18th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. Gordon Brown) took the chair at 3 p.m. and read prayers.
– Has the Leader of the Senate any information concerning supplies oflinseed oil to Australia, with respect to which I have asked several questions on previous occasions?
– The Minister for Works and Housing informs me that he and the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture had a conference with the High Commissioner for India yesterday afternoon and the High Commissioner advised that his Government had approved that Australia should get the allocation of oil due in respect of the 1947 quota under the International Emergency Food Council. In addition, the Indian Government would make available the special quota of 2,000 tons of oil, and 1,637 tons of linseed authorized in 1946 but not yet delivered. The purchase is to be on a government-to-government basis.
– Speaking on the motion for the adjournment of the Senate on the 1st May, Senator Gibson asked a question regarding the co-ordination of statistics by the Commonwealth and the States. The Prime Minister has now supplied the following answer: -
The coordination of Australian statistics is constantly under review by State and Commonwealth statisticians, both in regard to data selected, and the period covered by each collection.
The reference by the honorable senator to the 31st March suggests that he had in mind agricultural and pastoral statistics, which are collected in all States for the year ended the 31st March. By this time most rural products have been gathered, and statistical demands for information are more likely tobe accurate and complete if made as soon as possible after harvesting operations have been completed.
Moreover, the information is collected through the agency of the State police, and experience has proved that this time best suits the convenience of that department.
In view of the food position, the statisticians of Australia have been endeavouring in recent years to publish the statistics of rural production by the 30th June, three months after the actual collecting date.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture whether representation has been made to the Government to lift the embargo upon the export of stud rams from Australia? If so, by whom were such representations made; and what decision, if any, has been reached by the Government?
– I shall bring the honorable senator’s question to the notice of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture.
Transmission from Tasmania to the Mainland.
– On the 8th May, Senator Finlay asked me a question regarding the practicability of transmitting electric power from Tasmania to the mainland. My inquiries show that the transmission of a large block of power by submarine cable over a distance comparable to that between Tasmania and the mainland has not so far been attempted. It is considered that the large capital cost of such a scheme and the difficulties involved in maintenance and operation would render such a scheme economically unsound. In any case, it is expected that the whole of the power available from Tasmania will eventually be fully absorbed by industries in that State.
– Has the Minister for Trade and Customs seen reports in the press recently to the effect that hundreds of thousands of tons of meat is finding its way onto the black market, and that such meat is being purchased without the surrender of coupons? If so, what action is the Government taking to remedy this position, particularly in view of the serious effect it will have upon the export of meat to Great Britain, whose people are urgently in need of all the meat that we can make available for export to them?
SenatorCOURTICE. - I have seen the reports to which the honorable senator refers. The Government fully appreciates the seriousness of the position and is doing everything possible to stamp out black marketing in the meat industry. In that way, of course, we shall help to increase supplies of meat available for export to Great Britain. Although it is very difficult to police the rationing of meat, I repeat that everything possible is being done by the department to prevent black marketing.
– On the 7th May
asked me a question regarding the kind of projectiles which will be used in experiments at the guided weapons testing range in central Australia. I now desire to inform the honorable senator that there is no truth in the report that the guided missiles to be tested in Australia will carry atomic charges.
– I ask the Minister representing the Treasurer what is the total amount of Australia’s gold reserve? Where, and in whose custody is the reserve domiciled at present? What is the total amount of gold exported from Australia to the United States of America? Is this export being continued, possibly towards alleviating the acute position of the dollar pool in the United States of Ame- rica? If it is being continued, what amount has been exported during the last six months?
– I shall place the honorable senator’s questions before the Treasurer.
administrationofaustralianbroadcasting Commission - Regional Station for North- West Tasmania.
– I have been requested by Senator Amour to ask the Postmaster-General whether he is aware that the Australian Broadcasting Commission is conducting a burlesque “ departmental “ appeals inquiry into a dispute between the general manager. Colonel Moses, and a news department executive, and involving members of the commission? Is the Postmaster-General aware also that the official transcript of the Commonwealth Law Reporting Branch of the Attorney-General’s Department reveals serious irregularities and keystone rulings in the conduct of this inquiry, and also discloses disturbing features about the whole administration of the Australian Broadcasting Commission? Will the Postmaster-General refer the official transcript of the sworn evidence to the Broadcasting Committee for examination and report?
– I have been informed by the Australian Broadcasting Commission that an appeal lodged by a journalist whose services were terminated recently by the commission has been heard by an appeals committee constituted in accordance with the Staff Regulations which were in force at the time of the alleged offence. The committee, which included a member representing the Australian Journalists Association, has submitted a report to the chairman of the commission which will deal with it at the next meeting of that body. I have not yet had an opportunity of perusing the official transcript of the evidence tendered to the Appeals Committee. I shall give full consideration to the matter afterI have conferred with the chairman of the commission.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
What provision is being made to provide a national regional broadcasting station for north-west Tasmania ?
– Provision has been made in the programme of works for the Postmaster-General’s Department to commence the erection of the station in north-west Tasmania during 1948 and it is expected that it will be completed in 1949.
– On the 15th May Senator Grant asked a question concerning the shortage of cardboard cartons used for food parcels to Great Britain.
– In view of the statement of the chairman of the Flax Production Committee that Great Britain pays two-thirds of Australia’s trading and capital losses on flax production, will the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture inform the Senate of the total cost to date incurred by Great Britain through these losses?
– I shall obtain r.he information sought by the honorable senator as soon as possible.
Can the Postmaster-General say when the present pressure on trunk-line telephone services will be relieved, and when the thousands of applicants now on the waiting list for telephones may expect the instruments to be installed?
The following is the further information that I undertook to provide for the honorable senator: -
In order to overtake the enormous arrears of work which accumulated during the war years in connexion with the provision of postal and telecommunication services, the Postal Department has been authorized by the Government to proceed with a three-year programme of rehabilitation which will involve an expenditure of £30,000,000. The plans include the provision of more than 2,000 new trunk channels throughout the Commonwealth, and the majority of the circuits will be established by means of modern carrier-wave telephone systems, whilst the remainder will consist of underground cable and open wire lines. Since hostilities ceased the department has provided 4.50 new trunk-line channels and is pressing on with its comprehensive programme of works to increase the trunk-line system to the utmost extent possible. In addition to the many intra-state trunk-lines which will be made available, it is proposed to increase the channels between Sydney and Melbourne from 5!) to 81 ; Melbourne and Adelaide from 21 to 39; Adelaide and Perth from five to seven; Melbourne to Hobart, Launceston and Burnie from twelve to nineteen; Sydney to Canberra from twelve to 23 ; and Melbourne to Canberra from eleven to 22. In Tasmania, in addition to the new channels to the mainland, extra circuits will be made available from Hobart to Launceston and to other important provincial centres. Trunk-line cable schemes will be undertaken from Hobart to Kingston and New Norfolk to replace the existing pole routes. Many minor trunk circuits serving country centres will also be provided by means of open wire construction.
At the present time there are S0.00O outstanding applications for telephone services, and a. vigorous campaign has been launched by the department to overtake these arrears and also meet the unprecedented demand for new facilities; but the rate of progress will naturally depend upon the availability of equipment and materials and the erection of new buildings. Despite the shortage of some materials, the post office installed 71,000 telephones throughout Australia during the nine months ended the 31st March, ]!)47. lt is expected that for the twelve months ended June, 1947, the connexions will total 95,000 instruments. This will represent the greatest number of telephones ever connected in the Commonwealth during a period of twelve months. The Postal Department is fully conscious of the inconvenience that is being caused to the public in the absence of an efficient and adequate telecommunication service and is pressing on with the special programme of works in all States, which covers not only cities and towns but also the rural communities.
– On the 15th May Senator Gibson asked me -
Has the Postmaster-General 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?
I inform the honorable senator that in accordance with the policy of the Postal Department to keep abreast of modern trends in telecommunication practice throughout Ihe world, the department is closely examining all the latest developments with a view to introducing any new equipment in the Commonwealth where the circumstances are favorable. It is proposed to provide small rural automatic units in sparsely populated areas to cater for groups of subscribers. This will have the effect of reducing line construction to a minimum and will enable many country residents to secure telephone services over relatively short circuits at the lowest rentals practicable. The equipment will include apparatus providing for a maximum of ten parties, over which the exchange may be signalled and outgoing calls made by any party without giving any indication to the remaining parties that a call has been originated. The selective ringing system which is used for railway signalling is of different design and would not be suitable for the party line arrangements adopted by the Postal Department.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are -
Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers - Matson Line
– On the 8th May Senator Nash asked a question concerning the sale “of the Australian Commonwealth Line of steamers.
The Treasurer has advised me that seven ships of the Commonwealth Line were sold in 1928 to the White Star Line Limited for £1,900,000. In 1932 thelatter company went into liquidation, and the Commonwealth exercised its right under the debenture to sell the ships. The amounts still outstanding in respect of the sale of the ships to the White Star Line Limited are as follows : -
The final dividend in the liquidation has been paid and no further repayments will be received. In respect of the transaction, the Commonwealth still holds 23,920 shares of £1 each, fully paid, in Ocean Steam Navigation Realization Company Limited.
On the 16th May Senator Lamp asked a question concerning the payment of a subsidy by the United States Government to the Matson line of steamers.
As a result of my inquiries, I now inform the honorable senator that the Commonwealth Government has received no official information as to the terms under which Matson liners are at present operating in the Pacific trade. I understand that before the war the United States Government, in common with other governments, assisted vessels in the Pacific trade by various forms of subsidy, relating both to the building of the ships and to their operation. 1 am not aware as to what extent and on what basis any such payments are being made at present, but the general question is engaging the Government’s attention.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Supply and Shipping been drawn to a statement by the president of the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce, Mr. A. R. Gordon, as reported in yesterday’s Age, that government action in preventing trading banks from conducting business with governmental bodies might be a step towards complete nationalization of banking? Has the Government received protests from localgoverning authorities, particularly in country areas, against this latest edict? If so, is it intended to defer operation of the particular section of the banking legislation which compels local-governing authorities to do business with the Commonwealth Bank? If not, what is the reason for enforcing this section of the legislation?
– Instructions have been issued by the Treasurer that business must be done with the Commonwealth Bank by local-governing bodies. This is a natural corollary to the Commonwealth having to provide money for many of these local-governing bodies. It is only right that such bodies should deal with the Commonwealth Bank.
– The Commonwealth does not have to find all of the money.
– My statement may not apply to all local-governing bodies; nevertheless, the Government considers it desirable that such instrumentalities should transact their business with the Common wealth Bank.
– Can the Minister representing the Treasurer say whether or not the statement in the press a few days ago that the cost of the raising of war loans amounted to 5 per cent. is correct ?
– I have not seen the statement in the press. I shall have inquiries made, and I am sure that the Treasurer will be pleased to supply the facts.
– Is the Minister for
Trade and Customs aware that there has been a considerable increase of the cost of many makes of new motor cars and that there is every indication that there will be further increases? Will he state whether these extra charges are permitted by the price-fixing authorities? In view of the increased costs of new motor cars, does the Government intend to keep the prices of second-hand motor cars pegged at the present low levels, which are entirely out of proportion to the replacement value of motor cars?
– I am sure that we are all aware of the great increases that have occurred in the prices of imported motor cars.
– They have risen again only in the last few weeks.
– That is so. I stated in the Senate last week that the pegging of prices for second-hand motor cars was being considered. However, after inquiry, the Government considers that prices control must be continued. I appreciate the difficulties in this matter. The values of second-hand cars vary greatly. For instance, some old motor cars are still in excellent mechanical condition whereas recent models are in poor mechanical condition. Nevertheless, after considering all aspects of this matter, the department holds the view that the best interests of the people are being served by continuing prices control.
– Can the Minister for Trade and Customs inform the Senate whether there is any provision in customs by-laws or regulations whereby local government bodies and public utilities can import motor trucks and chassis free of duty or at a reduced rate of duty?
– I do not know of any provision to enable local government authorities to import motor trucks or chassis without payment of the usual customs duty. However, I shall investigate the matter and furnish the honorable senator with a reply.
– I also asked the Minister whether the public is to be informed of the prices fixed for the sale of cars in the future ?
– The increased prices of cars are due to higher costs of manufacture in the countries from which the cars are imported. So far as the question of price fixing is concerned, I shall investigate the matter.
– On the 16th May
asked questions concerning the Glen Davis shale oil enterprise. I am now in a position to supply the following answers : -
Apart from the defence aspect of this project and the desirability of having plant in production which would supply a proportion of our vital requirements in times of emergency, there is the aspect that the Glen Davis organization provides a focal point in the development of techniques for the production of oil from shale and for the training of technicians which may be required in the production of fuels from other indigenous sources.
Senator ALLAN MacDONALD.Can the Minister for Trade and Customs inform the Senate whether his department has been able to devise any means of increasing the production of tobacco in Australia, so as to lessen the expenditure of funds in the dollar area? Is he in agreement with the policy of the Lyons Government of inducing growers to increase their production by permitting an increased proportion of Australian tobacco- to be blended with imported leaf? Does the Minister favour an extension of the research work being carried out in tobacco-growing areas, especially in “Western Australia, to eradicate local pests and improve the quality of tobacco leaf?
– I am unable to recall details of the agreement between the Government and the industry, but I understand that efforts are being made to stabilize the industry and to encourage its development. I, personally, am anxious that the industry shall be encouraged, and; I believe that the application of an improved technique, and the introduction of adequate moisture, in the growing of tobacco will have the desired effect. Irrigation schemes, particularly in Queensland, are resulting in the production of better tobacco leaf, and there is reason to believe that tobacco grown in future will be superior to that produced hitherto.
Motion (by Senator Ashley) - by leave - agreed to -
That the term of office of Senator Nicholls as Chairman of Committees be extended from the 30th June, 1947, until the day next before the first sitting day of the Senate after such 30th June.
– Will the Minister for Trade and Customs furnish a list of the newspapers which have not drawn their full quota of newsprint, and state the extent to which they have failed to do so?
– Newsprint is controlled voluntarily by a committee of newspaper proprietors which determines the allocation of newsprint to all newspapers in Australia. At the moment I see no objection to furnishing the honorable senator with the information he desires.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Supply and Shipping been drawn to a newspaper report of a statement by Mr. J. Healy, general secretary of the Waterside Workers Federation, that continuance of the ban on Dutch ships would depend on a report by the assistant federal secretary, who is returning to Australia after conferring with Indonesian trade union leaders?If so, does this indicate that matters vitally affecting Australia’s administration and reputation have passed from the Government to a Communist-controlled union? If this is not the case, will the Minister take appropriate steps to ensure that the Waterside Workers Federation shall not be permitted to endanger our friendly relations with the Dutch people?
– I have not seen the report referred to; hut I remind the honorable senator that the ban On the loading of ships for Indonesia arose out of the refucal of a number of Indonesian seamen to man ships which were to carry arms and munitions to shoot down their fellow citizens. After the Indonesian seamen had walked off the ships the Dutch authorities brought Indian seamen to Australia to take their places. The Indians also refused to man the ships when they understood the situation. I understand that the ban is still in operation. According to press reports,’ the Indonesian and Dutch authorities cannot agree as to what shall be done with the vessels, and until such time as they reach an agreement it does not appear to he a matter in which the Commonwealth Government should interfere.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, upon notice -
– The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has supplied the following answers: - 1 and 2. The report referred to has not been seen by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, who, however, is aware of the fact that complaints have been received concerning shipments of goods from Australia to Malaya.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, upon notice -
– The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has supplied the following answers: - 1 and 2. Reports to that effect have been seen. 3 and 4. Butter in parcels deteriorates when passing through the tropics, and, unless securely sealed, causes damage to other parcels.
Requests by individuals for export permits for butter are quite frequent and often are based on medical grounds. Obviously, the Australian Government cannot decide such cases. Therefore, its overall policy is to leave distribution in Britain to British authorities. Australia is under contract to supply direct to the British Ministry of Food all butter that is surplus to requirement. Probably the granting of permits to individuals on an extensive scale would be against the spirit of this agreement. In any case, it would be wasteful.
