27th Parliament · 2nd Session
|[||Mortality (Question No. 2678)](#subdebate-32-6)|
|[Repatriation (Question No. 272»||](#subdebate-32-12)|
Mr SPEAKER (Hon. Sir William Aston) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– In the absence of the right honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Calwell),I present the following petition:
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled: The humble petition of Wilfred Williams of the Lions Club of Richmond in the State of Victoria respectfully showeth:
That for some time past the attention of the said Club has been directed to the needs of benevolent institutions for additional accommodation and equipment to cater for the numbers of destitute or near-destitute men. women and children of all age groups.
That the capital cost of welfare works is higher than the amounts which can be raised by community service organisations or local government authorities on a voluntary basis
That there are increases in costs of maintenance in children’s and babies’ homes in Victoria, the shortfall last year being approximately $500,000, which cost is aggravated by inflation and continuous rises in the cost of living.
That large quantities of money, running into approximately $500m per annum, are being levied from taxpayers by the Commonwealth Government by way of obtaining a surplus on domestic account.
That appropriation for the above purposes could be made from the above surplus on domestic account. Alternatively, that the various tax deductions and other tax advantages granted to dealers and speculators in residential vacant land and existing housing (i.e. more than one year old) under the Income Tax Assessment Act could, in the public interest, be withdrawn, which would increase the tax revenue and could be appropriated to a Treasury Trust Fund.
Your petitioner therefore humbly prays that the House of Representatives will initiate or concur in appropriate legislation for the purpose of (1) making grants suitable to the financial needs of benevolent institutions for additional accommodation and equipment of a capital nature and the estimated costs of same, in particular for destitute or near-destitute men, women and children of all age groups, and for those in a nonpensionable age category and (2) enabling financial grants of a supplementary nature to be made for maintenance costs of an urgent nature in such institutions.
And your petitioner, as in duty bound, will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– I present the following petition:
To the Honourablethe Speaker and Members of the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia in Parliament assembled: The humble petition of the citizens of New South Wales respectfully sheweth:
That because of uncontrolled shooting for commercial purposes, the population of kangaroos, particularly the big red species is now so low that they may become extinct.
There are insufficient wardens in any State of the Commonwealth to detect or apprehend those who break the inadequate laws which exist.
As a tourist attraction the kangaroo is a permanent source of revenue to this country.
It is an indisputable fact that no species can withstand hunting on such a scale, when there is no provision being made for its future.
We, your petitioners, therefore humbly pray that:
The export of kangaroo products be banned immediately, and the Commonwealth Government take the necessary steps to have all wildlife in Australia brought under its control. Only a complete cessation of killing for commercial purposes can save surviving kangaroos and it is essential that population surveys be made immediately. And your petitioners, therefore, as in duly bound, will ever pray.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral: Is it a fact that the single Western Australian telephone directory is to be replaced this year by 6 directories, one for the capital city and 5 for country districts? Is it also a fact that the cost of a single column i inch advertisement in the pink pages, taken on a Statewide basis, will thereupon be increased from $18 to$91 and that an advertisement in the metropolitan directory alone will cost 55 per cent more than a Statewide advertisement cost last year? Have these extraordinary increases been approved by the Minister or his Department? If so, will he review them in line with the Government’s consistent calls for restraint in wage and price increases? If the advertising charges are not subject to formal departmental approval will the Minister nevertheless use this influence to have them modified?
– The question of the printing and publication of telephone directories is based substantially on economics and service to the community. It has been found in the larger capital cities that the binding of telephone directories is a very difficult problem, particularly in Melbourne and Sydney where it has been necessary to supply a directory with the telephone subscribers and numbers and an additional book of pink pages, both being approximately the same size. However, the Department has consulted outside authorities and has looked at the economics of the provision of telephone directories. It is believed that the new basis on which they are being used is the most appropriate one having regard to usage and the economics relating to the matter. If the honourable member can give me details of particular problems in a particular area I will have them investigated. Where there appears to be an element of inconvenience for somebody frequently wanting to make calls to an adjoining area a free telephone directory for that area could be made available to such persons.
The honourable member asked about the cost of advertising in the pink pages. I can neither confirm nor deny the amounts he indicated. 1 do know that it has been many years since an increase was made in advertising rates. Where the pink pages are printed by outside people on the basis of tenders received by the Post Office for this operation the actual costs for advertising are approved by the Post Office. Some relativity must be maintained with advertising rates charged in the commercial world. Having regard to the fact that it is probably more than 10 years in some cases since there has been an increase, merely to use a comparison between last year and this year is unfair and unreasonable.
(Mr Kelly proceeding to address a question to the Minister for Trade and Industry) -
-Order! The honourable member will not make any further statement or comment on this matter.
– I put a question on notice on this very matter. It is No. 3008. I am complaining not of the delay but of the bypassing of the procedure.
-Order! The question being asked by the honourable member for Wakefield is substantially the same as that which was asked by the Leader of the Opposition in Question No. 3008. If the honourable member has some new element in his question he may ask it. Otherwise the question would be out of order.
– I find it hard to judge whether or not there is a new element in my question. If I got to the end of it, could you tell me?
-Order! In that case the question is out of order.
– I address my question to the Treasurer. Has his attention been drawn to the taxation implications resulting from the purchase by the Australian Council of Trade Unions of Bourke’s Store in Melbourne? Will profits from this company be tax free in the hands of Mr Hawke and his union in the same way that the Trades and Labour Council of New South Wales is exempt from tax on the profits of radio station 2KY in Sydney? Why should the Australian taxpayer subsidise such activities?
– I have had a very great number of letters and representations on this matter. I have asked the Department of the Treasury for advice as to the taxation situation. At this stage 1 have not received any advice from the Department. Therefore I am unable to answer in detail the honourable member’s question. However, I think it is worth the comment that I am sure that Mr Hawke in his new role as the captain of commerce would realise that he is subject to the same exigencies of competition and incidence of charges as any other commercial man.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Education and Science, the first since his restoration to the Cabinet upon which I-
-Order! The honourable member cannot preface his question with comment.
– . . . upon which I wish to congratulate him - that is all I wanted to say. The question concerns the nation wide survey of educational needs which was presented to State Education Ministers last May. Now that the new Western Australian Premier and Minister for Education has followed the South Australian Minister for Education in releasing the full text of the survey as far as his own State is concerned, has the Minister suggested that the Liberal and Country Party Ministers for Education in the other States should also release the full texts for their States? Also, has the Minister any indication when the remaining Premiers - Sir Henry Bolte and Mr Askin - will reply to the letters which the former Prime Minister sent to them 7 months ago asking for the priority which their Governments gave to the programmes proposed in the nation wide survey? To what extent has the Commonwealth been able to determine its own position on the survey in the light of the reaction of the other Premiers who replied in October, November and December last?
– The nation wide survey on education needs was carried out by the Australian Education Council. This Council comprises 6 State Ministers. The Commonwealth Minister is not a member of the Council. Nevertheless the Commonwealth did provide certain information on an appraisal of the needs in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. The survey by the 6 State Ministers was completed and, as the honourable member has said, the South Australian Government and the Western Australian Government have published the findings in their States. The other Premiers produced a precis, which has been released, but at present they are not inclined to release further details. These details were made available to the Commonwealth Government and on the strength of the details which were available to the Commonwealth before the last Premiers Conference, the Commonwealth did make available considerable additional general revenue grants. Undoubtedly this money will assist the States in carrying out the additional education expenditure which was shown to be necessary under this nation wide survey.
The situation at the present moment is that the Commonwealth has written to the State Ministers for Education asking them to make available further details. These have been received. The last communication was received only a fortnight ago and is being processed by my department.
At about the same time the former Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) wrote to the State Premiers requesting certain information and to the best of my knowledge this has not yet been received from all the Premiers. In addition the Commonwealth Government also pointed out that in order to have a complete survey of the nationwide needs in education it would be necessary to take into account the private nongovernmental schools, and the Commonwealth is undertaking this and is still awaiting certain information. I think it would be apparent to the Leader of the Opposition that at the present moment it would not be appropriate for this survey to be released before complete information and details have been received. The second point is that this is not a survey which was commissioned by the Commonwealth Government and its report is not a report which was made to the Commonwealth Government. Therefore, it is not for us but for the States to say what use is made of this report.
– My question is addressed to the Postmaster-General who will recall that in a statement regarding rural telephone lines made in this House some time ago he said that costs incurred by building telephone lines approved by the Postmaster-General’s Department, and payment made to that Department for building such lines after 1st January 1969, would be reimbursed or refunded to subscribers, as the case may be. I ask the PostmasterGeneral whether payment of such moneys is proceeding and when it is anticipated that such reimbursements or refunds will be completed.
– As I indicated after the presentation of the last Budget, there is a broad area involved in the implementation of new policy in relation to country telephone subscribers. In reply to the specific question which the honourable member has asked, I would inform him and the House that progress is being made but that there are some 25,000 people who come within this new policy, some of whom will be new subscribers and some of whom had part privately erected telephone lines which had to be upgraded by the department, and there are others in the two categories which the honourable member mentioned. It will be a considerable time - probably up to 10 or 12 years - before the full programme can be put into effect, but we are working on it. The answer to the specific question is that 551 cases have been dealt with by way of refund or waiving of debts and these cases have involved approximately $340,000. Overall, some 1,500 cases involving either new subscribers or the upgrading of PPE lines have been dealt with, at a cost in excess of Sim, since the policy was first announced.
– I address my question to the Minister for the Interior. I preface my question by saying that this morning when passing the South African Embassy I, in common with many other motorists, responded to a sign: ‘Let’s hear it against apartheid’ by blowing my car horn. A police constable on a motor bike chased me and booked me for excessive use of the cnr horn. Does the Minister agree that this interference with the right to demonstrate one’s moral position is excessive? Will he consult with his colleague, the AttorneyGeneral, to ensure that section 18, subsection (c) of the proposed Public Order Act proscribing offensive or insulting behaviour towards a so-called protected person, with the threat of a $250 fine and imprisonment for 3 months, cannot be used to prevent such expressions of opposition to a policy which the Prime Minister last week described as abhorrent and unacceptable?
– ] will be pleased to discuss this matter with my colleague, the Attorney-General, to see just how serious the honourable member’s offence was.
– Has the Minister for the Interior been able to arrange for a representative of the Board of Trustees of the Australian War Memorial to attend a meeting to be held in Parliament House at 3.30 this afternoon to discuss whether there should be incorporated in the Memorial a tomb containing the remains of an unknown Australian serviceman?
– We have had several discussions on this matter which have taken into account the matter raised by the honourable member, particularly as a result of the decision that was taken at a recent conference of the Returned Services League. A meeting is to be held at 3 p.m. today and I have arranged for a trustee of the War Memorial to be present at that meeting to give any information that honourable members may require with respect to the request that has been made.
– Has the Minister for Defence seen reports of Communist guerilla activity, including the blowing up of a railway line only 7 miles east of Butterworth Air Base? Has the Australian infantry company deployed at Butterworth taken part in counter-insurgency operations against these guerillas? What security forces are available for the protection of Butterworth Air Base, its Australian Air Force personnel and Australia’s $60m investment in aircraft at the base?
– The protection of the Butterworth Air Base is the responsibility of the Government of Malaysia. I am unable to inform the honourable member of the exact number of troops which the Government of Malaysia has deployed for that purpose but it is the responsibility of that Government. I have merely read in the Press of the sort of Communist guerilla activity of which the honourable member has spoken. 1 have no information of Australian troops engaging in counter-insurgency actions and, indeed, the House will remember that one of the conditions on which the Government and the Parliament agreed that Australian troops would be stationed to our north was that they should not be used to counter internal disturbances which a local government could well counter itself.
– I ask the Postmaster-General a question which relates to the question asked by the honourable member for Perth. Was the contract for ‘Pink Pages’ advertising formerly held by the company, O’Brien Advertising Pty Ltd? Has there been a change in this contract? Is the PostmasterGeneral’s Department now handling this advertising? Will the PostmasterGeneral advise the House, when he has the information sought, of the reason for the increase in charges if there has been a change in the advertising contract?
– 1 am afraid that 1 have not in my mind the detail of the answer to the question asked by the honourable member. I will obtain a statement covering the whole matter and make it in the House or make it available to honourable members.
– I direct a question to the Prime Minister. Is it a fact that Australian military forces are said to be in Vietnam and men are conscripted for service so that there may be free elections in South Vietnam and so that the people of South Vietnam may have the government of their choice? If so, is it also a fact that every Australian citizen is entitled to the same rights in the election of his or her government? If so, will the Prime Minister state whether consideration has been given to sending military forces north to ensure that Queenslanders enjoy the same rights as the South Vietnamese, having regard to the attempt by the Country Party Premier of Queensland to introduce in that State the greatest electoral gerrymander in the world?
– I think the honourable gentleman knows that what be has said is very interesting and provocative. But I should draw his attention to the fact that yesterday I said that this is an organisational problem for the parties in Queensland and that we have no intention of intervening. If the honourable gentleman wishes to go to Queensland and to make political speeches there 1 will be only too happy to facilitate his passage.
– My question is to the Prime Minister. When considering the grant of aid to newly developing countries, has the Government attempted to persuade those countries that assistance could be given by Australia in the form of wool processing plant and machinery, technical aid in its installation, use and maintenance, and, perhaps, some early supplies of wool in order to assist the donee countries towards their industrial development objectives and to build up subsequent trade between those countries and Australia?
– To the best of my recollection - and I do not administer the
Department of Foreign Affairs and the aid programme now - we have not made recommendations or suggestions to beneficiary countries along the lines mentioned by the honourable gentleman. Nonetheless I will refer the matter to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and tell him that I think there is a lot of substance in what has been said. 1 will convey to the honourable gentleman the answer that I receive from the Foreign Minister.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister. I notice that the Department of Works announced in the Commonwealth ‘Gazette’ for 26th November last that it had let a contract for $7,672 for repairs and painting of the Prime Minister’s residence at ‘Terang’ in Victoria. I assume that ‘Terang’ is a misprint for Kerang. I pass a copy of the Commonwealth ‘Gazette’-
-Order! The honourable member will ask his question. He is now giving h lot of information. He has not attempted to ask his question. I ask the honourable member to ask his question.
– What was the justification for this contract? I also ask him whether subsequent Government austerity measures have caused the contract to be deferred or whether subsequent changes in the Government have caused the contract to be cancelled.
– It seems appropriate that I should answer this question rather than the Minister for Defence, who obviously is involved. I believe - and I am informed - that the information in the Gazette’ given by the honourable gentleman is false or, to put it more appropriately, is untrue. I will make inquiries to see how the entry got into the Government Gazette’, if it is there, and I will let the honourable member know the answer.
– 1 rise to order. I ask the Prime Minister to withdraw’ the remark that this information was false. I have never given false information in this Parliament.
-Order! The honourable member will resume his seat. I call the honourable member for Denison.
– I ask for the withdrawal of that statement by the Prime Minister.
-Order! The honourable member will restrain himself. The Prime Minister, after making that statement, immediately corrected himself by saying that the information was untrue.
– I did not say that the honourable gentleman himself was making a false statement. I said that the information that was relayed to the House happened to be false, no matter where it may appear.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Housing. Has he seen the recent research report of the Australian Institute of Urban Studies titled Housing Authorities in Urban Renewal’? Will he draw it to the attention of his departmental officers? Will he also bring it to the attention of the honourable member for Reid so that his statements in this area may be based more on fact than on fantasy?
– I have seen the study, number 3 in a series promoted by the Australian Institute of Urban Studies. It was drawn to my attention within recent days. It has also been drawn to the attention of the Department of Housing which has examined it in some detail. I know that the honourable member will appreciate that the Commonwealth Government has had an interest in the activities of the Institute, and, together with the State governments, has helped bear some of the administrative expenses of the Institute in the pursuit of studies such as the one which has just been completed. I understand that the study is to be a precursor to a number of seminars concerning urban renewal and urban studies, and insofar as it will promote appropriate, sensible and responsible discussion in this field it is to be accepted and respected. I would also expect the honourable member for Reid to take appropriate notice of the results of the study.
– My question is addressed to the Attorney-General and relates to the recent metal trades cases concerning the Commonwealth Engineering works in which 5 unions were involved and in which case the Commonwealth Industrial Court imposed penalties of $100 a day for each of the IS days that the dispute lasted. I ask the Minister whether it is a fact that the Commonwealth was represented at the hearing and made submissions as to the correct meaning of the law with respect to the imposition of fines under the recently amended penalty provisions of the Act. Did the court reject the Commonwealth’s submissions and impose penalties of $100 a day for each day of the stoppage occurring before and after the issuing of the presidential certificate? If so, does the Government intend to examine the Act further to see what amendments are necessary to make the law conform to what counsel for the Commonwealth submitted was in fact the meaning of the law and . the intention of Parliament?
– It is a fact that Mr Byers, Q.C., appeared on behalf of the Attorney-General as amicus curiae in these proceedings between the Metal Trades
Industry Association and the metal trades unions arising out of .the incidents at Commonwealth Engineering. The proceedings were on 16th March before the Commonwealth Industrial Court. It was considered desirable that certain matters of construction should be raised in the Court. These referred to the construction of section 32a of the Act, including its application to events which occurred after the giving of a certificate by. a presidential member of the Court. The Commonwealth’s argument did not in any way. relate to the merits or demerits of the particular dispute. It was a question of law arising out of the construction of the section. The Court listened to the argument, but it entertained no doubt about the correct construction of the section. It did not accept the submissions of Mr Byers .and in the result unanimously held that the certificates in the particular case were in. accordance with the law.
– My question is directed to the Minister for the Navy. I ask: How dry is the Navy?
– The honourable member’s question reflects speculation that has been rife in the Press and elsewhere for some days and I welcome the opportunity to make the position clear. The situation is that from time immemorial it has been a tradition in the Navy that watchkeeping officers do not drink at sea. In 1968 I made a statement in this House in which I drew an analogy with a civil airliner. I think it would be very hard to say that a civil airliner is dry, but it is dry in respect of the flight deck and those who are on duty. Since I have taken over this portfolio I have examined the existing regulations applying to the use of alcohol at sea. I find that they are more stringent than 1 had expected to find. Since the war days there has been a clear delineation of the regulations applying to the Navy. I am more than satisfied with the provisions of those regulations. The Fleet has been informed and knows that there is no substance in any speculation about a change in the existing conditions.
– Has the Prime Minister seen a statement by the General President of the Western Australian Farmers Union, Sir Basil Embry, in which he states that the Japanese were bidding to take over about 400,000 acres in the eastern States and that an undisclosed foreign company was interested in the Bunbury area? Did he state that it was time to make a stand on foreign takeover of Australian farm lands? Will the Prime Minister arrange for this matter to be discussed with the States with a view to stopping such takeovers?
– I have not seen the statement. As to the last part of the honourable gentlemen’s question, the matter is entirely within the jurisdiction of the States. If they wish to do it, they can.
– Has the Minister for Foreign Affairs seen reports of further fighting between South Vietnamese and North Vietnamese troops in Laos on the so-called Ho Chi Minh trail? Will he give to the House an appreciation of the current position?
– Like the honourable member for Curtin and probably other honourable members. I heard the report on the Australian Broadcasting Commission this morning that there had been a fresh and further incursion by the South Vietnamese into Laos. I have not yet been able to check this report and I have not got detailed information at this stage. But I can refer to the former operation in Laos which has been the subject of a good deal of controversy and conflicting reporting. That was the previous raid. It was a raid designed to disrupt and destroy part of the North Vietnamese and Vietcong supply lines to the south. From our own information we are aware that this operation did result in the destruction of a good many supplies belonging to the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese. For instance, we know that there were destroyed over 100 tanks, nearly 300 trucks, about 17,000 tons of miscellaneous munitions, machinery and supplies. 1.3 million litres of fuel, 7 kilometres of fuel pipe and 1,800 tons of food, and there may have been more. In this operation the South Vietnamese forces unfortunately suffered considerable casualties but there is every indication - and this has been cross-checked - that they did inflict much greater losses on the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong. There have been adverse reports about the last stages of that operation - the withdrawal phase. It was unfortunate that weather conditions were bad and air cover could not be fully provided. The withdrawal has been reported, particularly in the United States, as something of a setback.
– On a point of order: The Minister is making a statement. Can he not make the statement at some other time so that the House may debate it?
-Order! I have said on many occasions in this House that when a Minister is asked a question about a situation-
– On a point of order. Mr Speaker-
– The honourable member will resume his seat while 1 am speaking to the House. I warn the honourable member for Bendigo. I have told the House on many occasions that when a Minister is providing information which is relevant to the question asked there is no time limit. I have on several occasions requested honourable members to shorten their questions and Ministers to shorten their replies. The Chair has no jurisdiction over the way in which a Minister chooses to answer a question.
– This operation was initially reported as being an invasion of Laos and thus exaggerated ideas were given to its aims, but from the start it was an operation to disrupt and destroy part of the Vietcong and North Vietnamese supply lines. When the alleged invasion objectives werenot achieved and the South Vietnamese withdrew it was declared to be a defeat. A final assessment of this operation cannot be made for about 6 weeks or perhaps several months because its success or failure will be judged on the extent to which the operation has disrupted, destroyed and weakened the supply lines of the Vietcong and North Vietnamese forces in Laos, Cambodia and South Vietnam. Until this assessment is made the results will not be known but this operation has been a very encouraging demonstration of the striking power now available to the South Vietnamese. This seems to irk one or two honourable members opposite.
-I ask the Minister for Customs and Excise a question. The honourable gentleman will remember that at the training seminar on drugs 7 months ago the former Prime Minister announced that the Australian Government had decided to take the initiative in setting up a more formal international arrangement for narcotics control between Australia, New Zealand and the countries of South East Asia and that preliminary talks between the Minister and Ministers in other countries indicated that there would be a large measure of support for this cooperative international action. 1 ask the Minister: How soon does he expect that the talks and arrangements will come to fruition?
– All the information contained in the honourable gentleman’s question is correct. The Australian Government late last year authorised my Department to proceed with negotiations for Australia to take the initiative in the South East Asian area to convene a regional conference of those countries interested in preventing the illicit trafficking in narcotics and dangerous drugs. Forthwith an officer of my Department toured Asia and found that this proposition of the Australian Government was warmly and most enthusiastically received in all countries which he visited.
However, there have been practical difficulties in finding a suitable venue and a convenient time for Ministers of those countries to hold a conference, and the consensus of the Asian countries now is that it might be preferable for a ministerial meeting to be preceded by an officers meeting at a central point in Asia within the next few months. Arrangements for that are still proceeding. I might say that already the part of the exercise thathas beenconducted, that is the tour by the officer of South East Asia, has resulted in a great deal more liaison between Australia and the South East Asian countries on operational information and techniques. As the honourable gentleman would know, we have become increasingly concerned at the increased supply of narcotics and dangerous drugs through Asian countries, and those countries share our concern. 1 think I can say that we are delighted, ‘by inference from the honourable gentleman’s question, that his party supports the Government in Australia’s taking the initiative in this further form of regional co-operation.
– I ask that further questions be placed on the notice paper.
– Youhave shortened it again.
– I ask for leave to make either a personal explanation or a short statement in relation to a matter raised by the honourable member for Hunter (Mr James).
– Does, the Minister wish to make a short statement?
– How long will it be?
– It will be a very short statement.
– There being no objection, leave is granted.
– The honourable member for Hunter raised in this House a few minutes ago a suggestion that a house belonging to me had had a lot of public money spent upon it. ‘ ‘
– I rise to a point of order.
-Order! The Minister for Defence has leave to make a statement. If the honourable member for Hunter also wishes to make a statement he can seek leave of the House to do so.
– The honourable gentleman preceded this statement by saying that there appeared in the Commonwealth Gazette’, as there does, an item saying Terang’, which he indicated he believed was a misprint for ‘Kerang’. These places are miles apart, of course. There does appear in the Commonwealth ‘Gazette’ under the Department of Works expediture this item:
Terang (Prime Minister’s Residence) - repairs and painting. . . . J. E. Robinson, Camperdown, Victoria.
I would like to make these points: Terang is a town in the Western District of Victoria, hundreds of miles from where i have a house near Kerang. J. A. Robinson of Camperdown is from the western district, hundreds of miles from where 1 have a house near Kerang. I know of no public money that has ever been expended on my own house in Kerang and I would regard it as grossly improper for public money to be spent on private property. Since this is of such great significance and importance to me I want to point out that the reference to the place as Kerang - it does say Prime Minister’s Residence’ in the Gazette’ - I believe to be entirely false. I know of no money being spent and I propose to find out just how that ‘Prime Minister’s Residence’ got into this Commonwealth ‘Gazette’.
– I move:
I do this because ever since the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) became Prime Minister there has been a steady erosion of the time allowed for questions. I can recollect, of course, the practice when Sir Robert Menzies was Prime Minister and when Mr Gorton was Prime Minister. I cannot speak from personal experience about what occurred when Mr Harold Holt was Prime Minister, but other honourable members advise me that the same conditions applied as when the other two gentlemen were Prime Minister. They all allowed 45 clear minutes for question time. I have checked out the times allowed for question time. On the first day when there was a question time under the present Prime Minister we were given 44 minutes. Since then we have been given 42±, 401, 34±, 38 and 41 minutes. In other words, the time has been reduced instead of allowing the usual 45 minutes for what is undoubtedly one of the most important periods in this Parliament. It is the time when the whole of the Ministry, including the Prime Minister, comes under scrutiny. It is an opportunity for all members to ask some questions without notice and without preparation. Yet honourable members on this side of the House have to wait for up to 2 to 3 weeks to get in one single question.
The Prime Minister is deliberately reducing the time allowed for honourable members to ask these questions. Mr Speaker, you will recall that took a point of order on this matter yesterday. You will also recall that the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby) look a point of order and was ruled out of order. The only remedy we have is to use the form of the House that I am using now. This is the only method by which we can ask the House to deal with the matter. Surely honourable members on the Government back benches have the same interest as Opposition members to sec that they have the opportunity to utilise this most democratic and most important period of the day in this House. They should join with us on this issue. Do they not wish to have the Ministry under scrutiny, or do they wish to give the Prime Minister the opportunity, which he obviously wants, to get away and to see the House does not meet for too long? He wants to make sure that question time does not continue for too long and accordingly is allowing question time to be eroded as compared with the time allowed under previous Prime Ministers. For that reason I move the suspension of Standing Orders.
– I rise to second the motion for the suspension of Standing Orders. I do so with some heat at the moment, because since 16th February I have been trying to ask a question which I regard as important for my constituents and for the nation generally. I know that this is not your responsibility, Mr Speaker. If honourable members opposite think that it is of no significance that a member of the national Parliament is prevented from carrying out his proper functions then that does them very little credit. In supporting this motion I would draw the attention of this Parliament to the fact that it has been the practice in the Parliament of New South Wales, for practically the whole of its history, when it has had question time that question time is a right enshrined in Standing Orders and it is administered by the Speaker. .It is not a matter of the whim or caprice of an individual. It is the right of the members. The administration is in the hands of the Speaker of the Parliament, and that is where it should be.
You, Sir, as Speaker, are the custodian of the rights and privileges of all honourable members. That is as it should be in this matter. You pointed out to me yesterday - frankly, I thought that I had misunderstood you - that this is not right. I was shocked to find that that was so. Question time is the most vital part of the deliberations of this House where the Government, and the Opposition for that matter, are under scrutiny. I discovered that this is not your responsibility, Mr Speaker. It is merely at the whim and the caprice of the head executive of the executives. I have noted here the drift to executive government in this Parliament, which is quite incredible when compared with other parliaments. The Minister for Repatriation (Mr Holten) has just said something by interjection. I did not hear what he said. If he wants to debate it I suggest that he come into the debate instead of cowering on the front bench. I want to submit very precisely and definitely to the House that this is a matter of high importance to the democracy of the nation. This is a matter which is far too important to be left to the caprice and whim df the individual. I suggest that it should be a matter for the House itself. Mr Speaker, you are the expression and the repository of the desires and will of the Parliament.
– They are closing down the Parliament.
– That is true. The honourable member has pointed out by way of interjection that there is a danger of this Parliament being closed down altogether for a very long time. Question time is a period when we can probe action that has been taken by the Government. This is the great right that we have. Question time is the most important period of the parliamentary programme.
– It is one of our few remaining rights.
– Well, in some respects this is one of our remaining rights. 1 support the motion of the honourable member for Chifley that Standing Orders be suspended so that we can debate this most important matter. If honourable members do not support the motion it will mean that they are not seized’ of the importance of question time, and the rights and privileges of this Parliament will become a whited sepulchre. 1 anr shocked to feel that members of the Government and even supporters of the. Government on the back benches believe that this is a matter of little or no importance. Members of the Opposition feel that, this matter should be approached in the light of the need of Australia to have an important national forum which will give ‘ all honourable members the opportunity to participate as fully as possible. I hope the motion will draw support from all corners of the House.
– I. want to explain the traditional position of question time in this House because both honourable gentlemen who have spoken, have not stated it accurately. The truth of the matter” is that although some discretion has been given over the years we can take it that the general rule has been that question time, including the presentation of petitions, has been limited to 45. minutes. Question time has been extended in cases where there have been exceptional circumstances or in which there has been several contributions on a particular question and answer. But it has been the custom, as I have said, to limit question time to 45 minutes. I will give figures to prove that this is. the custom except where the Prime , Minister himself wishes to change that practice. I believe that honourable members have other opportunity to present their views , and to ask questions not only at question time but in discussions of matters of public importance and for that matter on the debate on the motion for the adjournment of the House. There is no wish whatsoever to restrict debate. Rather I believe that debate should be more relevant and that it should be more directed to the fundamental interests of this country.
I would like to go back as far as 19S4 and relate to the House some of the dates and times that have been given to me. These figures relate to time occupied not only by questions without notice but also by presentation of petitions. On 5th August 1954 question time amounted to 35 minutes. On 10th August the time was 45 minutes: 12th August it was 36 minutes; 18th August it was 44 minutes; 19th August it was 34 minutes; and on 25th August it was 44 minutes of which 1 1 minutes were taken up by petitions. The lists indicate that on 3rd May question time amounted to 59 minutes; 5th May 25 minutes; 11th May 45 minutes; and 12th May 27 minutes. I want to make it clear in answer to what has been said by the honourable member for Chifley (Mr Armitage) that there is no fixed rule whatsoever. It is a matter that concerns individual Prime Ministers and, with one exception, I believe that it has been the tradition of this House to restrict question time to 45 minutes unless there are very exceptional circumstances. I have not the figures in front of me but I have been informed that this applied just as much during the period when the Labor Party was in office as it has applied since the Liberal-Country Party Government has been in office. I do know from my own knowledge, which is ever so much greater than that of the first member who spoke, that when Mr Menzies, later Sir Robert Menzies, was Prime Minister he was meticulous in ensuring that question time did not exceed 45 minutes unless there were exceptional circumstances.
– 1 support the motion. I come into this debate only because the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) has seen fit to do so. The whole object of the motion is to allow the House to alter the Standing Orders. At the moment there need be no questions without notice at all. As the Standing Orders stand, as soon as you, Mr Speaker, call on questions without notice the Prime Minister can ask that they be put on notice. There would then be no questions without notice whatsoever. I believe it is quite idle for the right honourable gentleman to invoke the name of Sir Robert Menzies in this regard. We would be very happy indeed if the present Prime Minister had as high a regard for ministerial responsibility and accountability to Parliament and the conduct of Parliament as Sir Robert Menzies had. My memory is that in Sir Robert Menzies’ day, if we are to be precise, on Tuesdays we had an hour, on Wednesdays we had 45 minutes and on Thursdays we had 30 minutes. Nevertheless, I can be quite precise in my recollections of the 1960s because for 6 years during that decade I was Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the late Mr Holt was Leader of the House. Throughout that period he meticulously kept to the practice of having not less than 45 minutes for questions without notice each day. That practice has been maintained by succeeding Leaders of the House and succeeding Prime Ministers. I know that the former Prime Minister, the present Minister for Defence (Mr Gorton), was under very considerable pressure to reduce question time because of the very great number, possibly a record number, of petitions which were presented, last year in particular. Nevertheless, he kept very closely to 45 minutes for questions without notice even when there was a great number of petitions.
All that the mover and seconder of this motion are asking - and one would thinkthat all private members of the House would support them - is that the Standing Orders should provide for 45 minutes of questions without notice each sitting day. If there are some particular circumstances, such as a motion of censure or want of confidence being moved or the Government being in disarray - both these circumstances have happened in the last month - then the Standing Orders can be suspended and questions can then be dispensed with. Those, of course, are occasions when honourable members on both sides would agree to suspend the Standing Orders. But as they stand now, it is in the option, the caprice, of one man to say there shall be no questions without notice on any day. It is quite clear that the new Prime Minister has decided to cut off questions without notice three-quarters of an hour after the House sits. Whatever time is taken up by petitions comes out of question time. It may be that honourable members do not take petitions very seriously, but there are thousands of people who do and they ask us to present petitions. Whether the member agrees with the content of the petition or not, it is his duty to present the petition. We know now that if he does so, under this Prime Minister, the time is taken out of a period that not only Opposition members but also members of the 2 Government Parties regard as very important, namely, questions without notice.
It is no use going back to what Sir Robert Menzies, Mr Holt or Mr Gorton did in this respect. They did not cut down question time very often and if they did there was usually some particular circumstance applying on that day. The honourable member for Chifley (Mr Armitage) has cited chapter and verse for the 6 days the present Prime Minister has been in the Chair; in each case the Prime Minister has cut down the time and asked that questions be put on the notice paper 45 minutes after the House has convened. Everything else that takes place - prayers, notices and petitions - is taken out of that 45 minutes we should have for questions without notice. If private members of the Liberal and Country Parties value their rights, if they are prepared to stand up for their constituents in what is as important a parliamentary activity as any other, question time, they will vote for this motion because the rights of everybody in this place, except those of the Prime Minister alone are in jeopardy. Do honourable members want one man for the rest of his days as Prime Minister, until the next elections for this House, to cut off questions without notice 45 minutes after the House sits? I do not believe that there is a single private member who would stand up outside the House or account to his constituents in support of that proposition. We all know what Government members say privately about this practice. Let them stand up now for their rights. They either have this one man control of the whole House or they stand up for their rights.
– There are just one or two points on which I could comment. First of all, there has been no change in the practice as far as question time is concerned, and the facts which can be ex tracted from the records of the sittings of the House bear this out. If we look back over the years we will see that the situation has been exactly the same as it is at present. The Prime Minister cited quite a number of occasions over the years, but just by glancing very quickly at the records it is possible to see that there has quite frequently been time shorter than 45 minutes for questions without notice. There are 2 points to mention in relation to this. One is the question of the utilisation of the time and the other is what appears to be the increasing time allocated to petitions. Perhaps the Standing Orders Committee could look at the time for presentation of petitions. This could be brought before the Standing Orders Committee at any time by any member. Perhaps we could suggest that that be done and that the Standing Orders Committee consider this aspect in the future.
Another point which I think is quite obvious to most honourable members in the House is the special privilege which the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) have at question time. I do not deny that the privilege is a correct one but the fact is that the Leader of the Opposition particularly does utilise during question time a lot of time which could be taken up by back bench members of his Party. I think this is a point to note. In addition there is the fact that there is available to honourable members the right to ask questions on notice, lt is very interesting to note that on the notice paper today there are 3,054 questions. Many of those have been asked recently. .1 think this indicates quite clearly that the forms of the House are being quite rightly taken advantage of as far as questions and the desire to elicit information are concerned. However the main point is that there is no departure from procedure. Times shown in the records over the years indicate that this practice has been followed and the Prime Minister has intimated that he is carrying out the practice that has been adopted by the House for years. I repeat that if the question of the additional number of petitions which are being presented at this stage is a problem, that matter could be considered quite adequately by the Standing Orders Committee. It could pay regard to the time occupied by the presentation of petitions.
– Members of the Opposition wholeheartedly support the motion. As the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) said, every backbench member on the Government side should support it because at present there is a whittling down of the privileged time in which backbench members can speak in the Parliament. When I first entered the House in 1946 one hour was allowed for question time. This time has been whittled down to¾ hour. If I had my way question time would be increased again to 1 hour. Parliament has increased in membership over the years and it is ridiculous and outrageous that members of the Opposition should average 1 question every 9 silting days. This makes a farce of question time. The Prime Minister is arbitrarily reducing question time. In the last 6 days, as was mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition, question time has been reduced by 18 minutes. The Prime Minister is doing a great disservice to all members of the Parliament, although not so much to members of the Government Parties as to members of the Opposition. To the everlasting credit of his predecessor, his predecessor and Sir Robert Menzies, they allowed the full 45 minutes for questions no matter what happened earlier in the day with the presentation of petitions.
The Opposition believes that it is a vital question that has been raised by the honourable members for Chifley (Mr Armitage) and Riverina (Mr Grassby) who were involved in the reduction of question time yesterday. We insist that the Prime Minister act as did his predecessor. We are not asking for more. We are asking only for the full time that is set down in the Standing Orders for questions - not 1 minute more, but not 1 minute less. I hope that the motion is carried to show that all backbenchers are united in seeking to retain their privileges. We do not have many privileges, but this is one we deserve to keep.
– This is a matter which should be dealt with briefly and I shall play my part. The problem has arisen because of the time that has been occupied recently in the presentation of petitions. I do not believe that the time taken up by petitions should be taken out of the time available for questions. With great respect I cannot agree entirely with the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) when he says that urgency debates, which are now called debates on matters of public importance, and adjournment debates offer the opportunities that are available at question time. In a debate on a matter of public importance speeches usually are limited to 2 or 3 members from each side of the House and it does not follow that the matter dealt with is one which members can deal with at question time when they have complete flexibility. Regarding adjournment debates, I find that it is not common for Ministers, whose departments are involved, always to be in the chamber and to respond; nor even is an assurance given as a rule by the Minister at the table that a matter will be drawn to the attention of a particular department. Therefore, with great respect, I cannot agree with the Prime Minister that these debates afford the same opportunity as questions.
At the same time 1 believe the flexibility is desirable in this matter and it would be a pity if we fixed a particular time, 45 minutes or whatever it may be. We all know that towards the end of a session the Prime Minister can give an opportunity, by increasing the time beyond 45 minutes, for members to ask questions, knowing that they will not have an opportunity once the House rises. Similarly we are all aware that pressure of business may on occasions make it desirable to curtail question time. We all know that there are also occasions, even if they are rare, when question time tends to peter out. I believe, therefore, that there should be flexibility. The Prime Minister would be unwise if he did not pay regard to the sentiments that have been expressed in the course of this debate.
I am not prepared to vote with the Opposition on this motion. I believe that practice and tradition are tremendously important in Parliament, far more important than rules. Indeed, most of our troubles arise from the fact that practice and tradition have, in too many fields, been abandoned as, for example, when statements on policy are made outside the House on television or in the Press instead of here, in the right place. I do not want to enlarge upon this, only to say that this is a matter that should be regulated by practice and tradition. The Prime Minister would be wise to pay regard to the sentiments that have been expressed during this debate. I will not vote for the Opposition motion at this point of time but if the Prime Minister does not pay regard to what has been said I shall have to reconsider my position on another occasion. However, I believe he is wise enough and sensible enough to pay regard to what has been said here today.
– I want to make one or two points. Firstly, one of the first things that the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) said when he was elected to office was that he would pay regard to and add to the rights of private members. He has immediately cut down on question time, which is one of the few rights that private members have. By reducing question time to 30 to 35 minutes he has made it certain that private members will have to wait much longer for their opportunities to ask questions without notice. I believe that the only way to protect the - rights of a private member is to incorporate in the Standing Orders a period of 45 minutes for question time.
The Leader of the House (Mr Swartz) quite incorrectly said that there are 3,054 questions on the notice paper. This statement is not true. The last question listed on the notice paper is question No. 3,054, but if the Minister had taken the trouble to examine the front of the notice paper he would have seen that the first question listed is No. 15 and the second No. 1,072. Had he turned over the page, he would have found that the 19th question shown is No. 2,087. So there are fewer than 1,000 questions on the notice paper. One of the Prime Minister’s tactics since his election tq that office has been to suggest that members do not have the right and should not continue to have the right to place questions on the notice paper in order to solicit answers from Ministers. One fact which should be mentioned is that with questions without notice a Minister has to rise and say something. One question has been on the notice paper since 4th March 1970 so if Ministers are to ignore providing answers to what are yes or no questions, what is the point of putting questions on notice. It is an intrinsic right in the Parliament - one of the few acts of democratic government which remain and which are still permitted to members of the Opposition - that a member should be permitted to ask questions. This is something which every member, if he thinks the Parliament is worth while continuing, should seek to retain and should vote for.
– I oppose the motion. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) has thrown out the challenge that he would expect back benchers on both sides of the House to support strongly the proposition that the time permitted for questions without notice should be extended. As a back bencher, I wanted to make it perfectly clear that I do not support the proposition. In the time at my disposal, I want to comment in some detail on what has been put to the House by the seconder of the motion, the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby). He has seconded this motion not to support the requirements of honourable members of this House, not with a consideration of what might benefit honourable members, but purely and deliberately for political purposes. It is patently clear that this was done for political purposes. The honourable member should reflect on the approach adopted towards this House by the new Prime Minister (Mr McMahon). Although the Prime Minister has not occupied his office for very long, matters of great import have arisen with which the House has had to deal. But, of course, the Prime Minister would want to see to it that the programme of business of the House was as reasonable as possible. I instance to honourable members today’s business paper. A member of the Opposition is proposing a private member’s Bill. It is the first move of this kind for a very long time. Would it have been fair to impinge upon the time available to this honourable gentleman to present his proposed private member’s Bill by extending the period for question time? Of course it would not. There are other considerations. Quite unfair comparisons have been made in relation to question time traditions followed in this House. These unfair comparisons have been presented in such a fashion as to reflect upon the Prime Minister personally. This is quite wrong. Let me make a further comparison. In common with many honourable members, I was a member of this House at the time of Prime Minister Menzies. It was accepted very definitely that he had an eye to the clock and that 45 minutes after the meeting of the House he would always request that further questions be placed on notice.
