18th Parliament · 2nd Session
The President (Senator the Hon. Gordon Brown) took the chair at 3 pan., and read prayers.
Acknowledgment by- His Majesty, thi King.
– I have received from His Excellency the GovernorGeneral the following communication in connexion with the Address-in-Reply : -
I desire to acquaint you that the AddressinReply at the opening of the second session
– In view of the continuance of the infantile paralysis epidemic in Western Australia, will the Minister for Health consider sponsoring investigation of or research into the causes of this disease?
– I appreciate the concern of the honorable senator regarding the incidence of the disease in his State. The Department of Health has been keeping in very close touch with what is happening in Western Australia, and I have been informed that the infantile paralysis epidemic there reached ite peak in the second week in July, when there were 22 cases of the disease. The latest figures that I have received indicate that the incidence of infection is decreasing, and it would seem that there is not likely to be an epidemic on a large scale. Research into poliomyelitis in Australia has been prosecuted within the limits of the technical facilities available. In 1938, the National Health and Medical Research Council, which is set up under a Commonwealth Act and which derives its funds from Commonwealth sources, granted a sum of £4,000 for research into the disease. Research was undertaken by Professor Burnet, of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, in Melbourne, in 1937 and 1938 and the results of his work were published in the medical press in succeeding years. A great deal of research into virus diseases is being done at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. The Commonwealth makes available to it a sum of £7,S50 annually for research of various kinds. In addition to that, as I informed the Senate some months ago, the Commonwealth has made available a sum of £20,000 to enable the institute to acquire a unit of plant from abroad for biophysical research. The honorable senator may be assured that the Department of Health is concerned about the
– Is the Minister for Health in a position to outline to the Senate the state of the negotiations with the British Medical Association regarding the pharmaceutical benefits scheme? If the negotiations are at such a delicate stage that it would not be politic to do this, I shall not press the question, but, in view of the interest of all honorable senators in this matter, any information that can be made available to the Senate will be appreciated.
– I have been at pains to. keep the Senate informed of developments in regard to the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. There is nothing to add to what I submitted to the Senate recently, other than to say that, in the very near future, I shall meet the Federal Council of the British Medical Association to discuss another aspect of health services. I expect that meeting to take place in Melbourne on the 26th October and it may be that developments relating to the pharmaceutical benefits scheme will arise from that conference. I undertake to keep the Senate well informed on the matter.
– The Commonwealth Government and the Government of New South Wales have each allocated £10,000 for the relief of victims of the recent floods on the north coast of that State: The parliamentary committee that inspected the flooded areas discovered that there had been an extraordinary growth of hyacinths on the land adjacent to the Richmond River and other rivers. Apparently when those rivers overflowed they deposited this weed on the surrounding land. I ask the Minister for Shipping and Fuel whether he will submit to the Government of New South Wales the question of declaring this plant a noxious weed, with a view to its eradication. I understand that there is a council by-law declaring hyacinths in the Tweed River district to be noxious and that there is an obligation on landholders to get rid of them. A similar provision couldbe made in other areas.
– The honorable senator will realize, of course, that this is a responsibility of the State Government. However, I shall make representations to that Government, through the Prime Minister, in an endeavour to meet the honorable senator’s wishes.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior whether the honorable senator who is Chairman of the Public Works Committee is also a member of the National Capital Planning and Development Committee, but does not receive the prescribed expenses of £3 a sitting day, or the expenses paid to members of the latter committee, because he receives a sustenance allowance of £1 2s. 6d. a day while in Canberra when the Parliament is meeting. If so, will the Minister make representations to have this anomaly adjusted.
– I undertake to place the honorable senator’s question before the Minister for the Interior and to obtain a reply as soon as possible.
Senator COURTICE (Queensland-
Minister for Trade and Customs). - by leave - In accordance with the Government’s decision to continue the rationing of butter and tea, arrangements have been made for a general issue of rationing cards on Saturday, the 27th November. The cards will cover a period of eighteen months, but this does not necessarily mean that rationing will continue for that period. The position will be closely watched and rationing will be removed at the earliest date practicable.With the discontinuance of clothing and meat rationing there will be only one combined panel of tea and butter coupons instead of three panels as in previous years. The work of issuing officers consequently will be greatly reduced and it will be possible to condense the issue into one day instead of extending it over two days as in earlier years. The issue will again be arranged by the electoral organization, generally in the halls usedon past occasions, but only on Saturday the 27th November. It will be necessary to produce the old 1948 ration card to obtain the new card. Consequently everybody should be careful to retain his present tea and butter ration card. The decision to continue the rationing of butter has been dictated by the necessity to maintain maximum supplies to the people of the United Kingdom. It is evident from the statistics which have been placed before the Government that rationing has meanta very real increase of the amount ofbutter which Australia has been able to make available to the United Kingdom. Prior to the introduction of rationing the per capita rate of consumption of butter was 341/4 lb. per annum whereas it is now 243/4 lb. per annum. These figures include butter used for catering and industrial purposes as well as for rations to individuals.
Were rationing to be lifted and consumption increased to pre-rationing levels, there would be a reduction of exports of approximately 32,000 tons per annum. In support of this statement I point out that the total exports of butter during 1947-48 were 84,000 tons out of a total production of 162,000 tons. This compares with an export of 59,000 tons out of a total of 171,000 tons produced in 1942-43. The ration will remain at the present level of 6 oz. a week with the proviso that, as at present, supplementary issues may be made to individuals suffering from certain specified complaints, and to expectant mothers. I am sure that most Australians will support the Government’s decision to ensure that the maximum possible supplies of butter shall be made available to the people of the United Kingdom whose diet has been for so long, and is still, very restricted. Butter exports are made available to the British Ministry of Food which determines the destination of supplies. I mention that fact because complaints have been made that, whereas Australians are quite happy to restrict their consumption of butter in the interests of the United Kingdom, they object to supplies going to other countries. An analysis of exports for the year 1947-48 shows, however, that 92 per cent. ofthe butter that was exported from Australia went to the United Kingdom,6 per cent, to other British countries, mainly for consumption by British troops, and 2 per cent, to foreign countries, the latter including butter for consumption by the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan. Protests have also been made that some of the butter sent to the United Kingdom is returned to Australia in the form of butter scotch and other confectionery. It is probably true that small quantities of butter are made available by the United Kingdom Government to manufacturers to enable them, by making token exports of confectionery, to preserve the goodwill built up over many years. The amountof butter utilized in this manner is Iunderstand, infinitesimal.
I n order to keep the price of tea within the limits of the average household budget in Australia, it has been decided to continue the subsidy on this commodity. Were tea rationing to be discontinued, it is quite possible that consumption would increase considerably with a consequential increase in the subsidy. In the circumstances, the Government is unable to see its way to permit the unrestricted consumption of tea, and rationing must be continued.
– During the recent visit of members of Parliament to northern Queensland, I was reliably informed that there are substantial deposits of tin and other metals in the Mitchell River. At present two or three men from Cairns, who are working only two or three days a month, are obtaining sufficient to provide a reasonable income. Because of the acute shortage of tin plate in Australia., will the Minister for Supply and Development investigate the deposits of tin and other metals in the Mitchell R i ver ?
– I shall be happy to direct the Bureau of Mineral Resources of the Department of Supply and Development to examine the Mitchell River area, and I sincerely hope that tin deposits, sufficiently large for com- mercial purposes, will be found.
Sena tor CRITCHLEY. - Is the Ministor for Supply and Development aware that viticulturists in South Australia are experiencing great difficulty in procuring supplies of the special wire that is used for trellising vines? Is he also aware that great damage was done to vines in South Australia during last week-end by the unusual wind storms that prevailed? If so, will he endeavour to expedite the supplies of trellis wire in order to protect the vines which supply to local and overseas consumers the best wine in the world.
– I shall be happy to inquire whether sufficient supplies of special wire of the type indicated by the honorable senator can be made available, so that the thirst of wine consumers in Australia and abroad will not suffer.
– Is the Minister for Supply and Development aware that there is a decided shortage of suiting materials - worsted, serge, linings, &c. - in Western Australia? Does he know that a Sydney firm is able to advertise that it can supply an unlimited number of suits throughout Australia and was able to book orders at the Royal Show, Western Australia, despite the fact that it has neither an office nor a factory in that State; the suits are to be manufactured in New South Wales and delivered to clients in Western Australia within 30 days of the date of the order? Can the Minister assist in having larger supplies of suiting materials and trimmings sent forward to Western Australia so as to relieve the embarrassment that is caused to residents of that State by the acute shortage of suitings and to permit Western Australian tailors and their workroom staffs to be fully engaged on the making of suits for local people, a trade to which they are rightly entitled but cannot accept on account of the lack of materials ?
– No constitutional power exists by which the
Government oan direct that supplies of suiting materials shall be diverted to Western Australia or to any other State. However, I have continued the practice, established by the Minister for Shipping and Fuel (Senator Ashley), when he administered the Department of Supply and Shipping, of enlisting the co-operation of manufacturers and members of the’ trade to assist in matters such as that mentioned by the honorable senator. Those interests have invariably been helpful when requests have been made for assistance.
– In view of the acute shortage of tinplate in Australia, can the Minister for Supply and Development give any information to the Senate as to what progress has been made in the establishment of the tinplate rolling industry in this country?
– Unfortunately, the beginnings of so important an industry as the tinplate rolling industry in Australia have been long delayed. As far back as 1939 an application was made to the Tariff Board to undertake a preliminary investigation which would lead te its establishment. However, if I remember aright, the users of tinplate at that time said that they were quite happy to depend upon imports from Great Britain. Unfortunately, due to the changes resulting from the recent war, Great Britain cannot now supply Australia’s demands for tinplate which have almost doubled within recent years mainly because of the great degree to which our food-canning industry expanded during the war years. The Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited has intimated that it intends to establish a tinplate rolling mill at Port Kembla. I do not think that that mill can be completed and in production for some years to come. However, that company is seised with the urgency of establishing the industry, which will be of great importance to Australia in both war and peace, and I am sure that it will lose no time in getting the nfill in operation. When that is done we shall become independent of overseas supplies of tinplate, which in the last two years have been in acute short supply.
Motion (by Senator Courtice) agreed to-
That the Senate approves of the distribution of the State of Western Australia into electoral divisions as proposed by Messrs. J. M. W. Anderson, W. V. Fyfe and J. G. Kilpatrick, the commissioners appointed for the purpose of distributing the said State into divisions, in their report laid before the Senate on the 6th day of October, 1048, and that the names of the divisions suggested in the report, and indicated on the maps referred to therein, be adopted, except that the name “ Curtin “ bo substituted for the name “ Stirling “.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator McKenna) read a first time.
[3.25]. - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
In his budget speech, the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) announced the Government’s intention to increase and otherwise liberalize certain social service benefits. It is now my pleasure to explain the increases and liberalizations which are provided for in the bill. The main features of the bill are, first, an increase of 5s. a week in the maximum rate of age, invalid and widows’ pensions; second an increase from 20s. to. 30s. a week of the amount of income which all classes of pensioners may have without the rate of pension being affected - in the case of a blind pensioner the increase of permis- . Bible income will be from £5 7s. 6d. to £5 17s. 6d. a week; third, the raising of the property bar from £650 to £750; and fourth, an increase of the rate of child endowment from 7s. 6d. to 10s. a week. As honorable senators are no doubt aware, when Commonwealth pensions for the aged were first introduced in July, 1909, the maximum rate of pension was 10s. a week, and the permissible income was also 10s. a week. From that time the rate of pension progressively increased until, in 1947, it reached 37s. 6d. a week.
However, the permissible income has only twice been advanced - on the first occasion in 1923 to 12s. 6d. a week, and on the second occasion, as recently as 1946, to 20s. a week. Widows’ pensions, which were introduced in June, 1942, have been subject to the same increase of permissible income as was applied to age and invalid pensions.
The effect of the increase of the rates of pensions and the raising of the permissible income will be that those age and invalid pensioners who are at present receiving payment at the maximum rate of 37s. 6d. a week will, in future, receive 42s. 6d. -a week, whilst those who are receiving payment at less than the maximum rate, due to income, will receive increases ranging from 5s. to 15s. a week. Those pensioners who are receiving reduced pensions on account of the value of their property will also receive increases beyond the general increase of 5s. Widow pensioners in Class A - those with at least one child under sixteen years of age - who are now receiving 42s. 6d. a week, will be advanced to 47s. 6d. a week. Widows in Class B - those over 50 years of age who have no children under 16 years - will be advanced from 32s. to 37s. a week. Widows in Class C will receive an increase from 37s. 6d. to 42s. 6d. a week. These are widows, without dependent children, who are under 50 years of age and in necessitous circumstances within six months after the death of their husbands. Women in Class D - those whose husbands are in prison and who are over 50 years of age or have at least one child under sixteen years - will be advanced from 32s. to 37s. a week. Widow pensioners receiving less than the maximum rate of pension on account of their income or the value of their property will all receive an additional increase.
In future, only income in excess of 30s. a week, instead of 20s., will be deducted from the maximum rate of pension. The amount of income which will preclude payment of any age or invalid pension to an unmarried or widowed person will be £3 12s. 6d. a week instead of £2 17s. 6d. In the case of married persons both of whom are eligible for pensions, it will lie £7 5s. a week instead of £5 15s. A married couple, both pensioners, will be permitted to receive an income of £3 a week between them in addition to a maximum pension of £2 2s. 6d. a week each, making a total of £7 5s. a week. A widow with at least one child under sixteen years of age will not be disqualified from receiving a pension unless her income amounts to £3 17s. Gd. a week, instead of £3 2s. 6d. as at present. Additional income of 5s. a week will be allowed in respect of one child under sixteen years if she is not in receipt of any other payment foi” the child. The amount of income which a blind person may have without reduction of pension will be £5 17s. 6d. a week instead of £5 7s. 6d. A blind pensioner will thus be able to have income, plus pension, amounting to £S a week instead of £7 5s. If both husband and wife are blind, they will be permitted to have between them an income of £5 17s. 6d. a week and to receive the full pension of £2 2s. 6d. a week each, a total of £10 2s. 6d. instead of £9 2s. 6d. as at present. Honorable senators will remember that, in 1946, the Parliament agreed to an amendment of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act whereby the limit of property, apart from a home, that a person may have without being disqualified for a pension was increased from £400 to £650. It is now proposed that this bar be raised to £750 and that the present scale of progressive deductions from pensions, which are £1 a year for every complete £10 above £50 for property up to £400 in value, and £2 a year for every complete £10 of property above £400, be varied to make the deduc-‘ tion £1 a year for every complete £10 above £100 in respect of property up to £450 in value and £2 a year in respect of property between £451 and £750. A liberalization on similar lines is provided for widows in classes B and D. The property bar for class A widows will remain at £1,000. There are no progressive deductions for property in the case of a class A widow and there are no specific property limits for cla.3s C widows.
As a result of the raising of the property bar, a number of people previously ineligible, will become eligible for pensions ranging from £15 10s. to £35 10s. a year. These are people with property, other than a home, valued at between £651 and £750, or .between £1,301 and £l/>00 in the case of married persons. Similarly, a number of widows, previously ineligible on account of property, will be brought into the pension field at reduced rates. Before referring to another aspect concerning pensions, I should mention that the bill also provides for an increase by 2s. 6d. of the rate of child endowment. As honorable senators are aware, the present amount payable is 7s. 6d. a week for each child under sixteen years of age in excess of one in a family. The new rate will be 10s. a week for each eligible child in excess of one.
Reverting to the subject of pensions, there is a rather important aspect which T desire to explain in some detail. Following the decision made in 1946 to increase the permissible income for age, invalid and widows’ pensions from J.2s. 6d. to 20s. a week, it became evident that a number of war pensioners previously ineligible for a civil pension because of the limit of income would be brought into the civil pension field. Although it was apparent that, at the outset, the amount of any civil pension that might be paid would be small, it was realized that, with every easement of the means test, the amount would increase until, ultimately, if no restrictions were imposed, the Commonwealth would be paying two full pensions to the same person, in many cases for the same disability. The easement of the means test now proposed would, in the absence of some restrictions, extend considerably the overlapping between different classes of pensions. The principle of paying only one Commonwealth pension for the same disability was recognized last year with the introduction of the Social Services Consolidation Act, in which a specific provision was inserted debarring a widow in receipt of a war widow’s pension under the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act from receiving, in addition, a civil widow’s pension.
The Government has given very careful consideration to this important question and has decided to impose a ceiling rate in any case in which one person is eligible to receive two payments from the Commonwealth by way of war pension and age, invalid or widow’s pension. These ceiling rates will not affect, in any way, the amount of war pension payable. In all cases, the war pension will be assessed and paid without regard to the ceiling rates. The ceiling rates will operate if a pensioner is receiving both a war pension and a civil pension, and even in. these cases income other than pensions will be allowed up to the full extent of the ordinary pension plus income limit.
