29th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Hon. J. F. Cope) took the chair at 12 noon, and read prayers.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That whereas uranium found in vast quantities in Australia is the raw material for the nuclear fission reaction,
And whereas presently assured reserves of uranium in Australia represent a potential production of over 540,000 kilograms of Plutonium 239 if utilized in Light Water Reactors overseas,
And whereas the Maximum Permissible Inhalation of Plutonium 239 is 0.00000025 gram,
And whereas Plutonium 239 is one of the most dangerous substances human society has ever created, causing mutations and cancers,
And whereas there are no methods of safely and absolutely confining Plutonium from the biosphere for the requisite quarter of a million years,
And whereas Plutonium coming in contact with the air forms an aerosol cloud of micron-sized particles, its most dangerous form,
And whereas the export of uranium may return to us an import of Plutonium particles dispersed in the global environment via the circulation of the atmosphere,
And whereas there are no sure safeguards against the military use of nuclear fission, and the nuclear proliferation represents a prime environmental threat to all forms of life on the only earth available to us,
And that it is therefore an act of self-preservation to demand a halt to all exports of uranium except for bio-medical uses,
Your petitioners humbly pray that the members, in the House assembled, will take the most urgent steps to ensure:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Dr J. F. Cairns, Mr Clyde Cameron, Mr Lynch, Mrs Child, Mr Clayton, Mr Kerin and Mr Lamb.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology which has catered for tertiary needs of Melbourne for nearly 100 years is still without any location where students can gather in a social context.
That a properly constituted meeting of students supported the policy of the elected Students’ Representative Council that Union Facilities should be the First priority of the Institute.
That the S.R.C. formulated a Definitive Plan that is an acceptable constructive and reasonable amendment to the present planning schedule at the Institute.
Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House ask the Australian Commission on Advanced Education to consider in their 1976-78 Triennium Report an allocation of funds to ensure the provision of Union Facilities at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Mr Lynch, Mr Lamb and Mr Street. Petitions received.
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The Humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the reduction of the allowable deduction of education expenses under Section 82J of the Income Tax Assessment Act from $400 to $ 1 50 is $50 below the 1956-57 figure.
That this reduction will impose hardships on many parents who have children attending school, whether non government or government; and particularly on parents with more than one child at school.
That this reduction will further restrict the freedom available to parents to make a choice of school for their children.
That some parents who have chosen to send their children to a non-government school will have to withdraw their children and send them to government schools already overcrowded and under-staffed.
That the parents to benefit most relatively from educational income tax deductions, in the past and even more in the future, are the parents of children in government schools and this has a divisive effect in the Australian community.
That parents should be encouraged by the Australian government to exercise freedom of choice of the type of school they wish for their children. The proposed reduction means an additional financial penalty is imposed on parents who try to exercise this choice and discourages them from making an important financial contribution to Australian education over and above what they contribute through taxation.
That an alternative system, a tax rebate system, could be adopted as being more equitable for all parents with children at school.
To compensate for the losses that will follow from the proposed reduction and to help meet escalating educational costs faced by all families your petitioners most humbly pray that the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled should take immediate steps to restore educational benefits to parents, at least at the 1973-1974 level either by increasing taxation deductions or through taxation rebates.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Mrs Child, Mr Macphee and Mr Staley.
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That we strongly oppose the easing of restrictions on the importation, production in Australia, sale or distribution of pornographic material whether in films, printed matter or any other format.
That any alterations to the Television Programme Standards of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board which permits the exploitation of sex or violence is unacceptable to us.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will take no measures to interfere with the existing Television Programme Standards or to permit easier entry into Australia, or production in Australia, of pornographic material.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Hodges and Mr McVeigh.
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled should not admit into the law of this land the principle that marriage is only temporary and the family no longer the fundamental unit of society.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Hodges.
To the honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled: The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House urge the Government to amend the Family Law Bill to provide that ( 1) there is no reduction in the period of separation prior to the hearing of an application for the dissolution of a marriage at present required, (2) evidence is required of genuine attempts at reconciliation before a marriage is dissolved, (3) both parties receive an equitable distribution of family property and assets when a marriage is dissolved and (4) funds are made available to provide family life education, programs preparing people for marriage, and the decentralisation of approved guidance facilities and education in marriage courses for young married couples.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Hodges.
To the honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled: The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that the Human Rights Bill:
Will tend to deprive free Australian citizens of religious liberty and freedom of worship, and parents and guardians of the right to choose the moral and religious education of their children in that:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House not proceed with the Human Rights Bill.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Hodges.
To the honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the proposed Universal Health Scheme is essential to the well being of all Australians, in so far as it will-
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will hasten to introduce this much needed scheme so that health care services in Australia can begin to function equitably, efficiently, and economically.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. byDr Klugman.
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of certain citizens (electors of the Division of Hume) hereby respectfully showeth:
That citizens of this Division place great value on the sanctity of marriage, and are greatly concerned that under the proposed provisions of The Family Law Bill 1974, a woman who has performed her duties of wife mother and homemaker in a praiseworthy manner, can nevertheless find herself placed in a most unjust and unfair position, even if an innocent party.
Your petitioners therefore humbly request that greater consideration be given to preventing such positions of injustice from occurring. by Mr Lusher.
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled: The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That theBarton Highway is one of the main entrances to the National Capital and that it is used by visitors from many parts of Australia,
That this highway is in a sub-standard and dangerous condition.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House urge the Government to accept responsibility for the upgrading and maintenance of the Barton Highway as a main entrance to the National Capital.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Lusher.
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled: The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfuly showeth:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that, as an interim measure, the Government will immediately increase the current grants being made to children in non-government schools to at least50 per cent of the cost of educating children in government schools, thus enabling the nongovernment schools to continue to exist and fulfill their function of educating Australian children.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr McKenzie.
To the Honourable, the Speaker, and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the proposed ‘free’ national health scheme is not free at all and will cost four out of five Australians more than the present scheme.
That the proposed scheme is discriminatory and a further erosion of the civil liberties of Australian citizens, particularly working wives and single persons.
That the proposed scheme is in fact a plan for nationalised medicine which will lead to gross waste and inefficiencies in medical services and will ultimately remove an individual’s right to choose his/her own doctor.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will take no measures to interfere with the basic principles of the existing health scheme which functions efficiently and economically.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr McLeay.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That whereas it was reported in ‘Newsweek’, August 26th, page 12, 1974, that Australian Government agreed to send $225,000 for ‘humanitarian purposes’ to black guerilla movements fighting Rhodesians, South Africans and Portuguesse in Southern Africa;
And whereas these guerilla movements being members of ZAPU, ZANU, FRELIMO and FROLIZI and other kindred organisations have been guilty of ninety six documented acts of murder, abduction, mutilation, arson, cattle maiming and rape chiefly against other peaceful Africans between 22 December, 1972 and 10 May, 1974, in Rhodesia alone;
And abducted 295 people, chiefly school children, from the St Alberts Mission in Rhodesia as reported in the newsmedia:
And whereas these above mentioned and kindred organisations have been guilty of many other barbarous acts of brutality as reported in the ‘The Silent War’ by Chris Vermaak and Reg Shaay, and the ‘Real Case for Rhodesia’ by Charlton Chesterton, both books widely read in Australia.
So therefore your petitioners most humbly pray that the Australian Government will cease to support by material and other means those organisations in Southern Africa which are guilty of their various acts of terrorism, because such material and other assistance would give the impression of agreement of the Australian people and the Australian Government to the various acts of brutality which have been perpetuated by the organisations concerned.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. byMrMcLeay.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Defence. I preface it by referring to the meeting I had with the Minister last week regarding the dissatisfaction expressed by a great number of ex-servicemen with their retirement benefits. When, as the Minister suggested, Senators Devitt, Maunsell and myself, the remaining members of the Jess Committee, compile appropriate terms of reference adequate for a committee of inquiry into the situation, will he prevail upon the Prime Minister to appoint as soon as possible a joint party committee to investigate the dissatisfaction expressed?
– As I have already explained in this House, in reply to the honourable member’s earlier question on this matter, there are a number of matters raised by and on behalf of retired members of the forces that are already under examination by the Department of Defence in consultation with the Services and with the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Authority. I cannot see any real need for the appointment of a parliamentary committee, as he suggests, to inquire into these matters. However, if the honourable member wishes to submit terms of reference to me, which I presume would incorporate the anomalies that he is referring to, then I would be happy to examine the matter on its merits.
-My question is directed to the Minister for Social Security. Will the Minister explain his remarks in the second reading debate on the Social Services Bill (No. 3) that some States had absorbed into their own revenues the double orphans pension initiated last year? What States were involved? What evidence exists that States have so restricted their social welfare budgets that in order to obtain revenue they have to rob children who have been deprived of their parents? If this practice continues, does it make impossible any initiatives by the Australian Government to give assistance to disadvantaged sections of the community?
– It is true that following the introduction of the double orphans benefit several States have reduced outlays for these children for which they were responsible prior to the introduction of the double orphans benefit. Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania have done this, and it is also understood that New South Wales has reduced State ward care payments made to foster mothers, but this has not been confirmed at this point. In Victoria the previous payment in this area was $12 a week and it is now $2. In Queensland the payment was $12 a week and it is down to $2 a week. In South Australia there is a range of payments made. For children under 15 years the payment was $10.80 a week plus 50c pocket money. It is now 80c a week plus 50c pocket money. For a student between 15 and 18 years of age the payment was $ 11 . 80 a week plus $1.50 pocket money and it is now $1.80 a week plus $1.50 pocket money. The $7 a week paid to a foster mother or guardian has now been terminated. In Western Australia the allowance of $13 a week has been reduced to $3 a week. In Tasmania no payments are now made where payments were made on a range of criteria for children between 7 and 14 years and overprimary school children. Secondary school children still receive an allowance of 50c a week.
I can arrange for the full details to be incorporated in Hansard as an answer to a question on notice if the honourable member wishes, rather than delay the House. The attitude of the States does not make the objective of social reform set by the Government impossible, but it does make them more difficult, depending on the degree to which the States seek to reduce the total effect of what the Australian Government provides in conjunction with what the State governments are already providing. In this case I suggest that the people who have been disadvantaged are the double orphans themselves, the children and the adults who have been catering for them, and I sincerely regret that the States have behaved in this way.
Mr Drummond My question is directed to the Minister for Transport. One of the main criticisms in the report of the inquiry into quarantine regulations in Western Australia, tabled by the Minister for Health last week, was the lack of an adequate incinerator at Perth Airport which constitutes a serious quarantine deficiency. Unless an adequate incinerator is provided quarantine security must progressively deteriorate as more and larger aircraft land at Perth. Recognising the ever present threat of the so-called exotic diseases particularly, can the Minister indicate when a new and adequate incinerator will be built at Perth Airport?
– Quarantine is a responsibility of the Minister for Health.
– All the recommendations of the report have been acted on promptly by my Department. The Department, of Transport and all others concerned were promptly informed and action will be taken to overcome this difficulty. In the meantime other arrangements have been made for the disposal of garbage to ensure that it is properly incinerated.
– My question is addressed to the Special Minister of State. As there seems to be some doubt in some people ‘s minds about the use to which grants to local government authorities by the Australian Government on the recommendations of the Grants Commission can be directed, can the Minister give a brief outline of the general principles guiding the expenditure of this money? Specifically, can he indicate whether it might be used to reduce rate charges?
– The position is quite clear. The grants that are about to be made pursuant to the report which has been tabled will not be in lieu of rates. It would be contrary to the whole intention of the Grants Commission if aid were given to councils which are in need on the basis that it would be in lieu of rates. The objective was to establish a standard and in the deliberations of the Grants Commission it was found that there were some councils which had already achieved that standard. Therefore those councils do not get any assistance at this stage. It follows that those which have need for assistance will have to spend the money in the area in which they are located. By the same token the money is unconditional and we make that clear. It would, of course, have to be paid to the States pursuant to section 96 of the Constitution for payment out to the nominated local governing bodies. We also want to make it clear that we would not expect the States to reduce their aid to local government authorities because that again would negative any effort to improve the standard of the areas in question. The short answer is that, while the councils have made submissions and those submissions have been evaluated by a judicial body whose findings cannot be contradicted, we acknowledge that although the grants are unconditional we expect them to be spent on improving the standard of the area. They are not to be spent in lieu of rates. We want to make that clear. By the same token it is not to be thought that State governments will reduce their aid, if they give any, to those local government areas.
– I direct my question to the Deputy Prime Minister who will be aware of the Japanese policies which are preventing the export of Australian beef to Japan and which, at the same time, are making Japanese consumers pay extremely high prices for beef produced in their own country. In its discussions to be held soon with the Japanese Prime Minister, will the Government firmly point out the damaging effects which Japanese attitude is having on the Australian cattle industry which faces a crisis of extremely serious proportions? Will the Government urge the Japanese Government to adopt more realistic and less disruptive ways of protecting its own beef producers? Having in mind our Prime Minister’s recent comments on Australia’s responsibility to accept Japanese cars and other products in this country, which I support, will the Government make its attitude known to Mr Tanaka strongly, reminding him of the heavy reliance our 2 countries have on each other and the need for both of us to adopt sensible policies that take account not only of our domestic, political and economic demands but also of our interdependence?
– The question is a very important one. It is true that, because of the political situation in the Japanese Diet, producers of meat have a considerable influence in determining the decisions made by the Government. That is not a position with which we are completely unfamiliar in Australia. Consequently restrictions on beef imports have come about in Japan as a result of the political pressures in that country. They are understandable and, from the point of view of the producers in Japan, they would consider them to be justifiable. The Australian
Government has been concerned about this matter for some considerable time. A very high level group of officials went to Japan, had long discussions with the Japanese and found that they understood our position thoroughly. They were completely sympathetic to it. On every hand they expressed the view that as soon as it was possible for them to do so they would adopt a more liberal policy in respect to meat imports.
The Government has also taken this matter into account when dealing with the difficulties caused by Japanese imports into Australia- motor cars in particular. We have not wanted to create problems, if we can possible avoid them, by imposing any kind of restrictions on Japanese imports that the Japanese would not readily accept themselves. Consequently discussions with the Japanese about motor cars have been going on for two or three weeks and we are reaching a certain agreement with them. The overall position too is one with which Japan is vitally concerned in maintaining security of supplies of coal and iron ore from Australia. I have made it my business to place before the Japanese the overall common interest that prevails between the two of us, that restrictions should not be applied and that we should endeavour to increase our imports on the longest possible terms of contractual arrangements and in other ways. Certainly when the Japanese Prime Minister comes to Australia this matter will be brought to his notice with all the persuasive ability that we can use.
-My question is directed to the Minister for Northern Development. Is it a fact that the Premier of Queensland intends to introduce in the Queensland Parliament legislation to prevent the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation operating in Queensland? What effect would that have on federal plans for the development of the great Burdekin Basin?
– I understand that it is a fact that the Premier of Queensland is introducing legislation in the Queensland Parliament which will in effect ban the operations of the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation in Queensland unless with the express approval of the Premier. I believe that to be a most irresponsible action. I find it incredible that such a move is being made because one of the most important statutory authorities in Australia has been the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority and, since the change, the Snowy
Mountains Engineering Corporation. It is recognised in world circles as a construction authority and an advisory authority on water conservation and other associated matters. What this will mean, of course, is that the provision of federal finance to Queensland for water conservation development will have to be reviewed. There is no question about that. In the recent Budget $4.4m was allocated for the Bundaberg scheme and $3m for the Clare weirs, the commencement of the Burdekin scheme itself. A major flood mitigation scheme is under investigation at Proserpine. We have already provided some money for that. The Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation is involved in it. The Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation is also investigating on behalf of the Australian Government a major scheme in relation to the Pioneer River. All of those schemes have been put up by the Premier of Queensland as schemes deserving of federal finance. I do not know what is behind the motives of the Premier. But the Queensland Government, to put it in pretty rough terms, is cutting its own throat.
If this Australian Government is to make federal finance available to build water conservation projects in Queensland it will insist that it has the advice of federal agencies, particularly when the federal agency is of world standard, as the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation is. Up to the present time there has been close collaboration between the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation, my Department and the Queensland Irrigation and Water Supply Commission. There has been excellent co-operation between these departments. The matter will have to be gone into very thoroughly because the total cost of the Burdekin scheme will involve hundreds of millions of dollars and most of it will have to be financed by the Australian Government if the scheme is feasible and also because of tremendous importance not only to water conservation in the Burdekin but also for Townsville itself. The Australian Government would insist that the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation operates in that area as an adviser in working out detailed plans for the development of the Burdekin scheme.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Manufacturing Industry. I refer to the statement made by the Prime Minister yesterday regarding special assistance for country cities that have been adversely affected by Government decisions. As the statement is in rather vague and general terms, can the Minister give more specific details as to the types of viable alternative production and employment for which companies will be able to use capital grants? Will he refer particularly in his answer to the textile and motor vehicle industries in Wangaratta and Albury-Wodonga which have been severely damaged by the actions of the Labor Government?
-The honourable member’s question directs attention to a most important policy initiative of this Government. The scheme of assistance to country towns will break new ground in that for the first time in Australia funds will be available to be paid to firms- not to industries as such- which are facing difficulties as a result of a selective list of criteria which is set out in the Prime Minister’s Press statement. It will enable them to avoid retrenchments that they might otherwise have to make, particularly in country towns and cities where the possibilities of alternative employment are slight. In this sense it is a major policy initiative. It will also provide an opportunity to facilitate- I emphasise the word ‘facilitate’- structural change where it is desirable, because those of us who have studied the subject know that Australian industry is not and has hardly ever been in an optimum form and structure. It is in the interests of all of us to facilitate the changes that would lead to a better or optimum form and structure. This scheme not only will avoid the hardship that can come so often from the operations of the market place but also will facilitate the movement of resources into those areas where they can be better used.
One other aspect of the scheme is that it will provide assistance whereby a firm or an industry in some part of Australia which is declining and has little future can be replaced by firms or industries having a great future. It will facilitate the change. It is interesting to note that, when faced with a scheme having such a degree of attractiveness to firms in their electorates, honourable gentlemen opposite have difficulty in accepting its appeal. All they can do is scoff. (Opposition members interjecting)-
– I have already had the opportunity of speaking- (Opposition members interjecting)-
– Order! The House will come to order. The Minister will address the chair.
-Through you, Mr Speaker, I have already had the opportunity of having discussions with a number of honourable members on both sides of the House about the appeal, the attractiveness and the value of the scheme to particular areas. It will be administered by the Structural Adjustment Board, which is the responsibility of the Minister for Overseas Trade, the Deputy Prime Minister, and certain other aspects of it are still under consideration.
-Will the Minister for Minerals and Energy inform the House of his proposals on the pricing of North West Shelf natural gas? Further, what basis of participation in on-shore minerals search will be adopted by the Petroleum and Minerals Authority?
– Hello, it looks like we are going to get a major statement. We have been waiting for one for 20 months. Getting ready for the Japanese! Are you going to allow them in now?
-Order! The Leader of the Country Party will remain silent.
-Is the Minister going to make a statement about it at last?
-Order! The Leader of the Country Party will be listening to the answer outside if he keeps that up. I call the Minister.
-I am indebted to the honourable member for Melbourne for his question. It would be a wise man indeed who would assign at the present time a value to natural gas to be produced on the North West Shelf. But this much can be said: It would appear that the end value of the product would be of the order of about 140 times the amount which has actually been expended to date. The success ratio there has also been remarkable. To the end of 1973 when 37 wells had been drilled, it was of the order of 1 to 3.5. The world average is one to fifteen I repeat, one to fifteen.
– What is Australia’s average?
– I am not speaking about -
-Order! The Leader of the Country Party will cease interjecting. (Opposition members interjecting)-
-Order! Interjections will cease or I will take the appropriate action. The Minister will answer the question.
– For the first time we have had presented to us- it was on the 17th of this month- the proposals of the Woodside-Burmah group for the construction of a production platform. Under the terms of section 13 of the Act, we take delivery at that point. The ultimate planning of the recovery lines has not yet been finalised. We are entitled to know what they will be. May I say this also: This company which is holding 142,000 square miles of offshore land has drilled 53 wells, an average of one to every 2,800 square miles.
– You would not know what that meant-
– Order ! The honourable member for Farrer will cease interjecting.
– They are also concentrated in the southern sector -
– The Minister would not know -
-Order! The honourable member for Farrer will remain silent.
– We are interested in getting a proper intensity of drilling, a proper drilling pattern. .Mr Sinclair- Oh! You stopped it!
– For that reason, we are very concerned with the present position with regard to renewals and relinquishments which are about to occur, and particularly the actions taken by all six of the Australian States to challenge the appropriate legislation which confers sovereignty on the Commonwealth.
– That is no reason for delay.
– Again, we intend to expedite the hearing of that litigation and we have no doubt as to what the ultimate result will be .
– That is no excuse for delay.
-Then, for the first time, we will be able to avail ourselves of offers which have been received from some of the major oil companies to come in and also to drill and to participate there.
– Oh, you are going to sell out to the oil companies, are you?
-The intensity and the drilling pattern at the present time-
-Order! I have issued my last warning. I will name either the Leader of the Country Party if he interjects again or the Deputy Leader of the Country Party if he interjects again. That is a fair warning. I will take the appropriate action. I call the Minister.
– The intensity of the drilling pattern is unsatisfactory in relation to the areas that are held. Equally, it is unsatisfactory to contemplate a renewal of exploration rights on 72,000 square miles for which the present Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act provides. In respect of renewals-
– Order! I warn the honourable member for Farrer.
– What do the delays cost this country?
– Get on your camel.
-Order! The honourable member for Kennedy will remain silent. I call the Minister.
– Why don’t you warn him?
- Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. You are not adding anything to the conduct -
-Order! No point of order arises. The right honourable member will resume his seat. He knows that he cannot challenge a ruling or the authority of the Chair under those circumstances. I call the Minister.
- Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. The conduct of this House is that when a statement is to be made it be made by the Minister and we can debate it -
-Order! The right honourable gentleman will resume his seat. He has been here for 19 years and he knows the general practices and procedures of the House. That is not a matter for the Chair at all. If a Minister wants to answer a question, provided the answer is relevant to the question asked he is entitled to do so. I can only request that he make his answer brief. Under the Standing Orders I cannot force a Minister to resume his seat. But he can make his answer brief. I request the Minister to do so.
-Mr Speaker -
– The point is this: If the Minister provokes us and then you warn our side you are not contributing to the Parliament -
-Order! The right honourable gentleman will resume his seat. He is not allowed to get up without getting the call. I did not give him the call. I have just explained the situation in regard to a Minister answering a question. The Minister will answer the question.
- Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. You referred to practices and procedures of this House. One of the practices and procedures is that during question time there is no reference to policy within replies given by Minister. Policy is a matter for statements to be make to the Parliament. It is therefore necessary -
-Order! The Deputy Leader of the Country Party would by aware that a Minister is allowed to give an explanation of Government policy in answer to a question. I call the Minister.
-Mr Speaker, thank you for your ruling. The matter would have been finalised 5 minutes ago if it were not for the interruptions, which are a disgrace to this House. I repeat -
- Mr Speaker, that is a reflection on you. You will not take a reflection from me. Why take it from the Minister?
-Order! That is not a reflection on the Chair. It is just a passing reference.
- Mr Speaker, the Minister has said that interjections from our side are disgraceful.
- Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order -
– You get some people employed instead of fooling around here.
-Order! The Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat. The House will come to order. Honourable members are denying themselves question time. The House will come to order. The Leader of the Opposition will remain silent. The Minister for Labor and Immigration has raised a point of order.
– I thank you for giving me the call, Sir. I simply take the point of order that it is quite out of order for the Leader of the Opposition to just get up and start yabbering away without the call.
-Order! I call the Minister for Minerals and Energy.
-Sir, it is grossly -
– Tell us about -
-Order! I warn the Leader of the Country Party. I have been very tolerant with him. I warn him that if he interjects once more I will name him. I call the Minister
-Sir, it is grossly -
-Order! I name the Leader of the Country Party.
– I raise a point of order -
-Order! No point of order arises on the ruling I have given.
– That is quite unfair. I did not even make -
Motion (by Mr Lionel Bowen) proposed:
That the right honourable member for Richmond be suspended from the service of the House.
-The question is that the Leader of the Country Party be suspended from the service of the House. Those of that opinion say ‘Aye’.
Government supporters- Aye.
-To the contrary ‘ No ‘.
Opposition members- No.
– I declare that the ayes have it.
- Mr Speaker, I beg your indulgence to raise a point of order. The remark made by the Leader of the Country Party was not directed to you; it was directed to the Deputy Leader and it could not be reasonably regarded as an interjection.
-Order! If the Leader of the Opposition had made that appeal I would certainly have given it consideration but he did not do so. The honourable member for Kooyong will remain silent. I will manage this affair. You manage your own affairs.
- Mr Speaker, I made no such appeal because I had not personal knowledge of what was said. It amazed me that you should have named the Leader of the Country Party because I heard no interjection from him. I did not know how you could have heard.
– It could not have been heard. I was talking to Ian Sinclair.
- Mr Speaker -
– I did not know what it was all about. Mr Speaker, if you are asking me to make such an appeal I will do so. If that will correct the situation in which we have been put, I will make the appeal.
– If the position is as stated, I am willing to overlook the matter because I do not claim infallibility. If the interjection was not made across the Table to the Minister, I am willing to believe that to be so and to overlook the fact that I did name the right honourable gentleman. The matter is closed and the Minister will answer the question.
– As a point of order, Mr Speaker, I point out that you have taken a vote on this.
-Does not the right honourable gentleman want me to use a little common sense in this matter? Have I not used common sense?
– Yes, Mr Speaker, but you have to undo the vote that was taken to suspend the right honourable member.
– I did not declare that the ayes had it.
- Mr Speaker, may I have your indulgence for a moment. I think we need some stability in the House this morning. I understand that the Leader of the Country Party did not make an interjection. I give support to that position but your rulings must be upheld. We are grateful for the fact that although you did put the motion you did not declare it carried, which saves the situation at the moment but it would be appropriate if all honourable members conducted themselves a little better.
– I call the Minister.
– It is grossly unsatisfactory to the Government to have a situation where a designated authority is in a position to renew an exploration permit on terms suitable to him without considering the overriding national interest. We are examining the situation and intend to take appropriate action. As for the ultimate determination of what will be the price of natural gas which will not be produced until 1978, at the proper time and by proper methods we will give the necessary indications. The second part of the honourable member’s question. related to our on-shore activities. I want to refer briefly here to the proposed acquisition by the Petroleum and Minerals Authority of interests in the Wambo Coal Company which was under threat of being taken over by the Anglo-American Corporation, which is a subsidiary of a major South African group. As a result of our participation in the equity of this company we will be able to finish up with a situation where there will be merely a 4 per cent overseas interest in lieu of a S3 per cent interest. This is typical of the true functions of the Petroleum and Minerals Authority. We are not muscling in but coming in as a responsible body to help out a group which has holdings over 13 square miles of coal with reserves of over 73 million tons and with reputed reserves far in excess of that quantity. We will have appropriate representation on the board of the company. We have acted on the advice of the Joint Coal Board and of every other responsible authority under Commonwealth control. The Commonwealth of Australia will be a good partner for organisations such as this. There will be more of it. Some 40 small organisations have been in a similar plight under the threat of overseas takeovers. In such circumstances the Commonwealth for small amounts of money will be involved by equity participation, partnership or other forms of assistance such as guarantees. I repeat: Contrary to the deliberate misrepresentation by the Opposition of the functions of the Petroleum and Minerals Authority, it will be active on shore. It will be farming out surrendered off-shore areas on a 50/50 basis. Four of the major oil companies at present are lined up waiting to participate with us on that basis. In the interim we need to wait for the decision of the High Court.
Statements and Debates on Government Policies
-Does the Prime Minister recall that when he was the Leader of the Opposition he very frequently and, I believe, correctly took a point whenever a statement of policy was made by the Government, either outside the House or in answer to a question, that the statement should be made in such a way that the matter could be debated? Will he be prepared to give an undertaking that he will not allow to flow either of the 2 consequences which have flowed today? A statement of policy has been made. The first consequence of that is that it seems to indicate a lack of confidence on the part of the Government, to show that it is not prepared to allow the matter to be debated and that it wishes to take the opportunity of getting away with the statement of policy without it being tested in any way. The second consequence is that an extraordinary amount of time is taken up at question time which contributes to the conduct of the House being difficult for you, Mr Speaker, to control.
- Mr Speaker, Ministers’ answers would not be so long as they are if members of the Opposition behaved better. When I was Leader of the Opposition I often put the point of view that matters of policy should, during sitting weeks of the Parliament, be announced in the Parliament instead of outside the Parliament. I put the point of view also that Ministers should be prepared to make statements which could then be debated instead of just answering Dorothy Dix questions, as we know them. It is true that under the Standing Orders it is not appropriate to announce a government’s policy in answer to questions. Nevertheless, members may seek an explanation regarding the policy of the Government and its application. That has been the position under the Standing Orders for many years. I do not recollect that my Ministers have during question time explained or announced policy other than in accordance with the Standing Orders.
At present we have just concluded the second reading debate on the Appropriation Bills. We are engaged in the Committee stage- the Estimates debate- of those Bills. In those circumstances the best opportunities- inescapable opportunities- present themselves for members of the Opposition and members in general to debate matters of Government policy. Furthermore, whereas our predecessors used to suspend General Business and grievance debates on
Thursday mornings and used to forbid urgency motions while Budget and Estimates debates were proceeding, my Government has devoted Thursday mornings during Budget debates- it is permitting Thursday mornings to be so used during the present Budget and Estimates debatesto be used for grievance debates and general business. We are permitting urgency motions to be debated. We did yesterday, and we shall today. In those circumstances I believe that it illbehoves the right honourable gentleman or any of his colleagues to complain at the opportunities that they are given throughout the year to debate or challenge Government policies.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that there are no adequate statistics to allow proper forecasting of the trends of imports into Australia? Does this allow unnecessary alarm to occur in the community about the effects of imports? Will the Prime Minister take action to see that a proper system of import forecasting is instituted?
– It is true that there have been inadequate statistics on imports into Australia and accordingly it has been too easy for people to spread alarm or to misrepresent the situation. Accordingly, the Government has taken action to meet this position. The Bureau of Statistics will institute immediately a monthly survey of importers which will allow the prediction of large, short term fluctuations of imports in total and for selected sensitive commodities. Information on future imports, particularly on significant changes in their trends, is needed by the Government so that it can assess the potential effects of such changes on our balance of payments and on the level of employment in Australian manufacturing industries. The Government is concerned to broaden the information base upon which its decisions are taken, but in doing so is concerned to avoid unnecessary costs and burdens on private enterprise. The system now being introduced meets these criteria.
– I direct my question to the Prime Minister. As the Minister for Overseas Trade has now admitted failure by the Government, and in particular the Minister for Agriculture, to persuade the Japanese Government to remove the barriers against the importing of Australian meat, I ask the Prime Minister: Is there any truth in the suggestion that he is considering changing his Cabinet team? Is it true that he is considering removing from office the present Minister for
Agriculture because he has failed so often to persuade Cabinet and Caucus to implement the number of ideas that he so frequently has put to the industry?
– I am becoming familiar with these cheap and childish suggestions that I am going to change the Ministry. The honourable gentleman has in particular singled out on this occasion the Minister for Agriculture.
– A good Minister.
– An excellent one; the best for decades. The Minister for Agriculture, with conspicuously successful assistance from the Minister for Overseas Trade and the Minister for Northern Development, has opened up new, long term, steady markets for our primary products such as we have never had before. In the years immediately after the war a great number of long term commodity arrangements were made with Britain. Circumstances have changed very greatly since then, but until my Government was elected 22 months ago no new long term arrangements for steady markets were secured for any significant primary product. Senator Wriedt, Dr Cairns and Dr Patterson have discovered those markets and have secured them. The Minister for Agriculture has been the most successful Minister for Agriculture or Minister for Primary Industry since the portfolios were created.
– Pursuant to section 314 of the Bankruptcy Act 1966-1973 I present for the information of honourable members the seventh annual report on the operation of the Bankruptcy Act 1966-1973 for the period 1 July 1973 to 30 June 1974.
– I have received a letter from the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns) proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The failure of the Minister for Labor and Immigration to uphold the 30 year agreement by Australian Governments to maintain full employment.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places. (More than the number of members required by the Standing Orders having risen in their places)
-Mr Speaker, the text of this matter of public importance has been very carefully chosen. It is related to a 30-year guarantee. It is not related to a guarantee that is made in the House in one year and broken the next year. I suggest to the House that the most solemn pledge that can be made in this chamber to the Australian people is the pledge to maintain full employment. On 30 May 194S such a pledge was made to the Australian people. It was made in this House and it was made on behalf and with the authority of the Prime Minister of the day, John Curtin. The pledge was quite clear and unequivocal. The words in which that pledge was introduced to this House need to be recapitulated. They are immensely significant. The Minister at the time, John Dedman, speaking on behalf of John Curtin stated:
The world is well on the way to the acceptance of this profound truth, that the welfare of all the people in all lands depends primarily on full employment. This White Paper is an affirmation by the Government of Australia that it intends to pursue that policy with the utmost energy and determination.
That guarantee has been broken. It is being broken today because, in the words of the White Paper, it is unequivocal. I will quote two sentences from the White Paper which are significant. The first is:
Full employment is a fundamental aim of the Commonwealth Government. The Government believes that the people of Australia will demand, and are entitled to expect, full employment.
When referring to unemployment- the Government in those days had no illusions about the evils of unemployment- the White Paper stated:
Unemployment is an evil from the effects of which no class in the community and no State in the Commonwealth can hope to escape unless concerted action is taken.
That action has not been taken. The 30th anniversary of the making of those statements in that Paper will be celebrated in 7 months time. I do not believe that that occasion and the foreshadowing of that occasion should be allowed to pass without some comment. But why did that White Paper, and why did John Curtin with bis authority in those days, pledge full employment for Australia? He did it for the highest reason, which is simply that a nation and an economy exist to serve its people. There is nothing that so debases human spirit and so breaks human spirit as the inability for wage earners, for those with responsibility and for those who want to work in the community, to find that work and that employment.