The Melbourne woman who desires to assist an incapacitated airman in Britain should get in touch with the Queensland Butter Board, which arranges for the despatch of food parcels, including a tinned product which contains a high percentage of butter and has a high melting point. Coupons would have to be supplied for the product, which would be more suitable than butter for her purpose.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
Will the Minister- (a) disregarding the purposes, functions and collections of the Australian War Memorial; and (ft) having in view the impending re-organization of the defence forbes and the possibility that many pre;war units may not be continued or revived; and (cj in order to inculcate in the people a pride in the history, achievements and tradi- t;r,”. of the defenders of Australia, approve of and encourage, in connexion with united service institutions of each State, the establishment and maintenance of a depository or museum in which relics and records of units identified with that State may be preserved and exhibited ?
– The Minister for Defence has supplied the following answers : -
The united service institution in the capital city of each State is an independent body under the control of its own council. The institutions receive assistance from service departments in the nature of an annual grant for use in connexion with such of their activities which are of value for the training of officers. The Department of the Army acts on behalf of the other services in matters connected with the various united service institutions. The councils of each institution and the three service departments are therefore concerned in the honorable senator’s suggestion, which has.
Accordingly, been brought to the notice of the Minister for the Army for consideration and consultation, as necessary’, with the various authorities involved.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Will the Prime Minister consider calling a special conference of the Premiers of the various States for the purpose of considering the advisability or otherwise of introducing legislation to ensure that a compulsory secret ballot is taken by the unions involved before strike action is taken?
– The Prime Minister has supplied the following answer : -
The Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act already contains a provision whereby the court may at any stage of the proceedings in relation to a dispute order a secret ballot in respect of the members oF the organization or branch involved therein. The Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Bill 1947 afforded opportunity for any relevant matter to be raised during the course of the debate on the bill.
Debate resumed from the 16th May (vide page 2516), on motion by Senator McKenna -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Senator NASH (Western Australia)
Friday last to continue my remarks, I had referred to the increasing cost of social service benefits, particularly during recent years, and had pointed out that social services were being financed from taxes imposed upon those best able to bear them. I propose to compare the cost of social services to persons on the lower ranges of income in Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand. The relevant figures are as follows: -
It will be noted from the above figures that under national insurance in the United Kingdom a flat contribution of £13 a year is levied, whilst in New Zealand a social service tax is levied at a uniform rate of ls. 6d. in the £1, regardless of the amount of income earned. In tha; dominion, for instance, a person with an income of £100 with no dependants pays £7 10s. a year in respect of social service benefits. A study of the figures which I have cited shows that our method of financing social services in this country does not fall so heavily upon persons on the lower ranges of income in Australia as is the case in ;he United Kingdom and New Zealand.
The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) emphasized the high cost of social services, and as this cost within the next five years is anticipated to increase to about £100,000,000 annually, he expressed the fear that we might not be able to meet this commitment. It is estimated that next year the cost of social services will amount to £72,000,000, compared with £68,000,000 for the current financial year. The Leader of the Opposition need not be so very concerned about the magnitude of’ these commitments. In the first place, these amounts will be readily circulated in the community and will thus benefit our economy generally. “We must remember that the recipients of these payments are persons who are not likely to be able to afford to hoard any of the benefits they receive. The great majority of payments will be made to persons who will need the money to meet their everyday living costs. The circulation of this money will help to maintain a full measure of employment in the community. I understand that each person in full employment maintains three other persons at a reasonable standard of living. Under this system, our economy will be much better balanced than it was during the depression when so much money was locked up in frozen assets. Frozen assets are of no advantage to any country. The Government’s policy of financing social services from taxes imposed on those best able to bear the burden, and circulating’ these payments throughout the community in the way I have described, will have the effect of maintaining employment at a very high level.
– Yes; provided the money is not expended on useless luxuries.
– Or on war.
– Unfortunately, when war breaks out we cannot escape huge expenditure ; but, whereas war expenditure is for purposes of destruction, payments in respect of social service benefits are for purposes of construction because they are made available to persons most in need of this class of assistance. The policy of the Government in respect of ‘social services enables every one in need to obtain a share of the loaf that is to be distributed. That system is much to be preferred to a system under which benefits are paid to persons who, because they have a reasonable income, will expend only a small portion of such benefits and place the remainder in reserve. Every penny that is put aside in that way has the effect of retarding employment, because it is most important to provide the community with sufficient purchasing power to consume’ the goods which the community is capable of producing.
This measure represents an important advance in social service legislation. In the time at my disposal I shall not endeavour to deal with every phase of these proposals, many of which are designed to facilitate administration. With respect to invalid and old-age pensions, the use of the term “ old age “ is to be discarded for the term “ age “ pensions. To me that is a very important improvement, because a stigma has come to be attached to the “ old age “ pension.
– Why not use the word “ superannuation “ instead of “ pension “?
– I should be agreeable to that. Invalid and old-age pensions are to be increased by 5s. a week, bringing the total payment to 37s. 6d. a week. That is not a magnificent sum, but it is considerably in excess of what has been paid in years gone by. There is justification for increasing the payment even further. I understand that in Western Australia the Invalid and Old-age Pensioners League is of the opinion that the pension should be equal to four-tenths of the basic wage. That at present would be approximately £2 2a. It would seem, therefore, that there is scope for a further increase of the pension by 4s. 6d. a week.
The definition of “ income “ has been altered. The bill provides that “ income “ shall mean personal earnings or moneys derived or received for one’s own use or benefit, except from a father, mother, son, or daughter, but shall not include benefits paid by a friendly society, or by a trade union in respect of illness, infirmity, or old age. The value of food relief or like assistance granted by any State or territory, and benefits or payments under various acts such as the Hospital Benefits Act, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Act, or the Tuberculosis Act, are also excluded. In that direction, the bill represents a progressive step. The residential qualifications have also been altered to provide that absence from Australia shall count as residence within this country provided that the claimant’s home has remained in Australia, provided the absence overseas was attributable to a war, or provided the person, while absent, had to pay Commonwealth income tax. The allowance payable to the wife of an invalid pensioner is to be increased by 5s. a week, and if a wife has custody, care or control of one or more children under sixteen years of age, she will be entitled to a child endowment allowance of 5s. a week. That is an important innovation. The words custody, care and control “ are significant. At present, I understand, the word “ maintenance “ is used. The effect will be that a person having the custody, care and control of a child shall be entitled to the benefit, whereas in the past this has been paid to the person responsible for the maintenance of the child, regardless of whether or not such maintenance has been provided.
Figures showing the manner in which the invalid and old-age pension has increased since its inception are interesting. In 1909, when the pension was first introduced, the payment was 10s. a week. By 1917 it had risen to 12s. 6d., by 1920 to 15s., by 1924 to 17s. 6d., and by 1925 to £1. Therefore, it took sixteen years - from 1909 to 1925 - for this country to pay a pension of £1 a week to invalids and aged people. The figure remained at £1 from 1925 until 1931. In 1937 the pension ranged from 17s. 6d. to 18s. and 19s., and in 1940 it became £11s., mainly as the result of the pressure brought to bear by the Labour party then in opposition. In 1941, the year Labour came to power, the payment was increased to £11s. 6d., and subsequently to £1 3s. 6d. By 1942 it had risen to £1 5s., and further increased to £1 5s. 6d. In 1943 it went up to £1 6s. and then to £1 7s. At that time, provision was made for the variation of the pension according to the rise or fall of the cost of living, with the proviso that the pension would not be reduced below £1 5s. In 1944 and 1945 the pension was £1 7s., and in 1946 it rose to £1 12s. 6d. Now, we propose to grant a further increase to £1 17s. 6d. I cite these figures because I think it is necessary that honorable senators should know that, although the pension has increased progressively since 1909, since the Labour Government came into office in 1941 the increases have been substantial and rapid.
It was a Labour government that first introduced widows’ pensions in the Commonwealth sphere. Under this measure no alteration has been made to the three existing classifications of widows, namely -
Class A - Widow with custody, care and control of one or more children.
Class B - Widow of not less than 50 years of age without custody, care and control of any children; and
Class C - Widow of less than 50 years of age without custody of children but in necessitous circumstances.
A widow in class C may receive a pension for six months after the death of her husband. Widows in all three classes will enjoy the benefit of an increase of 5s. a week. A fourth class - class D - is added under this measure. I do not know whether the word “widow” is strictly correct, but the act provides that a pension shall be payable to - “ a widow “ -
This provision may provoke some criticism, but at least it is humanitarian. At present, should a woman be deprived of the support of her husband because of the imposition of a gaol sentence upon him, she may be left completely without maintenance. I understand that certain charitable grants are not payable to women in these circumstances. To these people, their classification as “widows” under this measure will be of substantial advantage.
I come to the maternity allowance. The bill provides for a continuance of the present payments of £15, £16, and £17 10s. Although maternity allowance legislation was placed on our statute-book many years ago - I think it was in 1912 - until recent years the benefits have not been substantial. The bill also provides for an improved method of payment, in that the Director-General of Social Services may, upon the production of a medical certificate stating that a woman is likely to give birth within a period of four weeks, make available an advance payment of £5 out of the maternity allowance. This -provision will be of benefit particularly to women who are in necessitous circumstances. I understand that under the present legislation no payment whatsoever can be made until four weeks after the birth of a child. Another feature of the maternity allowance proposals contained in this bill that appeals to me is that maternity payments are to be available to alien mothers provided that they, or their husbands, have resided in this country for twelve months prior to the birth. Speaking from memory, 1 think it wa3 a Labour government thatremoved the means test from maternity allowances. I remember the days when a maternity allowance of £5 was denied to women whose husbands were earning more than £4 a week. Labour has removed that anomaly. “Figures showing the annual payments of maternity allowances make interesting study. Total disbursements in various years before Labour’s policy was implemented are as follows: -
As I have said, the Labour Government increased the rate of the allowance in 1943. Immediately, the annual cost of maternity allowances rose from hundreds of thousands of pounds to millions of pounds. Recent figures are as follows : -
The two sets of figures indicate the tremendous benefit conferred upon families by the Labour Government. Present costs make’ the costs of earlier years appear negligible.
The bill1 provides for the continuation of child endowment payments at the rate of 7s. 6d. a week for all children except the first under the age of sixteen years in a family unit. Honorable senators opposite have urged the payment of endowment for the ‘first child in each unit as well. They endeavoured to mislead the people during the general election campaign by promising that they would provide endowment for the first child in each family. However, the Leader of the Opposition let the cat out of the bag a few days ago when he said that, if endowment were paid for the first child in each family, the basic wage’ would be determined for a family unit of two - a man and wife. This would mean that child endowment would then be required to augment the basic wage in order to meet the needs of larger family units.
– That is rubbish.
– It is not rubbish. The honorable senator and his colleagues may spin their bedtime stories, but I am stating facts. Under the Commonwealthlaw to-day, the basic wage is determined according to the needs of a man, wife, and one child.
– That is so. State laws make similar provision. A statistical review made a few years ago disclosed that the average Australian family unit was slightly larger than that of a man, wife and one child. It is easy to see the wish which underlies the Opposition policy for the payment of child endowment for the first child in each family. Honorable senators opposite know that, and immediately this policy became effective, the workers’ wages would be reduced. There is no discrimination between single men and married men in fixing the basic wage. Let us examine the proposition in a clear light. The policy of this Government is that industry shall pay fair wages for the work performed by individuals. Therefore, a basic wage is fixed. “What is the basic wage intended to provide ? In order to answer that question I refer to the decision made by Mr. Justice Higgins, who determined that the basic wage should provide a minimum standard of living for a married couple with a family. In 1907. he established a standard wage of £2 2s. a week. The laws of some States provide that the basic wage shall provide for a reasonable standard of living and comfort on a family basis. The family basis is not defined absolutely.
But we know that, statistically, the average’ Australian family is’ less- than a man, wife arid two children, if the’ basic wage’ ha’d’ io’ be computed on- the basis’- of 8 family unit of two, there- would’ Be ari’ immediate wage reduction for the workers”.- That is’ why I object <d the policy df honorable senators” opposite. Their” promise’- to1 the elec* f,6rs” f.0 provide endowment for all Children’ under the age of sixteen years was’ s’heer hypocrisy. Why did they nét say honestly, “ We will give’ you childendowment, all right, from money raised by taxes” or by Some other means, but we will also” make sure tha’t your wages are reduced at the same time ‘ ? If they want to reduce the living standard, the way to do so’ is to implement their policy. I strongly object to the plan to pay child endowment for the first child in each family.- In fact, I strongly object to one-child families. There is no’ more selfish person than the only child in a family. It is no’t fair to a child to be the sole issue of a marriage. Such children are provided with everything that their parents can give them and, as a result, they have no consideration for the requirements of others who have not been so fortunate as themselves. In the old days, the average family had eight, ten, twelve, or even more children. There is a reason why the average family to-day has only one or two children. It is the modern economic situation. While we boast. of what we are doing for the people, the fact remains that, under the system of capitalism, people cannot afford to have large families. The policy of capitalism is to grind profits out of industry irrespective of who may fall by the wayside in the process. Because of this policy df producing for profit instead of producing for use, the birth-rate in Australia and other capitalist countries has steadily declined. We must find away to bring about a better state of society if we wish people to have larger families and to live in security. This Government is endeavouring to achieve tha t end by means of its progressive social services legislation.
The Minister for Social Services (Senator McKenna) pointed out, in his second-reading speech, that the main objectives of the bill are “ to eliminate
Obsolete sections, remove anomalies, simplify’ drafting, amalgamate certain sections of the administration, modernize” the legislation’ and1 present it as a symmetrical part of a well-defined pattern of s’o’cia’l’ security. “ The Minister chose his words wisely. I entirely agree- with him. During his speech be referred to reciprdeity with other’ Empire countries. Who would have thought twenty years ago, or even ten years ago, that the Commonwealth Governmnent would arrange reciprocity with other governments in respect of social services? The Minister stated -
As honorable senators know, reciprocity has been established’ between Australia arid New Zealand in the matter of invalid and old-age (tensions. Agreement has been reached with New Zealand for reciprocal arrangements in the matters of widows’ pensions, unemploy- ment and sickness benefits and child endowment. We are at the present time 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.
There is world-wide broadening of the Scope of social services. This Government lias lit a torch and, with the assistance of the people of Australia, it is doing a wonderful job. The Minister also said : -
Having regard to these projected developments, a clause has been included in the bill so that arrangements made between Australia and other countries cai] be implemented Without undue delay.
The bill is designed to develop a system of social security that will bring us one Step, nearer to our .ultimate goal bf the brotherhood of man. I conclude With the following words from the Minister’s speech : -
This bill constitutes ah instalment of social justice and is a further step towards the goal of social security which our people deserve and require.
– t congratulate the Minister for Social Services (Senator MeKenna) upon his second-reading speech. It has been of great help to us in studying this bill, which, as he has said, is a Consolidating and also an amending measure. I regard the bill as an absolute necessity. It cuts away a great deal of “dead wood “ which has been hampering our social services, and it enables1 us to size up and appreciate the scope of those services. Portions- of the hill I -welcome,- other portions I have some doubts about. We have been inflicted with too much of what I might describe, without offence to the Minister, as boresome and tedious repetition of figures which he cited in his speech aird which we are all able to read for ourselves. Thrift was regarded in Australia, once upon a time, as a virtue, and it was encouraged by governments. I believe that most able-bodied- and healthy Australians desire to be free and independent of government help. Of course, there are many people who through force of circumstance are not in that happy position. But I suggest that the provision of social services on a grandiose scale - and it is a grandiose scheme which we are considering - is encouraging people to depend on gifts from the public puree, which is not a healthy tendency. I also suggest that heavy taxation is detrimental to the inculcation of habits of thrift in the community. The chief feature of labour doctrine to-day appears to be toleration, if not actual encouragement, of improvidence. ITo one need worry about to-morrow ; no one need consider his physical needs or trouble about providing for his old age ! I understood the Minister to s-ay that this was “ compulsory Christianity”. That is rather a stupid expression, because you cannot have “compulsory” Christianity. Christianity must emanate from the spirit of the heart, and Ave cannot compel people to be moral by passing legislation. A lot of nonsense is talked about some features of our social services, particularly with regard to the provision of old-age pensions. Time and again it is reiterated that people drawing old-age pensions to-day are the “ pioneers “ of this country, to whom the community owes such a lot. That is arrant nonsense. The pioneers of this country went to their rest many years ago. The explorers and others who developed this country have long since departed ; and to speak of the wonderful work done by old-age pensioners as “ pioneers “ is fallacious and nonsensical.