For example, where a man and wife are in receipt of war pensions and both are also receiving civil pensions, the total I payments by way of pensions will be limited to £6 2s. a week, but, subject to the property test, they will still be free to receive other income to bring their total receipts up to £7 5s. a week without reduction of the civil pensions. Furthermore, the effect of the provisions of the bill will be that in no case will the com 1lied amount; at present being received by way of both war pension and civil pension be reduced because of the ceiling. In fact, the ceiling rates and other provisions have been designed to ensure that, in all cases, the increase of war pensions now proposed will be received in full without any reduction of the amount of civil pension at present received. The ceiling rates for dual payments by the Commonwealth, or by the Commonwealth and the Government of another country, in respect of civil pensions and war pensions, or payments similar to a war pension, are -
The?e ceiling rates will be examined from time to time in the light of any changes in the rates of pensions or the conditions of eligibility. The cost of the increases in rates of benefits and other liberalizations contained in this bill is £15,000,000 for a full year. This is made up as follows : -
The estimated expenditure on benefits administered by the Department of Social Services for the current year is £SO,000,000, an increase of nearly £16,000,000 over the actual expenditure during the last financial year. I commend this measure to honorable senators as a further important step towards the goal of social security for the Australian people.
Senator O’SULLIVAN (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Opposition) 1 3.39]. - On behalf of the Opposition, I have pleasure in supporting the general principle of this measure. It is regrettable in view of the importance of the measure, that 1 have not had more time to consider its details but, as J. have said, the principle of the bill will receive the support of the Opposition. There is hardly a matter of greater importance to the security, well-being, and general happiness of the people of any country, than social security. Indeed, it is of such importance that it should be removed far from the realm of party politics. Invalid and old-age pensions were introduced in the Commonwealth sphere by a Liberal government led by the late Mr. Alfred Deakin.
– Who supported the measure ?
– It was supported by the good sense of the Australian people, and, I admit, by the leaders of the then Labour party. Anything which tends to ameliorate the general conditions of the masses of our people ‘will always receive the support of all right-minded Australians, regardless of their political affiliations. It is to be regretted that there is a tendency to drag matters of national importance through the quagmire of bitterness, rancour, party dissension and discord. I have said on previous occasions, and I repeat now, that there is a definite obligation on a country to ensure that its deserving citizens shall he preserved from the horror of a term of penury in . old age, infirmity, or sickness. Frequent stress is laid upon the duty and obligation that a citizen owes to his country. That is quite true; but the country, on the other hand, has definite responsibilities and obligations to its citizens, and social security is not the least of these obligations.
I am sorry that our present social security scheme is not on a safer foundation. It is all very well, in times of buoyant revenues, such as we are now experiencing, for a bulging treasury to say, “ We can increase this or that allowance, and make greater provision here and further provision there “. The very basis of that policy is unsound. At present we are enjoying monetary buoyancy and extraordinarily high revenues. The treasury can afford to make payments which are not necessarily permanent. It would be a calamity to those unfortunate people who to-day have no source of income other than social service payments, should there be a collapse of prices through a recession or depression, leading to a reduction of those payments. That is why I urge most earnestly that social security should be removed entirely from the realm of party politics. Let men representing every shade of political thought, in the Senate and in the House of Representatives, get together, take evidence from the best actuaries and experts versed in matters of this kind, and then submit to the Parliament a scheme which will ensure permanent security. There is not the slightest doubt that should we experience a recession, the monetary figures now envisaged in this measure would have to be seriously reviewed. Another point which is of great importance is that there is a need for the linking of social service ‘payments, particularly those which may be the sole means of livelihood, to the cost of living. It is true that pensions have increased, monetarily, from 10s. a week to £2 2s. 6d. a week; but people cannot eat paper money. The unfortunate German people found that out when that country was littered with valueless paper currency. We should not lay the unduly flattering unction to our soul that we are over-solicitous of, or over-generous to, our pensioners, just because we have inr creased pensions from 10s. to £2 2s. 6d. a week. The point is, how much better off are the recipients in terms of purchasing power? How much more can they buy now with their £2 2s. 6d. than they could buy in 1911 with 10s.? The people cannot eat paper money or clothe themselves with it. They cannot house themselves under its shelter, although in Germany, during the unfortunate currency debacle that followed World War I., the Germans could have papered walls of mansions with valueless paper money. We do not want anything like that to happen here, and I do not think there is any risk of it at this stage. I do urge the Government, however, that when the monetary scale of pensions is being assessed due regard will be had to the purchasing power of the money at the time payment is to be made.
– Why did your party urge the people to vote “ No “ at the recent referendum on prices control?
-In my opinion, the conception of social services should not be so much to ameliorate bad conditions as to eliminate the possibility of any Australian having to face a penurious old age. There are many anomalies in the present system. For instance, we have the spectacle of the thrifty being given no more consideration than is accorded to the spendthrift. , We also have many instances of those who have contributed to superannuation or provident funds gaining no advantage from having done so. That applies particularly to members of the Public Service who contribute to a superannuation fund. As a rule, such superannuation or provident funds are supported generously by contributions from governments or employers as the case may be. Honorable senators must know of instances in which the very people whom we should encourage - the thrifty, who have of their own accord made sacrifices to provide against penury in their old age - now find themselves very little, if at all, better off than their fellows who have been spendthrift and prodigal. That anomaly should be removed. There is a great deal of commendable pride shown by a citizen who makes some contribution towards independence in his old age. Such contributions and the spirit of independence behind them should be encouraged. It is that spirit which has done so much to make Australia ti great and proud country.
I support the expenditure by the Government of a considerable amount of money on the encouragement of immigration to enable Australia to gain the right kind of immigrant for the purpose of further populating and developing the country. I have no criticism of such expenditure to offer, ‘but I consider that not sufficient money is being expended on the encouragement of the best immigrant of all, the Australian-born child. Statistics unfortunately do not show that more children are born of well-to-do parents than of those in poorer circumstances. There are many gallant women throughout the length and breadth of the land who are making great sacrifices; , they are, in fact, sacrificing their entire lives, in the rearing of families. That is a kind of sacrifice that it is not possible to repay in money. If such people cannot be repaid for making that sacrifice at least their sacrifice can be appreciated and their burden lightened by the Government making some financial contribution towards the provision of domestic assistance for them. Any mother with a large family, particularly one which includes young children, is virtually a prisoner in her own home. She works seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and only by the grace of kindly neighbours, relatives and friends is she able to leave the house at all with any feeling of security that her young children will be well looked after during her absence. I suggest, therefore, that the Government make a move to encourage a system which would provide domestic help for such mothers. In the past many people have looked down upon those who have engaged in domestic service. Obviously, many people feel that domestic service is looked upon as something degrading, and hence there is a shortage of domestic servants. Women and girls who in the past would have entered domestic service now feel that their lives will be happier if they work in a factory or shop. Their hours in such, work are shorter and they have more independence. In the past domestics were perpetually on the job except for perhaps two afternoons off each week. The Government. envisages an expenditure of £2,000,000 a year on a free medicine scheme. It will be throwing away money on medicine that the people do not want. If that scheme comes to fruition it is likely to cost more than £15,000,000 a year, [f the country has so much money to expend on social services and social security it can surely spare some of it to establish a scheme for the training of young girls in child welfare, domestic work, and cookery, and in giving domestic servants a status and a dignity which would lead them to take pride in their work, as well as a remuneration commensurate with the importance of the work they undertake. There is no work that can be more important than the encouragement of families and family life.
Turning now to the insecure foundation upon which the whole fabric of the Government’s social security programme rests, I point to the large expansion of the proportion of the population entitled to pensions. In 1920 the number of persons entitled to receive a pension, was 189 in every 10,000 of population and in 1947 it was 384. Unless we have a very substantial increase of the birth-rate those figures indicate that Australia could very soon become a nation of aged and declining people. The abolition of the means test, even on the present basis, will cost the country approximately £04,000,000 more annually in addition to the £36,000,000 now paid every year in pensions. That would mean an expenditure of £90,000,000 a year, which we might be able to afford in a period of extreme buoyancy, but unless we can evolve a scheme whereby people throughout the country will contribute to a fund established and maintained on an actuarial basis, those people dependent on pensions as their only means of protection in their old age will be very sadly disappointed, f say that, because I realize that, no matter what government is in power, the day must come when Australia’s present high rate of income, will recede. Any one who thinks that the extraordinarily high prices we arc now enjoying for our exports will be maintained in perpetuity will be very much disillusioned.
I give the bill generally my blessing and shall do all I can to expedite its passage. It is regrettable that the increase of pensions is not to be retrospective to at least the date of the decision to grant it. The Opposition will not cause any delay in the passage of the bill which would postpone the receipt of the increase by the pensioners. Even at this late stage, however, I suggest that the Minister in charge of the Senate take up with the other House the possibility of making the payment effective from the 1st July last.
– The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator O’sullivan), gave the measure his blessing and said that it should be considered from a nonparty point of view. I think that all honorable senators will agree with him that the matter should be approached objectively, but I deplore his subsequent, contention that the predecessor of the political party to which he belongs was the first to introduce age pensions in this country. Supporters of the Government do not deny that an anti-Labour party was the first to introduce age pensions, and I should have been quite happy to discuss the matter from a noncontroversial standpoint, but since the honorable senator went Out of his way to introduce political considerations into his remarks, he must expect to receive criticism in reply. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition referred to the rate of pension paid when age and invalid pensions were first introduced and compared the ratio of pensions to wages in those days with the present ratio. Although he did not adduce any statistics or mention any specific sums of money, he implied that the present Government was not treating age pensioners as well as earlier anti-Labour governments did. Although it is true that when age pensions were first introduced in 1911 there was no basie wage fixed by the courts as there is to-day, State legislation did prescribe a minimum wage The minimum wage generally obtaining at that time was £2 Ss.- a week, arid the pension paid was 103. a week,, which w’as a. ratio of approximately 20! per cent. The present basic wage fixed by the courts is approximately £6 & week, although many workers receive- considerably more by way of margins. Under this legislation age and invalid pensioners will receive £2 2s. 6d. a week, or approximately 35 per cent, of the basic wage. The reply to the honorable senator’s contention that the comparative purchasing power of pensions has diminished is that the ratio of pension to minimum wage has risen from 20 per cent, to 35 per cent., which is a. most substantial increase. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition also said that because a recession may occur in the future, the services of experts should be engaged to investigate the actuarial basis of pension schemes. Can any one suggest a sounder principle than i hat at present in operation, which requires that every person in Australia who receives any income must contribute towards social services? I cannot imagine any more equitable principle. Extensive researches have been conducted from time vo time, not only in Australia, but also in other countries, by actuaries and economists, and on their recommendations various schemes have been devised. However, those schemes have, without exception, broken down in times of stress, and recourse has had to be made to governments for financial assistance. The provision of direct assistance by governments must be a feature of any scheme. Under the present measure, finance will be provided from the contributions made by all who earn -more than £2 a week. The present scheme applies equally to those who receive £10,000 a year and to those who receive merely the basic wage; but under other schemes, such as those which have been devised by economists and statisticians, for whom the honorable senator professes such a regard, men with high incomes do not pay anything at all.
Since the contribution made to the debate by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was markedly political, I remind him that under the legislation introduced hy an anti-Labour government the practice of taking a lien on the homes of pensioners continued until only comparatively a few years ago. The idea of the lien was that the government could sell the pensioners’ homes when they died in order to recover the amount paid to them in pensions. Yet, members of the antiLabour parties venture to criticize the liberality of the social services provided by the present Government, and they suggest that the Government should seek the advice of experts to devise schemes of social security. In reply, I ask them whether the anti-Labour Government, which was responsible for imposing a. lien on pensioners’ homes, did so on the advice of experts. The honorable gentleman also referred to the maternity allowance, or “ baby bonus “, as it used to be known. Did the anti-Labour Government, which imposed a. means test on applicants for the maternity allowance do so on the advice of experts? Was it the experts who suggested that applications for a “ baby bonus “ of 5s. should be refused if the applicants happened to possess their own homes or a small amount of property? Contrast the miserable provision of £5, after application of a means test, made by the present Opposition parties when they were in power, with the policy of the Labour Government, which pays a mother a maternity allowance of £15 for the first child, without applying any mean? test. The allowance for the second child is £16, and is £17 10s. for the third child. Yet, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition says that the Government is not giving attention to the birth-rate. I trust that in the near future the Government will lie able to liberalize these benefits still further. In increasing child endowment from 5s. to 10s. it has again demonstrated its policy of giving first consideration to the claims of those who are in the greatest need of assistance. In what way could the Government do a better job in the existing circumstances? Certainly, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition suggests, it could call in the “ experts “ on whose advice anti-Labour governments provided a rigid means test in respect of the invalid and old-age pension, and took a lien on the homes of pensioners in order to recoup payments of a pension upon a pensioner’s death. The Government has also increased the income which a pensioner is. permitted to earn from 12s. 6d. to 30s. a week, and, at the same time, has completely eliminated the property bar in respect of a pensioner’s home. To-day, no person, otherwise eligible, is disqualified from receiving a pension because of the value of his, or her, home.
On the basis of a permissible income of 30s. for each pensioner, an aged married couple are permitted a joint income of £3 a week in addition to their pensions, bringing their combined income to £7 5s. a week. Yet, the Opposition parties 3ay that the Government should completely remove the means test. Apparently, they forget that thousands of workers in Australia who are married and have one child are not receiving an income of £7 5s. a. week. The Government has done a magnificent job in liberalizing these social service benefits, and I am pleased it has given first consideration to those most in need of assistance.
Like the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, I do not want to delay the bill. I am only sorry that these increases are not to be made retrospective at least to the 1st October, when the Government decided to grant them. However, the Government is not altogether to blame for the delay in making these increases available to pensioners. The Opposition in the House of Representatives has delayed the passage of this measure. Its tactics are in keeping with those of all parliamentary oppositions. The object of the Opposition in delaying legislation of this kind is, of course, to lead the people to believe that the Government is responsible for the delay. That is the only objective an Opposition has in hammering away at matters that are not urgent, just as the Opposition in the House of Representatives is doing to-day in respect of another subject. It is particularly pleasing to me to be supporting a government which is increasing these benefits, because for the last twenty years I have been a member of the social committee of the Australian Labour party, many of whose suggestions have already been embodied in the Government’s social services legislation. I am pleased to note that this measure goes a step further towards meeting the requirements of those sections of the community most in need.
– Like the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator O’sullivan), I do not wish to delay the bill. I regret that it was introduced into this chamber only this afternoon, and, therefore, we shall not be given ample opportunity to con sider the difficulties which are facing people dependent upon social services as the result of the high cost of living. All of us are aware of the struggle of pensioners to live on their pension. We have brought to our notice from time to time cases arising from such problems. 1 am glad, indeed, that these benefits are being increased. My only regret is that the increased payments are not being made retrospective.
One of the greatest problems confronting pensioners to-day arises from the acute housing shortage. That is a fundamental difficulty. Numbers of pensioners are now obliged to live in small rooms without heating and other ordinary domestic comforts. I urge the Government ‘to co-operate with the States in an endeavour to improve the housing conditions of pensioners. For this purpose, it should encourage the establishment of garden settlements such as exist at Chermside in Quensland. Honorable senators would be most interested in settlements of that kind, the primary object of which is to enable aged couples to continue to live together in their declining years. There is nothing more tragic than the separation of married couples in their old age under conditions which require the husband and wife to live in different institutions and under different care. In the garden settlements to which I refer a, small cottage consisting of a bedroom, a small living room, a bathroom and a verandah is provided for each married couple. Each cottage is surrounded by a garden which the old people can tend. In each settlement there is a central eating unit consisting of a lounge and dining-room, whilst the settlement as a. whole is in charge of an efficient matron. Only by that means can we really meet the needs of aged couples. I urge that settlements of that kind should be set up throughout Australia. It is not only unnecessary but also tragic to confine the work of caring for the aged practically to the capital cities. Settlements of the’ kind to which I have referred should be established in rural areas. Why should aged people be taken from surroundings in which they have grown old, and where, possibly, their families and friends still live?
Excellent work is being done in such institutions as the Eventide Homes, at Sandgate, but these institutions usually consist of a large building which reminds one of a ‘ hospital ward. The provision of garden settlements for the aged would obviate the unfavorable features of such institutions. This is a real necessity particularly when we contrast the happiness in which aged people are able to live in garden settlements with the very sad and tragic conditions under which others are obliged to live in small back rooms in congested suburban areas. I know that the Minister for Social Services (Senator McKenna) will agree with my suggestion that the Government should co-operate with the State governments in the provision of suitable housing accommodation for aged couples., and I am sure that he will commend the principle of garden settlement’s as a means of enabling aged couples to end ‘their years together and not in loneliness.
