the abolition of the means test. I will quote an extract from the 1949 policy speech of the Right Honorable R. G. Menzies, delivered in Canberra on 1 0th November 1949. He said -
Australia still needs a contributing system of national insurance against sickness, widowhood, unemployment and old age. lt is only under such a system- said the great man - that we can all make 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-
Fourteen years ago - a scheme for your approval. Meanwhile, existing rates of pension will, of course, be at least maintained. We will, much more importantly, increase their true value by increasing their purchasing power.
That was the Liberal Party policy of 17 years ago and it is now 14 years since the date on which the scheme was to be submitted to the people for approval. Members on this side of the Parliament, in the light of that background, may be excused if they are a little cynical when honorable members opposite advocate the abolition of the means test. As a matter of fact, in the 1954 policy speech of the Australian Labour Party, Labour did something that the Liberal Party has never done. This is what was said in the policy speech by Dr. Evatt -
Within the life of the ensuing Parliament, Labour will eliminate the means test entirely. A national retiring allowance will be paid to everyone who reaches the statutory age of qualification.
Even with that threat, the Liberal Party would not fulfill its promise. Labour’s proposal was vigorously opposed by the Government, which had already made a similar promise. Honorable members opposite now say that they want to abolish the means test. But as usual, when Labour promised to do it, they said the scheme could not be financed. Their cry is the same today; yet they are able to snatch out of the air, as it were, S250 million for defence expenditure, while being unable to find money for social services.
I want to mention one other point. There are barriers of property and income in the means test that exclude five out of every eleven people who are eligible by reason of age - females at 60 years and males at 65 years. Of every 1 1 people eligible foi age pension, six receive the pension in part or in full and five are excluded by the means test. This shows that many people are suffering. Those that voted for the Liberal Party in 1949 must be wondering why the promise it made then has not been given effect and why some people arc still called upon to suffer because of the existence of the means test. I say that in order to point out to the Minister that he has obligations as a member of the Government to let the people know why that promise has been repudiated and why some honorable members opposite are now shadow sparring for votes in an election year on a promise that they have repudiated for 16 or 17 long years.
Having said so much objectively and critically about the Government’s infamous policies on social services, I will remind honorable members opposite of the speech made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) on the Budget for this year. In it he gave a broad outline of what Labour would do in respect of social services if it were elected to office. I do not intend to run over all the points, because they have been specifically stated by the Leader of the Opposition in his speech. The people know where we stand on a number of matters that this Government has repudiated. But
I will mention some of the points he made to show that we are not only critical but that we also ha%’e constructive ideas on these issues. The Leader of the Opposition said -
The Government has failed completely to face up to national responsibilities in pensions, child endowment, the abolition of the means test and the maternity allowance.
He went on to say -
But wages and social services are paid so that people may live as citizens in a civilised community, not that they exist to stimulate the economy. . . . a first priority of a Labour Government would be to raise the amounts payable to those now receiving pensions to a more satisfactory level. I mean by this all pensioners, whether aged, invalid or widow, and those in receipt of repatriation benefits.
He also said -
Our policy has always been the progressive abolition of the means test. Had we won in any of the elections which took place since 1949 we would have done more to abolish the means te; than the present Government has done over that long period.
He said that a Labour Government would increase maternity and family allowances. His remarks may be summarised in these words:
The Labour Party undertakes to review all social services with a view to giving justice and security to those dependent on them.
The Government has had 17 years in which to do this. I say to the people who live on pensions and other social service payments that they should study carefully the programme that Labour will present at the election, hear our criticism in this debate and learn well from the speech of the Leader of the Opposition, in which he outlined what Labour proposes and will do for this deserving section of the community.
No government in Australian history has exploited the pensioners, their dependants and others living on social services more than the present administration has. It has disregarded the needs of these people and, although increasing some pensions, has denied to many people the benefits to which they are entitled. It has repudiated the pledges on which it was elected - to increase the purchasing power of social service1:, to abolish the means test and to legislate in the interests of these people. It has also refused to increase a wide and lengthy range of social service benefits. In respect of a dozen and one items in the social services catalogue, the Government has consistently refused to grant necessary benefits for lengthy periods. In this time, the real sufferers from this Government have been those covered by the social services legislation. Only a fraction of the people come within the s.-ope of its present proposals. The Opposition has moved its amendment as a gesture of ils condemnation of the Government’s policies and its failure to protect and maintain the standard of living of those dependent on social services. The Government stands condemned for having neglected to increase adequately guardian’s allowances, wife’s allowances, age and invalid pensions, child endowment, maternity allowances, funeral benefits, sickness and unemployment benefits and rehabilitation benefits. The Opposition believes that the Government has failed the people dependent on social service legislation and the amendment indicates our condemnation of the Government’s policy.
– Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.
.- What a difference there is between the Australian Labour Party in office and the Australian Labour Party in Opposition. In 1949. in spite of repeated requests from pensioner organisations and from the general public to increase the pension from Labour’s rate of S4.25 a week, the Chifley Government refused to give any increase whatsoever. Did we then hear the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) talk about the miserable Labour pension of $4.25 a week? But once Labour comes into Opposition it promises the world. Experience has shown that there is a vast difference between Labour’s promises in opposition and its achievements when in power. The honorable member for Grayndler said that the Government had no new ideas. No government has made more reforms and improvements to the Social Services Act than the Liberal-Country Party Government has made since 1949. In a few minutes I will refer to those tremenodus improvements that have been made.
The honorable member for Grayndler has suggested further supplementary assistance in necessitous cases. It was this Government which, for the first time, introduced supple mentary assistance to meet the hardship cases. During the eight years that Labour was in power it neither implemented nor even thought of such a provision. Supplementary assistance for the needy must be based on a means test. Therefore we can only assume from the statement of the honorable member for Grayndler that the Opposition advocates increased severity of the means test; in other words, il wants to provide a greater amount, based upon the means test, for pensions given in respect of hardship and need, and a lower amount to pensioners generally.
This Bill is a milestone in the progressive legislation of the Liberal-Country Party Government. As a result of this legislation 820.000 people will benefit. The single age, invalid and widow pensioners will receive an increase of $1 a week, bringing their pension to S13 a week as compared with $4.25 under the last Labour Government. An increase of SI. 50 is provided for married couple pensioners, bringing their combined pension to S23.50 a week. This Bill will enable a considerable number of people, now eliminated from any pension as a result of the means test, to become eligible by virtue of the increase in the pension. Under the provisions of the merged means test, every time the pension is raised and every lime the permissible income is raised, some people who have been excluded by the operation of ;he means test have become eligible.
This Bill, also for the first time since the passing of the Act in 1909, eliminates the nationality clause. Under the present Act a person cannot receive an age pension unless he or she is a British subject - Australian born, British born or naturalised. This has created considerable hardship to many of our migrants who have come to Australia in the later years of their lives and have found the greatest difficulty in learning the English language, a knowledge of which is one of the conditions necessary for naturalisation. Therefore, the removal of the nationality clause will be a great benefit to migrants who find difficulty in this direction. There is, of course, still the residential clause which provides that people, whether Australian born, born in the United Kingdom or born elsewhere, must have had 10 years’ residence in Australia before they qualify for an age pension.
The honorable member for Grayndler talked about prices and costs. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair) stated in his excellent second reading speech that as a result of this increase in the pension, and previous increases that have been made, the single pensioner will be infinitely better off than he would have been had the 1949 Labour Government pension rate been adjusted according to the cost of living index. The single pensioner will be $5.94 better off than he would have been had he received the Labour pension of 1949 adjusted upwards according to the consumer price index. A married couple will be $2.69 better off and a widow with two children will be $9.87 better off. What humbug it is for the honorable member for Grayndler to say that under this Government the pension has not kept pace with the cost of living. It has not merely kept pace with the cost of living; it has increased at a rate substantially faster than that at which the cost of living has increased.
This Government has also introduced and progressively increased a number of fringe benefits for pensioners that were neither in existence nor even thought of while Labour was in office. These fringe benefits are estimated to cost, on the average, $1.15 for each pensioner. They include, of course, the extremely valuable pensioner medical scheme under which pensioners receive free medical treatment and free medicines. This scheme has removed from the minds of pensioners the fear of receiving substantial bills that they would not be able to meet.
Let us now look at the circumstances of widows with children. Their situation has been improved out of sight since Labour was in office. At present a widow with children receives a pension of $13 a week, mother’s allowance of $4 a week and children’s allowance of $3 a week. She is entitled to earn or receive additional income of $13 a week. If that widow is earning and receiving the maximum amount she is permitted to receive without having her pension affected, her total income is $33 a week, which is higher than the basic wage. The average basic wage in Australia today is $32.80. It is apparent, therefore, that what the honorable member for Grayndler has stated about the provision for the aged, the widowed and the sick not having kept pace with the cost of living is completely untrue.
I now move on to the difficult question of the means test. As honorable members know, ever since I was first elected to this House in 1949 I have consistently advocated national superannuation on a contributory basis, free of means test, to take the place of the age pension at whatever age is decided upon. I am convinced that without such a contributory scheme it is impossible to get rid of the means test entirely, except at an age which would have to be so high that the scheme would not be important in the whole scheme of things. I have said before that I believe a national superannuation plan could be introduced, that the contributions would not be excessive and that this would enable the means test to be abolished at the age of, say, 70 years, leaving the existing pension to continue to operate in respect of persons under that age. But to suggest that this Government has not done anything worth while about the means test is quite contrary to the facts. Since 1949 this Government, year by year, has progressively liberalised the means test. The result has been that each year there has been a smaller proportion of the people excluded from the pension by the means test. If this liberalisation continues at the same rate there will not be a great number of people who will be excluded from the pension by the operation of the means test.
I want the House to look at the means test as it operated in 1949 under Labour. A person in those days could not receive a pension at all if he had assets to the value of $1,500 or more. If a person had £750 in the days when the Government supported by the honorable member for Grayndler was in office he could not get a pension. At the present time there is no ceiling at all on assets, but the formula of the merged means test means that a person is not made ineligible for the pension until he has assets to the value of $10,800, provided he has no other income which is taken into account in the operation of the merged means test. What a difference there is between $1,500 under Labour and $10,800 under Liberal.
Let us now (race the liberalisation that has occurred since 1949. I mentioned that in 194”) the ceiling on assets was SI, 500. In 1951 the Liberal Government increased it to S2.000, in 1953 to $2,500 and in 1954 to S3, 500. Then came the merged means test which abolished the ceilings altogether. Under the new formula a pension may be paid until the person’s means as assessed reach a total of SI 0,800. For the honorable member for Grayndler to say that this Government has done nothing with regard to the means test is to contradict the facts.
Now let us look at permissible income. Under Labour, if a person earned more than S3 a week the excess was deducted from his pension. That figure was increased in 1953 to $4 a week and in 1954 to $7 a week, and now the permissible income is considered together with properly under the merged means test. But it is obvious thai this Government has liberalised the means test repeatedly since 1949 as to both the amount of property a person can have and the amount of income he can earn. Each liberalisation has made a great many more people eligible for pensions.
In addition, some of the assets of a person are totally exempt from the operation of the means test. Honorable members may be interested to know that under the Chifley Government, which the honorable member for Grayndler so strongly supported, the amount of the exemption was only $200.
Sit)ting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
– Before the suspension of the sitting, I pointed out how the Liberal Government had liberalised the means test year by year since 1949. I pointed out that in 1949, under Labour, an aged person could not get a pension at all if he had assets, or property as it is called, in excess of $1,500. I pointed out how, year by year, this Government had liberalised the means test by raising the property ceiling and how, finally, the Government had abolished this ceiling. So a person receives either the full pension or a part pension, according to a formula which, if a person has assets only, does not deprive him of a pension until those assets reach SI 0,800 - a figure very different from the SI. 500 under Labour. A certain amount of property is exempt under the formula relating to the means test. Under Labour, the exempt amount was $200. This amount has since been doubled and is now $400. So for the honorable member for Grayndler to say that this Government has done nothing about liberalisation of the means test is far from the facts.
I wish now to refer to additional benefits or, as some call them, fringe benefits which have been instituted by this Government and which were not available when Labour was in power. In the operation of the means test under Labour the pensioner was penalised twice. He was penalised, first, because he possessed assets and, secondly, because of the possession of income from those assets. The Liberal Government saw the fallacy and injustice of this situation and in 1954 it excluded income from assets or property in the calculation of the means test. In 1958, the Liberal-Country Party Government introduced for the first time supplementary assistance or a hardship pension. It has since increased and liberalised that supplementary assistance.
In 1959 the Liberal-Country Party Government provided for the first time pensions for Aboriginal natives. The Labour Party was in office for eight years and did nothing for the Aborigines. In 1960 the Liberal-Country Party Government introduced the merged means test to which I referred earlier. In 1962 it reduced the residential qualification from 20 years to 10 - a tremendous benefit to our new settlers who, if they had had to wait 20 years before getting a pension, in many cases never would have received it.
In 1963, the Government made quite a drastic alteration by introducing the standard rate pension - a higher rate pension for single persons, widows, widowers and married couples where only one partner was a pensioner - in recognition of the fact that a single person has a heavier burden in relation to rent, electricity, gas and things of that kind, the cost of which may be shared by a married couple when both are in receipt of a pension. So honorable members will see that the Government has consistently, over the years, not only raised the pension so that it will keep pace with the cost of living but raised it substantially more than increases in the cost of living. In addition, over the years, the Government has liberalised the means test so that more and more of our aged people may obtain the benefits of the age pension. One of the greatest of those benefits is the pensioner medical scheme, which is now available to all persons in receipt of a social services pension. In the few minutes that remain to me, I want to come back to this extremely difficult matter of the means test. As the honorable member for Grayndler has said, the former Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, in his 1949 policy speech said -
Australia still needs a contributory scheme of national insurance, and only under that system can we get rid of the means tesl.
Never were truer words spoken. In all of Labours proposals about the means test not once has it heeded those words; not once has it come forward with a contributory plan. Almost every civilised country now has a scheme of national superannuation or national insurance. All of those countries have recognised that national superannuation can come about only if the people make a contribution during the working years of their lives. Only if they make contributions during their working years is it possible to pay to them upon retirement a pension free of means test. So although Labour cites the former Prime Minister, it has never been willing to heed his words and to support in this House what I have advocated many times, namely the institution of a contribution to provide a worthwhile scheme of national superannuation.
We have compulsory superannuation for members of Parliament and I do not find them squealing about it. We have compulsory superannuation for our civil service and all our civil servants wholeheartedly support the scheme. I have always believed that everybody should have the benefit of national superannuation, but such a scheme cannot be put into practice without contributions from the people. For Labour to pretend to offer the benefits of national superannuation without requiring contributions from the people to provide these benefits is simply making promises that can never be adhered to.
In the matter of the means test, there are two schools of thought. One advocates what I have always advocated, namely national superannuation on a contributory basis. The superannuation then is payable as of right without any means test because it has been contributed for, and not on the basis of need. The other method available is the course that has been adopted by the Government by liberalising the means test from time to time. 1 pointed out earlier the manner in which year by year this Government has liberalised the means test, bringing more and more people within the social services umbrella and leaving outside it fewer and fewer who are disentitled to the pension because they cannot satisfy the means test. That can continue. If the people of Australia think that is the best method, the Government will continue, I trust, to liberalise the means test. There are many ways in which this can be done. It can bc done, as the Government has done it in the past, by exempting a certain amount of income or a certain amount of property from the operation of the means test. War pension or a certain amount of superannuation or earnings can be exempted. There are innumerable ways in which the means test can be liberalised. All of them have merit. As this is the last speech that I shall make in this House at the second reading stage of a social services bill, I say only that I congratulate the Government on the way in which it has liberalised the means test from time to time. I trust that in future this Government will either continue this liberalisation of the means test or. better still, introduce national superannuation.
Mr. BARNARD (Bass) (2.281.- Mr. Acting Speaker, may 1 say at the outset that I was somewhat disappointed at the attitude adopted by the honorable member for Sturt (Sir Keith Wilson) when, in the closing stages of his speech, he turned to the attitude of honorable members on this side of the House towards the abolition of the means test. May I say that I am one of those who believe that the honorable member, in the time during which he has been a member of this Parliament, has endeavoured to make a worthwhile contribution in this matter. I regret, of course, that he has never been able to convince the Government that it ought to abolish the means test entirely. However, the means test having been liberalised in the years during which he has represented the Sturt electorate in this House, I have no doubt - indeed, I concede - that he has played some part in the progress that has been made.
The honorable member, turning to the second point that he made concerning this matter, said that Opposition members have never suggested that there ought to be a contributory national insurance scheme. Let me remind him and, indeed, all Government supporters, that when a Labour government was in office the people paid their taxes in two separate categories - income tax and social services contribution. The social services contribution was set aside for the payment of social services and its proceeds went into a special fund. What happened when the present Government parties took office in 1949? Not only did they combine the two payments. They also did not endeavour to reduce taxation, because they had abandoned the system adopted by the Australian Labour Party to provide for the payment of social services. In addition to not reducing direct taxation, the present Government parties spent all the money that had been accumulated by the Labour Government in the special fund for social services. Let me remind the honorable member for Sturt that the ultimate objective of the Labour Government was the complete abolition of the means test. That was Labour’s policy in those days. We reaffirmed that policy in 1954 and we do so again now. We believe that the means test ought to be abolished. I do not want to say any more on this point now. I hope to have an opportunity to continue this line of argument later in my speech. As I have already indicated, Mr. Acting Speaker, I concede that the honorable member for Sturt genuinely believes that the means test ought to be abolished. I have no doubt that some other honorable members on the opposite side of the House agree with him. We on this side, however, regret that they have not been able to exercise more influence on the Government than they have had. The means test remains and it presents a vital issue for this Parliament and for the people of Australia because it affects the great majority of them.
Having made those opening remarks, Mr. Acting Speaker, let me turn to the measure that is before us. I support the amendment to the motion for the second reading of the Bill that has been proposed by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly). The amendment expresses in no uncertain terms the attitude of the Australian Labour Party to this measure. Our amendment, by its very terms, points to the anomalies that exist in the social services legislation and indicates to the Government what we believe ought to be done immediately to improve this Bill. The increases in benefits agreed to by the Government and proposed in this measure are too little and, in many instances, they are too late. The proposed increases are inadequate. They will not improve the general pension situation. The increase in prices that has taken place since the Government announced its intention to increase the standard rate of pension by $1 a week affects the real value not only of the standard rate but also of all other pension rates. Already, I believe, the benefit gained by the general mass of workers from the recent basic wage increase of $2 a week has been lost because of the general increase in costs and prices that has taken place since the wage adjustment was announced. The workers of Australia have received a wage increase of S2 a week. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair), as spokesman for the Government, has announced that the standard rate of pension will be increased by only SI a week. So one can see immediately the disadvantage to which age pensioners and other classes of pensioners are subjected by the basic wage increase in conjunction with the parsimonious pension increase agreed to by the Government.
It is in this atmosphere that the Government has agreed - reluctantly, 1 submit - to some increases in the various categories of pensions. Firstly, as I have already stated, it has agreed to increase by $1 a week the base rate of pension of single age and invalid pensioners and widow pensioners with children, to give them a maximum of $13 a week. Secondly, the Government proposes to increase by SI a week the pension now payable to widows without children. Thirdly, the Minister announced an increase of $1.50 a week in the combined pensions of a married couple. This represents an increase of 25c a week each less than the increase in the rate for a single or widow pensioner. In my opinion, the Minister never explains to honorable members the reasons for the attitude that married pensioners must be treated differently from single ones. In future, pensioner married couples will receive a combined pension income of $23.50 a week. The fourth amendment to this legislation - I think it is one for which the Minister is entitled to some credit - provides for the easing of the means test with relation to the amount that widows with children may earn. This is a very generous contribution. No doubt it will be appreciated by the widows of this country who have children under the age of 16 to support.
The fifth amendment increases the benefits payable to certain patients in mental hospitals. I emphasise the words “ certain patients “. No doubt when we are considering the Bill in Committee the Minister will have an opportunity to explain what is meant by “ certain patients “. The final change proposed by the Minister relates to new Australians. They will no longer be obliged to become naturalised Australian citizens before becoming eligible for an age, invalid or widow’s pension. This is also a substantial improvement.
Having dealt with what the Minister proposes in this legislation, I think it would be appropriate for me to deal with what the Minister has ignored. For example, as I have already indicated, he has ignored the increases that have taken place in prices in recent years. Because of these increases very little advantage will flow to pensioners generally from this Budget. Married age and invalid pensioners received no increases last year. From memory, they received an increase of 50c in 1964, and that was the first increase they had enjoyed since 1961. They are now to receive an increase of 25c less than that to be enjoyed by the single pensioner. As I said a few moments ago, perhaps the Minister will be able to give adequate reasons for this when he replies at the conclusion of this debate. 1 have never seen any statement by the Minister or any other member of the Government which would justify this attitude, especially when one considers the anomalies that can be and have been pointed out to the Minister as flowing from this legislation because of the discrimination to which I have referred.
Initially, there may have been very good reason to acknowledge that the circumstances of some single pensioners needed to be improved, but I suggest that this does not excuse the Government for continuing to maintain the anomalies that arise as a result of this kind of legislation. To illustrate my point, I take the case of two single pensioners who are close relatives and who are sharing the same accommodation and paying rent. The standard rate pension for each of them is §13 a week. If they qualify under the means test for the supplementary allowance, they will receive an additional $2 a week each, making the total for each of them SI 5 a week. Thus their combined incomes will be $30 a week. But what is the position of the married couple living under similar circumstances, in a similar house and paying the same rent? Their combined income will be $23.50 a week or $6.50 less than the combined incomes of the two single pensioners who are close relatives living in the one house and meeting the same commitments as the married couple each week.
How does the Government justify this kind of attitude? The Minister said that the attitude of the Department, and therefore the attitude of this Government, was that single pensioners should not be placed in a better position than married couples. He went on to say that where two single pensioners were living together as man and wife they would be paid only the standard rate and would not be eligible for the supplementary allowance. But that deals with only one type of case. I have already referred to another type of case, and submit I have proved that the Minister and the Government ought to examine the situation.
I refer again to the position of the widow who is living in a home which she is buying, and partly owns. She will receive only the standard rate of pension. If she has no children her rate will be $13 a week. She will not be entitled to the supplementary allowance despite the fact that she probably pays the same amount in instalments each week as the single pensioner living next door is paying by way of rent. The Opposition has referred to these anomalies time and time again. We believe that these are the kinds of things that ought to be examined. It is not sufficient to say that the Department watches this matter very carefully. What the Government ought to consider is the payment to persons living in similar circumstances of the maximum amount that can be paid. They are not receiving that benefit now because of this Government’s attitude towards the matters I have mentioned.
One other matter that the Government has refused to recognise in amending this legislation is the wife’s allowance. The amount now being paid is $6 a week, lt has stood at S6 a week for some considerable time. It is paid to the wife of an age pensioner if she is under 60 years of age and her pensioner husband is over 70 years of age. lt is paid also to the wife of an invalid pensioner and the wife of any age pensioner who is classified as being permanently unemployable. Why this discrimination? This matter has been raised consistently by members on this side of the House, and the Government has just as consistently refused to recognise what is, after all, a just claim.
The Minister has dismissed the arguments advanced by members on this side of the House by saying that the wife of an invalid pensioner ought to be in a position to supplement her income by earnings. I do not think it is sufficient to say this. Even if the wife who is receiving the wife’s allowance is in a position to work, what is the situation? She receives a wife’s allowance of S6 a week. Her husband receives the standard rate pension of S 1 3 a week. Between them they are entitled to have additional income amounting to S 1 4 a week. This would give them a combined income of $33 a week.
Take now the married couple who receive $23.50 a week and who are entitled to enjoy additional income, be it from earnings or some other source, of $14 a week. This gives them a total combined income of 5537.50 a week, lt will be seen at once, therefore, that even if the wife in receipt of the wife’s allowance of S6 a week is in a position to earn an additional $14 a week, she and her pensioner husband between them will have a combined income of $2.50 a week less than the amount that can be enjoyed by a married couple. Surely this is one of the matters that the Government might have considered when it was framing this legislation and deciding upon the rate-; that would be applicable to all classes of pensioners under it. But once again it has ignored the pleas from members on this side of the House to increase the amount now being paid to the wife who is not eligible for an age, invalid or any other kind of pension for which the Department of Social Services is responsible.
Again, the Government ignores the falling value of child endowment, a matter to which reference was made earlier in this debate by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly). 1 do not want to say any more about this subject other than that, as the honorable member for Grayndler said earlier, the Government has forgotten the value that was applied to social services in 1949 when it assumed responsibility for the government of this country. The funeral allowance, except for a very small increase granted last year, remains unchanged. In 1965-66 funeral allowance cost the country only $1.1 million. A person who successfully applies for the allowance receives $40. We believe it is totally inadequate, but the Government in this instance has also refused to accept its responsibilities. Maternity allowance has never been adjusted since this Government has been in office. This is another important aspect of social services which has received no consideration from the Government. Unemployment and sickness benefits remain unchanged. One can point out to the Government, particularly in relation to the sickness benefit, that there obviously was need for an increase but, like the others, this has been ignored.
The Minister, in his second reading speech, invited criticism or debate, if 1 can put it that way, on the question of values. He referred to the value of certain classes of social service payments in 1949 and related those values to 1966. He mentioned, of course, the consumer price index but let me point out to him that one can find other bases of comparison which show conclusively that this Government has not maintained the respective values of social services at the 1949 level. Let me compare social service benefits with the average male earnings. I believe this is a fair basis of comparison. In 1949 the pension was 24.8 per cent, of the average male earnings. In 1966 the standard rate pension is only 23.8 per cent, of the average male earnings which are now $54.50 a week. The percentage has dropped from 24.8 to 23.8 so far as the standard rate pension is concerned. Now let me refer to the pension paid to a married couple. They each will receive S1 1.75 a week when this legislation is passed by both Houses of Parliament. That is only 21.4 per cent, of the average male earnings in 1966 and 3.4 per cent. less than it was 17 years ago. I suggest that the Minister consider these aspects and appreciate the decline which has been apparent in the value of these pensions if one measures the rates which now apply, as a percentage of the average male earnings, against the rates which applied in 1949. I do not need to go into detail to show how child endowment, as a percentage of the average male earnings, has fallen since 1949.
