21st Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. A. M. McMullin) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– Can the Minister representing the Minister for Defence Production say whether it is a fact that the contractors for the St. Mary’s munitions factory, which is to cost £23,000,000, are offering tradesmen wages 50 per cent, higher than they are getting in their present occupations? As this would represent a major contribution to inflation and disrupt other industries by tradesmen leaving them to take advantage of the higher wages offering, and accentuate the high bidding for materials, which is affecting almost every form of building construction, including housing, will the Government give further consideration to the closing down of the St. Mary’s project in order to protect Australian industries and ensure that building operations under the direction and control of this Government will not give a further impetus to inflation?
– The honorable senator’s question obviously is based on a newspaper report.
– I did not say so.
– But I say so. In another place this morning the Minister for Defence Production gave a complete answer to a similar question to that now raised by the honorable senator and, with the permission of the Senate, I shall repeat that answer at a later stage during question time this morning.
– Has the Minister for Shipping and Transport seen the newspaper report of the sale of Moonta to Eastern interests, and the likelihood of the vessel leaving for China in the near future before Taroona, which is at present undergoing a survey, will be back on the run between Melbourne and Launceston, late in November? Can the Minister say whether the sale of Moonta has taken place, and, . if so, whether the present contract covers the vessel continuing the run until Taroona is ready to take up its normal running?
– I am not aware that the sale of Moonta has taken place. I think that the charter for that vessel on the Tasmanian run covers a period until the beginning of December, by which time it is hoped that Taroona will be back in service. At the moment, there appears to be nothing to prevent Taroona from returning to service on the due date, and before the expiration of the charter for Moonta.
– On Tuesday, the Minister for Shipping and Transport, in reply to questions asked by honorable senators on this side of the chamber relating to the future of the Commonwealth shipping line, said that as matters of policy were involved he could not give definite answers. I ask him now whether he agrees that the future of the Commonwealth shipping line is of vital importance to the people of Australia, and whether he will make a statement to the Senate regarding any negotiations that may be in hand, or contemplated, regarding the future of that line. Is the Minister in a position to tell the Senate by what means the press has been able to obtain information enabling it to publish detailed accounts recently of a proposal to form a company in which the Government will hold 51 per cent, of the shares, and private shipping interests the other 49 per cent.? Why will the Minister not give this vitally important information to the Senate so that the whole matter can be discussed before the infamous proposal becomes an accomplished fact? - Senator PALTRIDGE.- I do not know where the press obtains any information, in respect of shipping or anything else. I am aware, of course, that the press does at times indulge in speculation concerning shipping and other matters. A day or two ago, I was asked a number of questions regarding the shipping line, and I intimated then that, as a matter of policy was involved, these matters would not be dealt “with at question time. In the time that has elapsed since then nothing has transpired to induce me to think that this is anything other than a matter of policy.
– I direct a question to the Minister in charge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. I preface my question by saying that I believe that that organization has evolved an important process whereby pine timber can now be used satisfactorily as fencing posts. Because of the extensive areas under pine forests in South Australia, I ask the Minister whether the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization has recently developed a technique to enable satisfactory use to be made of pine timber for fencing posts. Will the Minister give some general details of the process, and state whether it will enable timber now wasted to be used in this manner? “When does the Minister expect the results of this research to be made available for practical use?
– The honorable senator was good enough to inform me that he desired this information. I have made inquiries of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, and have been supplied with the following information : -
Long term tests by the Division of Forest Products of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, extending over the last twenty-five years, have shown the value of several preservative treatments for round pine or hardwood fence posts. After intensive efforts, the Division has recently succeeded in simplifying and improving the methods of treatment so that the results of the tests may be of maximum benefit to farmers. The treatments have been developed specifically for round fence posts, such as forest or plantation thinnings, and involve the treatment of the sap wood to obtain good penetration with simple, cheap, readily available preservatives such as creosote oil or pentachlorphenol in mineral oil. Other preservatives dissolved in water ave at present being investigated to cheapen the cost of treatment still further. Any round timbers of suitable size for fence posts can be treated with a certainty that a life of from 20 to 30 years, or more, will be obtained. Because the sapwood is made durable by the treatments, small diameter timbers which would otherwise be rejected can be used.
A 24-page illustrated leaflet describing simple alternative methods of treatment has just been printed, and 20,000 copies arc being mailed this week. In addition, demonstrations are at present being given at agricultural shows and farmers’ field days within workable range of the Division’s head-quarters in Melbourne.
– Has the Minister for National Development seen a report that, in 1975, 40 per cent, of the power to be generated in the United Kingdom will be nuclear power? In view of the fact that at the “ Atoms for Peace “ conference held by international scientists in Geneva most valuable interchanges of data on the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes took place, can the Minister say whether there is any authority in Australia which is making definite plans for the use of nuclear power for peaceful purposes and the setting up of nuclear power generators in this country ?
– It is difficult to answer the honorable senator’s question offhand. The Department of National Development submitted a paper at the conference to which the honorable senator has referred, and it contained an analysis of the possible trend of power requirements in Australia over a period of SO years. It contrasted the possibilities for nuclear power in Australia with those for hydro-electric and steam power. I have had that paper printed, and copies are available. I prefer that the honorable senator should read it himself rather than that I should make a bold statement interpreting those conclusions. By and large, the situation appears to be that, because of large natural fuel resources in New South “Wales and Victoria, nuclear power might not be so attractive there as it would be in other parts of the world. The position might be somewhat different, however, in those parts pf Australia which have no coal resources, and in the Northern Territory where there are no power resources. In the final analysis, the problem is one of economics. Which type of power will be cheaper? As we are just entering upon the era of nuclear power, it is difficult to forecast what might happen. Indications are now that, at the best, nuclear power will be produced at the same cost as thermal power, but that much greater capital investment will be required. Therefore, opinion in Australia generally is in favour of thermal power, and the possibilities are that that opinion will be maintained. However, I prefer the honorable senator to read the paper to which I have referred, and reach his own conclusions on the matter.
– My question to the Minister for National Development is in connexion with the satisfactory operation of the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme and the control of power from that scheme in New South Wales. Is it a fact that the Minister has been negotiating for some time with the New South Wales Government in an endeavour to get a satisfactory agreement for that Government to take over power from the Snowy Mountains scheme? Will the announcement of State elections in New South Wales in December have any effect on the completion of such an agreement?
– It is difficult to reach a conclusion quickly upon the matter to which the honorable senator has referred. I must say that I am concerned about the situation that might develop. The position now is that the Australian Government has reached an agreement with the New South Wales Government in this matter on a ministerial level. The terms of that agreement have not been disclosed, because we felt that it was appropriate that the three governments should finally decide upon them. A conference of officials concerned will be held on the 19th of this month to consider the agreement that has been prepared in draft. In normal circumstances, that officials’ conference, which I hope will be of a satisfactory nature, would be followed by a ministerial conference at which, I should hope, there would be every prospect of complete finality being reached. Despite the fact that an election has intervened, I hope that the three governments can reach a conclusion on the terms of the agreement.
So far as the Commonwealth is concerned, it will be very willing indeed to do so. There is a great need for us to reach agreement during the course of this month because, as honorable senators may be aware, the Australian Workers Union is challenging the constitutional validity of the Snowy Mountains scheme. Commonwealth advice is that that challenge will not be successful, but if the Australian Workers Union were successful in those proceedings before the High Court, which are set down for hearing in November, there could be the gravest consequences for the Snowy Mountains scheme as a whole. That litigation is in the High Court list to be heard in November. . Of course, the law always has its delays. As I say, I think it is a matter of the greatest importance that the officials’ conference on the 19th of this month should be followed by a ministerial conference, and that finality should be reached during the month of October, despite the fact that there is an election in the wind, so that - I say this with respect to the Australian Workers Union - we should not run the slightest risk of this irresponsible action on its part having grave consequences for the scheme as a whole.
– The Minister for Shipping and Transport no. doubt remembers that, recently, I asked a question concerning the reported sale of the Commonwealth line of ships, to which a reply was made to only one portion. The first part of my question was whether conferences had taken place between the Australian Shipping Board, or the Minister and the associated shipping combine. That was the part of the question which the Minister failed to answer. The other part of the question, which dealt with the protection of Western Australian shipping interests, was answered by him. I now ask whether any conference has taken place, either prior to his taking over the portfolio of Shipping and Transport, or since then, with the shipping combine, in relation to the reported allocation, on a 49 per cent, to 51 per cent, basis, of the shares held by the Commonwealth.
– In the very nature of things, it is natural that the Commonwealth, conducting, as it does, a fleet of ships, must from time to time confer on matters of general policy with other shipowners who operate along the coast. As for that part of the question which still impinges on policy, I do not propose to answer it.
– Has the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Health been directed to a statement by the New South Wales Director of Tuberculosis, Dr. Marshall Andrew, in which he said that a dangerous public complacency was developing towards tuberculosis in New South Wales? Will the Minister cause an examination to be made of the tuberculosis agreement between the Commonwealth and the States, particularly as it affects New South Wales, with a view to ensuring that that State is implementing the agreement effectively, especially in regard to the compulsory X-ray examination of the community which is an implicit condition of the agreement.
– I shall be very pleased to draw the attention of my colleague, the Minister for Health, to the statement that has been made by the honorable senator, and I shall ask the Minister to give me a considered statement on the matter, which I shall then put before the Senate. “
– I preface my question to the Minister representing the Treasurer by directing his attention to the fact that a short time ago the Prime Minister interviewed certain leaders of Australian commerce and industry, among whom were representatives of timepayment finance organizations. I have gathered that those representatives agreed to do all that they could in the coming year to attempt to halt the inflation of our currency. Since then, debentures have been issued by a number of hire-purchase companies, and to-day it has been brought to my attention that the Mutual Acceptance Company Limited, which, I believe, was represented at the conference, has set out to raise a loan of £1,000,000, which, when filled, will bring the value of the debentures of that company to £2,375,000. In view of the facts that hire-purchase companies have no security to offer lenders except second-hand goods, that in all the States such companies are talking of £1,000,000 mergers and that the St. Mary’s filling factory will increase inflation, does the Minister not consider that the position is so bad that the time has now arrived when the Government should consult with the States upon some joint action to stop spurious money from flooding the country ?
– I am not able to cross swords with the honorable senator about the details of the particular transactions to which he has referred. My recollection is that a public statement was made after the conference was held, and it was stated during the debate on the Australian economy in this Parliament, that the finance companies had agreed to restrict their transactions to a level not more than 10 per cent, above last year’s level. That was the level of activity that the Government was advised was all that was necessary to correct the present position. We do not need to get too excited about this matter, nor to exaggerate the position. The suggestions to the finance companies have been made in a careful, methodical way, and we hope that the scheme agreed upon will be effective. I cannot say whether or not the particular transaction to which the honorable senator referred is a breach of that agreement, because I do not know the company, and I do not know the particulars of the transaction. However, I should be very surprised if it was a breach. I believe that it is probably something that has been done within the terms of the arrangements made with the Prime Minister. I should like to share the optimism of the honorable senator that a consultation with the States would produce results, but we tried to have such a consultation during the course of the last Conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers, and during the meeting of the Loan Council. This very matter of hire-purchase transactions was tabled, and the States were asked to co-operate with the Commonwealth in dealing with it. Because it was politically unpopular, the States, as usual, tried to leave the baby in the lap of the Commonwealth. The Government has now gone ahead in a common-sense way, and has done all that it could do having regard to the fact that the States have clearly shown that they have not a sufficient sense of responsibility to co-operate with us.
– Some time ago 1 asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General if he would ascertain from his colleague when it was expected that tenders might be called for the provision of television services in South Australia. I now follow up that question by pointing out that there is very grave danger that technicians and other skilled personnel may be lost to Sydney and Melbourne from South Australia, and possibly from other States, because something definite has already been arrived at so far as the provision of television services in those two cities are concerned. Therefore, I ask the Minister now if he would again confer with his colleague and” ascertain whether any definite forecast can be made of when television services will be introduced to the other capital cities, particularly Adelaide. Will he clear up the uncertainty that exists generally in relation to this matter in order to arrest the drift of these highly skilled personnel from Adelaide to Sydney and Melbourne?
– When it was decided to proceed with the introduction of television into Australia it was considered advisable that there should be some testing before it was established in all of the States. It was also found that to attempt to equip all the States at once would be an impossibility having regard to the availability of technicians, a matter which the honorable senator has mentioned, and also the availability of equipment and material. It was decided that stations should be built first in Melbourne and Sydney. That is the policy of the Government at the present time. It is not desired to deprive the other capital cities of television. Immediately the stations in Sydney and Melbourne are equipped, and are in full working order, television will be extended to the other States. I can understand the interest the honorable senator is taking in this matter as he fears for the interest of South Australia. I also feel for the interest of Queensland, but I realize that television cannot be implemented in every State capital at the same time.
– I am now in a position to answer the question that was asked earlier by Senator Ashley. It is the same type of question which was asked in another place this morning, and the answer I am about to give is in substance the same as was then given by the Minister for Defence Production. There is no general payment above award rates. In fact the constructing company has an agreement with the Government, through the Department of Labour and National Service, that they will not, advertise for labour without approval. When they re,ceive that approval they will accept direction as to what form that advertisement should take, and they have agreed that they will not indulge in extravagant wage payments, &c. The contractors claim that they have not paid rates over the award. They claim that the allegation about working four days a week of ten hours with overtime on Friday and Saturday is incorrect. They give no guarantee to any employee that he will receive overtime. They have agreed with the Department of Labour and National Service that overtime will not exceed eight hours for any man in any week. There is no guarantee that any man will be allowed to work eight hours’ overtime, and if over-time is to be worked there is no guarantee that it is to be worked every week. The contractors have made no statement that a site allowance will be paid. They have agreed, in fact, with the Department of Labour and National Service that it will not be paid. They propose to stick to this agreement. Newspapers are saying that extravagant rates of pay are being offered by the company, yet to-day there is a strike because the company will not agree to pay the high rates demanded by the employees.
It appears that the control agency has employed a boilermaker as a boilermaker inspector. He will be included on their staff. He will not be paid overtime, but he will be paid staff salary and will be required to remain on the job, hail, rain or shine, seven days a week on demand. He is not employed as a boilermaker, but is a staff man doing an inspection job for the control agency, not for thi contracting authorities. Because of that special case, no general conclusion should be reached.
The Department of Labour and National Service has confirmed that the Utah Construction Company has stated that the engagement of S26 employees has not caused abnormal movement of persons within the St. Mary’s area. Substantial numbers have come from the Eildon project. Others were registered at the Commonwealth Employment Office. Others have applied for jobs and so on, and have been given no guarantee at all. Mr. Thomas, of the Utah Construction Company, has assured the Government, as he is compelled to do, that no adjustment in payment would be made without the permission of the Government.
In regard to the concluding part of the honorable senator’s question as to whether the Government will give further consideration to the closing down of the St. Mary’s project, the answer is an emphatic “ No “. It should be generally known and appreciated that the top-level defence advisers of the Government rate this project as a first essential of the whole of the country’s defence programme, and give it No. 1 priority. In the light of this advice, and the source from which it emanates, no government with any sense of national responsibility could do other than proceed with the project with the utmost expedition.
– I desire to address a question about television to the Minister representing the Postmaster-General. Will the Government appoint a committee of leading technicians to report on the frequency allocations for television and standards to be adopted in design and manufacture of television receivers? Is the Government aware that in permitting television to proceed on the basis of very high frequency channels, it is repeating a blunder that was made in the United States of America, which that country has been trying to correct since 1946 ? Is it a fact that the recent commission of inquiry into television did not deal with evidence of a technical nature, because it was not qualified to do so, but devoted its attention chiefly to considering conditions under which television licences should be granted in Australia? If the Government is prepared to appoint a committee of technical advisers, will it include men of world-wide standing in the field of television such as Dr. E. G. Bowen, of the Division of Radio-physics of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research. Organization, a recognized world authority on problems of radiation and an original member of the radar development team of England; Sir Ernest Fisk, a practical commercial man now retired, former managing-director of Amalgamated Wireless (Australia) Limited, and now of Electric and Musical Industries Limited, London; Dr. Baker, Chief of the Research Department of the Radio Corporation of America, and Dr. Dumont, of the Dumont Laboratories, United States of America ?
– I am sure that the Postmaster-General would carefully consider all matters related to television services and the most up-to-date techniques. I am certain also that he and his officials would have considered the general principles of television in other countries where it has been established for several years. I shall bring to the notice of the Postmaster-General the suggestions put forward by the honorable senator, and 1 am sure that if anything important has been overlooked he will give consideration to the honorable senator’s representations.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Supply in connexion with the aluminium plant at Bell Bay which was completed recently, and has now commenced production. . In view of the vacillating estimates of the cost of construction, that were prepared over a. period of years, this Parliament has a responsibility, and should be informed in advance of the likely trading results of that project. Will the Minister make a statement to the Senate, before the close of the present sessional period, giving his forecast of the trading results for the next two years?
– I have no authority to give the honorable senator an assurance along the lines suggested by him, but I shall bring his request to the notice of the Minister for Supply who, I am sure, will be prepared to give the information asked for. ,
– Is the Minister for National Development able to state the nature of the claim by the Australian Workers Union now before the High Court in connexion with the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme?
– Putting my answer in the simplest terms, all I can say is that, as I understand the situation, the Australian Workers Union, is challenging the validity of the special industrial tribunal which was established by an act of this Parliament to deal with disputes arising on the Snowy Mountains project.
– In a statement made by the Minister for National Development in regard to the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme, the Minister said that agreement on a ministerial level had been reached with the Government of New South Wales. I now ask him whether he does not think that that is an indication that there is no impediment on the part of the Government of New .South Wales and no possibility of this subject being used for party political purposes, and that the evidence indicates that the New South Wales Government has been endeavouring to reach agreement. Is it not a fact that one of the chief factors impeding an agreement has been that the cost of electricity has been based on the expenditure on the whole undertaking, instead of on the cost of producing electricity and, further, that power can be produced from coal more cheaply than it can be provided by the Snowy Mountains undertaking?
– These negotiations have been going on for four years. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The important question is whether the
New South Wales Government will complete the agreement. When it does so, its action will establish its bona fides. There has been constant criticism of the Snowy Mountains scheme by technical officers of the New South Wales Electricity Commission, but every impartial investigation of such criticism has proved it to be unfounded. There will not be a Snowy Mountains scheme, or an agreement, until the New South Wales Government signs the agreement. I have hopes that it will sign the agreement shortly, but, as I have said, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the question of paramount importance is whether the New South Wales Government is prepared to sign the agreement. It is six months since agreement was reached on a ministerial level. There are some reservations, but I do not propose to go into them now. I shall not rest content until the agreement has actually been signed. I know of no good reason why it should not have been signed years ago. All I want to do is to get it signed. Frankly it seems to me that it is more important to have the agreement signed, so that the scheme can be proceeded with, than that we should abrogate the conventional procedure merely because an election is about to take place.
asked the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follow: -
Debate resumed from the 12 th October (vide page 477), on motion by Senator
That the bill be now read a first time.
Senator HARRIS (Western Australia) 1 11.44 . - This morning I intend to deal with the proposals of the Government in connexion with social services. I shall oppose them, because I believe that the Government has failed in not giving more liberal increases to both civil and war pensioners, and is deserving of criticism for its failure to liberalize child endowment. While I am speaking of social services, I wish to refer to the funeral benefit for pensioners. The Labour Government introduced that benefit ten years ago, and fixed a rate of £10. It is still at that rate, as was mentioned by Senator Toohey yesterday, and I see no reason why it should not be increased.
Senator Guy spoke at length some days ago on the records of anti-Labour governments in the social services field. He said that age and invalid pensions were introduced by an anti-Labour government. That is correct, but I am sure that when the legislation was introduced it did not have the blessing of the anti-Labour government. In 1909 the Deakin Government introduced the age and invalid pensions legislation because the Labour party had the balance of power. That party in those days was considered as the third party, and the introduction of the pensions legislation was the price that the Deakin Government paid for the support of the few Labour members in the House of Representatives at that time. I do not give credit to any Liberal government for introducing that legislation. Senator Guy also told us of the increases and decreases in. pensions over the years, and he emphasized the reductions in pensions that Labour governments had made at various times. 1 remind honorable senators that it was a Liberal government that introduced legislation providing that the amount of pension that had been paid could be recovered by the Treasurer from a man’s estate after his death. I do not know of any family which was affected by that legislation, but it was introduced, and I have no doubt that some unfortunate families experienced its effect.
The Government should take some action towards assessing the requirement.? of pensioners generally. It should sot up a commission, comprised of members of the medical profession, financial experts and commercial men, with unlimited powers to enable it to assess the requirements of pensioners. We know quite well that there are some pensioners who will never be satisfied, no matter what pension they are given, but there are others who are trying to subsist on the few pounds a week that they receive in pension, and they are the ones about whom I am most concerned. I am not so much concerned about those who have their own homes and do not have to pay any rent, but there are thousands of pensioners who have nothing more “than the £3 or £4 a week that they receive in pension, and they should receive some consideration. A commission should be set up to investigate their requirements and provide a reasonable income for them. In Western Australia certain church organizations are catering for such people, and that is not right. These pensioners are not chasing charity, and they should be given sufficient income so that they will not be dependent on charitable institutions for food and clothing.
