19th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. Gordon Brown) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– Has the Minister representing the Prime Minister seen an article in to-day’s Sydney Morning
Herald entitled “ Points on Price Control “ ? If so, will he indicate whether the statement that tho Prime Minister has made it perfectly clear that the Government intends to leave prices control in the hands of the States, is, correct 1 Does the Minister agree that inflation is proceeding unabated and is apparently in no way mitigated by the pretence of prices control by the States? Does he agree that rising prices may eventually Compel the Government to take a more lively interest in prices control if the community is to be insulated from the worst effects of rising prices? Does the Minister agree that the pressure on prices will increase rather than decrease, and that the result of inflationary tendencies may soon dictate the pace of ministerial action, however attractive the idea of letting things rip may seem ?
– I have not seen the report to which the honorable senator has referred, hut I know that during the last nine or ten months the rateof increase of prices has not been greater than it was during the preceding twelve months.
– The cost of living has increased tremendously.
– It is true that the cost of living has increased, but it is also true that during the last nine or ten months the rate of increase has been lower and not higher than the rate of increase during the preceding twelve months. There has been a world-wide increase in prices but the impact of rising prices on Australian costs of living is, T understand, less than in other parts of the world. I do not know what was the outcome of the recent conference between the Prime Minister and other Commonwealth Ministers with the chairman of the State Ministers administering prices, but the honorable senator is entirely wrong if he believes that the Australian Government has no interest in the cost of living. It is vitally interested in that matter. I have no doubt that in the following year honorable senators and the people will see a substantial improvement of our economic conditions generally.
– On the 11th October, 1950, Senator Annabelle Rankin asked a question without notice concerning the supply of tinplate for the processing of tks 1951 summer crop of pineapples. The Minister for Supply has furnished the following answers: -
Notwithstanding that tinplate is in world short supply the Government has negotiated allocations to Australia substantially greater in quantity than those we have previously received.
– Is the Minister for Trade and Customs aware that oil companies which own petrol pumps that are not being used will not sell or rent them to persons who desire to establish new petrol service stations? In the interests of . free enterprise, will the Minister approve of the importation from the United States of America, Canada or elsewhere of petrol pumps similar to the type of pump in use at petrol service stations?
– I am not aware that the circumstances referred to in the honorable senator’s question in fact exist. I know that this Government - as I am sure that any responsible government would be - is very reluctant to interfere with the right of disposition of private property. I do not know the reasons for the existence of the circumstances referred to by the honorable senator, if they do exist. As far as the importation of similar articles is concerned, each application will be dealt with on its merits. Dollar expenditure would not be approved if the goods were available from soft currency areas.
– On the 24th October, Senator Robertson asked the following question: -
Can the Minister representing the Treasurer say whether radio batteries fall within that portion of the sales tax schedule covering radio receivers and musical instruments and thus become subject to an increase of tax from 8i per cent, to 25 per cent.? If so, will the Treasurer reconsider the proposal which, if given effect, will penalize particularly residents of outback areas who have no electricity supplies by increasing the cost of one of their few amenities?
The Treasurer has supplied the following answer: -
An amendment will be introduced to exclude batteries for wireless receiving sets from the increased rate of sales tax applicable to those goods when the Sales Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Bill is before the House of Representatives. Batteries sold ap parts ot wireless receiving sets as well as batteries sold separately for replacement purposes will remain taxable at the general rate of 8J per cent.
– Does the Minister for Trade and Customs consider that some partiality is being shown to Government senators in relation to the answering of questions? For weeks I have had on the notice-paper a question that relates to a very important matter. I refer to question No. 24.
– I have a reply to that question now.
– I am pleased to hear that. It is time that the question was answered.
– I assure Senator Fraser - I am sorry that he thinks the assurance is necessary - that not the slightest partiality is shown by Ministers to Government senators in the answering of questions. The honorable senator, as an ex-Minister, knows that the information upon which replies to questions are based is supplied to Ministers through departmental channels. Some information is more readily available than is other information. I assure the honorable senator that when a Minister of this Government receives information upon which an answer to a question can be based, the question is answered without delay.
asked the Minister representin the Minister for Health -
– The information sought is being obtained, and a reply will be furnished as soon as possible.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Works and Housing -
– The Minister for Works and Housing has supplied the following answers: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Supply -
– The Minister for Supply has supplied the following answers : -
Minister representing the Prime Minister the following questions, upon notice: -
– The Prime Minister has supplied the following answers to the honorable senator’s questions : -
The present rates paid are the current
Public Service rates for the new positions which were offered to and accepted by the employees.
asked the AttorneyGeneral the following questions, upon notice : -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follows : - 1 and 2. The Public Service Arbitrator stated his reason for making Determination No. 47 of 1950 retrospective to the 29th December, 1949, in the following terms: -
I should make it clear that the increases which I have indicated should be made represent what I consider to be fair and reasonable in existing circumstances, including the increase in the cost of living, as at the 30th June, 1950. In reaching my decision I have taken a broad view of the salary movements that have taken place during the last two or three years and that have not generally been shared by the officers and employees represented before me in these proceedings. It appears to me that the circumstances warrant effect being given to the proposed rates as on and from the 29th December, 1949, and I decide accordingly.
The date thus fixed by the Arbitrator was the first pay-day after the date on which he made a determination (No. 100 of 1949) inviting the organizations concerned to submit further evidence in support of their claims, which he did not think they had theretofore succeeded in establishing. The hearing was resumed on the 19th June, 1950, and concluded on the 4th September. The Arbitrator gave his decision on 26th September. The protracted character of the proceedings was due partly to negotiations by the organizations with the Public Service Board for an agreement on their claims, and partly to the length of time taken by the various parties in submitting evidence and argument. There was no delay due to pressure of work on the part of the Arbitrator.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Supply, upon notice -
Australia, and that this shortage is due to the export to overseas markets because of the high prices received for these commodities?
– The Minister for Supply has furnished the following answers to the honorable senator’s questions : - 1 and 2. - Powdered milk. - (i) There lias been a shortage in Western Australia and ali other States, (ii) This is primarily due to the exceptionally dry summer/autumn in the Western District of Victoria, where production has been lower than in any corresponding period since 1014. In addition, the floods in the northern rivers of New South Wales have substantially contributed to the shortage. Secondary causes are shipping difficulties between eastern States and Western Australia. Good supplies are now available and further supplies are en route. Since the 20th September, 1950. over 1.0,000 cases have been shipped to Western Australia from eastern States. Canned Fruits. - (i) Canned fruits have been in relatively short supply in all Australian States for some years. Owing to the dollar conservation policy of the United Kingdom Government, the importation of these products into the United Kingdom from the United States has been severely restricted in recent years and Australia has, under contract arrangements, endeavoured to ship the maximum quotas, (ii) Although substantially increased quantities of canned fruits were made available for distribution within Australia during 1950, and the domestic quota was the largest since 1941, the Western Australian supply position has been aggravated bv delivery difficulties. Some shippers are known to be three months behind schedule on this account.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The Prime Minister has supplied the following answers to- the honorable senator’s questions : -
In issuing import licences for goods to be financed under the Loan Agreement with the International Bank no arbitrary allocation will be made in advance as between Commonwealth and State governmental agencies and private enterprise.
In general, the goods to be imported under the loan will be imported and distributed to users through _ the normal commercial channels. The Commonwealth Government is not itself a large user of capital plant and equipment for developmental purposes. State governmental and semi-governmental agencies are more directly concerned; but the great bulk of the goods will be used by private firms or individuals for the purpose of expanding the output of Australian primary and secondary industries.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Works and Housing, upon notice -
Will the Minister give sympathetic consideration to the desires of residents of Lord Howe Island for the supply of electric power and light when an extension of the local station is implemented, and so add to the attractions of this island?
– The - Minister for Works and Housing has supplied the following reply: -
I have made inquiries and understand that the question of extension of electricity supplies to residents of Lord Howe Island is at present receiving the attention of the New South Wales Government.
Motion (by Senator Spooner) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Social Services Consolidation Act 1947-1949, as amended by the Social Services Consolidation Act 1950.
Debate resumed from the 14th November (vide page 2269), on motion by Senator SPOONER -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– The Opposition in this chamber endorses this bill, the purpose of which is to provide £25,000,000 for war service homes and £4,000,000 for war service land settlement for the financial year 1950-51. There are, however, one or two aspects of the measure which I should like to examine. If my memory serves me aright this is the first occasion on which war service homes and war service land settlement have both been provided for in the same legislation. Both have now been grouped in one measure as the result of some internal rearrangement. The amount of £25,000,000 which is to be made available for war service homes represents an increase of 55 per cent, over that provided during the previous year. The interesting aspect about the increase is that it is an indication of the existence of a state of extreme inflation. It would be interesting to ascertain how many more houses can be physically built, how many more existing properties can be purchased, and how many more existing mortgages can be discharged by the provision of £25,000,000 this year than was possible last year with an expenditure of £16,000,000. I am afraid that the in crease over last year would be disappointingly small. Building costs are increasing beyond even our darkest expectations. Compared with 1938-39 the building £1 is now only worth approximately 6s. The unfortunate person who wishes to secure a house has to pay almost three times as much as he would have paid for similar accommodation ten or twelve years ago. That is serious enough, but the outlook of the prospective purchaser is made even worse by the attitude cif this Government which despairs of ever being able to overtake the lag in the housing programme. The Government cannot hold out any hope that it will be able to reduce the cost of construction. Next year the Government will be forced to increase the provision for war service homes in order to achieve even the objective which it has set out to achieve this year. The prospect that faces potential house buyers is made even more gloomy by the serious shortages of building materials, particularly of bricks and tiles. A challenge has been thrown out to the Government to eliminate production bottlenecks in the building industry which have so seriously delayed the completion of dwellings and so greatly affect their final cost. An examination of the cost of building an ordinary house today would reveal that a large portion of the cost results from delays which did not occur in pre-war years. In earlier years when a builder set out to erect a house he could plan ahead, making arrangements for his requirements to be supplied at the right time and in the right quantities. To-day, because of the shortages of building materials of all kinds, many builders have to leave dwellings partially completed and to postpone their final completion for months. In some instances dwellings are left in a partially completed state because of the shortage of carpenters and bricklayers; in ethers construction cannot be completed because of the scarcity of building materials. As the result of these delays the final cost of a dwelling is frequently out of all proportion to its value. Another factor which increases the cost of a dwelling is the exorbitant profits which builders, particularly “ speck “ builders, take for themselves. Before the war a good house could be built for from £1,200 to £1,500 and builders took as profit for themselves a very much smaller percentage of the total cost than is the case to-day. “ Speck “ builders to-day very often write up the value of dwellings erected by them by 20 per cent, and it is not uncommon for them to reap a profit of £500 from the construction of a modest cottage. That margin is much too great. It is not fair to the purchaser or to the country. It is the duty of the Government to examine that position, because if the costs involved in home building are examined, it may be found that better organization and a more reasonable profit for the builder would result in homes being made available at a cheaper rate to the people who will ultimately occupy them. That is a most important matter. During the last few years the previous Government and this Government have increased to £2,000 the maximum amount which may be advanced to ex-servicemen to enable them to build or purchase homes. Although that is a large sum of money, already it has proved too small. Ex-servicemen are forced - whether it is sub rosa or not, I do not know - to employ other means of financing the commencement of their homes. It is of no use to suggest to those men that that is not a good investment at this time; the men and women concerned do not care whether it is a good or a bad investment. There is a driving force behind them that takes them to the point where they must, if they are able, put a roof over their heads, and bo able to call that roof their own. I suggest to honorable senators that that is one of the most powerful natural driving forces in life. People are subjecting themselves to very heavy burdens today in the form of large sums of borrowed money in order to realize that dream, even though they might not own the home for 30 or 33 years. When a man is spending £2,500 in order to build a home, and he is paying that sum off at a normal weekly rental, the spread of repayments extends over a great number of years. Consequently young people accept responsibilities with which they should not be burdened when they are starting their married life. That is a problem being faced in this country to-day because of the inflation at present in existence. If the end of infla tion spiral could be seen, we could say, “Let us knuckle down, fight it, and get it over “. Unfortunately, the end cannot be seen, and the steps that are being taken to prevent rising costs are futile and ineffective. Because they must pay off their homes and spend more and more each week in .order to meet living costs, the people who are at present building homes with financial assistance will finally pay through the nose for this extraordinary state of affairs.
Last week I dealt briefly with some of the major shortages of building supplies, such as bricks and tiles. I consider that those shortages provide a mean; whereby governments could show their goodwill. I suggest to the Minister that the Australian Government should acquire brickyards at suitable places throughout Australia.. It should make such brickyards guinea pigs for experiments.
– The privately owned yards cannot obtain a sufficient supply of skilled bricklayers in order to make bricks.
– That is not completely true. It is only one of the problems, and it is not by any means the most important one. It is not so much skill that is required in brick-‘ making, because it is merely hard work under difficult conditions.
– Which men dislike, and accordingly they take easier jobs.
– It is not only skill that is required. The actual work of brickmaking can be learned in a relatively short time if a man ia willing to take an interest in it. Brickmaking is really a semi-skilled job. For whatever reason, the fact remains that insufficient bricks are being produced, and that is the only point with which I am concerned. Because bricks are not being produced, there is a tremendous delay in the building trade. It is of no use to be critical of the bricklayer because he will lay only 300 or 350 bricks a day. If he knows that bricks are not being made in sufficient quantities to keep him occupied if he lays them at the rate of, say, 700 a day, in self-preservation he plans his work so that it i= an easy job for him, and so that he may feel that he i3 not making too great a demand on the available supply of bricks.
I suggest to honorable senators that such things are problems of trial and error. The New South Wales Government has taken over a brickyard, and I consider that the Australian Government also should acquire one, not actively to compete against private industry, but to experiment in brickmaking. By introducing better conditions into the brickyards, by examining taxation and all other aspects concerned, this very serious bottleneck might be eliminated. If we are to sit down and write reports on the subject, and do no more than has been done since the war ended, the problem will not be solved. The Minister has stated that 15,000 homes will be made available to ex-servicemen during the next twelve months, but whether that number will be made available is doubtful. It is the wish of the members of the Opposition that that number should be not only achieved but surpassed, but appreciating the problems that face the building industry to-day, we fear that it will not even be reached.
I now wish to refer to the provision of £4,000,000 for war service land settlement. That again is an aspect of Commonwealth and State Government administration of which none of the governments concerned may be proud. The ex-servicemen who are trained, available and willing to take up blocks under this scheme far outnumber the handful who have been finally placed on war service settlement blocks. That is a tragic state of affairs. Men must be placed on the land and there must be closer settlement, in order to supply the commodities that are in short supply to-day, not only on our own markets, but throughout the world. More and more young men with the necessary training must be given the opportunity to go on the land. I do not approach this matter from any party point of view. The Minister might truthfully say to me that a Labour government was in power from 1941 till the end of last year, and he might be critical of what that government had done. But that sort of criticism does not achieve anything. The im- portant thing is to appreciate the problems that face the nation to-day, and whatever Government happens to be in power has the duty of attempting to solve them. Australian ex-servicemen have been waiting since the war ended for land to be made available. I wish to quote from the debates of the Victorian House of Assembly concerning the Etterick estate, on which ex-servicemen were allotted land between eighteen months and two years ago. Sheep were bought for them and placed on agistment, but those men, even to-day, have not been allowed to go on to their blocks. The authorities placed the onus on them to clear their blocks of rabbits before they could settle on them, and there were examples of individual men endeavouring to clear 300, 400 and up to 700 acres, which was an impossibility. Then they received letters from the Victorian War Service Land Settlement Commission saying, “ The position is much improved. There are not so many rabbits on your land now as there were previously, but there are still too many and we cannot yet allow you to go on to it “. It might be wise to adopt that policy in dealing with a marginal land area, where the rabbits could eat a property out, but the Etterick estate contains some of the most lush land in the Commonwealth. In fact, there is a living on it for both the sheep and the rabbits. If ex-servicemen were permitted to occupy land allotted to them, they could, in co-operation with their neighbours, organize rabbit drives and quickly clear it of rabbits. In the case of the Etterick estate, although over eighteen months have passed since the blocks were allotted, the ex-servicemen concerned are not yet in occupation of their land. I do not blame the Minister for that, and I mention the matter only because it is one of those upon which this bill touches. What is happening in regard to the Etterick estate is an example of a government authority keeping exservicemen off the land, when they should be on it and producing the things that this country needs. The story of settling ex-servicemen on the land is a sorry one. It presents a challenge to all governments in this country. More and more young returned Australian exservicemen who are eligible to be settled on the land under the war service land settlement scheme must be placed upon the land, millions of acres of which are available for settlement. All governments should devote themselves to that task. The prize is one well worth winning. It is the prize of more and more land being placed under cultivation by young Australians, who would then become the backbone of this great nation. I commend the bill to the Senate.
