22nd Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. A. M. McMullin) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– At yesterday’s sitting, Senator Vincent gave notice of a motion calling for certain action to be taken in connexion with the documents which I tabled last week in the Library regarding the appeal of the Supreme Soviet of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on disarmament. Senator Gorton then asked “whether, in debating the motion, reference may be made to the contents of those documents. I have now considered the matter and wish to inform the Senate that when I placed the documents on the table of the Library, it was my intention that they should be available for perusal by honorable senators only. However, 1 have since ascertained that a translation in English,, substantially the same in substance, of the appeal of the Supreme Soviet has already been published in the July edition of the “ New Times “, a document printed in the Soviet Union and available in the Parliamentary Library for perusal by members of Parliament and by the public. I have accordingly withdrawn the documents from the table of the Library, and now -lay them on the table of the Senate. The contents of the documents may, therefore, be quoted by honorable senators when debating the motion to which 1 have referred.
– 1 ask the Minister representing the Treasurer whether he will confer with the Cabinet with a view to casing credit for the purpose of helping and stimulating the building trade as a counter to the recession that is now setting in and which is responsible for putting workers on the unemployment list.
– I am sorry to say 1 had a little difficulty in hearing the honorable senator. I understand the purpose of his question is to have steps taken to increase credit facilities for the use of the building trade.
– That is a mattei for the banking system. The banking system can use the funds that are available to it in the way that it considers to be best. What the honorable senator is asking, in effect, is that the Government give some direction to increase the total level of funds that are available. That is essentially a matter of banking policy. It is also a matter of Government policy. It is the function of the banks to distribute the finances available to them in the way in which they consider to be best, lt would be very difficult, if not impracticable, for the Government to make any specific direction in favour of the building trade without taking similar action in respect of other trades.
– 1 ask the Minister for National Development whether he has seen a considered statement by two lecturers of the New South Wales University of Technology to the effect that, in the case of diesel oil, present techniques for fluidizing low temperature carbonization of coal can produce diesel oil at a cost competitive in Australia with that of petroleum. In view of Australia’s present dependence on overseas oil, and having special regard to the Middle East crisis, can the Minister say whether the Joint Coal Board has any firm views on this dramatic possibility and. if so, whether it is carrying out any effective research in regard to the matter?
– That is a good question which it is much easier to ask than to answer. It covers a very wide field. I have noticed two statements in the press. One was a letter published in the “ Sydney Morning Herald”, and signed by Professor Phillips, who is quite an authority on this subject. The other was in the nature of a press statement in which Professor Phillips’s name did not appear. I do not know whether there is any significance in that fact. I can answer the honorable senator only in general terms. The extraction of oil from coal has been receiving much consideration from the Joint Coal Board and other research authorities. Generally, there is no evidence that oil can be produced in Australia from coal at costs which would be competitive with those of ordinary petroleum products.
– The Germans do it.
– It is not done in Germany but in South Africa. A large plant has recently gone into production in South Africa, but it has great advantages, first, because of the cheap labour cost in mining coal and, second, because the mines and the market are a long way from the seaboard, and petroleum products have to carry a large railway freight in competing with oil that is produced locally from coal. lt remains to be seen how the South African experiment will work out. Another factor is that in an enterprise of this sort, very substantial capital investment is involved in what are hazardous circumstances, lt is doubtful whether there would be a market in Australia for the volume of by-products and chemicals that would be produced if the enterprise were conducted on a sufficiently large scale to make a worth-while contribution to the use of coal.
– In view of the serious economic situation arising from inflationary influences in the community, and the tendency for Australian economic trends to follow those in the United Kingdom and the United States of America, will the Minister representing the Treasurer direct his attention to a report from the United States of America that the price of a haircut there is 17s. 6d., butter is 6s. 8d. per lb., bread 2s. 6d. a loaf and eggs 7s. 3d. a dozen, and that prices are rising almost daily? Is the Minister aware that there is over-production in the United States, no Labour party, no arbitration court, no cost of living adjustment but plenty of laisser-fai’re for private enterprise, and huge company profits? Will the Minister have a report made to the Senate on the cause of this shocking inflation in the United States, which is spreading also in this country where, unless it is checked, it will bring hardship, frustration and resentment to the Australian people in all ranks of life?
– I find difficulty in understanding the purport of the honorable senator’s questions. If he is suggesting that we should increase the price of haircuts in Australia, I am entirely opposed to the idea. If he wants to increase the price of bread in Australia, I am opposed to that suggestion, also.
– I preface a question to the Leader of the Government by stating that the soil analysis section of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization occupies certain laboratories of the Adelaide University. These are in the Waite Research Institute at Glen Osmond. Because of the increased enrolment of students in the agricultural science course of the Adelaide University, the laboratories and accommodation now used by the soil analysis section of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization will be needed by the Adelaide University within the next two years. I believe that the University has offered a suitable site of 3 acres to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization on which to build the required accommodation. Will the Minister inform the Senate whether sufficient funds have been made available to enable the foundations of the proposed new buildings to be laid this year?
– I recognize the continued interest of the honorable senator in this matter. I believe that sufficient funds will be made available in the Estimates to enable the building to be commenced this year. I sincerely hope so because of the importance of this work in helping the Australian agriculturist to increase his production, which is so badly needed to assist the economy of this country.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services, first, whether it is the intention of the Department of Social Services to produce at an early date a brochure giving up-to-date details of pensions payable and conditions relating thereto, for the benefit of those who seek information. Secondly, will the Minister make available information concerning the amounts of individual pensions that are paid to the invalids, aged persons and widows of other countries? Thirdly, can such information be furnished by the Department of Social Services without its being necessary to call on the over-worked research officers of the Library?
– 1 do not know whether it is proposed to issue a new brochure. It is the custom of the department to issue brochures from time to lime, but I have no information about whether another is pending. I suggest to the honorable senator that if he looks at the annual report of the Director-General of Social Services he should find most of the other statistics that he requires.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs. In view of the recent international tension arising out of the theft by a Russian woman athlete in London of five women’s hats, and, further, in view of the large number of Russian women athletes who will be visiting Melbourne for the Olympic Games, will the Minister take any steps necessary to assist Victoria in ensuring that during the period of the games all Melbourne millinery salons shall be adequately protected?
– Boo, boo!
– If my voice may be heard above the championing by Senator Grant of the Russian lass in London, 1 should like to say that I shall bring this very important matter to the notice of my colleague.
– Can the Leader of the Government in the Senate, in his capacity as Attorney-General, indicate what progress has been made in the appointment of a chairman to the Constitution Review Committee? I remind him that on 30th August he indicated to the Senate thai no time would be lost in making the appointment.
– I well recollect the undertaking that 1 gave to the Leader of the Opposition, and which has been correctly stated by him. Unfortunately, I have not had an opportunity to take up the matter with the Prime Minister since his return from overseas. As honorable senators know, he has not been back very long, and his time has been very fully occupied in dealing with matters of grave national and international importance. However, I again undertake to see the Prime Minister as soon as possible and to discuss the matte: with him.
– Has the Leader of the Government in the Senate noted that the Egyptian newspapers’ reception of recent statements made by the Leader of the Australian Labour party, Dr. Evatt, is similar in tone and substance to previous Soviet comments on some public utterances of his’’ Does he consider that this Egyptian-Evan friendliness is in some way similar to SovietEvatt accord and might be precursory to an exchange of letters between Dr. Evatt anu Nasser similar to the famous exchange of letters between Dr. Evatt and Molotov?
– 1 have seen reports in our own newspapers of alleged reports in the English-language Egyptian newspapers. Those reports, which were very anti-British and very anti-Australian were highly favorable to Dr. Evatt, lt h for each and every one of us to put his own interpretation upon that fact.
– We know what interpretation the honorable senator would put or. it.
– Exactly. I pro pose to say that I, as an Australian, would not like to be highly commended by the enemies of my country.
– I preface my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Trade by saying that 1 have received a number of inquiries from organizations representing farmers in various parts of Australia concerning several questions asked by me in August to which written answers were given yesterday. These meagre answers were uninformative and unhelpful and will be most disappointing to primary producers in Australia, who want to know the Australian Government’s view relating to important transactions on which a statement has been forwarded to the Government of the United States ot America. In view of the fact that the Department of Trade had already given newspapers and broadcasting stations an outline of the note sent to the United
States Government, will the Minister let me have a copy of that note? Will he also elaborate the views of the Government so that the primary producers of Australia - the backbone of the nation - may bc kept in the picture, particularly as there is nothing of a highly confidential nature contained in this correspondence, which surely contains nothing that the Government would bc ashamed to publicize?
– Order! The honorable senator is not asking a question but making a statement. Has he concluded?
– The short answer to the honorable senator’s policy speech is that the information which he requested was, apparently, already publicly available. The honorable senator says that the content of the answers to his question had already been released by my colleague, the Minister for Trade, as a public statement and had been published in the newspapers. In those circumstances, the honorable senator yesterday received a courteous reply. If he wants detailed information, 1 am certain that if he goes to the press secretary of the Minister for Trade he can obtain a copy of the public statement.
- Mr. President, the Minister has misunderstood me. The question that he refused to answer in his written reply to me yesterday is the one I am now asking him to answer. The reply was given to the broadcasting stations, and was heard during a news session. Th Minister refused to include that reply in his answers to my questions yesterday.
– I do not understand the honorable senator. He appears to be complaining that my colleague, the Minister for Trade, did not give an answer to one of his questions, and he further ;il leges that that answer was already public property. If the honorable senator feels a little piqued because information giveto the press was not included in answer to his question, I cannot understand his attitude.
– T preface my question to the Minister for the Navy by rem,n,Jing him that during a visit to South Aus tralia earlier this year, he was urged to consider the natural facilities that Port Lincoln has to offer when any proposal for the extension of Australian naval establishments was being investigated. It was pointed out to the Minister that Port Lincoln is situated approximately midway between Fremantle and Melbourne, and has natural assets which should be of interest to the Department of the Navy. Particular -reference was made to the possibility of establishing a naval cadet training base at Port Lincoln. The Minister was good enough to say that he would consider these matters, and I now ask him whether he has any statement to make.
– 1 congratulate Senator Pearson on his sustained interest in the possibilities of Port Lincoln as a naval base. Strong representations were made to me when I was in Adelaide la July, and 1 then gave an assurance that if and when further naval establishments were being considered, the suitability of Port Lincoln would not be overlooked. Judging by the zeal of Senator Pearson, 1 am certain that I shall not have any opportunity of overlooking it.
– 1 ask the Minister for National Development whether, in view of the statement in to-day’s press that the consumption of coal in Australia next year is likely to be reduced by 200,000 tons, he has any idea of the unemployment position on the coal-fields at the moment, and of prospects in the coming months?
– 1 carry into the Senate each day figures on unemployment on the coal-fields and unemployment statistics generally. Since 24th December, 1 955 to 8th September this year the number of employees on the Cessnock field fell by 183, on the Newcastle field by 417 and on the western field by 60, whilst on the south coast the number increased by 280. So, on the whole of the New South Wales coalfields the number of employees has fallen from 18,498 to 18,118, being a decline of 380. Putting the figures in another way. during the same period a fall of 1.5 per cent, occurred in the output of coal, a decrease of 110,000 tons out of a total production of 7.369,000 tons. There has been a fall of 1.5 per cent, in the output of coal and a fall of 2 per cent, in the number of employees in the industry.
– By way of preface to my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Trade, 1 refer him to statements constantly emanating from the Opposition that following the disclosures of the Petrov commission and the severance of diplomatic relations between Australia and Russia, Australia has lost the sale of £27,000,000 worth of wool. Is this wool still unsold in Australia, and, if so’, where is it located?