I agree with Senator George Rankin’s remarks regarding the Northern Territory. That is an area which should be developed, by land settlement schemes and by the provision of assistance for the mining industries. If that were done, I arn sure that a lot of good citizens would settle in the northern areas of Australia and develop those empty spaces, thus making a valuable contribution to Australia’s defence. The country from the Kimberleys right through the Northern Territory is at present practically empty, and there are thousands of square miles in that area.
This morning we heard the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan). as the Minister representing the Minister for Defence Production, replying to certain press reports on the matter of defence. I wish to refer to the budget speech of the Treasurer on the matter of estimated defence expenditure. It is estimated that in this year £.190,000,000 will be spent for defence purposes. The Treasurer, in his budget speech, said -
At this stage it is only realistic to suppose that the man-power and supply difficulties which caused the lag in spending last year will continue to prevail, at least for the time being. At the same time, every effort is being made to build up the strength of the services and to push on with defence projects. Some important new projects have been undertaken - such as the filling factory at St. Mary’s - and it is necessary to make provision for the Australian component of the Commonwealth strategic reserve in Malaya.
The amount of £190,000,000 in the estimates this year for defence will make a total of over £900,000,000 that this Government will have spent on defence during the years that it has been .in office. No major defence projects have been started in Australia in recent years. Even the roads in the north of Australia, which were a great asset to the American and Australian forces during World War II., are in a bad condition. They have gone to wrack and ruin.
The Treasurer has said that we must push on with defence projects. He said that some new projects had been undertaken, and cited the filling factory at St. Mary’s as an example. This Government has been in office almost six years, and the St. Mary’s project is the only one to which it can point, but the contractors have not even removed the stumps from the site of the St. Mary’s project. I passed the area last Sunday week, and they have not even put a scrub roller over it. The Minister for Defence Production (Sir Eric Harrison) has stated in the House of Representatives that no overtime has been paid on the St. Mary’s job. Of course no overtime has been paid because nobody has been employed except a few men who have been clearing the land.
I direct the attention of honorable senators to an article that was published in the Sunday Telegraph of the 25th September. In this article, sensible argu-ments with regard to the St. Mary’s project were advanced. The article was headed, “Hold it, Mr. Menzies” and stated -
Surely the Federal Government must now have second thoughts about racing ahead with its “ £23,000,000-plus “ munitions plant at St. Mary’s. Months ago, the project was open to challenge on two grounds :
That on a cost-plus ‘basis, it could lead to a shocking waste of taxpayers’ money.
That so huge a demand on scarce labour and materials would thwart other construction and boost wages and costs generally at a critical time.
Those grounds are twice as compelling now that the federal Government is calling upon the nation to curb expenditure lest inflation overwhelm us.
To the two original grounds for postponement has been added another:
To push ahead with so fast a project would ‘ set a bad example to all those now enjoined by Canberra to exercise restraint.
It is undeniable that defence has a high priority.
I agree, of course, with that statement. The editorial in the paper continued -
But nothing saps the power of a nation more than inflation. And, no matter what the ultimate military justification for the enterprise, the fact remains that the dangers of war are currently less than at any time in almost a decade.
For the reasons stated (and elaborated elsewhere on this page), Mr. Menzies, like the British Prime Minister (Sir Anthony Eden) might, with profit, make a personal examination of defence expenditure.
It might show him, for instance, that the estimates of overtime for the St. Mary’s timelimit job have been fantastically under-stated.
Of course they have. All honorable senators know the position in connexion with man-power. The newspapers in all the capital cities of Australia publish page after page advertising situations vacant. Employers are looking for just the men who are required for the St. Mary’s project. The editorial in the Sunday Telegraph added -
It might reveal that at a time when we are cutting imports drastically, St. Mary’s will call for a round £6,000,000 worth of imported materials.
We are reducing imports into Australia and trying to boost our exports, but the machinery that will be used for the St. Mary’s project will cost about £6,000,000 and it will have to be imported. The editorial continues -
This is no time for such an open cheque proposition.
This will be a cost-plus job and therefore it is an open cheque proposition. I would not be surprised if the project costs £50,000,000 to £60,000,000 before it is finished, instead of £23,000,000. The newspaper editorial concludes -
Postponement for a year would avert an immediate stimulus to inflation, give time for more careful costing, and give force and reason to the Government’s appeal for restraint in spending.
That is the opinion of the press. During World War II. I had more than the ordinary experience of work in munitions factories, and I feel sure that the St. Mary’s project will cost much more than the estimate. The finance editor of the * Sunday Telegraph* had interesting opinions to express on the St. Mary’s project, also. He stated in the issue of of the 25th September -
The St. Mary’s munitions project is an illplanned extravagance.
Defence, of course, is vital.
But inflation is the enemy of defence (as shown by 1,000 men drifting out of the forces last year), as it is also to the enemy of economic development.
St. Mary’s could be an inflationary plaguespot for the following reasons: -
A thousand or more of our most skilled artisans will be dragged away from their present work.
They will be given overtime and overaward payments which in themselves might add as much as £10,000.000 to the estimated cost of “ £23,000,000-plus “.
Imports of steel and equipment may cause a cut of £6,000,000 to £10,000,000 in such essentials required elsewhere.
All other government departments will take their cue for similar wasteful procedures, as for example the one in charge of Canberra buildings.
Private industry will resist the loss of its key personnel by overtime and over-award payments.
Of course they will resist it. The men. who are required in munitions factories are the men who are employed in machine shop’s to-day on very important work. Railway repair work is a vital need at the moment, if the railways are to be kept up to date and enabled to play a part in civil defence. Incidentally, this Government has made no contribution at all to civil defence. The article continues -
They will be given overtime and over-award payments . . . The £23,000,000 announced plan is only part of a grandiose scheme by World War II. defence chiefs, and, by itself, will not be a self-sufficient production unit. Another year spent on preparing and checking detailed specifications is needed; and the funds allotted should be held in reserve as an anti-depression plan “ at the ready “.
The Government should take note of the suggestion that another year should be spent on preparing and checking the detailed specifications of this munitions factory.
It amazes me that the Government should be prepared to expend £23,000,000 in two or three years on an undertaking which is not necessary at this time. Honorable senators may well imagine the effect that the building of this factory will have on the man-power resources of the country. Of course, the workers there will not work only an eight-hour day. I know what the heads of these Government factories are like. I saw one or two munitions factories established during the war, and I know that the men employed on them worked day and night. They were coaxed away from other essential work by the prospect of being able to earn £20 or £30 a week, whereas they were able to earn only £10 or £12 a week by working eight hours a day in workshops and other places. When they were offered the prospect of sufficient overtime to bring their wages to £20 or £30 a week, naturally they went to the munitions factories.
I do not trust the judgment of the Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis) or the Minister for Defence Production (Sir Eric Harrison), who submitted a, report on this matter recently. The Minister for Defence Production has been a politician all his life, and from what I have seen of men who have lived their lives in politics, they are not much good lo the country. They do not learn very much about defence while they are sitting in this Parliament, nor do they become acquainted with defence problems generally. They allow “ brass hats “ from Melbourne to come to Canberra and dictate to the Government. In an analysis of a recent speech by the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Bostock), a man who commanded the Royal Australian Air Force in Europe during World War II. and whose rank and experience, together with his technical qualifications, make him most qualified to speak on defence in this Parliament, I read the following statement : -
Even before thu recent easing in international tensions which the United States and the United Kingdom leaders are hailing, but Prime Minister Menzies and his External Affairs Minister Casey are soft-pedalling, Bostock advocated development of our railways and roads.
Mr. Bostock is most competent to give information on defence matters. The press has summed up the position in the following words : -
Yet, simultaneously with doing this, Cabinet apparently feels justified in issuing the warning that the country cannot shell out another bob (other than to pensioners) without sending every one broke. Personally, I would not like to have to determine whether to spend millions on formal defence or on rehabilitating Australia’s run-down railway systems and potholed roads. But I would suggest that, while exponents of the roads for defence school continue to arrive in the capital in s-ac suits instead of gold braid they are going to got nothing out of the Menzies-Fadden combination.
How true that is ! We know what the “ brass hats “ get from the Government. Indeed, they are running the Government.
If I thought that, by sending troops to Malaya, we should be defending this country, I would be 100 per cent, behind the Government in doing so. However, I have read many newspaper reports, including reports from Singapore and Malaya, on this matter, and ever since the Government announced that forces were to be sent to Malaya, the newspapers have stated openly that troops are not required or needed there. Some supporters of the Government have had sufficient courage to suggest, though not very strongly, that it is wrong for the Government to do what it is doing.
Fancy sending troops, plus a Royal Australian Air Force squadron or two, plus a couple of naval ships, 2,000 miles from the northern coast of Australia for the alleged purpose of defending Australia ! Yet, the Prime Minister has said that Malaya is our first line of defence. I point out that, between Malaya and Australia, there are 80,000,000 or 85,000,000 Indonesians, and we do not know what their reaction will be at any tick of the clock, particularly now that elections have been held in that country. Honorable senators should remember that Indonesia already has questioned Australia’s claim to New Guinea and other places, and it is possible that a definite move in that connexion may. be made in a short while. Should that happen, all our troops would be more than 1,500 miles away. As the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Bostock) has asked : Why have troops stationed in Malaya when we are now in the days of atomic warfare? Surely, the Government has not forgotten that, a short time ago, several American aircraft flew to Australia non-stop from Japan. In the light of that warning, what are our “ diggers “ doing in Malaya ?
I wish to refer now to a report by Denis Warner, the special South-East Asia correspondent of the Sn.n newspaper. He said -
Australian troops will have Penang Island, off the north-west coast of Malaya, as their head-quarters.
The Singapore Government’s opposition to the stationing of troops in Singapore has caused this sudden change of plans.
I suggest that that article shows quite clearly that our troops are not wanted in Malaya. Indeed, we are being coldshouldered out of the place. Another article indicates that Singapore did not invite our troops, and that the stationing of troops there might be misunderstood. Of course it might be misunderstood, but. Australia will have to suffer the consequences of that misunderstanding. Honorable senators all realize that we have to look for new export markets and expand our old ones, and the logical place for markets is in Asia. The misunderstanding over the sending of troops to Malaya might well affect our chances of getting new markets in the East. Another article in the press with regard to enlistments for the Army reads as follows: -
Failure by young Australian men to face up to their responsibilities kept the armed services under-staffed, the Director-General of Recruiting, Major-General Kendall, said to-day.
Australians should bc made to realize they have a duty to their country to keep up Australia’s obligations to the United Nations, he said.
I do not know this Kendall, and I do not know of anybody else who knows him.
– Then apparently he must come from South Australia. He is a recruiting campaign director, and apparently, because he cannot get sufficient recruits in Australia, he has decided that Australians should be made to realize their duty to their country. I say right now that Australian men. and women have always remembered their duty to their country when Australia has been in trouble. They showed that in 1914, and they showed it during the last war when the Japanese slaughterers were advancing on us. Therefore, it is rather amusing to hear the like of this recruiting campaign director saying that the Australian people are not aware of their duty. Of course, the reason for his statements is that he must keep his job. He is being paid £70 a week to direct a recruiting campaign, and he wants to get in a few recruits every week in order to keep his job. However, he is only one member of the recruiting campaign; there are other directors and officers scattered through the country. T/his man is getting £7.0 a week, but apparently is not getting any recruits. They ought to sack him or shoot him.
It has been said that the landing of Australian troops in Malaya was a psychological blunder. Of course it was, but the “ brass hats “ run this Government, and they quick-marched the soldiers on to the boat to get them to Malaya as quickly as they could, before public opinion could take effect. In fact, they have not actually got to Malaya; they are now in Penang.
– Penang is part of Malaya.
– They were put out of Malaya, and now they are on the small island of Penang. An article in the Daily Telegraph only a few days ago read as follows : -
Official hopes that the Malays would welcome Australian troops died last night.
A top Malayan youth leader mode a nationwide protest against the sending of the troops.
He is Abdul Ghalib Bin Sahun, of the powerful Malayan National Organization.
His speech is expected to offset the recent “ Welcome Aussies “ statement by the Chief Minister of the Federated Malay States (Abdul Rahman). “ The despatch of Australian troops means Malaya is being prepared as a war-base “, Sahun said. “ We protest against this and will continue to protest.” . . . lue speech is considered highly important because it is the first time Rahman’s own party has opposed his welcome to the troops.
Therefore, it is quite apparent that we are not wanted. What is wrong with this Government? Have the members of the Government been chloroformed or hypnotized by the “ brass hats “ at Victoria Barracks? We know quite clearly that our troops are not wanted in Malaya. Moreover, if an amnesty is granted to the rebels and the trouble stops, what are our troops to do ? One “ brass hat “ has stated that in that event they will still patrol the jungle. The people should remember that that will be paid for by Australia, and that it is a situation similar to that which a Menzies Government got us into in 1941 when it left office through incompetence after stationing large bodies of troops in Malaya.
The Government is now trying to tell the people that it is helping to defend Australia by spending about £23,000,000 on a filling factory at St. Mary’s, and by sending thousands of troops and their families to Malaya. I suggest that the Government’s contention in that regard is just silly, and that what it has done is not really in the defence of Australia but is merely to hoodwink the people into thinking that the Government is defending this country. I oppose the suggestions of the Treasurer as set forth in his budget speech.
– I rise to take advantage of the peculiar nature of the measure before us which allows any honorable senator to deal with matters, both relevant and irrelevant to the bill, on the first reading. I desire to address my remarks to one matter which has exercised my mind ever since I entered the Senate. I made passing reference to it about five years ago, and I have eagerly searched the budget of each year since then to discover whether the Government is doing anything about this most; important matter. The matter is the problem that faces Western Australia in the development of the northern parts of the State. Of course, every honorable senator is interested in the matters that affect his particular State, but I suggest that this matter is more than a State matter, and that it affects all the people of this country.
If honorable senators look at the map of Australia they will find a line that appears to have been drawn with a ruler, which marks the eastern boundary of the State of Western Australia. That was probably drawn by some one sitting in London, and because of the boundary so drawn, Western Australia has about onethird of the whole area of this continent but only about one-fifteenth of our population. If honorable senators look back through the records they will find that this matter has been raised time and time again by the supporters of both Labour and non-Labour governments, and especially by Labour governments of Western Australia. The present Labour Government of that State is particularly interested in the matter because of recent happenings in the north-west of Western Australia. What is the peculiar problem and what advances have been made in dealing with it? As recently as 1951 a committee known as the Northern Rehabilitation Committee was set up. I ask honorable senators to note the name. In no other part of Australia, no matter what difficulties it may be labouring under, would there be need to set up a committee with the name “ rehabilitation “ attached to it. Every part of Australia, with the exception of this portion north of the twenty-sixth parallel, has been going forward during the last ten years, although maybe not as fast as some people would like. This vast area of
Western Australia north of the twentysixth parallel, apart probably from some local mining areas, is the one area in Australia which has been slowly slipping backwards.
The Northern Rehabilitation Committee put forward a scheme for taxation reduction to which I shall refer in a moment. Following its report, a resolution was carried unanimously by all parties of the Legislative Assembly of Western Australia and was forwarded to the Government at Canberra. It contained the recommendations of the Northern Rehabilitation Committee, and urged this Government to accept either those or some similar propositions in order to help develop this area which is deteriorating so rapidly. It, is some time since 1951, and even since 1953, but the reason I refer to the matter is to show that although something concrete was put before the government of the day, nothing has been done up to the present time. I agree that there might be a divergence of opinion on the proposals put forward by that committee. The whole matter revolves around taxation. We are continually making representations to the Treasurer about all sorts of taxation proposals and it is easy for him to say, “ This is just another one “. This Northern Rehabilitation Committee, which was backed by all parties in Western Australia, recommended a “ tax holiday “ for a period of twenty years for all money earned in the area north of the twentysixth parallel whether it was earned by way of capital investment, wages, mining, fishing, agriculture, hotel-keeping or in any other way. Sixty per cent, of that money was to be completely tax-free and the other 40 per cent, was to be tax-free provided it was re-invested in the north of Western Australia. The position to-day is that not one shilling of the money earned in the north is being reinvested in that area; every shilling of it is being whizzed away to the southern section of the State and to the metropolis of Western Australia.. The fact that this northern area is slipping back can be proved in a dozen different ways, but, obviously, it must slip back if money earned there is not re-invested in the area.
There are two points of view about the north-west of our State that I completely distrust. One is that all that is needed is to wave a magic wand over it and the desert will bloom with roses; and the other is that we should give it back to the aborigines and apologize for ever having taken it. Those views are held only by itinerants who have never lived in the a rea but have made an aeroplane trip over it and think they are complete authorities on it. When I was in Sydney a few years ago a businessman cornered me and gave me what is colloquially called tin ear-bashing on what the Government should do in the north. He said finally, “ You cannot tell me anything about it ; I have just spent three weeks up there “. I might claim some little authority because I spent the first twenty years of my life there, my family has spent 50 years there and I have a brother who has lived his entire life in that area and at present represents that area in the Western Australian Parliament. I do not claim to be a complete authority, but at least I am not just an itinerant. One cannot spend his entire childhood and youth, and receive his complete education and spend the formative years of his life in an area, without having some affection for that part of the country and without having some hopes and aspirations for what the future might hold for it.
Is there any Australian worthy of the name who doubts that this area should be populated and developed’? It is not much use talking about what we shall do when we get the people up there if we are not prepared to do something for the people who already live in that part of the country and have pioneered it over the last 50 or 60 years, and whose families are up there to-day. We must face up to the fact that there is a shortage of capital throughout the whole of the British Commonwealth of Nations at the present time. We cannot merely say that capital should be invested; we must grapple with the problem of this shortage of capital. The problem is how to get the capital that does exist into this area. There is only one way to do that and that is by making the area so overwhelmingly favorable to the investment of capital that investors will put their money into it rather than invest it in any other part of Australia. Later, I desire to deal in detail with what the Government should do ; but the main thing is to attract capital to that area. No State government could possibly make sufficient finance available to develop this area. But it is no good expecting people to go into that naturally dry area when they can settle in the lush south-western corner of the State. While we have such a lush south-western area with natural timber growth producing some of the best timbers in the world, with excellent soil and ample rainfall, anybody would be completely crazy to go to the northwest and live under the difficulties that exist there. (Quorum formed.) When Senator Hannaford called for a quorum I was dealing with the peculiar problem of the north, and how to solve it. It has not been grappled with since federation, and is worsening. From time to time, reports appear that Australia has -reached a new “high” in population, and we are proud of that fact, but the population of that area is dwindling. I have not the exact figures, but the working-force of the north-west of Western Australia is about the same as the number of employees in Myers Emporium, Melbourne. Not only is there a decline of population and a lack of progress in the pastoral, fishing and rnining industries, but proper facilities for people .are also slipping back. In 1983 I had my first aeroplane flight from the north to the south of Western Australia. As a matter of passing interest, my fellow passenger was Mr. Texas Green, the representative for Kalgoorlie in this Parliament. During the flight the plane - a four-seater craft - landed at all intermediate stops, and a passenger might leave it at any of these places if he wished, or go on to Perth. Twenty years later, I was engaged in an election campaign and was scheduled to speak at a meeting at Carnarvon and intended then to return to Geraldton. The flight schedule of the earlier days no longer obtained, and I found that if I wanted to land at Geraldton I would have to pay £8 for the aeroplane to put down. Shipping facilities are no better now than when I was in the north-west 20 or 30 years ago.
I spent my early days in the small town of “Wyndham, and I clearly recall that it had no street lights. I am informed that Wyndham still has no street lights except when the Wyndham meatworks are in operation. Can honorable senators imagine such an appalling lack of transport and lighting facilities? It is not much good marking grandiose plans about what should be done in this area if we are not prepared to improve facilities. It is of no use talking about a pioneering spirit, because people will not go up there with their families and live under such conditions when practically the same wages and better conditions are available in the metropolis. In order to take holidays, residents are obliged to travel 2,000 miles.
The Northern Rehabilitation Comunittee recommended the rather radical scheme of taxation concessions which I outlined. It is necessary to encourage the investment of private capital in the north. Honorable senators may not know that when the Chifley Government introduced the zone allowance it was unique in the world. I have searched the parliamentary library and can find no record of any other place where such a concession was granted. When I was in Germany, I heard that the city of Bonn, in West Germany, was given special taxation concessions before the war. I can find no confirmation of that in any written document, so it could be only a rumour.
– What was the purpose of it?
– To attract people to live in that area. As a matter of fact, the value of the zone tax allowance is negligible. A man receiving £1.0,000 a year, living in zone A, would pay £5,533 a year in taxation. If he lived in any other part of the State, he would pay £5,621. A wage-earner receiving £750 a year would pay £57 3s. if he lived in zone A and £S0 anywhere else in the State. If he lived in zone B he would pay £76. That means that he would be given a concession of £4 to live in zone B. The important fact is that the Chifley Government broke all precedent by saying, “Here is an area in which we are prepared to grant a taxation concession “. If the present Government is not pre pared to consider a tax-free holiday for twenty years it has plenty of precedents for granting other worth-while concessions. Nobody would suggest that £4 a year is an adequate remission of taxation for a worker when he has to live under such conditions. It is an insult to offer it to him.
Recently, a member of the Western Australian Parliament approached me on behalf of a storekeeper in one of the northern towns who was prepared to install a refrigerator in his shop. I know that his object was to use it in his trade to make a profit. But his action in installing that machine for the purpose of keeping perishable goods was like putting iced water in the middle of the Sahara desert. The refrigerator cost him £4,500, of which £500 was sales tax. Sales tax does not operate on a zonal basis. An approach was made to the Commonwealth Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) for a concession in regard to sales tax in the northern zone, and he promised to examine it before presenting the next budget. Honorable senators are aware of the vast number of pigeon-holes in Canberra, and nothing more was heard of it.
