21st Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. A. M. McMullin) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
REPORT of Select Committee.
– As Chairman, E present the report of the Select Committee appointed by the Senate to inquire into and report upon the development of Canberra, together with minutes of proceedings and minutes of evidence, and move -
That the report only be printed.
I ask for leave to continue my remarks on the next day of sitting.
Leave granted ; debate adjourned.
– Before directing a question to the Minister for Shipping and Transport, I wish to congratulate him on his appointment to his responsible office. I preface my question to him by saying that for some years I made representations to his predecessor that efforts should be made to bring about uniformity in road traffic laws throughout the Commonwealth. The late Minister, Senator McLeay, assured me that conferences between the transport Ministers of the States and Commonwealth Ministers were held from time to time, and I know that that was so. Not long before his lamented death, he promised me that he would let the Senate know what results had been achieved at those conferences. I now ask the Minister for Shipping and Transport if, as soon as practicable, he will make inquiries into this matter and inform the Senate regarding the developments that have taken place with a view to obtaining uniformity in traffic laws, so that the awful toll of human life, due in large measure to the lack of uniformity, may be reduced.
– As the honorable senator has stated, there have been conferences between Commonwealth and State Ministers with respect to road traffic laws and transport matters generally. One such conference was held recently. I shall make inquiries and ascertain whether anything in the nature of a report on the conclusions reached at said conferences, in regard to the important matter of protecting life on roads, can be released.
– Is the Minister for Shipping and Transport aware that for a number of years great difficulty has been experienced in securing the shipment from the eastern States to Western Australia of various types of chemicals? These goods, which are generally in short supply in Western Australia, are classified as dangerous by the Navigation Regulations, and it is claimed that the requirements of those regulations prevent regular shipments being made. Can the Minister advise the Senate whether any steps are being taken to facilitate the shipment of these important cargoes to Western Australia, so that shortages of urgently needed chemicals will not occur?
– I am aware that Senator Scott has been interested in this subject for a long time. He was good enough to tell me that he was going to ask this question, and my department has now provided me with information on the subject. I should like to point out that delays in the shipment of dangerous goods are not all caused by the Commonwealth Navigation Regulations, but are usually the result of the need to observe the safety measures prescribed by port regulations at the intermediate ports where coastal vessels call while en route from the eastern States to Western Australia. The regulations of the Commonwealth and the .States are designed to provide the maximum degree of safety for workers, ships and ports, and for this reason they must be restrictive as to the quantities of dangerous goods carried, the method of their stowage and the manner in which they are handled. It is customary to issue permits or exemptions to overseas ships whenever licensed interstate ships cannot carry particular cargoes, and in an endeavour to assist the shipment of chemicals my department has issued instructions that when any doubt arises as to the ability of a licensed interstate ship to carry such goods to Western Australia, an overseas ship should be allowed to lift them. I am hopeful that, as a result, more regular shipments will be possible.
– I address a question to the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs. In view of the many hesitant statements made by the Minister for External Affairs, prior to his departure on a world tour, on the subject of new members of the United Nations, and his undiplomatic comment that the United Nations had put itself in a strait- jacket, will the Minister prepare, for the information of the Senate, a detailed list of the countries that have applied for admission to the United Nations, the names of the countries whose applications are supported by the Australian Government, and those which the Government opposes? Does the Australian Government support the application submitted by Spain? What are its reasons for or against? During his world tour, does Mr. Casey propose to explore the possibility of visiting Moscow, and of following the lead given by the New Zealand Government, which is out to capture some of the £25,000,000 trade lost by Australia?
– As for the last part of the question, I do not think that the Minister for External Affairs intends to visit Moscow. I think he can very well be more usefully employed in following the extensive itinerary that he has undertaken. In regard to the other questions. I will make inquiries of the department in order to see whether a statement of the kind asked for by the honorable senator can be obtained.
– I wish to ask a question, of either the Leader of the Government or the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. in relation to British investment in Australia. On last Tuesday, I travelled down from Queensland with Mr. Rogers, a British member of Parliament. In the course of a discussion with him, he mentioned that he was visiting Australia on the matter of investment of British capital. He said that one of the great fears of investors in Great Britain concerns prices control in this country.
– The honorable senator should ask his question. “
– That was a preamble to the question. I ask the Minister or the Leader, of the Government what steps the Government has taken to inform the investing public in Great Britain that price controls do not operate in all States of Australia, and that where they do operate in some States they do not cover all lines of manufactured goods. If such action has not been taken by way of publicity, will the Government consider taking -steps to ensure that the British investing public is made aware of the position in Australia?
– The point raised by the honorable senator is quite an important one. I assure him that a tremendous volume of capital has been attracted here, from both the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Those who are interested are given full and complete details of the general 3tate of our economy. Apparently, the state of our economy is attractive, in view of the very substantial sums which, in the last few years, have been invested in this country.
– Recently, the Minister for National Development made a statement regarding the use of the three aircraft operated by the Department of National Development for aerial surveys to discover mineral deposits. In the course of his statement, he referred to a proposed aerial survey of parts of South Australia. He also said that the aircraft VH-DUR was being modified to allow that survey to he conducted, and that the work would be done under the terms of an agreement between South Australia and the Commonwealth. Could the Minister indicate the nature and terms of that agreement?
– I am afraid I do not recollect, and I cannot say, what were the terms of the agreement, hut I can give an answer in general terms. The position is that the Bureau of Mineral Resources has a’ specialist staff and special equipment for carrying out this type of survey, which calls for pretty high scientific qualifications. The staff and equipment are made available to State governments to carry out the work they want done, according to . an order of priority, because the demand exceeds the resources that are available to do the work. I doubt very much whether there are particular terms of agreement and whether there is anything more than a general request from the Premier to the Prime Minister asking whether the work can be done, and a reply from the Prime Minister to the effect that it will be done as and when the resources are available. I think, from recollection, that that statement of mine announced that the work in ‘South Australia was being commenced. The procedure is that the work is done as it can be done, having regard to the aircraft, mien and instruments that are available.
– I preface a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services by paying a tribute to the many men of the legal profession throughout Australia who give voluntary service to help pensioners with their problems. Will the Minister consider the establishment in each State of a legal aid bureau to help all pensioners - invalids, aged persons and widows - with their legal problems, as is done by the Legal Aid Bureau which is doing such excellent work in providing a much needed service for ex-servicemen and their dependants ? ‘
– I shall convey the honorable senator’s request to the Attorney-General. From memory, I believe that there is already some kind of a legal aid bureau in most States. Those bureaux were established, not specifically for those entitled to social services benefits, but for those who. are in need of legal services, and are not in a position to pay for them.
– I wish to direct a question to the Minister for National Development in view of Senator Ashley’s interjection yesterday which showed how pleased he was that no agreement had been signed by the States-
– Order! The honorable” senator- must ask a question.
– In view of Senator Ashley’s interjection yesterday, which showed how pleased he was that no agreement-
– Order ! That is not a question.
– Will the Minister for National Development inform the Senate what stage has been reached in the negotiations between the Australian Government and the State governments concerned in connexion with the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric project?
– The negotiations were spread over a period of three or four months, and about last April, an agreement was reached on a ministerial level. The officers concerned were authorized to put the terms of the agreement in the necessary document. That has been done, and the document has been sent by the Australian Government to the State governments concerned. It has been with them for some weeks.
– Why not say that it has not been finalized ?
– Senator Ashley made that statement yesterday, and he did so in a tone of great pleasure. We are now waiting for the State governments to inform us whether they agree that we have put into the document correctly the terms that were agreed upon on the ministerial level. Personally, I should like to see that document completed and signed as soon as practicable.
– Will the Minister for National Development inform the Senate whether there is any likelihood of any further payment or payments to former Australian prisoners of war? A payment of that sort was made in 1952 under the heading, I believe, of war prisoners’ subsistence payments. The payments were derived from the sale of Japanese assets, and I have been asked by ex-servicemen who are entitled to those payments whether there will be any more from the same source.
– I answered a question upon notice several weeks ago on the matter to which the honorable senator has referred. My recollection is that the Treasurer stated that some funds had not yet been paid in, and that they were being held by the Red Cross organization.
– Will the Minister obtain the information for me?
– If the honorable senator will put his question on the notice-paper, I shall obtain the reply again.
– I ask the Minister for National Development whether the Premier of New South Wales stated at the opening of the Guthega power station that an agreement between the Commonwealth and the States concerned on matters affecting the Snowy Mountains scheme would be signed in a few weeks. Have five months elapsed since verbal agreement on the matters was reached with the Government of New South Wales ? Is this delay a sign that the New South Wales Government has gone back on its word, or is it merely due to red tape in New South Wales government departments? Will the Minister give an assurance that he will interview the Premier of New South Wales on this matter next week while the Senate is not sitting, and make a statement to the Senate the week after about the result of that interview? Does the Minister consider it a further sign of disunity in the Labour party in New South Wales that Senator Ashley should be so pleased that agreement has not yet been signed?
– I hasten to state that there is no dissension between the Australian Country party and the Liberal party about the need to have the Snowy Mountains scheme completed. The Premier of New South Wales said at the opening of the Guthega power house that agreement had been reached with the Australian Government, and that he hoped that that agreement would be reduced to a proper form and signed within a few weeks. I have no reason to think that New South Wales has gone back on its word, and I should be very surprised and sorry if that were the case. I think that there might be something in the soft . impeachment that red tape is proving difficult to cut through, because it has been a long time since the agreement was reached in conference, and it has not yet been actually signed. With regard to the suggestion that I should see the Premier of New South Wales, I would prefer to see the responsible Minister in New South Wales. I shall do that, and inform the honorable senator of the result of the interview. With regard to the question about disunity in the Labour party, there is always disunity in the Labour party.
– Will the Minister for Trade and Customs make an explanatory statement to the Senate about the effect of the recently announced import controls on our economy, and the possible disorganization of businesses that deal in controlled imports? As the Minister has previously claimed that the lifting of import controls was deflationary, will he inform the Senate of the measures that have been taken to prevent the corresponding inflationary effect which will be the consequence of preventing certain goods from entering Australia ?
– I do not propose to make a statement on the lines indicated by the honorable senator, but if he wishes I shall make available to him the detailed statement that I released to the press yesterday, and which was published in substantial detail. Any prognostication on my part regarding the effect that the controls might have on the Australian economy would be presumptuous and no better than a guess. The honorable senator will be delighted to know that the Government’s decision has been received with very good grace by all the responsible people in the community. That decision has been very warmly applauded, and it will call for some co-operation from all sections of the community. After having heard the very lucid address given by the Prime Minister in another place last Tuesday, I am satisfied that the people of Australia will gladly and willingly co-operate to preserve the national prosperity which has been built up by this Government.
– Can the Minister representing the Minister for Supply advise me of the areas of land in the township of George Town, Tasmania, which have been purchased by the Australian Aluminium Production Commission, and the purposes for which those areas are being held? Will he examine the areas with a view to disposing of surplus land or that which is not required immediately, especially those areas which could be used for housing or business purposes within the town area?
– I shall be pleased to obtain the information for the honorable senator and let him have a reply as early as possible.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Trade and Customs. Has the Minister seen a statement in to-day’s press attributed to Mr. Bardsley, a member of the Dominions Export Committee of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, saying among other things that England would find the burden of recent import cuts easier to bear if it could be assured that Japanese goods shall not be imported into Australia at the expense of British goods? Can the Minister give such an assurance or, at least, make a statement useful to the United Kingdom, for its future assessment of the Australian market?
– I have not seen the statement referred .to by the honorable senator, but in formulating policy generally special consideration is given to importations from the United Kingdom. It is essential, of course, in the scheme of things that we must trade with nations that trade with us, and recently we have, what we might term, assimilated a considerable number of items with a view to enlarging our purchasing from Japan. However, the items were specially designed to have the least possible impact upon our own Australian industries and also upon the industries of the United Kingdom.
Senator Benn having ashed a question which he was directed to place on the notice-paper,
– Once again, I draw attention to the way in which questions are being asked. Honorable senators know that questions are re-broadcast in the evening and that it is of interest to the listening pubic that they should hear the questions and the answers. If honorable senators ask long and involved questions which, obviously, Ministers are unable to answer offhand the broadcast is not very interesting to listeners. We are not concerned particularly about the listening public - the work of the .Senate is our primary concern - but if a long question is asked which the Minister clearly cannot answer offhand, the proceedings are uninteresting to listeners. I ask honorable senators to give a little more thought to this matter. Some of the questions asked this morning have had to be placed on the notice-paper. If notice of those questions had been given, the same result would have been achieved, because answers to them are not available immediately.
– During the budget debate, I referred at length to the inflationary effect that the building of the proposed munitions factory at St. Mary’s would have on the economy of the country and also to the result of the demands which that project would make on supplies of labour and materials. Since then, articles have appeared in the Daily Telegraph substantiating my remarks.
– What is the honorable senator’s question?
– In view of statement’s by the Government concerning economy and inflation, I ask the Minister for National Development whether the Government now intends either to restrict the development of this project or abandon it altogether; or does the Government, notwithstanding the tremendous inflationary effect of this project, propose to proceed with it to completion.
– The proposed munitions factory at St. Mary’s is a major government project, estimated to cost £23,000,000. By any Australian standard that is a great venture, but it must be kept in proper perspective. An expenditure of £23,000,000 will not flood the nation’s economy, but it is not difficult to distort this proposal out of its proper perspective. The Government is guided by the advice of defence experts, and its defence programme is based upon the completion of this project. It is of no use to train men unless they have munitions to use should the occasion arise. The Government intends to act on the advice it has received from the defence authorities, and to proceed with this project. If it did not do so it would be acting irresponsibly. If it is necessary to cut back expenditure in some directions, let us keep a sense of proportion, and cut back on things not so important as this one.
– Statements on matters vitally affecting the Australian people and the nation’s economy have appeared in the press, the Senate being by-passed. Every honorable senator has a real interest in such matters, and also a duty to discharge to the people, and I ask you, Mr. President, in view of your ruling a few moments ago, how can honorable senators fulfil their obligations if they are not permitted to ask questions, or if Ministers refuse to answer questions touching on policy? We have to put on notice questions relating to matters mentioned in the press, we must not quote from the press, and we are not allowed to debate statements made in another place. Will you, Mr. President, use your best endeavours to see that the. Senate is not by-passed in matters of importance to the nation, and take steps to ensure that priority in such matters shall not be given to the press, but to the Parliament ?
– It is not the practice of the presiding officer to reply to questions and it is not my intention to depart from that practice. It is fairly obvious that the matters raised do not come under my control.
– If I may intervene in this matter, it is only to point out that it is not usual to place before the Senate decisions, such as those to which the honorable senator has referred, unless a substantive motion is involved. I point out, however, that there is nothing to prevent honorable senators from raising on the motion for the adjournment of the Senate anything contained in the statement that was released by me.
– On a number of occasions I have referred to the interesting information and opinions contained in the reports of the Tariff Board, and have’ stressed the appropriateness of having the board’s annual report before us when the Senate is discussing economic problems associated with the budget. I now ask the Minister for Trade and Customs whether he can tell us when he expects the latest report of the Tariff Board to be tabled in the Senate.
– The annual report of the Tariff Board is now in the hands of the printer, and its availability to honorable senators’ is a matter of mechanics. A type-written copy is available, but it is not the practice to table a type-written copy until ‘printed copies are available, because of the tremendous demand for these reports. I assure the honorable senator that the report will be tabled as soon as it is received from the printer.
– Will the Minister representing the Treasurer ascertain from his colleague, and let me know, the estimated cost to revenue in a full year of the removal of sales tax on dried fruit used in the making of raisin bread and cooked! foods ?
– I shall do so.
– Is the Minister for Trade and Customs aware of the importance to the New South “Wales coastal town of Eden of the fishing industry, upon which a majority of the population of the town and district depend for their livelihood? Is he also aware that considerable capital has been expended in the provision of the plant and gear necessary for tuna fishing and canning? Further, is he aware of the flooding of the Australian market with cheap and inferior Japanese tuna; and is it a fact that the local industry may suffer if, by reason of the poor quality of imported fish, the Australian home market is permanently impaired?
– I am aware of the importance of the industry to which the honorable senator has referred, but I think that she has been misinformed about the flooding of the market with cheap imported fish. The importation of fish is subject to quota restrictions, and if the honorable senator has been told that the Australian market has been flooded with fish from Japan she has been grossly misinformed.
– Is the Minister for Trade and Customs aware that the Prime Minister said a day or two ago that a statement on the economic position and the restriction of imports on which the Government had decided, along the lines of the statement made in the House of Representatives, would be made in the Senate also, and that he nominated yesterday as the day on which the Senate would be informed of the Government’s intentions? Can the Minister now tell us whether that is to be done? Or, is there a disagreement between him and the Prime Minister in regard to this matter?
– I shall answer first the last part of the honorable senator’s question. I assure him that there is not the slightest disagreement between my leader and his colleagues in the Cabinet. The honorable senator is slightly off the beam in his statement. When the Prime Minister outlined the policy to be followed by the Government, in his speech on Tuesday night, he said that details of the operations would be explained later by his colleague, the Minister for Trade and Customs. There was no suggestion that a statement similar to the one delivered in the House of Representatives would be made in the Senate ; and there is no occasion for that to be done. However, if honorable senators desire to debate the subject, every facility will be afforded them to do so. I have not the slightest objection to that being done.
– Does the Minister suggest that we should take action on the motion for the adjournment?
– Either that, or by way of a substantive motion.
– Can the Attorney-General inform the Senate when the Government proposes to take action to proclaim the Courts-Martial Appeals Act 1955 ? Have any steps been taken to constitute the tribunal provided for in the act, and, if so, what action has been taken ?
– Certain administrative arrangements have had to be made in anticipation of the proclamation of the act. I am making inquiries to ascertain how far they have gone. I hope to be able to give the honorable senator a specific answer to his question on the next day nf sitting.
– I notice in the report of the works in hand under the charge of the Minister for the Interior that the expenditure in connexion with the Arbitration Court in Melbourne is shown as “ Nil “ for works undertaken. Can the Attorney-General inform the Senate of the present state of progress in connexion with the building of the Arbitration Court in that city?
– I know that the work is under way, and that certain excavations have been proceeded with.
They resulted in a threat of litigation on the part of persons with buildings in the vicinity, who claimed that their properties were being interfered with. There has consequently been some delay, and I cannot say offhand what stage has been reached with building operations.
– Can the Minister representing the Minister for Defence inform the Senate what amount of money was expended in Western Australia out of the defence vote of £200,000,000 allocated for last year? Was any money disbursed to Western Australia for strategic roads, airfields or berthing facilities? What is the strength* of Air Force personnel stationed in Western Australia?