I want to turn now to the widows” pension. As I said only a few moments ago, the Opposition concedes that some improvement has been effected in this direction, lt was necessary. The Government apparently recognised that it was necessary and several years ago moved to effect an improvement. The rate will be increased by SI but, in addition to this, widows may now deduct S3 a week in respect of each child before any income they receive is taken into account for pension purposes. This will have the effect of increasing any income a widow may have to S3 a week for each child. The Minister endeavoured to prove his point - I have some quarrel with him in relation to this - by citing the case of a widow with two children who, with the additional income she may receive as a result of this legislation, will receive a total of S33 a week. This assumes, of course, that the widow will be able to earn, or will have coming in from some other source, the maximum amount that is permitted, hut it must be remembered - surely the Government understands this situation - that there are very many widows who have no other income and indeed are not able to supplement their pension and so will be confined to the base rate of $20 a week.
If the Minister and the Government feel that this is a generous attitude to adopt towards a widow with two children, then they are entitled to their point of view but 1 disagree with them. 1 do not believe that it is sufficient although f admit that some improvement has been effected in other directions. For example, referring to the amount that a widow may earn, .1 have already made the point that many widows are not able to supplement their income. A survey carried out in New South Wales recently by Dr. Jean Aitken-Swan revealed that 29 per cent, of civilian widow pensioners had incomes so low that there was not more than SI a head left after paying rent and providing a low cost protein diet. This is the situation which applies in New South Wales. 29 per cent.-
– That was before the mothers allowance.
– I have already conceded to the House that some improvement will be effected so far as widows are concerned, but irrespective of what has been said by the honorable member for Sturt the results of the survey to which 1 have referred cannot be overlooked entirely. This situation docs apply and I am sure the honorable member for Sturt must realise that there are far too many widows in this country who have no other income apart from the pension which, in the opinion of honorable members on this side of the House, is still completely inadequate.
The Minister for Social Services devoted some portion of his second reading speech to patients in mental hospitals. I referred to this matter in my speech during the second reading debate on the Social Services Bill 1965. I indicated then my belief that no means test should bc applied to persons who enter mental hospitals and that their pensions should not be cancelled. On that occasion the Minister agreed to consider my suggestion. I have no doubt that a distinct improvement has been effected in that a patient will now be entilled to a payment of pension in respect of the period during which it was suspended upon his entry into hospital up to a maximum of 12 weeks instead of four weeks as at present. But surely the Minister could have explained why this anomaly is being perpetuated. Neither I, nor I believe any other member of this Parliament, has ever heard it satisfactorily explained why the pension is cancelled. What a stupid and ridiculous situation. A person who enters a hospital for a nervous disorder and is treated by a clinic attached to a public hospital retains his pension, but another person who is admitted to a mental hospital for treatment of the same condition, a nervous disorder, loses his pension. This anomaly should not be perpetuated.
In his second reading speech the Minister said that the payment of 12 weeks pension off the arrears which may have accumulated while the patient was confined to a mental hospital would be used for the patient’s rehabilitation. 1 point out to the Minister that it will be necessary for the patient, particularly if he happens to be a married pensioner, to meet outstanding liabilities which accumulated while he was in the mental hospital. Surely the Government understands and can appreciate that if two married pensioners are living together and one is admitted to a mental hospital their joint expenses are not halved merely because one has been admitted to hospital. This is not the situation at all and it should be appreciated by the Government. Does the Government say to a pensioner who has been admitted to a public hospital that while he or she is in the hospital the pension will be cancelled? It does not. The pensioner receives the hospitalisation free on presentation of his medical entitlement card, but the Government discriminates against the patient who has a mental disorder. This is entirely wrong. The Government has been requested by State Ministers for Health to abolish this anomaly, but it has refused to face up to its responsibility in this respect.
I should now like to refer again to the means test. Australia is one of the few remaining countries with a high standard of living which retains the iniquitous and anomalous means test provisions. I believe that the Government should be able to abolish the means test immediately, without any serious financial difficulty, for all persons in Australia who are over 70 years of age. As I have already mentioned, in 1954 Labour agreed to abolish the means test. In 1949, as the honorable member for Grayndler pointed out earlier today, Sir Robert Menzies who was then Leader of the Opposition promised to bring down a plan to abolish the means test within the life of one Parliament. That plan should have been available to the Parliament in 1952 - 14 years ago. No plan has been presented by the Government, nor has it any intention of presenting a plan to the people of the country. The Labour Party believes that the means test should be abolished. It believes also that a committee of inquiry should be established to examine the financing aspects of such a scheme, including the desirability or otherwise of a contributory scheme. The Government has made no effort to remove or ease the means test which applied in 1954 or to increase the amount that a single pensioner is able to earn to supplement his pension. In 1954 the amount was fixed at £3 10s. or $7. In 1966 it remains at$7 per week. The Government should give consideration to the promise which it made to the people of this country as far back as 1949 when, as the then Opposition, it said it would abolish the means lest. It has not moved to achieve that purpose and it should do so.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Cleaver) adjourned.
– by leave - I regret to inform the House thata Vickers Viscount airliner VH-RM1, owned and operated by Ansett-A.N.A., crashed this afternoon in theWinton area of Queensland. The aircraft was on a passenger flight from Mount Isa to Longreach and had 19 passengers and a crew of 4 on board. There is yet no final information regarding any survivors. During the flight the pilot reported that the aircraft had an engine fire and that he was diverting to Winton. The aircraft crashed about 12 miles west of Winton and local police are now at the site of the crash. The Department of Civil Aviation area safety inspector in Queensland has already left Brisbane for the scene. An investigation team from the Department’s head office in Melbourne will also fly to the scene this afternoon. A full investigation will be made and I shall make a statement regarding further action as soon as I am in a position to do so.
.- The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) and his colleague from Grayndler (Mr. Daly) have battled this afternoon rather unsuccessfully to criticise with any real point the new structure of the social service benefits which will stand with the completion of the legislation now under debate. May I say that it looks as if Labour’s policy at the forthcoming Federal election will involve millions of dollars by way of promises relating to additional or expanded social services. It will be left to the public to assess the ability of any alternative government to finance these additional provisions. But of course this has been done before. I, for one, have my own personal judgment that the people of Australia will not be caught with a financial scheme which cannot be handled. The honorable member for Bass, as he came towards the conclusion of his speech, was talking about the difficulty in his own State and elsewhere when the pension is discontinued when an unfortunate person enters a mental hospital.
– 1 was not referring to my own State. When I speak on this subject 1 talk nationally.
– Of course we can look at this matter from a State point of view because there is a variation between State legislation relating to mental hospitals. Let mu make the point quickly in passing that the honorable member overlooks the fact that the Public Trustee in all these unfortunate cases becomes the custodian of the bank account and all financial affairs of the patient, in this set of circumstances, now can these unfortunate people be paid a pension. It it were continued it would contravene the basic intention of paying a pensioner benefit for the keep of a person.
– It can be picked up for 12 weeks, so why not for 16 weeks?
– This is in preparation for his return to the community. The amendment which is covered by the legislation today shows the humanity of the Government. It shows the desire to rehabilitate a person and to see that some additional funds are available when the person goes back into the community. I want to lay a foundation for my later remarks relative to the Bill by referring to the operations of the Department, the annual report of which we received a few days ago. I want to place on record that this is the 25th report of the Department of Social Services constituted as such. It happens to be the first report presented to the Minister and to the Parliament by the present incumbent of the office of Director-General of that Department. This report has been splendidly presented. Again we note with approval that some originality has come into the various sections of it.
It is from this report that I learn that expenditure last year from the National Welfare Fund under the Social Services Act, the Bill in relation to which we arc debating today, reached S694.2 million. This represented an increase of 3.5 per cent, on the previous year. The inquiring public is due to be advised, as this report indicates, the split up of the expenditure on benefits and to know how the amount is expended throughout the whole nation. A diagram in the report shows that every dollar involved in this very tremendous sum is spent in this fashion: 64c goes to the age and invalid pensioners; 25c is employed in child endowment; 7.2c go;s to the widows of the country by way of the benefit that they receive; unemployment, sickness and special benefits absorb 2.3c; the maternity allowances takes 2.1c; and 4c is required to meet funeral benefits and the Department’s rehabilitation programme. The cost per head based on the mean estimated population of Australia for the whole of the benefits last year, quite apart from any impact of the health services and the benefits under the highly praised health scheme, which was under debate here within the last few clays, was §60.51. We must place on record that every proposal for increases of one kind or another, or for the liberalisation or abolition of the means test, or for further increases in the benefits - the standard rate or any other new rate - that we may desire must, of course, be considered as an addition to that cost per head. Revenues to provide for substantial increases invariably involve higher rates of taxation or new forms of taxation. Groups or organised sections of the public pressing the Government for drastic changes - and an Opposition which today says: “ You should be doing this and that. You should be increasing the rate. You have been overlooking for a number of years this desirable element of the public which needs assistance “ - should take cognisance of the fact that their recommendation should be supported by a down to earth workable scheme for financing the increases. Their case is unacceptable if it is not based on a scheme that any government could handle in a commonsense fashion. Governments naturally want to know whether the taxpayers are prepared to pay if there is to be a substantial increase in benefits beyond the elasticity of the annual Budget.
The report draws attention, among many interesting items, to supplementary assistance which, of course, did not exist in 1949 when this Government came into office. It took us a number of years before we saw the need to give supplementary assistance to single pensioners who had to pay rent. In 1958 this Government introduced supplementary assistance and today we note with approval that at 30th June last 88,356 age pensioners and 30,071 invalid pensioners were receiving supplementary assistance. In recent years 1 have been trying to get the story of supplementary assistance across to the public generally. I have noted with appreciation that other honorable members from both sides of the House have been doing likewise. Still we find far too many elderly people who are paying rent in one form or another who have never applied for supplementary assistance. When eventually someone has informed them of this form of assistance it has been discovered that these people have been doing without it for years. I hope that the Department and all community leaders will do their utmost to publicise afresh this particular benefit. I am sure it disturbs every honorable member to encounter a number of elderly people who, because of their desperate attempts not to turn to the Government or because they have not had a close relative or friend to advise them, have never sought the age pension. Here again I appeal to all honorable members, and to all who may hear this particular debate, to endeavour, when they see a needy case, to inquire whether the benefit has been sought and whether or not an entitlement exists.
We are dealing, of course, with a department of tremendous magnitude. It is a most efficient department, lt was examined in detail by the Joint Parliamentary Commit ee of Public Accounts within the last two years, and a very full and detailed report on it has been made available to the Parliament and to the public in the 73rd report of that Parliamentary Committee. It is not my intention to refer to the conclusions of the Committee, because they are lengthy and varied, but the report indicates a very high degree of efficiency in the Department and a humanity in the servants of the Department in dealing with the people who seek assistance - whether it be in the field of rehabilitation, whether it be those who are benefiting under the Aged Persons Homes Act or whether it be persons who have to complete a form. We are particularly glad in this respect to see that the Bill changes the old term “ magistrate “. This is most desirable, because it is a relic of the past. The officer concerned is a highly qualified officer of the Department and there is no longer need to call him a magistrate. The officers of the Department have been most helpful down through the years. I mention the Public Accounts Committee’s survey so that the public may know that virtually every aspect of the Department’s operations has been looked at in public inquiry. The report that was brought down gave credit of the Department and its administrators.
Previous speakers, including my colleague the honorable member for Sturt (Sir Keith Wilson), have added their observations and recommendations to the views expressed by the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair) in his second reading speech, lt is hardly necessary for me to cover the same points in detail, but it is necessary to reiterate that the Bill introduces some desirable amendments. It is easy for the Opposition to say that the increase in the sandard rate of pension could have been higher. This has been the Opposition’s cry every time the Government, during its term of office, has done what it has found it possible to do within the annual Budget in the interests of those who are beneficiaries. On this occasion the standard rate of pension is to be increased by Si a week, lifting the rate to $ 13 a week. Widows without children will receive SI a week increase in the pension payable to them. The combined pensions of a married couple will increase by SI. 50 lifting them to $23.50. If I had time I could develop the theme, but I simply draw attention to the fact that the excellent speech by the Minister related to the consumer price index the rates that will now apply. That is a fair way to assess the value of the benefit - a benefit designed not as national superannuation, not as national insurance, not as a pension or a benefit entirely free of means test, but a benefit designed to help the most unfortunate in the community. It is not put forward as a complete income to make things easy. It is the best that the Government has found it possible to do for those in the greatest need. The second feature of the Bill - and other honorable members have mentioned this - is the very sensible adjustment in respect of the deduction for each child from a pensioner’s income, for means test purposes. So it is that we find that from SI a week in respect of each child deducted from income, before being taken into account for pension purposes, the deduction is to be increased threefold to S3 a week. It works out that pensioners will be able to earn an additional S2 a week for each child. The example given by the Minister is worth repeating. A widow with two children will be able to earn S6 a week for her children as well as, subject to her property income. $7 a week for herself.
I have already made clear in my reply to the honorable member for Bass that we recognise that if a person who has unfortunately been a patient in a mental hospital is due to return to the community, his rehabilitation will he aided if we can give him a nest egg - something in the bank. So, 1 come to the fourth significant amendment covered by this Bill. We should all applaud the decision to remove the nationality qualification for age, invalid and widows” pensions. Again, the speeches that have preceded mine have highlighted this and in the time available to mc I would prefer simply to say that, linked wilh our latest approach in the interests of the new settlers who come to Australia, inherent in the amendment is the recognition that if people are here and fulfil the residential qualification that this Government reduced from 20 years to 10 years, they should receive, if qualified, similar benefits. The Government has never exerted pressure on people to become naturalised. We encourage them to do so and we hope that they will see the wisdom of naturalisation. But the Bill today simply says that any person who has resided in Australia for 10 years will qualify for these benefits. Our new settlers who, for one reason or another, may not have sought naturalisation will recognise this as a very human and helpful decision in their interests.
I would like lo emphasise that the intention of social services legislation is primarily to assist the less fortunate in the community.
As members of the Parliament, we are too often approached by people who do not recognise the fundamentals of the Australian social service legislation. Until we change the existing concept, until we have a scheme of national insurance or national superannuation, we must insist that the benefits are intended to help those less fortunate than ourselves. This simply means that the taxpayer in general is paying to help those people who are in need. This brings us to a further consideration of the liberalisation of the means test, or the introduction of some form of national superannuation or national insurance. There is, I believe, too much loose talk and irrational thinking in this field. 1 am ready to agree that there are anomalies, but I know of no scheme of benefits in which anomalies will not bc found.
I do not think that any honorable member can tell me much more than I already know about the difficulties of those who are on fixed incomes. We are living in an affluent society. Our friends opposite must concede that the man who works does not consider himself bound to vote for the Australian Labour Party. He is not bound because he is a unionist to follow the traditions of years ago. Thousands upon thousands of these men are living under very good conditions and they so like the policies of this Government that they vote for us and support us. The fixed income person is deserving of our understanding and he certainly has my sympathy. I remind the House that very many genuine people have been prudent and have saved assiduously. Many of them have entered into superannuation schemes. I think, for example, of a school teacher who has served ably in the Department of Education for many years, built up her superannuation entitlement, and perhaps even invested in a small property or put her savings into a desirable form of investment. Today, in her retirement, she has a fixed income from these sources. During her working life she assessed, quite soundly, that this would be adequate: but in the economy of today her fixed income is not as high as she expected and not as high as she deserves. When she compares her position with the position of those who have not been so prudent, she comes to us as members elected to the
Federal Parliament and points out, quite justly: “ Surely there is something that can be done even now for me “. So we are finding that our constituents do present to us a great variety of individual circumstances, of which the example of the teacher is but one.
Superannuation and/or savings and investment often means exclusion from any benefit under the Social Services Act. The person who is excluded from even a part pension is also excluded from the fringe benefits that this Government has been pleased to approve, such as the pensioner medical service, which has a very high value to those who are aged or invalid.
I shall make a quick reference to national insurance. We find in the United Kingdom booklet “ Social Security in Britain “ a chapter devoted to national insurance. We are reminded in this chapter that the legal basis of the national insurance scheme in Great Britain is the National Insurance Act of 1946, as amended. The booklet tells us that under this scheme virtually every person of working age is legally bound to take part in the scheme. It is an insurance scheme in that regular contributions are paid towards the cost of benefits payable in certain contingencies. These contributions do not meet the full cost; it is borne partly by the Exchequer. The booklet, as many would know, sets out how the scheme works and how the national insurance flat rate applies to employed persons who arc not taking part in the graduated pensions scheme or have contracted out. Provision is made for self-employed and non-employed persons. We are reminded that the Exchequer supplements the national insurance flat rate contributions by various amounts. These flat rate contributions are normally paid weekly by affixing special stamps obtainable at post offices. This leads us to a recognition of the fact that this is a vast scheme, to which the Exchequer, for the government of the day in the United Kingdom, must contribute heavily in addition to the very high contributions made by the worker and the employer.
People talk glibly at times about national insurance and national superannuation. Let me in very general terms suggest that superannuation connotes a more sophisticated scheme based upon an actuarial assessment of the rate of individual contributions required to pay a specific benefit. If we move into another field, we find that some of my colleagues talk constructively about the Government considering an age allowance, and perhaps a scheme along those lines would be a good start. This might be a first target as we move towards further liberalisation of the means test. Perhaps an age allowance, free of means test but subject to income tax, could be paid to persons 70 years of age and over. Women over 60 years and men over 65 years would continue to be subject to the means test as at present, but at least we would be making a move to help those who in their advanced years are deserving of freedom from the means test. This, we believe, could be effected at an estimated additional cost of S48 million - a figure which in a favorable year could be provided in the Budget. Once having been introduced the plan could, I am sure, be financed in subsequent Budgets without strain.
At least this would provide, as I have said, the first move towards the complete abolition of the means test. This Government indicated quite clearly in recent years that it believes it is moving in this direction because of the progressive liberalisation of the means test as it is known today. Let me make this point: At present all the money for these benefits that I have mentioned is passing through the N: tiona 1 Welfare Fund under the authority of the Social Services Act. The money is coming from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. The advocates of abolition of the means test cannot have it both ways. If it wants liberalisation of the means test gradually we can perhaps continue, as a government, to meet the demands from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. But if there is an impact such as the complete abolition of the means test, or some new scheme which involves millions of dollars in one fell swoop, then this will necessarily require a plan under which men and women will have to contribute for national insurance or national superannuation, or more taxes will have to be drawn from the taxpayers or the country. Taxation would be so substantially increased that there would be some murmurs of disapproval. So 1 applaud what has been done to date.
I believe that an examination of the schedule to the Bill will show that the variations in social service rates and the various innovations of recent years do credit to this Government. If this were the record of the previous Government 1 would be big enough to say also that an achievement of this sort would stand to its credit. The improvements made during the life of this Government compared with those of governments that have gone before are meritorious indeed. No other government has even been able to match that programme in the field of social services. It is a programme of achievement.
There is another important reference in the Bill which was covered adequately. I believe, by the Minister for Social Services. This does not require an amendment, for the matter is within the administrative capacity of the Department, lt brings in a new concept relative to the Aged Persons Homes Act. Under this Act in the past charitable bodies - churches and others - using the subsidy from the Government to build modern homes for the aged found it possible to build a sick bay so that when a resident became sick he or she could be transferred to a bed in that bay. But up to the present time it has been necessary for the normal aged persons’ homes accommodation to be kept vacant, and there was a time limit on the use of the bed in the sick bay. After a number of years representations about this were received from all over the country. There was also advocacy by honorable members in this House. Well do I know the enthusiasm shown, and pressure brought, by members of the Government Members Social Services Committee. We want to place on record today our pleasure that the Government and Minister and his departmental officers have found it possible to bring an entirely new concept into the scheme. The Bill will implement a decision that nursing homes may be built under the scheme. The nursing home need not be in the same area as the main home so long as both are related to the organisation making the request for the subsidy. They may be built with the same subsidy of $2 for $1 from the Commonwealth, Furthermore, the Minister has indicated to the House that the beds in these nursing homes may be kept fully occupied and used not only by those who reside in the organisation’s homes but may be occupied by elderly people from elsewhere. I believe this is an excellent scheme, because nursing homes will relieve the demands on general hospitals. State Governments, and all concerned with hospitalisation, will applaud this decision.
.- I rise to support the amendment so ably moved by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly). Before doing so 1 want to refer to some remarks made by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Cleaver). He referred very critically to a scheme that the Australian Labour Party might introduce in order to improve social services in Australia. He talked about the cost of this scheme. Whatever scheme for increased social service benefits might be put to the country by the Australian Labour Party, we will show how it will be paid for. We will leave it to members of the Liberal-Country Party Government to distort the figures that we may put to the people - as they have in the past - and then, having distorted the figures, to proceed themselves to implement features of the policy put to the people by the Australian Labour Party. I refer to the merged means test, as one instance. The guardian’s allowance is another. Of course, the honorable member for Swan is a member of the Government Members Social Services Committee and that could be one good reason why the pensioners and other social service recipients are getting such a bad deal from the Government.
I agree with the honorable member for Swan on one point; that was the tribute he paid to the officers of the Department of Social Services. Those officers are most helpful to honorable members. All honorable members should be thankful to them for the help they have given in the cases referred to them. They administer the Social Services Act in the best way they can. I realise the limitations that are placed upon them; but of course those are the responsibility of this Government.
Having said that, I again refer to the amendment moved by the honorable member for Grayndler. While speaking to that amendment he was able to refute the claim of the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair) that the value of social service benefits to recipients was greater today than in 1949. That has been the theme of
Government members for a number of years now. lt is untrue and is known by them to be untrue. The proportion of the gross national product now spent on social service benefits is practically the same as that expended in 1949. For instance, the proportion of the gross national product provided for social service benefits in the last year in which Labour was in office was 3.4 per cent. In 1948 it was much higher than that. Last year the proportion of the gross national product spent on social services was 3.6 per cent, and this year it is 3.69 per cent. - an amount of $757.8 million. So the proportion is much the same. There is not much difference now from when Labour was in office.
That refutes the statement that this Government is doing so much more in that regard. But there is an important factor to remember, one which cannot be ignored. In 1949 the population of Australia was 7.89 million. Today it is 11.5 million. This means that the percentages in the various age groups have been disturbed. For example, in 1948 the number of age pensioners as a percentage of the population was 3.93. In 1949 the percentage was 4.06. But in 1965 the figure had risen to 5.53 per cent. This means that the amount spent on age pensions as a whole in 1965 and 1966, as compared with when Labour was in office, is spread over 41 per cent, more pensioners. In other words, where Labour was supporting eight pensioners this Government is now supporting eleven pensioners. Consequently the amount spent on age pensions now must bc greater on that score alone. This does not mean that the amount received by the pensioner buys more today than it did in 1949.
The same argument applies to other social service benefits - child endowment, for instance. In 1951 there were 2,365,000 children for whom endowment was paid. By 1965 the number had increased to 3,546,000. So there arc 50 per cent, more children for whom child endowment is being paid. Obviously more is being spent on child endowment, but the recipients of the money are not getting more in actual purchasing power. Nobody can deny that in actual fact they are getting considerably less in purchasing power.
Since 1 949 this country has gone through a period of leaping inflation. The consumer price index has risen from 61 to 136.5, so that the value of money is much less today than it was in 1949. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) was able to show during a recent debate that prices had risen by 9 per cent, in the last two years. The Minister may argue that the amount spent on social services has increased, but that argument is not very convincing to the recipients of social service payments, the widows, the pensioners, the families receiving child endowment payments, when the amounts that they receive actually buy less than the payments in earlier years were able to buy.
Surely the recipients of social service benefits are entitled to participate in the increased prosperity that the Government is always talking about. The honorable member for Swan said a few minutes ago that we are living in an affluent society. In such a situation one would expect that people receiving these benefits would be much belter off today than they were in the days gone by, but a study of the figures in this booklet “ Social Services in Australia “, dated February 1965, shows that this is not the case. One section of the booklet deals with child endowment as a proportion of the average male earnings. Child endowment paid to a family with three children in 1949 represented 11.5 per cent, of the average male earnings at that time. By 1963 the proportion had dropped to 5 per cent. In March 1966 the average male earnings were $54.50 and a family with three children received child endowment payments representing only 4.5 per cent, of the average male earnings. There we see a considerable drop in the value of child endowment for a family with three children, expressed as a proportion of the average male earnings, from 11.5 per cent, in 1949 to 4.5 per cent, this year. The Government cannot get away from these figures. How can it say that the family receiving child endowment payments is better off today than formerly?
Let us look at the subject from another angle. The same booklet tells us that the family with three children received in 1949 child endowment payments equivalent to 15.8 per cent, of the Sydney basic wage. By 1963 the proportion had dropped to 8.5 per cent. The Sydney basic wage is now $33.50 and child endowment payments to a family with three children now represent 7.5 per cent, of that basic wage. There again is a big drop, from 15.8 per cent, in 1949 to 7.5 per cent, today.
Would anybody suggest that pensioners should not participate in the increased prosperity that the Government boasts about, that they should not be part of the affluent society that the honorable member for Swan has just spoken of? This same booklet shows that in 1949 both married and single pensioners received pensions representing 24.8 per cent, of the average male earnings. By 1963 the proportion had dropped to 21.1 per cent. Tn 1966 the single pensioner receives 23.75 per cent, of the average male earnings, while married pensioners receive 21.5 per cent. No pensioner today gets as high a proportion of the average male earnings as pensioners did in 1949, and I challenge the Minister to refute that statement.
We can see that every recipient of social service benefits has been short-changed since this Government has been in office. Increases that have been granted have not kept pace with inflation, and the payments have been lagging behind rising costs. At the same time people are paying more for the shrunken benefits that are being granted. Over the years as a result of inflation taxpayers have generally passed into higher income tax brackets, and although they receive less in real wages the Government takes more from them and gives less in return in the form of social service benefits. This shows how misleading was the statement made in 1949 by the gentleman who was shortly to become Prime Minister, when he said that if he were returned to power he would put value back into social service payments and that the pensioners could rely on his government for justice. Does (he married pensioner get justice when he receives a miserable increase of 75c a week after having had to wait two years for it, during which the cost of living has gone up by 9 per cent.? Is it justice to expect married pensioners to live from 1964 to 1966 without any increase in their pensions and then to grant an increase which still will not give them as much purchasing power as they had in 1964 when the last increase was granted?
In my view the Government has turned a deaf ear to the pleas of pensioners. Advances in medical science and knowledge have led to a rise in health standards as a result of which people are now living longer than they did 60 years ago. This is a good thing, but what we should be concerned about is the way they are living. If the majority of pensioners are in dire straits and living in poverty it is a reflection on our society, and who can deny that a pensioner with nothing more, or little more, than his pension to live on is living today in dire poverty? It has been said that a country’s standard of civilisation can be assessed by the way in which it treats its old people. Many thousands of aged people are being treated shabbily by this Government. Science may be helping them to live longer, but the policy of this Government seems to be to make their additional years miserable.