A colossal outlay in overhead and sales tax is involved in all industry in the far north. In the mining industry in places such as Wittenoom Gorge, the settler finds that because there is no natural timber in the area he is involved in enormous expense to haul timber hundreds of miles from the south-western district. He is saddled with sales tax also. In 1943, the primage duty on gold was removed. There is plenty of precedent for applying that concession to all mining on a zonal basis. Such a concession would make a difference of about 10 per cent, in the cost of fuel oil and other necessary commodities, which would be a considerable saving.
Another heavy imposition is pay-roll tax. No one in his right senses would work in the extreme north-west with all its disabilities for the same wage that he could earn in the metropolitan area of the .south-west. But immediately an additional wage is paid, higher pay-roll tax automatically operates.
Sitting suspended from 18. £5 to 2.80 p.m.
– I emphasize the point with which I was dealing when the sitting was suspended by saying again that that neglected one-sixth of Australia must be made attractive to capital in order to finance the works which are necessary to attract population there. So far, the development of that part of Western Australia has been left largely to the pastoral industry, and whilst I do not wish to detract in any way from the importance and value of that industry, I point out that it is not the kind of industry to attract large numbers of people to such areas, where there are acres to the sheep rather than sheep to the acre. Capital must be provided to develop mining, fishing, and manufactures in that area, so that it will be able to carry a much larger population. But that is not all that is required and so I advocate certain taxation concessions . to people who are prepared to expend their money in that area. I know of no other way to ensure that investors will get something over and above the return from their investment than they would get elsewhere. People will not go into such areas, and put tip with the lack of educational and other facilities, and experience periodically the effects of cyclones and droughts, unless there are good prospects of receiving returns greater than they would receive if they invested their money in other parts of the State. However, that is only one aspect of the problem of the development of that area.
It is the duty of the Commonwealth to grant further aid than I have already mentioned. Unless that is done, other activity on the part of the Government will be of little avail. I have in mind, first, tho problem of transport in that part of Australia. Between Carnarvon and Perth, a distance of about 600 miles, there is a road which has to carry a considerable amount of heavy traffic. The road transport problem in that area is aggravated by the fact that there is a lack of shipping to port3 on the north-west coast of Western Australia ; the road has to carry much n-.ore heavy traffic than would be the case if goods could be carried by sea. Already, about a half of that road ha3 been sealed with bitumen, but maintenance costs for the whole distance have amounted to about £350,000 over a period of nearly five years. That is to say, every five years £350,000 goes down the drain because climatic conditions in that area make road maintenance very costly. I mention this matter because people in the other States, who do not realize the conditions which exist in the north-west of Australia, think that because they have been able to overcome their road problems there should be no greater difficulty in overcoming them in the district to which I have referred. No other State has the problems which face Western Australia because of the more severe variations of climate as well as the great distances to be covered in that part of Australia. Let us, for a moment, consider some of the problems associated with road-making in that district. The materials required to build a road are not available in the area, and have to be carted some hundreds of miles. These materials - clay, sand, and rock - require fresh water to bind them, because mineralized water causes disintegration. But there is no fresh water in the locality. Water for road-making has to be carted a distance of from ISO to 200 miles. The only way to deal with this problem is to bitumenize the road surface, and even when that is done, only a very small portion of the road system of the north-west of Western Australia has been touched. The immediate answer is to expend £1,250,000 to seal with bitumen the unsealed portion of the road referred to. That necessitates a special grant by the Commonwealth.
– What about providing more ships?
– I have already referred to the lack of shipping in that area, and I shall make further reference to it later. When we see photographs of oil rigs at Exmouth Gulf and Derby, we must remember that that machinery did not drop out of the sky right over the oil holes. Its transportation constituted a great problem. Some of it was brought by ship, but that which could not be so transported had to be dragged over these roads. No doubt, we shall have some smart statistician saying that the volume of traffic on these roads is very small, and probably does not exceed twenty vehicles a day, but it must be remembered that every one of those vehicles carries a heavy load. They are operated by hauliers moving heavy bales of wool or heavy oil rigs and similar machinery.
In a consideration of this problem we must get completely away from the idea of handing a few pounds to the State government and saying, “Deal with the position as best you can “. The only possible solution is to treat this as a special problem. There can be no doubt at all that roads in the area I am speaking of must have a defence value, and if lienor able senators examine the correspondence that lies in pigeon-holes somewhere around this building they will find that that is the opinion not only of myself, but of people qualified to pass opinions on such matters. Therefore, when the Government is allocating £200,000,000 a year for defence, it should keep in mind that road construction in this area is a defence project.. The roads would also be of value in the carrying of various commodities to and from that part of Australia. I have said several times that it is not of much use talking about what you are going to do for the north unless you are prepared to do something for the people who are there now.
In the northern regions of Australia, we have what might be called a warm winter. It is an ideal place for growing out-of-season products, but it is of no use trying to grow perishable products, such as tomatoes, beans, bananas and so on, if the vehicles that transport them are going to be delayed on the roads.
Senator Scott referred to the problem of shipping, because he knows that problem very well. There are fewer ships operating on our west coast to-day than there were prior to the war. I do not know how we are going to develop such places when we have less and less shipping to carry essential commodities to the people there.
– Will that be the position in six months’ time, when Daylesford goes into service?
– If my figures are correct the introduction of that new vessel will bring the total to six ships, which is the number that operated before 1939. We shall not have one more vessel on that coast than we had before World War II., even when this new vessel is in service, notwithstanding the fact that a good deal of expansion has occurred as a result of the oil search in the Derby and Rough Range areas.
I shall not develop this subject any further. I believe that there is other developmental work that should take place, but I shall reserve my further remarks until a bill similar to this one is being debated. I invite honorable senators to ask themselves if there is any one among them who believes that large expenditure should not be undertaken in the area to which I have referred. We cannot expect the State Government to take risks with the revenue that is allocated to it, because it does not get very much.
As an example of work that should be undertaken, I might mention the Gascoyne River, which is in the area we have been discussing. There have been discussions for years as to the best way to hold back the flow of water in that river. Because of the peculiar geological features of the country a dam of the usual kind cannot be built, and there have been all sorts of suggestions, including one that clay banks should be constructed. But there is always a divergence of opinion amongst engineers, and we cannot expect a . State government, which is trying to eke out the money it gets from the Commonwealth under the uniform tax scheme, to spend £100,000 or £750,000, or whatever it might cost, on work of this nature. The Australian Government should take the risks in this area. It cannot do the job on the basis of saying, “We will spend £10 now and get £12 back at the end of the financial year “. The work cannot be done in that way, and the only government to do the work is the Australian Government. Is not this a challenge that should bring out the best in any government that has ever held office in this Commonwealth? And what is the alternative? If we do not develop this area we shall leave ourselves open to international criticism. How can we maintain the White Australia policy when, in the area that is closest to the Asian nations, we have 10,000 people spread over a sixth of the continent? We lay ourselves open to charges by the
Asians, and there is no gainsaying the fact that while we allow this area to remain in its present state it will be the Achilles heel in the defences of the Australian continent.
– The Appropriation Bill which is now being debated affords an opportunity for honorable senators to review the contents of the budget, and many honorable senators have expressed opinions on matters contained in the budget. Last night, we heard some remarks from Senator . Wright, who usually makes speeches that are enjoyed by honorable senators, because they are interesting and informative. But last night he departed from his usual practice, and he gave a disconcerting exposition of the implications of the budget. I wish to direct attention to the remarks which lie made concerning the judgment of Mr. Justice Foster in the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Court in favour of an increase of £1 a week in the basic wage, and the impact of that judgment on the Australian economy. No doubt the honorable senator, with his knowledge of Arbitration Court proceedings, was fully aware that Mr. Justice Foster did not arrive at his decision without the weightiest of evidence to justify it, and without having in mind the effect that the decision would have on The economy of Australia. For the information of the Senate I shall read a fewextracts from that judgment. I have here’ a copy of the Sydney Morning Herald, dated the 13th October, 1950, which contains a report of the judgment from which I shall read this extract -
I do firmly conclude that the economy will not be unduly hampered if the court goes further and not merely awards the existing standards, but requires it to adjust itself to a slightly higher one.
Any increase in wages tends to increase prices and reduce the value of money and there is not the slightest doubt in my mind that the increases I propose will cause a rise in prices in Australia, and this in turn will cause a redistribution of the national income and affect some sections of the community, including of course workers, adversely. . . To a great extent, the worst effects could be mitigated by governmental action by which the community can be helped to a satisfactory readjustment, and one remembers that every improvement in working class standards, whether in reduction of hours or increased wages, has had this sort of effect and will always have it . . . How far the court should be constrained to avoid adding anything to the inflationary forces prevailing now in thu economy is a very moot point; the influence of the court’s awards is not, of itself a menacing one. The court has no machinery of its own and no control of the machinery which, experience has shown, is available to regulate to a substantial measure these forces. The evidence has shown that steps are possible by the appropriate authorities to largely mitigate these dangers. For my part, I would not hold my hand in doing economic justice to Australian workers because there was failure, for the time being, to take these precautionary steps. I do assume that they will be taken.
We have been urged to grant wage increases and so to increase prices in order to achieve a transfer of part of the alleged excess income in primary producers’ hands due to the extraordinary overseas prices for their products. An increase of wages will have this effect, but it is a crude and inefficient and nondiscriminatory method and I should decline to use it for this purpose if the court had access to any method of avoiding’ it. It certainly has an unjust incidence on other equally worthy sections of the community. But price increases are inevitable if wages are raised and that must be their effect; this is regrettable but as the court pointed out in the standard hours case there is a. corrective remedy in relief of these sections easily available to the Parliament but beyond the court’s powers.
That is the indictment against the Government. It has not adopted the corrective measures that are necessary if the workers are to receive a just and equitable share of the increased national production. In 1950, the judges of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration stated unanimously that it was the prerogative of the Parliament to take the necessary action to counter inflationary tendencies, and to correlate them with any increase of wages consequent upon increased production. The workers should have their share of that increase.
I am convinced that Senator Wright spoke with his tongue in his cheek last night when he made his speech, because he is fully aware of the procedure that is necessary in connexion with any investigation conducted by the court into wage standards. I do not know whether the honorable senator deliberately intended to mislead the people. His speech was broadcast, and he took full advantage of that fact to convey to the Australian people that the Arbitration. Court was responsible foi- the increased wages that are part and parcel of rising costs. He implied subtly that the workers were not entitled to a just reward for their physical efforts, and their contribution towards national production.
The honorable senator also implied that the Premier of New South Wales was playing politics in this connexion in an endeavour to benefit the Australian Labour party in that State. The honorable senator was referring to basic-wage adjustments. Why should the workers be denied an equitable share in Australia’s prosperity? Why should the greater portion of our wealth go to a minority of the community ? All the judgments of the court on industrial matters, including the standard hours case, have shown that the workers are giving adequate service for the wages they are paid and the conditions under which they work.
In 1953, the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration froze the basic wage as a national necessity. The pensioners were denied increases of pensions rates. Production has risen, and one section of the community should not be denied its equitable dues. But that has happened in the past two years. This Government stands condemned for not going into the court to support the claims of the Australian Council of Trades Unions for industrial benefits for the workers. The position was different during the regime of the Labour governments. All applications for improved wage standards and industrial conditions were supported to the fullest extent by Labour governments, because they knew that the economy of Australia would benefit if the people were happy and contented and had plenty of purchasing power. This Government has a different philosophy. It believes in restricting spending and freezing wages, and in not giving the pensioners equitable increases. -Is it not obvious that when spending power is restricted there must be repercussions on various other aspects of the economy? Restriction of spending must affect all sections of the community, down to those on the lowest rung of the economic ladder.
As I have said, Labour sponsored increased wages and improved industrial conditions for the Australian workers. That policy was reflected in all economic spheres, because all sections of the people enjoyed prosperity. For the first time in the history of 2.ustralia we had full employment, a thing unheard of, in the Australian way of life, until the advent of Labour governments. Because of the economic stability brought about by the Curtin Government and the Chifley Government, all kinds of improvements were made in the Australian way of life, ls it suggested that those improvements had a detrimental effect upon the national economy? Social services at that time were better than ever they have been. Wage standards were higher, and so were our overseas balances. The financial circumstances of Australian workers were never better. Reforms which revolutionized living standards and every-day working conditions were made. Annual leave, which hitherto had been, unknown for ordinary workers, was introduced in industry generally. Before then, only the Public Service and one or two wealthy industrial organizations were able to give their employees that benefit. Sick leave, one of the most outstanding advances ever made in our way of life, became a regular thing. The benefit of sick leave to the Australian community cannot be calculated in terms of money. We all know how, prior to its advent, the threat of sickness hung over the heads of family men; -they were ever-conscious of the twin shadows of sickness and unemployment. Not only was provision for sick leave introduced for the first time, but, also for the first time in the history of this country full employment became a feature of our lives.
The Curtin Government, and later the Chifley Government, solidly and valiantly supported by the rank and file of the Australian Labour party, implemented these reforms. The present Australian Government is charged with their dissipation. I think it was only yesterday, when the Social Services Bill was being introduced in this chamber, that I heard a comparison made between increases of pensions when Labour was in office and the proposed increase of 10s. a week. If I may trespass on the time of the Senate for just a little while, I shall give some illuminating figures concerning pensions.
A Labour government took office in 1943. Senator Guy, to whom we are indebted for his remarks concerning social services, took great pains to detail the ramifications of the present Government’s schemes, and I intend to go a little further than did the honorable senator and present the Labour point of view. In 1941, when Labour took over, the age pension was £1 ls. 6d. a week, and the basic wage was £4 5s. a week, so that the pension was approximately 25 per cent, of the basic wage. Labour continued in office until 1949, during which time it increased the pension to £2 2s. 6d. a week. During that most stable period in the economy of Australia, the basic wage increased by only £2 a week, lt would not have increased by as much as that, had the present Government parties supported the referendum, which was proposed by the Labour party, concerning prices control. Honorable senators opposite fought that referendum rigorously and viciously. They said that private enterprise could do a better job in controlling prices than could the Government. That was their cry, and the public responded to it, with the result that, from 194S to 1949, the basic wage increased by 10s. a week, although in the previous seven years it had increased by only £1 10s. a week, due to the stability of every facet of the economy. Our primary production was so good then that we were not able to supply all the markets that were open to us overseas. Our economy was secure within the ambit of orderly marketing.
It should not be forgotten, also, that during that period, the 40-hour week came into being, as did annual leave, sick leave and numerous other industrial improvements. I could quote from the records and statements of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court to show that, after the fullest investigations, the court was of the opinion that, so prosperous was the country, and so stable the economy, all of those reforms could safely be implemented. In saying that, I do not purport to use the words of the judgments, but I submit that that statement conveys their general trend. With transfer of power to the present Government, we have witnessed a change in the procedure of government. In addition, we have seen the standards of the workers being cut down.
As I have said, in dealing with pensions, the basic wage rose by only £2 a week during the regime of the Labour governments, but the pensions were increased by £1 ls., or about 100 per cent. The age and invalid pensions were 25 per cent, of the basic wage when Labour assumed office in 1941, but when we left office in 1949 the pension was 34 per cent, of the basic wage. If we analyse the relationship between the pensions and the basic wage, we find that when Labour left office the pension was about 34 per cent, of the basic wage of £6 5s. To-day, the basic wage is approximately £12 5s., and if this Government had given the pen-, sioners the same percentage of the basic wage as the Labour Government gave them the pensioners would now be receiving £5 2s. 6d. a week instead of the £4 that they will receive after the new increase of 10s. a week. However, we do not want to stand still in regard to social services. We have been told by the Government, and it is the whole tenor of the budget, that prosperity is abounding. That may be so, and I hope it is. If it is, then, pension rates should be still further increased.
I am most concerned about the present state of our primary products. I spoke about this matter during the debates on the last two budgets, and I predicted the present situation, and informed the Government that it would have to bring, about an internal adjustment of the economy in order to create greater spending power in the community. I suggested that sales tax should be reduced, and that wages and pensions should be increased so that the spending power of the community would receive a vigorous impetus. Our external markets for primary products are in a parlous state. This is the first time that we have ever had to stockpile wheat’ in large quantities, and the other wheat-producing countries of the world also have an abundance of wheat. Moreover, the prospects for our present wheat crop are not good, so where are we to get markets for our surplus wheat? I do not want to be thought a pessimist, but I am a realist, and I say that the purchasing power of the workers must be increased. This Government has denied the workers their share of the economic cake.
Why will the Government not follow the lead given by the last Labour Government, and introduce some measure of control of the economy? Nobody wants controls, but we are all subject to some controls in our ordinary life. However, if controls are for the good of the community as a whole, we should certainly submit ourselves to those controls - more particularly if they are only temporary. I believe that if we gave controls a trial for a few years we could readjust our internal economy to the advantage of all sections of the community, but this Government continues its policy of laisser-faire.
It has been stated in the press that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has had consultations with different sections of the community on vital national and financial problems. No doubt, much good has come from those conferences, but I am a realist, and I know very well that we can never accomplish anything important by honorable agreements.
– The honorable senator believes in strong arm methods?
– If it is essential for the ultimate good of the majority of the people, definitely yes. I suppose that other honorable senators as well as myself have been inundated with letters from various hire-purchase businesses protesting against any departure from existing practices. Those concerns have set out the merits of their case, and, as a section of the people, they are entitled to make those representations just as any other section of the people is entitled to approach us. If their attitude is as they have stated, how will the matter between them and the Government be resolved by honorable agreement? There is a certain amount of diversity of feeling, and as a natural consequence there must be a diversity of action. Therefore, I suggest that the conferences and consultations were just so much wasted effort.
The people expect the Government to introduce and implement laws for the peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth, but we shall not obtain order or good government until we do bring down the necessary laws to secure it. The Government must first unpeg the basic wage, and, indeed, the Government will be forced to do that because Labour-governed ‘States have given the lead in that regard. The second action that this Government must take is to introduce prices control. I well recollect attending a meeting of trade unionists in Melbourne in 1942. We had placed before us by the- Curtin Government a plan to peg wages. The trade union movement had never heard of such a proposal previously. But concurrent with that proposal to peg wages the promise was made that prices also would be controlled. When the scheme was implemented, profits also were pegged to a reasonable limit. I do not begrudge anybody a reasonable profit from his investment and efforts, but there should be a limit to such income. Those who are responsible for the development and building up of the industrial and rural life of this country deserve to get something for their efforts. That conference unanimously accepted the Curtin Government’s proposals, and they were immediately implemented to the benefit of Australia as a whole.
The regimentation of the economy of Australia, in that way, which was inevitable during war-time, was a magnificent effort and all sections of the community responded to it. In fact, it earned the eulogy of such a. great authority as General MacArthur. Statistics show that during World War II. Australia contributed far more in reverse lend-lease than it received. It contributed more than 50 per cent, of its productive resources to maintain American forces in the field, a record unsurpassed by any other Allied nation. For this magnificent record, General MacArthur gave credit to the sterling character of the Australian people, but he gave even higher credit to the splendid qualities of the war-time leadership of John Curtin.
At that time, the whole economy of the nation was pegged by the Labour party. If we could return to something like that, we could stabilize our economy. But to-day, we find that super-abundant profits are being made which are out of all proportion in a stable economy. We have decimated our external markets. What is the Government doing about it? This year it is going to extract from the Australian community an extra £58,500,000 in taxation. That, surely, will have repercussions on full employment, on purchasing power and also on our rural industries. In such circumstances, those engaged in rural industries might just as well shut up shop for the next two or three, years. Probably, they will find more remunerative employment on road construction or on defence works. In any event, they will be regimented unless internal consumption, is stimulated as no other profitable markets are now available to them.
I noticed in this morning’s press that Canada is soliciting trade with Russia and, in the very near future, hopes to break into the Chinese market. The wheat-growers know what the situation is as well as I do; but for the information of a few senators who are probably not familiar with the story, Australia would have had the United Kingdom market last year had this Government been prepared to subsidize wheat to the extent of 5d. a bushel. The leaders of the Australian Wheat Board were adamant in holding out for an international wheat price of 36s. odd. The result was that Great Britain refused to enter into the agreement.
– The Government let the farmers down.
– Of course, it did. I do not know why there have not been vehement protests from all the farmers in Australia against such reprehensible conduct. Now, the United States, a party to the International Wheat Agreement, is supplying the United Kingdom market at a price below the agreement price. What is the Australian Wheat Board doing about this problem? Its answer is to store wheat. But next season an abundant crop is expected. Resolutions have been passed urging growers to refrain from planting, but circumstances will force farmers to grow more wheat in the hope that they will be able to get something out of it.
– There may be a grasshopper plague.
– Perhaps, some of the stored wheat might be eaten by grass hoppers so that a fresh start could be made next season. We are confronted with abundances of nature. I have heard honorable senators on the other side during their expositions on wheat bills say, in effect, that they are praying for something to turn up, something in the nature of a drought or a grasshopper plague. Such a thing seems to be a permanent complaint in South Australia. Such an attitude is unrealistic. We should get down to something concrete and practical. I do not claim to be an expert on wheat, but we must take heed of developments in the wheat industry as the result of scientific research. Time marches on, and just as science has entered the industrial field, the wheat industry will not be immune to its influence. I read recently in the press that in Italy wheat was ripened in 65 days as a result of the application of atomic energy. That is astounding. Such a development could well revolutionize the wheat industry. How are we going to face up to a situation of that kind?