– We can only sell the quantity of wool that we have available to sell. No carry forward of wool took place last year. Wool is in strong demand this year as is evidenced by the price. So, in the final analysis, what we did’ not sell to Russia we apparently sold to some one else.
– I desire to address certain questions to the Minister representing the Postmaster-General who, last night, assured the Senate he would have information not then available obtained in time for honorable senators to give adequate consideration to the estimates of the Postal Department which will be discussed in the Senate later. I have given further consideration to the questions which I desire to ask and with your permission. Mr. President. I shall put them on notice.
– My question is directed to the Minister purporting to represent the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister, accompanied by the Minister for Trade, recently went to Great Britain, the purpose of the Prime Minister’s visit being to represent Australia at the Conference of Commonwealth Prime Ministers. Seeing that the Prime Minister’s peregrinations were rather obscured due to the Suez affair, I should like to know whether the Parliament will receive any report of that conference. Was it a failure or a success? Can we have any statement informing us what the Prime Minister did prior to the Suez crisis developing?
– The Suez crisis occurred after the Conference of Prime Ministers, and its importance has transcended what transpired at that conference.
– I have already said that.
– I suggest to the honorable senator that if he were to read the communique issued at the conclusion of the conference of Prime Ministers he would be better informed.
– Is a report going to be issued? If I am a little impetuous, my attitude is due to the conduct of the Minister. He gave no answer at all. I for one am completely fed up with this ignoramus who can answer nothing.
– Will the Minister representing the Postmaster-General ascertain for me the approximate date when station SPA, at Penola in South Australia, will commence broadcasting, and the area which it is expected will be covered by its broadcasts?
– I cannot immediately furnish the honorable senator with the information he desires, but I shall get it from the Postmaster-General and let him have it as soon as possible.
– Has the Minister representing the Minister for Defence read a press report to the effect that a large quantity of military equipment had been dumped in abandoned mine shafts in Queensland? In view of the fact that the Parliament has voted large sums of money for defence, will the Minister institute inquiries in order to ascertain in what circumstances, and by whom, military equipment is declared useless? What steps, if any. are taken to try to sell surplus military equipment?
– 1 saw the report mentioned by the honorable senator, but I have not yet received the details. As he will probably remember, during the war, tens of thousands of American troops were stationed in and around Charters Towers and Townsville, and in other areas where quantities of dumped military equipment are alleged to have been found. At this stage, I do not know whether the equipment mentioned was dumped by American or Australian troops, but I shall have, inquiries made into the matter and let the honorable senator know the result.
– The question that I shall direct to the Minister representing the Postmaster-General relates to the provision of an alternative national regional broadcasting station on the gold-fields in Western Australia. During the last twelve months, or longer, there have been indications, statements, and, in fact, promises that a second regional station would be provided in that area. Can the Minister inform me when the new station is likely to be constructed? If it is expected that construction will be commenced in the near future, will the Minister ensure that the new station will be sufficiently powerful to enable the people in the north-west of Western Australia to hear broadcasts from it? At the present time, those people are denied the advantages of radio, except broadcasts by Radio Australia, which, I assure the Minister, nobody in that area listens to.
– This matter was raised previously by Senator Vincent. I assure him that I shall direct the attention of the Postmaster-General to his question, and obtain a considered reply for him as soon as possible.
– I direct a question to the Minister for National Development. In any investigation that might be made into the production of oil from coal, will the Minister have examined the latest processes for the extraction of oil from shale, with a view to providing employment for surplus miners, and to placing some restraint on the efforts of the oil companies to obtain ever-increasing prices for petrol and oil?
– I can hardly imagine that that would be a profitable line of development to pursue because we have had practical experience at Glen Davis of trying to produce oil from shale, and thai process failed completely. I should prefer to see the facilities that we have available directed to the major task of the production of petrol and chemical products.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Air aware thai recent repairs made to the Pat’s River aerodrome at Flinders Island have not been successful in maintaining its continuous operation? Will the Minister take steps to improve the drainage on this aerodrome and will he confer with the Minister in charge of War Service Land Settlement with a view to utilizing the extensive plant lying idle at Flinders Island because of excessive rain, for the purpose of carrying 0U this work as an urgent measure?
– I am noi aware of the condition of the aerodrome at Flinders Island, but I shall accede to the request of the honorable senator and confer about it with my colleague, the Minister for Air. Should I receive a reply from the Minister for Air during the period the Senate is in recess, 1 shall advise the honorable senator by letter of that reply.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Shipping and Transport. In view of the representations previously made to him for the establishment of a ferry service between Hobart and Sydney, has the Minister now any information to give the Senate about the matter, or are negotiations still continuing?
– I informed the deputation which waited upon me about this matter that investigations into it would take some time. 1 undertook to pursue the matter immediately, and I have done so Inquiries are being made as expeditiously as possible, and I am hopeful that within two or three weeks I shall be in a position to advise the members of the deputation ot the decision arrived at.
– As a preface to m question to the Minister representing th-. Postmaster-General, may ! say that an announcement was made some time ago (hat a radio telephone service is to be installed between Perth and Derby at a cost of about £70,000. I ask the Minister the following questions: - Is this the first radio telephone service to be installed in Australia? When will it be completed? Will the Postmaster-General consider making these facilities available to the people of other outback towns in Australia?
– In answer to the last part of the honorable senator’s question, I am sure that the Postmaster-General will give very favorable consideration to the installation of this type of communication system in outback parts of Australia. With regard to the honorable senator’s other questions, I shall obtain information from the Postmaster-General and make it available to the honorable senator as soon as possible.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice -
– The Minister for Primary Industry has supplied the following answers: - i.-
Australian consumption of tobacco and cigarettes manufactured in Australia -
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The Treasurer has supplied the following answers: -
– On 30th August, Senator Hendrickson asked the following question: -
My question is directed to the Minister representing the Postmaster-General. I point out for the information of honorable senators that the matter with which my question deals is very serious, and that a question relating to similar circumstances was recently asked in this Senate. The question relates to claims made by postal workers to the Public Service Board. Most of the persons who work under awards in the Postal Department are taking home each week less than the basic wage, and that is the reason why many of them are at present working to regulations. There is shortage of staff in the department because the salaries offered do not encourage many . persons to offer their services. In order to allow the great and efficient postal services to continue, will the Minister make representations to his colleague, the Postmaster-General, on behalf of the postal workers in each State, and ask him to intervene with the Public Service Board and urge the granting of the reasonable and just claims made by the Postal Workers Union on behalf of its members.
The Postmaster-General has now furnished the following answer: -
Matters of wage determination are the concern of the tribunal appointed specifically for that function and do not fall within the competance of my department or of the Public Service Board.
– On 11th September, Senator Laught asked the following question: -
I direct a question to the Minister representing the Postmaster-General relating to the important “ Guest of Honour “ session conducted by the Australian Broadcasting Commission on Sunday nights at 7.15 p.m. eastern standard time. What authority or person selects the guest of honour for this session? After the selection is made, is any control exercised over the subject-matter to be discussed by the speaker, particularly as to whether it has a reasonable appeal to a wide section of listeners to the national service?
The Postmaster-General has supplied the following answers: -
Mrs. Mary TenisonWoods, an Australian who is secretary of the Status of Women Commission in New York for the United Nations, speaking on the work of this commission and the changing status of women throughout the world.
Dr. George Pack, leading American cancer surgeon, on cancer research.
Right Honorable S. G. Holland, Prime Minister of New Zealand, on Australia-New Zealand relations.
Mr. Dag Hammarskjoeld, SecretaryGeneral of the United Nations, on United Nations in the world today.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Longmore. Head of War Graves Commission, on Australian war graves in Pacific and elsewhere.
Dr. Miles Markley, famous American dentist, on care of the teeth.
Mr. W. A. R. Collins, of Collins Publishing House, on books in the world to-day.
Mr. John Bechervaise, leader of the Antarctic expedition at Mawson, on the Antarctic.
Lord Louis Mountbatten, on the Royal Australian Navy.
EDI. Gilbert Murray, eminent Australian classical scholar reviewing his life on the occasion of his 80th birthday. “Mr. Rudy Bretz, American television authority, on television in the United States of America. :Professor Arnold Toynbee, eminent British historian, on why he studies history. “Mr. Roger Livesey British stage and screen star, on the community’s need for theatre.
Sir Lionel Whitby, Master of Downing College, Cambridge, on diseases of the blood.
Miss Katherine Dunham, American dancer, on her anthropological researches in the Caribbean.
Professor Gordon S. Brown, an Australian who is Professor of Electrical Engineering in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, on the meaning of automation. “Mr. Peter Finch, Australian actor, on the craft of acting. “Sir William Penney, eminent British atomic scientist, on the atomic weapons test.
Dr. David Mace, marriage guidance expert, on the need for marriage guidance and education.
Reverend Dr. Maurice Watts, world head of congregationalism on problems faced by present-day Jamaica.
Motion (by Senator O’sullivan) agreed to -
That Government business take precedence of general business after 8 p.m. this sitting.
Debate resumed from 26th September <vide page 520), on motion by Senator Spooner -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– The purpose of the bill that is before the Senate is to pay higher pensions to widows and invalids who have two or more children tinder the age of sixteen years. The Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) stated, in his second-reading speech, that the measure was designed to -ensure that a widow who lost her A class pension between the ages of 45 and 50 years, would not have to wait until she was aged 50 to obtain a B class pension. That, in -essence, is the main purpose of the bill. This provision will cost about £750,000 in a full year. That is the only contribution that the Government is making towards the section of the community concerned from a record budget totalling about £1,200,000,000.
The Minister’s speech covered nearly twelve pages, but the brief review I have given to the Senate covers all the essential purposes df the bill. Most of the Minister’s time was occupied in delivering a propaganda speech to any persons in the radio audience who cared to listen. He spoke of the social services that this Government had given to the people, compared with those offered by the Labour government that held office from 1941 until 1949. The Minister was at great pains to inform the nation that social services, including health and repatriation, would cost £292,600,000 out of a total budget expenditure of £1,121,000,000, or 26.1 per cent, of the total expenditure.
The Minister cited figures, but all honorable senators know that figures can be interpreted in many ways. He asked how any fair-minded, responsible person could demand an increase of benefits for pensioners this year. That statement is remarkable in the light of claims that are made in the Senate, and in other places, about the great prosperity that the people are sharing. Apparently, the only section of the community that will not share in that prosperity in the next twelve months is that which needs assistance most. The Minister paid no regard at all to the fact that prices have risen by 6.5 per cent, since the last increase of pensions was granted a year ago. The attitude of the Government is that it is quite all right for us, and many others, to get an extra share of the national prosperity, but those whose need is greatest will not get anything extra.
The Minister referred to the C series index when he suggested that no fairminded person would expect an increase of pension rates this year. The C series index shows a rise of just over 80 per cent, since 1949, but the C series index figures that apply to food have risen by 117 per cent. Anybody who wants to prove a case can find figures to help him. If pension rates were based on the basic wage that was paid when pensions were increased by the Labour government in 1948, the present rate of pension for an age pensioner and an invalid pensioner should be £4 15s. 3d.
The Minister did not make one mention of child endowment in his long speech. The fact is that on the basis of the basic wage in 1948, parents with one child are losing 7s. 5d. a week, those with three children are losing 19s. lOd. and those with four children, £1 12s. 3d. . No reference has been made by the Minister to the sick and unemployed who require social services benefits. The number of unemployed persons is growing, and I think that within a short space of time the number of persons obtaining relief will be greater than the 50,000 who. are at present allegedly unemployed. 1 hope that the number will be smaller, but I have my doubts.