– Naturally, I do not keep in my head the statistics necessary to answer the honorable senator’s question, but I assure him that the strategic importance of Western Australia to the defence of the Commonwealth is fully appreciated by the Government. However, if the honorable senator will place his question on the notice-paper I shall have a detailed answer prepared for him.
– Will the Minister for Trade and Customs indicate to the Senate the precise extent of the restrictions to be placed on the importation of newsprint?
– As a former Minister for Trade and Customs, Senator Courtice must realize that the importations of specific items are made up in what are known as quarterly budgets. The overall cuts will be as indicated in the statement released yesterday, but the exact details will be determined after the budget has been dealt with. Newsprint comes within the list of goods the importation of which will be reduced by 12-J per cent. That is the overall reduction, but some items may be less, and others more, than that percentage. The precise degree of restriction to be placed on newsprint will be determined later.
– On the 7th September, Senator Seward asked the following question: -
I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture whether he is aware that reports received from woolgrowers in Western Australia are to the effect that a new branding fluid recommended as being unlikely to stain the wool permanently runs in wet weather, leaving the brand indistinguishable after a few days? Will the Minister have inquiries made of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization with a view to having tests made with the particular fluid, and, if possible, the fault overcome? I ask for such action because the branding fluid is useless at present.
The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has supplied the following information, which has been given by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization: - lt has long been recognized that the scourable branding fluid, known as L.B.E., developed by the organization is apt to run if exposed to heavy rain immediately after it has been applied to the sheep. The organization has, therefore, given attention to the development of a new formulation of the branding fluid so as to eliminate this defect, and this new formulation is now becoming available under the registered name “ Si-Ro-Mark “. The “ Si-Ro-Mark “ branding fluid, while possessing all the desirable properties of the earlier L.B.E. branding fluid, will not run, even when freshly branded sheep are exposed to heavy rainfall. Manufacturers of branding fluids wishing to use the name “ Si-Ro-Mark “ must be registered with the organization, and must submit their preparations for test, so as to ensure that, they conform to the standards required by the organization. It is confidently expected that, when the “ Si-Ro-Mark “ branding fluids become generally available, the problem raised by the honorable senator will have been successfully overcome. It is not correct to state, however, that the older L.B.E. branding fluid was useless, since up to 70,000,000 sheep each year have been branded with it, and, apart from those cases where sheep are exposed to heavy rain immediately after branding, it has proved most successful and has greatly minimized the problem of brand stains in woollen textiles.
– On the 15th September, Senator Pearson asked the following question : -
I understand that last Friday the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture conferred with representatives of the Australian Dried Fruits Association in regard to problems that have arisen in that industry along the river
Murray. Will thu Minister ascertain from the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture what developments are likely to occur following that conference, and ask him to let me know as soon as possible?
I am now able to advise the honorable senator as follows: -
The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture met representatives of the Australian Dried Fruits Association, and also the Vine Fruit Growers Progress Association,’ at Melbourne in a joint conference on Friday, nth September. The discussions centred largely around an examination of a plan for stability in the dried vine fruits industry which these bodies had submitted to the Minister. As the result of the talks with the Minister, the industry representatives decided to revise certain aspects of their plan and submit a new one. The revised plan has just been received and will receive prompt consideration.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, upon notice -
– The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has supplied the following information in answer to the honorable senator’s questions: -
The Acting High Commissioner . for the United Kingdom in Australia and the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture issued a joint statement on 13th September, which gave full details of the negotiations recently concluded between the Australian Meat Board and a delegation from the United Kingdom Ministry of Food. The main operative provisions of the new detailed agreements which have just been concluded are -
Beef and Veal : For the three years commencing 1st October, 1950, Australia will be guaranteed an annual average price for beef and veal exported to the United Kingdom equal to the minimum price agreed upon for the year 1954-55. For the following three years, i.e. the three years commencing 1st October, 1958, the annual minimum guaranteed price will be reduced by 5 per cent.
Lambs: Australia will be guaranteed the present level of minimum prices for the next three years commencing 1st October, 1955.
Mutton: For the next three years commencing 1st October, 1955, Australia will be guaranteed a weighted annual average price of 5.8d. sterling per lb.
Exports to markets other than the United Kingdom: Australia will be entitled to export 10,000 tons of beef, veal, lamb and mutton combined to destinations other than the United Kingdom and the colonies. No restrictions are placed on shipments to the colonies, which last year exceded 20,000 tons. This basic export free “ quota of 1.0,000 tons a year for the next three years compares with a basic export “ free “ quota of approximately 5,000 tons for 1954-55. However, this was increased to approximately 20,000 tons by special allocations during the year. The meat board has been given an assurance by the United Kingdom delegation that the United Kingdom will continue to be willing to coneider increasing the basic quota if special circumstances justify such action at any time.
Re-opening of Negotiations: The United Kingdom Government has agreed to re-open negotiations if asked to do so by the Australian Government within the next twelve months, on the basis of mutton and lamb being dropped from the 15-Year Meat Agreement, but with the right of unrestricted entry of Australian Iamb and mutton into the United Kingdom being explicitly maintained. The effects of the above arrangements are that the Australian Government will receive a lump sum payment at the end of any year if the average market price for any of the three classes of meat over each year is less than the agreed minimum price. The method of relating deficiency payments to prices of live-stock is a matter to which the Australian Meat Board has given considerable deliberation .
Last April, in the case of beef, the board unanimously recommended the Government to anticipate the receipt of deficiency payments from the United Kingdom Government and pay an export bounty on beef delivered into store for subsequent shipment to the United Kingdom between the months of Mar and July, 1955. The Government advised the board that it was prepared to submit legislation to the Parliament which would enable the board to borrow and use moneys for this purpose, providing the board clearly understood that the Government would not accept any residual financial liability. Board members who represent producer organizations are in turn under specific obligation to see to it that those whom they represent are kept aware of the board’s activities and policies on all matters. The board accepted the condition that the Government would not accept residual financial liability, and the legislation was passed by Parliament.
In June the board unanimously decided that the bounty payment should be extended to cover August deliveries. In July the board again unanimously decided to extend the bounty payment to cover September deliveries. Before endorsing the board’s decision relating to September deliveries, the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture suggested that the hoard might wish to review its decision in view of the firm tone of the London meat market. The board reviewed its decision in mid-August, but reaffirmed it, this time with one dissentient, a lamb producer representative from South Australia. The Minister subsequently endorsed the board’s decision to make an export bounty payment for September, but on the condition that the rate be reduced from lid. per lb. to1d. per lb.
The Minister requested a specific assurance from beef producer representatives that producers, particularly in Queensland, were fully aware of all the implications of the decision. This assurancewas given. These arrangements, in the opinion of the beef cattle producers’ representatives on the board, have had the effect of supporting the’ whole of the cattle market for both fats and stores throughout the export areas. It is difficult to make an accurate forecast of the amount of deficiency payments to be received from the United Kingdom for beef in the current beef export season because of the considerable tonnage of Australian beef ex this season’s production which will still qualify for deficiency payments up to mid-December, which is the closing-off date for this season’s transactions at the United Kingdom end.
However, if London frozen beef prices remain at present levels between now and December, no deficiency payment whatsoever would be due from the United Kingdom Government. The Australian Meat Board was fully aware of this as a possibility when itslast subsidy recommendation was made. The Australian Meat Board has not submitted any specific recommendation as to how any deficiency payments from the United Kingdom Government in respect of mutton and lamb should be used for the purpose of supporting prices to producers. The board has always readily acknowledged that if a sum of money is made available to it on behalf of the industry there are a number of methods by which the moneys can be used to support prices to producers.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
– The Minister for Civil Aviation has now supplied the following answers: -
asked the Minister representing the Acting Treasurer, upon notice -
– The Minister acting for the Treasurer has supplied the following information: -
Debate resumed from the 28th September (vide page 326), on motion by Senator Cooper -
That the bill be now rend a second time.
Upon which Senator McKenna had moved by way of amendment -
That all the words after “That,” be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “having regard to the sustained and continuous decline in the value of Australian money, the bill be re-drafted to provide substantially greater benefits for ex-service personnel and their dependants with effect as from 1st July, 1955”.
– Many opinions have been expressed about the proposed amendment of the Repatriation Act, and no doubt some of the proposals contained in the bill before the Senate will be of benefit io ex-servicemen. I assure honorable senators opposite that the members of the Opposition will not do anything to delay the passage of the bill, or to jeopardize the payment of the increased pensions by the 20th October. However, we claim the right at least to debate any bill that comes before the Senate and to present the views of the people we represent.
Senator Henty suggested yesterday that the amendment proposed by the Leader of the Opposition (‘Senator McKenna) was intended to take up the time of the Senate to no purpose. I assure him that honorable senators on this side of the chamber approach all legislation introduced here with the object of making it of the utmost benefit to the people as a whole. Over the years, however, suggestions that we have made and amendments that we have proposed, which would have improved legislation, have been shunned by the Government. To-day, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) is appealing to all sections of the people to assist in preventing what he has called a crisis that may be approaching. He has co-opted the services of the great Australian Council of Trades Unions, and 1 am sure that the people will give all the assistance that it is possible for them to give. The members of the Australian Council of Trades Unions know only too well- the struggle that the majority of the people are facing these days.
The Government should not delude itself that it holds office to-day because of legislation that it has or has not passed. Indeed, this Government has never put to the people, for their approval, the programme which it has carried out since its election in 1949. There has always been some side issue, such as Petrov, communism, or some other “ ism “. It cannot be denied that we of the Opposition represent at least half of the people of Australia. If the voting figures were to be analysed, it might be found that we represent a good deal more than half. It is only humbug for honorable senators opposite to say that Labour did not do much for ex-servicemen when it was in office. Can the supporters of the
Government to-day conscientiously say that they are satisfied that everything possible has been done for ex-servicemen, and that they are being fairly treated? I venture to suggest that even the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) would not be prepared to go as far as that.
When Labour took office in 1941, the finances of the nation were at their lowest ebb in the history of the Commonwealth. During the first four years of office, we were faced by the greatest war of all time. The Government, led by the late Mr. Curtin, found an empty Treasury. No preparations for war had been made ; there was no army, and the guns which we had been told could never be captured were found to be facing the wrong way. The Japanese were knocking on the door. When the late Mr. Curtin made a press statement about Australian defences, he was faced with a serious position.
– And he paid a big price for assistance.
– He was forced to act as he did because he did not want to tell the world, and particularly our enemies, that this country was not prepared. Any honorable senator who cares to question ex-servicemen from World War II. will find that they substantiate my statements. Mr. Curtin acted in the interests of the defence of Australia when there was the prospect of a Brisbane line in the north of Australia.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. A. D. Reid). - Order ! Is the honorable senator addressing himself to the budget papers or to the measure before the Senate? I believe that he is wide of the mark.
– I want the Senate to understand that Australia was not passing through a period of prosperity when the Labour Government of those days took office. Supporters of the present Government claim that Australia is now in the greatest era of prosperity in its history. The Curtin Labour Government was faced with a huge overseas debt, and there was no money in the Treasury. We were forced to cut our coat according to our cloth. We realized that the ex-servicemen had not had a fair deal, and we set up an’ all-party committee. The present Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) was a member of that committee, and no one could have been more suitable for the task. Every honorable senator on the Opposition side has the highest regard for the Minister because we know that his heart and soul are in his work.
– -Does the honorable senator also want to joint the Australian Country party ?
– No, but I want to give credit where it is due. I am not itching to get into the Australian Country party, because it reminds me of “the empty-Communist party” - the one that has broken away from the Australian Labour party. It is useless. Honorable senators have stated that when the present Minister for Repatriationattends a congress of ex-servicemen, he is cheered to the echo. I do not doubt it. He deserves such acclaim if anybody does. I invite the Minister to attend the annual dinner of - my old Army unit which is held in December each year. He will get just as good a reception from those who attend, but when he leaves he will have a nice big headache. It will not be due to the hospitality of his hosts, but from his meeting with the remnants of a unit of the first Australian Imperial Force. I cordially invite him to attend.
– The Minister will see some highly successful men, too.
– I extend an invitation also to’ Senator Mattner. I do not believe that he will see any highly successful businessmen there, but if he does, their success will not have been due to any anti-Labour government.
– Senator Mattner will see one successful businessman, anyhow.
– If we have a mirror there, he will do so, but I brush aside these interjections. This matter is more serious than most honorable senators realize. Up to the present, no Australian Commonwealth government has ever given ex-servicemen their just entitlements. Yesterday, honorable senators on the Government side said that the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator McKenna) had linked the pensions of totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen with the basic wage. That was incorrect, and Senator McKenna denied it. However, since World War I., the pension for totally and permanently incapacitated men has never reached the level of the basic wage. All honorable senators know how the basic wage is compiled. It provides the most meagre existence, and yet a so-called grateful nation tells the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen, in effect, “ You are not entitled even to the basic wage “. The war pension of a totally and permanently incapacitated single ex-serviceman should be at least equal to the basic wage.
– A married man gets more than the basic wage.
– In reply to Senator Mattner, I remind him that the Minister for Repatriation stated in his second-reading speech that the pension could be made up to £15 or £19 a week, but what does the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman get? He gets less than the basic wage. He got it, too, when a Labour government was in power, but that government was pressed for money because of the war and rehabilitation after the war. We were passing through a. period when money was not plentiful, but now we are told that we are passing through the period of greatest prosperity in the history of Australia.
War pensions should be non-political. A committee should be set up without any political interference to deal with the matter and, irrespective of the finances of the nation, a totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner and his dependants should be given at least the right to live. Honorable senators on the Government side have referred to allowances for children. I should like to see any honorable senator maintaining a child on the allowances made to a totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner. He might keep the child, but they would keep it in want. War pensions should not be a political football. They should be dealt with on a non-party basis. I served in World War I. I did not win it ;
Senator Sandford did that, and I was there to help him. When the first Australian Imperial Forces returned to Australia, the men showed themselves to be true Australians. Their first thought was not to hang about repatriation headquarters waiting for assistance, but to get back to civilian life and industry.
If the Minister for Repatriation attends the dinner of my old unit in December, I will show him men who were strong and healthy in 1918 and 1919 when they were discharged from the Army. They were strong and healthy because they were young, but to-day they are derelicts physically. What hope have they of proving that their state of health was caused by war service? They have no hope of doing so. Honorable senators opposite have stated that honorable senators on the Opposition side have been referring individual cases to the Senate. That is probably true, but some examples must be put forward to prove the case of the Opposition. I could name many of the ex-servicemen whom I have spoken about in this debate. Indeed. I have often thought of bringing friends from my old battalion to sit in this chamber and listen to the Senate discussing repatriation measures. If I did that they would be able to judge for themselves of the sincerity of the views put forward by many honorable senators.
After a man has given three or four years of his life in the Army during wartime, and he later becomes ill, the authorities should have no hesitation in granting him the right to live or the right to get back Ms health. I say, irrespective of any repatriation tribunal, that if an ex-serviceman approaches me and asks me to assist him, I shall do everything that I can do to do so. Any tribunal that has the audacity to make the statement mentioned recently by Senator Sandford should be disciplined by the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper). The Parliament is the last resort of the exserviceman. Ex-servicemen look to their representatives in this chamber, and in another place, to obtain for them a just hearing of their claims.
Several cases have come to my notice in which local doctors have informed exservicemen that their illnesses are due to war service, but when they have approached the tribunal their claims have been refused. Can any tribunal say that one group of doctors is right and another group is wrong? Certainly it cannot. It was for this reason that a Labour government introduced the onus-of-proof provision into the Repatriation Act. That provision makes it clear that where doctors differ the onus of proving that a man is not entitled to his pension lies on the tribunal. I suggest that that provision is not being applied in dealing with those -men to whom the nation owes a debt of gratitude.
As was stated in the Senate recently, the average age of ex-servicemen from World War I. is now 64 years. I served in World War I., and I am 57 years of age. Nevertheless, I am feeling the effects of my war service. For the last two months I have been laid aside with illness, and nobody can tell me that that illness was not the result of the privations and the exposure that I underwent during my winters in France. However, I would have no hope of proving that my complaint was caused by my war service, and I am in no different position from that of many hundreds of other ex-servicemen.
A war widow’s pension is at present £4 10s. a week, which may be made up to £6 4s. 6d. by an allowance of £1 14s. 6d. a week. How would any honorable senator feel if he knew that his wife might be asked to exist on £6 a. week ? All kinds of theories and figures may be used to bolster our arguments, but the plain fact remains that widows are now being asked to live on about £6 a week, or to get out and earn more at the wash tub. If the husbands of some of those widows had lived they might have been members of the Parliament, or even Ministers; but because their husbands died in the service of their country are their widows to be treated far worse than the widows of senators and Ministers?
– The widows receive £7 10s. a week at present if they are over 50 years of age.
– I suggest that Senator Mattner would not like to> think that after his death his wife would’ have to live on £7 10s. a week. I donot want it to be thought that I am speaking of Senator Mattner’s private life, but perhaps he thinks that his wife ought to live on 30s. a week, as some cockies do. How would we like to think that our widows would have to live on £6 or £7 a week?
The last budget of the last Labour Government provided about £19,000,000 for repatriation. The budget for 1955-56 provides about £47,000,000. However, considering the fact that the number of war pensioners has increased, that repatriation benefits have been extended to ex-servicemen of the Korean war, and also taking into consideration that the value of money has fallen greatly since 1949, the present repatriation benefits are not as valuable to ex-servicemen as the benefits granted by the last Labour Government. There have been two world wars, and if some people have their way there will be a third. At present, the Government is promising the soldiers who are to go to Malaya that they shall have comfortable quarters there, that their wives will be able to live with them and will receive assistance in the home, and that their children will have educational facilities in Australia. That is all very well, but it only shows that while a soldier is useful to the Government he is very well treated, but when he is of no more use he is thrown aside. If there are wars in the future, I suggest that it will not be easy for the Govevrnment to get soldiers to fight them unless it is prepared to give them an assurance of economic security on their return, and unless it proves, by giving ex-servicemen a better deal to-day, that it will look after the ex-servicemen, of to-morrow.
– What about conscription ?
– As Senator George Rankin has just interjected, we were faced with a decision on conscription, and our Government did conscript soldiers. The party to which I belong is prepared to do everything possible to defend this country. We certainly would not agree to a “ Brisbane line “ and allow the Japanese to be in the north of Australia. If we were governing, even if it did again mean” conscription, we would have conscription if it were necessary for the defence of this country. Do not forget that the present Government is now conscripting the whole of the nation. This Government that believes in private enterprise is introducing regulations everywhere. They are published in the press to-day. So, honorable senators opposite should not talk about conscription.