It is more than inflation; it is more than matters of productivity. These are matters concerning human spirit itself. The lack of employment is destructive of the best aspirations of human nature. It debases and denigrates human nature. I believe that for the Minister for Labor and Immigration (Mr Clyde Cameron), who has a smile creasing his face, to contemplate the situation in Australia today for which he is responsible without any apparent concern is for him to commit the gravest fault against the memory of his own Party, but more significantly against his obligations to the Australian people. That pledge has a history that goes back further than 30 years. It derives from the incredible mistakes that were made during the 1930-1932 period when, due to the unfortunate adoption of economic policies that increased unemployment, the situation was exacerbated so grievously. So it is not an agreement of 30 years that has been broken; this agreement was forged out of over 40 years experience in this Parliament and in this nation. It is appropriate, therefore, to ask: What precisely has happened? What are the facts? I do not want to bore the House and I shall not bore the House with a recitation of numbers and statistics. The issue is much too important to do that, but it is appropriate to advert to one or two aspects of the data. Since the end of June this year there has been the greatest downhill slide in employment opportunities ever experienced in this nation. At the last estimate Australia’s rate of unemployment had not reached its highest level in Australia’s history, although today, on 23 October 1974, it could well be the greatest ever measured in Australia.
What are those employment opportunities that have gone? Over a period of 2lA months 50,000 employment opportunities have been sacrificed. That is something not to contemplate with equanimity but that is stating the problem in a negative form. In a positive form what does it mean? It means that the obligation of this Government to secure full employment by the middle of next year has been broken. Last Thursday in this House I was astounded with the Minister’s reply to a question I asked on this subject. I asked whether without the effective direction of Labor he would guarantee full employment in this nation in 5 to 6 months time- by next April. His answer was an unblushing no; he would not. And that is a Minister who is presumed to travel in the tradition of those who made the pledges to this Parliament and to this nation. No, he will not guarantee full employment opportunities in Australia -
– What about 1961 and 1971? What happened to the agreement in those years?
-What happened then were mere flea bites compared to what is happening now. The old dog barks backwards but he still has a bit of a woof in him, has he not? Our task today is to seek the truth and to seek an assurance from the Minister that he will abide by his pledge. He has done much more than just not creating employment opportunities; what he has done is transfer to the public sector the freedom of choice of people to seek employment. The words of the Budget speech are pregnant with significance on this occasion. One sentence which has been quoted over and over deserves to be quoted on this occasion. It states:
The expansion in the public sector contained in this Budget is designed to take up the slack emerging in the private sector.
That can be painted in terms of material resources, capital and so on. But it means much more than that; it means that the expansion of employment opportunities which people would seek in the private sector will not be given to them unless they go to public authorities, and even then, if they go to public authorities there is no guarantee as to what will happen in 6 months time. For that the Minister deserves to have very sound and strong condemnation heaped upon him in this chamber. I suggest that the Minister ought to qualify and make clear his own attitude to these problems. We know that he has proposed a number of schemes such as his RED scheme and his NEAT scheme. But in the words of his great friend, Edgar Williams, who I presume wrote the headline for the ‘Australian Worker’, we would hope that his RED scheme would not become a NEAT way of introducing people to the dole.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
-Nothing that has been said should be taken as an indication that I think the Minister for Labor and Immigration or the Government looks with pleasure upon the present employment situation. In view of everything the Minister for Labor has said over the years, his whole being must revolt against what is happening at the present time. It ought to revolt against what is happening at the present time. Whether it is happening with his knowledge or whether it is happening with his active support, we know that he wants full employment. His campaigns over the years have been to ensure full employment in Australia. But while testifying to the Minister’s goodwill and testifying to the Minister’s good intention, when a chasm is opening underneath a government and, because of his position, the Minister for Labor, there is no point in his continuing to look skywards without looking to where the country is going. There is no point in being ignorant of the depths to which those who are unemployed and have little prospects of employment are being condemned.
I want to say to the Minister that any scheme that he proposes which is designed economically, through his own Department or through industrial organisations, to relieve unemployment has to receive the support of this side of the House. It will receive my own support. I am very well aware that during the depths of the Depression, wittingly or unwittingly the attitudes of the Opposition caused unemployment for much of the 1930s to be worse than it would otherwise have been. No party and no member of the Parliament ought to contemplate repeating that situation. But the chasm is there and I ask the Minister to contemplate what is happening. In addition to this, if we look to the immediate future, every flow statistic that there is available, including the flow statistics that are available from the Hancock Committee report which he commissioned, new vacancies notified, placements confirmed and forward financial data, indicate that with a freedom to choose, without effective direction of labour, full employment will not be with us for quite a number of months. If the Minister does anything to alleviate that situation he certainly has my full and complete support.
To make one final point I refer to a weekly paper. One can imagine in these circumstances the testy kinds of conversations within the Cabinet on unemployment. They may go something like this, as reported in that newspaper:
Hold hard there, good King Gough, methinks I must pray a boon of thee. Observe yon Squire Cameron there.
Clyde by name in common parlance, a stout and trusty fellow, gadzooks.
Prithee tell me sire, is not young Squire Cameron worthy of a seat at the table of the mighty? Should he not feel the weight of thy sword on his shoulder in knighthood?
Not for unemployment; never for unemployment. I make one other comment and carry on the olde English language with respect to the Minister: ‘And of Sir Clyde himself, having been promoted at the Cabinet table, ‘hath not his words ruined his chance in several portfolios, sire? Foreign affairs, for example, recreation, energy? Is not his very own portfolio in some jeopardy? Can he, my liege’- that is, Gough- ‘with these views continue as Minister for Labor?’ Certainly, yes. And he has the support of this side of the House to continue, but with the policy of full employment It is the most binding testament that is placed upon those who sit in this place and it is the most binding testament that is placed upon those who sit in the national Parliament. The 30-year agreement needs to be upheld. I know he would be anxious to uphold it. Now is not the time to rewrite Curtin ‘s promise and to follow a completely new course. We would have too much respect for the Minister and for that former Labor Prime Minister to assert that kind of proposition. But at the moment I would suggest that even the passage of 30 years cannot make and should not be utilised to make that promise invalid.
– The matter of public importance before the House is a very important and serious one. It deals with the alleged failure of the Minister for Labor and Immigration to uphold the 30-year agreement by Australian governments to maintain full employment. It is obvious that the culprit, the only person responsible for the present situation, is myself. I hope that we will not hear from now on criticisms of the Government. I hope that honourable members opposite will in future confine their criticisms, as has been done today, to me rather than my colleagues. I do not mind being made the sacrificial lamb for the Government on this matter because the Government is innocent of all the things which have been alleged against it by the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns).
I listened to his speech, not only here but also while I was out of the chamber, and I thought that the honourable member was going to make a really serious contribution. I thought that he had his heart set on doing something about the unemployment situation. But as he moved along with his remarks I began to become aware that it was just a political stunt put forward by an idle member who has little to do other than put up these idle political attempts to make party capital out of a very unfortunate situation which exists in this country and out of the plight of many unfortunate people who, through no fault of their own, are not able to find employment right now. Any doubts that I might have had about his sincerity were of course settled when I heard that silly little ditty which he recited to the House towards the end of his speech. There, in that silly little ditty, we saw the real honourable member for Lilley. There we saw him in his true colours. He was not concerned about unemployment. He was not concerned about the labour position. He just felt that he wanted to talk about something and he decided that as he had this silly little ditty that he had to read to us he would weave a speech around it. That is about all he succeeded in doing.
The sheer hyprocisy of the proposition indicating this new-found concern for unemployment was certainly not matched at any time that the Liberal and Country Parties were in office. At no time during the 23 years that the Liberals were in office did they show any concern for the unemployment situation. Indeed, they deliberately set out to create unemployment. In January 1 972 the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden), speaking in his capacity as Treasurer, was reported in the ‘Australian’ as having said: ‘We have achieved what we set out to achieve.’ He has never denied that report. At that time he had achieved a high level of unemployment and he did it because, he said, it had a dual advantage. Firstly, it had the advantage of disciplining unions, because if there is a large army of people waiting for a job at the factory door it is less likely that those inside the factory will want to change their jobs, it is less likely that they will want to go on strike and, indeed, it is less likely that they will even fight and stick up for their rights. The second great advantage that the Liberals see in unemployment is that it restricts the flow of money that is available in the economy. Therefore, if the country can have a very small amount of money it has a situation where the amount of goods exceeds the supply of money and in this way it deals with inflation.
The Liberals see 2 great advantages in unemployment. We see no advantage in unemployment. We do not deliberately set out to bring about unemployment in the same way as the Liberal and Country Parties unashamedly do. At the very time that the Chifley Government was endorsing the White Paper, one of whose authors was Sir Frederick Wheeler who of course is well remembered for some of the contributions that he has made to full employment since then, what was the Liberal Party doing? At the time Professor Hytten, their chief spokesman on the economy, was advocating a permanent pool of unemployed. It is nice to be cool in the unemployment pool and this was the way the Liberal Party intended to deal with employment.
As I indicated, the policy of full employment was formulated and introduce? by a Labor government. The principle and the philosophy of full employment has been enshrined in the Labor Party’s platform ever since. It is a fundamental principle of the Labor movement and of the Labor Government to see that we have full employment and that we do not use unemployment as an economic weapon for dealing with inflation. That is the basic difference between the
Labor Party and the parties on the other side of the House. Later on the policy of full employment was paid lip service by Liberal and Country Party governments but in practice unemployment was, as I have said, used as an economic instrument.
The honourable member for Lilley, who has just spoken, was himself a victim of the callous disregard evidenced by the former Government for the rights of people to have a job. The honourable member himself joined the pool of unemployed. He too was able to get cool in the pool that had been created by the McMahon Government. He is now back with us again and to look at him one would think that he has not learnt anything from his experience.
The hollowness of the full employment commitments of previous government is shown by the fact that over 23 years no comprehensive manpower policy was ever devised or implemented by them. It is true that the former Government had seven or eight tinpot, piddling little training schemes. One managed to train 3 people after it had been in operation for a year and some other scheme was able to train 11 widows. This kind of approach, this small miserable little effort by former governments to the question of full employment and a manpower policy, represented the best they could do. After 23 years we have at last a government in this country that is matching the most advanced countries in the world with a manpower policy. We have set up our national employment and training system- known as the NEAT systemwhich will continue to operate as a temporary measure until such time as our economic policies begin to bite.
– When will that happen?
– We also have our regional employment development scheme, known as the RED scheme. The honourable gentleman who has just interjected will be glad to know that Ministers concerned with this scheme have just completed another of their regular weekly meetings and at it they approved another additional bracket of programs which relate to the employment of people who are out of work right now. I have said publicly that I believe from March onwards the employment position of Australia will continue to improve, and improve quite rapidly. It is true that the honourable member for Lilley did ask me last Thursday whether I could guarantee full employment to the Australian work force, including school leavers, by March or April of next year and I said ‘no’. This was a truthful reply. I have never told untruths -
– If I can finish–
– You have now.
– If I can finish what I was about to say, I have never told lies- I suppose that is a better way to put it- about the unemployment situation. I have been perfectly frank about the employment situation, perhaps embarrassingly frank because it was my good self who first saw in December last year the possibility of the present economic downturn. At that time I said that if the cyclical downturn in the Western economies which was being predicted by the best economists in the Western world occurred and if the energy crisis remained unsolved there was no way that the ripples from these 2 effects would not wash Australia’s shores as well. It was true. I saw it coming then. Anyone who had any perception at all and anyone who had any knowledge of economic factors would have known that the whole Western world would be afflicted by an economic downturn.
Let us have a look at what is happening in the Western world. We are concerned about the car industry in Australia. But imagine our concern if we were living in West Germany where some 200,000 to 300,000 people who work in the car industry in that country have been put off. They have lost their jobs because of circumstances that were not caused by any tariff policy or any factor other than the fact that the car industry is an industry which like so many other highly mechanised and computerised industries is over capitalised and over stretched. The car industry is producing many more cars than consumers can buy. Scores of thousands of car workers in the United Kingdom have been retrenched during the last 3 or 4 months. Entire plants have had to close down in that country. Even in Spain, which is not a high wage country, we have seen a whole car plant close down in the last 2 or 3 weeks. In the USA, which is the citadel of capitalism, we have seen hundreds of thousands of people thrown out of work over the last 6 months because of the downturn in the motor car industry or, if you like, because of the fact that the motor car industry is now producing goods so rapidly that it is unable to find buyers for the goods it produces.
That is the trouble in this country too. Our car industry is in the same position as the motor car industries of other countries in that it is able to produce far more quickly than it is able to find customers. It is as simple as that. For the first time Australia now has a manpower policy which is being implemented by way of the NEAT system of which I am extremely proud. It will be possible under the NEAT system to anticipate future labour demands and train the labour needed to meet future demands so that when demand occurs we will have ready the trained semi- skilled and skilled labour that is required. This is the sort of planning that is absolutely essential if a highly industrialised country like ours expects to be able to compete with other countries.
I regret that the Opposition has seen fit to make cheap political capital out of the plight of people who are unemployed. The present unemployment situation in Australia is running at about 160,000 on seasonally adjusted figures. The figure is not quite 160,000 but it will be very near to 160,000 seasonally adjusted by -
– Those figures are 2 weeks old. It would be 180,000 now.
– You are wrong. It is not 160,000 now at all. I said that by the end of this month seasonally adjusted the figures will be about 160,000.
– It is already 159,358 on your Department ‘s figures.
– I am saying that the seasonally adjusted figure will be about 160,000 by the end of the month. The actual figures will not be that high. But it is no use looking at actual figures or looking at the original or raw figures because unless one looks at the seasonally adjusted figures one cannot get any idea of trends. The number of people on unemployment benefits is 54,000. But what would the Opposition do about it? We have heard criticism, but not a single word has fallen from the hps of the honourable member for Lilley about what his Party would do to cure the situation because his Party has not got a solution. All that honourable members opposite can do is engage in carping criticism of the Labor Government without doing anything constructive. If the honourable member for Lilley wants to help the Government cure the problem we are now discussing, why does he not get the Opposition senators by the scruff of the neck and tell them to remember that they are Australians living in a country that is supposed to be a democracy governed by a Parliament, and that the government chosen by the people to govern has a right to govern? The present government cannot exercise that right to govern because Liberal Party senators are preventing us from giving effect to the things that we want to do.
-Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
-Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation on a small point of misrepresentation.
-Order! Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
-Yes. I felt personally offended by the reference of the Minister for Labor and Immigration (Mr Clyde Cameron) during his speech to 1 1 widows trained under the widows training scheme. As a former Minister in charge of that scheme, I say that this is grossly untrue.
-Order! The honourable member will resume his seat. He is not explaining a personal misrepresentation. He should have sought the indulgence of the Chair to raise this matter.
-Mr Speaker, may I seek the indulgence of the Chair?
-The honourable member may do so after this debate is concluded.
– We have listened for some time to the Minister for Labor and Immigration (Mr Clyde Cameron) hoping that he might show some real concern and show some indication of wanting to prepare policies that would relieve the acute unemployment that is present in Australia. All we have heard from the Minister is a continued misrepresentation of the unemployment figures. For example, in the last part of his speech he said that by the end of this month unemployment, in seasonally adjusted figures, will be just short of 160,000.
– He did not say that. He said it would be around 160,000.
-He said that it would be just short of 1 60,000. If the honourable member for Adelaide wants to hold his seat in the next election he would be well advised to run for cover and disassociate himself from this Government. The September document put out by the Minister, the document which the Minister usually tries to hide, because the important figures are on about page 32 or 33 of the document, indicates that by the end of September of this year- not by the end of October but the end of September, making what the Minister said quite plainly and obviously wrong and untruethe number of unemployed seasonally adjustedthat is what he was talking about- was 159,358.
I think we have had enough cant and humbug from the Minister, who has continued to pretend that school leavers are not people who should be included in the unemployment figures. When are we to get a Press statement from the Minister in which he honestly faces up to the fact that school leavers who cannot get a “job are in just as difficult a position as anyone else who cannot get a job? I think that if the Minister faced up to that he would at least be facing the situation with some degree of accuracy. The Minister also tried to suggest that there were various factors, none of which was the responsibility of the Government, that had caused unemployment. One of his great friends and mutual supporters, the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young), said in a speech only yesterday:
The unemployment we are witnessing today is mainly the result of the exceptionally tight monetary policy that applied until very recently.
Who was responsible for that? Was the Minister for Labor and Immigration unaware that there was a tight monetary policy? Was the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam unaware? Were the Treasurer (Mr Crean) and the Minister for Overseas Trade (Dr J. Cairns) unaware? Do they think that people can do these things without anyone being aware? Does the Minister for Labor and Immigration suggest that he was not responsible for these particular policies? What in fact has happened is that the Government has established a 28-year record for unemployment in this country. Perhaps the Minister feels some pride in that record, but I do not really believe he would. I think that he would hope to leave office with a different record. But he has also established a 45-year record for industrial disputation and time lost as a result of disputes.
What the Minister said has a ring that we have heard for many years because in 1972 when the Liberal-Country Party was in Government he was predicting 190,000 to 200,000 unemployed. But that did not occur. He predicted the same thing in August and November 1972 when we were approaching an election. In September 1974 he tells the same story. He says that unemployment will become worse. The only difference is that now under a Labor Government with the present Minister for Labor and Immigration the predictions that he made will come true. The Liberal-Country Party Government maintained a consistently high level of employment which the people of Australia would yearn for at the present time.
Earlier this morning somebody interjected and tried to suggest that unemployment had been higher during some periods when the LiberalCountry Party Government was in office. According to the Commonwealth Statistician, the peak unemployment periods in the past were August 1972, September 1961, September 1955 and December 1952. But on whatever criteria one likes to set, September 1974 is worse than any other period since statistics were first kept in 1946. That is the Minister’s record. The record is the same whether raw data figures- including school leavers or excluding school leavers- or seasonally adjusted figures are taken into consideration. That is the record. The Minister laughs. I would have thought that the Minister was more concerned. It might be worth while reminding the House that on 15 May 1945 a distinguished former Labor member of Parliament had this to say:
I realise that there cannot be total employment, but if we can get down to S per cent of unemployment, for all practical purposes that can be regarded as total employment.
The former Labor member for Parkes had that to say. That was the proud proclamation of the Australian Labor Party, made very shortly after the now 30-year-old promise to the Australian people and shortly after a full employment plank was enshrined in policy. We have had to wait for a Labor Minister for Labor to put Les Haylen’s prediction very much into effect.
The Minister has resolutely refused to count school leavers as unemployed persons. He has resolutely tried to suggest that the figures are less than they in fact are. I would well believe that this Minister is very concerned and upset at the present situation because he is quite right when he says that he pointed out in December last year to a Government that would not listen, to a Prime Minister who was blind and who in some issues remains blind, that there was an impending dangerous situation. He wanted a retraining scheme, which in its present form is still nothing more than a new name for every existing training scheme that was introduced by previous governments. It was meant to come in with a great fanfare on 1 October; it snuck in with a very quiet whisper. The Minister and his Department have been long on promises, long on grandiose statements, but very short on administration in this particular scheme.
I can well comprehend how a person who takes pride in the fact that he was a rouseabout, a shearer and an official of the Australian Workers Union in the 1930s can well understand and know of the hardship that was involved in those days in a way that few people sitting behind him can recall or remember or, because of their different backgrounds understand in any sense, shape or form. So I can well understand how the Minister could be upset and concerned about the hardship being caused by the policies of the present Government. But is anyone, the Prime Minister or the Deputy Prime Minister, going to take any notice of this Minister for Labor and Immigration? The Minister wants to leave behind him a proud record as Minister for Labor and Immigration and I give him credit for having that wish. But when will he realise that he cannot do so as a member of this Government, because as a member of this Government he will be remembered for one thing- the Minister who created the greatest unemployment in the history of Australia in post-war years. That will be his legacy. He must feel very unhappy and very sad about it.
The Opposition sympathises with the Minister in relation to this, because even though he tried to take all responsibility for these false and rather foolish and tragic policies we know very well that he has argued in vain to have those policies reversed. Only a short while ago, trying to have a different policy adopted, he mentioned in Cabinet a potential figure of 280,000 unemployed over the summer period as 185,000 school leavers come onto the labour market. But what happens? There is an ad hoc agglomeration of policies, with a training scheme that should have been introduced over a year ago sneaking in on 1 October this year. Questions as to how the scheme is working and who it is helping remain unanswered.
There is a structural assistance scheme for people who are put out of work as a result of Government decisions over tariffs. What is there about a person put out of work because of a Government tariff change which makes that person worth significantly more than a person put out of work as a result of the Government’s deliberately chosen credit policies? One gets the normal general provisions relating to unemployment and the other gets 6 months average salary and goes for a holiday to the Gold Coast for 6 months- and quite a number have done that. The Minister’s administration is in a shambles because so many people have been coming to his Department for help and employment that they have been told to go away and come back a week later. The Department in Melbourne has even had to rob the special institutional help, help given to people who are alcoholics, who are handicapped, who are hurt in one way or another. Special institutional help from the Department has been enormously reduced because of the difficulties of administration the Minister has with other parts of his Department, and the Minister knows that that is correct.
– He ought to resign.
– I think the Minister will come to resign, because I think he will get to the stage where the unemployment load put on him by the present Government becomes intolerable, even for him.
-Debates like this are rather dispiriting because they tend to degenerate into sheer slanging matches. I will try to avoid that to some extent, although I certainly will be critical of this motion. Firstly, I would like to refer to the statement by the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser) that the Minister for Labor and Immigration (Mr Clyde Cameron) is referring only to unemployment figures which exclude school leavers. If one looks at the monthly review of the employment situation, on page 6 where the main table appears the first figures shown are for the total unemployed, including school leavers. When one looks at the seasonally adjusted data on the next page one finds that it does exclude school leavers but that is because it is under a new definition and the seasonally adjusted data are not available yet. Work is being done on a new scheme to adjust the figures seasonally for the new series. The old series, which the honourable member for Wannon likes to refer to because it shows higher figures, in fact includes people who are not unemployed, school leavers who are still at school. They are sitting in classrooms right now, but they have registered with the Commonwealth Employment Service for a job when they leave school at the end of the year. Those people are being counted under the old definition as being unemployed. The Department has rightly thought it more appropriate to introduce an unemployment series which has in it only people who are on the labour market, and of course that is a reasonable and sensible and appropriate way in which to look at the figures.
– That only makes the present situation so much worse.
– You have had your say. At this point may I say that this does not in any way mean that we regard the situation as therefore tolerable. It is a very difficult situation and one which worries everyone on this side of the House. But it is sheer hypocrisy for the mover of this motion to weep here about the way unemployment breaks people’s spirits. If that is his real feeling then he has certainly had plenty of opportunities when he was a member of previous governments to do a lot of weeping about the way unemployment was breaking the spirit of the people, because the government of which he was a part in 1971 deliberately and consciously opted to increase unemployment substantially. Previous Liberal Party-Country Party governments had done exactly the same thing. It was a continuing hallmark of the present Opposition’s 23 years in government that from time to time it deliberately and consciously decided to adopt fiscal and monetary policies which would substantially increase unemployment.
The Liberal Party-Country Party Government did it in 195 1, it did it in 1960, it did it in 1971, to take 3 very notable examples. In 1951, when inflation was running at 25 per cent- in fact it was 25 per cent for that year on the Consumer Price Index; we tend to forget that under the previous government we did have inflation of that kind of order- a Budget was brought down which increased taxes so savagely that income tax revenue went up by 1 1 8 per cent in one year. Yet we have all the weeping about the 45 per cent increase involved this year- and that 1951 Budget was followed by a substantial increase in unemployment. In 1960 when inflation again started to increase the Liberal Party-Country Party Government came in with a tough Budget at the end of the year. It created substantial unemployment in 1961 and almost lost office because of it. In 1971 it again deliberately opted for unemployment in its Budget of that year. As the Minister has said, in January 1972 the then Treasurer, now the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden), said: ‘We have achieved what we have set out to do in that we have achieved a situation in which over-award payments are depressed’. In other words he was saying: ‘We have deliberately and consciously created a pool of unemployed to take the heat off union wage claims because we see them as being the basic cause of inflation’. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that statement were, and I think it had more wrong than right in it, the fact is that there was a deliberate decision to create unemployment.
It is sheer and utter hypocrisy for this motion to be moved criticising this Government for a situation of unemployment when the Opposition, in government, continuously tried to create unemployment whenever it thought that this was needed to fight inflation. By contrast, this Government has not deliberately or consciously opted for a large scale increase in unemployment. When it came into office it gave maximum priority to the restoration of full employment. In fact, when it came into office there was a significant degree of unemployment and the
Government adopted policies which would certainly achieve full employment. By the end of last year Australia definitely had a situation of full employment. Admittedly, the Government did take some action last year, through revaluation and through tariff cuts, which it realised could cause some unemployment. To counteract that, it then gave structural adjustment assistance. The Government said that if people were affected by these decisions and were rendered unemployed then they would get 6 months of full pay, if needed.
– That had never been done before.
– As the honourable member for Hunter says, that had never been done before. It was a unique and certainly very worthwhile thing to do to assist people who were making some sacrifice for the overall good of the nation. The total number of people now receiving that assistance is still less than 3,000-2,814 at the end of September. So the numbers who are receiving the assistance are not tremendously significant but the Government has nevertheless looked after them, and of course some people who were receiving it have gone off it by now.
In the pre-Budget discussions this Government was advised by the Treasury, and certainly by lots of other conventional economists, to opt deliberately for a policy of increasing unemployment, The Government refused to do that. The Budget was not a Budget which sought to increase unemployment. If this Government had been like the previous government it would have knuckled under to Treasury, as the Opposition did time and time again in government, and it would have introduced a tough budget which would have substantially increased unemployment over and above the trend which was developing at the time. Nevertheless, I am not avoiding the fact that unemployment is increasing. I am saying that it is not a policy objective; it is certainly no policy objective of this Government to increase unemployment substantially.
In looking at the fact that unemployment has increased, allowance must be made- I know the Opposition will not make allowance for it but if it was in any way fair and reasonable it would- for the increased difficulty of managing the economy today, with the greatly increased volatility of the world economy. Every country in the western world is currently experiencing increased inflation and increased unemployment. There is hardly one comparable country in the world which is not in the situation Australia is in now, where both of these factors are operating, so it is nothing unique. The Opposition cannot point to the Minister and say that it is his responsibility. It is not the responsibility of the Government as such, it is something which is happening in every country in the world. Every opposition in every parliament in the developed nations of the world is trying to score the political points which the Opposition is trying to score here. I hope some of them are making more constructive suggestions about how it can be overcome.
The fact is that our unemployment rates are low compared with unemployment rates in other developed countries. The latest figures I could get which give some comparison with the other countries are unfortunately for early this year. They relate to the end of the first quarter of 1974 and come from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development publication ‘Economic Outlook’ for July 1974. 1 ask the Opposition to take note of some of these figures: Canada 5.5 per cent; United States 5.2 per cent; Japan 1.3 per cent; Australia 1.5 per cent; France 2.3 per cent; Germany 1.6 per cent; Italy 2.8 per cent; United Kingdom 2.2 per cent; Belgium 2.3 per cent; Netherlands 2.6 per cent; Finland 1.7 per cent; Sweden 1.5 per cent. Apart from Japan, Australia was the lowest there. Certainly our rates have increased since then, but so too have the rates in almost all of those countries. I say almost because I do not have the figures for all of them, but I do know that the general trend is up. In the United States the latest figure I have seen was for about a month ago. It was 5.4 per cent and President Ford’s anti-inflation package, which cuts government expenditure and increases taxes, will certainly push it towards 7 per cent, or so his economic pundits say. In Germany the rate is now 2.3 per cent and that does not take into account the thousands of guest workers Germany has sent back to Yugoslavia, Greece and Italy. The fact is that this is a growing feature of every developed country in the world and, whether we like it or not, it is a factor of the general economic malaise of the market economy of the Western world at the moment.
The Government has taken many steps to try to offset growing unemployment. The Budget itself is expansionary. In fact, it is more expansionary than the Budget that the Opposition would have us bring in really would have been. We have ended the credit restrictions. We are now taking all sorts of actions to increase the amount of money available in the community. Devaluation will help to restore full employment. We have imposed quotas on the knitwear and footwear industries. We have introduced the NEAT scheme, which will certainly assist in overcoming some unemployment, and we have introduced the original employment development scheme. We are doing all of the things which are in the right direction for restoring full employment. The unemployment rate probably will continue to increase for some time- we hope that it will not be for too long- but it will not have been as a result of a deliberate and conscious act by the Government to create unemployment. We are battling valiantly to overcome the very significant forces operating in the world economy today.
Mr MALCOLM FRASER (Wannon)-Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable member for Wannon claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes, Mr Speaker. The honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) said that I had misrepresented the Minister for Labor and Immigration (Mr Clyde Cameron) because the departmental record does refer to school leavers. I have always been referring, as he knows and as the Minister well knows, to the monthly Press statements put out by the Minister in which, in the global figures, he specifically and repeatedly, month by month, excludes school leavers. I hope that he will not continue to do so.
Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HindmarshMinister for Labor and Immigration)- Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the Minister for Labor and Immigration claim to have been misrepresented?
-Yes, I do. It is quite a serious misrepresentation to say that a person like me, with my reputation, would deliberately mislead the House. I refer to the allegations which are constantly being made and which were repeated today about misleading the Parliament concerning the unemployment figures. It is not true to suggest, as has been done once again today, that I have sneaked in a scheme. I think ‘snucked in’ was the term used by the colleague of the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser). I am sorry, the honourable member for Wannon used it himself. It is not a term that one would learn at Melbourne Grammar. It is not true to suggest that this scheme was ‘snucked in’ by me. In point of fact on 6 August 1973 in an official Press statement from the Minister for Labor, Mr Clyde Cameron, one sees, among other things, this paragraph:
A change of definition of the school leavers component of registered unemployed persons had its first effect this month.
The official seasonally adjusted unemployment figures, using the new definition, fell during July to 86, 197.
Then it goes on to deal with what has happened to the other figures as well. Every month since then at the back of the official document issued by my Department- in September it appeared on page 32- is the following explanation:
From July 1973 a revised definition applies to the schoolleaver component of registered unemployed persons.
July was chosen as the most appropriate month to introduce the changes because it is the seasonal low-point for school-leaver movements. The major effects of the changes become apparent at the completion of each school year.
For CES purposes, school-leavers are now defined as comprising all persons under the age of 2 1 who, at the time of registering with the CES, had ceased full-time primary or secondary education within the previous six months.
The previous definition differed in that it comprised:
persons still at school who notified the CES that they would leave school before the end of the school year if a full-time job were available; or
persons who had ceased full-time primary or secondary education within the previous three months.
-Order! I ask the Minister to come to the point where he has been misrepresented.
-Yes. There is only one further paragraph of this official document that I wish to read:
This change in definition recognises the difference in the job-search behaviour pattern of school leavers from most other members of the labour force.
– I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is that relevant to a personal explanation? We have all read page 32 of the Department’s document. The Minister still has not tried to show where he has been misrepresented.
– I will come straight to it.
– I think that the Minister did claim in the first place that some accusation has been made that he makes misleading statements in the House. Naturally that would have to be clarified by the Minister, but I ask the Minister to be as brief as possible.
– I certainly will, Mr Speaker, and I thank you for your forbearance in this matter. If the honourable gentleman were to apply himself to looking at the figures in table 1, which are the original figures, that is, the raw figures, that include school leavers, he would discern that of the total number of people registered as unemployed in original form only 3,248 of the total are in fact at the moment school leavers or, put in another way, only 3,248 school leavers are at this moment unemployed. So if we were to add- this is the only way in which we can arrive at the kind of totals the honourable gentleman is trying to reach- the 3,248 school leavers who were actually unemployed as at the end of September to the seasonally adjusted figures excluding unemployed, we would get a grand total of 132,61 1. If we were to continue to add the 3,248 school leavers who are actually out of work now to the seasonally adjusted figure for the end of October, we would find that the figure would be less- much less, I would suggest- than the 160,000 I mentioned and not the 180,000 that the honourable gentleman has pretended the figure will reach.
-Order! I ask the Minister to conclude.
Mr MALCOLM FRASER (Wannon)-I wish to make a personal explanation, Mr Speaker.
-Does the honourable member for Wannon claim to have been misrepresented?
-Yes, by the Minister for Labor and Immigration (Mr Clyde Cameron) in the same way as a previous speaker has been. The Minister sought to suggest that I had misrepresented him when I said that he had continually excluded school leavers from the figures. Two documents have to be taken into consideration. One is his Department’s document, which he has little to do with, and the other is his personal Press statement. The figures in the personal Press statement, in seasonally adjusted terms, refer continually to unemployed excluding school leavers. Those are the figures that he uses. I do not know what appeared in a statement in August 1973, but those happen to be the more recent figures, and I have checked back over the last few months. They all exclude school leavers. As to the last part of the honourable gentleman’s semantics when he takes a seasonally adjusted figure for everyone other than school leavers and then adds to that seasonally adjusted figure the actual number of school leavers to try to get a smaller figure than would be the case if they were both taken either on the actual raw figure basis or on a seasonally adjusted basis, I say that that is a bit of economics that even his Department will not tolerate.
-Order! I call the honourable member for Mackellar, who has been rearing to go for a long while.
Mr WENTWORTH (Mackellar)- With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, I wish to say that the Minister for Labor and Immigration (Mr Clyde Cameron) said rather slightingly that there had been, I think, 1 1 widow trainees. I have looked back on the official figures. I was the responsible Minister at the time the widow training scheme was started in September 1968. By the end of June 1971 we had accepted 6,21 1 for training of whom 2,047 had actually entered employment. Those are the official figures in the official report which I have just checked on in the Parliamentary Library. I knew that the Minister was grossly wrong. I hope that he will do me the courtesy of withdrawing the rather slighting remark that he made, particularly since his own NEAT scheme is based upon the widow training scheme which I inaugurated.
- Mr Speaker, I will look at the figures and, if I find that I am wrong, I will give the honourable member a private apology.
Mr KEVIN CAIRNS (Lilley)-I wish to make a personal explanation, Mr Speaker.
-Does the honourable gentleman claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes, Mr Speaker. During one of his asides across the table, which would have been recorded, the Minister for Labor and Immigration (Mr Clyde Cameron) indicated that the colleague of the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser), presumably myself, who had spoken earlier had ‘snucked in ‘ some reference to school leavers and entered upon that argument. I did not enter upon an argument as to the method of compilation of school leavers. I deliberately avoided that situation. The one point I made and I continue to make is that over the last 3 Vi months the Minister has presided over the greatest deterioration in employment opportunities ever.