There is no provision in the bill for maternity allowances except that contained in clause 10, which deals with payment on account prior to birth. The allowance has not Deen increased. In the past, me mother obtained the allowance after the birth o£ the child, but now she may obtain a payment on account before the birth and get the remainder later. If the maternity allowance bore the relationship to the present basic wage that it bore to the basic wage of 1 94 8 it would bc £53 ils. in other words, the allowance, which is now £15, should be increased oy £18 12s. or by more tuan 100 per cent.
Over the years, this country has more or less pi idea itself on its social services Denetits, but figures taken from the international Labour Organization review snow that there is a great n ameer ot countries, including the sister dominions of New Zealand and Canada, that are offering greater benefits. As 1 have indicated, although the Minister’s brief was long and was well read, it consisted mainly of putting forward a case to show that the present pension purchases more than did the , pension paid in 1949. I reiterate that the validity of that argument depends upon the set of figures that one uses to prove it. Surely, a government that has submitted a record budget would not base its claim that pensioners can now buy as much as or a little more than they bought in the past on a set of figures that any one could disprove by using other figures. The Australian Labour party says that we have a duty to give to the pensioners that part of the prosperity that the country is now enjoying to which they are entitled. We are concerned, in the main, with their having a reasonable quantity of food and clothing and reasonable shelter. I repeat that I regret that the Minister for Social Services has seen fit not to include provision for the many benefits that I have mentioned.
I am certain that on both sides of the chamber are honorable senators who, like myself, would like to see this country in the forefront of nations in the provision of social services benefits. Legislation to provide for the payment of age pensions waspassed in 1909. Quite a history is attached, to the matter. We have always heard that that legislation was introduced by an antiLabour government, lt was, but I have in my hand a copy of a letter that waswritten by Alfred Deakin to the then leader of the Australian Labour party, Mr. Watson. lt will be remembered that at that time the Labour party held the balance of power.. Mr. Deakin, in his letter, set out eighteen concessions that he was willing to grant if he were permitted to remain in office. Those of us who come from Victoria knowsomething about that, because over a long period of years we have been forced to keep an Australian Country party government in office and to extract things from it little by little. As one reads through the list of matters set out in Mr. Deakin’s letter, which doubtless were then momentous in the political sphere, one notes that the fourteenth item relates to age pensions It istrue, I repeat, that an anti-Labour government introduced the legislation, but that was the price of its being allowed to remainin office. The legislation was introduced and passed in 1909, but it was not gazetted until the Labour party assumed office in< 1910.
Invalid pensions were introduced in 1910, the maternity allowance in 1912, and child endowment for other than the first child in 1941. Every one knows why child endowment was introduced. On the bench of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court at that time were Judges Beeby, Piper and 0’Mara. Chief Judge Beeby informed the then Prime Minister that, unless other steps were taken, the increase of the base rate granted by the court would be such that it would affect the foundations of industry. The government wisely, may I say, accepted the advice. In line with this Government’s performances in recent years, when it haslooked after its own at every available opportunity, the government of the day said, “ We will impose a pay-roll tax. Of course, it will not in any way pay for child endowment, but at least we will protect our own from a big increase of the base tate that would be payable to not only married but also unmarried persons “. In due course, widows’ pensions, funeral benefits, unemployment and sickness benefits, rehabilitation allowances, an allowance for disabled persons, the tuberculosis allowance, and hospital benefits have been introduced.
– The honorable senator has overlooked endowment for the first child.
– I am coming to that. I have previously suggested to the honorable senator that she should not be impatient. I know that as a rule ladies are impatient, but if the honorable senator will allow me to proceed 1 shall come to that matter. This Government can rightly claim that it introduced endowment for the first child and a pensioners’ medical scheme. lt can rightly claim, also, that it introduced the £l-for-£l subsidy scheme to provide homes for aged persons, lt removed the means test from blind pensioners. Over the years this Government has liberalized the means test, but any government would have done that. It has increased the amount of pensions, but it must be remembered that, over the years, the value of money has decreased. The Government had to give the pensioners something seeing that it could not honour its famous promise to put value back into the £1. Those, in the main, are the social services of this nation.
The Opposition, as a party, is proud of its record concerning social services. For many years, it has agitated to secure the social benefits that have now been established. lt is true that we opposed the payment of child endowment for the first child. The basic wage was first computed on the basis of a man, wife and three children and in those circumstances child endowment was paid for the second and third child. But, at the request of Chief Judge Beeby, the basic wage was computed on the basis of a man, wife and one child, lt was obvious that if child endowment were paid for the first child the computation of the basic wage would most likely be altered to the basis of a man and wife only. But, for reasons which have yet to be explained, the court changed its attitude. However, that was why the Labour party, at the time, opposed the payment of endowment for the first chi!, lt was a logical stand because the workers of Australia would have been better off with a basic wage computed on the basis of a man, wife and one child than on the basis of a man and wife. Fortunately for the workers, the court changed its mind about the basis of computation, and we have no quarrel with that. This Government saw fit to give child endowment for the first child and although there is no authentic backing for such a conclusion, it appears that the court has not taken that payment into consideration. The judges will not inform the unions on what basis the wage is fixed, but it is understood that the court is still adhering to the formula of a man. wife and one child.
I have cited the figures given by the Minister, and they provide much food for thought. The Minister said that the Government was paying, in social services, including health and repatriation. £292,600,000 a year. No rule has been laid down that payments are to be kept at that level, or that they will be varied in accordance with variations in the cost of living. Let us sincerely hope that what happened in 1930-31 will not be repeated. lt was then found necessary to reduce pensions, although no one at the time wished to do so. However, a gentleman named Otto Niemeyer, who was visiting Australia at that time as an economic adviser, said that that had to be done, and it seemed that no other course was open. I am concerned, as I am sure every honorable senator is concerned, that social services should be maintained at the highest possible level. 1 should be much happier if they were lifted entirely out of politics. The Labour party wants a national social services scheme to cover not only the services 1 have mentioned, but also health. We want, ultimately, to abolish the means test. I have strong views on that point, and possibly they do not coincide with those of others with whom, as a rule, I agree. However, I always like to know where the money for social services payments is coming from. I am pretty careful with my own money, and 1 think 1 am entitled to be a little bit careful with that of the nation.
Surely, there would be no opposition to a suggestion that all parties in this Parliament should get together and evolve a national social services scheme. It should be easy to do so. The point on which there would be a strong divergence of views would be the question of how to find the money to pay for it. I am not in favour of a flat rate of social service contribution of so much in the £1, but I would have no objection to revenue being obtained by a tax on income. The Minister used the C series index figures, which cover a multitude of commodities, but the main commodity with which the friends of the Government are concerned is food. However, we must consider this matter seriously.
I do not want to be pessimistic, but it is well to remember this: Since the partial drought of 1945, Australia has been wonderfully blessed with a succession of bountiful seasons, and although we hope that they will continue, we have no assurance that such will be the case. If a bad season should come, would we be able to provide £292,000,000 for social services benefits to the people who are greatly in need of them? How would we find the money? The amount of pension payable should be arrived at on some basis which will take the matter out of the hands of not only this Government but also any other government. It is true that about 1948 pension rates were put on the basis of the cost of living so that when the cost of living fell a reduction of sixpence a quarter had to be made. One can imagine the outcry from the people of that day who had agreed that pensions be placed on a cost of living basis. When the cost of living went down, their attitude was, How could any government take a mean sixpence from the pensioners? “ If I had been a member of the Government at that time 1 would have replied, quite honestly, “ If you have agreed to it, you have to take the good with the bad; otherwise the scheme will have to be scrapped “. lt was not agreed to and the scheme was scrapped.
In the Argus “ of 21st September, the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) was reported under the heading Warning from Minister - Inflation is a Pension Threat “ to have said that unless inflation were checked expansion of social services would become impracticable and it would be increasingly difficult to mainrain them. I do not disagree with that statement, but I say that we should not allow that position to arise.
– He is a very capable sort of bloke.
– 1 know the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) would like to have his back scratched and to have the Minister for Social Services say that he is a capablesort of fellow. Possibly, in the ballot in. the party room yesterday the Minister for Social Services might have been one of the strongest supporters of the Minister for National Development. I do not mind the Minister giving his colleague a pat on, the back at all. Unless we are prepared, as political parties representing in the main the mass of the people of this nation, toget together and agree on a scheme for financing pensions, we shall not meet with success. I admit that the financing of a pension scheme is the difficult part. I can assure honorable senators, as the result of the personal interest I have taken in my own party, that it will not agree to deduct so much in the £1 from wages but will impose direct taxation for that purpose. I do not think we can obliterate the scheme that was adopted during the war years when people were taxed very heavily. I leave that point now, hoping that 1 have raised it a little above the party level.
I now want to devote a few moments, to the speech by Senator McManus. In his first speech in this Senate he complained very bitterly that the Government had not increased pension payments for the aged and invalid. It is true that Senator Cole, whom he is courteous enough at times to call his leader, tabled a petition from certain unions asking for an increase in child endowment. Senator McManus, of course, is not a newcomer to Parliament, and to me his complaint sounded like crocodile tears. I shall explain why I say that. The group with which he is now connected saw fit to nominate candidates in the last general election in South Australia and Tasmania.
– What is it doing in the next election?
– We will wait until that takes place. Senator McManus knows as well as I do that because of the nomination of candidates from his party in those two States the Government now has 30 senators instead of 28k
– Does not the honorable senator give us any credit?
– The figures speak for themselves. It does not carry much conviction with me when Senator McManus complains about what the Government is or is not doing when his group lis indirectly the cause of its action.
– Let us have a look at the position in Tasmania and South Australia. I am leaving out my own State -of Victoria because I candidly admit a dispute occurred there. In a dispute the disputants are entitled to have a go, but it is a different matter in States where no dispute existed. This action was taken by people who have preached a lifetime of service in all places, and yet they are the cause of the Government having 30 members in the Senate instead of 28. If the Government had 28 senators, do honorable senators think that it would have brought down a budget that gave no consideration to age, invalid and other pensioners?
– The honorable senator should keep his feet on the ground.
– That is all right for Senator Scott, but as long as I keep them off a pearl lugger I will be all right. Senator McM anus’s complaint does not serve the purpose which he desired it to serve because his party was responsible for putting the Government in a position to bring down a budget providing an increase of £350,000 for social services out of a total budget of £1,200,000,000. Do honorable senators think that that sort of budget would have been brought down if the Government had only 28 instead of 30 senators supporting it?
– The honorable senator is assuming they were all Labour voters.
– I am not, but I am delighted to see how my friends opposite rush to support Senator McManus.
– We will no doubt see a lot more of this later on as far as Senator McManus is concerned.
– The honorable senator’s party had better be careful with him.
– We have had many brushes over many years. Perhaps
I should not say over many years, but certainly over recent years. No one has ever taken umbrage at a difference of opinion, but it is a very different matter for a man to rise in the National Parliament of this country and say what the Government ought to have done when his party was the main factor in ensuring that the Government had the numbers to do what it has done.
– Has not the Labour party promised the pensioners more before every general election since 1949?
– No! We believe that out of this large budget the pensioners should get more. But I do not hope to be able to convince the honorable senator who has just interjected. If I could convince him, I should be able to convince any one, whether inside or outside of this chamber, As the splinter group is responsible for the Government having the numbers in this chamber, Senator McManus should not complain about what the Government is doing, or is not doing. However, doubtless he will be quite able to answer for himself. I think that a deliberate attempt has been made to throw dust in the eyes of the people outside.
– Thirty is as bad as 28; we have not a majority, you know.
– Senator Henty should know that the senators who are not present are ill - some, unfortunately, extremely ill.
– Do not cry.
