18th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. Gordon Brown) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
Assent to thef ollowing bills reported : -
Customs Tariff Validation Bill 1947.
Customs Tariff (Southern Rhodesian Preference) Validation Bill 1947.
Excise Tariff Validation. Bill 1947.
– Regarding the statement made in the House of Representalives yesterday by the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) that he has definite evidence that a foreign power, as he termed it, is attempting to retard the construction of the guided weapons testing range in CentralAustralia, I ask the Leader of the Senate whether we are to assume that the Attorney-General is suggesting that it is the government of a foreign power that is taking action in this respect? If so, is such government represented by a legation in this country; and is it suggested that the legation itself has been actively inspiring sabotage of the constructionof the guided weapons testing range ?
– I have read press report’s on this matter and also the reply given in the House of Representatives yesterday by the Attorney-General to a question on the subject. As I am not in n position at this juncture to reply to the honorable senator’s question, I ask him to place it upon the notice-paper.
– As thousands of
Australian citizens wish to send food parcels to Great Britain, will the Minister for Supply and Shipping ascertain whether the present shortage of cardboard cartons is due to a monopoly in this industry, and if so, will he take steps to break the monopoly as soon as possible so that the supply of cartons may be increased?
– The response of the Australian people to appeals for food parcels for Great Britain has been so great that there is an enormous demand for cardboard cartons: I am unaware of any shortage of cartons, but I shall have inquiries made with a view to remedying any scarcity that may exist.
Purchase or Motor Car
Senator JAMES McLACHLAN.Will the Minister for Trade and Customs ascertain whether the motor car purchased from the Government of South Australia for the use of the GovernorGeneral was sold at the pegged price?
– I shallmake inquiries and supply the honorable senator with an answer to his question. .
– What, action is being taken by the Postmaster-General’s Department to provide new post offices at Inglewood and Maylands. Western Australia ?
– The erection of a. new post office at Inglewood has been included in the department’s new works programme. The work has been given a high priority, and we hope that it will be started at the beginning of the next financial year. If a start can be made earlier it will be. The main consideration is the supply of materials and labour.
– Can the Postmaster-General say when the present pressure on trunk line telephone service will be relieved, and when the thousands of applicants now on the waiting list for telephones may expect the instruments to be installed?
– Owing to the war situation, drastic restrictions had to be imposed on the programme for new trunk-line channels. Since the cessation of hostilities, additional channel’s have been provided, but the service is still inadequate. This week, theGovernment authorized the expenditure of £30,000,000 on telephone services over a period of three years, and the expenditure provided for next year will be about £9,000,000. The programme will include the provision of some hundreds of additional channels for trunk-lines. In Tasmania, the work will include the installation of new channels from Hobart to Melbourne, from Launceston to Melbourne, and also from Hobart to Stanley and other places where extra services are needed. If the honorable senator wishes, I shall supply him next week with more detailed information regarding the programme, both forTasmania and for the mainland.
– Has the PostmasterGeneral given further consideration to the matter of selective ringing for telephones on party lines, which would save thousands of miles of wire? Is it not a fact that the selective ringing system is similar to that by which railway signals are operated?
– Consideration has been given to this matter by telephone officers, but I am not aware of the conclusions that they have reached. However, I shall make investigations and supply the information to the honorable senator next week.
SenatorFRASER. - In view of the contemplated erection of war memorials, has the Government given any consider ation to the building of a national theatre in memory of those who lost their lives in World War II? If not, will the Government examine this proposal?
– I am not aware of any consideration having been given by the Government to the erection of a national theatre, but I shall have the request of the honorable senator placed before Cabinet for consideration.
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
Will the Treasurer instruct the Commonwealth Statistician to compile from the next census information a comprehensive table showing the real value of house rents, for publication in the Quarterly Summary and other publications of that office?
– The Treasurer has supplied the following answer : -
As at previous censuses the Commonwealth Statistician will compile a comprehensive table of house rents from data furnished at the next census. This information will be published in detail in the census report, and informative summaries of such information will be published in the Quarterly Summary and other publications of the statistical bureau.
– On the 1st May, Senator Devlin asked the following question : -
I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Transport what is the order of priority governing the granting of permits for the purchase of motor cars and trucks?
The Minister for Transport has now supplied the following answer: -
No priority list has been issued by the Minister as so many factors have to be considered by Directors of Emergency Road Transport in the several States that the actual decisions regarding allotment on the broad basis, that urgency and essentiality of use must be considered in relation to other applicationsand the number of cars and utility trucksmade available monthly by manufacturers.
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The Treasurer has supplied the following answer to the honorable senator’s questions: -
Except in special circumstances the Commonwealth does not provide financial assistance to the States for the development of mineral production but provides assistance direct to individual mines in the form of loans for rehabilitation purposes where the following conditions apply: -
The Commonwealth scheme is intended to supplement, not replace, State aid to mining and, generally, Commonwealth funds are not made available for prospecting. Applications for assistance for rehabilitation purposes are, in the first place, usually made to the Mines Department of the State concerned and that department reports to the Commonwealth Bureau of Mineral Resources, Geology and Geophysics, Department of Supply and Shipping. Projects recommended by the Commonwealth Bureau are considered by the Commonwealth Mining Industry Committee which, in turn, makes a recommendation to the Treasurer and Minister for Supply and Shipping who jointly decide the measure of assistance to be granted in each case.
asked the Minister for Social Services, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follows : -
Debate resumed from the 1st May (vide page 1793), on motion by Senator Ashley -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– This bill will bring the original legislation dealing with compensation to injured seamen more into conformity with modern thought. It contains a schedule setting out the compensation to be paid in respect of certain classes of injury. The Opposition agrees with the principles underlying thebill - principles which the Parliament has recognized for a long time. The parent act was placed on the statute-book in 1909, but as one of its provisions was challenged in the High Court and found to be invalid, new legislation had to be introduced. That was done in December, 1911. On that occasion, excepting for a few technical amendments made in the Senate and accepted by the House of Representatives, the bill was supported by all political parties. Many changes have occurred since 1911, especially in relation to the cost of living. The measure now before the Senate is designed to overcome anomalies which have become evident in the intervening years.
Proposed new section 5aa deals with compensation for injury to a seaman while travelling to and from his work. In this connexion a seaman is in a somewhat different position from an employee whose work is on land in that the seaman regards the ship on which he is employed as both home and workshop. Experience has shown that at times claims for compensation by seamen have related to injuries which were not reported to the ships’ officers until the next morning, and were, in fact, received the previous evening when the seamen were returning from shore leave. Difficulties have arisen in connexion with claims for compensation in such cases because of the uncertainty as to where the injury was received, as for instance, whether the accident occurred on the gangway leading to the ship, or on the deck. I agree that a seaman who leaves his ship to visit the company’s offices or on business for his company is entitled to compensation should he he injured during his absence from the vessel, but the fact remains that when a seaman leaves his ship for any purpose the ship-owner has no control over his movements until he returns. Thus no opportunity is given, when necessary, to check the truth, of the employee’s statement. In view of the facts I have mentioned, I suggest that the provision in the hill might be superfluous.
The bill also provides that where a seaman habitually uses his left hand and arm to perform work usually performed by seamen with the right hand and arm, the rate of compensation shall be at the rate applying in the latter case. In order to obviate injustice, or misrepresentation, I suggest that provision should he made for insertion in the employee’s articles a statement as to whether he Ls right-handed or left-handed. Although the .measure provides that some record must be made of this fact, it would be more satisfactory to both the employer and the employee if my suggestion were adopted. Those are the only points I wish to raise. I support the measure.
– in reply - I appreciate the reception given by the Opposition to the measure. In reply to Senator Cooper I point out that only in special circumstances could a seaman regard his ship as li is home, because at his home port the seaman would live at his own residence. Seamen, like other members of the community, have their own homes. I also point out that this provision is already in operation under State legislation.
The second point raised by Senator Cooper is already covered by sub-section 7 of proposed new section 5b of the principal act, which reads - (7.) For the purposes of sub-section (2.) of this section, a seaman who habitually uses his left hand and ann to perform work usually performed .by a seaman with his right hand and arm should notify the prescribed authority of this fact in such manner as is prescribed. . . .
– Who is the prescribed authority?
– The authority will be prescribed by regulation. In view of the provision 1 have read, the position mentioned by the honorable senator will not arise.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
, - I move -
That the bill be -now ‘read a second time.
The purpose of the “bill is to make use of the new powers vested in the Parliament as a result of the recent referendum to place on a firm legal foundation certain existing legislation of a -social .services character. In order to make (dear the necessity for, and the purposes of, the hill, it is necessary to make some reference to events and circumstances which are probably still fresh in the minds of honorable senators.
The constitutional position in regard to our social services legislation was .explained to honorable senators when theConstitution Alteration (Social Services’) Bill was before the Senate. ‘It was explained that the only specific power to enact such legislation which the. Parliament had was to provide invalid and oldage pensions. Parliament had, however, from time to time, provided for many other benefits on the assumption that it could validly do so under the power to appropriate public moneys for the purposes of the Commonwealth. The decision of the High Court -in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Act case showed, however, that the appropriation power -could only be exercised for those purpose.1 which are stated or implied elsewhere in the Constitution, and that Parliament had been acting on too wide a view of it? power.
The Government obtained the opinion of a number of eminent counsel as to the light which the decision in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Act case threw upon the validity of various other Commonwealth acts. Those opinions were summarized in my speech to the Senate in moving the second reading of the Constitution Alteration (Social Services) Bill, and showed that there was grave doubt as to the validity of a number of acts. It wa.s this situation which led the Government to .bring before the Parliament the proposed alteration of the Constitution contained in the Constitution Alteration (Social Services) Bill. That bill was approved by overwhelming majorities in both Houses of the Parliament, and also by the necessary majorities of voters at the referendum, and, having received the. Governor-General’s assent on behalf of His Majesty,- became law on the 19th day. of December, 1946.
The new power which now resides in the Parliament is to make laws with respect to “ the provision of maternity allowances, widows’ pensions, child endowment, unemployment, pharmaceutical, sickness and hospital benefits, medical and dental services - but not so as to authorize any form of civil conscription - benefits to students and family allowances “. The view of the Government’s legal advisers is, however, that the Commonwealth cannot rely on these new powers to support legislation enacted before the 19th December, 1946, unless that legislation has been confirmed by Parliament on or after that date. The general rule is that a. law which is ultra aires when passed is not automatically validated by a subsequent grant to the Parliament of the power to make such a law. ‘ The statute-book has been examined, therefore, with a view to ascertaining what existing acts and parts of acts are either invalid or of doubtful validity, but would, by virtue of the new powers, be valid if they had been enacted after the 19th December, 1946. The acts and parts of acts which are considered to come within this category are those set out in the schedule to the bill now before the Senate. The bill, if passed, will ensure their validity by declaring them to have- full force and effect.
The first four acts set out in the schedule are the Maternity Allowance Act, the “Widows’ Pensions Act, the Child. Endowment Act, and the “Unemployment and Sickness Benefits Act. The relevance of the new powers to these acts will be quite obvious to honorable senators, if they compare the titles of these acts with the wording of the new powers. However, honorable senators may be puzzled as to why it is proposed to validate these acts when the Government has already indicated its intention of re-enacting them in a consolidated and amended form in the near future. The answer to thi? question is to be found partly in clause 2 of the bill, which provides that the act shall be deemed to have come into operation on the 19th December, 1946, that is to say, on the date on which the alteration of the Constitution came into force. It may be that offences against the acts in question, such as the making of fraudulent claims for pensions or other benefits, have been committed since the 19th December, 1946, or may be committed before the proposed consolidated act becomes la.w. Unless the existing acts are validated as from 19th December, 1946, prosecutions for these offences would be likely to fail. Moreover, the Government considers it proper that the Parliament should validate, so far as lies within its power, payments already made or which will be made under these acts.
The next act mentioned in the schedule is the Hospital Benefits Act 1945. This act is already valid to the extent that it provides for grants to States. But it also authorizes the making of regulations providing for direct payments by the Commonwealth in respect of patients in private hospitals. This provision has been availed of by the making of the Hospital Benefits (Private Hospitals) Regulations, and it seems clear that the provision mentioned in the act, and at least some of the regulations issued under it, are at present invalid. The new power to provide for hospital benefits enables the act and regulations to be validated by the present bill. The schedule next mentions the Education Act 1945. As honorable senators are aware, this act sets up the Commonwealth Office of Education and the Universities Commission, and provides for financial assistance to university students and others. The act is, no doubt, already valid to the extent that it provides for the training of discharged members of the forces and also to the extent that it is incidental to the making of grants to the States. But the act also purports to enable regulations to be made providing for assistance to students other than d is.charged members of the forces. This power has been already exercised in the University Commission (Financial Assistance) Regulations. The provision in the act enabling these regulations to be made, and _ the regulations themselves, come within the new power of the Parliament to provide “ benefits to students “, and the bill, if passed, will validate them.
The next item in the schedule to the bill is Part IVa. of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act. As I have already pointed out, the Parliament has always had express power to provide for invalid and old-age pensions. But Part IVa. provides for allowances to wives of invalid pensioners, and it is doubtful whether it comes within the scope of the invalid and old-age pensions power. It is therefore considered desirable to validate it under the new power to provide “ family allowances “.
The last item in the schedule is Division 5 of Part II., and Parts III., IV. and XI. of the Re-establishment and Employment Act. Division 5 of Part II. provides for the establishment of a Commonwealth employment service. The activities of this service are related to the matter of unemployment included in the powers conferred on the Commonwealth by the recent amendment of the Constitution. Part III., comprising sections 50 to 54 of the act, deals with vocational training. It relates primarily to discharged members of the forces but may be extended by regulations to other persons. No such regulations have been made, but it is considered desirable to validate this part by virtue of the new power in respect of “ benefits to students “. Part IV. of the act, comprising sections 55 to 62, deals with disabled persons, and authorizes the provision of facilities for making such persons fit to undertake training and to obtain employment, the payment of allowances to such persons, and the provision of books, tools of trade, surgical aids, &c, for such persons. This part again relates primarily to discharged members of the forces, but may be extended by regulations to other persons. So far no such regulations have been made. This part will, it is considered, derive support from the new power relating to “ benefits to students “, and also from the new powers relating to unemployment and sickness benefits and medical services. Part XI. contains provision for the making of regulations and, as this provision may be invoked in the implementation of the other parts of the act, mentioned above, the force and effect of Part XI. is declared by this bill
Honorable senators will notice that sub-clause 1 of clause 3 of the bill gives full force and effect not only to the enactments specified in the schedule, but also to any regulations made under any of those enactments. Honorable senators will be familiar with the regulations in force under the first three items and the seventh item in the schedule. No regulations have been made under the Unemployment and Sickness Benefits Act. Under the Hospital Benefits Act the Hospital Benefits (Private Hospitals) Regulations, which £ have already mentioned, have been made. I have also referred to the regulations made under the Education Act. and to the fact that no regulations have been made under Part III. and IV. of the Re-establishment and Employment Act.
The only provision of the bill remaining for explanation is sub-clause 2 of clause 3. This sub-clause is necessary to avoid any interruption or upsetting of existing administrative arrangements under the acts in the schedule. It will, for example, validate all appointments under those acts and all grant3 of pensions and endowment. It may seem curious that the Pharmaceutical Benefits Act, which was the act held invalid by the High Court, is not mentioned in the schedule to the bill. The reason for this is two-fold. First the act is not in actual operation, and secondly, the Government has decided to make a general revision of the act before bringing it into operation. This revision, and any necessary validating provisions, will be brought before the Senate in a separate bill. I hope that the object and effect of the bill will now be clear to honorable senators, and that they will appreciate the fact that it is not of a contentious nature. I am sure, therefore, that the hill will commend itself to honorable senators on both sides of the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator McLeay) adjourned.
Order of the Day No. 3 - International Affairs - Ministerial Statement - Resumption, of debate - discharged.
Order of the Day No. 4 - United Nations Conference on Trade and Employment - Report of first session of Preparatory Committee - Resumption of debate - disch arged .
Debate resumed from the 26th March (vide page 1151), on motion by Senator Ashley -
That the following paperbe printed: -
Financial Statementby the Right Honorable J. B.Chifley. M.P., Treasurer.
– The financial statement by the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) that was presented to the Senate by the Minister for Supply and Shipping (Senator Ashley) gave details of the financial outlook for the first eight months of the year 1947-48. I have no doubt that those who read the statement, from the lowest income groups to the highest income groups, found a great deal of food for thought in it. Let us analyse it. The Treasurer stated that the Government’s finances appeared to be in a healthy condition. This was to be expected, because, during the last twelve months, plenty of money has been in circulation and rates of taxes, both direct and indirect, havebeen very high. The figures of revenue and expenditure show that revenue greatly exceeded the amount estimated and that expenditure was much less than was expected. One of the most outstanding paragraphs in the statement declared that, in the view of the Treasurer, Commonwealth expenditure is unlikely to fall below £400,000,000 a year, as compared with about £88,000,000 in 1936-37, only ten years ago. That gives us little cause for hope of any substantial reduction of taxpayers’ burdens in future. We all realize that a heavy price must be paid for victory, which was necessary for the survival of the Australian people and our way of living. Very few Australians objected to paying heavy taxes for the purpose of carrying on the war and, with the aid of our allies, eventually gaining victory. War is necessarily costly and wasteful. However, when peace returned, we expected that governmental expenditure would be limited to essential requirements only.
Australia has a population of only a little over 7,000,000 people, and the greater part of the population is concentrated near the eastern coastline, chiefly in the large cities. The cost of linking the sparsely populated areas in the interior of the continent is very heavy. When we consider that 7,000,000 people will have to bear a tax burden of approximately £400,000,000 a year, we realize that our outlook is not bright. The only logical way to relieve the burden, in my opinion, is to increase the national income by means of increased production and to increase the population, so that the incidence of taxation shall be spread over a greater number of people. An increase of our population is most desirable. In order to increase production, every encouragement must be given to employees and employers to make consumer goods. When hostilities ended, Australia found itself in a position at least equal to, if not better than, that of any other country. It has many advantages over other countries. A great deal of raw materials needed by our secondary industries is produced here. We have immense mineral and agricultural wealth, and we have large coal resources. The only important item essential to secondary production that does not exist in large quantities in Australia is oil. There has been an enormous increase of the output of our secondary industries and of the variety of goods manufactured. The very fact of our isolation during the war encouraged our manufacturers to produce goods which would not otherwise have been manufactured in this country for possibly twenty years. We modernized and brought to a high state of efficiency our manufacturing plants, industrial undertakings and shipbuilding yards, and none of them sustained the slightest damage during the war. There was enormous spending power in the country and people were anxious to buy household goods, materials for home-building and commodities of almost every kind. Other countries were hungering for our primary and secondary products. There were hundreds of thousands of men and women in the services, tens of thousands engaged in the production of armaments, and tens of thousands more engaged in the manufacture of goods. Therefore, all the conditions existed for us to introduce an era of prosperity for ourselves and to relieve the want and suffering of a sick world. All that was necessary was the will to work and to increase production.