-Order! The honourable gentleman is now debating the matter. I suggest that Hansard might be informed how to spell the word ‘snucked’. The discussion is now concluded.
Bill presented by Mr Crean, and read a first time.
– I move:
The main purpose of this Bill is to authorise the payment in 1974-75 of special grants of $24.75m to Queensland and $23.5m to South Australia. These payments are in accordance with the recommendations of the Grants Commission contained in its Forty-first Report on Special Assistance for States, which has been tabled by the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen). The Bill also seeks the usual authority for payment of advances to the 2 States in the early months of 1975-76, pending receipt of the Commission’s recommendations for that year and enactment of legislation to provide for the grants to be paid in that year. The Australian Government makes special grants to certain of the States to compensate them for such factors as lower capacity to raise revenue from their own resources and higher costs in providing government services of a standard similar to those in the financially stronger States.
When special grants were first paid they constituted the only regular form of general revenue assistance paid to the financially weaker States for this purpose. For many years now, however, the main way in which special compensatory assistance has been provided has been through the higher per capita financial assistance grants paid to the 4 less populous States. The financial assistance grants are, of course, the main general revenue grants to the States. The special grants may, therefore, be regarded as supplementing the financial assistance grants, and as having the special characteristic of being independently as well as expertly assessed by the Grants Commission. In arriving at its recommendations, the Grants Commission makes an assessment of the ‘financial needs’ of the claimant States. To quantify these needs, the Commission compares in detail the finances of each claimant State with those of New South Wales and Victoria, taking into account differences in revenue-raising capacity and differences in the cost of providing comparable services.
This year, the Commission has used a new method for assessing the appropriate amounts of special grants and for presenting its results. This matter is referred to in detail in paragraphs 3.16 through 3.30 of its report. Very briefly, however, this new method, which the Australian Treasury has been advocating for some years, involves a more direct and, it is believed, more easily understood approach to the assessment of the grants. The new method is also consistent with that adopted by the Commission in reporting on claims for financial assistance by local governing bodies. I should mention, however, that this change in method does not reflect any change in the basic principles on which the Commission operates. They remain as first enunciated in the Commission’s Third Report. Nor has the change in method affected the size of the grants. It is, nevertheless, an important development in the
Commission’s work, and one which I warmly welcome. The Commission has continued to refine and improve its procedures in other respects; these are referred to in its report and I shall not attempt to summarise them here.
The recommendations of the Grants Commission for payment of special grants consist of 2 parts. One part is based on a preliminary estimate of the claimant State’s financial need in the current financial year, and is treated as an advance payment subject to adjustment 2 years later when the Commission has compared in detail the finances of the claimant and standard States. The other part represents the final adjustment to the advance payment made 2 years earlier and is known as the completion payment. This adjustment may be positive or negative and therefore may result in the final grant in respect of that year being higher or lower than the original advance payment.
The Commission has recommended that an advance payment of $15m be made to Queensland in 1974-75- an increase of 50 per cent on that made for 1973-74- and that a completion payment of $9. 75m be paid to the State in respect of 1972-73. For South Australia, the Commission has recommended the payment of special grants totalling $23. 5m, made up of an advance payment of $15m for 1974-75- the same amount as in 1973-74- and a completion payment of $8.5m in respect of 1972-73. The 1974-75 advance grants to each of the 2 States will, of course, be subject to adjustment, if necessary, in 1976-77.
Since I presented a similar Bill last year, Tasmania, which had applied continuously for special grants on the recommendation of the Commission from 1934-35 to 1973-74, has withdrawn from the special grants system following the Australian Government’s agreement to pay the State an additional financial assistance grant of $ 1 5m in 1 974-75, to be built into the ‘ base ‘ for purposes of calculating the State’s formula grants in 1975-76 and subsequent years. This increase in the State’s financial assistance grant has been provided for in the States Grants Bill 1974, which has now been passed by both Houses. In accordance with arrangements agreed between the Australian and Tasmanian Governments, the Grants Commission has not recommended a completion payment in respect of the advance grant paid to the State in 1972-73 and has agreed not to recommend a completion payment next year in respect of 1973-74; as a consequence, there is no provision for a payment to Tasmania in this Bill.
Finally, I wish to take this opportunity to refer to the retirement of the Chairman of the Commission, Sir Leslie Melville, on 30 September last and wish to place on record my appreciation, as Treasurer, of his services in this and other spheres during a long and most distinguished career. Mr Justice Else-Mitchell will replace Sir Leslie as Chairman of the Commission. The Commission’s recommendations have been adopted by Parliament each year since the Commission’s inception and the Government considers that they should be accepted on this occasion. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Holten) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Crean, and read a first time.
– I move:
The purpose of this Bill is to obtain parliamentary approval for a contribution by Australia of up to $60,8 10,811 to the fourth replenishment of the resources of the International Development Association, or IDA as it is commonly called. As most honourable members will be aware, IDA is affiliated with the World Bank. It was set up in 1960 because many less-developed countries were not able, or could not afford to borrow overseas on commercial terms. Indeed, a number of these countries did not even have access to international capital markets because they could not establish a satisfactory credit rating. Moreover, most of them were already burdened with high external debt repayments and had little or no capacity to service additional overseas loans at normal rates of interest with normal terms of repayment. IDA was established with the express purpose of providing loans on concessional terms to such countries. IDA loans, or development credits as they are called, bear no interest and are repayable over 50 years with a 10-year period of grace. A small service charge of threequarters of 1 per cent per annum is levied to cover administrative expenses.
I would emphasise that, notwithstanding these soft terms, the projects which IDA finances are subject to the same rigorous standards of analysis and appraisal with respect to their economic and social worth and their technical feasibility as the World Bank applies in its own lending operations. In fact, the 2 institutions have a common have made to IDA from time to time and the annual transfers which IDA has received from the World Bank out of the latter ‘s profits in each year since 1963-64- were almost fully committed by 30 June 1974, making it necessary for IDA to seek additional authority to enter into new commitments after that date. After lengthy negotiations, agreement was eventually reached during the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank group held at Nairobi in September 1973 to the effect that, subject to parliamentary approval in the various countries concerned, an additional US$4,500m would be made available to IDA over a period of 3 or 4 years commencing on 1 July 1974. 1 ask leave to have incorporated in Hansard a table which sets out the prospective contributions to be made to IDA by individual member countries and Switzerland, which has not yet joined IDA, under the Nairobi agreement.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-
staff and are served by the same Executive Board. IDA now has more than 100 member countries which are divided into 2 broad categories. The more economically advanced countries are known as Part 1 members and the developing countries as Part II members. When IDA was established in 1960, Part I member countries, including Australia, agreed to subscribe approximately US$750m over a 5-year period towards its initial capital stock. Australia’s share of this total was 2.7 per cent. Since then, Australia has participated in 3 separate exercises to replenish the resources of IDA involving total contributions and additional subscriptions amounting to US$750m, US$ 1,200m and US$2,400m respectively, payable over successive 3-year periods. Our share of the first replenishment remained at 2.7 per cent but it was reduced to 2 per cent in the subsequent replenishment exercises.
All of these resources- which have been supplemented by interest earned on investments as well as by the additional voluntary contributions which one or two Part I member countries
-I thank the House. Honourable members will observe from this table that Australia’s share of the fourth replenishment will be maintained at 2 per cent, involving us in further payments to IDA totalling the equivalent of US$90m calculated on the basis of the official New York noon rate of exchange between the 2 currencies on 27 September 1973 when the Nairobi agreement was finally concluded. This amounts to $A60,8 10,811. Unlike the position under the previous replenishment exercises, there is no ‘maintenance of value’ provision in the Nairobi agreement. Thus, our obligations under the fourth replenishment are fixed in terms of Australian dollars and are not subject to adjustment due to fluctuations in exchange rates since then.
In deciding that Australia should participate in the fourth replenishment, the Government had a number of considerations in mind. First and foremost, IDA, like the World Bank, is an efficient institution which is capable of undertaking large scale projects and tackling complex development problems in a technically proficient way, country by country. It is by far the largest agency in the world today lending on concessional terms. To date, IDA has extended development credits totalling some US$6,900m to 66 member countries. In 1973-74 alone, 69 new loans totalling about US$ 1,095m were approved. Needless to say, the developing countries as a whole attach great importance to a generous and early replenishment of IDA’s resources. We are also mindful that IDA has been, and will continue to be, of particular benefit to developing countries in our own part of the world. For example, about two thirds of all IDA lending so far has gone to developing countries in the Asian region, the main recipients being India, Indonesia, Pakistan and
Bangladesh. In addition, IDA has lent a total of US$25.2m to Papua New Guinea to date: further credits to that country are expected to be approved in future.
During the discussions on the level of the fourth replenishment, it was decided that essentially the same voting power arrangements which were made under the third replenishment should continue to apply. By way of background, I might explain that voting rights are based on subscriptions to IDA. I would emphasise this word ‘subscriptions’. By general consensus, it had been decided that the additional resources put at IDA’s disposal under the first and second replenishments should not affect existing voting rights. For this reason, the commitments then entered into took the form of ‘contributions’ and not additional subscriptions. In response to pressures from certain Part 1 member countries which felt that they were being disadvantaged by this arrangement- for example, those which had increased their percentage shares, or had made supplementary voluntary contributions to IDA, since it was first established- it was decided to redress this situation. This was done by permitting countries to make additional subscriptionswhich carry voting rights- to IDA as well as contributions under the third replenishment, the relative proportions between the two varying in each instance so as to produce the overall adjustments in voting rights desired. Essentially, the same arrangements will apply under the fourth replenishment.
Since Australia proposes to maintain its former percentage share under the fourth replenishment our relative voting strength will remain virtually unchanged. Complex calculations undertaken by the staff of IDA indicate that, of the total amount which Australia is expected to make available to IDA over the next few years, the equivalent of US$590,525- that is $A399,003 calculated on the same basis as before- should take the form of an additional subscription with voting rights. The balance will represent an additional contribution. This distinction is provided for in clause 4 of the Bill.
I should also point out that the agreement governing the fourth replenishment will not become effective and the obligation to contribute new resources to IDA will not become binding on any member country, unless and until members, including at least 12 developed country members, whose contributions aggregate not less than US$3,500m, give IDA formal notification that they will make the contributions authorised for each of them. Because the contribution authorised for the United States is US$ 1,500m, or one-third of the total sought, this means, in effect, that the fourth replenishment will only become effective, and other countries will only be required to contribute to IDA, as and when the United States formally notifies IDA that it has taken all the necessary legislative steps to enable it to participate on the basis of the agreement reached at Nairobi last year.
Despite an early set-back, legislation authorising the United States to contribute a further US$1 ,500m to IDA under the fourth replenishment was eventually passed by Congress on 31 July 1974. However, further legislation is necessary to actually appropriate the funds required for this purpose. At this juncture, it is not clear just when this will be enacted by Congress although it seems unlikely to be much before the middle of 1975, if then. In the meantime, the United States has not been able to give the formal notification required. It was originally planned that the fourth replenishment should become effective on or before 30 June 1974. In view of the delay which has already occurred, and remains in prospect, the IDA management has recently asked member countries which have already ratified the Nairobi agreement whether they would be prepared to make voluntary contributions to IDA, in anticipation of the conditions of effectiveness for that agreement being fulfilled, in order to enable IDA to continue its lending operations in the interim. A number of donor countries have already agreed to do this. In accordance with past practice, the present Bill has been drafted in a way which would enable Australia to make an advance contribution to IDA also, if the Government so decides.
I should also like to mention briefly to the House that our contributions to IDA are initially paid in the form of non-negotiable, noninterestbearing promissory notes which are cashed as and when the funds are required by IDA. Actual cash payments reflect the pattern of disbursements by IDA and these usually lag well behind the commitments entered into when projects are approved. By using the promissory note technique, Australia’s participation in the fourth replenishment is not likely, of itself, to have any budgetary implications in 1974-75. This Bill provides us with an opportunity to demonstrate once again our bi-partisan support for IDA as an effective and efficient international development finance institution, and our willingness to help the less-developed countries to improve their standards of living in future by providing them with much-needed external assistance on highly concessional terms through IDA. I need not emphasise the importance which successive Australian governments have attached to this broad objective. I therefore commend the Bill to honourable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr Holten) adjourned.
Bill presented by Dr Cass, and read a first time.
– I move:
In my second reading speech on the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Bill I drew the attention of honourable members to world-wide concern for the conservation of wildlife and of places of natural, scenic, scientific and recreational significance. The House of Representatives Select Committee on Wildlife Conservation, established under the previous Government, stressed the need for a national policy aimed at acquiring sufficient of the total land area of each State and Territory to ensure that all types of wildlife habitat will be preserved. The Committee recommended the grants be provided to the States to enable them to acquire areas of wildlife habitat which are of national significance.
The Committee of Inquiry into the National Estate, established by this Government, also recommended a system of grants to the States to ensure that adequate funds are made available for acquisition of lands for national parks. This Committee stressed that the selection of areas for reservation should be based on objective scientific criteria which would allow for representative ecosystems, protection of threatened species, and the recreation needs of urban populations. The
Committee also recommended that the Australian Government, in close consultation with the States, take urgent steps for the preservation of the Australian coastal heritage including a States grants program to assist in land acquisition. The recent report of Professor Specht and his associates, entitled ‘Conservation of Major Plant Communities in Australia and Papua New Guinea’, drew attention to the fact that only about half of the distinct plant communities in this country are protected in national parks and reserves. This Government accepts its responsibilities for the conservation of our natural resources. Australia is now a member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources and subscribes to the principles laid down by that Union for the conservation of wild fauna and flora.
The States Grants (Nature Conservation) Bill, which I now commend to honourable members, complements the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Bill which I introduced to this House on 2 October. It is in accordance with the recommendations of both the House of Representatives Select Committee on Wildlife Conservation and the Committee of Inquiry into the National Estate. To these ends, $9m has been provided on this year’s budget as part of a 3-year program for expenditure of $20m for the acquisition of land for national parks and nature reserves. This program will be determined in consultation with the States and I have already written to each State Minister responsible for wildlife and national parks asking for proposals of acquisition to be submitted for consideration.
We all share a responsibility to conserve for future generations as much of our natural heritage as possible- in terms of both area and diversity. This Bill accepts that responsibility. It enables the National Government- for the first time- to make a major financial commitment so that future generations will have the chance to see, understand and enjoy the special natural qualities of Australia. In short, I regard this Bill as a very significant part of this Government’s response to the growing public awareness of our precious but dwindling natural heritage.
Debate (on motion by Mr Holten) adjourned.
– I move:
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1969- 1 974, it is expedient to carry out the following proposed work which was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works and on which the committee has duly reported to Parliament: Construction of an area school at Yirrkala, Northern Territory.
The proposal is to provide an area school at the Aboriginal community to the standard of territorial education facilities for the education of secondary, primary, and pre-school pupils, and for adult education and community activities. Construction will utilise steel portal frames with external locally manufactured concrete masonry walls. Roofs will be corrugated iron with aluminium framed windows and doors. The building will be air-conditioned, and the school has been designed on domestic lines to blend in with its predominantly rural surroundings. The building will be acoustically treated and internal flexibility is to be provided by the use of nonloadbearing partition walls and folding partitions.
The estimated cost of the proposed work when referred to the Committee was $5m. The Committee concluded that the existing school faculties at Yirrkala were unsatisfactory, that there was a need for a new permanent facility, that the site was suitable, and that the work proceed to construction with the proviso that it be constructed in 2 stages if required. Future population factors are uncertain. At the time of calling tenders, the need for the complete building program will be reviewed and if necessary stage II, or the infants building and the second pre-school unit, will be deferred until the local school age population reach the required level. The design of the facility can accommodate staged construction if this proves necessary. Upon the concurrence of the House in this motion, detailed planning can proceed in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move:
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1 969- 1 974, it is expedient to carry out the following proposed work which was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works and on which the committee has duly reported to Parliament: Construction of a central health laboratory at Woden, A.C.T.
The proposal is to provide a facility to cater for the pathology services, public health and forensic laboratory services, and central blood bank for the Australian Capital Territory and surrounding districts. The building will be constructed with a reinforced concrete frame and external precast infill panels with a light coloured quartz finish to match the finish on the existing building. The building will be air-conditioned with other engineering services installations to suit the work being carried out in the laboratory. The estimated cost of the proposed work when referred to the Committee was $4.4m. The committee concluded that there was a need for a central facility, that the site was suitable, and that the work should proceed to construction. Upon the concurrence of the House in this motion, detailed planning can proceed in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move:
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1969-1974, it is expedient to carry out the following proposed work which was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works and on which the committee has duly reported to Parliament: Construction of a new telephone exchange at Haymarket, N.S.W.
The proposal is for the construction of a tower building comprising a basement, ground and 13 upper floors to house telecommunications equipment to meet the needs of local subscribers and for switching facilities for telex and data services to the year 2000. The building will be constructed of reinforced concrete clad with precast concrete units with glazed panels in positions where natural lighting is required. The building will be air-conditioned with high reliability installations to meet the requirements of sensitive telecommunications equipment. The estimated cost of the proposed work when referred to the Committee was $7m. The Committee concluded that there was a need to provide a new telephone exchange to cater for future growth in telecommunications traffic, that the functions proposed for extension to the existing exchange are appropriate, and that work in the reference proceed to construction. Upon the concurrence of the House in this motion, detailed planning can proceed in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill presented by Mr Lionel Bowen, and read a first time.
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this Bill is to authorise payments, in 1974-75, of amounts totalling $56,345,000 to local governing bodies. These payments are in accord with the recommendations of the Grants Commission contained in its first report on financial assistance to local government which I tabled in the House on 23 August 1974. The 806 local governing bodies which will benefit from the passing of this Bill comprise 92 per cent of all the bodies which applied for financial assistance. The grants range from $3,000 to $2m for the largest and most populous Council in Australia, namely, the Brisbane City Council. The Government’s aim is that the Grants Commission should play the same role in reducing local governing authorities’ inequalities as it has between the States since 1 933.
In accordance with the principles of fiscal equalisation which have been developed by the Grants Commission over many years and which have been incorporated in the relevant legislation, the grants are designed to reduce inequalities between local governing bodies in the provision of ordinary services. The grants will be made to the States for payment to these bodies to supplement their general revenues so as to enable them to provide a standard of service comparable with those provided by Councils elsewhere. There will be no conditions attached to the expenditure of the grants. However, these funds should in no way be a substitute for revenues normally raised by Councils by long established methods such as rates and charges for services, nor should they replace assistance normally provided by State Governments.
It is in the nature of the Commission’s task that in any year some local authorities will receive lower grants than their neighbouring Councils or Shires, and some authorities will not receive any grants. Consequently, the fact that a Council receives a grant this year does not necessarily mean that the same Council will receive a grant next year. This is because the Government has asked the Commission to recommend the amount of financial assistance needed to equalise the fiscal requirements of all local authorities, either individually or as regional groups. The Government recognises that many councils are faced with financial problems in providing a full range of municipal services of proper standards. The Government believes that these grants will go a long way towards alleviating these deficiencies.
The Commission will continue to rely heavily on the co-operation of Councils in its work. Its methods require that comprehensive and uptodate financial and statistical information be submitted by them as a basis for its assessments. There is also the need to have a first-hand appreciation of the problems of Councils and, in the course of its second round of public hearings, which have already commenced, Commissioners will be making direct inspections in all regions. The nature of the program will also provide the Commission with opportunities to keep the needs of Councils under continuing review. The creation of regional organisations was necessary as it is administratively impracticable for the Commission to handle 900 local Councils, Shires and Municipalities separately. The Government believes that there is great advantage to local government from consultation and planning at the regional level. To meet the need for a greater dissemination of information and discussion on aspects such as the principles and methodology of fiscal equalisation, I have asked my Department to examine the practicability of arranging seminars or lectures.
Needless to say, local government will benefit substantially from the implementation of the Commission’s recommendations. The Government is well aware of the financial difficulties being faced by many local governing bodies. It sought through a special Premier’s Conference a voice and a vote for local government on the Australian Loan Council and it proceeded with a referendum to enable the Constitution to be amended to empower the national Parliament to borrow on behalf of local government and grant financial assistance to local government directly. The fact that the Premiers did not accept the proposal for Loan Council representation and that the referendum failed to pass means that the initiative established through the Grants Commission assumes greater importance.
The conduct by the Commission of its inquiries has been of benefit to local government in other ways. In particular, a spirit of cooperation is being developed as Council representatives meet with the Commission to discuss common problems. This co-operation will lead to the more efficient use of the resources available to local government. Councils are taking a new look at their immediate neighbours and at Councils in other parts of the country to assess and compare the standard of their own municipal services with those of other Councils. This wider view will benefit and strengthen local government.
I wish to record the Government’s appreciation of the outstanding contribution made by
Sir Leslie Melville during his term as Chairman of the Grants Commission. Sir Leslie retired on 30 September 1974. The new chairman is Mr Justice Else-Mitchell. I believe that the Government’s initiatives in this field constitute a development of the profound proportions for local government throughout Australia.
Clauses 4 and 7 are intended to ensure that out of the moneys payable to the States under the Act the States will pay to the local governing bodies the amounts specified for each body in the Schedule to the Act and that the payments of those amounts will be unconditional and will be made without undue delay and certainly before 1 July 1 975. Clause 5 provides for the situation of a local governing body ceasing to exist before the commencement of the Act or before receiving payment for all or pan of the amount specified in the Schedule. This situation might arise, for example, if the amalgamation of certain local government authorities proceeds as recommended by recent State commissioners of inquiry into local government. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Holten) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 16 October on motion by Mr Lionel Bowen:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-This Bill which is known as the Repatriation Acts Amendment Bill 1974 is a combined Bill which will authorise changes to the Repatriation Act, the Interim Forces Benefits Act, the Repatriation (Far East Strategic Reserve) Act, the Repatriation (Special Overseas Service) Act, the Native Members of the Forces Benefits Act- which will be retitled the Papua New Guinea (Members of the Forces Benefits) Act in order to get rid of the word ‘Native’, a purpose with which the Opposition concurs- and also the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act. The fundamental purpose of the Bill is to increase the rates of certain pensions and allowances, to authorise persons resident in Papua New Guinea immediately before that country becomes an independent sovereign State and who continue to reside there to be deemed to be residents of Australia for the purpose of obtaining those benefits which may be provided only to residents of Australia and its Territories.
The Bill will give legislative authority to place beyond doubt the validity of decisions made by a majority of the members of each of the determining authorities appointed under the Acts. It will give legislative authority for the appointment of the Secretary to the Department of Repatriation and Compensation, when that office is created under the Public Service Act, as chairman of the Repatriation Commission. It will give authority to provide that special appropriation be automatically made from the consolidated revenue fund to cover the liability incurred in the payment of any pension, allowance or other pecuniary benefit, the maximum rate of which is specified in the Act. It will give authority to make regulations to authorise the provision of free hospital and medical treatment to all Australian veterans who are suffering from cancer. As I mentioned earlier, it will remove from the legislation all references to the word ‘native ‘.
The overall results of the amendments in the combined Bill will be to take the total Repatriation Department expenditure for the year 1974-75 to $650m, in round figures, which is an increase of $272m in the past 4 years. The Opposition Liberal and Country Parties support the provisions of this Bill but regret- I speak personally here- the continuing departure from the real principles and purposes of the repatriation system as it has existed for about 60 years. I see the provisions of this legislation, as we have seen more and more since the Labor Party came into office, making the Repatriation Department more of a social services department, getting away from treating ex-servicemen and exservicewomen for disabilities and accepting pension responsibility for disabilities that were accepted by determining authorities as due to war service. However, I must admit also as a former Minister in charge of this portfolio that I have a slight feeling of envy as well as a bit of concern when I read some provisions of this legislation and consider the additional expenditure that will be contributed by taxpayers to support the Repatriation Department this year.
I see in this legislation inflationary effects. This, of course, can only contribute to more inflation. It underlines the attitude to economic monetary policy and economic management that the Labor Government has employed in its 2 years in office compared with the attitude adopted by previous governments. No government can please everybody. Perhaps the former Government could have been a little more generous than it was in the repatriation field. Nevertheless it chose to incur some degree of unpopularity with various ex-service organisations and other people in order to try to contain the inflationary rate over the whole economy. The Repatriation
Department expenditure cannot be viewed in isolation. It must be viewed in the total economic budgetary picture, particularly when it amounts to $650m compared with $370m in round figures 4 years ago.
I will now turn to some of the changes that this Bill will make as announced in the second reading speech. The point I am about to refer to is not actually covered in the Bill. The use of the word ‘veteran’ seems to me to be a move in the right direction. There is no doubt that this will bring Australia into line with more countries and when our repatriation system is spoken of in other countries as helping ‘the veterans of Australia’ there will be a greater understanding of our situation. The Bill also provides free medical and hospital treatment for former prisoners of war. No one with any humane feeling would resist this proposal. I can well remember that in the first couple of weeks of holding the post of Minister for Repatriation I raised with senior officers of the Department this matter of the welfare of people who had been prisoners of war.
– Did that apply to the honourable member for Reid and the President of the Senate who were both prisoners of war?
-Yes, it applied to those 2 honourable gentlemen and also to every other person who was unfortunate enough to be a prisoner of war. I am awfully glad that I did not have that experience, because, from what I have read of some of the deprivations and ravages suffered by these men, they certainly were treated in an inhumane way.
I remember very distinctly- I will not speak at length on this- saying that I thought the Department ought to have a special look at the medical condition of prisoners of war to see whether we were adequately taking care of any disabilities that they had suffered as a result of war service. I was informed by Dr Langford who was the Chief Medical Officer at the time that there had been a survey in early 1970 in addition to the survey that was conducted in about 1951. I was informed that all prisoners of war had been sent a questionnaire. The survey showed that as far as the medical officers could observe the prisoners of war did not exhibit any signs of unusual medical disability as a result of their incarceration in prison camps. However, I am afraid that I have always found this very hard to believe. I commend the Government for providing free medical and hospital treatment for prisoners of war. I think that this is the least that the nation could do for these people, most of whom I guess are like myself and are getting past the 50 years of age mark now. After all, the payment of this benefit to all prisoners of war will not place a tremendous burden on the community.
I now wish to refer to the provision of free medical and hospital treatment for cancer victims. I am pleased to see that the Government has widened the eligibility for this benefit to include not just ex-servicemen and women who had served in a theatre of war but all ex-service men and women who qualify for repatriation benefits. Broadly speaking the proposal covers veterans, to use the new term, who enlisted for service anywhere at any time. I have raised this matter in the House on at least 2 previous occasions during debates on repatriation matters and I will not repeat everything that I said on those occasions. But I have said that the provision of free medical and hospital treatment just to cancer sufferers who served in a theatre of war was a grossly unjust decision as it excluded from the benefit many hundreds of thousands of exservice men and women who volunteered for service overseas but who through no fault of their own did not serve in a theatre of war. I do not disagree with the provision of medical and hospital treatment for all ex-service men and women who are suffering from cancer although it does depart from the true blue principles of the repatriation system. But as I have said, I am glad to see that the Government having first provided this benefit for people who served in a theatre of war has now made the benefit available to all exservice men and women who broadly speaking enlisted for service anywhere at any time.
I now pass on to the validity of majority decisions made by the boards or tribunals. Previously it had not been known whether the majority decision of a determining authority prevailed because the reasons for decisions were not given. But clause 10 of the Bill will put this matter beyond doubt. I think this is a good thing. This clause will ensure that any claim which is before an Appeal Tribunal or an Assessment Appeal Tribunal- it will apply to the boards eventually- shall be valid if decided by a majority of votes of the members present and voting. I understand that the reasons for decisions have been sent by the tribunals to the ex-service men and women since 1 July 1974 and that the boards- that is the first determining authority that hears a claim from a veteran- will start giving reasons for their decisions on 1 January 1975. I will be very interested to see the long term result of the practice that has been adopted by the Government of requiring determining authorities to give the reasons for their decisions. I do not envy them their task at all. Of course one of the disadvantages of this practice will be to slow down the hearing of the claims of ex-service men and women. I know that this matter has been raised over a long time by the Returned Services League and other ex-service organisations. Let us hope that the Government’s proposal to require determining authorities to give the reason for the decisions following a study of a claim from an ex-service man or woman will prove to be successful.
Another change that I welcome on behalf of the Opposition is the decision to make veterans of other British Commonwealth countries who have resided in Australia for a period of 10 years eligible under the repatriation system. These people will receive the same benefits as are available to ex-service men and women who have served in the Australian forces. I hope that the Government will give consideration in the near future to extending these benefits to our other wartime allies who are living in Australia. I know that there has been a great deal of pressure and demand for this eligibility from British ex-service men and various other organisations. I know that Bill Clegg- I hope he is still with us as he was not very well the last time I saw him a couple of years ago- will be very happy to know of the Government’s decision in this respect. This gentleman certainly took a great deal of interest in having this eligibility extended to British servicemen. As I say, I hope that he is still around to know that his work has at last been successful.
As the Special Minister of State and Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation (Mr Lionel Bowen) mentioned in his second reading speech and as I indicated at the start of my address, this Bill is pretty wide ranging. It proposes to increase the size of business and agricultural loans that are available to eligible people. It is proposed to increase business loans by $2,000 to $5,000 and agricultural loans by $4,000 to $ 10,000. 1 welcome this move, which I must honestly say is overdue. The promise of such a move was contained in the previous Government’s policy manifesto for the December 1972 election. It was not possible to introduce it before then, and of course we did not get the chance after that election. I think this move is practical, full of commonsense and will be welcomed by those who are eligible for loans.
I turn now to the special rate pension which is commonly known as the totally and permanently incapacitated pension. The Bill provides for an increase of $4 to bring the pension rate to $64. 10. In his second reading speech the Minister stated that another $4 will be added in autumn to increase it to $68.10, equal to the present minimum wage as promised in the Australian Labor Party’s policy speech in 1972. Technically speaking, the Government has not been able to fulfil that promise in 2 years, but it must be admitted that the actual value of the TPI pension is more than the face value, because the pension is not subject to income tax. Nevertheless, it was not stated in the 1972 policy speech of the present Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) that taxation would or would not be taken into consideration. By the time autumn comes the pensioners will probably still be receiving less than the minimum wage because the minimum wage will have increased. Likewise, the Government will have failed to fulfil its promise to raise the general rate pension, at the 100 per cent level, to 50 per cent of the minimum wage. The Minister, in his second reading speech said that this Bill raises the 100 per cent or general rate pension to 41 per cent of the minimum wage. That may be true; I do not query the figures. Nevertheless I feel that by the time the pension is adjusted again the extra 9 per cent will prove extremely elusive, unless of course the Government does not pursue its present economic approach, which I consider is irresponsible in some areas.
Everyone will welcome the increase in the domestic allowance for war widows of $2.50 a week, bringing the allowance to $ 12 a week. The 98 per cent of war widows who qualify for this allowance will receive a basic pension of $43 a week. Only a very small proportion of war widows do not qualify for the allowance. In addition to the $43 a week, fringe benefits of considerable value are available to war widows. I just want to say, as I have said many times before, that I do not think that this country can do enough for war widows and particularly for those who I call the real war widows whose husbands never came back from service overseas. I believe that anything that can be done for war widows should be done by any government, no matter what political party or parties are in power. I really believe that from time to time we have been pretty miserable towards the war widows of Australia.
I mentioned earlier that the total cost of the provisions of this Bill and of repatriation services will amount in round figures to $650m in this financial year. Of course in the next full financial year we will have to add quite a few million dollars to that figure. I calculate that it will be about $30m. The new rates are not being paid, in this financial year, for the full year; they are being paid only from the date of royal assent to this Bill. So the taxpayer and the Government had better get used to the idea that they will be faced with an enormous bill for repatriation expenditure in the next full financial year, particularly because of the increases that must inevitably follow if the Government sticks to its other promises in that financial year. In 4 years repatriation expenditure has increased from $378m to $650m, an increase of $272m. In 1973-74 it increased by $88m and in 1974-75 it will increase by a further $ 143m. Those figures speak for themselves. I must admit that in some areas increases are long overdue. Nevertheless, there appears to me to be a lack of responsibility by the Government in the economic sphere. It made too many rash promises during its electioneering. Now it is finding that it is caught with these promises and will have to make huge increases in repatriation and other social welfare votes in order to meet those promises.
On many occasions since the Labor Government has come to power, I have warned the people in the former Repatriation Department that they were in danger of being merged with other departments and that the individuality and the speciality of the Department would be submerged in the Government structure. I was assured from time to time- I have a statement here made in March this year which backs up that assurance- by various Ministers that the amalgamation of the Repatriation Department with other departments, or dismemberment of the repatriation system was not part of the platform of the Australian Labor Party. Senator Bishop, when he was Minister for Repatriation, said that the amalgamation of the Repatriation Department with other departments had not been considered. He said that any rumours circulating to the contrary were without foundation. At the New South Wales State Congress of the Returned Services League in Sydney in 1973, the Minister stated that neither he nor the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard) was aware of any such plan for amalgamation. He gave an assurance that both he and the Minister for Defence would resist any move of this nature.
When the announcement was made that the Repatriation Department would become the Department of Repatriation and Compensation, in my judgment that was the thin end of the wedge. I notice that when this Bill is passed, the Secretary of the Department of Repatriation and Compensation will also be Chairman of the Repatriation Commission. I repeat my warning to those who are interested in maintaining the repatriation section of the Department as a specialist organisation, representative of the 800,000 veterans, ex-servicemen and women still surviving in Australia, that they are in danger of losing this specialist organisation. I will not say it is being exactly submerged, because I have no proof of that. But I express the fear that the repatriation aspect of the Department of Repatriation and Compensation will diminish in importance. In fact with some of the social service measures that are being introduced, the Department is heading that way. This Bill will of course have beneficial results for the ex-servicemen and women of Australia. However, I still query its wisdom in the overall national economic policy. Whilst it might have beneficial results, there are other penalties. I consider that the specialised department is being submerged and is going more and more into the social services field. I hope the ex-servicemen and women and exservice organisations do not regret this changing situation in the future. I want to assure the veterans of Australia that the members of both the Country Party and the Liberal Party in this Parliament- and there are many veterans amongst us- will continue to be vigilant in watching the interests of the ex-service personnel of Australia.