I also draw attention to a disability associated with the widows’ pension scheme which calls for sympathetic administration. Under the Social Services Consolidation Act, widows with the custody, care and control of one or more children are entitled to draw a class A pension.- I am gravely concerned about what happens to such women when their youngest children pass the age of sixteen years. At that stage they are immediately disqualified as class A pensioners. I have studied the act very carefully to ascertain whether they are provided for in some other class, but there seems to be no provision for such cases. In order to put the situation clearly, let us presume that a 2S-years-old mother, with a child one year old, loses the main bread-winner of the family. She then qualifies to receive a class A widow’s pension. Fifteen years later, when the child reaches the age of sixteen years and the mother is 43 years old, the pension ceases, l t appears to me that, unless she is then working for her living, she will be completely cut off from any source of income. If she is not working, her prospects of securing a job at the age of 43 years are not: good. I speak with certain knowledge of this anomaly, because instances of it have been brought to my attention on many occasions. It is very difficult to find employment for a woman who, for many years, has been solely occupied with the responsibility of raising her children. The woman whose case I have cited must wait until she reaches the age of 50 years before she can qualify for a class B pension. This is a very serious matter. A woman at that age is probably not in the best state of health and, if she has the added worry of the loss of her pension and the difficulty of finding suitable employment, her situation must be indeed unhappy. I urge the Minister to give sympathetic consideration to cases of this nature. I believe that they are numerous. I fully realize the difficulties involved, but such women deserve help and understanding. I believe that severe hardship occurs in many instances, and it is more difficult for a woman in the forties to withstand hardship than for a younger woman.
I also ask the Minister to review a problem associated with the permissible income for widow pensioners which, I believe, gives rise to some injustice. I appreciate the fact that the” permissible income will be increased, but I point out that the system operates unfairly against widows who let rooms to boarders. Their pensions are reduced by the amounts by which their incomes from rent exceed the permissible income limit. Their outlay on food, heat and lighting is not taken into account, although this expenditure, in fact, reduces their profits considerably below the actual rents received. If the Minister has not already reviewed this anomaly, I hope that he will give serious attention to it. I believe that some widows are losing a portion of the pension to which they are justly entitled. I do not wish to delay the passage of the bill. I welcome the increases for which it provides. My only regret is that they will not be greater and will not be retrospective to the 1st July.
.- 1 congratulate the Government upon introducing this very worthy measure. I also congratulate Senator Rankin upon the excellent speech which she has made. What a difference there was between her attitude and that of another woman member of this Parliament, who spoke in ihe House of Representatives on the same subject yesterday! The honorable member for Darwin (Dame Enid Lyons) begrudged the aged people the meagre allowances which they receive. Therefore, I was very pleased to hear Senator Rankin’s speech. I have heard on many occasions that all red-headed girls are good ! T support what the honorable senator said about the need to provide homes for aged people, but I know that the Government has already considered such a scheme. I have seen a copy of a letter that was sent by the Minister for Social Services (Senator McKenna) to an interested organization. It specified two types of dwellings, and I heartily agree with those specifications. The first plan envisaged cottages such as those of which Senator Rankin spoke. These could bc established in outer suburbs of major cities and in other convenient places. The second plan proposed communal centres in which, every occupant would have a bedroom, a living room, a kitchenette, a bath and a lavatory. I see no reason why married couples and unmarried pensioners should not live in such groups. The buildings could be constructed so that provision would be made for married couples in one section and for single people in another section, with a common dining room. Gardens could be laid out around the buildings. That is an excellent idea, and I commend the Government for giving consideration to it. I hope that in the near future the Minister will take action to put the plan into operation under the Commonwealth-States housing agreement. The Minister for the Interior (Mr. Johnson) has already issued instructions for the erection of such community dwellings for married couples and single pensioners in Canberra. This centre will be established in the suburb of Ainslie. Every occupant will have a bedroom, a living-room, a kitchenette, a bathroom and a lavatory. Provision will be made for the extension of the buildings if necessary. I am sure that the scheme will he welcomed by the people and will become an asset to the community. The inauguration of a Commonwealth-wide scheme on these lines would help to relieve the general housing shortage. I have already referred in this chamber on several occasions to the fact that one of my brothers, who lives with his wife and four sons in a tiny house at Hobart, has been told that he ought to board the boys out instead of applying for a larger house. That would be a disgrace to any community.
The Government has generously made provision to compensate invalid pensioners who, because of their disabilities, have to pay relations or other persons to look after them. This provision is greatly appreciated. I have in mind the case of an invalid woman whose husband once worked for me. When he knocked off work each day, the man had to go home to look after his wife, and a married daughter lived with the couple in order to care for her mother during the day. Because the husband was bringing income into the home, the married daughter was not able to secure any financial assistance under the social services scheme. I consider that the scope of the act should be widened to allow officers in charge of pensions to treat all such cases on their merits. The woman whom I have mentioned had to have sulpha drugs and insulin. These cost her 15s. 6d. a week, and the family had great difficulty, in meeting its commitments. This is only one of the many hardships caused by the refusal of the medical profession to operate the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. I hope that the Government will be able to do something to put the scheme into operation at a very early date. That woman could obtain free medicine if she were able to attend a public hospital as an out-patient. But, unfortunately, she cannot be moved out of the home and therefore is deprived of a benefit to which she is entitled. Lodge doctors today are not treating people fairly. If a member telephones a lodge doctor, hemust wait for at least 24 hours, and sometimes for two days, before the doctor will visit him. That means that people who require urgent medical attention can obtain it only if they pay for it. In addition, they must pay for medicine which they should be getting free. Unless the British Medical Association is prepared to co-operate in the pharmaceutical benefits scheme now, the Government should take early action to enable aged and infirmed people to obtain free medicine by some other mean.*.
L can see no reason why age pensions should not be entitled “ retiring allowances “. No stigma would attach to such a name. Recently I was told that some people refuse to apply for age pensions because of some imagined stigma, although they accept child endowment gratefully. I can see no difference between child endowment and pensions or other social services. They are all in the same category. Any person who is glad to receive a social service in the form of child endowment should be equally pleased to accept an age pension, or “ retiring allowance “.
I urge the Government to prepare a pamphlet setting out comprehensively and clearly all details of its social services scheme. Many people do not realize what benefits they are entitled to receive, and a pamphlet prepared in simple language would be of great help to them. Such a publication would be a valuable adjunct to the social services scheme. I hope the Minister will give earnest consideration to that suggestion. F again congratulate him and the Government upon the excellence of this bill.
– I support the bill and welcome the extra payments for which it provides, as well as its evidence of progress towards the abolition of the means test as applied to age and invalid pensions. In considering measures of this kind, it is well that we should refresh our minds about the history of social services in Australia. I am prompted to say that because the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator O’sullivan), speaking with some vehemence, said that the present method of financing social services was unsound. I gathered from the honorable senator’s remarks that he would favour the setting up of an independent body to determine a sound basis for financing social services. I take it that he has in mind an all-party committee of this Parliament. If so, no doubt he would agree to the appointment of three Opposition members and three Government supporters for this purpose. These could include, for instance, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Cooper) as the Opposition’s representative, and myself as the Government’s representative, plus two members from the Government side, and two from the Opposition side, of the House of Representatives. Apparently the honorable senator is not aware that a committee of precisely that composition conducted a thorough investigation of social services three or four years ago. It took evidence throughout Australia, and unanimously recommended to the Government that social services in this country should be financed by a graduated tax on incomes. Although we made that recommendation unanimously, we were not very hopeful that the Government would accept it in its entirety, but we were delighted to’ find some time later that the Government had decided to base its entire social security plan upon the committee’s recommendation. In fairness to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, I admit that he has not been in the Parliament long enough to know what has happened in recent years; but I assure him that the Opposition’s representatives on the committee were astute men, and were just as conservative as most members of the Opposition parties. Yet they were content to give unanimous approval to the present method of financing social services. T could deal at length with the evils of contributory systems, including the flat-rate contributory system, and the reason for the committee’s decision to recommend the present method, but I have no desire to do that at this stage. I assure the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that the committee was convinced that the present method was sound, and equitable, and could best meet the needs of the Australian community and I sincerely hope that the Government will not alter it.
– Is the committee to which the honorable senator has referred still in existence?
– I refer to the Social Security Committee. I understand that, owing to the withdrawal of the support of the Opposition, it has not been able to function for some time. That is regrettable and I should appreciate it if means could be found to revive that very useful committee.
In the last six or seven years, there has been a. complete realinement of social services policy in this country. In most British countries until about eight or nine years ago, there was a general feeling that people would be deprived of their spirit of independence if a government dared to offer them assistance when they fell upon ill times. In fact, the original poor laws of England were couched in such language that, whilst they placed an obligation upon local government authorities to maintain people in necessitous circumstances, they directed that this type of assistance should be. discouraged, and that people should be urged to find some means of maintaining themselves. Unfortunately, that philosophy has persisted in our community, even up to the present day. There are. still traces of it in this country. There are still people who feel that they should be ashamed to accept government assistance, but those who have taken any interest in social security will know that there are many members in our community, who through no fault of their own, but because of economic circumstances over which they have had no control, have encountered unemployment, sickness, or other hazards, and have had to rely on somebody else for their livelihood. From time to time, various charitable organizations have contributed to the assistance of those people, but until the beginning of World War II., very litt,le was done in this country to make adequate provision for them. When the Curtin Government came to office in 1941, one of the first tasks that it undertook was to overhaul our entire social security legislation, and plan a comprehensive programme. Up to that time, most of the efforts of our legislators, trade union officials, and others, had been directed to the improvement of the conditions and wages of those members of the community who were in employment. There was, of course, ample scope for such improvements; but that work took up so much time that little was done to provide social security for the community as a whole. We found that, from time to time, various pressure groups had forced their attention on successive governments, and that fragments of legislation had been passed by the various States to cure evils that had become manifest. But nothing had been done to draw up a general plan for Australia, and it was not until the Curtin
Government occupied the treasury bench in this Parliament that an effort was made to tackle this problem on a Commonwealthwide basis. A complete and comprehensive programme was drawn up, and during the last five or six years the Parliament has done a magnificent job in completely changing the face of social security in Australia. We have cast aside the old philosophy of the poor laws of England, and have determined a minimum standard of subsistence below which no Australian citizen should be permitted to fall no matter what misfortunes he may suffer. In implementing its social security policy, the Labour Government in Australia has set the standard for English-speaking nations. To-day, rates of pensions and other social services are being increased. We are building on the principles that we have firmly established. We are taking a step closer to the complete abolition of the means test, which, ultimately, will permit a Commonwealthwide superannuation scheme. By doing all that, I believe that we are rendering a great service to the Australian people and I am pleased indeed to welcome this measure.
– It is gratifying indeed to be associated with a government which, in the social security field at least, to” use a well-known paint slogan, “Keeps on keeping on “. It is encouraging, too, to note that members of the Opposition in this chamber are in favour of this legislation, and are prepared to co-operate with the Government in securing its speedy passage. However, I should like to make brief reference to several remarks made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator O’sullivan). This debate has been free from acrimony, but I believe that several points raised by the Opposition require an answer. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said that he supported the principle of the legislation, and that social security discussions should he divorced entirely from party politics. With that, of course, we all agree, but, unfortunately, members of the Opposition parties have not always held that view. I do not blame members of the Opposition in this chamber personally. They may be quite sincere when they express concern for the aged, and infirm, the sick, and others who need aid, hut throughout the years when the parties ro’ which they belong held office in this Parliament, very little was done to improve social services. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said that invalid and old-age pensions were introduced by the Deakin Government in 1909. That is quite true; but they were introduced on the representations, and with the assistance, of the Labour party. The honorable senator deplored the depreciation of the value of money and implied that, even with the substantial increases, pensions to-day had not the same value as they had years ago. I point out, however, that when the invalid and old-age pension was introduced, the basic wage was £2 as. a week and the pension was 10s. a week, or about 20 per cent, of the basic wage. To-day, due mainly to progressive increases since 1941 under Labour, the pension represent about 35 per cent, of the basie wage. Therefore, the honorable senator’s argument is unfounded. He also said that, under the present system of financing social services, there was no incentive to save because the spendthrift, had an advantage over the thrifty person. The Government does not believe that the social services which it lias introduced and is introducing will mean the millennium for the pensioners. We agree that there are anomalies which will remain until we reach the stage at which we shall be able to abolish the means test altogether. Until the means test is abolished completely there must be some line of demarcation and consequently some anomalies. All those aspects had to be considered when the Government was deciding on the benefits to be conferred. The increases provided for in this bill constitute only another step forward on the Government’s road to the complete elimination of the means test. Such goals, however, cannot be reached overnight. The economic conditions of the country must be borne, in mind when such steps are planned, and honorable senators must remember that while the. Government has improved social services it. has also reduced taxes very considerably.. Senator Rankin has deprecated the Government’s decision that the payment of the increases -hall not be retrospective. The Govern-
Senator Sandford ment regrets that it is not able to make them retrospective. But I think that everybody, particularly those who will receive the increases, will agree that it has done a remarkably good joh. Senator Rankin also said that she would like to see pensioners living in better houses, particularly those pensioners who are married. She mentioned a place in Queensland where there is a community centre for aged pensioners who are housed under good conditions. I remind her that there has- been a Labour government in office in that State for many years. Whilst I do not, doubt her personal concern for these people, I remind her that for many years non-Labour governments had the power to improve their conditions. Those governments did not have to contend with the difficulties which have confronted the present. Government since it took office. I refer particularly to the shortage of houses, which is a result cif lack of materials and labour. Those shortages did not exist in the days when antiLabour governments were in office, yet nothing was done by them to ameliorate the conditions under which pensioner? lived although they had the power and opportunity to act. They certainly did nothing along the lines that their supporters now suggest to the present Govern-‘ ment. Since the referendum in 1946, by which the people gave the Government the constitutional power to implement many more social services than were previously within its power to undertake, the Government has made great strides towards making the Australian people economically and socially secure. Let honorable senators recall that during all the time the Government has been improving such services it, has Been continually the target of agitations for further reductions in taxes. The Opposition parties have even decried, as being insufficient the very large tax reductions that the Government, has effected over the. last few months, but at the same time they hold that, it should make pension increases, retrospective,, and that, it could have made further increases of pensions, particularly to war widows, aged and invalid persons. Their arguments- are not consistent. Since 1946, when the Government obtained the constitutional power to implement its social services programme, it has, as I stated previously, gone a long way towards giving the people security. Opposition criticism of the bill has been negligible in this chamber, but in another place there was much criticism of this measure throughout the debate. “We, on this side of the chamber, are anxious to have legislation passed without delay so that the increases will bc available to the pensioners at an early date, and for that reason we do not intend to delay the passage of the bill. I commend the Government for the great increases it has made and I look forward to the time when the means test can be eliminated altogether. The Government has increased the permissible income from Q to fi 10s. a week, but honorable senators must remember that there are many age and invalid pensioners who are unable to earn anything at all. Because of that I personally look forward to the time when pensions can be raised to at least the level of the basie wage. That is the aim of the Government. Only if the people of Australia leave this Government in power will they have a hope nf seeing those improvements brought to legislative fruition, because there is no doubt that if a non-Labour government were to come into office it would run true to form and the people whom the Opposition parties represent in this Parliament would dictate its political policy. I believe, as I said earlier, that honorable senators opposite are individually very Much concerned with the plight of pensioners, hut unfortunately the interests they represent dictate the policy of nonLabour governments. Honorable senators know that from experience.
– The ho senator has been having a nightmare.
– No, but Senator O’Sullivan is having a nightmare, or a.- least he would have if his party took office and he endeavoured to put into operation the things that he advocates now, because the people who sent him here would dictate the policy of his party. As f stated once before in this Parliament Senator O’Sullivan was making such heavy weather that it was as if he were trying to swim in a sea of Queensland molasses. Apparently he is now repeating that performance.
The increases provided by the bill will he greatly appreciated by the people qf Australia. 1 commend the Government for what it has done in providing social services. Honorable senators on this side of the chamber realize, as do most people, that in present conditions it is necessary to hasten slowly. The increases provided are a tribute to the Government and an indication to the people of Australia of the Government’s earnest desire to implement legislation which will afford .them security.