There were, admittedly, some disabilities to be overcome. In the first place, we incurred heavy war debts ; but the greater part of our debt was owed to our own investors, the people of this country. Internal debt does not impose so great a drain on a country’s resources as money owed abroad. There was also the disadvantage of very high taxes ; and, worst of all, the aftermath of war developed an irresponsible element whose sole purpose seemed to be to oppose everything conducive to progress. Reviewing these factors, can it be said that the Government has taken advantage of the remarkable opportunity offered to this country - an opportunity that may not occur again ? I think our answer must be that the Government failed to take advantage of that opportunity. It has allowed the irresponsible element to assume control of our key industries, and whether we regard them as Fascists, Communists or anything else, the fact remains that in the last twenty months they have sabotaged the prosperity of this country. Time after time the production of goods vitally needed has been brought to a complete standstill by strikes and the application of the “go-slow” policy in key industries. The Government, which was elected by the people and is responsible to the people, has supreme authority to deal with almost any situation; and it must accept responsibility for the disruption that has taken place. To mention only one example, I point to the loss of a large export trade with the Netherlands East Indies which occurred eighteen months ago. On that occasion the Waterside Workers Federation, a body of employees which, no doubt, performs a useful function in the community, decided to dictate to -the Government the foreign policy of this country. It ordered the Government to accept its policy with regard to exports to the Netherlands East Indies, and placed an embargo on trade with Dutch vessels. After eighteen months that embargo still operates. The attitude adopted by the Government could not be justified even if the world were enjoying -a plentiful supply of -consumer goods; still less can it be defended when there is such a dire shortage. At the time this dispute arose the Dutch Government had purchased in this country woollen goods, medical supplies, wheat, canned goods and food of all kinds to relieve the distress in the Netherlands East Indies. Ordinarily this country depends for a substantial part of its income on the export of many of these commodities. Here was a magnificent opportunity to fulfil orders approximating £8,000,000 and send the goods to the Netherlands East Indies as a goodwill gesture. That would have formed the basis for further substantial exports to that country and the development of a most lucrative trade with the thicklypopulated countries to the north of Australia. However, that magnificent opportunity was lost and the economic policy of the country was frustrated because a single organization in this country declared that Dutch vessels were not to be allowed to carry goods to the Netherlands East Indies.
There are included in the financial statement commitments which are of a more or less static nature, and it is not disputed that these commitments ‘cannot be appreciably reduced. For example, there is provision for pensions, repatriation services and so on, arising from World War I, amounting to approximately £20,000,000, and there are similar commitments in respect of World War II. approximating £100,000,000. Certain disbursements have to be made by the Commonwealth to the States under the uniform tax agreement, and it is estimated that these will aggregate approximately £60,000,000 a year. According to the Treasurer’s statement ‘the Government expects that the sums involved in these disbursements to the States are likely to increase. As the Commonwealth Government is extending its functions more and more into fields which previously were occupied by the States, one would have thought that the expenditure under this heading would diminish rather than increase. I have in mind the extension by the Commonwealth into the fields of education, health, housing, and social services. “It would appear, however, that no savings of any magnitude can be expected in connexion with payments to the States,. During the next five years the -Government expects to expend an amount rising to £100,000,000 a year on social services, and it envisages even greater expenditure thereafter. That is a large sum of money. The estimated expenditure on social services this year is £68,000,000, so that it would appear that a saving of £32,000,000 under this heading will be possible..
On the Government’s own figures, the total of what might be called fixed commitments is approximately £280,000,000 a. year but there are other items of expenditure which may be classed as variable, because the amounts vary from year to year. Among them is expenditure on defence. No one could give a reliable estimate to-day of the cost of providing a sound defence programme for the future. Even the Treasurer has not essayed a forecast of the sum required, but it is certain that expenditure on defence in the future will - be greater than the, amounts budgeted for in prewar years. At it.111 S stage, it would be unwise to expend large sums of money on materials and equipment which might be obsolete before they were delivered. Methods of warfare in the future will be vastly different from what they have been in the past. Many changes have taken place in recent years, and further changes are being made almost every week. I suggest that a certain sum pf money should ‘be set aside each year for defence research. In this connexion, I commend the action of the Government in going ahead with its proposals in connexion with a testing range for guided weapons in central Australia. There is no doubt that, in the event of a future war missiles will be directed .against enemy territory from places many hundreds, or even thousands, of miles away. No longer can Australia regard its geographical isolation as ensuring its safety. The speed qf aircraft is increasing month by month and with the perfection of the control of guided missiles ,and further developments in connexion with atomic bombs, a distance of ‘several thousands pf miles from .territory in the possession .of .an enemy will not provide security. In my opinion, some of the expenditure on defence should be from loan moneys, because defence can be regarded as a form of long-term insurance.
What can best be described as ordinary governmental expenditure costs Australia approximately £90,000,000 a year. That is a large sum and it would appear that some pruning of departmental expenditure ought to be undertaken. During the war years some departments, in the interests of Australia’s defence, expended money without restriction. They have developed the habit of spending money lavishly, and it may be difficult for them to get down to a basis of reasonable and economic administration and expenditure, but they should realize the need to do s.o if Australian products are to compete in the world’s markets with the goods of other countries. The Government has expended considerable sums’ on socialist undertakings. Where .similar ventures have been undertaken in the various States, they have proved to be very costly experiments. When a company, or a private person, fails in business the loss is carried by those concerned; but when government ventures fail, the loss is thrown up.p,u the shoulders of’ the community iri the form of higher .taxes.
The picture presented in the financial statement ,is grim. However, all of us agree that, haying regard to economic conditions generally, Australia is probably .the luckiest .country in the world. We have the power in our ow.n hands to .surmount our difficulties. The most effective way -put for us is by increasing production. Th.e Government constantly stresses the need for full employment. That is a laudable objective: but full production is even more essential. The benefit of full employment places upon every individual the obligation to give of his or her best. Full employment will not be achieved unless we maintain peace in industry, and every individual pulls his or her weight. Therefore, a gr.eater incentive must be given to both employers and employees. The Opposition parties believe that the best incentive to increase production is to reduce the present high taxes. At the last general elections we enunciated that policy, which we believed was .not only attractive but would have done much to place the country’s economy on an even keel. However, the die is cast and the Government has been returned for a further period of three years. During the election campaign, the Opposition parties demonstrated conclusively that substantial reductions of income tax could be made immediately, and the leaders of both those parties gave a definite promise that, if elected to office, they would immediately reduce income tax collections by £35,000,000 as from the 1st January last, and that taxation levels would be constantly reviewed with the object of effecting further reductions.
At that time the Treasurer said that it was impossible to reduce income tax. Yet now the Government forecasts a reduction of £34,000,000 in the total collections of direct taxes. Those reductions, however, are not to operate until the 1st July next, whereas, had the Opposition parties been returned to office last September, the taxpayers would already be enjoying a greater measure of relief. Probably, we should havebeen able to effect a greater reductionthan £35,000,000, because during the last six months the Government’s revenue has exceeded the Treasurer’s estimate whilst, at the same time, expenditure has been less than the estimate. Yet the taxpayers are still awaiting reductions of tax. Figures speak for themselves. The net gain to the Government during the last six months, having regard to its increasing revenue and decreasing expenditure, has exceeded £35,000,000. These facts prove that the promise made by the Opposition parties at the last general elections was a practical proposition. Furthermore, even after the reductions now forecast are made, the Government will show a net gain because customs, excise and sales tax collections are very much higher than estimated by the Treasurer for the current financial year. I challenge honorable senators opposite to disprove that statement.
As I explained at the beginning of my speech the Government is budgeting for an expenditure of £68,000,000 in respect of social services; yet we are told that it expects to put aside for that purpose a sum of £100,000,000. Under that heading alone it will retain a surplus of £32,000,000. Much the same story can be told in respect of other items of income.For instance, income from sales of surplus war materials by the Commonwealth Disposals Commission already exceed £100,000,000; and on the basis of past sales, from £40,000,000 to £50,000,000 additional will be realized from sales during the next twelve months. Having regard to that item alone, the Government could well afford to reduce direct taxes by a greater amount than it now proposes. In addition, uncollected income tax at the 30th June last amounted to, approximately, £43,000,000 Admittedly, a portion of that sum represents social service contributions; but those facts were known to the Government twelve months ago. The report of the Auditor-General also discloses items of expenditure totalising approximately £10,000,000 which can hardly be justified. The Government could make substantial savings in respect of such items. In view of these facts, the Government cannot justify the present heavy high rates of taxes.
I commend the Government upon certainproposals embodied in the financial statement. For instance, it is doing much to encourage development of the Northern Territory by private enterprise and individuals who are prepared to take the risk of battling for themselves in that important part of the Commonwealth. This encouragement is being given mainly by remissions of income tax. However, I point out that pastoralists and others, who are carrying on under equally adverse conditions in the parts of Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia bordering on the Northern Territory, are in need of equal assistance but are not being encouraged to the same degree. Whilst much of the Northern Territory is good class grazing country with practically an assured rainfall, large tracts of country bordering on the territory have only alow rainfall at the best of times. Yet, pastoralists on land just over the borders of the Northern Territory, who are working under more adverse conditions, are obliged to pay income tax at the normal rate and to pay higher rentals. I admit that under the taxation zoning system they receive some concession, but having regard to the difficulties existing in those areas it oilers no effective inducement for the development of those areas.
The Treasurer stated some time ago that 770,000 persons are now employed in secondary industries, that is, an increase of236,000 since 1939. Although that fact may be some consolation, we must remember that it is also proof of a serious drift of population to the cities at the expense of rural industry. We must now face the task of making conditions in country areas more attractive with a view to safeguarding and developing primary industries. Now that this concession has been granted to the Northern Territory, consideration should be given to extending it to the outback country of the States that I have mentioned, so that people with enterprise, capital and initiative may be induced to venture into those areas and develop them, because only by the development of our outback lands can we ever overcome the concentration of population on the eastern seaboard. I trust that the Minister will give consideration to what I have suggested.
The taxation proposals contained in this statement will be implemented by certain measures that are to be brought before the Senate, and I shall reserve further remarks on this subject until then.
– I have listened with some attention to Senator Cooper and I am really surprised that in a world such as that in which we live to-day, there are individuals, whether they be parliamentarians or others, who speak as if they were living in the 18th century. We are living in the age of the greatest physical revolution that the world has ever known - so great that few people, if any, can appreciate its magnitude. But still our friends opposite are concerned only with horsepower and not with harness. They believe that what is required to-day is increased production of commodities, irrespective of what is likely to happen to those commodities. I wish that Senator Cooper had read the speech made by Lord Bruce recently in the House of Lords. That speech was so favorably received that Lord Bruce was congratulated on all sides. Actually he did not say anything remarkable or new. Everybody who had studied economics knew that what he said was true. It is strange that every Tom, Dick and Harry seems to be able to pose as an authority on economics. In regard to other scientific subjects such as physiology, anatomy, and biology, one is expected to have studied deeply before having the audacity to speak publicly, but on this subject of sociology, everybody puts himself forward as an authority. Senator Cooper said that taxes were high, the inference being that if taxes were low everything would be all right. I think it was John Stuart Mill who said that capital was the result of abstinence ; but if that were so, most of the workers of the world would be millionaires. The fact is that when taxes are high, the workers are better off. When anti-Labour governments were in office, production was so low that there was very little income on which to tax anybody. When prices are high and commodities scarce, it is much better for a government to impose high taxes to take that excess spending power from the community and so keep prices down. That is quite obvious. Senator Cooper said that since Labour has been in office there had been a recurrence of strikes and industrial disputes, and that if the workers who had. participated in those strikes had remained at work, the situation to-day would have been much better.
I have never accepted Stalinism, but there seems to be an anti-Russian phobia throughout the world to-day. The capitalist system has broken down and many people, without any regard for logic, have concentrated their criticisms on Soviet Russia. They say that conditions in the democratic countries are due to the people whom they call “ Reds “. I am not much concerned with whether there is a Communist meeting at every street corner, because if economic conditions are good Communist propaganda must fail. If economic conditions are bad, however, the passage of legislation through this Parliament will not suppress communism. In the words of Lord Byron -
The block may drink their gore,
Their heads lie sodden in the sun,
Their limbs be strung to city gates and castle walls
But still their spirit moves abroad.
The life or death of communism depends upon whether we are prepared to allow starvation in the midst of plenty. If we can solve the problem of distribution there will be no communism. If we cannot, there will be a revolution and a new system will come whether it be called communism or anything else. Lord Bruce pointed out that production in America was already so prolific that unless American loans were made to foreign countries to enable them to absorb American goods, very shortly there would be 25,000,000 or 30,000,000 people out of work in America. Do honorable senators opposite suggest that that is due to the “Beds”.
Senator Cooper said that in this country the wharf labourers had interfered with trade with Indonesia. The wharf labourers have done many things of which the honorable senator has not told us. He did not say for instance that they had held up the ships in which tallow was to be exported from Australia to take advantage of overseas prices which were four, five or six times as great as those prevailing here. The good-will of Indonesia in the future will not be determined by a handful of Dutch exploiters, but by 100,000,000 Indonesians. If we are friendly to them what the few Dutch people think about us does not matter very much.
Lord Bruce also said that after World War I. the situation was similar to that now prevailing throughout the world. I have emphasized that many times. I have quoted Mr. Herbert Hoover, who when President of the United States of America, spoke of “A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage “. President Hoover went from office and was followed by others, but the promise did not materialize. Instead, there were 13.000,000 Americans out of work. Lord Bruce said that that would occur again. He also made the extraordinary statement that as the result of the false economy existing after World War I., Germany was made ripe for Hitler and Fascism. At the Paris Peace Conference I heard the representatives of the great democratic nations rise one after another and attribute the terrible cataclysm through which the world has just passed to Adolph Hitler as if he had grown on a tree or risen out of the ground. Hitler was a product of the economic conditions pre vailing in Germany partly as the result of the Versailles Peace Treaty. Six million Germans were out of work and those who did have jobs could work for a week without earning enough inflated currency to buy a box of matches. People who had taken out insurance policies, 30, 40 or 50 years previously were paid, the nominal amounts stated on the policies, but the depreciation of the currency had been such that the number of marks they re’ceived was insufficient to buy even a cigarette butt. These conditions produced Hitler; and Lord Bruce, an exPrime Minister of this country, and a conservative Prime Minister at that, speaking in that holy of holies, the House of Lords, said that we were living under conditions similar to those which pre* ceded the great depression of 1929-32 and that if something were not done to counteract present trends, the results would be even worse than the catastrophe of those years. Yet honorable senator? opposite say that the Labour party must stop industrial agitators interfering with production. The Labour party recognizes that everything is not well and that the arbitration machinery of this country in the past has failed to cope expeditiously with various troubles ; but the passage of new legislation can only be a temporary expedient because unless we can make the people realize that the problem to-day is not production but distribution, all the industrial acts conceivable will be ephemeral fancies.
Honorable senators opposite talk of strikes by the workers, but they do not mention strikes organized by monopolies such as Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited and the old Tramways Company in Brisbane - a matter about which the President knows something. Anti-Labour governments were in power then, and what was the result? Thousands of small business people were ruined. In 1917, a strike was deliberately organized by the Fuller Government of New South Wales. It lasted for months, and some of its effects have not yet passed. Thousands of men were displaced from industry or had put over them others with far less capacity, called “ loyalists “. We have another name for them. Millions of pounds were lost in that deliberately engineered strike. A similar position existed in Victoria recently, when the aim of the capitalistic interests was to get rid of the Gain Government. A. strike was deliberately engineered in an endeavour to reduce the standard of living of the workers. Luckily, the Cain Government was not defeated. All this occurred just prior to the New South Wales and Queensland State elections, and, on the Friday before the elections, the press carried banner headlines proclaiming imminent starvation in Melbourne. On the follow- ing Monday, however, after the elections had been held, the strike was still on, but the capitalist press had practically nothing to say about the alleged threat of starvation. It ceased pleading for cite poor women and children of whom it is so fond when it is able to use them as a jumping-board for further exploitari on of the workers. In all earnestness, L ask honorable senators opposite to consider whether the point of view that they are putting forward is in keeping with the times. How can greater production solve the problems of Central Europe ?
– What about wheat? 1 s there not an urgent need for increased production of wheat?
– In this country the production of certain commodities is already too great, and, as this condition extends, men will lose their jobs. When production has outstripped purchasing power, we shall again have the spectacle of poverty in the midst of plenty. The Leader of the Opposition’s presupposition that unemployment is caused by lack of production is without grounds. Unemployment is inherent in the capitalist system. The workers are wage-earners and their labour-power is a commodity that can be bought and sold. Its value is only what is necessary to reproduce it. Surplus production finds its way on to the world markets, and there is already evidence of that tendency in some countries.The accumulation of a great surplus leads in turn to further exploitation of the workers, and, of course, a further surplus of goods on the markets of the world. Ultimately, tens of millions of workers will lose their jobs, and there will be another 1914 or 1939. If we go on as we axe at present, within two years the people of the world will once again be exterminating themselves, simply because they cannot solve the problem of poverty in the midst of plenty.
– Is there overproduction of wheat?
– I thank the honorable senator for putting that question. After World War I., the cry that is now being used by the Opposition was heard in America. The people of America were told, “ What we want is more production”. So, after the war, they buckled down and worked from early morn to dewy eve. The great Roosevelt said to them : “ Stay on your farms. We will pay you to destroy your wheat, to kill your pigs instead of sending them to the market, to burn your rubber, your coffee, and your tea.” We all know the dreadful result that flowed from that policy. Nevertheless, honorable senators opposite still persist, in this supposedly enlightened twentieth century, with their piffling talk that our troubles are due to high taxes, to the fact that we have a few “ red “ agitators, to the fact that “the Australian worker will not put his head down and work a little harder “, and to the fact that hours of work are to be reduced to 40 a week. Machine production is so great to-day that, if mechanization were introduced all over the world, one-half of the total number of workers could not be employed for eight hours a day. Cannot honorable senators opposite realize that fact? The danger lies, not in the development of machinery, but, in the ownership of machinery. In the United States of America there are factories capable of producing 25 miles of certain metals every hour. Under existing conditions, that volume of production cannot be absorbed. The same thing applies in Australia. We hear a great deal about the housing problem. Suppose that, as the result of the drive for increased production, hundreds of workers get the “ sack “. What is the use of a house to an unemployed man? He has no money with which to pay his rent. There were plenty of empty nouses during the depression, but nevertheless we had dreadful slum settlements like the notorious “Happy Valley”. The landlords would not let their houses to people- who could not pay rent. When one hears this cry for “ houses, houses, houses “, one would think that the problem was completely disconnected from the capitalist system of society. If the farmers cannot sell their wheat and wool, and if there is no employment for workers in secondary industries, what is the use of urging people to buy houses? They could not even pay rent. In Great Britain, before thousands of homes were destroyed by Hitler’s bombs, I heard a great deal of the same sort of talk about houses. People started to build houses in Britain, but as they were building them a depression occurred and scores of thousands of workers did not have enough money to pay rent for them.
We must realize that we .are living in a new age. Honorable senators who speak about these matters should at least study them before they do so. I make no bones about saying that I am a socialist; I have said so for 30 years. I challenge anybody to prove to me that mass production can continue under existing conditions without inevitable economic depressions and inevitable wars. We seem to he evading this problem, even in the Labour movement. Members of the Labour party to-day claim to be much more moderate than were their predecessors. Moderation may be good in some things, ‘but I would not say, for instance, that a man was moderately moral, moderately ethical, a moderate thief, or a moderate murderer. The use of the word “moderate” in such a context would be entirely out of place. There can be no such thing as moderation in economics. In dealing with that subject, a statement is either correct or not ‘ correct. What I have said about production and distribution is either correct or not correct. Events of the last 50 years have proved conclusively that increased production cannot solve economic problems while distribution is inadequate. Honorable senators opposite refuse to acknowledge this fact. If they pursue their old policy, as surely as night follows day, cause and effect will operate within a year or two, as they operated in 1914 and in 1939. The only chance of ensuring economic prosperity throughout the world is for the United States of America to lend enormous sums of money to certain countries.