– I commend the Minister on these Bills which seek to amend many of the repatriation benefits that are available. I think the Bills indicate the Government’s determination to provide for and to accept its responsibility to those who gave so much in the service of this country and to their dependants who in many cases are left without them and to extend and to expand the benefits that are available to them. I must say that I am surprised to hear the honourable member for Indi (Mr Holten) defending the autonomy of the Repatriation Department and then declaring that he does not quite know whether this is a wise thing or not. Surely the aim of the Australian Government, irrespective of what party is in power at what time, should be to provide for these people especially so that they can live in dignity. I would think that particularly those people who are totally and permanently incapacitated have a right to receive sufficient remuneration so that they and their dependants might live in the dignify one would expect for a man who incurred this type of incapacity in the service of his country.
I am proud to be associated with a government which has done so much for these people in the short time it has been in office. The totally and permanently incapacitation pension has been almost doubled since this Government came into office, if one takes into consideration the autumn addition to the pension. I think this increase was very necessary and I am amazed when I hear the philosophers, the economists, speaking about inflation and Government spending that they should consider that the priority in this field might be to reduce the amount of remuneration to these people in order to contain in some way the expansion of the economy and its inflationary trends.
This matter has been fairly well covered by the Special Minister of State (Mr Bowen) in his second reading speech and by the honourable member for Indi (Mr Holten) in the address he has just made to the House, but there are some things I would like to speak about in relation to repatriation that are very disturbing to me as a private member. Almost constantly I find people are coming to my office with complaints about their treatment by the Repatriation Department. I want to say that I have had tremendous access to senior departmental officers and I have no objection in that respect, but I think that probably at a government level the Minister should look at some of these problems and see if some rationalisation can take place in regard to them. I am quite certain that when the repatriation tribunals have to give reasons for their decisions we will see a rationalisation of some of the decisions that have been made. It seems to me that not enough emphasis is given to section 47, the benefit of doubt section of the principal Act which relates to ex-servicemen and the responsibility of the repatriation tribunals and the Department to determine conclusively whether the recipient is or is not entitled to the benefit for which he has made application.
One finds this lack of emphasis continuously at 3 levels: Firstly, in relation to those people who have suffered a cardiac problem in the latter years of their lives it seems to be the general rule of thumb determination that if they have not got some history of high blood pressure at the time of their service then their cardiac problem cannot be related to war service in any way. I am certainly not qualified to speak on this, but I doubt if many of the people who are making these determinations are effectively and suitably qualified to determine in this somewhat unknown area of medical science whether in fact a man’s wartime service could have contributed later to the condition in which he finds himself.
The other point that disturbs me a great deal is in relation to those people who have some psychiatric problems, some neurosis problems, who come before the Department and the tribunals in the latter part of their lives and who on many occasions seem to have been affected by the traumatic experiences they suffered during their time of service in the theatres of war. It seems on many occasions that if there has not been some definite history at the time of their service then it is rarely accepted that their condition could have been in any way contributed to by their war service. I find both these points most disturbing.
The third point relates to people who cannot produce satisfactory evidence of the problems associated with their war service because medical records were either not kept due to problems in the theatres of war or those records were not returned to be included in their files and they have some history that is not properly documented. Time after time people have come to my office with almost conclusive proof of some injury or disability which they suffered and has not been recorded in their medical records. I would hope that the Minister in his general supervision of this Department might instigate some means by which a determination can be reached on these matters.
Like the honourable member for Indi, I am delighted to see the extension of the services provided to people who served in various theatres of war and especially people who were prisoners of war. Unless one shared the experiences of the Second World War prisoners of war it is very difficult to realise the privations they suffered and I think anything we can do for the people who found themselves in that position is well and truly justified. I am equally delighted to see that British Commonwealth ex-servicemen who, if they are not of British origin are not entitled to a service pension because that country does not provide a pension of this nature, will now become entitled after 10 years residence in Australia to receive a repatriation pension. I know this has been very happily received by prospective recipients and I have already had a number of inquiries concerning it.
The last matter I should like to turn to relates to the general welfare of the people of Australia. In the next few days we are going to be privileged as a parliament to receive a Bill which will seek to extend to the whole of the people of Australia, whether they are ex-servicemen or migrants, no matter who they are, the right to one of the basic freedoms for which every parliament and every government should strive, freedom from want. The same Minister who introduced the present amendments into the House will be introducing a Bill on national compensation. I take the point made by the honourable member for Indi about the right of an exserviceman to have some special privilege. Surely everyone in the Australian community who is incapacitated for some reason or other, whether it was caused at birth, by accident or by any other cause, is entitled to live in dignity. I am quite sure that it will be an historic occasion when that Bill is introduced into the Australian Parliament. I am also quite sure that supporters of the Government look forward with enthusiasm to the support of the Opposition for it. I hope that it will provide for everyone the basic freedom that one would have hoped could have been provided for years ago.
-I do not desire to detain the House for very long but I would like to make a couple of points on this Bill. This Bill, as has been stated, covers a wide range of repatriation benefits, which is as it should be. The benefits it contains are in my opinion sound ones. I have no hesitation in giving it my support. There is one provision which I am delighted to see is to be included in the Repatriation Act. In my opinion it should have been included in the Repatriation Act years ago. I refer to the provision to extend medical and hospital treatment to all Service personnel who were prisoners of war for any condition from which they suffer. There is no doubt that many of these people suffered abnormal hardships during their term as prisoners of war. A disability from which they now suffer may not have been apparent at the time of their discharge but could have become apparent some years later as they approached middle age. In many instances it has been impossible in the past under those circumstances for an ex-serviceman to relate the disability or condition to his war service. Consequently repatriation benefits have not been available to him. Now, according to my understanding of the Bill, it will be necessary for the ex-serviceman only to prove that he was in fact a prisoner of war.
While that is a step in the right direction, I would have liked to have seen the provision extended a little further. Let me explain what I mean. The Government has recognised that a prisoner of war would have suffered abnormal hardships and privations and has extended to such a person the right to medical and hospital treatment for the condition from which he suffers. Am I to understand then that heart conditions also will be accepted? If so, why not go a little further with this benefit and accept heart trouble as being a war caused disability in relation to a prisoner of war, thereby entitling him to a repatriation pension for his condition?
It is more than possible that the time spent in a prisoner of war camp and the hardships endured would have some bearing on a heart complaint that could manifest itself in later life and which was not apparent in the early years after discharge. Naturally no medical records would have been kept during the time such a person was in a prisoner of war camp. We all know how difficult it is to relate war service to heart trouble experienced by an ex-serviceman when he reaches middle age, especially when no record of treatment for heart trouble was recorded during his war service. I feel that prisoners of war should be given the benefit of the doubt and that their condition should be accepted as war caused, thereby making them eligible for a repatriation pension. As we have gone as far as accepting any condition as rendering former prisoners of war eligible for medical and hospital treatment, I feel that we could go just a little further and accept heart conditions suffered by prisoners of war as making them eligible for a repatriation pension. The extension of the acceptance of cancer for free medical and hospital treatment to cover all ex-service personnel is also to be commended. I know that it will mean quite a lot to a number of people.
I notice that the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen) foreshadowed in his second reading speech that a provision would be introduced in the future to regard ex-servicemen of British Commonwealth countries as eligible for Service pensions after, of course, a continuous period of residence in this country. I suppose that the Government realises that by introducing such a provision it will find it most difficult to exclude the members of the forces of other allied countries from this benefit, especially if they have also fulfilled the requirements for a Service pension on the same basis. I have noted that the Minister said in his second reading speech that this matter will be looked at later, but I think that the Government would find it a little difficult to exclude them when it brings in such a provision for members of British Commonwealth countries. I should also add that it was a provision which I included in the Liberal-Country Party’s repatriation policy when I was shadow Minister for Repatriation and which would have been implemented by this time if the Liberal-Country Party coalition had won office at the last election.
There is just one other point I wish to make. I agree with the remarks of the honourable member for Cook (Mr Thorburn) and the honourable member for Indi (Mr Holten) on the proposal that the Tribunal should notify an exserviceman of the reasons that certain decisions have been made. That is something on which I have been a bit keen for quite some time. But I should warn the Government at this stage that the introduction of such a move could be detrimental to some ex-servicemen. For instance, there may be an ex-serviceman who wishes to keep from his family the nature of a particular disease from which he is suffering. Information about his disease could reach his family through the correspondence that would come from the Tribunal to him explaining the reason for the decision being taken. I would like the Government, through the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation (Senator Wheeldon), to watch this aspect and to make it a case of the decision being given where the ex-serviceman asks the reasons for it to be given. In other words, let the exserviceman himself make the decision as to whether he wants to be notified the reasons. I think that might save a lot of trouble on some home fronts. I commend that thought to the Government. I have no desire to delay any longer the passage of this very important measure through this House. Accordingly I record my support for the Bill.
– It would appear as though the House has adopted a very bi-partisan approach to this legislation which may affect many ‘veterans’, the term now used to describe those ex-servicemen and women who are covered by repatriation legislation. However, the honourable member for Indi (Mr Holten) did introduce into the debate a couple of points which I think ought to be refuted from this side of the House. I know that the argument about the economic management of the country spreads far beyond this Bill and into perhaps the traditional attitudes that may be expressed by the various political parties in this country. But, on behalf of the work force of this country we have rejected the argument that the economic standing of the country at this stage should stand in the way of a solid argument that can be presented for the benefits provided to veterans to be increased or uplifted to present day standards. So it is not an argument about whether the increases in benefits are going to be inflationary; it is a question of whether they can be justified. Those of us who sit on this side of the House say that they can be.
Another point made by the honourable member for Indi was that we had put in the thin edge of the wedge by now calling the former Repatriation Department the Department of Repatriation and Compensation. Of course, that is not so. That cannot be done by any thin edge of the wedge. It can be done only by a deliberate action and no such action has been taken by the Government. In fact, the honourable member for Indi himself quoted spokesmen on behalf of the Government- Senator Bishop when he was the Minister for Repatriation and Mr Barnard -as refuting the allegations that had been made or the rumours that had been circulating about a breaking up of the Department.
Like the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett), I have no desire either to delay the passage of this Bill or to take up the time of the House unnecessarily. But I do think that it is important to relate the Bill to actions taken by the Government from the time it came to power in December 1972 until the presentation of this Bill and its forecast of what it intends to do in the autumn session. Taken together I believe that these are a true test of the attitudes of the Labor Government.
It is fair enough to make the comment that there were those in the community who were spokesmen for some of the ex-service leagues who were suggesting prior to the election in 1 972 that the Labor Party as a government would not have as much thought for ex-servicemen as perhaps the opposing political parties would. That has not turned out to be the case. I suggest that repatriation is one of the areas in which all major political parties try to reach an area of agreement as to what should be done for people who have put up with the deprivations of having to serve in war and, in some cases, being prisoners of war.
Honourable members will recall that in the autumn session of 1973 this Government substantially increased pensions and allowances for special rate and intermediate rate pensioners and general rate war pensions for the dependants of those whose death was related to war service, and service pensions. At the same time, we doubled the funeral benefit. We allowed war pensions to continue until the completion of full time education for certain student children and student children were recognised for service pension purposes regardless of age. A number of initiatives were taken, as I said, in the autumn and these ought to be related to this Bill.
In the present Budget session, we have seen the introduction of free medical treatment for all Australian veterans who were prisoners of war. One action on which I am particularly keen, as I would like to eradicate from this area any debate, is the proposal that veterans who suffer the problem of cancer should be treated free of charge. I am pleased to see that this Bill proposes free medical treatment for cancer for all Australian veterans suffering from that condition.
In addition, the Government is cognisant of the changing factors in Papua New Guinea. We have recognised that a number of people from
Australia who served in our armed forces and who have made their homes that country should not be disadvantaged because of the changing political factors there. So, such persons residing in Papua New Guinea immediately before independence will be deemed to be resident in Australia for repatriation purposes. Further, decisions by a majority of members of each determining authority are to be deemed to be valid decisions.
Looking at what has been done in 1973 and in. 1974 and considering the proposals for the autumn session of 1975, we see that the Labor Party has an extremely good record in maintaining adequate service payments and conditions for those people who served this country in past wars.
The only other point I wish to raise concerns the proposal of which the Government has given notice with respect to the amount available by way of loan for the re-establishment of exservicemen and former members of the defence forces. The maximum loan will be increased by $2,000 to $5,000 for business loans and by $4,000 to $ 10,000 for agricultural loans. I do not know whether in the commercial sense those figures can be justified. Nevertheless, they probably reflect the traditional approach rather than reality. This action is taken again in accordance with the desire of this Government to look after those who served this country in time of war. With those few words, I indicate my support for the BUI.
-I wish to speak for a few minutes on one or two aspects of the Bill now before the House. In common with honourable members who have spoken, I will not delay this debate any longer than is necessary. I wish firstly to compliment the Government on making quite a number of alterations to this legislation. The honourable member for Indi (Mr Holten) said that many of these proposals were long overdue. I certainly agree wholeheartedly with that comment. I commend the remarks made by the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett) who, in referring to prisoners of war, said that heart conditions are accepted for purposes of free medical treatment and other benefits. But the Government is not prepared to go all the way in this respect. I am of the opinion that where a certain amount of doubt exists- and there is no question in my mind that a great deal of doubt surrounds the cause of a heart condition- that doubt should be resolved to the benefit of the ex-serviceman or the exservicewoman. Therefore, the proposition put forward by the honourable member for Herbert is a most worthy one at which I believe the Government could look very closely.
The proposal to extend eligibility for service pensions to all members of Commonwealth countries perhaps needs some explanation. Unfortunately, outside this place and outside the area of activity within the repatriation system, people have the impression that there is no difference between a service pension and a repatriation pension. They seem to classify a service pension as an Army pension and to believe that a service pension, an Army pension and a repatriation pension are all the same. Those who understand the inner workings of the repatriation system appreciate that this is not so. I make this point because there will be a number of people who will be of the opinion that, as they are from a Commonwealth country and they have a war caused disability, they will be eligible for repatriation benefits as distinct from a service pension.
In his second reading speech, the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen) said that, after next autumn, service pensioners will be eligible for a means test free pension at 70 years of age. I think that that statement also needs some explanation. Up until this time, the position of the service pensioner is very similar to that of an ordinary age pensioner with the exception that the service pensioner receives his pension, if he is suffering ill-health, or at age 60 as compared with age 65 for the ordinary civilian. The means test free pension at present is paid to ordinary civilians at age 75 and over. There is no advantage whatsoever for a service pensioner. If it is good enough for a service pensioner to receive that advantage 5 years ahead of the payment of an equivalent benefit to an age pensioner, surely it is good enough for the Government to consider determining that he receives the same advantage with respect to the means test free pension. I am glad to note that the honourable member for Herbert agrees with me.
There are other angles that I must not overlook. A portion of the repatriation pension received by a service pensioner is exempt for means test purposes if that pensioner is in receipt of a repatriation pension. That exemption at present is 25 per cent of that pension; it is expected to rise to 50 per cent next autumn. I point out that the Minister in his second reading speech said that it was the goal of this Government to see that the 100 per cent rate repatriation pension was increased to 50 per cent of the minimum wage. I support the principle of setting a goal in these matters. It is anticipated that next autumn the 100 per cent pension rate will be equal to 41 per cent of the minimum wage.
I have raised this question in this House before. I can never understand why under repatriation measures we refer to a percentage of the minimum rate whereas, when it comes to social security matters, we talk of a percentage of average male earnings. I should like the Special Minister of State to explain to me why there is this difference. I am not sure whether this is to confuse but as I see the average male earnings rising and, no doubt, the minimum wage rising I wonder how long it will be before the 100 per cent rate repatriation pension reaches 50 per cent of the minimum wage. If it is the goal of the Government to lift it to 50 per cent, why not make a bold bid? It is no good talking about what is going to be done in a few years time. That sounds too much like party political campaigning -‘Put us back in government and this is what we will do’. When it comes to ministerial decisions in Cabinet it might be all right for Ministers to say that they will vary the pension next year, but in actual fact if it is good enough to announce that they intend to do it some time in the future they should substitute action for words.
In the broad I compliment the Government for introducing the provisions contained in this Bill. It represents a substantial lift in the TPI pension of $4 per week, in the intermediate rate of $3.50 and in the 100 per cent rate of $3. With respect to the 100 per cent rate and below, the increases are certainly overdue. For too long the 100 per cent rate has been running at the same figure. If at any time the Government decides that it wants to improve the Repatriation Act I am sure it can depend on many members on this side of the chamber to give it all the co-operation and help that is necessary. After all, repatriation today is developing into a pretty big problem. A previous speaker, I think a Government supporter, referred to the fact that many persons are experiencing difficulty in receiving entitlements through the repatriation system. I, no doubt, like many other members, have similar difficulties. There is the old problem of individuals, because of age, complaining of back complaints. Anyone who knows anything about medical history and the medical situation knows it is difficult to be able to declare whether the person’s complaint is genuine. I shall not use the expression we used to use in the old Army days, but a lot of doubtful cases are created by old age. The Government or the Repatriation Department should look closely at some of these matters because I believe that in more cases than not people who have applied or are not receiving their just entitlements.
-I was somewhat unhappy about the reference made by the honourable member for Wimmera (Mr King) when he accused this Government of playing party politics at the expense of ex-servicemen.
– I did not say that at all.
-That was the impression I got and I say this more in sorrow than in anger. Despite the attitudes and protestations of members of the former Liberal-Country Party coalition government, when one looks at the record one finds that it did not really do much to help ex-servicemen. I also say this more in sorrow than in anger about the attitude of certain high officials of the Returned Services League. In my opinion these high national officials have shown a lack of interest in the members of the RSL sub-branches and to me, looking at it over a period of years- I do not want to go back too far into history- it appears that their reward for thenlack of interest has been a knighthood. I could call to mind some of the National Presidents of the Returned Services League who have been knighted. I can asure the House that this Government does not believe in knighthoods so the present occupants of those high positions in the Returned Services League assuredly will not get knighthoods from this Government.
In New South Wales the President of the Returned Services League, Mr Colin Hines, wants to set up his own Army- set it up on fascist lines. He has stated, I think unreservedly, that it is for the defence of New South Wales. Of course, he did not consult the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard) on this issue but he did consult that well-known democrat, the Premier of New South Wales, Sir Robert Askin. He has a claim to fame, does Sir Robert Askin. The most undemocratic statement he ever made was: ‘Run the bastards over’. As honourable members know, this was at a time when the President of the United States of America was visiting Australia at the height of the Vietnam controversy and, as subsequent events have proved, the previous Liberal-Country Party government was wrong and the present Government was right on this issue. I am sorry to say this, but I believe the Returned Services League at its national level instead of playing politics should spend more time looking after the interests of its own members. I know this is the feeling of the New South Wales sub-branches because I attend them. In my own electorate of Banks a local subbranch included in its journal an article which, if I were the honourable member for Hunter (Mr James) I would ask to have incorporated in Hansard. I have also a letter from the Panania-East
Hills RSL sub-branch expressing concern at the political leanings of the Returned Services League in New South Wales. I shall not read it out, but it shows that members of the League are not happy with what their leadership is doing about repatriation benefits.
The Bill before the House will give effect to the Government’s proposals to bring up to date repatriation benefits provided to those for whom this country has a continuing responsibility. Those are not my words, but the words of the Special Minister of State (Mr Bowen) who represents the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation (Senator Bishop). In his second reading speech he made another statement which bears repeating. He said:
Most repatriation pensions and allowances will be increased by this Bill.
My time is limited and I do not intend to speak much longer because there is other important legislation which must be passed by this House. I congratulate the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation who is known amongst his Party colleagues as the ‘little digger’. In fact, at one stage he was going to be presented with a digger’s hat to wear into the Cabinet room. That shows the general feeling of members of his own Government about the good things he has done for ex-servicemen, particularly in this Repatriation Bill. Rather than recount what this Government has done for ex-servicemen by way of repatriation benefits and other conditions I ask leave to incorporate in Hansard a document showing major repatriation developments undertaken by this Government since 2 December 1972.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-
Substantial increases in pensions and allowances for Special Rate and Intermediate Rate pensioners, for General Rate war pensioners, for the dependants of those whose deaths were war-related and for service pensioners.
The funeral benefit doubled-from $50 to $100.
War pensions continued until completion of full-time education for certain student children, (i.e., those who are not receiving a maintenance or living allowance or salary from Commonwealth sources that equals or exceeds the allowances payable under the Repatriation Soldiers’ Children Education Scheme.)
Student children recognised for service pension purposes, regardless of age.
Provision for a legal personal representative to appeal to a War Pension Appeal Tribunal in cases where the exserviceman concerned has died.
Payment (to an estate) of service pension arrears in cases where the claimant dies before his application is determined.
Certain de facto wives and ex-nuptial children recognised for war pension and associated benefits.
Portability overseas of Repatriation service and other means test pensions.
Further substantial increases in pensions and allowances for Special Rate and Intermediate Rate pensioners, for General Rate pensioners, for the dependants of those whose deaths were war-related and for service pensioners. Further increases will be provided next autumn.
Free medical treatment for all ex-servicemen of the Boer War and 1914-18 War.
Free medical treatment for ex-servicemen who served in a theatre of war and are suffering malignant cancer.
Free artificial limbs for all persons in the community through Repatriation Artificial Limb and Appliance Centres.
The use of spare capacity in Repatriation General Hospitals for certain civilian admissions. 25 per cent of war pension to be disregarded in the assessment of service pension.
Abolition of the means test for service pensioners and their wives, 75 years and over.
Extension of Repatriation benefits to members of the Regular Defence Forces.
Extension of Repatriation benefits to national servicemen.
The giving of reasons for decisions by determining authorities in respect of claims and appeals.
Further substantial increases in pensions and allowances for Special Rate and Intermediate Rate pensioners, for General Rate pensioners, for War Widows and for service pensioners.
Free medical treatment for all Australian veterans who were prisoners of war.
Free medical treatment for cancer for all Australian veterans who are suffierng from that condition.
Persons residing in Papua New Guinea immediately before Independence to be deemed to be resident in Australia for Repatriation purposes.
Decisions by a majority of members of each determining authority to be deemed to be valid decisions. Special appropriation clause inserted in each Repatriation type Act.
– I thank the House. I repeat that I congratulate the Government. I hope that this is not the end of the many good things which will be done for those who shed their blood for this country, who were maimed and are still suffering or who died and whose dependants are still alive. I commend the Bill to the House.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes, I certainly do. No one who reads my remarks in Hansard tomorrow will be able to claim that I was accusing the Government of playing party politics in relation to this Bill. I give due deference to the honourable member for Banks (Mr Martin). He may not have been listening intently to what I was saying. I was complaining about the portion of the Minister’s second reading speech in which he said that the Government had undertaken to raise. the base rate, the 100 per cent rate, to 50 per cent of the minimum wage. My query was, why did the Government not take a bold step instead of talking about introducing something in the future? Perhaps that did sound like party politics, but I certainly did not suggest that the whole of this Bill hinged on party politics. On the contrary I complimented the Government for introducing it.
-The Opposition supports the amendments contained in the Bill. We certainly are not opposed to any of them. I think the speeches made by various member of this side of the House indicate how pleased we are with the alterations to the legislation. In the brief moments which are available to me in this debate let me say how much I regret the remarks of the honourable member for Banks (Mr Martin), and make the point that the honourable member for Wimmera (Mr King) certainly did not introduce any party political aspects into the debate. It was only the honourable member for Banks who did that. I hope that, when he is the Deputy Speaker on some future occasion and I happen to stray away from the Bill, he will be as lenient with me as you, Mr Deputy Speaker, were with him. That is not a reflection on you, Sir; rather it is meant to be a reflection on the honourable member for Banks.
One point that I should like to make- this is not strictly relevant to this legislation- relates to the amendment dealing with the introduction of the Australian mariner into the provisions covered by this Act. I take it that the amendment means that people who served in the merchant marine are now included in this legislation. I most certainly welcome that. I suggest to the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation (Senator Wheeldon) that he should discuss this matter with the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Les Johnson) because it seems to me that the person who served in the mercantile marine and who has now been acknowledged to be on the same basis as ex-servicemen for repatriation benefit purposes should also be entitled to what we used to call the war service home loan. I hope that the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen), who is at the table and paying careful attention, will discuss this matter with the Minister.
I shall comment very briefly on what the honourable member for Cook (Mr Thorburn) had to say. I think it is popular to say that anybody who served and who now suffers from a heart condition, high blood pressure or anything else should have that condition accepted as being caused by war service. I think this is not really strictly fair. It is 33 years since I was discharged. If, when I am walking back to my room after this debate, I happen to drop dead with a heart attack there is no way in the world I would expect my widow to say that it happened as a result of my war service. The Department of Repatriation and Compensation, as it now is, has tended through the administration of succeeding governments to encourage this form of application. I think it is a fact that every time an exserviceman dies his widow receives automatically an application form on which to apply for a pension. In my view this encourages wives to think that possibly their husband’s death resulted from war service. Really that is stretching a pretty long bow these days. The honourable member for Cook made the point that he thought that people who had served and who had heart attacks, suffered from high blood pressure or had psychiatric problems should be given the benefit of the doubt. I take the view that over the years the Department has bent over backwards and given the vast majority of exservicemen the benefit of the doubt. To that extent I wish to be dissociated from the view of the honourable member for Cook.
I wish to refer to a case which the Special Minister of State might like to discuss with the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation in another place. I have been pursuing the case of an ex-serviceman who claims to have been in receipt of a totally and permanently incapacitated pension. He claims that the pension is being taken from him. I hope that the Minister might hurry up the inquiry. My understanding of the English language is not correct if the pension of a totally and permanently incapacitated person is to be taken away. I should like to get this file cleaned up. It is about the only repatriation one I have.
Another point I wish to make concerns the matter mentioned by the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) who said that he did not believe that combining matters dealing with compensation with the Department of Repatriation tended to downgrade the role of repatriation. In my view this is exactly what it does. I think a large number of ex-servicemen have the same view. It is a fact that the change was developed by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam). I was disappointed to see the amalgamation of matters dealing with compensation with the Department of Repatriation. I was somewhat disappointed at the appointment of the Minister. It is true that he did go to Vietnam; the difference is that he went to North Vietnam and not to South Vietnam. We do not oppose the legislation.
– I shall take only a few minutes to make some important points. I do not very often speak on repatriation matters, even though in a sense I owe my presence in this House to my work in repatriation. It is an involved story. Some vital votes in my preselection ballot depended on the fact that I was able to show that a certain person suffering from Parkinsonism was able to claim repatriation benefits because at one stage some 20 years earlier he had had a pyrexia of unknown origin whilst serving in the forces. I refer to the general question of the benefit of the doubt that is given, or supposed to be given, to ex-servicemen who ‘ apply for the acceptance of conditions arising from their service. It is extremely difficult these days to clearly relate a condition with which an ex-serviceman is suffering to his original war service unless there is a continuing story. In other words,, if a person obviously has been treated for the past 30 years for some condition which has just progressed, and some new condition has developed obviously from the previous condition, it is not very difficult to relate that to war service. Otherwise it is very difficult to do so.
Cancer is one of the conditions that has caused a lot of problems. Whilst on the one hand it is impossible for the ex-serviceman to prove that a malignant condition is due to his war service, it is obviously also impossible, as we do not know the cause of most malignant conditions, to show that the malignant condition is not due to war service. It is a continuous game of ping pong. In a sense I am lucky to be a medical practitioner as well as a member of Parliament because when my constituents complain about not getting certain benefits for disabilities which they claim are related to their war service, I can get them to have their medical records sent to me once their appeals have reached a certain stage. I am able to go through the medical records as a sort of doctor-detective and try to prove a relationship between their original condition and their present condition. I think the honourable member for Scullin (Dr Jenkins) is in the same sort of position. It is extremely helpful to do this. We also help other honourable members on our side of the House. But it is difficult for exservicemen who do not live in our electorates, or who may even have the misfortune to live in the electorate of the honourable member for Boothby (Mr McLeay), and who are unable to get this sort of assistance.
I think the most important benefit that has been introduced by this Government from that point of view springs from the decision that bodies like appeal tribunals will now give reasons for the rejection of claims. Under procedure that prevailed until now the exserviceman was told only that the board, the tribunal or the Department had found that a particular condition was not related to war service. This gave the person no real assistance in preparing an appeal because he did not know on what basis the condition was rejected. As I pointed out a minute ago, those of us who are medical practitioners and members of Parliament are able to have a look at the medical file after receiving an authorisation from the constituent that we are acting as his medical adviser, and see the reason for rejection given in that file. We have a terrific advantage because we are able to argue on the reasons. But it is obviously completely unfair for the average ex-serviceman who does not have this advantage. I congratulate the Government on accepting the recommendations of the appropriate Caucus committee to give ex-servicemen the reasons for the rejection of claims. This will now make it possible for them to argue on a rational and reasonable basis for eligibility for certain benefits.
I also congratulate the Government on accepting, on the general basis of giving ex-servicemen the benefit of the doubt, the responsibility for all medical conditions of ex-servicemen who at some stage were prisoners of war. I think it has been justifiably argued that a person who was a prisoner of war, especially for any lengthy period, in nearly every case was in a very depressed physical and psychological condition during this period and that obviously this must have affected his general health, which in turn must have affected his ability to withstand and deal with what in other cases would have been a normal reaction to a potential disease. I congratulate the Government on the amendments it has introduced in this legislation and hope it will continue to carry on in the same fashion.
– in reply- Many short speeches have been made, and I am inclined to think now that it may have been better if we had a few longer speeches- although I am sure honourable members got across what they wanted to convey. Everyone always suggests that we should improve repatriation benefits. There is a very understandable tendency for people to say that a government can always do better. However, I think it should be noted that all speeches from the Opposition were loud in their praise of what has been done by the Government and were fair enough to admit that such things could have been done in the Opposition’s time in government.
The honourable member for Indi (Mr Holten), who led for the Opposition, raised the question of service pensions. I want to put the matter beyond doubt. In part of my second reading speech I indicated that those who served in the British Commonwealth countries would be eligible for the service pension. I want to make it clear that they will be eligible for the service pension and not- in case there is any misunderstandingeligible to claim for disabilities due to war service. In other words, those people have an eligibility for pension at 60 years of age rather than the normal age for eligibility for a social welfare pension of 65 years. The departmental advisers who were listening to the debate thought that the honourable member might have felt that the eligibility extended also to benefits for war service related conditions. It is the eligibility for the service pension that we are talking about here. I want to make it clear that is what that provision means. I indicate that consideration has been given as to whether the eligibility could be extended to persons who served in the war under our other allies. Such persons will still have to satisfy the requirement of 10 years residence in Australia.
I think the only other matter about which the honourable member for Indi was worried was that the requirement that the tribunals give reasons for their decisions could slow the process down. Of course the question of the tribunals giving their reasons does not come under this Bill; it comes under a Bill that has already been passed. I do not think this requirement will slow the process down because people who think they should have succeeded in their cases will be prone to ask for the reasons for the rejection of their claim.
The honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett) raised a valid point. He said there could be some difficulty about keeping the tribunals’ reasons confidential. I am assured that they will be given in the strictest confidentiality and that there will not be any difficulty in this area. The real benefit of course is that an applicant will know the reasons for the rejection of his claim in the preparation of a case to justify an appeal against that decision. Therefore, there is some validity in saying that the reasons should be made available if justice is to appear to be done.
The Bill provides that medical treatment shall be given for all conditions of ex-prisoners of war. Nobody can deny that that should have been done years ago. Prisoners of war suffered deprivation and malnutrition which may have subsequently brought to light conditions which were not apparent at the conclusion of the last war. Some 13,600 people will benefit as a result of this provision. The other benefits provided by the Act are all very worth while. A somewhat harsh note was introduced to the debate by the honourable member for Wimmera (Mr King). I think he was well meaning in what he said, but he implied that the Government ought to live up to its promises in respect of raising the level of the general rate pension to SO per cent of the minimum wage. It is very difficult for a government that is raising the minimum wage all the time also to keep benefits up at the other end. We know that some members of the Opposition have supporters who would go into a court and oppose the minimum wage being increased. It would suit the Government in this small context for the minimum wage not to be raised so that the general service pension could be readily raised to 50 per cent of the minimum wage. The plain facts of life are that we have increased this pension four times in the last 22 months. I hope the honourable member for Wimmera reads this. The Opposition did not increase it at all in its last 8 years in office.
My friend opposite commented that the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation (Senator Wheeldon) may not be the most suitable Minister for his job. I assure honourable members that as the Minister is a lawyer, if one gives him a brief, he will do his best with it. With the repatriation brief he has fought everybody in sight to have things done his way and he has achieved outstanding success. He has convinced everybody that these repatriation benefits should be rapidly improved. I think he has been a great success as Minister for Repatriation and Compensation because he has succeeded in improving these benefits, which have cost the Treasury no end of money. I do not think we should decry him. He is a first class advocate. He did not fight in any war, but that is not to his detriment. I have been to Saigon and to Hanoi. Both places are disasters. Yet there was no war there; it was an undeclared affair. The casualties of humanity are there. The hospitals are bombed, and that does not solve any national problem. We should get away from this context in this debate. Honourable members on both sides of the House took part in World War II. The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) donned a uniform and fought for Australia.
An honourable member raised the question of housing benefits to merchant seamen. I think it is a very good point and I shall take it up with the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Les Johnson). I do not think there is anything more to be said other than to thank honourable members for their contributions. We will be moving some amendments in the Committee stage. I am assured they are not opposed because they are beneficial. I shall seek leave to deal with them in the Committee stage in toto.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
-With the indulgence of my colleagues on the opposite side of the chamber, I seek leave to deal with the amendments as a whole. The amendments have been circulated. I understand that there is no objection to them.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The amendments relate to a number of clauses. They are virtually machinery amendments. Proposed new clause 36a adds to the definitions listed in the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act the words ‘appeal tribunal’ and ‘assessment appeal tribunal and defines their meaning as being the type of tribunals established under the Repatriation Act 1920-1974 to decide appeals lodged by or on behalf of Australian mariners on the question of ( 1 ) whether incapacity or death is a direct result of a war injury- appeal tribunal- or (2) the degree of assessment of pension appropriate to an incapacity directly due to a war injury- assessment appeal tribunal.
