19th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Bon. Gordon Brown) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
Assent to the following hills reported : -
Loan Bill 1950.
Post and Telegraph Bates Bill 1950.
– I preface a question to the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport hy pointing out that a picking-up shed is provided for the workers at Burnie in Tasmania. It is only a small structure, and will not accommodate all of the waterside workers at that port. In view of the increased volume of cargoes being handled at Burnie, both the Stevedoring Industry Commission and the shipping companies are pressing the Waterside Workers Federation to open its books to admit more members there. That would result in additional overcrowding, because the waterside workers are required to remain after the first pick-up until the second pick-up at 10 o’clock in the morning. It is essential that adequate shelter should be provided before next winter, because of the cold conditions that prevail at Burnie in the winter months.
– Order ! What is the honorable senator’s question!
– The present shed has been condemned and plans have been completed for the erection of a newbuilding. Will the Minister inform the Senate when a start will be made on the erection of a new building!
– If the honorable senator will furnish me with full details of this matter, I shall obtain a report for him as to the earliest date on which the new building could be commenced.
– Is the Minister aware that Canberra’s babies and young children spent a night of terror last night because of the terrific din of heavy guns fired close to the residential areas of Canberra? Is the Minister also aware that these heavy guns together with mortars and machine guns were fired in a mock battle staged by Royal Military College cadets, who maintained an incessant barrage from just after midnight until nearly sunrise? Is the Minister aware that most of Canberra’s citizens are to-day dull and listless from having their sleep interrupted during a hot and tiring night by the loud noise of the guns? In the interests of the good health of the citizens and young children, will the Minister request the college authorities to hold their mock battles during the day, and further away from residential areas of Canberra, so that people’s rest will not be disturbed?
– When it comes to the real thing, it is most unfortunate that guns have to be fired in the night as well as in the day. The Royal Military College authorities, being realistic in their approach to training, know that the cadets need to have practice at night time. If the exercises resulted in the inhabitants of Canberra being dull and listless to-day, that is the price which, unfortunately, they have to pay. I hope that the dullness and listlessness are due only to the military exercises.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister acting for the Minister for the Interior inform the Senate whether it is a fact that a visit to Western Australia has not been included in the itinerary of Brigadier Higginson, secretary to the Imperial War Graves Commission? If that is so, will the Minister arrange for Western Australia to be included ?
– If the honorable senator will supply me with additional details I shall cause inquiries to be made this afternoon and inform her of the result as soon as possible.
– Will you, Mr. President, be good enough again to request the appropriate authority to put into order the air-conditioning system of this chamber?
– Although the engineers are constantly on the job, they are confronted with a heart-breaking task. It is hoped that the work will be completed within a few weeks, but unfortunately not before the forthcoming Parliamentary recess.
– I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs the following questions: - (a) How long does the Government intend to sit idly by ignoring the protests of the people about the ever-increasing shameful profiteering that is taking place, with consequential hardship on the people and damage to national economy; (b) will the Government appoint a commission to investigate the present wasteful, inefficient, managerial control of industry; (c) will the Government immediately establish an authority to examine our arbitration laws and industrial legislation generally, with a view to the prevention of industrial disputes; and (d) will the Government endeavour immediately to seek the co-operation of the industrial unions with a view to obtaining agreement on a policy of effective prices control and the pegging of wages?
– I am astounded that such a facetious question should be asked by an honorable senator who has had the responsibility of ministerial rank. There is no substance in the suggestion that the Government is sitting idly by in this matter. In fact, it is taking very active steps in connexion with the situation with which it is faced. I am not aware that there exists inefficiency in business control as a general rule. Here and there special branches of industry may not be as efficient as they should be. However, owing to the keenness of competition, business undertakings must be efficient in order to survive. The honorable senator was a member of a former government that told the people of Australia that it had effectively streamlined . arbitration. Since then we have experienced industrial disturbances and chaos unequalled in the history of Australia. Notwithstanding that difficulty, this Government is facing up to the position realistically. It is hoped that in the near future more effective, efficient, and workable arbitration legislation will be brought forward. In relation to cooperation between the Government and industrial unions, it should be a matter for satisfaction, rather than jealousy and pique on the Dart of the Opposition, that the Minister for Labour and National Service is working in very close harmony with the more responsible bodies of industrial unions. Good results have already been manifested in some industries. In others, however, due to Communist influence, the full benefit of the cooperation that is being sought, and which is being generously given by many of the unions has not yet been obtained. Ultimately it is hoped that the Australian economy will benefit substantially as a result of this co-operation.
– Having regard to the fact that the Government has been . in office for almost twelve months, will the Minister representing the Prime Minister say how much longer we must wait before something definite is done to honour the promise of anti-Labour leaders to restore value to the £1?
– I can understand the sense of pique that inspired the asking of that question. Instead of taking the broad and truly Australian view of the accomplishments of this Government, and being pleased that the more successful we are, the more popular we become, honorable senators opposite are becoming more and more piqued.
– Has” the Minister for Trade and Customs read an article by the economic editor of the Sunday Herald, who proves that the degree of inflation in New Zealand is greater than in Australia, despite the appreciation of the New Zealand £1 to a parity with sterling? Will the Minister have the article circulated among Liberal members of Parliament who have the idea that the appreciation of the Australian £1 would check iTiflat.in.Ti 8
– I have not read the article referred to, but I shall be happy to read it. I remind the honorable senator that economists writing to newspapers cannot prove anything. Economics is not an exact science, and economists can do no more than express opinions. The opinions of all eminent economists are well worth reading and studying.
– Increasing criticism is being levelled at the staff of the Launceston telephone exchange, a fact which is resented by the staff with whom I have discussed the matter. I inspected the facilities at the exchange, and found that members of the staff are working in overcrowded conditions, and with inadequate equipment. Will the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral expedite the installation of the proposed automatic telephone exchange at Launceston?
– I shall be pleased to confer with the Postmaster-General, and bring to his notice the representations of the honorable senator. I shall ask that the matter be investigated, and a report furnished as soon as possible.
The distribution of rice to the public is through grocers, who get their .supplies through wholesale firms from the rice millers. Although supplies will be limited for the rest of the season, the millers have advised that they will make supplies available through ordinary channels sufficient to meet priority needs for invalids. Those requiring rice on a doctor’s certificate should be able to get it through their grocers, as was the case previously.
– When I asked the Minister for Trade and Customs yesterday whether he was aware that a recent Gallup poll indicated that a majority of the people of Australia were in favour of the resumption of prices control by the Commonwealth, he replied that he was not prepared to comment untilhe had seen the actual question submitted to the voters. Has he yet had that opportunity, and can he now reply to my question ?
– I have not yet had an opportunity to see the precise question that was submitted to the people in the Gallup poll to which the honorable senator has referred. However, I have seen the following question that was submitted about the same time : “ Are you in favour of the Liberal-Australian Country party Government, or of the Labour party ? “ That is a simple question which admits of a simple answer, and the implications are clear. I am happy to say that a majority of the people favour the present Government. The point raised by the honorable senator would need some examination, and I am too busy attending to the affairs of my department to do the examining.
asked the Minister representing the Minister acting for the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The Minister acting for the Minister for the Interior has supplied the following answers: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
– The Minister for Civil Aviation has supplied the following answers: -
asked, the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration -
– The Minister for Immigration has supplied the following answer : - 1 and 2. The reports of disturbances occurring at the immigration holding centre at Cowra have been grossly exaggerated and would suggest that the whole centre was involved. In point of fact there are seven large accommodation blocks at this centre and minor trouble occurred in block “ A “ only, on the morning of the 17th November. I have had an investigation made by the Controller of Migrant Accommodation Centres, and it appears that through the overuse of the full day’s rations in “A” block at the midday meal on Thursday, the 16th November, there was as a result a slight shortage at the evening meal. Three malcontents prevailed on some 30 other women out of a total of 216 in “ A “ block to stage a hunger strike on the next day. This small minority then intimidated the majority from partaking of breakfast and lunch in “ A “ block on Friday, the 17th ‘November. The trouble had ended on the same afternoon and all inhabitants of “ A “ block partook of the evening meal, since when conditions have been completely normal. At no stage did the trouble get out of hand and the lack of justification for complaint is exemplified by the fact that women and children, numbering some 2,700, in the other “six blocks did not participate. They received exactly the same ration scale as provided for the persons in “ A “ block.
Neither before nor since the 17th November has any change been made in the ration issue in “ A “ block, or in any other blocks at the centre. The scale applies uniformly at all immigration centres throughout Australia and is based upon the Army ration which is adapted to the Hipsley scale. The quantity and quality of food issued of the same standard at all centres and on expert advice is ample for all needs. Special provision is also made for nursing mothers and for children. I am quite satisfied that the incident which occurred was not due to unsympathetic or inefficient management by the staff at the centre, but was caused by a few malcontents who intimidated others from attending two meals. The minor nature of the incident is shown by the fact that it was confined to one small section of the centre and it was not necessary to take any special measures at all to restore order or to induce inhabitants of “ A “ block to call off the alleged hunger strike. Lack of support and the knowledge of the majority that no real grounds for complaint existed meant that the situation naturally resolved itself. As I have mentioned, there has not been the slightest difficulty since the evening meal was partaken on the 17th November. The whole incident was dealt with and settled in its proper perspective of a small local issue at the Cowra centre and was magnified out of all proportion by the publicity given to it. I do not consider that any further inquiry, other than that already made, is necessary, nor is it at all likely that similar trouble will arise at any other immigration centres, where, as is the case with Cowra, ample food is provided for all needs.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration, upon notice -
– The Minister for Immigration has supplied the following answers : -
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The Prime Minister has supplied the following answers : -
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Will the Government consider amending the Commonwealth Public Service . Act in order that temporary officers with many years nf faithful service can bc made permanent, thus removing the feeling of insecurity which they experience under existing conditions?
– The Prime Minister has furnished the following answer : -
The Government has the matter under consideration and expects to be able to furnish a reply in the near future.
Order of the Day No. 8 - Foreign Affairs - Ministerial Statement 9th March, 1950 - Resumption of debate - discharged.
NEW BUSINESS AFTER 10.30 p.m.
Motion (by Senator O’Sullivan) proposed -
That Standing Order 68 be suspended up to and including Friday, the 22nd December, 1950, to enable new business to be commenced after 10.30 p.m.
– There being an absolute majority of the whole number of senators present, and no dissentient voice, I declare the question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Senator O’Sullivan) put -
That the Senate, at its rising on Thursday next, adjourn to Friday, the 1st December, at 11 a.m.
The . Senate divided. (The President -Senator the Hon. Gordon Brown.)
Question so resolved in the negative.
– by leave - I am sure that all honorable senators have heard with genuine regret of the illness of the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives (Mr. Chifley). Subject to the concurrence of the Senate and with your approval, Mr. President, I suggest that you send to the right honorable gentleman a telegram expressing the sympathy of the Senate in his illness and the hope that he will experience a speedy and complete recovery.
– by leave - I express my appreciation of the reference to the illness of the Leader of the Australian Labour party (Mr. Chifley). The members of the Opposition join in the expression of sympathy and general regret at the absence of the right honorable gentleman from the Commonwealth Parliament.
– I shall certainly see that a telegram is sent. I think that all members of the Parliament, and indeed all Australians, are sorry to hear of the illness of the right honorable gentleman. We all hope that he will soon be with us again.
Debate resumed fromthe 28th November (vide page 3127), on motion by Senator Cooper -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– When my remarks were interrupted by the unexpected adjournment of the Senate last night, I had congratulated the Minister for Repatriation (‘Senator Cooper) on introducing a measure which metes out very good treatment to those who fought during both world wars, and whose health suffered in consequence. The bill also gives a fair deal to the dependants of those Australians who lost their lives during those wars. It is the duty of the nation to pay as much as it can possibly afford in order that those people may receive everything that they deserve. I have already stated that in my opinion whatever is dona will not be too good for them, and I a in sure that honorable senators opposite will agree with that opinion, i agree with Senator Finlay that a bill of this type should be above party politics. I go further and say that the Minister, when introducing this bill, kept his remarks above party politics, despite what Senator Finlay said to the contrary.
I do not intend to go over the ground that I covered last night, because this measure should be passed quickly in order that pensioners may receive increased pension rates before Christmas. However, I wish to examine briefly the circumstances of a .totally and permanently incapacitated man who is married and has a family of three children. I pointed out yesterday that such a man would have an income of £13 3s. a week, and I compared that income with that of a worker in Tasmania, earning the basic wage, and with a- family of three children. There was a certain amount of opposition from honorable senators on the other side of the chamber, who complained that very few people are employed on the basic wage to-day, and that therefore my comparison was not a fair one. I now wish to quote some figures which perhaps provide a better comparison. They are taken from the Monthly Review of Business Statistics for September, 1950, issued by the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics, Canberra, under the authority of Dr. Roland Wilson. The average weekly earnings of a male unit in Tasmania, for the quarter ended June last, amounted to £9.21. The basic wage in Tasmania will shortly be £9 2s. a week. When those figures are compared with the amount of money which a totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen with three children will receive, I think that all honorable senators will agree that they are at least being provided with a very decent living wage. In addition to that, the pension is free of income tax, which in itself is a considerable concession, and the pensioners also receive free medicine and free treatment while in hospital. Totally incapacitated soldiers are extremely pleased with the proposed pension rate, and their association has congratulated the Minister on introducing this measure.
I turn now to the position of those persons on the basic rate of pension. As I pointed out last night, there are 157,000 of those pensioners, and they represent the main body of pensioners. In addition to an increase of pensions from £2 15s. to £3 10s. a week, they also receive many other concessions of which many people are not aware. In fact, my criticism of those who complain about pension rates is that they really do not know the facts. For instance, some people complain about the basic rate that a pensioner receives, but they do not take into consideration the fact that the pensioner’s wife also receives a pension of exactly the same percentage as her husband. The basic rate for wives has been raised from £1 4s. to £1 10s. 6d. a week, and the basic rate for children has been increased from 9s. to lis. 6d. a week. If a pensioner on the basic rate goes into hospital he is given a special sustenance allowance which equals 100 per cent, of the basic rate. That means that immediately he enters hospital he receives £3 10s. a week. The increased rate also applies in the case of his wife’s pension, so that she receives the full rate of £1 10s. 6d. A similar situation exists in the case of the children. If a pensioner is in hospital and loses his earning capacity, he goes on to the special rate of £7 a week, which applies to incapacitated pensioners. That family, with the incapacitated member in hospital, would therefore receive pensions at the rate of £13 3s. a week.
– But on the whole, the honorable senator does not object to that?
– On the whole, I support it. I merely point out those matters because an honorable senator on the other side of the chamber has stated that the Government is not being sufficiently generous. I am congratulating the Minister upon what has been done in this connexion, and pointing out to the .Senate that repatriation pensioners are being looked after properly by this Government.
I am especially pleased with the proposal to increase widows’ pensions, because I think that at the present time widows have some cause for complaint. Let us take the wife of the married man with three children about whom I have just been talking. If he dies, his widow will receive £9 lis. a week. Compared with the average wage in Tasmania, which is £9 2s. a week, that will ,be quite good. There are other concessions to widows which are not generally known. For instance, as a child becomes older, the educational allowance is increased. For a child up to sixteen years of age, living at home, a widow receives 12s. a week; for a child over sixteen years of age, she receives 33s. a week, and if the child goes to a university the allowance is increased to 45s. a week. For children living away from home, the widow receives 30s. a week for those up to the age of sixteen years, 45s. a week for those over sixteen years, and 65s. a week for those at universities. In Hobart, there is a family with the name Gandy. Mr. Gandy, a pensioner of the 1914-18 war, died, leaving a widow and a family of five children. The eldest son became a Rhodes scholar, and the remainder of the family now hold excellent positions after brilliant school careers. All that was done under the educational scheme for children of ex-servicemen. Last night, when dealing with the charge made by Senator Finlay, that the Government has been guilty of delay in dealing with this problem, I forgot to mention a very generous concession. It was refused by the Chifley Government. I refer to the provision of motor oars for ex-servicemen who have lost both legs or the use of both legs through injuries to the spine, and to the very generous allowance of £120 a year for the upkeep of those vehicles. Working on the basis of 6d. a mile, which is a rough estimate of what it costs to run a motor car, the allowance will be sufficient to cover the expenses of running a car for 4,800 miles- a year, or for 400 miles a month. That proves that this Government has not been-
– As parsimonious as after World War I.
– It has not been as parsimonious as was the Labour Government in 1943. I am glad to note that some anomalies are to be removed. There was no reason why they should not have been removed previously. It seemed ridiculous to me that a returned serviceman should be told up to what age he could get married. During the last few days, we have heard a lot about sectional taxes and class legislation, but under the old scheme an ex-serviceman was told that he could get married up to June, 1938, and that after that he could not do so, or at least that if he did do so, he would not receive benefits under the scheme. A woman told me recently that she was the wife of an ex-serviceman who was drawing a repatriation pension. She said that she received a pension for the first four children of the family, but that she could not obtain a pension for the fifth child, and she did not know why. The reason was that the child was born after June, 1938.
– For how long has that provision been in operation?
Senator WORDSWORTH.^; has been in operation for the whole of the life of the scheme.
– I have never heard of it.