It is an ‘extraordinary thing that a government which has pledged itself to a policy of fall employment should have disbursed the sum of £714,334 13s. 3d. in the nine mouths from June, 1946, to February, 1947. That amount will be increased as time goes on. Some honorable senators opposite have taken great pride in the fact that the social benefits provided in this bill are to cost £72,000,000, and will cost considerably more in the future. I am heartily in favour of free medical and pharmaceutical benefits, because I know how difficult it, is for small and isolated communities to secure efficient medical service because they cannot provide sufficient inducement to medical practitioners to practise in their districts. That is a facility which should be provided by governments, and it is being provided in a small way to-day in Tasmania. However, I fear, that before very long there will be a recurrence of the situation which confronted the Government of this country in 1930. That Government had, by force of economic circumstances, to reduce old-age and war pensions. I am not a Jeremiah prophesying woe; but £72,000,000 is a large sum of money. Does the social service problem not resolve itself into a matter of securing maximum production rather than maximum employment? There must.be maximum production if the country is to provide these services, and I suggest that we are not getting anything like maximum production to-day. The foundation for any scheme of social service benefits is maximum production, because the quantity and quality of the production enables a government to finance the scheme. There are many warm-hearted people who study economics in the hope that it will throw some light on the causes of poverty and point the way to its elimination. Many of these people think that the principal goal of economic policy should be the improvement of the general condition of the community by raising the standard of living. With that proposition I whole-heartedly agree. That should be our aim, but that aim cannot be achieved by passing legislation providing all sorts of benefits if the country is not producing to its utmost capacity.
The standard of living -of an individual depends upon the quantity of goods and services which he uses, and not the amount of paper money which he reeives. To say that a family is poor and in straitened circumstances means that it lacks sufficient food, clothing and housing accommodation. I suggest that poverty is, indeed, a relative term. To-day the family of an average Australian working man drawing unemployment relief is fed, clothed and housed on a scale infinitely superior to that of eastern countries, or even of Great Britain 100 years ago. Nevertheless, that scale is woefully inadequate, judged by modern standards. Recent investigations have shown that many families in this country cannot afford the minimum amount of money required to give them reasonable protection and preserve their health. For instance, how can a woman with a family of three or four children provide them with fruit, which is a vital necessity for children, at present prices? Many children in this country are undernourished and undeveloped simply because their parents cannot afford to feed them properly. Then, .of course, there are parents with adequate means who do not know how to feed their children properly. “We had an exemplification of that in 1914, when the physical standard demanded of recruits for the Australian Imperial Force was much higher than in World War II. In 1914 the rate of rejection, because of poor physique, was very high, and in World War IT. it was absolutely appalling. We are not - as many of us believe - a nation of Al people, but, on the average, we are a C3 nation. If we ask why there is not more food, better housing and a more adequate supply of consumer goods in Australia to-day, the answer is that the volume of production is not great enough. Social reformers say we must do what we can to make a redistribution of what there is. That is all right, but the fact remains that the number of rich people in this community is very small. One need only to refer to statistics for verification of that. If we took from the rich all we possibly can the yield would not he sufficient to raise the general standard of living to what it should be. We cannot escape the fact that consumption is limited by the quantity of goods produced. . The Minister says, “It will be apparent to the Senate that what is tak- ing place amounts, in effect, to a redistribution of the national income “. And that is quite true. We are simply robbing selected Peter to pay collective Paul. If we go on in the way we are going the end will be that we shall pay all men and women for merely existing, and when that glad day comes, and no man shall pay for his sins, we shall be quite happy. But if we are all going to live on the honey from the communal hive some beef have to make that honey. If there are far too. many drones in the hive the supply of honey will be exhausted, and then the drones will have a very bad time. That is the logical conclusion of this development when one analyses it. There must be more working bees if progress is to be made. If we are all to live on the communal honey we must remember that someone has to produce thai honey that we are to consume.
The Minister’s speech contained a rather striking statement relating to superannuated persons. Some persons in that category, with an income of say £4 or £5 a week, on which they pay taxes, are in a bad way financially. I know of a man in Canberra, who, although he ha? contributed to the. Public Service Superannuation Fund for a number of years, will retire next year in a worse ‘position financially than if he had never paid a penny towards the fund, because he and his wife would receive more as old-age pensioners than as superannuated people. On this point the Minister said -
Increases in the pension rate and modification of the means test have created many anomalies and have induced representation* 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.
I was pleased to notice the following paragraph in the Minister’s speech : -
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.
That is good, but much of the legislation which has been brought before the Parliament cuts across that principle.
The Government’s proposal is that medical services, and pharmaceutical and general medical benefits shall be provided for the people. That involves consideration of the future of the medical profession in Australia. Although the subject of the nationalization of medicine is not vet a matter of burning interest to the people, politicians and medical men realize that it is assuming considerable proportions. I think that the Minister will agree that, with the possible exception of Tasmania, no State has yet shown any great desire to institute a full medical service within its boundaries, although several States have subsidized doctors who practise in remote areas. It is doubtful whether the taxation powers left to the States would enable them to undertake medical services on a large scale such as the Commonwealth Government - I believe rightly - contemplates. The State Governments could not establish such services, even if they wished to do so, because their powers of taxation have been greatly diminished in respect of income tax. They are now entirely dependent on payments made to them by the Commonwealth. But all the States have the nucleus of a medical service in their established hospital systems. The proposed hospital benefits could be increased by extending the existing hospital services, decentralizing out-patient services, erecting regional health centres and group clinics at suitable places, and staffing such hospitals with full-time salaried medical personnel who would be required to visit homes and give treatment there in special cases. I do not doubt that the Minister has given consideration to the difficult problem of the best way to pay members of the medical profession under such a system, but provision must be made for medical services ro be provided in places where, under present conditions, the establishment of a practice is economically unattractive to medical men. I speak with feeling on this subject because when I returned from World War I. and, later, when I was in the far north-west of Tasmania in the sawmilling business, one of our greatest problems was to obtain the services of a doctor. At that time, the district was not connected by rail with Burnie. The community of itself could not offer sufficient inducement to a. medical man to practise there; he would not have made a living. The Oglivie Government did its best to overcome that difficulty; it did a good job in subsidizing doctors who practised in remote centres. They were paid wholly by the Sta’.e. That was necessary because otherwise they could not have made a living. Two methods of payment suggest themselves - either a capitation fee, or a fee for service. In its sixth interim report, issued in 1943, the Social Security Committee said -
There has been considerable opposition to the system of payment for medical services by capitation fees under the panel system which is generally associated with national health insurance.
In the same report the committee said -
The medical profession would have much to gain by the introduction of a fee-for-service system of payment, but the system is open to grave abuse by patient and doctor, and against this no adequate means of protection has been suggested.
The fee-for-service principle has been tried in New Zealand. Honorable senators who are interested may ob’ ain information regarding it from various reports that have been issued from time to time. The system was introduced into New Zealand in 1941 as a means of overcoming the hostility of the medical profession to the earlier capitation fee system which was not acceptable to them. Unfortunately, the fee-for-service system was greatly abused. A medical man had only to send in his bill to the Government, and it was paid. The sys’em also encouraged people to seek medical advice unnecessarily. Many people in the community like to imagine that they are not well, especially when medical treatment costs them nothing. In New Zealand, both patients and doctors abused the system. The fee-for-service system does not appeal to any Treasurer, because it does not permit him to estimate with any degree of accuracy what the expenditure will be. In 1944, Sir Henry Newland, the president ot the Federal Council of the British Medical Association, said -
The issue really is payment by salary or payment for service. The British Medical Association is opposed to payment by capitation fee.
I again refer honorable senators to the sixth interim report of (he Social Security
Committee in. which the following appeared : -
The Social Security Committee states deliberately that neither (he capitation fee and panel nor the fee-for-service system, if adopted, cun bc any thing mure than an expedient, and we feel th:it neither is likely to provide a permanent and satisfactory solution.
And so we Still have to ask ourselves what is the solution. I am forced lo conclude that the only satisfactory way, both for the profession and the Government, would be by the payment of adequate salaries to medical men. The Government of Tasmania appointed i’.s salaried medical officers primarily to relieve the municipalities of the liability to care for the health of their people. Doctors have been appointed to carry out preventive and curative work in unison. In the report of the Health Department of Tasmania for “1943 the quality of the public health work undertaken by salaried doctors was stated to be “satisfactory”, but that is not very informative. The Tasmanian experiment is on a small scale, and has the defects inherent in a small service; therefore it cannot bring about any great advance in preventive medicine. It is evident, however, that so long as private medical practice is very remunerative and is paid on piece-work basis, whilst public heal’.h work is not remunerative and is paid on a salary basis, there must be conflict and disunity. That is obvious. Unity can be achieved only by a uniform basis of payment and, that is, I suggest, an adequate salary. To-day, in many respects, the medical profession is more or less a cut-throat business in gome towns and cities where there are, possibly, more medical men than there is work for them. At the same time, not sufficient medical men are available in other communities. The Army provides a good example of the principle of team work in the profession. In time of war medical men of all standards, including first-class surgeons and physicians, work as a. team in the Army. They are not out for fees, but are “on the level “. That is only natural because of the variety and rush of cases which come under their treatment during war. When we look back at the campaigns during the last 50 years in .which the British Empire has been involved we can glean some idea of the amazing advances made in surgery and in medicine generally as the result of war. Mr. W. H. Ogilvy, a London surgeon of repute in peace-time and a major-general in the recent war, in an interesting article entitled “ Some Applications of the Surgical Lessons of War to Civil Practice “ published in the British Medical Journal, of the Sth May, 1945, stressed the fact that all medical men work as a team in the Army and that the best is got cut of each medical man whether he be engaged at a base hospital or casualty clearing station. They work as a team, but each doctor can use his own judgment and knowledge as an individual. Mr. Ogilvy says that the “ free for all “ system in the past has contributed some brilliant freelances to the profession, but he also says that it has filled innumerable graves. I have been intensely interested in this aspect of the medical profession for a considerable time. If we are going to get in this country people we can be proud of physically, mentally and in every other way, we must get down to first principles. That is where the medical profession and the Government come in ; because we cannot expect young doctors coming out of universities and doing their preliminary courses in hospitals to go to a locality where the need for medical services is great, but where there are not the resources to provide a reasonable practice for a medical man. That is the point I have been endeavouring to make. In conclusion, I believe that we can overdo our social service legislation. That is my opinion; I may be wrong. But, certainly, no people can hope for progress, or salvation, so long as they expect, without effort on their part, to get something for nothing.
– Senator Sampson has caused me to change my plan to deal directly with the measure and refrain from commenting upon the remarks of other speakers. He stressed the necessity for the Australian people to be imbued with the spirit to save. That reminds me of the very old proverb, “ When you are very old it is easy to be very moral ; and when you are very rich it is easy to be very honest “. I say to Senator Sampson that when one is well fed, well clothed and well housed, it is very easy to speak to the mass of the people and say that there ought to be a spirit of thrift throughout the community. To what phase of the bill does the honorable senator object? Does he object to any principle embodied in it? The honorable senator has simply repeated catch-cries, and advanced the outworn defence of those who oppose a genuine attempt to give to persons on the lower ranges of income a share of the wealth of this country.
Dealing with the “bill, I congratulate the Minister for Social Services (Senator McKenna) upon the excellent job he has done. About four years ago the Social Security Committee realized that the fundamental requisite for a social security plan in Australia was to place a measure of this description on the statute-book. That committee asked successive Ministers to give effect to the plan it proposed, but it remained for the present Minister to tackle what was a most difficult task and to introduce in the Parliament this first complete plan upon which our social services can be built. “When we consider the provisions of the bill it is well to review the progress that has been made during recent years. Students of social economics well know that there was a period before World War II. in which social services remained almost dormant. About 1938, a Labour government assumed office in New Zealand for the first time for many years, and there was then a reawakening to the needs of the mass of the people in that dominion. That government set an example to the Australian and British Governments, and also to the governments of a number of other countries. I well recall that in 1938, when building tradesmen in Australia were walking from job to job trying to obtain employment, the New Zealand Government sent representatives “to this country to obtain many of those tradesmen for service in New Zealand, and used them in the implementation of its comprehensive programme for the rehousing of the New Zealand people. In those days we regarded that as a very good thing. Our people were idle; we could not provide work for them. We had very meagre forms of relief for our unemployed. So, we thought it was a good thing that those tradesmen were taken from our shores to another country to be used in the rehousing of the people in that country. But, to-day, we can look back and say, “ What a pity Australian governments in those days were not wise. What a pity that in those days we did not construct houses in Australia, and thus avoid the problem with which we are confronted to-day “. In addition to rehousing its people, the Government of New Zealand also made great advances in respect of social security. It broke much new ground in that sphere. It decided to establish universal superannuation, and provide many other benefits. As Senator Sampson has said, it also established a comprehensive health service. We can criticize that health service and the results achieved under it; but it is easy to criticize what others have done, to see their faults and to appreciate the advantages they have achieved. In our own plan, we should avoid those faults, but, at the same time, adopt the advantageous features. I give credit to the New Zealand Government for attempting, ten years ago, to give to its people something which we have not yet achieved in Australia. It has made probably the only real advance seen in the last ten years in the sphere of social security legislation.
In 1941, when Great Britain was in the throes of the recent war, and when the British Government might well have been expected to concentrate on the things of war and not the things of peace, it set up a committee under the chairmanship of Sir William Beveridge for the purpose of giving to the British people some measure of social security. That committee published its report in 1942, but the report has not been implemented to any great degree. It was the spirit of the time to consider the new world which we were to enter after the war ended. In those days, it was freely said that we were fighting, not only for the preservation of democracy, but also for a better world. So, we planned for a better world as Great Britain planned for it. But, unfortunately, the difficulties have been such that the better world has not yet emerged in Great Britain. The United States of America also made limited attempts at social security, as also did other countries, notably Sweden and Denmark. But, up to 1939, very little had been done towards providing social security for the people of this country. In 1.941, the then Minister for Health, Sir Frederick Stewart, set up a social security committee for the purpose of considering social security plans in this country, and to that committee he referred certain matters. To his credit, he did not limit the reference to the committee. We owe a debt of gratitude to him for setting up that committee. It might surprise honorable senators to learn that the committee, which was representative of all parties in the Parliament, agreed in its first report that the Australian people were very poorly fed and very poorly clothed, and were even in a worse condition so far as housing was concerned. That revelation came as rather a shock to the people of this country; but it was the considered opinion of this factfinding body. Over the years, in this country particularly, and in most English-speaking countries, the lot of the employed person has been the main concern of legislators, trade union officials, and administrators. Evidence of that is to be found in our factory acts, superannuation schemes, Arbitration Court awards and so on. But for those people who are not gainfully employed throughout the year, very little provision had been made. It is true that in Australia this was regarded as a State responsibility.
It was believed that social security matters belonged solely to the States, and in fact they did, with the exception of invalid and old-age pensions. East State, without reference to a common plan, but merely in response to the activity of pressure groups or to a particular thought that moved throughout the community, introduced various reforms. In New South Wale*, for instance, there was a widows’ pensions scheme and a little slum clearance work was done. In Victoria, too, some slum clearance was carried out, but no provision was made for widows. In Tasmania there was a country medical service, but little provision for slum clearance and none for widows. So, although each State made provision for this and that, there was a complete absence of uniformity. Of course, there are other means whereby the community at large has endeavoured to make some provision for the victims of misfortune. For instance, there are friendly societies, which, in return for a contribution, guaranteed certain benefits, religious bodies, bush nursing services, and quite a number of other organizations, all trying to do something to alleviate the plight of those members of the community whom they believe to be suffering the greatest misfortune. But there is no coherent plan for caring for everybody who needs care, nor did such a plan eventuate until 193S, when a national insurance measure was passed by this Parliament. Honorable senators will recall the agitation that the introduction of that measure caused throughout the community. The proposal was for a three-party contribution scheme, and although the bill passed through both Houses of the legislature, it was never proclaimed. Now, it is repealed by this bill. I give credit to the legislators of that time for having at least appreciated something of the problem, and made some attempt to solve it; but their efforts were not good enough and it is without regret that I see the act repealed by this measure.