– On a point of order, Mr Speaker; I was here when Prime Minister
Menzies was in office and I can recollect him-
-Order! No point of order arises. The honourable member for Chifley will resume his seat.
– He was very firm in this matter. No departure has occurred since that time. I believe that Prime Minister Holt and Prime Minister Gorton perhaps allowed an extension of a minute or two from time to time. However, it must be remembered that there has been a plethora of petitions which have made a substantial intrusion into question time. The Leader of the Opposition excuses that by saying: ‘Oh, well, any member who receives a petition is duty bound to present it whether he agrees with it or not.’ We must accept that, but he cannot deny that this tremendous growth of petition presentation has occurred. This situation has developed particularly during the term of Prime Minister Gorton. But during this week fewer petitions have been presented. In fact, I think 3 were presented today and 3 yesterday. So that comparison falls to the ground.
I wish to make a further comparison that I believe is of particular importance in this debate on the motion for the suspension of Standing Orders to enable a motion to be moved for the extension of question time. I refer to the Leader of the Opposition, the time that he has used during question time, and the number of questions he has asked in this session. He has asked no fewer than 25 questions out of a total of 120 questions which have been asked by the Opposition. Yet he talks about the rights and privileges of private members. From the Opposition side he has asked this tremendous number of questions at question time. The figure represents a huge proportion. Yet he has the temerity to come into the chamber and talk about the rights and privileges of private members.
I turn to the seconder of the motion, the honourable member for Riverina, who spoke more on the rights and privileges of private members. What does he have to complain about. What is his record? He has asked as many questions as any other Opposition back bencher in this session.
– It is still not enough.
– He says. ‘It is still not enough.’ What does he want? Does he want a privilege beyond that enjoyed by every other member? If one is to take the total question time-
-Order! If the continual interjections coming from the corner on my left do not cease I will deal with the honourable members concerned. I have already asked for restraint. I have suggested to honourable members that they cease interjecting. If my wishes in this respect are to be completely and blatantly disregarded I will have no option but to deal with the honourable members concerned without further notice.
– Those who have complained by moving and supporting this motion really have no basis for complaint at all. There is another consideration which cannot be overlooked. I refer to the statement made by another member of the Opposition, the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Duthie), who said a little earlier that during his early experiences in this House 1 hour was allowed for question time. He said that he wished that the time for questions without notice was still an hour, and that he would like to see this practice restored. But he failed to acknowledge that since the time, when an hour was allowed for questions without notice it has become the practice to have the Grievance Day debate regularly. To fail to acknowledge that charge and 1 to ask for an hour for question time is to reflect very seriously upon the acceptance of the new arrangements’ in this House which commenced a few years ago. These are arrangements which’ the majority of honourable members sought and favoured, and which, I am quite convinced, they wish to see continued. There is certainly no basis at all for us to think in terms of providing a full hour for question time. If this were done, it would be quite proper to suggest that the period set aside’ for the Grievance Day debate should disappear from the arrangements for the programme of the House. This would be very wrong indeed.
I repeat that the Leader pf the Opposition is really the man who takes ; up all the time during question time on his side of the House. It is up to the Opposition to have a look at its own arrangements. As to the number .of. calls from Mr Speaker that members might expect to receive during question time, if reasons do exist why back bench members of the Opposition should receive more calls, the Leader of the Opposition ought to restrain himself to the extent that in future the ratio of questions he asks in comparison with questions asked by other members of the Opposition is not 25 to 120. If this could be done perhaps we may not have heard this morning the complaint from the honourable member for Chifley (Mr Armitage), the honourable member for Riverina and the honourable member for Wilmot and perhaps their personal feelings may not have been affected as much as they have been. I suggest that it is not the arrangements of the House or the actions of the Prime Minister or anyone else about which they ought to be complaining. They should raise this matter at meetings in their own Caucus room and thrash out what is happening within their own Party circle, adhering to the very sound programme arrangements and the very proper approach that is being made by the Leader of the House (Mr Swartz), the Prime Minister and other Ministers in regard to the conduct of this House. 1 oppose the motion. I believe it is just a storm in a teacup, that it has no substance, and that it has been done for a particular purpose. I wish to make one final comment. Just before I began to speak, a member of the Opposition-
– I rise to order. At the commencement of his speech the honourable member for Cowper said that it would be unfair to have question time extended today because it would take up time in which I could present my private member’s Bill. Mr Speaker, would you mind telling him thatI have heard enough.
– There is no validity in the point of order. The honourable member has explained his position to the honourable member for Cowper.
– What is worrying the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly) is the fact that he has a private member’s Bill to present and he can see his time and his opportunity to present this Bill to the House very quickly disappearing. Of course, he now wants to blame someone else. He should have thought of this before he supported his own sideof the House in the moving of this motion. He is not going to deter me from making the point that I wanted to make. The honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren), a front bench member of the Opposition and one who should have a particular regard for the rights and privileges of all members and who at all times should acknowledge the Standing Orders, walked amongst the members of the Opposition a short time ago and said, in a voice which was quite clear and audible to members on this side of the House: ‘Do not rise. We do not want any more speakers on this, we want to get a vote.’ Of course, it is quite clear that this was done to try to extricate the Opposition from the jam it has got itself into at the present time. It is losing its opportunity to present a private member’s Bill because of the clumsy approach on a very flimsy basis made by the honourable member for Chifley and supported by the honourable member for Riverina and which, in fact, is doing nothing more nor less than trifling with the time of the House.
Motion (by Mr Swartz) agreed to:
That the question be now put.
Original question put. The House divided. (Mr Speaker - Hon. Sir William Aston)
Majority . . . . 6
Question so resolved in the negative.
Mr GORTON (Higgins- Minster for Defence - Mr Speaker,I want to make a personal statement:
– Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– The House will remember that earlier today the question was raised of a Department of Works contract at Terang for the Prime Minister’s residence - repairs and painting. I have not checked yet what I am about to say with the Department of Works specifically, but the honourable member for Corangamite (Mr Street), in whose electorate this is, has been in touch with the firm which in this document is shown as having carried out this work, and he has been assured that there is no truth in it, that indeed the Prime Minister’s residence’ was the Postmaster’s residence’ and, therefore, probably appeared as ‘PM’s Residence’ and was so presented in the ‘Gazette’.I have not checked this with the Department of Works, but I believe that to be correct.
– I am very grateful that the integrity of the former Prime Minister has been cleared in this matter.
– I move:
– What is the reason for that?
– The reason for the House meeting at 11 o’clock tomorrow morning is that Mr Speaker, the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) and the Leader for the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) will be associated with the official farewell function for the Duke of Edinburgh, and they would not be available in the House before that time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following Bills were returned from the Senate without amendment:
Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court Bill 1971.
Customs Bill 1971.
Naval Defence Bill 1971.
Criminology Research Bill 1971.
Bill presented by Mr Daly and read a first time.
– I move:
Mr Speaker, speaking in the Parliament on 20th April 1961 the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) said: the Commonwealth Electoral Act provides the fabric of Australia’s democracy. Nothing is more vital to the working of a democracy than the mechanism by which the parliament is elected.
This statement expresses the basic principles of a democratic society, that there should be free elections and that those elections should reflect the will of the majority. However, it is true to say that gerrymandering of electoral boundaries, voting systems and the position of candidates’ names on the ballot paper have a great influence on the election result and can defeat the majority view, irrespective of the will of the people or the policy of the candidates. This Bill seeks to preserve the basis of democratic elections by ensuring that those elected individually or as a government shall reflect the wishes of the majority. Its purpose is not designed for the advantages of any party or individual but, by an amendment of the Commonwealth Electoral Act, to provide for a truly democratic election to the House of Representatives.
The Bill provides for three major amendments to the Commonwealth Electoral Act. Firstly, it incorporates the principle of one vote one value; secondly, it introduces the first past the post voting system; and thirdly, it provides that the order of candidates’ names on the ballot paper shall be decided by ballot. The amendments apply only to elections for the House of Representatives. This is not to be taken that the Opposition considers that other sections of the Act, particularly those referring to Senate voting, postal and absentee voting, etc., are perfect. Indeed, this is far from the case.
The fact of the matter is that the Commonwealth Electoral Act is outdated and outmoded. This applies not only to the actual drafting of the Act but also to many of its provisions. To amend it completely, both for Senate and House of Representatives elections, is a major undertaking. On the election of a Labour government next year immediate steps will be taken to redraft the Electoral Act to meet the changing needs of our time and to bring it into line with what has been found necessary in other. fields of national legislation. Pending this review of the Act, the Opposition proposes these three major amendments as the basis on which a democratic vote may be registered by the people of Australia in the election of their government.
I now outline the major provisions of the Bill. Clause 3 amends section 18. of the principal Act by substituting the words people of for. the words ‘electors of in ascertaining a quota for each State. This means that electorate quotas will be determined on the basis of population and not only on those qualified to vote. This is a major departure from the present method and is basic to the principle of providing equality of representation on a population basis or a one vote one value basis. Clause 4 repeals section 19 of the principal Act which deals with ‘matters to be considered in distribution of a State’, and includes a new clause which substitutes the word people’ for ‘electors’ and a one-tenth instead of a one-fifth variation in regard to the quota for determining electoral boundaries. It deletes from the original Act the following provision in section 19 (2.) . . . with special reference to disabilities arising out of remoteness or distance; . . the density or sparsity of population of the Division; the area of the Division’, as it no longer applies. These amendments will as far as possible give effect to the principal of one vote one value, with which I will deal in the time available to me at the Committee stage.
Clause 5 of the Bill gives effect to a consequential amendment to clause 25 of the principal Act, following the new basis of distribution, namely, ‘people’ instead of electors’. Clause 6 amends section 5 of the principal Act to provide for a redistribution when more than one-fourth of divisions vary to a greater extent than onetenth more or one-tenth less, instead of one-fifth as shown in the present Act. The reason for this is to provide the basis as to when distributions should take place, and the one-tenth variation is in accordance with a decision of the all party Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Review. Clause 7 is a machinery amendment to section 76 of the principal Act and it relates to the abolition of preferential voting. Clause 8 amends section 106 of the principal Act to provide for the second major amendment, namely, a draw for positions of candidates’ names on ballot papers.
Clause 9 makes a major amendment to section 124 of the principal Act, providing for the marking of ballot papers on the first past the post voting system or, in other words, for the abolition of preferential voting. Clauses 10, 11 and 12 amend sections 133, 136 and 181a of the principal Act, being complementary to the introduction of first past the post voting under clause 9, and provide for informal votes, for the candidate with the highest number of votes to be elected and for the casting vote of the divisional returning officer to be made in the event of candidates receiving an equal number of votes.
Clause 13 amends the schedule to the principal Act by substituting the following for the present wording:
Mark your vote on this ballot-paper by placing the number 1 in the square opposite the name of the candidate for whom you vote. Do not vote for more than one candidate.
The reason for the use of the figure T instead of ‘X’ is to avoid confusion with Senate voting at this time when figures must be used. This new Act will come into operation on the day on which it receives royal assent.
I now deal with the question of the first major proposal in the Bill, namely, one vote one value. This incorporates 2 important changes from the present Act, namely, that population and not electors shall be the basis for the quota and that divisions shall be as nearly as possible equal in population. The Government mainly at the dictation of the Australian Country Party, as exemplified in Queensland only yesterday, has consistently opposed this principle, and in 196S amended section 19 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act to provide for the following:
In making any proposed distribution of a State into divisions, the Distribution Commissioners shall so determine the proposed divisions that each division contains a number of electors not exceeding, or falling short of, the quota of electors by more than one-fifth of the quota.
It also inserted other provisions that the Distribution Commissioners had to take into consideration in making any proposed dis tribution of a State into divisions. The subsequent redistribution of electorates in 1968 provided a striking illustration of the effect of these amendments, the disparity in electorate population and voting power and the complete negation of the principle of one vote one value.
In the brief time available I want to quote a few examples for the benefit of this House. The division under the 1968 redistribution with the largest number of electors - not population - was Grayndler, my own seat, with 60,205 and the division with the smallest number was Darling, New South Wales, with 43,224 - a difference of 39.3 per cent or 16,981 voters. If Darling is disregarded as being . exceptional the division with the smallest number of electors is Riverina with 45,368 - a difference of 32.7 per cent or 14,837 voters as compared to Grayndler. Similarly in Victoria the electorate of Wills had 58,231 voters and the electorate of Mallee had 45,218 - and that is plenty for that honourable member to look after - which is a variation of 12,995 electors or 28.7 per cent. In Queensland the electorate of Griffith hari 58,668 voters compared with 41,609 voters in Kennedy, a variation of 17,059 electors or 41 per cent. Similar examples are available in every State. With the concurrence of honourable members I incorporate in Hansard details of the redistribution as given by the then Minister for the Interior in reply to a question on notice.
Another significant factor of the 1958 redistribution is the disparity between the electors enrolled and the population of the division concerned. For instance, in New South Wales, to quote an example, they vary between 42.92 per cent in the electorate of Werriwa and 64.53 per cent in Barton. This, of course, was a comparison based on the 1966 census which are the latest figures available. The percentage of enrolment varies according to the number of residents under age or not naturalised. With the concurrence of honourable members I incorporate in Hansard details of the percentage of the population enrolled in New South Wales electorates at the time of the 1966 census.
This is a classic example of the need to have population as the basis on which a redistribution should be decided and not only on electors. The need for a change is beyond doubt. The Constitutional Review Committee in 1958, representative of both Houses of this Parliament, recommended that as nearly as possible there should be divisions of equal size for the House of Representatives. With the concurrence of honourable members I incorporate in Hansard the findings of that Committee on this important matter.
(Senators O’sullivan, Kennelly, McKenna and Wright, and Messrs Calwell, Downer, Drummond, Hamilton, Joske, Pollard, Ward and Whitlam)
The Committee recommends that the Constitution be amended to provide that -
The Parliamentary Labor Party and the Australian Labor Party Federal Conference of 1961 decided to support the Committee’s recommendations, and that if they were not introduced by the Liberal-Country Parly Government, Labour would submit the recommendations to a referendum when in Government. Successive Liberal-Country Party Governments have remained silent and inactive on all the Committee’s recommendations. The Labor Party has consistently supported this principle of equality of representation in the Parliament. In 1961, 1962, 1965 and 1968 when electoral redistributions were under consideration appropriate amendments were moved by the Opposition to give effect to the democratic finding of the Constitutional Review Committee of one vote one value. Section 24 of the Constitution ensures that representation of the States in the House of Representatives shall be in proportion to their respective populations, therefore the vote of an elector in any one State shall be no more or no less valuable than the vote of an elector in any other State. The Liberal-Country Party destroyed this principle under its 1965 amendment to section 19 of the Principal Act wherein that Party made it possible for the vote of an elector in one division of a State to be as much as one and a half times as valuable as the vote of an elector in another Division in the same state.
We may well take a lead on these matters from a speech made by Senator Dirksen, a Democratic Party representative in the United States Senate in 1965. I read this expressly for the benefit of members of the Country Party. He said:
The controversy here is not between rural virtue and urban iniquity - but between those who believe that men are entitled to equal representation regardless of their position, and those who feel that certain citizens should be given a greater influence in government than others.
There can be no doubt that a man is of equal value whether he lives in the city or in the country and whatever his occupation may be. All men should be equal in making the law as before the law.
This Bill provides an opportunity to say whether people in the city are in fact to be regarded as just as valuable as the people in the country - -not more, not less. Electoral laws should provide equality, not privilege. The Country Party applies the principle of one vote one value when it suits it. In the Wool Reserve Prices Plan Referendum Bill 1965 members of the Country Party applied the one vote one value principle to wool growers. Small wool growers with 10 bales received the same vote as those with 100 or more. If they applied it in that case then why not in all matters coming before the Parliament and not only in the case of those engaged in one of our great primary industries? Speaking in the Parliament on 26th May 1965 the then Minister for the Interior, Mr Anthony, and now the Deputy Prime Minister, said:
The population of a division includes the children, migrants and everybody in the area.
This is precisely what the Labor Party maintains. They should all count when electorate boundaries are drawn. After all, they are all entitled to representation. The population and enrolment in electorates from one end of Australia to the other are out of all proportion. The population, particularly in city electorates, is under-represented. For example, the division of Sydney under the 1968 redistribution had 59,967 electors and a population of 126,426 compared with 45,751 electors and a population of 79,726 in the division of Lyne. To support my point of view and with the concurrence of honourable members I incorporate in Hansard a copy of an answer given to me by the former Minister for the Interior outlining enrolments and population of all electorates in 1968 to 1971 and the population at the time of the 1966 census, which are the latest figures available.
As the electoral boundaries do not correspond exactly with Census collection boundaries the population figures shown in the above table have been based on the nearest complete collectors’ districts and must therefore be regarded as estimates only. The figures are exclusive of full-blood Aborigines and of ‘migratory’ population. Aborigines were excluded from that Census as Section 127 of the Constitution was in operation at that date.
With the concurrence of honourable members I incorporate in Hansard a similar table which sets out the population and enrolments in Australia showing that 6,390,426 electors were enrolled with a population of 12,030,800 but that about 6,500,000 had no electoral representation at all.
These figures show an alarming variation and a truly undemocratic situation. The Constitutional Review Committee in its recommendations endeavoured to ensure that there were no gerrymanders either by lapse of time or distortion of population, that is, that there should be electorates of approximately equal size, both rural . and metropolitan. There is no such term in the Commonwealth electoral legislation as rural or metropolitan’ electorates. It may appear in some State legislation but we surely do not want to perpetuate the classic example of gerrymandering in South Australia where at one stage there was no redistribution for 25 years and some electorates, city and country, were 3 times as large as others, or in Queensland where there has been no boundary change since 1958 and the Country Party stands astride the prostrate body of electoral redistribution like a .vulture, plundering every vestage of democratic representation from the people determined to impose the greatest gerrymander in the history of the world.
It would be correct to say that a gerrymander may be perpetuated quite legally under section 19 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act because Redistribution Commissioners could do this under the terms of the Act. Electoral boundaries should take into account the number of voteless persons such as infants and immigrants. In some electorates 30 per cent of the people were born overseas and are ineligible for enrolment but are still entitled to representation. That is why population should be the basis. There are those like the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Turnbull) and other members of the Country Party who will claim that huge country electorates should have less electors to offset the heav ily populated metropolitan or provincial areas. This argument is worthy of examination even though the honourable member supports it. It is true that there is a drift to the city of the population from country districts and country electorates which have fewer people and more area. On the other hand, the outer suburbs of a State capital have rapidly expanding electorates and the greatest number of voteless persons, such as infants and migrants. This is apparent from an answer given to the Leader of the Opposition in the Parliament by the former Minister not so long ago showing the enrolments in 1968 and 1970 and showing changes in electorate composition.
– Order! As it is now 2 hours after the time fixed for the meeting of the House, debate on the motion is interrupted.
– I ask leave of the House to move a motion to enable notice No. 1, General Business, to be considered until 3.5 p.m.
– There being no objection, leave is granted.
Suspension of Standing Orders
Motion (by Mr Hunt) - agreed to:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent notice No. 1, General Business, being considered until 3.5 p.m.
– I thank the Minister. With the concurrence of honourable members, I incorporate in Hansard the question asked by the Leader of the Opposition and the answer given by the previous Minister showing the growth of electorates.
Enrolments in Electoral Divisions (Question No. 1455, page 744)
asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows: <1) and (2)-
I ask: Are these electorates to be penalised in order to appease electors in far flung areas? The Constitutional Review Committee stated that a reduction of the permissible margin from one-fifth to one-tenth would not greatly affect huge electorates. At present other factors indicate that the application of one vote one value may reduce the size of some electorates. I believe that if the whole population is included now that Aboriginals have a vote, electorates like Kalgoorlie, Kennedy and Darwin will be reduced in size under the proposal.
The members of the Country Party ask the Parliament to believe that because a country member suffers disadvantages of distance and area the solution lies in perverting the basis of the electoral system itself. They oppose change to the present legislation because provisions inserted at their direction make it possible for a city electorate to be half as large again on a population and electorate basis as country electorates. This makes a mockery of our pretensions to a truly democratic system. In a democratic society there can be no justification for a country storekeeper, a rural worker or an office worker having more value in his vote than city persons in the same category have. All people have equal democratic rights and they should be treated accordingly in electoral redistribution.
The answer to the far flung country electorate is not to pervert the electoral system by making the vote of country people two or three times more valuable than the vote of metropolitan dwellers or to give them a weighted vote but rather to provide their representatives with greater facilities, travel allowances, staff, etc. to enable them to carry out their parliamentary work. This is an attitude that was remarked on by the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) when speaking on the Electoral Bill on 25th September 1968. He said:
A bigger Parliament working through committees would be a more efficient Parliament. It may be that the defect to which the Minister referred could be remedied if rural members had more travel allowances to enable them to use aircraft more than they do now. So there are remedies to the problem.
He went on to say:
I suppose the honourable member for Cowper (Mr Robinson) and the honourable member for Lyne represent a great variety of interests. I should think you could enumerate them as cows, cows, cows. But in urban electorates such as my electorate of Bradfield one has to represent people as various as manufacturers, importers, people with commercial interests and people with financial interests. Plainly the Minister’s argument- that is a Country Party Minister - . . will not hold water.
Only the Country Party will wholeheartedly support the principle of rural weighing, giving country voters a louder voice in the election of Parliament and Government than their numbers warrant. Members of the Country Party have a vested interest in doing so because the present system allows their Party, which on only one occasion has received more than 10 per cent of the votes, to dominate the Government and to gain rewards well beyond their entitlement in the determination of national policy. In support of this I quote an extract from Don Whitington’s book ‘Inside Canberra’ published recently:
The Country Parly has never polled more than 10.9 per cent of the total vote at any House of Representatives election from 1949; yet it has invariably held anything from 15 to 20 seats in a House of 124, and 6 portfolios in a Ministry of between 20 and 25. Tn short, while polling only 10 per cent of the public vote it exercises a parliamentary vote of between 16 and 17 per cent and a ministerial influence of more than 20 per cent.
A tragic commentary on the undemocratic manner adopted to elect governments here! Why should they not support such an iniquitous, biased and undemocratic system, for on it depends their survival individually and as a Party. It is utterly wrong, however, to perpetuate this system if in the metropolitan area the difference in the population of electorates as compared with country electorates becomes so marked that Parliament is not representative of the people. That is why this undemocratic state of affairs and the system for which the Country Party fights and which it foists upon the Parliament by its ruthless use of power in the coalition must be changed.
I want to summarise broadly the arguments I have advanced. Every worthwhile authority supports the case for one vote one value. The United States Supreme Court and the Constitutional Review Committee are just two responsible authorities worth quoting. Even the Federal Council of the Liberal Party of Australia supports this principle. The loading of electorates due to the 20 per cent variation under the Electoral Act demands redress because Parliament represents people, not acres, trees and animals. Population is the basis on which boundaries should be decided because men, women and children of all ages and all nations present as many problems as those eligible to vote. The present system gives expression to the idea that only those eligible to vote are entitled to representation. This attitude is outdated and indefensible. There can be no doubt that democracy demands that electorates should have as nearly as possible the same population and equality of voting power.
I now wish to deal with the second major principle incorporated in this Bill, namely, first past the post voting. This will replace the present system of preferential voting as applied to elections for the House of Representatives in most States of Australia. From 1901 until 1918 representatives to the Australian Parliament were elected by the simplest of all methods, namely, the first past the post system. Electors had only to place an X against their choice on the ballot paper. On 4th October 1918 the Minister for Home and Territories, Patrick McMahon Glynn - a good name- -a member of the Hughes Nationalist Government, introduced a Bill providing for preferential voting as we know it today. Contrary to some points of view expressed, it was opposed by the Labor Party led by Mr Tudor, the final vote being 37 ayes, 10 noes and numerous pairs. In the course of his speech Mr Glynn said:
The preferential system if honestly applied provides a remedy for a party split . . .
He has been proved pretty wrong. The statement continues:
It was also said that it would give an absolute majority to the candidate elected. Mr Glynn finished with this fine phrase - and I read it for the benefit of the Minister, the members of the Country Party and those Liberals who call themselves democrats:
It is for us lo provide the machinery that may make the legislature, wilh at time some inevitable defects of focus, the mirror of the nation’s mind.
How far they have departed from that principle! The principal arguments advanced in support of preferential voting are, firstly, that it ensures that only a candidate who polls a majority of votes - that is more than 50 per cent - is elected, thus reflecting the majority view and, secondly, that it gives a voter the exercise of a preference or second choice on the basis that voters are concerned with who will actually win, even if their first choice is rejected. On the first point this question might be asked: What constitutes a majority? Does it mean half the number of votes plus one or a majority for any of the candidates contesting the election? This could be argued indefinitely, logically or otherwise, according to a person’s point of view. The real reason for the change, however, is best summed up in the ‘Australian Encyclopaedia’, volume III. Referring to preferential voting, it states: . . experience has shown that the system so applied permits the development of strong third parties and indeed the adoption of the alternative vote in Australia has been largely due to the pressure of the Country Party for a method by which they could contest elections against older non-Labor parties without running the risk of putting the Labor Party into office.
Preferential voting has assisted both the Liberal and Country Parties to put up rival candidates without splitting the vote and losing the seats to a common enemy. On the second point, it is questionable whether the preferential voting is a true expression of each elector’s wishes. The Party machine dictates the how to vote card right down to the last preference and asks the citizen to vote for its candidates according to the how to vote card prepared by the Party executive. It is a fact, however, that the system is sometimes credited with virtues it does not possess. For instance, it may ensure that a constituency will elect a member with a majority of the final votes, but it does not ensure that the Party with the overall majority of the votes will obtain a majority of the seats.
In 1961 the Labor Party polled 2,534,640 votes, or 46.76 per cent of the votes, and in 1969 polled 2,870,792, or 46.95 per cent of the votes, in both cases having a clear majority over the combined totals of the present Government Parties, but was defeated in the elections. In the recent State election in New South Wales under this system the Labor Party gained a majority of 70,000 votes over the Liberals but is still out of office. Had first past the post voting been in force in the Commonwealth sphere in 1961 democracy would have been served by the election of a Labor government with a majority of 8 instead of a minority of one. In the present Parliament, if a first past the post system had been in force at the 1969 elections Labor would hold 70 seats, or a majority of 15 over its opponents, instead of a minority of 7. No more striking examples could be given of the need for a change. J ask leave of the House to incorporate in Hansard documents prepared by the Legislative Research Service, being a summary of Federal elections since 1958 under the preferential and first past the post systems.
– I would like to hear it read.
– Having examined the document, I would like the honourable member to explain it to the House.
– Leave is not granted for the incorporation.
– I will not spend much time on this. I can understand the disability of members of the Country Party in this respect. The document, which was compiled by the Legislative Research Services, gives a summary of what the results of elections would have been had first past the post voting been, in force between 1958 and 1969. Labor would have won two of those elections. I do not press the point for the incorporation of the document. The Minister for the Interior has been extremely good to me in these matters and I know that he is not responsible for some of the erstwhile supporters I see at the back of the chamber. But the matter is still worth recording. Let us always remember that two can play at that game.
Preferential voting allows minority or splinter groups to decide the result of elections both for the member and the Government. This happened when the Communist Party preferences elected the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen) in the 1961 election. Candidates with no possibility of winning influenced the result, thereby creating minority representation. Numerous examples could be quoted of manipulation of preferential voting in party interests and for factionalism and other reasons. The Government parties have benefited considerably in this respect, particularly the Country Party. Later in my speech I shall quote a few figures to prove my point. Where there are several candidates the position is more complicated. It is aggravated by the careless, or what is known as the ‘donkey’ voter, the person who votes straight down the ballot paper. It is true to say that candidates and even governments are elected by this type of voter. Parties that benefit from this type of voter have a vested interest in the preferential voting system. (Extension of time granted.)
The Democratic Labor Party represents a very practical example of the manipulation of the preferential voting system and the election of minority governments, lt claims to be a Labor Party, picks candidates where possible to be first on the ballot paper and allocates its preferences to non-Labor candidates. Its objective is to prevent the Australian Labor Party winning seats rather than to win seats itself. It is to this manipulation of the voting system and preferential voting that the’ Government owes its majority. In ‘the words of Malcolm Mackerras, the Government is a second preference government’. Because of the exploitation of the preferential voting system as exemplified by splinter groups, 2 other changes are necessary - change in the voting method to prevent the’ election of minorities and a draw for the position of a candidate’s name on the ballot paper. I will deal with that later. Then there is the question of informal votes. Preferential voting aggravates this possibility, and the figures are staggering.
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
– Before the suspension of the sitting I mentioned that during the last House of Representatives election there were 159,493 informal votes. In the Senate the figures were even more striking as more than 584,000 people or an average of 10 per cent voted informally. The Minister has been good enough to let me incorpoate in Hansard the answer which he gave to me to a question I asked on preferential voting. With the concurrence of honourable members I incorporate the question and the answer in Hansard.
Electoral (Question No. 330)
asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Electoral (Question No. 2625)
asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
For those who say that preferential voting is the only safeguard against the election of minority government, we have to accept the argument that every government elected between 1901 and 1918 in Australia came under this category. Such an argument cannot be supported. Also, are we to say that the ‘first past the post’ system which is adopted in 64 countries including Great Britain, the United Slates, New Zealand and Canada, indicates that they are governed by the minority? The point 1 make is that no self-respecting person would accept this point of view. With the concurrence of honourable members 1 incorporate in Hansard a question asked by me and the reply which sets out the countries which adopt the first past the post system of voting.
Electoral (Question Nil. I6K0)
asked the Minister for thi Interior, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows: (1), (2) and (3) The following particulars have been furnished by countesy of the National Librarian.
A review of the results of the 1969 elections showed that no fewer than 40 members of this Parliament and 35 or more than 50 per cent of Government supporters, received less than 50 per cent of the first preference votes. I refer particularly to the honourable member for McMillan (Mr Buchanan) who received 32.07 per cent; the honourable member for Wimmera (Mr King), 30.95 per cent; the honourable member for Canning (Mr Hallett), 30.07 per cent; the honourable member for Moore (Mr Maisey), 31.01 per cent; and the honourable member for Denison (Dr Solomon), 28.47 per cent. On what basis do they claim - and this includes the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Turnbull) who received 46.67 per cent - to represent the majority view of their electors? No wonder the Country Party wants preferential voting, lt is the complete negation of democracy.
I do not intend to go over all of the electorates but mention that in the seat of McMillan the Australian Labor Party candidate received 42.11 per cent of the vote. In Wimmera the Australian Labor Party candidate received 37.55 per cent of the vote. In Canning the Labor candidate received 42.15 per cent and in Moore he received 41.80 per cent. Yet all these candidates were defeated by the minority vote candidates as I mentioned a moment ago. In all of the instances I quoted, the first choice of the people in the electorate was defeated. This in fact indicates support for the ‘first past the post’ system where a democratic election would have given the people the candidate of their choice. ‘First past the post’ voting is in everyone’s interest. It is the simplest and most democratic method and gives to the elector the candidate of his choice without the complications of voting for candidates in order of preference in which the voter has no interest whatever. It will prevent splinter groups or parties polling only a small percentage of the votes yet holding the electorate and the nation to ransom.
There is another factor supporting the demand for a change in voting and that is the huge percentage of migrants now in the Australian society who total about 20 per cent of our population. These people in the main come from countries where first past the post* is practised. ‘First past the post’ voting is not the be all and end all of democratic elections, but by the introduction of one-vote-one-value and the introduction of this system it is reasonable to assume that governments elected will be those chosen by the majority and not, as Malcolm McKerras described this Government, as ‘a second preference government’.
I will now deal with the final point in the Bill. Although it is most important, I do not intend to spend a great deal of time on it at this stage because I believe that it should receive general support. At present the position of a candidate’s name on the ballot paper is decided alphabetically. This gives a decided advantage to candidates with names beginning with letters early in the alphabet. In fact, it is said that if a person wants to get into Parliament he should be born with a name beginning with ‘A’ or ‘B Various estimates are given of the value of the No. 1 position on the ballot paper and it seems reasonable that it would vary between 3 per cent and 5 per cent. This is important so far as the careless or donkey voter is concerned. Election results indicate that the No. 1 position on occasions decides the election result. For instance, Miss Joan Rydon of the Department of Political Science at the University of Melbourne had this to say on the matter:
In Federal Elections contested by the DLP a different order of candidates on the ballot paper could well have produced different results in two seals in 1955 and six or seven in 1958 and anything up to twelve in 1961.
All candidates and all parties should therefore have an equal opportunity to this position, or the donkey vote.
Splinter parties exploit the situation. Facts and figures prove my point in this regard. The Australian Democratic Labor Party exploits this situation to the limit. For instance, at the last Federal elections, in New South Wales alone that party had 32 candidates of whom 20 were placed on top of the ballot paper. The DLP found difficulty, however, in getting a candidate above Ashley-Brown who was the Labor nominee in Mitchell. I mention these facts in order to prove the importance of the situation. In the Senate elections a draw is made for positions on the ballot paper. It is recognised as fair and equitable and there appears to be no reason why the same principle should not apply in House of Representatives elections. There is no reason why a person named Smith, for instance, should be at any disadvantage with, say, a person named Brown in an election. At one time senators were placed on the Senate paper in alphabetical order. This applied until the late 1940s. The result was that late in 1938 in the Senate the name of 1 in every 6 senators began with A and half of the senators had names beginning with A, B, C or D. The position has changed today with the draw for positions. I am certain that there is a clear system of selection by the Government to produce candidates whose surnames begin with the letter higher than that of the sitting member. In fact, from long experience I know that in many cases none of them could have been elected except under that method.
I feel that it is hardly necessary to elaborate on this proposal at great length as common sense dictates that the democratic practice to adopt is to draw for positions on the ballot paper. I urge the House to vote for the proposal. This Bill represents major steps in Labor’s policy for the democratic reform of the Commonwealth Electoral Act. Its objective is to give to the Australian people truly representative government - and to give practical expression to the immortal words of Abraham Lincoln - which still echo down through the ages - and linger in the minds of all true democrats:
Government of the people - by the people - for the people.
I commend the Bill to the House.
-Is the amendment seconded?
– Yes, I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.
– I claim to have been misrepresented by the honourable member for Grayndler. He said that certain members did not have an absolute majority and he included the member for the Mallee electorate who, he said, received 46 per cent of the votes. Let me say that in the 25 years I have been in this Parliament, in all the elections during that period only on one occasion have I been without an absolute majority and this was the occasion which the honourable member has quoted. That is scarcely fair, is it, Mr Speaker?
– I want to say at the outset that there is nothing new in the philosophy lying behind the motives that have brought this Bill into the House. It is the same old Labor politicking launched by one of the real warriors of the Labor Party and designed to try to wipe out the smaller parties and attempt to reduce the voice of the country voters to a mere whimper. I will concentrate on 2 major proposals contained in this Bill. Firstly I shall refer to the redistribution on a onevoteonevalue basis virtually and secondly to the first past the post electoral system.
Since Federation, and before the Country Party came into existence, the electoral laws dealing with distribution have provided for permissible variation in the number of electors in divisions of 20 per cent upwards and 20 per cent downwards from the quota. The distribution commissioners in distributing States into divisions are required to take into specific account factors clearly related to the formation of the divisions in addition to the number of electors. In 1965 special emphasis was given to factors with respect to some allowance which had invariably been made by district commissioners. The 20 per cent maximum variation from the quota of electors remained unchanged. The primary purpose of the amendments in 1965 was to make clear requirements that hitherto could have been vaguely interpreted. This was done to ensure that the commissioners, who are required to interpret the provisions in the legislation, were able to do so in the 6 States uniformly.
When talking of democracy it is a fundamental concept that the basis of elections should be clear and fair. The 20 per cent tolerance which has stood the test for nearly 70 years cannot be fairly judged in this place to be intended as a means of gerrymandering the Australian electorate. For reasons other than political reasons - geographical reasons, density of population, communications and so on - the 20 per cent margin has been acceptable for the last 70 years.
– To whom?
– This was so even whilst the Labor Government was in office. Surely the principle of equality in the value of votes would also be infringed by the 10 per cent margin proposed in the honourable member’s Bill. The honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly) says he sets out to establish a principal of equality of votes by abandoning the 20 per cent margin. But then he sets a 10 per cent margin. Where is the consistency? Where is the principle to which he subscribes? Obviously the honourable member for Grayndler - though not the father of the House he would probably be the stepfather of the House - has failed to do his homework when he contends that this is a gerrymander principle to suit the Australian Country Party. The truth of the matter is that all 3 Parties in this House have a share of rural constituencies throughout Australia, so political considerations must be set aside. The people living in these areas under great difficulties and disadvantages should not be thrown onto the scrap heap as this Bill would do.
This so-called principle is unrealistic when viewed in its proper perspective. Even the most ardent advocates of the one vote one value principle would recognise that exact equality of electorates is not feasible and could not be sensibly implemented at the expense of ignoring the features which have been long established as having a logical bearing on this matter. With the concurrence of honourable members I incorporate in Hansard a table prepared by the Chief Electoral Officer relating to the number of electors represented by one member of parliament and showing the largest and smallest constituencies represented by one member of parliament in several countries including Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada.
Table prepared by Chief electoral Officer relating to:
NUMBER OF ELECTORS REPRESENTED BY ONE MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT
Largest and smallest constituencies represented by one member of Parliament in several countries:
I am very glad indeed that the Australian Labor Party has come out in its true colours on this issue. At last the country people can recognise the ballyhoo of the Australian Labor Party when it expresses concern for rural communities. Where do people like the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) and the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby) really stand on this issue? If they stand for the one vote one value principle their concern for the country should be taken for what it really is. This Bill was agreed to by the Labor Caucus of which they are members and if they do agree with this principle let them get up here and say so. If they disagree with it let them say so also, otherwise they will be revealed as completely politically insincere and indifferent to the needs of the people they represent.
This measure is designed to reduce the influence of country people and country communities in the national Parliament - leaving aside the political party considerations - not at a time when there is affluence in these rural areas and not at a time when they do not have a need for a say in the government of this country, but at a time when country towns and cities across the face of this nation are undergoing one of the worst recessions in living memory. Hundreds of people have been crippled by drought in Queensland and New South Wales and hundreds would have been forced off their farms and away from country areas and into bankruptcy by the recent floods in New South Wales and Victoria but for the flood relief measures of the State Liberal-Country Party Governments. Tens of thousands of people in the rural constituencies needing a voice in the State and national Parliaments have been hit by falling wool prices, wheat quotas and contracting overseas markets, demands for higher wages and Labor’s policy of supporting Mr Hawke’s demands for a 35- hour week. The Labor Party takes this opportunity to reveal to the rural community just how insincere its approach is to that community’s problems. It waits until a man is down and then puts in the boot. This is what the Labor Party has done and I repeat that if honourable members on the other side of the House representing rural constituencies have a conscience on this matter let them stand up in this House, instead of merely trying to interject, and defend the people they profess to represent. I cannot for the life of me understand why the Opposition would want to take away from these unfortunate people a voice in this place.
The Labor Party wants to restrict the Redistribution Commissioners to a 10 per cent variation of the quota when drawing boundaries, not taking, into account the numbers of electors in those constituencies but the population as a whole, including a lot of new Australians who are not yet naturalised and who have not yet got a vote. This device would tie the Redistribution Commissioners and cannot give weight to the needs of rural areas. What sort of electorates would we have if the Commissioners had to adhere to these limitations in divisions like Kalgoorlie, which covers nearly one third of the Commonwealth of Australia? Obviously it is aimed at getting more electors into these large country divisions, making them even larger, and taking electors away from some of the electorates like Grayndler, West Sydney and Port Melbourne where there is already a high proportion of new Australians not yet enrolled who are wait ing to be naturalised. The Labor Party wants to tie a redistribution to people instead of electors, another cunning device to increase the size of large rural divisions.
With this Bill Labor would abolish country seats, and this is perfectly in line with the philosophy and policies utterly dominated by the big city votes, by Mr Hawke and the left wing union supporters and by the blind urge for power at any price. Opposition members, particularly those who have been in this House a long time, think that if they do not get to power soon they will not get a ministry at all. I understand their frustrations.
-Order! I think the Minister is getting a little away from the subject matter of the Bill.
– I am saying that the Bill would in fact be an injustice to people generally and would contrive a situation whereby the Labor Party could easily get on to the Treasury benches in a way that I do not think is proper. It is willing to ignore the Commonwealth Electoral Act which specifically lays down the right to have country seats with fewer numbers of voters than the big metropolitan areas, lt is willing to fly in the face of economic facts and have city members deciding what is best for country industries. It is willing to accelerate the process of centralisation in the most centralised and urbanised nation on earth, occupying the largest island continent on earth, thus intensifying all the problems of pollution and environmental control. This sort of thing would be part of a vicious circle that would tend to accentuate a trend that is already present, forcing more and more people to the city areas. We should be adopting policies to give people more voice in the rural areas so that they might have a bigger determination to provide the facilities to attract more people to country areas and relieve the city areas of some of their problems. You cannot convince me that the people living in Angledool, a village 1 know well, in the electorate of Darling have the same chance of receiving service from their hard working member - and he is a hard working member - as those living in Marrickville, where the honourable member for Grayndler might see them walking down the street every Saturday morning. Just look at the size of his electorate, lt is only 8.5 square miles.
– They are all very intelligent voters.