Proposed new clause 37a inserts into the principal Act a section 8AA which authorises in subsection ( 1 ) a person who has claimed a pension or other benefit under that Act arising out of the incapacity or death of an Australian mariner and whose claim has been refused by the Repatriation Commission, to lodge an appeal to a War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal against that determination by the Repatriation Commission.
– Excuse my interruption. I suggest that the explanations be incorporated. We will give you leave to incorporate them in Hansard.
-Thank you very much. I would appreciate that. I seek leave to have these explanations incorporated in Hansard.
– Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The documents read as follows)-
Sub-section (2) of the new section provides that the person with whom an appeal is lodged (usually a Deputy Commissioner of Repatriation for a State) to forward it to the Repatriation Commission which is required to transmit it to an Appeal Tribunal together with any records of the Australian mariner that are held by the Commission.
Sub-section (3) of the new section extends the provisions of sub-sections (3) to (10) of section 64 of the Repatriation Act to persons eligible to appeal. These sub-sections provide for the manner in which appeals shall be determined and set out further moves open to unsuccessful appellants.
The second new section inserted in the principal Act by this clause, section 8ab, authorises an Australian mariner who has an incapacity determined as being directly due to a war injury to appeal to an Assessment Appeal Tribunal if he is of the opinion that he should have his pension assessed at a pensionable degree or at a higher rate.
The new section sets out the time limits in which an Australian mariner has the right to appeal to an Assessment Appeal Tribunal and further sets out administrative arrangements for the transmission of appeals to the Tribunals and the manner in which the appeals will be determined.
The third new section inserted in the principal Act by this clause, section 8ac, extends the provisions of Division 4 of Part III of the Repatriation Act to the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act. This Division set out such things as the appellant’s right to attend in person at any sitting at which his appeal is being heard, the entitlement to expenses incurred in attending an appeal, the right to be represented by another person, the calling of witnesses, the date of operation of decisions, and other matters relating to the general administration of the appeals system.
This clause amends section 8a of the principal Act by including in the list of authorities who are required to advise in writing the reasons for the decisions they record, the War
Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunals and the Assessment Appeal Tribunals.
This clause repeals section 14 of the principal Act which prohibited the grant of a pension or an allowance unless a nominated medical officer certified that the incapacity was directly attributable to a war injury and in its place inserts a section which will require any medical practitioner, in reporting on a claim, to set out his opinion as to, in the case of a claim in respect of death, the cause of the death, and in the case of a claim in respect of incapacity, the nature, cause and extent of the incapacity. Where the medical practitioner entertains any doubt on any of the matters on which he is required to report, he shall state that he has a doubt, and as far as practicable, the nature and extent of that doubt.
This clause repeals section 32 of the principal Act which is no longer appropriate following the proposed repeal of the existing section 14 (Clause 37c) and substitution by a section requiring the medical practitioner to indicate where he entertains any doubt on a matter upon which he is reporting.
-On behalf of the Opposition Parties I state that we totally support all the amendments.
Amendments agreed to.
Bill, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments; report- by leave- adopted.
Bill (on motion by Mr Lionel Bowen)- by leave- read a third time.
Debate resumed from 16 October on motion by Mr Hayden:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-The Social Services Bill (No. 3) contains twelve or more amendments to the Social Services Act. The Opposition supports all of the measures. Our criticisms of the Government in relation to this Bill are not related to what is contained in it but to what is omitted from it.
– These are the things you left out in the past.
-The omissions from this Bill -
– We have had only 20 months; you had 20 years. You would like to forget about it.
-The Minister for Social Security has an obsession with the past. Of all people in this Government, which is now in complete and utter disarray, he would better serve the country and the areas of social need if he was not obsessed with the past, if he was conscious of the present and had some sympathy for the future of the people whom he is supposed to be caring for. One of the interesting aspects of this Bill is that here is another example of the Government stealing Opposition policy. It has stolen Opposition policy, as expressed in the booklet ‘The Way Ahead’, virtually in every area, including the economy and social welfare. That is why we support the various measures outlined in the Bill. For the sake of the record I would like briefly to outline what is in the Bill. Before I do so I would like to give notice that the Opposition through the auspices of the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) will be moving an amendment which will virtually give the Government the opportunity of voting on a question which it prevented the House from voting on last week through what I described then as very shady tactics.
We on the Opposition side regard as one of the greatest areas of social need the men, widowers and deserted husbands who have been left to care for young children. Virtually nothing is being done for them now. We believe something more should be done for them. We will move during this second reading debate an amendment which will force the Government to stand up and be counted so that people can see where it stands in relation to people who are in such tragic circumstances. I do not know why the Government is resisting our move because it is bad enough for a child to lose a father, it is bad enough to have the breadwinner leave the family, but when the child is deprived of the mother surely the area of need is as great as or even greater than is the case in the other circumstances. I will leave it to my friend the honourable member for Mackellar to develop this point further.
This Bill raises the additional payment for each child of a pensioner by SOc a week to $5.50 a week. We would support that move. I think all honourable members would like to see a higher payment. We will support it at this stage. The Bill also raises the supplementary assistance benefit, which is the rent allowance for pensioners and sickness beneficiaries, by $ 1 a week to $5 a week. This supplementary assistance is payable to pensioners who are existing or living purely on the pension and who have to pay rent. This benefit was introduced to give these people some additional help because it was felt that they suffered a greater disadvantage than do people who own their own homes. This was one of the areas of need which was highlighted by the Henderson interim report. Honourable members will remember that the Henderson Committee recommended that the supplementary assistance benefit of $4 be doubled to $8 forthwith. The Government has had almost 12 months to contemplate that interim report but so far it has not moved on it. This Bill proposes to increase the supplementary assistance benefit by $ 1 , raising it to $5. Back in April the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) announced as joint Opposition party policy that in government we would immediately increase supplementary assistance by $2 a week and that we would also alleviate the savage, vicious means test which is applied to this benefit. If the Minister wants to try to make a point by saying that that means test was introduced and maintained by a Liberal Party government of the past I would accept that and I would be as critical of that government for maintaining that test as he now is. I know that many honourable members on this side of the House would be equally critical of it, but there would not be one honourable member on this side of the House now who does not agree that it is vicious and savage, that it should be alleviated and that pensioners in this situation should be assisted.
Their position is now even further exacerbated by the disaster that is now the housing industry. We regard many Ministers as being not disasters but catastrophes, and one of the greatest catastrophes to grace the floor of this House is the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Les Johnson). The kind of effrontery and arrogance with which he conducts himself in saying that the housing industry in Australia has never been better is to us mind boggling. The fact is that because of the enormous and exorbitant rates of interest that young couples have to pay now, the skyrocketing prices of housing and the enormous deposit gap that young people have to find, the number of new nouses being built in Australia has taken a sudden downturn. That is bad enough. But the by-product of this situation is that more and more people will have to apply for rented dwellings. As the demand for this type of accommodation increases the law of supply and demand will come into operation and the level of rents will increase all the time. At a time when rents are increasing and the purchasing power of the pension is being eroded the Government has introduced legislation to provide an extra $1 a week in supplementary allowance to pensioners.
The Government has taken this action notwithstanding that the Henderson Committee recommended that the level of supplementary allowance should be increased by $4 to $8.
The Bill also proposes to raise the double orphan ‘s benefit by $ 1 to $ 1 1 a week. The joint Opposition Parties policy document entitled ‘The Way Ahead ‘ published in April-May of this year contains a commitment that the Opposition immediately on regaining government will double the orphans benefit of $10 a week. The Minister went on with a long spiel in his speech about the situation of children who have lost both parents or one parent and the other parent cannot be found. He makes out an eloquent case that they should be helped. But what does he do? He proposes to give them $1 a week extra at a time when $1 will hardly buy a packet of cigarettes. I am in agreement with one point made by the Minister when he was speaking about the double orphans benefit. The Minister mentioned that in the past his Government has increased social service benefits only to see the State governments reduce their welfare benefits by an equal amount. I join with him in deploring that practice. I hope, like he does, that the additional benefits brought about by this Bill will not be eroded by State governments reducing payments to beneficiaries.
The Bill introduces a handicapped children’s allowance of $10 a week. This amount will be payable to the parents or guardians of a mentally or physically handicapped child cared for in a family environment and requiring constant attention. We thoroughly support this benefit. Again, this proposal was contained in the publication ‘The Way Ahead’ published by the Opposition parties in April-May of this year. As I have said, we thoroughly support this new and novel benefit. I thank the Minister and his staff for giving me a short paper which deals with the administration procedures to be followed in respect of claims made for this benefit. The Minister will remember that I asked for this information when I sought the adjournment of the debate last week after the Minister had delivered his second reading speech. This information is not generally available to members of the House. However, it states:
When the claim form is received by the Department it will be referred to an Australian Government Medical Officer who will examine the child and certify whether or not in his opinion the child is handicapped to a degree that qualifies for the payment of the allownace
What is the test applied by that doctor? It goes on to state:
In practice the medical test for severe handicap will be on the basis that if the condition remained unchanged the child would be likely to qualify for invalid pension on attaining 1 6 years of age.
I would like to point out that that is a rather stringent test. The memorandum goes on to state that this will be flexible. I sympathise with the Department and the Minister because this is a relatively new benefit and I would hope that in practice it is administered with great sympathy and flexibility rather than with severity. I would think that that test would be too severe for justice to be served.
One wonders too how an autistic or hyperactive child would be regarded under that test. One would think that it would be doubtful whether an autistic or hyperactive child would be considered ‘sick’ enough to qualify for an invalid pension at the age of 16 years. But those of us who have had experience with such children know that a family with such a child quite often desperately needs the kind of assistance that is envisaged in this Bill. One wonders in those cases whether the parents or guardians of such children will be disqualified from receiving benefit. Again I make an appeal on behalf of the Opposition for the Government to administer this benefit with sympathy.
The Bill also introduces an incentive allowance for disabled people employed in sheltered workshops so that their earnings do not cause an immediate reduction in other allowances. This incentive allowance of $5 a week is paid in lieu of supplementary assistance and will be free of a means test. We would thoroughly agree with this proposal. Again this is a direct steal from the Liberal-Country Party policy contained in ‘The Way Ahead’ announced in April-May where the whole emphasis of our policies was to give incentive to these people to become meaningful citizens in the community. I would have liked to have seen an announcement by the Minister such as that contained in our policy document ‘The Way Ahead’ that the Government was looking at ways of giving incentives to factories to employ handicapped people. It is good that an incentive allowance is to be paid in respect of disabled people employed in sheltered workshops. But in our view that is not the end of the story because direct encouragement should be given to industry to employ these people. They should not only be encouraged to work in sheltered workshops but at a certain stage they should be able to go out into the community like everyone else and take their place side by side with other members of the work force who are not so handicapped.
The Bill seeks the abolition of a residence qualification for invalid pensioners where permanent incapacity or blindness occurred in Australia. We thoroughly agree with that reform. Further, the Bill proposes an easing of residence qualifications for women who apply for a widow’s pension or a supporting mother’s benefit. We agree with that. The Bill also seeks to extend the Mother’s allowance and the additional pension for children to Class B widows who have the custody, care and control of any child. We agree with that. It also seeks to extend the benefits to de facto wives of unemployment and sickness beneficiaries on a basis similar to that of de facto wives of pensioners. We agree with that.
The Bill proposes the removal of the anachronistic sections of the Social Services Act which refer to the needs for beneficiaries to be of good character or deserving of a pension. We agree with that. One would have thought that the Minister, who constantly seems obsessed with our policies, had just read that reference in ‘The Way Ahead ‘ which states:
We must look at social welfare in a wider context than that of dispensing charity to the disadvantaged. The Liberal and Country Parties will work to remove the stigma attached to people in receipt of assistance to ensure that they do not feel like ‘ patients ‘, or people receiving ‘ handouts ‘.
– Is that the stigma your Party created?
-The Minister is still obsessed with the past. I wonder why someone behind him does not tell him that this is 1974. His Government has been in office for 2 disastrous years, has rent this nation, created chaos and has disadvantaged old people, young people and every section of the community. Will he please stop looking backwards? Will he please bring forward a diagnosis of today’s situation which his Government has created, and do something about the future? Forget the past- that was years ago. Today we are in 1974, and the Opposition has policies that will be acceptable to the Australian people.
The Bill also provides for the payment to handicapped children undergoing vocational training as part of their rehabilitation of new rates of allowance comparable to those paid under the national employment and training scheme. We would agree with that and a number of other minor changes necessitated by the abolition of radio listeners’ and television viewers’ licences. I mentioned that we are critical of this Bill not for what it contains but for what it does not contain. For example, has the Minister considered the proposition raised in the joint Opposition Parties policy document entitled ‘The Way Ahead’ that the maternity allowance for the first child should be doubled to $60? Does he not concede that that is desirable in today’s society?
– It has not been changed since 1943.
– How long were you in office during that period?
-The honourable member for Corio is also obsessed with the past. I would like to tell him that times change and circumstances change. The title of the Opposition policy booklet is ‘The Way Ahead’. We on this side of the House are now looking to the future, to the way ahead, not delving into the past, going back to 1943. I thought that the interjection by the honourable member for Corio was pathetic in a debate on a Social Services Bill in 1974. If that is the best he can do by way of interjection I suggest that he consider not interjecting again. Does the Minister not agree that in these times when the great majority of wives continue to work after they are married, and when young couples make commitments, buy television sets and furniture and borrow heavily to buy a home -
– Not these days.
-The honourable member says: ‘Not these days’. That is quite right. I dealt with that earlier. It is not possible for them to do it. But they go ahead budgeting, and if a child arrives whether planned or not, that first child imposes a massive burden. The family suffers the loss of an income. At the outset both husband and wife would have been working but once the wife becomes pregnant only the husband would have continued working and the wife’s income would have been lost. What about the costs involved with a first child? One only has to mention the pram, the bassinet, the clothing and the enormous medical expenses. I believe that we should be considering people in that situation and that we should at least double the maternity allowance for the first child.
We would like to see a survey conducted into the leisure needs of elderly people, and the needs of the unemployed youth, whose numbers will be so great in January and February next year that they will represent a very difficult social problem. We would like to see meals on wheels services extended. We would like to see home care for the elderly expanded, and so on. What action has the Government taken on the Henderson report?
The report recommended massive changes in child endowment. What has the Government done about that? Is it waiting for the November report? The Government has given no indication of its intentions.
– Do you support the Henderson proposal on child endowment?
-We have the question of child endowment under deep study. We are now investigating the possibility of means testing it by making it taxable. We are also investigating increasing certain payments. What is the Government doing in this area? What are its thoughts on child endowment? What are its thoughts on imposing a means test so that the endowment goes to those people who really need it? Has it any ideas in this area on which Henderson has placed a high priority? Why has the Government not abolished the 7-day waiting period for the payment of unemployment and sickness benefits? This is part of Liberal and Country Party policy. We are committed to do that. The Minister smiles, but a smile is not a good enough answer. I have been told by every responsible social welfare organisation in the country that this is an area of need. There are mechanical problems associated with it.
The Minister, instead of smirking or smiling, should note that action in the area of child endowment has been recommended by the Henderson Committee and by all responsible social welfare organisations. Why does he not say that administrative difficulties stand in the way, if this is so? Why does he not say that the Government has examined them? Is there any basic reason why a person sacked from bis job- unhappily under this Government’s policies the number of people in that situation is increasing- should have to wait a week before he gets any relief? I would have thought that a Government should have the wit and ability to devise a system whereby that waiting period could be abolished. I know that there are dangers that such a system could be abused. Maybe the welfare organisations could be deputed as agents to pay the money out in trust and then substantiate their claims with the Department of Social Security. The Henderson Committee has indicated that a great number of low income earners on the breadline with a wife and several children to support and who are suddenly sacked can experience deep hardship in the week following their sacking. What is the Government doing about the mother’s or guardian’s allowance? The Henderson report recommended that it be increased to $8. It is still $4.
In conclusion, might I say that the real need for the aged is to safeguard the retired people and to preserve the value of their earnings and savings. Is the Government doing this? Has the Government in its 2 years of office preserved the savings and incomes of aged people or has it allowed them to be eroded? Yesterday I asked the Prime Minister whether, because of the astronomical rise in the cost of living in the last quarter, he would shift from the Government’s undertaking not to increase pensions until autumn, which will be March, April and May of next year. Since the Government last increased pensions there has been a 5.4 per cent increase in the cost of living. Is there to be another similar increase in the cost of living next quarter? If so, will the Government do nothing to recompense pensioners for that?
Much is made of the promise that the Labor Party will increase pensions to 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. This is absolute rubbish. Earlier this year the Government gave a massive increase of $5 a week to pensioners and for a few days the new pension of $3 1 represented 24 per cent of average weekly earnings in the June quarter. But the increase did not take effect until the September quarter, and by then average weekly earnings had risen, on a conservative guess, by a further 6 per cent to $134 a week. At the time that the $31 was paid it was worth only 23 per cent of average weekly earnings. The Budget indicates that average weekly earnings will increase by 22.5 per cent in 1974-75. The increase could well be higher if the Government introduces wage indexation on top of the current rates of inflation. By the June quarter of 1975 therefore average weekly earnings will be more than $155 and the $31 a week pension will be less than 20 per cent of average weekly earnings.
I do not have the services of departmental spokesmen sitting in the chamber. I do not have any research officers. However, competent officers of the Department of Social Securities are sitting in this House now ready to advise the Minister. I challenge him to deny that figurethat by autumn of next year, when he increases pensions again, pensions as a percentage of average weekly earnings will be lower than 20 per cent, which makes his promise -
– I will give you the evidence later.
– Which breaks another promise by the Government. It is just no good denying it. I would like the Minister to respond in a responsible way to the figures I have just given. The increase needed by that time to bring the pension up to 25 per cent will be at least $8 and when it does get to $8 the Minister will be forced to pay it and then will come into this House and big note himself and his Government, saying that this is the biggest pension increase ever granted in the history of Australia. Well, it would be, and why the hell should it not be, if inflation now is higher than at any time during the last 20 years?
The Minister is regarded as being one of the heavies in Cabinet. One wonders whether he is when one looks at figures. In the 1973-74 Budget the increase in social security and welfare payments was 18.4 per cent; the overall expenditure in all of the other items was 20.2 per cent. No matter how much the Minister comes into this House and says: ‘Look what we are doing in the area of social welfare’, what he got for his Department in Cabinet in the Budget was less than the Minister for Tourism and Recreation got. Does this Government regard building toilets on a cricket field or sponsoring a tour of some obscure sporting group from Perth to Sydney as being more important and having higher regard than the lot of the pensioners?
To be fair, in the 1974-75 Budget the increase in social security and welfare payments was 38 per cent, but nevertheless it was less than the increase for education, for urban and regional development, for culture- whatever that means, and we know that there have been massive increases in expenditure in the name of culture in recent times- and indeed for recreation. Recreation, this pork-barrelling that is going around the country- is that more important than the Government concerning itself with the lot of the poor? The poor are the worst hit by inflation in this country and they should get a higher priority than urban and regional development, than buying paintings at $lm each, than obscure sports meetings all round the country.
As I said at the beginning, the Opposition supports the provisions of this Bill but it criticises the Government very heavily for what is not in the Bill, because it is conscious that many pensioners have been subjected recently to significant tax increases, both direct and indirect. Many pensioners will be hard hit by the property earnings surcharge. The Government has reneged on its promise to abolish the means test. It has deferred that promise. The capital gains tax which has been introduced on estates will worry many elderly people. The Opposition asks the Government, asks the Minister, to look at these areas of social need which the Opposition has pointed to and to see if the Minister can give the House some indication of future Government policy on them.
-Mr Speaker, we have just listened to what must be the most incredible speech that has ever been made in this House. If I may say, I am rather shocked, in view of the honourable member’s background, that he should consider that it is a waste of Government money and an unsupportable priority that money should be made available to provide recreation facilities for young people in the community so that they can be occupied in healthy sport and recreation rather than wandering the streets or being captured in the corridors of high rise flats, as they were under the honourable member’s government and under the Liberal Party Government of Victoria. I am absolutely shocked that an honourable member should make that sort of statement. The honourable member gets terribly upset when we refer to the past, and I do not blame him for that, because he was a member of a government which for 23 years did absolutely nothing about the maternity allowance, about child endowment for the first and second children which had not been adjusted since the previous Labor Government was in office in the 1 940s. He was a member of a government which did nothing, despite repeated pleas by members of this House, including yourself, Mr Deputy Speaker, for a special pension for orphans. Now he stands in this House and complains that where nothing was sufficient 2 years ago $ 1 1 is not sufficient now. I do not know how many multiples of nothing you provide before you get past nothing. My arithmetic says that nothing plus nothing equals nothing, and that is exactly what the orphans would have got under the Liberals. In Victoria and in most of the other States that is exactly what orphans have received.
I have a table here which does no credit to any State government in Australia, and I do not make distinctions between the parties on this. In Victoria, for State wards cared for by foster parents this Government has provided an orphan pension of $10 which is in the nature of a child endowment type payment to those people to assist with the care of orphans. We have the Victorian Premier reaching his hand into the pockets of these children and stealing the $10 like a thief in the night and his colleagues in other States are doing exactly the same thing. The money is going straight into State Treasuries; not one cent of it goes to help these people. The Liberal Party ought to talk about its social welfare conscience!
I hope that what the honourable member is saying is in fact the policy of a future Liberal government, but I have doubts, because I have also a memory of what the Parliamentary Liberal Party does about its policies. I can remember well the day after the Liberal Party adopted at its federal conference as federal policy that equal pay should be paid for equal work. An amendment to the Public Service Act was moved in this House one day after it adopted that policy and every member of the Parliamentary Liberal Party, which was professing that as a policy, voted against the provision of that reform. So much for its policy.
Another remark was made about the first 7 days unemployment benefit. In my electorate the Liberal State members are spending all of their time decrying the fact that people are getting unemployment benefit and are calling them bludgers. There is no suggestion that the benefit should be paid for the first 7 days. What the State Liberal members are demanding is that they not be paid at all. The speaker who will follow me, the former Minister for Social Services, during a State Electricity Commission strike in Victoria denied unemployment benefit to 6,000 people in my electorate and said that their families could starve as far as he was concerned because one member of their union was involved in a strike over 100 miles away in which they had no say whatsoever. He did this on a pretext which I believe was contrary to the Social Services Act, but nevertheless he quoted as his authority a very eminent former lawyer who led his party at one time. He knows more about the law than I do, but I still think it was illegal.
This Budget provides new initiatives in social services. The honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp) made a number of remarks about the allowance for handicapped children. I hope that the test on this is administered very liberally, and I mean that in a small ‘ 1 ‘ context. I hope also that the money is paid to the handicapped children and does not become another form of revenue taxed to the extent of 100 per cent by the State governments, because that is the evidence. The honourable member for Hotham also mentioned housing and said that the supplementary assistance should be increased. I think he is aware, as every Victorian member is aware, that every time the supplementary assistance is increased the Victorian Government increases the rents of pensioners and takes every cent of it. It takes also the increases in pensions that are granted in substantial amounts so that pensioners living in Housing Commission accommodation in Victoria find it very difficult to get any benefit whatsoever from amounts paid to them as additional benefits by this Government.
Recently the Premier of Victoria was asked if he was prepared to provide any assistance to pensioners who would be affected by substantial Board of Works rates in that State. His response was: ‘I will ask the Federal Government if it will put up the pension. ‘ That was his response. That was all the Victorian Government was prepared to do to assist. It would be clear to anyone who examines the record of that Government in this field that if the pensions were put up, as the Premier suggested, the rates would go up so that that money could be collected not only from the people paying rent who already have their increased pensions confiscated by the State Government, but also from the home owners.
In any situation it is desirable to increase the amounts paid to the unfortunate in our community. I hope that there never will be a situation in which members of this Parliament are happy about the benefits paid to those who are unfortunate. I doubt whether we will ever reach a situation in which the payments made will satisfy the supporters of the Government let alone members of the Opposition. I remember what happened on the first night I spent in this Parliament. The then Treasurer gave the pensioners a great big dose of sympathy but not one red cent. He just gave them sympathy. I remember the large campaigns which were conducted just before the demise of the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton) as Prime Minister about the Budget of that year and what was not given to the pensioners. The honourable member for Hotham was a member of the then Government, but I did not hear his protestations at that time. I believe that his association with social welfare and with people in this area has most likely awakened him to the needs, but I do not believe that it has awakened the leadership of his Party to those needs. The honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) tried hard in the social services field- I pay him due credit for doing so- but he had to compete with the other interests of budgetary policy and he did not get anything near what he hoped to get for the people in need.
It is one thing to enter into a debate on a specific Bill- we heard the same thing said in the pensions debate- and go through a long list of items on which one considers the Government should increase expenditure, but it should be remembered that when the honourable member for Hotham talked about percentage increases in expenditure on the arts and percentage increases in expenditure on tourism and recreation, that he was talking about total amounts of around $20m or $2Sm and that when he talked about percentage increases in expenditure on social services he was talking about amounts of thousands of millions of dollars. Since the introduction of the Budget, of which these proposals are a part, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch) and the Leader of the Opposition have constantly demanded not only in this place but also outside that there be cuts in Government spending of up to $2,000m, but they have not indicated where those cuts should be made. I assume that if what the honourable member for Hotham says is the policy of the Liberal-Country Party coalition were to be carried out, as he said, immediately upon its assumption of office, we can add another $ 1,000m to the expenditure on social welfare because that is the sort of money he was talking about this afternoon. What he has proposed this afternoon would cost out at $ 1,000m. That and the cuts of $2,000m would account for 25 per cent of the budgetary estimates for this year.
Would the Liberal-Country Party coalition take it from the States, which get most of the money provided for in the Budget? Would it take the money from the field of education? I think that is the area from which some of the money would come because it has been made obvious by members of the Opposition that they are not happy about money being spent on education. Would the Liberal-Country Party coalition take the money from the health field, which is fast running into a chaotic situation? If it intends going back to the proposition it put forward of maintaining the private health funds it will have to pour many millions of dollars into that area. Is it going to get money by imposing increased taxes on mining companies? Not likely. Election funds are more important than equity in that field and the Liberal and Country Parties have promised the mining industry $100m to $200m in benefits in the form of special tax concessions. Are they going to tax the farmers further? Not likely. Where is the Liberal-Country Party coalition going to find the $3,000m it has promised? Where will it cut that sum? It is hypocritical for a group of honourable members to sit on the Opposition benches and suggest that they will increase benefits in isolation while their spokesmen on economic matters are standing in the same House and saying that they are going to make massive cuts in total government spending. Members of the Opposition cannot have it both ways. They can either increase spending or reduce it, but they cannot have one set of spokesmen saying one thing and another set saying another thing.
Like the honourable member for Hotham, I suggest that there are numbers of new benefits which should be developed and introduced by the Government. One of the areas in which I hope some action will be taken in the not too distant future is in relation to the amount of allowable earnings for people in receipt of the age pension. Because of the rate of inflation I believe that, despite the increases in pension rates, the limit on the amount allowed to be earned by pensioners who are willing to go out and earn something for themselves or who are capable of doing so- it should be remembered that there are many people who are willing to work but who are unable to do so- should be reviewed. There should be some alteration in that regard. I do not think that it would be very difficult to do so nor do I think that it would cost the Government much.
Another area in which I believe some action ought to be contemplated or attempted is the application of the means test to the provision of pensioner medical cards. I think that some effort should be made to renegotiate that means test with the Australian Medical Association. I realise that it is an extremely difficult area of negotiation and that the AMA has remained almost static on this matter over a period of years, but I would hope that some approach could be made on this matter so that the non-receipt of this benefit by some pensioners will not continue. It is a serious loss especially to a person who is ill. I hope that humanitarian rather than monetary considerations will result in this situation being corrected.
One other area in which it seems to me that action should be taken is the area of assisting widows with children. It does not appear to me that sufficient cognisance is taken of the very high expenses involved in children attending high school. This is nothing new; some alterations have been made in this field. When a person depends on a pension of any kind, the child is very severely disadvantaged, even though educational and other benefits may be provided. This is a social welfare area and some serious examination should be undertaken of the means by which such children can be placed on the same basis as other children.
As I said at the outset, it is not difficult to find areas in which social service benefits should be improved. I understand that the honourable member for Mackellar intends to deal specifically with one area. I wonder whether it is not beyond his very broad vision to find 100 such areas to which benefits should be extended. However, given the economic circumstances which exist at present and acknowledging the demands of the Opposition, which it forgets in debates like this, for reduced government spending, I believe that the Government must seek to introduce those new benefits which it aims to introduce in a rational and orderly manner. That will not satisfy the needs of many sections of the community. It certainly will not satisfy the wishes and aims of the majority of members of this Parliament, whether they be supporters of the Government or members of the Opposition, and I do not believe that anyone in this Parliament genuinely begrudges the giving of assistance to those in need. But responsibility demands that we must set priorities. Whether those priorities are right or wrong is a matter for individual or collective judgment.
To highlight a particular area and to suggest that that area and that area alone should receive special treatment at a time when one is setting priorities, is to be a little unfair. I hope that the honourable member for Mackellar will not pursue his foreshadowed proposition. I do not think that there is any honourable member who does not agree with his proposition that a supporting father needs assistance. I do not dispute it, but I do think that it is a little unfair to propose it in isolation. One could ask whether the Opposition would be prepared to swap the handicapped children’s allowance for this proposition it has advanced because those are the sorts of priorities with which any Minister, no matter from which area of politics he comes, is confronted when he must prepare a budget. He is given certain sums of money and he has certain fixed commitments to meet. It is all right to say that the Minister should do this and should do that. Every personthe honourable member for Hotham has been a Minister- is aware that when Budget allocations are made no Minister gets all that he requires. It usually happens that, if he has done very well one year, in the next year he will have more difficulty in justifying increases than before.
It is also unfair to make a comparison by reference to the Department of Urban and Regional Development. This is a new Department, established only 2 years ago. Its Budget allocation last year would have been lower than its normal requirements, as the Department then was not even fully set up. To say that the percentage increase in funds allocated to it this year as against last year is greater than the percentage increase in funds appropriated to the Department of Social Security in the same period is to use a debating technique rather than to deal with matters of reality.
I support the proposals in this Bill. I think that they are well put together. Many areas of social services are left still to be tackled. These proposals leave many needs still to be met and completed. But, in the context of the Budget, which because of economic circumstances had to be drawn as it was, the moneys available for social service purposes lead me to claim that it is a reasonable Budget and that this Bill is one which, I believe, every member of the House should support.
Mr CHIPP (Hotham)-I wish to make a personal explanation.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Luchetti)Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. I have been misrepresented by the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes). He said that I stated in my speech on this Bill that it was a waste to spend money on sport and recreation. I said no such thing. What I did say was that the increases in the area of social security in the last 2 years were less than the increases in other areas, including sport and recreation. I then went on to say that at a time of raging inflation I thought it was more appropriate to give higher priority to the poor and the sick than to spend money on cricket pitches and the like.
Mr SCHOLES (Corio)-I also wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable gentleman claim to have been misrepresented?
-Yes. The honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp) described the matters which he mentioned as pork barrelling and that in my opinion is a statement alleging the wasting of money.
– I move:
I know that when those representing the supporting fathers organisation were in Canberra a couple of months ago they saw many members on both sides of the House. Many of those members promised to support them in their request which is what is incorporated in the amendment that I have moved. I will refer to it in more detail later.
At this point, let me say that, in spite of moving this amendment, I very much support everything in the Bill. I am not trying to criticise any part of what is in the Bill. I join with the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp) in criticising rather what it leaves undone. I think it is rather unfair of the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) to take the sanctimonious line that he adopts by saying: ‘You were the Government for 23 years. Why did you not do this, that or the other?’ While we were the Government, we brought in consistent improvements in the whole social services structure. Certainly in the years when I was Minister for Social Services there was a continuous improvement. We did not do everything that we would want to do. But I believe that social services should be continuously improved. As the standard of living of the community rises and as its productive facilities increase, so concurrently can we raise from time to time the whole structure of our social services. The fact that we did not do everything then is no criticism at all. This is the type of sanctimonious nonsense that the Minister seems to emit at the slightest provocation.
The amendment that I have moved embodies by no means the only provision that I believe should be incorporated in this Bill. What it proposes represents the next action that would have been taken if I had remained Minister and we had remained the Government. It was the next cab off the rank. I am distressed now that for nearly 2 years the Government has done nothing about it. Its introduction is overdue. This is what we would have done next in our general plan to improve the structure of social services. One does not seek to amend the whole of the Bill. One knows that there must be limits perhaps even now, although the financial limits are by no means as stringent as they were two or three months ago. One does not propose to do at once everything that one would like to do. But surely this small provision can be made. Surely the Minister’s pride is not so great that he cannot bend a little. Surely there is someone in Caucuseven in the Labor Caucus- who is not entirely inflexible and who knows that this is the right action to take. If so many honourable members on the Government side promised the supporting fathers representatives when they came to Canberra that they would help them, surely they will be grateful for the opportunity to vote here in the House tonight and to make their words good.
I have said that I regard some parts of this Bill, other than the omission with respect to widowers, with considerable satisfaction. I do so firstly because they embody the proposals made by our Party and put out officially by it. I do not in any sense denigrate the Minister for stealing our proposals; that is not the point. The point is not who introduces these proposals; the point is that they should be introduced. Do not let us try to compete and to make pensions a political football.
I am glad that our policy has been adopted. I do not use any denigrating terms about anybody stealing it. We are glad. It may well have been Labor Party policy too. I am especially glad that some of the proposals in this Bill represent the unfinished business that I left when I ceased to be Minister. I am glad that the present Minister has had access to some of the proposals which I suggested at that stage, and which he knew were then in the pipeline, and that they are adopted. I am happy also that one of my notices of motion for discussion as General Business has been anticipated to some extent. I proposed to ask for a reconsideration of the means test on supplementary assistance. The most, but not the only, vicious part of that means test was the way it bore against sheltered workshops. One of the proposals in this Bill is to amend that position to some extent but not entirely.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.
-As I was saying before the suspension of the sitting, this Bill deals with a number of minor matters, each one of which is well worthy of support and some of which do not go far enough. It is not, of course, a case of priorities in the same sense as it was a couple of months ago because we have moved now from an excess demand to a deficit demand situation. As I said in another place at another time, the liquidity of the banking system will require further bolstering if we are to avoid squeezes and bankruptcy. One of the ways of doing this- not the only one but in some respects a good one- is by increasing the federal deficit. I do not think that the increases in social services payments would have undesirable side effects in that regard.