– It is indeed pleasing to witness the Opposition’s approach to this measure, and to observe the gladness and happiness that pervade their comments on the Government’s action in doing a joh that’ the Opposition parties neglected to do when they were in office for many years. I do not say that honorable members of the Opposition are not humanitarian. Nevertheless it was the policy of the parties they represent that made it impossible for a comprehensive social services scheme to be introduced prior to the advent of a Labour government. Senator O’Sullivan has said he commended the provisions of the bill, and Senator Rankin has stressed that there should he further increases. That also is the view of honorable senators on this side of the chamber. But although honorable members opposite have expressed those opinions, they question the means used by the present Government of financing social security schemes and hark back to that old policy that the Opposition parties are still pursuing, under which every person, irrespective of his economic position or low income, should be made to contribute to a scheme. An honorable member in another place had quite a lot to say about the inequitable idea of the Opposition and delayed this measure for a considerable time explaining how the Government should introduce a contributory scheme for social services. The Opposition’s policy, which it outlined during the election campaign which followed its last period in office, provided for a contribution towards social security at a flat rate on every £1 earned. That policy could never have provided the reserves that the economic administration of the Labour Government has provided, not only to secure benefits for age and invalid pensioners, but also to extend the field of social services until the whole of the people are included. The National Welfare Fund which was established in 1943 during war-time, when the Government knew it had to meet, as it did in fact meet, big responsibilities, had sufficient money in it to provide a proper financial basis for a comprehensive scheme of social services. The Government has been so successful in its. policy that at the present time £8S,500,000 is being paid from that fund without embarrassing it, while enabling a reserve of £74,127,552 to remain in it. > When we analyse the contentions put forward by the members of the Opposition we realize that they are simply repeating the view expressed by a member of the last anti-Labour coalition government, who made the unequivocal statement that social services should be financed by deductions from the workers’ wages. Under any such system we should revert to the harshness of the old order, and persons who earn barely sufficient to keep themselves and their families would lie expected to make contributions which, to them, are substantial. Of course, the inevitable result of introducing any such scheme would be that poor people would he ‘induced to jeopardize their chance of participating in social service benefits because of their inability to make the necessary contributions. I do not propose to waste time by elaborating the deficiencies of such systems ; I prefer to emphasize the very real benefit conferred on the community by Labour administrations. As evidence of the liberal treatment given to the ordinary members of the community by the present Government, I mention that during the current financial year it is estimated that £44,100,000 will” be paid to age and invalid pensioners and £25,200,000 to recipients of child endowment. Those sums aggregate more than the entire financial commitments of preceding antiLabour governments. I think that the magnitude of the payments for social services adequately disposes of any criticism by .members of the Opposition of the National Welfare Fund, which is the means established by Labour to finance its schemes of social security. Had that fund not been established it would not have been possible to make adequate provision for the protection of the aged, sick and invalid members of the community. Under the present system the whole community contributes towards the cost of social services, and the result of that system of finance is beneficial to our economy, apart altogether from the moral consideration of giving every one an opportunity to take part in such a humane scheme. Unfortunately, even now, memb.ers of the Opposition, to judge from their utterances, do not realize the scope and magnitude of the Government’s plans for social security. Those plans envisage the provisions of protection and assistance for the victims of all kinds of misfortune. The criticism of the Government’s plan? uttered by members of the Opposition is concerned with minor matters of detail. For example, it was said that an A class widow, when she ceases to have the responsibility of maintaining a dependent child, becomes a B class widow, and under the present scheme is not entitled to any further pension. But the Government’s plan is a comprehensive one, and in such instances it provides unemployment allowances for widows who are unable to obtain employment. The Government is not content to limit social service benefits to those at present provided, and it is making strenuous efforts to provide new and additional benefits. For example, it has striven to provide free medicine for the community, and that boon would already have been enjoyed by the community but for the opposition raised by the anti-Labour parties and their friends.
Members of the Opposition made a great deal of the fact that an anti-Labour government was the first to introduce pensions for the aged and invalid. However, I remind them that the old-age and invalid pension amounted only to 10s. a week. I also remind them that credit for the introduction of that legislation should rightly be given, not to the anti-Labour party which was in power in 1910, but to the small handful of Labour members of the Parliament of that time who were sufficiently strong to embarrass the then
Government by voting with their opponents, used their pressure to demand some relief for the aged and infirm and by astute use of their minority were responsible for the government introducing that legislation. The present Labour Government has appropriated substantial sums from the national revenue for increased pensions for aged and invalid persons and widows and to increase child endowment and hospital payments. In addition, it has relaxed considerably the means test. It also intends to provide assistance for disabled persons and the unfortunate victims of tuberculosis and mental diseases.
The present Government has made strenuous efforts to provide decent housing accommodation for -pensioners. The high rents charged for accommodation available to pensioners has always been one of the greatest difficulties with which they have had to contend. Although members of the Opposition parties now profess great solicitude for the aged and infirm, they did not hesitate to oppose, with all the force at their command, passage of the proposal submitted at the recent referendum to continue the national Government’s power to regulate rents and prices. However, the present Government has been concerned for some time with the difficulty of high rentals which confronts pensioners, and even before the referendum was held it had taken steps to alleviate the lot of pensioners in regard to housing accommodation. It proposes to assist pensioners by making special housing provisions for ‘pensioners, and I trust that it will be possible for the Government to further implement its plans before the next, elections. During the general election campaign to be held next, year, members of the Opposition parties will again have to commend the Australian Labour party for its social services policy. The measure provides that the new scale of payments shall come into operation immediately upon the measure receiving the Royal assent, and I compliment the Government whip, Senator Clothier, for arranging short speeches on this bill in this chamber, and honorable senators, including members of the Opposition, on their cooperation in expediting passage of the measure by limiting their speeches to fifteen minutes’ duration. Had similar consideration for the members of the community who will benefit ‘by the passing of this measure been exhibited by members of the Opposition in the House of Representatives, instead of delaying the measure in that House by prolonging the debate unnecessarily, those unfortunate people would have received the benefits of this measure much sooner than they will.
– I congratulate the Minister for Health (Senator McKenna) on having introduced the measure, and I envy him the personal satisfaction which he must experience in having done so. It will give him lasting pleasure to realize thai he has been the instrument through which so much goodness will radiate throughout the community. The beneficent effects of this legislation will be experienced by members of the community throughout Australia. The improvement of our social conditions should also assist to attract many more immigrants of the right type. Incidentally, I notice an- increasing tendency on the part of member? of the Opposition to jettison their former views. I have noted with particular satisfaction that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator O’Sullivan) is “ coming our way “, a tendency which becomes more apparent every time he speaks. I realize the sincerity of his sympathy with those who will he concerned by the passage of this legislation, and I believe that if he were left to himself he would not offer any opposition to its passage. I am gratified at the change of heart which he is exhibiting, and that he is coming closer to us in his views.
– That is not so bad, because, after all, honorable senators opposite have not abandoned all the old Labour principles.
– I trust that the honorable senator will assimilate some of those principles. Indeed, I feel that we have only to correct a few misunderstandings which still remain in his political outlook and he will ‘be proud to join the Australian Labour party. AJ1 that will remain to be done will be to invest him with the halo which he will then have burned. However, in the meantime, I must endeavour to correct some of the misapprehensions under which he still labours.
I think that he rather resented a claim which I advanced recently to the effect that every progressive piece of legislation enacted in this country was either introduced or inspired by the Labour party. “When members of the Opposition so proudly mentioned the fact that a Liberal administration first introduced invalid and age pensions in this country, they overlooked the fact that for years prior to the enactment of that measure in 1910, a few parliamentary Labour stalwarts, under the leadership of the late Mr. J. C. Watson, who was affectionately known as Chris Watson, had fought strenuously for the introduction of that reform. It was because Mr. Watson and his followers held the balance of power between the anti-Labour parties in the Parliament that he was able to insist on the introduction of the Invalid and Oldage Pensions Act, which had to be wrung from the Liberal Government. Although. Mr. Deakin was the Prime Minister at that time, and the Leader of the Opposition still claims for him the credit for having introduced the measure, it must be borne in mind that his action was taken only under duress.
– The Hansard reports of that time do not support that view.
– Mr. Deakin introduced the measure only because Labour threatened to withdraw its support of his ministry. Similar considerations surrounded the introduction of the Early Closing Act, which removed so much of the hardship under which shop assistants, and particularly the youths among them, laboured. As late as half-past eleven on Saturday evenings, youths could be seen wearily making their way home from the shops where they worked.
The honorable senator alleged that there was a lack of stability in the foundations on which our present social services are based. When he made that remark I knew to what he was leading. Because of the insistence of the people with whom he consorts, he was going to advocate that social services should be based on a. contributory scheme. Inevitably, he would have proceeded to point to New Zealand as a shining example of a contributory national social services scheme. However, the truth is that in New Zealand ls. 6d. in the £1 is deducted from the wages of every worker, no matter how small his income may be. If the same principle were applied in Australia, even a lad earning £100 a year would be called upon to pay £7 in social services contributions. Under the present scheme those who receive the smallest incomes are not called upon to contribute for the social services to which they are entitled. The reason why Labour is reluctant to penalize them by exacting contributions from them, is that it realizes that the workers pay their tribute at the point of production in that they do not. get the full measure of their labour. Thai doctrine might be slightly socialistic, but I commend it to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition for his consideration. When he analyses it I feel sure that he will accept its truth, and that should serve as an additional reason to convert him to our way of thinking. The honorable senator’s charming companion in misfortune, Senator Rankin, professes to be deeply concerned about the sacrifices made by our womenfolk. In referring to the “ misfortune “ of the honorable senators, I have in mind that they are compelled, because of their political affiliation, to oppose the passage of humane measures which they must approve in their hearts. I agree with Senator Rankin that Australian women have made great sacrifices in the past, and no one can accuse me of a lack of sympathy with our womenfolk. However, I ask Senator Rankin what government first introduced maternity allowances? Was it not the Labour Government led by Andrew Fisher? Which party bitterly opposed the introduction of the maternity bonus? Which party spoke sneeringly about “Fisher’s flimsies”? The Liberal party. Indeed, one finds upon examination of the facts that very few reform? have emanated from anti-Labour parties. In view of the sentiments which Senator Rankin expressed this afternoon, she if. obviously in the wrong “ crowd “. She gave a dissertation on the garden settlements established in Queensland for aged couples. Having had the opportunity to inspect some of those settlements I agree that that method of housing aged people is most praiseworthy. I wholeheartedly support the honorable senator’s suggestions that settlements of that kind should be established throughout Australia. Therefore, I trust that when the Government introduces proposals which will to a large degree give effect te that suggestion Senator Rankin will support them. In view of the sentiments she has expressed this afternoon, I do not think that she could oppose them.
Recently, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition raised the old bogy of communism. It is deplorable that the Opposition parties, because they cannot advance a sound political argument against the Government’s legislation, drag in outside matters. Their method, apparently, is to drag out of the lumber room an old patched-up and hideous effigy, bespattered with mud and filth, which they display to the people as the symbol of socialism. The people with whom members of the Opposition parties consort are always scraping in the gutter for mud and throwing it at that effigy. I remind the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that whilst some of that mud sticks to the effigy, some of it also sticks to those who throw it. But for the apathy of the workers, the Opposition parties would not be able to raise the bogy of communism. Whilst some people hold up their hands in pious horror at this hydra-headed monster and claim that communism is extending its influence in this country- although I have not seen any evidence to support that view - the responsibility for any influence which communism may exercise in Australia to-day must be laid at the door of the workers who have failed to attend the meetings of their trade unions. The workers generally should take this lesson to heart and realize that their first duty is to attend meetings of their unions in order to ensure that control shall not slip into the hands of a few persons, no matter how earnest or zealous such people may be. Any influence which the Communists may exercise in this country to-day is due primarily to the apathy of the workers in that respect. The most important “ general “ in the world during the last quarter of a century has been “general apathy “. Perhaps, the present apathy of the great body of our people towards important national issues is due to the fact that through the radio they are able to get all the entertainment they need in their own homes. Through the radio they are able to listen to the best speakers of the day, whereas in the past the average worker gathered with his colleagues and friends to spend an enjoyable evening in friendly debate upon public questions. The capitalist class has “ cashed in “ on the radio and the movies insofar as those mediums of entertainment have diverted the mind of the average worker from important issues confronting the community. This apathy, if it continues, will prove fatal to the interests of the workers. I support the measure and commend the Government for introducing it.
– I congratulate the Government on introducing this measure. Even honorable senators opposite share our pleasure in that respect, although the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator O’Sullivan) qualified his praise of the bill. The people generally have been waiting with an air of expectation to ascertain the details of this legislation. I believe that the great majority will agree that the increases of benefits it provides are generous. As I have often emphasized in this chamber, the first duty of any government is to ensure the welfare of the country’s citizens. Like Senator 0’Flaherty, I deplore the tactics adopted by the Opposition in the House of Representatives with the object of delaying the passage of the bill, and I hope that the people will be fully informed of the cause of the delay in making available the increase of benefits to be provided under this measure. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition contended that the purchasing power of the invalid and old-age pension when it was 10s. a week was greater than the purchasing power of the pension to-day. Whilst Senator O’Flaherty refuted that argument, I emphasize the fact, which has so far been overlooked in that comparison, that when the pension was 10s. a week invalids and aged people did not receive any other benefits whereas, today, the Government has also made available to them hospital, sickness and pharmaceutical benefits. Therefore, the comparison made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition falls to tha ground, particularly when we realize also that living conditions generally have been greatly improved. Indeed, the spirit of reliance displayed by past generations in this country was attributable to the privations which the average” citizen was obliged to face in his or her every-day life.
Through the press and the radio opponents of the Government are contantly disseminating propaganda to the > -fleet that in providing these social services the Government is catering for the spend thrift and discouraging the thrifty. I am afraid that the spendthrift will be always with us. It is difficult to define a spendthrift. However, the fact remains that in the past the most thrifty people in the community, through no fault of their own, have often been denied i heir due.
– They never had a chance.
– That is so. No assistance was given to the thrifty in the early- days. Yet, the Opposition parties now claim that the Government is penalizing the thrifty. In advancing that argument they are obviously inconsistent. During every general election campaign they disseminate propaganda 10 the effect that the Labour party if returned to office will confiscate the lifesavings of the people. That, of course, is “ tommy rot “. Nevertheless, that is the sort of propaganda which the Opposition parties continually disseminate through the press and over the air. They cry from the housetops that a Labour government will spell red ruin and desolation. Thus, the Opposition parties are inconsistent in their criticism of the Government’s policy of providing assistance to those sections of the community most in need of help, when, at the same time, they claim that Labour will confiscate the life-savings of the workers. Something has been said in this debate about the sacrifices made by the women of the tuition in the pioneering days. I pay tribute to the heroic endurance of our pioneers generally. I know what my poor old mother had to go through before she received the war pension long after she had passed pensionable age. Her experience was not unique under the conditions that existed when anti-Labour governments were in office. She was typical of the pioneer women, of this country. I agree with Senator Sandford that Labour will not be satisfied until it can completely abolish the means test for social services benefits, or until the rate of the invalid and age pensions is equivalent to the basic wage. There is nothing wrong with that. Senator O’flaherty has pointed out that, under the provisions of this bill, a married couple in receipt, of the age pension will be entitled to have a joint income of £7 5s. a week. That is in excess of the basic wage. That being so, I can see no good reason why we should not proceed with a scheme to make the minimum rate of pension in Australia equal to the basic wage.
I have often been surprised, when travelling about Australia, by the general ignorance in relation to our social services scheme. Thousands of people aretotally unaware that they are eligible for some form of benefit under the Social Services Consolidation Act. This leads me to believe that it may be necessary for the Government to educate the public a.bout the social services which are provided for their benefit. That suggestion is well worthy of serious consideration because of its’ far-reaching importance to many deserving citizens. I hope that, the improvements for which this bill provides are merely the forerunners of many others. No citizen, irrespective of his walk in life, will deny, if he is a Christian, that this Government has effected many advances in social services legislation that will provide a greater standard of comfort and personal liberty throughout the Commonwealth. We all agree that Australia has great potentialities, and we support the Government’s plans to augment the natural increase of our population by encouraging the immigration of people who will adapt themselves to Australian conditions. The earnest desire of this Government is to provide in -the near future adequate benefits for all citizens in this growing nation.