But America will lend only on a dollar diplomacy basis. I have never been a barracker for Stalinism, but I am strongly opposed to the present United States policy. The Government of America says to certain countries, “ We will lend you money on the condition that you must be antiCommunist “. You cannot stop communism with money. The idea is absurd. Those countries could take the money from America but still . remain communistic. The only way to stamp out communism in Greece and Turkey is to raise the standards of the people. If the Communists have nothing objective to complain about they cannot make progress. While the objective facts give the lie to their alarmist propaganda, people will ignore them. What we must do in Australia, and what the Labour party is doing as well as it can under the capitalist system, is to remove controls gradually. That is the only reasonable thing that can be done. Otherwise, the very crisis which the Opposition wishes to avoid will be precipitated.
I did not intend to speak on this occasion, but I could not listen any longer in silence to the talk from honorable senators opposite about the need for more and more production. I conclude by saying that our institutions are too much out of date to be able to deal with the problems that we have to tackle. The old shibboleths are useless f they have been played out. I ask the Opposition to study the subject of distribution and, when they know more about it, to talk more about it and less about production. Although we on this side of the chamber believe in production, we believe in producing only such goods as can be consumed. There is nothing praiseworthy about producing merely for the sake of production. A worker has no reason to be proud of having helped to build a silo if mice are eating the wheat in it. A bootmaker has no reason to be proud of mass-producing boots by machinery so that the storehouses are filled with boots, while his children go barefoot. The problem which must be solved, if we are to enjoy economic prosperity, is that of distribution, not that of production. Honorable senators opposite must accept that fact whether they like it or not. Everybody who has studied economics has a moral duty to say now, once and for all: “ Away with the shibboleths about production. Machines have solved that problem. What we have to solve now is the problem of distribution “. 1 hope that the Labour party will pay more attention to this problem in future than it has done in the past.
– I strongly support some of the remarks made by Senator Grant. I agree that one of the most difficult tasks confronting this Labour Government is that of implementing a socialist policy under a capitalist system. The attainment of its goal under these conditions presents many difficult problems. Nevertheless, through the instrument o.f constitutional government, the political Labour party has made tremendous headway for the benefit of the whole population, not merely a small section of the community. This fact is demonstrated by the prosperity which exists at present. Whether this is merely temporary or whether it is permanent remains to be seen. The fact is that the economic policy of the Labour party since it took office in 1941 has been extremely effective both in the prosecution of the war and in the improvement of peace-time standards. Throughout Australia to-day, there is a keen demand for labour in industry. I read in a newspaper only a few minutes ago that about 6,000 workers are required for rural industries in Western Australia alone. Such a great shortage of man-power in industry has never confronted this nation before. I recall occasions when, although there was no shortage of money or materials, 30 per cent, of our population was out of employment. Under anti-Labour governments, nothing was done to improve the economic position at times when there were ample funds, stocks of materials, and labour. That was because the policy of those governments was in line with the policy of the international financial groups, which determined to go their own way, irrespective of the hardships that might be inflicted upon people.
The financial statement which we are debating shows that Australia to-day is in a much better economic position than any other country. Senator Cooper said that, if the tax reductions advocated by the Opposition party leaders at the general elections had been put into effect, they would have given a great stimulus to production. A great deal has been said about high taxes retarding production, but the economic fact is that taxes have never had any effect upon production. Until production is efficient enough to make profits, it is not taxed. The Treasurer declared in the statement that budget estimates of receipts would be exceeded as the result of the prosperity of businesses and the high level of trade turnover and consumer spending, for which full employment was mainly responsible. That is a direct answer to the political catch-cry for a reduction of taxes in order to assist production. Such propaganda is not helping the Government in the least. It is merely designed to arouse opposition to the Government’s policy. Honorable senators opposite seem to overlook the fact that, as the result of the policy of this Government, Australia is now in a better position than at any other time in its history. As frequently happens in this Parliament, the facts have been clouded over. Foi the purposes of political expediency, honorable senators opposite have not approached the subject in an honest and straight-forward manner. A notable statement made by the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) was that, in future, total Commonwealth expenditure is unlikely to fall below £400,000,000 a year, compared with about £88,000,000 a year in 1936-37, only ten years ago. According to that announcement, the taxpayers will have to carry a burden of £400,000,000 a year for some time to come. As to whether that will be a long or a short period I am unable to say, but it seems certain that annual expenditure is unlikely to fall below £400,000,000 for many years to come. To explain the necessity for the annual expenditure of such a substantial sum, I invite attention to the fact that the Government still has to set aside £20,000,000 for commitments arising from World War I., whilst similar commitments arising from World War II. require the expenditure of over £100,000,000 in the current financial year. The appropriation for expenditure arising from World War II. will decline only gradually.
Therefore, on examination of the appropriation of £400,000,000, we find that one-quarter of that sum is absorbed by commitments arising from World War II.
I pass to another item of expenditure, namely, social service payments. The Treasurer points out that for the financial year 1936-37 the Government then in office provided £14,000,000. To-day the amount required is approximately £68,000,000. Furthermore, the extension of present social service benefits is estimated to require the expenditure of £100,000,000 annually in five years’ time.
Another considerable item of expenditure is the payment of war .gratuities, for which £75,000,000 will be required this financial year. Admittedly, this item is not a recurring liability, but it is one which has to be met this year. In disbursements under the uniform tax agreement the Commonwealth Treasury is paying to the States approximately £58,000,000. I intend to say a great deal more about the allocation of grants to the States, and to suggest at the appropriate time; a substantial increase of the grant to Western Australia but I mention this now only to emphasize the very substantial sum which the Commonwealth is paying to the States. Under the uniform tax agreement the annual payments to the States show a marked increase each year. From whatever angle one approaches the financial position one realizes that Australia to-day is very different from what it was twenty, or even ten, years ago. World War II. thrust upon this country huge and unprecedented responsibilities. The development of social consciousness in the people has resulted in everincreasing sums- having to be made available for social services, and, in addition, the Commonwealth has taken over almost entirely from the States responsibility for the payment for social services.
– The Commonwealth is the only taxing authority!
– And I -think that is quite right, because under .the operation of the uniform tax agreement the individual taxpayer knows exactly what he is paying to the Government in taxes. If we were to revert to the old system of Commonwealth and State governments levying separate taxes, the people would have to pay much more in tax than they do under this system.
Critics of the Government have alleged that it is employing a huge army of civil servants, but the latest figures available indicate that there has ‘been a substantial diminution in the number of people employed by the Commonwealth Government and its agencies as compared, with twelve months ago.
-The honorable senator is including in the “ diminution” the servicemen who have been demobilized.
-I am not, and I repeat that there has been a considerable reductions of the number of people on. the Commonwealth pay-roll..
Having regard to the widespread demand in this country for man-power, it is apparent that real co-operation is needed between all political parties to induce as many migrants as possible to come to Australia so that we can increase the population of the country. This Government has done its utmost to foster immigration. A great deal of the criticism directed at the Government’s administration of its immigration policy has overlooked entirely the physical difficulties which have confronted it in implementing its policy. As an instance, I might mention the aggravation of the present shipping shortage brought about by the sale, many years ago, of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. Only a few days ago I asked a question in this chamber as to whether the Government “has yet received full payment for the ships which an anti-Labour government sold. If those ships were available to-day the Government could have brought a much larger number of immigrants to Australia at considerably less cost. The rates charged by the overseas shipping companies for the transport of immigrants have been unduly high.
– Many of the ships of the former Commonwealth shipping line were destroyed by enemy action during the war.
– We know that the tremendous loss of shipping during the war is largely responsible for the acute shortage of shipping tonnage to-day, but if the Government had available to it even a small percentage of the ships it formerly owned its difficulties would not have been nearly so great. I mention this because 1 wish to emphasize the very great importance of bringing to this country sufficient man-power to meet Australia’s requirement^
In previous years government finance was raised principally in three ways: by taxation, loans, and hypothecation of national credit. In his last budget the Treasurer estimated that there would be a deficiency of approximately £59,000,000 in the national credit account, but it is pleasing to note from the Treasurer’s recent financial statement that the amount of the deficiency will be considerably less than that sum. In the face of all the difficulties confronting it, the Government has done a remarkable job in restoring our financial reputation overseas. For the first time Australia has a credit overseas. I recollect an occasion, not so many years ago, when the Government of that day had to export bullion to the value of £8,000,000 to meet our commitments overseas. To-day we have credit balances not only in London and New York but in other financial centres. The credit of this country is so sound to-day that overseas money is freely available to the Government, should it require it. Contrast that state of affairs with the difficulties ‘which confronted former Prime Ministers and State Premiers when they sought to borrow money overseas. The re-establishment of our credit abroad is a very real achievement and must commend itself to the people of this country because it points to a sound financial policy and a balanced economy. To-day there is no unemployment, and despite the contention of honorable senators opposite that taxation is interfering with production the fact remains that the country’s production to-day is greater than it has ever been. There are a number of other important aspects of the Treasurer’s statement to which I could refer, but I intend to mention only one more feature, namely, the encouragement given to development of the mining industry. The Treasurer has provided the following tax concessions for the mining industry: - (a) Allowance as a deduction against income from mining of any ex ploration and prospecting expenditure not at present allowable; (6) allowance of a rebate for calls paid to prospecting companies and syndicates; (c) exemption of profit derived by a bona fide prospector from the sale of rights to mine for such metals or minerals as are prescribed ; and, (d) widening of the provisions allowing a deduction of capital expended on plant and development of the mining property.
I am pleased that the Government is giving practical consideration to the development of the gold-mining industry. Although much gold has been extracted from the soil of Western Australia, there is still untold wealth there. Every possible assistance- that can be rendered to the gold-mining industry either by way of taxation concessions or assistance to State Governments to develop the industry will be in the interests of Australia.
– in reply - With the exception of some of the remarks of Senator Cooper, little was said during the debate which calls for a reply. Senator Cooper gloomily referred to 7,000,000 people having to face a budget calling for the expenditure of over £400,000,000 but he did not say that, compared with 1939-40, there were more than 400,000 additional persons in employment at the present time. In particular, he omitted to mention that workers in factories to-day exceed the number in 1939-40 by more than 200,000.
The honorable senator ‘said that the present prosperity had the effect of enticing people from country districts to the cities. I deny that that is so. The present Government in association with the governments of the States, is giving practical effect to a policy of decentralization of the population by encouraging the establishment of factories in country districts. The wages paid .to factory workers in country districts now amount to £4,000,000 a year. The honorable senator was generous to admit that when hostilities ended Australia was in a better financial position than most other countries. Surely some of the credit for that satisfactory state of affairs is due to the present Labour Government? I do not say that Australia’s prosperity is due solely to the Government’s wise administration - that would be an exaggeration - but the Government has certainly made a major contribution to that happy result.
Reference was also made during the debate to the development of Australia’s resources, and much emphasis was laid on the detrimental effect of industrial upheavals. I remind the .Senate that industrial unrest is not confined to Australia, but is common to all industrialized communties. Even when Great Britain was suffering from a “ blitz “ there was trouble on British coal-fields. Similar disturbances took place in the United States of America and other countries during the war. It is only natural that, after several years of war, workers should be weary and that the sense of responsibility, which weighed heavily on them during the war, should now be somewhat relaxed. Disputes would have happened whatever government was in office. Certainly, no government could have done more than the present Government has attempted to do to meet the situation.
– It would have been difficult for a government to do less.
– The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) would not be flattered if I expressed my views regarding that interjection. Much has been said of the refusal of Australian waterside workers to load goods for the Netherlands East Indies but honorable senators who criticized them did not point out that the trouble arose because the men were asked to load arms and munitions to be sent to Indonesia. It is significant that, even now, the Indonesian and Dutch authorities cannot agree as to what should , be done in the best interests of the Netherlands East Indies. In the circumstances, it is rather unfair for Opposition senators to say that the Commonwealth Government is responsible for the dislocation of trade with that country.
Senator Cooper was also perturbed at the thought that the expenditure on social services during the next five years was estimated at £100,000,000. He went on to say that income tax amounting to £43,000,000 remained uncollected. That statement was made over and over again by Opposition candidates during the last electioncampaign. Indeed, the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) - the party to which Senator Cooper owes allegiance - said that if his party were returned to power he would dismiss certain taxation officials for not having collected those arrears. That was a foolish statement for him to make, because any one with a knowledge of taxation matters knows that there is always a lag in the collection of taxes on incomes. Compared with the situation ten or twelve years ago, when antiLabour governments were in power, the position to-day in relation to uncollected taxes is satisfactory. It must be remembered, moreover, that a large proportion of these arrears is the result of droughts. Surely no honorable senator would suggest that people in droughtstricken areas, who have suffered heavy losses of stock and crops, should be forced to pay taxes when they have little or no income? There was no justification for the honorable senator’s charges.
I do not say that Senator Cooper was parochial when, he advocated greater exemptions from taxes to residents of the northern parts of Queensland, because he went on to say that people in the northern districts of “Western Australia also should be treated similarly to taxpayers in the Northern Territory. If effect were to be given to his suggestion, I should like to know where the line of demarcation should be drawn. The honorable senator was generous enough to admit that a zoning system in respect of income taxes had. been introduced by the present Government. I appreciate the reception given to the financial statement, and have no doubt that the motion will be agreed to.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill received from the House of Repre- . sentatives.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Ashley) read a first time.
.- I move-
That the hill he now read a second time.
Although measures dealing with taxation are never received with enthusiasm, [ believe that this bill will be welcomed by honorable senators on both sides of the chamber, because it proposes amendments to the Income Tax Assessment Act which will confer substantial benefits upon practically every section of the tax-paying community, and will assist materially in the post-war reconstruction and future development of Australian industry.
Perhaps the most important provisions of the bill are those designed to give effect to the agreement made last year between the Governments of the United Kingdom and Australia for the avoidance of double taxation between the two countries. Double taxation has arisen by the levying of tax, first by the country in which the income is derived and, secondly, by the country in which the recipient of the income is resident. This position has been aggravated by the high rates of taxation which it has been necessary to impose in both the United Kingdom and Australia as a result of the war, and has adversely affected commercial and industrial relations between the two countries. In particular, the incidence of double taxation has proved a serious deterrent to the investment of United Kingdom capital in Australia. As a result of the war, Australia has developed great potentialities as an industrial nation, and the agreement which has been made should encourage the flow of United Kingdom capital to Australia and should lead to considerable expansion of existing industries and the establishment of new industries, thus increasing the field of employment and the national income. The agreement will also benefit individual taxpayers whose income are the subject to double taxation. Although the taxation laws of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth have for many years contained provisions designed to afford some measure of relief from double taxation, these provisions have not proved .entirely satisfactory in their operation. The agreement will replace these provisions and will provide a more satisfactory method of relief in respect of all classes of income. From the point of view of the revenue, Australia -may gain some slight advantage, owing to the fact that the Commonwealth will no longer be required to provide a rebate of tax in respect of trading profits derived from Australian sources by a resident of the United Kingdom. Although the agreement was concluded on the 29th October, 1946, it will not come into actual operation until such time as it receives endorsement by the Commonwealth Parliament and the House of Commons. The necessary endorsement by Australia is proposed in this bill, and a detailed explanation of each article of the agreement is given in a printed memorandum which has been circulated for the information of honorable senators.
In accordance with its policy of reducing taxes as the nation’s financial position permits, the Government proposes, substantial reductions of the rates of social services contribution and income tax. In distributing these reductions amongst the various sections of the taxpaying community, it is considered that the major benefit should be afforded to taxpayers with domestic responsibilities. With this object in view, it is proposed to increase the value of the concessional rebates for defendants by increasing the amounts upon which the rebates are based, as follows : - 3
Spouse; female relative or housekeeper for a widow or widower; mother - From £100 to £150.
First child under sixteen years; student child; invalid child - From’ £75 to £100.
Other children under sixteen years - From £30 to £50.
In addition, it is proposed to raise the maximum rebate for each dependent child other than the first from £8 to £15. It is also proposed to enlarge the concession for dependent children over the age of sixteen years who are receiving full-time education, by extending the maximum age limit from eighteen to nineteen years. Additional rebates not at present provided are proposed in respect of a dependent father, and an invalid brother or sister. It is also proposed to extend the existing concession for a housekeeper to cover further cases where the housekeeper has the care of children under the age of sixteen years maintained by the taxpayer. The concession for medical expenses will he expanded to include the cost of diathermy t treatment.
Particular attention has been given by the Government to the problems facing primary producers in combating soil erosion and in the conservation of water supplies, and the “bill provides for the allowance of special deductions in respect of capital expenditure incurred upon these activities. “With regard to soil erosion, the deductible expenditure will include the rest of the protection of the banks of waterways, the planting of wind-breaks, terracing, the prevention of gullying and expenses of a like nature. It will not, however, include the cost of fencing, as appropriate allowances have already been provided by way of depreciation of fences on land used for primary production. The deductions in regard to water conservation will include expenditure on the construction of dams, earth tanks, bores, wells, underground tanks, levee banks, irrigation channels and similar structural improvements. It is proposed that these concessions shall commence to apply in respect of expenditure incurred during the year ending the 30th June, 1947.
Primary producers should also derive substantial benefit from the proposed extension of the period in which losses may be. recouped. The existing provision limits the deduction for accumulated losses to losses incurred during the four years preceding the year of income. It is proposed to enlarge the concession to allow the deduction of accumulated losses incurred during the seven years preceding the year of income. This extension of the concession, which it is proposed shall first apply to assessments based on income of the year ending the 30th June, 1947, will assist particularly primary producers in the northern parts of Australia.
The act at present exempts income derived prior to the 1st July, 1947, by a resident of the Northern Territory, from primary production, mining or fisheries in the territory. The exemption was first granted in 1923, and has been extended from time to time, the last occasion being in 1938. The purpose of the exemption is to assist in the development of the territory and to encourage re-investment of profits in the territory’s primary industries. It is proposed to continue theexemption. for a further five years, terminating on the 30th June, 1952.
Under the existing law, a special deduction of £40 is allowed to individuals resident in that portion of Australia defined as Zone “A”. Broadly speaking, Zone “ A “ comprises the north-western and extreme north-eastern areas of Queensland, the northern part of the Northern Territory and northern Western Australia. Investigations which, have been made by the Government indicate that the disabilities suffered by residents of those areas warrant some increase of the concession at present allowed. It is accordingly proposed to increase the special deduction allowable to residents of Zone “A” from £40 to £120.
Owing to the nature of the industry, and with the object of fostering production, certain income tax concessions have been provided for the mining industry. It is now proposed that these concessions shall be extended. Provision at present exists for the allowance of a deduction, over the life of the mine, of capital expended on plant and development of a mining property. However, this provision has proved only partially effective in som instances, and it is proposed to enlarge the concession so as to ensure an effective allowance, from mining profits, of the full capital expenditure over the life of the mine.
It is proposed, also, that the cost of exploration and prospecting on mining tenures shall he an allowable deduction from income derived from mining operations. However, this concession will not apply to expenditure on exploration, or prospecting, for gold or petroleum, or in locating coal deposits. Profits and dividends from gold-mining are already exempt from income tax, and expenditure, incurred in the search for petroleum in Australia and New Guinea is already the subject of a special concession under the existing law. The location of coal deposits is not regarded as justifying any special taxation concession in respect of expenditure so incurred. At present, a rebate of tax is allowed in respect of calls paid to mining companies or syndicates carrying on mining operations in Australia for gold, silver, base metals,
Tare minerals or oil. ‘As a further means of encouraging the expansion of the mining industry, it is proposed that this concession shall be extended to include calls paid to companies, or syndicates, engaged in prospecting for such minerals or metals.