I think one of the most shabbily treated groups of pensioners - and this has already been mentioned by the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) - are those with dependent wives who have not reached the age of 60 years. The allowance given to a pensioner in such circumstances remains at $6 a week. This means that an invalid pensioner and his dependent wife who has not attained pensionable age have to exist on $19 a week. Obviously their existence is sub-standard. Surely a couple in such circumstances should be paid at least the full amount of the pension to which they would be entitled if both were of pensionable age, which would be S23.50. But the Minister has said, and former Ministers have said, that the wife can go out to work and earn money. She may have been out of industry for 20 years. The husband may be too ill to be left alone. Yet she is told she can go out to work. I put this matter to the Minister 12 months ago at this table. I suggested that surely some compassion could be shown in the cases of couples in such circumstances. They are only in small numbers, and perhaps it is because of this very fact that they are ignored. I ask the Minister once again to consider this very important and deserving group of people.
If ever a Government stands condemned this one docs for not taking some action with regard to the allowable income for pensioners. The abolition of the means test, which has been referred to in this House several times by speakers on both sides, was planned by the Chifley Government to be accomplished within a period of eight years. It would have been an accomplished fact by 1957 if that government had remained in office. A fund had been built up for the purpose but, as the honorable member for Bass has told us, when this Government came to office the fund was transferred to the Consolidated Revenue Fund. Doctor Evatt, when he was Leader of the Labour Party in 1954, said that he would abolish the means test within the lifetime of a parliament. He did not win the election on that occasion and that is to be regretted, but if he had won we would not have been concerned about the means test today. I am reminded of the years during which we were deterred from standardising rail gauges because of the cost. Away back in 1941 when standardisation was recommended it was said that we could not afford to carry out such a project. Then, if I remember correctly, it would have cost £21 million. Again, in 1949, it would have cost, I think, £79 million. Finally we had to do something about it. We can do these things if we set our minds to them. This Government pays only lip service to the abolition of the means test. Abolition of the means test is supposed to be part of the Government’s policy. In 1949, as the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) has pointed out, Sir Robert Menzies, who was seeking to be elected to office, said that if elected he would get rid of the means test. I do not suggest that we can do this in one fell swoop but a start should be made somewhere and it should be abolished over a given period of time.
Within the last day or two some interesting figures have been given to me and the honorable member for Grayndler by the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair). He pointed out that the additional annual cost of providing a full age pension for all those who are otherwise qualified would be of the order of S340 million for all men over 65 and women over 60, and $180 million for all men over 70 and women over 65. Why cannot a start be made on abolishing the means test? We do not expect it to be done in one fell swoop, but a start should be made. If the Government were determined to abolish the means test, it could be accomplished.
Since 1954, the allowable income has remained at $7 a week. In 1954, when the allowable income was last increased, the pension itself was $7 a week. The allowable income has not been increased since 1954. In 1954 the allowable income represented 30 per cent, of the then Federal basic wage. It is now 21.3 per cent, of the basic wage. These figures were given to me by the Minister in answer to a question. To maintain its relationship with the basic wage, the allowable income should now be something more than $10 a week.
The Labour Party believes in justice for the retired. These people are suffering hardship at a time when the standard of living of the community is supposed to be progressing. While the Government pays lip service to the abolition of the means test it does not even increase the allowable income. In fact, it restricts allowable income because it does not permit the amount to keep pace with the value of money. A lot is said about shortages in the work force, but here is a source of labour, much of it skilled and available and willing to work. The benefit of this labour force to the Australian economy would offset to a great extent the cost to the Government of increasing the allowable earnings of pensioners. With the easing or abolition of the means test these people could earn money. They would then pay taxes and, because the number of cases requiring investigation would be reduced, the administrative costs of the Department of Social Services would be less. The abolition of the means test would assist the many thousands of loyal public servants who have paid compulsorily heavy amounts into superannuation funds. These people are paying twice. They have had to contribute to the National Welfare Fund by way of taxes and, because of the means test, they cannot draw from that Fund. In addition they have been compelled to take up units in supernnuation funds in accordance with their salary ranges. The means test is most frustrating and annoying to retired people. It makes a mockery of thrift and denies age pensions to those who have saved during their lifetimes.
The abolition of the means test is not an impossible objective. Since 1958 age pensions have been paid in New Zealand to all people over 65 years of age, irrespective of income or assets. In Canada there is no means test for people 70 years of age and over. There is no means test in the United Kingdom for men over 70 years of age and women over 65 years of age. A former Prime Minister of Australia, now living in England, Lord Bruce, can draw the age pension payable in the United Kingdom notwithstanding that he gets a high allowance provided by this Parliament. Every member of this Parliament, including the Minister for Social Services, must have been guilty at some time of advising aged people how to reduce their assets in order to qualify for an age pension. On the advice of their local member, many people go on a world tour before applying for the pension. Consequently money that should be spent in Australia is spent in other countries. Spending money needlessly in order to qualify is forced upon these people by the means test. They say to themselves, in effect: “ What is the use of saving if by doing so I cannot qualify for the pension? “ This situation is psychologically bad because it does not encourage thrift in any form.
Honorable members opposite have supported the abolition of the means test. Recently figures were given in the Parliament snowing that a married man would be foolish to try to save more than $8,080 before reaching pensionable age unless he could be sure that he would retire with savings of more than 530,770. In the case of a single man, he would have to be sure to have savings of $17,500. It was pointed out that if persons had less than these amounts they would have to invest their savings at high rates of interest, bearing in mind the risk element, otherwise they would be worse off than a person who had qualified for a full pension plus an allowable income. So I say to the Minister: Surely a start can be made on this very worthwhile objective. I emphasise that the Budget figure for social service benefits does not reveal the real value of these benefits to recipients. I pose the question: Are mothers getting the same purchasing power out of child endowment today as they got in 1949? The answer obviously is “ No “. The same may be said of the maternity allowance, the funeral benefit and other social service benefits. The value of these benefits has been clipped since this Government has been in office.
People contributing to the National Welfare Fund prior to 1949 believed that the money they were paying in would retain its value and that they would get back from the Fund at least the value of their contributions. But for some years they have realised that they have become the victims of a type of thimble and pea trick. They have been given bad money for good. The post-war value of the £1 has shrunk since 1949 to about 7s. People are losing in two ways. The value of social service benefits has been clipped as though an extra tax had been imposed on the people as they have moved into higher income tax groups without getting more purchasing power in their pay packets. Let me illustrate what I mean. In 1949 a man on the basic wage with a wife and two children paid 16s. a year in income tax. Today a man on the basic wage with a wife and two children pays income tax of 13s. a week or £33 16s. a year. That is an indication of how families are suffering.
The absence in the Budget of any help for families is a tragedy. Take the case of a young family man. He has to finance all his major home purchases, such as furniture, a washing machine and a refrigerator, by using the costly credit system. He pays excessively for goods that could be bought more cheaply if he had a regular and reasonably adequate income. He is hit in another way because he has the biggest number of young children. He pays in total each year far more in indirect taxes than does the single man, the family man whose children have grown up, or the man who has no children. The young family man is being hit pretty hard and this is a bad start in life for him. Child endowment has not kept pace with costs. At one time, big families were the order of the day. Now married couples to little more than replace themselves. The average number of children per family today is 2.23. At the beginning of the century it was about four. Couples will not have big families today because if they did they would be reducing their own spending power. In 1948, the basic wage was $11.60 and a family of five then received $4 a week in child endowment. In 1966, the basic wage is $32.80 and a family of five receives $6 a week in child endowment. Since 1948 the basic wage has increased by more than 250 per cent. To retain the purchasing power that it had in 1948, child endowment for a family of five should now be about SIO a week.
Parents cannot do justice to big families. Income per head is reduced as more children arrive. If a man earns S50 a week, he pays $7 a week income tax, leaving him, as a single man, with an income on which he can manage. Let us suppose he marries. His tax is then reduced to S5.60 a week, leaving an income equivalent to $22.20 a week each for him and his wife. When the first child arrives, tax is reduced to $4.85 a week and they receive 50c a week in child endowment. This gives a total net income of $45.65 a week, or about $15.20 a week for each member of the family. When the second child arrives, tax is reduced to $4.30 a week, and child endowment rises to $1.50 a week, giving a total net family income of $47.20 a week, representing $11.80 for each member of the family. When the third child arrives, tax is reduced to $3.80 a week, and child endowment is increased to $3 a week, giving a total net family income of $49.20 a week, but the net income per head falls to about $9.80 a week. So it goes on as the size of the family increases, the net income per head being steadily reduced.
I emphasise that though inflation has taken families into higher income brackets, tax is higher and less can he purchased with the money received. This is why women have to work. They have to build up the family income instead of having bigger families. If they did not go to work to boost the family income, poverty would strike the family down. Today, there is no encouragement for people to have big families. I suggest that this is why the size of the average family has dropped to 2.23 children. Another reason why the Government should have increased child endowment for the first as well as subsequent children is the effect on a family when the oldest child reaches the age of 16. Child endowment of 50c a week for the first child is then lost and the rate paid for the second child is reduced from $1 to 50c a week. The rate paid for the third child is reduced from $1.50 to $1 a week. So the family loses in child endowment SI. 50 a week, not just the 50c a week that was formerly received for the oldest child. Endowment for the oldest child is not lost, of course, if it remains a student. It is a sudden knock to a family to lose $1.50 a week in child endowment when the oldest child reaches the age of 16.
Let us consider the way in which some other benefits have shrunk in value. In last year’s Budget, the funeral benefit was increased to S40 where a pensioner is responsible for the funeral costs of a spouse, a child or another pensioner. In other cases, it remains at $20, the rate fixed by the Curtin Government in 1943. That rate has not been altered for 23 years. The basic wage was S9.60 a week in 1943 and it is now $32.80 a week. To retain the same monetary value, the funeral benefit should now be more than double the basic wage, or S66. I just point these things out to the Minister for Social Services to show him how the value of benefits has been lost over the years. The rales of maternity allowance are still the same as they were in 1943 when the basic wage was $9.60 a week. From the introduction of the maternity allowance in 1912 until the time when the present Government came into office, the allowance was always expected to pay the expenses associated with the birth of a child. But today the rate is not sufficient to pay these expenses. Consequently many married couples are putting off having children. Both parents have to work to keep the home going instead of worrying about having children. Australia was once the envy of the world for its social services. That is not the case today. We have dropped considerably in the estimation of other countries which formerly were much below us on an assessment of social service standards.
I support the proposed amendment, which condemns the Government for not ensuring that pension standards keep pace with the cost of living and maintain the standard of living of pensioners at a proper level, for perpetuating the sub-standard rate for married pensioners, for not making any change in the income means test, for its failure to put value back into child endowment and for the other features of its administration of social services in respect of which it is sadly amiss.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker, I want to discuss briefly one or two aspects of this Bill. I would first like to point out that its principle purpose is to make possible a number of increases in social service benefits. The administration of this Government since it took office reveals a story of continual increases in benefits, especially in what may be described as fringe benefits. When we consider the funds allocated for social services and realise that this financial year they total more than $1,000 million, we realise just how far we have come since the present Government took office. Continually, we are bringing within the scope of social services a wider range of people, as well as increasing the rates of benefit paid to those who have been receiving benefits previously. The basic rate of pension is to be increased by $1 a week. However, in the opinion of many of us who have studied social services in other countries, it is the introduction of new fringe benefits and increases in the rates of existing ones that have made our social services scheme quite the best in the world.
– The honorable member is kidding himself.
– What I have said is true. These fringe benefits to which 1 refer include medical, hospital and pharmaceutical benefits for pensioners, concessions on radio and television licences and telephone rentals, and such like. It has been estimated that benefits of this kind are worth about SI. 1 5 a week. This is a considerable sum. In addition, the permissible income of widow pensioners and allowances paid in respect of children have been substantially increased. These increases represent perhaps one of the most important aspects of increasing benefits. Widows who have children to educate are now able to go out to work and earn income to provide for the welfare of their children and give them a proper education. Many widows are young enough to go to work to do this. As we go through the story of social service benefits, we find that this Government has introduced many additional concessions and increased many fringe benefits. In the list, we find benefits for those in mental hospitals, removal of the nationality qualification and the like. The story is repeated over and over again.
Today, we have heard from honorable members on both sides of the House a good deal about the desirability of eliminat- ing the means test. I believe that honorable members on both sides, though some honorable members opposite do not seem to admit it, realise that there are tremendous difficulties here. 1 think all of us are agreed that it is necessary that we move as fast as we can towards gradual elimination of the means test by taking from time to time measures that are practicable and sensible. But, before we can entirely eliminate the means test, we have to put something in its place. Despite all the criticism coming from Opposition members, we have not yet heard from them one practical proposal that would enable us to meet the tremendous financial burden that the Government would hare to bear if the means test were eliminated. If we are to get rid of the means test, we must develop some kind of national superannuation scheme. We on this side of the chamber are agreed on this. A national superannuation plan would remove the indignity sometimes thought to attach to pensions. Every aged person - every senior citizen - would receive national superannuation by right. We are agreed that the initial cost of putting such a scheme into operation would be enormous. However, I believe that ultimately it could be made very nearly self supporting. The cost to the Government initially might be high, but I emphasise that there would also be tremendous savings. A national superannuation scheme would promote thrift and would encourage fit elder citizens to carry on working and to live useful lives much longer. It is a fact that people who continue to work for as long as they are able enjoy far better health. This alone would cut the costs of administration. The elimination of the means test would also cut tremendously the cost of policing the means test provisions. We all know of people who have earned a few shillings extra, have been reported and have had their pension reduced after a visit by the inspector. We know, too, of the trouble they have experienced in having the pension restored to its original level. The cost of doing this sort of work must represent a burden to the Government. All this would be eliminated if the means test were abolished.
Another feature of the Bill that I commend very strongly is the extension of the capital subsidy to homes for the aged that care for the chronically ill. The need for such a subsidy has represented a gap in our social services programme for many years. I think particularly of a home in my electorate which is doing a tremendous job but which has been able to carry on only because of the devoted service of the Mother Superior and the nuns who give their services virtually free, and the splendid support of the local country people. This is the home that was visited by the Minister not so long ago. Incidentally, it is also a home which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) suddenly discovered the other day. I might mention that the people of my electorate now refer to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition as Father Christmas. They thought that Father Christmas had arrived early when they heard the ridiculous promises that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was making about what a Labour Government would do. As I have said, this home has been able to carry on only because of the devoted service of the staff and the continuous efforts of the country people to raise funds.
There is still a need for both Federal and State Governments to assist homes like this to meet day to day costs. The provision for the subsidising of up to one third of the beds in these homes will be of tremendous help. No doubt one of the most successful innovations introduced by this Government was the two-for-one subsidy for homes for the aged, and now for nursing homes. Nobody who has been around these homes would need me to repeat the story of the tremendous success achieved by homes for the aged, particularly in the capital cities of the Commonwealth. This has been made possible by the Government’s two-for-one subsidy scheme. One has only to visit some of these homes to see how happy the people are in their surroundings. In these homes, people in their declining years are freed from the worry of maintaining old homes, perhaps with inadequate facilities. Everything is provided for them, everything is as automatic as it is posible to be. They also mix with people of the same age and with the same interests. They have congenial company, which is of the utmost importance to people of increasing years. Here again the Government has moved forward by raising the amount that can be spent on each unit to $5,400. This has made it possible for the various organisations and committees which are running homes for the aged to provide better types of homes with more comfortable conditions. But there is still a tremendous field to be covered here, especially in country areas. I do not think this point has been gone into quite as deeply as we would like.
We have heard a great deal said about decentralisation. Indeed, “decentralisation” is a word that has been bandied about quite a lot. Here is an opportunity for the building of more community centres in country towns. A move was made in one small town in my electorate to do this, but it did not get a great deal of support. The establishment of community centres in small country towns has much to commend it. For example, the inmates would have easy access to the shopping centres, to the places of employment for those who want part time jobs, and to public entertainment. Let us not lose sight of the fact that an institution of this kind can be very important in a country town. It is something in which local people take particular interest. As is well known, for every new person who comes to live in a town a second person is needed to provide the services that he requires - the butcher, the baker, the chemist, the doctor, and so on. The establishment of homes for the aged in country centres would give the greatest possible benefit to elderly people in that they would have much easier access to all available amenities than they would have in homes situated in the large cities.
Perhaps one of the most impressive jobs being done by the Department of Social Services is in the field of rehabilitation. It is a very moving experience to visit rehabilitation centres and see people from all classes of society being helped to take their places again as useful members of the community. The fact that these centres are functioning as effectively as they are is due largely to the assistance given by this Government. In fact, without Government assistance, they would not be functioning at all.
I have in. mind particularly the help that rehabilitation centres give to young people who have been disabled or disfigured in car accidents and who are afraid to face the world again. Many of those whom 1 have seen in these centres have said: “ It is like the old story of the person who had no shoes. Until he met a person who had no feet he did not realise what he still had and what he still could do.” Time and time again I have noticed the great benefit that flows from the community of interest amongst the people in rehabilitation centres. The Government has done a great deal to assist not only rehabilitation centres but also institutions for the physically handicapped such as Cherrywood Village with which it is proposed to proceed immediately. Here something is to be done also for those who have been the victims of poliomyelitis. It was announced recently by the Minister that a grant of $149,000 was to be made towards the cost of building this institution. This is only one of the many grants this Government has made to institutions of this type to assist them in their work of rehabilitation.
During my term as a member of the Government members’ social services committee I had the opportunity of visiting not only these centres but also many sheltered workshops. Some are attached to the rehabilitation centres and others are run independently by other organisations. Here again it was an inspiration to see what is being done to help those who have some incapacity to become useful and independent members of society. We were told over and over again that people who had had to be transported to enter these workshops initially were able now, because of the confidence they had gained and the determination they had developed to help themselves, to travel to and from work unaided by public transport. That is only one example of what can be done. 1 think particularly of one workshop in Adelaide which makes extension ladders. It is competing with private enterprise and is winning contracts. The organisation running it is exceedingly proud of what it has been able to accomplish. I think it was Henry Ford who first said that very often a person with an incapacity often can do something much better than anybody else. This is because it is so tremendously important to him to retain his place in society and be independent.
Because of this, these people possibly can concentrate much more effectively than can many other people.
The Government has done a tremendous amount to assist sheltered workshops. We realise that a great deal more remains to be done but the Government has other commitments, the first of which is defence. Without a country of our own all our social services would be futile. With the limited funds available this Government has done, and 1 feel will continue to do, a wonderful job. 1 congratulate the Minister. He is most devoted and conscientious. We who work with him appreciate enormously the effort he is putting into this very worthwhile job of administering our social services. He heads a particularly conscientious and efficient department whose officers are always available to assist any members of Parliament who call upon them.
I should like to refer also to the services rendered by the Chairman of the Government Members Social Services Committee, the honorable member for Sturt (Sir Keith Wilson). He has been chairman of the Committee for a great number of years. He has rendered wonderful service not only to the Committee but also to the Parliament and to many of those who need support in the field of social services. As honorable members know, he was knighted recently in recognition of those services. He mentioned this afternoon during his speech that this will be his last speech on social services in the Parliament. I pay tribute to him for all he has done not only in his own city of Adelaide but also wherever his assistance has been required. It has been said that a prophet is not without honour save in his own country but I confidently assert that the honorable member for Sturt is respected and honoured most highly in his own city of Adelaide. 1 commend the Bill to the House and congratulate the Minister on what he has done in a difficult period when other huge commitments are confronting the Government.
.- I suppose a good deal of statistics will continue to be produced by honorable members arguing one way or the other about how adequate are the proposed increases in pension. The fact is that they will be judged by each individual pensioner in his or her own home on the basis of what he or she will be able to buy with the increase. I find it a pretty futile exercise to go back and make comparisons covering many years showing what one government may have done 20 years ago compared to what has been done today. I think the only relevant criterion which should be considered is the standard of living the pensioner will be able to afford on the pension which is being provided today. That is the essence of the matter. I think the question is as simple as this: How will the pensioner meet all the commitments that he has to meet on the pension being provided at present by this Government?
This Bill provides - I will not go into a lot of statistics - for an increase in age and invalid pensions which amounts to 10c a day or, to use a recent but now bygone phrase, a bob a day, for each of a pensioner couple. This comes after two years during which most pensioners have received no increase at all. It comes after a period of increases in prices amounting to about 5 per cent, in the cost of living, and it comes at a time when we are being surrounded by almost daily announcements of further increases in prices. At present the proposed increases relate to public utilities - the cost of hospital treatment, transport fares and a number of other things - but it is obvious that there will be increases in the cost of goods and services that pensioners, like the rest of us, must buy. For the single age or invalid pensioners, as well as for the widow pensioners, there is an increase of $1 a week - 14.3c a day or, in the old currency, ls. 5d. a day - again after a two years delay during which the cost of living has already increased and when we are faced with the prospect of even greater increases in the future. Unfortunately, no election will be coming up at the end of next year to rescue them from their plight. As I have said, a single pensioner will receive an increase of ls. 5d. a day. the price, if 1 may remind the House, of three oranges. This is what we are offering yet at other times we regard ourselves as having one of the most affluent societies in the world. I believe we are among the first four nations of the world in terms of living standards. Is it any wonder that eminent economists, social workers and others in the community refer to the plight of these people who are living in a state of poverty amidst plenty?
The increase in the age and invalid pensions will provide pensioner couples with a total pension - I am not talking now about the increase but the total pension - of Si. 68 a day or, in the old currency, 16s. 9d. a day. We give a pensioner couple 16s. 9d. a day on which to live. I think most pensioners still prefer to think in terms of the old currency. They have not been able to make the transition as readily as perhaps some of us have. Quite frankly, I still find it. difficult enough myself. For the single pensioners the total pension will be $1.86 or 18s. 7d. a day. Out of this they have to meet all their commitments. However, if they are paying rent their total pension, subject to a means test, will go to $2.14 or 21s. 5d. a day. Under the best possible conditions they will receive 21s. 5d. a day whereas parliamentarians receive £6 a day over and above their salary as a living allowance when they are in Canberra. Of course, I recognise that parliamentarians have much heavier commitments to meet in coming to the National Capital but I am trying to give a picture of the relativity which exists.
Now I want to refer to the wife’s allowance. 1 have mentioned already some of the increases which are proposed and I might interrupt myself to remind the House that the increase in pensions will account for $29.6 million in a full year. Provision was made in the Budget for $30.28 million to cover these increases and the other services which this Bill proposes, but those other services total only $880,000 or, in the old currency. £440,000 which is well below £i million. So the great proposal to give widows the right to earn more, to pay 12 weeks pension retrospectively to patients in mental hospitals and a few other things do not add up to much in terms of financial commitment. The vast bulk of the allocation is for the very meagre increases in pension which I have just described. Of course, amongst those who miss out altogether are the wives who are not eligible for pensions although their husbands may be. They remain on the $6 per week as a maximum, which was £3 in our old currency, the same as they have been now for the last two years. We are asking an adult woman to live on £3 per week, and this is what we are congratulating ourselves about on this Bill. I refer now to a married pensioner couple. The husband of such a couple will receive the standard rate pension of SI 3 per week, to which is added the S6 that his wife will get. They will be asked to live on $19 or £9 10s. per week. The couple is expected to live on that amount and be able to meet all the commitments that they may have to bear. 1 refer not only to ordinary living costs for food, clothing, entertainment and so on, but also to the probable contributions for water board rates, municipal rates and the other costs which are inevitable.
I strongly suggest, and other honorable members have often suggested, that where a husband is on the pension by virtue of age or invalidity his wife should automatically be entitled to the full pension. In other words, they should at least receive the full married rate pension of S23.50 instead of being restricted to the SI9 to which I have just referred. I notice that 28 per cent, of invalid pensioners receive also the extra $2 per week in supplementary assistance. Referring to age pensioners, as distinct from invalid pensioners, there are 4,033 wives of such pensioners who receive a wife’s allowance. On the other hand, the statistics show that there are 14,000 wives of age pensioners. Presumably almost 10.000 wives do not get even the wife’s allowance. Perhaps this is because of the operation of the means test, but perhaps it is for another reason which I shall describe in a moment. The wife’s allowance is payable in the case of an age pensioner ii she is not herself eligible for the pension, but only upon one of three conditions, namely, where the husband, besides having turned 65, can also be classified as being an invalid; if he is 70 years of age, in which case she automatically receives the wife’s allowance; or if the couple have a dependent child. I do not know how many would be in this category.
I should like the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair) to tell me what the situation is of the age pensioner who is less than 70 years of age, who cannot be classified as an invalid and who has no dependent children. It seems that in that case he receives $13 or £6 10s. and his wife gets nothing. Two people are required to live on SI 3 or £6 10s. per week. It would be very interesting to know more about this. One of the difficulties of the whole business is that there has been so very little qualitative research. Some quantitative research is reported in the Department’s report which is before the Parliament, but there has been a great dearth of research into the whole gamut of social services in this country. Many people more qualified than 1 have spoken about this dearth of research. We spend all the millions of dollars referred to in the National Welfare Fund, but we do not take very great care about the direction in which it is going and the effect it is having. Nor do we know whether those who are most needful of it are getting it. I draw the Minister’s attention again to the plight of the age pensioner whose wife is not eligible even for the wife’s allowance of $6 per week.
Some play has been made of what has been done for widows. Let us consider what has been done. As at 30m June there were 31,796 class A widows. The more numerous group of widows are those known as class B widows, who are those aged between 50 and 60 years. Class B widows must subscribe to the same means test as the age or invalid pensioner. At 30th June there were 36,703 class B widows. Then there are class C widows of whom there are only 107. Let me return for the moment to class A widows. For the benefit of those who are listening but who still may not understand what we are talking about, the class A widow is a woman with one or more dependent children. She has been given an increase of $1 per week - 1 wish it were $1 per day - and, if I remember my calculations of a while ago, that is about 14c or ls. 5d. per day for herself and her children. Her children receive no increase under this Bill. Some play has been made of the fact that we are going to permit the widow to go out to work and to earn S3 instead of only SI in respect of each of those dependent children. I am not ungracious enough to say this is not an improvement, but I do not think it is any reason to jump over the moon.
The fact is that we are going to make it a little easier for widows who have no husband to help them look after the ordinary chores of bringing up a family. But we will not make it that much easier for her to go to work and to supplement the inadequate pension that she receives. Quite frankly I wish to goodness that such a woman did not have to go out to work. I think it might not have been a bad start on abolishing the means test if we began with such a group of people. They are not very numerous; there are fewer than 33,000 of them. If we said that from here on we would make a start by wiping out altogether the means test for class A widows I believe we would be doing something of great humanitarian content which would earn the widespread applause of the community. But noi only do the children of such a widow receive no increase in the allowance but there is also no increase in the child endowment.