– I, too, congratulate the Government upon introducing this bill, which proves the sincerity of its concern for the interests of those who are in want. We have heard a great deal about the introduction of the old-age pension in 1909 by an anti-Labour government, but a study of the history of social legislation in this country shows that, until 1939, antiLabour governments increased the pension rate only from 10s. to £1 a week. In fact, the Lyons Government at one time reduced the rate by 2s. 6d. a week. The Labour party, on the contrary, saw fit to increase the pension as soon as it came into power, and it pursued its policy even during the years of World War LI. lt will never deviate from its plans for helping those who are in need, either in war or in peace. Since the Labour party came into power in 1941, the rate of age and invalid pensions has been increased from £1 to £2 2s. 6d. a week, the rate which is provided in the bill now before the Senate. In criticizing this measure the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator O’Sullivan) said that the party which he represents would not take the responsibility of refusing to make the increase retrospective. He also declared that the present economic buoyancy of Australia would not last and warned us of what may happen if a slump occurs. [ remind him that, since the end of the war, this Government has given effect to its policy of full employment, has provided security for a majority of the people, and has stabilized the buoyancy of our economy. This prosperous state of affairs will continue for many years under Labour party administrations. The honorable senator also said that pensions had little purchasing power because of the diminishing value of our currency, and spoke about the “ paper money “ that was issued in Germany. We all know that the value of the Australian £1 note has deteriorated considerably in the last few months, but the Opposition parties must take the blame for that. They very forcefully opposed the Government’s proposals during the referendum campaign in relation to the control of rents and prices. They induced the people - I will not say by fair means - to vote against the Government. What has been the result of that referendum? State governments, particularly the Government of Western Australia, already would gladly return to the Commonwealth the powers which it previously held. They wish that the question had never been put to the people because they find that they cannot even control the prices of goods manufactured within their own borders, much less those of products brought from other States.
The pension increase provided for in this bill will be of great help to many retired people, particularly those who haw contributed to superannuation schemes. Former State public servants in Western Australia, who are now receiving superannuation allowances up to £3 a week, will be in the happy position of receiving a? much as £7 5s. a week, if they are married. That is 30s. a week more than the basic wage. A man and wife who own their own home can live comfortably on £7 5s. a week. Their situation in future will be vastly better than was that of pensioners in 1936-37, when the Lyons Government reduced the pension rate to a miserable 17s. 6d. a week. In those days, if an old-age pensioner owned his home, the Government had the right to sell it upon his death in order to recoup some -of tincost of the pension that had been paid to him. That is the sort of thing thai the Opposition parties stand for! Ye they attack this Government, which ha> rectified all such anomalies, and say that they will not be responsible for not making the increased pensions payable retrospectively. Can anybody imagine h Liberal government being “liberal’’ enough to introduce a measure providing better pensions for the aged, the invalid and widows, and, in addition, making the increases retrospective over a period of four months? There is no record in the history of this Parliament of an anti-Labour government doing any such thing. Members of the Opposition camouflage their real opinions and make wonderful promises about all the good things they would do, if they had the power, for the people whom they have kept on a minimum standard of living over many years.
– They are trying to put on sheep’s clothing now.
– Exactly. Mothers will benefit considerably from the provisions of this bill. The maternity allowance has been increased from £4 10s. to a minimum of £15, increasing to £17 10s. for the third and subsequent children in a family. Can anybody imagine a Liberal government making such increases? Of course not ! The record of Labour governments in the field of social services since 1941 is remarkable. The Curtin Government had genuine sympathy for our less fortunate citizens, and it was prepared to sacrifice some of its revenue from taxes, in spite of .heavy war-time commitments, in order to provide a little relief for pensioners. The policy of the present Government is to reduce taxes wherever possible, but, at the same time, to liberalize social services. It has already relieved the workers of a great deal of their former burden of taxation, and it lias also extended and increased social services over a wide range. In the light of these facts, one is entitled to wonder whether members of the Opposition are sincere in their criticism. It is all election propaganda, but I am sure that pensioners and other people receiving social service benefits will not forget who has been responsible for the increased payments, and will express their views in a most definite manner at the next elections. I have no doubt that, despite the Opposition’s propaganda campaign, Labour will be returned to the treasury bench with just as big a majority as it has at present. We are not afraid of the misleading statements that are being circulated in the press, and over the air. Labour’s legislation, particularly its social security measures, will stand Labour candidates in good stead for many years to come. Some people seem to believe that by making wild statements they will impress the electors; but the speeches of Opposition members in the House of Representatives are all part of a political stunt. Ever since the Commonwealth Parliament has been in existence, the parties now in Opposition have always endeavoured, during the brief terms of office of Labour governments, to persuade the people of this Commonwealth that Labour should not be permitted to retain occupancy of the treasury bench. Unfortunately, on occasions, some members of the Labour party itself have voted against Labour governments. Already, the present administration has an enviable record, particularly in regard to social services legislation, and I am convinced that this record, together wilh further enlightened legislation that will be introduced, within the next twelve months, will so impress the people of this country, that it will be impossible for the Opposition parties to regain office. Labour has never made wild election promises. I admire the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley), as 1 admired the late Mr. John Curtin, for his restraint in that matter. At the last election campaign, the Prime Minister made no promises at all, but I am sure that the achievements of his Government will be recognized by the people when they are called upon to cast their votes next year. The Prime Minister and members of his Cabinet should be given full credit for the- valuable service that they have rendered to Australia.
– The introduction of this progressive legislation has not come as a surprise to me, because it is only a further indication to the people of this country th at this Government is prepared to fulfil its obligations under the Atlantic Charter. Labour subscribes to the four freedoms, two of which are freedom from fear and freedom from want. Every piece of legislation that this Government introduces to improve the social welfare of the people of this country, is a further indication that it is prepared to do its utmost to adhere to the principles of the Atlantic Charter. As long as this Government continues to safeguard the welfare of the Australian people, this country has nothing to fear from fascism, or communism or any other “ ism “.
– Or liberalism.
– Yes, I think we can even include liberalism. All that a grateful people require of the Government is that they shall have a fair measure of social security. With the passage of time, and the changes brought about by the two wars, we have been forced by economic circumstances to make much larger contributions to some of our social service funds than probably would have been necessary had we been pegged to 1939 standards. This has been due to the increased prices of most consumer goods and higher rents. It has been necessary to offset those increases by increasing social service payments. I am confident that as long as we safeguard the health of our people and meet their social needs, we need not fear the introduction of any alien political philosophy.
I should like to make some observations on matters that have been raised by the opponents of our social services programme. It is gratifying that both members of the Opposition in this chamber have agreed to the Government’s request for the speedy passage of this measure. They believe, I have no doubt, that it is a step in the right direction. However, they have sounded notes of warning which, I consider, call for some criticism. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition claimed that the financial basis of our social services was unsound, and suggested the introduction of a contributory scheme based on earnings. That is not a new suggestion. It has been an issue at elections, and the people of this country have, by their votes, indicated their opposition to it. The warning notes struck by Opposition speakers do not ring sincerely because obviously should we encounter a period of adversity sufficiently serious to prevent a government from meeting its commitments under the law of the land, then, whether the social services scheme be financed by the present method, or by any other method, the result would be the same. There would be so many people out of work that contributions to the social services funds would be insufficient to cover the payments from, those funds. Social services contributions by those who remained in employment would constitute a heavy burden. I believe, therefore, that we should give the matter very serious consideration indeed before deciding to abandon the present method of financing social services, under which the greatest contribution is made by those who can best afford it. I do not think that very many people in this country have strong objection to this method. After all, should economic conditions become so unfavorable as to warrant reconsideration of the method of financing our social services scheme, we should also have to review the measure of the benefits that were payable. However, that is a hurdle that we can jump when we come to it. I believe that we should continue on the sound lines that we have laid down, and let the greatest contribution to the National Welfare Fund be made by those who can best afford to make it.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said that while he agreed with the Government’s policy of migration, the best migrants were natural-born Australians. That is a sentiment to which we all subscribe, but let us review the population position. Years ago, the ambition of many of the most poorly-paid people in the Commonwealth seemed to be to have as large a family as possible. In fact, they vied with each other for this distinction. “Unfortunately, people in the more privileged sections of the community did not share this enthusiasm, and restricted their families.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– As it is the Government’s desire that this measure shall be passed with a minimum of delay to permit the earliest possible payment of the increased pensions for which it provides, it is not my intention to take up unnecessarily the time of the chamber in discussing at length the criticisms that, have been made of the bill. It must be pleasing to the people to know that the promises which were made during the war by the Government, when it stated that when peace came a new order would be instituted, are being kept. The Government has shown, by the legislation that has been enacted since the war, that it will do everything possible, within the limits of the Constitution, to give effect to its promises. It is to be regretted that the people did not see fit to concede greater powers to the Government so that it could give fuller effect to its promises of a new order. The Government is determined, however, to meet its promises as far as it possibly can within constitutional limits. The provisions in the measure before the chamber are another step which shows the sincerity of the Government in honouring its promises. When the sitting of the Senate was suspended, I was discussing the statement of the Deptuy Leader of the Opposition (Senator O’sullivan) that the natural-born child was the best immigrant. While I concur in that sentiment I fear that the days of large families have gone. There are several reasons for that fact, one of which is that people no longer desire to bring children into the world unless they are sure that they will be able to afford to provide them with a high standard of living and education. The result is that we no longer see families of eighteen or twenty children as in days gone by. People to-day endeavour to restrict the size of their families to conform with their means. Child endowment is one encouragement to people to have more children, but there are other major factors which have to be considered before we can achieve an improvement of the birth-rate. One of these is the necessity to provide cheap and adequate accommodation for large families and also to establish a system which would make domestic help available for mothers, ft is a physical impossibility for mothers of large families to enjoy any great degree of comfort without domestic help. Because of the shortage of domestic labour at present we shall have to rely on immigrants to populate this country. The better the conditions we can offer them the more likely we are to gain the desired result, which is more domestic help for mothers who will then be more willing to have large families. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition stated that because of the system of financing the Government’s proposals the thrifty individual would be placed on the same level as the spendthrift. I cannot agree with him in that contention because u lider the system of financing the scheme everybody pays in accordance with the amount he earns, and whether he be thrifty or spendthrift, a man who comes within a taxation field will pay in accordance with the amount he earns. The thrifty man does not lose by virtue of the fact that he has been thrifty. He may have subscribed to a superannuation or provident fund which will provide him with an annuity when he reaches the retiring age of 65-
– That annuity is taken into account when the amount of pension that he will receive is assessed.
– He could still draw that annuity and receive the age pension.
– That is not the position.
– The spendthrift who has made no provision for his old” age would only be able to draw the actual amount of pension provided under the act. A man who was drawing an annuity of £3 a week would not, provided he was married, have his pension affected. - that is, provided he did not have more money in the bank than the act will allow.
– The permissible income is only £1 10s. a week.
– It is £1 10s. a week for each individual. I understand that a married man could have a separate income of £3 a week without his pension being affected.
– Perhaps the Minister will clear that point up later.
– I understand that I am correct. A pensioner who also received an annuity of £3, a week would be entitled to own a home, even if it were valued at many thousands of pounds, without his pension being affected, provided he resided in that home. I have made it clear that the provisions of the bill do not penalize the thrifty individual. I should say that a man who retires with an annuity of £3 a week has been fortunate as he has had employment throughout his lifetime which has enabled him to contribute to a fund to provide him with that annuity. There are many thousands of workers who have not had that opportunity. One of the most regrettable features of the scheme is that whilst a thrifty man who has contributed for an annuity and owns and occupies a home of great value receives a pension his neighbour, who may not have been able to purchase a home although he may have the value of one in money, is excluded by his possession of that money from obtaining the full pension. He would have to put that money into the purchase of a home and bring his savings down below the limit provided by the act before he would he eligible to receive the full rate of pension.
Whilst the Opposition must be credited with introducing child endowment when it was in office, I very much regret the manner in which the child endowment scheme was born. It came into being because of the fact that it was a recognized principle at that time that the basic wage was intended to meet the needs of a man, a wife and three children. Because of the clamour in the country for an increase of the basic wage to meet increased prices the government of the day decided it had to do something, ft was advised by the then President of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court that the basic wage was only sufficient to provide for a man, his wife and one child. In answer to the clamour for an alteration of the basis to make the wage sufficient for a family unit of four the government of the day introduced child endowment. That meant that there were thousands of workers in Australia who were entitled to an increase of wages but who were cheated of it by the adoption of child endowment, which enabled the Government to avoid altering the formula on which, the basic wage was fixed. It is ro the credit of the present Government that it has increased child endowment payments, which are now received by thousands of people who because they are in a low income group do not contribute a penny towards the fund from which the payments are drawn. It will take a lot to convince the people that a departure from the present system of financing social services would be desirable. They would not desire to change over to the principle enunciated by the Deputy Loader of the Opposition which was that everybody should contribute according to his earnings. Adoption of that principle would mean that many people who could ill afford to make contributions would be brought into the contribution field. I commend the bill and hope that the Government will continue with the good work of providing for the social and economic welfare of the people, and T. believe that as long as the reins of government are entrusted to those who now hold them we need have no fear for the future prosperity and welfare of Australia.
.- In considering the bill before the chamber one must examine the origin of our pensions scheme. Prior to federation and the introduction of the Commonwealth pensions scheme, certain of the States had pensions schemes. In 1909 the Labour party, which held the balance of power in the federal sphere during the Deakin Government’s term of office, bargained with that Government for the introduction of an age pension scheme. In return for the Government’s introduction of the pensions scheme the Labour party supported the administration, and enabled it to carry on for a short space of time. This afternoon the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator O’Sullivan) compared the value of the 10s. pension paid in 1909 with the £2 2s. 6d. to be paid under the bill that the chamber is debating. I point out to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that although 10s. was the amount payable in 1909, large numbers of age pensioners in 1909 did not receive the full amount, but only 5s. or 7s. 6d. Prior to 1909 old people had to rely on what their children, earned as there were then no pensions provided for them. I particularly desire to impress upon age and invalid pensioners, widows and those unfortunate people afflicted with blindness who may happen to he listening te the broadcast of the parliamentary proceedings, that the Government is genuinely perturbed that it has been unable to carry out its intention to pay the increases on the first pay day of the present month. Its intention was frustrated bv the course of events in the House of Representatives, and for a. time it seemed that the unfortunate members of the community who are dependent upon social service benefits would have to wait for payment of the increases until the first pay day in November. However, the Government has now devised means to overcome that difficulty, and if nothing untoward occurs it seems reasonably certain that the increased payments will be made about the 21st October.
The honorable senator also said that our scheme of social services was based upon unsound principles, and he suggested that it should be subjected to examination by actuaries. However, I remind him that the social services legislation introduced by the last anti-Labour government was based upon the recommendations of Sir William Kinnear, the administrator of a similar scheme in Great Britain, who was brought to this country to advise on the matter. Notwithstanding the advice received from that gentleman and other authorities, the scheme evolved by the United Australia party government of that time was so futile that it was never implemented although the legislation had been .passed by both Houses of the Parliament.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition sought to make a point by saying that our aged people cannot eat paper money. E imagine that he had in mind the tragic experiences of the people of Europe in the immediate post-war period, seme of whom found that they required 500,000 marks to purchase a box of matches. However, Labour would never tolerate such a state of affairs in this country. Our note issue has a solid backing, and pensioners and recipients of social service benefits need not have the slightest fear that they will not obtain proper value for their money. It is idle fc-r Senator O’sullivan to suggest that because pensions and other social service payments are made in paper money the recipients do not obtain proper value for them, and I do not propose to waste time on that aspect of his criticism. Members oi the Opposition sought to take credit for the action of the Liberal government which introduced the Invalid and Oldage Pensions Act in 1908, but I think that my colleagues have clearly demonstrated that the Liberal administration of that time would never have introduced such a measure had it not been for the insistence of the small group of Labour members of the Parliament which compelled them to do so. The Leader of the Opposition alleged that money was being wasted on free medicine.
– I said that it was a waste of money to allocate money for free medicine when it is not being spent.
– If money, which has been allocated for a particular purpose, is not spent it cannot be said to have been wasted. Although members of the Opposition have attacked the pharmaceutical benefits scheme, I have no doubt that if they were returned to office at the next or some succeeding elections they would applaud the idea and claim that they had always approved the principle. With regard to the interjection made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition concerning the means test during Senator Finlay’s speech, the position is that only the joint income of a married couple who apply for the age pension is taken into account. As an example, an applicant for the age pension may receive payment of four units from a State superannuation scheme which amounts to £3 a week. If he has no property, or the amount of money which he has in the bank does not exceed £200, he is entitled to receive an age pension of £4 5s. a week for his wife and himself, so that their total income amounts to £7 5s. At present a man and his wife who apply for the age pension are not entitled to receive the pension if each of them possesses property to the value of more than £50. In this legislation the Government proposes to double the permissible amount of property which they may possess, and in addition they may have £200 in the .bank) with.OUt impairing their eligibility for a pension. They may also own the home in which they reside.