Under the existing law, an exemption from income tax is allowed in respect of income derived by a bona fide prospector from the sale of his rights ‘to mine for gold in Australia or New Guinea. It is proposed to extend this exemption to profits derived by bona fide prospectors from the sale of rights to mine for such other metals and minerals as may be prescribed. Provision has been made to prevent exploitation of the concession where relationship exists between prospector and purchaser. It is proposed that these amendments affecting lie mining industry shall first apply in assessments based on income derived during the year ending the 30th June, 1947.
The bill also corrects a technical defect in the act relating to the assessment of Australian residents on dividends received from ex-Australian companies. Since 1941, such dividends have been included in the assessable income of the Australian resident shareholder and a deduction has been allowed of the ex-Australian tax paid on the dividend: However, a decision recently delivered by the High Court is to the effect that, under the present law, dividends from ex-Australian companies which are subject to ex-Australian tax are exempt from Commonwealth tax. It is proposed to remedy the defect disclosed hy the court’s decision, and .at the same time to modify the present basis of assessment. Instead of allowing the Australian resident a deduction of the ex-Australian tax from his assessable income, the exAustralian tax will be off-set against the Commonwealth tax on the dividend. Thus, as from the 1st July, 1946, the Australian resident will be required to pay to the Commonwealth only the excess, if any, of the Commonwealth tax over the ex-Australian tax on the dividend. Assessment on this basis will have the merit of placing the Australian resident shareholder in an ex-Australian company in the same relative position as an Australian resident shareholder in an Australian company.
Since the incorporation in the law in 1943 of the provisions relating to the registration of tax .agents, experience has shown that certain amendments are necessary in order to increase the effectiveness of those provisions and to facilitate their administration. It is proposed that tax agents who desire their registrations to bc continued shall so notify the board each year. However, no fee will be charged on renewal of registration. It is also proposed that the tribunals to which appeals may be taken on the cancellation of a tax agent’s registration shall be extended to include the Supreme Courts of the States.
The bill contains a number of machinery provisions, as well as some other amendments, designed to correct defects that have been revealed in the application of the act. These are fully explained in the printed memorandum which has been, circulated, and may best be considered at the committee stage.
– I do not propose to speak at length at thi? stage. The Government has displayed a lack of imagination by failing to extend the principle which it applies in respect of the Northern Territory in order to encourage development of that part of the Commonwealth. I was particularly interested in Senator Grant’s remark that the problem confronting the world to-day is not so much that of production but that of distribution. When we remember what happened during the last depression, that contention contains merit. That position may arise again in the near future ; but it is obvious that, in a young country like Australia, when the world is crying out for wheat and food of all kinds, there is very little chance during the next ten years of our overproducing foodstuffs so urgently required in other countries. The point to which 1 am leading # is that the high rate of taxes on companies is doing morethan anything else to keep finance from the United States of America out of this country. I appreciate that quite a considerable sum of money is being invested in Australia by overseas interests, but in this country there is room for many more millions of people. The incentive that is being given to people to settle in the Northern Territory is a small-scale example of what could be done to attract investors to this country.
I congratulate the Government upon reaching an agreement with the United Kingdom regarding double taxation in respect of companies. I hope the Government will continue its negotiations with the United States of America tor a similar agreement, and that it; will be concluded successfully and much more rapidly than was the rase with Great Britain. There has been talk in this debate of moving our population inland from the coastal areas but I regard that as a wrong approach to this problem. In California, on the west coast of America, there are 8,250,000 .people - more than we have in the whole of Australia. The Commonwealth Government should give further incentive to people in all parts of the world to come to this country. Queensland alone could absorb 5,250,000 people. We have not even scratched the surface of this country. When one thinks of the manner in which the Treasury has been committed to vast future expenditure, it is quite obvious that we must- increase our population rapidly. An influx of immigrants would also do much to solve our defence problems. I ask leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended from- 5.4S to 8 p.m.
Bill presented by Senator McKenna,
Mild read a first time.
Motion (by Senator Ashley) proposed -
That so much of the Standing and Sessional Orders be suspended as would prevent the bill being passed through its remaining stages without delay.
– There being an absolute majority of the whole number of senators present, and no dissentient voice, I declare the question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
All honorable senators will, I am sure, he pleased that it has been found possible to introduce to the Parliament through the Senate in the first instance a bill of such importance as this. Whilst to a considerable extent the bill is a consolidating measure, it is also in many important ways of an amending and creative nature. As a consolidating measure, it repeals the whole of 43 acts. It also repeals portions of seven other acts. The 50 acts affected are listed in the schedule to the bill. The bill consolidates the law in relation to social service benefits which fall broadly under five wellknown headings - invalid and old-age pensions, widows’ pensions, maternity allowances, child endowment, unemployment and sickness benefits. With the passage of time, certain portions of the existing legislation have become obsolete, making their repeal desirable, whilst differing ‘provisions in sections of a somewhat similar character in the acts relating to the various benefits have produced confusion and anomalies. Even departmental officers, who “are thoroughly familiar with these laws, find them complicated, whilst to members of the public and overseas administrations they are highly perplexing. Without detailed explanation they may easily be misunderstood and misinterpreted. The main objectives in the consolidation are to eliminate obsolete sections, remove anomalies, simplify drafting, amalgamate certain sections of the administration, modernize the legislation, and present it as a symmetrical part df a well-defined pattern .of social security. At the same time, the Government is taking advantage of the. opportunity to provide substantial increases in the rates of invalid and old-age pensions, wives’ allowances, and widows’ pensions, and to liberalize and improve many of the existing provisions. In all but very few cases, the substantive alterations of the present law constitute improvements to and extensions of the various services embraced in the scope of the bill. [ desire to acknowledge the valuable work of my colleagues the Minister for
Iiia bour and National Service (Mr. Holloway) and Senator the Honorable J. Ml. Fraser, my predecessors in the office of Minister for Social Services, in laying the foundations of the consolidation aspect of the bill. Realizing as I do the complexities and difficulties of their task, I pay tribute to the officers of the Department of Social Services and the Attorney-General’s Department who have collaborated in giving shape and substance to this measure, the features of which, I trust, will receive the commendation of the Senate.
In recent years, there has been developed in. the peoples of enlightened countries recognition of the fact that care of the aged, the infirm, the widowed, the unemployed and the sick, are not matters that could properly be left to individuals and to organizations set up for charitable purposes. It is now an accepted principle that these are matters of community responsibility to.be implemented and administered at the governmental level without discouraging the desirable efforts of the charitably inclined.
The basic idea underlying the rapid development of social services in this country is, whilst sponsoring and supporting the family unit, to provide security for the people against the social ills of old-age, infirmity, unemployment and sickness, and so assure to every individual, as far as is humanly possible, man’s most priceless possession, peace of mind. I think it appropriate on this occasion to review briefly the history of the social service legislation of the Commonwealth Parliament.
When the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia became operative on the 1st January, 1901, it contained only one direct power in relation to the provision of social services, that is the power to make laws with respect to the provision of invalid and old-age pensions. However, section 96 of the Constitution, which authorizes the making of grants to the States, either with or without conditions, enabled the Commonwealth to provide indirectly, per medium of the several States, various ‘benefits of a social service nature. The power contained in section SI of the Constitution, permitting the Commonwealth Parliament to appropriate moneys from the Consolidated Revenue .Fund for the purposes of the Commonwealth, was also used from time to time to achieve” the same result in a more direct and comprehensive way. Doubts as to the validity of the legislation implementing several of these benefits were raised by the decision of the High Court of Australia towards the end of 1945, in what is now commonly known as the Pharmaceutical Benefits case. As honorable senators will remember, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Acts of 1944 and 1945 were passed with a view to making available to the people of Australia pharmaceutical benefits without charge to the recipients. The High Court, however, held in effect that, whilst the Commonwealth Parliament might appropriate its moneys for any purpose, whether named within the Constitution or not, it could, in the case of an object lying outside the Constitution, legislate only so far as to ensure that the money so appropriated reached its object. Thi.’ decision of the High Court negatived the possibility of action by the Commonwealth in any other aspects of such a field. This decision threw grave doubt on the validity of child endowment, funeral benefits, wives’ allowances, child allowance, and widows’ pensions, as well as other aspects of social service legislation.
Following a referendum conducted by the Commonwealth on the 28th September last, there became embedded in the Constitution, as from the 19th December. 1946, the date upon which the royal assent was given to the Constitution Alteration (Social Services) Bill, a new and direct power in relation to social services. The new power conferred upon the Commonwealth Parliament power to make laws with respect to “ the provision of maternity allowances, widows’ pensions, child endowment, unemployment, pharmaceutical, sickness and hospital benefits, medical and dental services (but not so as to authorize any form of civil conscription), benefits to students and family allowances “. This alteration of the Constitution not only confirmed the Commonwealth power to provide social service benefits of a type already in existence but also gave it almost unlimited power in new and important fields of social service. Whilst since federation it has been notoriously difficult to obtain increased powers for the Commonwealth Parliament, the success of the referendum in relation to social services is clear evidence of the growing acceptance of the principle which I have already mentioned of governmental initiative a.nd direction in this field.
When war broke out in September, l!i:.)9, the Commonwealth provided only two forms’ of social benefit, namely, invalid and old-age pensions and maternity allowances. At that time, the maximum rate of invalid and old-age pension was 21s. 6d. a week whilst the maternity allowance had a range of from £5 to £7 10s., the amount varying according to the number of other children in a family unit. The total cost to the Commonwealth of providing these two services luring the twelve months ended the 30th lune,” 1939, was £16,428,396. Old-age pensions were first introduced in 1909 and invalid pensions in 1910, hoth at the rate of 10’s. a week. Maternity allowances were paid for the first time in 1912’. Child endowment was introduced in 1941 and was provided at the rate of 5s. a week. The cost to the Commonwealth of this benefit for the twelve months ended the 30th June, 1942, was £11,302,8-63’.
This was the position when the Labour party assumed office in October, 1941, on the eve of the outbreak of the war with Japan. Since that date, there has been a truly remarkable development of social services by the Commonwealth. The rate i>f invalid and old-age pensions has been increased by successive1 alterations from 21s. 6d. a week to the present maximum rate of 32s. Gd. a week. The bill proposes that there shall’ be a further increase of 5s. a week to operate from they’d July next, thus bringing the rate of invalid and old-age pensions to 37s. 6d. a week, representing an increase of more than 70 per cent, since October. 1941. In 1942, widows’ pensions were for the first time introduced by the Commonwealth. These pensions were available to three classes of widows1 - a pension at the rate of £1 10s. a week for a widow of any age who had one or more dependent children; a pension at the rate of £1 5s: a week for a widow without dependent children, but of at least :”0 years of age; an allowance at the rate of £1 5s. a week for a. period not exceeding 26 weeks for a- widow in necessitous circumstances who is lees than 50 years of age and has not the custody, care and control of a child. Several increases have already taken place. The present pension- rates are 37s. 6d. a week and 27s. a week respectively, whilst the allowance payable in respect of a widow in necessitous circumstances is 32s. 6d. a week. These rates will each be increased by 5s. a week by the- bill now before the Senate, the increases being operative from the 8tb July, 1947. The bill also proposes to provide a benefit for a new class, namely, the wives of men undergoing sentences of imprisonment. Pension in this- case will be at the rate of 3-2s. a week.
– That is rather generous, is it not?
– I think not. I invite the honorable senator to- consider the plight of a woman deprived of her breadwinner, and perhaps with children. In one- State in particular, provision is. not made foi: such a case- by State lawConsider the difficulties of a woman in that position. Does the honorable, senator really mean that a pension of 32s. a week would be generous?
– Generous to the man in gaol.
– My view is that the proper outlook of a government is to be concerned with the plight of individuals, not with the cause of their plight.
In 194.3 allowances at the rate of 15s. a week were provided for the wives of invalid pensioners. The bill proposes that the rate shall, he increased to £1 a week as from the 3rd July next. In 1943 child allowance at the rate’ of 5s. a week was also instituted for the child of an invalid pensioner. A funeral benefit not. exceeding £10 was also introduced to provide for the burial, of an invalid or oldage pensioner. In 1943 the range of maternity allowance’ - then from £5 to £7 10s. - was increased to a range of from £15 to £17 10s. In. 1945 the rate of child endowment was increased from 5s. a week to 7s. 6d. a week. In 1945 a major advance towards social security was made when unemployment and sickness benefits were, for the first time, provided. In August, 1946, important stops were taken in relation to invalid and old-age pensions, by raising the permissible income to £1, by lifting the property bar from £400 to £650. and by the introduction of a graduated scale between the sums of £400 and £650. These alterations to-day permit a married couple, both of pensionable age and otherwise eligible, to have a private income of £5 and still receive a pension of 2s. 6d. each a week. In view of the increase of 5s. a week in the pension rate to operate from the Srd July, it will be possible after that date for such persons to have between them a private income of £5 10s. and still receive a pension at the rate of 2s. 6d. ea.ch a week. Other benefits introduced which do not come within the scope of the present bill were hospital benefits and allowances for sufferers from tuberculosis and their dependants. The total annual cost of social services in recent years is indicative of the extensive growth that has taken place. The figures arc as follows: -
l t is anticipated that the total expenditure by the Commonwealth on social services during the coming year 1947-4S will amount to £72,060,000. ‘
It will be apparent to the Senate that what is taking place amounts, in effect, to a redistribution of the national income. The benefit has been spread over all classes in the community, but its incidence is greater in relation to the person with dependants and it increases progressively with the number of dependants. It is difficult to apportion the expenditure with exactitude, but the statement I now present, estimated on a somewhat arbitrary basis, but with a reasonable degree of accuracy, will show the distribution of social service expenditure in the community. It shows that the cash benefit to a single person is £12 16s. per annum ; to a married person, £23 6s. per annum ; to a married person with one child, £26 2s. per annum; to a married person with two children, £47 12s. per annum; to a married person with three children, £69 2s. per annum ; and to a married person with four children, £90 12s. per annum. This statement shows a very distinct bias in favour of the family group. Social work is nation buildingit is vital to race preservation and national progress. It will be noted, too. that this development has taken place side by side with- a strengthening, through increased maternity allowances and child endowment, of the family unit, upon which the social structure depends, rather than by a process of interference with, or disruption of, that important unit.
– Is there to be an retrospective payment ?
– Not so far as the payments are concerned, but I trust the honorable senator is not beyond the possibility of enjoying some of the benefits in the future.
In July, 1941, when Sir Frederick Stewart was Minister for Health and Minister for Social Services, the Government of which he was a member appointed a Joint Parliamentary Committee on Social Security. This committee has presented a series of valuable reports on this subject. Impressive evidence from sociologists, economists, members of the medical profession, representatives of employer and employee organizations, and many others qualified to advise, convinced the committee that the existing system should be improved and new social welfare provisions should be introduced to keep Australia abreast of modern advances in this field. During the course of its investigations the committee commented upon the intermittent :,nd unrelated development of social services in the Commonwealth, stressed the value of a truly national scheme,- and suggested that the method of combining planned social security in codified legislation of the type adopted in some other countries could with considerable advantage be followed in Australia. At once the Government acknowledged the advantages of the principle, and upon discovering that it was not possible to give immediate effect to the committee’s proposal, announced its intention of doing so as soon as practicable. From time to lime since the Government has removed the more serious anomalies, introduced such major social reforms as pensions for widows and unemployment and sickness benefits, and prepared a national scheme of social security in its widest sense. The bill now before the Senate is the next important step in the Government’s plan. The acceptance of so many recommendations must be pleasing to those who devoted much time, thought and energy to the committee’s work. The knowledge that the Government is about to adopt others will surely give rise to further satisfaction. I think it is fitting to record the Government’s appreciation* of the committee’s efforts in gathering a vast quantity of useful material and in compiling many comprehensive and informative reports.
Turning now to the bill, I have circulated for the information of honorable senators a list of the main alterations proposed to the existing law. This will, L trust, facilitate the examination of the measure by the Senate. Later I shall ask the leave of the Senate to incorporate the memorandum in Hansard.
The bill does not cover other social service benefits such as hospital benefits, allowances for sufferers from tuberculosis and their dependants, and matters such as national fitness grants. When the Government’s plans for pharmaceutical benefits and a national medical service have been developed, these and other aspects of a purely medical or health nature will, no doubt, be brought together in convenient legislative form. Ultimately one measure covering all the social service activities of the Commonwealth in a scheme of national welfare may eventuate. The Government recognizes thatall the social service benefits are merely aspects of health, which in its widest sense makes for the mental, physical and social well-being of ov.v people.
The total cost of the increased pension rates and the other improvements of the existing legislation is estimated at £6,185,000 per annum, made up as under -
For very many years the old-age pension was regarded by some as being somewhat in the nature of a charitable grant. However, with the great increase that has taken place in the rate of the pension as well as with the substantial increase in the rate of permissible income and the further amelioration of the means test in relation to property, the suggestion of charity has now disappeared. The age pension is now generally, and properly, regarded in the nature of a retiring allowance, based upon age, to persons who have made lengthy contributions to the life of Australia.
Increases of the pension rate and modification of the means test have created many anomalies and have induced representations from superannuated persons and from others with independent incomes. The Government recognizes the strength of many of these representations and is pursuing a policy directed to the gradual easing of the means test with a view to its ultimate abolition. The Government is, at the present time, undertaking an extensive examination of the whole position with all its implications and is exploring the possibility of setting up a national superannuation scheme, designed to promote and encourage the cultivation of thrift in the community. The problem facing the Government in this matter is, of course, largely a financial one.
A’ brief statistical statement will convey to the Senate a further idea of the vast growth of social services in recent years. It will, I feel sure, prove of interest to honorable senators. During the financial year ended the 30th June, 1939, the department dealt with only two types of benefit, invalid and old-age pensions and maternity allowances. In 1939 therewere 327,000 pensioners, the cost of their pensions being approximately £16,160,000. During the same period 81,000 maternity allowances were paid, totalling £437,000. At the present time there are approximately 358,000 pensioners, the annual cost of their pensions amounting to £29,500,000. This year it. is anticipated there will be more than 197,000 maternity allowances, costing nearly £3,000,000. Child endowment is paid in respect of nearly 1,000,000 children, and the cost is approximately £20,000,000 per annum. There are some 43,500 widows drawing pensions at a yearly cost of £3,300,000. There are fewer than 10,000 people receiving unemployment benefit and about 9,000 receiving sickness benefit, the two benefits costing, at present rates, approximately £.1,750,000 per annum. This year it is estimated there will be more than 22,500 funeral benefits involving the expenditure of some £220,000. It is of interest to note that the Department of Social Services last year issued more than 3,000,000 cheques, and that on every working day in the Sydney branch alone more than 2,000 separate pieces of correspondence are received. I have not presented an exhaustive list as I do not wish to weary the Senate; I have mentioned major items only and suggest they indicate thu important part the Department of Social Services plays in the lives of the people of this country. There are not very many homes in Australia which do not have a direct and beneficial association with the department.