– I am not crying. Senator Henty reminds me of people who rush in, but regret their action afterwards. That is a common occurrence. The pensioners should be given pensions of which we can be proud. They should be able, with their pensions, to buy sufficient clothing and food. Although a married couple, both pensioners, is permitted to receive other income up to £7 10s. a week without its affecting their pensions, the number of age pensioners who are physically able to earn that amount of money is relatively few. The pensioners about whom I am mainly concerned are those who have no income other than their pensions. In the light of the record budget that has been brought down, I do not think that from 78 per cent, to 85 per cent, of the age and invalid pensioners should be expected to continue to eke out an existence on £4 a week. The present situation does no credit to any of us.
– ls the honorable senator aware of the proportion of pensioners who own their own homes?
– If I had the benefit of expert departmental advice, which is available to the Minister, I would know.
– lt is no less than 44 per cent.
– Senator Kennelly should have been able to get that information.
– I did not say that I could not obtain the information from the Department of Social Services. But last night, during a debate on another measure, I was unable to obtain certain information that I required. I did not intend to be caught a second time.
– That figure is mentioned in the Minister’s second-reading speech
– To be quite honest, I have not read his speech.
– Is that why you have made so many misstatements?
– If Senator Gorton believes that I have made misstatements, he will have an opportunity to elaborate his point of view in due course.
– Was it not a Labour government that reduced pensions?
– When ex-Senator Guy asked me that when he was a member of this chamber, I took the trouble to consult the “ Hansard “ report in order to see how he voted on the relevant division. Therefore, I advise Senator Scott not to raise that issue.
All honorable senators should be prepared to consider this matter from a national point of view. There is cause for alarm that we are not leading the work! in the social services field. Despite huge governmental revenue, pensions are still inadaquate But leaving that aspect to one side, we must not forget that dire consequences could follow an adverse year for primary producers. It could even become necessary to consider reductions, but I hope that that will not happen. As has often been said, I think that we. should lift this subject out of the political arena. In conclusion, if the Government brought forward a scheme which, in addition to abolishing the means test, provided adequate social services, for which the people would contribute according to their earnings during their working lives, I think it would have the support of the Opposition.
.- I rise on behalf of the party which I represent to express, first of all, extreme disappointment at the indication in the secondreading speech of the Minister for -National Development (Senator Spooner) that the Government had not taken any cognizance of appeals from this side of the chamber, which were supported by certain senators on the Government side, that something should be done for those people who are not provided for in this bill, if possible by granting them increases of pension. There are those on both sides who feel deeply about the situation in which, during a period of raging inflation, when prices are going up every day, the pensioners are called upon to bear an entirely unjustified share of the burden of salving the economy of this country. I had hoped that the appeals made by honorable senators to the Government would have borne some fruit, and I regret deeply that the Government has determined that the budget shall go through the Parliament as it stands. In accordance with that decision, the Government is now presenting the bill that is at present before us.
In answer to a question asked in another place, the honorable members of that place were informed that the estimated annual cost of each shilling a week added to the age pensions was £1,196,000. Therefore, in order to give a 10s. a week increase to age pensioners it would cost the Government only about £12,000,000. If the Government were to give the age pensioners £1 a week increase - which would not be too much in the present circumstances, and, in my opinion, too little - it would involve a cost of about £24.000.000. When we consider that the Government is budgeting for a surplus of more than £100,000,000, the only conclusion that we can come to is that the Government would be well able to give some measure of justice, or mercy, to the pensioners in their present very difficult circumstances. I shall repeat what 1 said before, that these issues with which 1 have been dealing should be determined on the basis of human values and the human suffering involved, and not on the basis of figures in books of account. 1 believe that probably the best phrase used in regard to pension matters was one to the effect that pensions should be taken out of politics. lt is embarrassing to honorable senators, and humiliating to the pensioners, that each year they should be forced into the position of coming to this Parliament House, button-holing senators and members outside, and appealing to them as individuals to support the pensioners’ case for a small increase. Something should be done in this Parliament to ensure that that kind of thing shall not happen again. The suggestion I make is that, in default of some national scheme on the lines suggested by Senator Kennelly, we do the same thing for the pensioners as was done for senators and members of the House of Representatives; that is, that we should appoint an independent commission to determine what is the just rate of the pensions to be paid.
– Hear, hear!
– I am pleased to hear that suggestion receive approval from the Government side of the Senate, and I believe that there would also be approval from this side if honorable senators of the Labour party were permitted to express approval of anything that 1 say. 1 put it forward with conviction that the shortterm solution to the present difficulties about the pensions, lies in the appointment of a commission to determine the just rate of pension. Once such a commission has been appointed, and has determined the just rate of pension, then that rate should increase in accordance with the cost of living increases. The only objection that could be offered to such a system would be that any independent and fair tribunal would award the pensioners far more than they would ever receive from any government. I believe that the pensioners themselves have been at fault in accepting the idea that they should ask for small increases of 10s., £1, 30s. or even £2 a week. That used to be the system under which school teachers in the State of Victoria operated years ago, and they received no justice in their salary claims until they fought for, and succeeded in obtaining, an independent tribunal to settle their salaries. Similarly, there is no prospect of justice for pensioners until they are given the opportunity to have their claims settled by an independent tribunal.
I now desire to deal with the remarks with which Senator Kennelly concluded his speech. 1 have had a feeling that my presence in this chamber has not been entirely welcome to Senator Kennelly, and I have been wondering when his iron selfcontrol would be shattered and he would break his silence. He and I at one stage were associates, but we have not been, so closely associated in recent years. In regard to his complaint that because of, tha interference of my party in the political affairs of this country it was not possible to reject this budget, let me say that it is not the fault of our party that this budget was not rejected. In saying that, I do not desire to refer adversely in any way to honorable senators of Senator Kennelly’s party who were not able to be present, for reasons that we all know, when the relevant vote was taken. One of them is an old friend for whom I have the highest respect, but after all it should be remembered that when the budget was presented to the Senate, and the final vote upon it was taken - a vote by which the future of the pensioners was determined - of 28 honorable senators of Senator Kennelly’s party, only eighteen were present in the chamber. That is not our fault. We have no control over the members of Senator Kennelly’s party, and it surprises me that so few were present, because I have always respected the honorable senator’s ability to have his supporters present when he wants them.
In South Australia and Tasmania, we were told that we should not have put up candidates at the last State elections. 1 have always been under the impression that this was a free country, and I did not realize until this moment that Senator Kennelly arrogates to himself the right to suggest that people who do not belong to his political party should or should not put up as candidates for elections. If his party was so concerned to defeat the Liberal Government in South Australia, why did his party in that State give its second preference votes to the Liberal party? If his party is so keen to stand for right Labour principles why, in the State election in Port Adelaide, did his party make political history in this country by giving its second preference votes to the Communist party? That is the first time that such a thing has ever happened in the political history of this country.
– No, it is not.
– If Senator Kennelly denies my statement, I shall produce the “ How to Vote “ card. I ask honorable senators from South Australia to deny whether what I have said is correct, but I see that they are silent. Let Senator Kennelly ask South Australian senators whether his party did not make political history by giving second preference votes to the Communists in the last State election. An honorable senator of the Labour party has mentioned sewers. Sewers are associated with garbage cans, and when I came here 1 determined that I would not throw garbage unless some was thrown at me first. I leave it to honorable senators to determine whether or not in my present speech, or any of my previous speeches, I have descended to the levels mentioned by the honorable senator. A suggestion was made by Senator Kennelly in a kindly and friendly way that I needed the protection of the Liberal party. I have never needed any protection in my jousts with Senator Kennelly, his associates, his leader, the Communist party, or any other people. Because on some occasions some honorable senators on the Government side may say, “ Hear, hear! “ when I am speaking, that does not mean that I am in tune with their thoughts, any more than the fact that the members of the Communist party are 100 per cent, behind Senator Kennelly to-day means that he is in sympathy with communism.
Sitting suspended from 12.46 to 2.15 p.m.
– Prior to the suspension of the sitting, I was making some passing reference to the comments made by Senator Kennelly as to the reasons for the present Government’s tenure of office. As other honorable senators desire to speak about social services, I have no desire to labour the issue except to say, in reply to Senator Kennelly’s suggestion that the
Government is in office because of the existence of my party, that the Government is in office because of certain factors which* have caused almost irreconcilable differencesbetween men and women who, in many instances, had been members of the Labour party for years. The first of those points, of difference relates to the leadership of the party; and however much Senator Kennelly and 1 might differ on other matters,. I suggest that it is quite possible that he and< I are in entire agreement in that respect. Our second point of difference has to dowith the foreign policy of his party, In my estimation, it is an unrealistic policy which exposes Australia to great dangersand is too much in line with the foreign policy of the Soviet Union. The third point, of difference between us relates to the insistence of his party that while the Communist party can maintain cells in the tradeunions and can fight to obtain control of them, the Labour party must stay out of that fight. And the fourth point of difference between us relates to the determination of the present federal executive of his party, irrespective of decisions of Stateconferences, to place in power in certainStates men who have never been elected and’ who have no right to hold the positions that they do and who should be replaced by executives which have been elected according to the rules and constitution of the party. I leave it there and now proceed to deal briefly with child endowment.
There is an urgent necessity to increasethe rate of child endowment because of the circumstances in which many breadwinnerswill be placed in the future, particularly if the intention of a number of governmentsto abolish quarterly cost of living adjustments is given effect. If that is done, serious problems will confront many bread-winners. Needless to say, I am entirely opposed tothat contemplated action, but one way in> which its effect at least could be cushioned would be to increase the rate of child endowment. Just as it is not possible for any pensioner to live on the present rate of pension, so it is impossible for anybody to maintain a child on the present amount of child endowment; and if the prosperity which the Government suggests is around the corner does arrive, I hope that in the very near future it will give fresh consideration tome questions of pensions and child endowment and that it will increase them in the- interests of those people who are too little privileged at the moment and who deserve to be protected from the effects of our present inflation.
.- The debate to-day has been of somewhat varied and unusual interest. It is relevant, I think, to this great challenge of the problem of social services to refer briefly to the divergent views of the two Opposition parties. Senator Kennelly referred to the origin of the age and invalid pension legislation and to the various legislative steps taken since that time, and he attempted to take credit for his party over all other political parties for this legislation. To my way of thinking the record of his party in that respect compares most unfavorably with that of the present Government. He finished up by making some reference to a constructive programme of social services and put forward a most remarkable proposal, addressed, I thought, exclusively, to Senator McManus. In that proposal, he suggested that but for the entry of the Anti-Communist Labour party in the election last December, the Opposition would have had 32 senators as against 28 on our side and, therefore, would have been in a position to impose its will upon the Government as to the social services benefits that should be provided. I restate that proposition because one needs only to restate it in order to show a complete absence of reason on the part of Senator Kennelly. It shows a complete incapacity to evaluate issues. No doubt, Senator Kennelly would not give credit to any who would disagree with him and who, in this matter, would put greater emphasis upon issues other than merely the voting strength of parties in the Senate.
We have had a most interesting reply from Senator McManus. He has taken the opportunity afforded by this debate to announce some of the differences existing between him and his former colleague, Senator Kennelly. The Senate would do well to recognize that the combined effect of these factious contentions is to demonstrate that it is from this side alone that the country can expect constructive proposals for social services to emanate. We have had criticism of the Government’s present proposals for social services from the factious side of the chamber, and when we consider the measure before us we have to give consideration to the criticism made by Senator McManusand that offered by Senator Kennelly. Senator Kennelly has obviously shown a complete inability to appreciate the reasonsfor the present level of social services. It seems to me that neither critic gives credit to the Government for what is really the predominant fact about the social servicesvote for this year. I refer to the fact that this year the budget provides £12,000,000- more for social services than was voted last year for this purpose. That arises from the fact that £5,000,000 accrues as a debit tothe Treasury because it has had to provide in respect of the full year the 10s. increase that was granted half-way through last year.