– I agree with Senator Armstrong that there is little that is contentious in the allocation of the £29,000,000 for which this bill provides. I agree with him also that rising costs present a problem that will have to be faced sooner or later. Some months ago I discussed with the Minister the possibility of an increase of the maximum grant - at present £2,000 - to assist ex-servicemen to build houses under the war service homes scheme, and doubtless the honorable senator will have something to say upon that matter when he replies to the debate.
I have three suggestions to make to the Government in connexion with war service homes. Before I make them, I congratulate the responsible Ministers in this and previous governments for their sympathetic understanding and handling of the problems to which the war service homes scheme has given rise. I do not claim that my suggestions are original. I have no doubt that they have been canvassed before, although I have not heard them advanced in the Parliament. The first suggestion is that the period of time that elapses between the making of an application by an ex-serviceman for a loan under the war service homes legislation and the granting of permission to proceed with the construction of the house should be shortened. At present, it is five or six weeks. A private bank takes only one or two days to decide whether it will finance the building of a house, and I ask the Government to endeavour to reduce the time taken by the War Service Homes Department to make its decisions.
The second suggestion that I wish to make relates to ex-servicemen who are willing to build their own houses by their own labour, or partly by their own labour and partly with the assistance of con tractors. Those men are in the unfortunate position of not being able to obtain loans from the department until their houses have been completed and approved by the department. I suggest to the Government that the present system could be altered to the advantage of all concerned.
My third and last suggestion - I believe it is the most important one - relates to war widows. The Director of War Service Homes is authorized to refuse to make a loan to a person who is regarded as being a bad risk because he or she is not considered to be in a position to make regular repayments. The legislation states that the director may refuse to make a loan to persons of that kind, but the word “may” is being interpreted as meaning “ shall “. The Director of War Service Homes interprets the legislation to mean he shall refuse to lend money to any one who, in the parlance of insurance companies, is not a good risk. I have no desire to criticize the director, who is bound to comply with the provisions of the legislation, and there is no doubt that in relation to the repayment of housing loans war widows are a very bad risk. A war widow with two children is precluded from earning money to supplement the payments that she receives from the Repatriation Department and under the Social Services legislation, because she must look after her children and, therefore, cannot seek employment in industry. Under the rates that were in operation until a short time ago, a war widow with two children received £5 2s. a week, and under the new rates she will receive £6 12s. 6d. a week, being £3 10s. pension, £1 2s. for the first child, 15s. 6d. for the second child, 15s. child endowment and 10s. domestic allowance. A cottage which, before the war, cost £700 or £800, now costs approximately £2,000. According to the War Service Homes booklet, tho weekly repayments on a £2,000 loan spread over 50 years - the longest period - are £1 14s. a week. If normal rates and maintenance costs are added, the figure is a little over £2 a week. Generally speaking, the children of war widows are children between five years and sixteen years of age. I mention five years and sixteen years because last night Senator McKenna, in the course of a most interesting address, pointed out that in computing the population of a State for the purpose of income tax reimbursement grants, the number of children in the State between five years and sixteen years of age is multiplied by four and the resultant figure is added to the total population. If the State governments have found it necessary to count each child in this category as four, for the purpose of tax reimbursement grants, how much more necessary is it for parents who have children between these ages to be able to obtain additional money ? I do not speak without experience, as I have four sons, and I am well aware of the cost of maintaining children between those ages. If there is added the cost of gas, electricity for lighting and heating, clothes, and food, the total expenditure involved is far in excess of the amount of less than £4 that these women receive. I have personal knowledge of about 30 instances in Brisbane of the widows of men who lost their lives in New Guinea. They are engaged in a continual struggle to try to make ends meet.
I seriously suggest to the Government that it should build cottages and flats in suitable centres and make them available to war widows at rentals within their means. The Government should not worry if a loss of from £250,000 to £500,000 a year was incurred. We are considering a loan of £29,000,000 for war service homes, and I suggest that even if a loss of the amount that I have mentioned was incurred, that would be little enough for the Government to do for these people who have given so much. In the realms of high finance, the Parliament now has before it a budget exceeding £700,000,000. Increased expenditure of even £500,000 for the purpose that I have mentioned would be a very small matter compared with the astronomical expenditure figures in the budget. I urge the Government to consider favorably the erection of blocks of flats, and small cottage homes in centres throughout Australia for war widows and their families, and not to worry if a loss of a few hundred thousand pounds a year is involved in making accommodation available to those people at rentals within their capacity to pay. These women have lost the companionship and love of husbands who did not return from the war, and I consider that it is the duty of the Government to fulfil the promise that was made to the men who subsequently gave their lives in order that Australia might be spared the horrors of war. Their children will become the future generation of this country, and I consider that the Government should assist the war widows with children to the maximum degree possible, even if a small loss is incurred annually. I agree with the contention that has been heard many times in this chamber that among our greatest assets are the children of this country. If 3’oung mcn are to be encouraged to join the fighting services, the Government must give an adequate assurance that their wives and families would be properly looked after should anything happen to them. I am confident that the people of this country would support the proposal that I have advanced, in order to give war widows and their children a “ fair go “.
Senator MURRAY (Tasmania) [4.5J. - The bill before the chamber seeks to provide a loan of £25,000,000 for the construction of war service homes, and also to provide financial assistance to an amount of £4,000,000 to the States in connexion with the war service land settlement scheme. Whilst commending the bill and its purposes, I draw the attention of -the Senate to the many difficulties that confront governments in Australia to-day in relation to housing. Ex-service men and women, and the widows and children of ex-servicemen, are desperately in need of housing, and I urge the Government to concentrate its efforts and best brains on this problem. Following demobilization, large-scale efforts were made to provide war service homes and to re-establish deserving ex-members of the forces on the land. Although both the Commonwealth and the State Governments have done much in this direction, many exservicemen and the widows and children of exservicemen, as well as many other members of the community, are still living in deplorable conditions. In many instances they are living in caravans, and on public lands adjacent to cities, not provided with any facilities or amenities. While this measure will provide £25,000,000 for the construction of war service homes, I point out that more than money is required in order to remedy the present state of affairs. Efforts must be made to coordinate the supply of men and materials for the construction of houses. In my opinion the responsible Minister should concentrate his efforts on obtaining from overseas men of outstanding ability in the building trade, who could introduce to this country new methods to speed up the building of homes for ex-servicemen and the widows and children of ex-servicemen, to whom we owe so much. From time to time, many applicants for war service homes in Tasmania have sought my assistance to expedite consideration of their claims, and I have been given every consideration by the Deputy Commissioner of War Service Homes in that State. However, there have been difficulties in relation to the obtaining of building materials, surveys, and the allocation of suitable areas, and in connexion with the legal processes of acquiring suitable areas, delays have occurred in the obtaining of titles and authority to proceed to develop those areas. Many ex-servicemen who have despaired of obtaining a war service home have negotiated with private “ spec “ builders, and, as a result of extortionate costs, have subsequently found themselves in financial difficulties before their homes were nearly completed. Many other exservicemen have attempted to build their own homes, with the co-operation of their workmates and ex-servicemen’s organizations. I contend that there should be attached to the War Service Homes Division in each State an organization empowered to help ex-servicemen who have got into financial difficulty as a result of trying to help themselves in the matter of housing. The department should take over without delay those buildings which the ex-servicemen themselves have not been able to complete, even in cases where the ex-servicemen disregarded the conditions of the War Service Homes Act. The houses being built by the War Service Homes Department are good of their kind, but, in view of the need to get on quickly with our building programme, other types should be approved. The separate unit standing in ite own garden is, of course, ideal, especially for the bringing up of a family, but in many instances blocks of two, three or four units would be suitable. Senator Armstrong referred to the shortage of bricks. There is, we know, a shortage of bricks in all States, and that is why the authorities should consider the use of other building materials. For making standard bricks, much time is required for quarrying, pressing, burning , &c. before the actual erection of the house can be even begun. Much time could be saved by using concrete bricks or concrete slabs, and I commend the use of concrete in that way. In Tasmania, there are deposits of free-stone from which houses could be built in certain areas. We know that, in the early days, dwellings were built in free-stone in all the eastern States; sometimes, as in Tasmania and New South Wales, by convict labour. Although a great deal of timber is being milled in New South Wales, Tasmania and Victoria, much of it is being exported. The millers combine to sell the timber where it will bring the highest price. Millions of feet of timber are being exported from Tasmania, yet the millers will not run weatherboards or floor boards for the local market because the price of timber in that form is fixed. I have never been able to understand why more use is not made of asbestos sheeting in the building of dwellings. There are cement works in Tasmania and other States, and cement, with the addition of asbestos fibre, can he made up into building sheets. I suggest that these various alternative materials could be used in order to hasten our building programme. The situation now is such that almost any kind of house is better than no house at all.
Many areas have been surveyed for settlement by ex-servicemen, but too much time is allowed to elapse between the surveying of the land and the actual settling of the men. In Bridport, in Tasmania, a young ex-serviceman with plenty of energy and initiative, and with access to the necessary capital, has, used bulldozers and deep trenchers to drain a large swamp some thousands of acres in. area. He is now settling Dutch immigrants on the land to engage in the growing of tulips and certain root crops. Already, hundreds of tons of cabbages^” have been produced, and carrots are being grown in rows a mile long. The produce tivity of the area has been increased immensely. The people of the district have levelled land for an aerodrome, and it is hoped to fly the produce to the mainland for sale in Melbourne and Sydney. All that has been done within a space of twelve months. Had such a project been undertaken by a government instrumentality, years would have elapsed before anything was achieved. It is all very well to prepare elaborate blueprints, and to draw up plans for the erection of farm houses and farm buildings of high standard, but time is all-important. While elaborate plans are being drawn up, farmers and their families are living under unbelievable conditions. It is far better to concentrate on getting the men settled on the land so that they may put in a crop and harvest it in due course. Australia is already becoming the granary of the East, and we should encourage development in that direction. We have all heard of grandiose schemes for the development of huge areas in northwestern Queensland and the Northern Territory, but it would be far better for us to concentrate on the development of areas near at hand. When arranging for the settlement of ex-servicemen on the land, provision must be made for helping them in time of drought, flood, fire, &c. There is an obligation on the Government to see’ these. men through until they can stand on their own feet and attain economic independence. This measure has been introduced in fulfilment of an obligation that has rested on all Commonwealth Governments. I hope that in future moTe attention will be paid to the time factor, and that the appropriate authorities will get on with the job, using some of the short cuts that I have suggested.
– I read with interest the secondreading speech of the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) on this bill, one of the purposes of which is to make available £25,000,000 for war service homes. That sum is approximately 55 per cent, greater than that provided last year, and I commend the Government upon this increase. Senator Murray said, that, under the War Service Homes Act, advances were confined to single unit dwellings. He suggested that provision should be made whereby groups of applicants could apply for a war service home advance to build a house sufficient for the needs of two or more families. Section 21 of the War Service Homes Act provides that an advance of up to £2,000 may be made on a war service home. That sum includes the purchase price of the land. The act also provides that if there are two or more applicants, the Minister or the commissioner may authorize an advance exceeding £2,000. I assume that that provision would enable two or three ex-servicemen to apply for an advance exceeding £2,000 to build a house large enough to meet the needs of the combined families.
Not only this Government, but also all previous Commonwealth governments, neve shown an appreciation of the obligation that has rested upon them to assist ex-servicemen to purchase their own homes. I do not believe that ex-servicemen should be required to pay rent in perpetuity. Under the War Service Homes Act advances for war service homes may be repaid over terms of up to 51 years. That liberal repayment provision greatly assists the purchase of homes by exservicemen. I remind the Senate, however, that rapidly rising prices may make it necessary for the Government to increase advances beyond the present maximum figure of £2,000. I assume that, in pursuance of this Government’s policy of assisting ex-servicemen wherever possible, the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Casey), who is in charge of war service homes, is keeping his eye on this matter, and that, if necessary, the act will be amended to ensure that ex-servicemen will be able to build homes to meet their requirements.
The appropriation under this measure for expenditure under the War Service Homes Act is £25,000,000. In addition, £4,000,000 is appropriated for financial assistance to the States in connexion with war service land settlement. The War Service Land Settlement Agreements Act contains two schedules. In the first schedule, the agreement relating to Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria provides that the Commonwealth Government shall meet the cost of the purchase of land by the State governments, and that the Commonwealth Government and the State governments shall share subsequent developmental expenditure on a 50-50 basis. However, under the second schedule, the agreement covering Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania, states that the Commonwealth, after providing the money for the purchase of the land, shall meet three-fifths of the additional expenditure. In other words, the Commonwealth meets 60 per cent, of the developmental expenditure in Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania, but only 50 per cent, in Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria.. In Western Australia, there has been considerable delay in settling exservicemen on the land, and I believe that certain provisions of the act should be altered. I ask for leave to continue my remarks at a later hour.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Debate resumed from the 12th October (vide page 694), on motion by Senator SPOONER- …. the following papers be printed: -
Estimates of Receipts and Expenditure, and Estimates of Expenditure for Additions, New Works and other services involving Capital Expenditure, for the year ending 30th June, 1951;
The Budget 1950-51 - Papers presented by the Right Honorable A. W. Fadden on the occasion of the budget of 1950-51;
– The budget debate gives to supporters of the Government and to members of the Opposition an opportunity to criticize the activities of the Government during the preceding months. Usually observations made by those on the Government side are comparable with those of the members of a mutual admiration society, whilst those of the Opposition are critical. I do not intend to establish a precedent by departing from usual practice. The magnitude of the problems that confront the” Government are appreciated by every honorable senator. We realize that many of them result from factors over which the Government has no control. I refer particularly to the high prices of goods .throughout the world which &o greatly affect imports to this country which ar,e necessary for its development and for the welfare of the Australian people. In his budget speech the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) said-
Australia at the present time is in the midst of a vast and many-sided movement of expansion, to which two strong factors are contributing. Of these forces, one is the need for security, brought so urgently before us by the events abroad in recent times, and the recognition that for security we must have far greater economic strength.
Reference to the need for security for this country brings to my mind the following report which was published in the press under the caption “ Peace Plan by Spender “ : -
The Australian Minister for External Affairs (Mr. P. C. Spender), yesterday outlined a five-point programme which, he said, was necessary to give the United Nations -sufficient strength to preserve peace and face the threat of armed aggression.
The points were - (1.) The establishment, as swiftly as PeIsible, of measures of collective security through regional arrangements similar to the North Atlantic Pact.
I direct particular attention to the Minister’s reference to the North Atlantic Pact. The report continues : -
These measures would be made within the framework of the United Nations Charter. (2.) Avoidance of appeasement. (3.) No provocation by act or conduct. “We must use wisely the military power -which we build up.” (4 J Patient search and exploration for permanent basis of understanding with the Soviet Union and other world powers,
The honorable gentleman indulged in a change of form there! The fifth point was -
The -use of economic strength to assist the less economically favoured nations.
I should like to know whether the peace plan proposed by the Minister represents the view of the Australian Government. The Minister for .Social Services in his reply to this debate might clear up that point. These military and security platitudes sound very well; they make good reading; but they have no value whatever unless they have practical application. I agree that Australia should make a full contribution to the United Nations both physically and financially to ensure the preservation of our own security and the peace of the world. However, while I agree that Australia should play its part in the United Nations, I contend that the presentation of any claim by any nation -and I emphasize the words “by any nation “ - either to the United Nations or to the Security Council should be accompanied by a declaration of the extent to which that country is prepared to contribute to the world peace plan and to a world police force.
The United Nations has for its object the preservation of world peace. I am confident that every member nation by virtue of its membership will accept its obligation to contribute, in accordance with its population and capacity, to the ideals of the United Nations. Australia and other member nations should give some indication of what responsibilities they are prepared to accept in relation to the provision of a world police force.