Honorable senators will notice that a new part has been included in the consolidation, namely Fart VIII, “ Training and Physical Rehabilitation of Pensioners and Beneficiaries. “ The provisions contained under that part are not new, but appear in the existing Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act and in the Unemployment and Sickness Benefits Act. These provisions were inserted originally on the recommendation of the Social Security Committee. The training, rehabilitation and reconditioning of those who suffer some incapacity is of considerable consequence both to the individual and to the nation. In spite of the limited facilities .available during recent years, some 500 invalid pensioners have been trained and placed in employments since the 1st of July, 1.944, while just on 364 are now in course of training. The rehabilitation of the 500 invalid pensioners cost the Commonwealth about £6,000 and resulted in a saving in invalid pensions of approximately £40,000 per annum; or having regard to the expectation of life of the rehabilitated ex-pensioners, a saving of approximately £600,000 in all to the Com monwealth. Perhaps an even more important feature is the fact that a former pensioner is now earning his own living. He is an important unit in the economic structure. He is putting into the Commonwealth revenue, not taking out of it. He has a new psychological approach to life. He is a complete justification of the scheme. In the course of the next few years the department’s vocational and rehabilitation programmes will assume greater proportions. Already there are many who have every reason to be thankful for the care and training that has been afforded them.
I should like to dwell for a moment on the work of the Social Research Bureau which was established in the Department of Social Services in November, 1944, also following a recommendation of the Social .Security Committee. The bureau i3 under the direction of a trained social worker with wide experience overseas. Already it has given ample evidence of its usefulness and value to the .administration and to the community. The development of the bureau has been retarded by the shortage of trained personnel - a shortage which is world wide and which is causing concern to governments in the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States and many other countries - but firm foundations have now been laid. Trained social workers have been introduced into the administration and their skills are being employed in difficult cases of child endowment, unemployment and sickness benefits, age and invalid pensions and in the rehabilitation programme. These workers render a professonal service, (acquired by their specialized training), to many people for the purpose of assisting them to attain satisfying relationships and standards of life in accordance with their particular wishes and capacities. Modern methods and technique of social work do much to humanize the administration of social services. Concurrently with this day-to-day work the bureau has a programme of social research directed towards the evaluation of the actual human and social effect upon people of the Commonwealth’s total social welfare programme and of specific portions of that programme. The research officers have also made a comprehensive survey of social service agencies and facilities throughout the Commonwealth, and have established, and are maintaining, association with more than 200 official and nonofficial social service bodies outside Australia. Through these associations an increasing store of up-to-date, reliablefacts on overseas developments in social welfare is being amassed. At the same time, there is a channel provided for the dissemination overseas of authoritative information on current social activity in the Commonwealth. In an era when the value of international knowledge and understanding can hardly be overemphasized, this exchange of information is of great importance and significance. There is room for difference of opinion regarding the economic effects of an overall social security plan. The Government is confident that the money advanced for social welfare is in nearly every case used for the purpose intended by the legislature. Evidence in possession of the department supports this conclusion. The Government believes that this expenditure on the fundamental necessities of life makes a -substantial contribution towards . the maintenance of a high and constant level of employment.
As honorable senators know, reciprocity has been established between Australia and New Zealand in the matter of invalid and old-age pensions. Agreement has been reached with New Zealand for reciprocal arrangements in the matters of widows’ pensions, unemployment and sickness ‘benefits, and child endowment. “We are now awaiting acceptance of draft acts and agreements which have been submitted to the dominion. To-day a conference of officers from all parts of the British Empire, including, of course, Australia, will meet in London to explore the possibility of providing reciprocal benefits in social services throughout the British Empire. Having regard to these projected developments, a section has been included in the bill so that arrangements made between Australia and other countries can be implemented without undue delay.
I propose now to deal with the more important new clauses of the bill before the Senate. I do not intend to deal with every aspect, as when the bill is in the committee stage, there will be ample opportunity for detailed discussion. Perhaps the most important effect of the bill to individual beneficiaries will be that the maximum rate of invalid and age pensions will be increased by 5s. a week to the amount of £1. 17s. 6d. a week. The first payment at the increased rate will be effected on the 3rd July next. Pensioner inmates of benevolent institutions will receive an extra ls. 6d. a week, and an extra 3s. 6d. weekly will be paid to the institutional management towards the cost of maintenance. The additional cost of the increased rates of invalid and age pensions is estimated to be £5,200.000 pp.r annum. The condition? under which absences from Australia shall count as residence have been relaxed considerably.
One of the very few restricting pro; visions results in the inclusion as income, for the purpose of determining the rates of invalid and age pensions, of payments received from “ provident societies or other societies or associations “ in respect of new claimants only. The permissible income has been increased by 10s. a week in respect of each dependent child under sixteen years of age, less any amount received by, or in respect of, the child. In future, it will be permissible to regard a claimant for an invalid pension as having become permanently incapacitated or permanently blind for the purposes of the act if the incapacity or blindness occurred during temporary absence from the Commonwealth. In this connexion, too, the provision accepting permanent incapacity or permanent blindness occurring outside of Australia, as the result of a congenital defect, if the claimant arrived in Australia under the age of three years or has resided here for at; least twenty years, has been extended to cover similar cases where the disability was not of a congenital nature.
The Government has endeavoured to liberalize the provisions of this measure, and discretionary power has been given to the administration to pay benefits where at present forfeiture may be insisted upon. At present the child’s allowance is payable only to the wife of an invalid pensioner or to a male invalid pensioner who is married or a widower. lt is now provided that a female invalid pensioner, who has the custody, care, and control of a child under sixteen years of age, will get this benefit. Similarly, a child’s allowance may bc granted to an unmarried man who has the custody, care and control of a child. The time limitation of six months for lodging claims for funeral benefit may, under the bill, be extended where there are reasonable grounds for failing to lodge the claim within that period. It is intended also that the funeral benefit may be paid in respect of a deceased person who was a claimant for an invalid or age pension and who, but for his death, would have been granted a pension. An increase of 5s. a week will be paid to widows of all classes. The first instalments at the new rates will be paid on the Sth July next. The total cost involved in this increase is estimated to be, £570,000 per annum.
An important departure made by the bill is the intention to qualify a woman for a class A pension, subject, of course, to the means test, if she has the custody, care and control of one or more children under sixteen years of age, in lieu of the present requirement that she must be maintaining one or more such children. The Government has taken the view that, from a practical point of view, the person who has the actual care of the child and who is responsible for its food, clothing, education and general attention, is usually the proper person to whom payment should be made. An innovation of importance is that the permissible income has been increased by 5s. a week in respect of the widow’s first child, and by 10s. a week in respect of each additional child, less in each case any payments received on account of that child. The bill provides that from July next widows’ pensions will be paid fortnightly, instead of each four weeks as at present. This will be a great, convenience to the tens of thousands of widows who to-day are in receipt of pensions.
The bill also confers a discretionary power upon the administration to continue the pension of a widow for a period not exceeding two years beyond the date on which her youngest or only child attains the age of sixteen years, provided that the child is undergoing full-time education and is dependent on the mother. It is provided that when the bill becomes operative pensions will be payable to the wives of men imprisoned for six months or more.
I now turn to a consideration of the new provisions relating to maternity allowances. Discretionary power has been given to extend the period of six weeks during which payment should be collected ; payment of the higher amounts of maternity allowance will, in future, depend on the number of children under sixteen years of whom the claimant has the custody, care and control. At present, it is possible for the same child to be reckoned twice in different families, and the Government considers that this should bc altered. In future, it is intended to grant the maternity allowance to an alien mother, provided that either she or her husband has resided in Australia for at least a year, and payment in respect of a birth which occurs within twelve months after the mother’s arrival here may be made on the expiration of a year from the date of her arrival. The times for payment of maternity allowance have also been altered so that £5 may be paid at any time within a period of four weeks prior to the expected date of the child’s birth, and the balance of the total benefit, namely, £15, £16 or £17 10s. or more, as the case may be, will be payable immediately after the birth, upon lodgment of a claim. This will operate in lieu of the present provision, which stipulates deferment of the payment of the sum of £5 until the expiration of four weeks after the birth of the child.
Two further alterations have been made in the maternity allowance. First, the additional amount of £5 will, in future, apply in respect of each child in excess of one born at one birth. This is merely an extension of the existing provision for the payment of an additional sum of £5 for twins and £10 for triplets. The provision under which payment of a maternity allowance in respect of the birth of a still-born child, or a child which lives for less than twelve hours, may be made only on satisfactory evidence that the child was viable, has been altered to provide that the amount may be paid where the period of the intra-uterine life of the child was at least five and a half calendar months.
In reviewing the act as a whole the Government decided to make certain changes in the child endowment system. Those of major importance are that here, too, custody, care and control, instead of the maintaining of children, have been adopted as the criterion of entitlement.
A new provision is that the requirement of twelve months’ residence in Australia may be waived where there is satisfactory evidence that the claimant and the children concerned are likely to remain permanently in the Commonwealth. The restriction on the payment of endowment in respect of the children of alien parents has been removed where it is established that the children are likely to be permanent residents in Australia.
The present position under which a new grant of endowment is paid from the beginning of the four-weekly endowment period in which the birth occurs and terminates from the beginning of the endowment period during which a child dies or reaches the age of sixteen years, has given rise to considerable criticism and can operate harshly. The Government has now decided that a new grant of endowment will commence from the beginning of the first endowment period after the birth of the child, and will cease from the end of the endowment period in which the death or the sixteenth birthday occurs. The review of the legislation directed the Government’s attention to certain anomalies in the present Unemployment and Sickness Benefits Act, and some amendments are being effected by the bill. An important one is that the requirement of twelve months’ residence may he disregarded if the claimant is remaining permanently in Australia.
The period during which a sickness benefit may be paid has been liberalized considerably. In future payment will be made from the seventh day after the date of incapacity, if a claim is made within six weeks after that date, or within special circumstances, within such further time as the Director-General of Social Services permits.
It has been decided to vary the present procedure in applying the means test for unemployment benefit where the claimant’s spouse is in receipt of a pension. This will correct an anomaly which has given rise to some dissatisfaction, because at present the spouse’s pension of 32s. 6d. a week, not only prevents any additional benefit from being granted in respect of the spouse, but it also causes a reduction of 12s. 6d. a week in the benefit of 25s. which would otherwise be payable to the claimant. In effect, £1 of the pension has been used twice in restricting the amount of benefit payable.
Provision is also being made for additional benefit in respect of a housekeeper where no such additional benefit is payable in respect of a wife, and provided there are one or more children under sixteen years of age, and the housekeeper Ls substantially dependent on the claimant but is not regarded as his employee.
In future, the only payments in respect of the incapacity for which sickness benefit is claimed which will be deducted from the amount of benefit otherwise payable, will be amounts in the nature of compensation, damages or other amounts payable by law, but not including any such payment for which the claimant has made contributions.
Other substantial alterations of the law are noted in the memorandum which has been circulated to the Senate. In addition, there has been considerable rearrangement and re-drafting of the present acts to simplify both interpretation and implementation. The operation of the hill has been postponed to the 1st July, 1947, to allow time for necessary departmental arrangements to be made and to permit of the issue of fresh instructions. I suggest that the bill constitutes an instalment of social justice, and is a further step towards the goal of social security which our people deserve and require. I feel sure that the broader approach to the question of social services, which is the basis of this measure, will have tha general approval of the Senate. With the leave of the Senate, I shall incorporate in Hansard the following memorandum setting out the main alterations to existing social legislation effected by the Social Services Consolidation Bill 1947 : -
Part I. Preliminary.
Social Services Consolidation Act - All existing social services acts detailed in the Schedule are repealed.
The title “ Deputy Commissionerof Pensions “ will become “ Director of Social Services “ and the title “ Registrar of Pensions “ will become “ Registrar of Social Services “.
Part III. - Age and Invalid Pensions.
Payments from a “ provident society or other society or association “ have been removed from the exemption from income. Existing cases will not be disturbed.
The exemption from income of gifts or allowances from a claimant’s husband or wife has been omitted as being unnecessary.
Benefits provided under the Hospital Benefits Act 1945, or Pharmaceutical Benefits Act 1945 or the Tuberculosis Act 1945-1946 are excluded as income.
Existing disqualifications directed against particular races have been removed.
The residential provisions have been clarified. Conditions under which absences from Australia shall count as residence have been broadened by including any period of absence -
The period of desertion disqualifying a claimant for age pension has been reduced from twelve to six months immediately preceding the date of the claim. The disqualification in respect of neglect to maintain, or desertion of, children under 14 years, will now apply to children under sixteen years.
A claimant is to be regarded as having become permanently incapacitated or blind in Australia if the incapacity or blindness occurred during his temporary absence from Australia. (Clause 25(2).)
A claimant will be regarded as having become permanently incapacitated or blind in Australia if the incapacity or blindness occurred before his arrival in Australia if he was brought into Australia before attaining the age of three years, or if he has completed twenty years residence in Australia. 8.Rate of pension. (Clause 28.)
The maximum rate of pension has been increased from £84 10s. per annum to £97 10s. per annum.
Permissible income has been increased by 10s. per week in respect of each dependent child under sixteen years of age, less any amounts received by or in respect of the child.
A wife’s allowance is to be paid to the “ dependent female “ of an invalid pensioner.
The maximum rate of wife’s allowance has been increased from £39 per annum to £52 per annum.
Child’s allowance is to be paid to a single invalid pensioner (male or female) who has the custody, care and control of a child under the age of sixteen years.
Payment of wife’s allowance or child’s allowance is to continue if a pensioner enters a benevolent asylum and has a wife and child or his wife is not less than fifty years of age.
The date of commencement has been ampli fied to ensure that it is not later than the first pension pay-day after date of lodgment of the claim, except where the determination has been delayed by neglect or default on the part of the claimant. 15.Forfeiture of instalments. (Clause 42.)
The period during which instalments of pensionmay be collected without forfeiture occurringhas been extended from three weeks to six weeks. Discretionary power has been taken under which forfeiture may be waived where there were reasonable grounds for noncollection.
The maximum amount of pension payable to a pensioner inmate of a benevolent asylum has been increased from £29 18s. per annum to £33 16s. per annum. Statutory authority is given for the balance of pension, if any, to be paid to. the benevolent asylum authorities as at present.
The provision which enables insurance moneys received in respect of the destruction of a pensioner’s home to be disregarded for a reasonable period has been extended to include a home owned by the Spouse in which the pensioner resides. Moneys received for damage tothe home and the value of theland are also to be disregarded during the period determined.
Payment of funeral benefit is to be made in respect of a deceased claimant for pension who, but for his death, would have been qualified to receive a pension. (Clause 55.)
Where the cost of a funeral is greater than a payment from a contributory funeral fund (other than a contributory funeral benefit fund of a friendly society), funeral benefit is to be paid to the extent of the amount by which the cost of the funeral exceeded the amount received from the fund but not exceeding £10. Funeral benefit is not to be paid to a person administering a contributory funeral benefit fund.
Part IV. - Widows’ Pensions. 19.Definition of income. (Clause 59.)
The definition of income has been broadened and is the same us for invalid and age pensions.
The requirement that a widow for Class “ A “ pension shall be “maintaining” one or more children has been amended to provide that she shall have “ custody, care and control “ of such children.
Any child not living with the widow, but whom she is maintaining by regular contributions will be regarded as within her “custody, care and control “.
Provision has been made for the payment of a pension equivalent to a Class “ B “ widow’s pension to a woman whose husband has been imprisoned for at least six months, provided the wife has the custody, care and control of one or more children or is not less than fifty years of age, and otherwise eligible.
Conditions relating to residence and absences have been brought in line with those for invalidand age pensions.
The maximum rates of pensions have been increased as follows : -
Glass “A” widow from £97 10s. per annum to £1 10.10s. per annum.
Class “ B “ widow from £70 4s. per annum to £83 4s. per annum.
Class “ C “ widow from £84 10s. per annum to £97 10s. per annum.
The maximum rate of allowance provided for the class “ D “ widow is £83 4s. per annum.
Permissible incomehas been increased by 5s. per Week in respect of the widow’s first child and by 10s. per week in respectof each additional child less any amount received by or in respect of the child. In the case of a deserted wife or a divorcee, any payment of maintenance for a child in excess of £39 per annum isto be included as income. 24.Fortnightly payment. (Clause 70.)
Widows’ pensions are to be paid fortnightly in lieu of four-weekly.
The provisions relating to the forfeitureof pension instalments due to non-collection have been made the same as for invalid and age pensions.
In the case of a class “ A “ widow payment of pension may be continued for a period not exceeding two years beyond the date on which the youngest or only child reaches sixteen years where the child is undergoing full-time education and is dependent on the pensioner.
The provisions relating to payment of pen sion to and maintenance in respect of benevolent asylum inmates have been amended on- lines somewhat similar to those for invalid and age pensioners. 28.Restrictionsastodualpensions. (Clause81.)
A widow in receipt of a war widow’s pen sionundertheAustralianSoldiers’Repat- riationActisexcludedfromreceiving,inaddi- tion,acivilianwidow’spension.Existing pensions will be continued at present rates. 29.Treatmentofinsurancemoneys. (Clause83.)
Provisions have been brought into line with those for invalid and age pensions.
Part V. - Maternity Allowances.
Payment of the higher amounts of maternity allowance is to depend on the numberof children undersixteen years of whom the claimant has the custody, care and control. At, present the children who count for this purpose are previous living children under sixteen years whether or not they are living withthe claimant and children of her husband by his previous marriage maintained by him. 31.ResidentialQualifications. (Clause 85 (1 ) and(2).)
A maternity allowance is to be paid to a mother who, at the date of the birth, is a resident of Australia and satisfies the Administration that she intends to remain. At present the mother must be “ an inhabitant of Australia” or “intend to settle” in Australia. Payment is to bo made not only in respect of a birth which occurred in Australia or on board a ship proceeding from one port in Australia to another port in Australia (as at present), but also on board a ship proceeding to Australia, provided the mother receives no maternity benefit in respect of the birthfrom the country from which she has come.
In respect of a still-born child or a child which lives for less than twelve hours, payment is to be made if the period of intra-uterine life was at least five and a half calendar months. This is in lieu of the provision under which payment of maternity allowance in respect of such birth may be made only if the child was a “viable” child.
A maternity allowance is to be paid to an alien mother provided either she or her husband has resided in Australia for at least twelve months. Payment in respect of a birth which occurs within twelve months after the mother’s arrival is to be made on the expiration of twelve months after the date of her arrival. 34.Timeof payment. (Clause89.)
Payment of £5 on account of a maternity allowance maybe made available, upon application, within aperiod offour weeksprior to the expected date of birth ofthechild.The balance will be paid immediately after the birth in lieu of the present provision which requires payment of £5 to be deferred until the expiration of four weeks after thebirth.
Payment of maternity allowance is to ‘be made to qualified Australians temporarily abroad who fulfilled particular requirements.
Part VI. - Child Endowment.
The children in respectofwhomendowment may be granted are those of whom the claimant is deemed to have the “ custody, care and control “, in lieu of the children whom she is deemed to be “ maintaining “. (Clause95 (2.).)
The present restrictions on the payment of endowment in respectof the children of alien parents have been removed. Payment is to be made on the same residential basis as that proposed for other persons. (Clause 94.)
Where the parentsare making reasonable contributions towards the maintenance of a child inamental hospital the mother isto be deemed to have the “ custody,careand control “ of the child.
The requirement of twelve months’ residence in Australia (which applies in respect of claimants and children not born in Australia ) is to be waived if the claimant and the children concerned are likely to remain permanently in Australia.
In lieu of the present position, under which a new grant of endowment is paid from the beginning of the four -weekly endowment period during which the endowment becomes payable, and an endowment ceases from thebeginning of the endowment period during which a child dies or reaches sixteen years of age, a new grant of endowment will commence from the beginning of the first endowment period after the birth of the child, and an endowment terminating on a child’s death or sixteenth birthday will cease from the end of the endowment period in which the death or birthday occurs.
Payment is to be made to qualified Aus tralians temporarily abroad who fulfil particular requirements.