The annual increase of 20,000 in the number of applicants for social service benefits calls for the provision of another £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 without any increase in the actual rates being paid, la addition, we have the cost of widows’ pensions, maternity allowances and child endowment. The increased number of recipients in these fields, without any increase in the rates paid, calls for the provision of a further £12,000,000. 1 think the correct, computation is that these increases represent 5.6 per cent, of the national income. We have been criticized for increases in. rates of profits, earnings and costs, representing in all from 6 per cent, to 7 per cent, of the national income. Taking it on a percentage basis alone, so far asnational income is concerned, that increase compares not unfavorably with the other increments to which 1 have referred.
The other factor that should attract some credit in the minds of fair-minded critics is this: This measure is the first that has been presented by the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton), and it gives an imprint of that Minister to the Senate. That imprint is full of promise because we find, expressed in this legislation, a development that everybody should applaud. That is to say, it provides for the specialized needs of special’ sections of social services claimants. The Minister has singled out the widows with more than one child and invalid pensionerswith more than one child. He .has provided for them to the extent, with other provisions, of no less than £750,000. Since this legislation provides upon a sound basis for men, women and children who are most in need,, it should evoke support from every section.. lt is not often that 1 participate in a debate on social services. That is not because 1 am not interested in the subject. It is a field of legislation which is in line with the outlook of most modern public men, and deserves every consideration, but 1 do deplore the repeated and emphatic appeal only to the heart in these matters. It is resolution, coupled with earnest hope, that will make the social services structure fruitful for the recipients.
I am indebted to the honorable senators whom I have just been criticizing for the parts of their speeches which yielded thoughtful contributions to this fabric. I refer particularly to what has been said in a constructive way by Senator Kennelly. No doubt he was speaking for the Australian Labour party, and 1 was interested to note that he said that we had an opportunity now to build the social services structure on a basis which would receive a measure of approval from all parties in the Parliament. We should be indebted also to the party which is represented by Senator McManus for the thought that it has emphasized, here and during the last general election campaign. It gave a reminder - and this was not the first time that it had been advanced in Australia - that it would make for progress if the administration of social services were put out of the reach of paltry politicians who make it their plaything. I do not mean that the epithet applies to all politicians, but there are many who use social services in that way.
We would render a great service if we were to create a commission that would approach the task of assessing pensions and making recommendations for new fields of social services. It should discharge its responsibilities with an independence that seems to be possible only by separation from the warring factions of party politics. I remind my colleagues that that conception and purpose has been expressed as one of our hopes for many years. I was pleased to find Senator McManus actively proposing it to-day and, if I heard him correctly, 1 understood Senator Kennelly to a<*ree with that purpose. This debate would be fruitful if it yielded nothing more than a resolution amongst us all to see what was the next step in examining that proposal, and to ascertain whether we could take social services out of the realm of politics and place it under the administration of a responsible commission. That body should, 1 mink, devote its energies exclusively to ensuring the soundness of the social services scheme, and the appropriate nature of the benefits to the recipients.
I remind honorable senators, however, that the whole proposal embraces a responsibility for public expenditure totalling no less now than £227,000,000. If other items are added, the total provision within the broad range of social services amounts to 26.1 per cent, of the budget proposals. Therefore, it would be a surrender of responsibility to suggest that the Parliament should leave the allocation of that vote in hands outside the elected representative of the people year by year. The Parliament would have to retain control, and exercise the responsibility associated with control.
One of our great responsibilities is to deal with the economic affairs of the people upon whom, unfortunately, we have to impose taxes. In that respect, a social services commission would have responsibilities different from those of an arbitration commission, which is much more potent in Uneconomic field than any social services commission would be. The essential different is that an arbitration commission deals with the adjustment of liabilities and obligations to be imposed upon private employers, and is not dealing with public parliamentary expenditure. We have public service boards and other public agencies dealing with public expenditure that is subject to the supervision of Parliament. 1 believe that the appointment of a social services commission would be a step forward.
I also wish to direct attention to another aspect, and that is the provision of finance for the social services vote. Senator Kennelly ‘ expected that we would be in great difference there. It is quite obvious, I suggest, that nil parties could agree upon a specific head of revenue devoted exclusively to social services benefits. Senator Kennelly suggested that it would not be acceptable to have a flat rate, and he advocated a graduated scale. Those are matters of keen debate, but I urge that there must be a specific head of revenue designed to provide for social services.
My third point is that the trend of social services in Australia shows that the number of persons who are seeking the benefits of the age and invalid pension legislation has increased at a much greater rate in the last twenty years than it did in the preceding 30 years. The figures disclosed by the Minister lor Social Services in his second-reading speech show that the percentage of pensioners to persons of pensionable age was 33 per cent, in 1933. By 1947, it had risen to 37.9 per cent. In 1954, it had risen to 42.6 per cent., and at the present time it is 45 per cent. That trend indicates to those who are responsible for the preparation of the budget that year by year they can expect an increased burden to be placed on the budget and to be faced with the necessity to provide an increased vote. Emerging from that fact is a viewpoint to which 1 shall now refer, and 1 derive real encouragement from the fact that it is recognized in this bill. If we are to provide the most effective social services benefits to meet that situation, it is necessary to select those sections of the pensionable field that are in greatest need of increased rates of benefit. The fact that the Minister for Social Services has selected widows and invalid pensioners with two or more children deserves recognition as being the commencement of a minor development that will yield the greatest measure of benefit to the recipients of social services.
Although it is not new, I should like to leave one further thought with the Senate. In doing so, I refer to my recollection of what 1 regarded as being a most thoughtful speech by Mr. W. M. Bourke, whose loss to the Parliament, I think, has been a real national loss. If I remember his speech correctly, he advocated, in respect of an age pensioner who postpones his acceptance of the pension, the provision of a premium during the years after his acceptance.
– His peers passed judgment on him in relation to that.
– It is satisfactory to me to know that the judgment was passed by his peers. The criticism that has just been offered by way of interjection was much inferior to that.
– The sentiment is reciprocated.
– As long as one’s health permits it. work is the most satisfactory medium of life. I suggest that, insofar as the increased health of the present population enables persons to continue to work until later in life, encouragement to do so in the form of a premium pension paid to those persons who postpone the acceptance of a pension deserves more than the superficial and casual consideration thai Senator O’Byrne obviously is prepared to give to it. The report of the DirectorGeneral of Social Services furnishes material for very critical reflection. In his last report is a diagrammatic representation of the various age groups of age pensioners. A survey of approximately 40,000 pensioners in New South Wales showed that 67 per cent, were over the age of 70 years and thai of that percentage 19 per cent, were over the agc of 80 years. 1 mention that at once as being a very cogent factor which somewhat counters my advocacy of the payment of a premium pension for the postponement of the acceptance of the age pension. Nevertheless, I think the principle is so unchallengeable that we should examine it. I feel that such an examination would probably yield an improvement of the whole social services structure.
I have endeavoured to contribute a few thoughts upon a subject that is of growing importance in the development of the modern democratic state. We are all faced with the challenge to place our social services structure on other than an annual, casual, partisan basis, and to provide for it. if we can, a stable basis designed to yield the greatest benefit to the recipients. In conclusion, I stress that we do the greatest disservice to the pensioner by ignoring the fact that this budget makes provision for the expenditure on social services of £12,000,000 more than did the previous budget, and by advocating an increased rate that would contribute materially towards rendering uneconomic, and therefore of less value, the actual benefits that the pensioners receive.
.- Having heard Senator Wright speak, one would think that the broad mass of pensioners were living in the lap of luxury whereas, on his own figures, 74 per cent, of the pensionable people in the country are single persons - widows, widowers, or unmarried persons. They are receiving £4 a week and, wherever they live, must pay rent; yet Senator Wright said that we must not appeal to the heart, lt can be said more appropriately of Senator Wright than of any other honorable senator that his heart is encased in a thick wall of steel.
– It provides more security than is provided for the honorable senator’s brain.
– I know the capacity of Senator Wright’s brain, because I have often heard it rattle. Senator McManus eventually addressed himself to the bill after having a wonderful flog at his pet political poodle. The attitude of the two previous speakers on the Government side has shown a complete disregard for the real problem -of the aged and invalid, and of the widows in this country. The Government boasts that an increase of £12,000,000 for social services has been provided in the budget in order to ameliorate slightly the lot of some people. But it does not take into consideration the fact that at this time last year they were able to buy potatoes, a staple item of their diet, at 4d. a pound. In recent weeks, they have had to pay as much as 2s. a pound, and with the general increase in the cost of living, many pensioners cannot afford to buy much more than potatoes. It is said that Mary had a little lamb, but the pensioners also are getting very little lamb at the price at which it is being sold.
The purpose of the bill is to give some overdue and much-needed help to many deserving citizens, and some slight relief from the ever-present fear of poverty and want. It is not a matter of giving them an extra radio or money for a deposit on a car or the means of taking a holiday - all of which are included in the hopes of the average Australian citizen - but it is the responsibility of this Government to provide these people with the wherewithal to obtain food, clothing and shelter, and to maintain a reasonable standard of living. When the Government boasts that it has discharged those responsibilities it shows itself to be out of touch with the facts.
The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton), in his second-reading speech, with his Celtic verbosity and his undoubted histrionic talent, tried to smother one -of the most glaring acts of injustice on the part of the Government - its failure to face the plight of these many tens of thousands of citizens who have pleaded for help. They have put their names to petitions that have been presented to the Parliament, they have come here in deputations, and I have heard Government members promise that they would do their best to help them. Those promises have turned to ashes because people such as Senator Wright did not speak from their hearts. The honorable senator and his colleagues speak about money and economics, but their attitude is that the means to bolster the tattered economic policy of the Government which has caused such misery, in the country must be taken out of the economic hides of the les , fortunate members of the community.
The Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) said, in his second-reading speech, that the slight concessions provided in the bill were milestones on the road to social progress.
– I should think they are millstones.
– My colleague has exactly the same thought as myself; they are millstones. Instead of the pensioners having the sense of security that they so richly deserve in their declining years, they are wondering what the future holds for them. The Government can claim no credit for the meagre concessions provided in the bill, because in actual fact the Government is evading its responsibilities. The pensioners have made strenuous efforts to obtain relief. They have approached their parliamentary representatives and they have come here and slept on the steps of Parliament House, not for the purpose of asking the Government to provide them with luxuries, but simply to plead for their just rights. But Senator Wright says, “ Do not speak from your heart; it might cost too much “.
– This bill will put a legislative imprimatur on social injustice.
– That is so. I want to know what justification Government members have for believing that the Government has done something magnanimous in making provision for only a small section of social service beneficiaries. The widows and others provided for in this bill represent the smallest section of those who receive social service benefits. The Minister, in his second-reading speech, tried to get the maximum possible amount of political kudos out of telling a good story over the radio, saying what a good and generous Government this is. In the meantime, the vast majority of pensioners, whose needs are so great but whose claims are so small, will receive not one iota of assistance from this legislation, which has been so loudly applauded by the Minister and his supporters.
Members of the Government parties are all experienced in parliamentary lobbying, deputations, pressure groups, and so on, and in many cases they have responded to requests for a permit or bounty or tariff protection or some other concession. They are known to be considerate, but the callousness, coldness and heartlessness with which they have treated the concerted efforts of the age pensioners to obtain some measure of justice is absolutely staggering. The Minister cited figures to show that 45 per cent, of people of pensionable age receive social services payments. That is to say that 55 per cent, of people over the age of 65 are not receiving them. If a pension scheme for parliamentarians, providing for only 45 per cent, of members to benefit, were submitted to Parliament, it would receive very little support. The Minister said that this measure, offering these paltry improvements to a small section of beneficiaries, could not be described as “ parsimonious “. I say that it is not only parsimonious, but is also indicative of a most callous disregard of the actual situation. The aged and invalid people of this country need more than £4 a week to keep themselves in any measure of comfort.