Ever since I have been a member of the Senate, I have urged the abolition of sales tax on consumable goods, that is on bread and butter lines. I asked the Minister some weeks ago what was the amount of taxation collected from goods in that particular category. 1 assumed that it was a large amount, but I was astounded to be informed by the Minister that 53 per cent, of last year’s collections of sales tax, amounting to £100,000,000, was derived from sales tax on items in the 12-J per cent, category which, in the main, comprises foodstuffs.
– There is no sales tax on food.
– There is. I invite Senator Kendall to try to purchase any processed food without paying sales tax.
– That is outside the C series index.
– On individual items such as butter, milk, sugar, eggs, fruit, honey and many others there is no sales tax, but when any such commodity is processed in the making of ice cream, confectionery, biscuits and all forms of cakes it becomes subject to tax. I heard Senator Gorton ask the Minister how much sales tax was collected on raisin bread. All bread is subject to sales tax, indirectly. That is an alarming situation, and I ask honorable senators on the Government side who are “ cockies “ what they are doing about it. More consumer goods need to be used in Australia. It is deplorable that in the Australian economy the people’s ability to use consumer goods appears to have deteriorated. I am anxious that every person in Australia should be consuming an adequate quantity of food. In the Sydney Morning Herald of the 9th September, 1955, an illuminating article appeared, from which I have taken a brief extract. It reads -
Although there had been an aggregate increase in food consumption, the average amount of food eaten by. each individual member of the Australian community had declined.
Despite the increase of population, the average quantity of food consumed has declined. We are building up in Australia a stockpile of primary products, but if they were distributed it would stimulate the drooping spirits of the primary producers because there would be a greater demand for their products. That cannot be done while the Government restricts purchasing power. The worker is denied adequate wages because they are pegged or frozen. At the same time, prices are increased and thus a twofold restriction is imposed on the worker’s purchasing power. The value of child endowment to which he is entitled is lessened. In 1949, what could be purchased for 10s. now costs about 27s. 6d. It is easy to imagine what effect that has on a large family. Honorable senators on the Government side should demand that that situation be remedied. It is part of the imbalance of the Australian economy.
Honorable senators may claim that the courts have granted increased margins, but only a small section of the community has benefited. Even they have become subject to greater taxation, and that fact is reflected in the estimated taxation revenue for this year. The Government expects to collect £57,500,000 extra from taxation, both direct and indirect. Last year, the estimated revenue from sales tax was £92,000,000, but the actual yield was £100,000,000, an increase of £8,000,000. This year, the Government has budgeted for an expected yield of £106,000,000. In direct taxation, the expected increase in income tax revenues is from £361,000,000 to £390,000,000, a difference of £29,000,000. The Government has been directly responsible for the inflationary spiral. Pay-roll tax has been deliberately increased from £41,000,000 last year to £46,500,000 this year - an increase of £5,500,000. No Government senator has suggested an alternative proposition to resolve these economic problems, or justified the present economic policy. The Government is satisfied with its budget, and it intends to make no change in the internal economy so that all sections of the Australian community might benefit.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a first time.
Motion (by Senator Cooper) agreed to-
That the bill be now read a second time.
Bill read a second time and committed pro forma; progress reported.
Debate resumed from the 12th October (vide page 470), on motion by Senator Spooner - .
That the bill be now read a second time.
– In addressing myself to the bill now before the Senate I do so with a deep sense of disappointment, because last May I moved the adjournment of the Senate to direct the attention of the Minister to the plight of certain categories of pensioners - war and civilian widows. At the time my action was questioned, and it was said that we would have an opportunity during the budget debate to discuss such matters. My intention at the time was to bring to the notice of senators, and particularly to the notice of the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services, the basic needs of the widows in the community, in order that some consideration might be given to their plight before the budget was framed. I believed that it would be too late to raise the matter once decisions had been made by the Government, because we would then be told that the budget proposals had been decided on. I hoped that some of the proposals which I put before the Senate on that occasion would be heeded by the Government and be incorporated in legislation. Unfortunately, an examination of this bill shows that that has not been done, despite the assurances given in this chamber by the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services that the matters raised would be considered. Therefore, as I have said, an examination of this measure leaves me with a deep sense of disappointment that the proposals which, at the time, I thought had the unanimous support of honorable senators, have not been given any consideration whatsoever. It is not as if those proposals would have involved the Government in heavy expenditure, but they would have given greater benefits for the money expended than are likely to accrue from any other item of Government expenditure. When introducing this bill, the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) said - ‘
I believe this Government can justly claim to have dealt fairly, in fact generously, with (hose members of the community who, because of age, ill health, widowhood, or for other reasons, have not been able in a direct way, to enjoy their share of the general increase in prosperity which has been experienced since H caine into office
According to that statement, the Minister considers that the Government has dealt generously with these members of the community, but I join issue with him, and T am confident that my view is shared by Jil any honorable senators on both sides of the chamber. Later, in the Minister’s speech he told us that we must recognize our responsibility to all sections of the community and keep a fair balance between the needs and claims of the elderly, of those who comprise the workforce, of producers and non-producers, and, no less important, the needs and claims of our children. The Minister went out of his way to deliver that little homily, with which we all agree, but the trouble is that he expressed only pious words, and although we hope that ultimately those sentiments will be translated into legislative action, there is no evidence that they have received practical recognition in the bill now under consideration. The Minister concluded his speech by saying, “ There can be no real social security without economic security “. Perhaps I may be pardoned if I reverse the order, and say that there can be no economic security without social security.
I come now to some details of the bill itself. First, I congratulate the Minister on the little that has been achieved. This bill provides for an increase of ten shillings a week to all pensioners. That is quite good, as far as it goes, and I believe that the Minister had a major victory over some of his colleagues who thought that the. increase was too great. I also pay a tribute, as I have done on other occasions, to the officers of the Department of Social Services, from the Director-General of Social Services down. They have always given excellent service to those members of the community who need their assistance and guidance. I have always found that their decisions in relation to pension matters have been weighted on the side of the pensioners, and that, at times, they have strained a point to assist pensioners. The present. Deputy Director of Social Services in Western Australia, Mr. Humphries, is a. man with a lot of human kindness in his make-up, and he administers his department, not so much in accordance with the letter of the law, as in the spirit in which it ought to be administered. I thank him, and the officials working under him in the department, for the great help that they have been to me, and, through me, to other people who have bad to call on them for asistance. But when I come to the Minister’s speech I find that there is much in it of a definitely party political character. I have always maintained that social services is a matter concerning which no attempt should be made to gain a party political advantage. The fact that one person happens to support a particular political party, and that another person belongs to a different party, is no reason for differential treatment. It is wrong for members of one political party to claim that they are actuated by higher motives in regard to these problems than are members of another party. I feel that, as citizens and decent human beings, our outlook in these matters should be humanitarian, and that we should approach them, not in a party political spirit at all, but as a national duty which should be done in a national way. Therefore, as I have said, it is rather disappointing to find that from beginning to end of the Minister’s speech he endeavoured to draw comparisons between what this Government had done and what had been accomplished by Labour governments. His remarks sounded like a prelude to an election campaign. I believe that that approach to this subject is not in the best interests of pensioners or of other recipients of social services benefits, or of the country as a whole.
The Minister has told us the extent of the increases in pensions since 1950, and the figures are most impressive if we take them on their face value. For instance, he said that since 1950 the pension has increased from £2 2s. Gd., which wa3 the rate when this Government came into office, to £4. That is good, but what the Minister did not tell us was that this increase, which amounts to SS-J per cent, of the pension at the beginning of the period in question, compares with an increase of 111 1/4 per cent, in the basic wage and 90.5 per cent, in the C series price index, over the same period. I do not for a moment suggest that the C series index is a satisfactory comparison when dealing with this problem, because there are many necessary things which are not included in the C series index. Nor do I agree that the basic wage is the only yardstick that we could use in deciding the amount of social services benefits, but unfortunately it is the yardstick best known to the public; from it we can gain some idea of economic fluctuations, and because it is a convenient yardstick it is frequently used in this way. There has been support for the suggestion that the pension rate should be fixed at 50 per cent, of the basic wage. I say, quite frankly, that I do not agree with that suggestion. The basic wage is supposed to give a frugal living to a man, wife and one child; that is, to three units of the community, or, perhaps, two and a half adult units. Therefore, I suggest that the rate of pension would be more fairly fixed at about 40 per cent, of the basic wage, instead of the 50 per cent, that has been so glibly mentioned. As the Minister himself has said, and as I am sure we all appreciate, the whole matter of social services and pension payments cannot be regarded as an isolated item in our economy, and we must have an overall comprehension of the economy and of the various problems confronting the nation. “We must place the matter of social services in its proper perspective and see that justice is done to all sections of the community. Therefore, when the Government makes so much of the fact that it proposes to grant an increase of 10s. in the pension, bringing it up to £4, and when it says that this is the greatest pension increase in history and gives so much greater purchasing power, we must look facts in the face, and we will find this is not so.
Although the basic wage is not our only yardstick for the computation of the pension, it is useful in this connexion for purposes of comparison, and I have taken out some figures which may be of interest, particularly in connexion with the figures given by the Minister on page 2 of his speech. The figures which I have taken out commence with the year 1951, when the basic wage was £9 15s. and the pension £3, to which figure it had been raised by this Government by a 10s. increase. At that time the pension represented 31.1 per cent, of the basic wage. In. 1952, the basic wage rose sharply to £11 15s., and the pension was increased by 7s. 6d. to £3 7s. 6d. The proportion of pension to basic wage fell to 26.7 per cent. In 1953, the pension represented 29.1 per cent, of the basic wage. Last year, there was no increase granted, the only relief given to pensioners being a relaxation of the means test, and changes in the qualifications necessary. With those things I shall deal presently. With the 10s. increase which the Government proposes to grant this year, the pension rate will be £4 a week. The basic wage is £12 5s., so that the pension will be 32.6 per cent, of the basic wage. If we go back to the last year of the Chifley Government, we find that in 1948 the basic wage was £5 16s. and the pension £2 2s. 6d. The proportion of pension to basic wage was 37 per cent. I know that we did not do anything about increasing the pension in ]949, and I regret that as much as any one else. Those who were in this Parliament at that time know that I was one of those who objected to the fact that no increase was granted, and I believe that honorable senators opposite knew last year that there was something missing in the budget, when no increase in pensions was granted. In 1949, however, we were on the eve of a general election, and those who had the privilege to know and to serve under the late Prime Minister, Mr. Chifley, know that he was too big-hearted and upright a man to offer, as he said, what could be called bribes on the eve of an election. There was disagreement with his action in not increasing pensions, because there had been an increase in the cost of living, although it was not so great as has occurred recently. However, he was adamant on the point, and he left it to the incoming government to grant the increase. But even though no increase was granted, the pension at that time still represented about 30 per cent, of the basic wage.
I maintain that the proportion of 37 per cent, which operated in 1948 would be a fair thing now, when all the other facilities available to pensioners are considered. In the case of a married couple who are both pensioners, they would receive 74, per cent, of the basic wage plus medical, pharmaceutical and other benefits. I pay tribute to the Government and to the Minister for what they have done in providing those benefits, although there has been a lot of exaggeration about the Government’s generosity with regard to medical benefits. I know that it is a very real benefit to a pensioner to have his fears of sickness reduced because he knows that the special medical benefits are available to him. It is one of the very best things that this Government has done, but I would point out that if the Labour Government had had the support of the doctors for its very comprehensive health scheme, there would have been no necessity to sectionalize the medical benefits, as is being done at present. Yesterday the Minister representing the Minister for Health gave certain figures regarding the pensioner medical services, in reply to Senator McKenna. He gave the estimated cost of the medical services available to pensioners, which has been estimated by members of the Government in the House of Representatives and in this Senate to be Ss. to 10s. a week for the average pensioner. However, it does not appear to be nearly so great when one studies the figures given by the Minister yesterday, showing the number of visits by doctors, or to doctors’ surgeries, and the number of free prescriptions made up for pensioners. The figures are worked out approximately on the basis of five visits to a medical practitioner and four prescriptions for each pensioner each year. If the average cost of that service is to work out at £26 a year, the cost of medical expenses is excessive. I do not intend to belittle these extra services because they are admirable. I should like to see them extended to provide all drugs that are necessary for the health and well-being of the pensioners, but the service is not worth, on the average, 10s. a week for each pensioner.
The Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner), who represents the Minister for Health in the Senate, said that the pensioners were to be given greater purchasing power than they had under the Labour Government. The proportion of the pension to the basic wage under the Chifley regime was 37 per cent. With this proposed increase of 10s. a week, the proportion of the pension to the basic wage will be 32.6 per cent., and one can hardly claim with truth that that is an increase in the true sense of the term. No matter how much extra money the Government gives to the pensioners, that is not the true indication of its value. What matters is the quantity of necessaries and services that the money can buy.
The wants of most pensioners are very humble. They cannot indulge in orgies of spending. Their money goes mainly towards the purchase of the necessaries of life, lt is not as though the pensioners were getting something for nothing. Much of the additional money goes back to the Government by way of indirect taxation on goods that are bought, because the money in the hands of the pensioners is circulated so freely. The pensioners are waiting to get it. Almost before they have received their pensions, the money has been spent on necessaries. Those who have visited pensioners, particularly the day before pension day, know how little money they have and how empty their shelves are.
In 194S, the pensioners could buy a loaf of bread for 6£d. The average prices for Australia, issued by the Commonwealth Statistician, show that a loaf of bread now costs nearly ls. 2d. Butter was about 2s. 2£d. per lb. then, and to-day it costs 4s. 6d. Reference was made in this chamber last night to an allegation that the Australian Labour party encouraged the employment of cheap, black labour to produce some of the components of margarine to the detriment of the dairy-farmers. There is another side to that question. Many people in Australia cannot afford to pay 4s. 6d. per lb. for butter. They are lucky if they can pay 2s. 3d. per lb. for margarine. I have been in homes where the children never see butter. I have mentioned this before, and it is quite true. When I visited one home, one of the children said, “ We are so glad when you come to see us because we have some butter then “. Butter is 4s. 6d. per lb., and margarine is half that price. A widow has not too many extra 2s. pieces to throw about.
– The honorable senator would not deprive them of their butter?
– No. I take butter with me to those homes because I know how they are situated. In 194S-49, milk was 9d. a quart and now it is ls. 7d. Tea was 2s. 9d. and now it is more than 7s. Honorable senators from Queensland will not regret that sugar, which was 4.49d. per lb. in 1948 now costs 9d. Tasmanians will be pleased because potatoes, which cost ls. 9d. a stone in 1948, now cost 6s. 2d. The price of meat is almost prohibitive. Rump steak was just under 2s. per lb. in 1948 and now it is 4s. 7d. Stewing steak, which would be more in the line of the pensioners, was lOd. per lb., and now it is about 2s. 7d. I have not attempted to give prices for clothing and footwear. Even repairs to footwear make mothers shudder, particularly those on the basic wage, let alone those on pensions.
All the items I have mentioned are necessaries. The pensioners get no extras nor any fancy bits and pieces. In every case, the cost of essential commodities has doubled and, even on that basis, the pension, which was £2 2s. 6d. a week then, should be at least £4 5s. to-day. But that is not the end of the story, because I have not taken into account rents and other costs, which have risen in the meantime. Something has been done to house the aged by way of grants made by the Government to institutions and churches that are prepared to erect homes for aged persons. That is a very fine step forward, upon which I congratulate the Minister, but I should like to see something more done to house those who are not eligible to enter institutions. There are widows who are regarded almost as criminals because they have children. They cannot get houses unless they pay rents beyond the limit of their pensions. As a result, many of them are living in slums, if they have not a home of their own. It is all very well to say that a husband should provide these amenities before his death, but we must look facts in the face, and cannot penalize widows because of some omission on the part of their husbands. In any case, we do not know all the circumstances.
Since increases in the cost of necessaries exceed 100 per cent., the increases of pension rates should be more than the proposed 10s. a week. The 10s. is welcome, but, like Oliver Twist, I want more, not for myself, but for the pensioners who need it. That is why I disagree with the Minister’s statement that the pensioners have greater purchasing power than they had before. Definitely, that is not true, and I am sure that the Minister himself does not believe it. The provision for pharmaceutical benefits is a big step forward, but the whole plan originally was drawn up by the present Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator McKenna) when he was Minister for Health in the previous Labour Government. He drew up a very comprehensive scheme of medical benefits, but unfortunately, we were not able to get the co-operation of the very body whose cooperation is essential for the success of such a scheme, and so it was not put into operation. The fact that it was not given effect was not the fault of the previous Government. I was a member of the committee that dealt with this matter, and so was the Minister for Repatriation. We had a conference with the British Medical Association, and we thought, on the Friday afternoon when we left Canberra, that we had everything sewn up and that, on Monday, the whole agreement would be brought back to the committee, signed by officials of the federal council of the British Medical Association. We were quite happy about it. On the Monday, there were no signatures and no members of the British Medical Association either, and we do not know to this day what had happened in the interim. I mention that to show that we were not insensitive to the need for a comprehensive health scheme, not for only one section of the community, but for the community as a whole.
The lifting of the means test is a progressive step, but my interests, and probably those of most honorable senators, are not with the- people who have something already, but with those who have nothing. We must raise the base level of those who have nothing but their pensions. I am all for encouraging thrift, and I am glad to see any alleviation of the means test which enables more thrift to be practised. We of the Labour party regard the means test as a penalty on thrift. We contend that any government should see that that section of the community which most needs consideration receives first consideration.
When I hear honorable senators speaking about the £15 a week that a pensioner and his wife may have, I ask myself how many people, within the pensions field, enjoy that magnificent income. I suggest that they are very few and far between. Eighty-five per cent., as a conservative estimate, of the pension population have no income other than pension, so that those whom this Government should be most concerned about are those who’ have no other income. I agree that people who have contributed to superannuation schemes should be given some consideration. That is only right and proper, but I do think that we have to raise the general level from the bottom. It is of no use to put a wedge half way up the social services scale, because to do so means putting a wedge between different sections of the community. Some people will be pushed up and some will be pushed down. We want to place the wedge in such a way that those in the lowest strata of society will be lifted up.
The granting of pensions is not the act of a munificent government giving something from its own coffers to the distressed in the community. We of the Labour party regard the giving of pensions as a redistribution of income for the benefit of those who need help most. That is why the previous Labour Government built up the National Welfare Fund to £188,000,00,0 by the time it left office. Where is that money to-day?
– It was not there then.
– There was ‘ £188,000,000 in the National Welfare Fund then.
– It was only paper.
– I should not mind a little more paper money. This Parliament should again be building up the National Welfare Fund, not simply by taking money from each year’s revenue, but by means of contributions from the community, according to the ability of people to pay. That was the basis of the scheme of the Chifley Government. When people paid their income tax they also paid social services tax, according to a graduated scale based on their means. The National Welfare Fund accumulated, so that people might receive pensions as a right and not as charity.
No doubt all honorable senators have had the experience of nien and women coming to them asking for help in obtaining pensions. People apply for pensions almost as though they were afraid of other people knowing about it. They think they will be classed as paupers if it becomes known. They do not want the next-door neighbours to know, and in some cases they want the cheques sent to a post office outside their own district. They are still a little proud - and have not grasped the idea that pensions are something to which they have contributed during their working years. “We should try to engender in the community the feeling that men and women should contribute to the National Welfare Fund during their working lives, so that when the time comes for them to retire, they may do so safe in the knowledge that they will receive an adequate allowance from the fund. There should be nothing derogatory about the term “ pension “. Many people think that it is a disgrace to be called a. pensioner. They still think of the word in the context in which Dickens used it. Some regard it as a term that belongs to the days of the dole and the workhouse. Perhaps we should say “ national retiring allowances “. I think the Government should give some consideration to this matter.
As we consider this Social Services Bill, we find that it is remarkable more for what it does not do than for what it does. There are so many facets of social services on which it does not touch at all. Indeed, the only aspects of social services problems that have come to light in the bill are age and invalid pensions and widows’ pensions, and the lifting of the ceilings in respect of certain other pensions. When we consider the whole field of social services, it is obvious that much of that field has not been dealt with. For instance, there is to be no increase of unemployment and sickness benefits, which were introduced by a Labour government, as a result of the findings of the committee to which I have referred, and of which the Minister for Repatriation was a very valuable member. There is to be no increase of the ‘funeral benefit, which remains at £10. I suggest that it is hardly possible to bury a cat for £10 to-day. Most people like to be assured that, when they die, the expense of their funeral will be provided for. Yet, this benefit is to remain at £10, as it was when it was introduced originally by the Curtin Government.
Next, we come to allowances for wives, which have been neglected altogether. It is easy to see that the Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon) has not yet come under the influence of a woman. He has absolutely ignored women in this bill. Yet, within the ambit of social services, women are recognized in many ways and in various categories. For instance, there are pensions for four different classes of widows. I remind honorable senators opposite that widows’ pensions were introduced by a Labour government in 1942. in the darkest days of the war. In the Minister’s second-reading speech, he stated that the Government could not do any more than it is doing, because of its vast commitments. I put it to the Government that Labour, during the war years, also had terrific commitments. Indeed, it, was concerned with the very security of the country. Despite the fact that the Labour Government of that day was concerned with a war, the like of which had never before been known or envisaged, it was still able to introduce social services legislation which this Government is implementing to-day.