Much has already been said about child endowment. The report of the Department shows that at 30lh June the average income of class A widows, including the allowances that they receive for children, was $18.50. That is a far cry from the rosy spectacle that the Minister was portraying when he said that: it ran into about $33 per week for a widow with two children. This would presume that she earned her full entitlement all the year round by going out to work. Obviously no account was taken of the fact that she may well have to put her children into a kindergarten or pay someone to mind them while she is at work.
– She can have maintenance or some other income.
– The Minister may add to his comments on that score. I feel very strongly about this. I suppose all honorable members feel a particular sympathy for the widow. When we heard the announcement this afternoon of an aeroplane crash, they were the first people we thought of. I suppose any one of us could have been on that aircraft, travelling as much as we do. We wonder what the plight of our wives and children would have been had we been on that aircraft. What would they do about their school commitments and other expenses if, like me, they still had a lot of money owing on their homes? What would have been the plight of such people? I have great sympathy for them. We would have been quite happy to see the income means test abolished so far as class A widows were concerned, but more particularly I should have liked to have seen a really generous increase in the class A widow’s pension for all those who may not be able to go out to work and for those who possibly will not be able to secure work. These people are very limited in the wort that they can perform and, consequently, in the employment that they can secure. Even with supplementary assistance thrown in, the average income of such widows with one or more children was only $18.71 or £9 7s. per week. This was the position at 30th June and, since then, their pension has not been increased by more than SI per week. That is the position so far as class A widows are concerned. Many of us wish that it were much better.
I turn now to class B widows. I have never been able to fathom the logic of the rate for this class of widow. I am afraid that in this regard all governments, including previous Labour governments, have been guilty. Why we pay less to a class B widow than we pay to an age or invalid pensioner is beyond my comprehension. I remind the House that the class B widow is a woman over the age of 50 and under the. age of 60, with no dependent children. Under this Bill we are going to give these widows - 36,703 of them as at 30th June - $11.75 a week. In other words they will receive $1.25 less than we pay to age pensioners. We think what is done for the age or invalid pensioners is bad enough, but we are going to pay a woman who is still able to enjoy social life, and whose needs are at least as great as those of an agc pensioner. SI. 25 less a week.
– She does not eat as much.
– She certainly does not. but not by choice. Possibly these people would be great customers of the product that my friend the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) supports, although it would be a cheaper variety of margarine. I cannot understand the logic in this situation. Perhaps the Minister can explain why a lesser amount is paid to a woman in this category. It may be presumed that she is more able to go out to work, but the simple fact is that she is still restricted in her earning ability because of the operation of the means test. The means test has not been eased despite all the recent talk about its abolition or easing. The Government has not done anything since 1954 for these people by permitting them to earn more than $7 a week. It has done nothing for 12 years. All this talk of abolishing the means test is so much poppycock. I would be glad if we made a start and renewed the process that has been left untouched since 1954.
I turn now to unemployment and sickness benefits. The unfortunate group of people who are out of employment - and it may be for some weeks in some cases - and those who are sick and it may be some time before they are considered sick enough to be entitled to the invalid pension - are still receiving the same benefit that was fixed in 1962; and we thought then that it was pretty paltry. An adult male or female gets §8.25 a week. This is what we expect a person to exist on, surrounded by all the price increases that confront the whole community. A married couple get §14.25 a week. In other words, the wives are being given S6 a week on which to exist - and “ exist “ is the only word 1 can think of that befits the situation. 1 must confess that despite the fact that I claim to know a fair deal about social services because of the inquiries I handle in my electorate, I learned, by looking through either the. statement that the Minister provided to honorable members or the Department’s booklet, that, in respect of unemployment and sickness benefits, war pensions do not come under the income means test. I must confess that this was new learning for me, so at least the Minister may have some satisfaction in knowing that he has taught me something. It prompts me to wonder, as I have often wondered before, why we do not do the same thing for all our social service beneficiaries, at least up to the 100 per cent, war pension rate. Why do not we disregard in the means test - at least to that level - a war pension, because of the very special circumstances and the very special nature under which that compensation is paid? It is compensation, not a pension; it is compensation given for injury in war service. Most people are amazed when they find that war pensions do have an effect on social services, except, as I have so lately learned, in respect of unemployment and sickness benefits.
One wonders again why, if unemployment is comparatively low, this was not considered a reasonable time to have lifted the benefit from the paltry amount it is at present. I remind myself that there are no concessions for the unemployed and sickness benefit beneficiaries. They do not benefit from the pensioner medical service, telephone concessions, rate rebates, television and radio licence concessions or transport concessions. They are on a lower rate of income, yet get no concessions. Surely this ought to be looked at. Others have spoken about the absence of any provision for increases in the maternity allowance. This is one allowance in respect of which a means test was abolished by a Labour Government, the Curtin Government, in 1943.
Other honorable members have dealt with child endowment. I share the sentiments and expressions of my colleagues who have spoken already about the Government’s continued failure over many years to do much about child endowment. Children’s allowances, whether they be children of widows or of invalid or aged pensioners, are all left untouched by this Government. The Government, with its bloated parliamentary majority, has become so complacent, so sure that it is going to win the election in November, that it feels it can afford to ignore the plight of many of our citizens. I suspect the Government might be in for a shock. The funeral benefit also has been neglected. I have referred to the means test and I share the belief that something should have been done about the S7 limit on the income earning. This is long overdue for alleviation. All kinds of decent citizens come to me about this problem. Many are superannuitants who have contributed to superannuation funds over the years and who are deprived not only of the pension - in many instances because their superannuation pension is only slightly above the permissible income - but are excluded from all the concessions 1 mentioned a short time ago. In many cases these people are much worse off than is the pension recipient.
Another aspect, of course, is the property component. 1 do not know why we should assume that the property component should yield 10 per cent. I do not know of many properties that could be invested safely with the certainty of a 10 per cent, return on investment, yet that is the assumption behind the merged means test. This situation should be looked at again. We have been asked: “ Where are you going to get the money to do what you suggest?” My colleagues have reminded the House of the Chifley Government’s provision back in 1949, when it was building up the National Welfare Fund, through a separate social service contribution, earmarked for the provision not only of social services but for free health benefits, public hospitalisation and so forth. There was over £2 million - or in today’s parlance, S4 million - in that fund when this Government took over. Chifley was chided for not increasing pensions sufficiently, but he had the thought that he would be able within a comparatively reasonable time, under this system of having a separate contribution to abolish the means test. There was a graduated income tax ranging from 3d. to ls. 6d. in the pound and it went into this fund earmarked for the purposes I have described. We had a change of government and the present Government transferred the accumulated funds into Consolidated Revenue, with the result that honorable members opposite are still bleating about the abolition of the means test.
There arc many other things 1 should like to talk about, but unfortunately lime slips away. However. I want to make a quick protest on behalf of local government in this country - on behalf of the ratepayers. I have received from the Rockdale Municipal Council a letter in which it endorses the sentiments of the Bankstown Municipal Council - and not only the sentiments but a resolution, which was as follows -
That this meeting requests the Federal Parliament to make an increased allocation to the State Governments specifically for Local Government purposes. This increased allocation should noi be less than the amount expended by Local Government Authorities on the provision of services of a “ purely social service “’ nature. This provision should bc financed from the general revenue resources of the Commonwealth of Australia.
The Commonwealth, in evading its proper social service responsibilities, is bleeding local government white. As a matter of fact, the ratepayers, who are the local government authorities, not only have the burden of supplementing the woefully inadequate pensions provided by the Government by meeting the cost of rate concessions granted to pensioners, but the proper work of local government is impeded. Councils cannot build roads, maintain road shoulders or provide street lighting because of lack of funds.
What is the good of our lamenting about the number of road deaths when we starve local government authorities of the funds to provide proper street lighting and proper road maintenance? Relying on local government authorities to subsidise pensioners leads to an equitable arrangement. One council has one policy; another council across the road has another policy, and this leads to considerable frustration. The pensioner, of course, does not obtain any relief from the payment of water and sewerage rates and this imposes a tremendous burden on the residents of all areas in New South Wales and. I take it, in other States. Many of the good citizens who pioneered the development of nice suburbs are now compelled to live in comparative isolation, leaving behind the community of which they were pioneers. They must do this because they can no longer meet their commitments, even with the concessions that are provided by their fellow ratepayers at great cost to themselves.
The State Governments also have an additional burden placed upon them. They arc in great difficulty. Their services are breaking down because of the heavy load of debt that flows to them because of the evasion by the Commonwealth of its responsibilities. I will mention just a few of the ways in which this arises. I have just referred to rate concessions. In New South Wales, the Labour Government and now the Liberal Government subsidises the concessions by meeting 50 per cent, of the costs. Then we have transport subsidies, the tremendous cost of hospitalisation under the medical pensioner service, dental treatment, optical care, social welfare relief and a whole host of other items. These are all borne by State instrumentalities because the Commonwealth Government, whose statuion responsibility it is to look after social services, is not doing the right and decent thing.
Mr. BOSMAN (Si. George) J4.57J. - In rising to speak on social services. J would like to make one or two comments in answer to some of the observations made by the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds). He referred to class A civilian widows. I offer the observation that it may not be in their best interests to hasten with the complete lifting of the means test. These women are in a different category from the average recipient of social services. They have a great measure of pride. By these remarks I do not suggest that other pensioners do not have pride. But civilian widows have inherent in their makeup a pride that leads them to accept this fundamental assistance only as a means to reconstruct their lives. The complete lifting of the means test is not necessarily the solution to all their problems. I do not say that there would not be some of these widows who would not agree with the honorable member for Barton but I think that a blanket submission of this sort would be a little different from the general views of class A widows. 1 make one other observation. 1 also would like to dispense with comparisons of present social services with those in 1949. But I remind the honorable member for Barton that his Opposition colleague, the honorable member for Stirling (Mr. Webb), saw fit to make extensive use of these comparisons, if they suited his argument. If it is good enough for the Opposition to use certain of these comparisons, it is good enough for the Government to use others. The honorable member for Barton said that the Government ignored certain pensioner groups because it was confident it would win the forthcoming election. He may well be right about the Government winning the election, but he is not right about the Government ignoring pensioners. He should look at the conditions before 1949. It was his Government that ignored the pensioners. The record is clear. 1 will refer again to this at a later point in my remarks.
The honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) led for the Opposition in this debate. He would also like to dismiss comparisons with 1949. Although the honorable member for Barton and other Opposition members have come into the House only since 1949, the fact is that the honorable member for Grayndler was here before 1949 and must stand by the record of performance of his Government before 1949. He can be judged by the record of the Labour Government, which was in office for eight years. It is essentially our responsibility to keep these facts before the people. As the honorable member for Sturt (Sir Keith Wilson) so eloquently explained this morning. Labour in office is totally different from Labour in opposition. The honorable member for Grayndler said that it is not fair to compare present social service benefits with those in 1949. He also said that the Government increases pensions only in election year. I grant that this accusation may be politically expedient, but it is not right. Let us examine it. The fact is that for the first four consecutive years that the Government was in office it increased the general rate of age and invalid pension. It did not increase the rate in 1954, but it returned to its former practice in 1955. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair) and his Department have given us a fine set of papers to help in our consideration of the Bill and of the Budget provisions. These papers show that the rate was increased repeatedly over the years. In making his allegation, the honorable member for Grayndler conveniently overlooked 1957, 1959, 1960 and 1964, which were not election years but which were years in which increases were granted.
During the term of office of this Government, pensions have been increased in 12 years, and I do not include the grant of supplementary assistance. The figures show that increases were granted in seven years that were not election years and in five years that were. I ask the pensioners to consider which approach they would prefer. Would they rather have a Government that increases the general rate in 12 years or would they rather have a Government as arrogant as the Labour Government was in 1949, when it refused to increase any of the social service benefits? I am sorry, in 1949 it granted an increase of 4s. or 40 cents to the dependants of an aged person.
Cynical references have been made to the increase of the general rate in this year. It is said to be worth only 14 cents. Great play has been made on this. Mind you, this is paid direct to the pensioner himself. But in 1949 the Labour Government, of which the honorable member for Grayndler was a supporter, and he said: “ Aye “ on the relevant occasion - paid out the tremendous amount of 7c per day for each dependant of an age pensioner. What a miserable performance that was. This was the performance of a Government which was so arrogant that it thought it would win the 1949 election and treated the pensioner group, the social welfare group, with complete disdain. It is a wonder that the Minister of the day was able to lift his pen to sign the cheque for 4s. a week. Yet the Labour Party calls itself the people’s party. This is just another piece of evidence indicating the transfer of political acknowledgment by the people of Australia, who look to the LiberalCountry Party Government for justice in the field of social welfare.
In a period of eight years of government, from 1941 to 1949, the Labour Parly provided something of the order of SI 40 million, in extra benefits. Acknowledging that the Liberal-Country Party Government has been in office for double the time, for 16 years, extras have cost this Government SI.M2 million. I will prove the accuracy of those figures later. The total cost of social welfare, including social service payments, health and repatriation, is now of the order of SI, 3 12 million. Compare the totals for the two governments. The total under the Labour Government was S200 million as against the figure of 51,312 million today. Let us use the very figures of the honorable member for Grayndler and take into account his oft stated claim in this House that the dollar of today is worth only half that of yesterday, or slightly less. Honorable members will still find that when they divide the figure of SI, 132 by two that this will bring it down to S566 million. Dividing that by two to allow for the fact that this Government has been in power twice as long as the Labour Government was, the figure comes down to $283 million. This still shows a higher expenditure on social welfare given by this Government compared with what the Labour Government gave.
The action of the Opposition today is one of those desperate rearguard actions. More and more every day the people of Australia are looking to the Liberal-Country Party Government not only for this type of social justice, but also for political stability and, particularly, for the extension of national security. Here is another clearcut case of this trend in the thinking of the people of Australia. I will revert to a point on which the honorable member for Grayndler, who leads for the Opposition in this debate, made great play this morning. I refer to the general rate applying to aged persons. In 1949 the single rate was $4.25. Today it is $13.
– Does bread and butter cost the same as it did then?
– Yes. Great play was made of that point. Allow me to finish. The purchasing power of the single rate today, as compared with 1949, is something of the order of almost 50 per cent, better. If you consider the supplementary amounts paid you would find that the figure for the purchasing power of the general rate pension today is about 60 per cent, better. In the case of the married person it averages out at approximately 38 per cent, better. The honorable member for Stirling is now entering the chamber. He found it convenient to make great play on the comparison of certain allowances, like child endowment, as a percentage of the gross national product. I do nol dismiss his freedom to do so. but if it is good enough for the Opposition to use such comparisons then it is good enough for the Government to press home the facts.
I want to refer to the case of the widows. In 1949, under the Labour Government, they were receiving a basic pension of $4.75. Child endowment at that stage was worth S2. This made a total of S6.75 in actual cash grants from the Government. Their permissible income was S3. The Labour Government added a loading, mind you, in that it considered all income under the means test, lt was pointed out by the honorable member for Sturt that this position has been relieved by this Government. This Government eliminated from consideration income from property, irrespective of what form that property might be. The total that the widow then became able to acquire without penalty to her pension was S9.75 a week.
Let us consider the position of a class A widow in 1966. These are the people we have to look after. I believe all honorable members have to look at the section of social welfare where the need is greatest. I will consider the class A widow who is paying rent. The basic pension for her today is $17 as compared with $4.75 in 1949. I am using as a basis a family of four, the one often used by members of the Opposition as a medium for comparison and one which they say we should use when considering the increase of pensions.
The basic wage is based on a group comprising a man. his wife and two children. I am considering a class A widow with three dependent children. The child allowance in this case is S4.50. For three children the figure in 1949 was S3. We must add S3 for child endowment at today’s rate. When we add the supplementary assistance of S2 there is an income of S26.50 paid from the Commonwealth purse. This is against the S6.75 paid in 1949. No matter what the honorable member for Watson says, the graphic comparison of those figures cannot be denied.
Let us consider the permissible income as it will be after the rises covered by this Bill go through. The permissible income today for the class A widow with three children is $7 plus $3 for the. three children. Following the passage of this Bill the permissible income for the children will be $9. and this will give her a permissible income of $16 a week. When we add the figure of $26.50 to the $16 allowed as permissible income, we get $42,50. Compare that figure with the figure of $9.75 in 1949. No twisting of the facts will convert that figure. These figures indicate what this Government has done for the class A widow during its term of office. Now let us compare the basic rates and see what an improvement has been effected.
– What was our salary in 1949?
– The honorable member can have his say later on; there will be no restriction on him. Let us look at the basic rates and see how these figures also show the position graphically. A comparison of the basic rates shows clearly that they have improved in purchasing power by 79 per cent. We get that figure by comparing the $4.75 that was applicable in 1949 with the $17 of today. This shows a straight-out increase of $12.25. Again I remind the House that the honorable member for Grayndler, who led for the Opposition in this debate, said that the dollar of today is worth slightly less than half what it would have been worth in 1949. I do not deny the accuracy of the figure given by the honorable member because I think he is honest in most of the statements he makes in this House. We see, therefore, that there has been an addition of $12.25 or of 79 per cent, in actual purchasing power. Then if we compare all the social services payments to the Class A widow we find that there has been an addition of $19.25, which means that there has been an increase of 100 per cent, in purchasing power. Then taking an overall basis and including permissible income we see that there has been a clear increase of S32.75. This is the difference between the payments by the Labour Party in 1949 and payments by the present Government, with the inclusion of permissible income. The widow can now receive $32.75 without penalty, and this represents an increase of 120 per cent, in purchasing power, allowing for the depreciation in the value of money over the period of years.
– You ought to be a magician.
– 1 am glad to hear the honorable member for Grayndler acknowledging that the figures I have given are telling figures. There is no possibility of disguising these figures and they prove the case that I am putting. I have conceded everything that the honorable member has claimed about the decline in the value of money, and the figures are there for him to refute if he can do so.
But we can go further and take into consideration the additional matters so eloquently outlined by my colleague, the honorable member for Sturt - the liberalised means test, the additional permissible income, property and so on. I could go on to to recite these fringe benefits ad infinitum. Obviously the Labour Party in Opposition is different from the Labour Party in power. The honorable member for Grayndler was one of those who said in 1949 that the Labour Government’s policy was right. Yet today he condemns the present Government - at a time when the honorable member and his colleagues have no governmental responsibility - for what he says it is not doing, and he fails completely to offer any compliment to the Government for what it is doing in the field of social services.
I spoke earlier about the amounts that have been expended on various social services over the years. Certain of the figures have already been cited. I will not repeat them all. If members of the Opposition like to give the 1949 figures they can do so, but 1 doubt that they will be prepared to expose them to the gaze of honorable members and of the public. Let us look at what it is costing the Government and the taxpayers for social welfare and repatriation services in Australia today. For social services the total cost is §757,793,000, for health services §254,209,000 and for repatriation services §224,573,000. This gives a total of §1,236,575,000. The costs of administration and capital works in these three categories are §23, 106,000 for social services, §14,683,000 for health services and §36,187,000 for repatriation services. To these figures we must again add works charges which bring the grand total to the astronomical sum of §1,311,887,000. This is the cost of social welfare and repatriation benefits to the Australian taxpayer today.
Now 1 must say a few words about the means test, about which we have heard so much. I recognise the concern of people who find themselves outside the umbrella of the social services system because of the operation of the means test. I share their concern, but I believe we must look at this matter from three angles. First there is the system as it stands today; secondly there is the suggestion of superimposing a national superannuation fund; and thirdly there is the proposition of a complete welfare state, in which we would say to a person attaining the age of 65 or whatever other age was decided upon: “ We will look after you on all levels of social welfare and superannuation “. These are the three ways in which we should consider the problem. But we cannot get away from the fact that during its term of office this Government has liberalised the means test quite substantially. Today a man of 65 - or a woman of 60 - can have §10,500 in the bank, or in assets - with, I hasten to add, no income from superannuation or employment - and still receive full medical, pharmaceutical and hospital benefits. Alternatively, if a person does not have these assets he can have an income of $20 a week and still receive full medical, pharmaceutical and hospital benefits. A married couple can have $20,000 in the bank and receive all these benefits. Alternatively, if they have not these assets they can have an income of §37.50 a week and still receive all these benefits.
When these facts are put before honorable members opposite they must be impelled to think twice about the matter.
I believe that what this Government has done in its period of office has been outstanding. There is no doubt that Opposition members would like to set aside any comparisons wilh the position in 1949. but as I have said not once but a dozen times, if it is good enough to make comparisons in other fields it is good enough for us to make comparisons in this field, and it is important to show what Labour failed to do when it was in office. I do not think I need say more about the legislation except that it is another progressive step forward by this Government in liberalising the means test and creating a better atmosphere for people in the community, particularly those in the middle and lower income groups. This legislation will enable them to lead happier lives in their later years.
I compliment the Minister for Social Services on his achievements in the short time he has been in office. I compliment him and his departmental officers on the type of information he presents in this House to assist his colleagues to arrive at clear cut observations about social service arrangements. I compliment also the honorable member for Sturt who. as other honorable members have said, has made outstanding contributions to this Government’s social welfare achievements. He has contributed outstandingly to the Parliament and particularly to the knowledge of Government backbenchers. I do not wish to embarrass the honorable member, but his achievements refute the oft advanced claim that backbenchers of the Government Parties have very little to say. The suggestions put forward by the honorable member for Sturt, not only per medium of the Government members social services committee and in the party room, but also in this House have been manifest on the statute book. As his speech today will probably bc his last in this place, on behalf of the people of Australia, I wish to thank him for what he has done. It is men such as the honorable member for Sturt who have contributed to the outstanding record of this Government.
Finally, I am sure than on 26th November next, or whenever the elections are held, the people of Australia will recognise what this Government has done in the field of social services over a period of 16 years.
.- When we come to a debate on social services all that we hear from the Government side are figures, figures and more figures - a litany of sterile figures. That pretty well sums up the Government’s approach to this subject. Our system of social services has long been outmoded, lt has worn out its real usefulness in the community. Surely it is time we reconsidered some of the assumptions on which we operate our system of social services in this country. What do the figures mean when we get this long boring diatribe from the Government, which leaves us dazzled and bewildered as we try to work out vestiges of where we are? What does the Government have in mind, tinkering with the mechanism of a system that needs completely renewing? The means test has caused more trouble and concern than enough in the community. lt has provided a problem for people totally dependent on the pension and trying to make ends meet. On these matters we need a completely new approach. The Government’s approach over the years has been to offer a small bribe at election time to buy off the wrath of the electors. Should not social services extend to a wider field of activity than at present?
In seeking information about what has been done in Great Britain I have had very real pleasure from reading the extensive reports - they are regularly presented, I may add - which cover wide fields of new thought in the field of social services and contrasting them with the situation in our own country. For instance, in Great Britain some excellent writing has come from the Ministry of Pensions on the subject of retiring ages. “Where is there evidence that our Department of Social Services has thrown up something to challenge our accepted modes of thought and cause us to inquire whether the assumptions on which we have proceeded in relation to the retiring age are correct or whether we should review our approach to this matter? Is it right to force people out of work at the age of 65? There may be arguments on this matter that apart from anything else there is a real and pressing economic need that these people should retire, otherwise there will be a blockage in the employment pipeline, causing unemployment. This is like the argument about married women in the work force. It is not supported by facts. We have an expanding economy. We need a lot of people in the work force. We need a lot more than we can get. That is why we have an expensive immigration policy. This does not mean that I am postulating that we should raise the compulsory retiring age. Quite the contrary. What 1 say to honorable members and to anybody else who may be listening is that this is but one of a couple of instances I would like to mention and is an important subject for reflection by Australian citizens. We must ponder our approach to the aged people in the community.
Let me cite some of the evidence from Great Britain, lt has been pointed out that there is an upsurge in the mortality rate after people reach the age of 65 and retire. Evidence is available to show that those people who voluntarily continue working after the age of 65 have a lower mortality rate than those who are forced into retirement. A report in the journal of the Institute of Actuaries shows that the mortality expectations of pensioners under the life insurance schemes in Great Britain registers a statistically significant excess between age 65 and 70. It shows a 30 per cent, excess mortality rate for those people between ages 65 and 70 who are retired and on pensions compared with other ages of retirement above 70 years.
Tronchin-Jones, in a very good work on the subject of arbitrary retirement, studied the cases of 323 men retired at the age of 65. He discovered that 89 per cent, of them believed that compulsory retirement was detrimental to their health and contentment. Social studies have been conducted in Great Britain, France, Canada and the United States. If they have been carried out to any extent in Australia they have been done by academics and social workers, not by the Federal Government. If the Federal Government has done such studies it has not made them public to my knowledge. The surveys show that the people most affected are the people about whom we should be most concerned - the unskilled and the semi-skilled. These are the people who have the greatest difficulty adjusting to retirement. The sudden vacuum that thrusts itself upon them is a very difficult thing for them to contend with. Tronchin-Jones points out -
The findings are clear. The majority of people who are among the less articulate, whose lives are less complicated by means, ambition, education or training; who are most dependent on others to find ways to occupy their time, and on their circumstances to supply opportunities for companionship; these people do not want to retire. At al! events, they do not want to retire completely or arbitrarily.
Perhaps this is why 6 out of 10 people in the 1953 survey by the British Ministry of Pensions indicated that they did not want to retire. They indicated that this was so, not purely for economic reasons but rather because of the feeling that they wanted to contribute something in life; because there was a very real need to be felt necessary and important within the community.
We have a tendency to think of aged and retired people as a separate race in the community. Perhaps we show a little tenderness and occasionally a little thought for them, but this is really the wrong approach. Aged people are a continuation of our own life pattern. Knowing that we ail have to reach this stage, we should be thinking more about this arbitrary retiring age. In Great Britain the appro. ..-h to retirement is different. Voluntary retirement at 65 attracts a pension. If a person continues to work until he is 70 the pension is paid at 70 regardless of whether the man is working and at that age the rate of pension is higher. I hasten to point out that there is no evidence from the surveys in Great Britain to suggest that the increased rate of pension at 70 encourages the majority of these people to continue working. Rather, they continue because of the satisfaction of working. For instance, in 1954 the British Ministry of Pensions discovered that of 12,000 people reaching age 65, nearly 5,000 took the pension while about 7,000 continued to work. But at age 67 the position was reversed.