– I have referred to an actual case. I am pleased that that provision is to be abolished. I do not blame Labour governments for not having abolished it, although they had plenty of opportunity to do so, but so did non-Labour governments. I am treating this matter on a non-party basis. I am very pleased that the rates of pension paid in respect of incapacity arising from loss of speech and total deafness are to be increased from 80 per cent, and 70 per cent, respectively to 100 per cent. That shows that this problem is being approached in a more humane spirit. There is one benefit that I think should be increased. It is the attendant’s allowance paid to blind and totally deaf persons and blind persons who have lost their power of speech. The allowance for an attendant is to be increased to £3 a week. That will be adequate if the man’s wife or daughter is looking after him, but it will be inadequate for & widower or single man. He will be quite incapable of looking after himself, but he will be unable to get an attendant for £3 a week. I suggest to the Government that that matter should be reconsidered.
The only other point with which T wish to deal is the cost of these proposed increases and concessions. I raise this matter only because honorable senators opposite have criticized the Government for what they have called an inflated budget and for proposing to spend too much money. I ask them if they object to this proposed increased expenditure of £5,800,000 a year that the operation of this measure will entail.
– It is not enough.
– That is what the honorable senators opposite say about every bill introduced by the Government. They said that the Government’s child endowment proposals were inadequate and they have said the same about this bill, but I am certain that when they discuss the budget they will say that the Government is spending too much. I should like to know what they object to and what they do not object to. I should like to hear them object to this bill, but they will not do so. Repatriation benefits are costing £27,000,000 a year. With a population of 8,000,000 that works out at approximately £3 10s. for every man, woman and child in this country. That is a very good effort. I have had a lot to do with repatriation matters in connexion with both the British and the Indian armies. There is no doubt that ex-service pensioners in Australia are being treated far more generously than are ex-service pensioners in either Great Britain or India. However, it is the duty of the Australian government to extend as much consideration as possible to its ex-service pensioners.
– Does the honorable senator believe in making war more expensive ?
– I believe in making it more humane. We cannot expend too much on our ex-service pensioners. I am very pleased that the measure now being considered makes provision for members of the fighting forces in Korea, and their dependants. I am an ex-serviceman of both world wars, and it is my opinion that those men are fighting for us and for Australia just as much as did the members of the Australian forces in both world wars. It is essential that their interests shall he protected. Whilst I do not contend that a member of the forces considers, immediately before going into battle, the amount of pension that his wife will receive in the event of his being killed, it is a fact that there are many other times when members of the forces, particularly married men, discuss these matters. Therefore this subject is important to the morale of the fighting services. I am quite sure that this bill will have the support of all honorable senators. I commend it to the Senate.
– I cannot agree with Senator Wordsworth that the Government is treating ex-servicemen and women generously, although perhaps they are being treated as well as the economic purse will allow. This subject should not be considered on party lines. The Prime Minister of a Labour government that was in office at the outbreak of World War I. - I refer to Mr. Andrew Fisher - made many promises to the men who enlisted.
– That Government promised support to the last man and the last shilling.
– The slogan that Senator Wedgwood recalls was adopted by Mr. Andrew Fisher, who had not had experience of world wars. I venture to suggest that we will not again hear a Labour Prime Minister volunteer to send Australian troops anywhere in the world, and to support’ them to the last shilling. The men who enlisted in 1914 were promised that if accidents should overtake them in the course of the fighting on behalf of the British nation they would be duly rewarded and reimbursed as far as possible. However anti-Labour governments have prostituted the returned servicemen and the British flag ever since World War I. Of course honorable senators opposite have always championed the services. When this bill was brought forward last week the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) sought political kudos. Some ex-servicemen whose injuries are not apparent, but who, because of internal irritation, suffer considerable inconvenience, receive only miserable pensions of as low as 4s. a week. They may suffer as much as men who have lost limbs. No government could be too generous in its treatment of exservicemen. I support the bill, but regret that greater increases have not been provided. Senator Wordsworth has pointed out that lt will cost the Government £5,000,000 a year to implement the proposals contained in this measure. That is an infinitesimal amount in a budget expenditure of approximately £800,000,000. The Government appears to be afraid to throw the budget into the ring of debate. I suppose that honorable senators will not have an opportunity to criticize it until the day before the Christmas recess. We must bear in mind that in another bill that was brought forward in this chamber earlier, to-day provision is made for increases of up to £600 a year of the salaries of members of the judiciary and other holders of statutory offices, because of the increased cost of living.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Nicholls). - Order! The honorable senator may not anticipate a debate on another measure.
– In that measure large increases of salaries are provided for persons who are already receiving salaries of from £3,000 to £4,000 a year. But this “ generous “ Government intends to increase exservicemen’s pensions by only 7s. 6d. a week ! Of course I realize that, in view of the political and economic organization of this country, we could never hope to honour all of the promises that were made to the members of the fighting forces by Mr. Fisher in 1914, and by the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in 1939. Subsequently a Labour Government was elected, and as soon as the Prime Minister in that administration, Mr. Curtin, was able to see “ daylight “, at the time that the
Japanese troops were knocking at Australia’s front door, he appointed a nonparty committee to deal with exservicemen’s pensions. Some of the benefits that ex-servicemen are receiving to-day had their origin in the recommendations of that committee. The political parties that honorable senators opposite support have always used the ex-servicemen. They have tried to persuade the people of this country that the Returned Servicemen’s League is nonpolitical. However, honorable senators* on this side of the chamber know otherwise. We know that the stooges of bigbusiness have always held executive posts; in the Returned Servicemen’s League and its branches, in order to stifle discussion about the treatment of exservicemen by non-Labour governments.
– If the honorable senator had regularly attended meetings of a sub-branch of the league he would think differently.
– I regularly attended meetings of the Bendigo sub-branch of the league until the depression years, when I became disgusted at its refusal to stand up for the rights of ex-servicemen of the 1914-1918 world war, who had been promised the right to live decently if they were prepared to work. Many of those ex-servicemen were forced to leave their wives and children and to tramp the roads with the soles of their boots worn through, in order to obtain intermittent employment. When the leaders of the Bendigo sub-branch of the league were not prepared to force the government of the day to do something for those ex-servicemen, I-
– The honorable senator shirked his job and walked out.
– I did not shirk my job, but I became disgusted. I contend that governments of the past, both Labour and non-Labour, have not done enough for the ex-servicemen. Some provisions of the measure before us will benefit incapacitated ex-servicemen. It is only right that motor cars should be provided for those poor unfortunate men who lost both legs above the knee in the service of their country. I am pleased that the Government has also seen fit to make an allowance of £120 a year for the maintenance of a motor car supplied to an incapacitated exserviceman. However, the Government could have been more liberal in this connexion. I consider that transport should also be made available for exservicemen who are suffering from other serious disabilities such as heart trouble and lung trouble, and have frequently to engage cars and drivers. The allowance of £120 a year may not prove adequate in all instances. The reason that a sufficient number of volunteers for the armed forces are not coming forward is that governments of the past have failed to honour the promises that were made to the fighting forces of both world wars. That is why the Government has been forced to bring down legislation to conscript the youth of this country. .”When a man enlists he is required to sign away his liberty by making certain promises. The youths of to-day consider that the Government, alfc should place its promises in writing. Until such time as the present Governnent, or any other Government is prepared to reduce to writing its promises to the men who are prepared to go forth and give battle on behalf of this country, enlistments for the armed services will not be numerous. As a result of the administration of the stable government that was in charge of this country prior to last December, there is full employment in this country. Many youths are not prepared to leave their employment to join the forces, in view of the treatment that has been accorded to ex-servicemen of both world wars.
In. December last, the parties that support the present Government promised exservicemen that they would, if returned to power, increase pensions. That was almost twelve months ago. The Government may not be entirely to blame for the delay, but the fact remains that ex-servicemen were promised that if the Menzies-Fadden Government were elected, pensions would be increased. We now ask that the increases be made retrospective to the 10th December last, but, of course, that will not be done. However, when another measure, about which I am not allowed to speak, comes before the Parliament, we shall find that salary increases provided therein will be retrospective to the 1st July last. Why has it taken the Government twelve months to honour its promise to ex-servicemen? Even now, it can do so only because it is “ pinching “ the money from the woolgrowers. If war were to break out now, it would not take the Government twelve months to get the lads on the ships, because then the skins and assets of members of the Government and its supporters would be at stake. The lads would be gone within six weeks of enlistment, as I was in the 1914-18 war. In 1915, the basic war pension rate was £2 2s. a week. To-day, 35 years later, it is only £3 10s. a week, an increase of £1 8s.
– The Labour Government did nothing to increase it.
– It is idle to make promises that one cannot honour. Ex-servicemen were told by the then Prime Minister, Mr. Chifley, before the last election that if the Labour Government were returned favorable consideration would be given to the matter of increasing their pensions if the financial .position of the country warranted it. The Labour party did not promise all sorts of things to the ex-servicemen, or to any other ‘section of the community. Now, the Government proposes to increase pensions by 7s. 6d. a week, and Senator Wordsworth speaks of the generosity of the Government.
– Where does the honorable senator get this 7s. 6d. a week?
– Well, 15 s. a week.
– Just double what the honorable senator said.
– When war pensions were first paid after the first World War, the basic wage was £3 3s. a week. To-day, it is £8 5s. a week, or over £5 more. Pensions have increased by only £1 8s. a week, and yet we are told that the Government is treating the ex-serviceman generously. I do not entirely blame the Government for not having done more, but at least Government supporters should not try to make political capital out of what is being done. Ministers should tell ex-servicemen that the Government could not give them what it promised, but would give them what it could. Ministers are prepared to pull the wool over the eyes of people who are not ex-servicemen, and who have no sympathy with ex-servicemen except when there is a war on. If the ex-servicemen had proper representation in this Parliament they would get a better deal, but because their only representatives are the stooges on the opposite side of the chamber, no criticism of the bill is forthcoming from there.
– Is the honorable senator referring to ex-servicemen on this side of the chamber as stooges?
– I have never been quite able to make out what Senator Hannaford is. He was not prepared to fight in the war, but he is now putting himself forward as the champion of the men who did fight. Pensions to exservicemen should never have been computed in relation to the basic wage. “When a serviceman suffers a permanent injury, he loses more than his earning capacity as measured in terms of the basic wage. But for his injury, such a man might have become Prime Minister. It is, of course, impossible to assess in terms of money the loss suffered by a man who loses a leg in the service of his country, but an attempt should be made to proportion his pension to the loss he has sustained. A war pension should be a free grant to the serviceman in recognition of the sacrifice he made in the interests of his country. The bill provides for the making of some valuable concessions. The Minister for Repatriation, in his second-reading speech, said -
As the act stands at present, no wife married, or child born, after the 30th June, 1938, to a member of the forces who served in the 1914-18 war is eligible to receive pension in respect of the member’s incapacity. Over the years numerous representations have been made by servicemen’s organizations to previous governments, to have this bar removed, and it will be observed that the bill makes provision for pensions to be granted to these wives and children.
That will not cost the Government much, but I appreciate what is being done. On many occasions in the past, I pleaded the cause of women and children in the position referred to by the Minister. I am pleased that the Government has accepted its responsibility, and will pay pensions which have been denied over the years. The Minister also said -
The bill provides that, when a widow remarries, she shall be paid an amount equivalent to 26 instalments of pension. Theamount payable will be approximately £182.
That is the price at which the Government assesses the sacrifice made by a young Australian woman who lost her husband in the war. When she remarries, she is to receive £182, and the Government will then consider that it has discharged its obligation towards her. The provision has not even been made retrospective to the beginning of the second world war. I should like the Government to make the grant of £182 available to all widows of soldiers of the second world war, who are mostly young women.
We come now to the allowances to war widows, and it is evident that the Government desires to gain some political advantage out of this provision because the Minister listed as follows the amounts payable to a widow with three children : -
The suggestion is that the widow with three children is being generously treated because she receives a total of £9 lis. a week. It should be remembered, however, that, because she has no husband, she must pay some one to do the gardening, to chop wood and to do the other chores which a man usually does. When the allowances payable in respect of thechildren are deducted, the pension which the widow will receive is only £5 10s. a week, and no one would claim that she will be able to live luxuriously on that. I am sure that no honorable senator opposite would like his wife to have to live and pay rent on £5 10s. a week. The Minister should not attempt to gain political advantage out of what the Government is doing for ex-servicemen, and for the widows of servicemen.
– What is the honorable senator himself doing now?
– 1 am certainly not attempting to make political capital out of this issue. For the last 25 years, from platforms all over Australia, I have stated that ex-servicemen have never been given what was promised to them by Andrew Fisher during World War I., and by the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) at the beginning of World War II. The Government cannot claim that it is being generous with ex-servicemen, when it has the impudence ito offer pensioners an increase of only 15s. a week. This should be a non-party matter. If the Labour Government is in power again when another war breaks out, it will have to enlist an army to defend the country. If a Liberal government is in power, it will have to do the same.
– Senator Hendrickson can never rise above party politics.
– I did not want to attack the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper), but I must point out that he is not sincere.
– The honorable senator need not worry about attacking me.
– The honorable gentleman is the most impatient Minister I have ever listened to. When he hears the truth he is like a man sitting on a bed of stinging nettles; he cannot keep still and take it. When he was in Opposition, he always said that war pensions should be above party politics, and he advocated the appointment of an all-party committee to deal with them. I expected that when he himself became ‘ Minister for Repatriation he would adopt his own suggestion, but he did not do so. The Government has set out to steal the political thunder of the Labour party. Once again, the forces that are opposed to the ex-servicemen and to Labour are attempting to capitalize the sacrifices of the servicemen. When money is available, every consideration should be given to the needs of ex-servicemen and their dependants. - If the Government is as concerned with the welfare of those people as it professes to be, when it decided to thieve £103,000,000 from the woolgrowers, it could have increased the wool tax slightly to yield, say, £120,000,000, and devoted the additional £70,000,000 to improving the lot of wounded exservicemen and their dependants.
I must support the bill because it does increase pension payments, but I hope that, in the near future, repatriation benefits will be reviewed once more. The Government has little hope of inducing young men to enlist in the armed forces to fight in defence of this country unless it shows a little more interest in the fate of men who fought in the two world wars.
– I support the bill because it does increase repatriation pensions to some degree. The Labour party has never opposed increases of pensions of any kind. I am pleased that the Government has found its way clear, even at this late stage, to introduce a measure designed to improve the lot of ex-servicemen of the two world wars. We in this country have much to be thankful for. In the early 1940’s, the Japanese were preparing to hurl their forces at our shores. Our conscripted military forces were sent to New Guinea and to other places to halt the southward advance of the Japanese. We owe much to the members of those forces, particularly to those who returned to this country wounded or in ill health as a result of their war service. No payments that we can make to those men can possibly be regarded as too great. In 1942, our conscripts included youths of eighteen, many of whom had been working as apprentices at various trades. With great foresight, the Curtin Government ordered that, wherever possible, apprentices called up for service in the armed forced should be placed in technical units in which they could continue to work at the trades to which they were apprenticed. It was also agreed that any period served in a technical unit should be regarded as part of an apprenticeship. Thus, quite a number of youths who had worked for perhaps a year or two in industry prior to being called up, and who served for two or three years in technical units, were fully qualified tradesmen upon their discharge. The Curtin Government’s object in making those provisions was to ensure that military service should interfere as little as possible with the training of technicians.
Mention has been made in this debate of the work of successive Labour governments in this country between 1941 and 3949. I shall not repeat the story of Labour’s achievements in those years. Several honorable senators on this side of the chamber have already drawn attention to the manner in which repatriation benefits were liberalized by Labour administrations. It is sufficient for me to say that, when the Fadden Government walked out in this country’s hour of danger, leaving the Labour party to carry on, Australia was in a serious military plight, due partly to the neglect of our forces by pre-war anti-Labour administrations. Many Australian soldiers who went into battle soon after the outbreak of the war had never fired a rifle before being sent overseas. Soon after John Curtin assumed office he organized the resources of this country, introduced manpower direction, and conscripted men for service with the armed forces in spite of the fact that for many years conscription had been contrary to Labour’s policy. The threat of invasion was so acute that Labour was prepared to abandon what, until that time, it had regarded as a vital principle.
The administration of this country during the war and in the post-war years by successive Labour governments was most commendable. Long before the war had ended, plans for the repatriation of ex-service men and women were drawn up. Preparations were made for the training and re-establishment of all members of the armed forces. I shall elaborate on that matter at a later stage. The Labour Government’s repatriation plans were made in- fulfilment of a promise given by Mr. Curtin when he appealed for enlistments in the armed forces. The entire fabric of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act was reviewed by an all-party committee of this Parliament established by the Curtin Government. Every member of that com mittee was himself a returned soldier. The committee made many recommendations which eventually were embodied in legislation. Unfortunately, the present Government has not thought it necessary to adopt that wise procedure. On this occasion, repatriation benefits have been reviewed by a sub-committee of Cabinet, which of course, consisted only of members of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party. I remind the Senate that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) said in his policy speech, prior to the last elections -
Repatriation remains a great and proud responsibility.
The Opposition parties contain a majority of members and an overwhelming majority of new candidates who are ex-servicemen. We shall see to it that there is speed, financial and human justice and understanding in our administration of soldier problems.
Current legislation will be promptly overhauled and anomalies adjusted.
We will sympathetically review financial allowances, particularly those related to disability or war widowhood, in the light of all the circumstances, including the fall in the value of money.
For advice in relation to them and other repatriation matters, we shall establish exservicemen’s committees of Cabinet and of Parliament, to confer with representatives of ex-service organizations.
I stress the words -
We shall see to it that there is speed. . . . in our administration of soldier problems.