In its first report the Social Security Committee recommended the introduction of this legislation. The committee could see tha,t piece-meal enactments could not provide adequately for the needs of unfortunate members of the community who for some reason were prevented from following their normal occupations and taking their rightful place in society. Realizing that any scheme of social services would be useless without adequate finance, the committee recommended to the Government that the necessary money be raked by means of a graduated tax, and I am pleased to see that the Government has adopted that principle. Honorable senators opposite have spoken of the spirit of thrift.. One frequently hears glib talk about the causes of poverty. It is common for some people to apply to the poor odious terms such as indolent, drunkards, inefficient, improvident, thus singling them out as a class in the community unworthy of the help of their fellow citizens. Fortunately, there is growing in this community, and throughout the world, a realization that poverty is not necessarily the result of drunkenness, improvidence, or any of the other things that I have mentioned. The greatest causes of poverty are the misfortunes that befall many citizens. Through sickness a breadwinner may lose his wages, incur heavy hospital and medical expenses, and fall into arrears with his rent, with the result that after even a brief period of sickness he may have a burden around his neck that will take him many years to remove. Can that man be described as inefficient, improvident, or a drunkard? His only crime is his misfortune. I could tell of many other misfortunes that are liable to befall the ordinary citizen, but perhaps the greatest of them all is the misfortune of being unemployed. From time to time in our community we have seen masses of people lose their employment. The miserable pittance that has been paid to them has been barely sufficient to keep them alive.
Unemployment was one of the greatest hazards that the Social Security Committee had in mind when it decided that there should be a plan -providing social security for all. I remind honorable senators again that the decisions of the committee are not decisions of the Labour party alone. It is an all-party committee. Et was decided that employment is the responsibility of the Government, and that if all people willing to work cannot be gainfully employed they should be provided with an adequate subsistence allowance. I am proud indeed that this Government has decided to accept that responsibility. I had some misgivings when the committee made this recommendation. I was afraid that the responsibility was so great that the Government would baulk at accepting it. It is gratifying indeed, therefore, that the Government has now undertaken that task and introduced the legislation necessary to give effect to the committee’s proposals. The committee believed that the adoption of a policy of full employment was essential to the welfare of the community, and, whatever means the Government has designed to provide against temporary unemployment, its fundamental concern now is full employment for all. It has accepted that principle, and its representatives attending conferences abroad have insisted upon its acceptance. I recall that when Mr. J. A. Beasley first went to America to attend a meeting of the United Nations he had the utmost difficulty in making other delegates realize the necessity for such a policy. Finally, however, the principle was. established, and was written into the United Nations Charter. Since then, it has become an important feature off almost every other internaational agreement of this kind.
On the home front, the. Government has translated into action its determination to give effect to full employment. It has set up certain instrumentalities. For instance, there is !he Secondary Industries Commission, which was charged wi’.h the difficult task of transferring Australian industry from war to peace with the minimum of dislocation and unemployment. The commission has done a magnificent job. It has succeeded in interesting private employers in former munitions factories, thus facilitating a great expansion of Australian industry, and the manufacture of many articles hitherto imported. In fact, the entire economy of our country has been changed from one of entire dependence on primary products to one depending to a substantial degree upon secondary industries. This has contributed largely to the Government’s positive plan of full employment. To provide finance for industrial expansion, a special branch of the Commonwealth Bank has been created - the Industrial Loans Department. The object of this instrumentality is to- encourage the establishment of new secondary industries to meet the needs of the people of this country. The bank does not seek to amass profits from this service. Its task is to ensure that the expansion and development of secondary industries shall be promoted. In that way, (he Government has made another valuable contribution to a stabilized economy in this country.
As to re-establishment, the Government has undertaken the training of ex-servicemen in new skills. By this means it has also contributed to full employment. So successful has it been that only recently it was announced that less than one-half of one per cent, of Australia’s population is unemployed. As a further insurance against the risk of unemployment, the Government has prepared a comprehensive programme of public works. On the recommendations of the Social Security Committee it has provided for the contingency of economic disruption which might cause private employers to be hesitant about taking financial risks and thus cause men to be put out of work. The plan includes undertakings that will cost £300,000,000, and it can be put into operation whenever necessary. The Government set Sir Harry Brown the task of preparing the programme and he has drawn up a plan which has the approval of the Premiers of the .States. Therefore, in the event of unemployment becoming general, the Government will be able to push ahead with important works that will benefit the nation as well as provide a means of livelihood for workers who have lost their jobs in private industry. That completes the positive side of the Government’s full employment programme.
On the negative side, the Government will pay benefits to those who, through some mischance, slip through its net, and become unemployed. This is a very generous provision, and the rates prescribed may be increased from time to time. The only means test applied to applicants for unemployment benefit relates to the incomes of the persons concerned. A man may have saved thousands of pounds, but, unless he has income, he will be entitled to receive benefit for the period of his unemployment. In my opinion, even this test should be discarded. I believe that the day will come when the only test applied to an applicant for unemployment benefit will be his ability to work. The Government should provide work for him. If it cannot do so it should pay him an unemployment allowance. The bill now before the Senate represents the core around which other measures will be built. The removal of economic fear from the minds of the people by providing for their welfare in time of unemployment is a good basis on which to build a structure that will create contentment in the community. The bill does not deal with medical and hospital schemes, but provision for those national services is made in other legislation.
The Government is greatly concerned with the health of the people. When a worker becomes sick he loses his income.
He becomes indebted to his doctor, he must pay for medicine, and perhaps for hospital accommodation. Thus, after a brief period of sickness, he is weighed down by a burden of debt which will take him a long time to throw off. The Government has accepted the principle that it should care for people in illhealth. It has taken that responsibility upon its’ shoulders, and I am proud of the fact. In other measures it has made provision for free hospital accommodation and for pharmaceutical benefits. This bill will provide cash benefits for all people who become sick. Like Senator Sampson, I look forward to the day when a major bill providing for free medical attention will be introduced in this Parliament. That will be the principal step along the road to health in the community. I pay tribute to the Minister for having prepared the present bill, and I hope that he will continue with the task that he has set himself by framing legislation to provide free medical attention for all who need it. The Government has foreshadowed a scheme of universal superannuation. We have had much disputation in this country regarding the application of the means test to claimants for social services. The test is anomalous in many instances, but, until we are able to provide a universal superannuation scheme we shall have to retain this obnoxious feature of our law.
While I am discussing public healthy I refer the Minister to the way in which certain unscrupulous people are preying on unfortunate members of the community. Many so-called “ faith healers “ and other unorthodox practitioners wax fat on the ills of the people. I do not know whether the Government has power to deal with such persons; but, since the referendum proposals were adopted, it has power to deal with patent medicine manufacturers. Therefore, I ask the Minister to give serious consideration to the appointment of a royal commission to inquire into their operations. Honorable senators have heard me speak on this subject before. I have told them how many patent preparations are harmful, and how others are worthless. Profits as high as 2,000 per cent, of cost are made on some patent concoctions which are sold to the public. The sales of these drugs are promoted by means of great press and radio campaigns, yet many of them do tremendous harm. I am concerned more with the harmfulness of the patent medicine trade than with the amount of money that the public waste on such preparations. It is a dreadful thing that people should be charged such exorbitant prices as I have mentioned, but I am appalled that manufacturers should be allowed to misrepresent the properties of products which do definite harm to people who use them. I also ask the Minister, in the interests of public health, to give serious attention to the reports and recommendations of the committee on nutrition and diet which was established in Australia some time ago. That committee submitted valuable reports to the Government, but, unfortunately, no substantial results have followed. We should relate the basic wage to the recommendations of that committee. Is the basic wage sufficient to enable workers to obtain an adequate diet? What items of food should be supplied to the people? These questions warrant investigation by the Minister with a view to incorporating some of the nutritional committee’s recommendations in future legislation. The Minister also should pay attention to the health of our young people and the effect of national fitness campaigns. The Government donates £72,000 a year to national fitness funds. The Minister has always been receptive to suggestions which I have made on this subject, but I consider that he is not yet fully conscious of the great benefits that can follow from national fitness campaigns. Therefore, I ask him to pay attention to this work and the preventative side of medical services when he is framing his general plans for public health.
Schools for the training of social workers have been established on the recommendation of the Social Security Committee. The work of this body has not been fully appreciated, and the Government could well afford to make more use of its services. For instance, we do not know the full results that follow from the expenditure of Commonwealth funds. Pressure groups tell us that insufficient money is allotted by the Government for old-age pensions, widows’ pensions, and for other benefits and, in dealing with these subjects, the Government frequently makes steps in the dark. It has not sufficient reliable information upon which to base its plans. Therefore, it ought to be advised by some authoritative body as to the best means of expending the funds at its disposal. There may be more useful ways of employing its funds than it realizes. Perhaps it could provide housing for our aged citizens, instead of increasing their rate of pension. I hope that the Minister will consider using the services of the Social Security Committee to investigate such possibilities.
In my opinion, this bill represents only the commencing point of our true social services scheme. The Government has accepted the essential principles. It believes that it is responsible for the care and education of our children, for the care of people in sickness and unemployment, and for the aged members of the community. What it will provide as a result of this legislation will be, in my view, a minimum standard of social services. It has set a level below which our people must not be allowed to fall. It proposes to place our unfortunate citizens in a position in which they will enjoy a definite minimum standard of living. It now remains for governments of the future to build upon this foundation. When they do so, I believe that Australia will set an example which the rest of the world will be proud to emulate.
– I join with other honorable senators in offering my congratulations to the Minister for Social Services (Senator McKenna) upon the excellent job which he has done in consolidating the 49 social service and other measures which are dealt with in this bill. That, in itself, is an immense undertaking, and I am sure that the Senate is indebted to the Minister for his most creditable accomplishment in that regard. My only regret is that he did not devote his energies to the introduction of a bill with a different title. Instead of this measure, which is entitled the “ Social Services Consolidation Bill 1947 “, I should have preferred the introduction of a “ Social’ Services Contributions Bill “. I still adhere to my view that the whole basis of our social services is unsound, and I repeat that the country would benefit more from the introduction of a scheme of contributory insurance to provide against sickness, unemployment and poverty. I also regret that the scheme designed to provide for national health and insurance introduced by the present Opposition parties when they were in office in 1938 fell by the wayside. One can realize the strong financial position that such a fund would have occupied to-day if the scheme had been implemented in 193S. I still maintain that the whole basis for social, services should be a contributory one, so that when people reach the age when they look for a fireside and a pair of comfortable slippers they may feel that they are entitled to assistance because they have paid for it. They could then regard it as a dividend from their own efforts as contributors or shareholders in the Commonwealth of Australia. That would be a far better attitude than the one that will be induced in people by the passage of this bill. Furthermore, I think it would produce more virility and independence in people and improve the outlook of the whole community if people knew that they were contributing shareholders in the future of this great country. People should not have to undergo the ordeal of a means test, but should feel that they can proudly demand the dividend which they helped ro create by their contributions. I think that is the only sound basis on which social service schemes can operate. Although it may be late in the day, I commend to the Minister, who has a thorough knowledge of social services, the abandonment of this measure and the introduction of a contributory scheme.
I do not propose to traverse the 49 acts which are consolidated by this measure. T prefer to mention only the Invalid mid Old-age Pensions Act. I have often pressed for improvements in that act to enable the payment of larger pensions, and over the years the position has been improved considerably. I regret, however, that the Minister has not given more sympathetic consideration to a previous request which I made in connexion with the payment of pensions to certain women. I should like to see more generous treatment meted out to unmarried women, who have been agitating for some recognition for many years. In debate on previous bills I have asked that single women should become eligible for the pension at the age of 55 years instead of the statutory age of 60 years. Many single women have not married because they considered it their duty to remain unmarried so that they could devote themselves to their parents, and because of their sense of duty they have been, denied the bliss of married life. Therefore, I feel that some consideration should be given to a reduction of the age at which they become entitled to a pension. Under present legislation widows are eligible for a pension at the age of 50 years, and so also are de facto wives. Therefore, I suggest that single women of middle age should not be placed in any worse position than other classes of women who are entitled to it. I ask leave to continue my remarks at a laterhour.
Sitting suspended from 5.BS to 8 p.m.
– I shall not speak at length on this bill, although it deals with most important subjects. Most Opposition speakers,, after conferring their blessing on the measure, have proceeded to indicate ways in which it could be improved, forgetting that they failed to seize opportunities to bring in a comprehensive measure of this kind when the parties to which they belong were in office. Senator Allan MacDonald said that he would favour the scheme more if it were on a contributory basis. I claim that it is on a contributory basis, and can only assume that the honorable senator had in mind a scheme - similar to that in operation in New Zealand, which, in my opinion, is not comparable with the one before us. Senator Sampson’s speech was a necklace of negatives. He complained of the inordinate spending of moneys on social service schemes, and said that that had been responsible for the great depression. The honorable senator’s remarks show how far he is o*F the track with his thinking,, and, incidentally, they reveal the degree of variance between him and other members of his party. The last depression was man-made. As Senator Sampson referred to the United States of America, I remind him that in that country there was greater suffering during the depression than in any other country. Honorable senators will recall that 13,000,000 persons there were unemployed and. without any assistance whatever from the State. The depression was not due to spending; it was engineered by banking interests.
I join issue also with the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) and his deputy, Senator Cooper, who made some outrageous claims. They gave the bill their half-hearted blessing, and then went on to claim for non-Labour governments the credit for having introduced legislation providing for invalid and old-age pensions and child endowment. As Senator Finlay has shown clearly that child endowment, although introduced by the Menzies Government, was introduced only as a result of pressure which it could not withstand, I shall not deal further with that aspect. The claim that anti.Labour governments were responsible for legislation providing for invalid and oldage pensions is so outrageous that I draw attention to the fact that it was introduced by the Deakin Government as the result of the efforts of the Honorable J. C. Watson and his supporters. Mr. Watson was leader of the Labour party at the time, and, with a small following, held the balance of power in this House. Acting on the principle of “ Support for Concession “, he was able to wrest from the Deakin Government some beneficial legislation, including the first act providing for invalid and oldage pensions. I give previous governments credit for what they have done, but I wish to make it clear that they cannot legitimately claim credit for the introduction of those measures, f have repeatedly said, both in this chamber and elsewhere, that if we examine the history of the social service legislation on the statute-book we shall find that every measure emanated either directly or indirectly from the Labour party.
I compliment the Minister for Social Services (Senator McKenna) on the able manner in which he presented the bill, on the far-reaching character of the measure, and on the fact that in introducing it he has made history. In my opinion, the parsing of this measure will restore Australia to its former position as leader in the sphere of social service legislation.
Although the scheme before ais may not be the goal of social service legislation, it does take us a considerable distance along the road which the Labour party is travelling, namely, the road which leads to social and economic security. When the goal is ultimately reached we shall have something approaching an industrial and economic millennium. I am reminded of the words of Robert Burns regarding age and “want : He described them as an ill-matched pair, and said that both must be separated before the people generally can reach a state of security.
I approach the consideration of this measure from a different angle from that from which honorable senators opposite regard it. I contend that the introduction of measures designed to provide social and economic security will affect materially the outlook of the youth of to-day and of the future. When young people realize that life for them will be different from what it was for their forefathers, who lived in fear of to-morrow knowing that the sword of Damocles was hanging over them, they will realize that, provided they live clean lives and act as law-abiding citizens, their economic future will be guaranteed. It has always been my view that citizens who live upright lives confer great benefits on the community, and that therefore the community owes to them the comfort of the knowledge that they will have security in the evening of their lives. That is the aim of the Labour party. The only condition which the party would impose is that recipients of such benefits shall qualify for them by honest, upright conduct. Instead of a young man commencing his industrial life with a feeling of insecurity, and as a result making up his mind that in order to ensure some measure of comfort in his old-age he must save every penny, and sometimes in the process be guilty of sharp practices of which he is not proud, he will know that so long as he lives uprightly he will not need to fear the future. Such an outlook will improve the morale of the people, and in that way we shall be able to raise citizens with high ideals. A knowledge that the future is secure will do much to destroy that greatest of all evils, namely man’s acquisitiveness. With the future secure, there will be no need for people ta resort to improper or unclean tactics. Acquisitiveness is the cause of 90 per cent, of domestic disputes and of 100 per cent, of national and international troubles. There i& no better way to eradicate acquisitiveness than by guaranteeing to people of all ages a measure of comfort in the evening of life.