It is generally realized that in spite of the increases in pay now being made to the members of the fighting services, of tin’s country and the vigorous recruiting campaign that has been launched and assisted by advertisements in almost every newspaper throughout Australia, the response has not been nearly as successful as the Government expected. The recruiting . campaign has been described as a “ flop “. The drive for recruits has not been convincing. On this subject the Sydney Morning Herald had this to say -
The recruiting drive has failed. Three exservice leaders in Sydney last night described the recruiting campaign for the Services as a “ failure “. They claimed that the present recruiting organization was out of touch with reality and called for the establishment of a new committee. They were the federal president of the Australian Legion, Mr. B. J. McDonald; the federal secretary of the Air Force Association, Mr. C. Austin; and the state president of the Australian Legion, Mr. F. Peffer
I do not wish to weary the Senate by reading the whole of the report. Mr. McDonald is reported to have said -
The recruiting campaign opened as a nation-wide drive on October 1 - almost six weeks ago. It had the full support of the Government and the vast majority of the Australian people. It was also assisted by a new deal for the services, increased pay, and better conditions. Yet in the past six weeks only 4,000 young Australians have volunteered and 1,200 have been accepted.
Those figures are very disappointing. Mr. McDonald’s statement continues -
The fault lies with the recruiting organization. Its campaign has been superficial and lacked vitality. The result has been that the urgency of Australia’s defence problems has not been given in a convincing and down to earth manner that would have inspired potential recruits.
That is a very serious charge against the organization which is endeavouring to obtain recruits for the fighting services. The campaign has not been convincing because the urgent necessity for Australia’s participation in world disturbances has not been made known to the people and particularly to those who are expected to defend Australia. Many factors have contributed to the failure of Australian youth to respond to the Government’s appeal for recruits. The lack of response to that appeal is a further indication of the effects of inflation in this country. In almost every family those who are eligible for enlistment in the fighting services are making a contribution to the upkeep of the home. They believe that owing to the greatly increased cost of living the welfare of their parents and their families should be their first responsibility. The loyalty and patriotism .of the average Australian cannot he questioned. His spirit of adventure, his initiative and his courage and valour on the battlefields of the world are well known. The gallant record of our fighting men in two world wars is indelibly inscribed in the history of the world. If the Government had made known the real dangers that threaten the safety of the nation and had shown clearly that recruits were needed in the fighting services not for the purpose of putting down disturbances in Asia and in other parts of the world but for the defence of Australia and the preservation of world peace, the youth of Australia would have made a much better response to its appeal. I recently noticed a report in the Sydney Daily Mirror of the 28th October, headed, “ Eisenhower Atlantic Defence Chief “. Portion of that report reads -
Last week, however, General Eisenhower dropped a bombshell in an attack on European defence policy which observers said would put him beyond selection for the position. He criticized both the role assigned to American troops in the west European defence plan, and President Truman’s recent pledge that the United States troop strength in Germany would be substantially increased. General Eisenhower contended that the stationing of large United States forces permanently in Europe would be military folly. He said that he believed that America’s best contribution to the free world’s defence would be to concentrate on a huge output of weapons and keep the bulk of her forces at home ready to be rushed to any threatened area.
I cannot agree that the suggestions made by the Minister for External Affairs coincide with those of General Eisenhower.
The Minister stated that another consideration was the faith almost universally held in Australia, and also by many people abroad, that this country is capable of immense progress in coming years. I trust that the Minister and this Government do not claim all the credit due to private firms for increasing industrial capacity and the launching of new projects.
The Minister also stated that migrants arc pouring into this country from overseas, and that immense amounts of capital are also coming here, the greater part of it being for permanent investment. The migration scheme, whether under government assistance, supervision and direction or otherwise, calls for some comment. The influx of migrants into this country is adding considerably to our housing problem. There have been many evictions of Australians from homes which they have been renting, and those houses have been sold to new arrivals in the country. If the contemplated number of 200,000 migrants a year arrive in Australia the already desperate housing position will be further intensified. On the basis of four or five migrants occupying each home, 50,000 additional homes yearly will be required. In addition, there will be a continued heavy demand for homes by the Australian people, many thousands of whom are returned soldiers who have not yet been able to obtain homes. I am not suggesting that the migration scheme should he curtailed, but I suggest that there should be selection and screening of migrants to ensure that the majority of the new arrivals will be placed in industries that are producing materials for use in home building.
It is true that there has been considerable commercial and industrial expansion in this country, but surely this Government does not claim full credit for that? The Curtin and Chifley Governments were responsible for laying the foundation of the prosperity that Australia is enjoying to-day. The efforts of those governments resulted in advantages and opportunities being provided for the people of this country on a scale never before contemplated. Not only were those advantages availed of internally, but they also gained a world wide reputation which brought about a confidence in Australia unknown under any previous administration. The selection of migrants and the continued flow of them to this country are entirely due to the energetic planning of the previous Minister for Immigration, Mr. Calwell. The arrival of many thousands of people from other parts of the world, seeking investment for their capital and employment for themselves, had been acknowledged as an achievement of the Chifley Government long before the Menzies Government assumed office.
The Minister stated that while in times such as these real and substantial progress is always made, there is also a danger that the effort to expand will outrun resources and spread itself too widely, creating bottlenecks, competition for scarce labour and materials, and a bidding-up of prices and costs. That is not only a danger; it is, unfortunately, a reality. “We are to-day in the midst of an inflationary period and are facing the gravest financial disaster this country has known. The tragedy is grave and the responsibility graver because of our part in encouraging people to migrate to this country. We must accept our responsibilities to those people for the hardships they will probably suffer.
The Menzies Government is displaying a callous indifference to the future welfare of the Australian people. The budget with which we are dealing indicates a continuance of the Government’s intention to ignore the peril of inflation and to refuse to attack it. The only mention of inflation in the budget is contained in the proposal to draw off some of the abnormal profits of businesses, and in the reference to a wool tax that will mean the collection of £103,000,000 from wool-growers. Those are merely passing references, and there is no indication of the methods to be employed to check inflation. A successful attack on inflation will require something more than the skimming off of portion of the profits of some businesses. Excessive profits made by businesses are only one of the many ingredients of inflation. To arrest inflation it will be necessary for the Australian Government again to consider the introduction of prices control. A conference that took place in Melbourne on Friday of last week, concerning which the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) made a statement in the House of Representatives, was not very successful. Certain proposals were placed before the Prime Minister, the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden), the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen), and the Minister for Fuel Shipping and Transport (Senator Mcleay), but the Prime Minister pointed out - and, I think, with justification - that the Commonwealth could not accept those proposals. One of them was that a senior Minister be appointed to sit with the .State Ministers at their conferences, which would be recognized as conferences of the Commonwealth and State Prices Ministers. It was, in substance, a proposal that the Commonwealth should appoint a Prices Minister. The Prime Minister stated that owing to the vote of the people in 1948, when they indicated that they desired that permanent powers to control prices should be exercised by the State governments and not by this Government, he could not. agree to the proposal. I consider that that statement was a fair one, but it did not go very far towards eliminating or relieving rising costs of commodities in this country. The State Ministers proposed that the Commonwealth should reconsider its policy that a general extension of subsidy payments would not be a satisfactory solution of the problem of arresting the rising cost of living. That proposal also was rejected by the Prime Minister on behalf of the Commonwealth, for the reasons to which I have referred* The Prime Minister’s statement is a lengthy one and I do not wish to proceed further with it other than to point out that the Australian Government, through the
Prime Minister and other Ministers, was not sympathetic to the requests of the State Prices Ministers and their chairman, Mr. Finnan. I do not, claim that the resumption of prices control by the Commonwealth would be a panacea, but it would be an essential element of any genuine attack upon the malady of inflation from which this country is suffering.
When Senator McKenna, in a speech delivered in this chamber a few days ago, said that large numbers of women were crowding the surgeries and waiting rooms of the doctors of this country owing to worry and anxiety about the continued increase of the cost of living, he was ridiculed by responsible Ministers and by honorable senators opposite, including the lady senators. But his statement was perfectly correct. It applies, not only to the working class suburbs of Sydney - and I speak of Sydney because I am personally acquainted with conditions there - but also to suburbs in which middle class people and others who are even more favorably placed live. I know of mothers of infants who, within the last ten days, have gone to as many as four greengrocers’ shops in an endeavour to buy potatoes for their families. In their efforts to buy potatoes, in each shop they have bought other vegetables, but despite that, they have been unable to buy the potatoes that they wanted. It will be agreed that potatoes are an essential article of diet for young children. Modern clinics prescribe them as portion of the diet of children as young as six months.
– Did not Senator Henty say that prices control was partly responsible for the shortage of potatoes ?
–I expect that the Minister will say; as Senator Henty said, that food shortages and high prices are the responsibility of the States, but it will be futile for the honorable senator to say that the States are to blame for those conditions. The Government has said that industrial disputation and strikes are the cause of shortages. During the rents and prices referendum campaign in 1948, the present Government parties said that State controls could function efficiently, if such controls were necessary. A pamphlet issued during that campaign- by the Liberal party stated -
Through the Commonwealth actually con trolled, nearly all prices were fixed on a State or regional basis. All States are ready and able to do a better job.
If Senator Hannaford subscribed to that statement then, why does he now try to brush it aside by referring to a statement made by an honorable senator from Tasmania? The pamphlet also contained the following statements: -
Prices control from Canberra has pushed up prices - encouraged a huge black market - caused unnecessary shortages of goods - placed the greatest burden on the honest citizen.
A Liberal Government would set up a Convention or Commission to go into the whole question of desirable constitutional amendments.
Dealing with the Commonwealth’s request for power to control prices, it stated - -
The grant of this power will be a further violation of our decentralized system of government, which alone guarantees against permanently centralized bureaucratic control from Canberra.
Senator Hannaford tried to brush aside lightly a statement that I made about conditions in a State of which I have first-hand knowledge by referring to something that Senator Henty had said. The statements that were made by the present Government parties in 1948 cannot be reconciled with the request that was made only last Friday by the States that federal aid be extended to them in relation to prices control. The Melbourne Age of the 11th November contained the following article: -
The States disappointment at the Federal Government’s attitude to prices control may cause the States to delay announcements on commodities due to be reviewed on November 24. These include tobaccos, cigarettes, petrol, potatoes and a number of other commodities affecting the “ C “ series cost-of-living index.
It is important that there should be cooperation in this matter between this Government ‘and the States, especially in view of the fact that in 1948 the present Government parties advised the people of this country to vote “ No “ at the prices referendum.
Let me direct the attention of the Senate to the way in which the Australian public is being exploited by smart people, black marketeers or whatever else they may be called. Yesterday’s Sydney Sun contained the following report:-
People rush to buy potatoes … at le. 3d. lb.! Four men, working from a motor lorry near Wynyard Station to-day, sold potatoes- for ls. 3d. per lb.! The men did brisk business among peak-hour crowds. Potatoes and onions were offered separately at 2s. Gd. a 2 lb. bag.
That is a shocking state of affairs. I venture to say that honorable senators opposite who speak in this debate will not attempt to deal with the position that has arisen as a result of the Government’s inactivity in connexion with the continual increase of the cost of living in this country. The report continues -
The bags were not full. “ You can’t buy them anywhere. You may as well take them “, shouted the sellers. The men claimed that the potatoes were from Victoria and the onions from Queensland.
When a Sun car with a reporter and photographer stopped some distance in front of a lorry a “ cockatoo “ shouted, “ Haste, coppers “, and the lorry moved off as the reporter was about to make a purchase.
Fixed price for New South Wales and interstate potatoes are Sid. and 4d. per lb. respectively. Fixed price for onions is 5d. per lb.
Although the fixed price of potatoes is 3£d. or 4d. per lb., the people of Sydney are compelled to pay ls. 3d. per lb. if they want potatoes. They are also compelled to pay much more than the fixed price for onions. Those vegetables are brought to New South Wales from Queensland and other States, and the report that I hare read indicates that there is a “ racket “ in them. I am certain that the lady members of the Senate appreciate the part that potatoes play in the diet of any family, whether it be rich or poor. Wealthy people can afford to pay ls. 3d. per lb. for them, but I assure the Senate, if an assurance be necessary, that the fact that potatoes cost ls. 3d. per lb. entirely prohibits even their consideration in the family budget of a worker or basic wage earner.
On the day after the introduction into this chamber of the Constitution Alteration (Prices) Bill, which is designed to check the continual increase of the cost of living in this country, the
Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) made a broadcast. He stated that this country was prosperous, and I do not deny that that is so. We are enjoying prosperity to a degree hitherto unknown in Australia, but it is a false prosperity. If positive action is not soon taken by the Government, the result will be disastrous to this country. Whenever the Opposition has drawn the attention of the Senate to the continued increase of prices, the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan) has stated that the increase that has taken place since the present Government took office is commensurate with the increases in previous years. In his policy speech the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) stated -
Perhaps our greatest charge against the financial and economic policy of the present Socialist Government is that while it has paid a good deal of attention to increasing the volume and circulation of money, it has largely neglected the problem of what and how much that money will buy.
Every housewife knows how grievous is this problem. The Commonwealth Statistician has conservatively estimated that the fi of 1939 is now worth only 12s. 2d. in purchasing power. On the true cost of household requirements, however, the value of the £1 is now only about 10s. The greatest task confronting the Government therefore, is to restore value to the £1, that is, to get prices down. What attempt has been made by the Government in this connexion? Prices of household commodities have sky-rocketed since 1948. The refusal of the people to approve the referendum in 1948 to make permanent the temporary price-fixing powers of the Commonwealth was inspired by the advice that was given to them by the Liberal and Australian Country parties. Supporters of those parties told the people that although the Commonwealth was administering prices control, nearly all prices were fixed on a State or regional basis, and that all States were deady and able to do a better job. It is apparent from the representations that were made to the Prime Minister by all State Premiers last week that the States are incapable of controlling prices efficiently. I suggest that any supporter of the Government who claims that the States can success-
Sen a tor Ashley. fully control prices is ignorant of the facts. The Constitution provides for the free movement of goods between the States, and in the absence of disease in the goods, the State authorities can exercise little control in relation to them. Some honorable senators opposite have claimed that there has been little fluctuation of the prices of goods from year to year. However, every housewife in this country can verify that prices have risen considerably since the abolition of Commonwealth prices control in 1948. Official statistics compiled by the Commonwealth Statistician disclose that prior to the abolition of Commonwealth prices control, on a base figure- of 1,000, the figure rose from 1,309 in 1946-47 to lj393 in 1947-4S- a rise of 84 points. During 1948-49, when Commonwealth control of prices did not operate, the figure rose to 1,528, a rise of 135 points compared with the previous year. Surely those figures provide convincing evidence of the increased rate at which costs have risen since the abolition of control of prices by the Commonwealth. The figures for 1949-50 disclose a further increase of 276 points. The rise in 1946-47 was only 31 points. Therefore the rise in 1949-50 was 245 points greater th an the rise in 1946-47.
My major concern in this matter is that the promise to reduce prices and restore value to the £1 that has been made by supporters of the Government both on the hustings and in this chamber, should be honoured. The Minister for Trade and Customs has stated repeatedly that the Government is attacking the malady of inflation in this country. However, it is common knowledge that prices are continuing to rise. Earlier in this sessional period the Opposition introduced a measure into this chamber to provide for a referendum to decide whether prices control should be vested permanently in the Commonwealth. I invite the Minister, in his reply, to inform the Senate of the action that the Government proposes to take in connexion with the control of prices. “I have before me an advertisement by the Liberal party that appeared in a newspaper during the campaign that preceded the last general election. It contains a photograph of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), and reads -
The Federal Labor Government is entirely to blame for the present extortionate cost of living and for the fact that prices have steadily increased since the Chifley Government “ controlled “ them. . . . The Liberal Party, as soon as returned, will take prompt steps along essentially practical lines to remedy the present disastrous position, and will, by the encouragement of incentives to increase production, stabilise and progressively reduce prices.
Yet no step, prompt or otherwise, has been taken by the Government since assuming office to reduce the increasing cost of living. “When the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan) was sitting ‘ in Opposition last year he said, during the budget debate, that he was astonished that private enterprise was being starved for man-power, because governments and various statutory authorities were absorbing far too much labour.
– It was- true.
– The latest statistics in relation to the Public Service show that there was an increase of 4,500 public servants at June, 1950, compared with June, 1949.
– Additional employees have been engaged in connexion with the Snowy Mountains hydroelectric scheme.
– That increase is greater than the yearly increases that occurred during the regime of the former Government. The Minister also said on that occasion that he was amazed that the Government should be collecting £200,000,000 more a year from the taxpayers than it did in 1943-44, which was the peak year of war expenditure. I remind the Minister that the estimated revenue from taxation this financial year will exceed the 1949-50 collections by £165,000,000. [Extension of time granted.’] On the 13th October, 1949, the Minister for Trade and Customs said -
I Bee no reason why the Government should not make some arrangement to provide for young married people with children the services of trained persons to look after their children during the absence of their parents.