Some of these proposals in this Bill are not as generous as they look. For example, let me take the raising of the child’s allowance from $5 to $5.50. This is a 10 per cent increase, but to get back to the real purchasing power and what was the real value when the Liberal-Country Party government went out of office would require an increase of at least 40 per cent. So even with this new 50c, the child’s allowance in terms of purchasing power will be far below what it was when we were in office. If the Minister only wanted to maintain the status quo he would have to increase it not from $5 to $5.50 but from $5 to $7. With Supplementary Assistance the 25 per cent increase from $4 to $5 in the basic rate again will not compensate for the rise in costs, so that people on supplementary assistance will not on the whole be better off but worse off. The Minister has failed to maintain the status quo; he has gone back. It is not as good as it used to be and, whereas we ought to have social services moving forward, in this respect they have moved back. Indeed, I am by no means certain that what the Minister is going to spend on Supplementary Assistance swings he will not save on the roundabouts because there is this hidden little barb in his proposals that Supplementary Assistance shall not exceed the rent paid. I know that existing pensioners are not to be penalised under the Bill and I do not say that the Minister’s policy is wrong, but he has covered up some features of it and has rather tended, I am afraid, to deceive the pensioners. There is a takeaway as well as a give in the Minister’s proposals.
Indeed, the basic pension rate is not as good as the Minister would have us believe. A few moments ago the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp) drew attention to this aspect. With the slide in real values and the rise in prices, by the next time we come for an adjustment the basic pension rate as a proportion of average weekly earnings will be down to about what it was when the Liberal Government went out of office and perhaps even below. It is a little hard to forecast future rises in prices but I will be publishing, I hope in the near future, some detailed statistical information in regard to this and I can assure the House that I have some substantial backing for what I am saying now. The basic pension rate which the Minister boasts of is by no means as good as he would have it.
As I have said, this miscellaneous collection of social service benefits, each of them good, adds up to something like $20m for this year. That is not very much in the total Budget expenditure and I think it is rather ungenerous considering that the basic rate as a proportion of average weekly earnings has not gone up much and some social services are losing in value. As I think the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) pointed out, by reason of the rising prices in some respects the means test on pensioners is now even more restrictive than it used to be.
I suppose I can mention- although I am now talking about things of a different order of magnitudethe major defects in our social service structure, the ones which the previous Government was progressively curing but which still seem to be untouched. Particularly, of course, there is the position of the young and forming family. I was interested to hear, I think it was the honourable member for Corio, talking about family endowment for the first child. He may not remember that this was brought in by the Liberal government in the teeth of quite determined opposition from the Labor Party at the time.. That was in 1950. The Labor Party in its policy would have given nothing and it fought us tooth and nail when we proposed to endow the first child.
I think we should be doing something about the rates and taxes and other outgoings for pensioners who own their own homes, not perhaps by way of grant but in the way that it is done in the United Kingdom, for example- by making financial accommodation available to them and leaving the repayment until after death or, indeed, until after the death of the last survivor of a married couple. This is something which I believe could be done now without any great expense. I have a question on the notice paper about the means test for invalid and widow pensioners. I will not go into this in detail now but I point out that this is intimately tied up with a proper scheme for national compensation. It is rather imprudent of the Government to have a compensation Bill before the House without fixing up at the same time this anomalous position of the means test as it presses on invalid and widow pensioners.
There is also the loss of momentum in the aged persons homes provision. Pensioners have many needs, but on the whole I should think that their greatest need is proper accommodation at a low price. The previous Government created and was carrying forward at an accelerating pace the aged persons homes scheme. That has lost momentum and the statistics will show the extent to which it has lost momentum under this Government. Here again, the Government has tended to cheat the age pensioner without making clear what it is doing. It has slurred over its deficiencies and trumpeted about its so-called generosity which, when one comes to analyse it, does not amount to very much because all that it is giving, great in money terms as it is, has been eroded away and sometimes more than eroded away by the rise in prices and in average earnings which has worsened the comparative status of the pensioner.
I come now to the amendment which I have moved and which I hope the House will carry. I will not repeat what I said on Thursday morning during private members business when I moved a motion in regard to this matter. I thought it was rather mean and underhand of the Government to endeavour to sidetrack that motion by a rather transparent device. I am glad that now we are bringing this specific question to a vote. We have, I think, got round the rather devious tricks of the Government and we are bringing the thing out into the open honestly as it should be and people can vote on it one way or the other.
The cost of this proposal is not altogether certain. The Minister has given a cost of $3Sm in a full year. My own view- I say this after having had some experience in the Department and having had access to the relevant figures- is that the cost would be more in the order of $20m in a full year. Neither the Minister nor myself can give actual specific details of how this can be costed, because the cost will depend upon the decision which widowers make as to whether they will take advantage of this or whether they will be ruled out by the operation of the means test. As I have said, there is a genuine area of uncertainty here. I put the cost at $20m for a full yearprobably $10m or $ 11m for this year- and the Minister puts the cost considerably higher at $35m for the full year and perhaps $20m to $22m for this year. If it were made taxable, as it well might be, one could deduct at least 33 per cent from those amounts that have been given either by the Minister or myself. So, I am not talking about any big sum of money. I am talking about the necessity to plug what is a relatively small but very grievous gap in our whole structure of social services.
The Minister can say what he likes. He can ask why we did not do it and so on. I can assure him that we were doing things from time to time. Very many of them, as he well knows, he tried to stigmatise as categorisation. I think he is a little sorry he used that word now, but it seemed to tip off his tongue at the time. We had a number of progressive measures and this one was the next cab off the rank. It is getting on for 2 years overdue. What we are proposing, of course, is not a final scheme but it is what the Supporting Fathers Association asked for as a first step, and as such those members who have made promises to representatives of the Association when they came to see them here can now show by their votes in this House whether they are men of their word. It will be simple and it will be illustrative to see which members of the Labor Party who have given pledges to get votes will now cross the floor and vote on a social service matter in accordance with their conscience.
– You did not have any conscience when you were in government.
-That is a very illustrative interjection.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired. Is the amendment seconded?
- Mr Chipp signed the paper.
– I second the amendment Mr Speaker.
-The Social Services Bill (No. 3) 1974 has about a dozen different new measures in it. If I had time I should like to deal with the general welfare philosophy and the achievements of this Government, the sorts of things we still have to do and so forth, but I shall concentrate on two or three specific things. Before I do so perhaps I should respond to the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) and his amendment. Apart from the fact that the honourable member when in government never crossed the floor to express his opinion- one would not expect that to happen- when he did not get his way within his Party, I do not think the Opposition can expect to be able to alter a Budget item.
– It is all right for you to alter it a week afterwards.
-That is exactly right. We are the Government Party. The Government may alter the Budget. It is the Government which gets the appropriation from the Governor-General. The Opposition is quite entitled to oppose things, make suggestions and so forth. I am glad it does from time to time. But to suggest that the Opposition ought to initiate a new expenditure is naturally not on in the same way as the Senate cannot introduce or amend money Bills.
Of course one supports the principle of a supporting fathers benefit. Let me point out to the House that this Government has gone more than halfway towards this, which is more than the previous Government did, in that a special benefit is available to supporting fathers. I am not suggesting that this is equivalent to a widow’s pension or a supporting mother’s benefit. I should like to see the guardian’s allowance payable on special benefit. That would make it equivalent to widow’s pension or a supporting mother’s benefit, apart from the fact that a special benefit has a much more stringent means test attached to it. I think that the honourable member for Mackellar is aware that the Government is developing a guaranteed minimum income scheme. We hope that this will not take too long. It ought not to be suggested that we introduce something new that may well be overtaken by something else within a few months.
The honourable member for Mackellar also made the point that there was an expenditure of only $20m in this Bill. I think he will find that there is a lot more than that. What he ignores is that this Bill is Social Services Bill (No. 3) 1974 and that the major expenditure which would have been in this Bill in the normal course of events arising out of the Budget is the pension increase for this part of the year which was, of course, granted earlier than the Budget. It was granted in the July Bill 2 months earlier than is normal and hence does not show up in the total amount of expenditure in this Bill. There are a lot of other things about which I would not necessarily argue with the honourable member but to which I should have liked to respond if I had more time. One was the nursing home benefit situation which we have now corrected by a second increase within less than 3 months.
I should now like to refer to the points on which I want to concentrate in the Bill. The first one is the handicapped child’s allowance. I am sure that the allowance which, as honourable members will be aware, is $10 a week to the parents of guardians of physically or mentally handicapped children who are cared for in the family environment, will meet with wide approval. The allowance was announced by the Treasurer (Mr Crean) in the Budget. Further details have now been decided on. I think the estimate was made that there could be 20,000 handicapped children in Australia who would qualify for this allowance. I suspect we will find that this is an under-estimation. Even though we do not welcome the fact that there are this number of handicapped children, I think one of the side benefits of this allowance will be to bring many of the handicapped children in the community more out into the open and let the Government know about them. The problem is that no statistics are available. There has been no registration even of handicaps showing up at birth. The Government and the medical profession are trying to get this sort of register established but it will probably take 10 years for it to be done. Apart from the general advantage of the benefit is the side advantage of a means of registration of handicapped children. I do not think this was thought of at the time the introduction of the benefit was considered. But I see it as a benefit because there is a great need to know the numbers not only of those who need extra financial support but also of those who need the day training centres and perhaps even those who will need institutional care in several years time.
Perhaps it is necessary- because there has been a lot of worry by parents of handicapped children about just what will be the eligibility requirement for this allowance- to emphasise that attendance by the handicapped child at a day school or day training centre will not affect the eligibility for payment of the handicapped child’s allowance. The main basis of assessing eligibility will be that the child’s handicap is such that constant care and attention are necessary. The $10 a week will be paid without means test and will not be treated as income in assessing other social service benefits. The payment is designed to assist parents who have to provide constant care for a handicapped child under 16 years, at which age he or she might be expected to qualify for an invalid pension.
I think the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp) earlier in this debate suggested that that is being too restrictive. I do not think it will be. We are talking about a handicap at a level which, without any improvement in the child by the time he reached 16 years, would qualify him for an invalid pension. It is not a matter of making a forecast as to whether during the next, say, 10 years from the time the handicap appeared until the age of 16 the handicap might disappear; the assessment is to be made at the time of the application and the allowance is to be paid on the basis that, if the handicap did not alter, the . child would be eligible for an invalid pension at 16 years.
Another question is: Is it right to provide someone with an allowance which he would lose when he attained 16 years of age if he did not qualify for an invalid pension? I think there must be some sort of relationship between the 2 payments. The idea of the allowance is to assist those parents who prefer to provide attention for the child at home rather than place him in an institution. The allowance will give some compensation for them and will help in meeting the extra costs involved. The allowance might be used to obtain services which will afford some relief from the stresses that are experienced, especially by the mother, in these situations. Extra equipment, special clothing or whatever, may be needed apart from the necessity perhaps of having a more specialised baby sitting service than might be needed for the normal child.
As the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) said in his second reading speech, the allowance should be seen in the context of our broad program of education, training and general welfare for handicapped children being developed by the Government. The new allowance should be seen as supplementary. Parents who care for a handicapped child at home will be encouraged to take full advantage of the facilities already available in the community and being made available. I want to make it clear that attendance of a handicapped child at a day school or day training centre will not prevent his or her parents being eligible to receive the allowance. The main basis of assessment of eligibility will be that the child’s handicap is such that constant care and attention are necessary.
The administrative procedures for dealing with claims for the handicapped child’s allowance have not been finalised in every detail, but I think for the benefit of those who are concerned about whether they might be eligible it would be worth while putting on record a broad indication of the policy pattern that it is intended to adopt. Firstly, application forms will be readily available, not only from the State and regional offices of the Department of Social Security but probably also from the voluntary organisations which are likely to have close contact with parents in this field. The application form will be completed by the parent or guardian claiming the allowance. As this form will be checked against child endowment records and payments will be related to child endowment, personal details will be kept to a rninimum. The parent may be asked to supply information concerning the nature and extent of the care and attention that is provided in the home and the name and address of any school that the child is attending.
– I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is customary during a debate in this place to have a Minister in the chamber and sitting at the table, particularly the Minister dealing with the subject matter of the debate. There is not one Minister in this chamber at the moment.
– The Minister is not well. He had to leave the chamber.
– I ask the honourable member for Robertson whether he would go to get another Minister to sit at the table.
– He is indisposed.
– I am not talking about the Minister for Social Security; any Minister will do. The honourable member for Wimmera is quite right.
– I was outlining the procedures that will apply for the payment of the handicapped child’s allowance. It may be necessary to supply the name and address of any special school or day training centre that the child is attending and the names of medical practitioners who have recently attended the child. This perhaps will enable the grant of the allowance to be made even without actual examination of the child. That may be possible after the scheme has begun. The medical practitioner might be contacted directly to assure the Department that the child would be eligible. The application form will also include an authorisation by the claimant for the Department to make such inquiries as are considered necessary to establish entitlement to the allowance.
The form, when received by the Department, will be referred to an Australian Government medical officer who will examine the child and certify whether in his opinion the child is handicapped to a degree that would qualify the parent for the allowance. In practice, the medical test to determine severe handicap will be satisfied if the handicap is such that if the condition remained unchanged the child would be likely to qualify for an invalid pension on attaining 16 years of age. Where necessary specialist medical opinion may be obtained. I think this provision for seeking the opinion of, say, specialist pediatricians, pediatric surgeons and so forth, will enable a better assessment than merely the opinion of a general medical practitioner who may see only one or two cases of such handicap a year and would not be able to base his opinion on a broad standard that could be made consistent.
Following approval, the claim will be referred to the finance authority and the amount of the allowance will be added to the child endowment being paid in respect of the child and, of course, the parents will be notified. An important thing that I think indicates the Government’s general attitude is that where a claim is rejected on the ground that the severity of the disability is not sufficient to qualify the child for the payment of the allowance, the claimant will be advised of this and also advised at the same time that an appeal against the decision may be lodged. The appeals will be considered by a panel of 3 independent doctors, at least one of whom will be a specialist in the relevant field. I think this provision for appeal is an important safeguard for the Government and the parents and will provide an assurance to the parents that their applications will be carefully considered.
Provision will be made in both approved and rejected claims for the medical officer to note that the claim should be reviewed after a specified period. In very severe cases that have no hope of improvement the medical officer might well authorise the payment of the allowance until the child reaches 16 years of age. In other cases there may be some hope of improvement within 2 or 5 years or whatever, and the case could be reviewed. A medical panel is being set up to establish more definite guidelines to be followed in determining medical eligibility. In the main the Australian Government medical officers who will conduct medical examinations of handicapped children will have had experience in examining claimants for the invalid pension.
In the time remaining to me in this debate I should like to comment on two points out of the dozen or so parts in the Bill. The first relates to the increase in the supplementary assistance benefit, the so called rent allowance, which is being increased from $4 to $5 for pensioners and sickness beneficiaries who satisfy the stricter means test. Of course there has to be a stricter means test for supplementary assistance. But I think we have to look at modifying this in some way. As I said right at the beginning, I would like to develop this but I acknowledge, as the honourable member for Mackellar has indicated, that there needs to be some updating of the supplementary assistance.
Another point in the field of supplementary assistance is that it will be payable only to the extent that rent is payable. Until now the $4 supplementary assistance has been payable even if in some special circumstances the pensioner has been paying only $2 a week rent. Even though it may seem harsh, I think it is not right that for a specific allowance like this allowance for rent somebody should get change out of the supplementary assistance. Of course low rents like that involve mainly housing authorities. If they then charge to the extent of the supplementary assistance they may well be able to provide better maintenance for aged persons’ accommodation. I should point out that those who have already qualified for $4 and are paying less than $4 rent will not lose any of their supplementary assistance already being paid but will move to the $5 only if they are paying as much as that in rent
My final point relates to the amendment to the provisions relating to residence qualifications for widow pensions and supporting mothers benefit. Until now women whose husbands have died overseas have been able to qualify for the widow’s pension immediately on their return to Australia. But in the case of desertion or divorce overseas, when the woman has returned to Australia, perhaps with children who were born overseas, the residence qualification has been 5 years. In other words, a woman has had to stay in Australia 5 years before qualifying for the widow’s pension or the supporting mother’s benefit. In cases like that, provided the woman has previously lived in Australia for at least 10 years, the widow’s pension or the supporting mother’s benefit will be qualified for immediately on her return to Australia. I know of a number of cases in my electorate of women who have lived in Australia until the ages of 1 8, 20 or 25, then gone overseas and perhaps married overseas and had children. The marriage has broken up- there has been desertion, separation or divorce- and the women have returned to Australia, but they have not been eligible for a pension or benefit. But now, following the passage of this Bill, they will be eligible. I think this is a major reform in this Bill.
I do not pretend that we have yet provided the ideal in social security or that there are no longer anomalies to be corrected, but I do claim that the Australian Labor Government has made unprecedented strides in this direction in only 2 Budgets. They are achievements of which we can be proud and we are continuing to develop many more improvements which we are anxious to introduce.
-For somebody who claims to be proud of the Labor Government’s social service achievements the honourable member for Denison (Mr Coates) did not speak with any great enthusiasm. Perhaps he is worried about whether he should really have the courage of his convictions in what he is saying and cross the floor when it comes to a vote on the Opposition’s amendment to bring in provisions for supporting fathers and deserted fathers. The collection of proposals in this Bill would be rounded off very well if the amendment put by the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) in relation to provisions for widowers and deserted husbands were accepted. The package which the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) has put forward is certainly acceptable as far as it goes. The acceptance of the Opposition’s amendment would take it that much further and would cover one of the main anomalies in the present system. The Minister has covered one of the major anomalies by introducing the handicapped child’s allowance. I congratulate him for that. The acceptance of our proposition in respect of widowers and deserted husbands would cover the other major anomaly which exists in the system at the present time.
The rent allowance, as it is called, is to be increased by $1 a week. This is the first increase in this allowance in 2 years of Labor Government administration. It will increase the allowance by 25 per cent. But to keep up with inflation and with what the real value of that rent allowance was at the end of the Liberal-Country Party Government administration there would need to be a 40 per cent increase. We on this side accept that the Government is not in favour of people owning their own homes, but surely it should be in favour of making provision for adequate cover for rent allowance. There is also the problem of rate assistance. I believe it is a legitimate responsibility of the Commonwealth Government to provide at the Federal level rate assistance as well as rent assistance because many areas of poverty are just as great in the case of people who own their own homes when the breadwinner has died. This is particularly so if the breadwinner dies while the home is still being paid off. I believe that in this situation there is greater poverty than in the area now eligible for the rent allowance. Some of the States have assistance schemes- to my knowledge none of them is satisfactoryin an area which I believe is a genuine Commonwealth responsibility. I would prefer the Commonwealth to be moving in this direction than in some areas which are not genuine Commonwealth responsibilies but which it seems very keen to take over. I would hope that the Minister, if he is still the Minister for Social Security in the future, will give consideration to this in the next revision of social security benefits.
As I said earlier, I congratulate the Minister on introducing the handicapped child’s allowance. We had this as a part of our policy for the election following the double dissolution. It is something that our side has considered to be a great need. This need will be filled with the payment of this allowance. I presume that the criteria for the eligibility of this allowance will be spelt out in greater detail. I note that the Minister has said that he hopes that the States will not reduce assistance in this area. I would support him on this. Some of the States do have valuable assistance available with some help. This extends to provisions which allow the parents of handicapped children to escape from the onerous duty they have of caring for these children, in some cases virtually around the clock. Help of this kind enables parents to get away from the home and away from the tension that many of these children create. I certainly support the Minister’s contention now that the Commonwealth has moved in with some financial assistance in this area that some of the practical forms of assistance provided by the States, including assistance which allows the parents to get away should not be cut out at the State level.
The Minister also recognises the need to provide pension rights to a greater degree for de facto wives. I should like to draw his attention to quite a problem with pension payments to de facto wives who have become widowed. About once a month a person in this category would come to my office. I do not know what percentage of the total problem this represents in my area. But there is certainly a very real problem. In the case of a de facto relationship where the person is not entitled to receive the widow’s pension she was receiving because the claim was made on the basis that she was being supported as a married person. Because of this she is caught out. It may be that because her neighbours do not like her and are spreading suspicion in this regard the pension is stopped. It is very difficult for these people to be re-established with a pension. I know of one case recently in which for 3 months, no matter what was done in this city of about 10,000 people, the social security inspector would not accept that this woman had ended such a relationship. She had 5 children. She had no other income. The only way this pension could be re-introduced was for the male party to go to Melbourne. This raised considerable problems in regard to his job opportunities and any assets that he may have had in that community. But this woman had no pension and no income at all during this time and one of the children actually was taken into protective custody.
I know that this is a difficult situation. But I hope that in some cases- I know that one has to be careful- perhaps more compassion will be used when a decision is being made whether to restore a pension to those who have been either caught out or have been under such heavy suspicion, either justifiably or unjustifiably that the payment of a pension ceases.
– It is being administered a lot more sympathetically now.
– I have just given honourable members an example of a current case. If the benefit is being administered more sympathetically we have yet to see it. The administration of this benefit by this Government appears to be no different from what its administration was under the previous Government. But to me it is a problem irrespective of what government is in power.
The general problem for any pensioner is his real ability to survive in an inflationary situation. It does not matter whether the Government raises pensions by $3, $5 or $10 a week; in the hyper-inflationary situation we have at the present such increases are only a money illusion. No matter what the Government says it is doing for pensioners, they are being harmed by this inflationary situation. The best thing that the Government can do for pensioners is to reduce inflation. In many cases inflation is reducing the value of their hard earned savings, which they may have collected over many years. The Government has created a money illusion which for a time I believe has convinced pensioners that they have been better off. But in reality they are worse off, particularly pensioners who had any savings at all. The Government has not stepped up its program to extend the means test to cover all pensioners and it has not increased the supplementary assistance benefit to keep pace with inflation. So all of these people are worse off.
The base pension has already fallen to under 22 per cent of average weekly earnings and the Government has to wait until next March or April before it can make its next projected increase. By that time, taking into account the inflation rate at the present time, the base pension will be down to about 1 8 per cent of average weekly earnings. What has happened to the Government’s proud boast that it would raise the base pension to 25 per cent of average weekly earnings? In addition the Government should take account of all of the other problems that inflation has caused all the pensioners in this country. The Government has done a greater disservice to pensioners of this country than any previous Government in living memory. This has been the result of the inflation that the Government has created.
Incentives are important to pensioners. They encourage pensioners to help themselves but the Government has not allowed incentives to keep pace with inflation. The Minister has stated that he has placed widowers and deserted husbands on the same basis as widows and deserted wives by allowing them to receive special benefits. My information is that the previous Minister for Social Services, the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth), also allowed this and that there are only about 5,000 recipients of special benefits in Australia. Why does the Government not accept that the honourable member for Mackellar has put forward a constructive and sensible amendment. The means test arrangements are the same whether benefit is provided by the honourable member’s amendment or as a special benefit in the way mentioned by the Minister. The difference is that under the honourable member’s amendment we do not require this rigmarole of investigation. If the honourable member’s amendment were accepted we would really be achieving something and removing a major anomaly which exists in respect of pension entitlements at present.
Supporters of the Government said earlier tonight- we have heard this many times from the other side in the last few weeks- that members of the Caucus really rule the Labor Party. We have heard how members of the Caucus have the right to change the decisions of Cabinet and that they are their own men. Why do they not act as their own men tonight and have the courage of their convictions? Why do they not accept that this is a sensible and constructive proposal? Instead of saying that things can be changed only when changes are suggested by the Government, surely it would be more constructive and sensible for supporters of the Government to say: ‘Let us change things when the other side makes an acceptable suggestion’. They should accept and vote for the amendment. By so doing they will be rendering a real service to the pensioners of this country and when they speak in future they will be able to do so with a little more enthusiasm.
– I must admit to being rather amazed at the excitement that was shown by the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) with regard to the amendment which has been moved by the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth). But, of course, the honourable member completely overlooked the fact that if this amendment were carried it would completely delay this legislation and the payment of the benefits that will result from it. Members of the Opposition also know that other anomalies remain to be dealt with. This is not the only anomaly. They also know that this Government and the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) have corrected more anomalies in the social service field and have done more to give real effect to our social service requirements in 2 years than the previous governments did in 23 years. I think that the Opposition is engaging in a hypocritical and cynical exercise. It knows that the amendment if accepted would delay the Bill. Members of the Opposition have picked out one group of people in order, like ghouls, to prey on sympathy.
At times when I approach a debate on Bills such as the legislation before us I regret that so many divisions in the social welfare field are involved. In many cases these divisions are not inter-related. I happen to represent an electorate which contains a high percentage of aged persons and a high percentage of widows and deserted wives. This is particularly the case in the Preston and Heidelberg areas. This is because of the nature of the housing and accommodation that has been provided there. I am very grateful for the measures that have been introduced to help the people in that area. I am grateful for the branch of the Department of Social Security that has been established at the Northlands centre and the way in which that branch is conducted by Mr Carlton and his staff who attend to the problems of the people in my area in a prompt manner. It may be felt that the Government is just updating some of the variety of provisions which are contained in the Bill. But of course it would be quite obvious that we are broadening the scope of social security in this legislation.
There are only a couple of matters to which I want to refer. For example, the rental allowance is to be raised by $1 to $5 a week. I was a member of the Victorian State Parliament for a number of years. During that time I remember that even when the previous Government was in power every time an increase was made in the rate of pension or in the level of allowances such as are contained in this legislation, up went the means test for tenants, including pensioners, widows and deserted wives, who were living in Housing Commission homes, and up went the rents. This resulted in the great majority of the new advantages that had been given being reduced. I only trust that in this instance the States, particularly Victoria, will not take the same action again. I think it should be realised that the States receive finance on very favourable terms, even at the moment, for housing of this kind. One of the worst features of this action is that the Australian Government gets the blame for what the States do. For example, fringe benefits in the transport field are administered by the States. We have the example of an old lady who, with the last pension increase, received a pension of $57.50 and lost her transport entitlement that was provided by the State Government. I shall cite an example. An elderly lady living alone lost this fringe benefit. She travelled quite a bit to see her doctor and her relatives. She wrote to her local Federal member for advice. The letter she got back dated 12 August this year, after the opening paragraph, reads:
My secretary explained the problems that you are facing and the fact that you were very upset and disillusioned with life at the moment. I know it is easy when one has youth and good health on one’s side to say that everything is o.k. I personally am extremely distressed at the plight of our senior citizens and I do not agree at all with the government’s decision to stop the pension entitlements for public transport.
I am constantly investigating all aspects of pensioner services in the community and whilst this may be little consolation to you, I would like you to know that you are not forgotten.
Keep your chin up,
Yours sincerely, DON CHIPP
The honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp) failed to point out in his letter that it is a State Government action that takes away this sort of privilege from the pensioner. I do not wonder that he advised the House earlier in the evening to consider the way ahead and said that we must not look at the past. I have no doubt he does not want us to look at the past, out of the shame he feels for the sorts of things that were done then. The lack of effort at that stage has meant the massive increase in expenditure we see now in social services, education and health and so on.
Other honourable members have spoken about the rent allowance and the desirability of those who own their own home receiving assistance, similar to that afforded by the supplementary rent allowance, in the payment of rates, whether they be municipal rates or rates charged by the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works, and so on. I have some sympathy with this attitude. I fear of course that if any action were taken, the State governments would take the advantage away from the recipients of any such benefit. Perhaps if the members of the Opposition who spoke about the desirability of such a step had given some support to the referendum proposals for a closer relationship between the Australian Government and local government bodies, more could have been achieved. Certainly State governments, particularly the Victorian Government, have made offers, but have never delivered. The same finger can be pointed, as it was pointed by the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes), at the situation with regard to the double orphan pension.
I, like other members, welcome the advance made with the allowance for handicapped children. I have had in both my professions, as a medical practitioner and as a politician, a great deal of experience with handicapped children and their parents. I note with interest the proposed classification of recipients of this allowance. I think that the proposed classification is suitable as an initial one. I have no doubt, however, that a fair amount of modification will have to be made because if this allowance is to fulfil its purpose of keeping handicapped children at home in the care of their parents, who must have the full capability of giving the proper care, not only the children, but also the families of the children will have to be assisted. I think the honourable member for Denison (Mr Coates) referred to some of the strains that occur in the families of handicapped children. Somewhere along the line we will have to try to assess not only the handicap of the child- this is the starting point- but also the disability of the family, the alteration that a handicapped child makes to their way of life and the conduct of their household, and the effect it has not only on the mother and the father but also on the other children in the family. It is a most complex position indeed.
I welcome the start that has been made and I welcome the way in which it has been made. I know that with the attitude to social security of this Government, refinements will be made to take into consideration all these other factors. We can see that there may be a blurring of handicap, either physically or mentally. A child could have a learning defect which, if not detected early, creates a psychological or even psychiatric or behaviour problem requiring not only remedial education, but also remedial treatment in specialist clinics. This may mean virtually 2 households. I have a letter from a lady in Sydney who is in a situation of this nature. She has a boy of 15 years with a learning difficulty which was not diagnosed and who developed phychological and psychiatric problems. The boy had to be brought from the country to go to a special school and also to a treatment clinic. I know that there are other areas for help for this boy but his problem also comes into the area we are discussing.
There is a blurring between handicap for social security purposes, handicap for educational and remedial purposes, and handicap for rehabilitation purposes. This means we must have a constant search. The Minister for Social Security indicated in his second reading speech that we should consider the new allowance in the context of a broad program of education, training and general welfare for handicapped children. The honourable member for Denison mentioned that the parents of the children who attended day centres would not be disqualified from receiving the allowance. There is also a strong argument for the provision of residential centres to be occupied for limited periods of time. If the family is to be able to maintain the handicapped child at home, there also has to be the faculty for them to have a break for a holiday, of no matter how short a duration. These are the matters that will have to be looked into.
It is impossible in the time available to me to go through all these factors. I see this measure as a promising start; I trust that it continues and that some of the factors I have mentioned will be investigated. I hope the House will pass this Bill in its present state so that the benefits contained in it and described in the Minister’s second reading speech can be paid.
– Like all previous speakers in this debate, I lend my support to the innovations contained in the Bill introduced by the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden). In particular, I add my support to the amendment moved by the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth). I did some research into the amendment, and I note with great pride that the pioneer of the cause, the pathfinder and the trail blazer, as it were, for help for deserted fathers, was none other than a bachelor, the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron). I pay tribute tonight to the honorable member for Griffith, notwithstanding the fact that he is a bachelor, because he showed a very deep and sincere appreciation of the great tragedies that can befall many people. Perhaps some honourable members do not know that the honourable member for Griffith was the inaugural patron of the Queensland branch of Parents Without Partners. It is interesting that the great fight that he put up for many years in this national forum, against the honourable member for Mackellar, has now turned full cycle, and we find that the honourable member for Mackellar now fully supports the honourable member for Griffith. I know that the honourable member for Mackellar was exercising only his ministerial responsibilities and not Ms personal responsibilities at that time. So it is good to see that what a bachelor proposed, in the final analysis a grandfather is bringing before this House by way of an amendment.
There was one sour note in the second reading speech, and that was the remark by the Minister that the reason for the curtailment of the program was that the Opposition had forced a double dissolution last May. I do not want to comment on that, because everyone knows that the arrogant Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) sought a double dissolution. I just want to tell the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) that in the eyes of the Australian people vituperation and vilification are not the hallmarks of a fighter. Rather the hallmarks of a fighter consist of concern for people. The Opposition wants to stress the great need for the supplementary assistance that was granted by the Minister and to assure him that this is a long felt need of many people, particularly those who are in nursing homes who, prior to the Minister’s announcement last week of an increase, were having very great difficulty in making ends meet.
I want to endorse the remarks of the honourable member for Scullin (Dr Jenkins) and ask the Minister to give some consideration to granting some type of rate assistance to people who own their own homes. It seems to me somewhat unfair that people who through thrift and hard work have saved enough to own their own homes are discriminated against as compared with people who are home renters. Even the simplest of repairs, be they electrical or plumbing or carpentering or painting, cost many dollars and it seems an eminently logical proposition to advance that the Minister spread his wings, as it were, and give some type of assistance to people who own their own homes.
I draw the attention of the House to the proposition that the care of our elderly, our orphans, our unfortunates, the people who are deserted, should never descend to the type of social security benefit where it is part and parcel of the set-up that people are treated as card players and are merely dealt a hand. It ill behoves us as members of society to expect a government forever to be giving total health and social security care. If we are to retain our dignity as a nation it is absolutely essential that there be a place in our social security structure for people to exercise charity. I want to refer to 2 organisations in my own electorate of Darling Downs, in particular to the people who have been responsible for organising the annual railway ball in the city of Toowoomba. This ball has been held for some 10 years and over that period they have given the sum of $8,036 to charity. In the first year they made a profit of only £25 but through perseverence that has been increased this year to $1,300. This money has been given to organisations looking after subnormal and spastic people, to St Vincent de Paul, Meals on Wheels, Blue Nurses, Sisters of Charity, the aged people’s home, the police citizens youth club and the Salvation Army. I want to pay tribute to the many excellent railway workers who through self-sacrifice both before and after work organised this ball not only this year but on many previous occasions. Their example is worth following.
I also pay tribute to the local orphanage, Fatima House, which was built through the generosity of Downs people at a cost of $400,000 on a dollar for dollar subsidy from the State Government. I assure the Minister that the Queensland State Government has no intention whatsoever of withdrawing the great financial support it has given to orphans. I understand that it will continue to pay the magnificent benefit of $12 a week, as well as providing medical and dental benefits.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to participate in this debate. I thank the members of the Government for the courtesy they have afforded me to have recorded in Hansard the magnificent contribution to charity made by so many dedicated people in the electorate of Darling Downs.
– It seems that no one in this House from either side has any criticism of the proposals which are included in the Bill now before the House. The only criticisms that came in a rather carping way from some members of the Opposition were that the Government should have done more, in spite of the fact that in 20 months of government this Government has done immeasurably more than preceding Liberal-Country Party governments did in over 20 years, and in spite of the fact that this Bill alone, following the recent Budget, plus the pension increases proposed in July, contributes more in the way of advance and more in the way of outlays than has occurred probably in any other social service Bill.