– Or decency.
– Or decency to which they are entitled. Senator Wright mentioned a former member of another place and lauded him for having attacked the policy of the Labour party to abolish the means test. The claim by the Minister that these measures were milestones on the road of social progress indicates that the ultimate objective is the abolition of the means test. To laud the gentleman to whom I have referred, as Senator Wright did, is to disagree with the views expressed by the Minister who said that this bill goes part of the way towards the eventual aim of giving social justice and security to people in the evening of their lives.
I should like to illustrate my point in this way: How would we fare in these days if we had not inherited from previous generations our roads, bridges, civic monuments in the form of town halls, and other things? We juggle with figures and work out socalled balances in the national income without giving a thought to our obligations to the pioneers of this country. We are prepared to permit the hire purchase people to put their fangs into the economy and draw, like blood-suckers, more than their share from it. Yet, the aged people in the community, who have given of their best during their active lives, find that the amount they are able to draw in social services benefits is insufficient to sustain them. Prior to the general election in 1949 this Government paid lip service to the responsibility of the national Parliament and of the country to do justice to the aged section of the community. Honorable senators opposite went round the country saying that nothing was too good for them but now they have changed and say that anything is good enough for them. It is necessary to provide war pensions and war service homes for those who deserve them; but our grand old pioneers, particularly, are deserving of the very best we can give to them. We ought to give to them until it hurts; they are our primary responsibility. It is one of the great corporal works of mercy to care for aged and sick people. By closing its eyes to the needs of these people, by dodging the issue, by trying to gain publicity by giving much-needed assistance to just a small segment in the hope of covering up the more glaring deficiencies in the budget of non-assistance to the great majority, the Government has failed. I only hope that the people of Australia will see beyond the Government’s facade and will judge it accordingly.
Senator Wright cited the last available report of the Director-General of Social Services. The percentage of people over 80 years of age he quoted as being 19 per cent. The number between 65 and 69 years is 24 per cent.; between 70 and 74 years, 27 per cent.; and between 75 years and 79 years, 21 per cent. How can the honorable senator justify the opinion he expressed that the Government is doing a good, job when 72 per cent, of the aged people are single? The report also states -
The sample was also used to collect information on the assets held by age pensioners; on th»- amount and nature of the income they receive and on their current employment. All of these data point to the fact that only a small proportion of pensioners have income or resources of any extent apart from their pensions. This, however, is to some degree offset by the fact that almost onethird of the pensioners in the sample owned or partly owned their own homes.
It is of the other 66f per cent. I am speaking. They are the ones who have signed the petitions and comprised the personal deputations to Ministers and members of the Parliament. I repeat the question I asked previously: How are they going to pay rent and purchase the necessaries of life and buy remnants of clothing? Everyone knows the high cost of clothing. How can these people afford such things on £4 a week? That question has not been answered, and no attempt is being made to answer it in this measure. Instead of Government supporters breathing all sorts of praise for the policy of the Government, they should be not only humble but also apologetic because of the fact that those responsible for the allocation of the funds in the budget have fallen down badly in this direction. The measure, and what it contains, is parsimonious, skinflinting and cheese-paring. In the eyes of the vast majority of the Australian people, the Government stands condemned for its meanness.
– I rise to support this bill with .considerable pride, because I believe that this Government has done more in the field of social services than has any other government before it. I cross swords with the preceding speaker from the Opposition, who spoke about the parsimonious outlook of the Government, and said that it was dodging the issues and had done little or nothing for the people in need. This Government has faced up to its responsibility in the social services field in a most splendid manner. It has accomplished very much. It has assisted the people by the liberalization of the means test and has extended the pension field to such a degree that it will always be remembered for that record. And Ministers who have held the portfolio of Minister for Social Services will always be remembered for the work they have done.
I feel that this is a very special bill, because in the first paragraph of his secondreading speech, which he made last night, the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) highlighted one of the things for which many of us have worked untiringly for years. As I stated recently in this chamber, it has been my aim and wish for a very long time - ever since 1 have been a member of the Senate - that some assistance should be given to widows who hitherto have lost their class A pension when their youngest child reached the age of sixteen years, and who did not qualify for a class B pension until they attained the age of 50 years. That has been a verybig problem for many women who, at that period of their lives, were in indifferent health. They had, as was right and proper, stayed at home and cared for their families. Due to that circumstance, when their youngest children reached sixteen years of age, they found themselves out of the employment field. It is almost impossible for a woman, at that stage of her life, to obtain satisfactory employment. I point out, also, that even after a child reaches the age of sixteen years, it still needs the care of its mother. It must be recognized that if a widow receives no assistance by way of pension after her youngest child reaches the age of sixteen years, it is frequently necessary for her to go out to work. This Government is to be congratulated upon making provision in this bill that a widow who loses her class A pension when between the ages of 45 and 50 years will not have to wait until she reaches the age of 50 in order to qualify for a class B pension. This is a very important provision.
I am sure that this Government, which has always been very greatly concerned with family welfare, will be remembered as the family man’s government. In many ways, it has catered for the needs of the home and the family. I direct the attention of honorable senators to the fact that, for the first time in the history of social services in this country, this bill introduces the principle of granting additional amounts of pension to civil pensioners according to the number of dependent children. By so doing, this Government has acknowledged the need to provide assistance to those most in need of it. This is a very important forward- step in the development of our social services scheme.
In addition to providing very important help for widows, this measure makes provision for assistance to be given to invalids who have two or more children under the age of sixteen years. I am sure that all honorable senators know the very real problems with which persons in this category are confronted. 1 am sure that, over the years, we have all assisted such persons, and it is pleasing to note that the Government has taken notice of the representations that have been made to it in this connexion. The Minister stated in his second-reading speech -
I have already indicated that the bill raises the maximum rate of widows’ pensions in cases where the widow has two or more children . . The bill also raises the maximum rate of an invalid pension by 10s. a week for each additional child under sixteen after the first. . . . The first child is already provided for by a child allowance of lis. 6d. a week, which is generally paid to the mother.
Those two provisions will be of great benefit to thousands of people. The bill also provides for increased allowances, in respect of children under sixteen, to be paid to certain categories of age pensioners who are unable to work. In consequence, there will be no need for such pensioners to transfer to the invalid pension in order to obtain the increase. I am sure that this provision will meet with the approval of honorable senators on both sides.
Honorable senators opposite have accused this Government of lacking appreciation ot the need to increase the field of social services. I should like to remind them of what the Government has done in that connexion. It has liberalized the means test in very many ways, some of which I shall mention in a moment. However, I want to emphasize that the liberalization of the means test has enabled more people than ever before to receive pensions. In addition, because many more people are now able to obtain either full or part pensions, due to the liberalizing of the means test, they are also able to obtain medical and pharmaceutical benefits. This is a very important forward step.
It is tremendously important to remove from aged and invalided people the fear of illness and insecurity. Formerly, many aged people were worried because they did not know whether medical benefits would be available to them should they become ill. Furthermore, they naturally desired, in the event of becoming ill, to receive treatment from doctors who had attended to them, in some instances, over many years. The retention of the doctor-patient relationships is tremendously important. These old people had to be assured that they could be attended to, under the scheme, if necessary in their own homes. This Government has made that possible. Now, old people can be treated and cared for in their own homes.
In considering what this Government has achieved in the field of social services, I consider that some of the things that the Minister said last night cannot be brought home too often to honorable senators opposite. As the Minister pointed out, since 1949 the permissible income of pensioners has been raised by 133 per cent. He said -
In the same period the Government has also raised the property limit by 133 per cent., that is from £750 to £1,750 for a single person and £3,500 for a married couple. It has doubled the property exemption - which is the amount that does not affect the pension - and it is now £200 for a single person and £400 for a married couple.
These are really valuable liberalizations of the means test. I come now to other very positive aspects that the Minister mentioned last night. He went on to say -
The Government has also entirely disregarded income derived from property for the purposes of pension assessments; it has abolished the means lest for blind persons.
I shall have more to say about that matter as I proceed. The Minister continued -
It has abolished the means test which was imposed on the parents of claimants for invalid pensions, and it has abolished the special ceilings which limited the amounts that could be paid to ex-servicemen by way of civil pension in addition to a war pension. Certain interests under wills have been excluded from the property means test and the exemption of the surrender values of life insurance policies has been raised from £200 to £750. The Government has also made a concession to pensioners who own a motor car by disregarding its value in the pension assessment.
I am sure all honorable senators agree that that is a very valuable concession. Doubtless, every member of this chamber has, from time to time, received representations from pensioners on this matter. The Government recognizes the need for this concession, and has granted it. The Minister continued -
One of the most important advances was the introduction of discretionary power which enables the Director-General of Social Services to disregard the value of property in special circumstances.
This is very important to old people who own homes. We all are aware of many instances in which aged people have been unable to obtain possession of their homes, and also instances when, through ill health or other circumstances, they have had to vacate their homes for long periods. Many aged people were faced with a real problem in this connexion. There has never been a more splendid feature of the social services legislation.
Senator Wright cited figures which showed that there has been a tremendous increase in the number of persons eligible for pensions, due to the liberalization of the means test by this Government. To-day, 45 persons out of every 100 persons of pensionable age are receiving pensions.
During the speech of Senator Kennelly, the matter of the number of aged persons who own their own homes was raised. According to the last census in Victoria, 44 per cent, of people receiving age pensions own their own homes, and I suggest that that is a very important figure, because it shows that the number of aged persons who own their own homes is a considerable proportion of the total number of those who receive age pensions. This Government has always realized that one of the greatest problems facing aged persons is how they will live in the twilight of their lives. If these people do not own homes, they are faced with great difficulties in finding suitable places to live, and even greater difficulties in finding the money to pay for the accommodation when they have found it because, for most of them, their sole income is the pension. Therefore, honorable senators will agree that this Government has done one of the finest pieces of work that have ever been done by any government in the social services field, by passing the Aged Persons Homes Act, which allows the Government to subsidize, on a £l-for-£l basis, church and charitable organizations who wish to build homes for aged people. It is a most serious situation for an aged person who has no income other than the pension to have to pay rent for accommodation, and, consequently, the Government’s work in assisting with the housing of such persons is of tremendous importance and value.
Throughout Queensland, church and charitable organizations are doing a particularly fine job in establishing, cottage settlements where aged married couples cas go and spend the twilight of their lives is the companionship of each other and with the help and understanding assistance of those who administer the settlements. There are also other joint establishments where both single people and married people are housed. These are apart from the cottage system. All that is of very great importance. Honorable senators will realize that these church and charitable organizations could not have housed nearly the number of people that they are housing if it had not been for the legislation passed by this Government, which I have already mentioned. As at 21st September, 1956, there were 142 approvals for aged persons’ homes grants, and the payment of £1,699,433 to organizations engaged in this work had been approved. That means that accommodation will be provided for 2,839 aged persons. More than 2,000 persons are already benefiting from this legislation and, that being so, this Government is surely not dodging the issue, as has been said by honorable senators opposite, but is facing up to one of the greatest problems that confront the aged people in the community.
This Government has also realized another very real need of aged persons, and that is the problem of the person who lives alone, or with a husband or wife or other relative, and who is in indifferent health and needs medical care. In view of that great need, separate legislation will be presented to the Parliament by the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron), which will be designed to assist, on a £l-for-£l basis, nursing services engaged in helping the aged. That is a very splendid ideal. Those of us who are younger, perhaps do not realize how hard it is for aged persons who live alone and are ill or in pain. It is most distressing for any one to be ill or in pain, but it is more so for an aged person who has to live alone. The legislation that I have mentioned will be designed to give financial assistance to home nursing services so that they can provide nurses to go to the homes of aged people and give injections or medicines to ease their pain, or in other ways assist to increase their comfort. Moreover, it gives a feeling of comfort and security to a person to know that he is being looked after by a doctor or a nurse. The provision of this service is just one more example of the Government’s concern for the welfare of the aged and the sick and I am sure that the legislation will be welcomed.