I drew attention to that reference the other day, and pointed out that a new industry had been created in Australia in the form of nurseries for the children of married women who were compelled by economic circumstances to go out to work. At the time, one of the lady senators interjected to say that there was nothing new in that, because such nurseries had been in existence for a long time. The kind of nursery to which she referred was established for the benefit of ladies who attended parties, or played golf, or indulged in other recreations, and wanted some one to look after their children during their absence. The nurseries to which I referred cater for the needs of the wives of basic wage earners who must go out to work to supplement the family income. I assume that when the Minister for Trade and Customs spoke of establishing nurseries, he intended them to be used for the benefit of people who could not afford to pay some one to look after their children, but there is no provision in the budget for nurseries of any kind. The Minister for Trade and Customs, when in Opposition, made this further statement: -
I see no reason why people whose existence in the remote parts of the country is so essential to our economy and who suffer the discomfort and inconvenience of drought, heat and flies, together with lack of amenities to which I have referred, should not enjoy some compensation instead of being penalized by having to pay higher costs for everything that they purchase.
That was a statesmanlike utterance, but the Liberal party and the Australian Country party have now been in power for eleven months, and the only concession the Government has made to those who live in the remote parts of Australia is to introduce legislation under which a special tax to the amount of £103,000,000 is to be levied upon them. No allowance has been made for the benefit of outback residents, but perhaps the Minister’s colleagues in the Cabinet ignored his representations. I am sure that his friends in the remote parts of Queensland will be delighted with the Wool Sales Deduction (Administration) Bill sponsored by the Menzies Government! The outback settlers, instead’ of receiving compensation for the discomforts they endure, now find that they have to pay, because of the increased cost of living, considerably more for everything’ they buy.
The Minister for Trade and Customs also declared that the welfare of the country depended, not on regimentation, but on courage and enterprise. Of course, he said that when he was in Opposition. This Government, which is supported by the Liberal party and the Australian Country party, has certainly not exhibited enterprise and courage in its efforts to restore value to the £1, or to tackle the problem of inflation. No previous government ever failed so lamentably to honour its election promises.
The matters to which I have referred are of great importance to the people of Australia. It is probable that the wealthy classes upon which this Government relies for its support are not suffering to the same degree as are the workers. The Prime Minister declared that Australia was prosperous, and that he was not gloomy because of the present position. Such a statement is of little comfort to persons in actual want to-day, some of whom are suffering from malnutrition because of the high cost of living. That is not a wild statement. Responsible ministers of religion in Sydney have declared that children in that city are suffering from malnutrition through lack of the proper kind of food. What an indictment of a country that is supposed to be prosperous, and in which there should be plenty for every one !
– That is after eight years of Labour rule.
– What I have said is true, in spite of the interruption of Senator George Rankin, who has been for a walk. It is his sleeping time, and I am sorry if I have disturbed him. I trust that he will be able to obtain his rest later in the evening. If the Government introduces any proposals designed to arrest the upward trend of prices, it can rely upon the full support of the Opposition in the Senate. I do not suggest that there is now any possibility of restoring the value of the £1, but any attempt by the Government, no matter bow small, to stabilize- prices, and thus bring relief to the people, will receive our support.
– Honorable senators have just listened to the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley) addressing himself to the budget, and one would imagine that he and his supporters had a monopoly of interest in the welfare, of the community. The present Government, and those who support it, are as eager as any one else to ensure that every section of the community receives its due deserts. Members of the Opposition would like the public to believe that the Government has not accomplished anything for the benefit of Australia. We have heard much about the alleged failure of the Government to do this and that. I propose to mention some of the things that the Government has succeeded in doing. A determined effort has been made by the Opposition to hoodwink the public, but I assert that, in the short space of time that this Government has been in office, it has been able to honour many of the promises that it made to the people before the last election. For instance, the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), before the election, promised that if he were returned to power legislation would be introduced to endow the first child of a family. The Opposition said that it could not be done, but in spite of their objections the necessary legislation was introduced, and put through the Parliament, with the result that the cost of our social services has been increased by £15,000,000 a year. -
While the Labour Government was in office, the people were much concerned about petrol rationing. The then Opposition parties said that petrol rationing could and should be abolished. The Labour Government claimed that in no circumstances could that be done. Labour Ministers tried to make the public believe that the then Opposition parties were merely trying to stampede them into voting for Opposition candidates. The election took place, and the present Government was returned to power. Almost immediately, petrol rationing was abolished with great benefit to all sections of the community. While rationing was in force, industry was hampered, and business people could expand their operations only by resorting to the black market to obtain increased supplies of petrol. Speaking as an agriculturist,- 1 know that petrol supplies were insufficient to meet the needs of the man on the land. The result was that production could not be increased, and developmental work had to be shelved. All that is now in the past. When the Government abolished petrol rationing, it was accused of breaking faith with the Government of the United Kingdom, but that idea was dispelled very soon afterwards when the Government of the United Kingdom itself abolished rationing in Great Britain. Apparently there had been some underStanding between the Chifley Government in this country and the Labour Government in the United Kingdom that the time was not ripe for the abolition of petrol rationing in those countries.
Spokesmen for the present government parties said on the hustings that if inflation was to be curbed, production would have to be increased. We all knew that there was a force at work in this community which was aimed at maintaining production at a low level, and so forcing prices up. I refer of course to the Communists whose efforts in this country are only .part of a world-wide plan, the essence of which is to so reduce living standards in democratic countries that they will be ready to be brought under i!:e influence of Soviet Russia. We on this side of the chamber made no secret of our attitude to the Communists. We promised that, if elected to office, we would ban the Communist party and free the trade unions and the Public Service of its influence. To that end, the Communist Party Dissolution Bill was introduced into this Parliament in the early part of the year. Under that measure, the trade unions are to be given an opportunity to rid themselves of the Communists who have eaten into their very vitals. The fate of that measure at the hands of the Labour party is known to every one. The Government appealed for a speedy passage of the measure so that it could be given immediate effect. Unfortunately, every possible effort was made by the Opposition in this chamber to hinder the passage of the bill. I do not deny the right of honorable senators to criticize any legislation that comes before this chamber, but on that occasion, the Opposition was not satisfied with mere criticism; it set out deliberately to delay the passage of the measure. After denouncing the bill throughout the second-reading debate, honorable senators opposite permitted it to be read a second time without a vote. However, when the measure reached the committee stage, honorable senators opposite set about making it completely ineffective. They amended various clauses in such a way that the Government would have been denied the control that it sought over Communists. Any one who listened to the debate on the bill could not have helped believing that the Opposition had a mandate from the Communist party itself to delay the measure and, when further delay became impracticable to render the vital provisions of the bill inoperative. The amended bill was returned to the House of Representatives where it was restored to its original form. The Government made it clear that if the Labour party continued to hinder the Administration in giving effect to one of its most important election promises, an appeal would be made to the electors. Honorable senators opposite and their colleagues in the House of Representatives were not game to face the electors. They “ craw-fished “ out of their awkward position, and gave the Government the bill after it had been introduced a second time.
– It is in the Government’s hands now. Honorable senators opposite should make the most of it.
– We shall, as soon a3 the court gives us an opportunity to do so. We shall show the Opposition that our election promises can be fulfilled. Any one who moves through the community to-day knows that most trade unionists are eager that the measure should be given effect.
– Not in its present form.
– Yes. The honorable senator who has just interjected was not game to vote on the hill. He ran out when a division was called. I repeat that a great majority of trade unionists in this country want to see the Communist Party Dissolution Act in operation. They know that it is not aimed at the trade unionists, or at any genuine political party. It is aimed at an organization the object of which is to disrupt and ruin this country. Had the bill been accepted by the Opposition when it was first introduced, it would now have been in operation for six months, provided of course, that it had withstood a challenge in the High Court. We do not complain about the present challenge by the Communists. We realize that any legislation that we pass may become the subject of litigation in the courts, but had it not been for the delaying tactics of the Opposition, I am confident that the measure would have been in operation six months ago and that we should have already noticed a marked improvement in industrial relations and production.
The Leader of the Opposition stressed the danger of inflation, and endeavoured to lay the blame for the present position at the door of the Menzies Government. He said that, in the last eleven months, the Government had done nothing at all to curb the rising cost of living. As I have already pointed out, we believe that the first step towards lower prices is to improve production. The Government has never had the co-operation of the Labour party in its efforts to step up production, yet honorable senators opposite have the temerity to claim that the Government has not done anything towards implementing its election promises !
I have referred to matters that stand to the credit of the Government because we have heard so much from Opposition speakers about the Government’s alleged inaction. As I have said, it was not until honorable senators opposite were faced with the possibility of having to account for their actions to the electors that they permitted the passage of legislation which the Government considers to be of the utmost importance in its anti-inflation programme. The Government will proceed with the programme that it placed before the people at the elections. Accomplishment of that programme, we believe, will stabilize the economy of this country. I am confident that, as each part of the programme is given legislative effect, the improvement will be most noticeable. I ask for leave to continue my remarks at a. later stage.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended from 5.57 to 8 p.m.
Bill presented by Senator Spooner, and read a first time.
Motion (by Senator O’Sullivan) proposed -
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the bill being passed through its remaining stages without delay.
– As the motion, in order to be carried, will require an absolute majority, which means 31 senators, to vote in the affirmative, and that number is not present, the bells will be rung.
The bells having been rung and the question having been put,
– There being an absolute majority of the whole number of senators present, and no dissentient voice, I declare the question resolved in the affirmative.
.- I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of the bill is to amend the Social Services Consolidation Act to give effect to the Government’s decisions to grant additional benefits to pensioners and other recipients of social services benefits. The provisions of the bill fall under two classifications - those which increase pension rates and those which liberalize the means test or give benefits over a wider field than at present. The proposed increases of pension rates are as follows: -
The other proposals in the bill are as follows : -
The increased rates of pensions provided in the bill will be paid on the first pension pay-day occurring after the date on which the legislation is passed and receives the Royal assent. The increased payments, however, will have retrospective effect to the first pension pay-day in November. This will mean that the increased payments to age and invalid pensioners will commence with and include the fortnightly instalment due on the 2nd November, 1950, and the increased payments to widow pensioners will commence with and include the fortnightly instalment due on the 7th November, 1950. I should like to amplify that statement by saying that, as honorable senators are aware, age and invalid pensions are payable in advance and accordingly such pensioners will receive the benefit of the increased pension in the payment due to them on the 2nd November. Widows’ pensions are payable in arrears, and widows will receive the benefit of the increase with the instalment due on the 7th November. Thus, widows will receive a slight advantage over age and invalid pensioners by reason of the difference between the dates on which the pensions are paid. That is the only practical way to give effect to the Government’s proposals. In view of the great number of pensioners involved it is not desired to alter the existing pension periods. As far as practicable, all pensioners will receive the arrears of the increase with their first payments at the new rate. If, however, the time between the date of the passing of the legislation and the next pension payday is very short, that may not be possible in all cases. Any pensioners who do not receive the arrears on the first pay-day after the legislation has been passed will receive them in the shortest possible time after that date. Honorable senators will appreciate that a big administrative problem is involved in the payment of pensions and accordingly the actual date of payment will depend on the closeness of the pension date to the date upon which this legislation is approved. I hope that this legislation will go through both Houses fairly promptly so that the department may have as much time as possible to handle all the details that are involved.
There are approximately 416,000 age and invalid pensioners and 42,800 widow pensioners in Australia. These pensions are paid subject to a means test. The manner and extent to which the pension increases are affected by the means test, plus the new provisions contained in the bill, are not only of considerable importance to those receiving pensions, but are also of public interest. I now propose to examine this position and to give some additional information. I shall commence with age and invalid pensions. The increase of 7s. 6d. a week in both age and invalid pensions will raise the minimum pension from 42s. 6d. to 50s. a week. This is the largest increase that has ever been granted in these pensions since oldage pensions were introduced by the Deakin Government in 1909. The increase of the maximum pension will mean an automatic rise of that amount in the limit of pension plus other income which a pensioner may have under the means test. A single pensioner will be able to have a total income of £4 a week, inclusive of pension, instead of £3 12s. 6d. as at present. A married couple, both in receipt of pension, will be able to have between them a total of £8 a week, inclusive of pensions, instead of £7 5s. as at present. This will benefit persons retired on superannuation who are also receiving age pensions. They will receive the full benefit of the increase of the age -pension rate, their total incomes being increased by 7s. 6d. a week for a single person and 15s. a week for married couples who are both receiving the pension.
Honorable senators may remember that in October, 1948, a new principle waa introduced into social services legislation applying to cases where the pensioner received a war pension in addition to his civil pension. Certain ceiling limits were imposed on the total amount which a pensioner could receive by way of war pension plus age or invalid pension. The Government proposes to make an appropriate increase of those limits so as to enable pensioners to derive benefit from the increase of war or civil pension for which provision is now being made. The bill accordingly provides for the ceiling limits of these dual pensions to rise from £3 2s. 6d. to £3 10s. a week in the case of a single person, and from £6 2s. to £6 10s. in the case of a married couple both receiving a civil pension. Where only one spouse of a married couple is receiving a civil pension the ceiling limit will be raised from £5 to £5 7s. 6d. a week. Age and invalid pensioners will benefit from another concession contained in the bill which relates to the treatment of life insurance policies under the property test. At the present time up to £200 of the surrender value of life insurance policies is disregarded in applying the property means test. This special exemption is raised by the bill to £500. It applies, of course, in addition to the general property exemption of £100 for a single person or £200 for a married couple. It would be possible for a pensioner receiving a reduced pension on account of life insurance policies to benefit by as much as 23s. a week as a result of this concession.
I turn now to the position of blind pensioners, who have been given a great deal of attention by the Government. It is estimated that there are 4,500 blind people in Australia, of whom approximately 3,200 receive the invalid pension. Those who receive the invalid pension will benefit by the increase of the maximum rate from 42s. 6d. to 50s. a week. At present a blind pensioner is permitted to have an income of £5 17s. 6d: a week in addition to his pension of 42s. 6d., or a total of £8 a week.
The .blind have always been permitted to have an income for means test purposes considerably in excess of the income permitted to other pensioners. The rise in wage levels which has occurred during recent years has not been accompanied, however, by increases in the permissible income of the blind for means test purposes. The Government has decided to rectify this and the bill therefore contains provisions whereunder the blind may have permissible income of £8 a week instead of £5 17s. 6d. before their pensions are reduced. The blind, therefore, will receive substantial benefits under the bill. As the result of the increase of 7s. 6d. a week in pension, combined with the increase in permissible income to £8 a week, a blind pensioner will be permitted to have a total income, inclusive of pension, of £10 10s. a week. In those cases where both husband and wife are blind, they will each receive an increase of 7s. 6d. a week in their pension and the total amount which they will be able to receive, including pensions, will rise from £10 2s. 6d. to £13 a week.
The bill also provides for increases in the pensions payable to civilian widows. The increase for class A widows, i.e. widows with one or more children under sixteen years of age, is 7s. 6d. a week, which will raise the class A pension from 47s. 6d., to 55s. a week. The increase for other classes of widow pensioners is 5s. a week. The great majority of these comprise pensioners in class B who are widows over 50 years of age with no children under sixteen years. The pension for such widows will be raised from 37s. to 42s. a week. This increase applies also to women known as class D widows who may be granted pensions during the imprisonment of their husbands beyond six months. Class C pensions, which are payable for not more than six months to widows who are under 50 years of age and have no children under sixteen years, will be raised by 5s. from 42s. 6d. to 47s. 6d. a week.
The increases to which I have referred will be paid also to other women for whom civilian widows’ pensions are provided, such as deserted wives, divorcees and women whose husbands are in hospitals for the insane. The increases to widow pensioners will automatically raise the limit of pension plus other income which a widow may have under the means test. The permissible income for these pensioners is 30s. a week, the same as that for age and invalid pensioners. Class A widows will thus be able to have a total income of £4 5s. a week, inclusive of pension, instead of £3 17s. 6d. as at present. Child endowment is payable in addition to the pension and is not included in the permissible income. Widow pensioners in classes B and D will be able to have a total income of £3 12s. a week, inclusive of pension, instead of £3 7s. as at present. There is no specific permissible income for class C widows, the economic qualification for the pension being that they are in necessitous circumstances. This pension is in the nature of a special allowance in order to tide a widow over the period immediately following the death of her husband.