This measure will also have an effect on the self-styled Communist party. I do not hesitate to use the term “ self-styled “ when speaking of the Communist party, because I do not regard the people who masquerade’ as Communists as true Communists.. I usually use the word “ comrade “ when referring to them,, and I do so derisively, because I resent the fact that by their lip service they have brought a beautiful word in our language into disrepute. However, without going into another dissertation on communism, I do not believe that eight out of ten could state the basic principles of communism. Communism came into existence allegedly to bring about the emancipation of the downtrodden, the workers. It came into existence to bring about just what this legislation will do much to achieve, namely, economic security for our people; and when we have reached our goal to which we are now progressing with great strides, we shall have reached the objective which the so-called Communist party came into existence to bring about. Moreover, we shall have achieved it by constitutional and peaceful methods. I venture to say that when our final social welfare policy is implemented we shall achieve everything the Communists want, or claim they want, and there will then be no justification for the existence of the Communist party as a separate political entity. I believe that quite a lot of hostility of so-called Communists towards our social legislation is born of fear that they will be put out of a job when we achieve our goal.
I pay a tribute to the work performed by the friendly societies throughout Australia. They have rendered a remarkably good service. They were left to their own devices. The people were not catered for by the Government. Groups were formed spontaneously with the idea that by co-operative effort they could ameliorate the conditions to which our aged and. infirm would otherwise be condemned. Those groups established thefriendly societies, to do a job which should hare been done by the national government; and it has been left, to a Labour Government to recognize its responsibility for the health and welfare of the people of this nation. Therefore, I cannot, commend too highly the work performed by the friendly societies. I say without hesitation that governments other than Labour governments have taken full advantage of the efforts of those people to lean back in the breeching and failing to do the job which they should have done. It is. the responsibility of the nation to care for not only the unit coming into the world,, and the aged and industrially affected derelicts going out of the world, but also for the health and welfare of the people who are leading average normal lives..
I support the hill. I am proud to be a, member of the Parliament that will pass it. I again congratulate the Minister upon the fact that to him has fallen the privilege of introducing this legislation which will have world-wide repercussions. Through this legislation Australia will become a beacon -light to the rest of the world in the sphere of social service and security. I have found already in my journeyings abroad that at international conferences all eyes are turned upon Australia because of the particular interest of other countries in our social welfare legislation. That thought should inspire a feeling of pride in the Minister. To some degree he can be personally congratulated for contributing so much to this programme which will give such a glorious lead to the rest of the world. I am keenly looking forward to the day, which I hope will not he far distant, when wc shall implement fully our schema of social welfare legislation.
– This legislation is admittedly of vital importance. There are certain obvious and disastrous disabilities under which by far the greater proportion of our people labour. To remove those disabilities is a task to which this Labour Government has set its hand. The solution of those difficulties will not be found in mere alleviation, or in ever-increasing expenditure, ever-increasing taxation, or in. doing what the Opposition parties sometimes term. “ soaking “ the rich. We cannot get over those difficulties by such simple methods: as those. It has been said that men cannot be made good by act. of parliament That, is quite true; but by acts of parliament we can make the conditions prevailing at any given time in our lives of such a character that. it. becomes easier to do good and more difficult to do wrong than under existing- conditions. Labour proposes, by its- acts of parliament to do certain things.. It proposes, to destroy one Utopia and. to substitute another. It proposes, to destroy, the exploiter’s; Utopia of lower wages, longer hours, and higher interest rates, and to. establish! in. its place a Utopia in which there, shall ha no unduly rich and no: unduly, poor;, in which, no man shall have the opportunity to exploit his fellow man, but in. which there shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens of the Commonwealth’. L emphasize “ equality, of opportunity “» I do not mean equality of opportunity in the sense in which the Opposition construes that term,, that is, dividing up the wealth of rile, nation and sharing it out equally between the people. That would be futile, because .within a short time after the nation’s wealth, had. been evenly divided among its citizens we should again find th-at society had’- resolved itself into- two sections, the unduly poor and the’ unduly rich. We want, to establish a condition of affairs- in. which at least, half of the Atlantic Chapter will become a reality i.h< the daily lives of our people1. I refer lc two of the Four Freedoms - freedom from want and freedom from fear:
Tha Leader of the Opposition (“Senator MeLeay) expressed- the fear that this Government would, as he inelegantly phrased-, it; “ bite off- more- than- it could chew “’. He went- on to say that we must be careful not to overdo: tha: expenditure of the: taxpayers’ money irc financing these, social’ service- benefits. Fortunately, however,’ for- the goods name- of Australia tha great mass- of. our people has. progressed beyond the mental vision’ of political morons of that, type. AH of my colleagues in this chamber have* said that they, ama proud of this legislation. What w.e ar.e proud of is not the great expenditure, involved in financing, these: blessings, but the fact that we have a plan of which this is but a part. Provision of the necessary finance is, of course, important and inescapable. The financial* stability of the nation must be maintained at all times. But Labour understands, as no other political party can understand, that while relieving the incidence of old-age, invalidity, maternity, widowhood, parenthood, unemployment and sickness, definite steps must be taken to prevent the dire poverty and distress which is all too often associated with those- conditions in our lives to-day. In this, field of legislative action the Labour- party is distinguishing, very clearly, indeed, between effects and causes. This is most important. We have to overcome by legislation,, not only the effects, but also the causes. It is more important,, of course, that Ave tackle the causes;, but we cannot afford to leave sufferers from the effects entirely unprovided for while the causes are, being dealt with. As I have-, already said, we are not proud, of the fact that this, programme is- going: to cost so many millions, of pounds.. What we want to d:o is to see that- arrangements are made so. that in future doing- the right thing by our people will not be so costly as It is; to-day. We do not want to see an ever-increasing bill to. the taxpayer of the future in order to get over these, difficulties. What we. want to. d.o> is to establish certain; processes*. % am; actions, in this. Parliament,, that will, result, in a. continuous and progressive, decrease of the necessity for this kind of legislation.. It is. interesting, to. note-, that Australia- does not standi alone in realizing, thai this, is a. problem, to- be solved. I take the following extract from, to-day’s pa;ess,: -
I7.S.A. INSURANCE’ FOR HEALTH;.
Truman Urges Quick Congress Action.
Washington;. May 20 [A.A.P’.y. - President Truman- yesterday sent a message. to Congress asking.- that immediate attention- be given tothe’ enactment of a, Federal health insurance scheme. “ This> scheme is- crucial to Che.- national welfare.”,, said. the. Pr.esident.
He1 made1- three recommendations;:- (1:) Adequate public health services including expanded: maternal and chil’d” health programme; (.2.) Funds for research and’ medical education; (3> More hospitals and? doctors, especially in sparsely-settled” areas. ” Perpetuating Misery “.
The President’s message stated: “ Until a health insurance scheme is part of our national fabric, we shall be wasting our most precious national resource and shall be perpetuating unnecessary misery and human suffering.”
Australia, fortunately, is far ahead of that. Not only have we done most of the work that President Truman has declared to he essential, but also we are to-day setting what may be regarded as the coping stone on our social services structure. The next task with which we are confronted - and it is here that we as members of this legislature must take the initiative - is a steady and persistent redistribution of the national income. This legislation, like other measures of a similar character that have passed through this chamber, is an indication of the Labour Government’s appreciation of the necessity for a more equitable distribution of the national income. The problem cannot be solved merely by boasting that wages in this country are higher than they are somewhere else. Such a statement immediately raises the question of the kind of wages to which reference is being made. Do we mean the wages that the worker receives in his pay envelope, or do we mean the real wages represented by the actual purchasing power of the money that he receives? No doubt my friends opposite will ask why the Government does not instruct the workers to play their full part in the production of national wealth. I say without hesitation that all sections of the community must join hands in this work if we are to get the best return from available material and man-power resources. The workers must play their full part, and, in spite of the criticisms that one hears in the community to-day, they are playing their part. Do honorable senators opposite really expect men and women who have returned to civil life after years of war service to resume their normal lives immediately, and to be satisfied with no hope of a better order being established ? It would be foolish to entertain such a belief, and we have no right to be surprised that men, so recently released from the pressure of years of destruction of life and treasure, should demand a better share of what they know to be possible in this community. Scien- tists, too, must play their part, although, unfortunately, to-day most of their energies are devoted to the perfection of instruments of destruction. Only one turn of the wheel by Labour administrations is necessary to divert these energies to human betterment instead of the devilment upon which they are occupied at present. We in the legislative halls of this country, particularly in this Commonwealth Parliament, must do our share in the attempt to bring about a more equitable distribution of the national income. I have said that Labour has a plan, and, briefly, I should like to touch upon some of the developments that we envisage as essential for the needs of mankind. We are stressing, first and foremost, not only in this country, but also in. the international sphere, the necessity for full employment. This should not be impossible, particularly in a country like Australia, with all its wealth, developed and undeveloped.. There is no limit to the employment that we could offer to people who are physically fit, and willing to undertake it. About a week or ten days ago, the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) issued a. public statement announcing the Government’s decision to grant £50.000 a vear to the National Health and Medical Research Council for the next three financial years to be used in this way: -
The improvement of knowledge in medicine, dentistry and the related sciences by research within Australia.
The improvement and stimulation of medical teaching in Australia by ensuring that this shall be carried out in universities and clinical schools where there is a tradition and practice of research.
To ensure that there is at all times a sufficiency of competent investigators and facilities to deal effectively with any problem of immediate medical importance which may arise in peace oi war.
Better education of the child and of the adult will play its part. The leaving school age must be progressively raised. The advantages of university education must be the prerogative of all young men and women and not merely of the privileged few as it has been in the past. One may be inclined to ask what these things have to do with social welfare work. They have this to do with it: When our people are better educatedthere will be less invalidity and no unemployment except amongst those who are unwilling to work and I should be prepared to leave them to the scriptural teaching that he who will not work shall not eat. That problem will solve i’.self. The intensity of the social ills that we seek to cure by this legislation will be lessened to the degree that we improve our national educational processes.
Reverting to the distribution of our national income I have taken the trouble to provide myself with certain statistics. They are the latest available, they are official, and they are incontrovertible. Let us imagine that the national income of this country is a cake - a huge cake that Ls cut . up amongst the various income earning groups in the community. The result would be this: Forty-five per cent, of taxpayers in this great Commonwealth receive only 19 per cent, of that cake. They are people in receipt of incomes of less than £250 a year. On the other hand, 55 per cent, of the people get the remaining SI per cent, of the cake. They are people whose incomes range from £250 a year upwards. To clarify the picture, I shall state those figures in a somewhat different manner: Forty-five point three per cent, of the people - those earning incomes of up to £250 a year - get 19 per cent, of the cake; 42 per cent, of the people - those receiving- incomes ranging from £252 a year to £500 a year - get 45.9 per cent.; and 11.9 per cent, of taxpayers - people whose incomes range from £501 a year to over £5,000 a year - get 35.1 per cent. Dealing with those individuals who are fortunate enough to have incomes in excess of £5,000 a year, we find that this one-tenth of one per cent, of the people, get 3 per cent, of he cake. Those figures I think are worth citing, because whilst there is this unequal distribution of wealth, we shall have the poor, the unemployed, the halt, the lame and the blind, depending upon social services payments from the Commonwealth Treasury for their living, or [ should say (heir existence. In Great Britain, 1 per cent, of the adult population over 25 years of age owns 55 per cent, of the wealth, and the other 99 per cent, owns 45 per cent. It has been said that by passing this legislation we shall be holding up a beacon light to the world ; but Australia has been doing that for n.any years in a number of different ways.
We often hear fantastic stories about the great wealth of the people in the United States of America. 1 have a word or two to say about that because unless we realize how easy it should be to do the things that we as a Labour government visualize as essential, we shall not understand as we should the state of affairs that exists today. As I have said, we hear much talk about the great wealth of the United States of America, but we hear little about the awful absence of wealth of the great majority of the people of that country. I have before me up-to-date facts and figures about America. The following is an extract from a publication that has just come to hand : -
Did von know that one-third of the hornet in Charleston, South Carolina, have no electric light? Or, that 19,341 families in New York City are using privies? Well, it’s a fact.
There are lots of things like this about America that most of us don’t know; can hardly even believe. But when official government figures say bo, it’s hard to argue. Take radios, for instance. You probably think that nearly every family in America has some sort of radio. But the truth is that some 5,800,000 families don’t - over 17 per cent. Almost hall of these live on farms where you’d think they’d want radios most.
Or overcoats. How often do you (men) buy a, new overcoat or topcoat? If it’s more than once every nine years, you’re above average. If you buy one new suit a year, you’re doing twice us well as the average American man.
In no country on earth is the national income more unequally distributed than in the United States of America. We shall never be able to do full justice to the people to whom this legislation will bring relief unless we arrive at some better method of distribution of our national wealth than we have at present. To people who are nervous about the experiments which this Government is making, I say that there is not the slightest need to be hesitant or fearful of what will happen. We need not take any notice of the jeremiads of the Leader of the Opposition. 1 had the good fortune last year to travel abroad with my good companion, Senator Grant, as leader of the Australian delegation to the International Labour Organization Conference, which was held in September and October at the University of. Montreal, Canada. The conference was attended by representatives of 46 member nations. There were 159 delegates, consisting of 85 government representatives, 36employers’ representatives, and 38workers’representa- tives.Including secretaries and advisers, there were 429 men and women at the conference. Theyrepresented different races, differentcolours, differentreligious beliefs, anddifferent political faiths, but all ofthem had oneobjective only, namely, the raising of the economic and social standards of the peoples of all countries. We were anxiousto raisethe standards of comfort of the most backward races to aposition of equality withthose of the most progressive peoples. To come nearer home, Mr.. Walter Nash, the Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand, said at the conference -
New Zealand regards its own security and living standards asbeingmenaced by the insecurity and the flow Jiving standards of peoples inthe heavily populated but economicallyundeveloped countries. That menace, toourthinking,can only be avoided by the realizationgenerally of objectives for which thisconference isworking,full employment andmaximumproductioneverywhere.
Senator Large alluded to some of the evil conditions from whichAustralia has emerged earlier than have other countries. We have travelled along way on the road to progress during my lifetime. In England when I was aboy, there were workhouses to which were sent the unemployed,because they were poor, and those who suffered from physical disabilities. In Australia we do not lave such things as workhouses. Wehave establishments which we call “eventide homes’”. That distinction indicates the advanced attitude of Australians towards the unfortunatemembers ofthe community. The term was not used in Australia untila Labour government in Queensland employed it, but since then it has become common usage. As Senator Large has said, people whohave suffered because of excessive labour,bad education and physical disabilities deserve thebenefits provided bythisbillin the evening of their lives.We are becoming more and more conscious of the need for such legislation.
What wesucceed in d oing in Australi a for the benefit of the poor, the sick and the needy willhave far-reaching effects in many ways in many lands. I speak with enthusiasm of what Australia is doing becauseof the conditions that I saw in other countries during my recent trip overseas . Not one country of the halfdozen that I visitedcould compare with. Australia regardingordinary every-day conditions for ordinary every-daymen and women.It is importantthat the Government should continue with its workonthese progressive lines. I do not urge this merely because the Labour party happens to be in office and because I want it to continue in office. The Government does not enact its social legislation merely to please sections of itssupporters so that it may retain office. That would be a quite human motive. Labour has the highest ideals.The spirit which motivates it us well emphasized by the following quotation-: -
The striving for higher standards of living isbreaking downthedivision betweenthe EastandWest and ismakingallmankind soldiers in a commonbattleagainst wantand deprivation.