– It is a pocket handkerchiefsized electorate. To introduce a one vote, one value concept would accentuate this inequity of representation and service. It would not be in the best interests of the people because the voters in the large areas today do not have the same privileges as those who live in the smaller electorates and who are closer to their representatives.
The Bill would wipe out numerous rural seats - a fantastic proposition. It would reduce the influence in the national Parliament of the rural workers, the wheat growers, the wool growers and, indeed, the influence of all the citizens who live in country towns and country areas. It is an extraordinary time for the Australian Labor Party to come into this House and introduce a Bill to undertake that task. I shall deal now with the second part of the Bill, which is the first past the post system. Clearly, this is an attempt by the Labor Party to destroy the Democratic Labor Party, the Australia Party and any other small parties in the Australian system. The Labor Party apparently believes that it has some kind of divine right - some right in perpetuity - to electoral support in Australia. Under this Bill, it would be difficult for new parties ever to be established or to have any influence in the composition of the national Parliament. I do not believe that this is in the best interests of democracy. Provision should exist whereby any group of people can form a new party if they think it necessary and the atmosphere in which it can grow should be available.
A Labor government, according to the terms of the Bill, would assume the right to decide who shall compose the Government and the Opposition. This is a blatant attempt to disfranchise those Australian voters who support neither the Australian Labor Party nor the Liberal or Country Parties. The Government will have no part of it. Old feuds and hatreds of Labor politics are revealed once again in the desperate attempt in this Bill to reach out for power. The real test of an electoral system is whether the outcome of an election truly reflects the wishes of the majority of the electors in the electorate in which the election is being held. The first past the post system would operate satisfactorily where there are 2 candidates for a single member constituency. However, where there are more than 2 candidates this can have a most serious effect in that it can and does lead to the election of a candidate who is supported by only a minority of the electors.
– The first past the post system operates in every other country of the world.
– The honourable member is wrong. Australia can rightly claim to have led the world in electoral reforms, being the first country to adopt preferential voting and one of the first to grant the franchise to women. These are just two examples. The Australian ballot system is recognised world wide, yet now we are asked to turn the clock back and to revert to the 19th century concept of restricting the voters to a first choice only and to ignore the principle of allowing the determination of the candidate most favoured by the majority of an electorate where more than 2 candidates are standing. What a shameful, regressive step. This is stepping back into the Dark Ages. Although no system is absolutely perfect, the preferential system of voting is recognised as one of the fairest in the world. It has been accepted in our national elections for 40 years and it is accepted in every Australian State. But this is not good enough for the Labor Party, so the honourable member for Grayndler seeks to destroy the concept. This would obviously suit Labor and would result in the reduction of the influence of country voters and those who support the smaller parties. Tt is completely unacceptable to me and, I am sure, to the nation as a whole.
Let us look briefly at the record of achievement that has occurred under this Government within the present electoral system which has elected consistently for 22 years a government that has given stable government to the country and allowed for tremendous growth and development. In 1949, when this Government came to power, the gross national product was Sl0,000m; last year it had trebled to $30,000m. The great primary industries increased production threefold.
– Mr Speaker, will I be within the Standing Orders if I take a point of order?
– That would depend on the point of order.
– The point of order is that this is an electoral Bill and the Minister now is diverging far from the purposes of the Bill and is going into political areas which are beyond the concern of the Bill. I suggest that he should be called to order and brought back to the purposes of the Bill.
– I would suggest to the Minister that speaking about the developments and progress of Australia in the last 20 years seems to be a little further from the provisions of the Bill than is necessary. The Minister may make passing references, but he must return to the Bill.
– I am sure that the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Kennedy) will soon appreciate why I have made this passing reference. All the balanced development that has taken place in Australia has taken place because of balanced government brought about by a balanced electoral system.
– Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The Minister incorrectly has indicated in his remarks that the electoral system has brought about balanced government. On at least one occasion the Government has been elected on fewer votes than the Opposition has polled.
-Order! There is no point of order.
– I am sorry if the Opposition cannot take it. This is one of the most shameful pieces of pseudo legislation ever to come before this House. For the past 22 years the Labor Party has been consistently beaten in its bid for power because people will not accept city orientated Socialist philosophies. Labor’s reactionary stance has been not to change its policies to keep up with modern demands, needs and trends but to try to change the system itself to force Socialistic oppressive theories upon the Australian electorate. No wonder the people have kept honourable members opposite on the Opposition benches for so long. They recognise in Labor the complete lack of responsibility which allows it to sponsor a Bill of this kind. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam), the honourable member for Grayndler, the honourable member for Dawson, the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby) and, in fact, all members of the Opposition who represent rural constituencies, should hang their heads in shame. Today, once and for all, they have shown the people of Australia the sense of desperation and almost hysterical desire for power that resides within their bosoms. They seek to replace the present electoral system with this self-seeking manipulation of the system to the advantage of the Labor Party. This is what all honourable members are being asked to vote upon today - to gag the voice of rural Australia in a time of great difficulty and to disfranchise the hundreds of thousands of people in city and country areas who have the temerity to prefer policies other than those that are espoused by the Liberal-Country Parties and the Labor Party itself. I hope that the Australian people will see the sinister motives that lie behind this Bill and I hope that the House will really wake up to what is contained in the Bill and treat it as a censure of the Australian Labor Party.
– The Australian Labor Party’s purpose in introducing this Bill has been to outline to the people of Australia and to this Parliament the principles which the Australian Labor Party considers vital - principles which it, in government, will carry into effect in the statute book. This Bill has been brought before the Parliament also to force the Government to bring down its own legislation because I think all members of the Parliament understand and appreciate that very many great needs for reform exist in Australia’s electoral legislation.
The Minister for the Interior (Mr Hunt) has said some unkind things about the Australian Labor Party. If there is one thing transparently clear about the Australian Labor Party, it is that it conducts its policy making in public. Its policy is set out in a document which any person can purchase. I suppose we would supply a copy free to any person who did not have the money to buy one because we are proud of our policy. We do not beat about the bush in any way at all.
We have introduced this legislation to indicate to the Government the principles that will underlie electoral legislation introduced by a Labor government. We have not put down all of the things that we would like to include in such a Bill. We have selected certain things which we regard as being of great importance. I pay a tribute to the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly), who introduced the Bill, on the brilliant speech which he made outlining the principles that will stand behind a Labor government’s electoral Act. He also gave very cogent and powerful reasons why the people of Australia should support such legislation. I thought it was very appropriate that he closed with a quotation from Abraham Lincoln who is regarded as one of the principal exponents of democracy.
After all, this is what it is all about: We want a system of government in Australia in which the people get the government for which they vote. Some unkind people say that people get the government they deserve. Leaving that aside, I believe that when people, at the ballot box, clearly vote for a Party and give that Party a clear majority that is the Party that is entitled to be elected to office. 1 go along with the statement, which 1 believe is fact, that there are today gerrymanders in all of the Australian States with the exception of Tasmania. In its time, the Labor party has been responsible for some of these gerrymanders. I do not deny that at all. I can recall two occasions in Queensland when the Labor Party was elected on gerrymandered boundaries when it ought not to have been elected. The fact of the matter is that under the system which exists at present we not only have a gerrymander federally but also, with the exception of Tasmania, we have gerrymandered boundaries in every State of the Commonwealth. Surely it is our function in this national Parliament to bring down a system of electoral law which will stand as an example to the States with their anachronistic legislative councils and their gerrymanders which, by some strange coincidence, are anti-Labor in every State with the exception of Tasmania.
I am indebted to my colleague, the honourable member for Forrest (Mr Kirwan), who has given me some up to date figures on the position in Western Australia. He points out that in the election for the Legislative Council held this year the Labor Party polled 50 per cent of the votes and gained 5 seats while the Liberal Party-Country Party coalition polled 35 per cent of the votes and gained 10 seats. We might refer to that, Mr Speaker, as Country Party democracy.
– It is guided democracy.
– Yes, it is guided democracy. If it happened in certain Other nations we would regard it as most reprehensible and we would be passing unanimous resolutions in this House about the situation.
Our Bill has achieved a certain purpose. As we know, the Government has introduced legislation of its own, but it does not go as far as we would like it to go. I will deal with that legislation in due course. In the legislation introduced by the Labor Party today there is a statement of principle. We believe in getting as close as we can to the principle of one vote one value. This does not mean that we do not recognise the disabilities of members who represent country areas. I make the point that my father was born in Killarney. At that time it was in the electorate of Darling Downs. It is now in the electorate of Mcpherson. I have a great number of relatives who come from Queensland country areas and with whom I am in constant touch. As the member for the inner city electorate of Brisbane, I completely reject the idea that I would be unresponsive to the needs of country people.
There are other ways to protect the interests of country people and the members who represent them than to gerrymander electorates. For example, we could give members representing these people better facilities for travelling around their electorates. We could give them access to charter flights. We recognise the disabilities under which members such as the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter), the honourable member for Grey (Mr Wallis), the honourable member for Darling (Mr Fitzpatrick), the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder), the honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Collard) and the honourable member for Leichhardt (Mr Fulton) operate.
Most of the electorates that I have named, I might add, are represented by members of the Australian Labor Party. One of the curious anomalies in the claim by the Country Party that it caters for people who live in these far distant areas is that the majority of people who live in these areas chose to be represented by members of the Australian Labor Party. The real crunch of the Country Party’s gerrymander, federally and in the States, comes in those areas where these conditions no longer apply. We see this position very much better if we consider the situation in Queensland at the moment where members of the Liberal Party, to their great credit, have crossed the floor of the Queensland Legislative Assembly to vote with the Australian Labor Party to secure a democratic redistribution in that State.
In addition to charter flights, these members could be provided with superior facilities in their electorates. I have mentioned the honourable member for the Northern Territory. He represents an electorate which has centres of population at either end of it but has fairly sparse population in the areas between those centres of population. Why should the honourable member for the Northern Territory not have an office in Darwin and an office in Alice Springs? Why should he not have better facilities to enable him to be a more effective representative of the people who, at this point in time, have chosen him as their representative?
There are many more ways to protect the interests of country people than to add an infinite number of acres or square miles to country electorates. The purpose of existing electoral legislation in Australia is to preserve Liberal Party-Country Party rule despite the wishes of the people, lt has been suggested that the Australian Labor Party would reduce the voice of country voters to a whisper. Let us look at the way in which a redistribution is carried out. I am indebted to my colleague aid neighbour in this House, the honourable member for Macquarie (Mr Luchetti). He has pointed out to me that, despite the fact that he represents a country electorate, he gained an additional 6,000 electors ii. the last redistribution. This increased the number of electors in Macquarie to in excess of 60,000.
– No. It increased the figure to 55,000. The number of electors has now risen to 60,000.
– The honourable member’s electorate has now increased in size to 60,000 electors whereas the average size of a Country Party electorate is 45,000 electors. Could it be that, notwithstanding the principles that the Minister for the Interior espoused in the Parliament, there is a different set of principles for country elec torates represented by Labor members than there is for country electorates represented by Country Party members.
We are told about the contribution made by rural workers. A point of view that was put to us in the past was that, because of the great contribution made by rural workers to the export earnings of this country and because of what they did for all Australians, they were entitled to a weighted electoral representation in this Parliament and in the State parliaments. The fact of the matter is that if we cared to apply the contemporary economic situation we could well argue that because the people who work in our cities and secondary industries are obliged to subsidise and to carry rural industries, at this point in time such representation for country areas should be reduced. I do not subscribe to that argument; the Labor Party does not subscribe to it. We want a democratic distribution of electors so that the people elect as the government the Party to which they give the majority of their votes. They have done this many times in the past but that Party has not achieved office.
Let us look at some of the things that have happened in the electoral sphere. I wish to deal not only with Federal matters but also with some contemporary matters in Queensland. I do believe that what we do here sets an example to the States. The figures that 1 will quote relate to the 1963 Federal elections. The Australian Labor Party polled 45.47 per cent of all votes cast and gained 50 seats. It took 49,783 votes to elect a Labor member. The Liberal Party polled 37.09 per cent of all votes cast and gained 52 seats. It took 39,054 votes to elect a Liberal member. The Country Party gained 8.9 per cent of the votes. At that time it represented 20 seals. It took 24,474 votes to elect a Country Party member. To elect a Country Party member to this Parliament required fewer than half the votes needed to elect a Labor Party member. I would like to translate this situation into Queensland, and I feel obliged to mention the things that have happened in Queensland because of the contribution made by my colleague, the honourable member for Bowman (Mr Keogh), on the adjournment debate last night and also some comments made by the right honourable member for Fisher (Mr Adermann). A similar position applied there. I will go back to 1963 to give some relevance to the political scene.
In Queensland in the election of that year the Labor Party polled 337,928 votes and gained 26 seats. It took 12,997 votes to elect a Labor member. The Liberal Party polled 183,185 votes and gained 20 seats. It took 9,159 votes to elect a Liberal member. The Country Party, which is the majority party in the coalition in Queensland, polled 156,621 votes and gained 26 seats, the same number as the Labor Party. It took 6,023 votes to elect a Country Party member of the Parliament. If this accords with the definition of democracy put forward by the Minister on behalf of his Government it is a little different from the kind of democracy espoused by the honourable member for Grayndler when he was quoting the words of Abraham Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln has gone down in history and is and will be well remembered when various Ministers of the Interior - and I do not speak unkindly of our recently appointed Minister for the Interior - may not be remembered quite so well.
The point at issue is that we want a more democratic society and a more democratic system of voting. We have asked for one vote one value or as close as we can get to that. The Labor Party has said that it realises the disabilities of members who represent country areas and would make special provision for them so that they might have a better opportunity to maintain contact with their electorates. I think there is common ground on both sides of the House on this question; 1 think the Parliament should give consideration to doing something to overcome the problems of members who represent these substantial outback areas. The Labor Party has never repudiated this idea. Why should it? The Labor Party represents the electorates of Kalgoorlie, Grey for most of the time, Kennedy, Darling and several others. The Labor Party has represented more than its share of these country electorates. The second proposition in this legislation is the question of a draw for position-
– I rise to order. The Labor Party does not represent the electorate of Kennedy.
– No-one does currently.
-Order.’ The interjection of the Leader of the Opposition was out of order but I would suggest to the honourable member for Kennedy that that was a frivolous point of order. There was a similar occurrence earlier this afternoon and I suggest that this type of interjection cease.
– Thank you, Mr Speaker. The point I was making is that most of the time this electorate is represented by a Labor member. The second point is that of a draw for position on the ballot paper. Why should a person have some electoral advantage because his name happens to begin with A, B or C? My colleague, the honourable member for Grayndler, whose name begins with D, and I, with a name beginning with C, can obviously be shown to be acting with high principle in this matter because we probably stand to lose as much as anybody in the House would lose under the system we suggest. But we all know that in recent times certain political parties, notably the so-called Democratic Labor Party, have chosen candidates with names which would put them ahead of a Labor candidate on the ballot paper in order that voters’ preferences may have been directed towards Government candidates. What we have suggested is just simple democracy.
The third proposition in our Bill is, of course, first past the post voting. I know that every government in office seeks to continue a system whereby its rule may be perpetuated and Labor governments have been no different from this Government in that regard. Naturally, all of us feel that our own political party has a unique contribution to make towards the welfare of the people of our country. But this Government has thrived on a system of preference voting over a number of years. What do we see as the follow-on from this system of Government? We inherited what was basically a two-party system, a system based on the Westminister or British form of government. Now we are seeing a gradual proliferation of minority groups. This Government was re-elected with the assistance of Democratic Labor Party preferences. It also gets preferences from other splinter groups. We have numerous small parties coming in now. This trend was particularly evident at the last election. People say that this is because a great number of electors are disillusioned with all the major parties but they do not realise that some of these problems are created by the system of government. Surely people are entitled to representation by the parties for which they vote, and that is the purpose behind this Bill.
Again I would like to go back to Queensland, if I may, to give some examples of electoral gerrymandering. The point was made by the right honourable member for Fisher last night that. Labor governments had previously gerrymandered the electoral boundaries. I do not dispute that. The Labor Party has laid before the people of Queensland a clear undertaking that this will not happen again. 1 suppose that will get some hollow laughs from Government supporters, but let us look at what has happened in Queensland in recent times. I propose to go back to 1932 and give the figures. I propose to deal with the percentage of votes recorded for the governing Parties. In 1932 Labor went into office under Forgan Smith and polled 49.89 per cent of the votes. In 1935 Labor polled 53.43 per cent of the votes, in 1938 it polled 47.17 per cent, in 1941 it polled 51.41 per cent, in 1944 it polled 44.67 per cent and in 1947, the low point for Labor in Queensland, the Labor Party polled 43.58 per cent of the votes whereas the Liberal and Country Parties polled 45.22 per cent of the votes. At that time the Labor Party should have gone out of office under a fair electoral system. In 1950 Labor polled 46.87 per cent of the votes, in 1953 it polled 53.21 per cent and in 1956 it polled 51.22 per cent of the votes. That is the dreadful record of Labor Party Government in Queensland as far as gerrymanders are concerned.
Let us look at the change which has taken place since the present Government came into office. In 1957 the Country Party-Liberal Party Coalition was elected with 43.22 per cent of the votes. In 1960 it was re-elected with 43.52 per cent of the votes under electoral gerrymanders that still stand. In 1963 they polled 44.06 per cent of the votes and in 1966 they got 44.4 per cent of the votes. I do not have the percentage for 1969, but it was marginally lower. The fact of the matter is that if we take the test of saying that a Government can reasonably, taking into account minority groups, expect to claim a mandate from the people when it has 45 per cent of the votes, over this whole period of Labor Party government in Queensland, with 2 exceptions only, the Labor Party met that standard, but on no occasion in the last 40 years of government in Queensland has the Country Party-Liberal Party Coalition Government met that standard. This is what the Bill is about. We want to wipe out the Federal electoral gerrymander. It is the purpose of my colleagues and some of the Liberal Party members in Queensland to wipe out the electoral gerrymanders in that State. We have put forward what we stand for. It is what we will give effect to in the legislature when we are elected to government and we are quite proud to make a clear and unambiguous statement to the people of Australia of the principles that underlie this Bill.
– Since the time allotted for the debate has almost expired I do not have much of a chance to enter into the discussion except to say that I am totally opposed to this Bill because it destroys all principles of democracy. The first past the post voting system, even on the figures given by the honourable member for Brisbane
-Order! The time allotted for consideration of the Bill has expired. The right honourable member for Fisher will have leave to continue his speech when the debate is resumed. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day under General Business for the next sitting.
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 seek the approval of the Parliament for the ratification by Australia of the Fourth International Tin Agreement. The Agreement was negotiated at a conference held in Geneva last year under the auspices of the United Nations Conference on Trade and
Development - UNCTAD - and it is the latest in a series of international tin agreements dating back to 19S6. Subject to the necessary ratification by governments, the Agreement will enter into force on 1st July 1971 for a period of 5 years. Copies of the new Agreement are available for honourable members. It is a complex document and it is my purpose today to concentrate on its more important provisions.
The primary objectives of the various international tin agreements have been to secure adequate supplies of tin at stable prices equitable to both importers and exporters. The price range within which the Agreement aims to stabilise the market price of tin is currently £Stgl,350 to £Stgl,650 per metric ton. It is adjusted periodically by agreement between the exporters and importers. These objectives are achieved by recourse to the mechanism of a buffer stock, financed by producing members, and supplementary controls over exports and stocks in producing countries, if required. The basic function of the buffer stock, which consists of the equivalent of 20,000 metric tons of tin metal, is to moderate short term price fluctuations due to temporary changes in market conditions. The supplementary export and stock controls are brought into operation only when the buffer stock is unable to achieve its purpose unaided. However, such controls have been imposed only once in the last 10 years. Governments participate in the Agreement either as producingexporting or consuming-importing members.
The major tin exporting countries are Malaysia, Bolivia, Thailand, Indonesia. Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo and all are members of the current Agreement. There are 19 consuming members of the current Agreement including Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Canada. These countries account for about 50 per cent of total tin consumption. Consumer membership is likely to be increased under the Fourth Agreement. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which is a substantial producer of tin but on balance a net importer, has signed the Agreement for the first time. The Federal Republic of Germany, the fifth largest consumer of tin, has also signed the new Agreement for the first time. The United States, which is the world’s largest con sumer of tin, is not a member. However, it has participated fully in the negotiations and has co-operated with the International Tin Council, especially on matters relating to releases from its present stockpile surplus.
For most of the post war period Australia has been a net importer of tin and has therefore participated in the three agreements to date as a consuming member. In recent years, however, there has been a significant expansion of production resulting from the development of largescale hard rock mining, especially in Tasmania. Today Australia is a net exporter of significant tonnages of tin and last year exports totalled 4,450 metric tons, valued at $12m, out of a total mine production of 8,850 metric tons. In world terms, Australian exports are small, accounting for only about 3 per cent of world trade. However, the Australian industry is an important sector of our minerals industry and is making a growing contribution to our earnings of foreign exchange. As a net exporter of tin, Australia will be required under the new Agreement to change its status from a consuming to a producing member. Accordingly, as a producing member, Australia will incur obligations relating to the buffer stock and export and stock controls.
Under the terms of earlier agreements, these obligations have been related to the volume of mine production. In the case of all producing members under these earlier agreements this basis of assessment has been quite reasonable because virtually all their production has been exported. However, in the case of Australia about onehalf of its production is consumed locally and the traditional approach, particularly in assessing our contribution to the buffer stock, would have created an anomaly. In these circumstances it was agreed that in the case of countries such as Australia an alternative basis of assessment related to exports rather than mine production should be used with respect to the determination of contributions to the buffer stock and export controls. On this basis, Australia’s contribution to the buffer stock will be about $1.6m, of which some $600,000 will be advanced on entry into force of the Agreement. Provision is made under the Agreement for buffer stock contributions to bc returned on termination of the Agreement, subject to any surplus or deficits resulting from the operation of the buffer stock. In earlier agreements a surplus equivalent to an average return of 6 per cent per annum has been realised.
I have already noted that under certain circumstances of excess supply, the International Tin Council may authorise export controls in order to supplement the operation of the buffer stock. Under these circumstances there is a provision under the Agreement for producing countries to observe a ceiling on their holdings of stocks. This is a complementary measure designed to avoid an excessive accumulation of stocks. However, in the case of Australia, our stockholding entitlement is equivalent to more than double the industry’s current normal stockholding and it is unlikely that in practice this obligation will pose any real difficulties for the Australian industry.
Australia’s participation in the Agreement has been consistent with our policies of supporting international co-operation in commodity marketing arrangements. We have, through membership of the Agreement, sought to co-operate with the main tin producing countries, all of which are developing countries and, in the case of Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, important regional neighbours. The Australian tin industry has consistently supported Australian membership of the International Tin Agreement and has derived considerable price benefits from the operation of successive agreements. Representatives of the tin industry and also the Australian Mining Industry Council participated at the Geneva conference and were consulted at all stages of the negotiations.
I am satisfied that the new Fourth International Tin Agreement provides an acceptable basis for Australia’s participation in the Agreement as a producing member and I believe that our continued membership of the Agreement should considerably enhance the commercial prospects of our small but expanding tin industry. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Crean) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 23 February (vide page 509), on the following paper presented by Mr Snedden:
Productivity and the community - Ministerial Statement, 23rd February 1971- and on the motion by Mr Kiilen:
That the House take note of the paper.
Suspension of Standing Orders
Motion (by Mr Swartz) - by leave - agreed to:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the honourable member for Hindmarsh speaking for a period not exceeding 45 minutes.
– The Opposition welcomes this opportunity to examine the Government’s bona fides on productivity and related questions. Government spokesmen have never been able to make up their minds on what is meant by ‘productivity’. It is no wonder that the general public does not understand what it means. Sometimes a Government spokesman will quote figures that relate productivity to the gross national product. Sometimes the figures relate to net national product. Sometimes these are quoted at constant prices. At other times, current prices are used. When counsel for the Government put the Commonwealth’s case to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in last year’s national wage case, he referred to ‘factor cost’. ‘Input-output productivity’ is yet another term used to describe the Government’s idea of what productivity’ means.
Does the Government treat these vague and contradictory definitions as interchangeable? No one knows! Least of all the new Treasurer (Mr Snedden), who in his statement as Minister for Labour and National Service, on 23rd February, further confused the whole question by giving yet another definition. His confusion became worse confounded with each uncertain step he took into his strange world of economic fantasy. To a future Liberal Treasurer, this was nothing new, but it was no excuse for giving the false impression that increased productivity automatically improves the living standards of all the people. It was no excuse for assuming that the existing division of gross national product as between labour and capital is ideal; or that real living standards can be gauged by counting the number of motor cars, television sets and telephones. One thing the new Treasurer has overlooked is that families are becoming more and more dependent upon working mothers, overtime, and upon breadwinners taking part time employment to supplement their normal wages.
The Treasurer made no mention of the fact that Department of Labour and National Service surveys of larger private factories show that the volume of overtime worked in 1969-70 was close to 11 per cent greater than in 1968-69. He appears to see no significance in the fact that over the 12 months to May 1970 the number of married women in the employed work force increased by no less than 9.8 per cent. Does he not understand that it is economic necessity alone that forces a wage or salary earner to allow the mother of his children to go to work while his family is still in need of her at home? No father and no mother does this except for the reason that present day costs of living, of housing, and of health and education render it impossible for the average family to live on the wage which the average worker receives.
The Government is fond of quoting the Commonwealth Statistician’s figures for average weekly earnings as though they represent the weekly earnings of an average worker. The present figure of average weekly earnings is $84.80, but this figure is arrived at by including the salaries of the Prime Minister, Ministers, Judges, senior public servants, Premiers and highly paid business executives. The figure gives a distorted picture of reality because 69 per cent of all wage and salary earners get less than the average weekly earnings. The simple fact is that, notwithstanding overtime and working mothers, families are still being forced to rely more and more upon finance companies to bridge the gap between income and the cost of living. Debts to finance companies have reached the staggering sum of $4, 165m. The Treasurer was simply not telling the truth when he said that we now enjoy greater social security. The truth is that the value of social services represents a smaller percen tage of average weekly earnings than it did 25 years ago; and it is falling each year.
The Treasurer began his speech by chiding the ordinary citizen for his lack of understanding of the word ‘productivity’. But by the time he finished his statement it was evident that the Treasurer himself knew little about the subject. He used the word ‘productivity’ 66 times without once saying how it is to be measured or recorded. Indeed, it is true to say that although the Government keeps bleating about ‘productivity’ and constantly condemns the Arbitration Commission for its refusal slavishly to follow Government directives about wages and productivity, it shows no real interest in the establishment of machinery for measuring and recording movements in the kind of productivity to which the Treasurer refers in his speech. According to his predecessor, the Government has not even bothered to issue official statistics of productivity per head of work force in various categories of industry since 1950. Ministers have said that the Commonwealth Statistician is still examining the desirability of compiling and publishing measures of change in productivity per unit of labour force at the level of major industries, groups of industries and gross national product. If the Government is honest about its professed concern for increased productivity and for establishing productivity-wage relativity there should be no room for debate on the desirability of compiling meaningful statistics on productivity. Without statistics of this kind, how can the Government, the Arbitration Commission, the trade unions or employers ever know whether labour is getting its fair share of increased productivity?
Other countries have found ways for measuring and recording many productivity factors which Australia has not even attempted. I gave notice of no less than 26 questions to the present Treasurer seeking information of what is reported to be the position in other countries. He demonstrated his lack of interest in the subject by refusing to give either an affirmative or negative reply to the first of those questions; and then answered the other 25 questions by referring me to his first evasion. And this, mark you, comes from a Government which pretends to be concerned with productivity trends. It is just not true to say, as Ministers claim, that tables on input-output productivity cannot be produced in Australia. A few weeks ago the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics did, in fact, prepare a set of such tables. But they were 8 years out of date by the time they were published - in preliminary form. The tables did, however, cover more than 100 industries. They were in a detailed form and could have been made to give even more detail. The more detailed such tables are, the more useful they are for forecasting, planning and policy making. Since input-output tables provide this detailed information not only for one industry, but for all industries, inputoutput tables represent a fully integrated and internally consistent information system on the cost and output structure of each industry, and of the economy.
The unique information provided in the tables on the flow of goods and services in the economy, together with their ability to show the inter-industry and inter-sector effects of specific changes in economic policy, mean that the tables can be used for national planning of either the directive or indicative type. They can be used to set targets of growth, productivity or employment. What is more, they can be made to serve as a basis for the sound formulation of social and welfare policies. And they can also be used to assist unions to negotiate productivity agreements. In short, they provide the basis for proper planning which every modern country except Australia believes fundamental. The wealth of information provided by such tables, together with the sophisticated techniques of input-output analysis which are now available, make these tables an essential economic tool for any government which wishes to pursue a positive approach in the field of economic and social policy.
Why has this Government neglected these statistics? Why, in the face of such neglect, does it go on talking about compelling the Arbitration Commission to fix wages according to productivity? The answer must be that the Government is either incompetent or just plain dishonest. The Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) can take his pick. 1 say both. Instead of acting as other countries have done, the Government prefers to let the economy drift with the rising tide of inflation, rather than attempt proper methods of direction. It is prepared to strike at the living standards of 4i million wage and salary earners, but it will do nothing to control the price of things that employers have to sell. No wonder Mr Hawke, the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, has accused the Government of using double standards for dealing with inflation.
Who led the opposition to Sir Garfield Barwick’s original Bill to control restrictive trade practices involving resale price maintenance? The present Prime Minister. Who won the Cabinet battle to have that provision excluded from that Bill? The present Prime Minister. Who has most consistently supported increased interest charges? Again, the present Prime Minister. Who torpedoed Sir Arthur Fadden’s excess profits tax in 1951? The present Prime Minister. And, finally, let this Parliament compare the double standards used by the Prime Minister when considering current demands by the Australian Medical Association for a 15 per cent increase for general practitioners, with his intemperate condemnation of the 6 per cent wage increase awarded to wage and salary earners in the national wage case. (Quorum formed.)
Again I ask: Why has the Government refused to match its ministerial speeches with ministerial action? I do not intend to leave the question of productivity indexes without probing more deeply into the Government’s failure to act in the matter. I know that the Commonwealth Statistician once stated his intention to publish inputoutput tables for 1968-69. I know also that work on these tables has been suspended at the planning stage and may even be abandoned altogether. This is partly due to reductions which have been made in the budget of the Bureau of Census and Statistics as part of the present Public Service austerity programme, but it is also due to the low priority placed on this work by the Bureau, despite repeated requests by organisations such as the Tariff Board. The Board needs up to date input-output information to help it assess the effects of protection on employment, output, etc.
In spite of its professed interest in productivity, the Australian Government’s attitude to input-output data is in complete contrast with the attitude of most overseas countries. The Treasurer, in refusing to answer 26 of my questions on the factgathering activities of other countries, shows that he just does not care what happens in other countries. All he wants to do is to tranquilise the Australian puNic with his appearances on Australian television in which he always attempts, I think, a poor imitation of Sir Robert Menzies. The Japanese Government, which makes extensive use of input-output data, has a permanent staff of 20 economists and a part-time staff of 30 people and 10 programmers working on input-output tables. This compares with a staff of 4 or 5 in Australia. Other nations making extensive use of up to date input-output tables are the Scandinavian countries. This is particularly true of Norway, which maintains standing input-output tables on computers. Holland, the United States and Czechoslovakia are just some of the other countries that do likewise.
I cannot say for certain whether the Government’s apparent lethargy is actually due to its incompetence or dishonesty, or both. It may be due to the fear of embarrassment that answers on productivity tables may give. These answers may prove beyond all doubt that if the Arbitration Commission were to have proper regard to productivity trends, in conjunction with trends in prices, it would need to award much higher wages to ensure that a proper share of Australia’s $30,000m national cake goes to the 4i million employees who provide the labour needed to produce it. Why, in fact, was the former Minister for Labour and National Service so slow, and so shy, about giving straight answers to so many of the questions that I have placed on the notice paper, except for the embarrassment which the truth would bring? There is considerable evidence to support the view that the Government is opposed to granting real and meaningful incentives for greater productivity because on 17th February 1971 the Treasurer gave a reply to one question in which he openly stated that increased production in a particular industry would not justify wage increases in that industry. Perhaps this explains the Government’s refusal to support the current wage claims of coal miners whose productivity has risen by 261 per cent in the last 10 years. In his statement, the Treasurer said:
Out of all this discussion and consideration, one conclusion has become abundantly cleat, that is, it is at the level of each single enterprise that a concern for productivity is most critical if the national total is to be improved.
But having stressed the importance of lifting productivity in individual enterprises, the Treasurer goes on to stress that wage benefits from such productivity trends should be confined to increases reflected through the national wage cases. How can there be any real incentive to the employees of one factory, or even a whole industry, say, the coal mining industry, if they are to receive only their share of their own productivity after it has been spread over the full 4i million employees affected by the national wage case? Wage relativity with productivity is not quite as simple as Government statements might suggest. There are some who will say that once we solve the problem of recording productivity, the Arbitration Commission will need only to apportion the gross national product justly between labour and capital and then devise a formula for the automatic allocation of prospective increases in productivity. At first glance, this may appear a feasible, or perhaps perfect, solution for ensuring that both labour and capital will always receive their just share of productivity. A closer look at the proposition, however, shows that on its own, the proposal would do very little to equate money wages to real wages. While profits remain uncontrolled, price increases will always outstrip wage increases. For these reasons, control over prices, restrictive trade practices and excessive tariffs, is elementary if a cure is to be found for the present economic instability. To cry out for increased productivity while increased prices are permitted to erode the wage benefit that may follow increased productivity is only beating the air. However, given proper control over prices, interest charges, etc. the Arbitration Commission could fix national minima in wages and conditions, and in this way establish a fair starting point for over-award agreements in those industries able to pay above the minima fixed by the Commission.
I have already made the point that a national wage based upon the gross national product must rest upon a proper ratio first being determined between labour and capital. If the ratio is fixed at a percentage of the GNP which enables the most inefficient or uneconomical industry to survive, we must, of necessity, finish up with a wage that is too low if one has regard for productivity potential in the more advanced sectors of industry. One alternative is to tie the national wage to the maximum wage capacity of the more efficient industries, and allow industries that are either uneconomical or inefficient to be phased out of existence. Few people however, would want a wage policy that would put hundreds of thousands of employees out of work. Therefore, it seems proper that if a wage level is to be set within the maximum wage capacity of the less prosperous industries, it is only proper that the Arbitration Commission should be given full power to encourage industrial agreements for over-award wages and conditions in industries that oan well afford to pay above the minima set by the Commission.
Industrial agreements can provide tremendous potential for peace in industry. 1 know, because 1 was a full time official of the Australian Workers’ Union for more than 10 years. During the period that I was secretary and court advocate for the biggest union in South Australia I negotiated scores of industrial agreements for over-award wages and conditions. In this way I was able to do 2 things: I was able to secure better terms of employment for my members than were obtainable from the court and I was able to give to employers the kind of guarantee against strikes which no court could give. It is my proud boast that during the whole of my term of office as the administrative head of the AWU in South Australia, not a single man-hour was lost on account of an industrial dispute in any of the industries covered by an industrial agreement. One thing is vital to the success of the industrial agreement system of settling disputes. That is a close liaison between the negotiating officials and the rank and file members of the union affected by the agreement. Where there is bureaucratic control of a union this requirement is impossible. The rank and file cannot be blamed for repudiating a bad agreement. Sometimes these sweetheart agreements are made for the sole purpose of forcing employees at a particular job to join one union rather than another.
I would like to support what I have just said about the need for rank and file approval of industrial agreements by quot ing from a paper prepared by Dr W. A. Howard and Dr P. A. Riach, senior lecturers in Economics at the Monash University, and read to the 1970 conference of the Royal Institute of Public Administration. The paper referred to the current agreement between the Seamen’s Union of Australia and Associated Steamships Pty Ltd and went on to say:
The company gives much of the credit for the successful negotiation to the leadership of the Seamen’s Union, contending that agreement would not have been possible had any other union been involved …
Much of (he union’s reputation for strictly observing agreements reached, stems from the leadership policy of consulting and informing ils membership al all stages of negotiation, and of never committing its members to policies they have nol previously endorsed.
The future may find a need for the Arbitration Commission to arbitrate overaward rates between unions and prosperous employers. If so, it should feel uninhibited by the fact that the settlement of a particular wage dispute might call for a higher minimum than that fixed for industry generally. This will be a dramatic departure from the practice which has always been observed throughout the whole history of arbitration in Australia. So what? We are living in a new era. The past has gone, and the present demands a new relationship between labour and capital, a relationship which can be made profitable for both by giving to each nothing less than justice. Organised labour must be convinced that its members are not being cheated in the drive for increased productivity. Perhaps the ideal way for sharing increased productivity is to (i) reduce prices - thus passing on to the general public some of the benefit; (ii) increase wages - thus providing an incentive for continued employeremployee co-operation; and (iii) allow some increase in profit - thus giving the necessary encouragement to management for increased capital investment. One proposal being considered by the Labor Party’s advisers, and which appears likely to be accepted, would be to grant a taxation exemption on income derived from increased productivity, conditional upon part of the profit being set aside for increased wages and specified price reductions.
Wise employers recognise the rich rewards that come from establishing amicable relations with organised labour.
Industrial agreements for the sharing of productivity in return for industrial peace place an employer at a decided advantage over his competitor. He can plan his costing in the certain knowledge that expensive machinery will not become idle through industrial disputes. The procedure for enforcing agreements would be part of. the agreement itself and thereafter enforceable by the court. But only those penalties, if any, as might be agreed upon at the time of the agreement could be imposed upon the parties by a court. While it is true that the general policy of the trade union movement is resolutely opposed to the penal provisions of the Arbitration Act, I know of no trade union official who would not honour an industrial agreement which incorporated benefits not obtainable from the Commission. Mr Hawke has publicly declared that the Australian Council of Trade Unions will see that any agreement made under the auspices is honoured. Mr Ray Gietzelt, who is Federal Secretary of the third largest union in the country, has always honoured the many agreements that have been made between the Miscellaneous Workers’ Union and the various employers with whom he deals. The imposition of agreed penalties for breach of an agreement voluntarily made by a union with the endorsement of its members affected, is an entirely different proposition from a penalty of $500 a day for refusing to accept wage rates arbitrarily imposed upon a union by the Arbitration Commission.
If over-award payments assist to maintain industrial peace or in increasing productivity nothing ought to be done to discourage agreements of this kind. The Government’s opposition to these kinds of arrangements is mainly responsible for most of today’s unrest. When the imposition of fines actually creates disputes instead of settling them it becomes the duty of responsible government to see that fines are not imposed or collected. If it can be accepted that one of the prime aims of government is to improve industrial relations, the enforcement of a bad law merely for enforcement sake is quite irrelevant and, at the same time, most harmful to the economy and national unity. I know that I could bring peace to industry in this country because I know that the trade union movement is not irresponsible or unreasonable. All that it wants is a fair go. It is not getting that now! Associated Steamships Pty Ltd is among the thousands of employers who will testify to this. But the task of maintaining amity between reasonable employers and reasonable trade unions is made difficult when the Government and unreasonable employers combine to provoke disharmony for the crudest political motives. Is it to be confrontation or co-operation? By its crude, cynical methods this Government will only succeed in uniting the Labor movement - that is, the whole work-force of Australia, blue collar, white-collar, industrial workers, and professional workers - in a way it has not been united since 1929.
The Government’s decision to collect outstanding fines could lead to a 24-hour general stoppage costing the community $100m each time each fine is collected. Such a proposition, however, may appeal to the Prime Minister as an ideal way of creating the kind of political climate in which an election may be fought with political advantage to the Government. Such reckless irresponsibility and blatant political opportunism as this will backfire on the Government because the public will be intelligent enough to realise that an election fought in such a climate will resolve nothing. The Government has made the mistake of telegraphing its political punches. If the Government can win the next election the law will remain the same after the election as it is now and the ACTU’s resolve to resist to the utmost this pernicious law will remain the same. A law that cannot command the general acceptance of the community is a bad law and should be replaced by a law that is acceptable. A Labor government will do that. It will reform the industrial laws of this country in such a way as to bring order in place of the chaotic condition that now exists between labour and capital.
I would like to see the establishment of conciliation committees so that face to face frankness can take the place of the synthetic antagonisms generated by lawyers under today’s legalistic system. Now that the judicial powers of the old Arbitration Court have been separated from the arbitral functions of the Commission, the creation of conciliation committees are probably within the power of the Parliament. If they are not within that power, it only strengthens the Labor Party’s claim that a sensible solution of disputes between employer and employee cannot be finally and fully achieved without amending the Constitution. A Labor government will, therefore, hold a referendum to seek approval from the Australian people for the removal of the anomalies and ridiculous restrictions inherent in today’s horse and buggy constitutional powers to settle industrial disputes. The Government is constantly blaming the Arbitration Commission for the present inflationary situation, thus showing that it is unable to distinguish between cause and effect. The very need for increased wages is itself the direct effect of inflation - not the cause of it. No government has the right to transfer its economic responsibilities to the Arbitration Commission in order to escape the political backlash of unpopular political action. The position was well put by officers of the ACTU when they said:
Any attempt by the Government to throw the blame for inflation on to the Arbitration Commission and wage and salary earners is a barren abdication of responsibility.
The Government has openly stated its intention to strip the Arbitration Commission of its independence and to convert it into a subservient government agency for implementing unpopular government policy. The Prime Minister talks of percentage increases as though percentages of different totals can be identical in money terms. He forgets, or does not know, that a 10 per cent increase in last year’s GNP would amount to $3,015m, whereas a 10 per cent increase in last year’s total wages bill would come to only $l,554m. The difference between the 2 figures will, in the main, be taken up in gross profits.