That is what is happening under this more humane and more considerate system in Great Britain. At 65, people are encouraged to realise that they reach an age at which they start to slow down and at which in their own interests they should begin to think of retirement. But they are not arbitrarily forced to give up work completely, although some employers in Britain undoubtedly try to force them to do so. In most instances, workers there are given an opportunity to continue working until the stage at which they feel that they ought to retire. Here is the evidence. They gradually readjust themselves to this situation and they move out of the work force slowly. It is significant that women do not have this problem that confronts men who retire suddenly from the work force - this problem that seems to be reflected in the statistics that I have quoted from the journal of the Institute of Actuaries, which show this upsurge in the mortality rate after 65 among retired men. Women have an opportunity to adjust themselves to a changing situation in the domestic world continually. As their families grow up and slowly move off their hands, they have an opportunity to readjust that is not available to men.
The 1954 report by the United Kingdom Ministry of Pensions on the survey of 12,000 people which I have mentioned states that it was found that 20 per cent, preferred to continue working and an additional 25 per cent, gave as their reason for continuing to work a belief that they were fit to work and a wish to work. This amounts to the same thing as the reason given by those in the first category. So this gives a total of about 45 per cent, who wished to continue working. What we have to realise is that this sudden alteration of living pattern caused by forced retirement can be tremendously detrimental to our physical and mental health. After all, the human machine is built to function under tension. However, too much tension leads to duodenal ulcers and coronary thrombosis, whereas too little may lead to depression, melancholia, apathy and decay of our mental faculties. This was as well put, I think, by a school teacher whom I heard addressing a function some time ago as it has been put by any expert in the field. As a retired person, he was speaking of another who was about to retire and for whom the function was being held. He said: “ It is a wonderful thing, the first week, to know that one can lie in bed at home and listen to the footsteps of those other fools hurrying off to work and to realise that one can take it easy. But, after the first week, this starts to become annoying and one becomes irritable and difficult to live with as one wonders what one will do with one’s time. Most of all, one realises that one is finished, washed up, and cannot contribute anything to life any more. This is the horrible thing that bears down on one. It is like the position of the engine driver who steps off the footplate for the last time, suddenly realises that virtually the whole of his life is behind him and feels that after all he did not matter much, that be can be done without.”
These are serious social problems and
I suggest to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair) that his Department ought to be looking at them and providing the Parliament and the public with reports on the subject. I am not postulating lifting of the compulsory retiring age. As a matter of fact, I think that a pretty good case can be made for reducing it to 60 for voluntary retirement and lifting the upper limit to 70, as is done in Great Britain, and possibly paying some kind of pension to a person who continues to work after 70. These are things that ought to be looked at in terms of the technicalities of operating a social services system. But it is the human considerations that are important here. The present retiring age of 65 was fixed a considerable time ago when life expectancy was nowhere near as great as it is today. Lawrence and Tobias, in their work “Advances in Biological and Medical Physics “, point out that we become less old biologically as time goes by - that 71 years of age today is the equivalent of about the age of 66 in 1901. We are holding together better. Mentally and physically, we are more vital and more capable at a given age than were people who lived at the turn of the century. Life expectancy has increased considerably.
If there are any arguments to the effect that there is a higher sickness rate in older workers - and these have to be substantiated - this would be at least compensated for, as British experience has shown, by less voluntary absenteeism and lower labour turnover. For instance, the British statistics show that in the 25 to 39 age group there is a 32 per cent, turnover of labour. In the 40 and over group, the turnover is only
II per cent. The accident rate in the under 30 group is nearly twice that of the over 60 group. In Great Britain, the authorities have adopted certain policies that are quite beneficial because they lead to people being phased out of the work force. As I have pointed out, evidence is available to show that if workers are allowed and encouraged to retire voluntarily they phase themselves out and adapt themselves to retirement between 65 and about 68. This applies to the great bulk of them.
According to what I have read, the Rolls-Royce works in Great Britain among other organisations has adopted a system under which workers, on reaching the age of 65, are not just thrown out of the work force and allowed to lapse into a sort of indefinite temporary functionless state which is the real problem of arbitrary retirement. A roster system is operated and men are allowed to remain at work so many days a week doing the sort of job that they previously did full time. In this way, they adjust themselves to the situation of retirement and they phase themselves out of the work force. The really important thing is that in doing this they maintain their dignity. One’s dignity is an extremely important human possession. It is something that all in the community should endeavour with a great deal of fervour to preserve for their fellow men. It is of no use to tell a man that he is washed up in his usual job but can have a meaner one. A man may have been a fitter and turner and may have been proud of his trade, or he may have been a very competent electrician. It is of no use to tell him when he reaches 65 that he can stay on sweeping floors in a factory, for a few days a week. This is psychologically devastating to the person who is subjected to it.
We in Australia ought to be thinking about these things. If we are not concerned about the human aspects of the situation and the welfare of the individual, we should at least be concerned about the effects on our pensions scheme in the future. With a population increase of a little more than 2 per cent, a year including migration, we are getting along nicely at present. We shall continue to get along nicely until about 1980 or 1990 because of the low birth rate in the 1930’s and the consequent proportionately low number in retirement who will have to be supported out of the national income as pensioners. But by the turn of the century, the demographers tell us. we shall have a tremendously high proportion of old people in relation to income earners. Possibly the Government has been doing some work privately on this. As I mentioned the other evening in the debate on the estimates for the Department of Shipping and Transport, the Parliament is entitled to know what is being done and what the projections for the future are. Why keep all these things secret? The honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly), as the principal spokesman of the Opposition on social services, is as entitled as is the Minister to know the sort of work that is being done - or should be done, if it is not being done already - by the Department of Social Services on projections for the future and statistical analyses. After all, the present Opposition is the alternative government. Furthermore, the general public have a right to know what the projections for the future are and the way in which lines of policy should be drawn.
I suppose that at this stage it is logical to consider the pensions scheme that is already in operation. I mention merely by the way, because it is hardly a responsibility of the Department of Social Services, that the Federal Government operates a superannuation scheme of its own and that there is a real need for transferability between private superannuation schemes throughout the community. Without this transferability, men become prisoners of a particular organisation at the age of 40 when they find that they can leave only at considerable financial cost. However, under our social services system we have a situation in which 5 out of 1 1 persons of pensionable age are deprived of pensions by the means test. There is no doubt that there is a very strong argument for moderating its effects. 1 have some reservations about wiping it out immediately. Perhaps it could be phased out over a period; but I shall have some recommendations to make about this in a few seconds. If the means test is to be wiped out completely, how will those people who are entirely dependent on the base rate pension get on? In the first place, a lot of people who have fairly good private incomes will be getting this pension if the means test is abolished completely. They will not feel the need, and therefore will not apply as much public pressure for pension improvement as they are applying at present for the elimination of the means test. Further, I can see a great deal of reluctance to support any worthwhile increase in the base rate pension because such an increase could only be made possible by the Government increasing internal revenue. As there will be a tremendously expanded number of people getting the base rate pension, any increase could probably mean significant increases in the internal revenue which the Government has to raise.
Those people who are totally dependent on the base rate pension are not dissolute, as one would be led to believe on reading some newspaper articles. The argument seems to be that thrifty people say: “ We saved and we cannot get the pension. Other people squandered and led a dissolute life, yet the Government gives them an income.” I could take honorable members to a working class town such as Ipswich - a low income town where the people are predominantly railway workers - and I could point out people who have struggled all their lives to rear four, five or even six children on a very low income. They have been decent and fine citizens. They have never had the opportunity to enjoy any but the simplest luxuries, and even those only on occasions. These people, on retirement, are totally dependent on the pension. lt is grossly unfair to suggest that this type of person, who is multiplied many times throughout our community, has been dissolute and has squandered his or her way through life. In fact, they have made quite valuable contributions to our community.
We hear it said by people who advance that type of argument that there is no means test on pensions in Great Britain. We ought to be clear about the system that operates in Great Britain. There are two systems of payment. One is a national superannuation scheme which is called a national insurance scheme. The benefits are paid for partly by insured persons’ contributions, partly by contributions of employers in respect of their employees and partly by a contribution made by the Exchequer out of general taxation. There is no means test connected with this scheme, but it is a contributory scheme. There is also a system of national assistance payments. It is based on a means test and is a sort of sustenance level. It is a sort of base rate pension for people who have no means. Let us be clear here. You cannot make a comparison between the contributory national insurance scheme of Great Britain and the non-contributory pensions scheme of Australia. The same argument applies with regard to New Zealand. There they also have a superannuation pension scheme as well as an age benefit scheme. The age benefit scheme is also based on a means test.
What would seem to me to be possible of operation in Australia is a similar dual system. Let us retain the age pension, based on a means test and with generous payments - not the present parsimonious payments which are adjusted only at election time for those unfortunate people who have worked and struggled hard and made a contribution in life but who, because of their low income level in the community, have not been able to save enough to salt away for their days of retirement. Let us also develop a national superannuation scheme. The virtue of this would be that it would be a voluntary savings system. Contributions to it would be consumption forgone in order to put something away for the future. If we adopted such a scheme of voluntary saving I am sure it would be much more acceptable to the community than would be steep increases in taxation. Let us face it; the only way by which the Government can get the money to finance the total abolition of the means test is by increasing taxation. So let us adopt a sort of voluntary savings scheme. Of course, it would have to be on a social welfare basis so that the chap earning $40 a week would not be making the same contribution as the man earning $100 or $200 a week - and there are plenty of those in our community. Contributions would have to be on a sliding scale so that the man who has a wife and three, four or more children, would pay according to the number of his dependants. The contribution would have to be related also to the income of the contributor. This would be a much more realistic approach than some of the propositions that one hears being put to the community at the present time.
We could also make available extra pension units for those who could afford them and who wanted them. The great virtue of
F.l 1348/66.- R.- 1461 such a scheme from the Government’s point of view is that it would make directly available money for developmental purposes within the community. But in the meantime, surely the things that need urgent attack from the point of view of social services are those areas of poverty and those areas of low living standards that exist in our community. One of the first things I would do if I were in charge of social services would be to have a very hard look at the rent allowance which is paid to some pensioners. I can remember rather starkly my experiences of going to poor areas of Brisbane and seeing despondent pensioners, old men and old women, either widowed or single, living in poky rooms in very low class tenements and looking at nothing but grimy, depressing walls, day in and day out, and eating cold meat pies and peas from the dressing table. I know that this is an emotional sort of argument to put up, but these conditions do exist, and Brisbane probably has cheaper living than a city like Sydney. One can only speculate at the unfortunate circumstances of these people in such bigger metropolitan areas. We ought to eliminate the ineligibility for pension payment of wives who are under 60 years of age when their husbands reach 65. We ought also to provide full pension payments for the wives of invalid pensioners.
I should like to refer to what I look upon as probably the two worst instances of discrimination in our community. I cannot understand how we allow ourselves to be so indifferent to them. I refer first to the wicked plight of those poor unfortunate deserted wives who are left with several children and who have to wait six months before they can get any payment from the Commonwealth Government’s Department of Social Services. Of course the Minister will argue as he has on other occasions, and as his predecessors have argued that the State provides some sort of relief. What grand relief it is - a couple of dollars a week. Why, it is not enough to pay for the rent. If these poor women do not have relatives or friends or some sort of charity to rely on, they are placed in a position of having to sell a bit of furniture, or God knows what will happen to them.
The wives of prisoners are in a similar position. Until a prisoner serves six months, his wife receives no income from the
Department of Social Services. This is shocking. I cannot understand how we can be indifferent to these things. I cannot understand how we have been indifferent to them for so long. There is something wrong with our system of priorities when, for example, we can waste over $265 million on advertising, as we did last year in this country. How can anybody adduce cogent arguments for the retention of expense allowances for luxuries and lavish entertainment in business, or against the introduction of a capital gains tax, whilst claiming that we cannot provide a few sheckles for these poor unfortunate people who are the casualties of our social way of existence? lt is shocking that members of this Government and people in the community generally can be so selfishly indifferent to the lot of people like this whose children, in all too many cases, suffer the most and feel the greatest sense of discrimination. In 1965-66, we spent $807 million on alcoholic beverages. Incidentally, I like beer. I would not like to see the day when beer disappeared. I am not saying we should not drink beer; but I think that there is something wrong with our sense of priorities if we are prepared to spend these huge sums and not set aside more for the less fortunate people in the community. We spent over $400 million on cigarettes and tobacco last year. Surely these things alone ought to tell us that we ought to rethink some of our priorities and social responsibilities.
St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out that according to the natural law every man has a right to enough of the world’s resources to lead a decent life. Yet there is all too much evidence that too many men do not have this right to sufficient of these resources. So we have a very real situation of poverty in our midst in which people cannot eat steak so they have to eat heart or liver or something like that regularly - the cheaper cuts of meat. They cannot afford to go to the dentist so their mouths are filled with the rotten stumps of broken teeth. They keep putting off the visit to the doctor because they want to buy something extra for the children and they know only too well, either because of a very low income standard or, in this case because of the very low level of social service pay ments, that they cannot really afford these things, live and give their children an opportunity.
At this point I should like to read from an article “ Pockets of Poverty in Australia “ by Dr. Appleyard which appeared in the July - August 1965 issue of “Social Service “. He said of the unfortunate people, the people in the poverty section of the community -
Little, if anything, is achieved by saying that these families should have saved sufficient money for a deposit on a house before they had children, or should have had fewer children, or should have exercised greater initiative. The point is that probably many thousands of low income Australian families (almost certainly a proportion of the 58,000 with three dependant children and earning less than £20 a week) are, at this moment, living below the basic standard we, as a nation, have demanded of our economic system. Every Australian would do well to ponder the likely economic and psycho-social consequences of the conditions described by Miss Martin - “ A number of families visited did not have proper bathrooms or even baths, and so had to make various makeshift arrangements for bathing. Children were washed in tubs or in laundry troughs - usually with water heated on the stove or in the copper because where bathing facilities are poor, there is usually no hot water service.”
So the sorry story goes on. These people - Appleyard, Miss Martin - exude a warm human compassion about the welfare of their fellow men. It is a pity the Minister and some of his colleagues on the Government side who are in a position to do something practical to relieve the problems of these unfortunate people could not also exude this kind of compassion.
.- The honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) in opening the debate for the Opposition made some most extraordinary statements. Probably the most extraordinary statement of all was his reference to the change announced by the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair) in the permissible earnings of class A widows. This Bill provides that a class A widow may earn up to $3 a week for each of her children up to the age of 21 years, when the child is a full time student, in addition to S7 a week for herself without her pension being reduced. Previously the limit on her earnings in relation to each child was only $1 a week. The honorable member for Grayndler said that from the inquiries he had made he believed that only approximately 250 children would be affected and he very lightly dismissed this great relaxation in the income means test.
– That is the children of age pensioners.
– Yes. We are talking about widow pensioners.
– The honorable member said pensioners.
– We are talking about the class A widow. The increase in permissible earnings by a class A widow is from $1 to $3 a week in respect of each child and the honorable member said that he believed that only 250 children were affected. To say that 1 was astounded is to put it very mildly.
– 1 said-
– I heard what the honorable member said and he can read in “ Hansard “ what he said. A class A widow is one who has children in her care. Last years report of the Director-General of Social Services records that there were 29,713 widows in this category. Earlier today the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds) said that as at 30th June last there were 31,691 class A widows. 1 will accept his figure. 1 do not know whether the honorable member for Grayndler seriously believes that 31,691 class A widows have only 250 children. The pill may be very effective but 1 do not think it is as good as all that.
Speaking of widows, let us look at how widow pensioners have fared so much better under Liberal-Country Party Governments than they ever did under Labour. In 1949 class A widows received $4.75 a week. Under the terms of this Budget the class A widow will receive $18.50 a week, an increase of 289 per cent. Under Labour the class A widow with four children also received $4.75 a week and was permitted to earn $3 without her pension being reduced. She could, therefore, receive a total of $7.75 a week. Under the terms of this Budget, the class A widow with four children will receive $23 a week, which is an increase of 384 per cent, on the rate paid by Labour, and her permissible earnings may be $19 without her pension being reduced. In other words, she may receive not the $7.75 permitted by Labour but $42 a week, an increase of 442 per cent, on Labour’s rates. This does not mean that we are permitting her to receive a little more than four times what Labour did. This is an increase of over 400 per cent., so we are permitting her to earn nearly 51 times what Labour permitted her to receive.
In 1949 under Labour the class A widow was permitted to have additional property to the value of $2,000 before losing her right to a pension. Under the terms of this Liberal-Country Party Budget she does not lose her entitlement until the value of her additional property reaches $I4,4S0. Under Labour the class A widow lost her eligibility when her youngest child reached 16 years of age. Today she does not lose her eligibility for a class A widow’s pension until her youngest child reaches the age of 21 years when that child is a full time student. Since this Government came to office it has removed the income ceiling limit fixed by Labour on widows who received both a widow’s pension and a war pension. This Government also decided to disregard income from property when assessing a widow’s income for means test purposes. These greatly increased amounts of pension cannot be explained away by a change in the value of money because in the meantime the basic wage has moved from $12.90 to $32.80 a week. The honorable member for .Bass (Mr. Barnard) said earlier today that Tn this field there had been some improvement. Surely that is the understatement of the year. The lot of class B and C widows has also been improved considerably by this Liberal-Country Party Government. Labour paid the class B widow S3. 70 a week. Under this Budget she will receive $11.75 a week, an increase of 218 per cent. Does Labour pretend that the consumer price index has risen by that amount during this period?
In addition to these increases and greatly relaxed provisions for both the income and property means tests, this Government has introduced a rent allowance which is payable to certain widows. This is now as high as $2 a week. Under Labour a class B widow lost her entitlement to a pension when the value of her additional property reached $1,500. Today the amount to $10,150. Labour said to this widow: “ If your additional property is worth more than §200 we will reduce your already miserable pension of S3. 70 a week “. Today the class B widow may have additional property to the value of 54,040 and still receive a full pension of not S3, 70 but $11.75.
Labour said to the class A widow: “ If the value of your additional property exceeds $200 we will reduce your miserable pension of $4.75 a week “. This LiberalCountry Party Government does not reduce the class A widow’s pension of $18.50 a week until the value of her additional property reaches not $200 but S4.500. In addition, it says to her: “ Any income you may receive from the investment of that $4,500 will not affect your pension “. And the honorable member for Bass very graciously concedes that there has been some improvement in the civilian widow’s pension. I hope that the civilian widows will take good note of these figures and will realise where their real friends are. They are to be found among the members of the Liberal and Country Parties, not among the members of the Opposition. Actions speak more loudly than words.
During the course of his speech the honorable member for Grayndler criticised the Government for not increasing the guardians’ allowance. He very conveniently omitted to tell anyone who happened to be misguided enough to listen to him that it was this Government, a Liberal and Country Party Government, which introduced the guardians’ allowance and that over the last year it has paid to widowed as to unmarried pensioners with one or more children in their care $4 a week. Labour paid nothing, yet honorable members opposite say that this amount is not enough. Let us take the case of a single pensioner with a child in his or her care. Labour paid thai pensioner $5.15 per week, but this Liberal and Country Party Government pays a pensioner in similar circumstances $18.50 per week, an increase of over 259 per cent, on Labour’s rate. If that pensioner pays rent, he or she may receive up to $2 per week supplementary rent allowance, giving a total income of $20.50 per week, an increase of 298 per cent, on Labour’s rate.
In the case of a pensioner with two children in his care, Labour paid $5.15 per week, but this Liberal-Country Party Government pays $20 per week, an increase of 288 per cent, on Labour’s rates. If the pensioner also happens to pay rent he receives a rent allowance from this Liberal and Country Party Government which gives him an income of $22 per week, an increase of 327 per cent, on Labour’s rates. As I pointed out before, this does not mean that we are paying 3i times the amount that Labour paid; this is a percentage increase so we pay the pensioners 41- times the amount that Labour paid. So far as age and invalid pensioners are concerned, we not only pay them a greater amount than Labour paid but we also pay them a higher percentage of the basic wage and a greater percentage of our total Budget. In addition we pay them other benefits which Labour Governments have never dreamed of, for example, the rent allowance and the guardians’ allowance. We introduced the Aged Persons Homes Act which until the end of last month was providing 23.732 persons with excellent accommodation for the remainder of their days. Already, since the introduction of this Act by this Liberal and Country Party Government, the Government has paid out $60.2 million for this purpose. These figures are taken up to the end of last month.
Sitting suspended front 5.58 to 8 p.m.
– I should like now to refer to the abolition of the means test, to which so much publicity has been given lately. It is a subject on which 1 have very mixed feelings. I believe we have to examine this problem on two ‘different bases. I want to leave for the moment the introduction of a compulsory contributory scheme which has been referred to by the honorable member for Sturt (Sir Keith Wilson); I want to take the position as it is today. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair) has said that the annual cost of completely abolishing the means test is estimated at approximately $340 million. Why should taxpayers be milked of another $340 million a year to provide benefits for people who are not in necessitous circumstances? I believe that the purpose of social services is to relieve want, not to achieve social or financial equality.
This may be where the thinking of the Government and the Opposition differs.
When the Government’s resources are limited - and I believe they are, because this year we have budgeted for a very substantial deficit - are we entitled to extend our welfare benefits to all whether they are in need or not? At present I believe we are discriminating against the person who has provided for his old age, but a policy which confers equal benefits on persons with unequal needs merely discriminates against those in need. I think that all we achieve is to shift the point of discrimination. We should not be squandering our money by providing benefits for all and sundry whether they happen to be in need or not. 1 want to repeat here that I am not referring to a contributory scheme but to the extension of our present social services scheme. We are continuing to spend an increasing amount of our total Budget on the National Welfare Fund. When Labour went out of office in 1949 it was spending 14.6 per cent, of the total Budget on the National Welfare Fund. The Budget introduced this year provides for an expenditure of 17.2 per cent, of the total Budget for the same purpose.
I believe that the solution to the problem is the introduction of a compulsory contributory scheme of the nature consistently advocated by the honorable member for Sturt - a scheme which provides for each wage earner to pay a certain amount each week of his net taxable income in order to provide for a flat rate superannuation benefit on his attaining a certain age, and that age may be 60, 65 or 70 years. The details could be worked out later, but under such a scheme persons in employment would contribute on the basis of their ability to pay and persons in receipt of income would contribute on a similar basis. All would collect an equal amount after reaching the prescribed age. Such a scheme would encourage fit and able persons to work longer, and it would also eliminate quite a lot of the useless spending that is going on at present. Persons of pensionable age are permitted to spend money on themselves in order to reduce their assets and so qualify for a higher rate of pension than they would otherwise have received. If these people were sure of receiving a pension at a certain age many of them would not indulge in a spending spree but would leave their money in savings banks where it could be put to better use.
At the same time I do not believe that the mere introduction of a national insurance scheme will solve all of our problems, because there will always be persons placed in less favorable circumstances than others, sometimes due to their own fault and sometimes due to no fault of their own. In such a case we will still require a pension based on need to be superimposed on the national insurance scheme. This may seem a little complicated, but 1 believe it is preferable to our present system which encourages people to spend money needlessly and which leaves it open at election time for our friends opposite to ask themselves not how much they can afford to spend on an increase in pension rates but how much will it be necessary for them to promise in order to win the election. There appears to be strong opposition in some quarters to the introduction of a compulsory pension scheme on the grounds that people will regard a compulsory contribution as taxation, which undoubtedly it is. At the same time I believe that if given the opportunity to vote on such a scheme the people would show themselves overwhelmingly in favour of it. I understand that gallup polls support this contention.
I said earlier that many persons of pensionable age who do not receive the pension because they have provided for themselves are discriminated against. We can remove the cause of a great deal of dissatisfaction among this group of people in three different ways. First, we could extend all or some of the fringe benefits to these people, and the most important fringe benefit is the pensioner medical service. The difficulty here, of course, is whether we can reasonably expect the medical profession to treat all of this group at reduced fees when some of them could well afford to pay normal fees. Secondly, we could give more tax relief. I have already spoken so many times on this subject that I do not want to repeat all of the arguments, but it is to the credit of this Liberal-Country Party Government that it introduced the age allowance for taxation purposes. However, I do not think that goes far enough. We could utilise the skills of so many persons of retiring age who are willing to continue working, and I do not think that we ought to penalise them because they choose to postpone their retirement. Under the terms of the age allowance these people may receive an income equal to the maximum rate of the joint age pension - and I am referring to a couple here - plus their permissible income, tax free, but they do not receive any concessional deductions and they do not receive any of the fringe benefits which are worth quite a deal to pensioners. Then they have to pay income tax at the rate of 45 per cent, on the excess of their income over the permissible income of a pensioner couple. In my opinion this rate is far too high. It does not encourage thrift and it does not encourage active people to continue working after reaching the retiring age.
Thirdly, we can assist these people by increasing the amount of permissible income. This is the only point on which I agree with Labour’s amendment. 1 believe I drew attention to this matter earlier than did any member of the Labour Party. The amount of $7 a week for a single pensioner and $14 for a pensioner couple was fixed in 1954. In the meantime base pension rates have increased by approximately 68 per cent, for married couples and 86 per cent, for single pensioners. The basic wage has gone up in the meantime by about 39 per cent, and average male earnings by 47 per cent. It is time we liberalised the figures of $7 and $14 a week. By so doing we will be achieving some measure of relaxation of the means test.
Each year members of Parliament arc subjected to pressure from pensioner organisations asking that the single rate age or invalid pension should be equal to 50 per cent, of the basic wage, and they are backed by the unthinking members of the Opposition. I have no quarrel with paying a single pensioner more than 50 per cent, of the basic wage - indeed, I believe that many of them are already receiving more than this amount; I am referring to those single pensioners who also receive the guardians’ allowance and, in addition, the supplementary rent allowance - but 1 quarrel with the idea of paying all married pensioner couples an amount equal to the basic wage. It should be remembered that we already permit a pensioner couple to have an extra income of $14 a week - and I have already said that 1 do not think that this is high enough - and still receive the full pension.
Earlier today the honorable member for Stirling (Mr. Webb) mentioned that a man on the basic wage with two children pays $1.30 a week income tax. 1 ha%>e not checked this figure but I have no reason to doubt its accuracy. Let us consider the case of this man on the basic wage, and it does not matter that less than .02 per cent, of full time adult male workers are receiving the basic wage, because that is by the way. I am referring to the man who does receive the basic wage. As the honorable member for Stirling said, he must feed, clothe and educate his two children. He must pay fares to go to work. He must pay full rates for his radio and television licence and, if he can afford a telephone, he must pay the full telephone rental. He must pay contributions to a medical benefits society so that he will receive some rebate on his medical, hospital and pharmaceutical expenses. In addition, he must pay $1.30 a week in tax. How can any member of the Parliament, whether from this side of the House or from the Opposition, ask that a pensioner couple with no children, sometimes with no rent to pay because some of them own their homes, with concessions for telephone rental and radio and television licences, with reduced fares and lower gas accounts, through the courtesy of certain State Governments, and a free medical service, be given the same amount each week as the man on the basic wage receives, and at the same time be permitted to have an income of another $14 a week all tax free? No person, whether he be a worker, a professional man or in another category, could possibly support such a proposition. The argument is valid whether the basic wage is $32.80 or $132.80 a week. The couple without responsibility will always be better off than the worker on the basic wage, and pensioner organisations and Opposition members ought to think this one out.