It is always the flower of the nation who volunteer or are taken to fight the country’s wars. They are all fit men. When the war is over and they return to their various estates or districts and in later years require some benefits from the Government they find them difficult to obtain. No body of men put up with privations with less growling than did the soldiers of the first Australian Imperial Force. I appeal to the Minister and to the Government to give more liberal consideration to- these people who are to-day deserving of it. Politicians should never at any time, either now or in the future, in this Parliament or outside of it during election time, make promises which they do not intend to fulfil to those who have fought for their country. It would be well, after this measure has been passed, for the Government to set up an all-party committee to go into the economics of the returned soldiers of the three wars to see what can be done to help them. When the Government brings down measures covering one section of the community that section benefits, but where the nation as a whole is concerned and thousands of soldiers are involved, hundreds do not benefit from legislation which in itself may be all right.
The amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition springs from the hearts of the members of the Australian Labour party. We on this side of the chamber have a repatriation committee which consists entirely of returned soldiers. Those returned soldiers have had long experience and service in the Army; and the amendment has been placed before this chamber only after lengthy deliberations and inquiries by that committee of the Australian Labour party. If honorable senators disregard the amendment they will be disregarding the needs of many of those people who are dependent upon them. Even if the amendment is not carried, I ask the Government to take action in the future to bring down a further measure whereby an all-party committee can be appointed, irrespective of what government is in power. In that way something really worthwhile can be done for these people who are so deserving. I finally commend the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition as being in the best interests of the returned soldiers of both world wars.
– I rise to support the bill. In Icing so, I join with other honorable senators,, including honorable senators opposite, in congratulating the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) on the work he is doing in that capacity. I assure him that when the budget proposals were announced in my own State of South Australia that portion of it relating to repatriation benefits was by and large well received. As an ex-serviceman himself, the Minister will agree that nothing is too good for the ex-serviceman and as a consequence of feelings such as those the ex-servicemen’s organizations hoped for a little more. However, they are realistic - at least those in my State are - and by and large these proposals were very well received. I shall not deal with the proposals themselves because they were canvassed adequately yesterday by honorable senators on both sides of the chamber.
I desire to make some comments regarding appeals because I feel that incorrect statistics have been placed before the Senate. I have in my hand the fifteenth report on the Repatriation Department by the Joint Committee of Public Accounts. This report was made last year, but we were not able to give it consideration when the Estimates were being discussed because of the necessity to limit debate on them. Consequently, this report has not previously been ventilated in the Senate. I should like to refer to some of its salient features which affect repatriation benefits. I suggest that if due consideration is given to certain factors in this report a little more money might be made available to increase some of those benefits. There is always an opportunity for economy, and when economies are effected in administration then a case for increased benefits can fairly be put without increasing the vote for a particular department. My first reference to this report is in relation to appeals. It is interesting to note that in paragraph 89 of the report the committee sought certain figures relating to appeals made to the four assessment tribunals sitting in Victoria in 1952-53. An analysis was made and the following interesting figures were given. Tribunal No. 2 heard 975 appeals, of which it allowed 5S2. The percentage of appeals allowed was 59.7. In the Senate last night, figures of from 2 per cent, to 3 per cent, were cited. Tribunal No. 4 heard 129 appeals, of which 81 were allowed, a percentage of 62.8. Tribunal No. 5 heard 131 appeals, of which 93 were allowed, a percentage of 71. So, the appeals allowed ranged between 59 per cent., and 71 per cent, in Victoria. No doubt the figures would be similar in respect of the other States. The appellate court, as it were, of the Repatriation Commission is generous in allowing appeal’s; it is not unsympathetic as was suggested by honorable senators opposite last night.
The comment is -
On the basis of the statistics above; about 7 per cent, to 8 per cent, of assessments each year are the subject matter of appeals.
That is, from 92 per cent, to 93 per cent, of the decisions are never appealed against. That is a remarkable result, and indicates how the mind of the commission and the mind of the ex-serviceman are at one: The report continues -
Of these appeals, about three-fifths are successful, say 4 per cent, to 5 per cent, of the total number of assessments. The average increase in pension liability for the successful appellants is about 50 per cent.
These facts clearly show that the appellate jurisdictions are generous, because in about three-fifths of the cases the appeals are allowed and an increase of about 50 per cent, results. Has. the Opposition stated a case for creating a judicial body, such as the High Court of Australia or a State supreme court to deaf with these matters? I say that it has not, on the basis of those figures. In other matters the Opposition is not keen about appeals. It will be recalled how bitterly its members opposed the appellate jurisdiction principle in matters of arbitration.
– The circumstances were different.
– That is not so. The Opposition was entirely opposed to the principle of appeal in that jurisdiction. I have shown that the Opposition has not been able to make a case for an appellate jurisdiction, particularly on the arguments put forward last night and bolstered by the figures cited. Honorable senators opposite will have’ to make out a far better case before they can hope for the support of senators on this side of the chamber. The case they have presented does not merit the serious consideration of the Senate.
I raise the question of higher pensions, because this matter should be examined to ascertain whether economies can be effected in the administration of the Repatriation Department so that more money may be available to help deserving cases such as have been mentioned by honorable senators on both sides. I ask the Senate to bear with me while I refer to the recommendations of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts. The conclusions of the committee on this subject appear at paragraph 274 of the report. The committee makes reference to the need for some re-orientation in the thinking of the commission. It considers that the now familiar “ O and M “ - organization and methods formula - should be applied by the commission to the control and management of institutions so as to ensure that the country receives the maximum value for the minimum of cost.
If economies are possible they should be made so that really deserving cases may be helped with the savings. In- subparagraph (4) of paragraph 277, of its report the committee, dealing with pensions administration, has this to say -
The cost of administering service pensions by the Repatriation Department appears to be relatively higher than the costs of administering pensions by the Department of Social Services, even allowing for differences between the two schemes. This matter might suitably engage the attention of the Public Service Board.
I am encouraged to find in my investigations that the Auditor-General reports most favorably on certain happenings in the Repatriation Department during the current year, and the Minister deserves commendation for them. In the annual report of the Auditor-General for the year ended the 30th June, 1956, the following appears at page 74: -
Suggestions made by audit officers and adopted by the department during the year include a revised method of payments of pensions to bank accounts and a new procedure for the numbering of pensions certificates. In addition to improving control the amendments should effect substantial savings in staff and expenditure.
That statement is supported by the figures in paragraph 115, on page 73 of the Auditor-General’s report. The cost of maintenance of departmental institutions in 1953-54 was £5,069,200, but in 1954-55 it had decreased to £4,887,579. The cost of medical treatment, of course, increased as did the amount paid in living allowances. I commend the Public Accounts Committee for the investigation it made of this matter, and also for the results which are beginning to appear. I say to the Minister, “ Keep on with the good work “, because more money may be made available to help deserving cases if the idea of economy is fostered. The practice of economy will not lower the standard of the Repatriation Department’s work, but rather will raise it and at the same time usher in an era of co-operation between State instrumentalities and this grand federal instrumentality.
The Repatriation Department makes a great mistake with regard to treatment of country patients. I returned from the last war in a somewhat bad shape. 1 was very sick and, for some years, had to have considerable repatriation assistance, both medically and by way of a steel support. As a consequence, 1 know a little about the inner workings of this department. I lived 300 miles from the city, but during the first year or so after my return from the war I had to go to the city for treatment. That practice still obtains throughout Australia. Treatment is centralized in the capital cities despite the fact that since the war amazing improvements have been made in country hospitals. Large base hospitals, costing £2,000,000 or £3,000,000 are being built all over the country. It seems that the Repatriation Department has not adapted its thinking to what is going on all around it, under State auspices. When new hospitals are being built, annexes should be planned for the reception of repatriation cases, and I ask the Minister whether it is not possible to effect considerable savings in these matters. There is no call for extension of existing repatriation hospitals, and the committee’s report suggests that the number of inmates in these institutions is falling slightly. That is a good sign, but concentration should be made on the extension of repatriation facilities in the country. One of the great needs of Australia is decentralization, and what I suggest may prove to be wisdom in the event of another war.
Sitting suspended from 12.U5 to 2.15 p.m.
– Before proceeding to develop the argument that I was placing before the Senate prior to the suspension of the sitting, I desire to refer to a matter that I was asked during that adjournment to bring before this chamber. It has to do with the question of appeals. I shall refer, first, to the Fifteenth Report of the Joint Committee on Public Accounts under the title “Repatriation Department “. If honorable senators will refer to page 36 of that report they will see that in the year 1952-53 the total number of assessments that came before the department in Australia was 91,000, and that the number of appeals was only 7,720. Approximately 84,000 assessments were quite in accord with the wishes of the soldiers concerned. That meant that only 8.4 per cent, were appealed against. The number of appeals allowed by the tribunal was 5,301 out of a total of 7,720. The number of appeals disallowed consequently was 2,419. In other words, for the whole of Australia the proportion of appeals allowed by the tribunals was 68.1 per cent. It should always be remembered that, in the eyes of the soldiers concerned, the commission was right in 91.6 per cent, of the cases that came before it.
Therefore, as I pointed out earlier, there is not a strong case for an elaborate appeals tribunal, as is suggested by the amendment that has been foreshadowed. When we consider that, in the first round, 90 per cent, of the men were satisfied, and that in the second round three out of every five of them were satisfied, there does not appear to be much ground for complaint. And so, without elaborating the point further, it should be clear that there is nothing compelling about the suggested amendment to be moved by the Opposition.
I shall now continue to develop the argument that I was placing before the Senate when the sitting was suspended. I refer to the decentralization of repatriation hospital activities. I have had the experience personally of spending almost a week travelling to Adelaide from my home to be admitted to a repatriation general hospital, to await the specialist to visit the hospital on a certain day, and then to return 300 miles to my home town, all for the purpose of a medical examination which lasted a very short time. For that long period of absence from my work I was paid a subsidy by the Government. I suggest that we must make a modern approach to the repatriation treatment of country ex-service men and women, so that they shall not be away from their regular employment or avocation for a longer period than is necessary. As I pointed out earlier, we have modern facilities in civilian hospitals in most bf our larger country centres and the Repatriation Department should be able to render excellent service by using them. I do not suggest that we should do anything in the nature of annihilating existing repatriation wards. Some of them may have to be closed temporarily, but they will still be there in the event of a calamity or disaster or in the event of the civilian hospitals being overcrowded as the result of enemy action against the people of Australia. Of course, we hope that there will be no such action taken against us; but should the accommodation be required it would be available. The control of the vacated portion of the buildings might pass over to some civil defence organization, or some body of that nature. I believe that we must decentralize our repatriation hospital organization so that there will not be that long drag, and consequent waste of time, in the case of people who still need repatriation medical attention and hospitalization. I admit thai the department has gone great distances to provide for visits to country doctors by men requiring attention. That has been a great step forward, but we must take a further step, and make adequate arrangements for hospitalization.
I pass on to a further point in connexion with the co-ordination of the activities of the department. One- of the most important and interesting aspects of repatriation treatment is the provision of limb factories. The Minister for Repatriation can personally testify to the great value of these factories. Throughout the last 25 years or so, the department has gathered to itself some amazing technicians, who are engaged in the making of artificial limbs. These men are improving their techniques all the time. I understand that the suction socket method in connexion with artificial legs is now being firmly developed. There should, however, be greater coordination between the department and the civilian population in regard to these techniques that have been developed in our repatriation limb factories. The Public Accounts Committee drew our attention to the fact that the Repatriation Department could learn a lot from the Social Services Department, and vice versa. In paragraph 277 of its report, sub-paragraph 4, the committee states -
The cost of administering service pensions by the Repatriation Department appears to be relatively higher than the costs of administering pensions by the Department of Social Services, even allowing for differences between the two schemes.
It goes on to say -
The Repatriation Department should cooperate with the State health authorities to study and discuss the methods, statistics and costs of the leading State public hospitals in an endeavour to improve the administration of repatriation hospitals.
The Repatriation Department, with the Department of the Treasury and the Audit Office, should co-operate with the State health authorities to survey the methods of leading State hospitals in purchasing provisions.
I make a plea to the Government to give effect to that valuable recommendation. I do not suggest that in any way the high standard of repatriation hospitalization should be lowered, but rather that it should be lifted, so that we may save money and make it available for the more necessitous cases that come before us from time to time.
I also make a comparison with some of the things that have been done by the Department of Social Services in the provision of homes for the aged. A year ago, a very interesting bill was introduced into this Senate, providing that the Government should contribute, on a fi for £1 basis, to charitable and religious organizations that wished to build homes for the aged. That was a new venture in government spending. It provided for government payments to institutions which were endeavouring to provide comfort and social life for elderly and lonely people. I suggest that the Repatriation Department should investigate the possibility of making similar contributions for the ultimate benefit of ex-servicemen. The Minister for Social Services has assured us from time to time that the scheme under which the Government subsidizes homes for the aged has been remarkably successful. I can tell honorable senators that in my own city the scheme has worked very well.
Recently, I visited Alice Springs and saw the great work that is being done in the building of small cottages for old inlanders. It would be a tragedy to bring those people to cities in the south, and they have had built for them small cabins or cottage homes, and refrigerators and other amenities have been provided by various charitable organizations, including even race clubs. These old people are now able to spend their declining years in reasonable comfort. I suggest that the Repatriation Department could perform a great service for certain organizations by subsidizing the building of cottages or homes in the same manner. There is already an organization in existence, which is well known to honorable senators, namely, Legacy. Legacy is doing very valuable work for widows and their dependent children who need guidance. I feel sure that there are many difficult cases which could be assisted with capital aid by Legacy, if that organization were given some enlightened financial help from such a source as the Repatriation Department, and by such a fine person as our Minister. The Repatriation Department should consider adopting a similar scheme to that which was introduced experimentally a year ago for the benefit of aged persons, lt must be remembered that the old diggers of World War 1. are quite old diggers now. Hardly one of them is under CO years of age, and a lot of them are between 60 and 70. Those magnificent elderly ladies, the nurses of World War 1., are in their 60’s, and some in their 70’s. One way in which they could be assisted by the Repatriation Department would be to subsidize the building of small homes, such as have been so successful for thu housing of aged civilians. 1 now wish to make a comment which I hope will be taken by the Minister in the right spirit. I was rather upset yesterday to hear the Minister’s very long answer to a question asked by my colleague, Senator Anderson. The Minister quite rightly asked leave to make his statement to the Senate, hut 1 suggest that he exceeded the bounds of wisdom in making the lengthy statement that he did make. It took him about twenty minutes to give the Senate some very intimate and harrowing details from a medical report, interspersed with his own comments. I deplore that, and I feel it my duty to ask the Minister, when he seeks leave to make such statements concerning individuals, to make thom very short, and not to give harrowing details that would be broadcast over the air and could only cause suffering to the widows and members of the family of the persons concerned. Honorable senators have a certain responsibility in the matter of disclosing medical details, especially when they refer to men who are being, or who should be, treated by the Repatriation Department. I should not like to hear any more of those statements concerning such sad events. I deplore also the practice, indulged in mainly by the Opposition, of giving details of individual cases in this national Tari in ment. “We do no service to the people of the Commonwealth bv disclosing confidential information, whether medical or otherwise, when we are discussing repatriation benefits.
I conclude by complimenting the Minister on this bill. 1 hope that he will give some attention to the matter of decentralizing hospital treatment under the Repatriation Department. I also hope that intimate medical details concerning people whose files are in the Repatriation Department will not be revealed in this chamber in the future, even though the information is disclosed in the best of good faith.
– I say at the outset that 1 fully support the amendments suggested by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator McKenna). 1 think that they are necessary and wise, and that each one of them will make for smoother working of the somewhat complicated Repatriation Act. I regret that the debate has taken the course followed by some honorable senators, but the Minister himself, genial fellow though he is, deliberately invited honorable senators to make those remarks because, in his secondreading speech, he made repeated comparisons between the achievements of various governments. As the debate has progressed we have had repeated to us the history of the Repatriation Department from 1949 up to the present day. These comparisons are being made at a time when it is difficult to estimate their value. In fact, it is not right to make such comparisons. One would think, after hearing the Minister’s speech, that the previous government did nothing at all in this matter, and that the present Government had achieved great success. Every honorable senator knows that the circumstances of this country were entirely different when the previous Labour government took office from what they are now, and they were entirely different when we were defeated in 3949. lt is difficult to understand how honorable senators who were members of the National Parliament before and during the term of office of the Labour government, and who are here now, including the Minister himself, can be so venomous, if I may use such an expression, in their efforts to further their own political interests at the expense of a previous government, which was in office when circumstances were entirely different. Looking at the occupants of the Government benches now, I can see only the
Minister for’ Repatriation and Senator Mattner, who were in this Parliament when the Labour Government was in office. Let us hope that we have heard the last of this wrong method of dealing with the responsibility of the Parliament to do the right thing by ex-servicemen. In those days, although there were those who considered that more should have been done for returned men and women, the majority agreed that the Government had not been ungenerous in’ its treatment of them. It is on record, and may be verified if honorable senators care to refer to the Adelaide Advertiser of the 9th November, 1944, that no less an authority than Sir Gilbert Dyett who, for 26 years, was the distinguished president of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, said -
I do not think that we have had a government more sympathetically inclined to the interests of the ex-servicemen than the present one.
I think that the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) is well aware that that distinguished authority expressed himself in those terms.
I am not attacking this Government for having failed to improve the Repatriation Act or repatriation benefits. I have never considered this matter from a party political point of view. However, I think I should be failing to do my duty if I remained silent while all these untrue statements about the activities of the previous Labour Government are being hurled across the chamber. During our term of office we increased repatriation pensions. We granted a more generous war gratuity than was granted after World War I. We instituted soldier settlement, provided legal aid services, protected ex-servicemen and their dependants from being evicted from their homes, and passed re-establishment and employment legislation which, amongst other things, provided for educational training, loans to establish ex-servicemen in businesses or professions, agricultural loans, training allowances, furniture grants in certain cases, tools of trade, books, materials and equipment, medical benefits for dependants of deceased exservicemen, and war service homes. The Labour Government accomplished all of those things before it was removed from office, and it did so in financial circumstances entirely different from those which exist to-day.
If honorable senators opposite need further proof of the inaccuracy of their remarks about the previous Labour Government and its repatriation policy, let me remind them of a statement made by a fellow-South Australian, who is now the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and to whom I wish “ Good speed to a quick recovery “ in his present illness. Soon after Labour assumed office in 1941, it appointed a parliamentary committee consisting of returned soldiers from World War I., and comprised of members from each political party. The recommendations of that committee were embodied in various amending acts. According to Hansard, vol. 174, page 2003, of the 18th March, 1943, Mr. Archie Cameron said at that time -
This hill is a very fair one, and is a great improvement on any measure of the kind placed on the statute-book for a considerable period. Until sixteen months ago, the Opposition was in charge of the Treasury, and, as far as my memory serves me, it did not appoint a committee to investigate the repatriation problems . . .