The special ceiling limits on dual pensions, comprising war pension plus civil pension, to which I have referred in connexion with age and invalid pensioners, apply also to civilian widow pensioners. These ceiling limits do not concern what are known as war widows, who receive war pensions in respect of the death of their husbands. Such widows are not eligible under the law, to receive, in addition, a civilian widow’3 pension. The ceiling limits, however, do affect _ other widows in receipt of a civilian widow’s pension. The bill provides for these limits to be increased from £3 12s. 6d. to £4 a week in the case of a class A widow and from £3 2s. 6d. to £3 10s. a week in cases of widows in the other classes.
The liberalization of the property means test in respect of the surrender value of life assurance policies, which is to be made for age and invalid pensioners, will apply also to the means test for widow pensioners. As I have already mentioned, the special exemption of £200 of the surrender value of such life assurance policies will be raised to £500. It would be possible for a widow pensioner, receiving a reduced pension because of the surrender value of life assurance policies, to benefit by as much as 16s. a week as a result of this concession.
I come now to other concessions provided for in the bill. These concessions relate chiefly to persons entitled to unemployment or sickness benefits. It gives me the greatest pleasure to inform honorable senators that the concessions include the exemption of war pension from “ income “ in applying the means test for these benefits. Honorable senators will recall that the Liberal and Australian Country parties have always consistently advocated this most desirable principle and have fought hard for its adoption. I am sure that not only ex-servicemen’s organizations, but also the public generally, will welcome its introduction in this bill. The concession will mean that many war pensioners, otherwise qualified, will become eligible for unemployment or sickness benefits for the first time. The means test for these benefits allows 20s. a week other income, and at present a war pension is regarded as income. Any income in excess of 20s. a. week necessitates a corresponding reduction in the rate of benefit. When this bill becomes law, war pensioners who have qualified for unemployment or sickness benefits will be able to have 20s. a week income plus their war pensions and will still be eligible to receive the maximum rate of benefit.
Another concession provided for persons entitled to sickness benefit is the extension of the time limit for the lodgment of claims from six weeks after the date of incapacity to thirteen weeks after that date. This extended period should give ample time for persons who, for one reason or another, delay the lodgment of their claims to receive the benefit without any loss of arrears, provided the claim, is lodged within three months after the date of the incapacity. If, however, owing to the effects of the incapacity or to some other sufficient cause, the claimant is unable to lodge his claim within the extended period of three months, the Director- General of Social Services, under discretionary powers which are being retained in the act, may approve of payment of arrears of the benefit as from the normal date, or from such later date as he considers to be reasonable in the circumstances. A further concession provided in the bill for persons eligible for sickness benefit is a provision under which a claim for workers’ compensation, made within thirteen weeks after the occurrence of the claimant’s incapacity, will be treated as a claim for sickness benefit in determining the date from which that benefit will be paid. This will safeguard the rights of workers who defer lodging their claims for sickness benefit while awaiting the determination of their claims for workers’ compensation.
In the past some claims for sickness benefit have been rejected because by the time the claim for workers’ compensation has been decided the period during which an application for sickness benefit should be lodged has expired. It is considered unfair that workers who sustain injury which cause an interruption to their employment, and who fail in their claims for compensation, should also be deprived of sickness benefit merely because of the late lodgment of their claims in such circumstances.
I remind honorable senators that that matter has been brought to my notice during question .time in the Senate. I have made inquiries and have found that the case advanced was justified, and from that has followed this amendment of the legislation. There is, of course, no reason why such a person should defer his claim for sickness benefit. He should not do so, and a claim for sickness benefits should be made concurrently with a claim for workers’ compensation. But departmental experience shows that some workers, believing themselves to be entitled to workers’ compensation, fail to claim sickness benefit, only to find themselves subsequently ineligible for workers’ compensation. They are then too late with their claim for sickness benefit. The new provision will remedy this situation.
The bill also contains a concession relating to child endowment. This is a provision which will enable endowment to be paid for the children of members of the Naval, Military or Air Forces of the United Kingdom who are serving with the Australian forces and have brought their families with them to remain in Australia only during their term of temporary service. Under the present law, endowment is not payable for these children for the first twelve months of their residence in Australia, notwithstanding the fact that the eligibility of the parents for payment of family allowance from the United Kingdom Government ceases on their departure from their home country. As these personnel are liable to pay Commonwealth taxes from the commencement of their service with the Australian forces, it is only right that the benefit of child endowment should be available to them. The bill corrects this anomaly, and, as soon as it becomes law, endowment will be payable for the children concerned from the time of their arrival in A.ustralia.
Honorable senators will note that the bill contains provisions for the discontinuance of the payment of an age or invalid .pension or a widow’s pension during the period in which the pensioner receives an allowance under section 9 of the Tuberculosis Act 1948. The reason for this provision is that the allowances granted under that measure to sufferers from tuberculosis are payable in substitution for the pension and at rates which are considerably higher than pension rates. The bill contains a similar provision relating to cases where persons in receipt of unemployment, sickness or special benefits are granted tuberculosis allowances under the new’ scheme. The Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page), has already explained the generous scheme of allowances to sufferers from tuberculosis which he brought into operation on the 13th July, 1950. Under that scheme, the maximum allowance for a single person is £3 12s. 6d. a week, and for a married sufferer £6 10s. a week, plus 9s. for each dependent child under sixteen years of age. Obviously, it is not intended to pay pensions in addition to .those allowances. Under the scheme in force prior to the 13th July, 1950, the allowances were paid to sufferers in supplementation of pensions. These allowances were at much smaller rates. For example, the allowance was 10s. a week for a single person and 25s. for a married person, plus 5s. for each dependent child under sixteen years of age. The Tuberculosis Act is administered by the Department of Health, but the grants and payments of .the allowances under the new scheme are made by the Department of Social Services.
The cost of all these proposals will be substantial. The cost of the increase of 7s. 6d. a week in age and invalid pensions is estimated at £8,250,000 for a full year, and at £5,500,000 for the remainder of this financial year. The estimated cost of the increases in widows’ pensions is £700,000 for a full year, and £500,000 in respect of this financial year. It is estimated that the cost of the other concessions provided for in the bill will be £115,000 for a full year, which will bring the total cost of the increases and concessions to £9,000,000 for a complete year, and to approximately £6,000,000 for this financial year. The expenditure on age and invalid pensions for the year 1949-50 was £44,557,000. As a result of the increases and liberalizations provided in the bill and the normal increase of the number of pensioners, it is estimated that the expenditure on these pensions for the year 1950-51 will reach £51,500,000, whilst the liability for a complete year will rise to £54,250,000. ‘ The expenditure on widows’ pensions for 1949-50 was £4,420,000. The estimated expenditure on these pensions for 1950-51, including the cost of the proposed increases, is £5,000,000, and the liability for a complete vear will become £5,200,000.
The total expenditure on social services provided for under the Social Services Consolidation Act, excluding those payable under the National Health Service Act for the year 1949-50 was £85,294,000. The estimated expenditure of these services, including that arising from the increases and liberalizations provided in the hill, for the year 1950-51 is £108,000,000. Taking the cost of the increases into account for a full year, the annual liability for social services provided under the Social Services Consolidation Act will rise to £111,000,000.
I claim that the Menzies Government has determined the rates at which social services benefits shall be payable in a sympathetic and generous manner. The extension of endowment to the first child at a cost- of £15,000,000 per annum, plus the increase in benefits contained in the -bill before the Senate, estimated to cost £9,000,000 per annum, means that this Government, less than twelve months after it took office, has increased social services benefits by an amount of £24,000,000 per annum. I make the further claim that no government in Australia’s history has submitted such a progressive social services programme to a Parliament during its first year of office. I commend this measure to honorable senators and express the hope that it will receive a speedy passage through the Senate.
– The only matters of substance dealt with in this bill are, first, the increase of agc and invalid pensions by 7s. 6d. a week; secondly, the increase of the class A widows’ pensions by 7s. 6d. a week; and,, thirdly, the increase of other classes of widows’ pensions by 5s. a week. The fact that those are the only matters of substance appears very clearly from the figures quoted by the Minister in his second-reading speech. He stated that, in a full year, the cost of the increase of age and invalid pensions would be £8,250,000, and the cost of the increases of widows’ pensions would be £700,000; He said that the cost in a full year of the other concessions, which he occupied a lot of time in explaining to the Senate, would be £115,000. The value, from a monetary viewpoint, of the numerous concessions, apart from pension increases, to which the Minister referred in his speech, will be clearly seen when I point out that £115,000 represents only 1£ per cent, of the total additional annual expenditure of £9,000,000.
My first comment upon the bill and the Minister’s second-reading speech is that both are more notable for what was omitted from them than for what was included in them. It is interesting at this stage to refer, to the promises that were made to the people of Australia by the present Government parties in November, 1949, during the last general election campaign. I shall refresh the minds of honorable senators by reading a very brief but exceedingly clear statement that was made by the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in the joint policy speech that he delivered on the 10th November of last year, when he launched the election campaign of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party. The statement that he made then, on behalf of the parties that now constitute the Government, was -
Existing rates of pensions will, of course, be at least maintained. We will, much more importantly, increase their true value by increasing their purchasing power.
The right honorable gentleman made a clear and specific promise to the pensioners of Australia, not that their pensions would be increased, but that the purchasing power of their pensions would be increased. A significant feature of the Minister’s second-reading speech on this measure was that, throughout that lengthy discourse, he said not one word about the promise that was made to the pensioners of this country by the present Government parties in November, 1949. The Minister wants the pensioners to forget the promise that was then made so solemnly and clearly on behalf of those parties. I might say that the Minister, like Mandrake of newspaper fame, gestured hypnotically and hoped that the promise would disappear. I assure him that hehas no chance of hypnotizing the Opposition in this chamber or of blinding thepensioners of Australia to the fact that this Government has failed signally tohonour that specific promise. Far from there being any redemption of that promise by the Government, the purchasing, power of pensions, in common with the purchasing power of the incomes of all persons in this country, has become lesseach month that the Government has been in office. Every one now realizes that, under this Government, the purchasing power of pensions and other incomes will become less and less, until, eventually, pensioners and people in receipt of fixed incomes find themselves in the direst straits in their effort to obtain, not thecomforts of life, but the bare necessariesof existence.
The Opposition may well ask what conclusions can properly be drawn from that clear promise, from the failure of the Minister to say one word about it and from the complete failure of the Government to do a single thing in redemption of it. The first conclusion is that the promise was made fraudulently, recklessly, with no intention to honour it at any time, and for the sole purpose of winning votes at all costs. The other alternative is that the Government has not the vision, courage, or ability to redeem that promise. It may fairly be inferred that, the Government has behaved either fraudulently or in a futile manner. If supporters of the Government would prefer me to put it in another way, the alternatives that I have mentioned could be joined, and they could acknowledge that their promises were both fraudulent and futile. I have no doubt whatever that the pensioners of this country, who voted for the Government on the faith of the specific and clear promise that was made to them, which promise has been broken, will conclude that the promise was fraudulent. It was part of a pattern of fraudulent promises. In order to place this matter in its proper perspective, I shall now refer to the specific promise to put value back into the £1 that the Government made to the housewives.
– That is not so.
– That was clearly implied by advertisements on behalf of the Liberal party. Adverting to the specific promise that was made to the ‘pensioners, in case the honorable senator who has just interjected was not in the chamber when I read the relevant portion of the Prime Minister’s policy speech a few moments ago, I shall read it again. On behalf of the parties that constitute the Government the right honorable gentleman stated -
Meanwhile, the existing rates of pension will, of course, be at least maintained. We will, much more importantly, increase their true value by increasing their purchasing power.
– The honorable senator should read the whole of the paragraph.
– If Senator Guy will be patient, 1 shall show how that fraudulent promise fits into the ‘pattern of many such fraudulent promises, and he will be then in a better position to form his own judgment. In the first place, the housewives were promised that value would be put back into the £1. Another fraudulent promise was that the Government would reduce governmental expenditure. How signally it has failed to carry out that undertaking is demonstrated by the first budget that it has introduced, which provides for expenditure this year of £172,000,000 more than the expenditure in the last financial year. It has truly been called an inflationary budget, because of the vast contribution it will make to the acceleration of the inflationary S’piral in this country. That is another part of the pattern of fraudulent promises. The Government also promised the wage-earners of this country that it would reduce living costs and reduce the number of public servants. In this connexion, honorable senators opposite, when sitting in Opposition last year, insultingly referred to the increasing number of bureaucrats. Yet, in the first five months that it has been in office, the number of public servants employed has risen by 5,764. There are now many more thousands of people on the Government pay-roll than when Labour vacated office in 1949. An enlarged Public Service adds to the inflationary spiral in this country, because when, people are taken away from the production of goods required by the civil community, the pressure .of the inflationary spiral is heightened and accentuated. The pensioners of this country know perfectly well that a government that nas been capable of these broken pledges and these disappearing promises, has completely lost control of the economy of this country, and, what is worse, does not know how to regain control.
– Why does not the Opposition force the Government to the country ?
– Order ! Senator Guy will have an opportunity to make observations in due course.
– The pensioners know perfectly well that the increase of pension provided in the measure before the chamber will be swallowed up within a few months by reason of the effects of the inflationary spiral.
– It has been swallowed up already.
– The increase will not be adequate to cope with the increased cost of living, and will not, therefore, be of any substantial benefit to the. pensioners for more than a few months. The pensioners do not want increases of pension nearly so much as they want the Government to honour its promise to restore the purchasing power of their pensions. The pensioners have time to think about the affairs of the country, and they know that injection into the community of another £15,000,000 for additional child endowment, and £9,000,000 pursuant to this hill, important as are both contributions, must accentuate the inflationary tendency. I remind honorable senators that there is no money in this community that goes around with such high velocity as the money that is distributed in pensions.
– Is the honorable senator opposed to the proposed increases?
– I undertake to state the attitude of the Opposition before I conclude. The pensioners do not hoard a penny of their pensions. In fact, they need every farthing in order to procure the bare necessaries of life. I claim to know something about the outlook of pensioners, and my view is that they would very much prefer to be relieved of anxiety about how they are going to fare in the future, and to recover the peace of mind that they enjoyed when they knew that the pension that they received would be adequate to enable them to procure at least the bare necessaries of life. That is something that they do not know about the pension to-day, or about the increased pension that is about to be granted pursuant to this bill. . I come now to another vastly important phase of this matter, I refer to the application of the means test. The Prime Minister attached very great importance to this matter in his policy speech, when he stated -
Australia still needs a contributory system of national insurance against sickness, widowhood, unemployment, and old age. lt is only under such a system that we can make all benefits a matter of right, and so get completely rid of the means test. During the new Parliament we will further investigate this complicated problem, with a view to presenting to you at the election ‘ of 1952 a scheme for your approval . . . We are deeply conscious of the frequently unjust operation of the means test, and of the penalty it imposes in many cases upon thrift. There are also grave anomalies associated with the position of persons who have contributed for their own superannuation benefits. Without an nil-round contributory system, there are enormous financial barriers to an immediate abolition of the means test. Indeed, the vast sums involved (not less than £70,000,000 a year) would add to the present devaluation of money, and would, therefore, reduce the true value of the benefits now being paid. We desire, however, to adjust anomalies I have referred to. and to make such modifications in the means test as we find possible pending a contributory scheme. This great human problem will have our urgent attention as a matter of priority.
I direct the attention of honorable senators particularly to the very important pronouncement in the right honorable gentleman’s concluding sentence. No supporters of the Government could even attempt to deny that the matter of the amelioration of the means test was elevated to a very high pinnacle during the election campaign. It would be well for us to consider how the Government has faced up to what the Prime Minister termed “ this great human problem “, which was to have the urgent attention of the Government as a matter of priority. I shall presently show the degree of priority that was accorded to it. It is interesting to consider in what respect, if any, the unjust operations of the means test has been corrected by the Government. It is also interesting to consider which anomalies, if any, it has removed. The bill before the Senate places all the fine words of the Prime Minister in the category of disappearing promises. The approach that has been made to the amelioration of the means test is one of the most pitifully inadequate approaches that the Government could have made to “ this great human problem “. Ab honorable senators know, the means test is divided into two categories. These are the income test and the property test. I shall deal with them separately. The Government makes two proposals. In the first place it proposes to disregard war pensions in calculating unemployment and sickness benefits. That concession will have very little point insofar as unemployment benefit is concerned because, happily, we may say that unemployment does not exist in this country to any appreciable degree. But it has a very real effect in relation to sickness benefits. I point out that the disregarding of war pensions in relation to unemployment and sickness benefits will account for only part of the proposed expenditure of £115,000, that is part of the 1^ per cent, of the moneys to be provided under this bill. That is indicative of the Government’s approach to “ this great human problem “. The Government also proposes to increase the permissible income of the blind from £5 17s. ‘ 6d. a week to £8 a week. As the Minister has already pointed out, there are about 3,200 blind pensioners in Australia. I think that the Government will concede that the great majority of them are not earning anything and accordingly this concession will be confined to a mere handful of people who are suffering from the unfortunate and grave affliction of blindness. After all the fine words that were uttered by the Prime Minister on behalf of the Government parties, this is the great contribution of the Government in its approach to the amelioration of the means test! The concession to the blind also forms part of the measly £115,000, which sum is in itself the mere 1-j per cent, of the total of £9,000,000 to be provided under this bill. That is the generous approach of the
Government to what the Prime Minister called this great human problem of the means test! Par from ameliorating the means test, the Government has tightened it. Where there is a dependent child of invalid or age pensioners, there is a permissible income of £26 a year in addition to the ordinary permissible income of 30s. a week. That permissible income of £26 is to be reduced by the quantum of any other payments made in respect of the child. Thus, when this Government endowed the first child, the extra permissible income was instantly and automatically reduced by the amount of the endowment, namely, 5s. a week. The same principle has been applied to widows. Section 64 of the act provides that, in addition to the ordinary permissible income of 30s. a week, there may be an additional permissible income of 5s. in respect of the first child. less any amount paid in respect of that child. Accordingly, the mere granting of 5s. endowment for the first child wiped out that extra permissible income.