I want to say something about a subject to which I have referred previously. This is the matter of disabled persons employed in sheltered workshops. Earlier this year, the Government relaxed the means test with respect to these people.
Their eligibility to receive an invalid pension is based now on medical standards alone, and this has resulted in some of them being permitted to earn a higher income than previously. At the same time, there is still an income means test, which is more severe than that imposed by the Governments of New Zealand and France, to mention only two countries. Even an Iron Curtain country like Czechoslovakia - this disturbs me - places no income means test on the earnings of persons employed in sheltered workshops. Their pensions are recognised as compensation for their incapacity, and I believe that, if these people are prepared to contribute something to the gross national product instead of silting at home and enjoying the pension for doing nothing, they ought to be given every encouragement.
Opposition members who have spoken earlier today have referred in critical terms to the special rate pension that is paid to single pensioners. Some pensioner organisations are not happy about it. 1 cannot understand this attitude, unless it can be put down to human nature, to selfishness. 1 referred to this matter during my speech on the Budget and I want to mention it again. Labour says that the Government believes that two can live as cheaply as one. Let me repeat what I said during the Budget debate. Most single pensioners are single because they have lost their partner, not because they have chosen to be single or because they have never married. Docs any Opposition member believe that, if one partner dies, the expenses of the survivor are halved, that the survivor can get by on half the married rate of pension? Is the rent halved? Are the rates that he pays to the council or the water authorities halved? Does it cost only half as much to paint the house or to keep it in a state of repair? Can the survivor burn half a fire to keep warm and buy half the fuel? Can he burn half a radiator or half an electric lamp to read by? Is the amount he is charged for his radio and television licence halved? If he can afford a telephone, is the telephone rental halved? If he is fortunate enough to be able to afford a motor car, is the registration fee, the insurance premium or the cost of his licence halved? Does he decide each weekend that he will drive only half as far as he did before? Is he expected lo use only half the petrol?
As I said previously, I think it is bad enough lo lose one’s partner late in life without the Government imposing another penalty by cutting the pension in half. I have no doubt that some day some of the married pensioners who now are critical of the Government for paying single pensioners a rate in excess of 50 per cent, of the married rate will be grateful for it, and Labour members ought to have enough sense to see the justice of this special rate of pension.
Before concluding 1 would like to pay a tribute to the Minister for Social Services and his staff. I have always found them helpful, courteous and co-operative. 1 would also like to take the opportunity to pay my tribute to the honorable member for Sturt, who is retiring from the Parliament very shortly. He has been chairman of the Government Members Social Services Committee ever since 1 have been in the Parliament, and I believe that he has done more than any other member of the Parliament has, during his own time or before, to improve the lot of the less fortunate members of our society. He will be greatly missed by his colleagues in the House and by the members of many pensioner organisations.
whose theme song, or perhaps I should say his litany, is very simple - “ Praise the Government from whom all pensions flow “. I have in front of me (he official statistics on the cost of social security from the International Labour Organisation. They show that since the advent of this Government to office in 1949, in terms of expenditure per head of population on social services, Australia has regressed from seventh place in the world to fourteenth. I do not know what explanation the honorable member can offer for that. I represent a constituency which is one of the social laboratories of Australia, because of the number of pensioners and migrants residing within it. If any honorable member wants to compare the standards of Australian social services with those of various European countries, he should come to my constituency and he will be fully educated. We have reason to hang our heads in shame.
At present, a senator from the Philippines, Senator Manglapus, is visiting Australia. A statement he made quite recently is worth quoting and remembering. He said that he was all in favour of the idea of free enterprise in theory, but the old fashioned idea that free enterprise left to its own devices would somehow bring prosperity to all was wrong. He also said that when free enterprise resulted in the many losing their dignity and the few sharing the benefits as had happened it was necessary to think again. That is precisely the position in Australia today. The many - the pensioners and the people with substandard incomes - are losing their dignity and the few are sharing the benefits.
We live in a planless society. We live in the last stronghold of untrammelled capitalism. We are the last country in the world that refuses to impose even the most minor controls on capital accumulation. By way of contrast, let us take a country such as Sweden, whose system of social services is inflation proof. What is the position in Australia? Here social services are placed on the political auction block in the most undignified fashion. The words of Dr. Ford, a lecturer at the University of New South Wales, are more eloquent than mine and more trenchant on the point. The “Australian” of 1st August last, referring to Mr. Ford, reported -
A university lecturer has accused the Federal Government of moral cowardice in concealing poverty and hardship in Australia. “ Poverty is not seen from Canberra,” he told the Living Standards Conference in Sydney at the weekend.
He said the Government’s social services policy was economically illiterate.
Its ignorance of the true extent of poverty and hardship was abominable. There should be a fundamental study of the problem.
He said it was more than 20 years since the Government had made a survey into the effects of the existing system of social service benefits. “ Unfortunately, the Government studies and statistics do not meet the needs of these changes,” Mr. Ford said. “ For example the statistician lumps aged and invalid pensioners together. “These are significantly different problems, but the Government has continually refused to provide statistics which would show the true dimensions and nature of the number of handicapped people in our society. “This is an act of moral cowardice.”
– Who is this fellow?
– Ford. The statement was made at a conference on living standards convened by the Labour Council of New South Wales. It was attended by some 2,000 delegates and was held about two months ago. At the present time - as it has done for a couple of years past - this Government is progressively reducing consumer spending power in Australia, deliberately, designedly and for the purpose of financing its war effort. As a matter of fact, in the process there has been a consistent depreciation of living standards. The reduction has been achieved by means of indirect taxation and an absence of price control. Quite recently there was a solemn debate in the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission as to whether we could even belatedly give the ordinary working man too little, too late, because of inflation in a country which lacks any form of price control. This happened in a country which is allegedly one of the most affluent in the world; a country which claims to be tenth or eleventh amongst the trading nations.
If honorable members want to know the real attitude of this Government, it was stated very clearly in 1949 by Mr. Davidson, the then Postmaster-General. On 29th August 1949 he said this -
I will go on record as saying I do not care what it costs me, that if I could see another £40 million in the economy available this year for purposes other than those specified in this budget, I would put an increase in pensions last.
Today pensions are a political plaything. Let us approach the subject from another point of view. What is the feeling of the general public? What do the people think? The May-July issue of “Australian Gallup Polls “ carried a heading “ Raise pensions S4 a week “. The issue stated -
Six out of 10 people think pensions should be increased by at least $4 a week- from $12 to $16……
There were 1,900 people involved in the poll. The statement continued -
The vote for increasing old age and invalid pensions from $12 to $16 a week came from 57 per cent, of Liberal-CP voters and 68 per cent, of both A.L.P. and D.L.P. voters
Among people under 30 … 68 per cent, favour pensions of $16 a week.
Prior to the recent Budget there were deputations from the Government’s own most ardent supporters - the Chambers of Manufactures, the Chambers of Commerce, the Retail Traders Association, the Graziers Association - J need not run through them all- and they particularly stressed the need for an increase in consumer spending power, and correctly so. In addition they stressed - and this was quite unique - that there should be an increase in pensions because they understood that purchasing power needs to be spread throughout the community.
The other day I had reason to address a question to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair) - and I would appreciate his attention now - and it was reported, and commented on by no less an authority than Mr. Parsons, the Federal Secretary of the Association of Superannuation and Provident Funds of Australia, in the “Financial Review” of l 9th September. Mr. Parsons quoted from a publication which is available in the Library, an official publication of the Government of the United States dealing with a world survey on social services. It said that there were 79 countries in the world which had some form of comprehensive social services. Australia is down in a group with the banana republics. The “ Financial Review “ said that Mr. Parsons - an accepted authority in Australia -
What glorious company we in Australia rub shoulders with. Let us take the matter from another point of view. What is the contribution made to the national wealth by the people of Australia? We have today, in round figures, 4.5 million men and women in (he national work force, 75 per cent, of them being men. The gross national product last year was $20,000 million. The work force in Australia is producing about $4,500 million of wealth for the com munity. Taken over a period of 44 years, from the age of 21 to the retiring age of 65, a man and his wife produce on the average $406,000 in wealth for Australia. If a pensioner couple receiving the age pension are given a fair proportion of the basic wage as pension they would receive $1,700 a year. With a life expectancy after retirement of I2i years they would get altogether a matter of $21,000, or 5 per cent., in the remaining 12i years of their lives, of the total wealth that they had produced for Australia. Any country, with good will, with wit and with good management surely could provide for its senior citizens that modest competence and return lo them a proper share of the wealth they have produced for the country.
There is today throughout the world a general awakening of the collective social conscience with regard to poverty. There is a population explosion in the world and there is a threat of world famine. We hear the President of the United States of America expatiating in terms of the Great Society. In Australia recently, as I said previously, we had a conference on living standards and there were some scathing comments made. We hear the moral gladiators on the Government side paying lip service to the war on poverty. But let them give practical proof of it. If honorable members want to know just how far we are regressing in terms of social service. I quote from page 8 of the recently distributed report of the Director-General of Social Services in which he said -
People over minimum pension age in Australia represent an estimated 10.3 per cent, of the population. Of these people, 53 per cent, are receiving age pensions. The proportion of people of pension age receiving age pensions has increased over the years - the corresponding proportion ten years earlier was 45 per cent.
In other words, in this so called affluent society 8 per cent, more of the people of Australia who are of pensionable age are receiving the pension than received it 10 years earlier. That is a direct consequence of the iniquitous, scandalous and morally unjustifiable means test which this Government continues to impose; a means test which it has not modified, or thought of modifying, in the last 12 years.
We always hear a spate of figures on the financial implications of the means test.
But let us be realistic. At the present time I am quoting the official policy of the Federal body of the Original Old Age and Invalid Pensioners Association. Thai organisation is asking for a permissible income level of $20 for an age pensioner couple. That is a matter of $10 a week, which would mean quite a modest and reasonable increase after a period of 12 years, and one which this Government could undoubtedly grant. The rest could be the subject of later discussion. But the Government, of course, is not prepared to do even that, because while it maintains this means test it constricts and reduces the number of people who arc capable of claiming the pension. It is forcing one group on but keeping another group out. A day of reckoning will undoubtedly come with regard to that second group which today represents the major portion of the Australian work force. I am referring to what are commonly known as white collar workers who today exceed in numbers the workers in overalls. The white collar worker is traditionally the man who wants to provide for his future, if possible, in terms of superannuation or assurance. This Government, of course, has been responsible in its 17 years of office for the worst inflation that has occurred in any of the so-called western capitalist democracies.
I have heard contributions from Government supporters in this debate on the question of a contributory national superannuation scheme. Have the people of Australia any reason to trust this Government to design or administer any form of national superannuation? T. would say not, and if honorable members want the proof of that assertion let them merely examine the celebrated medical benefits scheme introduced with great eclat, great unction and proclaimed as fully covering the people of Australia for 90 per cent, of their medical costs. In fact that scheme has now deteriorated to the point at which it can cover only 62 per cent, of medical costs. If honorable members want to know the effects of inflation on any superannuation scheme under the control of this Government let me again refer to the comment of Mr. Parsons as reported in the “Financial Review” of 19th September 1966. Analysing the lump sum superannuation scheme as devised by the Broken Hill
Pty. Co. Ltd.-Australian Iron and Steel for its employees, he said -
It appears to me that it will be necessary for the trustees of the B.H.P. Wages Employees’ Retirement Fund to review at intervals the rates of contributions, as the contributions are not based on salaries and thus will be affected by inflation.
He goes on to make the point that with wages increasing at the rate of 5 per cent, a year and with investment of the funds of a superannuation scheme at 6 per cent., the situation at the point of retirement for a man due to retire in the year 2010 will be very disappointing. A man making contributions to the scheme now may be looking forward to a lump sum on retirement equal to six times his annual wage, but by the time he retires he will find that the lump sum will be worth only three quarters his annual wage. So much for inflation, which will undoubtedly continue under this Government.
Sooner or later the Government of Australia, and also the governments of all other countries, must come to grips with the problem of automation and the general increase of longevity throughout the world. If these governments fail to do so there will come a day - and it will not bc so very far away - when persons over 60 years of age will predominate in the population. What those persons cannot achieve today they will then get by way of gerontocracy, by the rule of the old, and I hope they show a little more mercy to the rest of the community than the rest of the community shows to them now.
Now I shall get on to specific cases. Within my own constituency the most pitiable cases are those of widows. We have in Wollongong a branch of the Smith Family, an excellent charitable organisation, whose annual report gives some interesting information. In the year 1962 there were 1,292 instances of relief given - not necessarily to individual people but separate instances of relief. In the year ended June 1966 the number of instances of relief was 10,605, and the distribution was made mainly to the aged, to widows, to deserted wives and to underprivileged children. What is to be the position of a widow who has reared a family and who under the terms of the present legislation must for a period of five years find employment? She has to find this employment in a city in which there is chronic female unemployment, where even the present Liberal representative in the State Government has at last reluctantly admitted that such unemployment exists, that it is chronic and that his Government has not a remedy for it. There are 5,600 women seeking jobs. Must this widow, having reared a family decently, having devoted the best years of her life to them, be placed in the humiliating position of having to compete in an impossibly overcrowded labour market with 300 or 400 girls and young women for an advertised job in a retail store or office? This is a major scandal, and it is one of which this Government should be ashamed.
What of the retired mine worker who in 1941 thought that the millennium had arrived when the State Government legislated for a contributory pension scheme? What is his position today? By law the miner must retire at the age of 60. If he were to live in Poland he would qualify immediately for the normal social services as an underground worker, but in Australia for a period of five years, from the age of 60 to the age of 65, he is in economic limbo. He is neither in heaven nor in hell but somewhere in between. He no longer has the chance to use his skills on the labour market and he does not qualify for an age pension. He has made a contribution over a period of many years for this retirement benefit, but even that is being attacked by the present State Minister for Mines who is now suggesting a retiring age of 62. At the very least this Government could well afford to give the retired mine worker a medical entitlement card. He is entitled to one. How else is he to cover his medical costs which today would average between 18s. and £1 a week? He is entitled to at least that much. He is denied until the age of 65 the opportunity of securing employment or of benefiting from concessions in respect of municipal rates if he is fortunate enough to own a home. This is the position he is in, and he sees the end of the present scheme of miners’ superannuation because we have now reached the point at which 12,000 miners remaining in the industry are contributing to a pension scheme in which there are 8,500 recipients. The obvious step cannot be taken and again this Government is the lion in the path. The proper method, of course, is to impose an excise on coal, but it is something that this Government, in the interest of its friends and supporters, will not legislate for, despite the fact that over a period of 25 years the output in the coal industry has increased from 2i tons per man per day to 10 tons and even more.
Then we come to child endowment, and this is a matter that has obviously been kept in reserve by the Government to be used as election bait. The average young couple today has a stark choice. They can have a family or they can have a home. They will not be able to have both. If they commit themselves to a home Australia loses some bonny children. As strong an advocate as I am of migration from overseas countries, I maintain that the best of all migrants are the Australian children, born of Australian parents in Australian homes and maintained at a decent standard. What is the value of these children to our gross national product, to put the question in sordid commercial terms? I have given the figures, and as well as increasing child endowment we should be talking in terms of marriage loans to young couples. On today’s wage scales it is impossible for a young couple to save sufficient for a deposit on a home and to set themselves up for life with proper furniture. A marriage loan should be provided for young couples. This loan should be discharged completely in the event of two children arriving within the first five years.
Heavy industry has had every possible benefit from the flow of migrants to this country. The migrant comes here as an able bodied man. In physical terms he is a first class productive labour unit. From that viewpoint alone the Government could well afford to do better for the people. As far as I can gather there are within my constituency and the adjoining areas some 30,000 migrants - men, women and children - from the continent of Europe. Of that number, to date only 6,500 have sought naturalisation. As they have come to my office with their complaints and seeking assistance I have closely questioned them, seeking their reasons for not applying for naturalisation. At least three out of four tell me that they are dissatisfied with the
Australian system of social services. They like the country but they are intensely dissatisfied with our system of social services. They come from countries with a more enlightened attitude towards social services.
– They are so dissatisfied that they want to go back to their homelands.
– They do go back. They are going back. In the main, their intention is to stay in Australia, but they reach a point where they feel compelled to return to their native land in order to qualify there for social services. These are very good people. They are loyal to this country. They like it. But they are hard headed and realistic. The people who have come from the Netherlands, West Germany and Scandinavian countries look almost with contempt on our system of social services, our pathetic scheme of unemployment benefits, our inadequate hospital benefits and our inadequate medical scheme. These people have known something better. They are amazed that a country with the potential wealth of Australia cannot treat them better than it does. I agree with them. As for the British migrant, his criticism is the most scathing of all. He has come from a country where, from the cradle to the grave, he has had some system of social protection. This has been fought for bitterly over the years. By blood, toil and sweat the British worker has at last achieved some measure of security. The Austraiian worker will never obtain it from this Government.
When it comes to a matter of financing improved social services - this is the burning question - let the Government harken to the words of Mr. Norman, Manager of the Bank of New South Wales. He is a most unimpeachable witness for the prosecution. Mr. Norman has said that it is high time the national government thought in terms of a company tax on overseas companies operating in Australia, the tax being graduated in proportion to the percentage of overseas shareholding in the particular company. Today 90 per cent, of our development is financed by internal savings. The other 10 per cent, comes from overseas. We can do better than that.
Take another field - the oil companies. A racket is being worked by the oil companies with regard to the listed price of crude oil. I almost weep for the paupers of the oil industry because year after year their balance sheets show that they scarcely make a profit. Of course they do not because they are fiddling the prices of the crude oil that they bring into the country. The listed price is supposed to be about $2.80. The oil companies are paying less than half that amount because there is a world surplus of oil production at the present time. The Government of India had to take a strong hand in this matter. It finally insisted on importing all the oil itself so that it could find out what it was costing. It then sold the oil to the individual companies trading there.
– What has the oil situation got to do with this Bill?
– It has a lot to do with it. Previous speakers in the debate have referred to the impossibility of financing an improved scheme of social services. I know that what I say hurts the honorable member for Corangamite. In another field there is a taxation fiddle. I refer to the export of iron ore. With their typical politeness some of the Japanese companies are telling the Government that they have not made any profits. We should be ashamed of our system of social services. We pay too little, loo late and we pay it to too few. Our scheme of social services today is a blot on our political landscape.
.- Mr. Acting Speaker, I sympathise a little with the honorable member for Cunningham (Mr. Connor) in his task tonight.
– He did not make a very good fist of it.
– I have to agree with that. On behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition, he had the job of destroying the Government’s case in support of its social services policy. Like his colleagues on the other side, he had a very unenviable task. I followed his speech closely. I thought he referred to a wide range of people in Australia and particularly in his own electorate. He said many things that doubtless will please many people in different occupations and in varying circumstances in his electorate. I would be interested to know how he would tell these people he would raise the $400 million or $500 million which he so blithely spent in the course of 30 minutes. I admit that it is a very difficult job for the
Opposition to attempt to pull down the Government’s case. His second difficult job tonight was his attempt to criticise the speech of the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Fox) who, in my opinion, did an excellent job.
– So will St. Kilda on Saturday.
– The honorable member for Henty completely destroyed the Opposition’s case. The honorable member for Braddon, who has just interjected, may be interested to know that the honorable member for Henty is a very keen Collingwood supporter. I hope I will be pardoned for introducing a light note into the debate. I feel it needs it after the speech of the honorable member for Cunningham. If Collingwood does as good a job against St. Kilda as the honorable member for Henty did against the Opposition tonight, I am sure that he and, incidentally I, too, will be well satisfied.
– St. George could beat both teams.
– 1 would ask New South Welshmen not to interject with uninformed comment, with due deference to you, Mr. Acting Speaker. The honorable member for Cunningham said that he supported the results of the gallup poll, which showed that the majority of people interviewed in a survey were in favour of increasing the basic pension by $4. Making an arithmetical calculation, to increase the basic pension by $4 would cost $149,474,832 a year. I can appreciate the people who were interviewed being in favour of such an increase. I would probably favour it if I were not a Government supporter. I am sure that we on this side of the House have a greater sense of responsibility than Opposition members have and also a greater knowledge of Australia’s financial situation than the average Australian has. And so we should have. The comments made by the honorable member for Cunningham were typical of him. He was in favour of only one thing - increasing the social services bill by a mere $150 million a year. This sort of attitude underlines the difference between the fundamental thinking of the Opposition and that of the Government. The Government has a responsibility for preserving the value of money. The Opposition, as is indicated by the promises made over the last few months by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) and by Opposition speakers in this debate, has no thought for the preservation of the value of money. Honorable members opposite would take us back to the situation that existed in 1949, when inflation was galloping ahead at the rate of 10 per cent, a year.
As I see this Bill, Mr. Acting Speaker, it cannot be considered in isolation. Unlimited funds cannot be allocated to social services. The starting point in the allocation of funds for this purpose is the sum available to the Commonwealth Government from revenue in the forthcoming year. This can only be estimated at the present stage, but it becomes the starting point from which the Government must work in deciding the total sum that can be allocated to the Department of Social Services.
Great pressure is brought to bear by many organisations throughout Australia, not only in the field of social services, but in every sphere of activity throughout the community. I am sure that the task of the Minister for Social Services is very dim- cult. It must be very rewarding in many ways, but I am not sure that I envy the Minister, whoever he may be. in having to undertake the task, first, of convincing the Cabinet that the sum he requires should be allocated to his Department.
– It is a pretty tough job to convince the Cabinet of something.
– I am sure that even the honorable member will agree that the present Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair) has obtained a pretty reasonable sum - $1,019 million out of a total budget of $5,930, or 17 per cent, of the total. This represents a much better performance than was given when the Australian Labour Party was in office. The Minister, it seems to me, Mr. Acting Speaker, has a difficult problem to deal with in allocating the sum at his disposal among the various people who are entitled to pensions. I am sure that the Minister is reasonably well satisfied with the funds that the Government finally agreed to allocate to his Department. I am sure that Ministers in charge of other departments would not mind having a similar sum to spend.
The honorable member for Henty, I thought, made a magnificent analysis of this
Government’s administration of social services compared to the efforts of the Labour Party when it was in office. So there is no need for me to go into the matter in great detail. J was extremely interested to hear the comments of honorable members who were in favour of abolishing the means test almost immediately. I do not think this is a practicable or desirable proposition. As I see the situation, we would need $340 million to abolish the means test. Rates of pension would remain the same and there would be no benefit for those in the community who already received pensions. However, I do not regard $340 million as the final figure. 1 am sure that the Government is not happy about the position of many people who are at present on the base rate of pension and who are not being satisfactorily looked after and about the position of others who are in receipt of pensions. 1 am sure that the Minister and the Government are not satisfied that many of those people are being adequately catered for yet. I believe that if we have any extra money to spend on social services we should, instead of abolishing the means test quickly, look after those who are on only the base rate of pension and widows who have four children, say, and who cannot go to work. 1 find it hard to believe that if the funds needed to enable us to abolish the means test immediately were provided our budgetary situation and Australia’s development would not suffer considerably. So I think that we should stick to the present system until a practical scheme of national insurance or superannuation can be .introduced.
I believe that our most immediate task is to give attention to those who are on the base rate of pension and to people who, because they receive some superannuation, arc not able to get the full benefit of the pension and are therefore in difficulties. 1 am not in favour of abolishing the means test at this stage, but I am in favour of increasing the base rate of pension. One of the reasons why I take this attitude is that many people never get a chance to save anything out of their salary or wages from the time they first go to work until their working days are done. These people represent an important category of Australians who have made a considerable contribution to the nation’s future by raising families of good Australians and by doing extremely useful work in any occupation that they may have undertaken. By reason of the salary and wages structure they have been denied an opportunity to accumulate any worthwhile assets or to ensure financial security in their retirement. 1 believe that with the funds that are available for expenditure on social services each year we should do something for the people in this position. There are many arguments for and against national insurance. I have with me a very interesting document which was prepared by the Department of Social Services. 1 can remember obtaining it from the former Minister some years ago. It contains a section headed “ Arguments for National Insurance “, and another headed Arguments Against National Insurance “. I have found this document very helpful in explaining to people why it is difficult for the Government to introduce a national insurance scheme while, at the same time, putting before them the arguments for national insurance. After having both sides of the case explained to them, people have said to me: “ We did not appreciate all those points. What you have said makes us have second thoughts about being overwhelmingly in favour of a national insurance scheme.”
– Does the honorable member want the document incorporated in “ Hansard “?
– If the honorable member had been listening he would have heard me say that the document was prepared by the Department of Social Services.
– Incorporate it in “ Hansard “.
– It was furnished to me by the former Minister, as I have said. The honorable member for Grayndler is suggesting that I incorporate it in “ Hansard “. I can well understand that he would feel bored at listening to me, just as I am bored when he is speaking.
– If it contains valuable information, the Parliament should have it.
– It does contain valuable information.
– Will the honorable member incorporate it in “ Hansard “?
– I shall make a copy available to the honorable member later on.
– We would all like that.
Mr.HOLTEN.- That is very nice of the honorable member.
– Cannot we prevail upon you?
– If the Minister agrees-
– I do not know the document.
– If the Minister does not know the document, I cannot ask him to agree to its incorporation in “ Hansard “, but I shall confer with him afterwards and see whether it would be useful to everybody. There is no doubt that the arguments for national insurance, as contained in the document are quite strong. There is no doubt, either that the arguments against national insurance are quite valid. One of the argument for national insurance is -
Since personal savings will not’ affect a man’s right to benefit, national insurance can be regarded as discouraging thriftlessness and encouraging providence.
One of the arguments against it is -
If strict actuarial principles are applied it would be about 44 years before rights were acquired and benefits at full rates would be payable. No immediate rights would accrue to persons already of pension age.
Then, as it says, there will always be some people who cannot contribute. Another argument against national insurance is -
A huge administrative machine is necessary for the working of an insurance scheme.
And so it goes on. I shall not take up the time of the House any further with this document. Perhaps when the Minister sees it he will feel inclined to distribute it to honorable members; but that is a matter for his judgment.