This Government disbanded that committee.
I remind the Senate of those matters because they are to the credit of the previous Labour Government. I thought that the Minister for Repatriation, in his usual gentlemanly way, might have referred to them earlier. As I have said, the economic conditions in Australia at the present time are entirely different from those in existence when Labour was in office. It is well known that, when World War II. broke out, the dole was the chief employer of labour in this country. It is of no use honorable senators opposite trying to deny that statement, because we on this side of the chamber know, from personal experience, that it is true.
I am particularly concerned with the onus of proof provisions. As a result of years of close observation of the working of the legislation in this respect, T am satisfied that the only way in which an ex-serviceman can get the benefit of the doubt is to bring absolutely overwhelming evidence that his injury or sickness is due to war service. How a repatriation tribunal could expect me, or any other honorable senator who was a soldier during World War I., to produce evidence to prove that injuries were due to war service, in the face of medical evidence to the contrary, I do not know. I was particularly pleased with many aspects of Senator Laught’s speech in this connexion, but I disagree with him completely regarding the number of successful appeals.
I am particularly concerned with the ex-serviceman who “ hasn’t a cracker “, who is hungry and unable to work. No doubt the Minister will say, “ If such an ex-serviceman is over 60 years of age, he can get a service pension “. In reply to that, I again adopt words spoken by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, when he was associated with me in a certain case some months ago, before the repatriation authorities. Mr. Cameron said on that occasion, “ This fellow is sick. He has no money and he cannot work. What are you going to do with him - turn him out or give him a pension ? “ My main concern is. with the ex-serviceman who has no income at all. It is idle for the Minister, or other honorable senators opposite, to say that such cases do not exist. They do. Only recently, in South Australia we handled the case of an ex-digger whom I have known all my life, and who had appealed and appealed again to the commission. He has not been able to work for five years. I know of another man who has not been able to work for two years, and two others who have not been able to work for three years. They will never work again. Last year, I was associated with the case of a man who, after long delays, was not only granted 100 per cent, pension, but also received retrospective payments for twelve months. I was exceedingly grateful, although I do not know why the application was granted so late. This man who receives redress is, to some extent, satisfied, but I feel for those who will never work again and who cannot get a fair deal although they have exploited every possible avenue.
The sooner the onus-of-proof provisions are properly applied, particularly to veterans of World War I., the better.
With many of those men, the race is between their appeal for a pension and the undertaker. I am not satisfied with the provisions of the bill before the Senate and the proposed additional amounts of pension. I shall support fully the amendments that have been moved by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator McKenna).
It is time to cease party political squabbling over pensions for exservicemen. It is the duty of all members of the Parliament to see that ex-servicemen are given justice. When honorable senators on the Government side who are exservicemen have spoken about these matters with ex-servicemen among honorable senators on the Opposition side, they have discarded political affiliations. When we enlisted, we merely expected that legislation would be drawn in the simplest form to provide sympathetic treatment for disability suffered as a result of war service. I have not encountered rudeness or ill manners in my approaches to officers of the Repatriation Department, but ex-servicemen who are seeking repatriation benefits are upset by periods of doubt, and by delays and rebuffs. . The Parliament should see that delays, which inflict mental torture on applicants for repatriation benefits, no longer occur. We are all pleased when appellants, after long delays, have received financial assistance that will enable them to purchase the necessaries of life, but I know of many ex-servicemen who complain that they have not had a go.
Reference has been made to the fact that the last thing many servicemen thought of when they were leaving the services was to establish their repatriation rights. I know from experience that, in many cases, their failure to do so has had the most unfortunate results. All honorable senators know that it is not unusual for ex-servicemen seeking repatriation benefits to be told that nothing can be done for them unless they produce additional evidence. Many servicemen have been in that position, and there will be many more in a few years’ time when those who served in World War II. begin to reach the age that veterans of World War I. have already reached. Doctors die as well as patients, and it is impossible for many old ex-servicemen to trace the doctor who was their medical adviser soon after they completed their war service. It is even more difficult to find a doctor who treated a man in Egypt, Belgium or Flanders during World War I. lt is no credit to any national parliament when it tells men who fought for three or four years in the mud and slush of Flanders and France years ago, that they cannot get a war pension unless they can produce medical evidence that their disability is due to war service.
I was interested to hear Senator Laught courteously reprove the Minister for Repatriation for bis reply to a question asked by Senator Anderson. As the reproof came from the Government side of the chamber, perhaps it would be better if I left that painful subject as quickly as possible. I have always had courtesy from the Minister, but I have noticed over the years that when replying to questions about repatriation, he has used medical terms and phrases that neither he nor I could pronounce properly, let alone interpret. I suggest that he might give attention to that matter. Some of the details are harrowing. I know that sometimes we are led astray by statements published in the press. Humane administration of the Repatriation Act would have made it unnecessary for Senator Anderson to ask the question to which I have referred, and the matters to which I have referred would never have become public property. I have spoken of the onus of proof, and may refer to it again at the committee stage of the bill. I have made my position clear with regard to those ex-servicemen who are at present receiving repatriation benefits. My chief concern is for the man who is unable to work, who is fast approaching the age when he will realize that nobody wants him, but who offered his life for his country and cannot got a few miserable shillings from the Government in order to carry on.
I was interested in Senator Laught’s remarks about rehabilitation, and I was pleased to get a reply yesterday to a question that I asked of the Minister for Repatriation some time ago. I disagree entirely with the Government’s action in discontinuing the issue of special footwear and other surgical appliances required by ex-servicemen for recreation purposes. I believe that that action was niggardly and despicable, and I understand that it was done by way of regulation. I have before me the case of an ex-serviceman who lives in South Australia. He has had both legs removed above the knee, and the only recreation that he can get is an occasional game of bowls. He used special appliances for that purpose, but according to the Government that is a mere extravagance and he is not supposed to need to play bowls. I agree with Senator Laught’s suggestion that facilities for the treatment pf ex-servicemen should bo decentralized, because I fully realize the difficulty under which exservicemen labour when they have to travel long distances to receive treatment.
I now wish to speak on behalf of ex-servicemen who are inmates of mental asylums. I suggest that these men should be brought back to repatriation hospitals, if only for the reason that they would then be among their fellow ex-servicemen, and would probably derive a profound psychological benefit from that. Another aspect of this matter is that in South Australia, and no doubt in the other States also, State laws empower the Public Trustee to take over the affairs of ex-servicemen in mental hospitals. That is wrong, and I suggest that the Minister for Repatriation, or his advisers, should try to devise a method whereby the National Parliament could assume responsibility in respect of the affairs of ex-servicemen, irrespective of the institution in which they may reside.
I have had many letters from mothers, sisters and wives of ex-servicemen in mental hospitals and I suggest that their affairs, including their pensions, should not be taken over by State authorities. Of course, I know how difficult it is to treat such patients, and I. know that it is necessary for the States to have laws about mental defectives, but in ordinary decency this Government should assume full responsibility for the affairs of such men. Perhaps the Government could institute an inquiry into the matter. I am quite convinced that unless the amendments that have been moved by the Leafier of the Opposition are carried, particularly the amendment with regard to the onus of proof, there is little or no hope for any ex-serviceman who is in need at present, but who is not yet receiving assistance. I also indicate my disapproval of the’ treatment meted out to some ex-servicemen, treatment that would never be tolerated by the generous Australian people if they were fully aware of it. I appeal to every Government supporter to assist the Opposition in helping the ex-servicemen, and to support the amendments of the Leader of the Opposition.
– I do not propose to cover the ground that has already been well covered by honorable senators, but I do wish to direct attention to the difference between the standard of debate to-day, when the proceedings of the Senate are not being broadcast, and the standard yesterday when we were on the air. I say without equivocation that yesterday the debate sank to a very low level, because both sides were playing party politics and bidding for the vote of ex-servicemen pensioners. There were undoubtedly faults on both sides, because yesterday both sides played the same game. To-day, the speeches from both sides of the chamber have been of a constructive character, and I must say that I agree with many of the remarks of Senator Critchley and Senator Hendrickson. Of course, they are fully entitled to criticize the Government whenever they consider it is necessary. That is their function.
– The honorable senator is getting awfully pious.
– That is not so. I merely have strong ideas on this subject. Speaking of party politics and vote buying, the first thing I desire to mention is the amendment moved yesterday by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna). The amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition states - . . Having regard to the sustained and continuous decline in the value of Australian currency . . .
It starts off with the good old attack on the Government which the Opposition has been carrying on since 1949. For the purpose of seeking votes, honorable senators opposite allege a decrease in the valuation of the £1. Further, honorable senators opposite spoke about conditions in 194’.), and when they evoked severe criticism from this side they indulged in interjections. Afterwards, one honorable senator opposite even went back to 1941 and put forward all sorts of arguments. As I have already said, that sort of thing is to be deplored.
Surely, the Senate can accept a common policy towards soldiers and pensioners. Any man who has suffered injury as a result of war service is entitled to the greatest consideration. I am quite certain that is the attitude of every honorable senator. Honorable senators opposite have their idea of the way certain things should be done, and we on this side have our ideas ; but we should agree to differ and strive to make it possible for these men and their families to live in comfort. Considerable improvement has been made in this respect over the years. I admit, as Senator Critchley pointed out, that the Labour Government in its turn did certain things just as we in our turn did certain things; and,- undoubtedly, the next Parliament, whether we or honorable senators opposite occupy the treasury bench, will continue along those lines. I feel that the conditions of the returned soldiers will undoubtedly be improved as time goes on. At the present moment, generally speaking, there is much satisfaction among the pensioners. The majority of them are well and truly satisfied. We move among them and hear them talking, and so we can get a general idea of the true position. My impression is that they are much happier to-day than they were a few years ago. There is not the slightest doubt about that.
However, certain anomalies still exist and these must be cleared up. That will always be the case because when one anomaly is cleared up it probably causes another and that, in its turn, has to be cleared up. These things are being done, and it is acknowledged by the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia that their members are far happier now. They fight for their rights, of course, and they will continue to do so. Long may they fight, and hard may they fight, no matter which Government is in power, to bring pressure on the Government to rectify existing anomalies as quickly as possible. That is their job. We, too, have a job to do; but we should not let the debate sink to a low level.
Senator Ashley said that we should give these people justice, that justice was all they wanted’. Generally speaking, the Repatriation Department and the system it has set up gives the pensioner justice. At the same time, however, the department and its instrumentalities are bound to adhere to the provisions of the law as it stands at the moment. If we are not satisfied with what is being done, we must amend the law. It is open to honorable senators opposite to propose alterations of the act. In fact, the Leader of the Opposition has already moved an amendment and has foreshadowed other amendments. There may be merit in them, and I feel sure they will be examined very carefully.
There has been a lot of criticism of the onus-of-proof provision. We should remember that Australia is one of the few countries where, by law, the onus of proof in these matters is cast upon the State. I can speak from experience in the British and Indian armies where the onus of proof has been and, I think, still is cast on the man. He has to come forward and prove that his disability is due to his service. Here, in Australia the procedure is the reverse. I think that that is very good. What happens? I, or Senator Hendrickson as a returned soldier, may have a disability. No one can say whether it arose from war service. What can we do about it? If I were to become ill to-morrow, what could I do? I could approach the Repatriation Board and say, “ Look, I am feeling ill, and I think that my disability has been caused through service “. That at once puts the onus on the Repatriation Department of proving that my illness was not attributable to war service. If I am not satisfied with the decision of the board, I can appeal to the commission, and, subsequently, to a higher tribunal. There are three completely independent courts to which I can appeal, and each of them has to establish the fact that my illness is not due to service. I cannot help feeling that these tribunals, composed as they are of three ex-servicemen - the members of them must be returned “ diggers “ - by reason of their very constitution must have a sympathetic feeling towards me. I am quite certain of that. I feel that generally speaking the returned “ digger “ in this country gets a very fair deal.
Most of us have the experience of fellows coming up to us with complaints, asking us to help them. There is not a member of the Parliament who is a returned soldier, who has not had literally hundreds of approaches of this kind. If we cast our minds back I am sure we will agree that most of these fellows who have come to us have had a very good run. I, myself, have received most sympathetic hearings from the Repatriation Department. There is not the slightest doubt about that. The Repatriation Department and members of these boards will always listen to “ diggers “. There are cases when a “ digger “ has appealed and then has come back to me and said, “ My appeal has been turned down by the board, but I think I will have another crack and appeal again “. They have frequently used the typical Australian expression, “ I will give it a go “. And they “ give it a go “ in the good old Australian way because they think they have a chance. My reply has been, “ Yes, Jim, I agree with you. Give it a go “. That sort of thing, probably, accounts for the large number of appeals to which the Leader of the Opposition referred and which Senator Laught proved were not as numerous as is imagined.
– Nowhere near it.
– Then we come to the benefit of the doubt provision. Both the Leader of the Opposition and Senator Sandford said that whenever there is an element of doubt the benefit must be given to the man. That is quite right in many ways. But what is an element of doubt ? An element of doubt often arises when two medical opinions are given. One may be that the disability is due to war service and the other, that’ of an equally eminent medical man, that it is not. Merely because two medical opinions may differ, must a man automatically be given the benefit of the doubt ? I do not think that is what is meant at all. The board has to sift the evidence. It is acting as a judge, and if it has medical evidence from A and B it must sift that evidence and come to a decision. If, after doing that, there is a doubt left in the minds of the members of the board, the benefit of that doubt has to be given to the appellant.
It was never intended that, merely because two medical reports differ, an appellant should automatically receive a pension. Senator McKenna suggests that there should be an extra court of appeal, such as a State supreme court or the High Court of Australia. That suggestion has many good features, but surely the tribunal should be able to decide an issue without involving the expense and delay of going to the higher court.
A great deal has been said about returned soldiers suffering from cancer, and about differences of medical opinion regarding them. This is a difficult matter. -Cancer is a disease that develops quickly, and the general opinion in regard to returned soldier sufferers is that it might not be attributable in all cases to war service. On the other hand, a school of medical thought holds that we have cancer elements in our blood, bones and flesh from the day of our birth. That proposition is open to debate. To a large extent, the same reasoning could apply to returned soldiers suffering from tuberculosis. This disease is dealt with under the Social Services scheme, and not by the Repatriation Department. An exserviceman suffering from tuberculosis can be treated in hospital, irrespective of whether it was contracted during war service or afterwards. In Tasmania, compulsory examinations of adults are conducted for tuberculosis, and if a case is discovered the sufferer is entitled to free hospital treatment, and to receive a living allowance. Tuberculosis does not come within the scope of repatriation and, in my opinion, cancer should be regarded as being in the same category.
A current problem is that of the old digger who served in “World “War I., and who is now advanced in years. Few of the servicemen of that war are now younger than 60 years. The fact that he is old indicates various difficulties. I do not consider that this problem is one particularly for the Repatriation Department. I am an old World War I. “ digger “ over 60, and if I become ill there is every reason to believe that my sickness would not be necessarily due to my war service. Since I left the Australian Infantry Forces 38 years ago, I have enjoyed good health. But if I were to become ill suddenly and had no money or home, and if I were a bachelor with no one to look after me, I would be a problem for the State and not a responsibility of the Repatriation Department. These cases should be given generous help and treatment beyond that accorded to the ordinary aged person who did not serve his country in war. The State owes a duty to them, and I hope that the Minister will give some consideration to this matter.
– Should these old “ diggers “ be given a special pension ?
– Are not the State governments giving them a pension now i
– This is not a matter to be passed on to the State governments. The Federal Government is responsible for the armed services, and it should provide the pensions for exservicemen. That responsibility should not be passed on to any State. I have already dealt with the criticism of the repatriation tribunals, and I say again that they are doing an extremely good job. Many cases have been mentioned by honorable senators opposite, but I agree with Senator Laught that this chamber is not the place in which to discuss individual cases. It would be far better to go directly to the Minister.
– But he gives only sympathy. He is no practical help to the soldier.
– If Senator Ashley were to talk to the Minister privately he would find, as I have found, that the Minister would give him all the help he sought. I am confident that the tribunals are also willing to give all the help possible. Like Senator Critchley, I could refer to unusual cases. We have been told that the tribunals treat some appellants harshly, but the fact is that they are most generous. I know of an ex-serviceman whose eyesight was impaired. He did not know whether the cause was war service, but he appealed to the board, and as a result was sent to the repatriation hospital for treatment. The doctors there informed him that his eyesight was bad, and that it was caused by his war service. He had been an orderly-room clerk working under bad light, he had not obtained spectacles and his eyesight was affected. They advised him to appear before the tribunal, and the tribunal, after hearing the evidence, found that he was entitled to a pension and he was given one. He had not asked for nor did he want one. That case illustrates another side of the tribunals. They treat soldiers with compassion and fairness.
– Few of them do.
– Abnormal cases, which are given great publicity, are few and far between. At least 90 per cent, receive kindly treatment, and the tribunals deserve credit. Exservicemen are well looked after in repatriation hospitals, and if they were to be asked their opinion of the department and the hospital treatment, they would almost unanimously agree that they had been well treated. I have paid my tribute to the Repatriation Department, and I wish to add a word of appreciation to the Minister. I am supported in this by the president of the Western Australian branch of the War Widows Guild. In a report on the last federal conference of that organization, she wrote -
One afternoon the Minister for Repatriation, Senator Cooper paid us a visit and addressed the meeting, after which an informal discussion took place and we went through our Resolutions we had passed with him. He was most sympathetic to our problems and tho,ugh he could not make any definite promises he assured us that the Resolutions would receive his most careful consideration. Senator Cooper has been a most outstanding Minister for Repatriation. Certainly, war widows have never before had one-tenth of the consideration from any other Minister, but to us his most exceptional characteristic is his approachability and his willingness to lend an ear to our representations. “ Long may he be the Minister “ should be the cry of every war widow.
That is typical of the Administration. I support the bill.
– The amendment which has been moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) reads -
That all words after “That” be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “having regard to the sustained and continuous decline in the value of Australian money, the bill be redrafted to provide substantially greater benefits for exservice personnel and their dependants with effect as from 1st July, 1955 “.