We now come to the property test. The bill provides that insurance policies with a surrender value of up to £500 will be disregarded. At present, the amount is £200. Very few pensioners in Australia are able to make any provision for life insurance, and certainly very few of them have policies with a surrender value of £500. The Minister did not state what this concession is worth, but I am prepared to risk the statement that the cost to the Commonwealth will be negligible. If the Government wished to make a generous approach to this matter it could very well have abolished the provision regarding the surrender value of policies. The Labour party believes in the continuous amelioration of the means test with a view to its ultimate abolition, and the Labour Government was the onlyone that ever did anything worthwhile in that direction. In 1946, the permissible income of pensioners was increased from 12s. 6d. to £1 a week. In 1948, it was increased to 30s. As for property, the amount was raised in 1946 from £400 to £650, and, in 1948, the amount was increased again to £750. Those were worthwhile concessions.
Any one who considers the actual needs of pensioners will be less concerned with the abolition of the means test than with doing something more for those with little or nothing except their pensions. There are, in Australia, 340,000 age pensioners, 76,000 invalid pensioners and 43,000 widows who draw pensions. Sixtyfive per cent, of pensioners have no income at all apart from their pensions. After this bill is passed, approximately 300,000- persons will have to supply all their needs on an income of £2 10s. a week. Another 15 per cent, of pensioners have private incomes of 5s. a week or less, so that they will have to live u’pon something between £2 10s. and £2 15s. a week. Thus, about 370,000 people will have no more than £2 10s., or at the most £2 15s., a week with which to provide themselves with food, shelter, clothing, lighting and heating, and to pay for medical attention when they are sick. The present Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Chifley) promised, before the last election that if his Government were returned to power it wouldgive immediate consideration to the plight of those pensioners who had little or nothing beyond their pensions. When this bill becomes law, a husband and wifewho are both eligible to draw the age pension may have between them a ‘private income of as much as £7 a week, and still collect 10s. a week each in pension. 1 believe that, rather than pay such a couple £1 a week pension, it would bs infinitely better to make some additional provision, for those who have nothing to live on apart from their pensions. 1 come now to the contributory system of national insurance referred to in thejoint policy statement of the parties that support the present Government. Much, was said on this subject during the election campaign, but to-night the Minister who introduced the bill had not oneword to say about the matter. I remind honorable senators that during the election campaign in 1946 the leaders of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party made precisely similar statementsabout a contributory system of national insurance. Their ideas did not progress during the three years between 1946 and 1949, and during the eleven months the Government has been in office nothingwhatever has been done to introduce a national insurance scheme. No better example could be provided of the futility of the parties which support the Government. What problem has the Government to solve? It knows that a national insurance scheme would cost about £70,000,000 a year. The problem is purely one of taxation. The benefits have been clearly defined, and there is no doubt about the cost. I invite the Minister, when replying to this debate, to give some hint as to the nature of the scheme that the Government has in mind. Does it propose that every one shall pay a fixed amount in the form of a social services tax out of every £1 he earns, as i9 done in New Zealand, or does it propose that there shall be a graduated scale of taxation? If the only problem is the method of financing the scheme, why has it taken the Government so long to make up its mind? It would appear that there is no sincerity in the promises of the anti-Labour parties. In connexion with the national insurance scheme, they are merely trying to fool the people, as they succeeded in fooling some of the people with some of their other fraudulent promises.
There is another omission from the bill. In 1943, when the Labour Government was in office, the allowance payable in respect of the wife of an invalid pensioner and the wife of an incapacitated age pensioner was 15s. a week, which was increased to £1 a week, and in July, 1949, it was increased to £1 4s. a week. To-day, that amount is quite inadequate but there is no provision in the bill for increasing it. What has become of the deep concern of the Government parties for the housewives as expressed during the election campaign? Apparently, the Go,vernment has forgotten all about the housewives, and is not prepared to increase the allowance of £1 4s. a week. The Labour Government also provided for an allowance for children of invalid pensioners, but this Government has done nothing to increase the amount of that allowance. An increase of 7s. 6d. a week is to be paid to a family unit consisting of an invalid pensioner, who now receives £2 10s. a week, his wife who receives £1 4s. a week, and their child for whom an allowance of 9s. a week is allowed, and the pension of the single man or woman is to be increased by exactly the same amount. That is an anomaly which the Government might very well correct.
There is also an important omission from the bill in connexion with unemployment and sickness benefits, which were introduced by the Curtin Government in 1944. Under that provision, a single person is eligible to receive £1 5s. a week. A married man receives an allowance of £1 5s., £1 for his wife, and 5s. for a child, making a total of £2 10s. a week. Those rates have not been altered since they were first instituted. I concede that the issue is not important in these days of full employment, but it is of great importance to sick people that, while costs are steadily rising, their incomes should be pegged at the rates fixed six years ago. I invite the Government to reconsider its approach to this matter. There is a very strong reason why the Government should do something to help the sick, because it tore up a broad scheme of pharmaceutical benefits that would have given full protection to sick people, and substituted for it a scheme that covers only 5 per cent, of their needs. Furthermore, although there was waiting for the present Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) a medical benefits scheme under which the Government was to pay onehalf of the medical costs incurred by citizens, the scheme was not adopted, and the Minister has produced nothing but a litter of plans. There is no more fertile producer of plans than the mind of the present Minister for Health. There is a clear obligation on this Government, which has worsened the position of pensioners in relation to pharmaceutical and medical benefits, to do something for the sick people of Australia, and at least a very easy and intelligent course to adopt would be to increase the sickness benefits that are to be paid pursuant to this measure.
I propose now to deal with one more matter that was referred to by the Minister, and that is the tuberculosis allowance. I remind the Senate that the great scheme that is functioning in this country to-day to eradicate tuberculosis, and to provide care for sufferers and their dependants, was introduced by the Chifley Government in co-operation with the governments of the States. The
Commonwealth Government, very properly, provides the whole of the money that is required to implement this plan. Anybody who heard the Minister’s speech to-night could be pardoned for imagining that the present Minister for Health introduced the scheme of tuberculosis allowances on the 13th July of this year. The truth is, of course, that tuberculosis allowances were introduced by the Chifley Government in 1945. I say, therefore, that there was a very unfair presentation of the case in the Minister’s secondreading speech. Honorable senators will recall that he compared the present tuberculosis allowance of £6 10s. a week for a married man with the £1 5s. a week provided by the Labour administration. He did say, “ in supplementation of pensions “, but he did not point out that, in addition to the £1 5s. allowance, there was a pension of £2 2s. 6d. a week, an allowance of £1 4s. a week for a wife, and. the allowance of 5s. a week for each child. Similarly, one would have gathered the impression that Labour had provided for a single man a tuberculosis allowance of only 10s. a week, but the truth is that he also got a pension of £2s. 2s. 6d. a week. The Minister’s presentation of the case was completely unfair for another very important reason. With very few alterations, the rates announced by the Minister for Health, which have operated from the 13th July, together with a scheme under which tuberculosis pensions were suspended and replaced by the tuberculosis allowance system, were lying on the Minister’s table, with every detail ready and approved, on the 19th December, 1949, the day that he assumed office. However, although the completed scheme was awaiting implementation, and in fact would have been implemented on the very next day if Labour had been returned to office, it took Sir Earle Page to the 13th July to have it published. In other words, it took the right honorable gentleman seven months to do a job that merely required his signature.
There is throughout this country to-day wide recognition of all that Labour did during its brief term of office, when it was saddled with the task of conducting a total war. As a result of Labour’s activity, all parties recognize that the un- employed, the aged, the sick, the widows, and people suffering physical disabilities are the responsibility of the community, and should not be left to some haphazard charity which, although well intentioned, can overlook many deserving cases. However, recognition of these achievements by Labour has come rather belatedly from the present Government parties. Labour increased the total expenditure on social services from £18,000,000 to nearly £100,000,000 a year. Although I shall be taking a minute or two of the Senate’s time, I propose to review rapidly what was done by Labour in the field of social services during its term of office. The Labour Government doubled the age pension. It introduced allowances for wives and children. It introduced the civilian widows’ pension, and unemployment and sickness benefits. It trebled maternity allowances in this country and doubled child endowment. It substantially relaxed the means test to which I referred a little earlier in my speech. It instituted a scheme of rehabilitation for physically handicapped persons in the community. It established acoustic laboratories throughout the Commonwealth to look after deaf ex-servicemen,, and provided hearing aids at one quarter of their commercial costs for the deaf children of Australia. It provided funeral allowances. It introduced the principle of pharmaceutical and medical benefits. It provided tuberculosis allowances, and instituted hospital benefits, including private hospital benefits. It set up a Chair of Child Health at the University of Sydney. It established a unit of industrial hygiene at the same university to conduct research into the industrial problems of the workers of this country. Lastly, but by no means of least importance, it consolidated 50 social services acts in one measure, the Social Services Consolidation Act of 1947, of which this bill is an amendment.
The Minister expressed pride in what he claimed his Government had been able to do in the . social services field. I do not want to take from him any of the pride that he feels in what he has been able to achieve so far, hut he will be able to claim a great deal more pride when he has a record that will encompass even one quarter of the achievements of the Labour Government during its period of office when it had a total war on its hands. I appeal to the Government tonight to consider with sympathy the plight of those people who have little or nothing apart from their pensions - the 370,000 individuals in this community who have to provide everything that keeps body and soul together out of a pension of £2 10s. a week. I ask the Minister in sheer decency to urge the Government to do something about its promise to the pensioners to restore the purchasing power to their pensions.
Government senators interjecting,
– I propose to remind Government , supporters of that promise again and again. I shall also remind them of their promises that they made from the election platform. I owe it to the people who were misled by those promises to remind the Government of them constantly. Honorable senators opposite will hear about those promises, not only from me but also, I believe, from every member of the Opposition who will speak on this measure. I remind the Minister of what he said to us on the 15th March last when he introduced his first social services measure. I ask him to take particular note of the following passages from his speech: -
All these great national reforms need to be approached with courage. Each time that progress is suggested there are to be found Rome reactionaries who express the view that the nation cannot afford the expense involved. There are always some who, perhaps timid, weak and apprehensive, fear that social reforms will weaken standards of living in some direction.
The Minister concluded with these words -
I say, therefore, to those reactionaries, or those who are timid and fearful, to accept the proposal with courage.
I invite the Minister to study his own words, and not to identify himself with the reactionaries, the apprehensive, the timid, and the fearful to whom he referred. He should remember that Labour left in the National Welfare Fund a credit balance of approximately £.130,000,000.
– That is not true.
– If any honorable senator opposite who doubts what
I have said will take the budget speech delivered by the Treasurer and turn to the appendices, he will find that I am right. Any honorable senator who seeks to controvert my statement joins issue with his own Treasurer.
I come now to the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) who interjected only once during my speech, and then, very properly, only to seek some information about the attitude of the Opposition. I inform the honorable gentleman and his colleagues that the Opposition realizes that the pension increases provided in this bill are urgently needed by the people for whom they are intended. We do not intend to oppose this measure, but I urge consideration by the Government of the suggestions that I have made on the Opposition’s behalf. I believe that adoption of those suggestions would improve the condition of those members of the community on whose behalf I have spoken to-night.
– The Labour Government did not recognize the need for pension increases last year when the value of the Chifley £1 fell to 10s.
– I am confident that if one were to approach the pensioners of this country and ask them whether they would prefer the pension increases proposed in this bill at the Menzies-Fadden £1 rate, or the pensions that they enjoyed under the Labour Government at the Chifley £1 rate, they would most certainly prefer the latter. In those days they had peace of mind at least. They were not worried about the future. They are worried about the future to-day, and with very good reason. The Minister has pointed out the departmental difficulties of having payment made without notice. Therefore, the Opposition will, subject to due and proper discussion of this measure, expedite its passage.
– I have listened with close attention to the speech made by Senator McKenna, and I believe that, for lack of real ammunition, and despite his great ability and knowledge, he wandered all over the place. He spoke of the effect that the additional £9.000,000 for which this measure provides would have on inflation. I believe that his exact words were -
No money circulates with a higher velocity than that given to the pensioners.
Then the honorable senator proceeded to suggest that almost every item in the bill * should be further increased. Obviously if the payment of the additional £9,000,000 ‘will accentuate the inflationary trend, further pension increases would produce even more inflation. The Government has approached this problem with a due sense of responsibility. It was determined that, if an error was to be made, it should he made on the side of generosity. This debate has shown that honorable senators on both sides of this chamber believe that there should be an extension of particular social services in a particular direction. Many will desire to introduce new subjects for benefits. We must consider the factors that prompted this Government to introduce this legislation. No additional social service benefits were included in the last budget presented by the Chifley Government, which meant that when the Menzies Government came into office and assumed control of the Treasury, it had to review social services for two years. During those two years great economic changes had taken place in this country, and accordingly the Government had to endeavour to assess what were the greatest deficiencies in the pensions system. It found that the greatest deficiency of all was that pensions were insufficient to provide for higher costs. During the last twelve months of the regime of the Chifley Government, the basic wage was increased by 13s. a week; but that Government did not increase the rate of pensions by one penny. It is a remarkable coincidence that during the period of office of the present Government the basic wage has been increased by exactly the same amount. This Government, however, has already increased the pension rate by 7s. 6d. a week.
Senator McKenna gave a very long and, I suppose, from his viewpoint, an imposing account of what had been done in the afield of social services- by Labour governments. It would, perhaps, be wiser for us to review the pensions system since its inception. In 1909 the Deakin Go vernment was responsible for the institution of the old-age pension-
– Pushed on by the Labour party..
– In 1910, the Fisher Government introduced invalid pensions, and in 1912, it introduced maternity allowances. In 1941, the Menzies Government established child endowment, and in spite of fierce opposition in this chamber during the first sessional period of this Parliament, during which all sorts of specious arguments were advanced, particularly by Senator Hendrickson who was so vocal a moment ago, a bill providing for additional child endowment of 5s. a week for the first child was placed on the statute-book.
– The honorable senator voted against Labour’s amendment that endowment for the first child he increased to 10s. a week.
– The Government now proposes to extend child endowment to the children of members of the naval, military and air forces of the United Kingdom who are serving in Australia, from the date on which their children arrive in this country. Liberal governments have been responsible for much more social services legislation than have Labour governments. At present, 3,000,000 Australian^, adults and children, of the total population of 8,003,000, are drawing benefits from the Department of Social Services. In this bill the. Governproposes to provide £111,000,000 for social service benefits, or an additional £24,000,000 compared with last year.
Senator McKenna referred to the necessity for the liberalization of the means test. Every honorable senator looks forward to the day when it will be possible to eliminate the means test. At present, all political parties in Australia and in other countries, particularly those in English-speaking countries, have to face the position that whole pension schemes will have to be recast” because of the change that is taking place in age groups. I propose to cite some figures which I collated to show how the number of age pensioners in each 10,000 of the population . has increased since 1929. They will give honorable senators some idea of the difficulties that are being faced by, not only this Government, but also the governments of all other countries. The relevant figures are as follows: -
These figures reveal that since 1928 the number of age pensioners in each 10,000 of the population has almost doubled. This trend is apparent not only in Australia but also in other countries. Today, the application of medical science is keeping people alive beyond the age at which they are able to look after themselves. In 1881, the expectation of life for a man was 43.7 years, and for a woman, 47.2 years. It is interesting to reflect that women live longer than men ; probably it is because they live better than men do. In 1938, the expectation of life for men was 61.8 years, and for women, 65.8 years. In 1948, the figures were 76 years and in excess of 77 years respectively. That reveals the tremendous problem that will face society in the casting of age groups. The Rountree report, which is the most comprehensive report that has yet been submitted on age groups and the condition of pensionable people, states that in 1949 in Great Britain, 5.6 millions of the population was of pensionable age, and that it is estimated that in 1969 the number will increase to 7.3, and in 1989 to 7.8 millions.