We should make peoplerealize that, in enacting this legislation, we are endeavouringto destroywant and the occasion for fear, and we should enlist their aid in the battle. In order that wemayhave courage andconfidence tocontinue with our work,even though we may not gain immediate success and though we may bring down uponourheads the condemnationof our opponents, I shall refer to a statement made many years ago by Daniel Webster, a great Americanstatesman, whichshows that we are doing good work andthatwe have illustrious examples to follow. Daniel Webster said -
A well-em ployed and prosperous community canbuy and consume. An ill-employed com- munity cannot buy and consume.This is the solution of the whole matter; andthe whole science of political economy has not one truth ofhalf so much importance as this.
Ientirely agreewiththat declaration. My earnest hope is that, now that war has for the time being ended -I am sorry that I cannot be more positive,but cur- rentevents do not givecause for optimism - now that we have ceased building for destruction, we may reverse our war-time processes. During the war,we drew maps andgraphsofthe military situation for thefront pages of the newspapers. I hope that now we shall reverse the process and draw maps and graphsshowing the progress of our war against social ills. Where once we had diagrams showing territory occupied by our enemies, we should now have diagrams showing the extent of poverty and disease, with arrows indicating the drives that we propose to make against those enemies. We of this generation are having a unique experience. As members of the Senate we are witnessing and assisting in a peaceful revolution. This movement is fraught with tremendous possibilities. Its successful prosecution is not the responsibility of governments alone. There must he a great rebirth in the hearts and minds of men. In order to impress my point on honorable senators, I relate an illustrative anecdote. I recently read of a proud father whose daughter displayed unusual aptitude for geography. She talked about the subject constantly and annoyed him when he wanted to he quiet, so he cut a map of the world into -pieces, made a jig-saw puzzle of it, and said to her, “ Take this and sort it out “. The girl left the room, but returned within five minutes with the map completely assembled. Her father was disappointed, and surprised that she had not taken longer to complete . the (ask. He asked her, “How did you manage to put it together again? “. She said, “ That was easy, Dad. There was a figure of a man on the other side of the map, so I put that together and when I had the man right I had the world right as well “.
.- It is unfortunate for me that my speech should follow the brilliant exposition given by Senator Collings. He stated that the necessity for this legislation arose from inequality of opportunity, and that it was necessary for us to organize our social system on the basis of equality. I honestly believe his statement to be correct. The cause of the mal-distribution of wealth and of poverty in the world has been the failure of governments, and Labour governments in particular, to regulate the economic system on a basis of justice. We should be proud indeed to be able to assist in the enactment of social legislation of the character of this bill. Nevertheless, we must realize that this legislation will not bring about equality of opportunity in the community or regu- late our economic system on a basis of justice. It will give to those people who have not the wherewithal to enable them to live in comfort at least the necessaries of life so that their conditions will be better than they would be under the administration of an anti-Labour government. This Government has done a very fine thing in introducing an unemployment benefit scheme. We all know to our sorrow the bad social effects that the unemployment situation of 1929 and later years had upon the young people of Australia. In every State of the Commonwealth lads and their parents were herded into camps for unemployed. In other parts of the world people were living in concrete pipes. -Unemployed men were engaged in chipping grass for a living when they could have been employed in some useful work for the community. This Government has made it possible for some economic justice to be extended to the working people, who are the victims of the capitalist system under which we live. I believe that there should be a complete change in the economic system, so that adequate provision will be made for aged members of the .community, who are often left in want. Senator Collings referred to the action taken in Queensland to provide homes for the aged. I am a member of a committee in Launceston which has for its objective the provision of homes for aged people. Unfortunately, the leader of that movement in Launcestonwho. incidentally, was an ex-city missioner- joined the Liberal party, and has had nothing further to do with the movement. However, the committee still hopes to achieve something and to convince the Commonwealth Government of the need to provide some financial assistance. x
I do not want to repeat the eulogies which have been heaped upon the Government and the Minister (Senator McKenna) for the provision of child endowment. A Labour parliamentarian looks upon that as the natural thing to do. There is agitation now in certain quarters for the extension of child endowment to include provision for the first child. I am opposed to that, because the basic wage is intended to provide for a family unit of a man, wife and one child. Senator Large stated that child endowment was introduced for the purpose of ensuring a more equita’ble distribution of wealth. Our political opponents preferred to introduce child endowment rather than to permit an increase of the basic wage. The Australasian Council of Trade Union.? assented to that proposition because at the time it considered that to be the thin end of the wedge providing for a more equitable distribution of wealth. If child endowment is provided for the first child, the basic wage will be calculated on a family unit of only a man and his wife. “What will be the result? If we provide child endowment for the first child, and the basic wage is determined for a family unit of husband and wife, hundreds of thousands of young people who are now saving money to provide for marriage will have an undue burden placed upon them. Their wages will be reduced to provide the additional child endowment benefit. The proposition to provide such endowment would be fair if the basic wage remained as it is; but we know that the business men and the vested interests in the community will say, “ The basic wage being what it is, there is no necessity to pay out extra money “. I think that the present family unit of a man, wife and one child should not be altered, nor the existing provision for child endowment. I trust that the Government will ignore the appeal made in the House of Representatives by the honorable member for Darwin (Dame Enid Lyons), when she “ put over “ her “ sob-stuff ‘’, urging the payment of endowment for the first child.
I compliment the Government for its attempt to improve the lot of invalid pensioners. There are amongst them people who are afflicted with infantile paralysis, but who still retain the use of their limbs and minds. Those people could be taught useful occupations which would enable them to secure for themselves a certain amount of independence. I know thatgood work is being done by various private bodies and by the Department of Social Services towards this end, and for that I commend them. I think there has been a tendency to overlook the important part played by the Director-General of Social Services, Mr. Rowe, in this regard. That gentleman was invited to Canada to advise the Canadian Government on the introduction of social service legislation in that country. I was in Canada at the time of Mr. Rowe’s visit to that country. I know the high esteem in which he was held, and I think that he has had a good deal to do with the drafting of this bill.
I should like to bring to the notice of the Minister the lack of provision in this bill for old-age pensioners living in the country who are obliged to go to the city for medical attention. Their move from country to city usually involves the sale of their homes, and when they go to the city they have to pay rent. The amount which they receive for the sale of their homes is taken into consideration as capital when they apply for payment of their pension in the city. I think it only just that the Government should make some provision for that money to be regarded as held in trust until they are able to secure homes in the city. Recently, a woman living on the west coast of Tasmania had to move into the city. To do so she had to dispose of her home in the country, and she was unable to obtain accommodation in the city. That woman and her husband were debarred from receiving the old-age pension because of the money which they had received for the sale of their home. In cases such as this if the pensioners were permitted to place the money which they received for the sale of their homes in trust until they could build other homes it would be no more than an act of social justice.
I have in mind another matter which is causing serious inconvenience to oldage pensioners in Tasmania. I have brought this matter to the notice of the Minister, and I know that he has done his best to remove the cause of complaint. I refer to the position of old-age pensioners who draw their pensions from the little post offices at Sandhill and Invermain in Tasmania. The money for payment of their pensions has to come from Hobart, and the train which brings the money is often late. When that occurs the postal staff at Sandhill has to send to the General Post Office at Launceston for the money. The result is that these pensioners frequently have to wait an hour or more for their pensions. As I say, the Minister has taken action in an attempt to remedy this situation but he has not received the co-operation of the postal officials concerned. I think that the officials responsible should be reproved for allowing such a state of affairs to continue.
I regard the Hospital Benefits Act as the finest piece of legislation introduced by this Government. - Formerly, when a worker was injured and had to enter hospital, he had to pay hospital fees and he lost his wages while he was a patient. The financial worry involved often had the effect of retarding his recovery. Under the present act a man who is a family breadwinner can enter hospital and receive sickness benefits while he is a patient. Furthermore, he does not have to pay any hospital fees. I think the Tasmanian Government also deserves praise for the hospital benefits legislation which it has introduced. Patients in all hospitals in Tasmania receive free treatment for any complaint, and out-patients are also included in this generous provision. If a man wishes to see a specialist all he has to do is to make an appointment and go to a hospital, where he receives free attention from the specialist. Four thousand out-patients are now being treated each month. Before the advent of the present Labour Government in Tasmania only 20 or 30 patients were. treated in a day. I think that the passage of this bill will make history, and I offer my congratulations to the Government and to the Minister. I think it will be a beacon light in social legislation throughout the world.
Senator FRASER (Western Australia) f9.ll]. - May I take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister for Social Services (Senator McKenna) for introducing this bill, which consolidates some 49 acts. I thank the Minister for the compliment which he paid to me in the course of his second-reading speech. As the Minister who formerly, administered the Department of Social Services, it was my privilege to introduce legislation which is now consolidated in the bill before the Senate. I also wish to tender my thanks to the Director-General of Social Services and his staff for their co-operation, and I agree with Senator Lamp that the activities of the officers of this department leave nothing to be desired. The present bill would have been introduced late in 1945, or early in 1946, but for the fact that a judgment of the High Court pronounced the Pharmaceutical Benefits Act invalid. In consequence of that judicial decision delays have occurred in the introduction of the present measure. However, I think the delay has been all to the good because it has enabled the Government to extend the benefits conferred by that act. This measure is a most comprehensive one and will facilitate administration of social services and remove a number of anomalies. Doubtless, some anomalies will be discovered in it in the course of time, but that is inevitable with any legislation.
I propose to address myself .to one or two phases of the measure because we have recently heard a great deal about Communists and strikes. I recall the period from 1929 to 1931, and even later, when there were 300,000 unemployed in this country. I know the conditions under which people lived in Western Australia. Large numbers of men were able to obtain work for only one or two days a week, for which they were paid a mere pittance. In those days the seeds of communism were sown, and to-day we are reaping the harvest. Abject poverty is a fruitful field in which to sow the seeds of revolt. The Lyons Government introduced legislation to provide for a scheme of national health and pensions insurance. It passed both Houses of Parliament, but it was never implemented. This bill will repeal that legislation, which has never been put into operation.
Opposition speakers have referred to the amount of money required to finance this scheme. They point out that the expenditure on social services has increased from £16,000,000 to £72,000,000 a year in a comparatively short period, and they fear that the commitments will grow and that some day, with a change of government, they may have to finance the scheme. In my opinion, the Government adopted the soundest means of financing the scheme when it decided to pay for it out of taxes. I do not subscribe to the policy that the national credit should be used to finance ‘ social security projects. My view is that the money should come out of taxes. During the war the Allied nations pooled their resources in order to defeat their common enemy. The biggest and strongest made the greatest contribution. If that principle was right in a time of war it should be right also in times of peace. The United Nations Charter provides that men and women everywhere shall have freedom from want and fear. This legislation gives effect to that principle. Under the three-party scheme, which operates in the community, only one party pays, namely, the party which cannot pass costs on. Under the scheme of social services which operates in the United Kingdom a young man eighteen years of age contributes 4s. 7d. a week and his employer an additional 3s. l0d. a week. The employer, however, passes on his charges to the consumer, and the final result is that the employee pays, not only his own 4s. 7d. a week, but also the greater portion of his employer’s 3s. 10d. a week. The scheme adopted by the Government in this legislation ensures that he who is best able to pay shall pay. Under the New Zealand scheme contributions are at a flat rate. I hope that, in any superannuation scheme which may be introduced in the future, provision will be made for it to be financed out of taxes.
I am pleased that the bill is to give considerable power to the DirectorGeneral of Social Services. As the years pass, those who will contribute to, and derive benefits from, the scheme will increase in numbers, partly as the result of the operation of a vigorous immigration policy. I have in mind a man over the age of 65 years who has not been in Australia for twenty years and has not qualified for unemployment benefits. The bill empowers the Director-General to assist him should he deem it necessary or advisable to do so. Previously, an ex gratia payment was made in special cases, but I am glad that in the future the DirectorGeneral will have powers which will enable him to meet such cases.
The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) said that 86½ per cent. of Australians in receipt of salary and wages had an income of £400 a year. At the time I thought that his figures were incorrect, but he assured me that they were right. I have since, however, ascertained the correct figures, which are set out in the following tables: -
Those figures differ materially from those cited by the Leader of the Opposition.
Senator Sampson said that payments in respect of unemployment this year will probably total £800,000. The expenditure for the ten months ended the 30th April, 1947, amounted to £1,260,000. For the years 1939, 1940 and 1941 the average was £6,300,000. I bring to the notice of the Minister the claims of a class of persons who are known as civilian limbless. They include persons who have lost a limb through accident. At present, they are not eligible for any pension in respect of their disability. It is true that when they become unemployed they are eligible for unemployment benefit. I ask the Minister to consider an extension of the vocational training scheme to this class of persons in order to fit them for employment suitable to their disability. That scheme has been extended to embrace invalid pensioners, and, as I was responsible for that provision when I was Minister, I know that it has proved successful. The civilian limbless have formed an association, and have made representations to the Minister on this point. I am certain that he will give sympathetic consideration to their request which I whole-heartedly support.
I am pleased to note that the original reciprocal arrangement made with New Zealand in respect of social services benefits has been extended to include sickness and unemployment benefits and child endowment, and that the new agreement will be implemented under this measure. I have a particular interest in that agreement because I conducted negotiations with the Prime Minister of New Zealand on the subject. When I was Minister I also had the privilege when I visited the United Kingdom eighteen months ago of conferring with Sir James Griffiths, the British Minister for National Insurance, with a view to arranging reciprocity with the United Kingdom in respect of social service benefits. At that time the British National Insurance Bill was being prepared, and he assured me that reciprocity with the Dominions would be arranged. I am pleased to note that this measure makes provision for the entry into agreement with other governments without further legislation being necessary.
Since this Government assumed office it has progressed a long way towards its goal of providing the greatest possible degree of social security for our people. It has given proof that it is resolved tofulfil all promises it has made . in that respect. However, I hope that we shall not rest on our laurels, but will progress further still. I hope that as soon as possible the Minister will introduce a measure to implement a comprehensive scheme of medical services to the people. I fully realize the value of such a scheme as the result of my participation in negotiations with the medical profession on that matter. I know also the difficulties involved. However, now that the people have given to the Commonwealth Parliament full power in respect of health and social services many of those difficulties can be more readily overcome. I pay a tribute to the friendly societies with whom I bad much to do in negotiations concerning the Pharmaceutical Benefits Bill. Not only those societies but also the private pharmacists were most willing to co-operate with the Government.
Thus, the Government is making steady progress in this sphere of social legislation, and I am sure that the people will value its efforts to give to them social security, not merely in old age, but from the cradle to the grave. I wholeheartedly support the bill.
– I thank honorable senators for giving me leave to continue my remarks at this stage following my inability to do so upon the resumption of the sitting at 8 o’clock, at which hour I was detained elsewhere. The object of this measure, which completely repeals 42 acts and partially amends seven other acts, is to organize social services as a whole. When the sitting was suspended I was referring to certain anomalies in respect of invalid . and old-age pensions, and I had mentioned that it was a grave’ injustice to the single women of Australia that they could not become eligible for an old-age pension until they reached the age of 60 years. I urge that that provision be liberalized by fixing the qualifying age at 55. I also point out another anomaly in respect of a daughter who is obliged to care for her invalid father. A wife who looks after her invalid husband now receives a pension of 15s. a week, and I am glad to note that that pension is to be increased to £1 a week. However, when the wife of an invalid pensioner dies, and the work of caring for the pensioner devolves upon a daughter, the latter is not eligible for any allowance whatever. I urge the Minister (Senator McKenna) to rectify that anomaly.