The A class widows, about whom I shall have something more to say presently, receive £3 15s. a week, whilst B class, C class and D class widows receive £2 17s. 6d. a week. The wife of an unemployed man has to get by on £2 a week. An unemployed woman, over the age of 21 years, is entitled to £2 10s. a week by way of unemployment benefit - and that benefit, incidentally, was placed on the statute-book as a result of the work of the committee which functioned during the term of office of the previous Labour Government. Next, we come to the wife of an invalid pensioner, who gets £1 15s. a week. There is a glaring anomaly in that position. I cannot understand why individual supporters of the Government did not do something about this matter when the proposed legislation came before them at their party meetings. If the invalid pension is regarded as the minimum amount required to keep an invalid alive, how is the invalid’s wife to live on an allowance of £1 15s. a week? She cannot go out to work if she has to look after the invalid, because he has to have special care, and may have to have special food. He has to give one-third of his pension to his wife, and the two of them’ have to exist in sub-standard conditions. Indeed, to use the well-known term, they cannot live in even frugal comfort.
The unemployed woman under 21 receives a payment of £2 a week. These various groups of women have been recognized by all governments as being eligible for social welfare payments, but why should there be any difference in those payments? How can a woman live on 35s. a week? It is too ridiculous to contemplate. There are some people in our community who are being undernourished, badly housed, and generally not well treated. We do not have to go to Asian countries to see poverty, because we have poverty in our own country. There is poverty among the people to whom no relief will be given under this bill at present before the Senate. That is why the measure is much more noticeable for what it has omitted to give them than for what it has in fact given.
Now let us consider the children. The Minister for Social Services said very piously, “ We must recognize our responsibility for the needs and claims of our children”. Of course, he was speaking metaphorically when he said, “ our children”. However, after saying that, he stopped and did nothing about them, because the children are not mentioned at all in this bill. Not one penny will be added to the child endowment payments, which have remained the same since 194S, except for the 5s. a week granted for the first ‘child by this Government in 1950. That is definitely not only an anomaly, it is also a hardship, because when the child endowment payments were originally introduced they were given to mothers to help them overcome their family difficulties. The payments were considered a minimum, and a Labour government doubled them later because it was considered that the second and subsequent children in a family increased the financial difficulties of the family, and of the mother. Despite the Minister telling us that we must have regard to the needs of our children, he put a full stop after that sentence in his speech, and a full stop to any legislation that might have benefited them.
According to the figures of the Commonwealth Statistician in the C series index, a 1948 £1 is worth 10s. 6d. to-day. That figure was arrived at last June, but, as honorable senators know, since that jj time prices have further increased. I
Therefore, it is quite clear that the 10s. a week that was being paid as child endowment for children after the first child in the family when Labour left office, is now worth only 5s. Honorable senators should remember that the figures that I have cited are not figments of my imagination. They are the official figures df the Commonwealth Statistician.
My criticism of the Government’s attitude towards social services is not merely destructive. I feel very deeply about these matters, and I have devoted a great many years of my life to obtaining social justice for all members of the community. I do not begrudge a profit made by a person in his business. Good luck to him, as long as his profit is reasonable and it is made without unfairness to anybody. The labourer is always worthy of his hire, and people who are doing a good job in the community deserve to be adequately recompensed for it. However, I do not think that this measure goes far enough with regard to social service payments, grateful as we are for the increases that the Government has made. I suggest to the Minister for Social Services that the problems he has to face are very extensive and complicated, as perhaps he realizes himself. Also, the difficulties will increase as the years pass because, unfortunately, our population is ageing, and the number of pension recipients will increase rapidly in the next few years. All the problems associated with that ageing population will have to be adequately studied.
There are many problems that are peculiar to women in the community, whether they be war widows, civilian widows, A class, B class or C class widows, or whatever their classification may be. But they have been completely ignored in this bill. I suggest that the Minister should reconstitute a committee that we once had, to assist him in dealing with his social service problems. Social service matters are not party matters at all and, as Senator Cooper knows as an ex-member of the old social services committee, that committee was able to make valuable contributions towards helping to solve many of our problems. All the matters considered were approached from the human, and not from the party political viewpoint. If the Minister will not set up an all-party social services committee, then I suggest that the Senate should take on that job. The Senate has proved in the last few weeks through the activities of its committee on the City of Canberra, that it can do a good job of investigating and reporting. That committee presented its report in less than the specified time, and I believe that much of the criticism that is at present levelled at the Senate because of its occasional recesses, would be obviated if we had committees working on various important matters like social services.
If that suggestion is not accepted, J appeal to my fellow women senators. There are four of us in the Senate, and next week there will be five. That i3 a good round number for a committee, and I believe that as there are so many problems in this community that affect women and children, we could contribute something to the community if we studied them. I am not a feminist, as I have stated thousands of times, but I believe that there are special problems which affect only women, and about which we could get our heads together and give some helpful advice to the Minister. I am afraid that he would not take any notice of us, but we could have a good try to influence him. I am certain that any findings that such a committee might arrive at would be of great value, not only to the Senate, but also to the community gnerally.
I have put these propositions before the Senate more or less off my own bat. but I believe that these matters should appeal to us more as women than as members of political parties. Although on such a committee I would be outnumbered by about four to one, I believe that we could even get over that difficulty. We are not happy about the limits thai have been placed on the expansion of social services by this bill. We believe that the Minister has not carried out a proper programme .of social services in conformity with the general prosperity that now exists in the community. Therefore, I shall presently move an amendment to the bill. Our purpose is not to delay its passage. Before it was introduced into this chamber we read in the press and heard over the radio that the first payments under this measure are to be made to the pensioners on the 27th October. Therefore, the moving of an amendment at this stage will not in any way delay those first payments.
When this Government was returned to office in 1949, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) made a promise to the pensioners that he would not only maintain the value of their pensions but also increase it. It is not sufficient to increase monetary payments because, as all honorable senators know, money is valuable only to the degree that it will buy goods and services. If two people were marooned on a desert island and one had a couple of loaves of bread and the other a couple of thousand pounds, the one with the loaves of bread would be in a much better position than the other because it is goods and services that count. Therefore, we say that this bill should be redrafted to provide as from the 1st July, 1955 - I shall explain why we have chosen that date - in the light of the declining purchasing value of money, increases in the rates of social services payments to the maximum extent that the national economy will permit. That last phrase is very important. We want particularly to ensure as a minimum that each of these payments is restored to the same percentage of the unpegged basic wage as operated under the adjustment of rates by the Chifley Government in 1948.
– I thought that the honorable senator did not want to introduce party politics into this matter.
– I did not, but that aspect has been raised by the Minister. The whole of his speech was nothing but a political speech in which he drew invidious comparisons between what was done by the Labour Government and what has been done by this Government. What we want to do is to ensure that the level of the pensions in 1948 is maintained to-day as a minimum ; and we want to do that on the basis of what the national economy can pay. We have been told that this is a time of great prosperity; and we know it. It is evident in other walks of life, so why should not the pensioners share in that prosperity instead of having their purchasing power gradually whittled away ?
Therefore, I shall move that the bill be re-drafted to provide for the factors I have mentioned so that the purchasing power’ of the pension shall be maintained1 at the 1948 level, as a minimum, and at a higher level to the degree that the national economy will permit, and that such rates be made retrospective to the 1st July, 1955. It has not, been customary in the past to make such increases retrospective, and I know I shall be told so. However, because it has not been done before is no criterion why it should not be done in the future. Increases of salaries of highly placed officials, including members of the judiciary, have been made retrospective. If any people deserve the best that we can give them they are those who have nothing but their pensions upon which to depend. Therefore, these payments should he made as from the date on which prices rose most, namely, the beginning of this financial year.
As I said earlier, I congratulate the Ifinister on what he has been able to achieve in this bill, but I point out to him that much wider fields have been left untouched. I regret sincerely that the suggestions I made to him some six months ago, particularly in respect of civilian widows, have not been heeded. None of those suggestions would have caused so much as a bubble on the surface of the national economy. I have ascertained the actual cost of giving a widow with a dependent child: - a widow who is doing a national job - the equivalent, of the female basic wage. That would cost less than £4,000,000 a year or .4 per cent, of the total budget expenditure. Such a pension would enable a widow to stay at home and look after her child. Surely to heavens it would be worth that much to the community. That is one thing the Government could have done by almost a scratch of the pen. Compared with the thousand millions we are talking about, £4,000,000 is as nothing. That is one thing that could have been done, and it is something which would have had a result out of all proportion to its cost. Then again, an increase could have been made in child endowment which would have been a big factor in developing homelife. We talk about the value of homolife. Are wo only paying lip-service to that ideal?
– That should not need government encouragement.
– It is. not government encouragement. Is. the honorable senator opposed- to child endowment altogether ?
– Certainly not.
– If child endowment is to be given, it should be provided at the same level at which it was when this Government came into office so that the promises made to the people of this country shall not be broken. More important than that, the recipients of these benefits should receive that to which they are justly entitled. I move -
That, all the words after “That” be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “the bill be re-drafted to provide, as from the 1st July, 1955, in the light of the declining purchasing value of money, increases in the rates of social service payments to the maximum extent that the national economy will permit, and, particularly, to ensure as a minimum that each of these payments is restored to the same percentage of the (unpegged) basic wage as it was under the adjustment of rates by the Chifley Government in 1948”.
– I had it in mind to pay due respect to Senator Tangney’s speech, because for the greater part of it I believe she sincerely dealt with the requirements of social services and deprecated the introduction of any party spirit. At the end of her speech, however, she had, at. the behest of her party, to move an amendment. She could not forget the party line. She spoke about the action of the Chifley Government in 1948. My only passing reference to that is that this bill, which honorable senators opposite seek to have re-drafted, removes something which the Chifley Government introduced in 194S which has annoyed and irritated pensioners ever since. I refer to the ceiling, limits.
I sincerely commend those who have adopted a non-party approach to this matter; but I am not going- to follow their example because I recall that during the last three debates in this chamber, and on an urgency motion, the Labour party, ever since the budget was introduced, has used the pensioners, the sick, the invalids and’ those disabled by war as party-political footballs. I commend Senator Tangney for her approach in her second-reading speech, but, unfortunately, one rose does not make a summer. I remind honorable senators opposite of some of the assets of this Government in its role as administrator of social welfare. We should not need to have a long debate on this particular measure because, as I said before, the subject has been debated fully when other measures were before us. This Government has put its case, both in the budget and in complementary measures, in a convincing and fair manner. Members of the Opposition must always play the role of critics, but one would think that they could be of sufficient calibre to be constructive and fair in their criticism. If they have had faults in the past, perhaps that will make them remember that it is human to err, and even this very good Government may have some faults, also. But they pretend that they belonged to an all-perfect government. They forget the medicine, which was not free medicine, that the electors “ dished out “ to them on the 10th December, 1949. December the 10th seems to be a popular date.
This Government must look at all questions of social services from the point of view of the nation’s ability to collect revenue and spend it on those services. In this particular hill the Government has done a fair thing to help social services in the actual amount by which it has raised the pensions, and also by the other minor, but improving, amendments in the legislation. But the cry of the Labour party has been - as exemplified by Senator Toohey last night - “Reduce taxes, increase pensions, increase all the benefits that the Government is called upon to give “. The only straw of thought that came out of the wind last night from the Opposition side was the suggestion that the defence vote is too high..
The Government has a great record of social services which covers more than providing money for those in need. This year, it will spend £218,000,000 on social and medical benefits compared with £93,000,000 provided in the Labour Government’s last year of office. This Government, over the years, has led the way with a new approach to social services in Australia. It had no fine example of the Labour party to follow. It has opened new avenues of help to those in need. Apart from making yearly monetary increases, the Government, in 1951, having in the previous two years found a chaotic condition concerning medical benefits for pensioners, introduced hospital and medical benefits for pensioners. In 1952, the Government doubled unemployment and sickness allowances, which had been introduced by Labour in 1945, but forgotten because no increases were given. In 1953-54, we increased the permissible amount that pensioners could earn, from Labour’s 30s. a week, to £3 10s. a week. That has been a great boon to a large field of pensioners in this country. In 1954, we disregarded the income from property for pensioners, and, so another field of help was opened to a large number of people. As I said earlier, in 1955 many people were assisted by the removal of the ceiling limits imposed by a Labour government.
When people talk about the monetary side of pensions they forget those extra benefits that have come to the people. The States have gradually improved their social services. I can speak only of Tasmania, where this improvement has been made to a commendable degree. People in need are receiving money and other help over and above the monetary payments made possible by the Australian Government. The Labour party’s criticism of these things is palpably false when it talks about the difference between the money received and the basic wage. They forget that the basic wage earner pays income tax and pays for his hospital and medical benefits. That is a most helpful type of medical insurance scheme which we urged the basic wage earner to adopt. It is a great help to those who have other financial, commitments involved in providing a home, purchasing furniture and rearing a family. It is not fair to compare the monetary allowances made to pensioners with the amount of the current basic wage.
Another great social service benefit that is available to others besides the aged is free, life-saving drugs. Since the budget was introduced, an outstanding feature has been the lack of attention paid by the Opposition to one of the greatest pieces of social service legislation in this country, -which the Government is repeating this year. I refer to the provision of £1,500,000 on a £1 for £1 basis to religious and charitable organizations for capital expenditure on homes for the aged. This legislation has earned the greatest popularity of any measure introduced within the past few years. Although the Labour party has offered no criticism it also has offered no acknowledgment of the fact that this is one way in which the Government is caring for the aged. The only reference is a criticism that Ministers or members of parliament personally take pension cheques to the recipients. That is a perfectly proper action because they are taking a benefit direct from the Parliament of the Commonwealth to the people, and who should be the link if not the Minister or the local member?
I praise the Government and the Minister who introduced this legislation because in the State I represent I have seen already the benefits it is bringing, l t is promoting the building of homes and encouraging Christian work among the aged. They have a greater inclination to provide money to help those in need since they know that every pound they give is not only a rebate for income tax purposes, but also will be doubled when the Government subsidy is added, and that it will help some organization to provide more homes for the aged. That splendid service will go on year after year while this Government stays in office until sufficient homes for the aged are provided.
A danger that the National Parliament must consider is whether we might be taking away the responsibility of those who have to care for aged dependants. Responsibility does no one any harm; it develops character. I do not know how far these splendid forms of social service can be developed, but there may be the danger of people saying, “ The Government will do this from now on. I will not have to worry about it in the future ; the Government will look after me and my aged relatives “. In view of the great shortage of accommodation for aged people it will take some years to provide adequate housing to meet all their needs. I agree that many elderly and invalid people are living in uncomfortable, unhealthy and unhappy circumstances in spite of all that this Parliament and the State Parliaments have done to provide for the aged. I agree with Senator Tangney that money is not the most important thing that can be provided, and also that there should be a lot of research and consideration to determine how the Parliament can better the conditions of those to whom I have referred. It is true that appalling conditions exist in some of our big cities, but it is unfair for any person in this Parliament to blame the Commonwealth Government for such conditions. I do not know what the States do with their revenues, but it is their business to deal with slum clearance, and assist aged people who are living under conditions that are unsatisfactory. This is a national question, and I think that the appointment of a committee such as has been suggested would be a good idea. I understand, however, that the Minister for Social Services has a team of research workers engaged in research into all aspects of social services in the community. It may be well that the Minister representing him in this chamber should discuss with him Senator Tangney’s proposal. However, it would be necessary to ascertain from the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) whether the suggestion is that of a private senator, or of the Labour party, because that party does not ordinarily appoint representatives to committees in this Parliament, and we do not know what its attitude to the suggestion may be. °
I do not wish to delay the Senate longer. The bill has already been fully debated. I hope that it will be passed, and that the payment of increased pensions will not be delayed. I oppose the amendment because I do not think that it is workable from an administrative point of view. The important thing, at the moment, is to ensure that the increased pensions shall be paid as soon as possible. I commend the Government for its social services policy, and support the bill.
– I support the amendment, and, in doing so, I wish to make some comments on the speech of Senator Marriott. The honorable senator said, in effect, that the Labour party was making a political football of social services. My experience of these matters goes back a long way - to the days before federation, before we had such social services as the maternity allowance and child endowment, and before we had an arbitration court. I clearly remember that on every occasion when the representatives of Labour, either inside or outside the Parliament, demanded a measure of justice to which the workers and their dependants were entitled, we heard the cheap gibe from superficial minds that Labour was making a political football of the issue. That is the attitude of mind that will not face facts, and tries to divert attention from the facts by cheap gibes and innuendoes.
I shall not follow in the steps of Senator Marriott, except to say that, in my opinion, he has had little experience of the conditions under which many workers and their dependants are forced to live from time to time. Looking back over the years, as I am capable of doing, I can see, particularly in the proud cities of Australia, conditions similar to those existing in other countries - misery and poverty - in the days before laws relating to social services were placed on the statute-book. I can see also that the approach to the plight of these unfortunate people, who are least able to protect themselves, is now much more subtle and scientific than it was in the years gone by, but the overall effect is the same. I see the deplorable housing conditions which age pensioners and other recipients of social services have to endure, and I see also the high prices that they are compelled to pay for the necessaries of life. These people have been given no protection whatever by the present Government. I can see many changes, but not a great number that have been for the better. It is all very well for honorable senators who are in receipt of a parliamentary allowance to speak as Senator Marriott has done. It appears to me that the only way to make them face the facts would be, if possible, to give them a taste of the conditions that the fellow who is in receipt of social services has to accept. I feel sure that their approach * would then be very different.
The bill proposes to increase pensions all round by 10s. a week. I say now, as I have said on other occasions, that an extra 10s. a week does not make up the deficiency, and is actually no increase at all. It is simply an inadequate attempt to make up an already existing deficiency. I refuse to accept it as a genuine attempt to improve the conditions of age and invalid pensioners. The increase of 10s. a week to widows with one or more children under sixteen years of age will raise the maximum pension to £4 5s. a week, but a woman in that situation cannot possibly support herself and her children under existing conditions on £4 5s. a week, plus child endowment. The Government fixes the pension payable to her, but other authorities fix the purchasing power of her income. That purchasing power is continually being reduced much more quickly than it is increased by the Government. The same remark applies to the wages of workers. A tradesman in receipt of 9s. an hour, a waterside worker’ who receives Ss. lOd. an hour, or an unskilled worker who is paid 6s. an hour, has to work longer to earn sufficient to buy his requirements than he did before the introduction of the 40-hour week. That is one of the subtle ways in which the workers are being deceived. A waterside worker to-day is paid 8s. lOd. an hour, but when I worked on the waterfront for ls. 3d. an hour I could buy more with my wages than the waterside worker to-day can buy with his wages. At that time, I could earn enough for a week’s work of 48 hours to buy a much better suit than the one I am wearing at present, which cost me 30 guineas. If I were working on the waterfront now, at 8s. lOd. an hour. I would have to work at least two weeks to earn enough money to purchase a similar suit. Food and housing are affected in the same way as clothing. That, is the subtle way in which the workers are misled by the Government’s approach to the problem. I repeat that justice will never be done to those in receipt of social services payments until we protect or stabilize or guarantee the purchasing power of the payments they receive. So long as pensioners are left to the mercies of back-room rackrenters and monopolists who are continually increasing prices, the amount of benefit they receive, if it can be called a benefit, will be reduced to the irreducible minimum. That is happening in Melbourne in thousands of cases at the present time, and also in Sydney.
I remember that in 1949 members of this Government had a slogan that was repeated ad nauseam from one end of the country to the other. They said, “ “We are going to put value back into the £1 “. If value had been put back into the £1 there would be no need to-day, od the Government’s own argument, to increase pensions. But instead of value being put back into the £1, every assistance possible has been given by the Government towards reducing the value of the £1. I do not believe that the purchasing power of the £1 was ever lower than it is now, when assessed in terms of gold, which is a measure of value accepted by all authorities throughout the world, or when assessed by labour time. By that I mean the amount of time that it is necessary to work before the worker can purchase a sufficiency of food, clothing and housing. “When that labour time increases, obviously the purchasing power of the £1 has been reduced. “When honorable senators opposite speak of high costs, without any qualification of the phrase, I simply say that they either do not know what they are talking about or that they are afraid to admit the truth. “When it is said that costs are high, that is only a half-truth, as I have frequently said before in this chamber. The real cost of producing almost anything under existing conditions, where machine power has replaced man-power so rapidly and progressively, has never been lower, but .the cost in terms of paper money has never been higher. Therefore, honorable members opposite have to try, if they can, to reconcile the apparently irreconcilable.
The Minister, in his second-reading speech, said -
During recent debates, both in this chamber and in another place, members of the Opposition have stated that the increase of ids. a week will not restore the purchasing power of the pension to what it was when Labour was in office. I want to state emphatically that this is a completely incorrect statement.
I want to say emphatically, in answer to the Minister, that his statement is wholly incorrect. If he understood the economics of the position, as they should be understood by any intelligent person, he would be forced to admit that I am correct in what I say. The Minister went on to say -
The Government, however, is granting an increase of 10s., which will give the pension a purchasing value of 9s. 4d. a week in excess of its value when Labour was last in office.
I say again, using the Minister’s own words, that that is an incorrect statement, to say the least of it. Then the Minister went on to say -
If honorable senators opposite doubt these figures, I invite them to take up the matter themselves with the Commonwealth Statistician, who can be relied upon to state the facts impartially.