The Government has been in office for nearly a year, but not until last week was this urgently required legislation introduced in this Parliament. That is hardly evidence of a desire for speed. Clearly the Prime Minister’s promise to “ establish ex-servicemen’s committees of Cabinet and of the Parliament “ has not been fulfilled. I invite any honorable senator opposite who would deny that to state the names of members of such committees. I am quite certain that organizations of ex- - servicemen did not welcome the handling of their problems by a committee representing only one side of politics. Those organizations are supposed to be nonpolitical, although I know that members of the Liberal party in Western Australia have been using ex-servicemen for their own political ends. Most of the subbranches of ex-servicemen’s organizations are, in fact, non-political. Again I remind the Senate that the all party committee appointed by the Curtin Government in 1941 consisted entirely of exservicemen. The appointment to that committee of Senator H. B. Collett, a distinguished soldier who had taken a great interest in the problems of exservicemen, was a source of great satisfaction to the people of Western Australia. Senator Collett was a member of the Liberal party and was a fine and genuine man. Another member of the committee was the present Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis). Senator Allan McDonald, another Western Australian, was also a member of the committee as was Senator Lamp. The present honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), a Labour representative, was chairman. Therefore, the Liberal party was substantially represented. It was entirely wrong for the present Government to abandon the practice of referring repatriation matters to a parliamentary committee of ex-servicemen. By so doing, honorable senators opposite have made repatriation a political issue. It should not be a political issue, because there is responsibility on all members of parliament, State and federal, to safeguard the interests of ex-servicemen and their dependants.
I return for a moment to Labour’s administrative record. Before the war had ended, the Minister for Repatriation and the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction were engaged on the preparation of a re-establishment programme sufficiently comprehensive to meet the needs of all ex-servicemen when the time came to demobilize our forces. The scheme included provision for the technical, professional, and university training of ex-servicemen. I invite honorable senators to compare the record of the antiLabour governments in the provision of benefits for ex-servicemen with that of Labour governments which were in office between 1941 and 1949. As a part of its post-war reconstruction scheme for the rehabilitation of ex-servicemen Labour amended the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act to provide increased pensions for ex-servicemen and improved many other provisions of the original act. It granted a war gratuity on a much more generous scale than that granted by a non-Labour government to ex-servicemen after World War I. It devised a war service land settlement policy which gave to ex-servicemen every opportunity to settle successfully on the land. It provided legal aid for ex-servicemen and their dependants. It protected exservicement and their dependants from eviction from their homes. It granted preference in employment to ex-servicemen, and finally it was responsible for the introduction of the Re-establishment and Employment Act which was of great value to all ex-servicemen. I was a member of a committee which operated in Perth under the provisions of that legislation. It dealt with numerous cases of exservicemen whose employers had refused to reengage them after they had been discharged from the forces. In nine cases out of ten the men were reinstated in their former employment as the result of the committee’s activities.
– The Labour Government did not honour its promise to give preference to ex-servicemen in its own employment.
– A Labour government was responsible for the provision of vocational and educational training, loans for the establishment of businesses and professions, agricultural loans, training allowances, grants in special cases for furniture, tools of trade, books, materials and equipment, medical benefits to dependants of deceased ex-servicemen and war service homes. The former Minister for Post-war Reconstruction, Mr. Dedman, in a report covering the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme furnished the following details relating to the numbers trained and in training at the end of June, 1949 : -
The total cost of the reconstruction training scheme to the 30th June, 1949, was £35,000,000, and it was estimated that the final cost would be approximately £80,000,000. The principal allowances payable to trainees under the scheme were as follows : -
Living away from home allowances were also paid to the trainees, and a special allowance was made for the care of theirchildren. Provision was made for the part-time training of those ex-servicemen who could not undergo full-time training. Tuition fees and expenses incidental to tuition up to a limit of £60 were payable to part-time trainees. The Labour Government also undertook the treatment and training of physically handicapped exservicemen, who were unable to follow their normal avocations. Vocational training was freely provided where it was necessary for an ex-serviceman to engage in an occupation that was new to him. If an ex-serviceman had lost a leg and could not follow his former avocation, he was trained for employment in another occupation such as an iron machinist or a process worker. These were some of the benefits which were provided by the Labour Government. Other financial assistance granted to ex-servicemen and their dependants was as follows : -
What was the record of the anti-Labour governments which were in office during the period from 1921 to 1941, with the exception of the three years from 1929 to 1932? During the eighteen years in which anti-Labour governments were in office prior to 1942 they made no attempt to increase the pensions to ex-servicemen. In those years the basic wage was £2 2s. a week and the pension paid to exservicemen was £2 2s. a week. Not until the Curtin Labour ‘Government came into office was the pension rate increased. In 1948 the rate was again increased by a Labour Government. The following table shows a comparison between the rates of pension prior to the advent of the Curtin Government, and the rate paid at the 30th June last year when the Chifley Government was in office : -
Little or no consideration was given by anti-Labour governments to the plight of war widows. When the Curtin Government was elected to office it immediately began to devise ways and means of assisting those unfortunate, persons. Before that Government was elected to office, war widows’ pensions had been subject to the means test which prevented war widows in the general class from receiving, in many instances, more than £1 3s. 6d. a week. The Curtin Government abolished the means test in relation to war pensions, and increased the pension rate to £3 a week. In spite of these figures the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) proudly boasts that the present Government is treating war widows most generously. He must know that during the years in which nonLabour governments were in office prior to 1941, little was done for war widows. At the 30th June, 1949, the percentage increases over the rates of pensions prevailing when the Labour Government took office were as follows: -
These increases were made during the relatively few years in which Labour governments were in office. The present Government has claimed that it is treating ex-servicemen most generously. It gives no credit to the Curtin and Chifley Labour Governments for their improvement of the lot of ex-servicemen and their dependants. The proposals in this bill are far f mm generous. If the Government really wanted to be generous to ex-servicemen and their dependants, it would have provided for the increased pensions to operate retrospectively from the 1st July last. That would be a generous act on the part of the Government. It should not be forgotten that it is almost twelve months since this Government was elected to office and since its supporters promised the ex-service men and women of this country that if elected they would immediately speed up an inquiry concerning pensions. If the Government wishes to be generous it should make the increased pension rates retrospective to July. In October, 1948, when the Labour Government was introducing increased pension rates, I recall that members of the then Opposition urged the Government to make the rates retrospective to the 1st July of that year. They were shedding crocodile tears for the returned soldiers. It is a different story to-day. I suggest that the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) is endeavouring to hoodwink the people and to make them believe that this Governemnt is doing something out of the ordinary, when, in fact, it is doing nothing more than compensating returned soldiers for the increased cost of living. In some cases it is not even doing that. The Government is by no means generous with its increases of pension rates. While I heartily support, the bill, I consider that its provisions could have gone much further and that greater assistance should have been provided for those who are in the greatest need.
– I wish to congratulate the Minister in charge of this bill, not only on the hard work involved in its presentation, which I know has covered many weeks of his time, but also on his sympathy and understanding in dealing with the problems with which he was faced. The Minister is also to be congratulated because he has made excellent use of the money allocated to his department. Prior to this debate I should have said that ex-servicemen on both sides of the chamber disclaimed credit for having served their country. However, in view of the tone that this debate has taken, I single out only the ex-servicemen on this side of the chamber for the purposes of that comment. They regarded that service as their duty.
I had not intended to speak on this bill, because I was under the impression, in my, innocence, that this was a nonparty measure and that after the Minister had made his second-reading speech, two or three honorable senators might rise and congratulate him on having brought forward this legislation, and that the debate would then have closed. However, I was not only amazed but angered when I heard Senator Finlay making an unwarranted and vicious attack on the Minister, and he was followed by Senator Hendrickson. Those honorable senators made some unwarranted suggestions concerning both the Minister and the Government. Senator Harris was a little more moderate in his remarks, but he also pursued much the same line. To turn a bill such as this into a party bill is in the worst possible taste. Even though I am new to this chamber, I feel very deeply on that point. I point out that the Minister is a man whose own disability has helped him to deal sympathetically with others who have suffered in a similar manner. The attacks that have been made on him are absolutely despicable. When one considers the shameful disregard of the needs of ex-servicemen shown by members of the Australian Labour party during the three years before this Government assumed office, those attacks are even less understandable. One must not forget the deputations from the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia and other organizations that waited on Mr. Chifley and members of his Government asking for the very benefits which .they are now receiving and which were then turned down flat. In some instances ex-servicemen were insulted. I have in mind especially the occasion when the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) stated that if prisoners of war received subsistence it would tend to induce our soldiers to give themselves up to the enemy. Such remarks stick inside. The various organizations that have been fighting for ex-servicemen’s rights during the past few years are well satisfied to-day. If honorable senators opposite do not believe that that is so, I inform them that this bill has been very well received by those whom it concerns most.
The remarks of Senator Harris would, perhaps, leave the impression in the public mind that nothing has been done by this Government and that everything in connexion with repatriation was done by the Labour Government. The honorable senator also made some slating references to what happened after the first world war under the scheme of the Hughes Government. I point out that that was a pioneer scheme, not only in Australia, but probably in the world, to try to improve the lot of ex-servicemen. Everything must have a beginning. I realize, as well as do honorable senators opposite, that some of the objects of that scheme, and especially land settlement, did not turn out very well, but it was a start. I consider that Senator Harris was not doing any good service, either to himself or to this Parliament, in casting a slur on something which the rest of the world thought was commendable when it began.
Senator Hendrickson stated several times that the increase in the base rate of pensions is only 7s. 6d. a week. That is entirely wrong. If the honorable senator reads the bill properly he will see that the increase is 15s. a week, which represents an increase of 27 per cent. I do not wish to say whether that is generous or ungenerous, but it is as much as the budget could stand and as much as the Minister could afford. The increases of from 80 per cent, and 70 per cent, in the pensions of totally deaf and dumb exservicemen bringing the pensions up to 100 per cent, of the base rate, were sought unsuccessfully during the years from 1946 to 1949. I do not think that the average person realizes that when a person is totally deaf, blind or dumb that is not the only affliction he suffers. Any doctor will support my contention that such a person has some other affliction also. He may withdraw into himself, or his mentality may be slightly affected. I think that the Minister is to be commended for having increased those pensions to 100 per cent., because there is no doubt that total deafness has always been a 100 per cent, disability.
A great deal has been said by honorable senators opposite concerning widows. I agree that perhaps a little more could have been done for them, and I have already discussed that matter with the Minister, who has pointed out that improvement of their pension rates will come about in time. Of necessity, that improvement must come slowly, but I have great hopes that in this Government’s next budget, if not .before, something more will be done for them. In point of fact, however, the widow is not so very badly off. Senator Hendrickson stated that if she has no children she receives less by way of pension. Surely the reason for that is obvious. If a woman has not two or three children round her apron strings, normally she is able to take a job and thus add to her pension.
I am very pleased to see that the Government has ceased to control the date on which a man may marry or may have children, as far as pension rights are concerned. I consider that that is a very worthwhile provision. The provision of small motor cars at Government expense for paraplegics is also highly commendable. Incidentally, that was brought about by the ex-servicemen’s committee of which honorable senators have been speaking. I wish to digress for a moment in order to say something about that committee because several misleading statements have been made by both Senator Finlay and Senator Harris. Although I was not in the Parliament at the time, I have taken the trouble to make inquiries concerning the first all-party servicemen’s committee, which was apparently set up in 1938 under Senator Brand. Prom what I can gather, that all-party committee worked very smoothly while the non-Labour parties were in power. With a change of government, however, because the Australian Labour party members of the ex-servicemen’s committee were apparently bound to vote according to the dictates of their caucus, they were unable to take a real part in the work of the committee, and they therefore dropped out. I understand that that is in substance correct, so that the remarks of honorable senators opposite to the effect that the Government refused to set up an all-party committee are entirely wrong. Pursuing the matter a little further, it seems to have been taken for granted that the ex-servicemen’s committee of private members, which has been recently set up, is responsible for the introduction of measures such as this. That is entirely wrong. A sub-committee consisting of ex-service members of the Cabinet deals with such matters. The ex-servicemen’s committee of private members merely makes recommendations and does not determine policy. It brings to the notice of the Cabinet sub-committee recommendations that are received from ex-servicemen’s organizations. The formulation of policy is not its task.
I come now to the living allowance for Commonwealth reconstruction training scheme trainees, which is something that they have been endeavouring to obtain for more than four years. Although the increase is small, it is at least something. I do not wish to discuss all the increases, because they have already been mentioned by Senator Wordsworth and also by the Minister, but I point out that in October, 1946, November, 1946 and October, 1948, all the matters covered by this bill were brought to the notice of the government of the day and were refused out of hand. The 39-point plan, which was drawn up ‘by the Returned ‘Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia and kindred organizations this year, has been almost completely satisfied by the measure which is now before the chamber. I must say that, in a way, I sympathize with those honorable senators opposite who are exservicemen. Constituting a small minority of their party, they must encounter a great deal of difficulty in persuading the party to agree to increased benefits for exservicemen. That is a difficulty that is not encountered by the ex-servicemen in the Government parties. Approximately 70 per cent, of those who may be called the back benchers of the Government parties are ex-servicemen, and they have the advantage of the weight of numbers. As I have said, I sympathize with honorable senators opposite who are exservicemen, but the difficulties with which they are faced in this connexion do not excuse the attack that two of them have made upon what the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) is trying to do. I wish that this debate had not developed along the lines of Senator Finlay’s speech, because it has done none of us any good. I congratulate the Minister upon his efforts and express the hope that the bill will have a speedy passage.
– I speak upon this bill, the main object of which is to increase the pensions of ex-servicemen and ameliorate the conditions under which ex-servicemen and their wives and families are now living, with great pleasure because it represents an attempt to do something for those persons. But, in my opinion, a great deal more could have been done. There is much in the bill that is good, but there Ls also much in it that is not good.
I congratulate Senator Finlay upon the very fine speech that he delivered upon this measure, in the course of which he stated emphatically that loyalty to and consideration for ex-servicemen were not confined to honorable senators opposite. I agree with him. The honorable senator is an old “ digger “. He has been a member of many committees that have dealt with repatriation benefits. He has done a great deal for ex-servicemen, and will continue to do so. I emphasize his statement that loyalty to and consideration for men who sacrificed their limbs or lives in the defence of this country are not confined to honorable senators on one side of the chamber.
One of the major tasks that faced the Labour party when it was in power was the care and welfare of returned servicemen and the dependants of those who did not return. Over 1,000,000 Australians served in our armed forces in one way or another during the last war. They were under the control and direction of a Labour government, and they served well and willingly in the four corners of the earth. It was the duty of a Labour government to arrange for their repatriation. “When I consider the tremendous success that attended the task of demobilizing our forces and re-establishing exservice men and women in their homes and civilian occupations, I feel very proud of the Labour Government which did that work. Many tributes have been paid to the speed and efficiency with which it acted.
Repatriation, in the broadest sense of the word, is a post-war activity. It is the placing of personnel of the fighting forces in peace-time employment as good as or better than they would have had but for their war service. That has been and still is the policy of the Labour party. It is the policy that was expounded and implemented by the former Minister for Repatriation, Mr. Barnard. Because the Labour party is in opposition at the present time, it does not follow that we have altered one iota out belief that nothing is too good for exservicemen. It is the bounden duty of whatever Government is in power to provide returned service men and women and their dependants, if any, with a settled place of abode and at the same time to give them employment or the means of earning a living and to help them to solve problems that would not have confronted them had they not responded to the call of their country. That is the basis of the Labour party’s repatriation policy.
This bill makes provision for increases of repatriation pensions and allowances. Those increases are necessary owing to the economic conditions that now obtain. The price of all commodities is rising. The Senate recently passed a bill which made provision for increases of social services benefits, and it would have been most unfair if the Government, having sponsored that measure, ignored the claims of ex-servicemen and of their widows and children. The increases of social services benefits and repatriation benefits are the result of economic conditions. I am glad that the Government has also made provision for the removal of some anomalies to which the repatriation legislation has given rise.
There are many matters of grave importance to this country that should not be used, as it were, as political footballs in .this cham’ber to be kicked from one side to the other by honorable senators or the party to which they belong in order to gain political advantage. Repatriation, social services, defence and foreign policy are all subjects of major importance. There are many members of the Parliament who have a great deal of experience not only of this country but also of countries overseas, and who could, if they were appointed to appropriate committees, advise Ministers and relieve them of some of the burden under which they are labouring at the present time. The fact that the work of governing this great country is difficult and strenuous is proved by the casualties amongst senior Ministers of this and previous governments.
I have studied this bill carefully. Having some experience of repatriation matters, I appreciate the increases and concessions that are proposed in it, and I know that many thousands of exservicemen appreciate them also. When we examine the position, we find that the overall responsibility that this country has to ex-servicemen is being shouldered by governments, but surely some of it should be shouldered by the community generally and by big industrial organizations. I have in mind the magnificent bequest of nearly £750,000 that was made after World War I. by the late Sir Samuel McCaughey for the benefit of ex-servicemen. That bequest was used to ameliorate many cases of hardship with which the Repatriation Department could not deal. After World War II., the large industrial organizations of this country could have acted in the same way as did Sir Samuel McCaughey after World War I. They could have donated several millions of pounds for repatriation purposes. What about Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, and the big graziers’ organizations to protect whose interests many thousands of Australian men and women sacrificed their lives? The present tendency is to look to governments to do everything for everybody all the time, but surely, in relation to repatriation at all events, a responsibility rests upon every person in the community and not only upon governments. I was very disappointed that the outstanding example set by Sir Samuel McCaughey of what one man could do in the disposal of great wealth was not followed after the last war by the great industrial organizations of this country.