That amendment commends itself to me because the question which has to be settled is how we can guarantee the purchasing power of the pension. Never at any time has this Government attempted to do anything to guarantee that the war pension shall have a constant purchasing power. Instead, the Government has left that very important matter to the leading monopolists of Australia; they have been allowed to fix prices quite independently of any governmental control. Therefore it can be said that the secondreading speech of the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) in introducing the bill amounted to a gross misrepresentation of the position. No real increase of the pension will be given. All that will be done will be. to make up a deficiency, not to grant any increase. Even when that deficiency is made up, it will not be long before prices will again be increased, and the ex-service men and women will again be thrown to the wolves - those who control the productive and financial resources of this country. For all practical purposes the Government is simply a managing political committee for the leading monopolists who, as I have said, are in control of this country’s finances and production. I repeat that when this matter is considered in all its aspects the really important question that evolves is how we can guarantee that ex-service men and women shall retain the purchasing power of their pensions. That matter has been entirely and deliberately ignored by the Government. The economy of this country is controlled by the owners of capital. They operate the principle of maximum production and profits for the owners of capital, and minimum consumption by the non-owners of capital. In other words, the nonowners of capital are entirely at the mercy of the owners of capital. The position has gone from bad to worse since this Government has been in office. I remember well when the basic wage was being discussed by this Parliament in 1919, and a royal commission was appointed to inquire into the purchasing value of the basic wage. That committee met over a considerable period and in due course it submitted its recommendations, but they were immediately repudiated by the government of the day. Since then, this Government has continued to act in the interests of those who control the productive and financial resources of Australia. In the light of those facts, what benefits can ex-service men and women expect to gain, beyond those which the monopolists who control the value of their pensions are prepared to allow them? The position would be different if ex-service men and women were in a position to take strike action to gain justice. In that event, to the extent that strike action was effective those responsible for using it would receive consideration. I have said before in this Senate that all things yield to pressure, and that where there is no pressure there are no worthwhile results. That has been the unfortunate experience of men and women who, in the prime of their lives, made sacrifices for this country, but now are left to the wolves. That is nothing new in this history of war, but it shows that there is no respect for human personality as such. The average worker is regarded merely as a unit of labour power, and members of the fighting forces are treated in the same ‘way. So long as they are vigorous, and can stand up to the work demanded of them, they are all right, but if they survive the battle> and return home no longer fit to take an active part, either in the fighting forces or in the country’s civilian work forces, they are left to receive the few crumbs that the owners of production and of the country’s financial resources are prepared to allow them. Such action has the blessing of the Government. I say that because, so far, the Government has made no effort to protect them. And so I repeat that, in my opinion, the most important aspect of this question is how we can guarantee to maintain the purchasing power of the pension.
I shall offer a few observations as to how that can be done. It could be done by the Government controlling the banking institutions of this country to a far greater degree than it is prepared to do. It could be done by guaranteeing a commodity pension, as distinct from a monetary pension. Just as in the armed forces a man is entitled to rations, clothes, housing and medical service, so ex-service men and women could be guaranteed a commodity pension. Should sickness overtake them, they should be treated as they were treated when on active service. Under such conditions, the mere fact that a man or woman was ill was sufficient to bring a medical officer to his side, and to do his best. Pensioners could be protected in that way. They could be protected in civilian life in the same way as they were protected when they were members of the Military Forces. They could be guaranteed adequate housing, food and clothing, together with free medical attention and certain amenities. Those things are provided for men who are in the Army, while they are useful and while they are profitable for the people who take army contracts. After a war is over and they return to civilian life, and they are physically weaker, the process goes into reverse. No government worthy of the name can justify that process, and the worst that can be said of a government that allows such a process to continue is, in my opinion, justified.
I now wish to direct attention to the position of the ex-serviceman who owns his own home and receives a small pension. His wife may be receiving the age pension, and between them they have barely enough to keep going. The municipal authorities are continually increasing their rates, and so reducing the purchasing power of the pensions. Municipal councils construct roads at high costs, and they are prepared, and even threaten, to sell the homes of exservicemen who are unable to pay the rates which are levied to cover the cost of construction of these new roads. Such cases have been brought to my notice, and I have submitted them to the State governments and to all the relevant authorities. Although these ex-servicemen have been threatened and bullied by town clerks, they have no protection at law. Their fate depends on the particular municipal council. The councils are just as much affected financially by the inflation of the currency as any one else, and they keep on increasing their rates in terms of the inflated currency. In those circumstances the position of ex-servicemen who own their own homes becomes more and more deperate. If they sell their homes they have no chance of buying a new one under present conditions. So they are caught coming and going, but nothing is done to relieve their burden. It has been reported to me that the Government of New South Wales has taken certain action in that connexion, but I am not in a position to say whether it has been effective or not. So far as I know, nothing has been done in Victoria. No case has ever come to my notice in that State.
When the last speaker accused members on this side of trying to make political capital out of the position of exservicemen, such is not the case. We are duty bound to expose the way in which these unfortunate men and women are robbed because they receive no protection from the Government. If we did not do so we would not be worthy of the positions that we now occupy. I have directed attention on many occasions to the reduced purchasing power of the pension. Has the Government any policy to relieve a situation which is obviously going from bad to woree? I have not heard one honorable senator on the Government side make any suggestions for dealing with the situation. When the Prime Minister and the Treasurer speak in vague generalities on this matter, it suggests to me that they are either afraid to take the necessary action, or they do not know what to do. Either one of those two alternatives is correct, and perhaps a little of both.
The matter of the onus of proof has been very well covered by other speakers on this side of the chamber. Those speakers have directed attention to existing anomalies. I do not propose to repeat what they have said, but I suggest that when the Minister claims that the Government has done, or proposes to do, so much for the ex-servicemen, he should ask himself whether he really believes what he has said.
– in reply - I would like to express my thanks to honorable senators on both sides of the chamber for the way in which they have accepted this bill. They have made some helpful comments and criticism. I also take this opportunity of thanking themfor their favorable comments regarding my personal administration of the Repatriation Department. If I have managed to do a good job as Minister, I can only say that it has been with the help and co-operation of the members of my department. I refer not only to my. own personal staff and the staff at beadquarters, but to those many thousands who are employed in the branch offices and the hospitals, who are doing an excellent job. I feel that they, like myself, are interested in the work, and that they give of their best in helping in the care and welfare and rehabilitation of exservicemen who, in many cases, are their former comrades. I appreciate the work they have done and the co-operation I have received from them during the period in which I have had the honour to be the head of the department and the Minister representing them in this Parliament.
There has been quite a lot of discussion on this bill. It seemed to me that it has been divided, more or less, into two parts. The first part was concerned with the benefits that will be derived from this bill, and the second part dealt with the form of appeal and the method of application of those seeking benefits under the Repatriation Act. I admit that the benefits that have been granted may not seem sufficient. However, in many cases I do not think that we could provide sufficient money to compensate a man who was severely disabled in his youth, because we are not to know the heights to which he might have risen in business or a profession had he not been incapacitated. We can give him, though, what we think is a reasonable amount and one which the country can afford. After all, when we join the forces we take the risk of being incapacitated, and I think that the majority of servicemen accept that position.
In this bill, we are taking the greatest step forward, since I have been Minister for Repatriation, towards providing for people who are severely incapacitated. We have been able to do that by combining the civil pension with the war pension. When all is said and done, the exserviceman is just as much entitled to a civil pension as is the civilian. We take the view that whatever sum an incapacitated ex-serviceman receives by way of compensation is the equivalent of the civilian’s superannuation or income from other sources. I have always maintained that the ex-serviceman should be entitled to treat his pension as “ other income “. In future, he will be able to do so and also to receive the benefit of the civilian pension to which he contributed during the period he was able to work. This provision will help considerably those whom the majority of honorable senators on both sides of the chamber have shown by their speeches they desire to help.
Let us consider the 1914-18 men who are, shall we say, in the eventide of their lives. This provision will be of great help to many of those men, because they will have the benefit of part social services pension and part war pension. In addition, it will be of great assistance to the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman. I do not think that some honorable senators on both sides of the chamber appreciate just how far this benefit will go. The age of the exserviceman, in this respect, will not matter; whether he is 30 years, 40 years, or older, provided that he is totally and permanently incapacitated and eligible for the special rate pension, he will be entitled, subject to the means test, to receive the full amount of war pension and social services pension, which will mean that he and his wife may receive £15 a week. An ex-serviceman who is under 60 years of age will be able to obtain a service pension if he is unemployable. If his wife is under 60 years of age and not entitled to the age pension, she will be able to draw a service pension also, which will bring their income to £15 a week.
Virtually, that provision means that the lowest income that a totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman, who is on the special rate, and his wife will receive will be £15 a week. Nobody in that group will have an income of less than that amount. In addition, they will be entitled to allowances for their children, such as education allowances, and attendant’s allowance if an attendant is provided, as well as recreational transport allowance if they are entitled to recreational transport.
In regard to the single man, whose position the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) and other honorable senators mentioned, it is true that he will be on a lower rate, his pension being £9 15s. a week. However, if he is severely incapacitated and requires an attendant, he will get one and be paid an additional £2 15s. a week, which will bring his pension to £12 10s. a week. The Leader of the Opposition referred to the case of a severly incapacitated man who had lost both arms. In such a ease, the exserviceman would get £9 15s. a week, plus £3 15s. as attendant’s allowance, and £1 5s. as recreational transport allowance, making a total of £14 153. a week. It is true that that is not an enormous sum, compared with what that man may have earned had he not been incapacitated, but we are at least giving him an amount that will keep him in reasonable comfort, and by combining the two pensions we are giving the married couple some security while they live. They appreciate that if they become ill they are entitled to go into hospital and get the best of treatment, and that their pensions will go on while they are in hospital. That income, incidentally, is entirely free of income tax. I am sure honorable senators will agree that, in this way, the Government has done something to relieve those people of the fear of poverty and want.
Reference has been made this afternoon to the aged “ digger “ on a small pension, such as a 40 per cent, rate pension, and about whom we are all concerned. When this legislation becomes law, the man on a 40 per cent, rate pension, who is over 60 years of age and entitled to a service pension, and whose wife ais© is over 60 and entitled to a social services pension, will receive £10 12s. 2d. a week. He will get £1 18s. a week war pension, and his wife will get 14s. 2d. a week war pension. The two of them will get the full age pension of £8 a week. That group, therefore, also will be considerably relieved of the fear of poverty. Of those on the 50 per cent, rate pension, there will be quite a few whose wives will be under 60, and, therefore, not eligible for the age pension.
In such a case, the husband on a 50 per cent, pension will get £2 7s. 6d. and the wife 17s. 9d. The service pension would amount to £4 and the wife of a service pensioner, would receive £1 15s. That would give them a total of £9 0s. 3d. a week. If they have two children under sixteen years, they would receive 13s. 9d. for one and 14s. for the other. “With child endowment, they would receive a total weekly income from those sources of £11 3s. I know that some honorable senators have suggested that child endowment should not be taken into consideration, but I mention it to show the total income that a family may receive.
In many cases, a pensioner is entitled to a service pension because, he is permanently unemployable. In such a case, if both the man and his wife are under 60 years of age, as they would be, they would, be able to get a pension of £9 0s. 3d. a week. Honorable senators should realize, therefore, that the lifting of the ceiling rate goes a long way to help a wide variety of pensioners. Even on the lower pension rate, they will get considerably more than they were able to receive before the ceiling was lifted. For a number of years, I have believed that this was one way in which we could get over the problem associated with age qualifications. In New Zealand, what is termed an economic pension is granted, but pensioners have to go through a close examination of their cases before they can get it, and the rate is not as high as the Australian war pension rate plus supplementary amounts.
– On what principle is it based?
– It is based on the age and the disability of the man concorned. The basis is somewhat similar to our means test, but the economic pension is purely a military pension. Similar provision is made in Great Britain, but 1 believe that our practice has worked out very well for the individual pensioners.
The Leader of the Opposition in the Senate referred to a letter which he had received from the Commonwealth Council of Totally and Permanently Disabled Soldiers Associations. He said that the letter was written in January or February last. Therefore, it preceded the. amendments to the Repatriation Act which are now proposed. On the 19th September, I received the following telegram signed by the federal president of the organization I have mentioned, Mr. R. Win gate, and the honorary federal secretary, Mr. F. Storer–
Express thanks to Cabinet and ex-service committee, especially yourself, on lifting ceiling rate. Consequential benefits to many will be greatly appreciated.
That telegram indicates that the organization of totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen is very happy about what has been done for its members.
– They are thankful for small mercies.
– It is very nice at times to get some recognition. Senator Sandford referred to entitlement tribunals. He said that some of them were giving adverse decisions againt appellants in order to save public money.
– I said that they appeared to be doing so.
– If that is Senator Sandford’s opinion, he has drawn the wrong inference, I am sure of that from my experience with the Repatriation Board, the Repatriation Commission and the tribunals generally. The tribunals are independent bodies, and they have done very good work. When a man makes an application, he makes the first approach to the Repatriation Board. The board in each State consists of three members, all of whom are returned exservicemen. The chairman is appointed by the Repatriation Department. One member is appointed by a servicemen’s organization and the other is appointed from an outside body. In some cases, the member is a representative of the Returned
Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia or other exservicemen’s association. The Minister for Air (Mr. Townley) was formerly a member of the Repatriation Board in Tasmania, and did very good work.
If a repatriation board rejects an application, the applicant can appeal to the Repatriation Commission. The present chairman of the Repatriation Commission is Major-General G. F. Wootten, who is a returned ex-serviceman from two world wars. Mr. H. G- Roy, the deputy chairman, is a returned soldier. The other member of the commission is Mr. E. V. Raymont, who was formerly federal secretary of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia. He was appointed from a panel of names submitted by that organization. The member appointed by an exservicemen’s organization holds office for only five years. At the end of his term of office, he has to go back to his organization for re-appointment. I cannot reappoint him. Either he, or some other man, must be appointed by the exservicemens organization, so that there is some hold over him to ensure that he will do good work for the organization which appointed him.
If the Repatriation Commission does not uphold the appellant’s case, he can appeal to a war pensions entitlement appeal tribunal. Each tribunal has three members, all of whom are returned exservicemen. The chairman must be a barrister or a solicitor of the High Court or of the Supreme Court of a State. One member is appointed by an exservicemen’s organization, and the other by the Governor-General on the recommendation of the Minister for Repatriation. That is the set-up of the war pensions entitlement appeal tribunals. In the case of the assessment appeal tribunals, the position from the ex-serviceman’s point of view is better still. The personnel of each tribunal consists of a chairman and two medical members. The doctors are selected from lists of medical practitioners, having regard to the nature of the incapacity in the case or cases under consideration. But the chairman is nominated by an ex-servicemen’s association. Therefore, the ex-servicemen’s organizations have complete control of the assessment appeal tribunals. The chairmen of those tribunals are appointed for five years, and since I have been Minister for Repatriation only one chairman has left his position, and he retired because he attained the age of 65 years. However, there are three chairmen of entitlement appeal tribunals who have graduated to their present positions from being chairmen of assessment appeal tribunals.
We have been discussing the entitlement appeal tribunals here, and they are the bodies which decide whether they will accept ex-servicemen’s disabilities for repatriation purposes. Assessment appeal tribunals are merely for the purpose of assessing pension rates. If the Repatriation Board decides that a pension rate should be 40 per cent., the man involved may appeal to an assessment appeal tribunal and not go before the Repatriation Commission at all. However, an ex-serviceman can appeal to the commission and, if dissatisfied, he can then appeal to an entitlement appeal tribunal. Every claimant who appears before an entitlement appeal tribunal is entitled to an advocate - not a member of the legal profession because the exservicemen’s organizations decided that they did not want to be involved in legal technicalities - but an advocate supplied by the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, other ex-servicemen’s organizations, the Legal Services Bureau or the Repatriation Department. In many instances, the department has supplied an advocate who has done a very good job for the ex-serviceman. In fact, the advocates made available by the department take a pride in winning the cases in which they appear.
It is open to the Repatriation Commission to have a representative appear before the entitlement appeal tribunal, but to the present time it has not availed itself of that opportunity, because we do not want to influence the tribunals in any way. It has been said that the tribunals give applicants no reason why their appeals are dismissed. I desire to point out that the Repatriation Commission sends to the chairman of the tribunal a summary of the evidence on which the commission has found against the claimant. The commission also sends on all the files on the case. A copy of that summary is handed to the appellant’s advocate, who then knows exactly why the commission has disallowed the claim. The advocates take that summary along to medical specialists, and get their advice on how to handle medical evidence that they wish to put before the tribunals. After the tribunal has accepted or dismissed a claim the advocate knows, because the matter has been decided largely on the summary, the reason for the verdict, and may inform the claimant. Therefore, it is quite wrong to say that a man who appears before a tribunal, and has his application disallowed, does not know the reasons for that action. The advocate gets the summary a week or a fortnight before the case comes on, and if he has not sufficient time to prepare his evidence, he may have the hearing deferred.
After a case has been disallowed by a tribunal, the appellant can obtain fresh evidence at any time and re-submit his case for further hearing by the tribunal. The tribunal then sends that evidence to the commission, which may re-hear the case itself, and the exserviceman’s disability may be accepted for repatriation purposes. If the commission again refuses to accept the disability, the fresh evidence may be placed before an entitlement appeal tribunal, which will hear the appeal again.
– Ex-servicemen would have to live to a great age to go through all that procedure.
– That might be said, of course, but the Repatriation Commission does not hold the matter up. An ex-serviceman can bring fresh evidence forward at any time. If new discoveries in medicine or science have a bearing upon his entitlement, he can put fresh evidence before the commission. Australia is the only country in the world in which that procedure may be followed, and in Great Britain, for example, once a man’s claim has been refused he has no redress.
Both Senator Sandford and Senator Hendrickson have spoken of the position of ex-servicemen of World War I. Those men are at a disadvantage, because it is about 40 years since they completed their war service, and their medical history sheets, which constitute the main evidence in any repatriation case, probably show that at the time of their service they were not suffering from any ailment at all. Now they are suffering from disabilities that come about through age. We are at present getting a much bigger percentage of ex-servicemen who have developed ailments that come with age. If such a man approaches a tribunal, and the evidence is that his disability is caused by age, he will not be accepted for repatriation benefits. According to the act a man cannot be treated unless his illness is accepted as a war disability. As far as I know disabilities arising from service in the 1914-18 war are not now accepted for repatriation compensation in any country except Australia. In the United Kingdom the acceptance of World War I. cases was completely wiped out before World War II. commenced. Consequently, the United Kingdom does not deal with the great number of claims by older soldiers that we deal with in this country. We still accept applicatons lodged in respect of disabilities arising from the 1914-18 war, and quite a number of such cases are coming through. That shows that repatriation in this country is on a far more generous basis than in other countries.