That recalls to my mind a very trite saying of the late Mark Twain, who said, “ There are plain liars, there are damn liars, and there are statisticians “. That applies when a statistician’s figures ignore relevant facts. For instance, if the Commonwealth Statistician were to say that the basic wage, in terms of money, has been increased to approximately £12, that would be correct, but it would not be correct to say that the purchasing power has been increased. Therefore, I say that when the Commonwealth Statistician states his figures, and they are accepted in terms of the absolute rather than in terms of the relative, there is a good deal to commend the observation of Mark Twain.
I come now to the matter of homes for aged persons. The Minister said - . . the Aged Persons Homes Act, under which the Commonwealth, by means of financial assistance on a fl-for-£l basis, is encouraging and stimulating the provision by churches and charitable organizations of homes for the aged.
Here we have a Government that admits its inability to carry out a task which properly it should perform. Instead, it relies on church collections and various institutions for the housing of the aged. It is beyond dispute that it is well within the possibilities of practical politics and economics to provide all aged persons with reasonably decent housing, without humiliating them to the extent that churches and other institutions must beg for pennies, threepences, sixpences and whatever they can get in order to provide them with housing. Senator Marriott said that they should not blame the Australian Government. They have a right to blame the Australian Government. What is a government? It is a political committee of management of the affairs of the country, and if this Government cannot manage the affairs of the country in the way that they should be managed., then the Government is to blame. That is why the Government is being blamed now, because the promises that it made in 1949 have never been honoured, particularly in regard to putting value back into the £1. Generally, the Government cannot claim to have done all that is required in this matter. The Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner), in his second-reading speech, said -
The development of social programmes depends ultimately on the ability of the community to meet the cost. We must look not only at the present, .but also at the future. We have to be sure that national resources are constantly being built up to meet the demands that will be made on them.
There is no question of the truth of that statement. National resources have .been built up to such an extent that we have an excess of products which cannot -be sold on the home market, and we propose to sell that surplus overseas on credit. Therefore, we have the national resources. The principle that operates on the national economy is maximum production and maximum profits for the owners of capital and the minimum of consumption for the non-holders of capital. The basic wage is based upon minimum consumption. The effect on the economy of the principle I have enunciated is that profits were never greater and purchasing power, in terms of commodities, was never lower. A report published in the Melbourne Argus of the 5th October stated -
Australians in the millionaire class are growing . . . The Commonwealth Taxation Commissioner’s annual report tabled in Parliament shows that 75 Australians have incomes of £50,000 or more a year.
That is the overall effect of the principle to which I have referred. The owners of capital are becoming fewer and wealthier and, as a result, we are getting a millionaire class in Australia similar to that found in other countries, particularly the United States of America. On the other hand, the non-owners of capital - the -workers, the aged and the pensioners - are increasing, just as they are in other countries. The overall -effect is maximum profit for the owners of capital and minimum consumption for the non-owners. Therefore, I say that the statements made by the Minister in his second-reading speech on this bill are an insult to our intelligence.
The proposal is for increases in the rates of social services payments to the maximum extent that the national economy will permit. I say dogmatically that the national economy will permit much greater increases than those proposed in the bill. I do not believe that the Commonwealth Commissioner of Taxation would deny the truth of that statement, but this Government does not propose to grant such increases. It is operating, as it has always done, on the principle of the very least for those who are least able to help themselves. Organized workers are able to do better because they are better able to look after themselves. Mr. Justice Higgins supported that proposition in the early days of industrial arbitration when he said, in effect, “ The strength of the organization determines the consideration it will receive in the Arbitration Court and outside “. The pensioners are least able to protect themselves. Most of them have lived their lives and worked for a subsistence wage. All in excess of a subsistence wage has been appropriated in the form of profit < for others and, therefore, we are now getting a millionaire class in the community while the Government is doing practically nothing to assist the pensioners.
In the face of these circumstances, Senator Marriott has accused honorable senators on the Opposition side, who have supported the pensioners, of making pensions a political football. I wish that there was more resistance on the part of organized Labour to the Government’s legislation. So far as I am concerned, I am prepared to do what I can, as opportunities arise, to see that justice is done. The least the Government should have done was to accede to the reasonable request of the combined pensioners associations to make the rates of pension at least equal to half the basic wage. That would give a married couple about £12 a week. I would not like to live on £12 a week in existing conditions. I have lived better on much less before the £1 note was made non-convertible. Inflation has not been checked, and both pensioners and workers have been robbed to a much greater extent than they were previously.
– I rise to support the bill that is before the Senate, and I commend the Government for its humane and sincere approach to the problem which faces the aged, the invalid and the widowed. I pay a. tribute also to the officers of the Department of Social Services because, over and over again, I have had personal experience of their sincere desire to help those people whose problems come within the purview of the department. We owe the officers of that department sincere thanks for the work they have done, and are doing, to help those who need assistance, and to advise them. It is always a very real pleasure to support a bill, the purpose of which is to give assistance to people who are in need of it. In this bill, we see that assistance is to be given in many different ways.
I wish to make a plea, however, as I have done on more than one previous occasion in this chamber, for the widow who, after her youngest child reaches the age of sixteen years, is no longer eligible for a pension. Honorable senators know that a class A widow is a widow who has a child under the age of sixteen years. While that child is below the age of sixteen, the widow is entitled to a pension, but after the child passes the age of sixteen years, the widow does not become eligible for a pension again until she reaches the age of 50 years. I know of many cases of hardship which this provision has caused. If we analyse the matter, it will be appreciated that a woman may be, say, 42 years of age when her youngest child becomes sixteen years of age. No doubt the widow, rightly, has stayed at home and cared for her children during the years. When the youngest child attains the age of sixteen, she has to face eight years without assistance by way of pension. It may be very difficult for her to obtain any kind of employment, because she would not have been in the employment field for many years, and she might even be in indifferent health. As I” say, I know of many cases in which real hardship has been caused during the intervening years. However, in speaking of this matter, I again pay tribute to the Minister, and also to the Department of Social Services, because wherever possible, they have always been most eager to assist in cases of this kind.
The bill before the Senate proposes to effect a very important improvement in relation to ceiling limits. In this respect, perhaps I can do no better than refer honorable senators to the Minister’s second-reading speech. Ceiling limits, which were introduced by the previous Labour Government, have represented a problem for ex-service people, and have disturbed them considerably over the years. I think that the Minister is to be commended most heartily for proposing to remove this very real problem, in order that the sections of the pensions field to which they apply may be given assistance. It is well for us to remember this passage from the Minister’s speech -
The ceiling limits are, in all cases, lower than the total amounts which may be received by way of civil pension plus income from other sources. For example, at present a person who receives compensation or superannuation of £3 10s. a week may be granted an age pension at the full rate of £3 10s., a total of £7 a week. A person who receives a war pension of £3 10s., however, cannot, at present, obtain an agc pension at a higher rate than £2 2s. 6d. a week, making a total of £5 12s. 6d. a week.
He goes on to invite our attention to the ease of a married man who receives compensation or superannuation of £7 a week, who may receive the full age pension of £3 10s., and whose wife may receive the same amount, making a total of £14 a week. Then he says -
Another married couple, however, who have the same amount of income in the form of war pensions, may receive age pensions of only £2 12s. Gd. a week between them, making a total of £9 12s. Od. a week.
I think that all honorable senators will agree with the Minister when he says : -
This disparity of £1 7s. Od. a week in the case of a single war pensioner and £4 7s. 6d. a week in the case of a married war pensioner is directly due to the operation of the ceiling limits.
It is quite true that the operation of ceiling limits has been most unfair. This is a matter which has been placed before governments ever since the ceiling limits were introduced, and I am pleased to be associated with the Government which has decided to make the position much more fair and equitable by removing the limits. The matter was considered most carefully by the Government, and to-day we see the result of that consideration. The repeal of the ceiling limits means that, in the future, a war pension will rank merely as “ other income “, under the means test, and I believe that that will be of great assistance to war pensioners. The ceiling limits are to be removed, also, in respect of civilian widows’ pensions.
When we discuss pensions, as we are discussing them to-day, we cannot fail to appreciate the importance of the increases which have been granted by this Government. Since the Government came to office, it has had a great record of achievement in the field of pensions and social services generally. The means test has been liberalized on more than one occasion, and in more than one way. When this bill becomes law, a single person who is entitled to the full rate of pension may receive a pension of £4 a week. Hu may earn or have other income of £3 10s. In addition, he may have up to £209 in the bank, or other assets to that value, aud he may own his home - a most important matter for everybody - together with furniture and personal effects, and have life insurance policies with a surrender value of up to £750. A married couple may receive £8 a week between them, and they may earn £7 a week, or have income up to that amount from other sources. They may have up to £419 in the bank, or other assets to that value, they may own a home and personal effects of any value, and they may have life insurance policies with a surrender value of up to £1,500. In addition, as Senator Guy reminds me, they may have income from property entirely excluded from income means test. I suggest that all these benefits have given the people a greater feeling of security and wellbeing than ever they had before.
The Government also has given great assistance to aged people through the medical benefits scheme. After all, medical benefits are of real assistance to most people, because they remove doubt as to whether people can have the kind of medical attention that they need. Not only has this Government increased pensions generally since it came to office, but, by means of liberalization of th means test, it has made it possible for more people to obtain pensions. The full picture, therefore, can be seen when I say that, to-day, more people are getting pensions, and more people are getting more pensions.
In referring to the record of this Government in the field of social services, I wish to correct a. statement made by a member of the Opposition this afternoon concerning the rate of unemployment and sickness benefit. This Government was not given any credit for having increased that rate. I remind the Senate that, in 1952, we doubled the unemployment and sickness benefit, which, in my opinion, was most commendable.
I come now to a matter which is very close to my heart. I refer to the splendid work that is being done in connexion with the housing of aged people. As honorable senators know, the housing of the aged is one of the most important matters with which we can concern ourselves. It is of the utmost importance that, when people become old, they should have good and happy places in which to live. They need the companionship of.’other people, and of course, in the case of married couples, they need the companionship of each other in their later years. I remind the Senate that last year, getting on towards the Christmas period, this Parliament passed legislation designed to assist organizations and churches which do such excellent work in housing aged people. I do not think we can remind ourselves too often that, in the policy speech of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), delivered on the 4th May, 1954, the right honorable gentleman said : -
We will provide on a -pound for pound basis, money towards the capital costs incurred by churches and recognized charitable bodies and institutions for building homes for the aged up to a total Commonwealth contribution of £1,500,000 a year.
When that legislation was passed, I believe that immediately those splendid church and charitable organizations which have for so long, and sometimes under difficult conditions, carried on this excellent work, saw a great ray of hope for the continuance and extension of their important work. I pay a tribute to the Government and the Minister for Social Services for this important piece of legislation, and a great tribute to the church and charitable organizations which are doing such splendid work in housing elderly people. It has been my privilege and pleasure to be present on more than one occasion when a cheque for Commonwealth money has been presented to an organization, and I have been pleased to see the work which has been carried out and to feel, as I believe all honorable senators would feel, that this Government is giving practical assistance which will bring a sense of security and happiness to our aged people such as nothing else could give them.
It is good for honorable senators to realize the variety of types of organizations which are being assisted to do this important work. It would be impossible for me to detail the names of them all and the amounts that have been allocated to each one, because the time allotted to me would not permit me to do so. Moreover, we want to pass this legislation as quickly as possible so that payments can be made on the due date. However, I shall detail some organizations which have received payments from the Commonwealth, to indicate the great “variety in the organizations and institutions engaged in this work and the wide areas within the Commonwealth. There is the Methodist Home Missions in Victoria, the Trustees Open Brethren in Victoria, the Roman Catholic Diosese of Rockhampton in my own State of Queensland, the War “Widows’ Guild in Queensland and various other church organizations in that State, also the Masonic Homes. Other organizations which have received assistance are the United Protestant Association, St. John’s Church of England, Village Homes, the Poor Sisters of Nazareth, Perth, the Queen Elizabeth Benevolent Home, the Braille Society for the Blind, the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Presbyterian Church, Churches of Christ, the Australian Trained Nurses Association, the Sailors and Soldiers Widows and Widowed Mothers Trust Fund, the Aus tralian Inland Mission, the Church of England Diocese of Newcastle, the South Australian Blind Welfare Association, the Eventide Homes Appeal in New South Wales, the Mount Gambier Old Folks Home in South Australia, the MasonicPeace Memorial Haven in Tasmania, theSilver Chain and Bush Nursing Association of Perth, the South Australian Country Women’s Association, and the Bethany Aged Christian’s Home in Brisbane. I was present at the presentation of the cheque to the latter organization, as well as when a grant was made to the War Widows Guild. Other organizations were the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia of Melbourne, the Baptist Union, the Smith Family at Goulburn and the Cottage Homes in Adelaide. The Salvation Army has also shared in the grants, as have many other bodies which I cannot mention at this stage. The list of organizations that I have placed before the Senate is a representative group to show how widely the Commonwealth grants- have been made for this important work of housing elderly people. Those grants have been of tremendous assistance because they have helped to carry out one of the most human pieces of work that has ever been done in this country, and the legislation i3 therefore one of the best and most humane that has passed through this Parliament.
I congratulate the Minister, and all those who are carrying out this splendid work. Already, through grants approved to S3 organizations, the money expended has exceeeded £1,017,000, and that will assist churches and other organizations to provide accommodation for about 1,905 elderly persons who otherwise might have been living alone in unfortunate circumstances and who would not be receiving the assistance that they will now get. Therefore, I believe that this legislation which will implement a particular part of the budget, is of tremendous importance, and no matter what party we may belong to, we may feel proud of it.
Once more this matter of social services is being discussed in the Senate. We now have time to look back over the record of the Government and consider what it has achieved. But, above all, me have time once more to appreciate that it is right and proper for the Government to assist those people who need assistance, whether they be aged persons, invalids or widows. In supporting this bill I am proud to be associated with the Government, and I recall “with interest that the Minister for Social Services, since he assumed office, has taken pains to make himself au fait with all the sections of his department. He has taken a keen personal interest in’ the work his department carries out, and has done whatever hecould to meet the needs of the people.
I now wish to direct attention to a matter which was brought up earlier in the -Senate about the purchasing power of pensions. I believe that some misunderstanding might arise from the submissions previously put before the Senate, and I desire to try to make the matter clearer. Tie best yardstick for measuring the purchasing value of the pensions at different times is not the basic wage, but the C series index of retail prices. The pensions were linked with that index from 1940 to 1943, when the standard was abandoned because to follow it would have led to a reduction of 6d a week in pensions. Comparison with the C series index is quite simple and easy to work out. That index for the September quarter of 1949 was 1428. At that time the pension was £2 2s. 6d. The latest C series index is for the June quarter 1955, and is 2375. If the pension were adjusted in the ratio of 2375 to 1428, it would amount to £3 10s. 8d. But the Government is increasing the pension to £4 a week, which will be 9s. 4d. above the equivalent of the pension of £2 2s. 6d. a week which was paid by the last Labour Government in December, 1949.
I suggest that those figures will clear up any misconception that may have arisen in the minds of honorable senators from certain submissions previously put before them.
This bill should have a speedy passage through the Senate, and I trust that it will be dealt with sympathetically by all honorable senators because it is important that it should be passed rapidly in order to benefit those who should be benefited. I deplore anything that might cause a delay in the implementation of such an important piece of legislation.
In supporting this legislation I repeat that I am proud of the achievements of this Government which has given more security in health, housing and pensions than has any previous government. It is right that we should ensure that aged people are cared for; but I make one final plea for the civilian widow who, when her youngest child reaches sixteen years of age, ceases to receive a pension. In many cases she has to face real problems until she reaches the age of 50 when she again becomes pensionable. With that plea I support the measure.
– We have had three speeches on this bill from the Government side of the chamber and all three have contained a tremendous amount of political propaganda, all supporting the particular views of honorable senators opposite. We were chided, not so much by Senator Annabelle Rankin, but by her colleagues, with being party political partisans. I make it clear that I am, unashamedly, a party political partisan. The three Government senators who have spoken are also party political partisans.
When the history of social services is analysed we find that particularly at the very early stages it was necessary to be a political partisan. I shall tell honorable senators why. Not so long ago - I shall not go back to the introduction of pensions generally - it was the Labour party that proposed widows’ pensions. In fact, a Labour government in New South Wales was the first government to introduce widows’ pensions in this country. When the Labour party foreshadowed widows’ pensions on a national scale, the party political partisans on the other side, all those people who are in the Government to-day or sitting behind it, told us that our proposal would bring about organized immorality. That was the slogan they used against us, and they used exactly the same slogan when we suggested that maternity bonuses should be paid to all mothers. We were then told also that such bonuses would establish a system of organized immorality.
Again, when the Labour party suggested there should be workmen’s compensation, which is another social service applicable to industry, we were told that our proposal would, in effect, subsidize malingerers and loafers. That claim was made by those who oppose the Labour party. A little later, within the memory of some of our present opponents in the political sphere, we suggested there should oe-
– What about the prisoners of war? Labour did not give them anything.
– At the time to which I refer the honorable senator was not here, but some of his colleagues were. He was, however, a member of the Liberal party when Labour proposed free medical services. What did his party say then? Did it say, “Yes, we believe in free medical services “? Oh, no! Honorable senators opposite said that we were introducing a scheme to nationalize the doctors.
– That is what the Labour party was going to do.
– Yet, to-day, Government senators stand up in their places and tell us one after another what a grand scheme is now in operation.
– For pensioners ; not free medicine, free life-saving drugs.
– That is an entirely different thing.
– The honorable senator is trying to twist.
– When we suggested medical benefits we were told we were going to nationalize the doctors. The party opposite has made provision for medical benefits, but it has placed some restrictions on them. To-day, honorable senators opposite stand up and say what a grand scheme it is. It may not be nationalizing the doctors, but quite recently the British Medical Association told the Government that it is going too far and that it will have to curtail even its present scheme for pensioners. Honorable senators know that that is correct. However, it does not alter the fact that in the initial stages honorable senators opposite would not have a bar of a medical benefits scheme; they told us we were wrong. Then, when we suggested introducing a free medicine scheme as distinct from medical benefits, which cover professional attention, the opponents of Labour said, “ This proposal of the Labour party will encourage the drug habit and develop hypochondriacs “.
– That is what has happened in New Zealand.
– We were told that we would develop a set of people who would rush to get a bottle of medicine just because it was free; whatever drugs were available they would get them and become drug addicts. Our opponents did everything they possibly could to discredit the Labour party because it suggested those things.
What has happened since? We set the machinery in motion, and not so long ago either. The headlines in the newspapers at the time quoted Liberal and Australian Country party members as saying that Labour was establishing a welfare state. It was said that it was entirely wrong to make people dependent upon the Government. To-day, we have listened to three speeches from the other side of this chamber, in addition to the speech of the Minister, eulogizing the machinery that Labour instituted in the first place.
– We made it work, with a lot of additions.
– The honorable senator may squeal ; but just now we were said to be suggesting something which was not non-party political. These are party political matters, and if it had not been for the Labour party introducing this machinery, which it is true the Government has expanded from time to time, Australia would be in exactly the same position as it was when our opponents opposite alleged that Labour was introducing a welfare state. To-day we are told that the Government is adding more and more to the machinery that we introduced. Yet honorable senators opposite have the audacity to tell us that we are party political partisans.
Order of the day read for the resumption of debate (from the 15th September - vide page 121), on motion by Senator McKenna -
That the following paper be printed: - Report of the Royal Commission on Espionage.
That the debate be postponed till Thursday, the 20th October, 1955.
Report of Select Committee.
Order of the day read for the resump tion of debate (from the 29th September - vide page 327), on motion by Senator McCallum -
That the report only (report of Select Committee on Canberra) be printed.
That the debate be postponed till Thursday, the 20th October, 1955.
– Earlier, I directed atten tion to the fact that honorable senators on the Government side were posing as nonparty political partisans, but they were seizing on all sorts of propaganda that suited them relating to social services. They were not giving full explanations, and were holding back vital information. As a consequence, their arguments were misleading and only emphasized the fact that they were being used for political purposes. An illustration of this relates to the raising of the amount of the property bar. It has been increased from £750 to £1,750, and honorable senators opposite are giving the credit for that achievement to this Government. They are making no mention of what was really done. It was the Labour party, through the Labour Government, which first of all set up the machinery for social services, although this Government claims credit for it. The same statement applies to the property bar. During the war period, the property bar was about £400 or £450, and it had not been altered for some years. A new formula was drawn up by the Labour Government, and as pensions were increased the value of property allowed was increased also, and in 1948 it reached the figure of £750. This Government increased the amount of money a pensioner could hold from £100 to £200. That was a recognition of the inflationary trend and of the fact that £200 then was worth only what £100 was before the war. The formula relating to the property bar has continued to apply, and the figure has now reached £1,750, but Government senators have no right to take all the credit for that. This Government has been quite pleased to allow the formula that the Labour Government drew up to continue. When Government senators chide Labour senators with making political propaganda out of the matter they should look at their own actions. I am not blaming Government senators for boosting their Government, hut I do blame them for not saying outright that they are political partisans, as I am.
When the Minister in charge of the bill delivered his second-reading speech, he read about four or five pages of political propaganda containing illustrations of what this Government has done in the social services field. Not a word was said about the machinery set up by the Labour Government so that the whole scheme could proceed smoothly. This Government professes to have the welfare of pensioners and widows and every one connected with social services at heart, but when the Labour Government was setting up the social services machinery the necessary legislation was bitterly opposed in both Houses by the present Government parties. The Minister was at some pains to point out how generous the Government had been in raising pensions. He suggested that, based on the C series index, the pension was about 9s. 4d. better than it would be if it were kept strictly to the cost of living rate indicated by that index. He said that some of the statements made by honorable senators on this side were incorrect. The Minister says that the C series index is used to get the trend of the cost of living, and he applies it to the pensioners’ rate. That rate was never established on the C series index figures, but the Minister suggested that it had been. The C series index figures were set up, in the first place, after abase had been set up for a minimum wage through the Arbitration Court. We had the A series and other series, all of which applied .to a given basic rate. If we go back to the A series index figures, we shall find that they applied to the basic rate fixed under some award.