All this indicates that the Government is engaged in a splendid system of social services legislation. It appreciates first the need to assist people. It understands the problems associated with the means test. Consequently, it has, over and over again, liberalized the means test so that more people may receive more or greater pensions and other benefits. We have faced up to the problem of housing, and have contributed substantially to the ultimate solution of that problem. We are also helping those who are unable or do not wish to go into charitable institutions by assisting to make nurses available to care for them in their own homes.
I have always been tremendously interested in the work done throughout the country by the many splendid organizations which assist the blind. In Queensland, and also in other States, those organizations are well worthy of the highest praise. ) am pleased to know that the Government has abolished the means test on pensions for the blind, because that will be of tremendous assistance to all those members of our community who suffer from this serious disability. Blind persons receive £4 a week pension plus a child allowance of lis. 6d. a week free from any means test. It is worth noting that there are 4,762 blind pensioners in the Commonwealth, and it is a tragedy that all those people should suffer this great disability. We should do all that we can to assist them.
I have always been greatly interested in the employment of blind persons, and I pay a tribute to the men of the Postal Department who have done so much in training blind people as telephonists. In Queensland and in other States the officers of the department give their services to the blind in a very practical manner. Some blind people to-day are holding full-time jobs as telephonists because they have been trained by the officers of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. I hope that some day something further will be done by the Australian Government to assist in the training of blind persons. If we could work together with these splendid organizations, which are doing so much for the blind, we could play a better part in rehabilitating blind persons who want to take up some occupation.
Wonderful work has been done in this connexion at St. Dunstan’s, in England. If I may, I should like to digress for a moment in order to mention a case in which I have been tremendously interested for years. It is the case of an ex-serviceman who was blinded during the war and who, after being trained at St. Dunstan’s, was able to administer treatment at the rehabilitation centre in Queensland.
– And not only to the blind.
– He is not assisting blind people only. He is blind, but he is giving treatment to all rehabilitation cases. His case is splendid proof that those unfortunates who suffer from blindness can be trained to do the work they want to do. This man always wanted to be a masseur. Despite the fact that he was blind, his training at St. Dunstan’s overseas made it possible for him, upon his return to Australia, to carry out the work that he has always wanted to be able to do. I hope that as the years go by more and more assistance will be given to those organizations and institutions which train people to do the kind of work they want to do.
– And the Opposition will not be opposed to the granting of more assistance.
– I am certain the Opposition would not oppose it. Perhaps, if the Government and those philanthropic associations which are interested in this work got together even more than has been done could be done for these unfortunate people. This Government certainly has given a lead by taking the initial step of abolishing the means test for blind persons.
The bill also provides for a higher proportion of the maternity allowance to be paid to expectant mothers by way of prenatal payment. The amount which may be paid within four weeks prior to the expected date of birth has been increased from £5 to £10. This gives the expectant mother greater opportunity to use the allowance to purchase a layette. It is an important and humane improvement in our social services benefits. I know of many cases in which mothers have been confronted with a very real problem at that particular time, and this increase in prenatal allowance is merely another instance of this Government’s appreciation of the needs of this section of the community - the family unit.
Taking the bill as a whole, we see a measure designed to increase the amount of money that is to be used to assist those who are most in need. Greater provision is being made to assist widows and children, and in this measure we have a practical demonstration by the Government of its keen appreciation of the need for generous social services, and the aged and invalid can be assured that they will receive the most sympathetic consideration at all times from this Administration. I am especially appreciative of the step taken to rectify what in my opinion has been an anomaly for many years. I refer to what might be termed the blank years, the period for which a widow must wait after her youngest child attains the age of sixteen years before becoming eligible for a pension. Now, when she reaches 45 years of age, the widow in those circumstances will be entitled to a pension. She will now receive assistance during what is perhaps one of the most critical periods of her life, a time when she needs help more than any other time, and certainly at a time when she deserves it for having played the part of both mother and father to her children after the death of her husband. I support the bill and congratulate the Government upon bringing it down.
.- Listening to the debate to-day, I am reminded of the days before federation, when I was young and active in politics. In those days, we were told exactly what Senator Wright has told us in such an impressive manner to-day. We were told that it was absolutely impossible for the Government to provide social services. We were also told that if the people would only save their money for their old age pensions would not be necessary. In social services, as in all other things, the Labour party pioneered the way. The driving force of its sustained agitation was such that eventually social services were introduced and gradually developed to the position at which they are to-day. Of course, in the olden days, governments had no great appreciation of the fact that it was impossible for the majority of workers to save for their old age simply because wages then, just as is the case now, were based on the cost of sustenance. In those days, we were told that the workers wasted their money; and the crowds in hotels and on racecourses were pointed to indignantly as examples of workers who were wasting their money. Eventually, the time came when government had to take notice and do something. In the olden days, they confused the particular with the general. Because two or three persons wasted their money, they assumed that all persons wasted their money, but eventually social services came into existence, and the Labour party pioneered the way. Labour’s agitation was so effective that eventually the government simply had to make a virtue of necessity and introduce social services.
Senator Wright has said that social services will cost an extra £12,000,000 this year. That sounds very impressive. The same figure was used by the Minister, but it is not correct to say that they will cost that amount. In the olden days about which I speak, the purchasing power of the £1 was equal to that of a quarter of an ounce of gold, whereas to-day it is only equal to that of an eighth of an ounce of gold. In terms of gold, £12,000,000 is worth approximately £2,000,000 to-day. That is the way in which the people are being misled. When addressing 200 members of the Extension Board of the University of Sydney on the subject of business and law, at the university last night, Sir Garfield Barwick is reported in to-day’s “ Daily Telegraph “ as having said -
At the moment we find we have managed to get ourselves into a situation in which our financial practices are denied proper operations.
Inflation has got this Government by the throat. If adequate measures are not taken promptly to combat it, inflation will eventually throttle the Government, just as it has throttled other governments in the past.
Senator Wright has said that £12,000,000 will be spent, but that is a half-truth because the actual cost of material things required by pensioners was never lower as assessed in terms of gold, or labour time, or both. In terms of inflated currency, however, costs have never been higher, but the Government will not face this situation or attempt to explain it. It is a case of ignorance, or of fear to face the truth. Possibly, it is a bit of both.
When the age pension was increased from £3 10s. to £4, the increase of 10s. was simply a contribution towards making up a deficiency. The purchasing power of £3 10s. had been reduced to such an extent, by inflation and increased prices, that 10s. was simply a contribution towards covering the deficiency, and prices are still rising. The Government has fixed the rate of pensions, but monopoly control of supplies fixes purchasing power. To all intents and purposes, the Government has offered £4 a week to age pensioners, and then has thrown them to the wolves. In effect, it has said, “ Charge them what you like “. Just imagine paying 9d. for an orange and ls. 6d. for a quarter of a cabbage! What is the Government going to do about the decline in purchasing power? There is complete silence from the Government side.
The increases proposed in the bill will contribute towards making up deficiencies, but again prices will rise, and there will be an increase of rents. The housing- position for aged people is appalling. Men and women work all their lives. Many of them are uninformed on economics and politics. They accept what the representatives of governments tell them. When they are no longer able to work, they are virtually thrown to the wolves.
Society is run according to the ethics of the pack. So long as a person is profitable as a worker, he is allowed to live on a subsistence level, but when he can work no longer, he is cast aside. It does not matter how hard he works or how much he contributes to the wealth of private capitalists. Those things are not taken into consideration. The aged persons are left to get along as best they can. Many of them die of malnutrition, but nothing is done. Senator O’Byrne said that Senator Wright’s heart was iron-bound. It is not his heart but his head that is iron-bound, and that applies to many other supporters of the Government. Senator Wright is an educated man and a lawyer but he, and others like him, are unequipped to deal with the situation when they get into the field of economics and politics.
When I am told that supporters of the Government are full of sympathy for the pensioners, I recall that that is what I was told when I was a young man. They offer plenty of sympathy, but nothing else.
I am not impressed by the statements of honorable senators on the Government side. Is there sufficient food, clothing and housing, or materials for housing, in Australia to provide for these people? The answer is, “ Yes “. There is more than sufficient. The pensioners are not concerned so much with the money they get, but with what the money will buy. The Government is indifferent to the prevailing high prices. Action has been taken by the workers, however, and further action will be taken, because a point is reached in mathematics where quantitative differences bring out qualitative changes. Then we will realize that unconstitutional methods have brought about constitutional changes after all. As Sir Garfield Barwick stated in the press yesterday -
The States are begging for money. The financial outlook is a threat to Federation.
Ever since this Government has been in office, the financial situation has gone from bad to worse. Senator McManus and Senator Wright suggested a commission to inquire into social services. All the commissions that have inquired into monetary affairs have been just as lacking as the Government is in knowledge and moral courage. Salaries generally have been increased, but there has been no increase of purchasing power, and not one royal commission has attempted to point out, as Sir Garfield Barwick has implied, that inflation has spread throughout the country, and the Government can do nothing about it.
I am not impressed by the contents of the bill. In effect, there will be no increase of pensions under this measure. Immediately rates of pension are raised, those outside who have control of commodities, and are a law unto themselves, increase prices. It seems to me that the Government is at a dead end or that it is deliberately doing what was done in the ‘thirties, that is, bringing about a state of affairs in which a demand would be made by economists and other prominent persons to reduce costs. There would be a consequent attempt to reduce pensions, wages and government expenditure, although government expenditure is already being reduced. The pensioners, workers in receipt of the lowest rate of wages, and the unemployed would suffer most. Actually, unemployment is increasing everywhere, but particularly in South
Australia amongst the vehicle builders, the shipbuilders in New South Wales, and in the ordinary building industry in other States. I repeat that the persons to whom I have referred would be the casualties of the Government’s incompetence, callousness or indifference. I consider that I should be remiss in my duty as a senator if I did not emphasize these things.
My experience has convinced me that nothing will be done until pressure is applied from outside. In other words, as I have stated before, needs must where the devil drives. After all is said and done, the Parliament, as a parliament, yields only to pressure. I have yet to learn where the Parliament has taken the initiative in any worthwhile proposition. Senator Annabelle Rankin said that the Government would do its best. My experience has convinced me beyond all doubt that the Government will do nothing of the kind, that it will do only what it is compelled to do. If the press says that something must be done for age pensioners, honorable senators opposite and Government supporters in another place say, “ Yes, the position is desperate “. Outside organizations might say the same as the press, but not one practical proposal is submitted. May I be pardoned for repeating myself and saying that it is due to a lack of either knowledge - knowing the education system as I do, I would not be surprised at that - or moral courage, or possibly both.
I have had a lot to do with age pensioners in Victoria and other places, and also with aged persons before pensions were introduced. I can recall going to an old men’s home at Claremont, which is a suburb between Perth and Fremantle, during World War I.
– The honorable senator’s geography is not quite right. It is at Nedlands.