It seems as though the Opposition has discovered and is enjoying rather lavishly the inexpensiveness of Opposition rhetoric. More especially, the former Minister for Social Services, the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth), now in opposition, is trying to establish for himself the reputation that always eluded him as a Minister, the displaying of the qualities of compassion and generosity, innovation, the things for which he was not noteworthy while he was a Minister. Of course, as a member of the Opposition now he is notable for the way in which he proposes a wide range of initiatives that should be taken but neglects to explain why in the 5 years that he was Minister for Social Services not only did he not take these initiatives that he now puts forward so pressingly but in fact his administration is notorious for the deteriorianon of standards in social services. A little later I will quote some figures to show how the living standard of pensioners in relative terms, that is, relative to the average living standards, deteriorated under his administration.
But let us go quickly through some of the points which were raised by members of the Opposition. There was a proposal to have included in this Bill an allowance for supporting fathers, if we can call it that, treating the widowed, the deserted father, the supporting father with dependent children in the same way in which widows are treated. This is a highly commendable proposal and one for which there is total sympathy in principle from this side of the House. As I indicated only last week, the Government has under way an investigation into ways in which it can introduce a guaranteed income concept which will get rid of the categorisation I referred to then and which I repeat now. I feel no embarrassment at all in talking about the categorisation, because it symbolises the patchwork system of social service benefits at the present time. The Government does have sympathy and will move as quickly as it can, and its promises will not be dishonoured.
I again remind the House- it is worth putting on the record once more- of the promises of the Liberal-Country Party government at the time of the 1968 Budget Speech, at a time when the honourable member for Mackellar, who now has the gall, when he is in Opposition and has no worry about the responsibility, to move this motion for a supporting father’s allowance, was Minister for Social Services and could have guaranteed that the promise put to the nation by the then Treasurer, Mr McMahon, was fulfilled. I repeat what I quoted last week from the Budget Speech of the then Treasurer, Mr McMahon:
The Government is aware of the difficulties that can be faced by widowers of relatively small means who are left to care for a family of young children. It is hoped that measures of relief for these widowers will be formulated and announced soon.
Such is the worth of the promises of the Liberal-Country Party in government. Would there be any more reason to invest trust in those promises now that that government is in Opposition, more especially when they come from a man who, more than anyone else among the ranks of the Opposition, was responsible for the dishonouring of that promise in 1968. Never once subsequently did he take the opportunity of ensuring that that promise was fulfilled in the S years he was Minister for Social Services. He says it was to be the next cab off the rank. Apparently it was an early casualty of the international oil crisis, because it never even got mobile. Over 5 years of promises denied.
I find it rather interesting to observe the sort of backhanded compliments from members of the Opposition who said that there was nothing they disagreed with in the proposals before the House. After all they said: ‘They are direct steals from our policy. There is the handicapped children’s allowance’, which they had 23 years to introduce but never did; ‘there is the double orphan’s allowance’, which they had 23 years to introduce but never did; ‘there is the incentive allowance’, which is a means test-free allowance for handicapped people working in workshops which they absolutely resisted introducing when they were in government for more than 2 decades. Despite that they had the cheek to say that those are steals from Liberal Party policy. Presumably they make a distinction between policy and programs they apply. Policies are things they put in a deep-freeze and which stay there for aeons.
Let us look at another criticism which was made by the honourable member for Hotham, who is the spokesman for the Opposition on social service matters. At least I think he is the spokesman although he never takes any initiatives in the House, he never proposes any motions and he always lags behind his back bench members by a week or two when it comes to taking action to propose an issue. Nonetheless I suppose that we must accept him as being at least the nominal spokesman for the Opposition. The honourable member for Hotham suggested that pensions, which now, as a proportion of average weekly earnings, stand at the highest level they have stood at for over 2 decades, by March of next year will be less than 20 per cent of average weekly earnings and that they would have to be increased by $8 a week to get them up to 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. It does not take much in the way of mathematical skills to show soon how silly his comments are. By March- that is, the quarter January, February, March- we would be measuring according to the December quarter, which is the proper way of making these sorts of measurements. Accordingly, if we were to use the figures he has quoted there would have to be an increase in average weekly earnings between the end of the last financial year- that is, June last- and the end of this calendar year- that is, the December quarterof something like 26 per cent or 27 per cent. That is absolute nonsense. Not the most malevolent misrepresentation could seriously propose such a development occurring. So one cannot take any notice of the sorts of figures which honourable members opposite cite.
Let me move on quickly to the next observation made by the honourable member for Hotham. He asked what was being done about the Henderson report. I will tell him- an awful lot. In fact, if he looks at the main areas of concern in the Henderson report he will find that we have already attended to them because people in receipt of pensions- the aged, widows, the invalid and people on unemployment and sickness benefits- are substantially the people who are living in poverty. They are the people whose living standards we have, according to the increases in pensions for which we have been responsible, lifted above the poverty level. That is the achievement of this Government and that stands today. But we are not satisfied. A lot more is going to be done. I cite the reference earlier to a guaranteed income. There are other things too that we are exploring.
Those things were not undertaken by LiberalCountry Party governments in over 2 decades of their administration of this nation’s affairs. In fact, the former Minister for Social Services who stood here tonight and once again proclaimed the need for compassion, concern and generosity in the provision of benefits under the social services legislation, is the man who ignored the exposure of relative poverty in Australia which was first disclosed in the 1966 surveys and which was repeatedly brought to his attention. Those are the things that we have done and we will do a lot more.
The honourable member for Hotham, who is the spokesman for the Opposition on this subject, referred also to child endowment. He said, without quoting figures, that it was the intention of the Opposition if it were elected to government to increase the child endowment rate substantially. Then he went on rather curiously to talk about means testing it. Does he not know that the former Minister for Social Services has a private member’s motion on the notice paper of this House proposing steps which, by implication, mean that he at least is opposed to any form of means test? Presumably he will have the support of the other members of the Opposition, who will follow him willy-nilly without thinking. It is so much easier to do so. Anyway it is beyond their capacity to think. That is the situation with which we are faced today. Who really speaks for the Opposition on these matters? It is hard to define.
The honourable member for Hotham went on to say that child endowment would be taxed. So we are going to have means tested child endowment and taxed child endowment. He does not explore the problems in this. In whose hands does one means test it and in whose hands does one tax it? What would happen in the situation in which both spouses in a family are earning an income and whose combined income is less than, say, the income of the family next door in which only the male head of the family is earning income? If the decision were made to tax the income in the hands of the mother, the person next door on a higher income will be better off than the people in the house in which both spouses are working and whose joint income is lower. That is only one instance of the sort of problem that confronts that sort of glib generalisation. I expect that no one knows that better than the honourable member for Mackellar because I have had access to the research papers of very high quality which have been compiled by officers of the Department of Social Security.
What has happened to the brave traditions of big ‘L’ Liberalism? It should never be confused with small ‘1’ liberalism as that would offend the Opposition as much as it would offend the small ‘1’ liberals outside for different reasons. In 1963 a Mr Falkinder, who was then a member of this House, asked the then Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies: . . . has the Prime Minister any knowledge whatever of any proposals on a government level to apply a means test to child endowment?
Sir Robert Menzies replied:
I had never heard of any such proposal until I learned of it for the first time this morning.
He went on to say:
As to this proposal about a means test on child endowment, I have never heard of it before and I do not want to hear of it again.
I guess that supporters of the Liberal Party must progress. After all, they had their great national conference a weekend ago and I think it was to progress beyond the age of Menzies. But to where have they progressed? Can we not have some clear definition of who is going to be taxed and on what basis the means test is going to be applied? Is it to be applied on every mother in Australia or on every family in Australia, which is what the Liberals are saying? It is a very interesting concept that they are now putting forward.
Let us look very quickly at the record of the Liberals on pensions. What are they proposing at the present time? They have put forward some vague proposition that pensions should be increased according to cost of living movements. That, of course, means a consumer price index. If we had used the consumer price index as the guideline by which we set pension increases, instead of increasing them at the much more generous rate that we did, the standard rate of pension today would be nearly $8 a week less than it is. The combined married rate of pension would be about $1 1.50 a week less than it is. We could have saved $286m. I guess that is the most influential thing in the thinking of the Liberal Party members of the Opposition. But we do not intend to allow the people who depend on social security benefits to suffer the discrimination and the denial which was the hallmark of LiberalCountry Party administration of this important area of public responsibility.
Let me remind the House very quickly of the changes that have taken place in this area of benefit increases since we have been in government, a period of about 20 months in which costs have increased by a little more than about 2 1 per cent. The married rate of age and invalid pension has increased by over 49 per cent; the single rate has increased by over 55 per cent; the class A widow’s pension has increased by 55 per cent and class B and class C pensions by 79.7 per cent. I remind honourable members that in that period costs have increased by only a little over 2 1 per cent. We have introduced a supporting mothers benefit, which the former Minister for Social Services was totally opposed to on some curious concept of moral opposition that he developed, I gather, in his arguments with State Ministers who suggested that this should be done. The unemployment and sickness benefit rate for a married couple has been increased by 106 per cent in the period in which we have been in office. When we came to office the married rate for unemployment and sickness benefit was $9.50 a week below the married rate of pension. The single rate has been increased by 82.4 per cent. Those are some of the increases for which we have been responsible. Those are some of our achievements. We have nothing of which to be ashamed. We have every cause to be proud of our record of achievement in this area in a relatively short period of time. We have done more in a relative sense in the 20 months that we have been in office than the Liberal-Country Party Government did in more than 2 decades.. By comparison with any similar period, we have done absolutely many more things many more times over than the Liberal-Country Parties even considered as possible.
Let me talk very quickly about the record of the former Minister for Social Services, the honourable member for Mackellar, who declaims before the House the need for a supporting fathers’ allowance. He ignores the historic fact, which the record establishes beyond any doubt, that he was irresponsible in not ensuring that the promise made in 1968 to introduce this benefit was not fulfilled in the 5 years that he was Minister for Social Services.
There has been some criticism about the pension rate as a proportion of average weekly earnings provided by this Government. I repeat: Let us look at the record of the former Minister for Social Services. I quote pensions as a percentage of average weekly earnings using the original figures for the June quarter. When he came to office the pension rate was 20.5 per cent of average weekly earnings, on that basis. His great achievement in his first Budget was to reduce that to 19.4 per cent in 1968. In 1969 the figure fell to 19.3 per cent. Down, down, down it went to 19 per cent in 1970 and 17.9 per cent in 1971. Then, with an enormous effort, he got it up to 18.9 per cent in 1972, the second lowest level at which it had been in his term of office and one of the worst records of any period of the 23 years of Liberal-Country Party Government. How can anything that this man says be taken seriously? Of course it cannot.
I point out that the honourable member for Mackellar, who talks about the need for a supporting fathers’ allowance, is the man who maintained discrimination against Class B and Class C widows who were receiving about $2.75 a week less in pension payments than Class A widows when he was Minister for Social Services. That discrimination was eliminated immediately we assumed office. Let me quickly go through a few of the many achievements for which we have been responsible in the period that we have been in office. These are some of the actions that we have taken. We have instituted a twice yearly increase in pension and benefits rates. We have lifted the level of the increases progressively. We have established the payment of pensions and benefits at the highest rates as a percentage of average weekly earnings for more than 2 decades. We have been responsible for the elimination of injustices and anomalies, such as the payment of widows pensions, Classes B and C, at lower rates than widows pensions, Class A, and the payment of unemployment and sickness benefits at rates much lower than were paid for pensions, for families of equivalent standard.
We have taken steps to introduce new benefits including, for example, the supporting mothers’ allowance, the double orphans benefit and the handicapped children’s benefit. We have arranged the provision of automatic pension portability for pensioners with at least 10 years residence in Australia. The best that the honourable member for Mackellar could achieve was to make such arrangements with 4 countries-Italy, Malta, Greece and Turkey. It would have taken decades under his arrangements to make any improvement on that. We have taken steps to eliminate the 5 years residential requirement currently necessary before eligibility for invalid and blind pensions can be established. That is in this Bill. Why did not the honourable member for
Mackellar and the Liberal-Country Party Government do this?
We have taken the first step towards the elimination of the means test. There is no means test on age pensions for people of 75 years of age and over and in the life of this Parliament the means test will be eliminated for all people of 65 years and over. This Government has introduced the means test free incentive allowance for disabled people in sheltered workshops. The honourable member for Mackellar talks much about this now in Opposition; he did nothing about it in the 5 years that he was Minister nor did the LiberalCountry Party as a Government at any stage. This Government was responsible for the introduction of the rehabilitation training allowance, adjusted quarterly, and equivalent to the average male weekly award rate which is currently $93.44 a week. We have taken positive steps to lift pensions and benefit rates above the poverty line through regular and generous increases. We have made a great deal of progress through a national inquiry towards introducing a national superannuation scheme. We are in the process of introducing a national compensation scheme.
These are some of the achievements that we have notched up in the short period of 20 months. We have a record of achievement based on compassion and concern for those in the community who need that help. That record is one of which we can be proud. It more than stands ahead of anything that the Liberal-Country Party as an Opposition can promise. Our record completely overshadows its rather wan achievements, such as they were, when it was the Government.
That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr Wentworth’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker- Hon. J. F. Cope)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
– Earlier during the second reading debate the honourable member for Scullin (Dr Jenkins) made the mistaken remark that an unnecessary delay would be occasioned if this Bill were amended to allow widowers and deserted husbands to obtain pensions on the same basis as widows and deserted wives. I point out that no such delay is necessary. A few moments ago Mr Speaker read out a message from the GovernorGeneral recommending an appropriation. That message having been read out, a motion can be moved forthwith to make the necessary amendment to the Bill, but in terms of standing order 292 it can be moved only by a Minister. It is not competent for anybody but a Minister to move such a motion. The Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) can move it here and now. If he wants to consult his Caucus on this matter he can move the motion tomorrow. I am willing to wait a day. A delay of one day will make no difference because there are no pension payment days until next week and it is not proposed to pay the increases under this Bill until next week. That being so, there is no reason why the Minister should not move the necessary amendment either here and now or, if he prefers to consult his Caucus first, move it tomorrow.
The financial stringencies which might well have been upon him at the time the Budget was framed some months ago are there no longer. I point out to the Minister that it is not a case of priorities any more when we are talking about only a smaller matter. The increased payments would involve perhaps $25m for a full year and far less for the remainder of this year. There is no reason why an amendment cannot be moved now. If the Minister is really compassionate and he has this hectoring self-righteousness which the endeavours to use in order to cover up his own deficiencies -
– Why did you fail so badly as a Minister? Why did you make promises you could not fulfil?
– I think it is very illustrative -
– You made promises you could not fulfil.
– Order! I suggest that the Minister remain quiet.
- Mr Chairman, you can see what I mean by hectoring self-righteousness. This is all the manner of the traffic cop -
– With your family background it is appropriate -
– Order! If the Minister does not stop interjecting I will deal with him.
-Let me give an illustration. The Minister was saying earlier in the second reading debate how the previous Government had failed to allow people in sheltered workshops to earn. He was saying that it took Labor to change this situation. Does he not remember that there were no sheltered workshops under Labor? The whole system of sheltered workshops and aged persons’ homes was the creation of a Liberal-Country Party government. When we came to office we had only the bare bones which Labor left us when it went out of office in 1949. Nearly all the services the Minister is twitting us for not improving were our creation. He, of course, wants to mislead to cover up the meagreness and the lack on innovation in the Labor Party. All he can think of is to build on the foundations which we laid. Nobody ever believes that a system of social services is complete. It must always be improved as the productive facilities and standards of living of the community as a whole improve. What would have been impossible in 1949 becomes progressively possible in 1959 and 1969. So we move on.
For myself, I do not take any delight in saying that Labor has not done these things. On the contrary, I want them to be done. Pensioners and recipients of social service benefits are the people of whom we have to be thinking. They can get increased services as the Australian prosperity improves and increases. The Labor Party is only developing further the things that we did and that we suggested. Look at the record of social services and you will see that 90 per cent of them have been brought in by governments other than Labor. That goes for the original pension scheme; it goes for child endowment; it goes for things like aged persons’ homes, sheltered workshops and all the other services that we have introduced. These are the facts. If Labor can build on the foundations that we have laid, that is no skin off our nose; very much the contrary indeed.
-I direct the honourable member’s attention to the fact that this is a debate in committee and he is getting a little wide of the Bill.
– I thank you, Mr Chairman. I come back to the challenge I am making to the Minister. I challenge the Minister here and now to move an amendment to make widowers and deserted husbands eligible for the same payments that widows and deserted wives get, or alternatively, to adjourn this debate until tomorrow when he can have an opportunity of consulting his masters in Caucus and finding out whether they are willing, by their actions, to stand by the promises which they have made individually to members of the Supporting Fathers Association who came to see them a couple of months ago. Are they men of their word? Let them have the chance to prove themselves. We can do this within the framework of Caucus if they so desire. There is plenty of time. It can be done tomorrow instead of tonight. Nobody will lose over that. I now challenge the Minister to do one of those two things- either move the amendment here and now as he can without any further Government message, or alternatively, go back and get permission from Caucus to move it tomorrow and to put this Bill through the House tomorrow in the form in which it should be put through the House.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Mr Hayden)- by leaveread a third time.
Consideration resumed from 22 October.
Department of Agriculture
Proposed expenditure, $49,418,000.
-Of all the industries to which this Government has contributed to their decline none has suffered more than has the rural sector. It is of interest that the Labor Government on election was fortunate in striking a conjunction of favourable seasons and favourable markets, and the products of positive government policies and programs which ensured the Government an opportunity to treat the farmers well. The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), in a well remembered statement, commented in the vernacular at a public meeting that the farmers had never had it so good. Since that time there has been a remarkable downturn in returns. One needs only to look at the degree to which farm incomes have deteriorated since last year to get some expression of the way by which the direct measures of this Labor Government have affected significantly primary producers and all those who live in country areas.
– What prices do we control? Will you tell us that?
-I am delighted to hear the honourable member for Wilmot comment on this because he is one of the few members of the Labor Party who has any sympathy or understanding for the rural sector. He, together with the Minister for Northern Development and the Minister for the Northern Territory (Dr Patterson), who is now at the table, and I gather even the Minister for Overseas Trade (Dr J. F. Cairns), supported the retention of the superphosphate bounty. But these men, as individuals, have failed in their responsibilities.
I believe these estimates demonstrate how progressively there has been a rundown in the availability of support for the rural sector. There has been a conjunction of a rundown of profitability which is now reaching quite alarming proportions. The value of production for 1973-74 for the rural sector was $6,364m. This year it is $5, 734m. Farm costs last year were $3,434m. This year they were $4, 194m. Farm income last year was $2, 930m. This year it is $ 1,540m. Even though there has been a slight devaluation of the Australian dollar there is still for those dependent on rural farm products for their source of income fractionally more than one-half of last year’s income available this year. It is noteworthy that this enormous drop comes at a time when the average wage of other Australians has risen by 23 per cent. The drastic drop in farm incomes is due primarily to decline in demand overseas for wool and meat. It coincides with the product of measures which the Minister for Agriculture (Senator Wriedt) has pioneered through Cabinet and has, of course, introduced into this Parliament.
Since the March quarter 1974 the one market which was good in 1972- the cattle market- has crashed. The price of bullocks has declined to the point where today they yield less than a third the price that they did only a few months ago. In wool there has similarly been a market collapse. While it is true that for the wool industry something is now being done, there is also no such assistance currently available for the beef industry. I believe that it is important that when looking at the income figures we realise that there has been a conjunction of increasing costs in the farm community. This means that looking at the figures of returns alone gives but a part of the story. During the 10 years from 1961 to 1971 the index of prices paid by farmers increased by 33 per cent, an average of 3.3 per cent a year. This rate of inflation, of course, was coped with by most farmers by increasing production and productivity. These economic measures which they were encouraged to take by the positive measures that were introduced and maintained by Liberal-Country Party Administrations were progressively removed by the steps of the Labor Government as a result of the report introduced by Dr Coombs soon after the election of the present Government.
By 1972 costs had increased by 43 per cent over the 1961 base level. By the March quarter 1973 they had increased by 46 per cent, and by the March quarter 1974 by 70 per cent. Included in this rise it is noteworthy that the wage elements between 1961 and March 1974 had increased by 95 per cent. To illustrate the extent of the latest cost-price squeeze, between the March quarter 1973 and the March quarter 1974 the farmer’s cost index rose by 17 per cent, including 26 per cent on wages, while the prices he received rose by 8 per cent. Since the September quarter of 1973 costs have risen by 7 per cent and prices for his goods by only one per cent.
There is the condemnation of the man who today is the Minister for Agriculture and who has pioneered the measures provided for in the Estimates which we have before us. Of course there are many ways by which and through which he has attempted to persuade country people that he is really sympathetic to them. But the message is gradually getting through. I need refer only briefly to a mass meeting convened on 19 October 1974 at a place called Fiery Creek, near Beaufort in Victoria, which some 2,000 people from all over Victoria attended, to illustrate the widespread concern that is now manifest throughout the rural community, demonstrating the degree to which this Government has not only completely lost the confidence of rural producers but in fact also has destroyed all prospect for hope and survival for those who live in the country unless there is a marked change of attitude.
It is interesting that at this meeting there were no representatives of the Government. I have a roneoed copy of a letter sent to the Prime Minister which contains the facts about this meeting. Apparently the Prime Minister and other members of the Government were invited to attend. A committee from the meeting expressed the disappointment of the meeting that not one member of the Government attended the meeting. The Committee set out a series of resolutions which identify quite vehemently and yet coldly and analytically the areas within which this Government has failed the people of Australia. I think it is important that one realise that the man who at first appeared to be reasonable in his administration of his portfolio, irrespective of the eulogies expressed about him by the Prime Minister this morning, demonstrates that he in fact has intentionally withdrawn the form of assistance which traditionally existed for agriculture and has let down all those in the rural sector.
Indeed although it is now becoming so common for members of the Opposition to ask for the withdrawal of individual Ministers from their portfolios- my colleague the honourable member for Wimmera (Mr King) in fact this morning did that with respect to the Minister for Agriculture- I believe it would be far more appropriate that the Minister for Northern Development who sits opposite at the table were the Minister for Agriculture. He at least has some understanding of agricultural problems. One need only quote to him the statements that he made when in Opposition to show that in many areas he had some sympathy and understanding which is totally absent from the statements being made by the man who today is Minister for Agriculture. Aspects of his administration concern me greatly. I need mention only one illustration to demonstrate. During the last election campaign I was approached by one multinational drug company which told me of an approach made to it by members of the staff of the Minister for Agriculture asserting that unless the company contributed a significant sum of money to the Labor Party campaign to enable the presentation of the Labor Party’s rural policy perhaps some ill might befall that company’s continued participation in the agricultural community.
– That is not true.
-It is not true? The Minister has- admitted it, he has commented on it and he has acknowledged it to be true. I regard that type of interference as being totally unjustified. It domonstrates that this man is not in fact sympathetic with the rights and opportunities of the family farmer. I wish to say a good deal on the Estimates that are before us, but I believe it is essential that, rather than concentrating in the few minutes available to me oh some of the variations that appear in these Estimates, I comment on my concern that the Minister who is supposed to care for the agricultural sector in this community, who is supposed to be worried about the fate of our primary industries, has done nothing to help them. Those few industries that are profitable today are beset by industrial troubles and are concerned about future market prospects. In the big percentage of rural industries there is a marked downturn in market prospects and if it were not for the prevailing seasonal conditions I am afraid that many of Australia’s rural industries would be in an even greater degree of distress than they are. I hope that as a result of the deliberations that perhaps even now, belatedly, members of the Labor Party are giving to the rural sector there will be a marked change of heart in the rural policies that the Government pursues.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The hypocrisy of the honourable member for New
England (Mr Sinclair) whom we have just heard is revealed -
-Order! The honourable gentleman cannot use that term. I ask him to withdraw it.
-I withdraw it, Mr Chairman. The shallowness of the position that was just put to this Committee is demonstrated by the booklet produced by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics titled ‘The Rural Reconstruction Scheme, a Review of Progress’. Consider the situation in 1970-71 when the honourable member for New England was the Minister for Primary Industry and 7,570 farmers were in such bad economic plight that they had to apply for assistance to the Rural Reconstruction Board. In 1973-74 - (Opposition members interjecting)-
-They cannot take it. By 1973-74 the figure had dropped to 523 applications. The previous situation was engendered and presided over by the man who has just sat down- 7,570 farmers so badly off, in such dire economic need, that they had to apply for rural reconstruction assistance in 1971-72. The situation that exists at the moment is nowhere near as bad as it was in the depths of the crisis while the Opposition was in government. We now have a position in which the fallacies and myths spread by members of the Opposition have caught fire around the electorate. What are the facts? They are worth repeating again. I address myself to the Budget for 1974-75, and the Opposition does not like hearing it.
This Budget contains a record level of assistance for agriculture. The total outlays on agriculture in this Budget are $487.6m, an increase of $158.1m over the previous Government’s last Budget. Of this sum, $ 178.4m is represented by offsets, and this reduces the net agricultural assistance to $309m, or $25m more than the Liberal-Country Party Government gave to agriculture in its last Budget. These are the facts. This figure has been criticised on the ground that it includes loan money. No doubt it does, and so too do those figures with which the comparison is made. I shall give some examples. Those grants for softwood forests, for farm reconstruction and loans to fruit canners are all on both sides of the ledger. The situation with which we are confronted is that we have a new government that has a proper, rational, national approach to agriculture. Nowhere is this better illustrated in this Budget than in the approach to soil conservation. We have dismissed the idea, if soil conservation -
– What about the deduction for soil conservation?
-Yes, what about the deduction? I have the lead now. Let us have the tune. What about the taxation deductions for soil conservation? If soil conservation is a national problem it should be treated on a national basis in exactly the same way that the problem of rabbit eradication was treated in New Zealand. There is no way in which the problem of soil conservation can be solved by ad hoc decisions of individual farmers on their own land. Obviously we need to have a national approach to soil conservation. For the first time a national government has provided that national approach in this Budget. There is no ad hoc approach, leaving it to the individual farmer to make a decision which could be compromised by his neighbor’s actions. In this Budget we have the first national approach to soil conservation. If soil conservation is a problem, then this clearly is the only way to handle it.
Many of these changes and many of these important distinctions that are being made in agricultural policy in this Budget have been clouded by the emotionalism generated by the Country Party in country areas. Nowhere was this irrational emotionalism better demonstrated than in ‘Monday Conference’ last week. The audience at that conference- and this is the reason why no Labor member will go to those organised shams around the countryside- was either incapable or refused to enter a sensible dialogue with the Minister.
- Mr Chairman, I draw your attention to the state of the chamber. Practically no Labor members are here at all.
-Before I examine the state of the chamber I warn the honourable member for Farrer that if he again makes a speech in drawing attention to the state of the chamber I will deal with him. (Quorum formed)
-In ‘Monday Conference’ the audience was either incapable or refused to enter a sensible dialogue with the Minister for Agriculture (Senator Wriedt). This was demonstrated by the rude and abrupt interruptions during the Minister’s answers. The whole nation watched it and the image that came across to the viewing Australians was that of a crowd of arrogant larrikins seeking to impress their mates with evergrowing rudeness. The old inane platitudes that are mouthed here by members of the Country Party were received by the audience with the greatest applause. This shallow political exercise was being encouraged by the Opposition.
– I raise a point of order. My point is that the honourable member -
– I warn the honourable member that if he is going to take a fallacious point of order I may well deal with him.
– My point of order is that as someone who was present at that meeting -
– The honourable gentleman will resume his seat. He is not taking a point of order. He is debating the question. If he attempts to do it again I will name him.
– They do not like me speaking. This time wasting episode is traditional of their approach- There has been a demonstration of a dire need for new farm leadership. People who realise that agriculture in this country and in the world is facing old and new problems that require rational and sensible discussion are slowly emerging. How is it that we find these farm groups developing when the Country Party claims to be the leading group in the farm community? It must give even those people something to think about when they see these new groups springing up all around the countryside to provide leadership for the agricultural community. The Country Party has failed them. We heard a Country Party former Minister for Agriculture being condemned in those terms in Canberra at the rural Press conference as recently as a week ago on some of these major issues which I have been denied tonight the opportunity of examining because of the obstructionist tactics that we have seen by the Country Party. They are exactly the tactics that are used at these particular meetings- the emotionalism, the inane comments, the shallowness of their approach at a time when agriculture needs to have in-depth and rational consideration. We have seen a clear demonstration of that here tonight.
We have in this Budget which is the subject of discussion one of the best and most rational attempts to solve the problems of agriculture. We have here in this Budget for the first time a systematic approach on a national scale to these problems of agriculture. There will be many more opportunities to explore over the next few years the importance of this Budget as those policies start to pay off. We hear all the time the squawking of Country Party members on the sidelines slowly dying as their emotionalism and sham is seen through by those people whom they have now stirred up and whom they stirred up on the question of meat prices as recently as June 1973. The Leader of the Australian Country
Party (Mr Anthony) was caught out in this House as the man who stirred up that emotionalism, as the man who laid the seeds. The Country Party has been done again on this occasion. Gradually the rationale will seep through.
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I move: That the honourable member’s time be extended.
-I wish to make a personal explanation.
– Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
-Would the honourable member state where he has been misrepresented.
– I raise a point of order. A motion was moved by someone on the other side of the chamber.
– No motion was moved that I know of and I only take motions that I am aware of.
– It was moved and I have drawn your attention to it.
– The honourable member will resume his seat. I am in charge of this.
– I did move that the honourable member’s time be extended.
– Did you hear that?
– I heard that. I also know that there is no provision in the standing orders for an extension of time in Committee. I would have thought the honourable member would have known that as well as the honourable member who moved the motion.
– I claim to have been misrepresented by the honourable member for EdenMonaro (Mr Whan) in regard to a meeting in the city of Toowoomba last Friday night. In the course of his remarks the honourable member stated that at that meeting there was not present any member of the Labor Party. There was present at that meeting -
– Order! The honourable member will resume his seat. That is not a personal explanation.
– But I have not got to the personal explanation.
– You are debating the point. If the honourable member wishes to enter into the debate he should rise in the normal manner. The honourable member is debating the question, not taking a point of order. I ask the honourable gentleman to resume his seat.
– Is it in order for a person deliberately to make misleading statements to the House?
– Order! The honourable gentleman will obey the direction of the Chair and resume his seat.
– We listened with considerable interest to the speech attempted by the honourable member for EdenMonaro (Mr Whan). When he used the rural reconstrution figures we were able to see the shallow ground on which he was putting forward his arguments. He pointed to the fact that there had been a fall in the numbers. He was using the 1973-74 figures which themselves are out of date. If the honourable member looks at the Budget figures he will see that the Treasurer (Mr Crean) does not believe the figures because he has allocated for rural reconstruction this year an amount of $30m. If there are 500 farmers requiring rural reconstruction, as the honourable member has said, that $30m would represent $60,000 per farmer. The people in the Government are very generous when it comes to rural reconstruction. The honourable member has used the figures concerning Government outlays on agriculture. He has used these figures a number of times before. I think a much more realistic figure would be obtained by looking at the amount that farmers in very difficult times are contributing. Their contribution this year by way of levies and so on is 1 Vi times greater than it was before. There has been an increase from $64m to $162.3m or a rise of 150 per cent in very difficult times.
In speaking to the estimates for the Department of Agriculture I want particularly to refer to the problems of new land farmers in Western Australia. I have chosen new land farmers because whilst each Government decision and action in the agricultural field affects established farmers, the effects of Government policies are mirrored and magnified in the case of new land farmers. New land farmers are not an exclusively Western Australian phenomenon, but their numbers are greater in Western Australia than in other States because of the State Government policies of the 1960s to encourage land settlement- a decision then in accord with Federal Government thinking and policy. Whilst the numbers of new land farmers in Western Australia are difficult to assess various sources estimate the number to be between 1,500 and 2,000.
Much has been made of the reference to the Industries Assistance Commission on the superphosphate subsidy for Western Australian new land farmers. The reference is narrowly confined to farmers developing conditional purchase land obtained since 1959. There are a number of farmers in Western Australia not included in the reference to the Industries Assistance Commission in the same position. Some are developing privately owned land whilst others may have purchased semi-developed blocks. They are all experiencing grave difficulties because of the Labor Government’s rural policies and its overall economic mismanagement. The effect of Government policies and economic mismanagement harshly affects all farmers but their effects on developing farmers are disproportionately harsher.
I wish to emphasise that I well know the heavy burden of this Government’s policies on all farmers; all that I am saying is that the burden is heavier on new land farmers. If the characteristics of new land farmers are examined it will be readily appreciated why they are so much more vulnerable. Firstly, being developers, they are users of capital. They are heavy borrowers because although they commenced with some capital it was not in most cases sufficient to develop their properties fully. This Government’s tightening of credit and failure to provide additional sources of rural credit have affected the whole rural community- farmers and businessmen as well as wage earners in country areas. The effect on the new land farmer is even more severe because with limited asset backing his ability to borrow from normal rural lenders- trading banks and stock firms- is severely limited. These farmers have to compete with other rural borrowers for borrowings from the Commonwealth Development Bank. As extensive capital users, new land farmers particularly feel the savage effects of the Labor Government’s failure to keep interest rates within reasonable limits.
Finance is a major problem for agriculture in the economic situation of today. The Government should be looking closely into the needs of agriculture in this respect. It should be looking at the needs of beef producers caught in the most severe slump in years. It should be not only looking but also acting. I suggest that the Government drag from the archives its promises of the 1972 election campaign in the rural credit fieldpromises that it has so conveniently shelved. But for the new land farmers the Government should be looking and acting to correct the position of credit starvation, both for developmental purposes and for carry-on finance. It should also be looking at finance for homes on new land properties to overcome many of the unsatisfactory living quarters on such farms.
It is not enough to argue that new land farms in Western Australia are being developed by absentee owners or St George’s Terrace farmers. It is true that some are. But the majority are owned and are being developed by hard working couples with limited capital, ready to apply to the 1960s and the 1970s the pioneering spirit of the last century. Deferment of investment in these properties is not the answer. Such an action would only result in extending the time before such properties could become viable. Action must be taken to speed their development and their subsequent absorption into the category of established farms. Special provision will be needed to achieve this.