In the course of this debate, honorable senators opposite have eulogized the work that this Government has done in connexion with repatriation and belittled the work that was done by Labour governments. I point out that on the 28th January, 1943, in the middle of a war and when we were fighting hard and straining every nerve to stave off the onslaughts of the Japanese and the Nazis, the Curtin Government had the foresight to appoint a committee of ex-service men and women to prepare a report upon repatriation. That report is the basis of our present repatriation legislation. The members of the committee were not drawn only from one political party. I shall state their names, because they deserve great praise for the outstanding report that they prepared. They were Mr. R. T. Pollard, a member of the Labour party; Mr. D. O. Watkins, a member of the Labour party; Senator H. B. Collett, C.M.G., D.S.O., V.D., a great soldier and a member of a party that was in opposition to the Curtin Government at that time; Senator Charles Lamp, a member of the Labour party; Mr. Josiah Francis, the present Minister for the Army and Minister for the Navy and a member of the Liberal party; and Mr. A. K. McDonald, the present honorable member for Corangamite and a member of the Liberal party. The secretary of the committee was Mr. F. C. Green, M.C., the Clerk of the House of Representatives. The report of the committee was prepared, at the direction of the Curtin Labour Government, at a time when this country was engaged in a war. That Government looked ahead and began to make preparations for the time when servicemen would return to their homes and would have to be provided for. There were some members of the Labour party in this chamber and in the House of Representatives who could have contributed something of value to the discussions that took place when this bill was being considered by the Government, but the Government wanted to take all the credit for these increases and ignored the many members of the Labour party who served their country in one war and, in some instances, in two wars.
The present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in his policy speech, promised that the present Government parties, if returned to power, would make a speedy investigation of the anomalies and faults of the repatriation legislation and of the adequacy of ex-servicemen’s pensions. One would have thought that repatriation would be the first problem to be tackled by the Government, but communism and all kinds of other bogies were flaunted here and there for many weary months. Now the Government, nearly twelve months after its election and in the closing stages of this Parliamentary session, has introduced a bill that will ameliorate to some degree the hardships that are being suffered by exservicemen. Having introduced the bill and made the necessary money available, it is essential for the Government to ensure that the increased pensions and allowances will enable ex-servicemen and their dependants to buy more goods. The important factor is the relationship between money and what can be bought with it. To-day the gap between money and prices is widening and no government can afford to ignore that fact. Money is chasing prices, but it is not catching them, and this Government is doing nothing to bring about the conditions in which money and prices will eventually meet.
The defence of this country depends not only upon arms but also upon what is done with the human material when it is away fighting and when it returns after a war. The defence of this country depends upon human qualities and security. By security, I do not mean guns but the security of those who are prepared to sacrifice their family relationships for many years and who may never return from a war. There must be equality of sacrifice. Sacrifices must be made by all sections of the community, in the industrial, political and other spheres. Every one must bear his share of the burden. The Labour party subscribes to the policy that was enunciated by the previous Government and by Mr. Barnard. the former Minister for Repatriation. I deplore the attacks that have been made upon Mr. Barnard, because no man could have done more for exservicemen than he did. I know that his own family suffered grievously during the last war. The thought foremost in his mind was what he could do for the benefit of the persons that the Repatriation Department was established to assist, but he could not expend more money than the Government allocated to the department. The attacks that were made upon him reflected no credit upon the honorable senators who made them. He did his best, but, despite that, he was attacked by the press throughout Australia. One of the principal newspapers that attacked him repeatedly was Smith’s Weekly, which has since gone out of existence. Subsequent events usually prove whether or not a man has done a good job. The recruiting lag is partly attributable to fear. This bill makes provision for the future security of men who enlist in the fighting forces. However, these provisions will mean nothing to our fighting men abroad unless their interests at home are safeguarded. As I have pointed out before, security is measured not only in terms of money but also in terms of security and peace of mind. In my opinion the proposed increases are inadequate, and they have not been made soon enough.
I am very pleased that an anomaly concerning ex-servicemen of World War I. who have re-married has been removed by this measure. The practice has been to regard the wives and children of exservicemen of World War I. who remarried after the 30th June, 1938, as ineligible for pensions in respect of the ex-serviceman’s incapacity. For many years past representations have been made by ex-servicemen’s organizations to successive governments to have this provision abolished. Many ex-servicemen of World War I. have re-married because they have lost their first wives, and it was but natural that they should seek to re-marry in order to safeguard the interests crf their children of the first marriage. I am pleased that the bill makes provision for a war widow who re-marries to receive a gratuity of £182. That is a very desirable provision. . It is the natural law that a woman who loses her exserviceman husband should re-marry, if she so desires, and I consider that every encouragement should be given to her to do so. She should not be penalized by the loss of her pension, as has been the practice. According to the Minister’s second-reading speech, the pensions, education allowances, and child endowment in respect of three children total £9 lis. a week. In terms of money, that appears to be a large amount. However, I point out that child endowment pf £1 5s. a week is received by every family in which there are three children under the age of sixteen years. In effect, child endowment payments have been used to bolster up the amount of the pension. That figure bears no relation to the amount that a war widow receives from the Repatriation Department. The figure £9 lis. causes an unreal picture of the situation. Even if the amount were £9 lis., the important factor is the purchasing value of the pension.
Consideration has been extended to blinded ex-servicemen, which is only right a.nd just. Men who have lost one of nature’s most precious gifts, their eyesight, should receive every possible consideration. I should like the Minister to inform me whether the Government has considered establishing a school to train dogs to assist blinded ex-servicemen to move about more freely. In both Great Britain and the United States of America what are known as “ seeing eye “ dogs have been trained for this purpose. A friend of mine who was blinded at Dunkirk, and who recently came to this country, has told me that one of his greatest regrets was that he could not bring his “ seeing eye “ dog with him. When skilfully trained, these intelligent animals act as friends and companions of the blind people whom they assist to move about more freely. As a dog lover, I can well understand the feeling of security that a blind person would have in the companionship of a well-trained dog to assist him to cross busy roads, and in other ways.
I consider that the Government should establish special wards and facilities in hospitals, particularly those dealing with diseases of the mind, for war neurosis patients. The people of Tasmania were promised that premises for war neurosis patients would be established in a country district in order that the patients would have plenty of fresh air and a pleasant outlook. That promise has not been fulfilled, and I should be pleased if the Minister would investigate the matter. Because of the stresses and strains and. the rush and tear associated with living to-day, many more exservicemen are becoming neurotic and slightily unbalanced. If a hospital of the kind that I have mentioned were established in a rural area in Tasmania and these ex-servicemen were given sympathetic treatment, their prospects of recovery would be enhanced considerably.
I shall now make some constructive criticism in relation to temporary and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen who have become crippled and have thereby lost touch with their friends. I should like the Minister to inform me whether the Government is prepared to extend to them preference in connexion with the installation of telephones, and whether they could be granted a concession in relation to the rental of telephones. I understand that in Western Australia, totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen have been granted a reduction of telephone rental of 15s. a year. I point out that in addi- tion to enabling crippled ex-servicemen to keep in touch with their friends, telephones provide a means whereby they can summon assistance, if necessary. This is particularly important in the case of ex-servicemen who are- partially bed-ridden. Furthermore. a cheery “hallo” on the telephone means a good deal to them.
A great deal has been said about the influence of ex-servicemen in trade unions. A fact that is frequently overlooked is that the great trade unions of this country have co-operated wholeheartedly in the rehabilitation of exservicemen, particularly the reemployment of incapacitated ex-servicemen. Both the Seamen’s Union and the Waterside Workers Federation have placed’ incapacitated ex-servicemen in position* such as winch-drivers, where their disability does not interfere with the performance of their work. Between the 1st January, 1945, and January, 1947, 1,190 new members including 960 exservicemen were admitted to the Waterside Workers Federation in Sydney. We have heard a lot of nonsense about the influence of communism in the trade unions, but that seems very odd when It is realized that over 68 per cent, of trade union members are ex-servicemen of both world wars. It is very odd that they should be charged with disloyalty when industrial disputes occur. The majority of members of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia and affiliated bodies are working men.
– Everybody works.
– I agree with the honorable member who has just interjected. But many of the speeches that have been made by supporters of the Government have implied that only the present Liberal Government is concerned with the welfare of ex-servicemen. J point out that many trade union leaders and officials are ex-servicemen. They exhibit just as much concern about the welfare of their mates as does any political party. Statistics show that 68 per cent, of the members of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia and affiliated organizations are trade unionists. Honorable senators generally will agree that all members of the Parliament carry out their duties to the best of their ability. If the Government desires the co-operation’ of the Opposition, it should co-operate with the Opposition. But the Government has not sought cooperation by the Opposition in relation to this matter. It expects the Opposition to acquiesce mildly in any proposals that it puts forward. The fact that Labour does not oppose the bill does not indicate that its provisions conform entirely with Labour’s views. I point out that when the former Labour Government was in office it established an all-party committee to consider war gratuities. The committee consisted of the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden), the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett), the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. “Watkins), Senator Finlay and myself. The present Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives (Mr. Chifley) was chairman. When the Labour Government set up that committee it invited the co-operation of members of the Opposition of the day. By the pooling of resources, the committee was able to accomplish much. I believe that the same principle should be applied now, so that members of the Opposition and of the Government parties may co-operate as the committee in 1943.
It is proposed to increase the pension payable to totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen from £5 6s. to £7 a week, an increase of £1 14s. a “week. The totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman is in a worse position in many respects than is the man on the basic pension. His wants are generally greater in that it is often necessary for him to hire taxis to transport Trim over long distances for medical attention. The ex-servicemen appreciate the fact that the Government is proposing to increase their pensions, but they are “wondering, in view of the constantly rising cost of living, for how long the increases will he adequate. During the twelve months that have passed since the increase was promised many old diggers have passed on.
In his second-reading speech, the Minister pointed out that the annual liability of the Commonwealth in respect of exservicemen at the 30th September, 1950, was £21,056,111, made up of a liability of £10,174,678 for ex-servicemen of the 1914-18 war, and, £10,881,433 for exservicemen of the 1939-45 war. The liability is increasing in respect of men who served in the second world war because, as men grow older, their war injuries become more apparent. In addition, there is the liability now being incurred in respect of Australians who are serving with the United Nations forces in Korea, and that liability will remain with us for many years.
I wish to pay a tribute to members of the administrative staff of the Repatriation Department. I have not always seen eye to eye with them, but I recognize that they have endeavoured to administer the act impartially, and I have always received from them every courtesy and consideration. I have not always won my point, but I recognize that the officers were administering the act faithfully. They are themselves exservicemen, and have at heart the true welfare of ex7servicemen. I wish also to pay a tribute to the nurses and doctors attached to Repatriation hospitals. The patients in the hospitals are getting the best of treatment, and they appreciate it. The fact that ex-servicemen are being treated well in the hospitals is not a matter for which any government in particular can claim the credit. The credit belongs to the people of Australia who have insisted, through their representatives in the Parliament, that ex-servicemen should be accorded the best possible treatment. I was astonished to learn that, last year, Repatriation hospitals treated 40,000 in-patients, and 73,000 out-patients. Those are remarkable figures, and are evidence of the splendid work being done by the department. In this connexion, I quote from the broadcast of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in his Call to the Nation (No. 1), in which he said -
Think well of the armed services. Help them get the best.
We all think well of the armed services, and I am satisfied that this Government has tried to give them the best, just a3 did the last government. The Labour party has always wished the members of the armed services to have the best, and I hope that that will be the attitude of all succeeding governments.
– I am very interested in this bill. The Government has been praised for introducing this measure to increase the pensions payable to ex-servicemen and their dependants, but, in view of the everincreasing cost of living, the proposed increases will not be one penny more than enough. That applies particularly to totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen. It is certain that, for them, the necessaries of life, and the few luxuries to which they ure properly entitled, will become dearer and dearer. The increases are proportionately lower than recent increases of the basic wage, and of public service salaries. I was impressed by the case made out by Senator Finlay for the appointment of an all-party committee of ex-servicemen to consider repatriation matters, and I hope that the Government will take the suggestion seriously. I certainly hope that the co-operation of ex-servicemen in the ranks of the Opposition will in future be sought by the Government. Repatriation should not be made the subject of party politics. The people who have appointed members of the Opposition as their representatives in the Senate are entitled to be heard when repatriation policy is being framed. An all-party standing committee should be appointed to make a quarterly review of the cost of living, and to make recommendations to the Repatriation Department regarding necessary adjustments of pensions.
One of the weaknesses of this measure is the small increase which is proposed in the pensions of war widows. The bare necessaries of life now cost more than what it is proposed to pay a war widow. Not one of us here would like to be required to live on £3 10s. a week. The fact that war widows have been deprived of the companionship and support of their husbands should recommend them to our special consideration. Had their husbands survived the war, they would now, in most instances, be getting more tha-a the basic wage. Under these proposals, war widows are being asked to eke out an existence on less than half of the basic wage. How we should deal with the problem I am not quite certain, but we should certainly give it our closest attention. The war widows should be our first responsibility. There are institutions to care for incapacitated ex-servicemen, who are in closer contact with the authorities than are the war widows. Senator Kendall expressed his sympathy with members of the Opposition in that they had not been invited to assist in the formation of repatriation policy. Anti-Labour governments were in office for most of the period between 1920 and 1941, and during the whole of that time the basic pension for ex-servicemen was not increased. No increases were made until 1942, when a Labour government was in office.
I now wish to draw attention to the care of ex-prisoners of war. They cannot ordinarily be classified as incapacitated, but many people fail to understand the after-effects of life in a prisonerofwar camp.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– Although former prisoners of war may not be. suffering from any obvious incapacity, many of them still bear the mental scars of their incarceration in European and Japanese prisoner-of-war camps. An all-party committee of this Parliament should be asked to inquire into the welfare of exprisoners of war generally, and particularly to investigate the justice of the claim that has been advanced by all organizations of ex-servicemen for the payment by the Government of a subsistence allowance of 3s. a day for the period for which the men were in enemy hands. This is a matter that should be dealt with by t*e Parliament. “We as members of the Parliament are charged with the task of voting Commonwealth moneys for various purposes. Unfortunately, the question of paying a subsistence allowance to ex-prisoners of war has never been discussed by the Parliament. The matter was considered by a special non-parliamentary committee the report of which was tabled in this chamber recently. In my opinion that report was one of the worst insults ever offered to men who had done their duty and served their country conscientiously. The recommendations contained in the report covered three main points. The committee found that there was no moral obligation on the Commonwealth to pay a subsistence allowance, either through the Repatriation Department or directly from the Department of Defence or the Department of the Army, to ex-prisoners of war. It seems strange indeed that the committee should have considered that there was no moral obligation on the Commonwealth Government to make such a payment seeing that the Government of the United States of America had no hesitation in accepting its responsibility in that regard. Another point made by the committee in its report was that the payment of a subsistence allowance to exprisoners of war would create dissatisfaction amongst other ex-servicemen. That argument cannot be substantiated in view of the fact that organizations of ex-servicemen throughout the Commonwealth - ex-prisoner of war members of those organizations would probably not total more than 10 per cent. - unanimously approved of the proposal that a subsistence allowance should be paid. I come now to a portion of the report which I consider to be insulting and humiliating. I refer to the suggestion that a decision to pay a subsistence allowance to ex-prisoners of war might induce members of the armed forces in future to lay down their arms and surrender to the enemy. A report that contains such an unfair imputation against our sailors, soldiers and airmen is not worthy of consideration in this Parliament, and I am disappointed that that insult has not drawn any comment from honorable senators opposite who claim to have a majority of ex-servicemen in their ranks, and who always pose as the friends of returned soldiers.
There is a responsibility on the Repatriation Department to look after former prisoners of war who although they cannot be classified as permanently incapacitated in any way, still suffer from the after-effects of the hunger and torture that they endured while in enemy hands. Fortunately I did not have to spend much more than three and a half years in a prisoner-of-war camp, but that was more than enough. The rations that we received were not fit even for a poodle dog. They were just sufficient to keep men conscious. The churning pangs of hunger were always in our stomachs. Yet there is talk of members of our forces surrendering merely because they will get a subsistence allowance while they are in enemy hands ! I repeat that I am surprised that that section of the report at least has not drawn some comment from Government supporters who claim to have the interests of exservicemen at heart.
– That has nothing to do with this bill.
– There is not enough in this bill. It does not cover the full field of ex-servicemen’s entitlements. The increases for which it provides will merely enable the recipients to catch up with the increased cost of living since this Government came to office. Provision is made for a fund of £250,000 to relieve hardship amongst former prisoners of war, but what exserviceman will claim that he suffered more than his fellows? All prisoners of war suffered from a shortage of food, from boredom, and from all the other things that cannot be explained. The list of deaths in Japanese prisoner of war camps demonstrates starkly the hardships that our men went through, yet the report suggests that the payment of a subsistence allowance of 3s. a day might be an incentive to some men to lay down their arms ! Any one who saw the wrecks of manhood who came into prison camps from the Berlin raids in which British losses amounted to 10 per cent., would he ashamed to suggest that 3s. a day would be an incentive to surrender. That unworthy implication has served only to emphasize the need for a thorough investigation by an all-party committee of this Parliament of the claim of former prisoners” of war for the payment of a subsistence allowance. Not only does the report to which I have referred reveal an entirely wrong approach to the problem, but also it contains the vilest insults to men who had the misfortune to become prisoners of war.