Out of last year’s GNP of $30, 153m, only $ 1 5,549m went to the 4i million Australian employees. Surely the Government does not expect that these wage and salary earners, whose numbers are now increasing at the rate of 191,000 every year, will remain satisfied with a constant share of about half the national cake, while the balance of the workforce share the other half. Repressive laws and heavy fines will not stop industrial unrest while this injustice remains.
Before leaving the Government’s proposal to nobble the Commission, let me just remind the Prime Minister that there exists in this country a thing known as the Con stitution. It is the linchpin of all Commonwealth law. Remove it, and the whole structure of Commonwealth law will collapse. I mention the matter because the Prime Minister’s proposal for amending the Conciliation and Arbitration Act in such a way as to compel the Commission to place economic questions above its constitutional obligations is fraught with very serious consequences. Some of these could affect the very fabric of Australian society. The constitutional role of the Commission was perhaps best stated by its President, Sir Richard Kirby, in the 1965 national wage case, when he said that whilst price stability for the community at large should be considered - and I now quote him exactly - ‘to give it dominance rather than influence as one factor to be considered is not only wrong policy, but also something this Commission was not created to do, should not do, and has not the competence or power to do’.
When the prevention or settlement of an industrial dispute calls for an increase in wages, the Commission must not be prevented from so acting. I have already shown that in fixing national minima, the Commission tends to have regard to maximum wage paying capacity of the less efficient industries. I have shown how prosperous employers tend to treat these minima as the maximum for their particular industries. I have expressed the view that if the Commission is going to fix general standards at levels needed to preserve inefficient industries, it must be prepared to consider over-minimum rates for industries whose prosperity is above the norm. It is worth mentioning also that most of the unpaid fines which the Government now proposes to collect from unions, followed the Commission’s deliberate and unsuccessful attempt to convert minimum wage rates into maximum rates. The Prime Minister’s fixation against over-award payments is a clear manifestation of his desire to make the minimum wage payable by the poorest employer the maximum wage that will be paid by the richest employer. This is not the kind of approach that will excite the interest of labour in plans for lifting productivity.
I turn again to the Treasurer’s productivity statement. He asked: ‘How do we explain to the community that the absence from work amounts to the reduction of the nation’s workforce by 200,000 persons?’ For a start, his figure is a gross distortion of avoidable loss. It is nothing like 200,000 man-years. But distortions apart, the explanation for the loss due to labour disputes is simple. The cause lies in the unfair distribution of GNP, the failure of wage rates to keep pace with prices and, of almost equal importance, the inadequacy of the law to cope with non-wage disputes. Statistics for 1970 are not yet available, but in 1969, about 750,000 man-days were lost in protest strikes against strike penalties. Strikes concerning victimisation, union demarcation, and managerial policy accounted for the loss of 510,000 mandays, and disputes over wages, hours and leave, caused the loss of 666,000 mandays. Not all of these losses could have been avoided it is true, but a majority of them could have been eliminated but for serious defects in the law. Let me take, for example, the victimisation of unionists and of union delegates which is a cause of such tremendous friction and of such enormous loss of working time. It is now 1 1 years since the Industrial Court revealed the serious defect in the section of the Act, which is designed to give protection against victimisation. I wrote to the Treasurer on this defect, and I raised the matter in the Parliament. During last year alone, I asked no less than 7 questions on the subject. The Treasurer’s first reply dodged the issue, and most of his other answers merely directed my attention to his first reply. In a letter I received from the Treasurer last year, he promised to deal with the question when the Act was amended a few months’ later, but when the Act was amended a few months later no mention whatever was made of the matter.
My several questions relating to defects in the law affecting union demarcation, have been met by the Treasurer’s usual attitude of lofty indifference to industrial law reform. We now have the absurd situation that if a demarcation dispute arises between a State union and a member of the State branch of a federal union, neither the Commonwealth Commission nor the State tribunal has any power to make a binding order for settlement. Ever since the Menzies Government amended the Act in 1951, trade unions have complained about the highly legalistic nature of arbi tration procedures. The complaints have been ignored. But when the Commission refused to be intimidated in the last national wage case by the public utterances of Liberal Party Ministers, Government spokesmen then began to echo the union’s complaint about the excess legalism of the arbitration system; Government spokesmen even went to the point of declaring support for the appointment of non-lawyers to the bench of the Arbitration Commission. However, on 16th February this year, in a reply that had apparently been prepared before the national wage decision was known, the Treasurer demonstrated his Government’s ambivalence to most industrial questions by actually stating an opposite view to the one expressed by the then Prime Minister after the national wage case. He said that the proposal to appoint an economist to the bench had been considered by the Government on several occasions but the Government had not seen fit to adopt it.
Harmonious industrial relations demand that those who make and administer the industrial laws, possess a deep understanding of the causes of industrial unrest. The real cause of today’s unhealthy condition can be sheeted home to the Government’s failure to comprehend the elementary principles of industrial peace. A Labor government would bring to the industrial arena an expertise which has been lacking for more than a generation. Labor could, and would, secure the support of organised labour - blue collar, white collar and professional - in hammering out a new approach that would eliminate avoidable stoppages, develop better understanding between labour and capital, and lift production to the level that will be necessary if we are to compete with the rest of the world. We have not got a lot of time. The seventies will decide whether this country sinks or swims. All sections must be brought together before it is too late. Yet this Government wishes deliberately to divide the Australian people.
It is when the many are cheated by the few that kingdoms fall and empires collapse. The present state of affairs in Australia is but the first symptom of the disaster that will overtake our country unless we act now. Incentive must come from the top. Managing directors who regularly set aside 2 working afternoons for golf each week have no moral right to call upon their employees for greater productivity.
Many of our less profitable industries could be made more profitable if management were more efficient. But why bother to buy the latest machinery when an approach to the Tariff Board will obviate the need for greater efficiency and capital outlay? We will never get the best results from our resources of manpower and capital while this mentality persists. The battle for increased productivity cannot be won at the workbench while there is slackness at the level of management.
Increasing productivity and the sharing of productivity is one question. They are not, as the Treasurer suggests, 2 separate questions. He talked a lot about increasing productivity but said nothing about the way it should be shared. Instead he devoted the whole of his speech to a thesis aimed at merely maintaining the status quo. But the status quo is not good enough. The number of employees in the workforce is increasing at the rate of 3.7 per cent a year and in 3 years’ time, will be about one million more than it was 3 years ago. Yet this increase in the total number of employees will still have to be satisfied with the same share of the national cake as the very much smaller number of employees received 10 years ago.
In fact, not only is the total number of employees increasing rapidly, but, according to the Australian Economic Review of December last year, the estimated proportion of the work force classed as employees receiving wages or salaries since 1955- 56 has moved up from 89.6 per cent to 91 per cent. Increased productivity and increased growth are all very well. The Australian Labor Party is in favour of growth too. But growth is not everything, as the Americans and Japanese, for example, are finding out. Pollution increases the gross national product but hardly makes society better off. Some American economists now sometimes scornfully refer to gross national product as gross national pollution. We ignore the wise remarks of the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, Sir Garfield Barwick, at our peril. We ignore them at the risk of the very fabric of the earth on which we live. Sir Garfield was talking to a Conference of
Engineers on 22nd March 1971, and he said:
It is no exaggeration to say that travelling at its present accelerating rate, pollution as the product direct or indirect of industry threatens the basic life-support of this planet.
Sir Garfield went on to declare that GNP had become an hypotic index by which we believed progress could be measured. Thoughtful people should ponder those words. The Prime Minister cannot sidetrack the issue of how to share the GNP we already have. Too much of the national cake is now going to too few, leaving some 4½ million employees to live on the balance. The Government is blatantly and unashamedly a government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich. I do not overlook the need for maintaining a proper growth rate. At the same time, it is not in the best interests of our nation to stifle growth rate in the public sector by permitting excessive growth in the private sector. Many of Australia’s most urgent needs are in the fields of education, health and public welfare, urban development, and financial assistance to underdeveloped countries. Wage and salary earners would not mind yielding some of the GNP now denied them, in order to meet additional expenditure in these areas of the public sector.
The Australian work force wants, and must be given, better educational opportunities for its youth. It wants, and must be given, a better health plan for its sick; and it wants, and must be given, greater social security and dignity for those who are sick or too old to work. For these benefits, the Australian work force is willing to forego some of that share of the national cake which is now consumed in profits. The Treasurer, however, was right when he drew attention to the fact that the incidence of industrial accidents is such as to equal the loss of 17,000 man-years from the work force. Sir William Hudson, Chairman of the National Safety Council puts the total production cost of industrial accidents at $ 1,000m a year. What could be more harmful to our. productive potential than this. This is surely one field in which the Government could have shown much greater interest than it has done. In point of fact, the Government has not even bothered to compile statistics on the incidence and cause of industrial accidents in the Australian Capital Territory. Neither has it made use of its statistical powers to collate such material in respect of the various States. Even the inter-departmental statistics concerning the Commonwealth’s own employees were withheld from the Parliament when I asked a question on this subject last year. There can be no national remedy for this national problem until we first of all get a government that will pinpoint the causes of industrial accidents.
The whole question of personal injury from road accidents as well as industrial accidents is one that needs deep and detailed study. The Government remains quite unmoved by the fact that nearly $300m of the GNP is spent each year in paying for insurance premiums for only partial coverage of earnings lost by persons suffering personal injuries in these kinds of accidents. Something like 33 per cent of all premiums on workers’ compensation insurance is swallowed up in administrative costs and profits. This is sheer waste. A centrally administered insurance scheme could be administered for only 9 per cent. These are not the only examples of lost opportunities for lifting the level of productivity. Why, for example, are we allowing the private sector to export iron ore instead of first converting it into ingots, or at least, pig iron? Why are we permitting foreign countries to reap the productivity potential that comes from the full process of converting Australian bauxite into aluminium products? There is no better oportunity for increasing input-output productivity than in the field of mineral conversion. If the private sector will not act in this area, the Commonwealth should help the Government of Western Australia and Queensland to do so.
Reference has been made to the Productivity Promotion Council of Australia. This is a body with great potential and deserves every encouragement - especially if it can convert antagonists into becoming protagonists in a common goal that will bring immediate benefits to labour as well as long-term benefits to managements. I have discussed the aims of the Council with its Chairman. Mr Eric Dunshea, and I am in accord with his view that productivity incentive must come from the top. (Extention of time granted.) His own example in dedication to duty within the Dunlop conglomerate, is one that many other top executives could well emulate. Mr Dunshea, I think, may have influenced the Government on the need for the retrain ing, and if need be, the relocation of workers who have become redundant as a consequence of technological changes in industry. In turn, I know that Mr Dunshea was greatly influenced by an address he once heard delivered by the Federal Secretary of the Waterside Workers’ Federation, Mr Charlie Fitzgibbon, on the subject of containerisation. The Government deserves credit for having at long last taken the first timid step towards the re-training of redundant workers.
This particular case demonstrates the advantages that come from the frank and friendly exchange of views. It shows that it is always possible to catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. If we are to allay the Luddite-like fears responsible for some of the union opposition to technological change, we must convince management of the need for prior notice and discussion with the unions concerned, whenever important changes are contemplated in production. Reasonable severance pay should be given to workers displaced, and. the Government should assume the responsibility for their retraining and relocation. If there had been proper discussions with the union prior to the introduction of one-man operated double-decker buses in Sydney a few days ago, that dispute may not have occurred. It is crass stupidity for management to spend huge sums of money for the introduction of new techniques and to wait until the new machinery is installed before bothering to discuss the matter with the unions concerned. It may not be a bad idea for the Department of Labour and National Service to meet the cost of sending union representatives overseas to study the new techniques of other countries, and to discuss these techniques with their union counterparts in those countries before a company commits itself to the cost of very expensive new plant. It is just as damaging to good industrial relations for unions to be oblivious of real dangers to working standards as it is for them to foster false fears of disadvantages that may never eventuate.
Just as it is vital to develop frankness between management and labour, it is equally important to have frankness between the Government and the Parliament. This Government has not shown the frankness in debate and in answering questions that it should have done. It has behaved as though neither the Parliament, nor the Press, nor the general public, has any Tight to know more than the bare essentials of the real state of the nation. Let us always remember that we are members of a Parliament that is democratically elected to act in the best interests of the majority of all Australians. We are not members of the Maffia or some such oathbound secret society in which only the leading gangster can know the secret codes.
When I say that much of this speech is based upon information grudgingly given, and sometimes upon information wilfully suppressed by the present Treasurer in answer to questions that I have placed on notice, the Prime Minister will realise that be was sadly mistaken when he told the Parliament on 17th March that the information sought by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitiam) and me could be of no practical use to anyone. A refusal to answer a question is sometimes more significant than if a straightforward reply is given, because it usually means that the truth is too damaging to reveal. An honest government has no need to conceal the facts, and an honest Minister has no need to fear being pinned down on specific points. It is no answer to pretend that the unanswered questions call for involved and expensive research. A Fourth Division clerk could answer question No. 1907 which has been on the notice paper every sitting day since 24th September 1970. I refuse to believe that between them, the permanent head of the Department of Labour and National Service, his 13 Second Division officers and 600 Third Division officers do not know that the answer to that question is a simple yes. A senior officer who could not give a correct offthecuff answer to that question should not be retained in the Department. But when a Minister directs officers of his department to withhold information from the Parliament, for the reason that the truth would embarrass the Government, we have an even more serious situation on our hands - especially when he has the support of the Prime Minister himself.
Let there be no misunderstanding about the nature of questions on notice. Such do not concern the questioner alone, for once a member places a question on the notice paper of the Parliament, that question, and the answer to that question, become the property of the whole Parliament. One member will not ask a question if another member already has the question on the notice paper. The whole Parliament is entitled to an answer to each and every question that appears on the public notice paper. To evade a question or to refuse to answer a question, or to give an incorrect or inadequate answer, is to cheat not only the particular member who asked the question, but to cheat the Parliament itself. Indeed, a Minister who cheats the Parliament is cheating the public and is, therefore, unfit for public office. I now propose to quote the text of a minute, which I believe was cleared by the Treasurer when he was Minister for Labour and National Service, for circulation in his Department last year. The text, which was signed by a senior officer, reads as follows:
Mr C. R. Cameron, M.P., who has now placed about 70 questions on the House of Representatives Notice Paper addressed to our Minister, has adopted the tactic when a question is answered of placing a further question on notice seeking to obtain further information in relation to the original question. His apparent objective is to pin the Minister down to specific points.
The minute then goes on to explain standing orders 145 and 146 of the House of Representatives, and continues:
Mr Cameron is apparently well aware of standing order 146 because in most cases in asking a further question he avoids a specific reference to the earlier one. However, I would suggest that, in all appropriate cases, in future where Mr Cameron asks a further question seeking amplified information the reply from the Minister should be I have nothing to add to my answer to the honourable member’s question number ( )….’
I will say nothing, at this stage, about the rest of the minute. That will keep for another day. But here we have an open contempt of the Parliament. I repeat: No person can show contempt for the rights and privileges of one member of the Parliament without at the same time heaping contempt upon the rights and privileges of every member. Moreover, it is equally correct to say that parliamentary rights are inseverable from the rights of the whole of the Australian people. At the appropriate time I shall have something more to say on this incident.
Finally, I want to make this point: The Liberal Party has now ruled this country continuously for the past 21 years. For 21 years it has made the laws, and for 21 years it has administered the laws without let or hindrance. Sf the law is bad it is because this Government is bad. If there is industrial chaos, the fault lies with this Government. If productivity is down, it is because this Government has proved itself incapable of getting better results. If the share of the gross national product which goes to the 4.5 million wage and salary earners is too low, it is because this Government has allowed too big a share to go to non-employees. And, if the spiral of inflation has got out of hand, it is because this Government has failed to govern the factors that cause inflation. Indeed, whatever is wrong in this country today is due to the failures of the party that has governed Australia continuously for the past 21 years. These wrongs cannot be remedied except by throwing out of office the government that has presided over their occurrence.
Acrimony between labour and management is at an all-time high and is growing with each month that passes. The Government’s decisions to collect fines imposed under an unjust and unacceptable law will only exacerbate the present situation. For all these reasons, I am now thoroughly convinced, as I am sure thinking members of the Parliament must be convinced, that this country cannot carry the dead weight of McMahonism for another 18 months. Australia needs a new government now - a government that can unite management and workers of this country, a government that can work with the people, not against them, for prosperity for all with justice to all. lt needs a Labor government.
– The marathon tirade to which we have just listened and which was read at a great rate into Hansard by the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) for almost an hour must surely be an aggregate of the best that the honourable member has said in his every speech. Of course, he ended up on a highly political note which had in it implications of maintaining that in this free community the Government alone should by laws provide for greater productivity. The fallacy of that argument is shown in attempts by law to increase productivity in Communist and other centrally planned economies. What the honourable member was asking for was for much greater government control. The statement which was made on 23rd February by the former Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Snedden) shows in a short, lucid way the problems of productivity to this nation and certain practical approaches. It is not a one-sided document but a fair appreciation, as any thinking person can see. The Minister points to the benefits to all in this community in building up greater wealth that can be shared by every individual in the community and which can enable the nation to take its place in the world. We must, to use his words: ‘Get on with the job of increasing the whole’.
I put it to the House that the activities of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and Mr Hawke, particularly in recent times, do not inspire confidence that the interests of trade unions or of this country will be properly pursued. When people try to say that their purchasing power has diminished, I point out that there are ample statistics to show that steady increases in real wages are taking place. In his statement the Minister has referred to some of those. What is important about the Minister’s statement is that it reveals that wages best increase through an increase in productivity. Productivity is a different concept from production. Production is the volume of goods and services obtained without counting what resources were used up; that is, what it cost. Productivity is output related to what is used up in man hours, machine time, materials and so forth. To improve productivity in the individual enterprise is to reduce the unit cost of production and hence to affect the lowest price . at which goods and services can be sold. I think a particularly valuable part of the Minister’s statement on productivity is this:
Out of all this discussion and consideration, one conclusion has become abundantly clear. That is, it is at the level of each single enterprise that a concern for productivity is most critical if the national total is to be improved. Society derives its strength from the performance of each individual industrial or commercial unit. It is at the level of the individual establishment that our productivity is determined.
Whatever other factors may affect prices - for example, indirect taxes - the fact remains that the higher the level of productivity the lower the price possible for goods and services and the more wages and salaries will buy in real terms. The productivity concept is far reaching. Put more simply this means using humans and materials in the most economic efficient way. The level of productivity thus affects what we obtain for expenditure on education, health, social services, defence and so on.
The former Minister for Labour and National Service stated that there were 3 basic questions concerning productivity improvement and described the contribution that the Department was making. He referred particularly to the productivity group movement and the Productivity Promotion Council. I think the most significant thing in what the Minister described was the way in which the Department of Labour and National Service is involving the business community in productivity action through the establishment of productivity groups numbering 183 and representing some 3700 firms. It is regrettable that the trade union movement has not involved itself in this and similar actions.
The honourable member for Hindmarsh is a Labor Party front bench member and Labor’s spokesman on industrial relations. It was pleasing to hear in his long address on many subjects, few of which had much to do with productivity, at least some reference to productivity, because I took the trouble to search an earlier speech of his to see what references he had made to this subject. All I could find was about a 30- second reference in a speech he made in the House last September in which he said among other things:
Many union leaders have in return offered to cooperate with management further to increase productivity provided labour shares in the benefits.
And again he said:
For years now the Government, employers and the public media have been calling for some productivity wage relativity. Union leaders in that time have been demanding a greater share of the increased productivity which technological advance has already made possible.
I submit that the share in productivity has already been achieved and more, because wages are ahead of the increase in productivity which has taken place in this country so far. But the inference which can be drawn from those remarks of the honourable member for Hindmarsh and from his speech delivered here this afternoon is that the trade union movement and he as spokesman for the Labor Party will not assist in improving productivity in this country. He talks of cheating and of prices control. We have come to expect him to make harsh criticisms of the Government, which he has done, using such overblown language as the Government being ‘crude’ and ‘cynical’. But his whole approach is negative. He exemplifies, I believe at its worst, that ultra-conservative attitude which many trade union leaders show. The attitude is to fight management, not to cooperate and not to discuss. He fans the class war. I ask: What leadership is that in industrial relations?
Although wages and salaries are not the only factors in production costs, it is not insignificant that earnings in recent years have risen from 6 per cent to 8 per cent while the long term productivity growth, despite year to year fluctuations, is accepted as being between 2i per cent and 3 per cent per annum. The Minister has realistically said that most of the discussion about productivity tends to be in terms of sharing benefits. To put first things first, we should be talking about how to get more to share. But we cannot ignore that the sharing is important. I will comment further on this in a moment. Firstly, however, let me make a few comments on key considerations in productivity improvement. The first comment is that people need to understand the relevance of productivity to their lives. That means a continuous effort to inform the public. Funds spent in this direction would be well spent, because people’s attitudes would form on understanding and not on misconception that higher productivity means working harder.
Secondly, continuing improvement in productivity demands greater skills at all levels of the work force, and thus further education. Innovation and technological change are key factors in productivity and the introduction of new technologies creates need for new and improved skills. These include skills to operate and maintain new equipment and techniques; skills to manage and control the introduction of the new technologies and to use them to the full; skills to develop and improve the new methods and to seek out even better ways.
Lastly, if people are displaced by change, opportunities for retraining must be provided. The arguments concerning the need for higher productivity and the need to share the benefits of higher productivity must be separated. There is established industrial machinery for wage matters to which the honourable member for Hindmarsh frequently objects in this place without offering any practical solution. What the honourable member is doing, as all members of this House know even if those people listening outside do not, is pandering to attitudes of elements with which he is so familiar in the trade union movement and in the Labor Party. The key factor, however, is to make sure that there is something to share, and that comes only from higher productivity.
We are looking in this matter basically at the best use of our resources - not to the quantity of goods we can make, but the efficiency with which we make them. 1 do not want to direct the emphasis in my speech at blaming any party in industrial relations although I believe that all parties in one way or another can be blamed. I call for trade unions and employers to assist in increasing productivity, in minimising the losses which are incurred through absences, through job changing and through injury, to all of which the Minister and the honourable member for Hindmarsh referred.
Productivity improvement is one of Australia’s urgent needs. The type of argument advanced by the Australian Council of Trade Union delegates to the recent hearing on the national wage case - I have some extracts from the transcript in front of me - does not help the educative process to which I have referred. The arguments did not impress the Commission which pointed to the fallacies of the arguments which were used, one being that wages have no effect on the inflation of this country. Everybody knows, and no-one disputes the danger that inflation represents to the economy and. therefore, to every individual in this country. The Commission pointed out that recent American experience shows that inflation continues even in the face of falling wage demands and even with the growth of unemployment.
To ascribe the problem of inflation purely to demand is a misconception, or, at least, a great over-simplification. The Commission pointed out the fallacy in the argument and the unsupported assertions made in the studies which counsel for the
ACTU, Mr Willis, put forward with great fluidity. I recommend that honourable members interested in this subject read that transcript carefully. The growth of productivity will be achieved only by a cooperative effort in this country and not by slanging matches, not by criticisms of the Government and not by complaints about questions on the notice paper and ail the paraphernalia that the honourable member for Hindmarsh put before the House. It is not within the power of this Government to legislate and to control in order to achieve greater productivity in this country. What is required is the cooperation of all parties in industry so that a greater increase in the productivity index can be achieved not by Government action alone or by legislation alone but by a general will by all the parties to achieve it.
– We are debating a motion that the House take note of a statement made some time ago by the then Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Snedden) about a subject which has developed a certain mystique in this place. Productivity is a word which may or may not mean something in the realities of political life in this country. In recent weeks the Government has made productivity part of the conventional wisdom of Australian economics and has sought to persuade the Australian people that increased productivity is the only thing worth while in our way of life and the only way in which our way of life can be bettered. 1 think it is fair and proper to say that all increased productivity is not necessarily in the best interests of the nation,It is also fair to say that a large number of current Government policies which. 1 would suggest, this Parliament has not. to this stage anyhow, sought to alter, in fact reduce the overall level of productivity in the community.
I do not know what the position of the Country Party is. No Country Party supporter or Minister has yet spoken in this debate. But I doubt very much that the Country Party is prepared to accept the suggestions of the Report of the Vernon Committee of Economic Inquiry, for instance, which clearly indicate that one of the means by which productivity is reduced in the community is by providing subsidies to uneconomic rural industries. This is included in the Vernon Report, and as the Government is now so concerned about productivity I would like to see some Government supporter stand up and say that the Government is going to adopt the suggestion of the Vernon Committee and reduce such subsidies. I doubt very much that the Government would survive if it announced such an intention. There are other activities which have very important effects on the levels of productivity in the Australian community. Expenditure on education is an important method of increasing productivity and this is especially so at the levels where the skills which are necessary to maintain an industrial base are acquired. If we are not prepared to expend the necessary funds to provide the community with the levels and types of skills which modern industry requires then we cannot expect to increase the productivity of our industries.
We cannot continue for ever to import from elsewhere the technical know-how that we in this country require and expect to gain first-band benefits from secondhand knowledge. We ourselves must be prepared to innovate. We must be prepared actively to pursue increased output from our industries and we must actively pursue Australian initiative. This is not part of the Government’s policy and never has been. It is also true, as was fairly clearly pointed out in the Vernon Report, that one of the restricting factors on increased national productivity is a high level of immigration. I ask Government spokesmen whether they are prepared to reduce the level of immigration into this country merely to provide the country with a greater percentage figure of increased productivity. The crux of this matter, of course, is that the Government is proposing - quite erroneously,I suggest - that productivity should be the measuring stick for the fixing of minimum national wages. This is obviously quite attractive to the Government. It is attractive for a number of reasons, but the main reason why the Government is moving in this area is that it wants to find some justification for altering the present structure of industrial arbitration in Australia and it has reached the stage at which the lobbying of the national employers’ association has become beyond the Government’s capacity to resist.
One thing which I should point out and which I think that the Government should recognise is that any attempt to place restrictions on arbitration - to some it may be a nice thought and it may even be possible to argue that it is in the interests of the national economy, although 1 very much doubt it - which would prevent the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission from giving decisions based on the evidence provided to it will ultimately destroy the arbitration system. A government of similar complexion attempted this in the 1920s but since then no government has had the courage to make an all-out assault on the national arbitration system which at present exists on a very flimsy fabric of law. I suggest that it would be disastrous to the continuation of this system of industrial arbitration for any government to try to place restrictions on the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. Such restrictions would ultimately, I am quite certain, prove to be unconstitutional but they would in the interim provide such suspicion of the Commission and result in such industrial unrest that the conciliation and arbitration system would be destroyed as an effective industrial organisation in the Australian community long before any legal decision for or against such restrictions could be arrived at.
If members of the Government want to end industrial arbitration of the type which has existed in Australia since federation then let them stand up and say that this is what they want, instead of running around the corner and seeking divisive means such as the introduction of a productivity requirement in national wage judgments. Do not let them seek these divisive means to destroy the arbitration system. If they do not want the arbitration system let them stand up and repeal the Act and be done with it. That is the crux of the matter. If productivity is made a requirement of wage fixing at the federal level there will be no wage fixing at the federal level. There is no alternative to that, that is just a plain statement of fact. I think it is about time some people on the other side of the House started to recognise and live with the facts of life as they exist and not as they would like them to exist.
The Government has placed itself in this position because of its continual activities as spokesman and advocate for employer cases before the Commission. It has placed itself in a position in which it cannot appear to be acting in the national interest without acting for one side or the other. The fact is that the Government has consistently - and with the recent change of Government direction and leadership we can anticipate that this will be even more apparent - placed itself in such a position that every person in this community who works for wages, and every person who is responsible for industrial advocacy by an employee organisation, recognises quite certainly that the Government is one of the forces which is opposed to their interests, one of the forces which will at all times use all means possible to mitigate against the success of any industrial claim made by an employee organisation. Government supporters may hold their bands up in horror or do what they like, but this is one of the facts of political life in Australia.
The Government has always come down on the side of employers. It has never at any stage in the 21 years it has been in office gone before the Commission to support employees. If it had then that would have been one of the real high points of its career. Whilst this attitude exists the Government cannot expect any approach it makes to institute guidlines for regulating the means by which wage decisions are fixed to be accepted. The employee organisations could not accept that these things are not done in order to benefit employers. When we talk of productivity being the yardstick by which wages and salaries in Australia will be fixed we should recognise that the Government is seeking a means by which it can reduce the actual awards granted to employees. In fact, it wants to reduce the level of wages and the purchasing power of wages in the community.
In the last financial year the Australian gross national product increased by 10 per cent. Of this, some 7 per cent represented increased national production at current prices. If the full share of the increased production had been granted to employees, they would have received an increase of 7 per cent in wages. In fact, they received an increase of 6 per cent, and the Government held up its hands in horror. But I do not recall the Government making similar attacks on the Commission in those years when the Commission did not grant any increase in the national wage.
I do not recall any Government spokesman making any statement a few years ago when locomotive enginemen, because of the changed technology of their industry, more than doubled their output per man but had their relative margin for skill halved by a decision of the Commission in a case in which the Commonwealth Railways was a respondent. I do not recall any Government spokesman saying: These men have increased their productivity, they have increased their worth, so their wage level should at least be maintained at what it was previously.’ No Government spokesman stood up and said that. The wage level of these men was reduced, and that was all right with the Government. The only thing that is wrong in this community is when, the level of wages of employees is increased. Then it is a national tragedy.
No honourable member in this place suggests - I hope that no honourable member opposite would suggest it - that, it is necessarily in the best interests of the nation to increase productivity. If honourable members opposite were to suggest that, obviously they would be fools. The Government actually created the situation in which many areas of primary industry considerably increased their productivity in the 1960s and the 1950s. Can any member of the Australian Country Party stand up now and say that these increases in productivity have benefited the people w’:o were responsible for achieving these increases? Are farm incomes now higher than they were prior to achieving these increases in productivity? Arc the people who increased their productivity at the behest of the Government now enjoying the rewards of that increased productivity? They are not. Their industry is a shambles. Their marketing arrangements are a shambles. The fact of the matter is that the Government, which encouraged these people to increase their productivity, is now trying to find ways and means by which it can get them completely out of the industry so that the Government can be relieved of the responsibility of having to subsidise the industry, thus reducing national productivity.
In the few minutes remaining to me I want to make one or two other points. The Vernon Committee’s report, in dealing with productivity, referred to one or two other matters. It referred to the misdirection of capital expenditure. This is an area in which the Government could, if it wished, take some action. When one walks around a supermarket one can see the benefits of a 100 per cent increase in output when one looks at the packets in which some of the goods are enclosed. The packets reflect increased productivity. But the person who is purchasing these goods is buying exactly the same amount of goods as he bought previously. The only difference is that he pays a much higher price for an attractive package which he throws into the rubbish bin.
That type of increased productivity will not help this country. It will not assist in any way in reducing prices; in fact, it will increase prices. I think it is reasonable to say that at the present time the Government is seeking ways in which it can put pressure on the Arbitration Commission so that the Commission will not make decisions which the Government does not want. The Government wants to find some way in which it can direct and control the decisions of the Commission. If the Government seeks to achieve this result by legislating in order to deal with productivity or if it seeks to achieve this result by directing the Commission in any way, then the Commission will disappear; it will be destroyed by the Government. As I said previously, if the Government wants to get rid of industrial arbitration at the Commonwealth level, let it legislate to do so; do not let it do it by adopting a back door method.
– I am glad that the previous Minister for Labour and National Service, now the Treasurer (Mr Snedden), made this statement, and I am also glad that the House is debating the statement, because I am well aware - and I think that the country is becoming increasingly aware - that productivity or increasing productivity is the key to expansion in our economic standard of living. It is true that other measuring sticks may be used for other things for which one is looking, but if one is looking for an increased economic standard of living one sees it will come only through increasing productivity. The bigger the cake that we can get through increasing productivity the greater shall be the workers’ or the wage and salary earners’ share of that cake.
It is interesting to look at the statement which appeared in the ‘Australian Economic Record’ for December last in which the changes in the wage and salary earners’ share of the gross national product were measured. In the period between 1955-56 and 1959-60, the wage and salary earners’ share of the gross national product was 63.2 per cent; 4 years later it was 61.9 petcent; 4 years later it was 61.8 per cent, and last year it was 61.7 per cent. The fact is that in this and every other western country, the share of the gross national product which the wage and salary earner receives remains practically constant. The increase in money wages is shared between prices and productivity, but the share which the wage and salary earner receives remains the same. The only way in which the wage and salary earner will receive a bigger slice of the cake - and everybody wants him to receive it - is to get a bigger cake to cut up.
Honourable members may say it is not fair that the wage and salary earner ought to receive a bigger share of the economic cake. A lot of people would agree with that statement. But the fact remains that capital is liquid stuff. It flows where the return is the greatest, and if the return on capital is thought to be too small by those people who own capital, firstly, the capital will not come into Australia or, secondly, if the return outside Australia is greater, the capital will go out of Australia. So investment falls down and the economic cake becomes smaller. Whether we like it or not, it is a fundamental fact under the capitalistic system that we will always get not a theory of constant shares, but this effect of constant shares, and the share which the wage and salary earner receives remains the same.
The other sectors which receive a share are, firstly, the exporters, secondly, the people on fixed invomes and, thirdly, the owners of capital. I repeat again, because this is something that the Australian community has to recognise: The only way in which the wage and salary earner can receive a bigger share is to get a bigger economic cake to cut up, and the way to do this is to increase the productivity of the worker, and of management. If one accepts as a fact - ‘and I do not think that anybody will argue against it, although some people may resent it - that the object of the exercise is to get a bigger economic cake so that wage and salary earners can receive a bigger slice of the cake to cut up, one then starts to argue about cutting up the workers’ slice more equitably. 1 agree with what the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) said, that when one refers to the slice which the wage and salary earner receives one includes the member of parliament, the High Court judge and the man who sweeps the street. We are all in it together; but I will leave the discussion of how one cuts up the wage and salary earners’ slice amongst wage and salary earners. The point I want to hammer home today is that the only way in which the entire group will get more to cut up will be by increasing the national productivity. Everything that prevents productivity from rising is done at the expense not of the fellow with money or the chap on a fixed income but of the fellow workers. If there is a strike the group which pays for it in the end is the wage and salary earner group - and it only. If there is a work limitation, if there is a darg or some other arrangement whereby people are limited in what they can produce, it is paid for by the workers as a group.
There is an Australian tendency to glorify the concept of beating the boss. There is a tendency for a lot of people to do this. They do not beat the boss; they beat their fellow workers. They do this at the expense of their fellow worker sector. In Australia we have a unique opportunity to build the cheapest ships, or to build them as cheaply as any other country. We have the cheapest steel and we have some excellent men working in our shipyards. However we are dogged by demarcation disputes. The Minister for the Navy (Dr Mackay) will find, as he grows older in his new post, how much better we could build our ships and repair our ships if we did not have to put up with ridiculous arguments in the shipyards which do nothing but reduce productivity, lt is argued there that one group cannot do this and another group cannot do that. There is a unique opportunity open to Australia if we could get together and work with a will, if management and men could recognise that the only way in which to get a bigger cake and for the worker to get a bigger share of it is not to sit around arguing with each other and continuing the tragedy pf the class war. I am glad to say that in this debate class warfare has not reared its head, as it does sometimes. We have” not heard the customary bitterness about the workers and the bosses and that sort of thing. We have to realise that almost everybody in Australia is a worker.
I agree with what the honourable member for Hindmarsh said in criticising the manager who goes off to play golf twice a week. That is part of our problem. But there are other parts to the problem. Sometimes when one enters a wool shed one finds it running happily. Everybody appears to be working well and cheerfully and most capably. But in another shed one will find some sort of trouble and everybody working only half as well as they could. In some factories there is a feeling of excitement. You notice it as soon as you enter. People are working cheerfully and well. Then you can enter another factory and find an obvious spirit of resentment. I am saying to the House and to those people who are listening to this debate that we have an opportunity to do much better in Australia.
There are people who say that our side of politics wants to see a pool of unemployment so that people will he forced to work. That is nonsense. You do not have to have a pool of unemployment in order to make people work well. People can he encouraged to work well, from both the capitalist side and the union side. Both sectors could well realise the opportunity and the responsibility they have to weld themselves into a work force that believes in what it is doing and works cheerfully and capably. I know, probably better than any other honourable member present, how well the Australian farm employees work. I do not know the factory side as well as other honourable members but I know the excellence of the general farm worker. I know how well he works with his boss and how well he understands his problems. If all our people had that general feeling, and adopted it as a general concept, we would not need to worry so much about men getting a fair share. Automatically they would get a fair share of the cake and automatically that cake would increase, because productivity is the key to increasing the standard of living for workers as well as everybody else.
If we want a classic example of how not to run a country and of what we do not want to see in, Australia, let us consider what is happening now in the United Kingdom. We looked up to that country for years, and still do so for many reasons, but it is decaying because industrial strife is eating away at productivity. Great Britain gradually is ceasing to be the country it was. It is not because it does not have the resources but because those resources have not been used properly. 1 make this plea to the Australian people: Slop arguing about silly things; stop having unnecessary strikes and similar happenings. Let us recognise that we have a unique opportunity to make Australia a belter place. This will be accomplished only if workers and managers realise that productivity is the key to progress.
– This debate is interesting and most important. I would like to comment briefly on a couple of points made by the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Kelly). He reduced the problem to its simplest terms by making a plea to the Australian work force not to strike and not to engage in silly arguments, as he calls them. I would not challenge in any way his argument about the need for an increase in national productivity and a greater share of the increased cake going to labour. But I take issue with him over his motive for saying that workers should not strike. The corollary is that: men should work without striking and rely on the good offices of their employer to reward them for their work. History has shown - from the industrial revolution onwards - that workers have to strive to get increased wages and increased compensation when their standard of living is reduced. That is the basic difference between the philosophies of the Liberal Parly and the Labor Party. It is the hard core or nucleus of this problem. The honourable member for Wakefield would like to see a greater share of the national cake going to capital, whereas the Labor Party would like to see a greater share going to labour. Those are the extreme views.
– He did not say that.
– I said that that was what the honourable member for Wakefield was arguing about.
– You did not listen.
– I listened carefully. I will repeat, the basic philosophical difference about the amounts which go to labour is whether we are talking in absolute or relative terms. I am speaking in relative terms. Apparently the honourable member for Angas (Mr Giles) does not understand the difference between absolute terms and relative terms. The basic difference in the philosophy is that if a person does not go out on strike to obtain better conditions or higher wages when his standard of living has been reduced can that person afford to rely on the good offices of his employer? Of course he cannot. History has shown that he will not get his rewards and what will happen is, relatively speaking, that any increase in the net national product will go more to capital than to labour. I agree with what the honourable member for Wakefield said about a pool of unemployment. A lot of people are still putting forward this myth and it is absolute nonsense.
Everybody seems to speak about productivity, and what a wonderful thing it would be to increase it. No-one disagrees with this but how does one measure productivity as for example the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission would like it to be measured. In fact the Arbitration Commission has challenged the Government to tell the Commission how to relate the various rewards to the factors of production which contribute to increased productivity such as land, labour, capital, marginal efficiency of capital and marginal value products in respect to increased labour inputs. It is not very difficult to be able to say that the national productivity has increased by 2.5 per cent or 3 per cent net. But how does one put a quantitative measurement on the factors of production which are responsible for the increase in national productivity? For example, what rewards are there for the labour put into production? What rewards are there for capital or management? These are the burning questions. in this debate I want to deal particularly with one point and that is the great difficulty in the measurement of components of national productivity. Members of this Parliament have for a long time referred in debates to productivity as something which can be measured without much effort involved. No-one in Australia today has been able to measure in a meaningful way the relative contribution which the factors of production have made to our increased productivity. The studies which have been made by quite a number of people have shown wide divergencies in the assumptions and conclusions. When one looks at the problem, as I hope to do in a few minutes, one can see the tremendous difficulty involved in trying to place a quantitative measurement on the response of aggregate inputs. If we were to deal with the micro-economic analysis which is the theory of the firm, we could certainly measure the rewards of the marginal returns to inputs. If we were to deal with a firm a cost accountant who is worth his salt would be able to measure the marginal rewards. He knows that if he puts additional labour in or if he substitutes capital for labour he will get a certain return and he can thereby measure on a marginal analysis the effect of the increased investment or increased labour component. When you aggregate the inputs that is when the problem of quantitative measurement of productivity changes really becomes something which no-one in this country has yet been able to measure with any satisfaction. The difficulties of measuring or forecasting in a meaningful way aggregate inputs are real and this is something on which we have to place more emphasis.
There are two ways of broadly measuring national productivity. The first is to measure the relationship of the increase in output in regard to the work force. This method is pretty meaningless over a period of time because it completely disregards capital inputs, and after all capital inputs plus management are very important in regard to increased productivity. By using the principles of the theory of the firm, that is the micro-economic analysis, one could obtain an increase in production with a negative increase in productivity, which is the law of diminishing returns. For example a farmer may fallaciously put on more fertiliser and as a result he gets increased production but the cost of production has gone up and he has not used his resources efficiently. If you try to aggregate all of the inputs throughout the economy into the Leortief type of input output analysis it becomes a very difficult proposition to obtain a decision on how much of the increase in national productivity is earned by labour, by management, by technological change and by substitution of labour for capital. This is where we get into a whole host of problems which so far no-one has been able to solve in a meaningful way as far as being of much help to the Arbitration Commission.
The second general measurement of national productivity is an aggregate of labour productivity which relates to groups of industries. If we had fixed assumptions, that is, no technological change, no difference in the change of capital inputs, we could get a meaningful productivity figure in aggregate terms of the return to labour from the increase in productivity. But it is unreal to argue that there can be a period of time such as one day, one year or one month when capital or technology will remain constant. That is an absurd argument to put forward. This knocks down any argument in relation to that type of measurement. In estimating there has to be an increase in the value of output per unit of money employed and it is a matter of quantifying labour, capital, management technology, land and other factors of production to try to obtain a meaningful answer.