Secondly, not being at full productive capacity, new land farmers are much more vulnerable to cost increases and falling or variable returns, either seasonally or economically. Their productive capacity is limited directly by the area developed and pastured, and limitations on soil fertility in the early stages of development. Government policies on investment and depreciation allowances affect all farmers, but the impact on the new land farmer is even more severe. Fencing, pasture improvement and the provision of water facilities are vital to enable increases in the productive capacity and development of new land farms. Government policy does not discriminate between the established farmer and the new land farmer in this regard.
All farmers are feeling the effects of rapidly rising costs- up to 30 per cent per annum. Costs of all agricultural inputs have risen dramaticallywages, machinery, repair costs, wool packs, shearing costs, freight costs and so on- as this Government gropes for an overall economic policy. Inflation manifested in these rapidly rising costs of agricultural inputs worries all concerned directly or indirectly with agriculture. It is all very well to state, as Government supporters are often want to do, that tariff reductions will lower costs. Any benefits resulting from the tariff reductions have been over-run by inflation itself.
On the revenue side of the farm sector, we see falling beef prices and low mutton prices, coupled with wool being supported at a price level at or below the cost of production. Even for commodities selling at reasonable rates, such as wheat, payments are deferred because of the Labor Government’s inability to ensure industrial peace. Thus on the one hand we have rapidly rising prices fed by the inability of the
Government to exhibit any economic managerial ability. On the other hand returns are depressed, or if not depressed, deferred because of industrial banditry. All farmers are hit by the circumstances but the new land farmer, not yet able to obtain the full productive potential of his land, is hit very much harder.
The third characteristic of many new land farms in Western Australia is that they are located in areas well away from the large country centres and the attendant faculties. Additional costs are incurred through freight, both on agricultural inputs and household commodities brought into such areas and on out-going grain, wool, stock and so on. Government policies on telephones and taxation deductions for education, without increases in the isolated children’s allowances, are most severe in their effect on people in new land areas. In fact the Government’s policies as they affect the social and economic welfare of persons on new land farms make a laughing stock of the Green Paper recommendations that the aim of policy should be to reduce disparities in public services and amenities as between rural and urban areas. The problems of the new land farmers must be faced or by default the Federal Government will allow the vast resources of capital and human effort already invested in the development of these 2,000 or so farms to be lost to the Australian economy.
There are several alternatives open to the Government. Firstly it could continue to adopt the concept that its policies are designed to weed out the inefficient and uneconomic farmer. That is, that the economically marginal farmer must go, and in simple economic terms the new land farmer must be accepted as a marginal farmer. This is a harsh and unrealistic view for the new land farmer group which has invested both capital and human resources in the development to date of their properties. The second alternative open to the Government- this is the one that I advocate- is essentially based on the concept that the new land farmer should be given special consideration and conditions to speed and hasten his development to the stage where such special provisions are no longer necessary. Superphosphate for new land farmers, now under inquiry, is only one aspect of the whole question. Superphosphate concessions will help delay the demise of the new land farmers but measures particularly in the field of rural credit are also vital. It is not the time to blame the State Government for encouraging such people to develop these areas. It is not the time to ignore the problem and state that these new land farmers took and realised the risk inherent in their undertakings. My plea to the Government is that action must be taken, and taken quickly, on the very real social and economic needs of the new land farmer group in Western Australia.
Mr Kerin (Macarthur) (10.17)- It is evident that the dynamic agricultural situation has already had a significant impact on the Budget. The deterioration in the wool market meant that we had to take measures which involved us in the expenditure of an extra $150m bringing our appropriation to $487.6m for agriculture in 1974-75 compared with an appropriation of $303m last year and $329m the year before. These figures are not directly comparable. They simply show that we are spending sums of money in the agricultural area. Some individual items in the appropriation for this year are up and some are down. Of course this is exactly the situation that the honourable member for EdenMonaro (Mr Whan) tried to outline with regard to debt reconstruction and farm build-up. The moneys allocated in 1972-73 for this purpose amounted to $50m and this year the sum was $30m. The simple fact is that the States have all the money that they have asked for in this area. We are very glad when the figures show that there is no longer a great need for expenditure on this item. But we know that the figures do not reveal the situation at the moment.
A member of the New South Wales Rural Assistance Board lives within 10 miles of where I live in my electorate, and he keeps me informed of the situation in New South Wales. The monthly figures show the way in which the situation has changed since 1971-72. The average monthly number of applications in 197 1-72 was 713. The monthly average for the State of New South Wales has dropped from 191 applications down to 5 applications for July 1973, 9 applications for August 1973, going through to 16 applications in June 1974. Therefore we had a monthly average of 16 applications in June this year compared with 191 applications 2 years ago. The figure for June is quite a recent one. Therefore the reason only $30m was appropriated for the purpose of debt reconstruction and farm build-up is that the number of applications this year has been considerably reduced. This is a darn good thing. A total of 7,570 applications were lodged in Australia in 1971-72. Last year the number of applications was 523. We are very glad that the number has been reduced. This simply reflects the up-turn in the fortunes of the farmers last year. If the situation deteriorates and a greater number of applications is made for farm build-up- at the moment the number has fallen away- the States can come to us and we will look at the situation again. The decision to devalue was of benefit to primary and exporting industries, but the flow-on will have effects on the general inflationary situation. I am not sure that the effects will be as adverse as some critics suggest.
All allocations of money to agriculture come under the general heading of assistance to industry. It is in this context that I wish to address the Committee. It seems to be fashionable for honourable members opposite to regard only measures in the Budget for country areas as coming under the appropriation under discussion. The truth is that a wide range of the Government’s measures assist country areas. One could instance the increase in education moneys, Grants Commission payments to local government, which are spread across Australia, regionalisation policies, etc. However, the events of last week, trends foreseeable for some time, and Monday night’s television broadcast of ‘Monday Conference’ in which program the Minister for Agriculture (Senator Wriedt) appeared, have indicated very clearly to me that the fundamental agricultural problem is not how to produce primary products but how to sell them. Those who used to be so critical of our views in the first months of Government to gain new markets are now quietening down on this aspect. I was disgusted to hear one fellow say on the session of ‘Monday Conference’ to which I referred that he had heard about the $56m for the animal health laboratory before and did not want to hear it again. This indicated a selfish ati.tude which does not do the farming community much good when it is expressed so clearly as that.
On the program farmers were complaining that the removal of the investment allowance worth $30m or $37m last year, was now killing incentive. This always seems to be the problem. When the rural sector is faced with a new situation, for example, in beef where 3 exports markets have been lost, it likes to get back to a previous situation. Farmers want the investment incentives restored. What they are simply failing to do is home in on the problem itself. The problem for Australian agriculture always has been markets. This is the fundamental problem. I am not saying that there are no problems in production but the main one is markets. I would like to know what message is coming from the market place which would indicate that now is the time for people to develop land for sheep or beef production. If there are problems with beef markets, what sort of message is coming from the market place to say that if we spend $37m in providing investment allowances this will help farmers? Surely , the position with respect to cereal production holds very well, but how long this situation will hold I do not know. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table showing wheat payments.
– The table indicates that in the cereals industry there are messages coming from the market place and that payments to wheat growers have speeded up in recent years. Is it always to be the Government’s job to encourage production for widely fluctuating world markets and then for it to step in and save the industry when markets collapse? If this is always to be the position we will have to re-think all the policies.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-
Or is it the job of the Government to try to equalise opportunity and take out the ups and downs in income and provide basic levels of social welfare for farmers along with every other person in the community? If the decided philosophy is for the Government always to bail industries out of trouble once they get into it- in the agricultural sector this is roughly the attitude of all governments because they cannot and do not look
ahead enough- then it is logical for a government to decide production targets and set controls. Controls in plant and animal industries are nearly impossible to supervise due to a multitude of biological and physical factors, so the task of government is to find a balance of carrot and stick, or subsidy and restriction, in the light of the best information at its disposal and in keeping with overall national goals.
Honourable members on both sides of this House are concerned by the current problems of the beef industry. The honourable member for McMillan (Mr Hewson) wants a royal commission into the industry after the Parliamentary Prices Committee and a Cabinet committee examined the industry in detail last year. A royal commission would take over a year to go over the same evidence. Contrary to the honourable member’s statement that the Government is ‘unashamedly looking on at the industry’- a statement helpfully repeated by the Australian Broadcasting Commission yesterday- the Government has proposals under active consideration. The people seen by the Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony) yesterday were seen by the Government and government agencies only a few weeks back. Carry-on credit proposals are now being examined, but again we must accept that they are no real overall cure. To get a policy of credit sophisticated enough to help will be quite a task.
– It can be achieved.
– It could be achieved but a lot of thought needs to be given to it. I would anticipate that solutions offered by honourable members opposite would not provide an instant cure any more than anything that anyone else has come up with. We need to think back to last year when evidence was given to the Prices Committee that increased production would solve the domestic meat price problem and that no Government interference was wanted. That is no longer even a joke because the situation has become so serious. But even today the chairman of the Australian Meat Board is confident of the future. As no one can foresee the future, the present position may change. I think this is another fundamental of primary production and markets. Any market situation can go up or down quickly, and there is always a need never to panic. The industry has asked for devaluation. This we did from overall economic considerations. The industry has asked for negotiations at the highest level on a government to government basis. These have been going on for some 6 months now. Members of the Department of Overseas Trade have gone to Japan and Europe. The Minister for Overseas
Trade (Dr J. F. Cairns) recently had negotiations in Japan, and over a week ago Australia initiated in Washington a conference of exporters and importers which has agreed to meet again to try to come to some form of agreement.
Industry organisations know that simple industry pressure will not solve their problems. For the first time many producers are becoming aware of the world-wide perspective of commodity trading and the way agricultural trade policies in industrialised countries, through internal political pressures or as a result of external factors such as the price of oil, distort the production and distribution of food in an optimum fashion. Our comparative advantage cannot be maximised in such a world situation. It is the understanding of the world wide perspective and commodity markets that I think is essential if we are to put all our energies into the solution of the beef problem instead of sidetracking ourselves on to the reiteration of past policies.
The situation is potentially very dangerous. There are 2.7 million cattle on the hoof that should have been sold. The United States is taking what exports it can and there is still an export trade giving some outlet to our production. But no one knows what the bottom of the market is. This seems to be similar language to that used in 1970 in respect of wool. The beef that could be obtained from 2.7 million cattle is almost a year’s production. If the weather suddenly turns dry we will not have the capacity to kill, cool, freeze and store what would have to be turned off. The Government may be caught in the middle as prices to growers tumble even further with retail prices high. Although I do not think breeding herds would be sacrificed, farmers would not get any cash flow and assistance would have to be made directly on welfare grounds unless in the meantime some form of credit can be instituted.
Regional Employment Development Scheme- Primary Industry- Floods in Wagga Wagga
Motion (by Dr Patterson) proposed:
That the House do now adjourn.
-Last Thursday in this House I asked a question of the Minister for Labor and Immigration (Mr Clyde Cameron) in relation to the regional employment development scheme. I raised this matter after a question from the honourable member for Denison (Mr Coates) on 2 October in relation to the unemployment situation in Tasmania. At that stage a number of Dorothy Dix questions were asked by members from Tasmania because they were rather frightened of their position. The Opposition had endeavoured to enlighten the people of Tasmania about the neglect of thenState by this Government. The point I raise tonight is, I believe, quite a serious one. It concerns the most unsatisfactory method by which the funds under the RED scheme, as the Minister so proudly calls it, are being disbursed. I ask you, Mr Speaker, why there would need to be 4 RED Ministers- the Minister for Labor and Immigration, the Minister for Tourism and Recreation (Mr Stewart), the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren) and the Minister for the Environment and Conservation (Dr Cass). How degrading it is to have one Minister on the committee, let alone 4 Ministers.
I thought that the purposes of this scheme would be basically twofold; firstly it would provide unemployment to relieve the situation of rapidly increasing unemployment, approaching 200,000, that we have at the moment, and secondly, it would produce assets for our communities for us to complete projects of a capital nature with a high labour content. I agree that some maintenance work was earned out in 1972-73 that was, as the Minister claims, of a grass clipping nature. I agree with him to some extent on this point, but surely now we are in a position where we do not want any politics played. All we need is jobs for the unemployed and we want them quickly. In 1971-72, $27m was spent on unemployment relief, $103.8m in 1972-73 and $12m in 1973-74. Many worthwhile projects were carried out in that time and all States indicated that they were prepared to co-operate with the Commonwealth. The Queensland Premier immediately set up a committee to investigate and to allocate funds, but Queensland was ignored; indeed, it was snubbed.
I believe speed was the essence in this particular instance because of the rapidly rising unemployment. The State committees that were to be set up were ideal. They had the expertise, they had the technology and they could rapidly deal with projects and have funds allocated perhaps within four to five weeks. Yet the Minister for Labor and Immigration took it on himself to handle it all from Canberra. I understand that at the moment cities and shires throughout this nation are being told to spend funds and they will be reimbursed later. In my opinion, to date the scheme has failed dismally. There have been few people employed and the scheme has virtually bogged down. Let us look at the guidelines for the scheme. I am informed that they are amended almost weekly or even daily. It is said that the schemes are supposed to have a 50 per cent labour content, and I would agree with that. There is also an emphasis on those with dependants who have been unemployed the longest. Good heavens, many shires and cities today are facing retrenchments of 15 to 20 per cent. In the 10 points in the list dated October 1974 the classic one is No. 10. It says:
Appropriate public acknowledgment of the grant by the Australian Government under this scheme should be displayed prominently on the project site during progress of the work.
Just imagine a two or three thousand-dollar project with a big sign on it saying ‘This project was instigated by the Australian Government’. Imagine the confusion. There are approximately 900 local authorities in Australia, all making submissions to the Minister for Labor and Immigration. One cannot even get a reply from most of these departments. If the scheme were decentralised in the 6 States, as was the case previously, we would have none of the delay that is being experienced at the moment. The Minister stated in this House that he wanted Federal members to recommend schemes. Surely this should not be necessary.
I want to deal with a question I asked the Minister last Thursday when I interjected at one stage and mentioned Ipswich. Could I put on record that I do not begrudge Ipswich one cent of any money that it received. The Minister said that the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) had presented an excellent case for Ipswich and that the case was irresistible. If that does not smell of political patronage, I ask what does. Is the Minister implying that the remaining members in Queensland and throughout Australia who have not had schemes approved in their areas are not doing their duty? The Minister said that people have to maintain their dignity. One might ask what dignity is there in being unemployed. He said the local councils are proud to be associated with the Regional Employment and Development scheme. I can assure the Minister that there are 132 local councils in Queensland and I think there are 14 regions under the Commonwealth Employment Service that have been approved. The information I had on 24 September, and I do not think there has been a news release or a bulletin since then, indicates that only 3 projects to date have been approved.
I think the Minister degraded himself when he mentioned the number of projects in Tasmania. A detailed list was given and it is recorded in
Hansard of 2 October. The projects included cleaning of foreshores for $5,000, right up to a project for an elderly citizens’ complex for $140,000 and road works on the Cradle Mountain Road, which is to be upgraded at a cost of $82,000. 1 understand there has been a change in the policy in relation to kerbing and channelling works and these are not being recommended at the moment. There is confusion right throughout the scheme. There are 97 regions in Australia for the purpose of registration for employment and there are 6 capital city regions. Yet we find that to date only two of the capital cities have had any recognition- Hobart and Perth. Yet on the September figures, 45 per cent of the unemployed were registered in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide.
So we look at the Brisbane metropolitan area. The City of Brisbane and 9 other cities or shires comprise the Brisbane metropolitan region. At the time of the announcement of the Ipswich grant at the end of August the Brisbane metropolitan region had 5,601 unemployed. Three other regions- Cairns with 1,350, Townsville with 1,302 and Toowoomba with 1,107- were ahead of Ipswich with 1,037, and most of these areas were fairly low in unfilled vacancies. At that stage there was an announcement in one of the newspapers that Ipswich was to get $808,000. 1 do not know what the figure is, and the Minister might tell us afterwards. I have heard figures ranging from $350,000 to $450,000 to the Press report of $808,000. 1 believe this is another example of the Government’s refusal to co-operate with the States. So often we hear that the States will not co-operate with the Commonwealth. The States opened the door wide, and what did the Minister for Labor and Immigration do? He decided he would handle the whole lot from Canberra. As far as I am concerned, this handling of the scheme is nothing but a hotch-potch.
I say to the Minister that he should allocate the funds to the States, as was done previously, to allow them to get on and examine projects so that the work can be carried out quickly and so that we can achieve the twofold purpose of finding employment for those who are unfortunate enough to be out of work at the moment and the provision of assets for our cities and towns. I suggest that the Minister stop playing politics. This is a matter that is beyond politics. Unemployment has been created in this country by this Labor Government which claimed it would do so much for the worker, the worker it purports to represent. Yet we have probably the highest rate of unemployment this century. I suggest that the
Minister stop playing politics and hand the matter over to the State governments, who I am sure will deal quickly and efficiently with the problem.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I have listened carefully to most of what the honourable gentleman said. I apologise for not being here at the beginning of his speech and I acknowledge the fact that he was courteous enough to advise my office this afternoon that he intended to raise these matters, and for that I thank him. I came into the chamber at the time when he was complaining about the way the funds are being allocated and saying that the matter should be left entirely to the States. The Government is leaving the matter almost entirely to the State committees, wherever they operate. It is true that until we had the State committees set up the Regional Employment Development Ministers had to make some decisions on recommendations from a central interdepartmental committee here in Canberra, but that was never intended to be a permanent way of doing things. Now that the State committees are functioning and functioning very well, I might say, at the meeting of the RED Ministers today we approved many new projects that were recommended directly to the RED Ministers by the State committees.
The State committees are working very well indeed. I agree with the honourable gentleman that there is no substitute for State committees which are able to appraise the value of a job or project recommended from the particular State. Of course, a State committee has a better idea of the value of a project. I know that because today when we were looking at some projects which had been recommended by a State committee some of my RED colleagues asked me whether there was any justification for giving a grant to Moonta, which is in the electorate of the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Kelly), because there was a small number of people in that town. Because I knew South Australia so well I was in the same position as a member of the South Australian State committee. I said: ‘But you do not realise that 6 miles away from Moonta in one direction is a town called Wallaroo which has 2,000, 3,000, 4,000 or 5,000 people, and 6 miles exactly from Moonta in another direction is another town called Kadina, which has 7,000 or 8,000 people’. Once I was able to explain that to my RED colleagues they were then able to understand why it was that the State committee had recommended that the project be approved. We do not intend to try to appraise these things from Canberra. We want them all to go first of all through the State committees.
It is not true to say that the local authorities have to start their schemes out of their own funds in all cases. I explained that for the first 2 months of the scheme- until we get the appropriation through- we have to rely upon the Treasurer’s Advance account and we are not able to get from that account all the money that we need to give advances. But we have agreed to give advances in certain cases. Today we approved a 25 per cent advance requested from us, I think, by the honourable member for Lyne (Mr Lucock) or the honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair)- I cannot recall which one it was, but it was one in the north of New South Wales- so that the scheme could start immediately. I recognise the force of the argument put by the honourable gentleman that some of the local bodies just do not have enough money to start the schemes and that they will need an advance. He made his point well when he stated that this has to be taken into consideration. We recognised that today and did in fact give a grant in advance to one of the bodies.
It is true that the guidelines are being amended, not day by day, as the honourable gentleman said. I think it is almost true to say that there has been some change in the guidelines week by week. But that is to the credit of the RED Ministers rather than to their discredit because it shows that they are prepared to learn what is needed by trial and error. As we see a weakness in the scheme we tighten it and change the guidelines and then consolidate the guidelines to bring them into line with the latest variation. I will ask my private secretary to ensure that the honourable gentleman and any other honourable gentleman who wishes to see the guidelines as amended up to today’s meeting are supplied to them.
We have to be careful about making certain that the guidelines ensure that there is a proper accounting system. The Treasury requires that proper auditing be a feature of the scheme. Where we are dealing with local governing bodies there is not much trouble about that because they are bound by the Acts under which they operate to ensure that money is properly accounted for. We do not have any trouble with them. But where we have projects put forward by organisations which are quite worthy in themselves but which are not bound by the same strict auditing rules as are local governing bodies, we have to have strict guidelines, as we have with the rules that govern the letting of contracts to private contractors. That is one change which we made today. We found that there were some loopholes- I was about to say bottlenecks but I think loopholes is a better word- in the guidelines originally agreed upon in respect of contracting, so we tightened them.
I will admit that we give preference to people in receipt of the unemployment benefit who have families to keep. If there are 40 men in an area and there are only enough projects to employ 20 of them, and if 20 of them are married with families and 20 of them are single and capable of doing work elsewhere, I believe that at a time when we need 1,400 able-bodied men in the steel industry we ought not to be using RED employment to employ single men who could get a job immediately in another industry, instead we ought to use our money to employ people who are tied to a family home and who cannot go away long distances to work. I would not agree to a proposition that would take a man long distances from his wife and family to obtain work. It is true that we have notice boards. Where a State puts money into a project we include on the notice board that the scheme is a scheme that is being carried out by the municipality or shire of Timbuktu for the State Government of Queensland and the Australian Government. Where the project has no State Government money in it we do not, of course, mention the State Government.
I have received enormous support and cooperation from honourable members on both sides of the House in relation to this matter. I repeat what I said last week, I think it was- I have received great co-operation from members of the Australian Country Party in this Parliament. No Minister could receive better and more sincere co-operation devoid of any attempt to make party political capital out of the issue than I have received from the members of the Country Party who have come to me with well-presented cases. Nearly all of the Country Party members have done so. Between them they have received more money in their areas than all of the other members of the Parliament put together. That is not only because they have presented their cases well, as have the honourable members from Tasmania, who have also matched them in the way in which they have presented their cases, but also because Tasmania and, generally speaking, Country Party areas are where at the moment, unfortunately, the highest level or the greatest number of pockets of special distress exist.
Mention has been made of Ipswich. The Ipswich project is perfectly above board. I will not agree to having a good scheme condemned or ruined by political patronage. I will not be in it. I ask honourable members to accept my word for that. I am a tough political campaigner, but I am not going to allow political patronage to ruin or spoil this scheme. I have received from the honourable member for McPherson (Mr Eric Robinson), who is in the chamber and who will testify to this, great support and strong recommendations, and money has been approved for a project in Southport, which I think is in the honourable gentleman’s electorate. I have received support and co-operation from the honourable member for Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh) who, just a moment ago as I came into this chamber to defend myself, congratulated me on a project which we had approved only today. We have received support from the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett). The honourable member for Fisher (Mr Adermann) has put cases to me. The honourable member for Leichhardt (Mr Fulton) and the honourable member for Wide Bay (Mr Millar) are others from whom we have received support. Honourable members from Queensland have been particularly active. I repeat that I thank them for their activity and for the way in which they have handled this matter without any thought- so far I have seen no evidence of any attempt by them to do so- of making party political capital out of the scheme. If we can keep it going in this way the honourable member who behave in the way I have -
-Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
-Mr Speaker, an execution order has been issued for the death of the dairy industry by this Government. Falling returns from farming, together with the Government’s management of the economy, can be seen only as nails in the coffin of the dairy industry. The Prices Justification Tribunal was instructed to review its July decision to grant only marginal rises in wholesale butter and cheese prices. I believe it is urgent that the Tribunal review them at this stage because of its failure to compromise on that occasion. Such an income boost is vitally needed, as well as stronger action by the Government in inflation control.
The plight of the Australian farmers is being continually overlooked because we have a lame duck Minister in the Minister for Agriculture, Senator Wriedt, who cannot and apparently does not have the inclination to win a vote in the Cabinet.
– Or the Caucus.
-Or the Caucus as the honourable member for Wimmera has said. The Minister for Agriculture rides roughshod over his advisers, turns a bUnd eye to the mounting problems of rural poverty in Australia and a deaf ear to the voice of the Australian country men and country women. He has failed, as have his Cabinet ministerial colleagues and he will go down in history as having the distinction of presiding over the greatest downturn of activity for Australian rural industry, particularly the dairying industry. The presidency of the Labor Government has seen the dismantling of practical schemes of assistance to producers. This has occurred for one specific reason, that is, a reason of greed. Labor’s collective hatred of rural people has been directed at the dairying industry. The reason why that hate has been so directed is that some of the major margarine companies are the biggest financial backers of the Labor Party and the deal that Labor did with them in the 1969, 1972 and 1974 elections was in return for slush funds that would cripple the dairying industry.
With total political financial backing, the Labor Government has been about its task with nauseating glee. But it is not only the dairying industry that has been stabbed in the back. The meat industry has copped it. The wool industry is facing it. And it will not be long before the wheat industry cops it too. A compounding of these problems has been the Government’s failure to restore sanity to our economic framework. The Prices Justification Tribunal earlier this year was told that farm production costs were rising at an annual rate of 25 per cent. I estimate, in the light of developments since then, that the rise in production costs is nearer 35 per cent. Our returns are not rising that much. We are witnessing the exodus from the dairying industry of the greatest number of farmers in the history of Australia. The Government can take immediate action to alleviate these problems. It can curb inflation by reforming taxation measures and by abolishing sales tax, by introducing tax cut-backs, by floating the Australian dollar cleanly and by taking a much stronger international trading position in bargaining with major importers of our dairy products. The Country Party, together with the Liberal Party, is committed to such a policy approach. It is time that the Labor Government woke up and realised that this is the only workable policy approach.
In referring to the beef industry, I wish to quote some figures that I have in relation to the present position. Nearly 90 per cent of Australian beef goes to 3 main markets- the United
States of America, Japan and the European Economic Community. The factors in the weak markets include economic conditions, changes in currency rates, consumption fall due to high retail prices, higher local production in importing countries, tariff changes and the accumulation of big stocks of meat. Special factors are the European Economic Community ban on beef imports from 16 July 1974 to 30 November 1974 and the postponement of a significant quantity of imports by Japan. These factors have made it almost impossible for the meat industry to survive. Canada imposed a global quota on beef imports for the year beginning 12 August. Strong political pressure exists in the United States for the reintroduction of beef import restraints, although these appear unlikely to be introduced in this year. The reason that I point these factors out is to indicate to the House that the Australian meat industry is of importance to our export income and that we ought to be pursuing other markets. Last night I made the point that we ought to be tinning beef so that countries which do not have the benefits of refrigeration can participate in the meat overflow that we have in Australia.
-The honourable member for McMillan (Mr Hewson), who has just resumed his seat, made reference in his speech to the Labor Party receiving money in the form of slush funds from margarine manufacturers. He would not have a jot or a tittle of evidence to support his claim. It is virtually a mythical story that he has from a bad-minded man. I wish to return the attack by referring to allegations by a highly respected journalist who, for a considerable time sat in the Press Gallery in this Parliament, He is Mr Ray Aitchison who wrote the book which I hold in my hand. It is entitled ‘Looking at the Liberals’.
– It is not true.
-Ray Aitchison ‘s integrity has been highly regarded by all members of this House for a long, long time. On page 256 of his book, this distinguished, forthright, honest Australian journalist, referring to the Liberal Party, states:
I was told seriously by friends in Washington whilst I was there during the Australian election campaign that with so much at stake from the American viewpoint CIA funds were available to help defeat the Labor government in Australia. They would be made available without anyone in Australia having to ask for the money or even aware of where it was coming from. Such an operation, of course, was in line with the work of the CIA and the American government on a global scale to preserve American interests anywhere in the world. For Australia, it was a simple operation, and ‘peanuts ‘ as far as money was concerned.
And the honourable member for McMillan has the temerity to talk about the Labor Party receiving money from the margarine manufacturers. He ought to hide his head in shame. I have not finished dealing with him yet.
This book by this forthright journalist, Ray Aitchison, who, I believe, is still employed by the Australian Broadcasting Commission, continues:
Anti-socialist political organisations contesting an Australian election under prevailing assessments of the international situation could not be permitted to fail .through a mere shortage of funds. Maybe CIA funds were not used. However, the American Government would have no difficulty in giving anonymous money to Australian anti-socialists . . . and the book goes on. Mr Aitchison states further:
To use an American expression, no one rooted more for Snedden -
– A point of order, Mr Speaker. You have constantly forbidden members of this House to quote from newspapers unless they can sustain the accuracy-; -
-Order! No point of order arises.
– I have not finished yet.
-Order! The honourable member will resume his seat while I am addressing the chamber. That requirement applies only to questions. The honourable member for Hunter is in order.
– Ray Aitchison goes on to say:
To use an American expression, no one rooted more for Snedden and his anti-socialist forces in the election campaign than did Government men and top businessmen in the United States.
– What did he say about the Country Party?
-You talk about slush funds. You are copping it and you cannot take it. Mr Aitchison goes on to refer to that distinguished, pretty tittle girl who was the former secretary of a former Prime Minister, the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton). He states:
Ainsley Gotto, John Gorton’s former private secretary, who had been working for some years for the American company Drake International, was able to help out in a smaller way. She returned to Australia as the election campaign got started and offered to all thirteen members of the Liberal Parliamentary Executive a skilled secretary to work fulltime for each of them throughout the campaign free of charge. Her offer was snapped up.
And honourable members opposite have the temerity to talk about Labour Party slush funds. We do not deny the fact that we get our funds in the main from trade unionists who know that if honourable members opposite had their way they would drive the working class of this country into the ground. I will resume my seat on that theme as I see that the time for this sitting has almost expired.
– I wish very briefly to take what remains of the last minute of this adjournment debate to express to the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard), who is in the chamber, my disappointment at the recent flooding of the Murrumbidgee River which has had a most serious effect on the Mountain Maid asparagus farms. Several requests were made to the Minister for assistance in the way of bridges and getting access to the asparagus farms -
-Order! It being 11 o’clock, the House stands adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow.
House adjourned at 11 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Media, upon notice:
- Senator Douglas McClelland, the Minister for the Media, has provided the following answer to the right honourable member’s question:
asked the Special Minister of State, upon notice:
– I refer the right honourable member to the Prime Minister’s reply to a similar question (Hansard, House of Representatives 24 July 1974, page 625 ).
Department of Repatriation and Compensation: Inter-departmental Committees (Question No. 298)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation, upon notice:
– The Minister for Repatriation and Compensation has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question: ( 1), (2) and (3). I refer the right honourable member to the Prime Minister’s answer to Question No. 964 on the 1973 Notice Paper (Hansard, 27 September 1973, page 1714) in which he drew attention to the impracticatities of attempting to list all the consultations in which Departments are engaged with other Departments.
My Department keeps me properly informed of all important developments- this is a satisfactory procedure for the purposes of my Ministry.
Women-Opportunities for Part-time Work (Question No. 316)
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice:
– The answer to the right honourable member’s question is as follows:
Since January 1970 the Department of Labor and Immigration and its predecessors have been collecting data on persons registered with its Employment Service who are seeking part-time work and since January 1973 the Department has been collecting information on vacancies for parttime workers.
Individuals who have sought assistance to train for parttime employment have been included in the Department’s - training schemes and on completion of their training the Employment Service has assisted them in finding employment. The Department through the Employment Service plays an active part in finding part-time employment for women. In New South Wales and Victoria the Temporary Staff Service caters for the demand for short-term casual jobs. The vacancies dealt with by the Service cover both part-time and fulltime jobs. Similar arrangements operate in the other States.
The Women’s Bureau of the Department of Labor and Immigration has been active in seeking to secure a wider acceptance of part-time employment as a regular feature of the employment market structure. Several of the Bureau ‘s publications have been designed specifically to promote the concept of increased flexibility in hours of work including parttime work.
Statistics of part-time employment in the Australian Public Service are published in the Board’s Annual Report.
Developments in the field of pan-time employment have been outlined in the Board ‘s 1 974 Annual Report, tabled on 17 September 1974.
See also my answer on 2 August 1974 (Hansard, page 1111).
Department of Special Minister of State: Training in Financial and Auditing Procedures (Question No. 375)
asked the Special Minister of State, upon notice:
– The answer to the right honourable member’s questions is as follows: (1), (2) and (3) None. See also the Prime Minister’s answer to Question on Notice No. 329. (Hansard, House of Representatives, 24 July 626-627).
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice:
In view of the significance of the South Pacific Commission to the island states in the region, will the Minister give an assurance that Australia’s financial commitment to the Commission for the financial year 1974-7S will be maintained or increased in real terms.
– The Minister for Foreign Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
I wish to assure the honourable member that the Australian Government considers that the South Pacific Commission plays a significant role in furthering the economic and social development of the island states in the region. To this end the amount included in the 1974-75 appropriation as Australia’s contribution to the South” Pacific Commission is $681,000. In 1973-74 the Australian contribution was $508,000.
asked the Minister for Social Security, upon notice:
Will he provide an outline of all methodology being employed in all social analysis work being undertaken by or through the Social Welfare Commission for the Australian Assistance Plan.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The Australian Assistance Plan is currently being undertaken as an action-research project. Pilot projects are under evaluation by an independent team from universities in each State. These evaluators have been monitoring the development of the programme since February, 1974 and will report to the Commission in February, 1975.
They are developing a methodology with which to assess the nature of participation by individuals and groups in the projects, the viability of the regions and the basis upon which services can be developed and delivered.
In each State the evaluators have been attending meetings within the pilot projects to observe the processes of establishing regional councils, and to some extent, their operation. Because participation is emphasised in the Australian Assistance Plan, the nature of participation by individuals and groups will form a major part of the evaluation.
Attention is being focused on regions as significant units. Some evaluators are examining regional geography, population, economy, community of interest and services. The theoretical concepts of regionalisation are being studied and applied to the regions set up under the Australian Assistance Plan. Regionalisation is being studied to understand participation, and to examine the development and provision of services.
In some instances a regional profile (including existing welfare services) is being drawn in conjunction with the development of a set of social indicators. The evaluators are concentrating on two major issues here. One is the development of a means of assessing deficiencies within a region. The other concerns the relationships between people in the region concerned with those deficiencies, the Australian Government, State and Local Government and voluntary agencies.
asked the Minister for Social Security, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Of the 120 not yet approved, 9 were referred back to the Board for further information on their social welfare aspects as they did not appear to come within the scope of the Australian Assistance Plan. 1 1 1 were referred to other Departments for consideration and comment on possibilities for funding under existing Australian Government programmes and on their relevance to the responsibilities of the other Departments concerned.
asked the Minister for Social Security, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Social Security, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The members and the organisations they represent are as follows:
asked the Minister for Social Security, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Social Secur ity, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Social Security, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 23 October 1974, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1974/19741023_reps_29_hor91/>.