I could speak at length about breaches of the Geneva conventions relating to the treatment of prisoners of war. Not only were there acts of direct cruelty to prisoners in German camps, but also Red Cross parcels were withheld from them as an act of reprisal after allied air raids on Germany. The nonparliamentary committee did not call sufficient evidence from ex-prisoners of war to obtain a clear picture, otherwise the report would not have been received so complacently by Government supporters. I repeat that the matter is one for investigation by an all-party committee of this Parliament. The report does an injustice, financially and morally, to ex-prisoners of war and I hope that in the very near future the Government will condemn this grave reflection on the honour of fighting men who, through no fault of their own, were forced to surrender to the enemy.
I conclude by summarizing my points. First, the pension increases provided for in this measure can only be described as timely. Some of them are inadequate. Secondly, the payment of a subsistence allowance to ex-prisoners of war should be thoroughly investigated by a committee representing all shades of political opinion in Parliament. Thirdly, an allparty committee should be empowered also to review pension rates every three months in order that they may be adjusted in accordance with the rising cost of living.
– Since 1914, almost every one in this country has been conscious of his duty to ex-servicemen, and particularly to the dependants of men who sacrificed their’ lives in battle. In two world wars our servicemen have shown their readiness to die for the high ideals in which they believed. It is unfortunate that there has been a tendency on the part of some honorable senators not to treat this measure on a national basis. I ‘ sincerely regret that Senator O’Byrne, who has a distinguished war record, should have mentioned a remark that wa3 made in another chamber. We shall have an opportunity at a later date to discuss that matter, and it should not have been introduced into this debate. Perhaps the honorable member concerned now regrets his utterance. That matter, however, has no relation to the bill now before the Senate and I shall not’ discuss it further.
Legislation to provide for the payment of pensions to ex-servicemen was first passed in 1914. Originally, the full pension was £1 a week. In 1916 that was increased to £1 10s. a week. The Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act really dates from the 1st July, 1920, when war pensions came under the control of the Repatriation Department. At that time the base rate was increased to- £2 2s. a week. In 1943, an all-party committee of this Parliament reported1 on the operations of the- Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act. It should be understood that the committee did not prepare a new act. It reported on the existing legislation. I well remember some of the meetings that the committee had in 1944 and 1946 under the chairmanship of General Brand, who was then a member of this chamber. I pay tribute to him for the excellent work that he did in the interests of ex-servicemen and their dependants. I regret to say that certain members of the all-party committee gradually drifted away and did not attend its meetings. I do not quarrel with them for having done so. Probably they acted in accordance with a domestic arrangement made by their own party. Each successive government from 1914 onwards has endeavoured to do its utmost for ex-servicemen and their dependants. It is always easy to criticize the activities of a government. However keenly the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and’ Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia may haveadvanced its claims for better treatment of ex-service men and their dependants, it did not have the responsibility of finding the money with which to finance increased benefits. As a member of that body who has taken some small part in its operations I admit that it has not been in possession of full information concerning the conditions that have existed during the life of any government. All governments have done, to the best of their ability, what they thought best in the interests of this section of the community.
I am pleased to be able to compliment the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) on having introduced this excellent bill. The great body of ex-service- men and women in Australia are fortunate to have in charge of repatriation matters a -gentleman who himself is a limbless digger who knows what it is to suffer and who has earned the respect of every person in the community. Everyone is aware that he would always err on the side of generosity in his treatment of ex-servicemen. I am delighted that he has had the privilege of introducing this bill to provide additional benefits to exservicemen and their dependants, not as a gift or as an act of grace but as the repayment as a debt owed to them.
I am pleased that the Government has been able to increase the base rate pension from £2 15s. to £3 10s. a week, an increase of 15s. and not of 7s. 6d. as has been stated by some Opposition senators in this debate, and that the base rate pension for a widow is to be increased from £1 4s. to £1 10s. 6d. a week, and for a child from 9s. to Ils. 6d. a week. I speak on this subject with a certain amount of feeling. On Friday last it was my privilege to attend a reunion of the members of my former unit. The gentleman who presided over the meeting was a totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen and a gallant soldier who had been my sergeant during my period of service. As I served under him as a fully fledged private for a long time honorable senators will realize something of the difficulties with- which he must have been faced. As a totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner he will in future receive a pension of £7 a week. It pleased me to know that the increased rate will give him an opportunity to enjoy a much happier Christmas” than would otherwise have been possible. He is typical of the many manly ex-servicemen who depend upon their pensions for their livelihood. Those who were killed in the war have been honoured, and rightly so, for their sacrifice, but many of those who carried on and stuck to their units throughout the war have not received the praise which is their due. On Friday night the thought came to me that the man of whom I have spoken was typical of many for whom the coming Christmas will indeed he a happier and more festive season.
It is pleasing to note also that provision has been made in the bill to increase to the maximum rate the pension paid to those who have suffered deafness or loss of speech. Every honorable sena.ator is also delighted that the Government has been able to increase the rate of pensions for orphans to £2 a week. Hitherto, the wives and children of ex-servicemen of World War I. who married or were born after 1938 have not been eligible to receive a pension. I do not question the why and wherefor for that decision. I am glad that the’ bar has now been removed and I am sure that its removal will give general satisfaction to exservicemen throughout the length and breadth of this country. The pension of widows of deceased members of the forces is to be increased to £3 10s. a week. If a widow is over 50 years of age and has children under the age of sixteen years, she will be entitled to an additional 10s. a week, plus £1 2s. for the first child and 15s. 6d. for each additional child, plus an education allowance of 12s. for the first and second children and 9s. for the third child. Thus, a widow who has three children under the age of sixteen years will receive a total pension of £8 6s. a week. In addition, she will be entitled to child endowment of £1 5s. a week. Thus, her total income from all sources will be £9 lis. a week. It is gratifying to know that this country is at last able to afford to be so generous. An increase of 10s. a week is also to be made in the pension of parents of deceased members of the forces. I commend the Minister for his kindly gesture in making that additional amount available to them. If parents of deceased members are in receipt of an invalid or age pension then both payments as made by the Repatriation Department. The payment of the amounts by the department will do much to smooth away the difficulties that must confront these people. This is one of those small courtesies that cost very little but mean very much. In these days of hustle and bustle, in which old world courtesy seems to have disappeared concessions of that kind bring greater happiness to a very deserving section of the community. I also compliment the Government on its decision to pay a gratuity of £182 to a war widow who remarries.
I whole-heartedly join with Senator Murray in paying a tribute to the doctors and nursing and other staffs of the repatriation hospitals throughout the ‘Commonwealth. I say to Senator Murray, “ Thank you for the courtesy and kindness which marked your speech this afternoon”. It is encouraging to realize that in this matter honorable senators can think, act and speak nationally. I also pay a tribute to the ministerial staff in Canberra and to the loyal members of the State staffs of the Repatriation Department. The people of Australia have always jealously guarded the rights and privileges of those who risked their lives in the service of their country. Although successive governments may not have done as much for ex-servicemen and their dependants as many of us had hoped they would do, all of them endeavoured to do their utmost. It annoys me when I hear people say that this country has done nothing for its ex-servicemen. As an ex-serviceman, I fling the lie back in their teeth. This country has treated its ex-service men and women as well as it has been able to do having regard to circumstances. I reject the criticism that we have not done enough for them in the past and that it is now too late to do much for them. Those of us who are inclined at times to think that a government moves too slowly must remember that we have not the knowledge possessed by responsible Ministers if all the circumstances had been known to us we would probably have taken a different outlook.
I have to strike one discordant note. This afternoon I was grieved to hear Senator Hendrickson make a vicious and offensive attack on the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia. Never before in this Parliament has a more vicious attack been made on any organization, least of all an organization of ex-servicemen. I was pleased to hear Senator Murray say that 68 per cent, of our ex-servicemen are unionists. From my own observations I should say that approximately 70 per cent, of the troops who served in the fighting line were members of trade unions. Trade unionists are to be found on the executive of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia and in every sub-branch of that organization throughout the length and breadth of the country. It is com- pletely untrue to say, as Senator Hendrickson has said, that it is not a fit and proper body to represent exservicemen and that it has fallen down on its job. If the honorable senator had remained a member of his sub-branch and had endeavoured to correct some of the wrongs which he claimed have been done, he would have rendered better service to ex-servicemen than he did by abandoning his membership of the sub-branch and attacking the league as he did this afternoon.
Honorable senators on this side of the chamber do not seek to gain political prestige from this bill. “We believe that it represents the earnest desire of the Government to do the right thing for the ex-service men and women of this country. It must be as pleasing to the Minister who is an ex-serviceman as it is to us to realize that as the result of the additional benefits provided in this measure many ex-service men and women will be able to enjoy a brighter and happier Christmas this year than would otherwise have been the case. Future govern ment3 will have great responsibilities to our ex-servicemen. Whatever government may follow this one - and this one will remain in office for another twenty or 30 years - I am sure that it will be actuated as this Government is, by a desire to improve the lot of ex-service men and women. I believe that future governments will be willing to do the things that this Government is doing for the benefit of ex-service men and women. I also believe that our fellow Australians would like to ‘express their thanks for the bill, through their representatives in this chamber, as a tribute to the gallant men and women who served during the two world wars.
– After listening to the speeches of honorable senators opposite one would imagine that this Government is Santa Claus and that no other government ever attempted to do anything for the soldiers.
– Nonsense !
– I can appreciate that interjection, because it comes from an honorable senator who would not appreciate the true position. I well remember what the government of the day did for the soldiers following the 1914-18 war. Nothing was done to improve their lot until 1942. Senator Kendall, who is interjecting, apparently thinks that the subject is sacrosanct and that it should not be mentioned. He seemed to be greatly impressed by the grand action of the Minister in introducing this legislation.
– I said in my speech that honorable senators opposite should not run the ‘bill down. I did not say that they should not discuss it.
– The honorable senator said that he was annoyed because of various statements that had been made concerning the measure. He appeared to think that the Minister is some kind of fairy godfather or godmother.
– The honorable senator would not understand anything about that.
– I understand that those who are most in need of increased pension rates will gain little or no advantage from these increases because, as every one knows, the cost of living has risen to such a degree that the increased pensions will be of little avail. Honorable senators opposite have endeavoured to create the impression that this bill gives such great benefits to ex-servicemen that they should now be quite happy and contented, hut I ask them what is being done, in this bill, to provide for the soldiers who are required to approach entitlement tribunals. Has any action been taken to enable those ex-servicemen to pass beyond the barrier and to obtain a pension? This Government claims, at one moment, that it is giving pensions to ex-servicemen while, at the next moment, it is denying them the right to receive pensions.
– Was that Mr. Barnard’s scheme?
– That was a very good scheme, although I always desired that it should be improved. Even the tribunals need to be improved. To-day a soldier goes before the tribunal and the Repatriation Department stacks up doctors against him. He is represented before the tribunal by a representative f from a returned soldiers’ organization and the Repatriation Department doctors tell a grand story in medical terms that are above the head of the man who is there to represent the soldier. The chairman of the tribunal no doubt appreciates that what is being done is not in the best interests of the ex-serviceman, but he cannot take any action or question the procedure because it might be assumed that he is taking sides and is not an impartial chairman. I again ask the Government to do something to improve that procedure.
Senator Kendall professed great sympathy for the Minister, who in turn professed great sympathy for soldiers. If they are so sympathetic, I suggest that they should endeavour to do something real for the benefit of the soldiers.- If this Government sincerely desires to help returned soldiers generally it should introduce a free medical service to operate through the Repatriation Department. I point out that many ex-servicemen have been denied a pension, and because they receive no pension they are not eligible to receive the benefit of free medical services. Apparently, the Government takes the view that if an ex-serviceman is sick, he should apply for the “ burnt out “ pension at the age of 60, but I remind it that many ex-servicemen who do not want a “ burnt out “ pension nevertheless require medical attention. As things are, they must go along to a doctor and pay the normal fees. I suggest that the Government could very well do something to improve that situation. Senator Kendall seems to he conversant with everything that has transpired in this Parliament. He even knows all about what happened in the Senate committee room when an all-party committee discussed increases of soldiers’ pensions. The honorable senator stated that those discussions took place in 1939. I point out that in fact they took place in 1942. Members of all political parties met for the purpose of considering how the lot of ex-soldiers could be improved. Senator Ashley, Senator Cameron, who is a Boer war veteran, and many other returned soldiers, including myself, from this side of the chamber, met representatives of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party. I inform honorable senators that the members of those other political parties one night brought into the room representatives of blinded, tuberculosis and permanently incapacitated soldiers. They also brought along Mr. Vincent Brady. That gentleman and the present Minister for the Army, Mr. Francis, were very loud-mouthed in their assertions that the bill proposed to be introduced by the Government did not go far enough. Mr. Brady stated that the committee should demand greater benefits for the soldiers, but when the time came for the soldiers’ representatives to speak they were unanimous in saying, in effect, “ This is not all that we should like, but it is the first real attempt to do something for the soldiers and we are grateful to the Government for doing it”. They left Mr. Brady, Mr. Francis, and all the other loudmouthed people, on the bank, where they should have been left. Senator Kendall’s > statement that the committee ceased to function after certain persons had walked out because, owing to circumstances not connected with the committee, they could not vote as they wished, is entirely wrong. The committee broke up of its own accord. I also remind the honorable senator that when the bill to which I have previously referred was debated in the Senate the members of the present Government, who were then in Opposition, proposed an amendment which provided that returned soldiers should be given preference. I remember Senator Brand moving the amendment. Whether they thought that the Repatriation Department dealt with persons other than returned soldiers, I do not know, but I suggest that the real reason for the amendment was merely to show their strength.
It may perhaps be the considered opinion of the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) that the increases provided for in this bill are as much as the budget will stand without robbing the wool-growers of more of their money, but I suggest .that if the Government really wishes to do something for ex-servicemen it should look further into the matter. There are many ex-servicemen in this country who receive no .pension whatever, and their number includes returned soldiers of both the 1914-18 and the 1939-45 wars. In many cases they are debarred because they are required to present their case to an entitlement tribunal before which the doctors talk in a jargon that the layman does not understand. If the Government is concerned to do something for exservicemen, the Minister should discuss with the various ex-service organizations the question whether their members who go before such a tribunal should be able to nominate a legal representative. The Repatriation Department has appointed a legal man to assist the tribunal, and I consider that exservicemen should be entitled to legal representation before it. I do not advocate the appointment of a panel of barristers, but an ex-serviceman should be able to avail himself of the services of a lawyer, whose fees will be paid by the Repatriation Department, to ensure that he receives fair treatment, which is all that ex-servicemen seek.
I have made representations on behalf of ex-servicemen on many occasions to the Repatriation Department. Usually I have been informed, very nicely and properly, that a form would be forwarded for the ex-serviceman to complete, or that he could obtain a form and send it along to the tribunal. After the ex-serviceman appeared before the tribunal, I would then receive a letter stating that although his case was put before the tribunal, it was regretted1 that his disability was not due to war service. I laugh to myself whenever I receive such a letter, because when I returned from the first world war I was told that I had shot myself. However, after a long struggle, I succeeded in obtaining a pension. If honorable senators opposite wish to know how I was treated in that connexion, they should refer to Hansard of the time and read the report of the debate on the bill to which I have previously referred’. I appreciate that the treatment being received by ex-servicemen to-day ismuch better than that which they received- in those days, but this Government should not run away with the belief that it has done everything. There are many people who are vitally concerned to obtain a military pension and who are despondent because they have been denied that right. This Government should consider those to whom it might be of some assistance. A free medical service for ex-servicemen would take a great load from their shoulders and at the same time provide something of benefit for their -wives. It sometimes happens that a soldier who is not in receipt of a pension requires more attention in the home than a man who receives a pension. If an ex-serviceman is entitled to a pension his wife also receives an allowance, hut if he does not receive a pension, although he may be sick and out of employment, hi9 wife receives no allowance. Yet, the man may not he sufficiently incapacitated to be entitled to a invalid pension.
I agree that a bill of this kind should be a non-party measure. The various political parties should be able to work together for the benefit of ex-servicemen. We should be able to ensure that their road is made easy, and that when they are sick they and their families will be cared for. The Government should not deal with this matter on the basis of giving the ex-serviceman an extra few shillings a week, hut should do something that will be of real value to him. It should not treat the ex-serviceman as a political football. He fought for this country and was prepared to give his all for it. The Government should not adopt the attitude that the Minister for Repatriation is a kind of fairy godfather who has done everything for returned ex-servicemen. The basic policy that the Minister is applying was formulated by the all-party committee that considered repatriation benefits in 1942 and laid the foundation upon which the 1943 act was built. What the Government proposes to do now will be only an improvement of that act. The returned servicemen are entitled to what the Government proposes to give them, and it will not be given as a gift or as an act of charity. The extra few shillings that these men will receive will only compensate them to some degree for the increased cost of living.
I leave it at that. I trust that the Minister will persuade the Government to do something to assist ex-servicemen who appear before entitlement tribunals and also to extend to them free medical services under the repatriation scheme.
Senator COOKE (Western Australia)
Repatriation (Senator Cooper) has great sympathy for returned servicemen and that in this measure he has gone as far as the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) will permit him to go in the expenditure of money by the Repatriation Department, but I believe also that the increases of repatriation pensions and allowances are only illusionary. They appear to be generous in terms of pounds, shillings and pence, but when they are converted into terms of purchasing power they will disappear in the same way as a mirage disappears.