It is quite obvious that the aggregation of inputs and the behaviour of individual inputs, such as the substitution of capital for labour and the transferability of resources, is the real problem involved in obtaining a meaningful measurement as to who should get a greater share of the national cake. With respect to aggregation of labour inputs, for a measurement calculus one has first of all to break down the labour components into skilled, unskilled and semi-skilled labour and wage rates. This alone is a tremendous task to try to feed into a computer. Once these fixed relationships are available it is possible to reach some sort of a decision provided the relationships remain stable. However, the relationships do not remain stable because technology in relation to the skilled, unskilled and semi-skilled labour is changing all the time. Without any doubt the greatest problem in measuring the efficiency of inputs in determining increased productivity is the aggregation of capital inputs. What is capital? It is a whole host of factors relating to production inputs. In an age of great scientific discovery obsolescence has a tremendous influence on our net productivity. This can be seen in our own aircraft industry. We master a machine but within a matter of years, although it is not worn out, it becomes obsolete in terms of comparative efficiency. In itself this is a very difficult quantitative input to inject into any calculus to try to obtain a meaningful result.
I want to emphasise the amount of work that has been done on this problem. In Australia economists have been working since the war years trying to solve this question of productivity. Federal instrumentalities such as the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Primary Industry and the Bureau of Agricultural Economics have had their skilled officers working on this problem in an endeavour to obtain a meaningful solution. They are trying to find a meaningful solution. They are trying to work out what productivity really means as a measurable quantitative figure in regard to various factors of production. I have repealed several times that they have not yet been able to produce accurate answers, 1 turn now to the substitution factor of capital for labour in respect of automation and technology or changes in relative prices, lt is not possible to keep any factor completely stable, AH one can do is form a judgment that labour gets so much of the increased national cake. If productivity is increased perhaps labour would get the same share in relative terms, but is that what we are trying to achieve? The unions are trying to gain a greater share of national productivity in relative terms. Opposing this is the philosophy of capital as to return on capital in terms of interest rates or risk capital. Capital is trying to get a greater share of national productivity. Who is right? That is the burning question. Is it labour that is contributing most to increased national productivity, or is it capital? How is this measure to be applied? There is a struggle between the elements of employer and employee, and complex problems are involved.
I think it is true to say that in Australia today management is conducted on a higher plane than before. Let us take one firm as an example. If the productivity of that firm is increased solely by more efficient management, can labour fairly say: ‘You have increased productivity in this firm and we want an increase in our wages”? Can it fairly be argued that way? Taken on an aggregate basis it is very difficult to isolate the management as a factor of production. It is almost impossible to apply a quantitative figure of measurement as it is a qualitative calculation. Yet in the determination of and movements in the aggregate value of production, which in turn leads to increased productivity, management is obviously one of the most important elements. But how is it measured or delineated?
I want to deal with the rate of technological change, but I do not have enough time left to do that. I simply say that from studies in Australia it seems that the rate of technological change is operating at about 2i per cent to 3 per cent per annum. On the other hand, in many instances the application of labour to technology -
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Cope)Order! The honourable gentleman’s time has expired.
Debate (on motion by Mr Mackellar) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 31 March (vide page 1265), on motion by Mr Wentworth:
That the Bill be now read a second lime.
Upon which Mr Hayden had moved by way of amendment:
That all words after ‘That* be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: while not opposing the Bill, the House is of the opinion that -
the increases proposed are inadequate,
social service payments generally are inadequate to maintain an acceptable standard of living,
steps should be taken immediately to eliminate poverty,
a national superannuation system should be established and the means test eliminated,
pension payments should be a proportion of average weekly earnings adjusted annually and
the subject of social services should be referred to a select committee of this House’.
– We are now to continue the debate which commenced on Tuesday evening. At that time we witnessed a remarkable situation. During the second reading speech by the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth), the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden), the so-called shadow Minister for Social Services, interrupted the Minister no fewer than 19 times in the latter part of . his speech. Hansard of last Tuesday shows that the explosion followed the Minister’s reference to a statement allegedly made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) about the feather bedding of pensioners. At the end of the Minister’s speech, because he had lost so much time through interjections, the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly) moved that the rest of the Minister’s speech be circulated. Following the reference by the Minister to the Leader of the Opposition and the feather bedding of pensioners the honourable member for Oxley moved a motion of dissent from a ruling of the Deputy Speaker (Mr Drury). The motion was seconded by none other than another Queenslander, the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson), who is now at the table. The basis of the motion was that the Minister for Social Services had no right to refer to comments about feather bedding. Honourable members who were in the House at the time will remember that it was certainly an explosive situation.
– 1 rise to a point of order. Mr Deputy Speaker. The honourable member for Griffith knows full well that that was not the text of the motion. The basis of the motion was dissent from the Deputy Speaker’s ruling.
– I agree with the honourable member for Dawson, except as to his statement that I was wrong, because the motion was prompted by the fact that the Deputy Speaker had ruled that the Minister was permitted to continue in the same vein, lt is obvious that the Opposition has a lot of feeling about this subject. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) entered the chamber, approached the honourable member for Oxley and advised him to withdraw the motion. Following that instruction or advice the honourable member withdrew the motion. I think we should turn back the pages of history to February when the honourable member for Shortland (Mr Griffiths) and the Leader of the Opposition became involved in a situation. The honourable member for Shortland retires at the end of this Parliament. He has been here about 23 years, since 1949. A question of credibility is involved between the honourable member for Shortland and the Leader of the Opposition. I ask all honourable members whether they disagree with my view that a member who has served as long as and with as much honour as the honourable member for Shortland, deserves to go out with his character and reputation in question.
The first reference to feather bedding arose in the Parliament when the honourable member for Deakin (Mr Jarman) asked the Minister for Social Services, who is now at the table, a question about it. Shortly afterwards in a personal explanation the Leader of the Opposition claimed to have been misrepresented. He denied that he had ever uttered the words ‘feather bedding’ in respect of pensioners. The subject was raised again on 24th February when the honourable member for Shortland sought leave to make a statement. He explained the history of the affair, going back into the latter part of 1966, at which time, he claimed, the Leader of the Opposition had referred to feather bedding. Honourable members will also recall how Sturt Corner, if we might name it so, reacted violently and claimed that the honourable member for Shortland did not know what he was talking about. Only one or two members in that corner of the chamber were members of this Parliament in 1966. I think it is significant that the honourable member for Dawson and the honourable member for Oxley, who were here in 1966, were the members who took issue the other night on this matter. In replying to the comments of the honourable member for Shortland the Leader of the Opposition made some very pertinent remarks. His statement, which I will now quote, was largely accepted. He said:
The astonishing thing is that for over 4 years nobody had heard of this allegation. Two questions arise from this. Why did the honourable member for Shortland raise this matter? Some clues may be found in Hansard. Before the 1969 House of Representatives election -
The Leader of the Opposition went on very cleverly and artfully, because he is an artful man - perhaps an artful dodger.
– I rise to a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I ask you to rule whether the honourable member can continue to base his speech on a statement that has been denied on several occasions by the person concerned, in this Parliament and other places.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Cope)The debate has ranged rather widely, but I think the honourable member is getting too far away from the subject matter. I ask him to terminate that point.
– I am coming back to the Bill, Mr Deputy Speaker. As I was saying, the Leader of the Opposition - the Artful Dodger - set about creating the impression that because the honourable member for Shortland had some troubles in obtaining re-endorsement, that was the reason he had gone sour on the ALP. He said that the honourable member had never raised the matter before. I realise that the honourable member for Shortland is a relatively quiet man, but noone here would doubt his sincerity. The simple exercise of going back into the past shows the position. Hansard of 11th April 1967, nearly 4 years ago - in 10 days time it will be exactly 4 years ago - records that the honourable member for Shortland in fact did refer to this very issue. This in itself smashes completely the argument of the Leader of the Opposition that the honourable member for Shortland ha.d never raised this subject.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Cope)Order! I think the usual practice is to allow passing references of about 3 minutes duration, but the honourable member has been speaking for much longer than that on a matter not related to the Bill.
– 1 realise that the Deputy Speaker has some problem sitting in the chair comfortably, particularly at this moment.
-Order! I ask the honourable member to withdraw that remark. It is a reflection on the Chair. I ask him to get back to the Bill. The Chair has always been pretty lenient about passing references, but the honourable member has not been addressing himself to the Bill for a long time.
– I withdraw the reflection on the Chair. Mr Deputy Speaker, I realise that your decision could only be wise. Hansard of 11th April 1967 shows that during the debate on the Social
Services Bill the honourable member for Shortland uttered these words:
I am aware that the utter disregard which is to be constantly seen in this place of the great difficulties under which tens of thousands of pensioners and others exist is not wholly shared by Government supporters, because I know an odd character or two on this side of the House who do not believe that pensioners should be feather bedded.
In my opinion, when the honourable member for Shorland retires at the end of this Parliament he will go out with the honourable members of this House, those on this side particularly, united in the belief that he has gone out in honour. Perhaps there has been a misunderstanding. I was not in that Labor Caucus meeting so I would not know whether the Leader of the Opposition made the statement that has been attributed to him.
-Order! I have asked the honourable member to speak about the Bill. I will not ask him any more. If he does not get back to the Bill he will have to resume his seat.
– I am quoting from the debate on the Social Services Bill of 4 years ago. It is obvious from the way members of the Opposition are reacting that these comments are hurtful to them. History will decide best. I believe that the honourable member for Shortland has been vindicated. The honourable member for Oxley, on behalf of the Opposition, has moved an amendment to the motion that the Bill be read a second time. In past years the Government has recognised that those who depend on social services need constant consideration. I realise that perhaps one of the most unfortunate groups in our society are the people on pensions because every member of this House, on which ever side he may sit, at times loses his objectivity and feels that, regardless of what he really believes, for the sake of talking it is up to him to speak in favour of the pensioners. The pensioner is the sandbag of Parliament. He gets belted from one side to the other. If we go back into history we will no doubt find that honourable members from this side of the House, when in Opposition many years ago, followed the same tactics. Perhaps the speech of the honourable member for Oxley did contain a degree of deep thought and I am sure that many of the ideas he expressed have not been rejected by the Minister, who has established a record under 2 Prime Ministers of being a man who has a great interest in the pensioners.
We have heard much said by members of the ALP about what the Government has not done. I believe it is appropriate at this time to compare some of the pensions payable when the Labor Party was in office in 1949 with those payable today. When Labor went out of office in 1949 the rate for a single pensioner was $4.25, which in 1969 values is equal to $9.88. The rate payable under the Liberal-Country Party Government in 1969 was $15. This Government has done its level best for the pensioner and in the years gone by has succeeded in improving the lot of those people dependent upon it for social service payments. Honourable members realise that out of the annual Budget of some $7,000m approximately $l,500m is expended in the field of social services.
Today the Opposition is putting forward amendments to the Social Services Bill. Tomorrow it will be putting forward amendments in relation to a subject such as national development, the following day to education, and the following day it will seek more pay for our armed forces. But. the facts of life are that there is just so much money and it is up to the Government to decide the priorities of its expenditure. It is all right to be in Opposition and to suggest what should be done here and what should be done there, but the Government has the responsibility to decide where money can be best spent. I think time has shown that this Liberal-Country Party Government has exhibited a sincere and proper consideration of the lot of those people who depend solely upon it. I am not suggesting that we have reached the ultimate goal in achievement in looking after our aged people. 1 invite particularly all the new Labor Party members who are here for this one Parliament to take a look at the progress and contribution which have been made by this Government over the last 20 years. They will be amazed.
The other night one honourable member opposite made the claim that for 6 months deserted wives do not get any Government assistance. If the honourable member had seen fit to do a little bit of homework he would have seen for himself that the Gov ernment a couple of years ago introduced a system to subsidise the States on a 50 per cent basis to bridge the financial gap for these deserted wives, many of whom have a number of small children. This is perhaps unimportant to the honourable member opposite who made the statement. His statement was designed to pull the wool over the eyes of the people who were listening to the parliamentary broadcast that night. Mr Deputy Speaker, 1 know that with your wisdom and the way you rule fairly you would like to see fair play, and 1 know how hard it must have been for you the other night to sit and listen to the presentation of only half truths.
Returning to the Labor Party’s criticism, it is very appropriate that we look at the assistance given to widows under a Labor Government. By heavens, I would not like to have been a widow with children when the Labor Party was in power. That is one thing for which I would not have paid all the rice in China, because in those days the Labor Party gave nothing but a mere pittance of a handout. Luckily they received child endowment. How honourable members opposite can condemn a Government which has been progressive, although it has not achieved the world, I will never know. In my electorate of Griffith, which covers an area on the south side of the river in Brisbane, we have seen great advancement in recent years in the provision of homes for people who qualify under the Aged Persons Homes Act, another piece of legislation which has originated from the Liberal-Country Party coalition. Whilst honourable members opposite might talk about raising the pension, there are monuments of proof that this Government has gone beyond just thoughts of pouring money out in weekly pensions, and has created buildings and homes. Honourable members at times speak about poverty. We have to recognise this problem. The Government has endeavoured to deal, and in many fields has succeeded in dealing, with these problems in past years.
Since the present Minister for Social Services also held that portfolio in the John Gorton Government I am not going to miss this opportunity to give him a little message from me. One or 2 years ago I pointed out to him that many aged people whose assets, other than their own homes, had been eroded away and who were living in their own homes were being paid the lower rate of pension. Because they had no money they could not afford to maintain the appearance of their homes, let alone maintenance work to keep the rain out. I believe it is high time that the Minister gave serious consideration to this problem. I notice that the Minister for Housing (Mr Kevin Cairns) is in the chamber. Perhaps he could consider this matter too. We in Australia today could be justifiably accused of being a little guilty of creating slums because many elderly people who own their own homes simply cannot afford to maintain them. They cannot afford to buy even a quarter of a pint of paint, let alone the many gallons required to preserve their homes. In the long term this lack of maintenance leads to a shoddy appearance in housing areas. I know it will be suggested that one day these homes will fall into the hands of other people who will be able to restore them; but many of these homes, because of continued neglect, are not worth saving. I believe we are wasting a considerable amount of our national assets by not assisting these people to maintain their homes. Someone might suggest that since the families of these aged pensioners will eventually benefit they should maintain the homes. But in many cases these people do not have a family, and the consequent decay of the homes is indeed a waste.
I realise that my time is nearly up, but there is an important point I would like to make in relation to the increase in pensions provided for under this Bill. The point appears to have gone unnoticed. In recent years we have granted a pension increase of, say, 75c a single pensioner and $1 instead of Si. 50 to a married pensioner couple. On this occasion we seem to have moved away from that principle. For many years I have read letters written by Ministers for Social Services in which they defend the practice adopted previously. If their defence of that policy in past years was justified, why has there been a change on this occasion?
In conclusion, I revert to my remarks at the beginning of my speech and remind honourable members that members on this side of the House are absolutely convinced that the Leader of the Opposition did say in that Labor Party room meeting that the honourable member for Shortland was feather-bedding the pensioners.
– I will come back ‘ to the subject matter of the Bill. I realise that probably that remark will attract wrath from the next speaker on the Opposition side, but I trust that honourable members opposite will give serious consideration to the points I made earlier.
– The honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) has made it clear that the rise in the buying power of pensions has been much lower than the rise in average earnings during the life of the Menzies Government, the Holt Government, the Gorton Government and the McMahon Government. This is easily seen from the figures presented by the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) and which appear on pages .1 164 and 1165 of the day before yesterday’s Hansard. We find there that the Labor Government raised the’ real value of standard pensions at the rate of 1 per cent per year. That means that the actual amount of the pension was rising 1 per cent faster than the cost of goods on the consumer price index - faster than prices rose. Immediately the Menzies Government assumed office from the Labor Government on a mandate to put value back into the £1, the value proceeded to go out of the £1 and out of the pension.
Within 14 months under the Menzies administration its value fell as low as 83c in real buying power below the pension level maintained by the Labor Government. This was due to the unchecked, and consequently accelerating, rises in prices. The rise in prices occurred at a faster rate than under the Labor administration, lt was 7 long years of the 225 years that we have experienced under the coalition Government before the 1948 Labor Government’s pension rate was restored. Since that time, increases in social services, including the increase presently proposed - I am not talking about pensions as of now but with this general increase of 50c - have remained at approximately the same level of 1 per cent a year. This is equal to the increases granted under the Chifley Government during a time of austerity. In fact, the married pensioner couple will still receive less than a 1 per cent increase a year. This is the achievement of the Government that the honourable member for Griffiths (Mr Donald Cameron) has just told us is so concerned about pensioners. Yet over 22 years it has not managed to achieve anoverall increase in actual buying power. The Minister’s figures show that it has maintained the same percentage rise a year for pensions as did the Labor Government.
On his accession to power the former Prime Minister, who has recently become Minister for Defence (Mr Gorton), announced the emergence of a new philosophy in relation to pensions under the Liberal Party. His Government was going to provide for frugal self-respecting independence for pensioners, as distinct from its former philosphy of helping out the relatives and charities by means of pensions. This philosophy was in very marked contrast to a statement which was made very shortly before by the then Prime Minister’s predecessor, Mr Holt, during the preceding general elections. Id response to a question at the opening of his Parly’s campaign in Capricornia, Mr Holt stated in Rockhampton that pensions were never intended to be the sole support of pensioners and that it would be a sorry day for Australia if the younger relatives did not take their share of the burden of maintaining the pensioners. This is in direct contrast and contradiction to the philosophy put forward by his successor, and it is in direct contrast and contradiction to the philosophy put forward by the honourable member for Griffiths who has delivered his speech and left the chamber. However, I give the Holt Government credit for the fact that that statement, had the merit of being candid.
During the period from 1964 to 1968 the Holt Government lowered the standard rate and the married rate of pensions by roughly J per cent a year, it reversed the trend. This is substantiated by the figures presented in Hansard by the Minister for Social Services. The Gorton and McMahon Governments have restored that leeway and brought us back to the same old trend of increasing actual buying power by 1 per cent a year. But, of course, the point is that average earnings are rising at double that rate. They are rising by roughly 2 per cent a year. As we heard in the debate on productivity, Australia is managing to increase production by 2 per cent per year per head of population. But over the 22 years under the coalition government pensioners have managed to gain an increase of only 1 per cent per head of population. That is the reason why we on this side of the House keep harking back to this point of average earnings.
If productivity increases then the people who are responsible for that productivity increase ought to share in it, and many of the people who have made this possible over the last 22 years are now dependent upon the Government for justice which they are not getting. The Government should reward them in their retirement, in their incapacity, in their old age, in their widowhood. The reward they are getting is not in proportion to the rise in productivity that they have helped to produce. The net effect of this grand, new philosophy is that the Gorton and McMahon Governments have added an extra 3 per cent, or less than 50c a week, to the pension. This is the only departure from the old 1 per cent per annum rise in the real value of pensions. The Government has restored the 1 per cent per annum rise and put another 50c on to it at the last minute by this Bill.
Why has the Government suddenly become so magnanimous? 1 do not doubt that this is a step forward and that it will be followed by a bigger rise in August, but we are not deluded into thinking that it is a result of this new, so-called enlightened Liberal philosophy. It is a direct result of an unprecedented, outraged outcry from the public and a revulsion among all classes of the population against the delay and the niggardliness in this regard. Several prominent citizens, including members of the clergy and the judiciary, took part in establishing a completely new movement to demand justice for pensioners. It was a non-party movement. This has never happened before in history. This and the fact that the Government was very nearly tossed out at the last general election are the reasons why the Government has had another look at the politics of the situation. It is not a new, heart-rending philosophy at all; it is the hard facts of political life which have forced the Government to look towards justice in this field.
Government members have cited to us the rates of pension applying in 1947 under a Labor government. Of course, if one goes back far enough one can dig up all sorts of things and prove almost anything. One of the things which the Government ignores when it goes back to 1947 is that everybody else has achieved a better standard of living since that time. A far bigger proportion of the people now have homes with refrigerators, cars, hot water services, sewerage services and so on. There is a far bigger proportion of people who will now be dependent on the pension who were able to afford those things during their working life and are now finding i! difficult to afford them. I refer particularly to television sets and other things which have almost become necessities of life due to the greater prosperity of the world in this technical age. We cannot expect the 1947 figure to relate to present circumstances. It is unrealistic and unfair to expect it to. Yet some of the speakers in this debate have taken this very point. They have sneered and said: ‘Look at what Labor did in 1947’. That was a time of austerity after a world war. Honourable members opposite are comparing that period with the highly technical age we are living in now when all sorts of people have a much better standard of living.
AH the items that I have mentioned, such as refrigerators, hot water services and sewerage and so on, are now included in most people’s ideas of what is a frugal and self-respecting independence, to use the term proclaimed by the recently retired Prime Minister. In bringing this blessed word ‘productivity’ into the debate the Minister implied that wages had risen faster than productivity - that is, the wage earners’ share had grown faster, on the average, than the value of the goods and services produced by each Australian. But several eminent economists have shown that it is necessary, if justice is to be done and if the wealth is to be fairly distributed, that wages increase at a faster rate than productivity. This point has been brought out in the debate and I do not want to labour it. The economists have also pointed out that prices and profits are rising at a faster rate than wages. It is not the wage earning sector that is contributing in the main to the unusual rise in average earnings. The Treasury’s own papers will confirm this.
– Taxes are going up faster, too.
– As my colleague has interjected, the taxes are going up in proportion, and more than in proportion, to the rise in wages. I do not want to delve into these details when we are not debating productivity, but these bare facts ought to be stated to give the lie to the contention of the Minister that wage rises are the big engine and profit rises are the small engine in this matter. The situation is the reverse, if we are to accept these figures from the Treasury and from leading economists. The honourable member for Griffith made 2 other points that deserve a mention. He quoted one of my colleagues who had complained at the lack of social service benefits for a deserted wife in the first 6 months after she is deserted. He said that the honourable member had not done his homework or was trying to pull the wool over our eyes because the States provide for these people and the Government provides a $1 for $1 subsidy. My colleague was not denying this. Perhaps, he was remiss in not spelling it out for the honourable member for Griffith. All. he was saying was. that this is a Commonwealth responsibility and that if it is fair for such people to have the support and concern of this Parliament after 6 months then it is also fair for them to have the same support and concern during that first 6 months. I understand that in the case of a de facto wife who is deserted there is not even a 6 months limit. She remains dependent on State finance and is a State concern for ever after because she did not take the precaution, could not afford or was not wise enough to go through a form of marriage. So she will remain dependent on the charity of the State government.
– She might have been too wise.
– Or she might have been the innocent victim of bigamy. The honourable member for Deakin (Mr Jarman) said that the Government cannot raise the money for the sort , of thing the Opposition wants without raising taxes He said: ‘Where will we get the money?’ Of course, we have answered this question many times. Let me answer it once more. First of all, let us see what answers the Government has to the question. Where did it get the money? The Minister has indicated that it was necessary, as a purely human and understandable impulse on the part of the new Prime Minister (Mr
McMahon) to mark his accession to that post, for him to do something in the way of a 50c rise for the poorest group of pensioners, those on the lowest total incomes. I suggest that this is rather an expensive way to mark such an accession. I do not know how many millions of dollars are involved in the 50c rise, but it would be several millions of dollars. We were not told where the money came from. We were not asked where we were going to get it. The decision was made to celebrate the Prime Minister’s accession to power. Let us have these celebrations more often. Let us celebrate all the musical chairs on the front bench opposite with a 50c rise for pensioners if the money is so easy to come by.
One of the places to get the money is from increases in average earnings because if the productivity of this country is rising by 2 per cent per annum and if the rate of tax is rising faster than that - which it is, because higher incomes go into a higher tax bracket and taxes will be increasing by more than 2 per cent per annum - then we say that pensions can go up by 2 per cent per annum. If in 1947 a Labor Government could pay over 25 per cent of average earnings as the pension rate, there is no equitable or honourable way in which a government in this affluent society, in this lotus land as Mr Holt called it when he reduced the buying power of pensions, could justify paying less than 19 per cent. The money is there. It does not have to be found. It is already in the revenue.
It does not matter whether that money is being spent on something else, whether it be a defence vote of $ 1,100m or SI, 200m a year - and not so many years ago the defence vote was about one-fifth of that amount - or whether it be on particular aspects of the defence vote such as the purchase of Fill aircraft or of guided missile destroyers from America at 4 times the price at which they could be made here. Whatever that money has been spent on is not the point. The point is that, after a devastating war, a Labor government managed to pay 25 per cent of average earnings to pensioners. Now the Government cannot manage 20 per cent. At the moment the pension is less than 19 per cent of average earnings. The Government stands condemned for its hypocrisy in this matter because all the time it is shedding crocodile tears and speaking about its concern for pensioners when in fact pensioners are being left further and further behind in the race towards the prosperous world of the future.
– I would like firstly to bring to the attention of the House the tactics that are used to an extreme degree by members of the Opposition. They are highly organised. They are now members of a very wealthy organisation, particularly in Queensland. They are able to organise a particularly clinical kind of operation, but the regrettable part of this is that in the process they use pensioners and Arboringals as guinea pigs. The Australian Labor Party has a most deplorable record in regard to pensioners and Aboriginals. Let me make one or two points perfectly clear. The first point I want to make is that no-one - more particularly myself, in view of what 1 am about to mention a little further in my address - would suggest for a moment that the amount paid to pensioners is adequate. Frankly, I think pensioners must be the greatest managers of all times because they are able to manage on the pension made available to them.
Honourable members opposite spoke about crocodile tears. The greatest example of hypocrisy of which I think any group of men would be capable is the operation that honourable members opposite use as regards the pensioners. What they do - I was referring to this clinical operation - is to propose an amendment to increase the pension by Si or $2 a week. They could make the amount S20 because they know that the amendment will not be carried. So, they can offer the world. What do they do after the amendment is defeated? Those fellows who sit on the benches opposite - one bushy-haired chap and a group of them who sit over there - get their staff to go immediately into action. They circularise every pensioner’s branch throughout Australia. For instance, they send a message to Chartres Towers - a great pensioner town. They say: ‘This Bob Katter, this so-called advocate for the pensioners, voted against the amendment’. If they think I intend to be a political hypocrite and if they think I intend to use the pensioners, whom they no doubt imagine as being senile and as being unable to evaluate these things for themselves, they are very much mistaken. I think that they need to learn honesty in politics. The result of their operations in my electorate was that in almost every pensioner town I increased my majority considerably because pensioners despise these tactics of the so-called ALP.
Let us look for a moment, if we can ignore the comments of the abominable snowman who is trying to interject from the opposite side of the chamber, at the figures for 1949. The rate paid to a widow with children was what would correspond to $4.75. The value of that $4.75 in 1949 would, in terms of today’s monetary evaluation, be $11.54. These are facts. If they are not facts, let honourable members opposite produce another speaker to refute them.
– Order! There is far too much chatter in the chamber.
– Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Courtesy should be paid to a speaker who is producing facts. In 1949 the amount paid, on today’s monetary evaluation, was $11.54. In 1970 the amount paid was $29.50. In other words, this Government is paying $29.50 as against what a Labor government paid, in terms of present day evaluation, $11.54. Let the people of Australia consider this. They do of course. They will do so next election. I am sure that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) has some ethereal concept that he is already Prime Minister.
Pensioners should keep in mind the comment he made, and I will refer particularly to it because he made it. He said that he would not feather bed the pensioners. The honourable member for Shortland (Mr Griffiths) - God bless him, he is one of the few surviving members of the old grass roots Labor Party - is a man upon whom one could rely and who would honestly fight for these underprivileged people. I respect the few surviving members of the old grass roots Labor Party. There are a few sitting opposite at the moment. Australians, wherever one goes, would not for a moment hesitate to accept the word of the honourable member for Shortland as against the word of the Leader of the Opposition.
Honourable members opposite argue that this charge against the Leader of the
Opposition was not laid until this year. I have it on fairly reliable information - and I hope to produce to the House rather clear evidence - that the charge was made in 1967, 1 year after the alleged criticism was made by the Leader of the Opposition who said to his Party: ‘What is wrong with you fellows? Cannot these pensioners look after themselves? Why do we have to feather bed them?’ Those were the words of the Leader of the Opposition. I am reliably informed and I repeat that this charge was originally laid not in 1971 but in 1967 by the honourable member to whom I referred, the honourable member for Shortland. I hope to be able to verify that statement in the near future.
I have a particular complaint to put directly before the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth). For years now - long before I entered this Parliament - I have appealed to the Government to give special consideration to pensioners living in remote areas. I would again plead with the Government not to write back and tell me that the matter is being considered. I would like to see a concerted investigation into the possibilities of giving consideration to people who have to endure all the penalties of living in remote areas and in country areas. I would like to mention the obvious fact that every other category of people living in such areas receives consideration such as a western parity, a northern parity or various kinds of allowances. Yet pensioners have to endure not only the financial burdens of living in remote areas but also the emotional burdens of living in remote areas. Take for example an elderly man or woman who has to seek specialist medical attention. It is not just a matter of calling a taxi and going to see the local doctor. They have to travel to the nearest provincial city or metropolis - Brisbane, perhaps, in the case of those people living in the area which 1 represent. They are faced firstly with the general worry that old people have of leaving their home, packing up, getting into a train and wondering who will be travelling with them.
It is true that they get free travel. They probably get free medical attention when they arrive at the particular provincial city or metropolis, but they do not get free board. They are wondering what is happening back home. All in all, this is a great emotional penalty. The least they should get is some remuneration. I am a little tired of the argument that this cannot be done because of the constitutional requirement that the principle of one in all in should apply to any concession or monetary advantage that is made available to a section of the community. If this is the case then I say let us alter the Constitution; let us have a referendum so that special allowances can be made to pensioners who live in remote areas. Some of the galahs who are crowing on the other side of the House have occasionally appeared in western areas. They have come out to tell the people who live in country areas their own business. As I said on one occasion, I can only think of them as going through my area like a brumby with his tail on fire.
– I rise on a point of order. In view of the statements which the honourable member has just made would it be possible for him to move a motion so that we might support these fine sentiments?
– Order! There is no substance in the point of order.
– One can be assured that his suggestion will go back to the local Labor Party branches. I would like to mention one other point. If ever men stand condemned in this Parliament it is those who support the speech made by the honourable member for Grayndler earlier today on the Commonwealth Electoral Bill. I challenge any member on the other side of the House who represents rural areas to come out and declare whether he supports the principle of one vote one value. If he does he is betraying the pensioners in rural areas. If the principle of one vote one value is introduced no voice will be raised for the rural pensioners because country areas will not have a voice. I call on those who are now putting up this grave hymn of support for the pensioners to come out and declare whether they support the principle of one vote one value-
– Mr Speaker, I want to raise a point of order.
-Order! The honourable member for Kennedy will resume his seat. The honourable member for Chifley wishes to speak on a point of order.
– My point of order is that the honourable member has been talking about the Commonwealth Electoral Bill which was dealt with earlier today. We are now dealing with the Social Services Bill. I think that his remarks should be kept to this Bill and that he should not be allowed to talk about the principle one vote one value.
-Order! There is no point of order. The honourable member for Kennedy was referring to the position of country pensioners. I think he was quite within his rights.
– This is exactly my point. If the principle of one vote one value is introduced any member of the Opposition who has the guts can say to his Party: You vote your way; I will be like the 8 traitors who walked across the floor of the Queensland Parliament 2 days ago and who betrayed the interests of the people who live in rural areas in Queensland. 1 will vote with the Country Party and support country people’.
– 1 rise on a point of order. I take the point that this is a debate on social services. Has the honourable member the right in this Parliament to viciously attack his coalition colleagues in that way? This is disturbing to me.
– There is no substance in the point of order. The honourable member for Grayndler will resume his seat.
– I conclude by merely making my point again.
– I rise on a point of order. My point of order is that the honourable member is even disgracing the Minister for Social Services, who is at the table, by what he is saying. I suggest that the Chair should draw the attention of the honourable member to the matter which is before this House.
-Order! There is no substance in the point of order. The honourable member will resume his seat.
– The matter before the House relates to the interests of pensioners who live in rural areas. If the principle of one vote one value is introduced, pensioners in these areas will have no effective voice raised for them. They will have to depend on people who live in urban areas and who would not have a clue as to how people live in rural areas.
Sitting suspended from 5.59 to 8 p.m.
– Prior lo the suspension of the sitting 1 made reference to the fact that the Leader of the Opposition had referred to the feather-bedding of pensioners. I also referred to the fact that those who refuted this claim had asked why a certain amount of time had elapsed before the matter was brought up. I said that the matter had been mentioned in the House in 1967. 1 am now able to refer to Hansard to prove my point. On 1 1th April 1967 the honourable member for Shortland is reported in Hansard as having said: 1 am aware that the utter disregard which is to be constantly seen .in this place of the great difficulties under which lens of thousands of pensioners and others exist is not wholly shared by Government supporters, because I know an odd character or two on this side of the House who do not believe that pensioners should be featherbedded. 1 would say that this is irrefutable proof of what the honourable member for Shortland claimed more recently was once said by the Leader of the Opposition. In all reason and logic, this fact must be admitted.
A great difficulty which pensioners in remote areas have to contend with is they do not have readily available to them the amenities and facilities which are provided in the less remote areas by hard working people who give most of their spare time to looking after our senior citizens. I refer to the splendid clubs which exist in such places as Brisbane. I think immediately of the senior citizens club in Fortitude Valley, which is supported by the Rotary Club in that area, lt has many small refinements. Elderly ladies may go there and have their hair done, their fingernails attended to and all the other little things done which make every woman, whatever her age, feel that she is wanted. The people who live in remote areas are utterly deprived of this sort of facility and assistance. I ask the Minister for Social Services to examine very closely the possibility of compensating them for the financial disabilities they have because of the higher cost of living and the extra expense of these additional services in remote areas.
I conclude by again referring to the fact that honourable members on the other side of the House seem to have such utter disregard for human dignity that they constantly - I will not say that they do it entirely for political purposes - send back to their local branches every little utterance that a Government supporter makes which may be used against him and every little move that they make in support of the pensioners. Let me point out that it does not help them. I do not think that I have anything else to say except that this rise in the pension rate will be appreciated. Certainly it is not nearly enough to meet the requirements of pensioners, but at least some progress is being made.
– This Bill seeks to increase pensions by 50c a week as from 1st April 1971. lt should not be necessary to make such an obvious statement as that, but it is made necessary by the extraordinary performance of the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter) prior to the suspension of the sitting and in view of the remarks of every other Government supporter who has participated in the debate so far. Apparently their remarks were aimed at converting the debate into a discussion of what the age pension should have been under the Chifley Government in 1949. lt seems to be believed by the Government supporters that if they can show that the Chifley pension was no good then theirs must be all right. This is such a grotesquely illogical proposition that I wonder how grown men could put it forward, but it has been put forward during this debate. Let me answer it.
I am prepared to accept the Government’s calculation that on 1970 prices the purchasing power of the Chifley pension would represent only $10.75. My simple response to that historical fact, however, is that the Chifley pension was too low. Even allowing for post-war difficulties, it would not meet present-day standards. But a future Labor government certainly would meet current standards and not those pertaining in 1949. Let me add two further points about the Chifley social welfare programme. Firstly, its pensions may not have been high enough, but they were certainly higher than any that had gone before. The standard cost of living table which the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) incorporated in Hansard first on 3rd September last year and again at the beginning of this debate only starts at the year 1947 and compares the Chifley period with what has come after. I invite the House also to compare it with what went before. For this purpose, with the concurrence of honourable members, I incorporate in Hansard a table on the rate and real value of pensions between 1911 and 1964, which was compiled by T. H. Kewley in Social Security in Australia’.
If one looks at this table one will find that in 1949 when the Chifley Government went out of office the index was at only 177 points compared to 243 points in 1964. But compare that figure of 177 with the position which applied in 1940, which was the year before the Australian Labor Party came into office. It was only 126 then. In other words, an increase was achieved on the index from 126 to 177. Moreover, this increase was achieved during the war years. Therefore, before being too critical about what the standard was in those days, one should keep in mind what it replaced.
It should be remembered also that the pension was not the only concern of the Chifley Government. In the midst of the difficulties of the same wartime period it also succeeded in introducing the widows’ pensions in 1942; maternity benefits for Aboriginal mothers in 1942; reciprocity with New Zealand in age and invalid pensions in 1943; funeral benefits in 1943; a second form of maternity benefit in 1943; unemployment and sickness benefits in 1944; pharmaceutical benefits in 1944; hospital benefits in 1945; tuberculosis benefits in 1945; and the Commonwealth Employment Service in 1945. If these matters are taken into account together with the increase which was made in the age pension over this extraordinarily difficult period in Australia’s history we may in the future hear less about what the present Government has achieved compared to what the last Labor government achieved.
I will now revert to the provisions of the Bill. Let me say that in one sense the Bill provides nothing to talk about. The Government supports a pension increase of 50c a week because it obviously believes that that is enough. The Australian Labor Party supports a 50c a week increase on the different ground that anything is better than nothing. In short, irrespective of the preliminary manoeuvrings, the proposed 50c a week increase will be supported by all honourable members in this House. The Bill will certainly go through this chamber unamended. That being so, one might be tempted to say: ‘Let it go through. What is the point in talking about it?’ In the immediate and strictly practical sense there is none. On the other hand, we must talk about it because the contents of this Bill, and especially the way in which the Bill was foreshadowed, raise fundamental questions as to what our attitudes should be on not only pensions but also the whole social welfare system in Australia. For example, what do we believe that the age pension is supposed to do? What is it supposed to be? Is it meant to supplement other income or sources of support or is it meant to be enough on its own to support life at a tolerable standard? Is it properly regarded as a right or a charity?Is it a measure for the good of the recipients or for the good of politicians who are short of something to say at election time or, on more recent precedent, during motions of no confidence?
What is the pension supposed to be? That is the fundamental question. Until we answer it we cannot hope to establish the end point at which social services should be aimed nor, obviously, can we judge how near or far away we are from that point at any given time. Surprisingly enough, however, this is the subject which is most rarely discussed in the whole avalanche of words which invariably descends on this Parliament whenever social service benefits are under consideration. The major failure to define aims has consistently been on the Government side and that is simply because . it is basically the Government’s responsibility to do it. Yet to be fair one must also admit it is a failure which has appeared in the past in the Opposition as well. Instead of discussing the social welfare aims appropriate in an affluent democracy and instead of discussing need, all of us too often have been content to deal in statistics, averages, percentages, tables, indices and summaries and having exhausted all these things, in reciprocal abuse. We are mesmerised by figures and. because there are so many figures available and . because they look so impressive when seen in isolation, our debates here have become highly predictable.
For example, we of the Opposition will almost invariably demonstrate that pensions have decreased as a percentage of the gross national product. The Government will respond by saying that pensions have increased in terms of purchasing power. We will come back to insist that they have fallen as a proportion of average weekly earnings. The Government will then say: Yes, but they are still more than they were in Chifley’s time,’ and so on. In the meantime I suspect that the pensioner who is waiting on the sideline while this game is being played is wishing a plague on both our houses. He cannot be expected to care whether he can buy 30 per cent, 3 per cent or 300 per cent more food than could the pensioner in 1947. What he cares about and what we should care about is whether he can buy enough food, enough shelter, enough clothing, enough enjoyment of life and, in the case of invalid, widow and deserted wives’ pensions and unemployment benefits, whether it is possible for the children of the family to expect a decent education.
The sad thing is that in the vast reams of statistics and statements on these matters one can find no attempt by the Gov-‘ ernment to determine what is really enough’, what a ‘decent standard’ is - that is, what minimum enjoyment of life every Australian should be able to expect, given the resources of the country. Any view on these matters involves a combination of technical inquiry and political judgment and it is the technical demands involved which mean that only the Government can do it. Others, even those professional in their own fields, are left to arbitrary judgments which make their final conclusions unsatisfactory. For example, I note that the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Australian Commonwealth Pensioners Federation have combined to call for pensions to be set at a sum equal to 30 per cent of average weekly earnings. How are we to know that that is not too much? On the other hand, my colleague the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) recently delivered an important address on national superannuation in which he suggested a pension level set at 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. This is in line with the commitment of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) at the time of the 1969 elections. Yet, how are we to know that that is not too little?
It goes without saying that I respect the people who have made both of the suggestions I have referred to but the simple fact is that their views cannot be evaluated in the absence of criteria as to the basic standards which the Australian community expects and can afford. To establish these criteria must be one of the urgent objects of government and regrettably there is no indication at all that it is or that it might become so. I posed questions earlier as to whether the pension should be regarded as a right or as a charity, as a supplement to other income or as an amount sufficient on its own to support a reasonable standard of living. These are very old questions which go back to the inception of pension systems but they are still important questions because the answers to them go a long way towards determining what the level of pensions should be and who should receive them.
In this country we seem to have gone through 3 distinct periods although the gradations from one to the other are not always clear. In the first place it is certain that the pension was regarded as a charity and no more - a simple philanthropy; an outdoor substitute for the poor house. This is well illustrated, for example, by the restrictions placed on pension eligibility in the first age pensions legislation in this country, namely, the New South Wales Act of 1900. To be eligible for a pension under that Act one must have lived in New South Wales for 25 years, have not been in gaol for more than 5 years or 4 times, have not failed to maintain one’s wife or family, have not deserted one’s wife and, to crunch it all, have been ‘of good moral character and have led for 5 years immediately preceding the application a sober and reputable life’. After all that one got $1 a week. That was the period often referred to as the ‘deserving destitute’ period. At least we can say we have come a fair distance from that. By the time of Prime Minister Holt we were already being told that the Government regarded the pension as a supplement to other income. Of course, that means that we have moved from the deserving destitute stage since a person with other income or assets is not what we would normally regard as destitute.