We could argue for a month about the onus-of-proof and benefit-of-the-doubt provisions, but I do not propose to do so. Briefly, the benefit-of-the-doubt provisions refers to a doubt on the part of the determining authority whether it be a board, the commission or a tribunal. It must be a doubt that the authority has, and not a doubt in a doctor’s mind. The act provides that it shall not be necessary for the claimant, applicant or appellant to furnish proof in support of his claim, application or appeal ; but the commission, board, appeal tribunal or assessment appeal tribunal determining or deciding the claim, application or appeal shall be entitled to draw, and shall draw, from all the circumstances of the case, from the evidence furnished and from medical opinions, all reasonable inferences in favour of the claimant, applicant or appellant. The act says, “ All reasonable inferences “ It has to be a reasonable doubt. A returned soldier may say, “ I was gassed in World War I. and now at this stage I have developed bronchitis, and I claim it is because of being gassed 40 years ago “. That statement of the soldier must be accepted in order to be investigated. I think that is what the Parliament intended by section 47 of the act. If the Parliament did not mean that, there would be no need for any tribunal, commission or board. All a man would have to do would be to say, “ I was at such and such a place and I got such and such a disability, and I am claiming a pension “. But Parliament did not intend that that should end the matter. I am convinced in my own mind that the boards, the commission and the tribunals have, right throughout, taken that view of the onus of proof and benefit of the doubt provisions.
I thank Senator Laught for his very sound suggestion in regard to the costs incurred by repatriation hospitals when working in co-operation with the States. A comparison has been made between repatriation hospitals and State hospitals, and the department has set up a specialized costing account staff which is doing that type of work. Up to the present the investigation has revealed that the department hospitals compare very favorably with State hospitals. The Public Service Board has given authority for the specialized cost accounting staff, and that staff has done a good job of work. The other matters that were mentioned in the report of the Public Accounts Committee will take some time to put into operation, but the department is working on them and we shall gradually put into operation the suggestions that we consider to be well worth while.
Senator Critchley referred to cases of lunacy, and said he was concerned about the payments made in respect of these unfortunate persons. The position is that when a pension is paid in respect of a person afflicted with lunacy the cost of the necessary maintenance and treatment in an institution is paid by the Commonwealth, and is not deducted either by the public trustee or any other person or authority from his pension. The pension payable to a wife or child of such a pensioner is not in any circumstances paid to the public trustee, but is a pension they receive in their own right. The wife’s pension is paid to her and the child’s pension is paid to its guardian as trustee for it, the guardian being in most cases its mother. In the case of an unmarried pensioner, section 49 of the act provides that the commission may retain the pension of such a member and administer it on his behalf ; and in every case where an unmarried pensioner is in a mental institution and is receiving a war pension for that incapacity the department retains his pension and administers it in his interests. Any surplus above what can be used for such personal comforts as he can appreciate is invested in approved trustee securities. I know that is done because I have come across a number of cases of pensioners who have been in mental institutions for a great many years and who have a very large trustee account. I think I introduced an amendment a few years ago to provide for the winding up of some of those accounts.
Senator Wordsworth mentioned cases of pulmonary tuberculosis. This is a matter in which the ex-servicemen are treated by theRepatriation Department, whether the disease is due to war service or not. If it is attributable to war service, a war pension is granted. If it is not, a service pension is granted. In either case, theRepatriation Department provides the necessary treatment.
I have dealt with most of the matters raised, and again I express my appreciation of the way in which honorable senators have dealt with the bill.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be left out (Senator McKenna’s amendment) be left out.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator the Hon. A. M. McMullin.)
Majority . . . . 8
Question so resolved in the negative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– On behalf of the Opposition, I have already circulated to the Senate a series of amendments to the bill. I trust that honorable senators have had an opportunity to examine them. By perusing the note to the amendments they will find that the three proposed amendments would, if accepted, be inserted in the bill immediately after clause 3.For that reason I have grouped them, and they can be debated together. With your concurrence, Mr. Chairman, I propose to make a brief speech covering the purpose of all three amendments, and then ask the committee to vote on each amendment separately.
I express my thanks to the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) for making available to me Mr. Daffy, of his staff, and to the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) for allowing Mr. Quayle, of the Parliamentary Draftsman’s staff, to assist me. I have appreciated their help in drafting amendments to the bill which, as honorable senators will all agree, is of a highly technical nature and calls for skilled treatment.
The three proposed new clauses read - 3a. After section twenty-four of the Principal Act the following section is inserted: - “24aa. Where a member of the Forces has been granted a discharge on the ground of medical unfitness and that unfitness did not arise -
Act the following section is inserted: - “47a. - (1.) Where a claimant, applicant or appellant under this Act considers -
In the light of the discussion that took place in the Senate, I suggest that it is not necessary for me, at this stage at least, to elaborate the argument in favour of the amendments. I shall comment upon each of them briefly.
The effect of the first amendment is that if a man enlisted in the forces, complied with the requirements of the act as a “ member of the forces “, and then is invalided out with a discharge in terms that he is medically unfit for further service, not due to his own misconduct, surely that establishes liability for pension. I am speaking of entitlement to a pension as completely divorced from the assessment of a pension. I fail to see what force there could be in an argument that if a man went into the armed forces physically fit, and is discharged medically unfit not due to his own misconduct, that bare fact alone should not constitute entitlement. That is what the amendment seeks to provide. It still leaves the question of assessment open to determination. If, in the course af time, either immediately or later, it transpires that the disability that caused his discharge is slight or negligible, he would be assessed at a small pension, or at no pension at all. I emphasize that only entitlement is sought by the amendment. Of course, the broad principles of the act will apply, because the committee will notice in the last paragraph, where liability is thrown on the Commonwealth, that the words “ subject to this Act “ are included. Those words have - considerable import. The amendment provides that, in the circumstances I have mentioned, “ the Commonwealth shall, subject to this Act, be liable to pay to the member or his dependants, or both, as the case may be, pension in accordance with this Division “. A simple proposition is involved: Do we, or do we not, think that a man who was discharged as medically unfit, his discharge not being due to his own misconduct, should by that very fact have his entitlement established ?
– The honorable senator has taken ft long time to wake up to this idea.
– Is that relevant? I had hoped that points such as ; that raised by the Attorney-General would have been avoided, but if it will please the Minister, I am prepared to say that this is something that ought to have been thought of by every one before now. But does that advance the matter any further? We should look at the proposition on its merits, and not be concerned about whose fault it was that nothing was done earlier - whether the fault was that of the present Government, or of its predecessors. That matter is not in issue.
The proposal contained in proposed new section 3b is a simple one. If we refer to section 39 of the principal act, we shall find that child pensions cease at the age of sixteen years. In sub-section (4.) of section 39 there is a provision which confers on the commission a discretion - the word “ may “ is used - to continue a pension beyond sixteen years, or its termination, if the child is unable to earn income. That is a matter for the commission to decide. If, in the opinion of the commission, the child cannot earn income, the commission may direct that the pension be continued.
Sub-section (5.) of section 39 provides that an application for continuance must be made within twelve months of the termination of a pension. Surely I do not have to argue that a pensionable child whose pension normally terminates at 16 years of age, but is unable to earn a living, should, as a matter of right, be entitled to have his pension continued. I shall put to the committee an actual case that I have on my files, and which illustrates the position perfectly. I do not want to make the name of the child known to the public, but I have no objection to any honorable senator perusing the file. Those who may do so will find that the case relates to the children of a man who died after he had been a pensioner for a long period. He left a wife and two children. One of the children received an invalid pension, and the other was unable to work. Both of them were handicapped. The pension had been cancelled some years earlier, while the man was living and earning income. No application was made within twelve months of cancellation for a continuance of the child’s pension. When application was. made, the Repatriation Commission drew attention to the fact that it could do nothing in the matter because the act was mandatory that the application must be made within twelve months. One can understand circumstances in which matters may be allowed to drift when the father is alive and earning income, and one child receives an invalid pension, but it becomes more important in view of the fact that, under this legislation, both civil and war pensions may, in future, be drawn simultaneously to their full value, and without any ceiling limit being imposed. It, therefore, becomes important to war dependants that they should get a war pension in addition to a civil pension, such as an invalid pension. I pose this simple question: That if there are children under sixteen years of age, who formerly were war pensioners and are unable to work, and at any time thereafter, upon the occurrence of events which they think justify them in applying for a continuation of their pension they do in fact apply for its continuation it should be mandatory on the commission to grant the pension, and should not be discretionary.
I pass now to the amendment relating to the onus of proof, which is dealt with in proposed new clause 3c. I shall put the view of the Opposition. I shall not put it any stronger than that the Opposition has grave doubt whether the provisions of section 47 of the act are understood, or observed. Perhaps they are not being observed because they are not understood. It seems that a crusty practice has grown up in the Repatriation Commission and the bodies associated with it, and we believe that there should be no objection to the proposal contained in the Opposition’s amendment. We believe that a judge of a very superior court, either the High Court or a supreme court, should be allowed to consider whether the onus of proof has been properly discharged, or whether the benefit of any doubt has been given to the ex-serviceman, and that that judge should say whether or not section 47 has been complied with. That would bring a new and judicial mind into the picture. I do not like importing courts into the realm of repatriation benefits, but, as a determination on section 47 would involve, the exercise of judicial power, I have’ no option but to make provision in the amendment for a judge of one of the courts to make the decision. I would very much have preferred, and I originally drafted the amendment to provide, that a reviewing authority, consisting of a judge not sitting as a court, should address its mind to this problem, but the Constitution obliges us to bring a court into the picture when it becomes a matter of interpretation and, perhaps, decision. The Senate will note that the decision is to be final, and that no order as to costs is to be made. We do not wish to embarrass the exservicemen or the commission in that matter.
There is a wide regulation-making power, which I think is wide enough to provide for all the minor arrangements that must be made in relation to an appeal, but to remove all possible doubt honorable senators will find in proposed new sub-section (6.) a provision that the regulations may provide for the furnishing of records to the court.
I commend the amendment to the committee, because honorable senators will have realized, from the debates that have taken place in the Senate, that there is at least a doubt as to whether the provisions of section 47 are being applied, and this is a very simple way to resolve that doubt.
– Order! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
– As no other honorable senator rises to speak, I shall take my second period now. I have only one or two sentences to add in bringing these proposals before the committee. The onus of proof has been well debated, and I do not propose to review that matter again. It may be objected that the lists of the judges of the High Court or the supreme courts will be cluttered up with a multiplicity of appeals. Although that may seem a legitimate objection, I do not accept that view. I think that once the fresh breath of judicial interpretation is brought into this matter there may be a new atmosphere in the Repatriation Commission. I believe that the appeals will not multiply after there has been a number of judicial pronouncements. If there are leadswingers in great numbers, as would appear to be the case if the appeal tribunals are correct in deciding against a vast majority of the applicants, those persons will realize that their appeals will have no hope of success. If there are not those large numbers of leadswingers, and if there are genuine claims to which the provisions relating to the benefit of doubt and onus of proof have not been properly applied, again the applications will not reach the appeal tribunals, because the commission will have to take the attitude dictated by the courts. Therefore, while there may be at the outset quite a number of appeals, in my view the number will decrease after the first rush.
With those comments, I commend the amendments to the Committee.
– For the guidance of the committee, I ShOUld intimate that the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) has proposed an amendment which suggests three proposed new clauses. He has addressed himself to the three of them, and I propose to allow the debate to continue on that basis, and later to submit each proposed new clause separately to a vote.
– I shall address myself to the amendment relating to an appeal to the High Court or a supreme court on the matter of onus of proof or benefit of doubt. I should like to make some remarks in support of the amendment. If a man is working in industry and is injured, through noise which affects his nerves or through fumes which affect his throat, he is protected by the provisions of the Workers’ Compensation Act. In my view, there is no difference, in the final analysis, between a man who goes into the business of war and a man who goes into the business of working in a factory, as regards the responsibility for caring for his dependants when ill health overtakes him. When an employer has refused to accept a claim by an employee, the final decision has always been made by a court. This amendment is designed so that our legal responsibility towards the ex-serviceman can be clearly defined on that same legal level. There is a lot in what the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) has said, that a crustiness has developed in the Repatriation Commission because of the number of appeals that have come before various tribunals. The evidence in most cases is similar, and there is a tendency to discount much of the evidence because similar evidence has been heard before. There is a clear responsibility on the tribunal to produce evidence to the appellant in support of its decision, and this is not done. A short statement is usually sent through the post to the effect that the claim has been refused, and if the appellant goes to the trouble to gain access to the files he will probably find some similar short decision that has been reached by the tribunal. I support this departure from the usual practice of allowing the tribunal to be the final authority. I believe that only by putting the matter in the hands of a court can the legal responsibility be clearly defined, and the onus of proof discharged. I feel certain that a judge, who has been sufficiently trained to take the position of judge of a superior court, would be able to adduce and weigh evidence much better than a layman. For that reason, I am of the opinion that this amendment will fill a long-felt want. I feel sure that every honorable senator has at some time received a letter or other representations from an ex-serviceman who really believed that he had a disability caused by war service, but whose application had been refused by the tribunal. He tells his story from his point of view, but he cannot get it over unless he is able to produce evidence with which to convince the tribunal that his disability was due to war service.
I support the proposed amendments, particularly the insertion of new clause 47a, which relates to appeals to the High Court or the supreme court of a State or territory, because I believe that only bodies such as those can give the borderline decision in cases where medical authorities disagree. As has been stated already, the medical men of the world cannot agree on the causes of cancer. If an ex-serviceman contends that his condition of cancer was caused by war service, how can the repatriation tribunals hold honestly that it was not caused through being confined in a prisoner-of-war camp, the hard living conditions in the trenches, or other aspect of military service? The determination of such matters should be the function of highly trained minds with the capacity to adduce evidence, and until such minds consider these appeals we cannot be really satisfied that full justice is being done to ex-servicemen. I hope that the Government will see its way clear to accept the amendments, because I believe that they would improve the act and ensure justice for incapacitated exservicemen.
– I wish to make some comments in relation to the two amendments which the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) has proposed, concerning the insertion of new clauses 24aa and 47a. The first amendment which he proposes, on the terms in which it is drafted, either makes no alteration of the act as it is at present framed, or it opens the gates far too wide. The amendment, as drawn, provides that in respect of a person who is discharged on the grounds of medical unfitness, the unfitness not arising from intentionally self-inflicted injuries, or from any occurrence which happened during the commission of a serious breach of discipline, the Commonwealth shall, “subject to this act”, be liable to nay him a pension. Of course, the act, as it is at present framed, includes section 24, which sets out quite clearly that the persons who are entitled to a war pension, are those who suffer from a warcaused disability.
If the words “ subject to this act “ in the proposed new clause are to have their full force, then the new sub-clause must be read subject to the existing section 24, which takes us nowhere. If that is not what the Leader of the Opposition intended by his amendment, then I suggest that the amendment goes much too far. For example, are we to accept the position that a man who was admitted to the forces and who, within, say, a fortnight of his admittance was discharged because of some medical unfitness which had developed in the course of those fourteen days, and which it could be clearly demonstrated was due to physical circumstances existing before he enlisted, would become entitled to a pension? That, as I understand it, is what the amendment proposed by the Leader of the Opposition would result in, and I submit that that is a proposition which cannot be justified. For those reasons, I suggest that the Senate should reject the proposed new clause 24aa.
– A mancould get a pension without having seen, active service.
– That is so. Medical unfitness could develop within 24 hours of enlistment, and I have no doubt there are cases in which, in fact, it did happen. In those circumstances, according to the amendment proposed by the Leader of the Opposition, the person concerned would be entitled to a pension.
As far as the proposed new clause 47a is concerned, I suggest, as the Leader of the Opposition thought it possible that some one would suggest, that the acceptance of this proposition would lead toa flood of cases going to the High Court and the Supreme Courts of the States. In every case which had been rejected down the years, the claimant would be entitled to appeal to the court, because all that would be required to establish completely a right of appeal would be that the claimant considered - not that he had proved - that there had been a departure from the express provisions of section 47a. Once a claimant so considered, he could get the whole case before the High Court or a supreme court. As far as I understand the clause, the court would be called upon to rehear thewhole matter, and having reheard it, to give a decision on it. I feel perfectly certain that, in those circumstances, there would be a flood of applications to the courts.
– What odds, so long as justice were achieved?
– This proceeds upon the assumption that there are nomeans available to-day of testing this matter, whereas, in truth, those means have been employed. .Section 47a contains an express direction to the tribunals concerning what they are to do in relations to the onus of proof, and what they are to do when they are in doubt. They have a statutory obligation to carry out the provisions of that section. If a claimant believes that a tribunal has not carried out the provisions of the section, he is entitled to go to the High Court and apply for a writ of mandamus. If the High Court is satisfied that the tribunal has not obeyed the section, it will direct the tribunal to rehear the case and carry out its statutory obligations. In fact, in the case of Rex v. War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal, ex parte Bott, heard in 1933, such an application was made to the court. The High Court held, in that case, that the tribunal had not failed to carry out the provisions of the section, but it considered the case, and perhaps it will not be amiss if I refer to what Mr. Justice Starke said in relation to this very question. He set out the grounds on which the order nisi for mandamus had been granted, and the two grounds that I wish to refer to are that the applicant said that he had not been given the benefit of the doubt, and, secondly, that the applicant, it having been admitted that he had made out a prima facie case, was entitled to succeed on his appeal, no evidence in reply thereto being before the tribunal. The judgment stated -
These last two grounds are founded upon sec. 45w (2.) of the Act.
That is the corresponding section to the one under discussion -
The sections provides that the Appeal Tribunal shall give the appellant the benefit of the doubt: “Provided too that if the apellant or the representative of the appellant shall make out a prima facie case in support of his claim that the in capacity from which he is suffering . . . was caused or aggravated by war service, the onus of proof that such incapacity was not in fact so caused or aggravated shall lie with the Commission”.
That was the old form of the section, but the point still applies. The judgment continued -
The. section deals with two things, the burden of proof and the weight of evidence. The burden of proving a prima facie case is cast upon the appellant, but, if he proves such a case, then the burden of proving that his incapacity was not in fact caused or aggravated by war service is cast upon the Commission. It may do so either by contradicting the appellant’s evidence or by proving other facts. Suppose however, after considering the nature and strengths of the proof offered in support or denial of the main fact to be established, The Appeal Tribunal is left in doubt as to which way it should decide that fact, then the section directs that the appellant shall be given the benefit of the doubt or, in effect, enacts that in such circumstances the Commission has failed to satisfy the burden of proof cast upon it. (Abrath v. North Eastern Railway Co. ( 1 ) ) . But the section by no means provides that in case of contradictory evidence the appellant shall succeed. In the present case the Appeal Tribunal considered all the evidence, and was left in no doubt that the incapacity under which the appellant was suffering was not caused or aggravated by his war services.
The matter was tendered in court and just as the applicant in this case had it tested in the High Court under an application for a writ of mandamus, so any other applicant could apply similarly. The fact that few applicants have taken that step before the High Court, is some indication of the fact that the general view - and, I think the true view - is that the tribunals do carry out the expressed directions of section 47. In that set of circumstances, I suggest that there is no reason for introducing into the act the sort of revision that the Leader of the Opposition has suggested.