– The Harvester award of 1907.
– It applied to the minimum award made at that time. From then on, the A series was used to find out, on a percentage basis, what the increase or reduction of the cost of living was for the items connected with the A series figures. Later, we got the C series index figures, and they also were applied to the base rate set up by the Arbitration Court. It was set up specifically to give the trend in the rise and fall in the cost of living, aud again it was fixed on a percentage basis. There are a lot of items in it, but no one has suggested that it is a complete set of items to give the actual cost of living, but only to give the trend. It is worked out on a percentage basis. That was- used for the purpose of applying it to a base rate supplied by the Arbitration Court. From time to time there have been alterations of the base rate. I think there was a rise of 7s. on one occasion in recent years, and another rise of £1. The Arbitration Court itself set up that base rate, and then applied the C series index figures for the purpose of applying a given amount of money, on a percentage ratio, for the rise and fall in the cost of living on that base rate. However, the Minister did not mention that. He suggested that if we went along to the Statistician the figures he would give us would bear out the fact that the C series retail price index number for September - the last that was issued before the Labour Government left office - was 1429 and that the latest figure is 2375.
The Minister says that the Statistician agrees that this is the method that should be used to determine the rate of pension. That method is not used for that purpose at all, but to say so suits the Minister’s argument to prove in his own mind - and I emphasize that point - that the rise given to the pensioners is more than the increased cost of living. That is not the position at all. If we go back to 1949, as the Minister did, we shall find that the ratio of tha* pension rate to the basic, wage was 37 per cent. The basic wage was established by the court to give a minimum rate for a reasonable, standard of living. No worker could be employed at a lower rate, if working under an award, although by special permission a lower rate- could be paid. It was always open to employers to pay more than the basic wage. If we take that as the base rate, and the C series index figures which apply to that rate, we get the trend of the cost of living one way or the other - up or down. I think for every variation of .5 the difference is ls., and the base rate is increased or decreased accordingly. But it applies automatically to the base rate. The court deals with it and says that there should be an adjustment of the base rate, because otherwise il is not a reasonable standard of living. That happened when there was a rise of 7s. in the basic wage, and again when there was an increase of £1. If we apply the G series index to that rate, we find that, instead of getting 9s. 4d. over and above the cost of living compared with 1949 as the Minister suggested, we get lis. less. If honorable senators were to approach pensioners they would not find one who would say that he or she was not worse off then in 1949. I have not met one who would say so. Pensioners know that they have to pay increased rents, and higher prices for butter, and heaven only knows how they pay for tea, because the price of tea has gone up almost out of sight. All the things that pensioners need to enjoy a reasonable standard of living have gone up in price tremendously. The formula of the Minister is not a true and accurate formula for determining what the pension should be in comparison with some earlier period of time. The Minister suggested 1948 or 1949. I do not care what year is taken, because it does not affect the comparison at all. If we take the 1949 rate paid to pensioners, as the Minister did, we find that the pension should be Ils. more.
The C series index figures have no relation to the pension at all, but they do have relation to the rise and fall in the cost of living applying to the basic wage set by the court. Never at any time has the court or anyone else set a pension base standard and then said that the C series index- figures should be applied to get the rise and fall. That has never been done. The basic wage was set prior to the application of the fluctuations of the index figures. It was not set on the C series index figures at all. Years ago the base pension rate was set at about 15s. Then, in accordance with the rise and fall set by the index figures of the series at that time in operation, they rose by, say, 6d. or ls. a week. That resulted in the rates being higgedly piggedly in the several States. In some States there was a rise of ls., in other States a rise of 6d. and in others no rise at all. In some States, because there was no rise in the C series or the series index figures applying at the time, some pensioners got no rise at all. Later, that system was abolished. The base pension rate was set up long before the application of the rise and fall in the cost of living as indicated in the various series of figures. I know that honorable senators opposite make these claims because they do not take into consideration the fixation of the basic wage by the Arbitration Court.
Some honorable senators opposite have said, “ We have done other things for the pensioners “. I know that the Government has granted some medical and hospital benefits, but do not forget that it has also taken some benefits away from them. Pensioners had free hospital attention before this Government did anything about it, but to-day it is difficult for a pensioner to gain admission to hospitals because hospitals have no room for them. I know that the Government has granted free medical attention to pensioners, and that is of great assistance to them, particularly to the age and invalid pensioners. I believe that it applies to other pensioners also. But it is a restricted service; it is not completely free. But even allowing for all those things, the Minister’s statement in. connexion with the proposed increase is founded on a completely wrong basis. When the Labour Government went out of office in 1949 free hospital attention was available to pensioners, either as outpatients or inmates of the hospitals. The only additional benefit granted by this Government is that a- pensioner may receive medical attention in his own home. I wonder that somebody has not mentioned this before. From the point of view that I am putting at present, there is not much political propaganda in it, and so it has been left alone.
The Government has also sought credit in respect of child endowment payments. It claims that it granted endowment for the first child. Of course it did, but that was granted as a political issue, and it is one of the few elections promises that the Government has carried out. All its other promises have gone by the board, although one or two members of the Government have tried to fulfil some of those promises and found them impossible to fulfil. The Government has not increased child endowment. The 5s. that is granted to-day for the first child, and the 10s. that is granted for the others, are worth only half as much in purchasing power as they were when they were first granted. As a matter of fact they are worth even less, the correct figure being about two-fifths. The Government cannot, therefore, make much political propaganda out of it, but when we mention it we are accused of making political propaganda from it.
The Government seems to have entirely forgotten the person who is dependent on a pensioner. An invalid pensioner will get an increase of 10s. in his pension, but his wife, who at present receives, I think, 35s., will not be granted any increase at all. The wife cannot go away from her home because she has to look after the invalid pensioner. The same applies to age pensioners, who, although not termed invalid pensioners, are very nearly invalids. Wo increase is proposed by the Government in the payment for the wife of a pensioner. Senator Annabelle Rankin mentioned this matter in her speech, and I hope that she has raised it at government party meetings. This is another matter in which the Australian Government has failed. It cannot make any political propaganda from it, but when we mention it we are told that we are using it for party purposes, and that we are using everything possible for political purposes. I will admit, Mr. President, that I will use it all if I can, but there is also the matter of justice for the person who looks after the pensioner. This benefit was introduced’ originally by a Labour government. A certain amount was allowed for the wife because she cannot go out to work.’ The Government on this occasion has given her nothing.
I come finally to the matter of maternity allowance. As I said earlier this evening, when the Labour party brought up the matter of a baby bonus, as we called it, we were told that we would cause wholesale immorality, because we declared that we would pay it to every woman in Australia who had a child. There has been no increase in the maternity allowance since 1949. A mother is granted £15 on the birth of her child, but in purchasing power that is worth only half of what it was worth when the Labour Government was in power. Honorable senators opposite shed tears at the way these people suffer, but they do nothing at all about it. It is time that the Government granted a reasonable allowance to the mothers of the future citizens of this country. The present maternity allowance is not sufficient to cover half the amount that must be paid for doctors and hospitals.
I now wish to refer to the hospital benefits payments. The rate of payment still stands at Ss. a day. The Labour Government increased the payment from 6s. to Ss. for every bed in a hospital, with a proviso that certain beds were to be left available so that indigent people could be treated in the hospitals free of charge. This Government altered those provisions and brought in legislation providing that if a person joined a private hospital benefits association, which he could not do if he was infirm or was over the age of 60 or 65, if he was admitted to a hospital after being a. member of that association for a period of from two to six months the Government would grant an extra 4s. a day to that person while he was in the hospital, bringing the payment to 12s. a day. We were told that that legislation would solve all the problems that were facing the hospitals, and that it would remove all their financial difficulties, but hospital fees are rising. When the Government brought in its legislation providing for an extra payment of 4s. to members of certain associations, hospital fees rose to £18 18s. a week. Now the charges are to be increased to 24 guineas a week, and I am not speaking of private wards but of the cheapest wards in the hospitals. That applies, too, in all but two States. I believe one is Tasmania and another is Queensland. Sufficient pressure could not be brought to bear upon the State governments in Tasmania and Queensland to make them conform with the Australian Government’s ideas.
Mothers who have to go into maternity hospitals have to find from £24 to £50 first. The Government still gives them a paltry maternity allowance of £15, which is equivalent to £7 or less when it was introduced. Then the supporters of the Government wonder why the mothers of Australia, and all those who are suffering through inadequate social services payments, are dissatisfied with the provisions that have been boosted in this chamber by Government supporters. Those people want redress, and when honorable senators on the Opposition side support their case, we are accused of making political capital out of pensions. Of course we do and, if possible, we will empty the Government out of office on that question. We will use also all the other mistakes that the Government has made in our efforts to dislodge it.
I support the amendment because I believe the bill should be re-drafted. The few important matters in connexion with pensions that I have mentioned warrant a re-drafting of the measure, and there are others as well. The Government could have the bill re-drafted and still have it passed and made to apply retrospectively to the 1st July last before the end of this sessional period. The new pensions could be paid - as the Government proposes to pay the new rates - on the first pension day after the end of this month. That could be done if the Government supporters would make up their minds to do it, and not adopt the dilatory tactics that are used by Ministers when they answer questions in this chamber. I could suggest other amendments, but for the moment I am supporting the move to have some of the most glaring anomalies rectified.
– I rise to support the amendment that has been moved by Senator Tangney. At long last, the Government has yielded under pressure, as the bill before the Senate shows, but it could go much further. Dire hardships and suffering have been endured by a large number of pensioners because the Government has been neglectful of their needs. Between 80 per cent, and 85 per cent, of persons drawing age pensions are entirely dependent on their pensions. It is ridiculous, therefore, for the Government to claim that it is treating the pensioners munificently. It is not. Time and time again, the Government has been asked to do something to relieve the poverty among the pensioners who have contributed to taxation throughout their working lives, in some cases specifically to get a pension. Since 1950, the pension rate has been increased by £1 17s. 6d., but that increase does not measure up to the rise in the basic wage.
Senator 0’Flaherty cleared the mirage that the Government has used in connexion with pensions when its supporters cite the C series index as a basis for the alteration of pension rates. The C series index is merely a measure for the arbitration courts to use as the payment necessary to give a man with a wife and one or two children a frugal existence. The provisions vary in the different States. The proposed rise in the pension rates on this occasion does not incorporate the C series index, and the amendment is completely justified. The new pensions payments should be made retrospective to the 1st July because pensioners who are trying to exist on £3 7s. 6d. a week have the greatest difficulty in paying simply for lodgings and meals. They have nothing left over for clothing or other necessaries. If the pension increases were made retrospective, the pensioners would have an opportunity to buy clothes and other necessaries. In Western Australia, the Junior Chamber of Commerce is collecting old clothes in an attempt to relieve the distress among pensioners. This is supposed to be an enlightened age. The Government claims to have a sense of social justice. We have reached a poor pass, however, when the sort of relief I have mentioned has to be given to aged persons.
The increase of pensions should be greater than that proposed because the national economy can stand it, and it should be made retrospective at least to the 1st July. Since 1953, the weekly rate of pension has been increased by 12s. 6d. In the same period, the basic wage has been frozen generally but, even so, adjustments made since 1953 have been greater than 12s. 6d. The Government has disregarded several matters in connexion with pensions. When social services provisions were introduced, sickness and unemployment benefits were provided. They have not been altered, and inflation has made the existing rates ridiculous. The Government is shown in a poor light when it offers such paltry benefits. Unemployment has been a minor factor for some time. When the Labour Government introduced social services, it established a national welfare fund. Certain money was earmarked and put into the fund, and held in trust in a time of full employment so that the fund would be solvent in a period such as one that we might be called upon to face shortly. I am sure that, if this Government remains in office, there will be a depression. Should that happen, we can well imagine how miserable will be the plight of pensioners, unless we do something how, when the Government claims that our prosperity is embarrassing it.
I ask the Government to do something about providing hospital treatment for aged persons, particularly pensioners. All kinds of medical benefits are said to be available to the aged people of the community, but I am prepared to wager that every honorable senator, and perhaps every member of the House of Representatives, has come across the problem of aged persons who are seriously ill and need hospital treatment, but who find it impossible to gain admission to a hospital.
– Is the honorable senator speaking now about people suffering from chronic illnesses?
– I am speaking of illnesses that require hospital treatment. In Western Australia, we have the Home of Peace, which is a great institution, but it does not meet more than 1 per cent, of the requirements of the community. If we have a sick aged person on our hands and want to take him to hospital, we find that the hospital will not accept him, either because, it is said, beds are needed for surgical cases, or because they are needed for young people who desperately require hospital treatment. Despite all the talk that we hear in the Senate on this subject, we all know that the aged sick are getting a very raw deal. I know that I should not like to be a pensioner, trying to live in a room on £4 a week. In my opinion, the position of pensions generally is poor and needs revision. The Government should be more conscious of the need to give social justice to the pensioners in the community.
Senator O’Flaherty referred to the maternity allowance. No action has been taken to increase that benefit. Age and invalid pensions are to be increased, because pressure has been placed on the Government to do so, but I suggest that, if it is valid to increase age and invalid pensions in order to cope with inflation and rising costs, there is a moral obligation on the Government also to increase the maternity allowance. It costs a great deal of money to bring an immigrant from overseas to this country; yet the Government treats parsimoniously the Australian mother who brings into the country the best kind of new Australian we could have.
Although the Government proposes to increase pensions, it does not intend to increase child endowment. We certainly have a duty to the aged, but we have a primary and essential duty to the young married person who is bringing up a family. Child endowment now is worth only about 4.1 per cent., or less than half, of what it was worth when it was introduced originally. It has never been increased. Honorable senators no doubt can imagine that child endowment is a very essential contribution to the budget of people who are bringing up a young family, having regard to the high cost of establishing a home these days. As a matter of fact, I think that this Government - for that matter, any government - would be well advised to introduce a system of marriage loans, to be amortized, on the birth of children. Such a system would be much cheaper than an immigration programme, and it would mean that our population of Australians who were born here would increase.
Another matter about which I failed to hear any boasting from honorable sena tors opposite was the subject of widows’” pensions. We of the Labour party introduced widows’ pensions, and Senator O’Flaherty has already referred to the opposition presented by the present Government parties to their introduction. We were strongly criticized for bringing them in. Now, of course, the Government accepts the need to pay widows’ pensions, and in presenting this bill to the Senate, the Minister quite rightly made some laudatory remarks about the proposal to increase the pensions. I submit, however, that although the pensions are to be increased by 10s. a week, the position of a widow with several children under sixteen years of age will still be a very difficult one indeed. The proposed increase is not commensurate with the increase of costs, or of the basic wage - not the C series index - and, in any event, the pension is only worth half what it should he. It would need to be doubled if it were to meet inflated prices and costs. I have before me particulars concerning the plight of a widow with several young children and I can assure honorable senators that such women find it very hard to exist. They must, of necessity, be fully occupied in the home, and the income they receive is not nearly sufficient to maintain themselves and the children. In my opinion, it is the duty of the Government to review child endowment and to increase it. There is a similar obligation on the Government to increase the maternity allowance.
The sickness and unemployment benefit should be reviewed also, and increased to enable it to approach more nearly to meeting inflation and high prices. I do not think that the Government has been at all generous in regard to pensions. On the contrary, I think it has been parsimonious. It has been said that the actual surplus last financial year was £170,000, but some millions of pounds have been placed in trust, out of current revenue. In addition, the current public works program > is being financed from revenue. That, means, in effect, that social services are at the absolute tail end of the Government’s policy, and they are only in that position because most countries of the world recognize that they have a moral responsibility to the less fortunate people in the community, and this Government wants to be in the swim. Pensions and social services generally are at minimum rates, and the Government has not done all that it could do in this matter.
Having said that, I want to pay a compliment to the staff of the Department of Social Services, including the Deputy Director in Western Australia, and those in other States with whom I have dealt. In my opinion, the officers display a great social consciousness. Those with whom 1 have dealt have been most interested in their work and eager to do as much as they possibly could for pensioners and Others who came under their charge. In relation to the department in Western Australia, I have a request to make of the Minister. In recent times, the Department of Health and the Department of Social Services have been moved from the central part of Perth to Wellingtonstreet, East Perth, which involves a quarter of an hour’s fast walking, or twenty minutes of slow walking, for most people who want to go there. I may mention, however, that a small office is maintained in Perth where pensioners may be interviewed. It is not uncommon that pensioners have to get transport to and from the department, and they can ill afford to pay for such trips. I think it is unreasonable that they should have to bear the cost involved. I should like the Minister to consider providing a central office where they could make their inquiries. After a person applies for the sickness and unemployment benefit, a certain time has to elapse before payment is made to him. Also, it sometimes happens that applicants do not have their applications in within the required period and, although they have been attended by doctors and can establish the fact of their illnesses, they are not able to get payment for the whole of the time they have been ill. I suggest that the Deputy Director of Social Services should be given power in all such cases to approve the payment of a sickness benefit. That, of course, is only where the applicant has been attended by a doctor and can prove that he was ill before the lodging of his application. I support the amendment, and submit that the Government could greatly improve its social services legislation. If the Government will not improve the legislation in other ways, the least it can do is to make the payment of the increased benefits retrospective to the 1st July, to allow the recipients of social services to expend the additional money that they will receive in laying up a small stock of clothes or other goods that they urgently need.
– I appreciate the manner in which this bill has been received by the Senate. I did not expect that honorable senators of the Opposition would bend over backwards to praise the Government for this measure, but it is quite evident from their speeches that they have encountered difficulty in finding arguments against the bill. Various Opposition senators have criticized details of the bill, such as the lack of retrospectivity, but the main part of the measure seems to have satisfied them. That, of course, is because there is no doubt that the provisions of the bill are most generous. In social services legislation of this kind it is impossible to deal with all aspects of social services, but I defy anybody to say that the bill will not give very generous increases of pension and allowances to the main groups of social services recipients. Senator Cooke complained that the Government had done nothing to make the provisions of unemployment and sickness benefit more generous. I do not know whether he was talking about this bill-
– I was talking about the bill.
– I remind Senator Cooke that the Government doubled the rates of the unemployment and sickness benefit in 1952. Surely he cannot object to that.
– The basic wage has increased since that time.
– That is so, but I shall deal with that matter later. Both Senator Tangney and Senator O’Flaherty had much to say about the C series index, end why it should be taken as a guide in fixing the rate of the general pension. There must be some yardstick with which to measure pension rates, and as the C series index is used in repatriation matters and has been found to be a very good measuring stick, there is no reason why it should not be considered in relation to age and invalid pensions. Senator Tangney compared the present rate of pension with the rate in 1948, but I do not know why she selected 1948.
– Because it was the last year in which the Labour Government was in office.
– I am afraid that is not so; 1949 was the last year of Labour government in this country.
– The year 1948 was the last in which the Labour Government increased pensions.
– We find quite a different situation from that described by Senator Tangney if we consider pensions during the last year of the last Labour administration, in November, 1949, the basic wage for the six capital cities was f 6 9s. a week, and the pension was £2. 2s. 6d. a week, which is 32.95 per cent, of the basic wage. In August, 1955, the unpegged basic wage was £12 5s. a week, and the pension will soon be £4 a week, which will be 32.65 per cent, of the basic wage. Therefore, honorable senators will see that the pension, in proportion to the basic wage, is much the same as it was in 1949. However, I do not desire to proceed further with that particular argument, because I believe that this Government has done a remarkably good job in the field of social services, and there are many thousands of pensioners who think the same way.
Senator O’flaherty said that at one time the age and invalid pension was linked with the cost of living. At one time, when the pension would have been reduced by 6d. a week if that link had been maintained, the link was broken. lt is my opinion that that was a very good thing. The pension has never been considered to be an allowance upon which a person could live. It was given only as an aid to living. It is only in later years that it has been linked in terms with the cost of living and the basic wage.
An amendment has been circulated which is designed to provide restrospective payment of increases as from the 1st July, 1955. Senator Cooke and other honorable senators have expressed their agreement with that proposal. It is a hardy annual which, is brought every year. I remember bringing the same sort of thing up myself when I was in Opposition. Every year when those now in Opposition occupied the treasury bench they did exactly the same thing as this Government is doing now.
– The Minister never said pensions were too small.
– I would have to think back; I probably did. I am not blaming the Opposition except that 1 think it made heavy weather in this debate. The general practice over the years is that the budget is brought down, making provision for a certain rate of pension. Then, enabling bills are introduced and the new payment is made on the first pay day after the bill has received the Royal Assent. That is why I hope we shall get this bill through to-night, so that it will be possible to pay the increased benefits on next Thursday, the 20th October. The late Mr. Chifley followed the same practice when he was in office. I do not think I need say anything further on that aspect.
The other part of the amendment reads - . . in the light of the declining purchasing value of money increases in the rates of social service payments to the maximum extent that the national economy will permit, and, particularly, to ensure as a minimum that each of these payments is restored to the same percentage of the (unpegged) basic wage as it was under the adjustment of rates by the Chifley Government in 1948.