Last year or perhaps 18 months ago we came even further. It was at that time that the then Prime Minister, Mr Gorton, said that a pension should be enough to allow pensioners to live in what he called frugal comfort. That may have been an unfortunate choice of phrase and Mr Gorton certainly collected his fair share of raspberries because of it. But the fact is that his statement on that occasion was an important one and certainly the first occasion of which I am aware when the Government came round to recognising that the pension should have a certain status, that status being to support a certain standard of life. That leaves open for argument what that standard of life is and how much it would cost. But in its own way this was a great advance. It would be comforting if we could at least have an assurance from the present Government that this is still its understanding of the proper role of the age pension in our society.
As we have had that change away from the charity outlook so too has developed the view that the pension should be regarded not as a favour but as a right. The end point of that process, however, is that the means test has to go because if it is a right it cannot be a right based on poverty; it must be a right based on some such concept as a return for a lifetime of work and effort within the community. The means test has to go. The Government has been peculiarly reluctant to let it go. The Labor Party is committed to its abolition and, in the terms of its present amendment, wants to stress that that remains its position. One other important matter is connection with the pension is that above all we have to take the question of regular reviews out of the political arena. The Australian political parties have been notorious for the way they have forced pensioners to look anxiously for election year because, and I say this quite impartially as it applies to all parties in Australia, that is the time when pensioners may expect some increase in their pensions. However, we must have reached the highest peak of cynicism in the way that this Bill was foreshadowed. The announcement of an increase came only one month after we had been assured by the Minister for Social Services in the course of an urgency debate on social services that further increases in pensions were not necessary. That was said on 22nd February this year and less than a month later another 50c was offered.
It is not just a coincidence that that offer was made in an unprecedented way in the middle of a no confidence motion and during a reply by the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) to that motion who in effect said: ‘You can have confidence in me. Ignore all the things that have happened before. Ignore the fact that my Cabinet has exactly the same personnel as the previous Cabinet in which the Parliament had no confidence. Ignore all that. You can have confidence in me because I will give the pensioners 50c’. The aim of that exercise was recognised by all, including Government supporters, as having the cynical object of diverting attention in the media away from the debate in this House on a motion of no confidence. It worked. Every major newspaper in this country carried a headline the following day relating not to the motion of no confidence, not to the proceedings in the House which in theory at least could have brought down the Government, but to the announcement of the 50c increase. That is an appalling state of affairs, lt is an utterly cynical attitude towards the pension and we must overcome that attitude. There is only one way that we can do this, that is, by linking the pension to some sort of reliable index.
Our policy has been to link the age pension to average weekly earnings. On the other hand, the Minister is always talking about the cost of living index. 1 should like to say to him quite frankly that if he is prepared to tie the pension to the cost of living index 1 shall be perfectly happy. But there is one proviso to that, namely, that the base point should be put at a realistic level because what we have been doing in our comparisons of cost of living indices has been to base them on periods pre-war or even in the Chifley period at a level which, if f may put it this way, has been at an intermediate point between charity and a livable wage. That is the approach we have been making to social services. If we could update our base figure in the cost of living index so as to take out of it the element of charity on which it was originally based, then the cost of living index would do. But let us link it to something so that regular increases do not. have to be at the mercy of political and electoral considerations.
Summarising what I have said, in my belief our approach to this question of social services should be, firstly, to establish a standard which we regard as a proper minimum standard of life in this country: to link that with some sort of appropriate index to take the increments out of our political activities; to reduce the use of the means test to a more restricted scope than now applies, because 1 think one has to add the qualification when speaking of the abolition of the means test that probably it can never go completely - there will always be areas of unusual need or instances such as the concessional medical fees applying to pensioner consultations which will continue to need the means test, but to restrict the application of the means test as far as possible; to look into and to organise a national superannuation scheme: to recognise all the difficulties involved in the first five propositions that I have put to the House and to recognise them in a practical way by setting up an all party select committee which will look into the question and, with the advice of departmental experts and others, be able to bring down suggestions for policies which might have some prospect of mutual acceptance.
Our social services, as has been said already many times in this debate, were once the pride of the Australian community. lt is time to make them so again. We can never achieve that unless we break from the methods of the past. I believe that the amendment to the Bill proposed by the Labor Party provides a way in which we might achieve that break. I have pleasure in supporting it on those grounds.
– In speaking to this Bill I should like first of all to refute completely the amendment proposed by the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden). The first three parts of the amendment could be quite easily countered by reading from what was said originally when the pension was increased. The Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) indicated that the increase in pensions proposed was an interim measure. He said that any increase to be given in the Budget would do justice to pensioners. The second three parts of the amendment are taken care of by what was said by the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) in his second reading speech, that the Government is undertaking a fundamental review of social services and related pensions and also of methods of adjusting such benefits. He went on to say that this review, which has already been commenced, will be taken into consideration in the coming Budget.
The amendment which has been proposed shows the complete insincerity of the Opposition with regard to pensioners. This is typical of the Australian Labor Party and its approach of proposing amendments on items in respect of which the Government has already instituted action. This afternoon we heard from the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) a reference to the feather bedding of pensioners. If I remember rightly, we first heard of this from the honourable member for Deakin (Mr Jarman) on 16th February, at which time it was denied emphatically by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam). In the face of that denial the honourable member for Shortland (Mr Griffiths) made a statement in this House later in the month, but once again it was denied emphatically by the Leader of the Opposition who said that he had never raised that matter before. We are indebted to the honourable member for Griffith for his remarks this afternoon and 1 think pensioners also should be indebted to hint for raising this matter. I shall reiterate what the honourable member for Shortland said on this matter on 11th April 1967. He said:
I am aware that the utter disregard which is to be constantly seen in this place of the great difficulties under which tens of thousands of pensioners and others exist is not wholly shared by Government supporters, because I know an odd character or two on this side of the House who do not believe that pensioners should be feather bedded.
Why should the honourable member have said that and why would he have said that?
– That is the third time.
– I know it is, but it is just as well to let honourable members opposite, the pensioners and the public know of the Australian Labor Party’s attitude to pensioners. Continuing my reference to the rise of 50c in the standard rate pension, as I said before this is apart from any rise given in the Budget. This increase was granted because of moves in the consumer price index and to help pensioners meet their current needs and expenses. This is an interim measure and this action was taken because of the rise in the consumer price index. If the Government can make this approach to pension payments because of a rise in the consumer price index, surely it can give consideration to a differential rate for pensioners in northern areas. If a rise in the consumer price index can be taken into account in one regard we should be able to take it into account for other purposes.
The Taxation Office recognises that some Australians live in remote parts ot the country and that others live in the cities and it has classed some people as being in zone A and others as being in zone B. Why could not pensioners be dealt with in a similar way when it comes to an assessment of their pensions? I have raised this matter several times before in this place and have made representations concerning it on many occasions. I do so again tonight in an effort to obtain a reasonable differential for people living in remote areas. Honourable members will recall that the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter) said the same thing. He lives in a remote area and so do I. 1 hope that the honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Collard) will say the same thing because he would have to deal with pensioners who do not live in or about the cities but who would experience a high cost of living because they live far from the capital city.
In my endeavours to place this matter before the Government I have been joined by the Northern Territory Division of the Council of Commonwealth Public Service Organisations which, at a meeting late last year, passed a resolution that the Division, having considered the plight of civilian pensioners in the Northern Territory and bearing in mind that the majority of professional people and workers generally receive an allowance in addition to salary or wages to compensate them for the disadvantages of living in the Northern Territory, considers there is ample justification for the payment of a district allowance to pensioners and fully supports the Northern Territory Pensioners Association campaign to this end. I am glad that the Division passed this resolution because it adds strength to my argument that pensioners should receive a differential rate for living in remote areas.
When the Minister and the Government are undertaking a fundamental review of social services and when they are considering Budget proposals for this year I ask that they again look hard at the situation of pensioners in the north and adopt the same aatitude as the Taxation Office takes in respect of zone allowances. As the honourable member for Kennedy said, the Government should see that something is done for these pensioners. I urge the Government, in considering its Budget proposals, to take into account the cost of living of people in remote areas and grant them a differential rate to equalise the value of their pensions with those of pensioners living in the south.
– I was rather disturbed to hear the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder) reject the Opposition’s amendment. This simply means that in his opinion pensioners in the Northern Territory are now receiving an adequate amount and the pension should not be increased. Apparently he thinks that the recipients of other social services are in a similar position. Whilst I am disturbed about this. I am sure that the electors in the Northern Territory will be not only interested in but also quite disgusted at his attitude. It is obvious from the manner in which the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) spoke on Tuesday evening when he introduced this Bill that the real policy of his Government is not to elevate pensions to a reasonable level compared with the cost of living but to reduce wages to rock bottom level and reduce the standard of living to the deplorable conditions under which workers suffered several years ago. The Minister carefully deviated from the contents of the Bill and directed his remarks to attacking the workers and their trade unions for their activities in trying to gain wage justice and improved working conditions. We realise that it was quite impossible for the Minister to justify his Government’s miserable attitude to social services, but that was no excuse for his bitter attack upon the very people who undoubtedly will be pensioners in the not too distant future.
The Minister apparently overlooks or ignores the fact that the large majority of pensioners were themselves workers and were victims of the system of low wages and high prices which this Government practises. The Minister also apparently overlooks the fact that pensioners generally are a fair minded section of the community whose minds go back to the depression days and to the complete lack of consider ation that was extended to workers and their families during that time. Pensioners do not ask merely for justice for themselves; they ask also for justice for the other underprivileged persons in the community. I am sure that the attack which the Minister made on Tuesday against the workers and their families will bring him no thanks and no congratulations from the senior citizens of his country.
The Liberal and Country Party Government, by the Bill which we are presently debating, continues as in the past deliberately to ignore the needs, plight and suffering of that section of the community which is entirely or largely dependent upon social services for an existence. The increase of 50c for those pensioners who are now receiving the maximum rate is miserable in the extreme. The fact that certain other social service recipients who have not received any increase in allowances or benefits for some considerable time in the past and who are not to receive any increase now is downright shameful. The Minister admitted, grudgingly perhaps but admitted nevertheless, that the Government had decided that an increase in pensions was warranted to meet the increase in the price of consumer goods. But despite that admission the Government deliberately denies any increase in payments to dependants of pensioners. This denial by the Government means only that the pensioner and his dependants will suffer a lower standard of living, even after the proposed 50c increase applies, than the standard of living immediately following the increase, miserable as mat was also, last year.
The cost of providing for dependants has increased as a result of the increase in the cost of consumer goods but the Government deliberately has refused to make any adjustments to dependants’ allowances and therefore has deliberately reduced the living standards of the’ people concerned. For instance, let us consider the position of the age or invalid pensioner whose wife does not qualify for the pension itself but who, because of her husband’s incapacity, receives a wife’s allowance currently of$7 a week. That allowance will not be increased now, nor was it increased on the last occasion. In fact, it has not been increased since 10th October 1968. It has been increased only once since 1963. It must be remembered that the pensioner in such circumstances receives only the same rate of pension as a single pensioner who has no dependants. So, in actual fact the wife of the pensioner in the circumstances to which I am referring is expected by the Government to live on the princely sum of $7 a week, which is the same as she received 3 years ago.
In his second reading speech the Minister, as he invariably does, went back some 20 years to compare age and invalid pension rates of those times with today’s rates. He claims that there have been substantial improvements but of course, this is not the case. Where there have been improvements, they have been very minor. In many cases there has been no improvement at all. I do not think for one moment that any responsible person would suggest that the rates of pension in 1949, to which the honourable member for Perth (Mr Berinson) referred, were anywhere near adequate. Incidentally, when the Minister refers to the situation 20 years ago he never tells the House what happened to the promise his Party made in 1949 to the people thai it would abolish the means test. He does not tell the House that it was on that promise and several other promises that his Parly was elected. It never intended to honour those promises and they have never been honoured.
Members of the Government Parties apparently are of the opinion that the pension payments of 20 years ago were close to being adequate to meet the needs of pensioners thenI say that because the argument used by the Minister and other Government supporters is that to their way of thinking the minor improvements that have been made have placed pensioners in a fairly favourable situation. Of course pensions 20 years ago were not adequate. If Government supporters want to compare pensions of 20 years ago with today’s pensions they should compare such things as the wife’s allowance of 1951 with what it is today. Because of the present allowance I would suggest that members opposite might regard the rate paid as a wife’s allowance in 1951 as far too high. At the end of 1951 the wife’s allowance was S3 a week, while the rate of pension was $6 a week. In other words, the rate of wife’s allowance was exactly half the rate of pension.
After the increase of 50c a week provided for in this Bill comes into operation, the standard pension rate will be $16 a week; but the wife’s allowance will remain at $7 a week, whereas to retain its proper value in relation to the pension it should be increased to$8 a week. In fact, in 1 969 it should have been raised to $7.50, using the argument of members of the Government parties, and last year it should have been raised to$7.75. So, in comparison with the position 20 years ago. to which the Minister and other members of the Government parties are so fond of referring, this Government has deliberately denied the wives of certain pensioners moneys to which they definitely were entitled. Not only has it deliberately denied them moneys on other occasions but it has continued to do so on this occasion.
We find a similar position with respect to the eldest or only child of a pensioner. In 1951 the allowance was$1. 1 5 a week. Ten years later in October 1961, it was increased by 35c a week to $1.50, representing an average increase of 31½ a year - a magnificent record for this Liberal-Country Party Government. Today almost 10 years later again, it is only $2.50, and no intention to grant any increase is indicated in the Bill now before us. Here again if the Government and the Minister are dinkum in their claim of improving social services above the 1949 situation, they should immediately increase the child allowance by at least$1 a week. In the field of child endowment the situation is absolutely deplorable. Today the amount for the eldest or only child is still 50c a week, which is exactly the same as it was in 1956. In the field of maternity allowance, there has been no increase at all over the 20 years of Liberal-Country Party government.
So, it is rather ridiculous and quite dishonest, I suggest, for the Minister and other members of the Government parties to claim substantial improvements in social services over the past 20 years when in fact, as I said before, any improvements have been very slight indeed and many of the items have completely lost their value. I do not know one area of social services in respect of which it could honestlyand properly be said that the recipients are receiving a fair deal or adequate assistance. Quite obviously, the Government would administer even worse treatment except for the fact that to do so would be political suicide. The Government does not measure pensions and other social service payments against the needs of the people concerned: it measures them against what the political impact or the political effect will be. I am quite certain that it was only the fact that the Government was well and truly on the decline in its political standing, as a result to some extent of its shabby treatment of the pensioners last year, that made it come out with the present 50c increase and announce it during the debate on the motion of censure that the Australian Labor Party had launched against it.
The Government is completely consistent in its treatment of those people who are dependent or largely dependent on social services. It is completely consistent in that it is always unfair and it always treats them contemptuously as compared with its treatment of other sections of the community. For instance, as was properly pointed out in the pensioners little budget document, last year the Government gave tax cuts of $10 a week to certain people on very high incomes, but at the same time it gave pensioners an increase of only 50c a week and gave most other social services recipients nothing whatsoever. Therefore, it could fairly be said that many people who did not require any financial assistance at all received it - and quite substantially - at the expense of those people who did need some help.
Our amendment to the motion for the second reading of this Bill, which was moved and spoken to so ably by the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden), sets out some of the requirements that we see as being very necessary if we are properly to correct the shortcomings of the present social services system. Let me take the first point. We say that the increases proposed in the Bill are inadequate. Surely no-one can honestly disagree with that. Surely no-one would suggest that the miserable increase of 50c in age, invalid and widow pensions is sufficient. But the way members of the Government parties have spoken raises some doubt. So the only way it can be proved is by the vote. Those who vote against our proposition will be making it perfectly clear that, as far as they are concerned, the increase of 50c given to the pensioners on this occasion is as much as they deserve.
Our second proposition is that social service payments generally are inadequate. The term ‘social service payments’ includes, as well as pensions, such things as wife’s allowance, child and guardian allowances, child endowment, maternity allowance, funeral benefit and unemployment and sickness benefit. We say that the existing payments in all of those areas are less than they should be. Again the result of the vote will show what honourable members generally consider in regard to the situation. Anyone who votes against our proposition will be making it clear that in his mind the amounts being received by social services recipients are quite sufficient.
Our third point is that steps should be taken immediately to eliminate poverty. Surely we can expect the whole of the Parliament to support that proposition. Surely no-one would want the poverty conditions that exist in some areas to continue. But, again, the tone of the contributions to the debate from the Government side causes us some concern, and we will await with interest the outcome of the vote before being sure whether members of the Government parties really want to eliminate the poverty and suffering that occur in some areas of the community.
I come now to our fourth proposition, which is for a national superannuation scheme and the elimination of the means test. Surely members of the Government parties, and particularly the Minister for Social Services, will support that item. After all, it was way back in 1949, as 1 just said, that the Government parties, under the leadership of Mr Menzies, as he then was, told the people that, if elected, they would take steps immediately to abolish the means test. Of course, nothing or very little has happened up to date. Here is an opportunity for members of the Government parties to support our proposition and to show that they are dinkum on this matter.
The Minister must vote for it unless he is only a sham fighter because, as those of us who have been around this place for some time remember very well, when he was a backbencher he used to be on his feet every second night speaking in adjournment debates and advocating the abolition of the means test. We also remember that he used to advocate better social service payments and a better deal for the Aboriginals. But since he became a Minister he has failed to take much action in that regard. So perhaps we should not count on him too much in this regard either.
I come now to our fifth proposition, namely, that pension payments should be a proportion of average weekly earnings. Surely that would be a very fair way of adjusting pensions. What could be fairer than that? Once we arrive at what the proper proportion should be, it is a simple matter to make the necessary adjustments. We would get away from the undesirable method, to which the honourable member for Perth also referred, under which pensioners have to rely on elections or a decline in the slocks of the government to obtain any increase in pensions. I disagree completely with the Minister’s claim that the value of the pension has increased over the past 20 years. 1 say that it has well and truly deteriorated.
According to an answer given to a question placed on the notice paper by the honourable member for Oxley, a single age pensioner in 1949, under a Labor government, received 24 per cent of the then average weekly earnings. I do not suggest that 24 per cent is the correct proportion. I do not know whether it is or whether it is not. I would think that it is not sufficient. But the point I am making is that in 1949 it was 24 per cent. In 1950, when the Menzies Government made its first alteration to pensions, they were reduced to 21.9 per cent of the then average weekly earnings. In 1951 the Menzies Government made a further reduction to 21.8 per cent. Since then there has been a gradual decline until at this point of time - including the proposed 50c increase - the proportion has dropped to 18.4 per cent of average weekly earnings, representing a reduction of 5.6 per cent.
So, J am afraid that how the Minister can arrive at a conclusion that the pension has more effective value today than it had back in 1949 under a Labor government escapes me. But, irrespective of that, the figures I have just given prove a definite decline in value in relation to average weekly earnings, which in turn can mean only that the pensioners’ standard of living, as measured against average weekly earnings, has deteriorated seriously, whereas under our proposition it would be maintained.
The sixth and last proposition in the Opposition’s amendment is that the subject of social services should be referred to a select committee of this House. The need and urgency for that measure to be adopted can quite clearly be seen in the hopeless mess and the many anomalies of the Social Services Act as it stands at present. I instance the case of those married couples where only the husband is of pensionable age and where, as a result, his wife receives no pension at all. Many such couples must be facing very serious problems. Something must be done to ensure that the plight of those people is at least largely overcome. The way in which it can and should be overcome is to put those women on a pension also when their husbands become eligible to receive a pension. Surely that would not be beyond the resources of our economy. The numbers would be minimal and the cost would be negligible. I do not see how any select committee established to investigate such a matter could fail to make a recommendation along those lines.
Another injustice in the Social Services Act is the lack of the right of appeal in the case of an applicant for an invalid pension who is rejected on the say-so of one doctor who goes completely by the book in relation to the 85 per cent incapacity provision. That doctor may never have seen the applicant before. On the day when the doctor does see him, the applicant may be feeling a little better than he normally does. As a result, the doctor may refuse to make a recommendation. Such an applicant surely should have the right of appeal to a board of doctors, one of whom, if the applicant so chooses, should be of his own choice. No applicant should be refused a pension on the say-so of one doctor, lt is only common justice to allow an appeal in those circumstances. I feel that a select committee would favour such a proposal.
Numerous areas of the Social Services Act require careful examination and correction. A select committee could make a very thorough examination of the problems from all angles. Therefore, no reason could exist why this Parliament should not support our sixth proposition for the appointment of this select committee. As a matter of fact, there is no reason at all why this Parliament should not support every one of the recommendations in the Opposition’s amendment. All the items that we have placed before the House in our amendment show that in our opinion these sorts of things should be done. We do not oppose the second reading of this Bill. We do not want to deny the pensioners this miserable increase of 50c a week that the Government has given them, but we do say that the proposals in our amendment should be agreed to.
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I notice that, in decency, Government members have ceased defending this shabby Social Services Bill. As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, I am the third consecutive Opposition member to speak on this measure since the resumption after the sitting was suspended. I support the farreaching amendment to this bill moved on behalf of the Opposition by the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden). The paltry gesture provided by this Bill was made not really to help some pensioners but rather to divert the public’s attention from the Opposition’s stinging attack on this stale, wrangling dispirited Government.
Significantly, the announcement of the increase was not made by the Treasurer (Mr Bury) or by the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth). In fact, the Minister for Social Services seemed to be as singularly stunned and flabbergasted as everybody else was by the cynical and rather offhanded gesture of the new Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) in the middle of a debate on a motion of want of confidence in the Government. The announcement came as a shabby kind of repudiation of all the protestations by the Government, at the time of the introduction of the Budget in August of last year and in a debate only a couple of weeks before this measure was introduced, that no more money could be found for pensioners or for any form of social welfare. Are we to believe, then, Mr Deputy Speaker, that the Government salts away undisclosed tax revenue for use in political emergencies or for every time when a change of Liberal Party Prime Minister occurs?
This Bill provides an increase of 50c a week for some pensioners. This increase applies to those who are already entitled to the maximum benefit either at the standard rate or at the married rate. An increase of 50c a week means that such pensioners will receive about 7c a day extra. That represents the price of a daily newspaper or the price of an apple. That is the contribution that is made for pensioner welfare in the face of ever increasing costs in the community.
– I would take the apple.
– The honourable member would take the apple. That is about the worth of the pension increase. This is what we are debating, in fact. Obviously this is a very inadequate compensation for the increase in the cost of living. “Everybody in the community is well aware that it is the cost of fundamental needs of living that are rising in price. The increases are in such commodities as butter, bread, in some places milk, and such things as transport costs, municipal rates and so on. These are the goods and services that the pensioners, in common with the rest of the members of the community, have to use and to purchase.
As I have said, the benefits proposed by the introduction of this measure will apply only to those in receipt of the full pension and will provide some benefit to those who receive within 50c of the full pension. Only recently, the Minister for Social Services brought out a new guide book on the application of the means test. If it was not difficult enough to comprehend that guide book, the Minister has introduced as another measure which involves an inequitable rule of thumb, a clumsy kind of formula in respect of this pension increase. Administratively, the social services legislation is a nightmare as most people who try to understand the operation of the means test will find out. Most people find it impossible to understand. As a matter of fact, many a lawyer has referred people to the Department of Social Services or to their local Federal member in preference to trying to comprehend the social services legislation. So I hope that when the Minister gives a promise that a complete review of the social services legislation will be undertaken he will carry out that promise to the satisfaction of the Opposition and that it will bring about a very much desired measure of simplicity. There is no consistency of application for the means test. It is a complete hotch-potch. Obviously, no research has been done in working out this shabby political gimmick that is now before the Parliament. The measure was pulled out of a hat and it will only add to the people’s misunderstanding of the whole legislation.
The important point is that the Prime Minister announced that the measure was being introduced because of the increased cost of living and because of the 6 per cent increase granted in the national wage case. If that was so, one would wonder why some increases for other classes of pensioners were not included in the Bill. Take for example the case of widows. In the last Budget the income for a widow with 3 children was increased by a paltry LS per cent. By contrast, the average wage earner received an increase of 8 per cent during the 1969-70 financial year, and there was a substantial reduction in income tax for most people in the community. What compassion is shown for the widows? No increase in the dependant’s allowance for widows was included in the Budget and no increase has been included in this measure. A widow with 3 children all over the age of 6 years will, under this measure, have her pension increased from $29 a week to $29.50 a week. This is an increase of 7c a day for a woman with 3 dependent children. This represents an increase of 1.7 per cent. So counting together the increase in the last Budget and the increase now proposed we have a total increase of 3.5 per cent. In other words, we are asking n woman with 3 children ail over the age of 6 years to live on 35 per cent of the average weekly earnings of the community.
It is not only the case of widows with dependent children which has been forgotten. As my colleague, the honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Collard), has just mentioned, no increase has been provided for the dependent wives of pensioners. Are they not expected to continue living? Are nol they expected to continue to buy the everyday necessities that have risen in price? If this is so, why is it that they are condemned to receiving still the paltry amount of $7 a week? Imagine an adult person trying to live on $7 a week. There is still no provision for the wife of a pensioner who is not an invalid or who is not 70 years of age. I refer now to the case of a gentleman who has turned 65 and who is not an invalid. If his wife is under 60 years of age she gets nothing, so the 2 of them have to live on $16 a week. Can honourable members imagine an adult couple paying their way in society today on §16 a week? The rest of us think it is bad enough that the average weekly income in the community is S84.80 a week.
The guardian’s or mother’s allowance for single pensioners with children remains the same as it has been for the last 2 years. There has been no increase. The allowance of $2.50 for the first child remains at S2.50. There has been no increase provided in this legislation. For subsequent children the paltry amount of S3. 50 each is paid to meet all their expenses. That amount has not been altered by this legislation. The supplementary allowance that is given to pensioners to help pay for rent, and which applies to only about one-eighth of all pensioners, still remains at $2, the same as it has been, I think, for about 6 years. Yet who is unaware of the way in which rents have skyrocketed in every capital city and every provincial city and town in this country? Not even the means test was altered as far as the rent allowance is concerned. There was no application of the tapered means test to this payment. The contribution of S2 by the Commonwealth towards meeting this increase in the cost of housing and rent remains as it has been for 6 years. The fringe benefits have remained unchanged; not only the rent allowance which I have just mentioned but also those in respect to, say, telephone rentals which have gone up from $40 a year to S47 a year. This means that a pensioner who receives the concession is required to increase his rental payment from $26.66 a year to $31.33 a year. All of this has to come out of an increase of 50c a week. There has been no easing of the means test in this measure for widows, invalids or anybody else.
One of the things that I do want to bring to the notice of the House is that in applying the means test it is the gross income that is taken into account, a most unfair provision. The other day 1 went to a sheltered workshop. The people working there earned SIO a week, the maximum they are allowed to earn under this legislation but in some cases they had to pay tax on their earnings. Nevertheless, this was the amount that they were allowed to earn. So despite the fact that the Commonwealth takes back some of the $10 they earn, it is still that same $10 that affects their pension. I recently asked the Treasurer (Mr Bury) why the Commonwealth did not provide for widows and invalids the same or an equivalent provision as is granted under the age allowance in the field of taxation. He assured me that this proposition had been considered on a number of occasions but the Government had not seen fit to adopt it. In other words, the Government had not seen fit to allow widows and invalid pensioners to earn the amount that is permissible under the means test without it being affected by tax. At present those earnings are affected but the earnings of aged pensioners are not by virtue of the age allowance. The Treasurer said that the Government was not in a position to grant this concession which he estimated would cost about Sim to revenue each year.
While I am on the subject of people earning the amount of income permitted under the means test I suggest that the people concerned, especially invalids and those who work in sheltered workshops, should be allowed to deduct from their assessable income the costs of running a car. Many of these people are unable to use public transport and have to use a car. I suggest that they should be allowed to earn $10 a week net after deducting allowances for depreciation and the running costs of a car. In line with many people in the community and many organisations, I suggest that it is about time invalid pensioners and those who work in sheltered workshops were allowed to earn $20 a week rather than $10 a week as at present. This would give more incentive and inducement to invalids to extend themselves in their earning capacity, if this is possible, without having to worry about losing their pension. Of course, as soon as they earn $3 a week they lose their rent allowance or supplementary assistance, as it is called. That ought to be remedied.
A lot has been said in this debate about comparisons of social service benefits in this country with other countries, but the simple fact is that total cash social service benefit paid by the Government is falling as a proportion of the gross national product. Not only is it falling in relation to pensions paid in other countries but it is also falling as a percentage of the wealth of this country, the gross national product, The percentage of gross national product of all cash benefits was 5.9 per cent at the beginning of the 1960s and it is now 5.3 per cent or 5.5 per cent. It has been variously estimated by different authorities. This puts Australia well down the list of prosperous countries in its social service payments. Let us look at some of the countries with which we might compare ourselves in the percentage of gross national product they allocate to social service payments. The European Economic Community countries pay out 15.2 per cent of their gross national product in social welfare, Scandinavia pays 10.9 per cent, Canada 9.9 per cent, the United Kingdom 8.6 per cent, Switzerland 8.2 per cent, New Zealand 6.6 per cent, the United States 5.9 per cent and Australia, with a means test loaded on to it, pays 5.5 per cent, trailing all those countries with which we ought to be able to compare ourselves. There was a time when Australia was either in front or near the front as far as its social welfare provisions were concerned. Honourable members can see from those statistics provided by Professor Downing, the Professor of Economics at the University of Melbourne, that we are now not only trailing but trailing a long way back as far as our provisions are concerned.
One of the things that we had hoped would come out of this debate was that the Government would make provision for automatic adjustments of pensions. Pension payments and pension alterations ought to be taken out of the realm of party bickering and political banter. There are at least 14 countries that I can quote which now have provision for the automatic adjustment of long term benefits in relation to rising prices or the average wage in their community. The countries that are doing just this are Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Finland, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Uruguay. There are 14 countries and there may well be more which make automatic adjustments, not at the behest of a Prime Minister desperate to hang on to his position or in the face of an impending election, but regularly and automatically in relation to a fixed index, whether it be cost of living or the average wage in the community. This, as you would know, Mr Deputy Speaker, is part of the Labor Party’s policy. I say part of it because it embraces a good deal more as the proposed amendment suggests. As from 1972 Britain will provide for biennial review and adjustment of its pension rates; in other words, as I said before, taking it out of the realm of political bargaining.
A comparison of indexes of pension variations as against indexes of average incomes in the community in various countries again shows that we are well behind. Unfortunately, 1 have not the time, and it would be tedious, to quote the countries and the indexes as far as their relation to pensions, earnings and prices are concerned but in Belgium. Finland, France. Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom between 1958 and 196S - the years for which I have the latest figures - pensions went up at a far greater rate than did prices and also at a greater rale than did average earnings. This is not true in Australia. Comparisons show that as a percentage of the average weekly wage in the community pensions have been going down for a long time.
One other proposition I would like to put to the House relates to the portability of pensions. In other words, people who have earned a pension in this country by living here and by paying taxes over the number of years required to become eligible for a pension should be able to receive those pensions in another country of residence, if that is their desire. This applies not only to migrants who may have lived here for a number of years and then decided at the end of their days that they would like to return to their home country to retire, but also to Australian born people who may desire to go and retire in some other country. A strong case can be made out for the payment of a pension to these people. A number of countries, including the United States of America, already allow people who have earned a pension in those countries to receive those pensions should they go to live in .sonic other country.
Correspondence which most honourable members would have received refers to the hypothetical cases of 2 migrants. Migrant A came to Australia and lived here for 10 years, which was the period of time required to qualify for an age pension, and then returned to his own country and remained there for 30 years. Then he returned to Australia in his retirement and he was eligible to receive a pension because he had lived in Australia for 10 years at some time in his life. On the other hand, migrant B migrated to this country and remained here for 50 years. He paid taxes to our revenue. When he retired he returned to his homeland. He was no’ eligible to receive the pension in his homeland. This shows (he complete injustice of the scheme, and I hope that in the interests of humanity and of our migrant policy this question will receive the Minister’s attention during his promised review of social service benefits.
There are so many other matters to which one could refer. There is the matter of housing for pensioners. Everybody is aware of the long time which pensioners have to wait to receive a housing commission home. In my own State pensioners have to wait more than 5 years to receive a housing commission home at a rental which is suitable for pensioners. The homes for the aged which are provided under the Government’s subsidy scheme are not being made available to the needy pensioners in our community. Most of these homes are being made available io people who sell their own homes and then pay a deposit of S2.000 or $3,000 or $4,000 to some church or charitable organisation, in return for which they are provided with a home for the rest of their lives. Under the States Grants (Dwellings for Aged Pensioners) Act 1969 the Commonwealth has made a grant of $5m for the period up to 30th June last, but up to 30th June last only $3. 5m of that $5m had been expended. It is a poor show that many of the grants which the Government makes to help pensioners in the provision of housing, senior citizens centres, domiciliary services and welfare offices are conditional on local governments or State governments matching those grants. This places a severe limitation on the assistance and the Government’s objectives are not being reached because of that limitation. I suggest it is time that the Commonwealth shouldered its proper responsibilities and made LO conditional grants but direct unmatched grants to help these people in need. I strongly support the amendment, particularly that part of it which refers to the need for a thorough inquiry to be made into our social services programme.
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– -It was not my intention to address the House on this Bill this evening but after listening to some of the speeches of honourable members opposite I felt that I should refer to one or two matters. I think that each year for the 12 years in which I have been a member of this House I have heard the same old type of speech- from certain members of the Opposition. Although the honourable member for Barton (Mr Reynolds) was absent from this place for a period, my mind goes back to the time when he was here previously when he was for ever preaching that the Government had been insincere, that the pension rate was inadequate and all that sort of thing. I believe that this Bill, which was introduced by the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) earlier in the week, is a very limited measure. It has been introduced in the form of an emergency measure because of the general increases in costs which have occurred in the community.
I take this opportunity to compliment, firstly, the Minister and, secondly, the Government on their decision to introduce this emergency measure which provides for a small increase in pensions. It is very easy to say that the pension increase is insufficient. But the present time is not recogised as being the period when consideration is given to the general question of pensions. All honourable members know that this question is considered at Budget time, which is usually in August or September, and if I am any judge I am sure that the Minister and the Government will certainly give due consideration to the question between now and when the Budget is introduced. No doubt we will see a further increase granted in pensions if the Minister and the Government believe that costs have increased.
It is very easy to refer to the abolition of the means test and to say that the means test has not been altered. I think that it is very simple for anyone who is interested in the means test to understand it. The honourable member for Barton said that the means test was so complicated that even lawyers cannot understand it. I thought that he would conclude his remarks by saying: ‘Lawyers even come to me to explain the means test to them.’ 1 believe that it is a very straightforward means test. From time to time the Minister has prepared a ready reckoner which sets out how the means test works. It is based on weekly income and the capital which an individual may possess. I believe that if one looks at this chart one sees that it is very easy to understand the means test. If the honourable member for Barton believes that it is impossible for some lawyers and solicitors to understand the means test, I suggest to him that perhaps he should look around for another solicitor.
As regards the easing or abolition of the means test, for my part, I believe that we have gone about as far as we can go at this stage in easing the means test, because I am informed that if it were removed totally it would cost approximately $400m annually, which is a lot of money. At the same time, many of the people who are critical of the present means test and want it abolished are the same people who want to see a large increase granted in the base rate pension. There are many occasions on which the base rate pension could be increased. For my part, if the Government can see its way clear to spend $400m annually in order totally to abolish the means test, I suggest that the Government should look at some of the more needy areas in which to make an increase. 1 refer to such people as widows, particularly the widow with a family who has little chance of earning an independent income. Any increase in pension granted to these people would certainly be appreciated. Then I think of the invalid pensioner who has no opportunity to earn any independent income. These are the people at whom we should be looking closely to see whether we can grant any further increase in their pensions, rather than looking to see whether we can abolish the means test, thus literally throwing down the drain, annually. 3300m or $400m or whatever the amount is. I believe that the Opposition would be serving a better cause if it were looking at these matters, rather than trying to criticise the Government every time the question of an increase in pensions is raised.
I think that last night the honourable member for Boothby (Mr McLeay) referred to fringe benefits which he calculated are worth approximately $5 a week to each pensioner today. This is no mean effort because $5 is a lot of money. It is true that some people would not be making full use of these fringe benefits. But what about other people to whom they would be worth more than $5? In some cases the value could be $10 or $20. But $5 is the average, according to the honourable member for Boothby. No doubt he studied this matter and knows what he is talking about; I know he takes a great interest in social services.
During this debate Opposition members have said repeatedly that the value of the pension has deteriorated. I do not wish to go through all the details set out on the information sheet circulated by the Minister and which sets out the true values of pensions for the benefit of honourable members who are taking part in this debate. I think it is very important to note, however, that in 1947, when the present Opposition Party was in Government, the actual pension rate was $3.75.
– Oh, no!
– I have aroused reaction from some honourable members opposite. They will say immediately that the value of money has deteriorated and so forth. Nevertheless, if we compare the rates in 1947 with those in 1971 - I admit it is a long period - we find a very substantial increase in values from $3.75 to $16. For those honourable members opposite who may misunderstand, I mean $16 a week. This is coupled with the fringe benefits. One might say then that the value has been increased to $21 a week. As I explained a few minutes ago, in some instances the value of the fringe benefits is ever so much higher than $10 a week, it could be $20 a week. Single pensioners may earn $10 or have the equivalent in capital. If we are to follow this through we must consider the sliding scale. I will not bore the house with all the details but it is possible for a married couple to have earnings of up to, I think, $84 per week equiv alent. That is a pretty substantial figure. I am not suggesting for one moment that all pensioners get this amount of money.
I think it was the honourable member for Hume (Mr Pettitt) who referred last night to poverty. We hear a mighty lot about poverty but when we analyse the figures the percentage of people who are living on the poverty line is very small. From memory I think he said it represented about 2 per cent of pensioners. I do not want to be adamant about it because I am speaking from memory.
I reject the Opposition amendment. The Opposition is bringing up all the old things that it has brought up in the past. It is asking for a select committee and all sorts of things, and we have heard these stories before. We have come a long- way with social services but I do not want people to get the idea that we have reached the limit. 1 have pointed out that there are certain sections of the community today whose needs receive insufficient emphasis. They are the people I mentioned before - the widows, the invalids and those with no income other than the pension. These are the people to whom we must give greater consideration. 1 recall the time when the Opposition strongly opposed benefits introduced by the Government which differentiated between single and married pensioners. Honourable members opposite said that we were trying to penalise certain people and were very critical of the legislation. 1 note that their criticism has died away. They have realised now the importance of discriminating towards people in need. 1 have great pleasure in supporting the Bill and 1 reject the amendment moved by the Opposition.
– I want to refer to some points about retirement which have been hinted at by other speakers, certainly by the honourable member for Perth (Mr Berinson), and relate them to the review that the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) suggested is being undertaken by his Department. The Minister’s views tie in with ours, as expressed in the amendment. I do not want to argue at this stage about the actual level of pension or whether the amount covered by this Bill is sufficient. Frankly, I do not think we are in a position to judge accurately whether it is or is not. In any case, if the Department’s review does not include a terribly sympathetic consideration of our suggestion for the establishment of a select committee to look into social services, I hope and trust that the Minister will look into some of the factors I am about to mention.
At the moment people retire at certain arbitrary ages - men at 65 years and women at 60 years. That implies that all of us are cast in the same mould. But we are not; we are manifestly different. Our capacities, our interests and our jobs are variable. The result is that some people deserve to retire when they are in their fifties while others could well carry on into their seventies. I think it is wrong to have this arbitrary age for retirement. We ought to have a decade, perhaps, during which people in ay choose to retire, depending on their physical or intellectual capacities and the demands of their occupation, both physical and intellectual.
While carrying out my profession before coming to this place I observed people in their fifties who were physically beyond doing the job they were trying to do. They were struggling desperately to hang on until they could qualify for a pension because they had no other means of support. Of course, they were killing themselves in the process. Too often have I observed that tragedy. I have seen this in the case of patients with whom I tried to discuss the prospect of survival. I pointed out that they must let up because their heart would nol last that long. Yet they desperately said: ‘How else can I survive?’ In those cases what can a doctor do? He can do absolutely nothing but watch them, in essence, commit suicide while desperately trying to survive until they can gel their pension. That is the first thing I hope the Minister will consider. All of us are not the same. The demands on us are nol the same. There ought to be some variation in the age at which people may retire.
I said earlier that some people can perform their job quite adequately much beyond the present age of arbitrary retirement. lt is a punishment for these people to have to retire al the specified time. They lose their interests and their friends. They become lonely and forlorn. They despair. They die early. 1 have seen this also. If they had been able to continue in their occupation without prejudice to their entit lements as pensioners or their rights in any other way, or without being sacked simply because they had reached the age of retirement, they would have led a fruitful life for much longer and would have continued to contribute to society. I hope I have made that point also. We are not machines; we are individuals. All of us are different and there ought to be some latitude as to the age of retirement.
When people do retire, should they give up everything? With relatively little retraining and at a relatively low cost to the community, people retiring from particular occupations could be trained to do something else which could interest them and continue occupying their lives for a number of years while again contributing to the community and saving the community the cost of paying them pensions. They could continue to earn their way in the world and feel all the better for doing so. once again saving everybody including themselves.
Another concept when people feel that they need to retire from a particular job is the possible establishment of a Commonwealth retraining scheme. They should not be forced to undertake such a course but they should be able to choose to avail themselves of such facilities so that they could be retrained to do something else. There are many jobs in the community which can very adequately be done by elderly people thereby saving the younger people who could do something more useful and at the same time saving the elderly people from the loneliness and depression which so often besets them when they are forced to retire because of their age.