Since this Government assumed officeI have made representations to the Minister on behalf of totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen who are in receipt only of repatriation pensions. I believe that, having regard’ to the present inflation, a pension of £7 a week will be niggardly. Mr. W. D. T. Kendrick, the secretary of the totally and permanently incapacitated soldiers’’ organization in Western Australia, wroteme at least three letters in which he asked for immediate attention to be given by the Government to the claims of members of his organization. On several occasions I have asked the Government tomake retrospective the proposed increaseof the special rate pension granted topermanently and totally incapacitated men, but it has not seen fit to accede to my request, notwithstanding that the recent increase of public service salaries under an award of the PublicService Arbitrator was made retrospective. In company with Mr. Kendrick, I visited totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen in Western Australia who were in receipt of only a repatriation pension and were sufferingreal hardship.
The Minister, in his secondreadingspeech, said -
When a member is, as the result of wai service, incapacitated for life to such an extent as to be precluded from earning other than a negligible percentage of a living wage, he isgranted a special rate pension. At present that rate is £5 Cs. a week, and it is proposed toincrease it to £7 a week.
The basic wage will shortly be considerably more than £7 a week. TheMinister knows - I realize that I have hissympathy, but I hope that I shall also have his practical support - that many totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen cannot earn even a negligible percentage of a living wage. Many of them cannot work at all. Owing to their disabilities which were incurred in the service of their country, they have never married and, therefore, have no wife or children to care for them. Those men should receive special treatment, because unless they are assisted by some charitable organization they will be unable to live in decency or reasonable comfort on a pension of £7 a week, or to obtain the services of an attendant for the sum that they will be payable as an attendant’s allowance.
I thank the Minister for the courtesy that he has extended to me when I have presented cases to him. I pay tribute to Mr. Kendrick of Western Australia, who recently died in the service of the men for whom he fought so hard. He was untiring in his efforts to secure for them what I think any reasonable citizen would consider to be fair treatment Many of the men on whose behalf he fought have not a wife, a child or other amenities which make life worthwhile.
– I am glad that a wife is an amenity.
– Some wives are not. I support the appeals made by Senator Amour on behalf of exservicemen who are fighting to obtain pensions commensurate with their disabilities. Many of these men returned from the war suffering from some nervous condition but at that time were too proud to submit to cross-examination in respect of their wives’ earnings in order to obtain a . very small pension. They believed that they could earn their own living, but they later discovered that they were suffering from war-caused disabilities. Let me cite the case of Mr. William Darby, of New South Wales. When I mentioned that case to the Minister, he was very sympathetic and asked me to supply him with full particulars of it. Mr. Darby, when he returned from the war, was a proud man. He believed that he could earn a living, but he found, that his heart was impaired as the result of a war injury, and finally he had to leave his employment. He did not want a pension, but ultimately he was forced to accept one. He went to repatriation hospitals, where he was medically examined. Sometimes he was told to go home to bed and to come back later for another examination. Often it was a great ordeal for him to travel to the hospital. I took Mr. Darby’s case up with the Minister, and received a very sympathetic hearing. The Minister explained how difficult it would be for him to assist Mr. Darby owing to many factors outside his control. Shortly afterwards, Mr. Darby died of the complaint from which he had claimed that he was suffering, and subsequently it was said that he should have received a pension.
I know of another ex-soldier whose head was injured in an accident in a jeep. He was told that it would be necessary for him to undergo a brain operation but, having been advised privately that the operation would be experimental, he refused to a.gree to it. He was refused a pension. He now suffers from periodical blackouts, but the Repatriation Department will not grant him a pension. A man in that condition is at a serious disadvantage. An ex-serviceman who suffered injuries in the war should not have imposed upon him the onus of proving that the disability from which he is suffering is war-caused. Legal advice should be tendered to him and he should be properly represented when he appears before a tribunal. His own medical adviser, paid by the Government, should be available to support his case at the inquiry. I ask the Senate to imagine the man to whom I have referred trying to establish his case before a tribunal. It is not right or proper that he should be asked to do so.
I believe that, having regard to the present inflationary trend, the proposed pensions are already due for revision. Because of the inflation from which we are now suffering, the Government will be forced to introduce a supplementary budget. If it cannot agree to the suggestion that an all-party committee qf ex-servicemen be established to consider repatriation pensions and benefits, let it evolve a method that will ensure that increases of pensions and allowances will not be illusionary. The value of pensions decreases as the cost of living increases;. I ask the Government to consider whether it will be possible to evolve a scheme under which repatriation pensions will be reviewed regularly, either by appointing a tribunal for that purpose or by providing that the pension shall he fluctuable in accordance with basic wage variations.
– in reply - The main criticism of this measure by the Opposition is that an all-party committee was not established to consider the proposed increases of repatriation pensions and allowances. The report of the all-party committee that was established in 1943 was adopted and acted upon by the Curtin Government. Subsequently, two other adjustments of repatriation pensions and allowances were made, one in 1947 and one in 1948. lt is true, as Senator Hendrickson has said, that when I was a member of the Opposition in this chamber I was an advocate of some adjustment of repatriation pensions and allowances, and that I suggested that the all-party committee of ex-servicemen should be re-established. As I have said, at that time I was a member of the Opposition and, as far as I could see, that was the only way in which I could possibly get something done for ex-servicemen . and their dependants. The Chifley Government refused to re-establish that committee. The adjustments that were made in 1947 and 1948 were made by the Chifley ‘Government without reference to an all-party committee. In his policy speech the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) said that he would appoint exservicemen’s committees of Cabinet and of the Parliament to confer with representatives of ex-servicemen’s organizations. This matter was referred to a Cabinet sub-committee to examine in January this year. The bill before the chamber gives effect to the recommendations of -that sub-committee. Some honorable senators opposite have contended that the proposed increases should be made retrospective to the 1st July. I do not know on. what ground that claim has been made, because there is no precedent for making the increases retrospective.
– Why does the Minister not establish a precedent?
– .1 remind the Opposition that when Labour was in office increases of war pensions became operative from the 6th May, 1943, which was 36 days after Royal assent had been given to the relevant legislation.
– Does the Minister consider that that was a good idea?
– In 1947 legislation granting further increases was assented to on the 11th June, but the increases did not operate until the 10th July, 1947. In 194S’, legislation to provide for increases was assented to on 22nd October, and the increases became effective from 2Sth October, 1948. A moment ago Senator Cooke asked by interjection whether the Government was prepared to establish a precedent. I point out that this measure provides for the retrospective payment of pensions and allowances. Although it is unlikely that this legislation will be assented to until some time in December, increased payments will be made retrospectively from the 2nd November. The honorable senator may not be aware that the 1943 committee commenced its deliberations many months before the act was assented to. This Government is granting more retrospectivity in this connexion than did any previous Labour or non-Labour government.
– What about the judges?
– .Some honorable senators opposite have stated that the proposed pensions and allowances are not generous. I did not suggest in my secondreading speech that they were generous. That will be a matter of opinion by the recipients. However, I point out that the proposed increases will cost the Government £5,S00,000 this financial year. That is a much more generous provision than any provision in this connexion that was made by the previous Government. At least this Government is more generous in this matter than was its predecessor.
Senator Wordsworth raised the subject of the adequacy of the increased allowance proposed to be made for attendants of blinded ex-servicemen. This matter was given a great deal of consideration, anr] before a decision was made the opinion of Mr. Joe Lynch, president of the Federal Blinded Ex-servicemen’s Association was sought. He stated that the proposed increased allowance would be satisfactory.
Senator Murray suggested that some of the big businesses in this country that were able to continue only because of the success of our fighting forces, might be disposed to make a bequest to the exservicemen of World War II. similar to the Sir Samuel McCaughey bequest in relation to the ex-servicemen of World War I. Of course this is a matter for consideration by the managements of the respective business undertakings.
I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Sir Samuel McCaughey bequest, which has greatly benefited the children of members of the forces who served in the first world war. The Australian Defence Canteens Trust Fund has a balance of £4,500,000, of which £2,500,000 is to be allocated for the education of the children of ex-servicemen, and £2,000,000 for the benefit of returned ex-service men and women and their dependants. Senator Murray also referred to the establishment of special wards for the treatment of ex-servicemen who are sufferng from war neurosis. The Minister for Repatriation in the former Government, Mr. Barnard, very wisely obtained the services of one of the most able psychiatrists in the world, Dr. Allan Stoller. Both Dr. Stoller and his associates have continued their wonderful work in connexion with psychiatry and neurosis since have been Minister for Repatriation. Dr. Stoller has just returned from a world tour, in the course of which he studied the latest methods of psychiatric treatment. I have no hesitation in saying that the standard of treatment of psychiatric and neurosis patients that is provided by my department is equal to that which is provided for similar patients in any other part of the world. I pay tribute to the work of Dr. Stoller and his associates. In common with other departments, the Repatriation Department is experiencing difficulty in obtaining materials for extending its accommodation for psychiatric and other patients. My department must take its turn in connexion with the allocation of building materials.
Senator O’Byrne raised the subject of the treatment of ex-prisoners of war. 1 point out that although the Repatriation Department provides them with medical treatment, it has nothing to do with subsistence claims. That is a matter for consideration by the committee that has been established. Although the United States of America has paid its exprisoners of war subsistence of about a dollar a day in respect of their periods of captivity, the amount thus expended by the Government of the United States of America is amply covered by reparations that that Government has received from Japan. As far as I know, Australia has not received reparations from either Germany or Janan.
Senator Amour has referred to appeals heard by the War Pensions Entitlement Appeals Tribunal and the War Pensions Assessment tribunal against decisions of the Repatriation Commission. These tribunals were established at the request of returned servicemen’s organizations, representatives of which were asked to express an opinion about the constitution of what would become, in effect, supreme courts for the determination of pension entitlement and pension assessment. These tribunals were established because of the impression that was current among ex-servicemen that they were appealing from Caesar to Caesar in relation to pension entitlement and assessment. The exservicemen’s organizations expressed the view that there should be established bodies not connected with the Repatriation Department. The War Pensions Appeals Tribunal consists of three ex-servicemen. The chairman and one member are appointed by the Minister for Repatriation, and the other member is selected and appointed from a panel of names that is submitted by the ex-servicemen’s organizations. Senator Amour has suggested that appellants should be entitled to legal representation. At the time that these tribunals were established the exservicemen’s organizations strongly urged that neither the Repatriation Commission .nor the appellants should be entitled to legal representation. They considered that the proceedings would be fairer if an appellant was represented by a layman. Accordingly, appellants are represented before these tribunals, free of charge, by a mem,ber of an ex-servicemen’s organization or the Legal Service Bureau. Those organizations are well equipped to represent appellants adequately. It is a fact that the tribunals have worked very well in the absence of a legal atmosphere. Their hearings have been conducted fairly, and their decisions, which are binding equally on the Repatriation Department and the appellants, have been just.
– What is wrong with lawyers?
– I do not think that there is anything wrong with them, but I think that cases involving incapacity can be discussed in a better atmosphere by laymen than when two lawyers are arguing technical points. I may be wrong in that, but the present system has been very successful, and we are not disposed to vary it unless representations are made by organizations of ex-servicemen. Should such representations be made, we shall be very pleased to consider them.
I am grateful for the way in which honorable senators on both sides of the chamber have received the bill. There was some criticism, of course, but I do not think that there is any real hostility to the bill. It is necessary that the measure should be passed quickly. December the 21st, which is the last pay day in the year, may be called “ D “ day for the purposes of this legislation, and the Government wants the increases to be paid before Christmas. No payment can be made until the bill passes through both Houses of the Parliament, and is .assented to by the Governor-General. As there . are 4-82,000 pensioners, honorable senators will realize that a great deal of work is involved in arranging for the payment of increases. Pensions will not he increased by a flat rate. The increases will range from 10 per cent, upwards, ‘ and then there are three classifications of widows’ pensions, as well as special rates for orphan children, &c. I appreciate the work that has been done by officers of my department for several months past.
They have virtually re-written the <>M repatriation legislation and, in addition, they have framed new provisions to deal with men who serve in Korea. I also appreciate the work of my personal staff, who have arranged for the presentation of the legislation to the Parliament.
The payment of the increases on the 2lst December will impose much additional work upon the Postal Department when it is normally having its busiest period. However, I feel confident that employees of the department will cooperate, and will do everything possible to see that pensioners are not disappointed by being deprived of the payment of increases before Christmas.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bil] (on motion by Senator Spooner) read a first time.
– I move -
That the hill be now read a second time.
Honorable senators will recall that I recently outlined several major reforms which are proposed in the laws relating to income tax and social services contribution. Those reforms, which represent the first step in the Government’s plans for the progressive simplification of the Commonwealth taxation laws, are incorporated in this bill, and the rating measure which will be introduced later. It has been suggested that many taxpayers are not worried about the way their liabilities are calculated and are content either to receive a refund or to pay an amount to the Treasury. On the other hand, there have been constant and bitter complaints from representative organizations regarding the complexities of the taxation system. The Government is determined to remove these complexities, and to give taxpayers an opportunity to understand their assessments.
The principal reform which is being effected is the merging of the two separate charges for income tax and social services contribution into a single levy on incomes. The separation of these charges has contributed more than any other factor to the present complexities of the system, and the reversion to a single levy must be regarded as a necessary preliminary to any effective plan for simplification. The merging of the two levies will not adversely affect the finances of the National Welfare Fund. A bill to be introduced later will provide for a special appropriation of £30,000,000 for 1950-51 to the fund. That amount is the estimated collections in this year of the provisional contribution if the contribution had continued as a separate levy on 1.950-51 incomes.
The special appropriation of £30,000,000 will be additional to £71,000,000 estimated to be payable this year as contribution on 1949-50 incomes, and some arrears from earlier years. Thus an estimated £101,000,000 will be added to the fund this year. In addition, an estimated £26,000,000 pay-roll tax collections in 1950-51 will be paid over to the fund. For future years, it is proposed that, in addition to arrears of social services contribution on incomes of the 1949-50 and earlier years, appropriations to the fund shall be based on the 1950-51 appropriation estimated at £101,000,000. This amount will be varied, however, by the percentage variation each year in the pay-roll tax collections compared with the pay-roll tax collected in the base year 1950-51. Full details of the proposals will be furnished when the National Welfare Fund Bill is introduced.
The second noteworthy feature of this bill relates to the concessions for dependants, medical expenses, friendly society dues, life assurance premiums and comparable expenses. Instead of the present rebates of tax, it is proposed to allow these concessions as deductions in calculating the taxable income on which the tax and contribution are imposed. Thus, we are reverting to the system that operated until 1942 when concessional rebates of tax were substituted for ded’!”‘tions. The rebate system was originally adopted as a part of the uniform incometax plan, its purpose being to provide a. basis for concessions approximating in. value those enjoyed by taxpayers at that time under the varying taxing laws of theCommonwealth and the States. Because of subsequent variations in the rates of tax, and increases in the concessions,, however, this purpose has been lost in. the intervening years since 1942. It isfitting, therefore, that the position should, now be reviewed. On examination, and in the light of actual experience, it isfreely acknowledged that the rebate system is much more complicated than the deduction system. Moreover, taxpayers generally have never become reconciled tothe rebate system,, and the constant demand from all quarters has been for a< reversion to concessional deductions.
In re-introducing concessional deductions, the utmost care has been taken toensure that taxpayers will not lose any of the value of the present concessions. Taken in conjunction with adjustments of the rates, the value of the deduction will in no case be lower than the value of the existing rebate. In other words, theliability under the proposed system will be no heavier than under the present system, and, in most cases, it will belighter. The deduction for a dependent wife will be £104, for the first child undersixteen years £78, and for the other children under sixteen years £52. As 1 have said, deductions of those amountswill be just as valuable and, in most instances, more valuable to taxpayers than the present rebateable amounts. This result flows from the lower taxableincome and lower rate under the deduction system as. compared with the higher taxable income and higher rate under therebate system.
One of the features of the reversion toconcesional deductions is the abolition of maximum rebates for dependants. At all times-, it has been arguable whetherthe limitation of the rebates to maximum amounts was sound in principle. Concessional allowances are designed to confer on the taxpayer freedom from tax on part of his income which he isobliged to apply in the maintenance of his dependants. Irrespective of the- ti mount of income, the requirements of maintenance remain constant. The principle of ability to pay according to income is observed in the progressive rate and not in the curtailment of concessional allowances. When these principles are recognized, no justification can be found for limits on the value of the concessions. Apart from the principle involved, maxinr.im rebates have proved, in practice, to be not only confusing and irritating to taxpayers, but also a source of complication in the processes of assessment. Having regard to all those considerations, and to the relatively small amount of revenue involved, the Government has come to the conclusion that no good purpose would be served by incorporating the present limitations in the proposed simplified system of concessional deductions.
Whilst the objective of the Government’s proposals is not to reduce the rates of tax, the reforms to which I have referred cannot be effected satisfactorily without some cost to the revenue. In a full assessment year, the loss of revenue involved in the amalgamation of income tax and social services contribution, the reversion to concessional deductions, and the introduction of stepped rates of tax will be about £15,000,000. In the current financial year, the cost will approximate £7,000,000. Of the total annual cost of £15,000,000, £6,000,000 represents relief to taxpayers in the income group under £500, and another £6,000,000 to taxpayers in the income group £500 to £1,000. Another £1,500,000 affords relief to taxpayers with incomes between £1,000 and £2^000. The balance of £1,500,000 will accrue to taxpayers with incomes exceeding £2.000. However, in view of the benefits which will flow from the proposals in the simplification of the law and its practical application, this cost is fully justified. Moreover, such remission as may be granted will afford relief where it is most needed, namely, to the taxpayer with dependants and other family obligations.