The Government is particularly anxious to protect wage-earners with large families, ;and this measure provides that a man who has three or four children to support and receives only £7 10s. a. week shall not pay any social service tax. Special consideration has been given to persons afflicted with blindness, and the Government proposes to increase considerably the amount which they are entitled to earn without depriving them of a pension. Child endowment has also been increased to 10s. a week, and maternity allowances have been increased over the original payment by approximately 300 per cent. I recall that when legislation to provide for payment of maternity allowances was first introduced by a previous Labour government members of the United Australia party in the Parliament ridiculed the measure, and stigmatized it as one to provide for “ baby bonuses “. Nevertheless, that legislation was enacted, and today no anti-Labour party would dare to attempt to remove that legislation from the statute-book.
I consider that the present measure is one of the finest attempts ever made by any government to achieve social security for its people. The passage of this measure will give to people a degree of social security which was absolutely undreamed of even a few years ago. “When this bill becomes law the parents of families will receive 10s. a week for each endowed child, and I invite honorable senators to consider what a boon that will be to many parents of young families. The present Government is truly a Labour Government, and its members and supporters are earnestly endeavouring to make this country a better land for us all. Before concluding I desire to record my appreciation of the co-operation extended to the Government by all members of the Senate, including members of the Opposition, who have agreed to limit the time of their speeches in order to facilitate the passage of the bill. We all realize that prompt passage of the measure will enable recipients of social service benefits to obtain early payment of the amounts to which it entitles them.
– The bill is designed to amend the Social Services Consolidation Act 1947, which already provides a generous measure of social benefits for the community. At the outset I point out that the provision of social services is an entirely different thing from the establishment of real economic security, but this measure is a most important step towards establishing economic security. I agree wholeheartedly with the principles contained in the bill, and my only regret is that those engaged in industry will have to wait till they are 65 years old, in the case of men, or 60 years old, in the case of women, before they can obtain the benefit of one of its chief provisions, the increased age ‘ pension. Those who are now retiring from industry and will enjoy the increased benefits conferred by the bill have, for the most part, been engaged in industry for more than fifty years, and in that time they have undoubtedly contributed to the community more than sufficient to justify some recompense.
Senator Katz explained that a previous Labour government introduced legislation to provide maternity allowances. I remember the debate which took place at that time. One of the main arguments used against the measure by Labour’s opponents was that the payment of “ baby bonuses “ would encourage our girls to go wrong. However, that prophecy was not proved true, because our girls did not go wrong to the degree predicted. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator O’Sullivan) said that the Opposition parties would support any legislation which was in the interests of the people as a whole. I was pleased to hear him make that statement, but it is not borne out by the facts, because, when the Government asked the people to alter the Constitution to enable it to continue prices control on an Australiawide basis, the Opposition parties opposed that proposal.
– Because it was obviously not for the people’s good.
– I am astounded at the honorable senator’s reasoning. With the cessation of prices control by the Commonwealth, the people can now be freely exploited by the interests which the Opposition parties represent. Already, prices are rising; the people’s bread and butter is becoming more and more costly. Consequently, the honorable senator’s statement is not borne out by the facts. Indeed, there is danger that prices will rise so rapidly that pensioners will be deprived of the full value of the benefits embodied in this measure. Probably, these increased benefits will be needed to chase high prices, and thus the Government’s intention in introducing the measure will be defeated. Should prices continue to rise, inflation will rapidly ensue. The people should be told over and over again that they have been misled by the Opposition parties which pretend to be their friends.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition also said that the Opposition parties would support any proposal that would benefit the people. But what are the facts? When invalid and old-age pensions were instituted in 1908 the permissible income of pensioners was fixed at 10s. a week and remained at that figure until 1923. From that year until 1946 anti-Labour governments were in office, with the exception of a few years, but they did nothing to increase that permissible income which meant that if a pensioner’s income exceeded 10s. a week his, or her, pension was reduced accordingly. Despite that fact, the Opposition parties now shed crocodile tears and say they are fighting in the interests of the people. When governments which they supported were in office for over twenty years they made no attempt to increase that limit of permissible income. However, in 1946, the Labour Government increased it to 20s. a week, and under this measure it will be increased to 30s. a week for each pensioner. The Government has undertaken to relax the means test gradually with a view to its ultimate abolition. I am afraid that it will not be completely abolished for some years to come. However, the means test is not now applied in respect of persons in the lower income groups. We must always remember that under the present capitalist system the Government must rely almost solely upon taxation in order to finance social services, In those circumstances would it be wise to abolish the means test completely and permit all persons regardless of their income to qualify for pensions? It would be absurd to say that a man earning an income of £1,000 a year should, upon reaching pensionable age, automatically apply for a pension, particularly when his needs at such an age would be diminishing. However, the means test should he relaxed in gradual stages. The permissible income for each pensioner of 30s. a. week means that an aged couple may have an income of £3 a week and each still will be eligible for the maximum pension. 1 hope that permissible income will soon be raised to £6 a week in order to enable persons in receipt of superannuation benefit up to that amount to qualify for the age pension.
The Opposition parties claim that they ure fighting battles of the worker. When this Government assumed office expenditure on social services totalled £16,000,000 a year, whereas to-day it is expending nearly £90,000,000 annually under that heading. That money is being kept in circulation because those who receive it depend upon such benefits to enable them to purchase the necessaries of life. The money is being returned to people who, in their younger days, helped to produce the wealth of the nation. In their old age they are entitled to the greatest measure of security that the Government can possibly provide for them. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said that the basis of the National Welfare Fund was insecure, and that it should be actuarily investigated. Can there be such a thing as real security under the capitalist system which stands for the exploitation of man by man and is based on profit? Not all the actuaries in the world could guarantee security against booms, slumps and wars. Under the present system security is relative, and must be measured in relation to the prosperity of the country. At all events, social service benefits provided by the Government are just as secure as is the capitalist system itself. Bearing those facts in mind the Government can only do its best to safeguard the welfare of the community. The Opposition parties claim that the Government’s social security policy discourages the thrifty. By the thrifty they mean people who are able to put aside savings for their oldage. How many workers on the basic wage can afford to put aside any savings? The basic wage has been computed on the cost of the bare necessaries of life. Therefore, it leaves no margin for savings. Persons on the basic wage can save money only by denying themselves and their families some of the necessaries of life which they require if they are to remain physically fit to continue in industry. Therefore, workers on the basic wage can be thrifty only at the expense of starving themselves and, consequently, reducing their efficiency in industry.
I agree that more should be done to establish suitable homes for the aged, particularly aged couples, and I commend the Queensland Government for the establishment of garden settlements for that purpose. Excellent homes for the aged exist in that State at Charters Towers and Sandgate.
– Were those garden settlements established by the nationalists in Queensland?
– No; they have been established by the Labour Government of that State. The homes provided for aged couples in such settlements are comfortable. The settlements are planned on a community basis. There is a central kitchen, but the aged couples may cook their own meals in their own cottages. I urge the Government to entourage the establishment of settlements of that kind throughout Australia.
Earlier in my remarks, 1 distinguished between social services and economic security. There is a vast difference. Under the capitalist system the Government can finance social services only from taxation. ‘However, the nation’s wealth is controlled mainly by the monopolists who derive the first and greatest benefit from the production of the people as a whole. Therefore, in order to enjoy economic security, the people who produce the wealth of the nation must also control the means of production. Under such a system each industry would accept responsibility for the social and economic security of those engaged in it. Upon retirement people would he a. charge upon the industry in which they previously laboured. Unfortunately, such a system is a long way off. We must first educate the people to the necessity for a system of that kind under which they would own and control the means of production. Whilst I commend the Government f’>r increasing social service benefits under this measure, I should prefer those increases to be more generous. However, the Government can finance these benefits only from taxation. I hope that in the near future these benefits will be still further increased.
– For many ages the question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” has been asked; but until comparatively recently no government in any part of the world has done anything in a practical way to answer that question. For ages, only certain religious institutions took upon themselves the responsibility of distributing what was called charity. In Great Britain not so long ago what was known as the Poor Law was enacted, and later, what were known as work houses or poor houses were set up. The conception that inmates of poor houses were little short of criminals then existed. They were people who brought grave disgrace upon their families. The questions which were submitted to persons before they could obtain any relief under the -poor laws were such that many destitute people refused to ask for such relief because they could not bear to be so humiliated. I am old enough to remember when Lloyd George introduced the old-age pension in England. They were the days when England was glorious, when conditions depicted in Oscar Wilde’s play “The Ideal Husband”, existed in Great Britain, and when Great. Britain received tribute of £300,000,000 annually from the rest of the world Lloyd George introduced that measure in order to provide a pension of 5s. a week to a man, or a woman, upon reaching the age of 70 years. . The Opposition parties of that day opposed that legislation. They said, “ This is socialism ; it is pitting a premium on the spendthift “. The asininity of that argument which is advanced by the Opposition parties in this Parliament against the Government’s social service benefits is obvious. If all people in a community were thrifty, surplus production would not be consumed and crises would occur much more frequently and more disastrously than the crises we have known in the past. The men who buy beer and cigarettes are taxed .in Australia to the amount cf £80,000,000 a year, which is equivalent, to the total cost of our social services. At any rate, we improved upon the old conditions and Australia and New Zealand began to lead the world. The Labour movement put forward plans for social services for the people, based on the idea that we are our brothers’ keepers. We denied that if a man became sick, he should lose the few pounds that he might have saved, and that it was his own fault if he lost his job. We insisted that the care of such people should be the responsibility of governments. The old concepts were held in most other countries until comparatively recently. In the United States of America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, that great nation that stands for liberty and democracy, there was no such thing as governmental relief until the advent of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration. Previously, the only help for the destitute in that country was provided mainly by religious organizations, which maintained doss houses where a man could g-3t a dump of a bed, and, df he was lucky, what the Americans called “ coffee an “ - weak coffee and a doughnut. I shall not discuss in detail what Franklin Roosevelt did to change that situation. Most honorable senators and other intelligent people know what he achieved with relief works and other projects.
The policy of the Labour party in Australia and New Zealand has always been to ensure the welfare of the citizen from the time of his birth; yea, from even before his birth by caring for his mother, so that every child born should bc an acquisition to the State. “We believe that apart from human beings there is no wealth. As Robert Burns has said -
The rank is but the guinea’s stamp;
Thi? man’s the gowd for a’ that!
The only real wealth comes from the land itself and the wealth-producing energies of the people. We hope to see the time when there will be security for the people in Australia from the cradle to the grave. There have always been pensions for certain privileged classes. They may be called stipends or annuities, or something of that sort, but they are pensions nevertheless. Such people might receive £1,000,000 a year, or perhaps £200 or £300. But, of course, that is not humiliating to them. Pensions are only “humiliating” when ordinary working men and women need them. I hope that, with our scheme of full employment and social services, we shall continue to set an example to the whole world. As I said during the recent budget debate, if other countries had tried to emulate Australia and New Zealand in the enactment of humanitarian legislation, the world would not be in its present sorry plight. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator O’sullivan) condemned this bill in one breath and then, in the next breath, he asked why the increases were not to be made retrospective. He said that the scheme would collapse because it was based on false premises. Apparently he wants it to be made retrospective so that it will collapse more quickly.
– That is most illogical.
– I may be illogical, but I am not zoological.
Senator Rankin said that we ought to establish village settlements for the aged. That is a very nice idea, but I remember the social services scheme that was applied in Queensland, the State which she and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition represent, when a gentleman named Moore was Premier. He was in power for three years from 1930, but the people had such a bellyful of him in that time that he was not returned to office. He promised a peculiar system, of social benefits, including child endowment. It was based on a plan which involved the reduction of the basic wage by 10s. a week. He did not explain it in those words, but that was the effect that it. had. He said that the basic wage should meet the needs of a family unit of two, a man and wife, instead of a family unit of a man, wife and two children. That meant that a single man and a man with a wife but no children lost 10s. a week, that a man with a wife and one child lost 5s. a week, and that a man with a wife and two’ children did not lose anything. In other words, this man took hundreds of thousands of pounds from married couples who had no children or only one child for the purpose of subsidizing those who had more than one child. That is not the policy of the Labour party. Our policy is to take from those who have and give to those who have not. The Opposition’s policy might well be stated in these words from the Bible -
For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
I look forward to the day when we shall deal with the British Medical Association as it deserves. That organization, backed up by the conservative newspapers, has declared that it will defy the law. Whenever workers have gone on strike in Australia, the newspapers which- support the Opposition parties have raised the parrot cry, “ Before there is any discussion, let the men go back lo work “. That has been their policy for the last 35 years. But when the British Medical Association goes on strike, the capitalist press backs it up to the -hilt. It is a terrible thing to see people in need of medicine but without money with which to buy it. I came from a poor district and I have often heard parents say, when a child has fallen sick, “ Shall we do without something to eat, in order to get the doctor ? “ Everybody knows that the poor have to face such problems. Those damnable conditions existed only because the Opposition parties were in power for so many years and. backed by the press, peddled this dope that only the rich deserve to be rich, that the greasy pigs should be greased some more, and that those who are poor should remain poor. I hope? that when the British Medical Association is brought to heel, as it must be, wo shall be able to provide free hospital services for the people and, above most other things, free medical diagnosis. Thousands of our people are ill but do not know what is wrong with them because the doctors charge such exorbitant fees that they are afraid to consult them, f should like to see in Australia a system like that which was introduced in Austria when the social democrats were in power there. There was some trouble with the doctors in Vienna in those days, so the government educated without charge the sons and daughters of workers and other humane people. When they graduated the students gave their services to the government for five or six years at a salary. We cannot do that in Australia during the remaining life of this Parliament but, if the worst comes to the worst, we may have to initiate such a plan. We can look forward to doing so, because the “ nationalists “ have not the slightest chance of regaining power for many years to come. This legislation is so advanced and so well planned that members of the Opposition in this Parliament are not “game” enough to oppose it. They rely upon communism, or some other such bogey, as a means of discrediting the Government. They know that the people of Australia have never been so well off as they are to-day. I hope that the Labour Government will introduce in the near future a medical training scheme like that which I have described.
It may be true that prices are fictitious. We do not know with certainty what will happen in the future, but we do know that at present there- are millions of pounds in Australia. If the bottom falls out of our markets, probably many of our schemes will have to go by the board. But it is better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all. Members of the Opposition want the “ big fellows “ to have everything. The price of wheat is 17s. a bushel, yet members of the Australian Country party cry out. about the “poor unfortunate farmers “. The wheat-growers had a poll recently to decide whether or not this Government’s wheat stabilization plan should be adopted. Only 70 per cent, of them voted, and 10 per cent, of the votes were informal, showing that many of them cannot even say “ Yes “ or “ No “. Although, record prices are being paid for our primary products, members of the Opposition say that the time is not opportune to introduce new social services and improve existing ones. The time never has been opportune from their point of view. The bubble of our prosperity may burst to-morrow. Another depression may be imminent. I do not know about that, but I do know that the policy of the Opposition parties would cause a depression. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said that the age pension and child endowment are not worth what they should be worth because prices are too high. One would imagine that the honorable gentleman would be eager to keep prices down, but a few months ago his actions proved the contrary. This Government appealed to the people for power to continue to control prices. It declared that the States were incapable of controlling prices. The Premier of New South Wales, Mr. McGirr, and the Premier of Queensland said that if the people transferred the job to them, they would try to control prices but could not hope to succeed. Nevertheless the Opposition parties urged the people to vote against this Government and the people, unfortunately, listened to their spurious arguments. The result is that, since the transfer of control prices have soared. In spite of that the Deputy Leader of the
Opposition has the audacity- to say now that pensions are inadequate because money has lost its purchasing value.
– Commonwealth discontinued subsidies as soon as it lost control over prices.
– I can answer that interjection very simply. Does the honorable senator think that the Federal Parliamentary Labour party is so stupid as to allow the great racketeers to do what they like without any opposition from it? Prices have risen . although those “ patriots “ are still selling goods on which subsidies have been paid. The honorable senator knows as well as I do why prices are rising. He told the people to vote “No” at the referendum and thereby did his best to ensure that prices would rise. The Labour party stands for keeping prices down. The Opposition parties stand for putting prices up because, when inflation occurs, the “ big fellow “ benefits and the working classes suffer.
– That is absolute rot, and the honorable senator knows it.
– I am pleased to hear the honorable senator say that 1 am wrong. If a. “ nationalist “ ever tells me that I am right, I shall go into a cellar and have a serious interview with myself. I shall wonder what has happened to me.
We want this bill to be passed without delay because we are anxious to have the increased pension rates made available as soon as possible. We are not like the Opposition parties. We mean what we say. They say now that they are in favour of pension increases, but what would they do if they were in power? Of course, they are not so stupid as to oppose this measure, because they know that it will be passed in any case. But history shows that, when they have been in power, their policies have been entirely negative. The Labour party on the contrary, has a positive platform which it is proceeding to implement plank by plank.