– I was interested in the comments that have been made by the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer). Dealing with the first matter, proposed new clause 47a, the AttorneyGeneral has stated that the Opposition’s amendment either means nothing or it goes too far. On the question of whether it means nothing, I remind the AttorneyGeneral of a phrase which will be familiar to him, if I may express myself in Latin - generalia specialibus non derogant. In other words, when there is a perfectly general provision in an act, and alongside it there is a special provision, the perfectly general one is never deemed to cut down the special one. If those two principles are put together and honorable senators study the relevant section of the act they will note that it includes the words - making entitlement dependent upon the incapacity or death resulting from an occurrence that happened during his war service.
That has been deliberately dropped from the amendment that is before the committee, for the reason that the Opposition is seeking to remove from a man, who has been passed as fit for service and emerges unfit for service, the burden of proving that his disability happened during his war service. Plainly, it does mean something on the basis of that principle. It is a special provision which, despite the general terms of section 24, stands separate and clear and would be so interpreted by any court.
On the question of whether it goes too far, I differ from the AttorneyGeneral. I repeat the question I have asked twice before: If a man is accepted as fit and discharged as medically unfit, why place upon him the onus of establishing a prima facie case that his injury or disability arose during his service?
– We do not put that onus upon him now.
– He must establish some sort of prima facie case.
– Not under section 47.
– The whole point I make is that the question of whether incapacity arose during war service should not, in the circumstances that I have put to the committee, be open to question at all. The man concerned went in fit and came out unfit.
– It may be only a day later.
– The principle should apply even if he comes out the day after he went in. The AttorneyGeneral is driven to an extreme case when he bases an argument upon the case of a man who comes out of the service within a day or a week or a fortnight of joining. That would be the rarest of cases, if it ever occurred. One can see the weakness of the Attorney-General’s argument when he is forced to take such a dire position. It is completely clear that the clause will stand and be given full meaning and effect by the court. It is true also that a man who is fit when he goes in and unfit when he comes out of the service, should not have to claim even that his unfitness developed during his war service.
The Attorney-General addressed himself to the second point without stating whether the Government favoured it or not. That was the question whether the Repatriation Commission should be obliged to extend a pension where a child recipient is unable to work and earn his or her own living. That has not been controverted, and I take it that the Attorney-General voices no objection to it.
On the vital matter of onus of proof, the Attorney-General made a number of points. In the first place, he said there would be a flood of cases. For reasons that I have already submitted to the committee, I believe that that might be true at the outset, but it would not betrue for very long. At present, three tribunals, each dealing with only one case at a time, are contending more or less successfully with the application? before them. What would happen under this proposal if the High Court allocated only one judge, each State court allocated a judge and the two territories allocated a judge each? That would be nine altogether. There could be nine authorities to review the work of three tribunals. Where will the burden lie? It will be scattered over the States and the territories. If only one judge from the courts is obliged to act under the resolution, it is clear that the nine tribunals would not have the slightest difficulty in reviewing the work of three. There could be no embarrassment in those circumstances, and if one judge were allocated part-time by each of the courts, there would be no embarrassment to. the court and it would not be held up by applications.
– They are all held up at the moment.
– -That is true of the judiciary at the moment, but that difficulty could easily be solved by the appointment of one more judge. The cure for the position is simply to appoint more judges. It behoves the Government to appoint them.
– Would the States do that?
– I think there is no virtue in the argument. The third point submitted by the Attorney-General was that the proceedings would be by way of re-hearing. That is not proposed in the amendment. It is not in the mind of the Opposition and, in fact, the amendment shows that we are thinking on opposite lines. The proposal is that the records he sent to the court. The appeal is not to be by way of re-hearing, but by way of a review. It is to look at all the facts before the entitlement appeal tribunal, and perhaps hear that point argued before the decision is made. Et is not a matter of rehearing and reopening the whole case before the court. The Attorney-General will find, if he refers to the regulation-making power, that he has the widest power to do anything necessary or convenient which will give effect to the provisions of the act. ft may be specified how an appeal will be dealt with in detail by the court or a judge. It is not proper to set out all the detailed procedures in an act; much should be left to regulation. So, it is not proposed that there shall be a rehearing.
The fourth point made by the AttorneyGeneral was that it is open to any applicant, who thinks that the onus of proof and the benefit of the doubt under section 47 have not been applied, to approach the High Court for a mandamus, or to seek a procedure in the superior courts to compel the tribunal to comply with section 47. That is all very well in theory, but that procedure might involve an applicant in very heavy costs. Can we imagine an ex-serviceman, particularly a totally and permanently incapacitated man, taking proceedings in the High Court. If the ex-serviceman has the assistance of the Legal Service Bureau, that bureau will not pay any costs that may be awarded against him. The bureau might help him conduct his case, but he will have to pay the costs if he fails. The Attorney-General has suggested a most expensive and difficult procedure for an ex-serviceman, whereas the Opposition proposes a procedure which will involve a minimum of expense and legal process. I am not familiar with the case of Rex v. The War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal, ex parte Bott, but from what [ have heard from the Attorney-General, Mr. Justice Starke’s judgment merely re-stated the law and investigated whether the law had been applied. I should be interested to know the date of that case.
– The case was heard in 1933, and it was held that the tribunal had applied the law.
– That case took place 22 years ago, and has not the slightest relevance to what the war pension entitlement appeal tribunals are doing in 1955.
– The tribunals have had more experience since 1933.
– Yes, but they tend to get into ruts. They are dealing continually with the same repatriation doctors and officials, and they do tend to become biassed in their favour. Consequently, they are perhaps not disposed to probe their evidence as fully as necessary. They develop a certain affinity with the men with whom they are working, and consequently it is time that a little fresh air was let into the matter. I do not believe that anybody is convinced, among the ex-servicemen or the member.= of this Parliament, that the onus of proof and the benefit of the doubt provisions are being fully implemented. The Opposition has offered a simple, inexpensive procedure with nine reviewing authorities to review the work of three tribunals, and if that method is adopted it may clear the matter up to the satisfaction of everybody. I strongly commend the amendments to the Senate.
– This morning Senator Laught produced a report which showed the number of appeals that had been granted by the appeals tribunals. I suggest that had the onus-of-proof provision been properly applied, the large number of appeals mentioned in the report would not have come before the appeals tribunals. The Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) has spoken previously about repatriation in the same terms as he has spoken to-day, because in an article by Mr. Vincent Brady we may read that the AttorneyGeneral’s statement is mainly a restatement of the statutory provisions of the act, and in that respect is purely academic. Mr. Brady maintains that what the exserviceman seeks is some statement of the case law, and the principles on which those administering the act reach their decisions. He says that it is in this regard that the ex-serviceman has doubts whether justice is, in all cases, being done.
If we approach this matter on the academic level, we do not get the final justice that we are seeking. Unless the onus of proof is placed clearly on the tribunal to show the appellant clearly why it has rejected’ his case, we shall not be satisfied that justice is being done. An examination on those lines in a court is the only final solution of this problem. After hearing a case in England,. Mr. Justice Denning, of the English High Court of Justice, said that where the cause of the case was unknown or imperfectly known, the only proper conclusion is that the Minister cannot discharge the burden of proof, because the unknown cause may be a cause incidental to war service, and for that purpose the evidence must reach the same degree of cogency as is required in a criminal case before the accused is found guilty. The practice of the tribunals in the past has been that in a number of cases where a man cannot produce conclusive evidence, the benefit of the doubt should be given to him, but in fact it is given to the tribunals and the commission. Therefore, I support the amendments which are designed to give justice to the ex-serviceman whose applications have been refused.
– The remarks made by the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) and the authorities that he has quoted on this most vital amendment leave me completely unmoved. As I have said before, I am mainly concerned about exservicemen who have reached an age when they have become partly burnt-out. Under the interpretation placed on the Repatriation Act by the Government, such unfortunate men do not receive justice. Many of these men have continued their every-day employment in civilian life without bothering about repatriation benefits and, consequently, have not applied for them. Now that they have reached an age at which they can no longer be usefully employed they have approached the board or tribunal and stated their case for a pension. Until this stage they had not applied and considered that they were doing the right thing in the interests of their country by taking that attitude. A major difficulty is their total inability to obtain fresh evidence to substantiate their claim. When men who served in World War I. reach that age they make their claim solely because they are forced to come to the authority and say, in effect, “Give us bread”. The term “leadswinger “ has been used both in the second-reading debate and in this committee. If it does apply in this instance, all I can say is that “ lead-swinging “ is taking place all over the world; and many are getting away with it. For humanity’s sake, instead of spending our time in legal interpretations of the act, it would be better to get rid of the section altogether and give pensions to these men. I shall never rest satisfied until that is done.
– I should like to say a word or two on the proposed new clause 3b. It is desired to omit from sub-section (4.) of section 39 the word “ may “ and insert in its stead the word “ shall “. Personally, I do not see any great objection to that at all, but I do not agree that the whole of sub-section (5.) of section 39 should be omitted. There should at least be an application made for the pension. If the word “ shall “ is substituted for “ may “ we shall retain a time period which protects the department and every one concerned. However, I think that an application should still have to be made for the pension.
Question put -
That the proposed new clause 3a (Senator McKenna’s amendment) be inserted.
The committee divided. (The Temporary Chairman -Senator R. W. Pearson.)
Majority . . . . 7
Question so resolved in the negative.
Proposed new clause negatived.
Proposed new clause 3b (Senator McKenna’s amendment) postponed.
Question put -
That the proposed new clause 3c (Senator McKenna’s amendment) be inserted.
The committee divided. (The Temporary Chairman - Senator R. W. Pearson.)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Proposed new clause negatived.
Sitting suspended from 5.48 to 8 p.m.
Consideration interrupted under sessional order.
I move -
That the Ninth Report from the Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances, presented to the Senate on the 21st October, 1954, be adopted.
In submitting this motion, I think it may be desirable to give to the Senate an outline of the functions of the committee, to show how it goes about its business. The Regulations and Ordinances Committee is a committee of the Senate, and not a committee of the whole Parliament. I propose to give to the Senate, for the information of honorable senators, an outline of the principles that have been adopted since the committee was first appointed in 1932 - principles which have been followed by successive committees. The functions of the committee are to scrutinize regulations and ordinances, to ascertain (a) that they are in accordance with the statute under which they are made; (b) that they do not trespass unduly on personal rights and liberties; (c) that they do not unduly make the rights and liberties of citizens dependent upon administrative, and not upon judicial decisions; and (d) that they are concerned with administrative detail and do not amount to substantive legislation which should be a matter for parliamentary enactment. The committee has also followed the principle that questions involving government policy embodied in regulations and ordinances are outside its scope. We know that Ministers can bring in regulations and ordinances, and that to all intents and purposes by so doing they can get around existing acts of Parliament, and bring in what really is legislation outside the scope of the committee. That is one way in which Ministers and governments can do things without running the risk of a contentious debate in the Parliament. For a long period of years these things have been done.
Therefore, it can be said that the purpose of the committee is really to act as a watchdog of the democratic side of Parliament. Accordingly, the committee meets regularly, as batches of statutory rules, regulations and ordinances are brought to it, and the committee considers the representations made by its legal officer and the views of its members. If the committee thinks that something has been done by means of regulations and ordinances that ought not to have been done in that way, it takes the matter up with the Minister concerned. That is one reason for the presentation of this report. The committee has had occasion to draw the attention of a certain Minister on no less than three occasions to the introduction of legislation in this way.
To assist the committee in its work, a copy of every regulation and ordinance is forwarded to it, accompanied by a departmental explanation setting out, first, the effect of the regulation; and, secondly, the reason for enacting it. Since 1945, the committee has had the assistance of a legal adviser whose present fee is at the rate of 250 guineas per annum. The legal adviser is supplied with copies of all departmental explanatory statements, and he, in turn, submits to the committee his own report on each regulation and ordinance. These reports are of great value to the committee. The legal adviser may say that a regulation is of little or no consequence, but the members of the committee also exercise their own judgment. Usually they find that the legal adviser is right. The committee’s present legal adviser is Mr. Williams, who formerly sat on the Opposition benches in the House of Representatives as a supporter of the Australian Labour party. At an earlier stage the committee had the benefit of the advice of the present Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) when he was not a member of this Parliament. It will be seen that the committee is representative of both sides in politics. Indeed, it has been the practice of successive governments to appoint as legal adviser some one from the other side in politics. It is a truly joint committee, representative of all sections of the Parliament.
The Regulations and Ordinances Committee has no executive power. It may only submit reports to the Senate, which may adopt or reject its recommendations. The report now before the Senate is the second that has been presented by the committee. The earlier report was submitted by a committee of which ex-Senator Tate was the chairman.
It was pursuant to the committee’s function to scrutinize regulations to ascertain that they are concerned with administrative details, and do not amount to substantive legislation which should be a matter for parliamentary enactment, that the committee has reported in the terms of the first section of the report now before the Senate. If honorable senators have before them a copy of the committee’s report, they will notice in paragraph 5 that since the presentation of the previous report the committee had, on three occasions, found it necessary to address letters to the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page), drawing his attention to what the committee considered to be breaches of the principle to which I have referred. Paragraph 6 gives details of the first instance, which concerned Statutory Rule No. 72 of 1952 relating to regulations made under the Hospital Benefits Act. The committee questioned whether the regulations went beyond administrative detail, and came within the category of matters which would, more appropriately, be the subject of parliamentary enactment. In his reply, the Minister agreed that these regulations were a matter of considerable public importance, and did, in fact, contain matters which might more appropriately be the subject of parliamentary enactment. At the same time, he advised that the substantive provisions of the regulations would be incorporated in the National Health Act, which was finally passed in December, 1953.
The next instance was the subject of correspondence with the same Minister in October and November, 1953. That correspondence related to Statutory Rule No. 75 of 1953, which dealt with amendments of the medical benefits regulations, and also to Statutory Rule No. 76 of 1953, relating to amendments of the hospital benefits regulations. I am giving these matters in some detail in order to refresh the memories of honorable senators who may not have the report before them. The committee drew the Minister’s attention to the principle of law relating tq onus of proof, and suggested that if the principle were to be reversed, such an important change should be effected by parliamentary enactment. In thanking the committee for focussing his attention on .this matter, the Minister advised that the regulatory provision would lapse on the passing of the National Health Act, in which the relevant provisions were drafted in such a way as to avoid reversing the traditional onus of proof.
The third submission to the Minister for Health related to Statutory Rules No. 96 to 100, being regulations made under the National Health Service Act 1948- 1949, the Hospital Benefits Act 1951 and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Act 1947- 1952. Those regulations took certain powers temporarily pending legislation, and the proclamation of such legislation. That is to say, the principles of the regulations were incorporated in the National Health Act 1953, which came into full operation in May, 1954. The Minister informed the committee that the only reason for the making of the regulations was to ensure that the relevant aspects of the national health service were conducted in accordance with the provisions of the National Health Act during the period which intervened between the passing of the act and the proclamation of commencing dates for the various operative’ parts. He agreed with the committee that the subjects of these regulations were appropriate for parliamentary enactment, and that therefore it was his objective to have the National Health Act in full operation at the earliest possible date.
In each instance the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) was in general agreement with the principle put forward by the committee, and we are satisfied that steps were taken as soon as practicable to put the offending regulations into statutory form.
However, to avoid any repetition, it is recommended that the Government consider reminding all departments that regulations should be concerned only with administrative detail and should not amount to legislation of a kind which is more appropriately the subject of parliamentary enactment.
Coming to the second section of the report, which deals with parliamentary control of statutory instruments of a legislation character, the committee has opened up some new ground. The committee wished to know if there was any subordinate legislation which was not required by the parent statutes to be tabled, and which, therefore, was not referred to the regulations and ordinances committee. Accordingly, the AttorneyGeneral was asked if he would kindly arrange for his officers to go through the statutes and prepare a list of all statutory powers of a legislative character contained in Commonwealth acts, and indicate whether there is provision- in the statutes for the tabling in Parliament, and disallowance by Parliament, of the instruments made under those powers. In reply, a very valuable statement was submitted by the Attorney-General’s Department, which is quoted in full in the committee’s report. It will be seen from that statement that there are a great number of instruments which do not come before the committee or Parliament, but it will also be seen that the question of determining whether a particular statutory power is of a legislative character or of an executive character is a matter of difficulty, as, for example, by-laws under the Customs Act.
As the Senate will see from paragraph 16 of the report, the committee at this stage in its consideration of the subject does not recommend any amendment of the ‘ statutes with respect to the parliamentary control of any of the instruments enumerated in the statement of the Attorney-General’s Department. For the time being, we thought it of value to bring the statement to the attention of the Senate. Secondly, we recommended to the Government that, to assist further consideration of the matter, .a statement be prepared explaining the official criteria which determine whether or not it shall be provided in the parent statutes that statutory instruments must be tabled and be subject to disa.llowa.nce by either House of the Parliament. “We think that then we may be in a better position to judge whether all subordinate legislation of a legislative character is subject to parliamentary control, as it should be.
I make those observations and move the adoption of the report, on behalf of the committee, for the purpose not only of directing the attention of the Senate to the contents of the report, but also of making the Senate conscious of the fact that the committee does meet regularly, that it is alive to the possibility that legislation may be put through in this way by means of regulations and ordinances, and that the committee is performing the functions which it is supposed to perform. It is acting as the watchdog or guardian of the democratic side of the Parliament, and making sure that legislation which should come through Parliament itself does come through in that way, and not through ordinances and regulations. I therefore, have much pleasure in moving for the adoption of the report.
– I have very much pleasure in seconding the motion. I regret that Senator Byrne is not available at the moment, because 1 “know that he would, as a member of the committee, very gladly have performed that service for the mover. I am glad that Senator Wood acknowledged the need for refreshing one’s mind about this report. It came before us almost a year ago, and, but for the fact that I read it through thoroughly and marked it at that time F should not have been in a position to comment upon it to-night.
It has always been a great consolation to me, as day by day I hear read from the table a vast list of regulations, statutory orders and the like, to know that this committee of the Senate is in existence. Every one of us in this chamber has a duty to attend to the observance of the principles followed by the committee, which Senator Wood enunciated so clearly. We all have an obligation to see that these regulations and ordinances are in accordance with the statutes, that they do not infringe upon the personal rights and liberties of our people, and that those rights and liberties are not made to depend upon administrative acts as opposed to judicial acts. Finally, we have a duty to see that matters which should be the subject of parliamentary enactment are not left to departments and departmental officers. Those are very important principles;
I have watched the work of the committee. I have relied upon it, as I have indicated, day after day. The report that is in our hands at present justifies all the confidence that I felt about its work. It really is a magnificent report, and I would like every honorable senator who has not done so to take the opportunity to read it. The committee not only objectively surveyed the activities of the Health Department, where vast schemes were promulgated by regulation, but, as the committee acknowledged, they were translated as soon as practicable into legislative form.