In addition to those changes, it i3 proposed to afford some further relief by enlargements of the concessions. The concessional deduction for student children will be £78, and this deduction will apply to children between the ages of 16 and 21 years. At present, the concession is limited to children between the ages of sixteen and nineteen years. In the case of dependent parents, the deduction will be £104 for each parent. At the same time, the concession is being extended to allow appropriate deductions where two or more children maintain their parent, or where a parent is partially maintained by one child.
A further measure of relief is being granted to taxpayers who incur medical expenses. At present, the concession is limited to a rebate on a maximum amount of £50 for each member of the family, that is, the taxpayer, his wife, and each child under twenty-one years. In future, the concession will be a deduction of the medical expenses up to £100 for each member of the family group, and any other of the taxpayer’s dependants for whom he is entitled to a concessional deduction. The concession for dental expenses is also being enlarged from the present rebate on a maximum amount of £10, to a deduction up to a maximum of £20 for each member of the family group. The concession for medical expenses will include in future the expenses of therapeutic treatment administered at the direction of a legally qualified medical practitioner.
The Government is also affording further encouragement to taxpayers to provide adequately for the years of their retirement. It has been urged on this Government, and, I believe, on the preceding Government, that high taxes and increased living costs are preventing taxpayers from obtaining adequate life assurance cover. At present, the maximum concession for life assurance premiums is a rebate on £150. The concession is being increased to a maximum deduction of £200. This concession also applies to contributions to superannuation funds, and it is being further extended to include premiums on sickness and accident assurance. Those enlargements of the concessions will be worth over £1,500,000 to taxpayers in a full assessment year. The cost to revenue this year, however, will be negligible.
In allowing the concessions in the form of deductions from income, much simplification has been achieved by making the conditions applying to the deductions as uniform as possible. In this respect, the Government has had t’he valued assistance of the Commonwealth Committee on Taxation. As honorable senators will recall, this committee was established shortly after the Government took office, its purpose being to overhaul the Commonwealth taxation laws with the object of effecting simplification, and removing anomalies. The committee, consisting of six members, including representatives of the legal and accountancy professions, has been actively engaged on its onerous task during the present year. Much of the taxation legislation now presented to this House, and legislation which will be later introduced, will implement recommendations of the committee.
In addition to concessions for individual taxpayers, the bill includes a clause enabling .private companies to retain a larger measure of profits free from undistributed profits tax. The taxation of private companies is framed on the basis that the companies and their shareholders should pay tax of approximately the same amount as partners in comparable partnerships. The adjustment proposed in the bill is necessary in view of the changing conditions since the percentages were fixed in 1948.
A further provision in the bill is designed to facilitate the hearing of taxation appeals before boards of review. Until recently, two boards have been available for this purpose. The volume of appeals has grown to such an extent, however, that the existing boards have been unable to cope with the cases referred to them and serious delays have occurred. In these circumstances, the Government last July appointed a third board of review with head-quarters in Brisbane. Besides hearing cases in Brisbane, it is intended that the new board should hold sittings in the large country centres of Queensland and northern New South Wales. This will obviate the inconvenience and expense caused to taxpayers in remote areas who are at present required to attend a capital city in order to pursue their appeals. It is proposed that the third board should also assist in reducing the accumulation of unheard appeals in Sydney where the present congestion is most marked. To provide for the remuneration and travelling expenses of the members of the additional board, it is proposed in this bill to increase the present appropriation for such purposes by an amount of £10,000 per annum.
The bill provides also for the exemption from taxation of allowances received by tuberculosis sufferers under the Commonwealth Tuberculosis Act and for a variation of the conditions attaching to the exemption of the remuneration of officials of certain international organizations. Those amendments, together with the others to which I have referred, are explained in detail in the printed memorandum which has already been circulated by the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden).
Before concluding I should mention, that the Government proposes at a later stage to amend the income tax law to grant exemption in respect of the pay and allowances earned outside Australia by members of the Special Overseas Force. Generally speaking, the conditions relating to categories of personnel and the periods of eligibility for the exemption will be uniform with those prescribed in regard to the provision of war pensions and repatriation and re-establishment benefits. I commend the bill to honorable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Ashley) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Spooner), read a first time.
[9.50 1. - I move -
That the .bill be now read a second time.
This bill declares the rates of income tax and social services contribution for the current financial year. The measure, taken in conjunction with the Income Tax and Social Services Assessment Contribution -Bill just introduced, represents a major instalment of the Government’s plan to overhaul and simplify the taxing system. As I have already indicated, the major reforms are - first, the merging of the two separate levies of tax and contribution into a combined single levy on incomes; secondly, the allowance of concessions in the form of deductions from income instead of rebates of tax; and thirdly, the reform with which this bill is concerned, the introduction of a simplified rating system.
In submitting the bill to the Senate, I should mention at the outset, that the new rating system gives effect to recommendations made by the Commonwealth Committee on Taxation. That committee, which consists of members of the legal and accountancy professions, is particularly well equipped and competent to advise the Government on the serious problems associated with taxation in this country. In the first place, the committee recognized the complexity inherent in the present progressive rate - a rate which advances in minute fractions or decimals of a penny for each £1 of increase in the taxable income. Removal of this source of complexity is being effected by rates expressed in pence without recourse to fractions or decimals. These new rates will apply in steps of taxable income of £50 or multiples of £50 of taxable income. This simplified system preserves the broad equity of the present progressive rate and has the added advantage of being readily understood by taxpayers to whose incomes it is applied. In fact, the new rates will be printed on assessment notices so that taxpayers may easily check their liabilities. In future taxpayers and their agents will not need to refer to a complex and cumbersome ready reckoner for checking purposes.
At this stage I should explain that the Government is unable to effect any substantial reductions of the rates of income tax and social services contribution. Our programme of measures for security and national development precludes any worthwhile reductions at the present time. It is true, however, that some reductions will be made hut these are relatively minor and apply mainly in the lower income ranges. The adjustments are necessary to the smooth blending of the social services contribution and the income tax. The mere addition of the contribution rate to the income tax rate would have created anomalies at many points of the taxing scales.
The new rates and the new basis of assessment will afford some measure of relief to all classes of taxpayers but I am happy to say that the largest relief will be received by the taxpayer with dependent wife and children and related heavy domestic commitments. The main relief will be granted in those cases where it is most needed.
One notable effect of the proposals is to raise the exemption levels of income for taxpayers with dependants. The following table shows these exemption levels : -
Another important feature of the proposed rates is a new method of levying a sur-tax on property income. At present property tax does not become payable unless the total taxable income exceeds £350. Under the proposed plan sur-tax on property income will not be payable if the total taxable income does not exceed £400. It is also proposed that the first £100 of taxable income from property shall be free from the sur-tax. These two proposals will afford relief to taxpayers with low incomes from property and will go a long way towards simplification of the processes of assessment. The proposed rates of sur-tax are expressed in broad steps of taxable income on the same principle as the basic rates of tax and contribution. The basic rates and the sur-tax rates are fully explained in a memorandum issued by the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden).
The rates now proposed will be reflected in adjusted instalments to be deducted from earnings from employment. These reduced instalments will be made as soon as practicable after the assessment measure and this bill become law. Correspondingly, adjustments will be made in the provisional tax and contribution payable in respect of income of the current year, 1950-51. The provisional tax and contribution is payable on taxable income other than salary and wages.
It is not proposed to alter the rates at which tax and contribution are payable by companies. These will remain the same as for the last financial year.
I commend the bill to honorable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Ashley) adjourned.
Debate resumed from the 23rd November (vide page 2950), on motion by Senator Spooner -
That the bill bo now read u second time.
– In opening the debate on this bill on behalf of the Opposition, one could without exaggeration say that in a large measure it can be regarded as another of this Government’s bad Christmas gifts to the people of Australia. The Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner), who has introduced many bill.0 in this chamber, has just introduced two additional measures. The number of bills which he has already introduced entitles him to the sobriquet “ Bill “ Spooner. Whilst we cannot congratulate the Minister on the good material in most of the legislation that he has presented to this chamber, we can at least congratulate him on achieving such a distinction so early in his political career. When this Government assumed office, it promised to reduce the cost of living, but since then prices have steadily risen. The people will not be astonished to learn that the prices of a large number of commodities have risen because of the continuation of sales tax. Irrespective of what government has been in office, in season and out of season I have strenuously opposed all forms of sales tax. I regard sales tax as one of the most wicked and unfair forms of taxation that could be imposed on any community. However, sales tax is still to be exacted and the Government, seeking to misrepresent the situation as usual, is trying to convince the people that the commodities on which sales tax is to be increased are luxury lines, when, in truth, in the strictest sense of the term, they are necessary for the maintenance of a decent standard of living. The Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) is endeavouring to tell us, for instance, that brushes, combs and talc are luxuries. They may be to some unfortunate races, whose standards are low, but to Australians who have earned the right to enjoy better living conditions, in many instances, they are necessities.
The Treasurer has stated that the value of remissions of sales tax will be approximately £1,000,000 for a complete year and approximately £640,000 for the current financial year. No one would object in general terms to those remissions of sales tax if they stopped at that point, but having given a miserable amount with the one hand, the Government proceeds to scoop in large amounts with the other hand by increasing the sales tax on other items. Those items are set out in the schedules to this bill and I shall deal with them as I proceed. The collections from the increased rates of sales tax will yield additional revenue amounting to approximately £10,000,000 for a complete year and approximately £7,500,000 for the remainder of the current financial year. This is a measure which not only reduces taxes but also collects an additional £10,000,000 of taxes in one year. The Treasurer has stated that this bill is intended to defeat the demon of inflation. He has also stc ted that Australia is at present handicapped because of shortages of certain essential goods whilst other classes of less essential goods are available to the public in large quantities and sell readily at high prices. He further stated that the taxing of the latter type of goods is regarded as clearly justified from more than one angle. There is not much point in labouring the fact already made clear by members of the Opposition in the House of Representatives, that this bill represents a repudiation of the policy of the present Government parties when they were in opposition. I remind the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator
O’sullivan) and other honorable senators opposite that when they were in opposition they were very outspoken concerning the continuance of sales tax in any form. I am sure that that statement will not be challenged because their remarks are on record. No justification whatever exists for increasing sales tax, which is an indirect tax, by £7,000,000 for the current financial year. After all, income tax is scientifically graded on the basis of ability to pay ‘ the tax. Rightly or wrongly, the Government decided that it must greatly increase expenditure, but having done so, it had no right to reduce scientifically graded income tax and to substitute for it the sales tax provisions contained in the measure now before the Senate.
When this matter was first mentioned, the Sydney Baily ‘Telegraph contained a splash heading : “ Seven million pounds cut in taxation “. But it was a £7,000,000 cut in income tax. That cut in income tex will be more than offset by the additional £10,000,000 return from sales tax. The fallacy underlying the Government’s plans concerning this matter is easy to expose. For some reason the Government has considered it necessary to pretend that every taxation measure introduced by it has an anti-inflationary effect. Inflation is a condition of rising prices. Inescapably, sales tax causes prices to rise further, so how it can honestly he maintained that sales tax is anti-inflationary is more than I can fathom. I recognize that the pretence is that the taxation, if it, is directed at luxury industries, will discourage people from spending money on luxury goods and that it will therefore have an anti-inflationary effect, but I contend that that is not altogether a true statement of the position. For instance, if a wealthy lady does not spend £3#0 on furs she will spend it on something else. If it is decided to strike a blow at inflation, one should tax luxury incomes and not luxury goods. By direct taxation surplus earning power i3 skimmed off.
On perusing the amendments that the Minister and the Treasurer circulated, I learned with regret - and I should like the Minister in charge of the bill to pay particular attention to the point I am about to elaborate - that the Government had not decided to remove sales tax from cane baskets. This Government has made a mistake in increasing the sales tax from 8^ per cent, to 33^ per cent, on cane baskets, including clothes baskets, in the manufacture of which blind people are specially trained and, in the main, earn their livelihood. If this proposal is persisted in it will do a grave injustice to that unfortunate section of the community. I appeal to the Minister in charge of the, bill to use his best endeavours to have that increased sales tax removed. I do not know the conditions that apply in other States of the Commonwealth, but in South Australia - and I am sure that my colleagues from that State will agree with me– it has been customary to train blind persons in wicker work. People concerned in that industry have approached more than one South Australian federal member and have pointed out that any increase of the sale price of wicker ware, as the result of increased sales tax, would make it very difficult for them to carry on their businesses. I do not think that any honorable senator would suggest that clothes baskets, which are generally used by housewives, are luxury articles, or that the blind people who are engaged in their manufacture could be usefully diverted to other employment. I sincerely trust that the Minister will reconsider that aspect.
I come now to the increased sales tax upon automobiles. The sales tax on taxi cabs has increased by an additional If per cent. Taxi cabs, in the main, are used by their drivers as a means of livelihood, but I have no doubt that the increased sales tax will be passed on to their clients. In many instances the citizens of this country who are not in possession of motor cars use taxi cabs as a quick means of conveyance, especially in times of emergency.
I pass now to the increased sales tax on wireless sets. A further increase of 16$ per cent, has been imposed, so that the sales tax is now 25 per cent. Except in very few instances, every home in this country is equipped with a wireless set to-day. Twenty-five years ago radio was perhaps a luxury, but to-day it. is a universal necessity as a. medium of political education and an aid to enlightened citizenship. It is the constant companion of the sick, the blind and of every man, woman and child in the country. It is a vital channel for the dissemination of news and messages of great importance. It is the principal means of entertainment for the wage-earner whose limited income necessarily restricts his outings. It keeps the man on the land and in the nation’s loneliest outposts in constant touch with the outside world. It is a cheap source of education for many children in the remote parts of the continent and it brightens up the lot of the housewife. I suggest that not by any stretch of the imagination could a wireless set in these days be termed a luxury. So concerned are many people engaged in the sale and manufacture of wireless sets that they will be very outspoken in their attitude towards the Government if this increased sales tax is persisted with. I have in my possession two stickers which are being circulated to all the traders connected with a certain firm. One sticker reads : “ This price includes the Liberal party’s 25 per cent, sales tax “. I take it that that is for use in electorates where there are Liberal party representatives. The other sticker reads : “ This price includes the Country party Treasurer’s 25 per cent, sales tax “. Generally speaking, I am averse to the actions of pressure groups, such as those in connexion with a measure recently before this chamber and which were also adopted on many occasions during the term of office of the previous Government. However, on this occasion I feel that the persons concerned are to some extent justified in using those stickers. I repeat that for any government to say that in present times a wireless set is a luxury is beyond comprehension. Apart from the question of the fairness of increasing sales tax on an everyday necessity such as a wireless set, there are many other important reasons why the Government should hesitate before finally deciding on those increases. Other serious aspects concerned are that wireless sets are essential when there are bush fires, floods and black-outs. I remind honorable senators opposite that there are still parts of this country where he facilities for intercommunication are not nearly as good as they are in the more favoured parts of the Commonwealth. I suggest that the Government’s intention to adhere to the proposed increases of sales tax on wireless sets is an imposition of the deepest dye on the people of this country.
I wish now to deal with the proposed increases of sales tax on musical instruments such as drums, hormonicas and concertinas that require skill and are not played by mechanical means. The sales tax on those items will be 25 per cent. In my opinion there are three groups of people who will be hit by those increases. They are persons who play in orchestras professionally for a livelihood, amateurs who play for the sake of entertainment and who very often give their time and skill for the benefit of charities, and students who will later come within one or the other of those categories. I also include massed brass bands which are an asset to any city or township.
Senator Grant interjecting,
– I had hoped that my colleague, Senator Grant, would remain quiet concerning bagpipes. The readiness with which a request to the Government side of the chamber was acceded to, and the smiles of the honorable senator make me wonder whether there was not some cooperation or collusion. I cannot understand why the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay) was not associated with the request, although I understand that one of his colleagues was. Since the request in relation to bagpipes was granted, Senator Grant has been almost dancing round the Parliament. I wonder what the future holds and whether we shall yet see a gathering of the clans. Having dealt with bagpipes I trust that Senator Grant will permit me to proceed uninterrupted with my remarks. A brass band is a valuable asset to any country town or any city, and I fail to see how this Government or any other government can say logically that the instruments used by brass bands are luxury goods upon which sales tax should be increased. The increase of sales tax upon musical instruments will also adversely affect the parents of students who are learing music.
Goods in the next group are now subject to sales tax at the rate of 33-J per cent, and are placed under the heading “ Jewellery and fancy goods “, but the resemblance, if any, of many of the items to jewellery and fancy goods, is purely fortuitous. I hope that the appeal that T am about to make will not fall upon deaf ears as far as the Government is concerned. I am certain that the lady senators and any members of the fair sex who may be listening to the broadcast of our proceedings will be on my side. Home hair-waving sets, whatever may be said for or against them, must be a boon to women with small children who are unable to spend long periods in hairdressers’ rooms. Until now, the comparatively low price of these sets has been a great advantage to persons who cannot afford the more expensive permanent waves. Hair brushes and combs are an absolute necessity for cleanliness and health of hair. It seems hardly necessary to mention that hand mirrors, clothes brushes, hat brushes and manicure sets are all necessary for cleanliness, hygiene and a neat appearance. The Federal Council of the Master Hairdressers Association addressed a very straightforward communication to the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) in which it asked the Government to reconsider the increase of sales tax upon the tools of trade of hairdressers, particularly ladies’ hairdressers. The council wrote -
It appears that while the use of soap for cleanliness is highly commendable, and therefore, carries a very low tax, the use of shampoo which after all is only a purified liquid soap, is something that should be frowned upon and discouraged by extreme financial penalties being placed upon its users. Hair cleanliness has been singled out for particularly harsh treatment and yet it is just as essential to maintain hair hygiene as body hygiene.