Finally, 1 should like to refer briefly to civilian widows. I am gratified that some improvement in the permissible income of civilian widows has been provided for in the Budget, a class A widow, that is, a widow with children in her care, will now be able to earn up to $3 a week for each of the children under 21 years of age in her care, plus $7 a week for herself. This benefit will be enjoyed by about 30,000 widows who, provided they can work, will be able to have a maximum income up to $42 a week. In my judgment, that is a fairly good income. I do not say that a widow with four children will be able to live in luxury, but this improvement, together with the improvement in the provisions relating to other accumulated assets, represents a much better performance than that of the Labour Party when it was in power.
From now on, a class A widow with one child can enjoy an income of$30 a week, provided she can work. A widow with two children will be able to enjoy an income of $34.50 a week and a widow with four children will be able to enjoy an income of up to $42 a week. The position of those civilian widows who can work has certainly become more realistic. We are now reaching the stage where the civilian widow can be a dignified and valuable member of the community.
I am not 100 per cent. satisfied with the position of the civilian widow at the moment, and I do not think the Minister is satisfied with it. It is true that the Minister has only a certain amount of money - $219 million this year - which he has to allocate between the various sections of his Department as fairly as he possibly can. I still feel, however, that the position of civilian widows who cannot work is not the best. Other speakers have dwelt at length on the need for Australia, for various reasons, to assist this section of our community as much as possible. I, like other members, have had discussions with the Minister and written letters to him, and 1 appreciate the attention that he has given to the problem, although I am sure he is not completely satisfied with the present situation.
So far as I can see, these problems may not diminish very much in the near future. The Government has a big task before it in taking care of the people who will be requiring pensions in various forms. Finance will always be limited and decisions relating to priorities will always be difficult to make, but the people of Australia can rest assured that while members of the Liberal Party and the Country Party occupy the Government benches every consideration will be given to the people who are less fortunate than perhaps most of us have been in our lives and who have really not had a chance right from the word “ go “. They can rest assured that these two Parties will always be giving social service problems the utmost consideration.
.- I am happy to be able to follow the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Holten) in this debate. Many parts of his speech sounded very sincere. 1 thought at times that I would have traded him for my colleague and friend who defected from our Party - Captain Benson. I think he is closer to the true Labour traditions than is my learned friend Captain Benson.
Before dealing with the points raised by the honorable member for Indi, I should like to say that we know that he was an outstanding Australian Rules player and a great supporter of the Collingwood team in Victoria. I am told by my parliamentarian friends from Victoria that if Collingwood is “ done over “ by St. Kilda on Saturday the honorable member for Indi will be asking for unprecedented increases in invalid pensions and sickness benefits - increases far greater than those sought in this Parliament by members of the Labour Party for very many years.
– That is the biggest mistake the honorable member has ever made.
– Apparently the honorable member for Henty is also a Collingwood supporter. I congratulate the honorable member on his contribution to the debate today even though it was made from a Tory point of view. The honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) and the honorable member for Cunningham (Mr. Connor) also made worthwhile contributions. I do not expect that my contribution will be in the same class as theirs because I have not spent the time in research and study of this subject that they have. Tn fact, it was only shortly before the suspension of the sitting for dinner that I was asked to make a contribution to the debate, and I will make a contribution. I will endeavour to be as sincere as other honorable members on this side of the House have been in presenting the Labour Party’s point of view.
The honorable member for Indi impressed me when he said: “ The Liberal Party will always stand up for those who have never had a chance to save anything in their lives “.
– And the Country Party.
– And the Country Party. The honorable member is a member of the Country Party and I would say that the Party to which he belongs is more sympathetic towards the poor, the underprivileged, the deprived section of the community than are the Tories and Liberals.
– That is unkind.
– I do not think it is unkind. lt is traditional for honorable members opposite to say that they believe in doing all they can but they never seem to believe in altering the ruthless capitalist system tinder which we live and as long as human beings are on this earth they will grab, with all the ruthlessness of which human nature is capable, to enrich themselves until a government takes legislative action to stop them.
Honorable members on the Government side follow the principles adopted in the United States of America. I am not a hater of the American people - I do not think anyone on this side of the House is - but the United States is the most highly capitalised country in the world. That forthright Australian, Allan Ashbolt, who I do not think belongs to any political party, recently wrote a book titled “ An American Experience “ which was released in March of this year. In it he points out that 77 million of the population of the United States of America of 190 million are living on the fringe of poverty and starvation. If that is the best that capitalism and free enterprise can do for a community, it is time the system was modified and a little more socialism was injected into it. Unless that is done the ultimate result will be revolution similar to that which took place in Cuba and similar to that which has taken place and has been put down by the United States in the Dominican Republic.
– Order! I would remind the honorable member for Hunter-
– This is all related lo social services.
– Order! I remind the honorable member that we are discussing the Social Services Bill and I think he is taking perhaps a little too much time to relate his remarks to that Bill.
– I did not want to display my versatility. You will find on this occasion, Mr. Acting Speaker, that I can come right down to social services. I will direct my next remarks - I have quite a lot to say on this - to the inability, reluctance or oversight of the Government to show proper consideration to the family man on a small income. I do not profess to be a courageous man and I do not think it can be alleged that I am a stupid man, but 1 did have sufficient courage to mention a matter in this Parliament a few months ago about which the great sociologists and statisticians of this country have never had sufficient courage to contradict me, either in the newspapers or by letter. I mentioned - I am reluctant to say this - that there are 3,000 terminated pregnancies in our country every week. I relate that statement to the attitude of the Department of Social Services towards the man and his wife who want to raise a family. It was God’s plan that women should be put on the earth to reproduce the species, but in our society today our unfortunate womenfolk have to resort to terminating pregnancies because there is no encouragement, in our social services legislation in the way of child endowment, for women to bear healthy Australian children. The best migrant is an Australian born migrant.
The American magazine, “ Newsweek “, of 19th September 1966 published an article which indicated what certain eastern European countries are doing about the population. It had this to say under the heading “ Birth Bonus “ -
While most of the world worries about the population explosion, East Germany is seeking ways to boost its population frsm the present 17 million to 23 million by the 1980’s. (The East German birth rate of 2.5 per 1,000 population vs. 21 in the U.S. is one of the world’s lowest.) A government panel has recommended better housing and pay, tax rebates and annual free holidays for families with four or more children.
– This is in East Germany, is it?
– Yes, in East Germany. I am not afraid to mention it. You can come to my electorate of Hunter, Mr. Minister. I am not afraid of being branded a Communist. The people of the Hunter district know what I am and will not take notice of the furtive smearing that is resorted to by certain members on your side of the
House, although I admit that you have not resorted to it. You can come to Hunter and try to plant that McCarthyism on me and see how far you get. I was pointing out what East Germany is doing. The honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) wonders why Communism is spreading throughout the world. It is spreading because the Communists are doing more for the common people. Some reference was made at question time this morning to my friend, Captain Benson - he is still my friend although he is politically misguided - and to something that Lee Kuan Yew, the Prime Minister of Singapore, said to him.
– Order! I think the honorable member had better get back to the Social Services Bill.
– Very well, I will get back to social services. The point is that if the Government gave greater stimulus and encouragement to people who have larger families the birth rate in Australia, which has fallen to an all time low, would increase. The social services legislation must contain some encouragement to the family man to have as many children as he and his wife desire. The present economic pressures and worries that one has to overcome do nothing to increase the Australian population. 1 believe that the Minister for Social Services is a man of courage. We on this side of the House expect him to have a great future. We expect him to be the next Leader of the Australian Country Party. I hope that he is. Although he is a man of courage I believe he needs a little injection from this side of the House to encourage him to implement more of the Labour Party’s ideas. He can do it by implementing suggestions put forward by honorable members on this side of the House, such as by increasing child endowment, relieving the burden on the mother who has a large family, providing domestic help through the social service legislation for one or two days a week or providing the mother who has four children or more with a baby sitter so that she can go to a theatre or to a function and enjoy it with her husband, knowing full well that the children are properly cared for. But our social service legislation makes no provision for those matters. How can honorable members expect a good Australian husband and wife to have a family, which would be in the interests of the nation, if they are noi given the encouragement that is necessary for them to aspire to this goal. 1 want now to pass to the Government’s reluctance to amend the social service legislation to increase the funeral benefit, particularly for the aged and infirm. The funeral benefit allowed by the Department of Social Services is £10. A person cannot receive the additional funeral benefit unless he is a pensioner and has met the costs of the funeral. The average Australian citizen does not wish to be dishonest, but he is encouraged to bc dishonest because of the legislation introduced by this Government. The full funeral benefit is not paid unless the cost of a funeral has been borne by a person in receipt of a pension. Many cases have occurred in my electorate, and 1 am sure there have been many in other electorates, where a person who is emotional or sad immediately after the funeral of a pensioner relative pays the funeral bill. But when the widow or widower of the deceased claims the benefit he or she is told that the funeral debt had been paid by a son-in-law or son, in which case the funeral benefit is not paid, f believe that (hat is most unfair. The funeral benefit should have no strings attached. The policy should be to pay £45 towards the cost of burial of a pensioner without any conditions or clauses which will cause a person to tell an untruth in order to claim the benefit. We should not make a liar of a decent citizen and cause him untold worry. The situation should not exist in which this becomes necessary. I believe that the Minister will try to overcome this situation.
There has been much reference in the Parliament to a gallup poll. We know that the Government is very sensitive about gallup polls. I believe that any political party is sensitive about them, not that they have always proved to be right. Honorable members will recall the gallup poll taken at the time when this Government, being a semi-Fascist Government, wanted to outlaw the Communist Party. The gallup poll showed that the people of Australia wanted it to be outlawed. However, the former member for Hunter, the late Dr. Evatt, went to the people and, with respect to my colleagues on this side of the chamber, virtually single handed presented the case against the proposal to the Australian people. As a result the Australian people said that although they did not want Communism they considered that it would be tin-Australian and undemocratic to ban the Communist Party. In that case the gallup poll proved to be wrong. A gallup poll taken in Victoria has shown that 62 per cent, of the people - I believe I stated this figure the other day as 64 per cent, or 66 per cent. - said that pensioners were deserving of a S4 increase. This has been mentioned by the honorable member for Cunningham who spoke tonight and also by the honorable member for Grayndler.
I ask honorable members opposite whether they would like to live as pensioner couples do on S23.50 per week. How could they possibly do it? We know that the basic wage is S32.S0 per week. At times [ feel that an amount equal to half the basic wage should be paid to pensioners, but then I think it would be better to pay a decent pension to those in need. That should be the goal of every honorable member. In my electorate, which is predominantly a mining community, pensioners who have retired at 60 years of agc because of the arduous nature of their work - many retire before that age because of dusted lungs, miners’ silicosis or pneumonoconiosis - often have heavy medical expenses to meet. At this point I remind myself that in some European countries underground miners have the option of retiring on. a pension at 50 or 55 years of age. In my electorate they must retire at 60 years of age. at which time they do not get a medical entitlement card, despite the fact that invariably they suffer from the ailments induced by their labours in the mining industry. They suffer a heavy burden of medical expenses. I believe the Minister will strive to show proper justice and extend the prerogative of mercy to these people who have contributed so much to the nation’s economy in years gone by when there has been a dire need for coal. He should ensure that they get a medical entitlement card when they retire because of ill health or on reaching 60 years of age. These pensioners have been repeatedly asking for this concession because of the heavy burden which is thrust upon them.
I believe that it is not so much a concession as a justice which they richly deserve.
I should like to refer now to the honor.b le member for Sturt (Sir Keith Wilson) who I understand is retiring from the Parliament. His remarks on this Bill have been referred to as his last speech on the subject of social services. He is a dignified member of the Parliament. I believe that he has tried to reform Toryism or Capitalism as kindly as he could. However, we know that when one is tied to the political ideology of the parties in government one can do only as much as that political ideology will permit. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. Holten) said tonight, in what 1 thought was a frank statement, that if he were on this side of the Parliament he would probably be advocating an increase of $4 per week in the social service benefit. I thought that that was a courageous statement from a sincere man. That is how he feels, but he would not like to go against his Party. I would not like to suggest that the honorable member is a puppet of Toryism; rather would I say that he is a victim of it. I do not know that there is much difference, but I think I have chosen the kinder word. 1 should like some inquiry to be made into the profits made by funeral directors. Still on the subject of social services, I remember reading in the Library a few days ago that some morticians, as they are called in the United States of America, have been robbing the dead. Honestly, they have.
– Order! 1 think the honorable member should get back to discussing social services.
– Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but they have been plundering the dead. However, I hope that the Minister will, in the not too distant future, seriously consider abolishing the means test and providing a decent pension. In addition, he should ensure that no strings are attached to funeral benefits and, above all, he should grant a medical entitlement card to miners on their retirement at 60 years of age.
– Before I speak to the Bill in front of us perhaps I might make a few remarks about my friend, the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) and what he has just said. Let me assure my friend that I do not regard him as a Communist. I regard him rather as a man who utters pro-Communist sentiments from time to time because he is frightened of the Communists - because he is frightened of the Communists on his own side.
– I am not frightened of anything - and not of the honorable member, ever.
– Order! The honorable member for Hunter will resume his seat.
– I am frightened of nothing; my life is an open book.
– Order! I think the honorable member for Mackellar should get on with discussing the Bill.
– The honorable member for Mackellar can never justly accuse me of being frightened.
– I am trying to be nice to my friend, the honorable member for Hunter.
– Order! The honorable member for Mackellar will get on with his speech.
– I would not like to hear the honorable member for Mackellar being offensive to me.
– Order! The honorable member for Hunter will quieten himself.
– If the honorable member for Hunter did not please the Communists who arc on his preselection machine-
– Order! The honorable member for Mackellar will proceed on the Bill.
– I rise to order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The honorable member for Mackellar implied that there were Communists on the political machine of the honorable member for Hunter. That statement is personally offensive to me, to the honorable member for Hunter and to members of the Opposition, and I ask that it be withdrawn.
– lt is offensive to me, too, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I ask that the remark be withdrawn.
-Order! The honorable member for Mackellar will withdraw the remark.
– In deference to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I most definitely withdraw.
– I rise to order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That is a qualified withdrawal.
-Order! The honorable member will resume his seat.
– Never mind “ In deference to you “: We want an unqualified withdrawal of the remark.
– Order! The honorable member for Mackellar made, I think, an unqualified withdrawal, but I did not quite hear all his remarks. However, if it was not so, then I ask him to make an unqualified withdrawal.
– I expressed my deference to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as is proper.
-Order! The honorable member will proceed on the Bill.
– And about time.
– Mr. Deputy Speaker, will you protect me from the interjections of the honorable member for Potter’s Field?
– Order! The honorable member will proceed with his speech.
– This Bill is one that the House should welcome, and I am sure that the country welcomes it. There are two features of it to which I would draw special attention. The first is the proposal to remove the qualification of naturalisation for migrants in respect of age, invalid and widow pensions. This is a generous gesture on the part of the Government, particularly before an election, because these people who are not naturalised are not voters, and I think that the Government is showing a great measure of humanity and consideration in doing something which cannot bring it electoral profit but which, nevertheless, is the right and proper thing to do. I commend the Government. I commend the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair), who is the architect of the Bill. Even if it does not bring us electoral profit it is nevertheless something that should be done and which the Government has very rightly done. I am not going to pause longer on this particular aspect of the Bill other than to say that it is one which I am sure every honorable member on this side of the House welcomes, and I hope that members on the other side of the House find it in their hearts to welcome it too.
Let me come to the other part of the Bill to which I draw particular attention - the proposal to raise, in the case of widows, the permissible income from $1 a week in respect of a child to S3 a week. This is a good, proper and right qualification of the means test. Since honorable members have spent a considerable amount of time in the debate in referring to the general principles of the means test 1 should like to take this opportunity to follow their example and say something about it myself. The Government has done a great deal more about the amelioration of the means test than is sometimes realised. One of its early acts after coming to power in 1949 was to raise the level of the permissible income from £1 10s. a week to £3 10s. a week. This was a great step forward even though, to some extent, its effect has been counterbalanced by the subsequent rise in prices. At least it showed that the Government believed in the amelioration of the means test, which the Opposition, when it was in government, did not believe in. After all, the sincerity of the Opposition in this matter must be measured by what it did when it was in government rather than by what its members say now.
The second thing - and it is a big thing - is that in the merged means test which it introduced some five years ago the Government removed a great deal of the injustice which Labour had left in the social services structure. It was a great step forward. Then there were many small things which add up to a lot in administration - qualifications about property exemption, qualifications about income exemptions, qualifications about letting of premises and things of that character. These are small administrative acts which the Government has done during its term of office and which have all been directed to ameliorating the means test. So do not let us underestimate what the Government has done. Some of us - and I am one - hope that the Government will find it is policy soon to do more. In this I think 1 can say that I am consistent. Not only since I have been in this House - I came here in 1949 - but even in the four or five years before I became a member, I consistently advocated that something should be done about the means test. I have advocated this not merely because I believe it to be just - and I do believe it to be just - but also because I believe it to be to the advantage of the economy as a whole.
We have heard a lot about socialism and free enterprise. The means test in its present form is a socialistic device because it levels down. It puts on the same level the person who has made some provision for his old age and the person who has made no provision. It is a socialistic device; it is against the principle of free enterprise. We hear talk about the welfare State. I am one of those who believe that, with the increase in national income, we should have an increase of the threshold below which no citizen should be made to exist. But we should also be maintaining the differential between citizens. This is the engine of social progress and of economic progress. The condition of economic progress is that there should be some measure of reward for individual effort. The means test, by spragging that engine, is a socialistic device.
A little while ago, the honorable member for Hunter told us of the poverty in the United States of America. He called it a capitalist country; I call it a free enterprise country. But he did not tell us that the bottom 10 per cent, in the United States live better than the top 10 per cent, under the Socialist regimes of the Communist countries throughout the world. He did not tell us this; but it is true. If we look at the living standards of the bottom 10 per cent, in the United States, low though they may be by United States standards, we sec that they are still high by Communist standards. The honorable member for Hunter told us, with some admiration, of what the Communist regime in East Germany is proposing to do about its birth rate. But he did not point out what should have been obvious even to him, that it is the Communist regime in East Germany which has produced the conditions that he deplores.
The Communist regime in East Germany has produced what he describes as one of the lowest possible birth rates. Now he wants to forget what he has been telling us.
Let me come back to the means test. As I have said, the means test in its present form is a Socialist rather than a free enterprise device and as such it is an impediment to the improvement of Australian living standards. I know very well that we cannot get rid of this incubus in one stage. I agree with the Government’s policy of moving step by step, even though I would have moved faster than the Government has and even though I believe that the Government will in the near future take another decisive forward step. There are several things that we could be doing now. The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Fox), in a most eloquent speech a few hours ago, pointed out some of these things. My friend, the honorable member for Sturt (Sir Keith Wilson), has pointed them out not merely in this debate but over many years in the House and outside the House. Let us have a look at a few of them. The first follows on from the excellent proposal incorporated in the Bill for the increase from $1 a week to $3 a week of exempt income in respect of each child of a widow. I ask: Can we not in the next few months exempt earned income up to, shall I say, $10 a week in respect of all widows and all aged persons? As it happens, this would be relatively costless. The Treasury estimates that this proposal would cost less than a couple of million dollars a year. It is not a measure that would impose any strain on the Budget. But think of the advantages it would confer on the economy and on the people who would gain by this concession.
Let mc look at typical people who have retired perhaps from a somewhat senior position. Is their capacity to labour to be lost altogether to the economy? They would not want it so themselves. One knows that they must be retired at the due age, partly to allow the promotion of their juniors into positions of authority. One does not want to have the whole engine of promotion clogged at the top. But these people very often after they retire would like to take a couple of months of relieving duty in their old posts at holiday time. There is a place for them here where they could usefully perform an economic function without in any way preventing the proper promotion of people of younger age and without in any way putting a strain on them that they do not choose to bear. It is reasonable that at holiday time, when people are going on leave, firms are looking for relieving managers. What better solution than to bring in the old manager for four or five weeks. He will know the ropes and he will know what has to be done. He will not, perhaps, be able to take the initiative and he will not get in the way of his successor who is on holidays. But he will have the knowledge that will enable him to carry out his duties satisfactorily. Would it not be nice if he could earn, say, $500 a year as exempt income? What do we have to lose? This would not cost the Treasury money and it would benefit the economy. It would not clog the promotional machine. This proposal seems to me to have everything to commend it and nothing to condemn it.
This surely is true also of the widow with children. I know that, under the present proposals of the Government, the widow with children is much better off than she has ever been before. But is there any reason for putting a ceiling on her capacity to earn? It is bad enough for a woman with a young family to be left a widow, and this happens to many of them. There will be honorable members here tonight who, like myself, have gone to functions for civilian widows, seen them and seen the courage with which they face their loneliness. Why not give them the opportunity to earn, to take themselves and their families out of the range of the basic wage? It seems to me that the widow with young children is the person most deserving of help in the whole community. She is even more deserving, perhaps, than the elderly person, although I do not for one moment consider that the elderly person is undeserving. Why should this widow have to be kept, with her family, on something near the basic wage? Perhaps she has been used to something more. Perhaps when her man was alive she and her children were looking forward to a quite different future; one that fate has taken away from them. Give her a chance to earn. It will cost the Treasury very little and it will advantage the economy substantially. In many cases it will make a difference not only to the life of that woman but also to the fives of her children who are in the formative teenage and younger years. It seems to me that since this can be done without cost - or virtually without cost - we should be able to put this provision, relating both to widows and to elderly people, into legislation before very long.
I am not in any way trying to criticise the Minister who, I know, in this and in other respects in regards to social services has a most forward looking and practical outlook, for which the country can really be grateful. We think that we have a good Minister for Social Services and I hope he will be able to carry out a policy something along these lines. My friend the honorable member for Henty spoke earlier tonight about tax relief for elderly people. I am not going to repeat what he said; I am going to endorse it. I think he was speaking sound sense and 1 hope that his remarks will not go unheeded.
The question of so-called fringe benefits must be considered. It involves a difficult question of administration and a move which perhaps cannot be made all in one step. The fringe benefits are important. I think honorable members will bear with me if I repeat once again an experience I had a couple of years ago. A number of clergymen subscribed to a benefit fund for their retirement. This fund, being well administered, was able to increase the payments it made to them by a few shillings a week - but an increase nevertheless. The clergymen came to me and begged me to prevent the fund making this small increase to them - and, I repeat, it was only a few shillings a week - as the increase would cause them to lose their medical entitlement cards. They said that they would lose this fringe benefit and that they would be worse off. As I said, this was a fund for retired clergymen. This is not the only group that could be similarly affected, not by far. I think the Government does have a responsibility to make these fringe benefits available more widely to people in the top age brackets. The Government only recently made a very considerable step in this direction - a step for which it must be commended - in making the medical services, for example, available to all pensioners. Step by step I hope that this good preliminary step which the Government has made will be followed by others in the way I have suggested.
My friend the honorable member for Sturt has made - not for the first time, because he has been consistent in this matter - some far reaching and practical suggestions in regard to national superannuation. Let these be held in mind. And if it be impossible to do too much at once, at any rate why not let us be doing, for a start, something to help those in the top bracket of 70 years and over. Would it not be possible to introduce even now some kind of supplementary age allowance payable free of means test to those who have not drawn pensions; payable, shall we say, at the age of 70. Perhaps it could be on a graduated scale, if doing it all at once is too much. It could be an allowance equal to half the pension for those from 70 to 75 and an allowance equal to the full pension from 75 onwards. If the Government so decided it could let this new allowance be considered as taxable income. That would not hurt. That would not be an invalidation of the proper principles of private enterprise.
These are suggestions which I think the Government might well consider. In doing so it need not be altogether ashamed of its record. Perhaps, from my point of view, the Government has moved too slowly, but it has moved. The principle of going step by step is a good one. I would have hoped that the steps taken in the past would have been a little faster. I now hope and believe that the next step will be taken soon and taken decisively.
Finally, let me say something about my friends, the members of the Opposition. They have had something to say tonight about the means test. But I cannot help feeling that it was said with tongue in check. In the days when the Opposition was in government its philosophy was to do nothing about the means test. For the days when the Labour Party was the government this is how the record stands. In 1954, it is true, they brought forward at election time a policy in regard to the means test. Let it go on record that when this was put forward - I believe not in sincerity but as an election bait - the Labour Party itself split during the election campaign on the matter. Many honorable members of the Labour Party said during the election campaign that it was contrary to Labour policy, because it is contrary to the philosophy of socialist Labour. I agree that the means test does fit in with the policy of socialist Labour. Even during this debate, in the last few hours we have heard, for example, the honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Hayden) make a confused speech, mixing up voluntary and compulsory contributions in a way which made it almost impossible to follow the pretended logic of his argument. We have seen the honorable member make sideswipes at any policy aimed at the abolition of the means test. I believe it is quite possible that the Labour Party, with its customary insincerity at election time, may try to repeat its deception of 1954 when it brought forward a policy in the election campaign, which was repudiated by A.L.P. members in this House shortly after. Well, I suppose the snare can be disguised but the trap should be pretty evident to the electors. The Labour Party is perfectly right when it says that there are votes in this, and the Labour Party will do anything - I beg your pardon, that is wrong, it will not do anything but it will say anything in order to get votes. That is all I have to say, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
– In a few minutes it is very difficult to canvass all the matters that have been put before the House today concerning the Bill I introduced last week. The interesting point to me, so far as the speeches in the debate are concerned, has been the wide range covered and the deep concern felt and shown by honorable members for pensioners and others who form the customers, as one might call them, of the Department of Social Services. I suppose that as Federal members we all have as much to do with pensioners as with any other group of constituents. This, of course, has been one of the reasons why the Government has consistently, over the years, tried - not for political reasons but because persons in pensionable categories tend to be the needy ones in our society - to increase and extend the range of social service benefits.
A few days ago I had circulated to honorable members not only the report of the Director-General of my Department but also a pamphlet giving some of the developments in social services since 1949.
These developments have covered the whole range of persons entitled to social service benefits. I think all honorable members will agree that it is quite an impressive record, and although much has been said tonight about certain benefits which people think should have been introduced, and also about suggested increases in the amounts of some of the benefits that now exist, I think that within the concept of a pension scheme related to the needs of the needy it must be acknowledged that the Government has achieved a. great deal since it first came to office. 1 wanted to refer in particular to some of the items that have been mentioned by honorable members on both sides, lt was interesting to me to note how few members of the Opposition in fact expressly supported the amendment moved by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly). I think that perhaps 1 should go through this amendment in some detail because it specifically refers, 1 gather, to those parts of the Bill with which the Opposition particularly disagrees - although, as I say, there were numbers of Opposition speakers today who did not even mention the amendment. The first part of the amendment states -
The proposed increase in pension rates still leaves the pensioner’s standard of living below what is a reasonable Australian minimum.