Finally, if they do retire what level of livelihood are they entitled to expect? lt is no longer a question of handouts which they are lucky to get because we are prepared to be generous. It has now reached the stage where, as the honourable member for Perth and even the former Prime Minister recently observed, pensioners are entitled to frugal comfort. I know that the word ‘frugal’ aroused a lot of chuckles and sometimes scathing comment but the vital word is ‘comfort-, lt is a recognition that people are entitled to more than simple existence and what is more it is not a privilege, it is their right. Their right is not something that wc ought to try to compare with whatever happened when the last
Labor government was in office. That is totally irrelevant. The expectations are what you and I expect today because the chances are that more of us will live to become pensioners. It is what we would expect for ourselves. J am not interested in the ‘blame game’. I am prepared to accept the strictures that relatively speaking - I do not know if it is true, I am not interested and I do not care - pensioners are better off now than they were in the days of the Chifley regime.
The fact remains, and I hope by common consent on all sides of this House, that the life of a pensioner is an exceedingly hard one today. 1 think that purely on selfish grounds all of us must at last recognise it is a right to which we are all entitled and for that reason we need to consider not just the mere sustenance, not just shelter so that the rain does not fall on us, but the other things that go to make life something worthwhile for a person as a human being, not as an animal. It involves not just food and clothing but companionship and where a person lives but not necessarily in terms of an old residence because their friends and relations may have passed on. It may be a case of helping elderly people to move to other areas where there are more people with whom they could communicate and allowing them some access to young people so that they do not rot on their own.
There are many aspects of the life of a pensioner which we as parliamentarians cannot understand. I think we are fools to continue to set ourselves the task of setting these levels. We need to consult social workers, occupational therapists, doctors, psychiatrists and other specialists in the community who deal with pensioners who are no longer able to cope. It will not be too many years before we in this place will be in the same position and we will need these sorts of support. This is one reason why we have moved for the establishment of a committee to be empowered to seek the advice of professional people in the community who look after, often with very little help from the rest of us, the pensioners in our community. We should not set ourselves up to be judges on this sort of assistance. We should seek expert guidance. If we did this we could not be blamed for doing the wrong thing. I trust that in the future there will be more jus tice for everybody including ourselves when the time comes for us to receive a pension. I do not in any way criticise the actual sum of money involved in the present legislation but for those reasons - constructive reasons, I hope - I support the proposals put forward by the Opposition and particularly the one referring to the appointment of a select committee to look into what we really ought to mean by social services in the 1970s.
– A lot of what I had intended to say has already been said by the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass). Although not as eloquently as the honourable member has asked I want to know when debates on social welfare will get out of the level of We gave them more than you gave them when you were in office’. I could not care less about who gave the pensioners such and such. I was 11 or 12 years old and in short pants when Chifley was the Prime Minister of this country. Quite frankly [ do not think that the people of Australia care about what the Australian Labor Party has done in the past. It is not important any longer. I will not go over what the honourable member for Maribyrnong has said but I totally agree with his comments. How often have we heard in this House how much we have progressed under 22 years of Liberal-Country Party rule? If we have progressed so much surely our hopes and aspirations with regard to social welfare should also have risen. 1 believe, as the honourable member for Maribyrnong does, that we should have a national inquiry into social welfare and we should genuinely try to remove social services from the realm of politics. I have said this before and it may sound hollow to honourable members on the other side but I sincerely mean what I say. I will be quite frank about this. I think it is in the interests of all political parties to get this matter out of the political arena. 1 cannot recall - I am sure that the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) will agree - one Budget when the Press, the television stations and the people of this country have universally said ‘What a wonderful Budget for the people of this country’ or ‘What a wonderful welfare Budget this is’. I cannot recall when the Liberal Party of Australia won votes on this issue, so for its sake, if not for ours, the best political interests would be served if social services were removed from what appears to be an area of political bribery from time to time. I am putting it to the Government that its own interests would best bc served in the long run by doing this.
I was quite stunned when this 50c increase in pensions was announced because only a few weeks before the announcement the Government had scornfully rejected a move by the Labor Party to have pensions increased by $1. This 50c increase was quite cynically introduced. 1 do not think there has been a precedent in history for the way in which the Labor Party’s motion of no confidence was replied to. All honourable members were present to hear the debate on the Labor Parly’s motion and we all witnessed what happened at the conclusion of the debate. The announcement made headlines in the Press the following day. The Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) suddenly announced that there will be a 50c increase in pensions. That must have been the most expensive piece of advertising in history, lt will cost the Government §5.500,000. Has a no confidence motion ever been replied to in such a way?
The honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden), the Labor Party shadow Minister for Social Services and a man whom I regard as one of the most sensitive human beings with whom I have had the good fortune to serve, highlighted the issue of the failure of the Government to include in ils pension increase any of the increase in productivity- the productivity that is so lovingly urged on all workers to struggle for. In my speech on the Budget last year 1 quoted facts and figures to indicate the extent of inflation and the relation of pensions to average weekly earnings. 1 do not want to make this evening a speech full of facts, figures and statistics, because one can get bogged down in that way. I wish to quote a brief excerpt from the speech made last night by the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden). He said:
In 1946 the standard rate of pension was 25.5 per cent of average weekly earnings. By the late 1950s it was down to 22.2 per cent; by the late 1960s it was down to 20.2 per cent; and *‘e entered the 1970s with it falling away quickly to 19.6 per cent, lt is now 18.4 per cent, only a few months after entering the 1970s.
I want to keep away from statistics in my speech tonight because people become bored with them. The statistics on social services have been given many times in this chamber, as has been the case in thi; debate. 1 wish to refer to cases that have come to my notice as the honourable member for Robertson. Just before I came here my attention was drawn to a very important case of a lady in my electorate who is living in a tent. She has 6 children. 4 of whom are living with her. A daughter of about 16 or 17 years is an unmarried mother. This lady pays rent of SI 5 a week for the tent which is located in a camping ground in the central coast area of New South Wales. Her son has been paying the rent because she has had no income. Her husband deserted her 6 months ago. She is not the cleverest woman in the world. She is not familiar with the procedures and forms necessary to gain a pension. She cannot find a home for herself and her family because the family’s record of payment of rent is poor. That is not necessarily her fault. None of the real estate people in the area will accept the family for a home. I do not blame them, because they are acting on behalf of clients.
This case came to my notice through officers of the St Vincent de Paul Society. They came to me because they did not know where to turn to find help for the family. Mr Sheridan, the officer at Wyong of the State Department of Social Welfare, had been handling the case. He is an excellent officer and has done wonderful work in the area. In helping this woman he went as far as the State Department of Social Welfare can go. The Housing Commission people would not give the family a home because they found on visiting them that they did not meet the standards required by the Commission. 1 am not being critical of the Commonwealth Department of Social Services as I have only just made an approach to that office to see whether a way can be found to help this woman. Such cases exist all around Australia, fortunately not in hundreds of thousands, but there are plenty of them.
Another case that came to my notice a few weeks ago concerns a gentleman of about 28 or 30 years. Not so long ago it was discovered that he is a dyslectic. He has difficulty in reading. After suffering from rheumatic fever he was found to have slight heart trouble. He has bad finger manipulation and for most of the time since he has been old enough to work he has been an invalid pensioner. I have spoken to him on a number of occasions and have found him to be extremely intelligent. It is almost incredible that his vocabulary is as large and varied as it is as he has had practically no education. He cannot read but can recognise a few signs and can write his own name. He cannot undertake hard physical work because of his bad finger manipulation and heart .condition. Each time he goes to Mount Wilga attempts are made to rehabilitate him. He is sent to a job requiring physical duties but loses it after a few days. He gets the sack and returns to Mount Wilga. So the process continues. He could live the rest of his life as an invalid pensioner but as an intelligent human being he wants to learn to read and write and to undertake work of which he feels he is capable. For some unknown reason he does not fit into a slot in the legislation.
We need a social welfare system with flexibility, one that does not require a person to fit into section A sub-section (1.), as it were. In a proper social welfare system the basis for assistance would be need and no other qualification should be necessary. It is not possible to legislate for every possible exigency. In cases such as I have mentioned the people concerned should be interviewed and counselled by a social worker. Every aspect of their lives should be examined, together with their individual and family needs. They should then be given educational, housing or financial assistance so that they can be rehabilitated. It should not be a case of ‘You will get $6.75 and $2 for this or that’. The district officer should have flexible standards to work by. He should be able to say to the Department: ‘Here is the case of an individual or a family. This is what is required. I desire your approval, Mr Minister.’ Once approval is given and the requirements are met by the Department the people concerned can start to be rehabilitated. Otherwise they will continue as they are, outside the mainstream of society and travelling on a decline into social deprivation and degradation. The inevitable cycle of poverty will continue. Poverty begets poverty. People remain with the same economic status that their parents had.
In the time left to me I wish to speak about the specific problems of the Robertson electorate. I hope that I have not been too parochial in the time that I have been here. Robertson is an area with problems peculiar to it. I have spoken to the Minister and he has invited me to talk with him about those problems because there is a unique situation in my electorate. The previous member for Robertson, Mr Bill Maxwell, has been in the House today. He is very much aware of these problems. About 83,000 people live in the shires of Gosford and Wyong which make up the Robertson electorate. Using a little guesswork and projecting the 1966 census figures forward, about 30,000 people in the electorate are over the age of 60 years. Assuming that about 13.000 children are of school age. it means that about 43 per cent - 30.000 out of 70,000 people - are in the over 60 years age group. About 4-3 per cent of the local population rely upon pensions or superannuation Many superannuitants are little better off than pensioners because they do not receive fringe benefits. If my figure of 43 per cent is correct. 57 per cent of the people are receiving salaries and wages which are adjusted upwards from time to time.
The Robertson electorate has twice the national average of aged people. Most electorates have about 22 per cent of their population in the over 60 years group, leaving about 78 per cent as wage earners or members of wage earning families. In the Robertson’ electorate a smaller group of people are available to assist in sustaining the people who need help. That might sound rather complicated, but I am sure the Minister is aware of what I am saying. In any community the lower income group and the less affluent sections of the community are assisted by the more affluent. We get a balance in 101 ways.
If in my electorate we have double the national average of aged people we must have a smaller proportion of people who are able to assist. We have twice the average amount of poverty; we have half the number of people who can assist in solving the problems of poverty. This responsibility now falls upon a very willing band of people such as the Lions clubs, Apex clubs. Rotary clubs, the Country Women’s Association, Legacy, Civilian Widows associations, the Returned Services League, Leagues clubs, Meals on Wheels, Red Cross, War Widows associations and the Australian Birthright
Movement. The place abounds in organisations which are being flooded night and day with requests to do the necessary charitable work, lt is impossible in- a situation like this for them to solve even a quarter of the problems with which they are faced. They cannot provide all the needs. They cannot provide the aged persons units or senior citizens clubs that are needed. There is not one senior citizens club on the whole central coast functioning as we know them in the rest of new South Wales. We need nursing homes and social workers.
I put it to the Minister, through you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that there ought to be some way in which areas such as the one I represent can be designated areas of special need. We do it with rural areas that have special problems. For example, if there is a drought in the west, we declare it a drought area and agree that it needs special attention. There must be other areas similar to the electorate of Robertson. I do not know whether a real analysis of these sorts of problems has been done but surely one cannot compare the problems of, say, the electorate of Bradfield, the Minister’s own electorate of Mackellar, Wentworth or Bennelong with the problems of Robertson, Grayndler, Sydney and so on. I think there is a very real need to look at what one might call the social disaster areas of our society.
On top of al) its problems associated with a bad balance between different age groups, the Gosford-Wyong area has another unique problem. It has an area of about 750 square miles and is being designated as one of the major growth areas of New South Wales. The State Planning Authority has said that this area will have a population of half a million by the year 2000. Next to the electorate of Mitchell, which takes in the Richmond-Windsor area, it is the fastest growing electorate in New South Wales and one of the fastest growing in Australia. Its population is building up at the rate of 6,000 or 7,000 a year. The people who are coming to live in this area are primarily people on low incomes. They come because land is cheap. Once again this imposes strains on the local councils, charitable organisations and community service organisations. The 2 councils of the Gosford and Wyong shires have to satisfy all the needs of these new residents for roads, sewerage, water and electricity. With an area of 750 square miles this district is almost the size of Sydney. We have about 95 small communities, some bigger than others, some of 200 people, some of 1,000, some of 5,000, and the local government councils have to provide all the necessary planning, roads, sewerage and so on over such a wide area.
On top of that they are expected to assist in meeting the welfare needs of the community. 1 put it to the Minister that this is an impossibility. I have made approaches to the councils in my electorate on many occasions. I might add that they are very willing to listen, but 1 feel guilty, because I know the strains that are being placed on them, when I go to them and say: ‘You have to come in on the senior citizens clubs. You have to come in and assist, with land for nursing homes.’ Through you, Mr Deputy Speaker, I ask the Minister whether, party politics aside, he will investigate this problem so we can find a way to tackle it.
– I think we can be grateful for the 3 or 4 very objective speeches we have heard tonight, and 1 give credit to those who delivered them. 1 hope that I also can steer clear of the honourable member for Shortland (Mr Griffiths), feather beds. Ben Chifley and statistics.
– Don’t be feather headed.
– 1 might even be prevailed upon to steer clear of the honourable member for Sturt. Tonight I would like to offer an opinion. Of course, it might not be valid. My opinion is that in spite of the altruistic and lofty motives behind many of the suggestions put forward in particular by the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass) I have a feeling that the practical realities of life, looking into the future, would .still make it mandatory that pension payments must and. I think, will remain part of the economic policy of government. That does not mean to say that they cannot be given different priorities. It does not mean to say that inter-departmental committees. Senate inquiries, House of Representatives inquiries and all sorts of inquiries may not have an effect on those priorities. 1 am not saying they would or would not. But I think we have to be a little practical and realise that the resources of a relatively small nation such as Australia are limited. The problem is one purely of how to get the best value from the amount of money that can be spent.
I was particularly interested tonight in the suggestion - of course this applies, in my view, right through the spectrum of government from local to State to Federal - that not enough attention is paid to and not enough use is made of the rapidly increasing force of social workers that we have in the community today. In my view, as medicine improves and doctors with different specialities come together in groups, social workers should be engaged. Unquestionably they should be made available by State Governments in helping local municipalities with problems at their level. 1 think this is of very great importance. If I might be excused for being a little personal for a minute, I had the great pleasure of boxing, if that is the right word, both the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) and the senior social worker at the Adelaide Hospital, Mrs Garrett, at dinner the other night. I think they both did each other good. They both had ideas of their own. I note that she has trimmed some of her ideas since having dinner with the Minister. I hope, on the other hand, that the Minister has absorbed some of the very valid suggestions that unquestionably that sort of person can put to a Minister for Social Services.
I think I might also make one or two kindly and reasonable suggestions to the Minister for consideration at this pre-Budget time. Firstly I would like to point out to him the ridiculous situation that arises when an age pensioner has a wife under the age of 60 years. I think another honourable member has already touched on this point. I do not pose as being so expert as those who are in constituencies where they come face to face with the entire spectrum of the problem more often than I do. The point that seems to me to be quite ridiculous is that it would not cost the Government anything to allow a husband with a wife under pensionable age to earn quite a lot more money than he is able to earn now. When we come to consider it, surely the logic of this matter bears on this point. The wife has probably reared a family and when she reaches the age of 57 or even 50 the family leaves home. It seems to me that the idea of the present legislation is that she should then, possibly never having worked in her life before, go out and try to get a job.
– What is it? A peasant country? If you expect a woman with 4 or 5 children to go out and work, what sort of country do you want it to be?
– The honourable member for Port Adelaide has neither a brain in his head nor any hearing in his earholes or he would not make the remark he has just made. I object to it most strenuously. I was leading to the point where I was about to say that there is no justice in this situation. If the honourable member had just listened instead of behaving like the honourable member for Port Adelaide he would do better in this place. If I might return to the point I was trying to make, I will repeat it for the honourable member’s edification. It seems to me that the present legislation is a little bit unfair to the woman who has finished rearing her family at the age of, say, 50 or 54. It seems wrong to expect such a woman, to repeat exactly what I said previously, to go out at that age and find a job for the first time in her life. If it costs the Government nothing to let the husband who is in the habit of working go out and earn more than he is allowed to earn now - I hope I am getting back in line with the honourable member for Port Adelaide - then I make the suggestion that that type of alteration should be allowed. I make it for several reasons. First, surely a man who wants to go out and work without losing his pension rights should be allowed to do so. Surely in many cases it is good occupational therapy. I do not believe that such a husband should be penalised because his wife is under the age of 60.
There is one other point I would like to touch upon, and it bears perhaps on areas other than my own electorate. I refer to the very rapidly increasing costs for those pensioners who own their own homes. In years gone by, I believe these people were infinitely better off than those who did not own their own homes. But in my opinion the gap is closing, if it has not closed already. This is due in large part to the very rapidly increasing costs of water rates and council rates. These matters are not the direct responsibility of this Government but the responsibility of State governments. Yet they arc matters that we must surely assess in looking at the overall problems that are posed to people receiving a pension. Furthermore, I think that those of us who have knowledge of these things - obviously this would include everybody here - will recognise the rapidly increasing cost of maintenance of these homes. I refer not only to the physical impossibility of some pensioners carrying out maintenance but also to the high cost of maintenance services. If I have put forward, as 1 hope I have, sensible, sane and realistic suggestions to the Minister, that was my aim tonight. 1 will conclule my remarks with this one comment: It is easy enough for us on this side of the House to sit back in this rather lengthy debate, in which repetition has in some ways been the order of the day, and let it roll. Some speakers from the opposite side of the House have been critical of us for doing this. I assure those honourable members that our intentions are the best. The Government has acted. It is up to honourable members opposite to say whether the Government has done enough, whether its actions have been wrong, or to make its suggestions, whether sensible or wild. The ball is in the court of honourable members opposite. I think it is invalid for members of the Opposition to taunt us at this stage. They have to do the talking; we have done the acting.
– Certainly the Government has been acting. Its members are actors out of Hollywood. They would win academy awards for their acting. The honourable member for Angus (Mr Giles) during the course of his speech saw fit to criticise the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Birrell) for his interjections and took him to task somewhat severely, saying that in his speech he would suggest a way to correct one of the ills to which the honourable member for Port Adelaide had referred. He did no such thing, because the honourable member for Angus has no proper understanding of the problems of the people in the community who are unfortunately forced to exist on social service payments.
This Government does not automatically provide a pension for the wife of a person who is forced into retirement at a particular age. It accepts no responsibility whatsoever for aged migrants who are forced to retire without qualifying for a pension. I have written letters to the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) in regard to this matter. I have brought before him cases of migrants who have come to this country on the sponsorship of their children who have migrated here in earlier years and who have married and assumed responsibilities as family men. Migrants in this category might come here at the age of 62 years and, after working for 3 years, are forced into retirement. If they are in the unskilled category of workers, as is usually the case, they find it exceptionally difficult to obtain work at such an advanced age. What does this Government do for them? lt does absolutely nothing other than to refer them to the people who sponsored them for entry to this country. It forces them to share a condition of absolute bloody poverty. The Minister and the ‘ Government will do nothing to help them. They make me ill.
– Order! I ask the honourable member for Sturt to withdraw that word.
– I withdraw it, but I am astounded at your insistence on withdrawal. It is a word in every-day use. I withdraw it, but I could use stronger words than that without being forced to withdraw them. The fact is that this Government has shown utter discrimination in its social welfare programme. The honourable member for Angas has spoken tonight about the acting the Government has done and the actions that the Government has taken. Everything the Government has done has served to draw a line of discrimination and has tended to increase rather than to decrease the problems that the Government says its legislation has been aimed to correct. Let us consider the legislation designed ostensibly to provide accommondation and care for aged people. That legislation received a . good deal of attention from people who previously represented the electorate that I now represent. They have prostituted that legislation to the extent of creating a concentration of aged people in an area where there are no existing medical services and no infirmary of any kind.
I can tell the House that only a few days before the last election the person who represented the electorate of Sturt had eviction orders served on pensioners occupying homes that had been provided for them. These eviction notices were served on them by local policemen. Yet the honourable member for Angus says that we should stand up in this House and do the talking while he, as a member of the Government, has been doing the acting. Let me mention one other matter, with which I will deal more fully in this House on a later occasion. 1 know of cases of aged people who have been required to sign contracts giving them life tenancy of these homes for a small maintenance fee and who have then had these documents torn up before their very eyes. The undertakings given to these people have not been in any way honoured by certain previous members of this House. I have written letters to the Minister about this matter asking questions about people who might be considered as eligible within the meaning of the legislation. I have not received any direct reply to my questions. Yet we are expected to stand in this House and not to criticise the Government.
Honourable members opposite have no concept of the difficulties they have created in their stupid blundering endeavours to solve, in their own muddled way, the problems that they themselves have created. Let me refer again to the remarks by the honourable member for Angus. The Government which he supports is a capitalistorientated government, a big business government. If we look along the front Government bench and look around the members of the Liberal-Country Party coalition we see a number of multi-millionaires. That is whom honourable members opposite represent. They represent no other interest than that. They have used the pensioners and social welfare purely and simply as a political football.
We had the situation in this House the other week of a Prime Minister, newly elected by 30-odd people of this country, stand at the dispatch box, mark you, and fumble his speech in the time that he was allowed by the forms of the House. He was granted an extension of time through the courtesy of the Opposition and in the last 4 minutes of his speech he announced a 50c increase in pensions. The Minister for
Social Services went on television that night, and what did he have to say? lt should be remembered that members of his staff were hastening to the Prime Minister’s Department to be properly informed about the increases that were to apply. In addition, while he was on television he was laughing and saying that the New Prime Minister had to make his mark so he gave the pensioners 50c. What absolute and utter damned hypocrisy that is. It was the custom in days of old when royalty ascended the throne of command that a few pence be thrown to the poor. Here we had a new Prime Minister granting a 50c increase, and that was the impression of his action gained by most of the public who saw the television programme. Members of the Cabinet did not have enough common sense to recognise that the words 50c’ were dirty words so far as the pensioners were concerned.
Now let me tell this House, in the short time remaining to me, what the Australian Labor Party is proposing and has been proposing for some considerable time in regard to this very vital area. I will preface my remarks by quoting for the benefit and knowledge of the honourable member for Angas Article 25 of the Declaration of Human Rights. It reads:
Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care, and necessary social services and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age, and other lack of livelihood beyond his control.
Our purpose is nothing less than the abolition of the poverty that exists in the midst of plenty and the provision of at least a guaranteed income below which no member of the community need fall. This is an objective well within our means once we have a government with a mandate to achieve it and with the will to achieve it. We are also in a position to implement Article 25.
In the 1930s poverty and unemployment were mass afflictions which the Government of the time confessed it was unable to remove. Since then social service activities have made high unemployment and a low standard of living unacceptable. However, no-one should underestimate the widespread poverty and the continuing social insecurity which still remain within the current social service provisions. The Combined Pensioners Association has attested constantly to the inadequacy of existing provisions for those who through infirmity, ill fortune or old age have been forced to rely for extended periods on the benefits of our so-called welfare state. It is this defenceless minority who need the immediate help of a Labor government. We must, and we can, by a new approach to social services, ensure that they never slip back to the shameful conditions of the last decade. The emphasis must be on active promotion of social wealth as a measure of the nation’s prosperity rather than meek acquiescence in the damaging double standards of private affluence and public squalor, which is the Liberal-Country Party’s attitude. It is not only a question of high finance and financiers, not even only of schools, hospitals, transport systems, production and wages; it is a question of the whole quality of life and of society and this is measured by the provisions made for the weakest members of that society.
Money must be spent to accomplish most social service functions. But money alone will not allay the loneliness of the old, reform the criminal, cure the sick mind, nurse the ill, mend the broken family or encourage the invalid back to work. Special security payments will have to be complemented and augmented through counselling services, rehabilitation facilities and other specific social services in order to make them as effective as possible. Although the goals and principles of Labor’s social welfare policy have been set out, the necessary administrative flexibility will only be possible if all involved recognised that the content of social welfare is the process of interaction of all involved. The success of Labor’s approach to planning for the future in this field will depend on the willingness of both social security and social service agencies to work together for the social and political goals involved, and on the co-operation achieved among social, medical, vocational and other members of the welfare establishment.
If anything can be predicted about the next 2 decades it is that the problems of poverty will be replaced with the soul destruction of affluence. We should remember that this is happening in another country at this moment. The real danger facing the Australia of the future is that we could retain the post-depression neurosis as the basis for our thinking about welfare. This would mean accepting the Liberal laissez-faire approach of ad hoc planning, based on what little finance was left after defence, dairies and debt payments had been met. It is essential for Labor to be aware of the rationalisations behind this relegation of welfare to the bottom of the priority list. Only by comparing the principles behind Liberal administration with those set out in ‘Let’s Be Human’ can we be sure that Labor avoids a piecemeal reply to tired and irresponsible excuses proposed by conservatives such as the people who sit opposite to us in this chamber.
For example, it is often argued that the development of adequate welfare programmes would reduce the will to work or reduce the competitive struggle which keeps society going. This view suggests that if conditions are made to meet people’s needs then life will become so soft that the nation will lose its backbone. Labor unequivocally rejects .this notion. If a man were offered all he wanted on the condition that he did not do a thing for himself, does anyone really believe that he could accept it for more than a very short period? Work is not simply a means of bringing in an income. .It also provides an opportunity to meet other people and gives life some variety. One need only look at those countries which have highly developed welfare- services - such as Canada and Scandanavia - to see that productivity continues to remain high, and improves as the standard of living improves. The studies of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which comprises European nations, Canada and the United States of America, have demonstrated this point conclusively. In fact, the OECD has published books on how to develop programmes for the improvement of social amenities as a necessary condition for economic growth in depressed areas of the member countries. Further proof can be obtained from the report of Australia’s Immigration Planning Council which is investigating immigration programmes for the period 1968-73. The IPC found that our social services were so poor - and the Minister should mark this - that we could not attract immigrants from the countries covered by the OECD.
Labor is aware that the wrong questions have been asked about welfare expenditure over the post-war period. The cry: Where’s the money coming from?’ must be replaced with: ‘How can we get value for our current money and reduce the drain on the taxpayer?’. The needlessly expensive consequences of inadequate social welfare provision can be well illustrated by considering the immediate cost of the breakdown of a single large family. If the father in a family of 7 is gaoled and the children are placed in institutions the cost to the Stale within 6 months will be S200 a week, and this is without accounting for lost production. By comparison, if the man can be paroled it may cost three or four hours of a parole officer’s lime each week at a cost of about $30, including all administrative costs. A society which does not recognise the price of inadequate programmes finds that costs soon get beyond control in terms of delinquency and crime, mental breakdown and absenteeism. The result is the reverse of the pattern predicted by the knockers of welfare programming. It is the natural consequence of their refusal to accept the need for adequate social research as the basis of planning.
The most important item of the welfare programme must therefore be the development of a new spirit in this country - a spirit of human fellowship which will create a collective national effort for better conditions for all members of the community. The need for joint social action to achieve common objectives in Australia has never been more urgent than al the present lime. Natural resources are unevenly spread and in many cases barely developed, inferior education, inadequate housing and incomplete health services range in stark contrast alongside the fruits of privileged private schemes.
The main argument likely to be advanced against the programme outlined will be directed towards the possible cost. It must be pointed out that, although the readily visible cost of the social policy advocated may appear substantial, the balancing credit entries on the national ledger may be less obvious though they will be no less real. These credit notes will express themselves in the improved social and physical health of the population and in the reduction of wastefulness of human resources with ils resultant loss in productivity. They are constructive and necessary measures to advance, support and sustain the total society and are not a drain on the nation’s resources. Above all, they will help us retain our national identity of concern for the underdog in which an essential part of the fair go outlook is that each individual is also’ responsible for his mate.
In determining the appropriate content for the social welfare programme one of the greatest difficulties is to decide how much emphasis should be placed on meeting the needs of individuals and families in trouble and how much to place on overall schemes which improve the standard of living of the whole community. William Beveridge’s famous assertion was that want is only one of the 5 giants on the road of reconstruction and in some ways the easiest to attack. The others are disease and ignorance - as is now in evidence by the continual chatter on the other side of the House - as well as squalor and idleness. His assertion leaves us with the problem of determining how to present a programme which is relatively complete and essentially integrated. Recognition of the need to protect the individual from the 5 giants must also include awareness of the danger of tearing him to pieces when help is provided, unless the integration of services is built into the programme.
My time is drawing lo a close, but before I resume my seat I want to draw attention to the complete apathy or, perhaps, unawareness of the Government of the future of the workers of this country.. The Government wonders why the workers are worried today, but all it does is heap criticism on Bob Hawke. If we move from a labour oriented industry to a capital oriented society in a few years we will be in bother in this country. The Government has not looked at this aspect. If, for example, General Motors-Holden’s Ltd and the others in the motor body industry were to start a slight trend towards a capital oriented industry tomorrow tens of thousands of people would be out of work, but the Government has not breathed a word about this mutter in this House. It has not breathed a word about reconstruction, retraining and re-education. You name it and the Opposition can attack the Govern ment for not having carried it out. The Government has no conception of what is likely to occur. This is quite obvious from the way in which it deals with matters in this House. I wish to sound a warning before resuming my seat. I believe that there will have to be a change of thinking in the Western world.
– Order! 1 think the honourable member is getting a little away from the terms of the Bill.
– Oh! In that case I will come right back to the terms of the Bill. The Government will have to give serious consideration to a social welfare programme. In fact, Mr Deputy Speaker, if you were to reflect on what you have just said I think you would agree that this Bil) indicates the absolute apathy and nonthinking of this Government. The Government has failed to recognise how the concept of pure containerisation and mechanisation will affect the people of Australia. Has the Government thought about implementing any schemes to offset these changes? I would suggest to the Government that it should obtain for filming in the Senate club room next week films on the effect of poverty. Honourable members opposite may then start to think about what is likely to happen in our community in the next 5 years or perhaps even less. It will certainly happen during the 1970s. 1 condemn the Government for not having set up a committee of inquiry. 1 wholeheartedly support the proposal for setting up such a committee. A standing committee should be examining these matters. Talks should be had with industrialists, chambers of commerce, trade unions and almost everybody else on this subject. The Government is blindly running the country into an era in which Australia may be recognised by other Western countries as enjoying the greatest level of poverty of any country in the Western world.
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– Noone in this House or anywhere in Australia would expect me to reply to the speech we have just heard but I desire to make one remark about it. The honourable member -for Sturt (Mr Foster) stated how prosperous this country is and claimed that it could pay higher pensions. Then he forecast doom for this country, saying that the country would be backrupt. The object of this Bill is to give legislative authority to the rise in pensions announced by the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) on 15th March. The Labor Party knew that if the Bill was limited to the pension increase honourable members opposite would not be able to engage in a general debate on social services. Therefore, it has moved this amendment. Not one member of the Opposition in his wildest flights of fancy thought that the amendment would be accepted.
My attitude, as can be seen in Hansard, has always been that the time to advocate a rise in pensions is during the debate on the Supply Bill. After all, if one is to advocate an increase in pensions one wants to do it as near as possible to the time when Cabinet is preparing the different items in its Budget. Pensioners come to Canberra on the day the Budget is announced. I have advised pensioners many times - and they have accepted my advice on one or two occasions - to come here 3 months before and not just on the day the Budget is announced, lt is too late then. Let me state one thing that has not been mentioned. The Liberal-Country Party Government brought down the legislation that gave us the. $2-for-Sl subsidy for homes for the aged. This has proved a very wonderful gesture and all Australians, despite anything that honourable members opposite might say, appreciate it.
One of the main things ( wish to say is that there are 2 honourable members in this House who were at cross purposes tonight. I do not want to see the House adjourn until we have tried to put this matter right. The honourable member for Angas (Mr Giles) was making a speech and the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Birrell) misunderstood what he was saying. If the honourable member for Angas had been saying what the honourable member for Port Adelaide thought he was saying, the honourable member for Port Adelaide would have been quite right in interjecting as he did. But the honourable member for Angas was not talking about what the honourable member for Port Adelaide thought he was. He was saying that a woman under certain circumstances should not be expected to go out to work. The honourable member for Port Adelaide thought he was saying that the woman in question should go out to work. This is a very easy mistake to make. I compliment the honourable member for Angas on his speech, lt was a reasoned speech and he spoke of the things that matter as far as pensioners are concerned. I compliment also the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass) and the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen). I do not often say that honourable members on the other side of the House make good speeches but these were really reasonable speeches. I appreciated them. I did appreciate a certain amount of pathos by the honourable member for Maribyrnong regarding people in bad circumstances.
– Why do you not do something about it?
– Surely the honourable member for Sydney has a little human kindness and knows that when I say these things I say them with all the sincerity I can muster. Constant interjections such as his do no good for this Parliament or anyone else. I understand, and it is generally accepted, that the Prime Minister more or less indicated that this pension increase would carry pensions along until Budget time. I do not think there has been a pension rise between Budgets for a long time; in fact, I cannot remember any but there may have been some. Therefore, if honourable members want to keep this subject active in the debate on the Supply Bill, as I do and as I have done in the past, the opportunity will arise before long because the Supply Bill has to be passed before the House rises for the winter adjournment. So far as this Bill is concerned, I believe that in all circumstances we should do everything possible for the pensioners. But I do not agree that we can take pensions out of the political arena. It is the Government’s responsibility to collect the money with which to pay the pensions. If some private organisation or committee outside the political arena had to determine what rises would take place in pensions there would soon be chaotic financial conditions in Australia. This suggestion is not practical in any circumstances.
The richer a country is the more it can help its pensioners. This is why I have said on occasions that I consider that priorities should be accepted. I consider that the first priority should be defence and the second priority should be irrigation. 1 would give irrigation that priority because so much more produce can be grown under irrigation and so much more food can be made available to help our own people and those not so fortunate in overseas countries. The more prosperous a country is the more it can do for people who require aid. I shall support this policy on every occasion. As for honourable members opposite calling out about the Government doing this, that or the other, people throughout Australia know that there is no foundation for many of the statements such as a number of those made by the honourable member for Sturt who is now sitting in his place and staring at me.
– The honourable member for Mallee (Mr Turnbull) who has just resumed his seat, mentioned the S2 for $1 grant for housing for aged people, but what the honourable ment be i did not say was that under the Chifley housing agreement which expired in 1956 there was provision for a certain amount of the money available for housing to be spent for the purpose of housing pensioners. But in 1956 that provision was excluded from the Menzies housing agreement. In other words, the Menzies Government gave no thought to housing the pensioners. That situation continued for many years until the $2 for Si grant was introduced, and during that time the Commonwealth did absolutely nothing about housing for pensioners.
I propose to deal with several other aspects of social services. We have heard much specious argument about what the Australian Labor Party did under Chifley. What does it matter what pension was paid under the Bruce-Page Government, under Menzies, Scullin or anyone else? The point is: Is $16 a week sufficient for a pensioner and can the economy afford to pay more? Will the Government supporter stand up and be counted as saying that $16 a week is sufficient? I doubt it. We hear much argument from the other side of the chamber, mainly at Budget time but also on occasions like this, that something better should be done, but what do they do about it? Absolutely nothing. Let us consider what the additional 50c will buy.
Perhaps it is enough for 2 loaves of bread and possibly a specked orange. We must bear in mind the purchasing power of the pension today. 1 agree with the remarks made by the Postmaster-General (Sir Alan Hulme) last week when he referred to the rapacious landlords of Brisbane exploiting age pensioners. This is happening also in Sydney. Half of their pension is being paid out as rent for rooms in my electorate.
Pensioners are paying as much as $10 for a room. Admittedly those pensioners are entitled to the $2 supplementary allowance, but is it right that they should pay $10 a week rent for a room? If the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) does not believe what I say he can come to my electorate and I will show him that this is so. fs this the way to treat pensioners?
Why talk about what Labor paid as « pension? How does that help the pensioners? These are merely specious arguments used for the purpose of trying to direct attention away from the miserable increase of 50c. The honourable member for Angas (Mr Giles) mentioned the wife’s allowance of $7 a week, but 1 remind honourable members that that applies mainly to the wives of invalid pensioners who in most cases would have to stay at home to attend to the needs of their invalid pensioner husbands. As a result the pensioner husband would receive $2 a week supplementary allowance, making his total pension $18 a week. His wife would receive the $7. So the total income for the pensioner couple would be $25, which is $3.50 below the standard rate pension paid to a married couple. Is this just? Is this fair? Is this just? Of course it is not. Much of what the honourable member said is correct, but age pensioners must be 70 years of age before their wives can qualify for the $7 allowance. The Minister knows this. Let us be factual about these matters. Why be hypocritical about them? The Opposition asks: Is the 50c increase enough? I know that the hour is late and that the Minister for Social Services is anxious to make his reply, but if honourable members opposite think that $16 a week is sufficient let them stand up and be counted. Of course they will not do this.
– This has been a long debate, but I do not think it has been entirely a wasted one. Things have been said by honourable members on both sides of the House which have been worth saying. I should like to make just one or two remarks in passing and I shall not keep the House long. I agree that it is not entirely relevant to talk about the level of the pension paid by the Chifley Government. However it is the last pension that the Australian Labor Party was able to bring in, because it has not been in power for a very long time. It is perfectly true that Australia in Chifley’s day was not nearly as prosperous as it is today, but it is also true - I remind the House of this, because 1 think the honourable member for Sydney (Mr Cope) went rather astray on this point - that in 1949, when the rise in prices under the Chifley Government was much faster than it has been in recent times, the pension was not increased at the same rate as prices rose. So the real value of pensions was allowed to fall. That is worth remembering and I think that it rather takes the shine from some of the arguments - and some of them were sincere and well put - advanced by the honourable member for Perth (Mr Berinson). 1 think that certain members of the Opposition, particularly yesterday, were rather ill-advised to talk about widows pensions because this is one area in which the Government has really done a tremendous amount. Under this legislation, a widow with 2 children will receive $30 a week. This compares with $11.54 a week, on present prices, that she would have received under the Chifley Government. This is a tremendous rise - it is perhaps the biggest of all the pension rises - but I agree that it will rise still further.
The honourable member for Sydney posed 2 questions. Firstly, he asked whether $16 a week was enough. The Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) does not think that this will bc a static, figure by any means, because he referred to this Bill as an interim measure. In point of fact, it is correct to say that not only in terms of money is it the highest level of pension but also - not by a big margin - it is in Australia’s history the highest level in terms of real purchasing power. These are the facts and they are shown by the figures. I agree, and hope and believe, that this is by no means the top and that we should and will do better. Secondly, the honourable member for Sydney asked whether Australia could afford to pay more. This is the crucial question because this depends upon the degree of productivity of the economy. Let us not try to put the blame on this side or that side or this person or that person. We ail have a stake in productivity in the Austraiian economy and, whether it be some kind of economic malfunctioning, whether it be some kind of unnecessary strike or industrial disruption, or whatever it may be, a thing that strikes at Australian productivity strikes also at the possibility of paying more to pensioners. Some of the things that were said in the debate were not factually quite correct. For example, 1 think it was the honourable member for Capricornia (Dr Everingham) who said that in recent times prices had risen faster than had average earnings. That is completely wrong, I ask for leave to incorporate in Hansard a small table showing the comparison from 1967 to J 970, quarter by quarter.
-Is leave granted?
– What does the Minister want to do?
– I have asked for leave to incorporate in Hansard a table showing the consumer price index and average weekly earnings over the last 3 or 4 years.
– Recalling what you said last night, I point out that you have not shown it to me yet.
– As it happens and as the honourable member knows, I have given members of the Labor Party permission to incorporate tables in Hansard. I have done so not because it is any special concession but because I believe that it is the right of a member to have a relevant table incorporated in Hansard. So, as far as I am concerned, a member will receive permission whether he be on the Opposition side or on the Government side.
– Yes, of course; leave is given.
-Order! There being no objection, leave is granted.
– With the concurrence of honourable members, I incorporate the table in Hansard.
The position is that in the last 3 years - that is, from 1967 to 1970 - the consumer price index has increased by approximately 9-i per cent. That is shown in the official figures. In the same period average weekly earnings have increased by more than 25 per cent. Those are the official figures. So. the honourable member for Capricornia was not just wrong; he was egregiously wrong in this matter.
I do not want to stress any more the vital point that under this Government - I am speaking of the last 20 years and the series of governments that have been in office over that period - real wages have risen. We are glad of that. If wages do not rise faster than productivity, we should be glad that real wages will continue to rise, because if they rise in conformity with productivity there will not be a price rise; they will not drive prices up. In those circumstances we can hope and expect that real wages will continue to rise.
I remember that over 20 years in election campaigns and at other times members of the Opposition have been saying 2 things: Firstly, that the Government was driving wages down, and, secondly, that there would be colossal unemployment. Both of those predictions have been absolutely falsified by the facts. Real wages have risen. In some respects they may have risen even a little beyond the rise in productivity. But they have risen dramatically. Secondly, there is no country in the free world in which the record of employment has been as high and as consistently high as it. has been in Australia. These are great achievements of the Government for the workers. If people want to compare pensions with average earnings all the time they have to think that perhaps they are saying that average earnings are too high. That is not something that I would like to be saying. I would rather say: Let average earnings rise as far as possible, provided only that productivity rises to match them so that price rises are not inevitable.
I want to commend particularly the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass) and the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen) for remarks they made. Although the honourable member for Holt (Mr Reid) is not in the chamber at the moment, I might compare the remarks made by the 2 honourable members I have mentioned with the speech made in an earlier debate by the honourable member for Holt. Although none of us would believe, J trust, that the material things involved in the pension are not important, all of us, I hope, would believe that the kinds of things that these honourable members have been talking about are also important. Let us forget neither the material side nor the non-material side, but let us try to push them forward together. I remind the House that the pension rate is not the only thing which concerns the pensioners. Honourable members such as the honourable member for Sydney very rightly drew attention tonight to the crucial nature of accommodation for pensioners in determining their real standard of living. Other honourable members, such as the honourable member for Angas (Mr Giles), have spoken of the need for pensioners who are home owners to maintain their own homes. But in all cases pensioners’ accommodation is crucial to their living standards.