My attention has also been drawn to another anomaly by Mr. J. T. Pollard, secretary of the Pensioners League in Western Australia. That gentleman is well known to all Western Australian senators. He is fully conversant with the provisions relating to invalid and old-age pensions, and his statements are invariably reliable. Clause 30 of the bill which deals with the computation of the value of the property of a pensioner, or applicant for a pension, excludes from such computation items falling under eight headings, such as a pensioner’s house and furniture and insurance policy. In order to overcome the anomaly, I have in mind I suggest that provision should also bo made to exempt from that computation all moneys, up to an amount of £200, invested by pensioners or applicants for pensions in Commonwealth loans or war savings certificates. Mr. Pollard has brought to my notice the case of an old-age pensioner who was earning 7s 6d. a week plus keep assessed at 12s. 6d. a week, doing odd jobs on an orchard. This income brought his total weekly earnings up to the permissible limit of £1 a week. Later he was left a legacy of £200 which he immediately invested in Commonwealth loans, and by so doing responded to the full extent of his capacity to the Government’s appeal for war finance. At the end of the first twelve months when he received interest amounting to £6 5s. which .brought his income above the permissible limit he was obliged to refund the sum of £20 from his pension. Such treatment is not a very great inducement to old-age pensioners to invest in Commonwealth loans. On the other hand, had he been dishonest, or secretive, about the matter he could hare continued to draw his full rate of pension. I urge the Minister to exempt from computation of the value of the property of a pensioner, or applicant, investments in Commonwealth loans up to an amount of £200 and the income therefrom. At the committee stage I shall deal with a number of other provisions in the bill which I believe can be improved.
Failing the introduction of a contributory scheme of social services in this country, I would strongly advocate the adoption of a basis of computing the old-age pension which would divorce this matter completely from governmental policy. To-day the administration of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act is coloured by politics and, without imputing improper motives to the present Government, I believe that there is a great need for the adoption of a new basis of determining pension payments. The matter should be fully investigated by experts, preferably actuarial experts, to decide what proportion of the basic wage should be paid to aged pensioners so that the pension rate would alter with fluctuations of the basic wage. That would be much better than having the livings of thousands of old-age pensioners in this country dependent upon periodical announcements of governmental policy. This matter is too serious and too poignant to be dominated by party polities. In the past we have had the spectacle of political parties vying with each other in their offers to pensioners at election times. The tying of the pension rate to the basic wage would serve as a temporary expedient until such time as a contributory scheme is introduced, as I am sure it will be. A soundly based contributory scheme would enable the abolition of the means test. During the regime of the Lyons Government a scheme providing for the fluctuation of the invalid and old-age pension was introduced, but it was scrapped after a lengthy trial. Admittedly, it was imperfect, and I believe that the system that I have suggested of basing the pension upon the basic wage would be preferable. I have no doubt that there are experts in the Department of Social Services who could establish a basis of computation. However, the need for a contributory scheme will remain. “We must think not only of to-day, to-morrow, or even next year : We must look far ahead and legislate for conditions that will arise in the years to come. A contributory scheme would assist in the production of a sturdier race, not only in economic value to the community, but also in mental outlook. We should all feel secure in the knowledge that we are providing for our old-age or infirmity, and that we shall have a right to a share of the future prosperity of this great Commonwealth.
– My remarks on this bill will be brief. With other honorable senators, I have been looking forward with some eagerness to the introduction of a consolidating social services measure comprehensive in terms and far-reaching in its effects. I congratulate the Minister for Social Services (Senator McKenna) upon this notable advance in social legislation, and upon the fact that he has been able to carry forward thus far the work begun by my colleague from Western Australia, Senator Fraser. But it is to the method of introducing this measure that I take exception. Its importance is admitted by all. Its approach and sponsor were heralded in the press, and the Senate was justified in believing that this was, at least, an occasion when the Government appreciated the importance of this chamber and had decided that this was a measure upon which the views of honorable senators should be sought before proceeding further. If we examine the bill we shall discover that apart from the provisions for its effective working, it deals with age pensions, invalid pensions, pensions for the blind, funeral benefits, widows’ pensions, maternity allowances, child endowment, unemployment and sickness benefits, and the training and physical rehabilitation of pensioners and their beneficiaries. Each part of the bill has its own peculiar problems of some magnitude. It contains 149 clauses, repeals the whole or parts of 50 acts of the Parliament, involves an annual expenditure of more than £72,000,000, including more than £6,000,000 for new commitments. The Minister occupied 50 minutes of the time of this Senate with a well-thought-out speech explaining the bill, and one would have thought it but reasonable to permit the bill to lie on the table of the Senate for at least a week, in order that honorable senators might perform their duties as members of this legislature. But no. The Leader of the Senate (Senator Ashley) moved the suspension of the Standing Orders to allow the bill to be passed through its remaining stages without delay. Consequently, honorable senators were expected, even if that privilege were in mind, to examine and debate the measure without further ado. But there was a further development. It was assumed, of course, that the bill already had been “vetted” by that extraparliamentary body - -caucus. That action conferred certain advantages upon the Minister; but it was a surprise to learn that, prior to the presentation of the bill in this chamber, copies of it had been handed to certain honorable senators who, in the opinion of the Minister, wished to speak early in the debate. That action, in my opinion, is a reflection on this chamber and is at least a slovenly way of conducting the business of the Senate.
– Did it happen?
– It did.
– Copies of the bill were made available to honorable senators on the Opposition side.
– I was not informed of the names of the honorable senators to whom this privilege was extended.
– They are not on this side of the chamber.
– Honorable senators opposite had a preview of the measure in caucus.
– The Minister’s statement to the Senate that full time would he allowed for the discussion of this measure was mere sophistry. He has been given his instructions, and he has the numbers on his side of the chamber to enforce them. With all due respect to the Minister I do not think he has done himself credit by following a course which, if it has not already done so, will bring this Parliament into disrepute. So, for the reasons that I have indicated, and owing to the congested condition of the notice-paper in this chamber and in the House of Representatives, I do not intend to criticize this bill in detail. Previous speakers, I have noticed, have not confined their remarks to the bill, but have wandered quite extensively. I claim to have unconventional views in regard to social services which, on more than one occasion, I have expressed in this chamber. I have been interested to learn recently, from the press, that the Government is undertaking investigations along the lines that I have mentioned. I do not expect to see any marked development for several years to come, but it is obvious to any thoughtful person that this country cannot continue for long to support a system that stops short of efficiency, is inequitable, and actuarily unsound. The Government seems to take some pride in the amount of money that it can expend. There is no marked hesitancy in acquiring fresh commitments and one may well ponder on the fate of this Commonwealth when some economic reverse forces the Administration to cut public expenditure. We have experienced one such calamity, and its echoes have not yet passed beyond hearing. We do not want to have a repetition of that economic tragedy. I confess that I experienced apprehension when I heard Senator Finlay say, with what I thought to be some pride, that the weekly cost of the social services provided by the Government represented interest at the rate of $i per cent, on capital of over £2,000,000,000. .Senator Nash expressed the view that the more money the Government expended the more jobs it would create. That economic theory is new to me.
– The honorable senator has still much to learn about economics.
– I hope that my ignorance is not so conspicuous as that of the honorable senator. Both of the honorable gentlemen whom I mentioned overlooked the fact that our national income is estimated at only £1,200,000,000 or £1,300,000,000 annually. I do not believe that anybody can appreciate the value of our national capital and the volume of material interest that it is able to earn. The task of assessing its value would be almost impossible, particularly in a relatively young country like Australia. Our resources may be virtually inexhaustible, but they have to be investigated and developed and our markets must be expanded before we can use them to create the credit that we need at home and abroad. This position needs the most serious consideration of every member of the Parliament.
For the reasons which I just stated, I shall not discuss the bill in detail. The Minister is to .be congratulated upon its form. I regret that the means test will remain in force and also that more encouragement will not be given to the thrifty person who, after all, represents a powerful element in the community and who desires to live without becoming a burden on the taxpayers.
– The honorable senator still believes that thrift is a virtue?
– Yes, even in words. I do. not oppose the bill. The Minister is to be congratulated on the great advance in social legislation which he has brought about, and I hope that the result of the enactment of this bill will he a complete reward to him for the trouble that he has taken in framing it.
Senator CLOTHIER (Western Australia) £10.4]. - I welcome this bill more enthusiastically perhaps than any other measure that the Government has intro duced. Having been associated with friendly societies for many years, I have some knowledge of the problems involved in the provision of social services. I congratulate the Minister for Social Services (Senator McKenna) upon the structure of the bill, and I commend his generous praise of the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holloway) and Senator Eraser, who were his predecessors as Minister for Social Services. The social services provided for in the bill should prove to the people that the Government is anxious to take progressive measures for their well being. It is anxious to provide them with a better standard of living and is eager to give them security and freedom from the fear of economic hardship in the future. That fear has been acute in the experience of many citizens in the past. I have yet to learn of any man on the basic wage who is able to save sufficient money to enable him to live in his old age as we should wish him to do. When the means test is removed from all social services the conditions of our people will be 100 per cent, better than they were under anti-Labour governments.
Some honorable senators have referred to maternity allowances. As secretary of a friendly society in Western Australia, I had considerable experience of the need for such payments to women whose husbands were not earning large incomes. The fact that a husband earned more than a certain amount of money automatically debarred his wife from eligibility for maternity allowance under the old scheme. I am glad that the Government has removed this anomaly. The maternity allowance now ranges from £15 to £17 10s. That is a remarkable achievement. Widows’ pensions are a new form of social benefit created by this Government. Senator Nash referred also to women whose husbands are in gaol and who, under this bill, will be eligible for an allowance. I strongly support this provision. I have always considered that wives and children of law-breakers should not be penalized for misconduct for which they are not responsible. Child endowment is of great value to the community. As an example, I refer to the wife of a policeman who lived near my home. Before the child endowment scheme was introduced, this woman and her husband were able to feed their children well, but they could not clothe them adequately. The woman used her first endowment payment to buy boots for each of her children. With the second instalment, she bought other articles of clothing for them. The pay- ments helped her to bring up her children in good health. The provision of unemployment benefit is commendable. However, the Government and its officers must be careful to ensure that undeserving persons shall not profit by it. I am aware of instances in Western Australia in which men have wrongfully claimed benefits. The officers administering the service carry out their jobs very efficiently and they have detected such impostors, thus saving considerable sums of the taxpayers’ money. I congratulate them upon the way in which they perform their duties. One man who asked me to help him obtain unemployment benefit was not anxious to work at all. All he wanted to do was to get money for nothing. I spoke to departmental officials about him, but they were aware of his case. He had been the third man to toe the carpet and apply for benefit after the scheme came into operation. The officers offered him a job, but he did not take it. I told him that if he was not willing to work he could not expect help from me. I have not seen him since.
The Government has every reason to be proud of its schemes for sickness and hospital benefits, medical and dental services, benefits to students, and family allowances. Provisions of that sort will lay the spectre of fear which has haunted the poor in the past. The people should be fully informed of everything that the Government is doing for them. The newspapers do not give full details of its social services schemes, and many people do not read Hansard. Their only chance to learn of the Government’s progressive plans is to hear broadcasts of debates in the Parliament. Therefore, I shall state some of the facts, for their enlightenment. I am pleased that the word “ old “ is to be removed from the description of pensions for aged persons. I, myself, may be a pensioner one day, and I do not want to be described as an old-age pensioner.
I have as much vitality at 65 years of age a3 I had at 50. T have always hated the word “ old “. Its use has a bad effect on people. Many persons decline in health merely because they believe that they are old. Those who have plenty of cheek and bluff and who refuse to feel old usually live long.
When war broke out in 1939, there were only two forms of social benefits in Australia. They were invalid and old-age pensions, and maternity allowance. At that time, pensioners received 21s. 6d. a week, and the maternity allowance varied from £5 to £7 10s. What great changes have occurred since then! The Labour Government has done a great deal to help people who need help. Its schemesdo not apply only to the workers; they apply to everybody in the community who needs help. As from the 1st July, aged pensioners will receive 37s. 6d. a week. Furthermore, they will be permitted to earn £1 a week without suffering deductions from the pension. This means that a man and his wife, both in receipt of a pension, will be able to receive as much as £5 15s. a week - more than the basic wage - if they are able to work. However, 80 per cent, of the unfortunate men and women in receipt of pensions are not able to earn extra money. I hope that the time will soon come when arrangements will be made to provide higher pensions for those who are unable to work. The range of the maternity allowance, which formerly was from £5 to £7 10s., is now from £15 to £17 10s. Social services in 1939 cost the Commonwealth £16,000,000. In 1947-48 the cost will be £72,060,000. What a wonderful achievement :by the Government ! Its opponents say that the Government helps only “its own class of people”. That is not true. It helps everybody in Australia who needs help. In 1939 there were 327,000 pensioners, who cost the Government £16,160,000. In the same year, there were 81,000 maternity allowance payments, costing £437,000. To-day, there are 358,000 pensioners, who, in the present financial year, will cost the Government £29,500,000. This year 197,000 maternity allowances will cost ‘nearly £3,000,000. Child endowment is now payable in respect of 1,000,000 children, making a total annual bill of almost £20,000,000. There are 43,500 widows, drawing nearly £3,300,000 annually in pensions. Any person who is not satisfied with what the Government has done in providing social services ought to get out of the country.
The Minister referred to the vocational training of invalids in his second-reading speech. He said that the training and rehabilitation of those who suffered from incapacity would be of great benefit to the nation and the individual. I know of several instances in which such training has been of great value. I interviewed a pensions officer in Western Australia on behalf of several young ladies who, unfortunately, were not able to do hard work. I had a long talk with that officer, and he asked me for suggestions about training them. I suggested that one young lady should be employed in a florist’s -shop. The officer had not considered such work for invalids. He agreed to my suggestion, the young invalid was provided with a position in a florist’s shop, and, within eighteen months, she had ceased to draw a pension and was earning full wages because she had no difficulty in doing the work. Five hundred invalid pensioners have been trained and placed in employment since 1944, and at present 364 pensioners are undergoing training. The Government’ is saving money because the payment of pensions to 500 invalid pensioners now costs only £6,000, effecting a saving of £40,000. That achievement i3 a credit to any government.
One honorable senator said there might be difficulty in raising the money involved in the provision of the proposed social services. I emphasize, however, that the money to be provided will not be taken straight from post offices and deposited in banks, but in the great majority of cases it will be passed into immediate circulation. If the money goes into the pockets of large shopkeepers it is recovered by the Government by taxation. Another consideration which I wish to mention is the discrepancy between the return on the investment of a man’s savings in the course of his working life and the amount which he will receive by way of pension under this bill. To ensure an income of £1S7 10s. per annum he would require to work from the 3ge of fifteen to that of 65 years, deposit- ing £2 a week in a savings account. At the highest rate of interest on government loans, namely 3-J per cent., he would receive £7 10s. less per annum than he will under the proposed pension scheme which provides for the payment to him of £195 per annum. Irrespective of howlong a man worked it would be necessary for him to save the sum of £6,000 to ensure a return of £187 10s. per annum.
– And he would not be spending the money.
– Too much stress has been placed on saving money and depositing it in banks rather than on spending it. We hear people complaining that youths are suffering from malnutrition. That is largely because they invest their money in bank accounts instead of providing adequate food for themselves. I have been a member of the Senate for nearly ten years, and this is the finest piece of legislation which has been introduced in that time. I commend the bill, and trust that it will be a forerunner of many similar measures.
.- The task of consolidating the various social service acts is one which has been discussed for some years, and credit is due to the Minister for Social Services (Senator McKenna) for having at last parried it out. His second-reading speech foreshadowed a further extension of social benefits. A big proportion of oldage pensioners were pioneers of this country, but because of causes over which they had no control they were unable to provide for their old age. Admittedly, a small percentage were thriftless and looked to a paternal government to keep them when they could no longer work. Invalid pensioners and widows are in a different category. From the 1st July next the pension rate will be raised to 37s. 6d. a week. Will this amount represent as much as 25s. a week did in 1942? The answer is “ No ; not until more consumergoods are produced “, or, in other words, until the nation recovers its prewar desire to work. Government supporters point proudly to the fact that the percentage of unemployed was never so small as it is to-day; but I remind them that although people may be on ti e pay-rolls and salary-sheets, it does not follow that they are giving of their best. The fact is that far too many are nonprodducers. There can be no reduction of prices until employers and employees adopt the slogan “ A fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay “. The Government can play its part by practising economy so that the burden of taxation can be lifted.
One honorable senator having discussed the increase of social service commitments from £16.000,000 in 1939-40 to £72,000,000 in 1946-47, said, “What if there has been an extraordinary rise? We found the money in war-time- “
– I did not say an “ extraordinary rise “. An increase to 37s. 6d. a week cannot be regarded as extraordinary.