– How long will it be before all the people are in receipt of pensions?
– The working population is decreasing in the same proportion as the pensionable group is increasing. In 1901, one person of every seventeen of the population of Great Britain was of pensionable age. In 1931, one in every ten was of pensionable age. It has been estimated that in 1961 and 1971 one ‘in six and one in five respectively will be of pensionable age. Thus, by 1971 it is expected that 20 per cent, of the population of Great Britain will be of pensionable age. The same state of affairs exists in the United States of America. In Australia, in 1901, 4 per cent, of our population was of pensionable age. In 1948, the percentage had doubled,, and it is progressively increasing. Honorable senators opposite talk loosely about what should be done to bring about the complete elimination of the means test-
– I advise the honorable senator to read the policy speech of the leader of her party.
– I have before me a copy of the extract from that speech which was quoted to-night by Senator McKenna. In that part of his policy speech, the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) said that if he were elected his government would consider the matter, and place a scheme before the people at the next general election. I believe that all thinking people in Australia regard the gradual elimination of the means test as a most desirable objective.
– How does the Government propose to go about it?
– We shall tell the honorable senator in the policy which the leader of the party to which I belong will deliver in 1952 when this Government will again be returned to office.
I was interested to hear Senator McKenna attack many of the provisions of this bill. As Senator Hendrickson does not seem to like listening to figures, I shall endeavour not to weary him. In July, 1909, the age pension represented 21.98 per cent, of the basic wage. I shall not cite the figures for the intervening years. If honorable senators so desire I shall ask for leave to incorporate them in Hansard. When this bill has been passed, the pension will represent 35.21 per cent, of the basic wage. I join, with Senator McKenna in wishing that it had been possible to raise the permissible income of those who are in receipt of superannuation payments. No person has a greater respect than I have for those who by their own efforts, some voluntary and others compulsorily, contribute to superannuation schemes for their future security. I do not agree with Senator McKenna that very few age pensioners will be found to have life policies with any surrender value. I am extremely grateful to the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) because he took up on my behalf a request which had come from an old man of 81 years of age who had retired at the age of 74 after carrying on business as a pharmaceutical chemist. Under provisions enacted by the Labour Government, he had to rid himself of the small amount of money that he had before he was eligible to apply for a pension. As the surrender value of his life assurance policy was £492, the most that could be obtained for that man was a pension of £3 10s. 6d. a fortnight. Nineteen pounds a year was deducted because the surrender value of his life assurance policy was £192 in excess of the permissible value. I have had great pleasure in writing to that old gentleman and explaining to him that under the provisions of this legislation he will be able to draw a full pension.
Civilian widows are still suffering disabilities. The disadvantages which they suffer should be examined. It is not reasonable to expect a woman on a ceiling income of £4 5s. a week, with perhaps one or two children, to leave her home and go out and earn money. Unless she is in a position to obtain a good income which will allow her to pay for the care of her children at a creche or at some other place where they will be well looked after, the civilian widow to-day is having a very hard time.
– She should be on the same footing as the war widow, whose position is bad enough.
– The property limitation is also very harsh, and especially so in the case of widows who have had a few hundred pounds in excess of the permissible amount left to them by their husbands. As honorable senators know, it has been impossible for such women to purchase homes because they have not had sufficient money either to pay a substantial deposit or to purchase a home outright. If they have more than £750 in one case and £1,000 in another, they are debarred from drawing a pension. Especially is it difficult for spinsters to obtain homes. Some of them have spoken to me about that problem, and they have shown themselves to be fiercely independent. They have saved a few pounds, although not sufficient to purchase a home, and they now find that they must divest themselves of their small savings before they become eligible to claim an age pension.
The proposed increase in the permissible income of blind pensioners is very gratifying. So, too, is the increase of ceiling limits where pensioners receive a war pension in addition to a civil pension. That is a step in the right direction and is something for which the Government should be congratulated. By making that provision, it has established a principle which I, at least, hold very dearly. That principle is that a pension granted to a serviceman should not be regarded in any way as charity or as income when assessing pension rights, because it is something which the country owes to him foi services that he has rendered. The exempttion of war pensions when applying the means test in claims for unemployment and sickness benefits is in the same category and the Government is also to be congratulated for making those special allowances.
I was interested in Senator McKenna’s remarks concerning tuberculosis and the special payment which is made to State governments from the National Welfare Fund for the assistance of people who are suffering from non-arrested tuberculosis. As I have mentioned in this chamber on previous occasions there was a glaring anomaly in the previous allowances, and I am happy to state that the Minister for Social Services saw the justice of the case, and that the anomaly has now been removed. Originally, provision was made for payment only to sufferers who had pulmonary tuberculosis.
No payment was made from the National Welfare Fund to persons suffering from spinal tuberculosis, or tuberculosis of any other part of the body than the lungs. Senator McKenna stated that there was very little increase in payments, but that is not correct. I suggest to honorable senators that there has been a generous increase in payments under this legislation, and I believe that if ever there was a necessity for increased payments, it is at the present time. I wish to read to honorable senators an article which recently appeared in a Sydney newspaper, because it proves how valuable such payments are and how necessary it is that no section of persons suffering from tuberculosis should be debarred from receiving the special allowance. The article states -
More than half the people who went to the Sydney Town; Hall yesterday to learn the results of their Mantoux T.B. skin tests found that they had shown positive results. lt does not necessarily follow that a person who has shown a positive result is suffering from active tuberculosis, but the article also states that of the 300 people who were tested, 160 showed positive results and 140 negative results. Immediately positive results are detected by Mantoux test, it is desirable that the persons concerned should be X-rayed. If they are then found to be suffering from non-arrested tuberculosis, and if they report to the medical authorities and seek treatment, a special payment from the National Welfare Fund can be made. Not only does that mean that they are given a chance to save their own health, but that they speedily cease to be a source of infection to the general community.
I return to what I believe should be, and will be, the aim of the Government. We need an effective national insurance scheme providing for superannuation, incapacity, sick pay, widowhood and family endowment. If such a scheme were instituted, I consider that it should be administered differently from the National Welfare Fund of which Senator McKenna spoke. The honorable senator stated that there is £130,000,000 in that fund, but the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) has made it perfectly clear that the surplus funds have been used to redeem treasury-bills. The funds are not held in cash.
– What is wrong with that? They must be redeemed at some time. How would the honorable senator have redeemed them?
– If the Government wished to use surplus funds that are in the National Welfare Fund, as Senator McKenna has alleged they are, it would be necessary to re-tax or issue new treasury-bills. That is undeniable.
– What about excess profits tax?
– I ask the honorable senator what connexion there is between excess profits tax and the National Welfare Fund. If he is able to tell me, I shall be glad if he will do so.
I consider that there should be a progressive elimination of the means test which debars thrifty people from receiving assistance. Non-contributory schemes discourage thrift, and for that reason T should like to see in this country a proper contributory scheme. At the same time, if the Government finds that it is possible to institute such a scheme, it should be supplemented by voluntary schemes which, in turn, assist the Government schemes. It is all very well for Senator McKenna to skate airily over the whole of the provisions of the bill. In doing so he sought to hide from the public the fact that the Australian Labour party did nothing for the pensioners when it was in office. Before presenting its final budget it was asked to give some consideration to the claims of pensioners, but it refused to do so. As the Minister for Social Services has stated, this Government has made provision for the biggest increases ever granted by a government in its first term. I believe that the age pensioners will not be deluded. They know that the Chifley Government had nothing to offer them and that this Government has. I support the bill.
– One would imagine that in 1950 there would be, in relation to a bill of this kind very little difference of opinion, at any rate upon matters of principle, between the leading political parties in this country. It was unfortunate that the Minister for Social
Services (Senator Spooner), at the end of his second-reading speech, said -
I make the further claim that no government in Australia’s history has submitted such a progressive social services programme to a parliament during its first year of office.
Subsequently, Senator Wedgwood told us of the great achievements of the Liberal party and explained how it introduced child endowment in 1941. Apparently the honorable senator completely forgot that in 1941 there was no Liberal party in this country and that the present Liberal party was then sailing under different colours. If one person and one government in the history of Australia can claim credit for laying the foundation of a sane social services policy, the one man is the late John Curtin and the one government is the Administration of which he was the head. Che age pension was introduced in Australia in 1909, and the first bonus in respect of children was paid on the 1st January, 1912. From then until the Curtin Government assumed office, we sailed a very narrow channel. Leaving aside the introduction of child endowment in 1941, the reasons for which arc an interesting story in themselves, it was not until the Curtin Labour Administration took office that we departed from a narrow concept of social services and adopted the much broader concept that is now accepted throughout Australia. That concept is that every person born into the Australian community has a dignity that must be preserved throughout his or her lifetime. It was implicit in the social services scheme of the Curtin Administration that the birthrights of Australian citizens should not be taken away from them by economic depressions or by the ills to which, unfortunately, human beings are subject. It was singularly unfortunate that the Minister for Social Services, in moving the second reading of what should be, in this year of grace, a machinery measure, made the claims that he. did make. His remarks were in very poor taste and, to say the least, contributed nothing to this debate.
A secondary consideration that actuated the Curtin Government in formulating its social services policy was the economic effect of social services.
Mr. Curtin realized that a decrease of the purchasing power of one individual in the community inevitably affected the purchasing power of other individuals in that community, and that, without social services, unemployment and sickness had an adverse economic effect upon the community because the purchasing power of unemployed and sick persons was considerably reduced. However, in dealing with social services the human aspect must always be the principal consideration.
Although a broad concept of social services is now universally accepted, it does not follow that a government, having secured the passage of some social services legislation or amended existing legislation, can then sit back, preen itself and. say that it has discharged its responsibilities to the people. I hope that nobody in Australia is satisfied with our present social services programme, because a responsibility rests upon the Government and the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia to continue and expand it.
The Minister, very naively, said that the proposed increase of the age pension by 7s. 6d. a week would be the greatest increase of that pension since 1909. I point out to the Minister that the purchasing power of 7s. 6d. is less than it ever has been. The purchasing power of money is the crux of this great human problem, about which the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) spoke so glibly in November of last year. The important factor is, not the amount of money that pensioners receive by way of pension but the quantity of goods that they can buy with their pensions. The Minister for Social Services claimed - I thought rather belligerently - that the Menzies Government had, to use his words, “ determined the rates at which social services benefits shall be. payable in a sympathetic and generous manner “. The Minister would have been better advised to say that any government, even the MenziesGovernment, should always approach social services in a sympathetic and generous manner. There is no other way in which social services can be said to have been approached. Certainly no government would say that it had approached them in an unsympathetic and ungenerous manner. The Minister’s statement to which I have referred was just another example, of the “words, words, and more words “, that we have now come to expect from Ministers of this Government.
An examination of the provisions of the bill relating to sickness benefits reveals that the Government’s approach to this matter has been far from sympathetic and generous. If there are any persons in the community who deserve to be treated generously by the Government, they are persons who are sick, but we find that the Government does not propose to alter the existing rate of sickness benefit, which was put into operation six years ago. A man who’ becomes sick and, therefore, has to cease work for a time, will have to try to maintain himself upon the sum of 25s. a week, although, in addition to the disability from which he is suffering as a result of the cessation of his earnings, he will be faced with expenditure upon medicines and doctors’ fees. The attitude of this Government seems to be that it will not do much to assist sick people. Under the Government’s health scheme, only a limited number of lifesaving drugs will be available free of charge, the wider McKenna formulary having been disregarded, but the newspapers have said that age pensioners will have the benefit of a wide formulary It was said that that formulary would come into operation on the 1st November of this year, but when that day dawned the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) announced that it could not be put into operation for a few months and, in effect, said that pensioners would have to wait patiently until then. That is another example of the Government’s unsympathetic treatment of sick people.
The Government has also adopted a very unsympathetic attitude to invalids between the age of sixteen years and 21 years who are being supported by their parents. Between sixteen and 21 years of age is the only period in a young man’s life when he can ‘make a monetary contribution to his family. Until he reaches the age of sixteen years he is at school, and, generally speaking, after he reaches the age of 21 years he leaves home and assumes family responsibilities of his own. Parents who have a permanently incapacitated son lose the advantage of his earning capacity for that period - a period when parents enjoy the company of their children and when children can appreciate the company of their parents. A young man in that position i3 not entitled as of right to an invalid pension. His right to a pension depends upon the financial position of his parents, and a very stringent means test is applied. If his father, by diligently applying himself to his job, earns an extra £1 or £2 a week, the pension of his son is reduced accordingly. I had hoped that the Government would make provision for invalid sons or daughters to receive invalid pensions as of right, apart from the incomes of their parents. I am certain that representations have been made to the Minister upon this matter by many people, and I hope that he will give some consideration to the distress that the present system is causing to many families and, before the next budget is introduced, take steps to alter the system and alleviate that distress.
Senator “Wedgwood said that during the last twelve months of office of the Chifley Government the age pension was not increased, although .the basic wage rose by 13s. Since the 10th December the basic wags has increased by 30s., but the age pension has been increased by only 7s. 6d. Let us take the comparison a little further. It has been said that comparisons are ‘always odious, but this one is not odious to honorable senators on this side of the chamber. On the 21st October, 1948, a Labour Government increased the age pension from 37s. 6d. to 42s. 6d. a week, which was 36.64 per cent, of the basic wage. When the increase of the basic wage recently granted by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court comes into operation, the age pension, despite the increase of 7s. 6d., will be much less than 36.64 per cent, of the basic wage.
– It will be 35 per cent, of the basic wage. The basic wage will be £7 2s. a week and the age pension will be £2 10s. a week.
– Far be it from me to argue with a fellow Western Australian, but, on Senator Robertson’s own statement, the age pension then will be less than 36.64 per cent, of the basic wage.
– Not much less.
– I should not have raised this point had not a member of Senator Robertson’s own party and sex tried to belittle the activities of the Chifley Government by comparing the age pension with the basic wage.
– I said that under the Government’s proposals the age pension will be slightly less than 36.64 per cent, of the basic wage. The honorable senator said it would be very much less than that. He should not exaggerate.
– I am not exaggerating. Apparently, the honorable senator is proud of the fact that this Government, in its short period of office, has reduced the percentage relationship of the age pension to the basic wage. That is typical of the approach of members of the Liberal party to age pensions.
It is useless arbitrarily to fix pension rates without fixing also the quantity of goods that pensioners can buy with their pensions. I advise the Government to read some of the reports that have been published by chambers of commerce and chambers of manufactures. The people who put the Government into power are now attacking its outworn economic theory that the solution of all our difficulties is increased production. What is happening in this community now is that ago pensioners are being told that they must live on £2 10s. a week, wage and salary earners are being told that they can receive only the wages and salaries determined by arbitration courts, and other people in the community are being told that they can sell their goods for whatever they can get for them. In other words, the Government, because it has not the courage or the ability to take other steps, is saying to pensioners that they will have £2 10s. a week in their pockets but that it does not care how small a quantity of goods that money will buy. Prices may increase threefold overnight, but the Government says that that is none of its business. That is a completely unreal approach to the problem.
Some honorable senators opposite claim that it was the Chifley Government that devalued the £1. Members of the Government parties from the Prime Minister downwards make a deliberately dishonest approach to this matter when they lay the blame for the present inflation upon the Chifley Government’s action in devaluing the Australian £1 in relation to the dollar. Devaluation was not opposed in principle by the present Prime Minister at that time. He made his promise to put value back into the £1 many months after the £1 had been devalued, and when he knew the effects of devaluation. With that knowledge, on the eve of the last general election he undertook to put value back into the £1. Therefore, it is completely dishonest to say that the reason why this Government cannot or will not honour its promise to increase the purchasing power of the £1 is that the £1 was devalued by the Chifley Government.
– The value of the £1 had decreased considerably before devaluation. The Chifley £1 was worth only 10s.