Combs, brushes, permanent waving solutions, shampoos, all come within your Government’s beneficent benediction. Judging from tin: results of each government’s attitude to hairdressers we appear practically to be on a par with the Communists and T am wondering why we have not been included in the Communist ban.
While no objection is raised to razor blades and shaving creams being excluded from this heavy sales tax, it seems that women’s hair requirements are being particularly singled out for high tax impositions. Nevertheless a woman’s hair hygiene is just as necessary as a man’s beard hygiene. Permanent waving for a woman is quite as essential as a shave for a man, in fact you would find that there would be a wholesale protest by the menfolk if the women of the country were to decide to neglect the beautification or the preservation of the natural beauty of their hair. An unshaven man is not a thing of beauty nor is a woman with unkempt straggly hair an object of admiration.
I think our legislators should be made to realize that the care of hair for women is nearly as essential as eating. In fact, I am quite certain that the majority of women attend to their hair before attending to meals. The morale of the community is enhanced by attractive women and it is not untrue to say that her hair is still a woman’s crowning glory.
While I admit that there is a certain amount of exaggeration in that letter, I do not think that the facts stated in it can really be disputed. In the treatment of their hair, women are entitled to as much consideration as are men. I say that without apology and at the risk of offending mere man. I do not know how studs, sleeve links and tie chains came to be mixed up with jewellery and fancy goods, because they are as important as are shoe laces, braces, arm bands and suspenders.
Field and marine glasses cannot be placed in the same category as opera glasses. Whilst the latter articles could perhaps be called a luxury line, if viewing an opera is a luxury and not an education and an art, the first two articles that I mentioned are used in much more serious pursuits than watching a winner coming up the straight. Fountain pens and propelling pencils also come within the ambit of the increased tax, but in these days they are used by office workers and clerks more than are any other types of pencils and pens, and they should be classed as tools of trade rather than anything else. The imposition of an increased sales tax on them will increase their cost to workers.
The humble tray has been raised in status. I am not certain whether trays are regarded as jewellery or fancy goods, but these useful articles which are used for conveying food and drink from the kitchen to the dining room, lounge or sick room, prevent hot dishes from marking polished woodwork and perform a hundred and one little services around the home, are to be “ declared “ as luxury goods. Ash trays have also been included, but perhaps the Government believes that, having regard to the price of cigarettes, these articles will no longer be required. I am a slave to My Lady Nicotine. If I were to put a cigarette butt on a table in my home, I know that even the fact that I am a member of this chamber would not help me very much. Ash trays are a necessity in a home.
Taney goods made wholly or principally of precious metal, ivory, amber, jet, coral and other substances mentioned in the schedule could cover a very wide range of goods such as book ends, lamp shades and ornaments of all kinds. The Government does hot believe in ornaments, because the very next line of the schedule mentions “ ornaments, including jardineres and vases “. The Government is making sure, because what will not be included amongst the wide range of materials “ not allowed “ will be sure to fall into the other category of “ ornaments, including jardinieres and vases “. If the housewife wishes to have a few artificial flowers in her vases or jardineres, she will, if the Government persists in this scheme, have to pay sales tax upon the flowers at the rate of 33-J per cent. I contend that 95 per cent, of the articles described as luxury goods are necessities in the average home. Who would say, for instance, that toilet and beauty preparation are luxury goods? At first glance, we may be led to believe that quite a few of these articles could be branded as luxuries, but on closer examination we shall find that they can he divided into three classes, first, those used for personal hygiene, such as shampoos and body powers; secondly, those which help to maintain youth and beauty, such as hair oils, creams and astringents; and thirdly, those which are beautifiers or enhancers of the appearance, such as face powders, rouge, nail polish and perfumery. Toilet and beauty preparations have an attraction for’ every section of the community, because men are attracted by beautifully dressed and well-groomed women. There is no doubt of the importance to women of the articles in the first two classes to which I have referred, and those in the third class are, f ‘rom, the psychological viewpoint, necessary to a woman’s happiness and her self-assurance.
Some articles, such as furs, are beyond the reach of most of us, and I have no objection to an increased sales tax being imposed upon them. The average householder cannot afford to buy furs, but if members of the wealthier sections of the community want furs, they will buy them, irrespective of whether the cost is £30 or £300 and regardless of the sales tax imposed upon them. That is human nature. But that does not constitute a sufficient reason for the Government to continue to impose sales tax. I say that the fairest and soundest basis for the collection of any tax is the principle of ability to pay. The Government proposes to impose sales tax of 25 per cent, and even of 33$ per cent, upon goods that the Labour Government exempted altogether from sales tax. This measure has nothing to recommend it. It does not conform to any of the recognized canons of taxation, because taxes that are properly applied are levied upon those who are best able to bear the burden. This proposal contradicts and violates every canon of taxation of which I have heard. It is a retrograde and retrogressive step of which the Government will have reason to be ashamed when it faces the electors. A Labour government reduced sales tax. I say again that I fought as hard as I could for the total abolition of the tax. Little did I think, having regard to the promises made during the general election in connexion with taxation, that this Government would reduce sales tax upon certain goods by £1,000,000 and increase the tax upon other goods by £10,000,000.
The Labour party promises the people of Australia that, if it is returned at the next general election, it will completely review all taxes. We shall abolish the 33J per cent, sales tax. If it was not necessary to impose such a high sales tax during the war, it is not necessary to do so now. I remind honorable senators opposite that sales tax was first imposed for the primary purpose of obtaining additional revenue. In my opinion, it was a bad way of obtaining revenue, but that was the reason for the imposition of the tax. If the Government of that time was justified in introducing sales tax, the present Government has even less justification for increasing the tax, because it proposes, quite illegitimately, to increase sales tax in order to introduce control of manpower and industrial conscription. When Labour resumes office - and that time is. not far off now - it will reduce indirect taxes, including sales tax and customs and excise duties. It believes that taxes should fall most heavily on the people who are able to bear them. The best method of taxation is income tax based on a sliding scale. If the Government wants additional revenue, why does it not introduce a measure to increase income tax, instead of increasing sales tax? It will be a miracle if the Government can avoid asking the Parliament -early next year to approve increases of taxation. The Government should face this difficulty now. Honorable senators opposite will find that running away from this unpleasant duty now will pay no better dividends than did its decision to run away from currency revaluation. This Government is on the skids so far as taxation is concerned. The sooner that it falls the better.
.- I shall confine my remarks to the Government’s proposal to increase sales tax on wireless sets, although one could speak at length on every item in the schedule of items on which increases ave proposed. If one can take a cue from newspaper reports, the Government proposes to increase sales tax on what it regards as luxury articles. However, the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) has denied that there are any luxury items amongst the list of articles on which increased sales tax will be imposed. He has stated that the increases are necessary in order to gain additional revenue. In another place I heard members of the Opposition trying to pin the Treasurer down to a statement as to what were luxury items in this list. He ran away from the question and stated that these increases were being imposed only for the purpose of gaining increased revenue. I cannot understand why the Government has decided to increase the sales tax on radio receivers. As n result of this impost mantel model radio receivers, which have been selling retail at. £17 17s., will now be priced at £24 or £25. Because of increasing costs generally, and the proposed increase of sales tax, these instruments are being rapidly pushed out of the range of the buying public. As I have mentioned before in this chamber, I consider that a radio receiver is an essential article in a home. A radio receiver is among the first thing:that young couples purchase after marriage in order to be able to enjoy entertainment in their home for a small yearly fee. By its decision to regard radio receivers as luxury items, in order to gain increased revenue, the Government will jeopardize the radio industry.
As Minister for Supply and Development in the former Labour Government, I investigated the radio industry. Very important defence production stems from that industry, because of the development of electronics, which are becoming more and more important in defence work. Improvements in direction-finding apparatus and- proximity f uses are based on developments in the radio industry. All this research work is very expensive until the industry gets the improved apparatus’ into production. Radio companies make their bread-and-butter lines, such as radio receivers and other articles that are easy to manufacture, carry the burden of the very expensive research work that I have mentioned. It is interesting to note that as a result of pressure the Government has removed batteries for use in radio receivers in country areas from the list of items on which increased sales tax will be imposed. This is a very poor attempt to counteract the impact of the wool deductions legislation. On the one hand the Government tells the people of this country that it is necessary to draw off a portion of the income of the wool-growers in order to curb inflation, and, on the other hand, as a result of pressure, it removes radio batteries for use in country areas from the list of articles on which 2.3 per cent, sales tax is to be imposed. Even at this late stage I suggest that the Minister should review the proposed increase of sales tax on radio receivers. It is impossible to over-estimate the value of the radio industry from a defence point, of view. If radio manufacturers are to do their best in connexion with electronics research they must he allowed a reasonable margin on their bread and butter lines, which should not be pushed out of the range of the buying public. Radio receivers play a big part not only in the educational but also in the cultural part of the lives of the people.
– I object to the measure before the chamber because the imposition of sales tax is a most unfair and iniquitous method of raising revenue. The Government claims that it requires the additional £10,000,000 revenue that it hopes to gain by the increases of sales tax proposed in this measure. It has been claimed that only wealthy people will be able to pay increased prices for the articles enumerated in the schedule. Therefore the Government could obtain the additional revenue required by an increase of direct taxation on that section of the people. In that way the burden would be borne by people who are most able, financially, to briar it. I point out that what may be regarded as luxury goods for one section of the people are essential items for another section. Radio plays a big part in the lives of people living in the outback areas of this country. Although in some instances they receive newspapers only once a week, they are able to keep abreast of the times by listening to the radio news sessions. Yet radio receivers have been classed as luxury items. Surely those people are as much entitled to hear the latest news as are people living in the metropolitan areas. A radio receiver is a most essential item for people who are pioneering the outback parts of Australia. The Minister will probably say that the Government wants the labour that is at present employed in the radio industry directed into the production of what the Government considers to be more essential goods. If that is so, the Government will not obtain the additional £10,000,000 revenue that the increased sales tax is expected to yield. It is reasonable to assume, therefore, that the Government will resort to other means of obtaining the additional revenue required. Surely there are other ways of directing labour into specified industries than by the method of compulsion that the Government now proposes. Doubtless the Minister will again raise the war-cry, and say that the international situation is serious and desperate. If that is so. why has not the
Minister the courage to impose’ restrictions on various industries, similar to the restrictions that have been imposed on the wool industry? That would be preferable to allowing an industry that is considered to be useless in connexion with the economic welfare of Australia flounder in a struggle to continue to exist under intolerable conditions. It is totally unfair for the Government to adopt this means of directing labour into other channels. If the international position is so serious, the Government should take steps to direct labour to where it is absolutely essential in order to overcome the crisis with which the Government , claims that the country is faced. Radio receivers are essential to some people, but the imposition of increased sales tax will place them bt-yond the reach of those people. They will not, however, be placed out of the reach of the wealthy members of the community. Why should only one section of the community be granted the privilege of obtaining the items on which it is proposed to increase sales tax? The proposal of the Government is wrong in principle. If the Government were honest, it would impose direct taxation instead of indirect taxation, which constitutes a heavy burden on the family man. By raising £10,000,000 by indirect taxation, the Government is avoiding the imposition of additional taxation on that section of the community which it directly represents. I do not qualify that statement in any way. Of course, the Minister will argue that if taxation were increased on the wealthy, incentive would be killed, and production would decline. During the war, the Labour Government imposed direct taxation at the rate of 18s. 6d. in the £1 on the highest incomes, but that did not kill incentive. If the captains of industry refused to produce to the maximum because this Government increased taxation, it would be an indication that they had less confidence in this Government than they had in the Labour Government.
I have no doubt that this bill will be passed, but I appeal to the Government to review its policy, and to refrain from imposing unjust burdens on the people. The Labour party is concerned with what a man has left after paying his tax, direct and indirect, as well as his social service contribution, but the Government appears to be concerned with keeping taxation as light as possible on wealthy people. If sales tax were to be increased only on luxury goods, the proposal would still be unfair, but it is doubly so when, as now, the tax is to be increased upon necessaries.
– There are two kinds of taxation, direct and indirect. Indirect taxation is levied at a flat rate, so that the wageearner and pensioner pay at the same rate as the wealthiest man in the community. Sales tax imposes a heavier burden on the poor than do entertainments tax and excise duties, because sales tax is levied on necessaries as well as on luxuries. I do not expect the Government to do anything other than what it proposes to do. The policy of the Government, though not stated in so many words, is to tax the workers to the borderline of actual need, on the assumption that they can then be controlled more effectively. There is never much objection raised to increases of indirect taxation, but there is always loud and sustained objection to any proposal to increase direct taxation. For instance, wealthy interests can always be relied upon to protest vigorously against increases of income tax. Some of my colleagues have asked the Government to do the fair thing, but the Government does not intend, and never has intended, to do the fair thing by the wage earners.
Objection has been raised to the proposed increase of sales tax on radio receiving sets. Obviously it is an iniquitous proposal. Receiving sets are now regarded as a necessity, and it should be the policy of the Government to make them available as cheaply as possible to wage-earners and pensioners. However, the policy of the Government is to tax the workers as much as possible, and the wealthy as little as possible. Unfortunately, the workers do not fully understand how much they are taxed, directly and indirectly. On previous occasions, I have pointed out how taxation is passed on by manufacturers and retailers. The policy of the manufacturer is to get as much as he can for his product. Sales tax is added to that price, and the retailer’s profit is a percentage of the wholesale price, plus the sales tax. The sales tax enables retailers to earn bigger profits, and is, therefore, a heavier burdon on the community than other forms of indirect taxation such as entertainments tax. The worker cannot pass on taxation because the only commodity he has to sell is his labour power. When he is taxed, he has so much less purchasing power than if he were not taxed. That is why there is in the community the very rich and the very poor.
– That is the old Yarra bank oration, is it not?
– There is more information to be picked up on the Yarra bank than from the speeches in this chamber of the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay). If more people listened to us intelligently on the Yarra bank, the Minister would not be here, because the people would not then support the antiLabour parties.
– There is nc mention of the Yarra bank in the bill.
– The interjection of the Minister was quite in character. We do not expect intelligent interjections from him.
– All interjections, whether intelligent or not, are disorderly.
– The fact that the poorer sections of the community have to pay as much in indirect taxation as do the rich appeals to Senator McLeay, and he shows physically and mentally that he has profited from the present situation. If I were talking on the Yarra bank I should elaborate that point. As I have pointed out previously, the workers are fooled, ruled and robbed from the cradle to the grave.
– And the honorable senator supported the present method of taxation for eight years. 1
– I never supported indirect taxation. I have always opposed it. Unfortunately, the Labour Government inherited the taxation machine.
– 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.
– I ask the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley) if he will agree to allow the Senate to proceed with the consideration of the Commonwealth Aid Roads Bill. I said when I introduced that bill, it is most urgent. The States are clamouring for it to become law. It will operate retrospectively to the 1st July. As the Opposition has refused to sit on Friday, there should be no objection to extending tonight’s sitting. I remind honorable senators that the House of Representatives is still sitting, although it met this morning at 11 a.m. and will meet again to-morrow and on Friday. I urge the Leader of the Opposition to reconsider his decision, so that we may get urgently required legislation on to the statutebook. It is about time that honorable senators opposite, who, like Senator Cameron, are prone to indulge in stonewalling, time-wasting speeches, formed a true appreciation of their responsibilities as members of this Parliament.
– Onceagain, the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay) has sought to create the impression that the Opposition is obstructing the business of the Senate. The roads legislation to which the Minister has referred will probably be dealt with in half an hour to-morrow morning. The Senate has already disposed of a very important measure to-day. Last night, the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) wasted an hour of the Senate’s time by making an innocuous statement on international affairs. Most of what he said had already been reported in the press. Any delay that has taken place in the Government’s legislative programme has been the fault of the Government. We have facilitated the passage of legisla tion in every way possible. At the present rate of progress, the Senate will run out of business by to-morrow night. The House of Representatives to-day debated the Estimates. If the Government wants to keep the Senate meeting, it should bring on the budget discussions immediately.
Question put -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator the Hon. Gordon Brown.)
Majority . . 7
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were presented : -
Arbitration (Public Service) Act - Determinations by the Arbitrator, &c. - 1950 -
No.65 - Australian Theatrical and Amusement Employees’ Association.
No. 66 - Printing Industry Employees’ Union of Australia.
No. 67 - Non-official Postmasters’ Association of Australia.
No.68 - Australian Workers’ Union.
Commonwealth Public Service Act - Appointment - Postmaster-General’s Department - L. M. Chambers.
Customs Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1950, No. 79.
Hospital Benefits Act - Regulations -
Statutory Rules 1950, No. 77. Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired for Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization purposes Armidale, New South Wales.
QuarantineAct -Regulations - Statutory
Rules 1950,No. 78.
Senate adjourned at 11.6 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 29 November 1950, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1950/19501129_senate_19_211/>.