– It is full of white ants, or perhaps “ red “ ants.
– I do not mind the honorable senator’s interruptions, although I observed that, when Senator Morrow said something to him which he did not like, he walked out of the chamber. I can give it, and I can take it. The honorable senator said so many stupid things in his speech earlier to-day that the people who heard him can. make their own judgment as to his intelligence. He should keep quiet now so that radio listeners who were fortunate enough not to hear him then will not form a lower opinion of him than they already have. The honorable senator condemned the bill in one breath and praised it in the next.
– He said that more money ought to’ be expended on social services.
– He wants anything that will win him votes. I repeat what a. French woman, Madam Roland, said during the French Revolution, “ Ob, liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name “. No confidence man ever tells you what he is going to do to you. If a pick-pocket wants your watch he does not advertise the fact. He directs your gaze to the skies and tells you what a great fellow you are. That is what the Opposition tries to do, but the people know what anti-Labour governments have done in the past and they know what the Labour party has done. They know that they have never been so well off as they are to-day. Of all good things done by this Government, this measure will be the best. I congratulate the Minister for Social Services upon the bill, and I hope that, as the years pass we shall go forward along the path ro true social security so that these lines by Robert Burns will no longer be true -
Their age and want oh ! ill-matched pair! Show man was made to mourn.
The same poet faithfully mirrored the inequality of conditions before the Labour party came into existence in these words - 0 Death, the poor man’s dearest friend.
The kindest and the best!
Welcome the hour my aged limbs
Are laid with thee at rest!
The great, the wealthy, fear thy blow.
But oh ! » blest relief to those
That weary-laden mourn.
Conditions will never be, like that in Australia again. Man was not made to mourn. The class represented by the Opposition was responsible for the inhumanity which made countless thousands mourn in this country, lt was easy to gull the workers before they learned to read and write. But to-day, they can read and write and think for themselves, mid they will never allow this country to lie caught again in the grip of the old, degrading system.
Senator NASH (Western Australia) 1 9.0 J. - I join with other honorable senators in congratulating the Government upon this measure which amends the Social Services Consolidation Act of 1947. The fact that this is an amending bill shows that there is already a parent measure which makes available certain benefits to the people of this country. The bill now before the Senate increases certain payments, and is evidence of The Government’s desire to improve ite social services scheme as circumstances and finances permit. The increased payments will offset to some degree the rising cost of living. The Deputy Leader cf the Opposition (Senator O’Sullivan) claimed that the age and invalid pension nf 10s. a week paid originally in 1909, was equal in purchasing power to the new payment of £2 2s. 6d. a week authorized by this measure. The honorable senator has committed himself by that statement. During the recent rents nui prices referendum campaign, representatives of the Labour movement pointed out to the people of this country the necessity to confer additional powers upon the Commonwealth so that effective measures could he taken to prevent exploitation by profiteers. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition was one of those who shouted loudly to the people, “ “Vote No Unfortunately, the people did vote No “, with the result that the Commonwealth Parliament has not the constitutional authority necessary to control rents, prices and charges. But now members of the Opposition parties are endeavouring to attribute the increasing cost of living to the withdrawal of subsidies by the Government. I remind the Senate that, during the referendum campaign, the Prime Minister stated clearly that if the Commonwealth was not to have a say in the fixing of prices, revenue collected from the people of this country could not be used to pay subsidies. In effect the Government was not going to pay the piper for a time that somebody else was to call. Therefore it is useless for the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to claim that the rising cost of living is due to the withdrawal of subsidies.
– There was no subsidy on bread, but the price is increasing.
– That is true. The bill .provides for an increase of 5s. a week in certain pensions, and an increase of child endowment payments by 2s. 6d. a week. I wish to make a brief comparison. I remind honorable senators that, in 1941, when La,bour came to power in this Parliament, invalid and age pensioners were receiving £1 ls. a week. When this bill becomes law, they will receive £2 2s. 6d. a week - an increase of £1 ls. 6d., or more than 100 per cent, in seven years. But let us have a look at the record of anti-Labour administrations in the thirty-two years prior to 1941. In 1909, when the invalid and age pension was first paid, the pension was 10s. a week. By 1941, it had increased to only £1 ls. a week and, during the intervening period, not only was it reduced on one occasion, but also there were times when it was as low as 12s. 6d., 15s. and 17s. Therefore, although the new rates may not yet be sufficient in the eyes of many people, at least they are a substantial advance on past payments. Under this bill, an age pensioner will receive £2 2s. 6d. a week. In addition, he will be permitted an income from any other source of up to £1 10s. a week without interfering with the pension. Thus his total income, including the pension, can be £3 12s. 6d. a week. Under our pensions legislation, a married couple is treated as a single entity, and their incomes are combined. Under this bill, therefore, it will be possible for a married couple of pensionable age to receive an income of £7 5s. a week,- compared with £2 2s. in 1941. In addition, the raising of the property bar from £650 to £750. will mean that many more people will become entitled to a pension. However, my own view is that greater consideration should be given to pensioners who have no other source of income. I realize, of course, that the Government has embarked upon a definite plan of social services, and that as finances and other circumstances permit. the means test will be eased. The Government is endeavouring to spread social service benefits as evenly as possible over the community. That is only fair. Before Labour came to power in 1941, there was no widows’ pension in the Commonwealth sphere. When this measure becomes law, the “ A “ class widow, that is, a widow with at least one child under sixteen years of age, will receive £2 7s. 6d. a week ; the “ B “ class widow, over 50 years of age and without children under sixteen, will receive 37s. a week; the “ 0 “ class widow under 50 years of age, without dependent children, and in necessitous circumstances within six months after the death of her husband will receive £1 2s. 6d.; and the “D” class “widow”, that is, a woman over 50 years of age, whose husband is in prison and who has at least one child under sixteen years of age, will receive 37s. a week. Therefore, in this field also, the Government has accomplished something which was not even attempted by previous administrations.
Under this bill, a blind person will be entitled to earn an additional 10s. a week, making a total of £5 17s. 6d. a week, without having his pension reduced. This means that his total income, including his pension, can amount to £8 a week compared with £7 a week at present. A husband and wife who are both blind, may earn a joint income of £5 17s. 6d. a week and still receive the full pension of £2 2s. 6d. a week each, bringing their total earnings to £10 2s. 6d. a week, compared with £9 2s. 6d. a week at present. All those increases are in accordance with Labour’s social security plan.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said that whilst he supported the general principles of the bill, he regarded themethod of financing our social services as unsound. Obviously the honorable senator had in mind, as an ideal system, a contributory insurance scheme. In fact, I believe that he said that he would favour such a scheme. Speaking in this chamber yesterday, I compared the social security benefits now available with those proposed under the national health and pensions insurance scheme propounded by the Lyons Government in 1938. That scheme was abandoned, and rightly so, as one honorable senator has said, because it was completely unsatisfactory and unworkable. Whenever mention is made- of a pensions scheme, there are some people who insist that it must be actuarily sound. Whilst I agree that it is desirable that such schemes should be actuarily sound, I believe that it is possible to implement quite successful schemes which are not actuarily sound. In fact, I do not think that there is in existence to-day any national insurance scheme that is truly actuarily sound because, nine times out of ten, such schemes are guaranteed by governments against certain contingencies. On the other hand, although an insurance scheme may be actuarily sound, should economic conditions deteriorate to such a degree that the commitments cannot be met, the subscribers will lose both their contributions and the benefits for which they were contributing. I believe that this Government’s social security plan is as close to being actuarily sound as any scheme could be. It is financed by a tax which is imposed in accordance with ability to pay. The asset from which the fund is derived is the people of this country, and while the Australian people are in employment, while the economic situation in this country is such that we can maintain a reasonable standard of living, and while there is £600,000,000 to the credit of the Australian people in the savings banks, there can be no doubt about the soundness of the Government’s social security scheme. If an economic collapse were to occur and the Government found itself in difficulties regarding the payment of benefits it might be necesary to review the amounts paid, but 1 hope that such difficulties will not arise. Even if in the future the Government were forced to make a review of the scale of payments it is surely better that it should new, when ii can, make available to the people all possible benefits. I believe that the economic policy of the Government is sound. Australia stands high in the eyes of the world because of its sound economic position, and I consider that if the present Government is allowed to pursue its policy further, and if it is not hamstrung by the Opposition and the press, it will do a great job for the people of Australia. If it had constitutional power to take more of the steps that are necessary in the interests of the people, it could act confidently without hesitation or doubt about the future of Australia’s internal economy. There are interests which are most anxious to do everything possible to have this Government defeated, because they know that the policy it is pursuing is in the interests of the people as a whole, especially those in the lower income ranges. 1 say that there is no injustice in expecting an individual who (ams a high income to contribute something out of it to assist others less, fortunate. “We hear much about Christianity, and I say that its basis is that we should help one another. A man who earns a high salary and draws profits from an enterprise is receiving such emoluments’ as a result of good fortune. He is acquiring wealth and asset? that, when all is said and done, really- belong to the nation, because everything that comes out of the ground is the property of the people. I believe that the workers who create wealth have a right to an equal, or at least a reasonable share of it. Any one who owns a means of production and is able to amass a tremendous amount of money must either spend it on luxuries or put it in a bank. The Government is distributing more than £80,000,000 in social services. The expenditure of that money will .maintain employment levels and keep the Australian economy sound. Fi I had an income of £10,000 or £30,000 a year I would not have to spend more than a small proportion of it to keep me in comfort, and it would not be unjust for the Government to direct me to return some of it for the use of the community.
– I am pleased to be present in the chamber to-night to witness the passage of this bill. The closing remarks of the Minister who introduced it were-
I commend the measure to all honorable senators as a further important step towards i he goal of social security for the Australian people.
That statement should convince everybody that the measure will be cf benefit to the pensioners. Expenditure on social services is to be increased by £16,000,000 over last year, and will be £80,000,000 in the current year. Included in the increases is one of 5s. in age and invalid pensions, which will require £6,000,000, and an increase of child endowment payments which will require £6,700,000. I have always fought hard for child endowment because I believe some financial help from the Government is necessary for parents. I know of an instance in Western Australia of a policeman with five children. His wages at the time of which I speak were not large enough to enable him to maintain them properly. I recall that when his wife received her first child endowment payment she went straight to a boot store and bought boots for the children. When she received the second payment she bought dress materials for them. There is no doubt, that those payments help the people. Sufficient hits been said in support of the measure by all honorable senators, but I shall refer to the remarks of the last speaker about blind people. I intended to speak on that aspect myself, as I have relatives who unfortunately are blind. The increase of their pensions will be of great assistance to the blind. There arttwo other aspects to which I desire to refer. The first concerns those unfortunate people who have children who were born invalids. The invalid may be their onlychild and it is a burden on them until it attains the age of sixteen years when the parents receive a pension for it. I am familiar with several instances of that nature, one of which concerns a Canberra family. That family now receives a pension, ‘but it did not receive one until the child reached the age of sixteen. That is an anomaly which should be given some attention by the Government. Of course, in families where there is a second child in addition to the invalid, child endowment is paid and is of some assistance. The second matter to which I wish to refer is one that has been brought forward by pensioners Christmas after Christmas when they have suggested that the Government should give them a Christmas box of some kind. I regret that the benefits of this legislation are not to be made retrospective and therefore I suggest to the Minister that pensioners be given a Christmas box. While I was in the Western Australian
State Parliament, pensioners time and time again made application for a Christmas box, but ! am not sure whether they got it.
– in reply - I am gratified by the reception given to the bill by honorable senators, including those opposite. I appreciate the fact that honorable senators have generously submitted to a severe rationing of their speaking time to-day. I know that they have done that so that the people who are covered by the measure will receive its benefits as soon as possible, and I am sure- that the beneficiaries will appreciate the fact that the proceedings in this chamber were shortened to enable that result to he achieved.
Assuming that the bill passes all stages to-night, it is safe to say that the increased payment will he paid on the following dates : - age and invalid pensions, the 21st October; widows’ pensions, the 26th October. The new rates of child endowment will be calculated from the 9th November, which is the beginning of the first quarterly period, and the first payment of the increased child endowment will be made on the 7th December.
I propose to deal briefly with various points that have been raised by honorable senators.. It might be considered more appropriate to deal with them in the committee stages but I may save time by mentioning them at this stage. Senator O’Sullivan said that the present scheme of social security was on an insecure financial , basis. He did not develop that theme but contented himself with the mere statement. He has been answered effectively by Senator Finlay. I merely wish to add some remarks about the National Welfare Fund. That fund was established in 1943 for the purpose of earmarking revenue specifically for social security. The revenue that goes into that fund does not find its way into the general revenues of the country, and forms no part of consolidated revenue. In effect it goes into a. trust fund earmarked for a specific purpose. The revenues of the fund are derived from three sources - payroll taxes, levied on employers who have a payroll of £1,000 or more; social services contributory tax on incomes ; and interest on the investment of moneys in the fund. The best indication .1 could give of the solvency of the scheme and the soundness of its financial basis is to point out that after some years of operation up to the 30th June last, the fund was in credit to the amount of £70,000,000, and it is estimated that, despite the fact that by the measure under debate the Government will provide increased rates of payment which will require another £16,000,000, the current year will conchide with the fund having a credit balance of £74,000,000. T do not require to put any further argument forward to demonstrate the soundness of the scheme. It is true that we mav develop other social services, hut the national income is rising and we are bringing in new productive elements by means of immigration. Those immigrants will add to the revenues and the national income. Senator O’Sullivan also queried whether, because of the fall in the purchasing power of money, pensioners were better off to-day despite the increases in pensions than they were before. I propose to approach that consideration from two angles. First of all, taking the maximum pension as a percentage of the basic wage, and selecting the average wage of the six capital cities statistics prepared by the Commonwealth Statistician disclose that the ratio of the pension to the .basic wage in 1909 was 22 per cent. ; in 1916, 19.5 per cent. ; in 1920, 20.7 per cent.; in 1925. 23.4 per cent.; in 1931. 22.7 per cent.; in 1937. 26.7 per cent.; and in October, 1941, 2 ft per cent. I selected the month of October because it was in that month that Labour assumed office. The bill proposes that the rate of pension shall be increased to 42s. 6d. a week. The present basic wage is £5 16s., so that the ratio of pension to basic wage is an all-time record of 36.6 per cent. That demonstrates clearly that the increases of pension payments have risen proportionately far more than has the basic wage itself.
In order to check the accuracy of that comparison by another calculation let me refer to the “ C “ Series retail price index numbers prepared by the Commonwealth Statistician for the Commonwealth
Arbitration Court. Examination of those statistics discloses that the equivalent of 10s. in 1909, which was the maximum amount of age pension paid then, was 22s. 6d. in June, 1948. That leaves no room for doubt that pensioners, who are to receive 42s. 6d., will be better off now than age pensioners who received only 1.0s. a week were in 1909. I also point out that child endowment was not in existence in 1909, and has not been taken into account in the comparisons which I have put before honorable senators. It is also a fact that hospital benefits were not provided in those days. Our social services scheme now provides for free treatment, medicine and accommodation in the public wards of hospitals, and a contribution of Ss. a day is made towards the cost of accommodation in a private hospital or in an intermediate ward of a public hospital. I suggest that those facts effectively dispose of the suggestion that pension increases are more than offset by the decrease of money values or the increase of the basic wage.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition also suggested that the rate of pension should fluctuate with the cost of living. Whilst that contention may appear attractive in theory it will not work in practice. That theory was applied some years ago, but it was found that whilst pensioners, and their associated pressure groups, were quite satisfied with its application while the cost of living was soaring, and amounts were being added to their pensions every few months, considerable difficulty was encountered when the cost of living receded and it was proposed to reduce their pensions accordingly. Any attempt to reduce pensions causes endless dissatisfaction, and the vast majority of pensioners are opposed to the introduction of anything in the nature of a sliding scale. For those reasons the Government does not accede to that suggestion.