I have dealt with that proposition on the basis of the rate of pension prevailing in 1949, because that was the last year in which the Chifley Government was in office. On that basis, the purchasing power of the pension rate, after it is increased under this measure, will be within a few decimals of the purchasing power of the rate in 1949.
The Opposition must realize that the Government has some responsibility in spending the taxpayers’ money. However sympathetic it might be, and however much it might desire to do the various things that have been mentioned, many of which we should like to do, it must proceed gradually. This Government has done a great deal to increase social services benefits during the time that it has been in office. The estimated expenditure on pensions of all classes in 1955-56 is £179,000,000, whereas the actual expenditure in 1954-55 was £154,150,000, an increase of £24,880,000, or virtually £25,000,000. An additional £1,000,000 will be spent on homes for the aged; and it is also necessary to include in this connexion expenditure on health benefits. The estimated expenditure on health benefits for 1954-56 is £39,374,000, whereas the actual expenditure last year was £35,164,000, an increase this year of £4,210,000. Allowing for that £4,210,000, an additional £30,000,000 will be spent on social services this year compared with the amount expended for that purpose last year. Whatever we might desire to do, we must, as a responsible government, proceed with prudence. I have no hesitation in saying that we are going a very long way under this bill in increasing benefits and in spreading them over a greater sector of the community. The Government has considered the amendment moved by Senator Tangney, but, in view of the matters I have mentioned, is not prepared to accept it.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be left out (Senator Tangney’s amendment) be left out.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator the Hon. A. M. McMullin.)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 (Short title and citation).
.- I move-
That the clause be postponed.
I do this as an instruction to the Government -
That immediately on payment of the present increases provision should be made for the establishment of a royal commission to ascertain and inform the Parliament of suitable amounts which should be made payable for the comfort and needs of the various recipients of welfare payments.
In a welfare state such as now exists, the fight that goes on during every budget debate, when one side offers something for the age or invalid pensioner and the other side says that it is not sufficient, should come to an end. It is time that this legislation was taken out of the realm of party politics. If this motion is agreed to, Parliament will have a basis on which to assess what pensioners in various categories should receive. The amount would be paid to them according to the economy of the country, and it should be the policy of whatever party is in power to maintain the standard set by this independent committee. Such a procedure would end the wrangling that always occurs when the subject of invalid, age and service pensions is being considered. The Government would be wise, for its own sake and that of succeeding governments, to agree to this motion.
Question resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 2 - (1.) Subject to the next succeeding subsection, this Act shall come into operation on the day on which it receives theRoyal Assent.
– I move-
That the words “ come into operation on the day on which it receives theRoyal Assent,”, be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “be deemed to have come into operation on the 1st day of July, One thousand nine hundred and fifty-five”.
This matter was referred to by the Minister in his reply to the second-reading debate, but the Opposition considers thai a great necessity exists for pension payments tobe made retrospective. During the past three or four months, pensioners have been deprived of the purchasing power that the proposed small rise will give them. A precedent has been established this year by the fact that increases in salaries of judges and highly-placed civil servants were made retrospective. Even within this Parliament, when members of the Government protested against the date on which district allowances were to be paid, they were made restrospective for more than twelve months. Surely the Government could agree to make the payment of this increased pension retrospective to the beginning of the financial year. It is not sufficient to say that, because past governments have not followed this practice, such a procedure should be continued on the score of custom. I have never supported such a principle. These pensions should be made payable from the 1st July last, because that is the date on which the financial year begins. Living costs have already risen, and that is why pensions have been increased.
– I explained this matter fully in my reply to the second-reading debate. Previous governments have followed a wellestablished principle from which this Government has no intention of departing.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be left out (Senator Tangney’s amendment) be left out.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Senator the Hon. A. D. Reid.)
Majority . . 9
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 3 to 7 agreed to.
Clause 8 -
Section thirty-three of the Principal Act is amended by omitting sub-section (2a.).
– I move -
That, after the word “ amended “, the following new paragraph be inserted: - “ (a) by omitting from sub-section (1.) the words ‘ ninety-one pounds ‘ and inserting in their stead the words ‘ one hundred and seventeen pounds’;”.
The amendment concerns the payment to the wife of an invalid or age pensioner. At present the rate of payment is 35s. a week. It is ridiculous to expect the wife of an invalid pensioner to exist on the paltry sum of 35s. a week. According to the bill, no provision whatever is made for any increase to the wife of an invalid pensioner. Apparently, she has been forgotten. As the bill stands, it means that although the invalid pensioner himself will get a rise of 10s. a week, bringing his pension up to £4 a week, the income of his wife will remain at 35s. a week. That means an average payment of £2 17s. 6d. a week. It is impossible for an invalid pensioner and his wife to live on that amount, particularly if the husband needs special attention, special food, and so on. The wife of an invalid pensioner cannot go to work. Indeed, she is not allowed to do so, because the payment is conditional on her looking after her invalid husband. Although the Opposition would like to see the payment to the wife increased to the equivalent of the invalid pension, we on this side are reasonable, and would be grateful if an additional 10s. a week were paid to the wife of an invalid pensioner. I cannot conceive of any logical argument against it. It would cost only a few thousand pounds. Perhaps it is because the amount involved is only thousands of pounds, and not millions, that the matter has been ignored. I regard the amendment as something which the Government should accept, if only on the ground of common sense and Christian charity.
– Did I understand the honorable senator to say that the Opposition wanted the payment to the wife to be the full amount of the invalid pension?
– I said that the Opposition would like that to be done, but that, being reasonable persons, we would be grateful if the Minister would agree to the wife of an invalid pensioner being paid 10s. a week more than at present. That would be in accordance with other increases to pensioners. Probably this matter has been overlooked - I do not think that it has been given consideration. If the amendment were accepted, it would bring the wife’s allowance up to 45s. a week. Even then, it is a case of “ God help the wife to manage on that sum “.
– This matter has not been overlooked, but it is impossible to do everything that honorable senators desire to be done. There is a limit to our ability to grant increases. I have already said that social services this year will cost many millions of pounds more than last year.
– How many wives would be affected?
– About 12,500, at a cost of about £350,000 a year. It is easy to say that that is not a large amount, but it is more than the Government can agree to. In my second-reading speech I said that the Government had made liberal advances in the rates of pensions. The Government is not prepared to accept the amendment.
Question put -
That the paragraph proposed to be inserted (Senator Tangney’s amendment) beso inserted.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Senator the Hon. A. D. Reid.)
Majority . . . . 10
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 9 agreed to.
New clause 9a.
.- I move-
That, after clause9, the following new clause be inserted: - “9a. Section fifty-five of the Principal Act is amended by omitting the words ‘ Ten Pounds ‘ and inserting in their stead the words Twenty-five Pounds’.”
The purpose of this amendment is to increase the amount of funeral benefits payable to pensioners. Funeral benefits were originally introduced by a Labour government some years ago, the amount thenbeing fixed at £10. Since that time the cost of funerals, as of anything else, has increased considerably, and even the proposed amount of £25 is not now adequate to meet the increased charges. Unfortunately, the number of these benefits paid will keep on increasing, because pensioners will not be able to live much longer if the cost of living continues to rise. Therefore, this charge will not remain static. At the present time, the additional cost borne by the relatives of pensioners is considerable. Many pensioners are helping themselves by contributing to funeral funds, but in some cases these funds are really rackets of which pensioners are the victims. There have been many exposures of the rackets that have been worked by various firms or guilds that try to make some profit out of the pensioners who wish to provide for their decent burial. The pensioners are exploited by certain of these so-called funeral funds. We feel, therefore, that it is incumbent upon the Government to help pensioners to have at least a decent funeral by increasing this payment from £10 to £25.
– Senator Tangney did not point out that this benefit is paid in respect of all age pensioners who die, and not only in respect of the indigent. In the case of many of them, their relatives are quite able to pay for their funerals, but this amount of £10 is paid in any case. Many age pensioners who die have contributed to funeral funds for many years for the specific purpose of providing for their funerals. I do not think the Government should be burdened further, when it already makes this payment even when the relatives of the deceased pensioner are quite able to pay for his funeral. Whether the relatives pay for the funeral, or whether it is paid for from a fund to which the pensioner has contributed, the payment of £10 is made.
– And they still need it. The undertakers get it.
– The number of these benefits paid each year is about 32,000. The total government payment each year is, therefore, about £320,000, and if Senator Tangney’s amendment is agreed to the Government will have to pay another £480,000 a year. The Government cannot accept the amendment.
Question put -
That the new clause proposed to be inserted (Senator Tangney’s amendment) be so inserted.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Senator the Hon. A. D. Reid.)
Majority . . . . 10
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause 10 agreed to.
New clause 10a.
– I move -
That, after clause 10, the following new clause be inserted: - “ 10a. Section ninety-five of the Principal Act is amended -
by omitting from sub-section (2) the words “ Ten shillings “ and inserting in lieu thereof the words Twenty shillings ‘.
by omitting from sub-section (3) the words “Ten shillings” and inserting in lieu thereof the words Twenty shillings ‘.
by omitting from sub-section (6) the words “ Ten shillings “ and inserting in lieu thereof the words Twenty shillings ‘.
The intention of the Opposition in moving this amendment is to direct attention to the extent of the Government’s neglect of the family unit. The Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) stated in his second-reading speech that we must pay attention to the needs of the children.
Then he introduced a bill that does not make any provision for an increase of child endowment payments. The rate of child endowment has been unchanged since 1949. In that year, 10s. represented a much larger proportion of the basic wage than it does to-day. I am not seeking to establish any direct relationship between child endowment and the basic wage, but 1. mention this point as a matter of comparison. In 1949, the basic wage was about £6 a week. In the light of the present-day basic wage, the child endowment payment should be increased from 1 0s. to 21s. 1 1/2 d. to be exact, but the Opposition would be content to have child endowment increased to £1 for the second and subsequent children.
My principal objective in moving this amendment was to direct the attention of honorable senators to the Government’s neglect of the family unit. On further consideration, it might well be that the Australian Labour party would prefer to see a graduated form of payment, increasing with the birth of each succeeding child. We believe that that would be of greater assistance to persons with large families. This idea is not new. It has long been adopted in France and other European countries. Many persons seem to believe that we are pioneers of many social services, but many European countries already have legislation such as we propose, including Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Denmark. We are quite late in our efforts to give justice to the larger family units. I shall not labour the point any further, because the matter has been debated during the discussion on this bill and during the budget debate.
– I have listened carefully to Senator Tangney and I must say that, whatever shortcomings this Government may have - and all governments have some shortcomings - it cannot be charged with neglect of the family unit. Last year, the Government provided £61,000,000 for child endowment.
– At the old rates.
– Yes, at the old rates, but the total was £61,000,000. To increase the payments as the honorable senator has suggested would cost £39,000,000 more. I ask honorable senators on the Opposition side to have some sense of responsibility. It is easy to suggest that £39,000,000 more be paid on top of the vote that was provided last year. Instead of neglecting the family unit, this Government has done a remarkably good job for that section of the community. I suggest that it is no mean effort to provide £61,000,000. Therefore, the Government is not prepared to accept the amendment.
Senator WRIGHT (Tasmania) [9.51 J. - I think there would be many of the opinion that some revision of the rate of child endowment within responsible limits, would be timely, but it must be recognized that the proposals contained in this bill are part and parcel of a complete budget. The expenditure involved in the proposal now before the’ chamber is so preposterously large that it demonstrates irresponsibility, and I want to announce that that is the reason for my rejection of the proposal.
– I point out to the Minister that the 10s. payment in respect of child endowment for the second and subsequent children has remained unaltered since 1948, a period of seven years. It is true that, in the interim, the present Government has endowed the first child, but at the same time, if the Government wants to take credit for doing so, it must not throw that act into the balance when we are considering what has happened in respect of the second and subsequent children. I am perfectly sure that if the children and those who could speak for them were nearly as vocal as are other groups in the community, something would have been done in respect of the second and subsequent children. The Minister must acknowledge that the cost of living has gone up. He demonstrated, I think, that the index figure had risen from 1428 to 2025 during the period that he selected. If that is the measuring stick he wishes to use, then in order to keep faith with the children whose expenses and costs have continued to increase during that period of seven years, the Government should increase the payment to 16s. 6d. As I say, that calculation is based, not on any measuring stick selected by the Opposition, but on the C series index and the figures cited by the Minister in relation to other social services. If the Government is going to claim credit for endowing the first child, it is no answer to say that it is doing so to the extent of 5s. a week.
Senator Wright spoke of irresponsibility and the huge cost involved in the amendment. The Minister, I believe, was correct in stating that the additional money involved would be £39,000,000. I invite attention to the fact that, of the surplus which this Government had available last year, £30,000,000 was used to retire treasury-bills, a very good thing in itself, but a thing that could have waited for one year, two years, or even three years. Had that not been done, no damage would have been done to any human being.
If the sum of 10s. were considered to be adequate for children away back in 1948, and if the purchasing value of that money were to be kept in line, then I say that, according to the Minister’s own measuring stick, the payment ought to be increased to 16s. 6d. I think that Senator Tangney was perfectly justified in bringing forward this amendment. As she indicated, she did so solely for the purpose of directing attention to the neglect of the Government of this very important aspect of social services.
If any honorable senator on the other side of the chamber feels that something ought to be done in this matter, I point out that our second reason for moving the amendment was to give to honorable senators opposite an opportunity to suggest a sum less than that proposed in our amendment. Those were the two reasons for introducing the amendment. We realized that we might be met with an argument regarding cost, and having regard to the Minister’s own figures, we are now presenting to honorable senators opposite an opportunity to move an amendment of our amendment. If they are not happy with 20s., they may care to base a financial argument on some other figure, and this is their opportunity to do so.
Question put -
That the new clause proposed to be inserted (Senator Tangney’s amendment) be so inserted.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Senator the Hon. A. D. Reid.)
Majority . . . . 10
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clauses 11 to 13 agreed to.
New clause 13a.
.- I move-
That, after clause 13, the following new clause be inserted: - “ 13a. The amounts fixed in this Act as the maximum amounts which may be paid for age, invalid and widows’ pension shall be reviewed annually and increased in accordance with any upward movement of the cost of living as measured by the weighted average retail price index for food, clothing and groceries as ascertained by the Commonwealth Statistician for the twelve months ending on the 31st March in each year.”.
I hope that honorable senators of the Opposition will give my proposal much consideration. I must say that they gave very little consideration to my previous amendment, and in so doing they made a mockery of the amendments that they themselves are supposed to support.
I suggest that they should at least exhibit some sincerity in this matter. My amendment closely reflects the desires of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, and of trade unions generally throughout Australia. All thar I am suggesting is that the pensioners should share in any increases of the basic wage brought about by increases of the cost of living. I know that honorable senators of the Opposition have received instructions from Caucus not to support any amendments that I may put forward, but I suggest that if they believe in them they should nevertheless support them. If they do not, then I shall be forced to the opinion that the amendments that they have been moving were designed merely as political propaganda, and that they lack sincerity.
– The amendment moved by Senator Cole is designed to bring a provision into’ the social services legislation similar to that which it contained from 1940 to 1943. The system of linking the pensions with the cost of living was abandoned because at one stage it would have caused a reduction of 6d. a week in pensions. The Government does not believe that any good purpose would be served by reverting to a practice that has already proved to be unsuccessful.
– I rise to reply to the charges made by Senator Cole.
– Did he make the honorable senator’s hackles rise?
– I have never questioned the sincerity of Senator Hannaford, and I hope that he will not question my sincerity. I was in the Labour party when Senator Cole was in napkins. Honorable senators on this side of the chamber believe that the basis of the calculation of the pension is wrong, and that the pension itself should be increased. If we were to support Senator Cole’s amendment we should be acquiescing in the present rate of pension, which we consider is not enough. Moreover, if his amendment became law we should discover that if the basic wage increased by different amounts in different States pensions payable in those States would also differ. For example, a person in Canberra or New South Wales might be receiving a shilling a week more as pension, than a person in South Australia. Therefore, I oppose the amendment.
.- I agree with Senator O’Flaherty that the rate of pension may be insufficient and that the method of calculation may be wrong, but the first amendment that I moved to this bill would have corrected that position. Senator O’Flaherty did not support that amendment, but if he and other honorable senators of the Opposition had supported it then they could, on Senator O’Flaherty’s arguments, have supported this amendment. Therefore, I suggest that his arguments on this amendment are devoid of meaning.
– I desire to reply to the charge of insincerity levelled at Opposition senators by Senator Cole. I did not support his proposal for a royal commission, because the Opposition is of the opinion that the matter of social services should be dealt with by the Parliament, and not by any outside body like a royal” commission. With regard to the amendment at present before the Senate, we have had some experience of the pensions being linked with the basic wage. When the pension and the basic wage were so connected there was a fall in the basic wage which would have caused 6d. a week reduction of the pension. When that occurred there was a terrific outcry from pensioners against any reduction of the pension. They were quite satisfied when the pensions were increased, but they were not so satisfied when it was proposed to reduce them. The government of the day then decided, at the request of pensioners’ organizations, and after much deliberation, that the link with the basic wage should not be maintained. It could be taken as a yard-stick, but it would not be dependent entirely on adding something or taking something off as would be the case if Senator Cole’s amendment were agreed to.
. -It is, indeed, amusing to hear the arguments that are being used to justify the division in the Opposition ranks that is now opening wide in this chamber. It is quite obvious that mere prejudice against the anti-Communist section of the Labour party is leading the official Opposition to-
– I rise to order. The honorable senator’s remarks are not relevant to the clause before the Chair. If he opens up a subject of that kind we shall have a nice old mM.ee.
– Order ! Senator Wright will continue.
– I was about to say-
– Might I ask for your ruling on my point of order, Mr. Chairman?
– I have called on Senator Wright to continue.
– With respect to some of the remarks made by Senator Tangney, I am interested in the idea that the objection which justifies the official Opposition to oppose Senator Cole’s amendment is that, if it is agreed to, it might lead to the pension being reduced should the cost of living decrease. E should not attribute to the honorable senator such scant attention to the amendment now before the Chair if she had not so expressed herself.
– It has happened before.
– If the honorable senator reads the amendment, she will see that it provides only for increases in the pension as increases occur in the cost of living. Therefore, the argument advanced by Senator Tangney is very specious indeed and displays a. complete misconception of Senator Cole’s amendment. However, I come to a more substantial ground in which the whole of the official Opposition is concerned. The official Opposition’s amendment this afternoon on the second reading of this bill was parallel to the amendment which it is now opposing. There is almost an identity of principle in the two amendments. The official Opposition is now trying to split the atom simply to hide the chasm which exists between it and the Anti-Communist Labour party due simply to sectarianism and prejudice.
– I should very much like Senator O’Flaherty to explain to me the exact process of reasoning by which he arrived at the conclusion he stated. I understood him to say that he considered the base rate of the pension to be too low.
– That is right.
– I, therefore, find it difficult to know why he should reject a proposal that can only have the effect of raising the base rate. That is the only possible effect that Senator Cole’s amendment could have. If Senator O’Flaherty will enlighten me on that point, I shall have a much clearer idea of what is motivating him.
– If the honorable senator had any understanding at all he would understand what I said. This amendment would not alter the base rate at all, because the only alteration that would occur would be when the cost of living rose. My objection is that the starting point is too low. Therefore, 1 do not want to have anything to do with this proposal. On the basis of the cost of living in 1949 it would mean an increase of the pension of only lis. 1 am not prepared to support an amendment that does not alter the base rate of the pension when I think that the base rate is much too low, but, on the contrary, would confirm that base rate. When Senator Wright talks about sectarianism, he is entirely wrong in raising that sort of thing in this chamber. Never in my life have I asked anybody his religion.
– I charge honorable senators opposite with exhibiting contempt towards the Senate. .Whereas it is perfectly obvious that they have no intention of supporting this amendment, nevertheless they are speaking for the purpose of bringing the Senate into disrepute. They are introducing all sorts of things. Did Senator Wright rise in order to support the amendment? Of course, he did not. If the business of the Senate is to be conducted properly, the correct thing for any honorable senator who speaks on any question is either to support it or oppose it, but not merely to use the opportunity for the purpose of smearing or raising the sectarian issueas Senator Wright has done. I strongly suggest to honorable senators opposite that if they do not propose to support this amendment they should remain silent.
– It is interesting to hear Senator Toohey say that these proceedings arc bringing the Senate into disrepute. It is a cardinal principle of debate in this chamber that, if the Senate is to function properly as a chamber of review, we should debate each matter on the basis of logic. We are, therefore, entitled to advance all the reasons that occur to us during debate, and at the conclusion of the debate to express our judgment in division. If, in this instance, there is a complete illogicality in the reasons advanced by the official Opposition for opposing Senator Cole’s amendment, surely it is open to honorable senators on this side to demonstrate that fact so that honorable senators opposite might sue the error of their ways. That procedure does not bring the Senate into disrepute.
Question put -
That the new clause proposed to be inserted (Senator Cole’s amendment) be so inserted.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Senator the Hon. A. D. Reid.)
Majority . . 33
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause 14 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendmentreport adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Reports on Items.
– I lay on the table reports of the Tariff Board on the following subjects : -
Aluminium and aluminium alloy sheets, sections and other shapes; aluminium foil and foil paper.
Direct current mill type motors.
Fuel injection equipment.
Household aluminium ware.
Motor vehicle parts - front axle assemblies. Pen nibs.
Phenothiazone and diphenylamine.
Phosphorus derivatives. Plumbers’ vises.
Ribbons, trimmings, ornaments, &c.
Senate adjourned at 10.28 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 13 October 1955, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1955/19551013_senate_21_s6/>.