In my second reading speech I compared the relationship of the pension to the Consumer Price Index in 1949 with the comparable relationship today. Both the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Fox) and the honorable member for St. (george (Mr. Bosman) dealt in some detail with statistics showing relativity of value between the pension of 1949 and the pension of today, and 1 think that if honorable members look beyond this at the consistency in the increases in the pension rate they will see how the Government has, within its budgetary capacity, extended the amount of the pension so that it will, as far as possible, provide for the needs of the pensioner community. Indeed, this year the pension has been increased by as much as Si a week for only the third time since 1949. It is because the Government recognises that persons on fixed incomes are faced with peculiar problems in meeting their outgoings that it has decided this year to make an increase of this amount. It was because the Government had made some analysis of the expenditure of persons in the pensions community that it decided this year to provide this amount of increase. The Government has consistently increased the amount of the pension according to the costs of those in the pensions community and according to variations in the Consumer Price Index. The result of this has ben a gradual increase, relative to the base year of 1949, of the amount of pension available to members of the community.
The next part of the honorable member’s amendment states -
The Government is perpetuating the substandard rate for married pensioners despite the glaring anomalies and injustices in this course.
The reason for a difference between the rates for married and single persons was, I thought, excellently analysed tonight by the honorable member for Henty. He pointed out something of the difficulties of the surviving partner of a pensioner couple when the other partner dies. One cannot expect the expenses of that household to be halved immediately. Similarly when a person becoming entitled to a pension is either a single person or a widower or a widow, it is recognised that the expenses of such a person are greater than those of a married person. It is for these reasons that it was decided that there was justification for a difference between the rates. In this instance there has been some extension of the differentiation between the rates, but if we compare the pensions available in the Australian community with those available in other countries we will find that the difference between the rates for married and single persons in Australia is not as great as it is in many other countries of the Western world. In the Government and in the Department of Social Services it is felt that this difference covers a genuine difference in need. Accordingly I am sure that honorable members will not support the second plank of the Opposition’s amendment. The third plank says -
There is still no change in the income means test which has now remained unchanged during 12 years of inflation and rising prices.
Here we see a little bit of the extravagant language of the honorable member for Grayndler. In fact there is some liberalisation of the means test in this Bill. As the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) has just explained to the House, there has been a very worthy extension - from Si to S3 a week - of the quantum of permissible earnings for pensioners with children. Beyond that, however, honorable members will know that the record of the Government in the liberalisation of the means test is a very worthy one. In 1949 the number of persons receiving the pension constituted 39.1 per cent, of the total number of persons of pensionable age. This proportion has now increased to 53.2 per cent. There has been a remarkable increase over the years during which this Government has been in office of the number of persons of pensionable age receiving pensions. But not only has there been an extension in the range of eligibility; there has also been a considerable extension of the amount of the pension, and I explained a few minutes ago the consistency in the amount of increase of the pension rate itself. This, of course, has been the Government’s objective. It has consistently endeavoured to increase the amount of the pension and at the same time to broaden the range of eligibility.
I would like to refer briefly to some of the arguments advanced in relation to the means test. 1 submit to honorable members and to members of the Australian community that a tremendous amount has been achieved in the field of social services during this Government’s term of office. There has been a considerable broadening in entitlement in terms of the means test. Not only has this broadening in entitlement been achieved but also there has been an increase in the amount of pension available to these persons.
In the next plank of its amendment, the Opposition suggested that child endowment should have been increased and that there has been some reduction in the value of other social services. In moving the amendment, the honorable member for Grayndler said that the other social services to which he referred included the maternity allowance and other fringe benefits. The suggestion that child endowment be increased is made primarily with an eye to the falling birth rate. Several honorable members from the other side of the House have referred to this matter. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) a few minutes ago referred to the need for some improvement in the birth rate. I think honorable members agree that we would like to see an increase in the birth rate amongst young married couples. We would like more children to be born in Australia. But the reduction in the birth rate seems to be one of the prices we pay for affluence. I wonder to what extent an increase in child endowment would really stimulate young couples to have more children. I would like to think that it would. I appreciate some of the economic pressures that are placed on young married couples with large families. But I have some reservations as to whether there would, in fact, be an immediate increase in the birth rate if child endowment were increased. Several prominent demographers in the Australian community hold this view.
As regards the Opposition’s suggestion that other social service benefits have lost their value, only a few minutes ago the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) pointed out that the pensioner medical service, for example, was extended last year. In my second reading speech I said that the value of fringe benefits, as you might call them, available to persons in receipt of a pension amounts to something in excess of $1.15 a week. So I do not think there is any substance in the suggestion of the honorable member for Grayndler that there has been any drift in the value of these fringe benefits.
The final allegation of the honorable member for Grayndler is that the Government has failed to make the extended social service benefits available from the retrospective date of 1st July 1966. I, frankly, do not follow why he has argued in support of 1st July 1966. I suppose it may be because this is the beginning of the financial year. If you are to say that increases in social service benefits should be related more or less consistently to a particular date each year, why should the date be 1st July and not, as in fact normally happens, about the end of the second week in October? In terms of money, if you are to ante-date your legislation the cost of your social service extensions would be increased. Knowing something of the budgetary difficulties of the Government this year, I wonder whether this might have meant that perhaps instead of an increase in the base rate of SI a week there might have been perhaps an increase of something less than $1. For my part, I would prefer to see an increase of $1 a week and have the increase dated, as it will be, from the date the legislation passes through both Houses of the Parliament and is approved by His Excellency, the Governor-General. Of course, we are adopting a practice which was, in fact, pursued by the Labour Party when it was in office.
– This is one of the few things of ours that the Government does follow.
– This is not unnatural. If we followed the things that the Labour Party did while it was in office I hate to think where Australia and Australians would be today. I submit that each section of the amendment moved by the honorable member for Grayndler is without substance and accordingly I would suggest to honorable members that they should reject the amendment.
Beyond those matters to which 1 have already referred, I wanted to deal with some of the points raised by honorable members. The honorable member for Grayndler suggested that only 250 or 300 children would be affected by the extension of permissible earnings. He specifically said that these 250 or 300 children were the children of age pensioners. As the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Fox) pointed out, there are something in excess of 31,000 class A civilian widows in the community. I do not have the specific figure for the number of children affected but I assure the honorable member for Grayndler that the number is well in excess of 250 or 300 if you take into account all the children of pensioners and widows who will benefit from this extension of permissible earnings.
The honorable member for Grayndler related the value of the extensions as a percentage of the total Budget for 1966-67. I would stress that the lowness of these percentages is due to the fact that they relate only to the value of the extensions. They do not cover the whole range of benefits provided by social services or under the National Welfare Fund. These percentages have been given and they are of considerable interest. If we take the total Budget of §5,930 million we find that expenditure on social services this year represents 12.8 per cent. Repatriation expenditure represents an additional 4.2 per cent. The total of the National Welfare Fund, which excludes repatriation, represents 17.2 per cent, of the total Budget. If we put the National Welfare Fund and repatriation together we would get a total of 21.4 per cent, of the total Budget for 1966-67 being provided by this Government for these very worthy citizens of Australia. This figure does not take into account additional expenditure of S9 million under the Aged Persons Homes Act, $100,000 under the Disabled Persons Homes Act and $1,640,000 on concessions for telephone rentals. These amounts would increase the social services percentage to something approximating 13 per cent. So you see, Mr. Acting Speaker, that the actual percentage being spent by this Government in social services, through the National Welfare Fund and in repatriation, is a substantial figure and one of which the Government may well be proud.
The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) referred to the extension of benefits for patients in mental hospitals. As T explained in my second reading speech, in fact, there will now be a double benefit payable to a wife who is staying at home while her husband obtains treatment in a mental institution. A double benefit for up to 12 weeks of a person’s hospitalisation within a mental hospital will be available. Honorable members will recall that in my second reading speech I gave some figures showing the number of persons who are in mental hospitals for less than this 12 weeks period. The figure varies from State to State. Of the patients treated in mental hospitals in New South Wales during the year ended 30th June 1965, 77.1 per cent, were discharged in less than three months. If we take into account voluntary inmates, we find that the proportion is considerably in excess of this. Consequently, very few mental patients will not receive the double pension given by this Government. I believe that this is a very well worthwhile contribution to the rehabilitation of these people. I say frankly that I believe that the reservations expressed by the honorable member for Bass are not justified in this instance.
The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Pettitt) mentioned nursing homes and, in particular, the Mount St. Joseph Home at Young. I well remember visiting that convalescent home, which is run by a Roman Catholic order. The mother superior and the sisters, as in many similar communities throughout the Australian nation, do a wonderful job in caring for aged people. Indeed, it is because of the recognition of the need for this kind of accommodation that the operation of the Aged Persons Homes Act is now being extended administratively so that nursing homes, in addition to the normal domiciliary type of institution, will be subsidised on the basis that I outlined in my second reading speech. But, of course, it is not only by means of capital grants that the Commonwealth supports these nursing homes. The Department of Health, which is administered by my colleague, the Minister for Health (Dr. Forbes), makes available to these institutions a nursing home subsidy of $2 a day for each inmate. It is recognised, beyond this, that without the wonderful work done by people such as the sisters at the Mount St. Joseph Home it would be very difficult indeed to cater for the needs of elderly citizens. One of the basic philosophic concepts of this Government is that it tries to stimulate the community to help itself. We believe that there is a continuing need for people within the community to accept some responsibility for the care of aged citizens. The contribution of $60 million made by the Government has attracted into the housing of aged persons something over $40 million from private citizens. Together, the Government and private citizens have been able to provide this very worthy facility of homes for aged persons. By doing this, we are not providing something remote and impersonal. We are providing continuing care for these aged citizens. I believe that this is a very desirable way to assist this section of the community.
The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds) spoke of the contribution of local government to the care of elderly citizens. He suggested that this was not one of the responsibilities that one should expect of local government. I believe that local government does a wonderful job for elderly citizens and I know that in this it is assisted by the State Governments. The
New South Wales Government, for example, by means of specific measures, assists local authorities in meeting the needs of elderly citizens. Traditionally, local government is a field in which the States have maintained their sovereignty. Consequently, assistance to local authorities remains primarily a State responsibility. We, for our part, recognise the job that the States do and we thank them for doing it.
The social problems of retirement were mentioned by the honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Hayden). There is no doubt that people in various sections of the community encounter tremendous problems when they retire. Sheltered workshops and other facilities that are provided do much to offset these problems. It is very difficult for a government to come in and provide as much assistance as it would like to give in this field. It has been amply demonstrated, I believe, that this Government has taken care of the economic security of elderly citizens. But in relation to mental wellbeing and mental security, the community itself once again must continue to accept some responsibility. The honorable member also mentioned the waiting period of six months before a widow’s pension can be made available to a deserted wife. This matter has been raised on numerous occasions. The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen), I know, has had a continuing interest in it. I think it must be recognised that the Commonwealth has a responsibility when there is a long term situation in which a person needs assistance. It has been accepted that when a wife has been deserted there must be a waiting period to enable the authorities to determine whether she will be permanently deserted. Traditionally, it has been accepted that during this waiting period the State should exercise responsibility. During this period, the State authorities provide varying degrees of assistance in a number of ways. After the waiting period of six months, deserted wives become eligible for Commonwealth benefits. I think it must be accepted that there must be some waiting period. Perhaps it could be argued that the time should be reduced to less than six months. Whatever waiting period is stipulated in any of these fields, one can always introduce an argument to the effect that the period should be either shorter or longer, as the case may be. I believe that the period of six months allows the real needs of the general community throughout Australia to be met.
I can see that I am running out of time, Mr. Acting Speaker. I wanted to deal with some of the observations made by the honorable member for Cunningham (Mr. Connor), who compared social services in this country with those in other countries. The big thing that honorable members ought to remember when considering statistics comparing benefits in Australia with benefits payable in other countries is that the cost of social security depends to some extent on the prosperity of the particular community. The more a government spends on unemployment, relief, the more the total sum spent on social security increases. Consequently, the wealthier the country the less a government should have to spend on this form of social security. On this point, 1 direct the attention of honorable members to a report entitled “ The Cost of Social Security “ which was published by the International Labour Office in Geneva in 1961 and which is available in the Parliamentary Library. At page 5, the report offers some comments on international comparisons. Those comments are in these terms - . . an overall average figure will not always provide an adequate picture of the social security protection afforded to the population . . the cost of protection against a given contingency varies with the incidence of the contingency: for instance, a country with a high level of unemployment and in which large sums are spent on unemployment protection, or a country which has suffered severe epidemics and has thus incurred heavy expenditure on health services, cannot be considered more advanced in social security than - other things being equal - another country in which the total cost of social security forms a smaller percentage of the national income because the level of unemployment has been lower, or the health situation has been more favorable.
The report continues in that vein.
I can see that, in the two minutes that remain to me, I shall not have time to discuss all the factors relating to the means lest. The only thing that I would say is that in national insurance, superannuation and annuity schemes there are problems in maintaining for beneficiaries reasonable value of pension or annuity in a situation of continuing movements in the value of money. There are real problems in relating the end benefit to the continuing contributions. These are factors which are being considered and which will continue to be considered by the Government.
In concluding, I thank honorable members for what they have said about the officers of my Department and about myself. We are here to serve the community; we do it to the best of our ability. Beyond this, I should like to support the complimentary remarks addressed to the honorable member for Sturt (Sir Keith Wilson) for the contribution he has made, particularly in the field of social services, during his term in this House. We are very fortunate indeed in having had a man like the honorable member for Sturt expressing sucha continuing interest in the field of social welfare, and I join with other honorable members in expressing our thanks for what he has achieved during his term as Chairman of the Government Members’ Social Services Committee. I commend the Bill, without amendment, to the House.
Question put -
That the words proposedto be omitted (Mr. Daly’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. (Mr. Acting Speaker - Mr. P. E. Lucock.)
Majority . . . . 19
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Bill committed pro forma; progress reported.
– by leave - I feel it is my duty to inform the House further on today’s disastrous air crash near Winton in Queensland. Honorable members will recall that I reported earlier that an AnsettA.N.A. Viscount 800, registration VHRMI, with 19 passengers and 4 crew, travelling from Mount Isa to Brisbane, reported before 1 p.m. that it had an engine on fire and that the Captain had diverted to Winton for emergency landing. Subsequently it was discovered that the plane had crashed about 12 miles from Winton and that all lives had been lost. It was regrettably established later that the death roll was 24, comprising 20 passengers and 4 crew, not 23 as I stated earlier. The reason for the discrepancy was that a baby had not been listed on the manifest. Later in the afternoon I made an announcement expressing sincere sympathy to all relatives. Although Australia’s record up until today of four years without loss of life on commercial airlines is a wonderful one, I appreciate only too well that this cannot diminish the grief of the families of those who have been lost. All I can say, in addition, is that my Department will make the fullest investigation possible into all the circumstances surrounding the tragedy in an endeavour to avoid, if possible, such tragedies in the future.
I would now like to state that a departmental team of 10, including engine, airframe, electrical and aviation medicine experts, will reach Winton about 1 a.m. in support of a senior air accident investigator who left Brisbane immediately news of the crash was received. I will leave, with the Acting Director-General of Civil Aviation, for Winton early tomorrow and will decide on the spot regarding further action to be taken to establish the causes of this tragedy for scrutiny and lesson. I should also like to express my gratitude to the President of the United Kingdom Board of Trade, the Right Honorable Douglas Jay, who is now in Australia, for a telegram which stated -
I was shocked to hear of the tragedy in western Queensland today. Please convey my sympathy on behalf of the Civil Aviation authorities in Great Britain to the relatives of all who have lost their lives.
A message of sympathy was also received from the British High Commissioner in Canberra. I am sure all honorable members and all the people of Australia will join with the Government in an expression of national sorrow.
– by leave - The members of the Opposition thank th’a Minister for his statement, support the actions which he has taken and announced, and associate themselves with his expressions of sympathy.
House adjourned at 10.45 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated -
n asked the Minister representing the Minister for Works, upon notice -
– The Minister for Works has supplied the following information -
Social Services. (Question No. 2051.)
y asked the Minister for Social
Services, upon notice -
What is the estimated cost of abolishing the means test on (a) age, (b) invalid and (c) widows’ pensions for persons, who are over (i) 75 years, (ii) 70 years, (iii) 68 years and (iv) 65 years?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows -
The additional annual cost of abolishing the means test and providing a full age pension for all those who are otherwise qualified would be of the order of -
These estimates are based on the rates in the Bill now before the House, and take account of the expenditure incurred for people of pension age who would be in receipt of invalid, widows’ and repatriation service pensions.
Blind Pensioners: Telephone Rental Concessions. (Question No. 2059.)
s asked the Minister for Social
Services, upon notice -
What isthe estimated cost of increasing from 331/3 per cent. to 50 per cent. the telephone rental concession at present given to blind pensioners?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows -
The estimated cost of increasing the telephone rental concession given to blind age and invalid pensioners from 331/3 per cent. to 50 per cent. is approximately $19,000 per annum.
Social Services. (Question No. 2060.)
s asked the Minister for Social
Services, upon notice -
For pensioners whose meanstest property component is $400, what would be the estimated cost of increasing the exempted earnings from $7 per week to (a) $10, (b) $12 and (c) $14?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows -
It is assumed that the question refers to pensioners who have property of $400 or less. On this basis the estimated cost of increasing the amount of income, including earnings, which age, invalid and widow pensioners may have and receive a maximum rate pension is as follows -
$3.7 million per annum.
$4.6 million per annum.
$5.9 million per annum.
These costs relate only to existing pensioners. Insufficient information is available about the financial circumstances of persons outside the pension field to accurately estimate the cost of paying reduced rate pensions to those persons who might enter the pension field as a result of a liberalisation of the means test.
Under the provisions of the Merged Means Test, pension is reduced by the amount by which a person’s means as assessed exceeds $7 a week. Means as assessed consist of income plus a property component. A variation along the lines envisaged in the question would, therefore, be out of keeping with the principle of the merged means test.
If the amount of permissible means as assessed was increased to the amounts suggested the costs would be somewhat higher than those estimated above.
n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
What is the name of each water conservation project located north of Brisbane for which the Queensland Government requested technical and evaluation assistance from the Commonwealth, other than from the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Authority, from (a) 1st January 1963 to 31st December 1964, and (b) 1st January 19657
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows -
Information of the type requested by the honorable member is regarded by the Commonwealth Government as confidential between itself and the Slate Government concerned, unless it is mutually agreed to make the information public.
No such agreement has been made in this case and the information therefore cannot be made available.
n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
What is the name of each water conservation project located north of Brisbane for which the Queensland Government requested financial assistance from the Commonwealth from (a) the 1st January 1963 to 31st December 1964, and (b) 1st January 1965, and what amount was involved in each case?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows -
Information of the type requested by the honorable member is regarded by the Commonwealth Government as confidential between itself and the State Government concerned unless it is mutually agreed to make the information public.
No such agreement has been made in this case and the information therefore cannot be made available.
Queensland Development Projects. (Question No. 16S5.)
n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
With respect to Commonwealth financial assistance given to the Queensland Government for specific development projects since 1950, in each case what was (a) the name or type of the project, (b) the date of the request for financial assistance, (c) the date the decision was announced and (d) the method of financing, and what v..-re the terms of the financial assistance?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows -
The following sets out details which have be:n made public relating to specific development projects for which Commonwealth financial assistance has been given to Queensland since 1950 -
Beef Cattle Roads: In 1961 the Commonwealth agreed to provide financial assistance to the Stale of up to 510,000,000 as a grant for the construction of beef roads in Queensland. Of the total amount, the sum of $1,300,000 was available to be spent on the Normanton-Julia Creek road provided the State itself spent $700,000 on the road. The roads to be financed from the remainder of the Commonwealth gi ant were to be as approved under the Queensland Grant (Beef Cattle Roads) Act 1961.
In 1962 the Commonwealth agreed to provide a further $6,600,000 in the form of a loan lo enable sealing of the roads. An agreement was concluded with Queensland, and approved by the Queensland Beef Cattle Roads Agreement Act 1962 (this Act superseded the 1961 legislation). The agreement specified the roads to be constructed with the total assistance available of $16,600,000 and provided that one-half of the assistance in excess of $3,400,000 was repayable with interest over fifteen years commencing in December 1967.
In May last legislation was introduced in Parliament to approve an agreement between the Commonwealth and State providing further Ananda] assistance for beef roads construction in 1966-67 as an interim measure pending consideration by the Government of a possible future beef roads programme. Under this agreement a further $3,900,000 is available of which half will be a grant and half a loan repayable with interest over fifteen years commencing in December 1967.
Brigalow Land Development: In 1962 the Commonwealth agreed to provide financial assistance to Queensland in the form of a loan for the development of an area of brigalow land of approximately 4,271,000 acres in the Fitzroy River Basin in Central Queensland during the period of five years ending 30th June 1967. Assistance of $14,500,000 was made available in the form of a loan bearing interest and repayable over twenty years commencing in 1968. In 1965 the Commonwealth agreed to liberalise the purposes for which advances to landholders could bc mads, to extend the area covered by the scheme to 4,976,000 acres, and to extend the period over which the assistance is to be provided to 30th June 1970. The repayment period was also extended, to provide for repayment over twenty years of advances made after June 1967. In April last, the Commonwealth announced its intention to agree to the State’s request for assistance in developing a further area of brigalow lands comprising some 6,000,000 acres. The estimated cost of this further brigalow development is $11,500,000.
Gladstone Coal Loading Works: In 1962 the Commonwealth agreed to provide financial assistance of $400,000 towards the estimated cost of $810,000 of planned improvements to coal loading facilities at Gladstone, Queensland. Of the total
Commonwealth assistance of $400,000, $200,000 wa- a grant and $200,000 a loan repayable with interest over fifteen years.
Weipa Harbour Works: In 1965 the Commonwealth agreed to provide an amount of up lo S3.270.000 to the State for the purpose of financing harbour works at Weipa. Repayment of capital, together with interest capitalised at January 1967. will be made by the Stale in equal half-yearly instalments over 30 years commencing in 1967.
Moimi lsa Railway: In 1961 the Commonweatlh agreed to provide advances of up to $40 million for the reconstruction of the Mount isaTownsvilleCoIlinsville railway. The Stale is required to repay the advan.es, with interest on outstanding balances, over a period of twenty ye.irs. commencing June 1965. The amount advanced was $34.5 million.
Callide-Gladstone Road: In 1950 the Commonwealth agreed to provide financial assistance by way of a grant towards the improvement of the road from Gladstone to the Callide Coalfield. Payments aggregating $493,000 were made.
In addition to the projects listed above the Commonwealth has also granted financial assistance lo Queensland, along with the other States, for the measurement and investigation of water resources. The Commonwealth has also offered financial assistance to Queensland and the other States towards a programme of softwood forestry planting.
n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
What arc the ninnes of the Slate development projects, showing the amounts involved1 in each case, for which the Queensland and Western Australian Governments have sought Commonwealth financial assistance since 1950, but in respect of which the Commonwealth has either (a) taken no decision as yet or (b) refused the request for financial assistance?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows - “flic information requested is confidential between the Commonwealth and the 9tale Government concerned ami therefore cannot be divulged.
Indigenous and Tribal Populations Convention. (Question No. 1682.)
m asked the Prime Minister, upon noi ice -
What has been the (a) date and (b) nature of each communication between the Commonwealth and each State Government concerning the ratification of International Labour Organisation Convention No. 107 cited as the Indigenous and Tiib.il Populations Convention 1957?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows -
The I.L.O. Convention No. 107 was adopted by the International Labour Conference in 1957. Since that time, as the honorable member will appreciate, there have been many communications between the Commonwealth and the States over its provisions. It would therefore not be practicable to list each communication and indicate its substance.
However. I am advised that the provisions of the Convention are being kept under examination by the Commonwealth and the States for the purpose of implementing them where possible.
Credit Unions in Commonwealth Departments. (Question No. 1800.)
t asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
r asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
ls he in a position to indicate whether the representations of the Western Australian Government wilh respect to financial assistance for the main dam at the Ord River will be answered by a Commonwealth decision early in the Parliamentary recess?
t. - The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows -
Following the Prime Minister’s statement of 18th May, on the Government’s attitude to the further development of the Ord River project, Commonwealth and Western Australian Ministers met, on 25th May, to discuss the future of the scheme. The discussions were devoted principally to defining the areas where there were differences of opinion about the assessment of the project. It was agreed that more detail was necessary on certain aspects of the Western Australian proposals and a meeting of officials was held for this purpose.
A second meeting of Ministers was held on 25th August; there was a useful exchange of views and some additional information was put to the Commonwealth Ministers. When examination has been completed the matter will again be considered by Cabinet.
rns asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
n asked the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
Roads prepared by the Northern Division will not be released to the public?
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows -
The Report by the Northern Division on Beef Road Development in Northern Australia was prepared by departmental officers as a confidential report to Ministers, lt is not normal practice for documents of this nature to be released to the public.
n asked the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
As a result of the intensive investigation of beef road development and priorities carried out by the Northern Division, what are the names of the roads which the Division recommends as having the highest priority for urgent or immediate construction in northern Australia?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows -
The report by the Northern Division on beef road development in northern Australia was prepared as a confidential report by officials for consideration by Ministers. Accordingly, 1 do not propose to discuss the contents of the report in the House.
n asked the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
Is it a fact that Mackay -
If so, what priority does the Northern Division give to the Oxford Downs-Nebo-Balmer’s Creek road as a beef road?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
Commodity Prices in Northern Areas. (Question No. 1753.)
n asked the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
The prices of bottled beer in Brisbane and Mackay are not matters which come within the Commonwealth Government’s field of responsibility.
n asked the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
n asked the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows -
Taking the second question first, the total cost of the Keepit Dam was approximately $22.6 million. With regard to the first question, the payments by irrigators who benefit from the storage, and the allocation of these moneys to operation, maintenance and other charges is entirely a matter for the New South Wales State Government. I am nol aware of any reports setting out this information, but it could no doubt be obtained from the appropriate authorities in that State.
n asked the Minister representing the Minister for Housing, upon notice -
– The Minister for Housing has provided the following answers to the honorable member’s questions - 1 and 2. Between the commencement of its operations on 26th November 1965 and 13th September 1966, the Housing Loans Insurance Corporation insured 1,413 loans aggregating in value $11,060,000 (including the amount of insurance premiums advanced by approved lenders).
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 22 September 1966, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1966/19660922_reps_25_hor52/>.