Both the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, and Senator Finlay referred to the need for providing some kind of assistance for mothers in their homes, and I acknowledge quite frankly the difficulty which confronts us throughout Australia to-day because of the scarcity of domestic assistance. Because of the development which took place in industry during the war, and in the aftermath, many women and girls who formerly sought employment in domestic service are not now available for domestic service. The result is that mothers of families, large institutions, and even the nursing profession, find themselves hard pressed to obtain the services of domestic assistants. Nevertheless, mothers of families still have to go to hospital from time to time, and others are confined to bed in their homes suffering from illness. It is essential, therefore, that some form of domestic assistance should be available to assist families in such emergencies. The Government has recognized that its policy of creating full employment is partly responsible for that situation, and the people of Australia, generally speaking, realize that domestic servants as a race have vanished. The work performed by housekeepers and domestic servants is of considerable importance, and if we are to attract young women to those occupations it is necessary that we do something to elevate their status. State governments, municipal authorities and voluntary associations have established housekeeper services in various parts of Australia, which are rendering excellent service. The Government recognizes the need to stimulate the activities of those bodies, and has appropriated a sum of £15,000 for that purpose. It does not propose to enter the field of providing housekeeper service, but intends to use the money appropriated to encourage State and other authorities who are already in the field. Honorable senators may consider that the sum appropriated is not large> and may regard it as inadequate. I do not controvert the second proposition; I simply point out that the money has been appropriated as a gesture to indicate that we recognize the need, as plans are developed, to encourge the establishment of housekeeper services. The matter will be reviewed from time to time in order to ascertain whether more money can possibly be expended in that direction. I trust that housekeeper services can he effectively developed, and I give to honorable senators an undertaking to lend my personal support and endeavour to promote the development of that service. ;”
Members of the Opposition also suggested that retrospective payment should be made of the increases provided by the bill, but I regret that the Government cannot accede to that suggestion. The increases provided by the bill form part ot the general, budget proposals of the Government, and at the present stage the Government is unable, having regard to the over-all picture, to reconsider its attitude.
Senator Rankin and Senator Lamp also referred to the need for providing suitable accommodation for our aged people. Once again I express frankly my recognition of the great social need to provide proper accommodation for the aged. At present our aged people are experiencing the greatest difficulty in obtaining proper accommodation because of the limited amount which they can afford to pay for rental. The problem, however, is primarily one for the States, and the Commonwealth has no direct responsibility. Nevertheless, the National Government is concerned in all matters affecting the social welfare of the community, and because of its keen interest in the lot, of age pensioners it has provided money to enable the States to develop housing schemes, which include the provision of accommodation for the aged. The housing agreement between the Commonwealth and the States provides for the erection of some housing units to be let at rentals of as low as 8s. a week. In including that provision in the scheme the National Government has in mind tho needs of pensioners. State governments, which are primarily responsible for the provision of housing accommodation, have great difficulty in determining priorities. They are confronted by problems arising from lack of materials and shortage of labour, and I do not envy State authorities which have the task of deciding between the competing claims of aged persons and young parents of families. Those authorities have a hard choice to make, because obviously age must give way to youth in such a matter. In view of the physical difficulties to which I have adverted, I think that the State authorities have made a correct decision in deciding to accommodate, first, people with family responsibilities, and, secondly, aged per- sons. However, I trust that they will not lose sight of the need to provide accommodation for the kind mentioned by honorable senators for aged members of die community.
Senator Rankin referred to the plight of widows. She quoted a hypothetical case of a widow aged 43, who has a child who has attained the age of sixteen years. The honorable senator pointed out that when her child attains the age of sixteen years the widow ceases to come within class “ A “ of the provisions concerning widows pensions. In reply, I point out to the honorable senator that the necessities of a widow in such circumstances may be met by various provisions. If her child is still being educated, either at a school or at a university, and is still dependent on her, the widow may continue to receive an “ A class pension until the child attains the age of eighteen years. In addition, she may receive assistance from any one of four other provisions. If she becomes incapacitated to such a degree that she is unable to works she is entitled to payment of an invalid pension. Unemployment benefit is also available if she is willing to work, registers for work and is unable to obtain work. If she obtains employment, becomes ill and is unable to work she becomes eligible to receive sickness benefit. If special circumstances are present, such as the necessity for maintaining an invalid child or an elderly relative, who needs constant care and attention, resort can be had to the special provisions of the bill which are designed to meet such cases. I assure Senator Rankin, therefore, that such cases as she mentioned have not been overlooked by the Government in preparing its social service scheme.
The honorable senator also referred to the difficulty which might arise if a pensioner were to let rooms or take boarders, and I have pleasure in informing her of the basis upon which the Department of Social Services deals with cases of that kind. In instances in which a pensioner accommodates boarders, the departmental practice is to treat as income .not more than one-quarter of the amount paid by a boarder. If a boarder in a pensioner’s home pays 30s. a week, only 7s. 6d. is regarded as income, and no account is taken of any amounts paid to a pensioner by her children who reside with her. A widow who lets rooms receives special consideration in that the department realizes that the rooms may be vacant at times, and for that reason 30 per cent, of the proceeds of the rental of rooms is disregarded. Furthermore, a pensioner who lets rooms is permitted to deduct from her income four-fifths of the amount which she, herself, pays as rental for the premises. If a widow in receipt of a pension let rooms for which she received 40s. a week, the department would take into account only 70 per cent, of the rental, which is 2Ss. Assuming that the pensioner was paying 25s. a week for her premises the department would allow her to deduct 20s. from, the 28s. which she received as rental, so that from the 40s. a week rental which she received the department would calculate her net income at only 8s. I think, therefore, that such cases are treated fairly, if not generously.
Senator Lamp referred to the use of the term “ age pension “. As honorable senators are aware, the title to be given to that particular benefit was the subject of considerable discussion in this chamber when the Social Services Consolidation Bill was under consideration last year. I myself gave a great deal of consideration to the title which should be given to the benefit. However, I found that, as soon as a. departure was made from the term “ age pension “, considerable legal and technical difficulties arose, if the term “ retirement allowance “ were substituted, the term “ allowee “ would have to be used in the legislation and in all regulations and documents made thereunder. That would be a most inconvenient term to employ. Similar difficulties are associated with the use of other terms which have been suggested. Tn any event, I consider that no ignominy is . connoted by the term “ pensioner “, nor is there any disparagement associated with the word “ age “. We speak quite freely ‘and respectfully of “war pensioners “, and that term includes many men and women whom we honour. We -peak of pensions for judges.
– And pensions for members of Parliament.
– That is so. Thus, the term is not without a venerable and honorable connotation. I suggest that the term “ age pension “, having regard to all those considerations, is just about the happiest choice than can be made.
Senator Lamp and Senator Critchley drew my attention to the need for giving wider publicity to the scope of social service benefits. I agree that they could be publicized more widely. The Government itself will be making broadcasts not at its expense, but at the Ministerial party’s expense, giving particulars of these benefits to the people of Australia. In addition, I have prepared a comprehensive pamphlet that will give in simple terms a full description of the various benefits, those eligible to receive them and the conditions applicants must fulfil. I have been awaiting the passage of this legislation before publishing that pamphlet throughout Australia. In the course of Senator Finlay’? speech, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition asked for an explanation of the way the new income test will operate. Perhaps, L can explain the matter best by stating it in two ways. First, I take the case of a married couple, both eligible by age, the man being 65 and the woman 60 years of age, and otherwise qualified as to property - I am now dealing solely with the income test. If between them they have an income of £3 a week either from their efforts or investments, or from an annuity or any other source at a.ll. each of them may receive the full pension of £2 2s. 6d. a week. Adding those pensions together they will receive £4 5s. a week and, allowing for their total private income of £3 a week, they may have permissible income and pension between them totalling £7 5s. So, I pinpoint that £7 5s. as the ceiling of permissible income and pension in the case of a married couple when both the husband and wife are eligible for pension. Approaching the matter from the second angle and assuming that the same couple have a private income of £7 a week, between them that may be brought up to the £7 5s. ceiling as each may receive a pension of 2s. 6d. a week. And, of course, if their private income were £6 a week they may receive, between them 25s. or 12s. 6d. a week each.
– That is on the basis of both husband and wife being eligible to receive a pension?
– Yes; I made it clear that I was ignoring the property bar, and assuming that both were eligible by age and were deserving people and fulfilled all the other requirements of the law. That should clarify the application of the income test.
I shall now deal with the growth of social services down the years. Again, J go back to October, 1941; when Labour assumed office and there were in this country only three social service benefits, namely, invalid and old-age pension at 21s. 6d. a week, maternity benefit which ranged from £4 10s. to £7 10s. and was subject to a means test, and child endowment at os. which had been introduced three months earlier. In the seven intervening- years, despite the war and the difficult post-war period, we have seen the most extraordinary development of social services in this country. Reverting to the three benefits which were the only ones in operation when Labour took office in 1941, we find that age and invalid pensions have doubled, having risen from 21s. 6cl. to 42s. 6d. a week; the maternity allowance has been more than trebled, from £4 10s. to £15, the present minimum benefit; and child endowment has been doubled. In addition, the following new benefits have been introduced during that seven-years’ period: widow’s pension, unemployment and sickness benefits, hospital benefits, pharmaceutical benefits, special benefits for sufferers from tuberculosis and their dependants, the allowance for the wives and children of invalid pensioners, and funeral benefits for age and invalid pensioners. In addition, there has been a substantial casement of the means test, the income bar has been raised from 12s. fid. to 30s. a week, and the property bathas been raised from £400 to £750, bringing many more pensioners into the field. But reviewing that period from, another angle, as Senator Nash said in his speech, in 193S-39 the year immediately preceding the war, there was paid back to the people of this country in social service benefits the sum of only £16,500,000. The amount that will be paid back to them this year - and I am now ignoring the national health proposals and the dental health proposals which will be placed before the Senate in the near future- will be £S8,000,000, which is more than five and a half times the sum that was paid in 193S-39. That vast expansion in the scope and nature of the benefits provided and the vast increase of expenditure on social .services will give to the Senate a very clear perception of the vigorous approach which the Government has made to the problem of social security. When I talk of social security, I revert to a theme upon which I touched in my speech in the Senate in which I said that social security as handled by the Government means primarily- family security. The whole course of social service benefits is directed towards maintaining the family unit. The man who assumes family responsibility is, frankly, the backbone of thicountry, and he is the one who should unsupported and encouraged. He finds greatest encouragement in maternity benefit, hospital benefit, child endowment, unemployment and sickness benefit, widowhood pensions in the event of his death, and age benefit for himself and his wife if they both survive to enjoy it. 1 should like to give some examples to show that the man with family responsibilities is the one who contributes least to the Government’s revenue and also takes out most. These few examples will put the argument on a clear basis and, in fact, on a cash basis. A man with a wife and two children makes no contribution at all until he receives an income of £3.1S a year. A similar man with an income of £342 a year pays a social service contribution of only £3 18s. In short, he pays ls. 6d. a week, but he takes out in child endowment alone 10s. -a week, or £26 a year, and thus shews a cash profit of £22 on the deal with the Government on that one benefit alone. A man with a wife and three children with an income of £400 a year pays social service contribution of only £4 6s. and he gets back in child endowment alone in hard cash the sum of £52. He shows a cash profit of £47 14s. A man with a wife and four children with an income of £450 a year pays only £4 16s. social service contribution and receives back the sum of £78, and thus shows a cash profit of £73 4s. A man with a wife and five children on the fairly good income of £500 a year pays only £5 7s. social service contribution and receives back in child endowment alone £104, and thus shows’ a profit of £98 13s. I believe that all honorable senators agree that those are desirable results. Dealing only with child endowment, a family man under normal conditions receives in respect of a child, the sum of £400 by the time the child reaches the age of sixteen years. That is a substantial contribution to enable the parents to educate, clothe and maintain the child. I go a step further and say that I find in mixing with people around Australia that those who are paying social service contribution, whether they pay large or small sums, do not begrudge it. The Australian people are fair-minded.
– The Minister’s time has expired.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 (Com men cement).
– I was interested to hear the explanation of the bill which the Minister for Social Services (Senator McKenna) has just given.I understand that the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holloway), who was in charge of the bill in the House of Representatives, stated that whilst the requisite money was available, the only reason why the increase of benefits provided under the measure could not be paid retrospectively was the difficulty of obtaining the requisite staff. Can the Minister enlighten me on that point?
– I did not hear the explanation given by my colleague in the House of Representatives, but, if he put it on upon the ground of administrative difficulty he certainly would have put it on a proper ground. It is true that over a period, arrears could be picked up and paid ; butI point out that a great deal of work is involved in revising these pensions. There are over 96,000 persons in receipt of partial pensions, in respect of which revisions would range from 5s. to 15s. The three factors which call for re-investigation of partial pensions are: first, the increase of 5s.in the pension itself ; secondly, the increase in the permissible income; and, thirdly, the eased property test. All those factors involve a great deal of consideration. I am not saying that it is a physical, or practical, impossibility to pay anything in arrears. If necessary we could go back for years. But, frankly, I do not think that the principle of making payments retrospectively is sound. A bill should operate from the date on which it is passed unless there is a very strong reason to implement it retrospectively. The budget which has just been presented makes provision for an additional expenditure of £16,000,000 a year in respect of this legislation. This is a real item in that budget which was given the fullest consideration by the Cabinet and the Parliamentary Labour party in assessing just what could be done this year. Therefore, I am not disposed to disrupt the present arrangement by taking the matter back to the Government for further consideration.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 3 agreed to.
Clause 4 (Definitions).
– I should like the Minister to give an explanation in connexion with the definition of” dependent female “. As I understand it, the definition, apart from referring to a wife, includes a woman who lives with a man as a wife. This gives rise to a rather extraordinary anomaly. A man might have living with him and caring for him a dependable, faithful helpmeet who, for reasons of morality, does not live with him as his wife. According to this definition, as I interpret it, such a couple, in order to qualify for the benefit, must lose their morality and live as man and wife. If the woman confines her activities strictly to her household duties, she will not be regarded as a. dependent female. Apart from that situation, another association conies to my mind. It is that of an unmarried daughter caring for an ailing father or mother. Such a person would not come under the category cf “ dependent female “, although she might sacrifice her life to assist her parents in the time of their need. Will the Minister explain these anomalies?
– No new principle is introduced into the social services legislation by the definition which the honorable senator has mentioned. Section 31 of the Social Services Consolidation Act deals with the halving of the income and the property of persons living as man and wife when one of them is an applicant for a pension. The purpose of including the definition of “ dependent female” in this bill is merely te give it a general application to cases in which a man and woman are living together as man and wife when, in fact, they are not married. The act contains provision for the case of a daughter who remains al home te do essential work for her parents. It provides for many such cases by means of the special benefit. That is one of the purposes of the special benefit and many of the hundreds of person “ receipt el’ it at present receive it on that amount
– Will the Minister state the general principle that guides the granting of the special benefit?
– There are two broad principles. One is the real necessity for the person’s presence at home, which would negative the possibility of her taking employment. The other is the means of the family. If the head of the family is in receipt of an income that would enable him to pay an adequate wage to the person, the special benefit is not, available.
– I thank the Minister for his explanation. I appreciate that no new principle is involved, but, nevertheless, I urge him to .make representations to the Government to have included in the definition a woman who is, in fact, a dependent female ‘and who is leading .a strictly virtuous and moral life, dedicating her time to the welfare of the pensioner. The fact that that is not already provided in the bill is no reason why it should not be included.
– I undertake to give consideration to the suggestion. 1 do not know whether there are many cases of that kind. It is the first occasion upon which my attention has been directed to the situation.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 5 to 11 agreed to.
Clause 12 (Pension may be continued in certain cases).
– I should like the Minister to explain what is involved in the increase from £33 16s. to £39 for which this clause provides. The manner in which the pension of an inmate of a benevolent asylum is distributed is not generally understood.
– When a pensioner enters a benevolent institution, the pension is divided. Part of it is paid to the institution, and the remainder is paid to the pensioner. At present, such a pensioner receives 13s. a week. This bill will add 5s. a week to the pension, and the pensioner will receive 2s. out of that addition. The remaining 3s. will be paid to the institution. This clause provides for the allotment of that extra amount to the pensioner, and states the figure on an annual basis.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 13 to 17 agreed to.
Clause IS (Definitions).
– I have not had an opportunity to study this clause in detail, and ] should like the Minister to explain precisely its effect on war pensioners. I understand that the amount of a war pension is to be taken into account in relation to permissible income when assessing the amount of a civil pension. I also understand that the amount received by a beneficiary under a friendly society scheme is not to- be taken into account in that way. Is there any differentiation between service pensioners and persons in receipt of any other form of pension or emolument ?
– I assume that the honorable senator refers to a benefit that is not dealt with in this measure. Thisbill deals solely with age, invalid and widows’ pensions and child endowment. The question raised by the honorable senator relates to unemployment and sickness benefits, which are extraneous to this clause.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 19 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Motion (by Senator Ashley) agreed to -
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn to Wednesday next, at 3 p.m.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act -
Repatriation Commission -Report for year 1940-47.
War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal No. 1 - Report for period 1st July, 1947, to 28 th February, 1948.
War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal No. 2 -Reportfor year 1947-48.
Black Marketing Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1948, No. 125.
Defence (Transitional Provisions) Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1948,Nos. 126, 128, 129.
Services Trust Funds Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1948, No. 110 (Substitute copy)
Senate adjournedat 10.11 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 14 October 1948, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1948/19481014_senate_18_199/>.