– The fact is that the Prime Minister made his promise to put value back into the £1 many months after the £1 had been devalued. The line taken by persistent interjectors such as Senator Maher and Senator George Rankin, who take their cue from the Prime Minister, is patently dishonest and absurd. This Government has resolutely refused to fix prices or to control exports. Because of its neglect to stabilize the Australian economy a handful of people in the community will be reduced to starvation level. I am not proud of the fact that a peak of 36.64 per cent, was reached under a Labour government, because even at that stage these people were facing slow starvation. The figure has now dropped to 35 per cent., and they have not the same purchasing power. Of course, the basic wage is not a very stable index to the matter. The Government has displayed an unreal approach to the human problem of putting value back into the £1, which is allied very closely with pensions. An increase of 7s. 6d. a week should not be merely a figure on paper; it should be made with the intention to increase the purchasing power of the recipients. The Government’s unreal approach to this problem has been epitomized in this bill. Senator McKenna has already dealt fully with the promises that the Government has not honoured. The people to whom I have referred are not starving in the sense that they have nothing to eat, but rather in the sense that they are not getting all of the things that they need. I urge the Government not to wait until twelve months hence to review this matter, because in view of the inflationary trend now operating the plight of these people may soon become very serious. The concept that was laid down by a former Prime Minister, Mr. Curtin, that the dignity of the people should be preserved in times of poverty, has been ignored completely in this bill.
– Labour forgot all about them in 1949.
– I am sorry that Senator Wedgwood was not in the chamber when I dealt with that aspect of the matter, and I am unable to repeat all of the things that I have said. I shall conclude by again urging the Government to review pensions in six months’ time, not in twelve months’ time, as appears to be the Minister’s present intention.
– The expression “social services “ strikes a chord in most human hearts, and the history of the development of social services in this country makes very interesting reading. It is a true index to the degree to which we have progressed, and the changes that have taken place. It would seem that the introduction of alms houses, followed by the terrible work-houses and debtors’ prisons of Dickens’s days took place only after the revolt against the feudal system in Great Britain. When men became free to go as they pleased, there appeared the poor, uncared for, and a kind of mendicant in the community. Civilization has progressed a long way since then. We no longer regard people who fall by the wayside in the same way as they were regarded then. Our social services scheme has developed along very human lines. Therefore, when we talk; about social services we speak of something that is very kindly, and which should be a charge on the whole of the people. Worthy of more than a passing thought is the enormous amount of goodwill that is poured into most civilized communities to-day by the activities of a tremendous number of voluntary bodies such as the Red Cross, legacy clubs, rotary clubs, guilds and councils. Nothing arouses our kindly emotions more than the subject of social services, and the state of our civilization to-day demands something more permanent than voluntary services, although I hope that we will never see the end of the provision of voluntary social services in our communities. The care of the sick, the aged, the distressed, and the unemployed, and the children in our community, is a matter of supreme importance. There has been an upward trend in this direction since the inception of the provision of social services in Australia by the granting of pensions to the aged by a Liberal government in - 1909. There has also been a progressive increase of the standard of living in this country. On a previous occasion I paid a compliment to the Australian Labour party for its part in the liberalization of social services and the improvement of the standard of living of our people. There is in existence a reciprocal agreement with New Zealand in connexion with social services, and I hope that before long world reciprocity in this connexion will be accomplished.
I congratulate the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) on the very fine speech that he delivered in this chamber to-night. I was glad to learn that provision is to be made for the children of service personnel who have come to this country from the United Kingdom to be brought within our child endowment scheme. The presence of so many beautiful babies and happy mothers in Australia to-day is a tribute to the inclusion of maternity allowances in our social services. That allowance has proved a great boon to Australian families. In days gone by an imminent addition to a family was the cause of considerable anxiety, from an economic point of view. The provision of maternity allowances has had a most stimulating influence in connexion with family life in Australia.- The extension of child endowment to the first child in every family under the age of sixteen years, in fulfilment of this Government’s election promise, also added considerably to the security of Australian families. Furthermore, it has been of tremendous benefit to the managements of orphanages and children’s homes. No longer are some children in those establishments compelled to wear cast-off clothing and hideous uniforms of all hues, or perhaps no colour at all. Those children are now able to take part in community life both at school and while they are on holidays. They are able to enjoy their visits to the seaside and to picture theatres. This is further evidence of the fact that governments are now adopting a much more human attitude to this phase of our national life than formerly. The limited time at my disposal precludes me from reviewing the whole field of benefits that have been provided as a result of a revision of our social services provisions. However, by its liberalization of unemployment and sickness benefits, allowances to tuberculosis sufferers, and proposed increases of pensions for widows, and the aged, this Government has demonstrated its keen desire to improve the lot of the less fortunate members of the community. I realize, of course, that in view of the cost of living to-day, pensioners will not derive as much benefit from the proposed increase of 7s. 6d. a week as might be desired. However, I am sorry that Senator McKenna saw fit to become so emotional about this aspect of the matter during his speech, which could only be described as election propaganda. It struck me forcibly that the Labour Opposition, having failed to impress the public on the Communist issue and on the banking issue, is now trying at every turn to belittle the efforts of the Government to honour its election promises. As a matter of fact, it has honoured a number of them already, and will honour more and more of them as time goes on. As for pensions, the Government had to make up a good deal of leeway because, although the value of the £1 was steadily falling, the Chifley Government did not increase pensions at all during 1949. As was pointed out by the Minister, the increases proposed by the present Government are the largest ever granted at one time. Although the Chifley Government boasted of its buoyant revenues, it did very little to improve the lot of the pensioners. Th<: present Government has provided in the budget an amount of £9,000,000 for pensions increases, and the money is being spread over the whole pensions field, due consideration being given to the claims of those who need help immediately.
I congratulate the Government on what it has done, but I am not satisfied about some things. I am particularly dissatisfied with the treatment of civilian widows. The Government has done something, but not enough, to help them to meet the high cost of living. The permissible income of civilian widows is only 30s. a week. Some of them are quite young women, and the fixing of the permissible income at 30s. a week puts them in the class of casual workers. They may have talents for other work that is particularly necessary in these days of shortage of labour, but they are being prevented from exercising those talents. I ask the Minister to consider this matter with a view to remedying the present position. I should like to know why pensioners are not allowed to earn sufficient to bring their total income, including their pensions, up to the basic wage. There may he a good reason for not allowing this, and if there is I should like to hear it. There should also be a provision in the social services legislation to ensure that regular adjustments are made to pensions in accordance with variations of the cost of living. Such adjustments are made to the basic wage in accordance with a formula, and also through determinations of industrial tribunals. The pensioners had to live through the whole of 1949 without any increase of pensions by the Labour Government, although costs were rising all the time. Even under the present Government, they had to wait a further ten months before anything was done. If pensions were adjusted automatically, pensioners would not be dependent upon the generosity or parsimony of governments. War widows are permitted to earn any amount they can without its affecting the amount of their pensions, and I do not begrudge them that. I point out, however, that some of the civilian widows were the mothers- of. men killed during the war. Others were the wives of men who were kept in Australia for service on the home front, and who worked so hard that their deaths were hastened. I believe ‘ that civilian widows should be placed on the same footing as war widows in the matter of permissible income.
I trust that the Government will consider the means test. I join with Senator “Willesee in his suggestion that the Social Services Consolidation Act should be revised in six months’ time. I hope that the means test will be liberalized. I am particularly pleased to note the provision in the bill regarding the surrender value of life insurance policies. Senator McKenna said that it would not be of much value to pensioners, but I do not agree with him. I receive a great deal of correspondence on the subject, and I am convinced that the provision regarding life insurance affects a great many more people than Senator McKenna thinks it does. I realize that some one will point out that the proposed pension increases will not be worth much in view of the recent increase of the basic wage by fi a week, but I maintain that the record of this Government in the matter of social services is impressive. It ha9, in accordance with its promise, endowed the first child of families. It proposes to arrange for the distribution of free milk to school children. It intends to introduce a health scheme that will be of benefit to all sections of the community, and not to some sections only. The people understand that the Government has adopted a sympathetic attitude towards their needs. I quote the last paragraph of the second-reading speech delivered by the Minister on this bill -
I claim that the Menzies-Fadden Government has determined the rates at which Social Service benefits will be payable in a sympathetic and generous manner. The extension of endowment to the first child at a cost of £15 M. p.a. plus the increase in benefits contained in the bill before the Senate estimated to cost £9 M. per annum, means that the Menzies-Fadden Government, less than twelve months after it has taken office, has increased Social Services benefits to the extent of £24 M. p.a.
I congratulate the Government on what it has done, but I, like Oliver Twist, ask for more. I support the bill.
– Senator “Wedgwood and Senator Robertson blamed the Labour Government because it had not increased pensions during the last twelve months that it was in office. The leaders of the parties that support the present Government made extravagant promises to the people during the last election campaign. They promised that, if they were returned to power, pensions would be immediately increased. This Government has been in office for nearly twelve months, but only now has it taken action to increase pensions. Although the Labour Government did not increase pensions during its last twelve months in office, it did, during its term of office, institute social services that would never otherwise have existed. The two lady senators expressed much concern about the plight of invalid and widowed pensioners. If they were really as concerned as they made out, they would have asked before now when the Government was going to honour its election promise to increase pensions. Instead of doing so, they sat tight until this evening, when they were lavish in praise of the Government’s action. Government supporter.’ have pointed out that the first Menzies. Government introduced child endowment, which is true. That Government, however, did not pay even the first instalment of endowment. When Mr. Menzies was unable to do his job as Prime Minister during the war, and handed it over to Mr. John Curtin, who led a Labour government, it was that Government which had to find the money with which to pay child endowment. Later, although the war was raging, the Labour Government increased the original endowment of 5s. a week to 7s. 6d., and some time later increased it to 10s.
The pension increases proposed by this Government would be worth more to the pensioners if the Government honoured its promise to restore value to the £1. That was their vote-catching cry. Dodgers were posted throughout the length and breadth of this country proclaiming, “ Your pound is worth 10s. To restore your purchasing power, return a Liberal Government “. What has the Government done to fulfil that promise? Recently the Opposition in this chamber introduced a bill for a referendum on the question of Commonwealth prices control. Government supporters voted against the measure. They do not care how much the purchasing power of the £1 decreases. In the eleven months that they have been in office, they have been completely apathetic to the dangers of inflation. The increases proposed in this measure will bring invalid and age pensions to £2 10s. a week. I should like to see some honorable senators opposite living for just a month on £2 10s. a week under the present inflationary conditions. Labour’s policy for many years has been the abolition of the means test but clearly that cannot be done with one stroke of the pen. Therefore, Labour’s plan was to liberalize the means test year by year, with a view to its ultimate abolition. The immediate abolition of the means test on pensions alone would involve the Commonwealth in impossible commitments. The National Welfare Fund was established by Labour to finance its social services programme and it is on that fund that this Government is drawing at present. Honorable senators opposite had the good fortune to assume office when that fund was extremely buoyant. Thus they have substantial funds available for distribution amongst the needy people in the community. I trust that when the social services contribution has been amalgamated with the income tax, the National Welfare Fund will not be used for other purposes.
– The money in the National Welfare Fund had already been expended when this Government took office.
– When Labour came to power in 1941, the only social services in existence in the Commonwealth sphere were the invalid and age pension of £1 ls. 6d. a week, maternity allowances ranging from £4 10s. a week to £7 10s. a week but subject to a means test, and child endowment at the rate of 5s. a week for each child after the first. The child endowment scheme had, as I said before, been introduced by an anti-Labour government, hut not one, penny had actually been expended by the Government. During the eight years_ of Labour rule, the invalid and age pension was increased from £1 ls. 6d. to £2 2s. 6d. a week. The initial maternity allowances were trebled, and the means test on them was abolished. Labour also doubled the child endowment payment, making it 10s. a week. Provision was made also for the payment of pensions ranging from 17s. 6d. to £2 7s. 6d. a week to widows. Unemployment and sickness benefits, hospital benefits, pharmaceutical benefits, special benefits to sufferers from tuberculosis, allowances for wives- and children of invalid pensioners, and funeral benefits for age and invalid pensioners were also introduced. In addition, a scheme for the rehabilitation of physically handicapped civilians was launched in every State of the Commonwealth. I have seen the work that is being carried out under that scheme in Perth, and it is most commendable. I shall give some details of the increased social services payments for which Labour was responsible. In 1938-39 the maximum permissible income, plus the age or invalid pension, was £1 12s. 6d. a week for single pensioners and the property bar was £400. Now the permissible income is £3 12s. 6d. a week and the property bar £750. For a married couple, the property bar is £1,500. The means test applied originally to maternity allowances was abolished by Labour on the 1st July, 1943. Provision was also made for the provision of an extra £5 for each additional child born at the one birth. When Labour assumed office, child endowment for the second and subsequent children was 5s. a week. On the 1st July, 1945, it was increased to 7s.. 6d. a week, and on the 9th November, 1948, to 10s. a week. On the introduction of the widow’s pension scheme in 1942, the payments were £1 10s. a week for widows in the category corresponding to the present class A, and £1 5s. a week for widows corresponding to those in the present class B. Under Labour legislation, disabled persons are given rehabilitation treatment either as in-patients or outpatients of Commonwealth or State institutions. During the period of rehabilitation treatment, they receive the invalid pension or the employment and sickness benefit, and while receiving vocational training, they are paid a rehabilitation allowance identical with the invalid pension, plus a training allowance of £1 a week, the latter payment being free of the means test. Under CommonwealthState agreements, treatment in public mental hospitals is free to the patient, and the Commonwealth reimburses the States the equivalent of the amounts formerly collected in fees. All those social services were talked about for years prior to Labour’s assumption of office’ in 1941. The anti-Labour parties had been in office almost continually for 25 years, but had done nothing. The Lyons Government even reduced the invalid and age pension to 12s. 6d. a week. The Minister said that the cost of the increased benefits provided for in this bill was estimated at £9,000,000. He said -
The extension of endowment to the first child at a cost of £15 M. p.a. plus the increase in benefits contained in the Bill before the Senate estimated to cost £9 M. per annum, means that the Menzies-Fadden Government, less than twelve months after it has taken office, has increased Social Service benefits to the extent of £24 M. p.a. I make the further claim that no Government in Australia’s history has submitted such a progressive Social Service programme to Parliament during its first year of office
The Government can hardly pride itself on incurring this additional expenditure in view of the fact that there is £131,114,816 in the reserve fund for social services and that the Treasurer proposes to take £103,000,000 compulsorily from the wool-growers of the country.
– That is not correct.
– It is correct, as the honorable senator may read for himself in the report of the Treasurer.
– It is a deliberate untruth.
– Order ! It is unparliamentary to say that an honorable senator is speaking a deliberate untruth, and I ask Senator Mattner to withdraw that remark.
– Mr. President-
– Order ! The honorable senator must either withdraw or take the consequences. There may be occasions on which there is justification for claiming that a speaker is telling a deliberate untruth, but generally speaking, we must assume that all honorable senators say in this chamber only what they believe to be true. In any case Senator Mattner’s interjection was unparliamentary, and must be withdrawn.
– I do not wish to be-
– Order ! Will the honorable senator withdraw his remark?
– I withdraw it, but I wish to say this : When I said” Mr. President “-
– Order! In accordance with the sessional order relating , to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were presented : -
Arbitration (Public Service) Act - Determinations by the Arbitrator, &c. - 1950 -
No. 48 - Commonwealth Storemen and Packers’ Union of Australia; and Commonwealth Naval Storehousemen’s Association.
No. 49 - Boilermakers’ Society of Australia.
No. 50 - Hotel, Club, Restaurant and Caterers Employees’ Union of New South Wales; and Federated Liquor and Allied Trades Employees’ Union of Australasia.
No. 51 - Postal Overseers’ Union of Australia.
No. 52 - Australian Federated Union of Locomotive Enginemen.
No. 53 - Professional Officers’ Association, Commonwealth Public Service.
No. 54 - Fourth Division Postmasters, Postal Clerks and Telegraphists’ Union.
No. 55 - Federated Ironworkers’ Association of Australia.
No. 56 - Transport Workers’ Union of Australia.
No. 57 - Professional Officers’ Association, Commonwealth Public Service.
No. 58 - Commonwealth Public Service Artisans’ Association.
No. 59 - Federated Clerks’ Union of Australia.
No. 60 - Minister for Supply.
No. 61 - Customs Officers’ Association of Australia, Fourth Division.
Commonwealth Public Service Act - Appoint- ments - Department -
Civil Aviation - S. N. Kick.
Works and Housing - A. C. Brayne, E. J. Lauri.
Senate adjourned at 11 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 15 November 1950, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1950/19501115_senate_19_210/>.