Part VII. - Unemployment and Sickness Benefits.
The definition of” friendly society “has been amended to include any body or society which is similar in character and provides benefits similar in nature to a friendly society. Existing approvals will not be affected.
Benefits provided under the Hospital Benefits
Act 1945, or Pharmaceutical Benefits Act 1944-45 or the Tuberculosis Act 1945-46, are excluded as income.
The requirement of twelve months’ residence can be waived if the claimant intends to remain permanently in Australia.
Provisions relating to absences have been deleted, but any period ofabsence due to a war will be treated as residence.
Under the present act a person “ in receipt of, or qualified to receive” an invalid or age pension, a widow’s pension or a service pension is disqualified for unemployment, sickness or special benefit. The words “qualified to receive “ have been omitted to permit the payment of benefit to an eligible person who, though possessing the qualifications for a pension, is not a claimant.
The provisions under which payments made to certain specified relatives who act as a claimant’s substitute during sickness were excluded in determining loss of income have been broadened. Bona fide payments to any substitute may now be accepted as a loss of income if made during a period of sickness. 45.Married women. (Clause 110.)
Provision has been made for payment of benefit at such rate (within the maximum) as is deemed reasonable where a woman’s husband is only able to maintain her partially. A married woman legally separated from her husband or living apart from him in circumstances which amount to a permanent separation is eligible for benefit.
The provision under which additional benefit of £1 per week may be paid to a claimant in respect of a dependent spouse has been amended -
Provision has been made for the payment of additional benefit (not exceeding £1 per week) in respect of a claimant’s housekeeper, where no such additional benefit is payable in respect of his wife, provided there are one or more children under sixteen years of age and the woman is substantially dependent on the claimant but is not an employee.
In the case of a claimant and spouse permanently separated any income received by the claimant’s spouse will be disregarded. If the question of payment of additional benefit in respect of the spouse has to be decided, however, regard may be had to the amount of the spouse’s income.
Where the claimant’s spouse is in receipt of a pension, £1 per week of the pension is to be excluded from income. This has been necessary to correct an anomaly. At present the spouse’s pension of 32s.6d. per week not only prevents any additional benefit from being granted in respect of the spouse but it also causes a reduction of 12s.6d. in the benefit of 25s. which would otherwise be payable to the claimant.
Under the present act the rate of sickness benefit which would otherwise be payable must be reduced by the amount of any other payment received by the claimant whether by way of compensation, damages “or otherwise” in respectof the incapacity for which he is qualified for sickness benefit. The range of such payments which must be deducted from the rate of sickness benefit has been limited to compensation or damages or any payment under any Commonwealth or State act or other law, received in respect of the incapacity for which sickness benefit is payable, but not a payment for which the claimant has contributed.
The provisions under which sickness benefit may become a charge upon any compensation or damages awarded have been broadened to include any payment under this clause.
The period within which a claim for sickness benefit must be lodged has been extended to six weeks after the commencement of the incapacity. If the claim is lodged after the expiration of six weeks payment will commence from the date of lodgment unless the claimant demonstrates that the delay was due to some sufficient cause.
Part VIII. - Training and Physical Rehabilitation of Pensioners and Beneficiaries.
The provisions relating to the vocational training and physical rehabilitation of invalid pensioners and unemployment and sickness beneficiaries have been combined in this part.
Part IX. - Miscellaneous.
An application to any Commonwealth department or authority for assistance is to be regarded as a claim for a benefit under the Social Services Consolidation Act, provided a claim on the appropriate form is subsequently lodged and investigation shows the applicant to be eligible.
Any pension or benefit under the Social Ser vices Consolidation Act accrued and unpaid at the death of a recipient or a claimant is to be paid, at the discretion of the administration, to the person bust entitled to receive the money, provided application is made -within six months from the date of death or within such further period as maybe allowed.
– I am sure that honorable senators listened with interest to the speech just made by the Minister for Social Services (Senator McKenna) on this important measure. He has covered the ground very fully. I do not propose to speak at length, but I take this opportunity to make one or two general observations with respect to the problem of social services as a whole. I remind the Senate that it was a Liberal government which first introduced invalid and old-age pensions; and it was the Menzies Government which introduced child endowment, the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt), who was then Minister for Labour and National Service, having charge of that measure. I pay a tribute to the Minister for Social Services for the work he has done in the preparation of this important measure. When we realize, as he said, that the bill completely repeals no fewer than 43 acts, and seven in part, we appreciate his task. It shows that he desires to effect a general cleaning up and to put all these matters, as it were, under one legal roof. That should be a great advantage to the departmental officers charged with administering the scheme. The Minister’s part in this work goes to disprove the contention by his own supporters, when we were discussing the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Bill recently, decrying technical men, experts, lawyers and barristers. As a layman, I regret that the Opposition in this chamber lost the services of Senator Spicer, who was a barrister and a clear thinker, and, during his terms in the Senate, rendered great service to the Parliament and the people. I believe that the Government, without the services of the Minister on legal problems, would be at a very great disadvantage in the Senate.
I support the tribute paid by the Minister to the members of his staff who are administering this important department, and for the contribution they have made as represented in the measure now before us. I have known the Director-General of Social Services - I understand that is to be his new title - for a number of years. The members of the Government of which I was a Minister had proof of his ability in the efficiency and speed with which he was able to implement child endowment in this country. When the Government realizes that the DirectorGeneral of Social Services is now handling a scheme which is estimated to cost the taxpayers £72,000,000 in the next financial year, it should, in addition to giving him a good title, also show its appreciation of his ability in a practical way by paying him a salary commensurate with the responsibility and magnitude of his task. I do not forget the criticism levelled against bureaucrats in this country. In. some cases, that criticism is justified; but, as a former Minister., I acknowledge, publicly that we have had men in the Commonwealth Public Service directing huge departments who were worth their weight in gold but were never paid an adequate remuneration. It grieves me that men of the calibre of Mr. R. V. Smith and Mr. Daniel McVey and others left the Commonwealth Service and accepted positions outside the Service at salaries double and treble those paid to them when they were working for the taxpayers of this country. Wagepegging regulations cannot, be offered as an excuse for refusing to pay a man according to merit. If these men are worth much higher salaries outside the Service, surely men charged, with handling important departments of great magnitude should be paid according to their merits rather than on the principle advocated, by some’ honorable senators opposite that what a person, has left after paying ta-x is all that matters. The Department of Social Services is- a very important unit of the Commonwealth Service. As the Minister has said, invalid and old-age pensions; widows’ pensions; maternity allowances, child endowment and unemployment and sickness benefits have been brought under one roof under’ the control of the Director-General. lt is interesting to note that since 1941 the rate of the old-age pension has inneased from 21s. 6d. a week to 37s. 6d. a week under this measure, or an increase of 70 per cent. Having regard to the increased cost of living and the substantial rise in price levels, I venture to suggest that even on the new rate of 37s. 6d. a week the old-age pensioners will not be much better off than they were when receiving the lower rate in 1941; because f believe that the Government, and some of the leaders of the trade union movement, do not appreciate sufficiently the effect upon this large section of the community, and our economy generally, of the shortening of working hours, “ go-slowism “ in industry, the frequency of strikes and the rising cost of production.. The Opposition supports the bill,, but it is appropriate to warn old-age pensioners, and those in receipt of other social service benefits, that the, Government is losing all sense of financial proportion, having regard to the commitments it is incurring- to-day in relation to the budget generally and’ it? failure to take steps to balance up our finances. The Government should tell the people frankly, as the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) told- the Australian Labour party executive this week, that he will, not be one to finance oM-age pensions by bank credit. If these social service benefits are to be liberalized, and we are to maintain, a higher standard of living, the expenditure involved will have to bo met either by taxes or loan money: We should keep that clearly in our minds. T believe- that we should do a grave injustice to recipients of social service benefits if we did not sound that warning at every possible opportunity.
Lot me examine the figures in connexion with the cost of these proposals. In 1939, social service benefits cost. £16,500,000, whereas next financial year, commencing on the 1st July, that cost is estimated at £72,000,000. We should do for these- people a fair thing, having regard to what the country can afford: but I remind the people that after World War I., when the government of the day and the people of this country were misled by the rise of price levels, it fell to the lot of a Labour Government led by the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) to make substantial reductions of the rate of old-age pensions. I warn the present Government that if it has the good fortune to be in office - which, of course, will be a misfortune for the people - when price levels fall, not only in this country but throughout the world, as those levels must fall, w.e must ensure that we have not bitten off more than we can chew in providing these social service benefits. We must ensure that while establishing a higher standard of living and liberalizing these social service benefits we shall also, increase production and the rate of development of this country through a sound migration -policy and by other means in order to be enabled to meet all of our commitments. When considering a measure such as this we should bear in mind the fact that in this country there are 358,000 invalid and old-age pensioners, drawing £29,000,000 annually. The latest figures available to rae indicate that there are approximately 70,000 wheat-growers in Australia. In other words, there are five times as many invalid and old-age pensioners as there are wheat-growers. The average wheat crop is 145,000,000 bushels, which, at 4s. a bushel at growers’ sidings, yields £29,000,000. That figure is considerable. In normal times, wheat-growing is our second most important primary industry. [ mention the value of our wheat production so that we may gain a more realistic appreciation of monetary values. We must not let the high price levels now obtaining rob us of our sense of financial responsibility. In 1939, before the outbreak of World War II., the total expenditure for which the Commonwealth budgeted was approximately £90,000,000. The estimate for this year - and I am afraid that it will also ‘be the estimate for some years to come - is £400,000,000. That increase is sensational when we consider the manner in which the national income of this country is divided. When our uniform tax legislation was introduced, we had placed before us by the Treasury details of how the national income of this country was distributed, and it was interesting to find that in 1943, 86£ per cent, of income earners were receiving less than £400 a year. That 86-J per cent., however, will make a very substantial contribution to the £72,000,000 to which we shall be committed under this bill. Throughout the length and breadth of this country, income earners are appealing to both sides of politics for relief from taxes. It is obvious to anybody that while taxes are high on incomes of less than £400 a year, the purchasing power of taxpayers in that group is substantially reduced, particularly in view of rising costs. The Government is worried about housing. After World War I. the War Service Homes Commission inaugurated a scheme under which a maximum of £900 was advanced to exservicemen for the construction or purchase of a home. To-day, because of greatly increased building costs, that limit has been raised to £1,750. The Government also finds it necessary to place an additional burden upon young married couples, including ex-service men and women, who wish to set up homes, by the imposition of 10 per cent, sales tax on furniture, carpets and other household goods. That, apparently, is necessary in order that the Government may meet its commitments. These matters should .be given the fullest consideration because indirect taxation is bearing very heavily on a large section of taxpayers in the moderate income groups, and this burden is becoming heavier each day owing to rising costs.
I take this opportunity to remind the Senate that, in addition to this increase of governmental expenditure from £16,500,000 to £72,000,000, the national de’bt of this country has doubled as the result of World War II. The national interest bill is almost twice what it was before the war, and our repatriation bill, too, has doubled. These commitments, which are dead weight in the budget, must be regarded very seriously when we know from practical experience what lies ahead in the near .future. There is a tendency on the part of the Government, sometimes due to political pressure, and sometimes for political advantage, to let one side of the budget grow alarmingly, without ensuring that on the constructive side, it shall be able to obtain the wherewithal to meet those commitments.
A specific matter to which I wish to draw attention, is a grave injustice that is done to a large number of thrifty people in this country - people who from the beginning of their employment have contributed large sums to superannuation funds. These people find now that on their retirement, the modest amount that they .believed to be sufficient to enable them to enjoy a reasonable standard of living, is reduced by income tax. They are thus contributing to the welfare of other individuals, some of whom have made no effort to provide for their old age.
– Most of them had no opportunity to do that.
– The honorable senator did not have much of an opportunity, but he has done fairly well in this country. Not only are superannuation payments reduced by taxation, but also, due to the depreciation of the currency, their purchasing power is much less than it was when contributions were started. For instance, the purchasing power of £1 twenty years ago was equal to that pf £4 to-day. That .circumstance creates an anomaly, and imposes an injustice upon thrifty people. I hope that the Government will give consideration to this matter as soon as possible. I understand from the Minister’s speech that in deciding whether a person is entitled to any of the benefits provided for in this measure, superannuation payments and payments from provident funds will be taken into consideration. This will deprive many men and women of the benefit of this legislation. Some attention should be paid to that matter.
I also ask the Minister to inform the Senate whether the revenue collected for child endowment payments through the pay-roll tax is included in the £72,000,000 for which this measure provides. In my opinion the Child Endowment Act was one of the best pieces of legislation passed by the Menzies Government. In view of the figures that I have cited in regard to the distribution of the national income, the Government might well give consideration to extending child endowment to the first child of a family. The Arbitration Court would then be in a position to fix the basic wage on a unit of two instead of three as at present. It is interesting to note that 1,000,000 children under the age of sixteen years are enjoying the benefit of child endowment; but I remind the Senate that there are 1,000,000 “first” children in respect of whom child endowment is not payable. With the cost of living at its present high level, no section of the community is more worthy of consideration than these children. The system of paying child endowment direct to mothers does much to ensure that the money shall be spent to the best advantage. The general opinion amongst parents is that the first child in the home is the most expensive, and whilst I appreciate that in this measure provision has been made for increased payments in necessitous cases, I hope that child endowment in respect of all “ first “ children will be introduced at an early date. The fixing of the basic wage on a unit of two would be much more equitable in view of the distribution of our national income. Any increase of the basic wage will be spread over the community in general. At present the burden falls mainly upon the 86£ per cent, of the population to whom I have referred.
During the Minister’s second-reading speech, I asked by way of interjection whether provision was made for a wife whose husband was serving a term of imprisonment. Whilst I have every sympathy with a woman who is left in such precarious circumstances, I fear that many women will find themselves better off with their husbands in gaol than out of it. This is an extension of a principle introduced by this Government in the unemployment and sickness benefits scheme. Workers who go on strike are not entitled to unemployment benefits, but there are quite a number of unemployables and misfits in the community who are never better off than when there is a strike in some industry and, because they lose their employment, they are in receipt of unemployment benefits. As custodians of the public purse we should be very careful not to allow the gates to be opened so wide that we shall encourage people to do certain things to benefit under this legislation. Most cases, of course, are genuine, but I am sure that every member of this Parliament has knowledge of individuals who are prepared to spend all their money and then live at the expense of their more selfreliant and thrifty fellows.
I commend the Minister for the work that he has devoted to the preparation of this measure, which the Opposition supports. Many important anomalies will be removed. Additional expenditure on certain items may not represent large sums, but the payments will overcome injustices that have occurred in the past. I hope that all honorable senators will approach this bill in a proper spirit. It is above party politics. Let us assure the people of Australia that we shall stand up to our obligation to provide for their welfare in times of adversity.
– This bill, which will consolidate existing social service legislation and also extend into new fields, has long been needed. I commend the Minister for ‘Social Services (Senator McKenna) for the able manner in which he has presented the measure. The explanations which he gave in his second-reading speech left little room for enlargement by other honorable senators. However, I shall deal with our social services from a fresh point of view. For this purpose, I shall divide the subject into four different sections. The first relates to our duty to the aged and the infirm., the second to our duty to the sick, the third to our duty to the youth of to-day and of the future, and the fourth to our duty to provide for ihe economic welfare of everybody within this nation.
If we are to consider our duty to the aged and the infirm, we must go back to the year 1908, a period which was mentioned briefly by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay). I recall the conditions which existed at that time. The aged and the infirm then had to depend upon charity for sustenance, unless they owned homes, for shelter. What a welcome thing it was when, in 1909, a pension of 10s. a week was provided for such persons. Some of the aged people of those days thought that they were being given a place in some corner of heaven. The pension has slowly increased since then. Our aged citizens pioneered this country. They suffered all kinds of hardships in order to develop our great agricultural areas and to build up our industries. They devoted their lives to work of national importance. Coupled with them are invalids. Why are these people infirm? Many of them
Suffer physical weaknesses because of the severe conditions and the laborious nature of their work in developing the nation. They helped to create the conditions which we are now enjoying. Therefore, we owe a great debt to them. We have an obligation to see that such people are cared for in their age and infirmity. The invalid and old-age pension, which in 3909 amounted to 10s a week, will be increased by this measure to 37s. 6d. a week as from July. The Leader of the Opposition said that the new rate will not he too high considering the costofliving increases that have occurred since 1909. He said that 37s. 6d. a week today would probably be no better than 10s. a week in 1909. However, almost in the same breath, he spoke of the extravagance of increasing the pension. How can we look after the aged and the infirm if we are to be accused of extravagance when we make just provision for their needs’? I shall deal in detail at a later stage with the criticism of the financial aspects of this measure expressed by .the Leader of the Opposition.
Another important provision contained in the bill also affects old-age and invalid pensioners. It provides for an allowance to the spouse of a pensioner who is required to stay at home to care for his oilier mate. Also, an allowance will be paid to a daughter who is compelled to remain at home in order to care for parents in their old-age or invaliditySuch a provision has long been needed, and we can well be proud of it. To give monetary assistance to the aged and the infirm without providing for them to be helped in their homes so that they are cared for and their pensions are wisely expended would be to do only half of the job. In addition to all these provisions, the Government now has prepared a way of rehabilitating some of our infirm citizens so that they may return to a normal way of life. The rehabilitation off about 500 invalids has cost the Government only about £6,000, but it effects a saving to .the nation of an amount of £40,000 annually. Every body must adrait that this is a great forward step.’ Any invalid pensioner who is able to become a wealth producer again instead of remaining a liability as a pensioner becomes an asset to the nation. This provision alone calls for a glowing tribute to the legislation which has been brought forward by the present Government. In praising the work of this Government, I do not wish to detract from the value of the work done by anti-Labour governments. The Leader of the Opposition said, for instance, that an anti-Labour government introduced child endowment I admit that fact freely, but I remind the honorable gentleman that the Labour party gave the Government every support in that instance.
– That Government introduced child endowment under pressure.
– I am, not concerned with such suggestions. The fac6 is that it did introduce child endowment, and I was very pleased to see a start made with such a social service. However, the child endowment scheme has been considerably improved since then. I assume that the Leader of the Opposition spoke on behalf of all honorable senators opposite, and therefore I ann gratified to know that the Government has their support in. relation to. this measure, except- for some criticisms in relation to financial matters.
We also have a duty to the sick Only, a few years ago, a Labour Government introduced the national sickness and unemployment benefits scheme, and, heaven knows, it was badly needed by tens of thousands of people. I suppose that, over a: period of” one year, hundreds of thousands of working people in Australia fall ill. Prior to the introduction of the present scheme, such unfortunate citizens had to depend largely upon charity. Those of us who are fit and well have a duty towards them. Nobody becomes sick purposely. The sickness benefits provisions contained in the bill represent only a small step towards the goal which the Minister has mentioned, and which will be achieved when ho brings in legislation providing for a free health scheme throughout Australia.
– The scheme is on lines similar to those of thefriendly societies’ schemes, which havebeen of great value to- Australia.