There are two specific recommendations made in the report. One’ is contained in paragraph 10, in which the committee recommends that the Government consider reminding all departments that regulations should be concerned only with administrative detail, and should not amount to legislation of a kind which is more properly the subject of parliamentary enactment. I should be interested to learn from some member of the Government whether action was taken to give effect to that recommendation, and whether all departments were so notified. I think that the committee is entitled to be informed of what was done. The second recommendation read by Senator Wood is that the Government issue a document to the Parliament explaining the official criteria which determine whether or not it shall be provided in the parent statutes that statutory instruments must be tabled, and be subject to disallowance by either House of the Parliament. I would be interested to know whether, this report having been with us for about a year, that document has yet been produced. I do not recall it having been tabled. It certainly would be an informative and useful document, not only to everybody in the Senate, but, ir particular, to the departmental people who are concerned with drawing up these regulations, ordinances and so on. I would like to learn from the Government whether those two recommendations have produced results.
The only other comment I care to make at this stage is to congratulate the committee in obtaining from the AttorneyGeneral’s Department such a comprehensive survey of all regulations, ordinances, statutory orders, by-laws, and the rest. The Attorney-General’s Department is to be congratulated, too, upon the extraordinarily thorough job they have done in reviewing that vast field of documents. The report of the AttorneyGeneral’s Department, incorporated in this report, is most informative, but it is, perhaps, a little disturbing, because as we read it we find that, in one case, that of the Quarantine Act, certain regulations made under that act do not need to be tabled in this Parliament. Under the heading “ Standing Orders and By-laws “, reference is made to many matters in respect of which the act does not require the orders and directions of statutory authorities to be tabled in the Parliament at all. Some of those bodies are set up under the Coal Industry Act. In effect, they may legislate for that vast and very important industry by means of orders and directions, not one of which is required to be tabled in the Parliament and which, accordingly, does not come under our review.
The Commonwealth Bank Act, in relation to the provision of a superannuation fund for the employees of the bank, does not provide for the tabling of the rules. There, we have a direct interest, one might say, almost in our own employees, in that employees of the Commonwealth Bank are employees of a statutory body which is the creation of this Parliament. In effect, they are the employees of the nation. Yet, in a matter as important as their superannuation, what goes on is determined outside the Parliament and does not come up for review.
The Commonwealth Railways Act requires the by-laws to be tabled in the Parliament, but makes no provision for their disallowance. That, obviously, is a matter that ought to be rectified. I refer to those only as a few of the instances revealed by the very exhaustive survey which was made by the AttorneyGeneral’s Department, at the request of a committee of this Senate. It was a most valuable survey, and I trust that the Government has given a good deal of attention to this report. I trust, also, that at some stage, we shall learn from the Government what has happened concerning two recommendations, one contained in paragraph 10, and the other contained in paragraph 16.
– I wish to add my congratulations, also, to the committee on the tremendous pains that it obviously has taken in its investigation of this matter, and in the preparation of the report. I agree, up to a point, with the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna), but I notice that a lot of the acts to which he referred were either in force while the previous Labour Government was in power, or were introduced and passed by that Government. The Leader of the Opposition knows quite well, I think, that it is not customary for action to be taken by the Government, in connexion with a report such as this, until the report has been submitted to the Parliament and either approved or rejected.
The motion now before the Senate is that the report be adopted. I am sure that if the motion is agreed to, appropriate action will be taken in regard to the report, but I repeat that it is not customary for action to be taken until after the report has been submitted to the Parliament. If Parliament adopts the report, naturally the Government will give due and adequate consideration to the recommendations contained in it. The attitude of the Government, and also that of the Attorney-General’s Department, which has had a lot to do with this matter, can be gauged by the infinite pains which that department obviously has taken, a statement which is made clear by a perusal of paragraph 14. The Leader of the Opposition was kind enough to pay tribute to the department for its co-operation and the considerable help it has given in this matter. I am sure that if this report is adopted, and the motion of Senator “Wood agreed to, the Government will not idly pass it by, but will give it adequate and due consideration.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I present the report of the Public Works Committee on the following subject: -
The proposed extension of wharf facilities at Darwin, Northern Territory.
In committee: Consideration resumed (vide page 369).
– Copies of a proposed amendment of clause 3 are being circulated. The Government is prepared to accept the principle of the amendment proposed by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna), and the amendment which is being circulated embodies the principle contained in the honorable senator’s amendment. However, the Parliamentary Draftsman has put the amendment in a form which the Government thinks it should take. I have spoken to the Leader of the Opposition, who has informed me that he is quite willing to accept this amendment and will withdraw his own proposed amendment.
– I am grateful to the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper), and the Opposition is pleased that he has accepted the principle of the second amendment which I sought to make of this bill. In the form in which my motion stands at the moment, it would not be appropriate, because the preceding motion has been negatived. The number, at least, would have to be altered. The Minister was good enough, with his officers, to have a discussion with me during the suspension of the sitting for dinner, and he pointed out that whilst he accepted the whole principle of the matter, there were two difficulties, one being that an application was required to found and start the whole matter. To that, I have no objection at all. I recognize the need for it. The other point was that the disability which prevented the former member from working should exist at the time that the pension was terminated and should continue from that time up to the time that the application was made.
I cannot quarrel with that, because the alternative would be that a person who was disabled at sixteen years of age might have a very remunerative life for a period of 10, 20, 30, or even 40 years and still qualify for a pension at the end of that remunerative life.With those two variations of the clause that I proposed, the Opposition is content. We are quite sure that this will enable justice to be done in some very deserving cases where there is real hardship. I can promise the Minister that just as soon as the amendment is incorporated in an act of Parliament, there will be one or two representations to him to adjust certain matters that we know have been causing real difficulty.
I again thank the Minister for his co-operation in this matter and express the pleasure of the Opposition at his meeting our request. In the circumstances, I accept the amendment as circulated by the Minister and ask leave to withdraw the amendment that I moved earlier to-day.
Leave granted; amendment withdrawn.
Amendment (by Senator Cooper) agreed to -
That, after clause 3, the following new clause be inserted: - 3a. Section thirty-nine of the Principal Act is amended by omitting sub-sections (4.) and (5.) and inserting in their stead the following sub-section: -
a pension granted under this Division to a person, being a child, terminates; (b) the person makes application for a further pension; and
the Commission is satisfied that the person was, at the time at which the pension terminated, unable to earn a livelihood and has continued from that time to be unable to earn a livelihood, the person shall be granted a pension at such rate as is assessed by the Commission, but not exceeding the rate specified in Column 2 of the scale in the First Schedule to this Act in relation to the rank or rating of the member of the Forces concerned.”.
Bill as amended agreed to.
Bill reported with an amendment; report adopted.
Motion (by Senator Cooper) proposed -
That the bill be now read a third time.
.- I wish to refer to a matter that arose during the debate on the second reading last night. I direct the attention of the Senate to the report at page 322 of
Hansard, which contains a statement by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator McKenna), and a personal explanation that I made myself. Exercising his right under Standing Order 410, the Leader of the Opposition said -
Senator Henty, who has just resumed his seat, misunderstood me or misquoted my statements in a material part of my speech on this measure. He claimed that I had advocated the tying of the pension to the basic wage.
As I did not have before me a written report of Senator McKenna’s speech, I accepted his statement and said that, if I had misunderstood him, I should like to withdraw that part of my speech in which I had made the statement to which he objected. Since then I have had an opportunity of perusing the Hansard report of Senator McKenna’s speech, and [ can assure the Senate that if I had been able to refresh my memory by reading the report earlier, I would not have withdrawn my statement, because I believe that I did not misinterpret his remarks. I believe that he did, in fact, tie the pension to the basic wage. At page 290 of Hansard, the Leader of the Opposition is reported to have said -
If we must embark upon a comparison, surely the figure that should be taken as a basis is the basic wage itself. It is well understood in Australia that the basic wage is the amount paid to an unmarried, unskilled worker to enable him, if he wishes, to keep himself, a wife and at least one child . . . Thinking particularly of the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman, surely it is not too much to pay at least that figure to an exserviceman who is disabled, totally and permanently. Can there be any real argument against the proposition that the man who is denied all opportunities through being totally and permanently incapacitated should receive a basic pension not less than that paid to the lowest unskilled worker in the country?
I submit that the Leader of the Opposition had already given an explanation on that point. He said that the basic wage was the amount paid to an unmarried, unskilled worker. Then he said that, in fact, the war pensioner should receive a basic pension not less than the wage paid to the lowest-paid unskilled worker in the country - that is, the basic wage. The Leader of the Opposition continued -
Surely that is a better and a proper test. And it is no answer to me to be met with the debating point in relation to that, that the present basic wage includes a special prosperity loading of £1 7s. because, instantly, I can reply that that is the norm, the standard set in this community, no matter how it is done. In dealing with those who are totally and permanently incapacitated in the service of their country in war, surely that standard should be the minimum to be applied.
Senator McKenna was suggesting that the standard, the norm, the basic wage should be the minimum to be applied to war pensions. Senator McKenna said later that I had misinterpreted him in stating that he had advocated tying war pensions to the basic wage. I submit that in his speech, the honorable senator himself tied the two together. Certainly he suggested the basic wage as a minimum, but undoubtedly he tied the war pensions rate to the basic wage. I only mention this matter to inform Senator McKenna of my opinion after reading the report of his speech.
– You are confused.
- Senator McKenna is a very skilful lawyer, and no doubt he will defend himself much more effectively than Senator Benn could do. As a normal person, I contend that the interpretation I have given to Senator McKenna’s statement is the one that would be applied by any ordinary person reading the speech. Had I had the printed report before me to refresh my memory, I would not have risen last night to withdraw my statement.
– I am sorry that Senator Henty seems to be smarting about events that happened in this chamber last night.
– I am not smarting at all.
– I am relieved to have the honorable senator’s assurance. I am at a loss to understand what has provoked him to rise again if he is not smarting under something or other. Senator Henty has said that, after reading the report of my speech in Hansard, he adheres to his original opinion that I was tying the war pensions rate to the basic wage. The trouble with the honorable senator is that he has read only a portion of my speech. His opening words, when quoting portion of my speech, reveal the weakness of the position that he has taken. He read the following words from my speech : -
If we must embark upon a comparison,
What preceded that sentence? I deplored, in very strong terms, the fact that the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) had embarked upon a comparison of war pensions payments in 1949 in relation to the cost-of-living adjustments as set out in the C series index for the six capital cities of Australia. I made it perfectly clear that a comparison of that sort should not be made. I stated clearly, also, that as the Minister had raised the matter, the Opposion, unfortunately, was obliged to answer him. I said that the Minister had anticipated a debate which might not have arisen.
My first proposition was that no comparison should be made between war pensions and the basic wage. My second proposition was that, if he proposed to make a comparison, he had done so on an entirely wrong and unfair basis. I said that if we were to have a comparison, a better basis was the one that I put forward. As the words taken from my speech by Senator Henty indicated, I made the point that, if we must embark upon a comparison, I was reluctantly doing so, and was not putting an argument in favour of the basic wage as a basis.
I remind Senator Henty of my statement in a later context when referring to totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners. I repeated the argument without tying the war pensions payment to the basic wage at all. What relation should the amount paid to a totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner bear to the minimum wage of an unskilled worker ? On the honorable senator’s own admission, I said that it should not be less, but he still misunderstands me if he believes that I, in saying that, was tying the pension rate to the basic wage. I was not. I point out that the opinion of the Australian Labour party, as far back as the general election in April of last year, was that the pension should be £12 10s. a week. How can the honorable senator say that I was tying the pension to the basic wage in view of the fact that the basic wage is £12 6s. a week and the pension recommended was £12 10s. a week? I see the honorable senator is nodding his head in what I assume to be complete concurrence with my ideas. I assure him that I have always advocated in this chamber that pensions should not be tied to the basic wage. I do not believe that I have spoken about war pensions before, but on this occasion some of my colleagues asked me to put certain technical viewpoints before honorable senators. Tying pensions to the basic wage has been tried before, and has been found to be a failure.
The plight of war pensioners, particularly the totally and permanently incapacitated ones who have suffered injuries of a kind that render them incapable of earning anything or of earning only a negligible amount, warrants our most sincere sympathy. How can we look such men in the face and say, “Although you have served your country, you are not worth what you could earn at the lowest paid job if you had all your faculties”? Out of our gratitude and generosity, are we to say to them, “Even though we have an overflowing treasury we cannot pay you what an absolutely unskilled worker could earn “ ? When we bear in mind that there is nobody who does not earn more than the basic wage in Australia to-day, the amount that we are offering incapacitated servicemen is not one of which we can be very proud.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from the 20th September (vide page 193), on motion by Senator Spicer -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– The Opposition does not propose to oppose this measure, because of the attitude of the Government towards the previous bill that was before the Senate. The principal legislation came into operation in 1940, and has been amended on six occasions. The bill is designed to give pensions to Australian mariners under the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act at the same level as corresponding classes of pensions are given to ex-servicemen under the Repatriation Act. The Opposition has urged that the Government should substantially increase allowances and pensions in the amending repatriation bill, and it would merely be a repetition of our arguments to put forward similar views on this measure. Previously, a wife who married an Australian mariner after he had sustained his war injury was not eligible for a pension. Neither were that mariner’s children if they were born after he was injured. We commend the Government for now making such classes of persons eligible for benefits under this bill in the same way as similar classes are eligible for benefits under the Repatriation Act. Therefore, other than to express disappointment at the meagreness of the increases granted by the Government under this measure, the Opposition offers no comment on it.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
.- Clause 3 (c) states - “ Member of the family “, in relation to an Australian mariner, means the wife or husband, or a child, parent, brother, sister, grandparent, grandchild, step-parent, step-brother, step-sister, half-brother or half-sister, of the mariner.
I should like the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge) to explain why that definition was not made more comprehensive. I have no doubt that the Minister made it as comprehensive as he could, but I suggest that those standing in loco parentis to a mariner should also be included as members of his family. ‘ A person standing in loco parentis is in a similar position to a parent. Perhaps, therefore, the Minister will consider my suggestion.
– It is not the intention of the amendment to do anything other than to extend more generous treatment to the wives and children of mariners, as was indicated by Senator Critchley in his second-reading speech in which he commended the Government for introducing the measure. The bill provides that widows shall be eligible for pensions if they were wives of mariners when the mariners suffered their pensionable injuries, or if they subsequently became wives of such mariners. A similar provision is designed to apply to children. They will become eligible for pensions although they were not children of the injured mariner at the time he suffered his injuries.
.- I appreciate the explanation given by the Minister, but we are faced with the proposition that the bill seeks to amend sections of the Commonwealth Employees Compensation Act. There are seven State acts in operation in respect of compensation, and this act provides for a form of compensation.
– In the form of a war pension.
– Exactly. It is a form of repatriation in respect of certain persons who are affected by the death of another person.
– In a war.
– That is so. Perhaps, at a later date, the Minister might consider the matter I have raised. The provision in question should be extended.
– I desire to ascertain whether a matter I have in mind is covered by this act. A seaman who is a widower may have an elder daughter, sister or some other member of his family looking after his household and children. What is the position of that person in the event of the death of the seaman? Is that person covered?
– If she is a member of the family within the definition and is dependent on the seaman, she is covered.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Motion (by Senator O’Sullivan) agreed to -
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn to Tuesday, the 11th October next, at 3 p.m.
Decisions - Sitting of the Senate -
Motion (by Senator O’Sullivan) proposed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– I desire to refer to a matter that arose during question time to-day. I understood the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator O’Sullivan) to admit that he had released a statement to the press of this country in respect of important decisions made by the Government before the Senate had been informed of those decisions. Believing that to be true, I register my objection to the fact that outside bodies are made aware of important decisions by the Government before the Senate is informed of them. Such action is completely wrong, and I object to it.
– I rise to object to the adjournment of the Senate for a week. Four bills remain on the notice-paper, and two of them are very controversial.
– Order! The honorable senator is out of order in discussing that matter at this stage. He had the opportunity to do so on the relevant motion which has just been agreed to.
– I tried to do that once before, and I was told that I was out of order.
– The honorable senator is out of order now.
– I am expressing my objection. Whether or not I am out of order, I strongly object to the wasting of the time of the Senate as a result of such an adjournment. It will only mean that later we shall have to resort to all-night sittings.
– Order ! The honorable senator will resume his seat.
.- On the 20th September, Senator Wright asked the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture the following question, upon notice: -
With reference to recent negotiations by overseas shipping interests for a 10 per cent, increase in freights, is it a fact that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has participated in the negotiations to ensure that any increases will not exceed costs justified by the shipowners? In view of its importance to trade, can the Minister indicate when a decision on the matter will be announced?
The answer to the honorable senator’s question is as follows: -
It is a fact that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has had discussions with representatives of exporter interests and of shipowners on the proposal of the United Kingdom/Continental Conference to increase shipping freight rates on Australian exports. To assist in bringing about a settlement between shippers and shipowners and at the request of shipper organizations, the Minister directed his department to investigate recent changes in the voyage costs which have to be met by shipowners and these are still the subject of joint examination by the department and shipowners’ representatives. While the Minister is using his good offices in an effort to overcome differences between shippers and shipowners, final decision is between the parties concerned. The Minister is not in a position to indicate when such a decision will be reached and announced.
– I think that Senator Toohey is under a misapprehension. In the matter he has raised, no discourtesy to the Senate was contemplated, or intended. I do not know whether the honorable senator had the opportunity or privilege of listening to the speech of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in the House of Representatives on Tuesday night. The decision was taken by the Government and was announced in the House of Representatives by the Prime Minister as Leader of the Government. On that occasion, he said that the details of how the decision would be given effect to - I am paraphrasing his words - would be announced in due course by the Minister for Trade and Customs. The announcement I made was not a decision made by me as Leader of the Senate, but simply an explanatory statement of the ways and means whereby effect would be given to a decision of the Government announced by the Prime Minister. There would really be no sense or purpose at all in my coming to the Senate and saying, “ In case you did not hear what the Prime Minister said, this is what I think he said”. The decision had been taken, and it was announced in the appropriate place by the Prime Minister as Leader of the Government. The Senate has not thereby been deprived of the opportunity to debate the whole or any part of the decision taken by the Government. The matter can be debated on an adjournment motion or on a substantive motion in this chamber. As Leader of the Senate I would be the last person in the world to act in a manner discourteous to the Senate, and I regret that Senator Toohey is under the impression that he has conveyed. I assure him that he is quite mistaken.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 8.59 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 29 September 1955, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1955/19550929_senate_21_s6/>.