I was sorry to hear some honourable members criticise the age pensions’ homes scheme which, while I believe it does not meet all the requirements, is a scheme which is accumulating a stock of homes in the community which will meet the needs of pensioners. I was surprised that the honourable member for Sydney had apparently forgotten that only a little while ago - I think it was about 12 months ago - the Government introduced plans under which each State Government received money specifically for constructing homes for aged persons in need, and particularly for pensioners. 1 hope this scheme will be expanded. I believe that this is a very good initiative.
Finally, I would make 2 points. First, I remind the House of what the Prime Minister has said. I believe that what he has said will truly be implemented. He said 3 things. First he said that the present rise of 50 cents was an interim measure only, pending the introduction of the Budget. The second thing he said was that consideration was being given to methods of adjusting the pension. I was glad to see that honourable members in this House tonight were taking up and amplifying the Prime Minister’s words in this regard. Several possibilities are open to us. 1 am not trying to give any matters of detail, but I remind the House of what the Prime Minister said. The third thing he said - and it is perhaps the most important - was that already there was in process a major review of our whole pensions structure. I believe that this is one of the most important matters facing the Government. The Prime Minister set his seal on this in the first significant speech that he made in the House as Prime Minister.
The only other thing I want to say is this: We all look to the needs of the pensioner. We all hope and believe that more can be done for him or her. It will be. But the pensioner is not the only person in this community who has needs. The competing needs, for instance those of the young family, have to be taken into consideration. I ask honourable members to remember this: If more money is given to pensioners - and I believe that more money should and will be given to pensioners in the future - calls will be made on taxation revenue upon which there are competing claims for other forms of social services. Let us try to see this in a balanced perspective. Let us remember that our community has in it the young and the old and that both draw their sustenance from the active people of the middle age group who pay the taxes and produce the goods and services on which Australia depends.
That the words proposed to be omitted (Air Hayden’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker - Hon. Sir William Aston)
Majority . . . . 7
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Wentworth) read a third time.
Motion (by Mr Swartz) proposed:
That the House do now adjourn.
– I wish to bring three matters to the attention of the House. The first relates to a man who 6 years ago was medically examined for national service and adjudged medically unfit and so informed and who has now been submitted to a further medical examination at the age of 26 years and is about to be put into the Army. The second matter relates to the practice, as I understand it, of the PostmasterGeneral (Sir Alan Hulme) in summonsing the housewife instead of the householder for failure to renew television and radio licences. The third matter - if I have time to mention it - relates to the need for the abolition of retail price maintenance, as shown by the experience of a businessman in Goulburn.
The first matter, Mr Speaker, relates to a man whose name 1 will not mention but which I have given to the staff of the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Lynch). This young man arrived in Australia at the beginning of January 1965. He was eligible for national service. He duly registered, was medically examined and then received a letter informing him that he had been adjudged unfit for military service. In those days the Department used a strange form of letter. I do not think it is used now. The letter, a fairly long one, included a paragraph saying that at a subsequent dale he might be called up again for medical examination to see whether his state of health had changed. He did not receive any further communication from the Department until recently. He was a rural worker and he proceeded to various addresses to work. He assured me that he always had a home address in Sydney from which letters were forwarded to him. According to him, he received no communication from the Department until recently. In the 6 years following that medical examination he married. He has one child 18 months of age and another child aged 6 weeks. Now he has been informed, having gone through another medical examination, that he will be required to commence national service with the Army during the week beginning on 18th April 1971.
I hope that the Minister will look into this matter. As I understand the situation, this young man had every reason to believe thai he had been rejected from military service ‘for medical reasons. He has never changed his name, he has never concealed his address and he has never concealed his identity. As 1 said he married a couple of years ago and now has 2 children, the younger aged 6 weeks. Suddenly he was informed that he had to undergo another medical examination. He did this and was adjuged fit and now has to report for service in the . Army on 18th April unless the Minister intervenes in the meantime. This young man was savaged by a bull about 7 or 8 years ago. He has a noticeable injury to his hip which results in nerve pressure causing severe pain. Even today he has to take pain killing drugs several times a day. 1 have brought these facts to the attention of the House and the Minister because I feel sure that upon review it would not be thought proper to call this young man into the Army now, 6 years after he was informed that he was medically unfit.
The second matter I wish to raise relates to a summons issued for failure to renew a radio licence. The question I bring before the House and the Government is whether it is proper practice for he. summons to be served upon the wife when she has not taken out the licence but it has been taken out by her husband. He is the man who keeps the purse, he is the head of the household, and it is very unfair that the wife should have to be dragged into court. 1 agree that it suits administrative convenience to do this in this way. lt is much simpler to summons the wife than have to find the husband at home and issue a summons to him. But I regard this as a very bad practice. I will read portions of a let ter I received from the man concerned. He authorised me to use his name. He is Mr John B. Dixon, of Kinghorne Street, Goulburn, a well known and respected citizen of that city who takes a leading part in civic, public and political affairs there. He said:
The licence inspector calls at our house every year and last called during October 1970. 1 was at work and my wife answered the door and could only find an expired licence. In answer to his questions she stated that she didn’t own the T.V. set and as she didn’t handle any business or financial matters she didn’t know if her husband had renewed his licence. The inspector was to call back and sec the husband.
When I checked my licence I realised it had expired and 1 purchased a new one the next day. Although the inspector did nol call back I knew 1 had committed an offence through my oversight. I was surprised 6 months later when my wife told me the police had left a summons, but when 1 learned her name was on it I saw red.
My wife has no monies or possessions of her own and until now has never required either as I have managed my house. Now she is to be tried for another’s crime and liable to imprisonment if the guilty parly does not pay her fine. She will have a conviction recorded against her and the privilege of a closed court for a first offence will be taken back. . . .
. 1 feel the law needs defending from misuse . . .
When I made inquiries of solicitors in Goulburn ! found that according to them it is a common practice of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department to use this method of summonsing the wife instead of the husband in relation to this type of offence. I regard that’ as a very bad practice indeed and 1 hope that by bringing it to the attention of the Minister some action will be taken to change it.
The third matter I wish to raise involves a Mr dive Flack, a businessman of Goulburn, who runs an electrical and furniture store. Mr Flack is a man who is content with a modest profit. He does not charge list prices and because he docs not charge list prices - and he goes back to 1967 in this matter - he says:
The following companies have never been prepared to supply me with goods after certain buying groups applied pressure. Westinghouse claimed the premises were not suitable, after supplying goods. Astor opened an account, and then would not supply. Simpson-Pope would not supply goods at all. but I have account with them for spare parts. Lightburn, Willems Servis are only two of others who would not supply.
He has brought this matter to the attention of the Attorney-General’s Department on several occasions since 1967. 1 want to give due credit to the 2 electrical suppliers who have refused to be browbeaten in this way. They are the General Electric-Kirby organisation of Enfield and Metters Ltd of Sydney. Those firms supplied Mr Flack throughout but due to the blacklisting by other manufacturers because he would not charge list prices he is now compelled to go out of this business altogether and to concentrate on motor car dealing.
– I wish to raise a matter which is of extreme concern to a substantial section of the work force in my electorate. About 3 weeks ago I communicated with the Prime Minister by telegram and also by letter to inform him that because of severe uncertainty which had developed as a result of a considerable amount of publicity about the economic measures the Government intended to take and also because of aggravated seasonal influences there was a serious shortage of orders in the woollen textile industry. I informed the Prime Minister that unless urgent action was taken a substantial number of persons would lose employment within the next two or three weeks. There have been further developments and since I communicated with the Prime Minister on 12th March some 171 persons in the 3 major woollen textile mills in my electorate have been retrenched. A small number of employees have been asked to take their long service leave. There is no indication that the position is about to improve. Because of lack of orders the jobs of about 1,500 people remaining in the industry are still in jeopardy.
It is within the province and power of the Commonwealth to take action in this matter. I have raised it tonight because urgent action should be taken. Each of the mills concerned has tendered for Commonwealth Department of Supply orders, but not one was granted to them to enable them to carry their work force until production usually increases, towards spring. Such orders would enable the plants to maintain the skilled personnel who are required if they are to remain viable businesses. If the slump in the industry develops the people lost to it will not be available for re-employment when they are needed. This will have a very serious and continuing effect on the viability of the industry.
One of the mills was set up after World War I by returned servicemen who invested their gratuity payments in its establishment. It was a wise step and it has enabled a very substantial business to be developed in the Geelong area. The mill about which I speak is in serious difficulties because of changed circumstances in the industry. It is in urgent need of assistance of the type which would be forthcoming if the Government were prepared to place with it orders for cloth for uniforms for Service personnel. An order of 337,000 yards of material is subject to tender to the Department of Supply. I am informed by the mill’s management that if it were to obtain an order for 20,000 yards - just a small proportion of the total order - it would be able to carry forward its staff until the normal uplift of production in the industry takes place.
This mill was built by the savings of exservicemen. Until very recent times, being an ex-serviceman was a qualification to hold shares in it. This industry has given the nation considerable benefits over the years. 1 do not think it would be wrong for the Government to act to save it from serious financial embarrassment by placing an order for Service requirements with this ex-servicemen’s mill. This type of operation should commend itself to the Government. The need is urgent and these mills cannot wait much longer. About 10 days ago 91 employees were given notice. Subsequently another 50 were dismissed. The total number of employees who have been dismissed or have been given notice is 175. This is a substantial proportion of a work force in a closed work area.
Alternative employment is not readily available. The Prime Minister is already in possession of the main facts of the matter. I ask the Government to act urgently to remedy the situation and to try to save the jobs of a large number of people who can ill afford to lose their employment. Because of the closed nature of the area they have very little prospect of alternative employment. This is especially so of females. An examination of the recent summary by the Department of Labour and National Service of women in employment in provincial centres will show the very heavy dependence of women on the textile industry in Geelong. This is a matter of some importance. I trust that the
Government will act to ensure that no further retrenchments take place. It is purely a matter of speeding up the allocation of orders and considering, when allocating those orders, the urgent necessities of these 3 mills. The Prime Minister knows their names, and I do not want to repeat them in the Parliament. The matter I have raised is a serious one and I ask that something be done about it urgently.
– lt is anticipated that the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) will send the Parliament into a premature winter sleep as soon as possible. We are to be sent home. The national forum is to be closed down. Indications are that this will happen and the long winter recess will begin without any statement to the Parliament by the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr Anthony) on the present serious distortions in our trade and on the great question mark hanging over 8 per cent of our exports when Britain either enters the European Economic Community or negotiates a new trading relationship with Europe. Since the Minister took office we have heard nothing positive in the Parliament. We have heard some extraordinary statements which would seem to indicate that there is a great vacuum in the administration of Australia’s trade policies at the present time, and that vacuum would seem to be constituted by the Minister. It may well be that he is too preoccupied with Party matters and Party politics, with scoring points, with denigrating opponents and with building his image as a new tough voice for the countryside. But whatever the reason his short administration is already marked by an incredible lack of awareness of issues, of developments and even of the trading facts of life.
He began his ministry by insulting one of our major trading associates, China. He declared loftily that he would not be pushed into recognising China. He was not going to be concerned about trade. He had his conscience - or was it his preferences - to worry about. In any event the letter he has been awaiting from China on wheat still has not arrived, while other major trading nations such as Canada, France, Britain, Italy and others have hurried to both recognition and trade. Japan, which does not extend diplomatic recognition to China, certainly recognises the facts of trade, has an agreement, has an office and has $800m in two way trade. Just how out of touch with trading reality the Minister ils can be measured by his reply to the honourable member for Moore (Mr Maisey), a member of his own Party, who urged new initiatives with China in relation to wool. And what was the Ministers reply? He said it was a long standing principle accepted by his Government that commodities remained the property of those who produced them. He did not seem to understand that the honourable member for Moore was talking about wool owned by the taxpayers, bought with their money and held by the Australian Wool Commission. His final word on wool sales was that he would find out what was going on.
Then we had his response to the arranged question by his own henchman on the questions I had posed in relation to the $5m worth of foreign cheese we import at this time. I had pointed out that it had been reported to the Tariff Board that cheese which had been previously rejected by United States authorities because of high DDT contamination was being dumped in Australia. I had also pointed out that hundreds of tons of cheese were being dumped here in a raw, unpasteurised form from areas with unknown or doubtful hygiene. The Government’s henchman, at the Minister’s direct instigation, talked of gross reflection upon Australia’s trade arrangements. The Government inference is that I was rocking a boat of great profit to this country. In fact Bulgaria is one of the major places of origin of the cheese exports I had challenged. We actually import $627,000 worth of products from Bulgaria and export to her only half that amount. So the Government’s concern is for the mouse which could contaminate, not the nation’s health and not surely, in the face of the figures, our balance of trade.
The need for a clear and definite Government statement on trade, however, is associated with more important matters. It is associated with the fact that 10 years ago the then Minister for Trade and Industry said that Britain’s entry into the European Economic Community would be disastrous for Australia. The present Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Bury) was sacked for saying it would not. Before his retirement Sir John McEwen again sounded his warnings in his role as the Gloomy Dean that disaster was imminent - or implied that, at any rate. Then his successor took over and said absolutely nothing to the Parliament. He made various statements to the various industries.
The canned fruits industry sought firm guidelines from the Government 2 years ago. The industry wanted to plan its production according to what is required. It wanted to plan ahead. The Government replied that it could not provide guidelines. It could not even provide estimates of demand, or give any projections. It did not know where it was going and regretted that it could not be more definite. This reply was conveyed to the industry by letter on 2nd September 1969. The last attempt by the industry to find out what plans the Government had for it was made in January of this year when the then Minister for Primary Industry was asked for an assessment of the position of the canned fruits industry. He arranged for or asked an officer to reply on his behalf, and the officer said: ‘Peaches will be finished within 6 years of Britain joining the Common Market and the pear industry will be finished before then.’ That was on 29th January, and since then there has been dead silence.
Then we have the extraordinary decision of the Tariff Board, which up until now has been backed by the Government, to open the doors of Australia wide to dumped cherries. Already Australia spends $840,000 in importing brine cherries. We have 1,000 Australian cherry growers who will be hit disastrously by foreign dumping. Yet not a word has been said or any action taken by the Minister for Trade and Industry. We had the extraordinary scene the other day of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) posing questions on trade and tariffs in relation to truck parts. A decision has been made which will load a bankrupt countryside with millions of dollars of additional costs over a period of years, and the Minister said he knew nothing about it. In holding open the doors to a flood of doubtful products the Minister has ignored the mad economics which encourage European farmers to produce in theory cheese and packaging for nothing but will get a government handout to the extent of 40 per cent to dump the products here.
All of this forms a background to my main point tonight. Australia’s trade balance on current account with the United Kingdom and the United States of America is now a net deficit of nearly $ 10,000m over a 21-year period. Our trade balance with the United States shows a deficit of $6000m since 1950-51. In some years it was as much as $750m. Our trade balance with the United Kingdom shows a deficit of nearly $6000m since 1950-51, and in some years it has been as high as $680m. We face a monumental drift in trade and a situation which we can remedy only by selling our country and our heritage to overseas interests. But the Parliament is being sent into a premature winter sleep without a statement on this critical situation by the Minister for Trade and Industry. The nation deserves better than this. The Opposition demands it.
I rang the office of the Minister for Trade and Industry this evening to let him know that I would be raising this matter during the adjournment debate. I was not able to contact him because he was not there. It could well be that he is about the nation’s business. But for the greater part of this adjournment debate there has not been a Minister at the table. The first Minister to gently approach the table, with some temerity as a new Minister, was the Minister for the Navy (Dr Mackay). I was glad to see him take his place at the table. He must have thought to himself, ‘I do not know whether 1 should be here or not’ because he went away again. I am glad to see that there is now a Minister at the table. The Government should take notice of the House and notice of the Parliament during the adjournment debate and see to it that a representative of the Ministry is in the chamber. As I said, a Minister is at the table at present, but there was not one there when this debate began, and there was not one there for a considerable portion of it. The absence df a Minister at the table at the time when my colleague the honourable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr Allan Fraser) was raising important matters is typical of the contempt that has been shown by the Government for the Parliament during the time that 1 have been in this chamber.
I think we should again draw attention to the fact that this is an adjournment debate. This is the House of Representatives in session. Mr Speaker is occupying the chair. I think the least that the Government could do is to arrange for a Minister to be at the table. There is a Minister there now but, 1 repeat, there was not when this debate began. On many occasions during the adjournment debate in this House there has been no-one at the table to represent the Ministry. 1 say again that there is a tendency by the Government towards autocracy in relation to matters that we have raised even during the course of this day. I think as members of this House we should contest that attitude. I draw attention to the fact tonight as well as directing attention to the important matter of trade which I raised during the course of my remarks.
– I wish to raise a matter that is of great importance to a small number of people in my electorate. I raise it for the simple reason that I have been making representations on this subject to the relevant Ministers for about 18 months and I have received no satisfaction. 1 am sure that unless I do something about it in the Parliament tonight 1 shall be waiting another 18 months. The subject I am concerned with is the long service, leave conditions of men who are employed by civilian contractors undertaking work for the Army at Mob Siding at Seymour. Approximately 40 to 50 mcn are involved in this situation in my electorate. About 8 or 9 men are being denied their right to long service leave because of the procrastination of the Government.
The problem is that they are civilian tradesmen and workers who are engaged in repair work on certain types of military vehicles at Seymour. The de facto situation is that these men are really employees of the Australian Army, but the de jure situation is that they are employed by a civilian contractor to whom the Army lets its contracts. The employees feel very strongly about the fact that they have given years of service to the Army and the fact that they have nominally been employed by a succession of civilian contractors, which disqualifies them from entitlement to long service leave. Some of them have been working for 15 or 20 years. Under normal circumstances they would be entitled to long service leave, but because the contracts which are let out to civilian contractors do not extend for this period of time these men cannot take their long service leave because there is nobody to pay them.
I regard this as being a denial of a basic human right of the people whom I represent. I want to see some immediate action taken in this matter. There are alternative ways to deal with this situation. For example, the Government could discontinue contracting work to a private contractor and make the Army the sole employer responsible for long service leave, wages and conditions. The Army, in making these contracts, could write into them a clause arranging for and guaranteeing long service leave to civilians. This situation has gone on for a long time. 1 have been making representations for 18 months. My predecessor made representations to the Ministers involved. But still nothing has been achieved. Let me go through some of the correspondence that has taken place. My first letter written to the Minister for the Army was sent on 2nd September 1969 and urged action. I received a reply to that letter from the Minister for the Army on 6th October 1969. I received another reply from the Minister for the Army, Mr Lynch, on 23rd October 1969. He said:
I have asked senior officers of my Department to liase wilh their counterparts in the Department of Labour and National Service to ascertain what can be done to assist these employees. 1 regret that these discussions are taking so long to finalise.
That was on 23rd October 1969. I received another letter’ from the Minister for the Army (Mr Peacock) on 21st January 1970 referring to discussions between officers of the Department of the Army and officers of the Department of Labour and National Service on the subject. The Minister said:”
In view of these discussions, 1 have today written to my colleague the Minister for Labour and National Service on the question expressing, inter alia, my concern for the employees affected.
I have, asked Mr Snedden to write to you direct on the matter.
Then there is a letter which I asked my secretary to send to the Minister for the Army on 15th April 1 970 to see what had been done. I received a reply on 24th
April 1970 from the Minister for the Army. He said:
The Minister for Labour and National Service has advised me that he has initiated a thoroughgoing review of the particular problems faced by those employees. As this will involve discussions with other Commonwealth authorities the matter may take some time.
That was written on 24th April 1970, nearly a year ago. I received another letter from the Minister for the Army on 15th July 1970 in which he said:
The Minister for Labour and National Service has advised me that the review which he initiated should be completed within about a month.
When this further advice has been received shall write to you again.
Another letter was received from the Minister for the Army on 25th August 1970. He said:
I have received further advice from the Minister for Labour and National Service that the review which i mentioned in my previous letter to you is now complete. In the light of the results of this review further information is being sought.
When I receive further advice from my colleague I will write again.
A letter dated 19th October 1970, from Mr Peacock, Minister for the Army, reads:
I refer to our correspondence about long service leave for personnel employed by firms undertaking Army vehicle repair contracts.
My colleague, the Minister for Labour and National Service, has this matter under active consideration.
Honourable members know what that means under extended procrastination. The letter continues:
As you will appreciate, it is a complex matte and is taking longer to resolve than at first anticipated.
I will write ro you again when the Minister for Labour and National Service has advised me further.
Since then 1 have had correspondence from the Minister for Labour and National Service. Nothing has been done. Some 40 to 50 men are involved here and there would be a similar situation in other parts of Australia. At least 8 or 9 of the men whom I represent are now due for long service leave but they cannot take it because, although there is nothing to disqualify them formally and legally, nobody yet has accepted responsibility for paying them for their long service leave. I regard this as an example of bad government and maladministration by the Commonwealth. It has taken me 18 months so far. The representations have been dragging on for about 3 years and still the people whom I represent have received no justice, lt is about time the Government got down to looking at this case and started negotiating to give satisfaction to the people employed at Seymour.
– I wish to bring forward a matter relative to Service pay and conditions in the Royal Australian Air Force. This Government, during its term of office, has laid great stress on the fact that it has a first class force in the RAAF, in the Navy and in the Army, but I want to mention a few small matters which bring out the discontent that exists in the Service today. The first one deals with the most important subject of money. Do honourable members realise that the 6 per cent increase in the minimum wage, which was granted by the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission last year and which was to flow on to all RAAF personnel as from the first pay period after 1st January 1971, just as it was to flow on to those employed in civil occupations, has not been awarded to date to RAAF personnel? They were promised that they would receive this increase in the first pay period in March. Then it was stretched to the second pay period in March. As a result of inquiries which I made on behalf of some of the people associated with the base at Williamtown near Newcastle, I found out that the 6 per cent increase will not be paid until 22nd April - 16 weeks after people employed in civilian occupations received it.
I hope that the Minister for Repatriation (Mr Holten) who represents in this place the Minister for Air (Senator Drake-Brockman) can give me some explanation why Service personnel have to wait 16 weeks longer than everyone else, particularly people in private industry, to receive the increases that are granted by the Arbitration Commission. This decision was given early in December 1970, which means that an additional 4 weeks have to be added to the 16 weeks that I mentioned. The decision was not sprung on the Department of Air at the last moment. The Department has known about it for as long as everyone else in private industry has known about it. Service rates are based, to some degree, on the amounts paid to private industry. I hope that the Minister can give me some explanation why these people in the RAAF have to wait until 22nd April before they will get the 6 per cent increase. 1 would also like to draw attention to the difference in wages received by men in the Services and men who are employed by private airlines. The men in the Services perform almost identical work and work which is of a more skilled nature than men employed by the private airlines. I refer to leading aircraftsmen with the classification of air frame fitter, engine fitter and electrical finer who are on a base rate of §60.41 per week. A married man in this category receives a marriage allowance of $12.95 a week. Of course the single man receives his board and from that one can work out whatever rate one likes. However, both married and single men receive a uniform allowance of $1.96 a week. This means that the married man receives $74.32 a week and the single man $62.37 plus his board. After 5 years service he receives an increment of $1.50 a week. This increment is paid for every 5 years of service. Therefore, after 20 years service he will receive total increments of $6 a week.
I also want to refer to the classification of leading aircraftsman - radio technical. His base rate is $65.80 plus the usual $12.95 marriage allowance and Si. 96 uniform allowance. A married serviceman with this classification would receive a base rate of $80.71 a week and a single man would receive $67.76 a week. 1 want to compare these amounts with what is paid to licensed aircraft maintenance engineers who work in private industry for Australia’s airlines. I am comparing 2 classifications of men who are doing identical work. There is no difference in the work that they are asked to perform. The men who work in private industry are licensed. They receive licenses which are issued by the Department of Civil Aviation which allow them to perform this basic work. They receive ratings on top of this. This means that the work that is performed by both the men in the Services and men in private industry is of an identical standard. In fact, today we find that most of the men working in private industry who are members of the Licensed Aircraft Maintenance Engineers Association are former service mechanics, air frame fitters, engine fitters and electrical fitters. Private industry is drawing its recruits from the Services because of the discontent that has arisen from the bad pay that servicemen receive.
I should like to draw attention once again to the category of LAC - radio technical who receives a base rate as a married man of §80.71 a week. If he worked in private industry he would have a base rate of $87.50 a week which is over $5 a week more. If a man working in private industry has 2 to 3 ratings he .will receive an additional S3. 85 a week. If he has 4 to 6 ratings he will receive $7.70 a week more and if he has 7 or more ratings he will receive $11.55 more a week. I want to emphasise that most of the men working for the private airline industry are entitled to a rating of 7 or more: This means that their weekly wage would be $99.5 as against the paltry $80.71 received by a married serviceman who is doing the same work and has the same responsibility. The single serviceman would receive $67.76.
I made the comment a moment ago that increments of $1.50 a week every 5 years were paid to RAAF personnel. However, if servicemen were to work in private industry for the airlines they would receive an increment of S2 a week after each of their first 3 years of employment. Therefore a man in private industry would have to be employed by an airline for only 3 years in order to receive total increments of $6 a week. A serviceman would have to be a member of the Royal Australian Air Force for at least 20 years before he received that increment. These are only some of the extraordinary examples of poor pay and only some of the reasons for the discontent that exists in the RAAF today. I can elaborate further but I do not have the time to take in the cooks, stewards, gardeners and the various other employees who are employed by the RAAF.
One of the worst features is the overtime provision. A man in private industry who works overtime gets time and a half for the first 4 hours and double time thereafter. If he works on a Saturday he gets time and a half for the first 4 hours and double time thereafter. If he is required to work on a Sunday he is paid double time for the lot. But what happens to his counterpart in the RAAF? He receives time off in lieu of having to work overtime, but before he can get any time off in lieu he must work at least 8 hours overtime in any one week, which means that he does not get anything for working overtime. 1 repeat that the man in private industry gets penalty rates for the extra time spent working overtime, but the man in the Services gets time ofl’ provided he works at least 8 hours in any one week on top of that, because of the shortage of labour and so on in the Services today, the man in the Services must take the time off in lieu within 28 days of accumulating it and if he does not take it off within the 28 days he loses it altogether. This is an example of just one of the anomalies in existence in the Services today.
The question of overtime is serious because the fact that men are taking time off in lieu or are losing it altogether does not show up the shortage in personnel and the amount of time which is being worked outside normal hours. We are not at war; we are at peace. Therefore, the work which is being carried on in the RAAF should be done at reasonable times in the hours in which men are required to work. After all, they work the same hours in the Services as they would work if they were in private industry. If they work the same hours why should they not be paid overtime? If they were paid overtime it would show up the real position, which is that there is a shortage of labour and there is a large amount of work being performed outside the normal working hours. I do not have time to bring forward the other matters which need attention and airing in this place. These include such things as the fact that private employees employed at Williamtown receive a $7 a fortnight disability allowance but the RAAF personnel get nothing.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I shall be brief in replying to the remarks of the honourable member for Newcastle (Mr Charles Jones). I wish to say, firstly, that his statement that Service personnel have not received the 6 per cent increase which was awarded in the national wage case in January of this year is quite correct. The honourable member asked why they have had to wait this length of time. The Minister for Defence (Mr Gorton) gave the reason for this in an answer to a question asked of him in the House earlier this week. He said:
The reason why the 6 per cent increase awarded by the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission nas not yet passed to uniformed members of the Services is because it is necessary under the law for regulations to be made increasing the amounts paid.
It seems to me that if the payment of this increase is to be speeded up the law will have either to be altered or to be amended in some way to allow the regulations which are necessary for its payment to be more easily brought into effect. 1 have referred to the answer which was given by the Minister for Defence earlier this week. I have been advised that the chief legal officer of the Department of Air has stated that the first proof of the regulations themselves has been received from the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel but that the final form is not expected to be submitted to the Executive Council until 14th April. In that case payment will not be made to the personnel referred to by the honourable member until 22nd April.
– Will they get it then?
– This is the information I have. It is fully expected it will be paid on 22nd April. The other major point that the honourable member for Newcastle raised related to the rates of pay of Service personnel compared with those of private airline personnel in the same trade categories. As honourable members will know, the Kerr Committee is currently investigating the rates of pay of all armed Services personnel. It has been holding regular and numerous meetings and is actively pursuing its inquiries. Honourable members will know also that there have been adjustments in payments to flying personnel over the last few months which have given them considerable increases in their pay. As to the situation of ground staff, I will see that the honourable member’s comments are referred to the Minister for Air (Senator Drake-Brockman) tomorrow provided the Minister is available. I am not sure of the Minister’s programme. As I understand it the Senate has risen for this week but the honourable member for Newcastle can rest assured that his comments will be referred to the Minister for Air as soon as it is possible to do so.
– I rise tonight to draw to the attention of the House and more particularly the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) the glaring anomalies in section 82f (3) (f) of the Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Assessment Act. The matter I wish to raise involves a constituent who applied for a taxation allowance as prescribed within the provisions of that section of the Act. That section states: . . in respect of a medical or surgical appliance (not otherwise specified in this definition) prescribed by a legally qualified medical practitioner;
As I will clearly show, this subsection in its present form is harsh in its implementation and mitigates against just and deserving claims, as the case I will outline demonstrates. The case involves a 45 year old married woman with two young children. Her husband is an electrician. Quite suddenly some 18 months ago she contracted an extremely rare and little known disease called idiopathic autonomic degeneration. She suffers from an incurable degeneration of the sympathic nervous system which affects the control of the sweat glands to a most advanced degree. The human body uses a process of sweating and evaporation of sweat to control body temperature and the body needs to maintain temperature within very close limits. This woman’s body mechanism which should maintain a temperature within critical limits does not function or does not function adequately. She must therefore live constantly in an environment where the temperature is at least higher than normal body temperature.
She was advised by 3 specialists to procure an air-conditioning unit. The disease is incurable and will lead inevitably to an early death. Let me further emphasise two additional facts. There is nothing known to medical science that can be done for this woman and there is nothing known to medical science which can be either administered or prescribed for her. Because of her tragic condition she was advised, following extensive treatment at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and following extensive clinical analysis by the Associate Professor of Human Physiology and Pharmacology at Adelaide University, that if she wished to return to her home, in view of the disease and the fact that she cannot control her body temperature, she would have to have an air-conditioning unit. Without the unit she would suffer a marked deterioration in health and the consequences could well be fatal. The husband was advised by the hospital authorities that he would be entitled to a taxation allowance on the cost of the unit which was $357. He submitted a claim to the Taxation Office but the claim was rejected. He lodged an appeal with the Commonwealth Taxation Board of Review which dismissed the appeal on the following grounds:
As the Board has pointed out before, the legislature has seen fit to grant a deduction not in respect of an appliance prescribed by a legally qualified medical practitioner, but only in respect of a medical or surgical appliance so prescribed.
The view which has been taken by this Board is that a medical or surgical appliance is one which is manufactured or generally regarded because of its very nature to be an appliance designed for medical or surgical ends. lt is not, then, the use to which a person puts an appliance, which, in our view, determines the matter but rather the nature of the appliance itself.
It seems to us that an air-conditioning unit sold commercially for general purposes cannot be described as a medical or surgical appliance, or as some other type of appliance, depending upon the particular circumstances or the health of its user. We would then for these reasons (though the case for the taxpayer is one deserving the greatest sympathy) reject the claim.
The House will readily grasp from the reasons just quoted the untenable position facing this Board because of the terms of the Act. I carried out an investigation prior to submissions being made to the Board in an effort to establish, firstly, whether such an air-conditioning unit was manufactured and, if so, when and where; secondly, whether there was such a unit ever manufactured which had ceased to be produced; thirdly, whether there was a unit procurable, and, if so, where; fourthly, if not, was it procurable by way of lease by a hospital, by a clinic or by a university; and fifthly, does there exist any unit so produced that could be construed by way of patent as a medical or surgical airconditioning unit. I drew a complete blank. There does not exist anywhere in Australia such a patented medical or surgical appliance. Therefore it was utterly impossible for the husband in this case to comply either with the provisions of the Act or with the subsequent interpretation of that Act by the Commonwealth Taxation Board of Review.
Let me state 3 ludicrous examples of this case. Consider a person suffering from chronic bronchitis who is supplied with an oxygen tent for the very same reason that this woman was issued with an airconditioning unit. This sufferer complies with the Act. but my constituent cannot. In the second case, if this woman had taken her unit to a medical or surgical manufacturer and he had slapped his brand on the unit she would have complied with the Act. Thirdly, had this woman been prepared at great discomfort to sit in a bath and cover herself with cold sheets, provided that they were green sheets supplied by the Royal Adelaide Hospital, she would in all probability have complied with the provisions of the Act. Surely this is ridiculous untenable, illogical and totally unjust. In all equity and justice, disregarding the format of the existing provisions of the Act, surely the benefit of the doubt must go to this woman.
There ought to be some fundamental criteria upon which judges in these cases can be motivated to a reasonably humane decision. There should be criteria such as these: First, the nature of the illness; second, the fact that it is incurable; third, that medical science can give her nothing and do nothing; fourth, that there is no other known medical alternative; and fifth, for this woman to continue to live a normal life, because she cannot herself control her own body temperature and medical science cannot help, the only ray of hope within the realm of the total knowledge of medical science is for her to get a mechanical substitute. The doctor cannot tell the woman where to purchase a patented medical or surgical appliance because in fact, no such appliance is produced any where. As a consequence her only alternative is to procure an equally efficient substitute but. because it is not patented as a surgical or medical appliance, this woman is denied the right to use the provisions of the Act.
Quite frankly, I pleaded with my constituent to take this case to the Supreme Court. In all sincerity, I could not envisage the Supreme Court rejecting an application made on these compassionate grounds. The basic reason why her husband could not apply to the Supreme Court was that he is an ordinary worker with a single income and he just could not afford the cost. I have spoken to the Treasurer (Mr Sneddon) and have furnished him with copies of the judgment. I requested him to be here this evening but. in fairness to him, he said that he could not be. Only a small amount is involved in this claim. The man’s taxable income is$2,087 and the cost of the unit is $357. If this were allowed as a tax deduction, his taxable income would become $1,730 on which his tax would be $165.61. In effect, the tax saving would be $71.45. As it is impossible for this constituent to test the claim before the Supreme Court, and in view of what I have said, I ask the Minister to exercise his power as an act of grace and remit the small amount of tax that is involved. I believe this constituent and his family deserve the utmost sympathy and consideration.
Mr Foster (Stunt) (11.56) - Mr Speaker - Motion (by Mr Swartz) agreed to:
That the question be now put.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.57 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
When was it decided that several new census questions which were tested in the Sydney and Melbourne trial surveys of July 1969 and April 1970, respectively, should be excluded from the 1971 census (Hansard, 20th October 1970, page 2529).
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The range of information to be collected in the 1971 Population and Housing Census was considered by Cabinet on 27th January 1970 when it was decided to exclude from the 1971 Census Schedule certain new questions which had been tested in the Sydney trial survey of July 1969.
The Melbourne trial survey of April 1970 sought answers only to approved questions.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
Can the Government guarantee that a check in the upward trend in wage costs would prevent an upward movement in costs and prices.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The Government believes, along with the governments of most Western nations, that excessive wage increases are a major cause of inflation and that a lower rate of increase in money wages would result in a lower rate of increase in costs and prices. However, the Government does not maintain that excessive wage increases are the only cause of increases in costs and prices.
Motor Vehicles: Drivers’ Licences (Question No. 2501)
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
What was the total number of driving licences issued in each of the States and Territories of the
Commonwealth during each of the last 5 years for which figures are available.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The Acting Commonwealth Statistician has supplied the following information in reply to the Honourable Member’s question. The Bureau does not collect statistics of the number of driving licences issued during each year. The statistics available refer to the number of drivers’ and riders’ licences in force at the dates stated.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Treasurer upon notice:
How many people died in 1969 from (a) road accidents, (b) a heart condition, (c) a kidney condition, (d) tuberculosis, (e) cancer and (f) childbirth.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The Acting Commonwealth Statistician has supplied the following information in answer to the honourable members question:
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
What access to the Australian capital market has been granted to the Administration of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Until recently borrowings by the Territory Administration have largely been from local Territory sources or from ‘Territory-affiliated’ Austraiian sources, that is, Australian institutions which have branches or other interests in the Territory.
In 1969 it was decided, with the knowledge of the State Premiers through the Loan Council, that the Territory Administration should be permitted some limited direct access to the Ausralian capital market as such, by being allowed io raise up to $2m. annually from non-Territory-affiliated sources in Australia. This limit was increased earlier this financial year to (5m. per annum.
Arising out of the special circumstances associated with the financing by the Territory Administration of its 20 per cent equity shareholding in the Bougainville copper project, the Administration was authorised to make borrowings totalling $25m. on the Australian .market in two separate placements during 1969-70 and 1970-71.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
Is he able to give the average cost of funeral; in each State in the case of (a) burials and (b) cremations.
– The . answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The Acting Commonwealth Statistician has advised that the Bureau of Census and Statistics does not have any information about the average cost of funerals in Australia.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answer to the right honourable member’s question is as follows:
and (2) Under the provisions of the income lax law, the Commissioner of Taxation is prohibited from divulging information relating to the affairs of particular taxpayers. For this reason, he is unable to supply any information either as to the amount of income tax paid by the E.Z. Industries group or the level of its profits.
A company carrying on prescribed mining operations is entitled to deductions for various kinds of capital expenditure incurred in carrying on its activities. At the option of the company, the deduction may be allowed in full in the year in which the expenditure is incurred or it may be written off by annual deductions over the life of the mine.
Where a company elects to claim the total deduction in the year in which the capital expenditure is incurred, the amount on which tax would otherwise he payable is reduced by the amount of that expenditure. If the company follows the normal accounting practice of treating the expenditure as capital in its own accounts and merely charges the appropriate amount of depreciation against the profits of that year, the profits revealed in its accounts will be greater than its income. Depending on the magnitude of the capital expenditure involved, it could happen that a mining company will pay little or no tax in a particular year even though the accounts prepared for presentation to its shareholders disclose a trading profit
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice:
Will he bring up to date the figures in his predecessor’s answer to my question No. 508 (Hansard 29th August, 1968 page 797).
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The attached tables set out in the latest available figures on aid flows. The categories are nol always the same as those in the tables provided in 1968 because of changes in the recording procedures of aid donors.
The first two tables show actual disbursement of aid from countries which are members of the Development Assistance Committee (D.A.C.) of the O.E.C.D. (i.e. Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy. Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, U.K., U.S.A.). Table HI dealing with aid from Communist countries, relates to commitments, because disbursement figures are not available. Disbursements from Communist countries run at a level well below that of commitments and as a result Table 111 greatly over-estimates the real flow of aid to developing countries from this source.
Column 1 of table IV shows the net flow of resources from D.A.C. member countries to developing countries. It should be noted that receipts by D.A.C. countries of amortisation on loans to developing countries and of repatriated capital from investments in developing countries have already been deducted from these totals. Columns 2, 3 and 4 refer not only to repayments of external public debt but also interest payments. They relate to all external public debts and not only those incurred as a result of aid loans. Because of the different methods used to calculate the various columns no percentage figures have been included.
asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for External Territories, upon notice:
How many prosecutions have been launched against employers who, as Professor Isauc reported to the Administrator of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea in May 1970, were found to be paying well below award wages in the highland coffee plantations.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The matter referred to is one which falls within the authority of the Ministerial Member for Labour in the House of Assembly for Papua and New Guinea. The Administrator on the advice of the Ministerial Member for Labour has provided the following information:
No prosecutions have been launched. The offenders included indigenous employers endeavouring to establish various enterprises and it was decided that the better course of action was to encourage compliance rather than prosecute immediately. No award covers the workers involved but current legislation stipulates minimum conditions on a cash and kind basis. In the main contraventions were the noncompliance with ration scales, because of the abundance of local foodstuffs, although the cash component had been increased’.
asked the Minister for External Territories, upon notice:
What action has the Administration of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea taken on the motion passed by the House of Assembly on 19th November 1970 urging the Administration to take all possible steps to develop the production of rice in the Territory, including the establishment of rice-growing schemes such as those operating in Fiji with United Nations assistance.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The matter referred to is one which falls within the authority of the Ministerial Member for Agriculture, Stock and Fisheries in the House ot Assembly for Papua and New Guinea. The Administrator on the advice of the Ministerial Member for Agriculture, Stock and Fisheries has provided the following information:
The Administration has initiated a complete technical and economic review of the present position of the rice industry in the Territory. However, marked differences in soils and climatic conditions would appear to present considerable difficulties in initiating schemes in the Territory similar to that in Fiji. The public investment implications of such a development for Papua and New Guinea would require policy consideration in depth in the light of competing demands on the Territory budget. However, if an economically feasible project can be evolved, international finance from sources such as UNDP/World Bank would be sought for its implementation.
asked the Minister for External Territories, upon notice:
What was the membership of each employees’ organisation registered in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea in December 1970.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The membership at 31st December 1970 of each employees’ organisation registered in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea is listed below:
asked the Minister for External Territories, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Gollin K.yokuyo Fishing Co. Pty Ltd (an Australian/Japanese joint venture) 4 catcher boats.
Kaigai Gyogyo Pty Ltd (Japanese capital, Australian or Territory partner not yet arranged) 5 catcher boats.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 1 April 1971, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1971/19710401_reps_27_hor71/>.