– I concede that point to the honorable senator. Probably the foundation of the sickness benefits scheme was laid by. the friendly- societies, but’ hundreds of thousands of Australians never had sufficient money to enable them to become members of such societies. In 1939, there were 250,000 unemployed in Australia. Those persons could not be financial members of friendly societies. It is the duty of the nation to provide for the welfare of all citizens who are not in a position to support themselves adequately, should they have the misfortune to become sick. A Labour government has the credit for having introduced a national sickness benefits scheme. However, I pay a tribute to the Leader of ‘the Opposition for supporting it. Consider what happened to. people who- became 131 before the plan was implemented. Take the case of a man employed full-time on a basic-wage job. He may have economized and deprived his children of amenities in order to become a financial member of a friendly society. I concede that point for’ the benefit of Senator Herbert Hay.s.If that; man were stricken, with illness’, what would happen to him ?. First of all’, he would incur debts. He would worry, and his wife would worry. They wouldnot be able to buy sufficient food and! clothing for their children. What, a degrading state of affairs in a. land of plenty! This Government wants to obviate, once and’ for all, the. possibility of’ such things happening. We cannot, de.velop a healthy nation while we have children who are ill-clothed, and underfed and mothers who are nervous and rundown through worry because their husbands are sick and unable to work. We cannot afford to have such things in. the future. Under the old conditions, when a man. recovered, from a period of sickness,, he had. a burden of debt, arising not only from, medical expenses, but also from grocers’ bills and other costs of living.. What pleasure was there in life for a man. with a wife and family under such conditions.? Thousands of people suffered, such misfortunes before the present scheme was introduced. Those conditionsapplied until this Government introduced.’ the national health and sickness benefits scheme during the war in order to safeguard people from the fear which,, until then, was always present in their mind’s, and in order to prevent .children from suffering from malnutrition and other ills which they should never have sustained. The Government’s plans for dealing, with sickness do not end there, however. The Government also provides maternity allowances. Honorable senators opposite, when their parties were in power, had. something to do with the introduction of this important benefit. Unless, women bear children, the nation will soon die. That is why this Government has taken action to assist parents by increasing maternity allowance payments by meant of this, measure.
Our social service schemes do> not’ end’ even here. We have a duty to- the growing generation and to the generation of tomorrow. I shall deal first with’ the children of to-day. The Government has introduced measures for their welfare and has liberalized other measures’ which’ were introduced by anti-Labour- governments. To-day, we have reached’ thestage at which a basic-wage earner who is the father of a large family can drawconsiderable’ sums, in child endowment.
Recently, I met a man who was receiving over £120 a year in the form of child endowment. Why was he entitled to that money? Because the child of to-day must have the necessities of life amply provided for him if he is to have a fair chance in life. That means simply that irrespective of his parents’ financial position he must be properly fed, clothed and educated. I asls honorable senators opposite to compare the present position with the state of affairs that existed in 1939. At that time there were no sickness benefits and there were 250,000 people unemployed who received no social benefit of any kind. What sort of a population would a continuance of that shameful state of affairs have produced? What kind of generation would have sprung from those people? And that state of affairs continued until a Labour Government was returned to office. Adverting to the provision made for child welfare, it is the duty of the Commonwealth to ensure that adequate pre-natal facilities are available to all mothers before their children are brought into the world. We owe a duty not only to the present children but to the generation as yet unborn. We hope that some day Australia will become a great nation; but we can never hope to build a great nation unless our children are properly fed and clothed, adequately educated and trained for service to the community. And those things must be provided for children irrespective of the economic circumstances o:f_ their parents. If the production of the country can support it they must receive those things; but we cannot provide them unless everybody is employed and putting his shoulder to the .wheel. Under present conditions almost everybody is able to obtain work, and is at work, contributing his share to the needs of the community.
Referring to the interjection of the honorable senator who compared the advantages offered by benefit, societies with the provisions of the Unemployment and Sickness Benefit Scheme, I would point out that the same remarks might be applied to assurance companies. Undoubtedly, assurance companies and benefit societies have to some degree fulfilled the needs of social security in the past, but the part they have played is insigni ficant compared with the operation of a national social service scheme. No assurance company or combination of companies could offer the benefits conferred by the Unemployment and Sickness Benefits Scheme. For example, under the latter scheme a married man with a wife to support who receives an income of £250 a year is not even required to contribute to the scheme because his income is .not sufficient, in the opinion of the Government, for .him to be called upon to contribute. The Government considers that sufficient money can be raised to finance the scheme without touching the lower incomes, and that those who are in a financial position to pay should assist those who are not. That is the fundamental principle upon which the bill is based.
The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) made some complaint about the provision of an allowance to the wife of a man serving a gaol sentence. He overlooks entirely the fact that the husband’s lapse may be in no way -due to the wife’s dereliction, and that in most cases wives of serving prisoners are entirely innocent of their husband’s crimes. Why should the wife not receive some assistance in her hour of trial ? Most women whose husbands are in prison suffer enough privation and humiliation because of that fact; and surely no person with humane feelings would object to them receiving a small allowance during the time their husbands are unable to provide for them.
In the course of his speech the Minister stated that he hopes the means test will be completely abolished in the not very distant future. The application of the means test has already been eased considerably, but I think, that the Government should not be content until it has completely abolished it. From the point of view of abstract justice, those who contribute to social service schemes should receive at least some benefit from them. I trust that in the near future the genius - and I use the word advisedly - of the Minister will evolve some means of eliminating the means test so that all will be entitled to participate in the benefits of the scheme.
The Leader of. the Opposition said that he supported the measure and gave it’ his blessing, but he. went on to point out the substantial increase in expenditure on social services since 1939, when £16,000,000 was spent on it, to the current year, when approximately £70,000,000 is appropriated for it. In the first place, he agreed that the benefits conferred are reasonable and necessary, but he then asked how the Government is going to finance the scheme. He quoted from the budget of the Commonwealth Government in 1939, comparing it with the budget for 1946. It is a fact, as he stated, that in 1939 the budget totalled only £90,000,000 in all, and that during the war it exceeded £500.000,000 and £600,000,000 ; but he overlooked the fact that in 1939 there were 250,000 unemployed who paid no tax and produced no revenue. Furthermore, many hundreds of thousands were working only intermittently, and were unable to contribute anything .by way of tax. Because the position to-day is so entirely different no analogy can be drawn between governmental finances in 1939 and 1947. For one thing, there are literally hundreds of thousands more taxpayers now. If the government which the honorable senator supported in 1939 had done the right thing there would not have been the tragic shortage of houses and building materials which we have to-day. The present shortage of houses and materials was emphasized by the Leader of the Opposition, but in reply to that I point out that there is no reason why the government which was in office in 1939 could not have employed the 250,000 people who were then unemployed in the production of homes and. building materials.
– It was not a matter of needing materials at that time; the simple fact was that Australia had no customers.
– The honorable senator has just interjected that the cause of the trouble in 1939 was that we had no customers, and that because of that we could not find employment for the 250,000 people who were waiting for a job. But the fact is that at that. time there was already a housing shortage of about 300,000 houses. Could not employment have been found for the army of unemployed in building homes for the workers of this country, in water conservation pro jects and other developmental works? At that time no one realized more than members of the Menzies Government the imminence of a world war. And yet the honorable gentleman says there was nothing for the unemployed to do because we had no customers! People were going hungry because they had no jobs and no incomes. The customers were here right in our midst, and there were millions of customers overseas waiting for food and goods. As an example, we have only to recall the export of wool from this country before the war. Instead of manufacturing the staple ourselves and sending the textiles overseas, we sent our raw products overseas to be manufactured and used against us by our enemies in the form of war material.
– I said we had goods, but that there was no market for the goods.
– The Government which the honorable senator supported would not pay a decent wage to the workers to enable them to buy anything.
– If the honorable senator does not understand that there was an abundance of markets right in our own country, with hungry people waiting to be fed, it is useless for me to try and explain that fact to him.
I suggest that wide discretionary powers should be given to the DirectorGeneral of Social Services in cases where invalid or old-age pensioners are not living in their own homes. In many cases they have been forced by sheer necessity to leave their own homes and live with members of their family or friends. In many instances it would break the hearts of old people to sell their homes. If they let their homes, the rental, although perhaps small, may be sufficient to deprive them of a portion of their pension.
Once an invalid or old-age pensioner moves out of his home to live with a relative, the Deputy Commissioner of Pensions feels in duty bound to consider whether his pension should be reduced. A discretionary power should be given to the Director-General of Social Services in such cases. I emphasize that the recipient of social service benefits is not in receipt of charity. In most instances the benefits have been earned. The nation has an. obligation to provide for those who in their old age need assistance. Some pensioners may not have paid in cash for the benefits they are receiving, but they have paid for them in their service to the community.
– I listened with interest to the speech of Senator Aylett, but I find some difficulty in- reconciling his remarks with the facts. After a war there is always a shortage of goods and materials and following so great a conflict as that which took place from 1939 till 1945 the shortage was greater than at any previous time in the world’s history. That is one reason why employment is now so general. The position was different in 1939. There was then a plentiful supply of goods, but difficulty was experienced in finding markets for them. The result was that prices were low. Whenever the prices of export commodities are low the standard of living is also low. In 1939 there was not the same purchasing power in the hands of the community as there is to-day. It would be foolish to suggest that a budget providing for an expenditure of £400,000,000 could have been presented in 1939. I remind Government supporters that some years ago the Labour party objected to £10,000,000 being set apart for defence purposes and that it also objected to sending Australian servicemen overseas.
I pay a tribute to the Minister for Social Services (Senator McKenna) for his exposition of this measure. He made clear what the Government has in mind and I am sure that all honorable senators appreciated his explanation. As a member of the Social Security Committee, I thank the Minister also for his generous tribute to that body whose reports form the foundation of this legislation. Honorable senators may be interested to hear the concluding paragraph of the first report of that committee, which was presented to the Parliament on the 24th September, 1941 -
The first efforts of all Australians at the present time must be directed to winning the war. It has been said that the Allies won the Great War and lost the peace; this time we must win both. If we are to have that we must have ready a complete plan of social security. By improving our present social conditions, to whatever extent is possible with out impeding our war-time organization - and much may be done in this direction - we are not hindering but assisting the war effort. The committee puts forward the proposals in the national interest.
That report was signed by Mr. Perkins, Senator Keane, Mr. Barnard, Mr. Blackburn, Mr. Ryan, and myself. I also pay a tribute to Sir Frederick Stewart, who at that time was Minister for Health. The Social Security Committee, which has done much in providing the framework of this legislation, was inaugurated during the regime of the Menzies Government; it was appointed on the 3rd July, 1941. Through the efforts of Sir Frederick Stewart the committee was able to carry out its preliminary work.
There are hopeful signs throughout the world of a general movement towards improved social conditions. Although a considerable part of the world has been devastated by war, the people of all countries are seeking some form of social security for the future. The members of the British Commonwealth of Nations have taken a leading part in social service movements. Notwithstanding its heavy burden, Great Britain has established a comprehensive social services scheme to take care of its citizens from the cradle to the grave. For many years New Zealand has had the benefit of a sound social service scheme. Australia has not been unmindful of its responsibility in this respect, as provision for old-age pensions was made in 1909, for the invalid pension in 1910, and for the maternity allowance in 1912. Other benefits were introduced later. These have necessitated the passing of a number of acts, which this bill seeks to consolidate. The measure before us follows closely the recommendations of the Social Security Committee.
I shall deal later with some important aspects of the bill, particularly with regard to finance, in which I believe that it falls short of the recommendations of the Social Security Committee, particularly in relation to what may be considered a sound basis for the financing of social security benefits on such a vast scale. I welcome the basis of social security provided for in the bill, because doubts have been cast on a number of these benefits in recent years. It is good to know that those doubts will be removed.
The main object of the bill, as stated by the Minister, are to eliminate obsolete provisions of the existing legislation, remove anomalies, amalgamate certain sections o;f administration, modernize the legislation and present them as a part of a well-defined social security plan. The Minister has achieved his objective in this bill.
Soon after its inauguration, the Social Security Committee considered anomalies in the existing legislation. In its first report, dated the 24th September, 1941, the committee dealt with a number of anomalies, chiefly in respect of invalid and old-age pensions. It is pleasing to note that great success has been achieved towards removing some of those anomalies by the adoption of the committee’s recommendations. Many invalid pensioners, more particularly children, were regarded, more or less, as being condemned to invalidism for life. They felt keenly the fact that should they earn anything at all their pension would he disallowed, and they would, therefore, become charges upon their parents. It was remarkable to note the degree to which many invalids responded to assistance given to them mainly owing to the kindness of certain departmental officials. The result, to-day, is that many have not only improved sufficiently to forgo their pension, but also have be come self-supporting. This not only means a saving of considerable expenditure to the Commonwealth, but also is a cause of great joy to those individuals who are now able to make their contribution to the community instead of being obliged to live merely as mendicants.
The value of the various recommendations made by the Social Security Committee with the object of removing anomalies has been demonstrated in many respects. The consolidation of the various acts dealing with social services under this measure will tend towards greater efficiency of administration and will eliminate much of the delay that occurred previously. One of the main provisions of the measure is the liberalization of the various benefits. The main provision is an increase of 5s. a week of the overall benefit. The rate of old-age pension is to be increased from 32s. 6d. a week to 37s. Gd. a week, whilst other pensions will be correspondingly increased. However, this increase has been rendered necessary mainly as the result of increased cost of living; and we. should remember that the amount of the increase is not so important as the purchasing power of the increase. There is no doubt that the purchasing power of the £1 today is much less than it was some years ago, so far as many of the necessaries of life are concerned.
I wholeheartedly support the provision under which reciprocal arrangements in respect of social service benefits generally are to be made with the United Kingdom and other members of the British Commonwealth of Nations. This arrangement will serve to attract British migrants to this country, because people in Great Britain can now rest assured that should they come to Australia they will retain their equity in social service benefits in their homeland. This reciprocity will also tend to bring the various dominions closer together, and in that respect I have in mind particularly our sister dominion of New Zealand.
Whilst I acknowledge generally the merit of the Minister’s survey of the historical development of pensions legislation and social security in Australia, and whilst I recognize the obligation upon this country to make provision for those who through misfortune, age or infirmity are unable to make adequate provision for themselves, I draw attention to the increasing tendency to allow thrift and independence to go unrewarded. Thrifty citizens are the country’s best assets, because they never ask for help so long as it is humanly possible to provide for themselves. Such persons are deserving of every possible encouragement that the Government can give to them; but these worthy persons are de*barred by the means test from participating in social service benefits. The Minister in his second-reading speech indicated that an inquiry was now being made to see what could be done in that matter. He said -
The Government recognises the strength of many of these representations and is pursuing a policy directed to the gradual easing of the means test with a view to its ultimate abolition. The Government is at present undertaking an extensive examination of the whole position with all its implications and is exploring the possibility of setting up a national superannuation scheme designed to promote and encourage the cultivation of thrift in the community. The problem facing the Government in this matter is. of course, largely financial.
I fully realize that the crux of this problem is financial. During the whole of ray association -with the Social Security Committee, and on several occasions in this chamber, I have stressed the importance of providing social service benefits as a right to the individual in return for his contribution to a social service fund, and the importance of laying down very definitely as a matter of government policy that social service benefits shall he paid from a fund specially created for that purpose. The recommendations made by the Social Security Committee from its inception indicate that social service benefits should be paid from a fund specially created for that purpose. In its second report which dealt with unemployment the committee recommended the continuation in the postwar period of the principle of a graduated tax on incomes as a means of financing unemployment benefits, and the maintenance of a minimum standard of sustenance for disemployed persons and those suffering from want of the necessities of life. The committee, in its sixth report, dealing with the general medical service, recommended that such a service should be financed from a central fund specially created for the purpose by a tax on incomes having regard for the capacity of the individual to pay. It might be argued that that principle is being implemented at present through the social service contribution. I agree that the social service contribution is a graduated tax. To that degree, the Government has followed the recommendations of the Social Security Committee which I have just mentioned; but it has not given expression to the general idea in the committee’s mind.
Our expenditure on social services has already reached a very high figure. It is estimated at £72,000,000 for the next financial year, and that cost we are told will rise to approximately £100,000,000 within the next five years. The idea in the mind of the Social Security Com mittee was that the fund to finance social service benefits should be created by a special tax on incomes. The committee fully expected that provision would be made for some actuarial investigation in order to ensure the solvency of the fund and its capacity to meet the vast commitments under this heading which will continue to increase. If the Minister has not already instituted such an inquiry he should do so as soon as possible in the interests of recipients of benefits in order to assure them that the Government will be able to guarantee fulfilment of the promises it has made. I do not suggest that these full amounts are to be paid out of contributory tax revenue. It is quite logical that portion of the funds for these benefits should come from Consolidated Revenue, but that production should be fixed so that contributions to the National Welfare Fund will be used for the purposes for which they are intended. We are living in an era of high prices for all our primary products, but the time will come when these prices will fall and unless the National Welfare Fund is on a sound actuarial basis, the Government will find itself in financial difficulties such as those that beset governments in the depression years. There is no guarantee that export prices will remain at their present levels. Our national income depends upon production, both secondary and primary. In view of the substantial expenditure to which we are committed not only for social services but also for other purposes, it is encumbent upon every one of us now deriving some benefit from the resources of this country to do everything possible to ensure that our wealth .pool shall be .kept well supplied.
Security can be either real, based upon economic stability, or mythical, as it will be if our internal economy is unstable through inflationary depreciation of money value. If we believe that it can be provided solely by higher social services payments, without a related responsibility for national economy, we are living in a fool’s paradise, and sooner or later we shall pay the price. The youth of to-day, and citizens of to-morrow, especially those who have spent their early years in war service, have earned the right to security of a tangible nature, but due to internal dissension and industrial turmoil, our production ‘has been dealt a crippling blow, and the prospects for the future are anything but bright. These disruptive elements have not only seriously undermined the economic stability of industry on the home front, but what is equally serious, they have also done Australia irreparable harm abroad through the loss of valuable markets for our primary and secondary products. Had we been sufficiently industrious and united, we could have built up a strong export trade with which to stabilize our economic and financial position among the other nations. Without a strong export trade, and the ability to hold it on a competitive basis, we lack the sound foundation upon which real social security is absolutely dependent.
– I rise to support the bill and also to congratulate the Minister for Social Services (Mr. McKenna) on the manner in which he compiled his secondreading speech. I congratulate also those members of his staff who have so ably assisted him not only on this occasion, but also during recent yearn, in the administration of the social services legislation of this Government. I am pleased to be able to speak on this measure to-night because of the connexion that I have had with the Social Security Committee. Ever since I entered this chamber nearly four years ago, I have been a member of that committee and I am gratified that the Minister and his predecessors have been able to incorporate in this and other legislation many of the suggestions made by that committee. I am also pleased to find embodied in this bill some suggestions that I made to the Minister personally in this chamber, or in correspondence, in regard to various phases of social security.