– The honorable senator went on to say, “ We found money for war purposes, why can we not ‘find it in peace-time? “ I remind him that in the war against Japan our very existence was at stake. To defend our country from the disaster which threatened it money had to be raised. The people of this country contributed to their maximum. But now that the emergency has passed wisdom dictates a drastic curtailment of expenditure, otherwise the country will become bankrupt. To quote a homely example, if a member of a family, say the bread-winner, becomes ill and has to go to hospital and undergo a long period of convalescence, or if sickness overtakes some member of his family, he has to spend possibly the savings of his lifetime. Frequently he mortgages his home or life assurance policy, to discharge his liabilities. He practises frugality to make good his liabilities.
Senator Tangney has evidently not read the Treasurer’s statement that the cost of social services is to be met from revenue and not from loan or bank credit. All taxpayers contribute their share towards social benefits for the aged and inform, and no one objects to that. Taxes cannot be lowered until the purchasing power of a pensioner’s pound is increased. This cannot be achieved while “ go slow “ and disruptive influences retard the production of the maximum supply of consumer goods. When the Unemployment and Sickness Benefits Bill was before the Senate two years ago it was generally assumed that the unemployment allowance was intended to provide for persons temporarily unemployed through no fault of their own. Workers in seasonal activities such as shearing, harvesting and fruit-picking, as well as those who were “ stood down “ because of a lockout, were justly entitled to the allowance. So were those who were unemployed by reason of a strike in some other industry. It was never intended that this allowance should be paid to members of a union who ceased work in sympathy with a striking union, while wages claims and working conditions were under review by a conciliation commissioner or the Arbitration Court.
I make one more plea to the Minister to introduce an amendment to the act, which at present deals harshly with war pensioners. On two occasions a deputation from the Limbless Soldiers Associations of Australia waited upon the Minister for Social Services. They contended, and rightly so, that a war pension should not be counted as income when estimating the unemployment allowance. However, their representations- were ignored. An ordinary pensioner is permitted to have an income of 20s. a week before any reduction of his pension is made, but a war pensioner, in receipt of a pension of, say, 10s. a week, is allowed only another 10s. a week as income. Is that fair to the men who receive a pension as compensation for a war disability incurred while fighting for the protection and safety of this country?
– I desire to express my pleasure at the manner in which this bill has been received by the Senate. It is the first time for a considerable period that the Senate has had the opportunity to initiate proposed legislation, and it is appropriate that the first measure should be one of this kind. When Senator Allan MacDonald began his address he said that he visualized an aged couple sitting beside their fire enjoying the benefits conferred by this bill. That remark illustrated the whole purpose of social service legislation. A perusal of this bill shows that it provides for the people practically from the cradle to the grave, and that is a new development in the provision of social services. We remember ali too well the lack of provision in old age for members of the community who have fought life’s battle without success. In various places in Australia there were charitable institutions and benevolent homes, whilst members of various organizations of women went from door to door seeking out their less fortunate brothers and sisters in order to assist them. Today there is a new outlook. Australians can take pride in the fact that other nations agree that Australia leads the world in social legislation. When legislation providing for old-age pensions was first enacted those who received pensions were derided, and the very receipt of a pension cast a stigma upon them. Whenever a pensioner died the fact that he was a pensioner was emphasized. There was a good deal of criticism of the system, and all sorts of assertions were made concerning recipients. Generally, they were decribed as thriftless persons who had not saved for their old age when in employment. Statistics show, however, that even if they had saved all their earnings, many of them could not have saved sufficient to guarantee security from want in their old age. The wages and conditions of employment in those days were such that the majority of workers never had an opportunity to put by enough money to maintain them in the evening of life. Since then, as I have said, there has been a changed outlook, and to-day, instead of a miserable pittance of 10s. a week an aged couple may own their own home and have an income, including their pension, of £5 15s. a week. Truly, time marches on ! From the 1st July next the pension will be £1 17s. 6d. a week. There is no bar on the value of a home which pensioners may own. For that legislation the Labour party is largely responsible-
Senator Collett said that social service legislation should be considered free from party political considerations. It is unfortunate for him and those whom he represented that the parties opposed to Labour have also been opposed to increased social services. In 1910, when the Fisher Government introduced legislation to provide for a maternity allowance, all sorts of suggestions were put forword by the Opposition of that time. Some of them were unworthy of men and women who claimed to respect motherhood. It was said that the allowance would be expended in all sorts of foolish ways, such as the purchase of bangles for babies. Indeed there were many who spoke most disparagingly of the women who would accept the allowance. If the Labour party has had to emphasize its attitude towards the social service payments, it has been because of the opposition to them by the opponents of Labour. The san thing can be said of widows’ pensions. I give to the parties now in opposition the credit for having initiated and passed through the Parliament legislation providing for child endowment. They realized that the basic wage was inadequate to meet the needs of a family man on the basic wage, and so a system of child endowment was provided for.
– The Government which introduced child endowment acted only under duress.
– It is true that the Labour party had been agitating for child endowment for a long time, because it realized that the basic wage was inadequate to meet the requirements of a man with a family. Had there been a basic wage for a single man, it would have reacted to the detriment of married men, and so child endowment was introduced as a means of avoiding a considerable increase of the basic wage. There is dissatisfaction in many quarters that the first child is not covered by the legislation providing for the endowment of children. The reason for that is that the basic wage in Australia is fixed on the assumption that it will meet the needs of a man, his wife and one child. During recent years the whole range of social service legislation has been enlarged. Widows’ pensions are now an accomplished fact, notwithstanding that in some quarters it is regarded as a mistake to provide pensions to certain types of widows. The Labour party,* however, believes that a woman who is deprived of her breadwinner is entitled to a pension. It is proud to know that no longer need such a woman feel that she must resort to the washtub, as was the case in days gonn by. It is true that in those days women were not trained in various occupations as they are to-day. They were not then employed as clerks, stenographers, factory workers and so on. However, the idea of granting pensions to widows slowly, but surely, made headway, because it was realized that a widow with children could not properly look after her children if she was employed in a factory or workshop all day. Much of the child delinquency of recent years has been due to lack of parental control. If the payment of pensions to widows prevents boys and girls from falling by the wayside and assists them to grow up to be good citizens the money represented by widows’ pensions will have been well expended.
Senator Brand was rather sceptical of the advantages of the unemployment and sickness benefits scheme. He said that it was never intended that certain classes of individuals should participate in those benefits. Probably that is so. The act denies unemployment benefits to persons who have wilfully placed themselves in the ranks of the unemployed. “When the majority of the people are in employment payments from the fund will be small. It is to be hoped that the number of Australians who will have to draw on the fund will never be large, but that there will always be full employment for the bulk of the people.
Senator Arnold drew attention to the programme of works which the Government has in mind to be put into operation should times, of adversity return. With those schemes under way, the demand on the fund should not be great, but, unfortunately, there will be always some persons in need of assistance. In the event of the present Government being driven from the treasury bench and another depression being experienced, it would be far better that unemployed men should be paid the benefits provided for under the legislation passed by this Parliament than that the experiences of the depression years should be repeated. I hope that the scheme will mean that such institutions as soup kitchens, which were established all over the Commonwealth during the depression years, will never again be necessary. I hope also that that soul-destroying method of financing unemployment known as the dole will never again be resorted to. However obnoxious the .dole system was - and it was obnoxious in the extreme - it did serve to emphasize that those who were thrown out of employment because of the inability of industry to employ them had certain rights which the community should recognize. The introduction of the unemployment insurance tax marked society’s first appreciation of the fact that it owed a duty to those who become unemployed. In the old days it was almost a crime for a man to become unemployed. He was looked upon as one who shirked work, and did not desire to sell his labour. But there was quite a different story during the depression years when men who had not previously known what it was like to be out of work found themselves suddenly deprived of their income. In a short time their life’s savings were gone, and they were obliged to dispose of their property. There was uo house shortage in those days. People were getting rid of their houses in order to keep body and soul together. Thus from the dole came unemployment insurance. To-day society recognizes its duty to support those responsible for the conduct of industry when they become unemployed. I think that there is something in what .Senator Collett suggested, and I believe that should this Government remain in office it will give effect to his suggestion, namely, that a retiring allowance should be paid to every person upon reaching a certain age.
I detest the term “ old-age pension “. On a previous occasion I urged that the term should be abandoned because of the odium which became attached to it as the result of the efforts of opponents of that benefit. I hope that our social services will progress to a stage when every man and woman, whether they be rich or poor, shall, on reaching a certain age, be entitled to receive a retiring allowance. When that time comes we shall obviate cases of the kind which was brought to my notice a few days ago when a young man sought my assistance to obtain for him some back pay owing to him by a government department. I had worked with him when he was a lad, and knew him to be reliable. I discovered that he was doing his best on his wage to pay off a mortgage incurred during the depression years, and. at. the same time, keep his mother and father. When I asked him why his parents were nc-t receiving the old-age ‘ pension, he said that, they would lose their home if they received the pension. I told him that that provision had been abolished years ugo, and. that they could receive the pension without surrendering their home. I told him that the pension was something to which his parents were entitled as a right, because they had helped to pioneer the country and had reared an Australian family. Unfortunately, those old people could not bring themselves to the pass of going to a post office and filling in an application form before a magistrate. They did not know that this could be done in the strictest privacy. The Government now has in mind a scheme which it hopes to implement in the near future which will obviate the necessity for old people to feel that they are under any obligation when they receive the old-age pension. I was very pleased when arrangements were made to pay the pension by cheque. Thus was removed the feeling that old-age pensioners were public curiosities. There have been several objectionable features in the payment of these pensions, such as the queueing up of pensioners at post offices on certain days. Our old people should not be treated in that way, because they are entitled to the pension as a right. Society concedes that right to them to-day; and every consideration should be given to the payment of pensions in a way most acceptable to them because no longer is the pension looked upon as charity.
Reference has been made to the number of persons in receipt of old-age pensions. The Minister, in his secondreading speech, told us that in 1939 there were 327,000 pensioners and’ that the cost of their pensions was approximately £16,160,000, whilst at that time. 81,000 persons received maternity allowance totalling £437,000. At present, there are “58,000 pensioners, the annual co?t of their pensions am our. ting to £29,500,000, whilst it is estimated that this year maternity allowance totalling approximately £3,000.000 will be paid to 197,000 applicants. These increases should give us food for thought. They reveal a flaw in our economy. They show that many are not, receiving a just reward for their labours, and that slowly, but surely, under our present economic set-up a great proportion of our people are becoming pensioners. I was impressed with the facts placed before the Senate this evening by Senator Collings when he pointed out the small percentage of our people who are in receipt of a decent living wage, sufficient to guarantee a reasonable standard of comfort. These facts should make us examine carefully our existing economic conditions. Is it any wonder that there is industrial unrest when we see the great majority of our citizens drifting into a position where they are obliged to apply for pensions? Is it surprising that our people are beginning to be fearful of the future? Senator Brand spoke of the necessity to increase production. We shall not solve this problem solely by increasing production. These people who are slowly but surely drifting into the old-age pension group gave of their best when they were capable of working. The fact that these aged people are drifting into the old-age pension group refutes the arguments of honorable senators opposite that the present generation of workers tend to go slow - and so not produce as their fathers did, because these are the very people whom honorable senators opposite laud to the skies. These are the people who, they say, did give of their very best when in industry. They were the bricklayers, carpenters and plumbers of a few years ago. They laid their 1,000 bricks a day. Yet, in the evening of their lives they are obliged to rely on the old-age pension. Therefore, we must effect a reorientation of the distribution of the wealth of our nation. It is no wonder that there is industrial unrest in this country to-day. The .fact that the cost nf maternity allowances will increase is something of which the country can be proud, because unless we build up a great, virile people, Australia will not remain in the possession of a white race.
The provisions in respect of the invalid pension have been liberalized. At the outlet, a person had to be permanently and totally incapacitated to qualify for the invalid pension, whereas today a person who is 85 per cent, incapacitated can now qualify for that benefit. All honorable senators will agree that the institution of the invalid pension was a very worthy provision. Invalids are a very unfortunate class of people. Whilst, many of. them were not old enough to qualify for the old-age pension they were too ill to undertake work, and, possibly, were not fit to undertake even the lightest of tasks. Many of them, of course, were tuen who had borne the heat and burden of the day, who had done the hard laborious work in the coal mines and in industry generally, and whose health broke down prematurely because of the arduous conditions under’ which they were employed. No succour was available to them and the introduction of the invalid pension brought a ray of sunshine into their lives. I regard the invalid pension as one of the most important of social service benefits. In more recent years, the conditions of the pension have been liberalized to permit pensioners to earn something to supplement theirpension. This reform also gives to those’ unfortunate people a more hopeful outlook on life. Previously, if they were detected doing little odd jobs they were 1:able to be deprived of their pension. Most honorable senators know of cases of invalid pensioners who have sought their . assistance to have their pension restored after it had been taken from them because they bad earned a little income selling a few newspapers, or running errands, and doing other odd jobs. “When such breaches . were reported to the authorities they had’ to be deprived of their pension under the terms of the act. This measure will give to those people new hope. Possibly from a small beginning many may be able to rehabilitate themselves completely, and eventually be able to do without the pension. That was the case during the war with scores of men in receipt of the old-age pension, who because of the scarcity of manpower returned to industry, and, of course, immediately went off the pension. Under conditions’ existing to-day no man, regardless of his age, will desire to continue to draw the old-age pension if he be given the opportunity to earn a living wage. We hope, too, that the sickness benefit will be increased. We may feel justly proud of the fact that the care of the sick is the obligation of the nation as a whole.
No. person needs assistance more than when sickness overtakes him. An illness may rob a breadwinner of his life’s savings. During my long experience in the industrial movement in this country, moving amongst the workers, I found that the mental anguish that many people suffer when they are thrown out of work through illness, and are unable to provide for their loved ones, retards recovery and in some instances leads to an early death. Now a man who falls sick knows that there will’ be something coming into his home to provide for his wife and family - not very much, it is true, but enough, to use an’ old saying, “ to keep the wolf from the door “. As time goes by I hope to see the sickness benefit so increased that it will guarantee beyond all doubt that a sufferer shall be free from economic worries.
We should appreciate this bill not only because it lays down certain vital principles, but also because it guarantees beyond all doubt that our social services legislation shall be free from the danger of being declared unconstitutional. Quite a number of the social services that we are now discussing are already on our statute book, but there was a fear, mainly as the result of the High Court’s decision in the Pharmaceutical Benefits case, that certain legislation might be declared ultra vires the Constitution. Fortunately, the people of this Commonwealth, showing great wisdom, gave an affirmative reply to one of- the questions submitted to them at the last referendum, and this Parliament is now able to pass this measure incorporating, the various social services acts already in operation. Once this bill has received the assent of the GovernorGeneral, we can assume that the .benefits that it covers are here for all time.
This bill is really the permanent foundation of the future social services structure of Australia. I have not the slightest doubt that as the years go by other men and women who take our places in this legislature will build upon this foundation, and, as I said earlier, Australia will again be regarded as the foremost nation of the world in regard to social services. We can so organize our economy that we shall guarantee security for our people from the cradle to the grave.That is what the people desire. If we can give to this nation peace and security, a fair share of the world’s goods, and an opportunity to lead a full and happy life,we neednot fear arepetition in this land of the violent upheavals thathaveoccurredinother countries, and which have brought untoldsuffering and misery in their train. We shallbe able to move along in an evolutionary way, fostering peace and contentment and building up in this country an economy that therest of the world will be proud to copy.
Debate (on motion by Senator James McLachlan) adjourned.
The following papers werepre sented : -
Air Force Act - Regulations - Statutory . Rules 1947, No. 53.
Arbitration (Public Service) Act - Determinations by the Arbitrator,&c. - 1947 -
No. 33- Professional Officers Associa tion, Commonwealth Public Service.
No. 34. - Commonwealth Public Service Artisans’ Association.
No. 35. - Amalgamated Postal Workers’ Union of Australia.
Commonwealth Public Service Act - Appointments Department -
Commerce and Agriculture-J. H. Kelly, J. N. Lewis.
External Affairs - C. Eaton.
Health - A. D.Cust.
Customs Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1947, No. 54.
Senateadjourned at 11.6 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 21 May 1947, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1947/19470521_senate_18_192/>.