This bill deals with only portion of the social services field over which the Commonwealth Parliament now has power. For instance, the bill does not provide for the health and medical services that we hope to be able to give to the people of this country before long. As one knows from personal experience, such services are a very necessary complementary part of the legislation at present before us. Much has been said in this debate about the history of our social services legislation. I should like to bring to the notice of honorable senators these facts: To-day we have a social services structure that is not equalled elsewhere in’ the world. In the main, it was set up during the six years of war. In the first 41 years of federation, only two social services measures were placed on our statute-book. They were the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act, and the Maternity Allowance Act. lt was not until 1941 that child endowment was introduced by the Menzies Government. The history of child endowment in this country is interesting. It was first introduced by a Labour government in the State of New South Wales. An inquiry was carried out by a select committee of this Parliament in 1929. Members of that committee included the late John Curtin who, with another member, Mrs. Muscio, tabled a minority report advocating the introduction of child endowment. That recommendation, however, was not given effect until nearly twelve years later. We all appreciate the fact that the Child Endowment Bill was introduced by the Menzies Government, and we give that Administration credit for what was done so belatedly. Immediately Labour assumed office in 1941 - the Labour Administration came to power in a precipitate fashion - it was faced with problems of a total war. However, the Government realized that side by side with its war programme it had to carry on a complete programme of social legislation on the home front as a natural corollary to what was happening abroad. Therefore, in the first few months of the Labour Administration, more social services legislation was placed on the statutebook than had been put there for some decades. For instance, the Widows’ Pensions Bill was introduced. For a long time this had been an outstanding need in the community. I recall that when I was electioneering six years ago in a federal election campaign, I met a widow in an outback centre 105 miles from Kalgoorlie. She was busy doing the laundry for a big Italian a.nd Yugoslav settlement in a timber area. She was working from morning to night to keep her six children and herself, because at that time there was no widows’ pension. Such cases were not uncommon. Many widowed mothers had to go to work as cleaners in offices and schools, not because that was the only work for which they were fitted, but because it was an occupation that allowed them some time at home to attend to their families. In recent years, there has been much talk of child delinquency but the truth is that many so-called delinquents were brought to that condition through force of circumstances - economic circumstances that necessitated their mothers going to work and leaving them on the streets. So, one of the first social service measures introduced by the Labour Government was the Widows’ Pensions Bill. The payment of widows’ pensions had been recommended by the Social Security Committee in the previous September, and although the recommendation was for a pension of only £1 ls., that amount has been increased in the years that have followed, mid now there is n prospect of a. further increase to £1 17s. 6d. a week. This is a big step, not perhaps as big as we had hoped but nevertheless something worthwhile. The question of maternity allowances also was very sympathetically dealt with by this Government which raised the payment from £5 5s. to £15. F am gratified to notice that the Minister apparently has taken notice of a question that I asked in this chamber a year ago in regard to the possibility of making portion of the maternity allowance payable prior to confinement. Many people thought that my question was facetious but apparently the Minister did not take that view because this legislation provides for portion of the allowance to be paid at the time when most mothers need it to provide themselves with some of the things that, because of their condition, they require.
Mention wa.s made this afternoon of the fact that child endowment is not PaY.able in respect of the first child of a family. As I have already pointed out, this legislation was introduced by the Menzies Government, and the reasons that prompted that Administration to exclude the first child from these benefits are as valid to-day as they were then. It was realized that in most basic wage awards, the first child was already catered for, and that to give child endowment to all children would remove portion of the responsibility from industry and place an additional burden on the Government. The aim of the Labour Government is to help those big families that are struggling along on the basic wage. When the necessity to improve our child endowment legislation became evident, it was decided that rather than extend payments to the first child, it would be better, especially for large families, if the rate were increased. For instance, had the Government decided last year to extend endowment to the first child, the increased payment to a family of three children would have been 15s. a week. Under the Government’s scheme of increasing the endowment to 7s. 6d. a week for the two children already endowed, the increase was exactly the same, without incurring the danger of a reduction of the basic wage. With larger families, of course, the increased payment was a much more substantial benefit than the payment of 5s. a week in respect of the first child would have been.
Sickness and unemployment benefits are entirely new. Most of these departures were recommended by the Social Security Committee. That is why during the last fortnight I have been very anxious to ascertain the fate of this committee. Nothing could support my arguments in favour of its reconstitution more strongly than do the terms of this bill, because almost every major piece of social legislation dealt with in the measure was recommended by the committee. Honorable senators opposite have talked to-night about lack of production, and stoppages on the wharfs and elsewhere, but they have not said anything about the stoppage which they have caused in our legislative halls. This very important committee is unable to function because of their refusal to be represented on it. It is a joint parliamentary committee, and therefore must be representative of both the Government and the Opposition. Unfortunately, honorable senators opposite have withheld their support since last September. I was a member of the committee for four years, and during that period I travelled extensively in every State. We visited the far north of
Queensland, the southern districts of Tasmania, and the Broken Hill district, amongst many other places, in order to investigate the health and other social services provided in the States. As the result of its investigations, the committee was able to prepare the basis of many of the Government’s schemes. Every member of the committee assisted in that work to the best of his ability, and, by reason of that fact, is responsible in some measure for the highly commendable proposals contained in this bill. The refusal of the Opposition to continue the operations of the committee is nothing short of tragic, in view of the great volume of work that still remains to be done before a full and satisfactory programme of social services can be implemented. The medical part of the Government’s programme is very important. A great deal of work has been devoted to it already, but it requires a great deal of additional investigation, in which the services of an all-party committee would be invaluable.
Honorable senators opposite have said that many people receive unemployment and sickness benefits although they have no right to obtain them. They have referred to strikers who do no contribute towards the unemployment and sickness benefits funds while they are on strike. I remind them that the chief aim of any government, whether it be Labour or Liberal, is to provide for the social security of the people of whose destinies it has charge. That is the main reason for its existence. Therefore, any government which fails to give adequate security to people in times of distress, such as in periods of unemployment, illness, or want, fails in its first duty. During the depression people in all countries suffered great privations. I saw dreadful things in Australia. “When I began my work a3 a school teacher I saw children attending school who wore badly clothed and nourished, and who lived in camps on the banks of the river Swan or the river Canning, or in military huts on Black Boy Hill. I have seen such children scrambling in dust bins for crusts which more fortunate children had thrown away. That was not fantasy; it was a frightful fact. We all know that such things happened in those grim days. As Senator Grant said to-day, those were the days when the housing problem had a totally different aspect from that which it has to-day. The problem then was not to get a house, because there were empty houses all over Australia. At that time I was visiting the various States, and 1 saw where thousands of people lived in make-shift shanties because they could not afford to pay the rentals for decent houses. Men and women were then considered to be worth only 5s., 6s. or 7s. a week, and they were supposed to keep body and soul together on that pernicious dole.
The Labour party decided then that, when it regained the treasury benches, it would make sure that never again would such a state of affairs disgrace this fair land. Therefore, one of its first jobs was to give attention to the unemployment problem. Some honorable senators opposite have said that provision for unemployment benefits suggests a policy of despair, because the Government’s main policy provides for employment for all. It is true that its policy provides for full employment. However, honorable senators opposite know as well as 1 do that certain types of unemployment are absolutely unavoidable in any community. For instance, many persons are seasonal workers, who engage in shearing, fruit-picking, hop-picking and other such avocations. There are times between periods of seasonal employment when they are unable to obtain work. Their periods of unemployment may last for only a few weeks, but they are entitled to receive some form of assistance to tide them over such difficult times. Also, gome persons are unemployable for physical reasons, or because of maladjustments of some kind. There are such people in every community. There are not many unemployed citizens in Australia at present, but amongst them are some who, no matter what government were in power, or what benefits or jobs were available to them, would still be unemployed because they are not capable of being employed in any capacity. Another reason for unemployment at the present time U that many of the available jobs are in remote country districts. Men who have been away from their homes for six years during the war are not anxious to leave their wives and children again in order to undertake such employment. Housing facilities are not readily available -where such jobs offer, and frequently there are no schools. When I was in Perth recently I visited the local office of the Department of Labour and National Service. In that office there were many files of vacant positions for which no labour was offered, although about 900 men were drawing unemployment allowances in the city at that time. I investigated the reasons for this situation and found that they were as I have stated. Many of the positions were in remote areas, and many of them called for unskilled rural labour. Very few jobs in the city were available. .Such positions are usually snapped up by willing workers. This situation calls for consideration in the framing of future social services legislation.
We must do something to make our rural areas more attractive. Country residents should have living conditions, education- facilities, and other advantages as good as those available to residents of cities and towns. Until this is so, Australia will continue to be a nation consisting of six crowded capital cities with a relatively small number of people scattered over the remainder of its wide area. This problem requires a great deal of study, and the .Social Security Committee could do the groundwork for future legislation if the Opposition parties would agree to co-operate in the matter. Tho unemployment benefits provided by the Government have been of great assistance to many people released from the armed forces and war-time occupations and to others who have become unemployed through no fault of their own. Frequently large numbers of men and women are thrown out of work by circumstances over which they have no control. For instance, when the power house at Perth .broke down recently owing to a mechanical fault - at least the coal miners cannot be blamed foi? this - thousands of people were thrown out of work for three or four weeks. Their situation would have been very serious had they not been able to secure unemployment benefits. Sickness benefits likewise are badly needed in the community. Those of us who have come from humble homes realize how the spectre of disease or illness is a constant menace to the happiness and security of the average worker. Before the introduction of sickness benefits, breadwinners were frequently loath to secure medical aid or to go to hospital in times of serious illness. They considered that they could not afford to do so, and in order to keep their wives and children from want many men neglected to seek medical treatment for serious complaints until the delay became fatal. There has been great waste of human life and endeavour because of the lack of security which this Government has eliminated.
I commend the Government heartily for its hospital benefits scheme, although this matter does not come within the scope of the present bill. Unfortunately, I was obliged to take advantage of the provisions of this scheme recently. 3 was in hospital for eight weeks and, during that period, 2,000 patients at that hospital received social service payments. Over £4,000 was paid by the Government to those who needed help owing to the high cost of medical attention. I am sure that the medical aspect of national health services will be handled by the Minister for Social Services with the same expedition with which he has dealt with other problems which have arisen under his administration. I am aware that the Government has experienced difficulty in securing co-operation from the British M’edical Association in providing national medical services. However, the time is coming when it will be able to secure the co-operation that it desires. It is already encouraging young Australians to become doctors by helping them to undertake university courses, and when the lag in the supply of doctors is overtaken, I am sure that the medical men of Australia Will give their support to a national scheme. Most of them are just as sympathetic towards the proposal as are other members of the community. A medical service is a corollary to a hospital service. One is not complete without the other.
I should not be human if I were not proud of the fact that many provisions in this bill have arisen, either directly or indirectly, from the efforts of the Social Security Committee as a whole, or from my own humble efforts in this chamber and elsewhere. For instance, the Minister referred in his secondreading speech to the rehabilitation of invalid pensioners. This plan was recommended to the Government by the Social Service Committee, and it has now become a very important feature of the work of the Department of Social Services. I have seen some of the work chat is being done in this connexion in Western Australia. The project is still in its infancy, but it has achieved remarkable results. The position of invalid pensioners is one of the most difficult of all problems associated with social services. Unfortunately, the invalid pension is payable only to persons who suffer from 15 per cent. incapacity or worse. Such persons receive a full pension; there is no partial pension for invalids. Sometimes there is great difficulty in deciding whether a man is 10 per cent. or 20 per cent. disabled, and I hope that at some future date the Government will be able to provide for a graduated scale of invalid pensions. The course of rehabilitation to which the Minister referred is available not only to those in receipt of invalid pensions but also to those who are on the borderline. I do not know whether this is specifically provided for by law, but the departmentalofficials responsible treat the persons concerned as human beings and do everything possible to enablethem to rehabilitate themselves and become useful members of the community once more.I pay tribute to those officers in all parts of Australia who are doing such humanitarian work. This is of much more importance than the mere payment of pensions to invalids. It enables many invalids to acquire a completely new approach to life and a new sense of values. I hope that the Minister will consider introducing some form of partial pension for people who cannot qualify for the full pension under the existing law. I know four or five persons who are capable of working for a few hours each week for a part of each year and who are unable to obtain invalid pensions because they are not totally incapacitated. Furthermore, they are not able to qualify for unemployment or sickness benefits because there is no pro vision in law to cover their circumstances. They have great difficulty in making ends meet. I have discussed their problem with the Deputy Director of Social Services in Western Australia, and he is very sympathetic but, naturally, he is loath to depart from the written words of the law. The Minister has always been willing to consider helpful suggestions from individual members of the Senate as well as from the Social Security Committee as a whole. I hope that he will give earnest attention to this problem.
I greatly appreciate the proposal in this bill to grant child endowment to persons who are actually caring for children. I know of many instances in which fathers are supposed to be maintaining their children, under court orders, by payments of£1 a week or thereabouts, but who, although they receive child endowment payments regularly, fail to pay the amounts orderedby the court. The mother has no redress except to put the father in gaol. Under the provisions of this bill she might get 30s. a week, but under the conditions formerly obtaining the defaulting party - not always the father - could receive the 7s. 6d. a week and not obey the court order. That, of course, was an absolute injustice.
It is an extraordinary thing that no matter what subject is debated in this chamber we are never able to avoid mention of strikes and industrial disturbances. On this occasion the only people who have been forgotten by members of the Opposition are the coal-miners and the Communists.
– The fact that so many coal-miners are on strike to-day does not improve the financial outlook.
– Some people put mere money above human happiness, instead of realizing that the health of a nation is the wealth of a nation. They tend to look upon the wealth of a nation in terms of bank deposits. As a Government we say that the wealth of the community lies in the happiness of its members, and we should be failing in our duty if we did not provide every assistance in their time of distress to those who suffer poverty, sickness and unemployment. We say that the wealth of the country should be spread as equitably as possible, so that the more fortunate members of the community should be called upon to bear some responsibility for those less fortunately placed. We say that every person in the community, irrespective of status, should give back something in service to the community.
In the first report of the Social Security Committee the conclusion was reached that all these schemes should be placed on a contributory basis. There was, for instance, to be a “ contributory “ widows and orphans scheme. I cannot understand the actuarial basis for it, but that was one of the conclusions reached by the Social Security Committee which functioned immediately before this Government came into office. I do not know whether the widows and orphans were to contribute to their own pensions ! Then there were to be contributory invalid and old-age pensions, and other schemes were to he on a contributory basis. . This Government believes that everybody who receives some benefit from the community should give something in return. We do not say that it should be a contribution in cash - it can be in services - but we say that those who are best able to do so should be called upon to provide something. That is why for several years social service tax receipts have been kept separate from other tax receipts, because by that means people may know just how much is being paid into the National Welfare Fund. We are told that this scheme is going to involve the Government in an expenditure of £72,000,000 a year. During the war we spent - on a conservative estimate - £400,000,000 a year; and here we have people saying that in time of peace the country cannot afford £72,000,000 for social services ! We are told that during 1931 all social services wore cut by a Labour government. We know that unfortunately that is true. Wo also know that because of a world-wide depression and the machinations of the international banking system, and the activities of the advisers who came here from overseas and held a pistol at the head of the Government, those cuts had to be made. But we do not want to see history repeated, .and that is why the Government, by means of price controls and other measures, has done its utmost to avert a repetition of the tragedy of the depression years. In 1931, the Senate was hostile to the Labour Government of the day and opposed and frustrated its financial proposals. Those proposals were designed to avert the worst evils of the depression. At the present time the community is called upon to pay £72,000,000 a year for social services. This is not money going down the drain, as war-time expenditure was; it is money that will go into circulation in the community. Every shilling that goes into the pocket of a pensioner will be circulated. That money will not find its way into the vaults of a bank, because the pensioners have to spend every penny in order to live. One has only got to go to the homes of pensioners, as I have done, to see the way they are compelled to live. And one has only to speak to shopkeepers in the poorer districts to find out how they spend their pension money. Those poor people are honest. They do cot run up big debts; their tradesmen are paid ! The wealth that will be created by the distribution of this £72,000,000 must result -in the employment of more people. When critics of this proposal talk of the cost of social services they are talking with their tongues in their cheeks. I do not think members of the Government would have enjoyed the confidence of the people of this country for so long if they did not have sufficient intelligence to realize that the distribution of £72,000,000 annually will result in money being freely circulated in the community. In any event, if we spend this big sum of money on the provision of social services and do not receive any material return for it, it will still be a good investment because we shall be assisting so many human beings to a better life than they have enjoyed hitherto.
Finally, I think the Government must take human values as its criterion. It must take into account the value of the human beings who comprise the community. If we look at these things from a purely materialistic point of view the country is not going to advance very far. We fought two great wars for the cause of civilization. We are talking continually now of the “ rights of small nations “ ; but we should look to the state of affairs in our own country and to the needs of so many of our people. I therefore commend the Government for introducing the bill and I congratulate the Minister.
– If the people of this country required any more proof of the sincerity of the Government in its efforts to bring about a new era in the aftermath of war than is supplied by this measure nothing would convince them. The provisions of this bill cover the welfare ofthe individual from the cradle to the grave; and the great merit of the scheme is that it is so designed that those best able to do so will make contributions required to finance the scheme. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) said that unless we were very careful we should find that we were unable to provide the £72,000,000 a year necessary to finance the scheme. I remember that quite recently his party advocated that the benefits which the people of this country enjoy should be paid for by those who enjoy them. In other words, if his party had been elected to office the consolidated social services measure which is now before us would have been presented in a very different form. The substantial benefits which are conferred on people in the lower income group would only have been extended to them after they had survived an exacting means test. In effect, the Opposition’s proposals would have resulted in people in the lower income group themselves having to paythe £72,000,000 involved in the provision of these benefits. Therefore, I say that if the Government has done nothing else it has done a magnificent job, not only in providing so comprehensively for the comfort and welfare of our people, but also by distributing so equitably the financial burden involved. Senator Gibson said that if this Government remains in office we shall all be making application for the old-age pension. That may well be true. So great an advance has been made in extending eligibility for the old-age pension that almost anyone may apply for it, and no applicant need feel that it is infra dig. for him to do so. Honorable members supporting the Government hope that before long the means test will be removed altogether. Then the honorable senator will be eligible for the old-age pension and other social benefits. One most gratifying; feature of this bill is that it removes the obnoxious phrase “old-age pension”. Quite a number of pensioners have approached me at times urging that this offensive phrase should be deleted. Most of those who are in receipt of old-age pensions have rendered valuable service to their country. If there is any section of the community which is entitled to be superannuated so that it may enjoy the eventide of life in comfort, it is that section which consists of the mothers and fathers of the community. By removing what some people may regard as the stigma associated with the term “ old-age pension” those who receive it will be more willing to accept it as a right, not as a charity. I hope that many of us will live to see the time when the retiring age, at which pensions will commence, will be 60 years. “With the application of science in industry, men and women ought to be able to retire before they reach the age of 65 years. Their earlier retirement would make the way clear for younger people to take their places in industry. I ask leave to continue my remarks at a later date.
Leave granted ; debate adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Ashley) pro posed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
.- It has been suggested that instead of a memorial carillon an Canberra, there should be a national theatre. I hope that the Government will stand firm and will construct a memorial carillon which would be & fitting memorial to the men and women who gave their lives in World War II. A theatre, even a national theatre, savours of commercialism and pleasure, both of which are supplanting reverence and remembrance. The argument that a national theatre is necessary in the interests of culture may have some merit, but that is beside the point. Let us have a theatre by all means, but not as a substitute for a carillon of bells. There is culture in a carillon. It lifts a person into higher realms of thought. Having listened to one of the world’s finest carillons at Lille inFrance, I have no hesitation in saying such a memorial would be a fitting one in Australia’s National Capital. An efficiently perforated belfry, placed on an eminence such as Capitol Hill, would ensure the impressive and beautiful music of the bells being heard up to ten miles from Canberra, the notesreverberating in the hills and valleys. When at some future date Parliament House is permanently established on Capitol Hill, the carillon could form part of the National Parliament, as is now the case in connexion with the Canadian Houseof Commons at Ottawa. The cost of securing experts for the design, erection, installation and construction of bells by a worldfamous firm would probably not bo so great as the. cost of building a national theatre. I sincerely hope that the Government will not yield to pressure and alter the form of the memorial.
– in reply - Consideration will be given to the representations of Senator Brand regarding the memorial carillon.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were pre sented : - .
Commonwealth Public Service Act - Appointments - Department -
Civil Aviation - M. C. McConville.
Supply and Shipping -G. B. Clarke.
Senate adjourned at 11.5 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 15 May 1947, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1947/19470515_senate_18_191/>.