– Before the honorable senator’s time, it was at Claremont. I was conducting a very necessary and useful agitation for unemployed at that time. Several unemployed persons were offered positions at the old men’s home, and they told me about the appalling conditions under which the old men were living. I could hardly believe it. I reported the matter to the executive of the Trades Hall Council, but members of the executive said that it was impossible for such conditions to exist. I did not obtain much assistance there. A man named Dunn was the editor of “Truth” at that time. I asked him to come down to the home with me, and we went down without notifying the authorities that we were going. The conditions under which those people lived sickened him. He exposed the whole matter in “ Truth “. As a result, a royal commission, presided over by Dr. Jull, was appointed, and the charges that we made were proved to the hilt. But no worthwhile improvement was made. On my last visit to Western Australia, as PostmasterGeneral, in 1949, I went to the home and noted that the same state of affairs existed. I shall not state exactly the conditions that obtained, because honorable senators would be shocked. One can scarcely believe that, in a so-called Christian country with a so-called Christian government, and churches and similar bodies in the community, such a terrible state of affairs should exist.
I am speaking from my own knowledge. I express the opinion, now, as a result of my own experience, that this Government will not attempt to do anything to provide for the helpless members of the community. Persons such as waterside workers, transport workers, building trades workers, and engineers, would not tolerate the conditions to which I have referred. What the Government is relying upon more than anything else to convey the impression that costs are prohibitive is our fraudulently inflated currency. Unfortunately, because they have not been taught differently, very many people believe that costs are prohibitive and that nothing can be done to prevent an increase of prices. They look in vain to the press and to other persons to give them an explanation. The Government is dealing with human life - men, women and children. I am quite certain that the age pensioners will get nothing more than this Government, or any other anti-Labour government, is compelled to give to them. There was a howl when Labour introduced the unemployment relief benefit, but now it is accepted as being commonplace. But that does not meet the situation. More has to be done, and unless it is done, this Government is destined to learn the hard way because it refuses to do something in the nature of abstract reasoning to inform its mind.
– I congratulate the Government upon making selective increases of pensions payable to widows and invalids, and also on removing the anomaly which was referred to at length by my colleague, Senator Annabelle Rankin, in connexion with the regranting of pensions to women at the ase of 45 years. I was particularly interested to hear the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator Kennelly) refer to the secondreading speech of the Minister (Senator Spooner) as “ propaganda “. I think he said that it was “pure propaganda”. We usually take the word “propaganda” to mean statements which are not true, but the Minister, in his speech, was able to show that the Menzies Government had raised the rates of pensions in five out of seven budgets it has brought down. That is a very remarkable achievement for any government. At the same time, this Government has consistently liberalized the means test.
Senator Kennelly referred to a sum of £750,000 and said that it was the total concession that the Government was making in pensions. My colleague, Senator Wright, drew attention to the fact that in this budget the increase will be to the order of £12,000,000. The overall cost of pensions will be £227,320,000. These are record figures in the history of federation, representing as they do, one-fifth of the revenue. I was particularly interested to hear Senator Kennelly say that he felt some doubt as to how this Government, or any other government, could, in bad seasons, afford to pay such a large amount of money. I could not follow the honorable senator’s reasoning, because that remark followed his suggestion that pensions should be increased all round. If the Government found difficulty in meeting a commitment of £227,000,000, surely an addition of some extra millions of pounds, without overhauling the whole social services structure, would give us cause for grave concern.
Senator Kennelly said that the Canadian and New Zealand pension schemes were superior to the Australian because their payments were more generous. The honorable senator did not say what proportion of the national incomes of those countries was represented by their pension payments, nor did he refer to the rate of taxation that is levied in those two countries. Those two points are germane to the question. It is necessary to know what proportion of the national income is expended in pensions, and also what is the level of taxation, before any sort of authoritative comparison can be made. The honorable senator then went on to say that 85 per cent, of the people drawing pensions had no other income. That statement was in substantiation of his claim for a 10s. increase over the whole of the pension field.
In my budget speech I said - and I make no apology for saying it - that I do not believe a person in receipt of £4 a week, living alone and paying rent, can exist. I am certain that many elderly people would be at starvation level at the present time if they were not assisted by voluntary associations. An increase of 10s. a week would not be the answer to the problem. Perhaps if the Government provided, for people who have no other income, some form of subsidy for rent or a grant for particular needs, it would be a better plan. I do not know how it would be worked out, but I am certain that in the community there is a hard core of people who are in desperate economic straits. I should like to have some information to support the figure of 85 per cent, mentioned by Senator Kennelly because I have been unable to ascertain, from inquiries I have made, that any detailed survey has been made in relation to pensioners since the days of the depression. Consequently, no statistical information is available as to how many people make up the hard core about which I spoke. My own opinion is that they would not represent anything like 85 per cent.
In support of that statement I wish to quote to the Senate from a properly compiled table of statistics the number of pensioners drawing benefits. In a previous speech in the Senate I quoted figures that went back as far as the year 1931, but for the purpose of my examination this afternoon I shall go back only to the year 1950. These figures show that in that year there were 408,417 age and invalid pensioners. In 1951, the number was 411,724, an increase of 3,307. In 1952, when the first effects of the liberalized means test were being felt, the number of pensioners was 420,012, which was an increase of 8,288 on the preceding year. In 1953, the number had grown to 445,023, an increase of 25,011. In 1954, the number was 471,516, an increase of 26,493, and in 1955 it was 504,054, an increase of 32,538. The total increase of pensioners since 1950 was 95,637.
I have quoted those figures to show that in recent years, in which the influence of this Government’s liberalization of the means test has had time to take effect, the number of pensioners has increased greatly. Senator Wright gave an all-over average figure, but I have given the precise numbers, which show an increase of more than 25,000 in one year, 26,000 in the next year, and 32,000 in the next. Those figures prove that as we have liberalized the means test, so we have brought into the pension field these 95,637 persons, quite a proportion of whom have not what might be called a considerable income but are definitely not entirely dependent upon the pension.
I was particularly interested in the proposition put forward by Senator McManus. I heartily agree with it. I do not think a more worth-while decision could emanate from the Senate than a decision that a royal commission, or commission of- inquiry, should be set up to investigate pensions and social services generally. Senator Kennelly gave us a resume of the pensions legislation since 1911-12, but, if my memory is correct, the poor law of England dates back to the reign of Elizabeth I. I can think of no better contribution to the benefit of the people of Australia, in these early years of the reign of the second Elizabeth, than that this royal commission should be set up for an investigation of this kind. A royal commission in Great Britain carried out such investigations from 1905 to 1909. That was followed later by the committee which eventually brought down the Beveridge report. Some of the features of that report are well known to honorable senators, and, although much of the thinking in it was done by men who were at that time claimed to be socialists, nevertheless everybody to-day agrees with much of it, particularly some of it’s statements regarding the elimination of thrift. Then, we had the Rowntree report; and in Australia we had a survey conducted by Dr. Hutchinson who was brought here under the Sidney Myer
Trust and the Rotary Club. He made some very unfortunate findings with regard to aged people in Australia.
It would be safe to say that we lag considerably behind the United Kingdom, Canada and the United . States of America in our appreciation of the needs of the aged people in our community. That is probably because, in the case of the United Kingdom, that country had the advantage of the fine Beveridge and Rowntree reports, whilst in the United States the universities and some of the welfare trusts have for years concerned themselves with the needs of the aged and the sick. I sincerely hope, therefore, that we will arrive at a method of determining not only the needs of the community but also the capacity of the people to meet those needs. Portion of Senator Wright’s speech dealing with that aspect appealed to me very strongly. At a hearing of the Public Accounts Committee not so long ago when discussing the subject of defence I asked a question along these lines because I believe that we must, at all times, relate our expenditure, no matter in what sphere, to the capacity of the country to pay.
If such a commission as has been suggested is set up, one of the things it should investigate is the extension of home-help. I have spoken on this matter before, particularly in reference to the housekeeper schemes to which the Government contributes the small amount of £13,000. A need exists for setting up home-help schemes on a very large scale. The budget, of course, makes provision for assistance to the States for the nursing of domicilary cases. In Great Britain, Canada and the United States of America this scheme has been expanded considerably. I am attempting to approach the problem in two ways, first, on the level of providing a humanitarian service and, secondly, from the point of view of economic necessity. After all, if we can expand services designed to take help into the homes we shall remove the necessity to incur millions of pounds of capital expenditure. Not only would we be helping people who need this service, but we would also be doing good business for ourselves. We would thereby save the taxpayers millions of pounds.
I had a look at the most recent report of the British Ministry of Health. I found that voluntary activities are operating, in the main, through local old people’s welfare committees which cover practically every country and burrough in England. In my own State of Victoria - I do not know about the other States - we have an old people’s welfare council which is attempting to do the advisory work; but what is needed is the active participation of governments to supply to these organizations the capital to enable them to take the necessary services right into the homes of the people.
A very remarkable home-help service is attached to the Department of Hospitals of New York city. That department-operates the hospitals and its home-care programme started only in 1948 in a few selected hospitals, but it is now developing enormously. It caters for patients in all age groups who are in need of long-term care - the child with a cardiac condition, the arthritis, multiple sclerosis or Hodgkin’s disease patient, as well as the aged patient with the various chronic conditions which occur with increased frequency in old age.
In the development of a proper domicilary treatment scheme the Menzies Government has shown imagination in the field of social services which has been sadly lacking in the past. I have a report from Canada on the way in which that country has developed these services. It has done so for the very reason that I have outlined, namely, that it found that not only increasing costs make the cost of building a hospital, or an institution, almost prohibitive, but also the bed-cost per patient to-day is absolutely staggering. I read some reports last week, but did not take a note of the figures. They related to Victorian hospitals and, if my memory serves me aright, showed that the cost of providing hospital treatment ranged from about £35 to £45 a bed a week. How much more economical and better would it be for an elderly person, who so desired, to receive treatment in his or her own home? Certainly, the provision of homes for the aged has gone a long way towards meeting the needs of old people. I have visited a number of these places, and cannot fault them; they are beautiful institutions. Nevertheless, I sincerely hope that if in the future, through age, it becomes necessary for me to be confined to bed, I shall be allowed to remain in my own home. I do not think that all the chromium plating and other adornments of institutions compensate one for leaving his or her home. I feel very keenly about this subject. To me it is of paramount importance, both economically and sociologically.
I should like to make a very special plea to the Government to make provision in the rehabilitation scheme for the assistance of housewives. Our rehabilitation services are most generous, and, I believe, second to none; but the housewives and the mothers have been left completely unprovided for. I have before me several case histories to illustrate my contention. They have been supplied to me by a leading doctor, so that I could bring them to the notice of the Senate. The first reads as follows: -
Mrs. G. suffered a left hemiplagia, and had to leave hospital for financial reasons early in her illness. She is confined to bed at home and is looked after by her husband. A visiting physiotherapist would be invaluable for this type of patient, of which there are a great number. The majority of them cannot afford the services of a physiotherapist.
The next is a very sad case. The details are as follows: -
Mrs. H., aged 32 years, during her ninth pregnancy in 1954 developed poliomyelitis and was transferred to Fairfield. She returned home one month later and was confined to bed until the baby was delivered in December, 1954. The mother returned home on the twelfth day. She was still suffering the effects of poliomyelitis, and had her right arm in a splint. During all this time, her husband with the help of his sister cared for the family. Mrs. H. could have benefited from regular physiotherapy and some home assistance.
The third case history refers to a number of women. It reads as follows: -
Mrs. M., Mrs. C, Mrs. G. and others - during the epidemic of hepatitis which occurred last year and early this year - were confined to bed for periods of three to six weeks. During this time their children and husbands had to get along as best they could, relying on neighbours or relatives to cook and so on. For these cases, some home assistance would be valuable.
In the case of these women, the Government’s assistance to voluntary organizations for home nursing will be of great benefit. However, women who have contracted poliomyelitis or who suffer from disabilities require regular physiotherapy and other rehabilitation treatment. I do not know what would be the cost of implementing my suggestion, but I do not think that it would impose too great a strain on the financial resources of the Government.
I wish now to direct attention to an anomaly that exists in relation to pensions payable to elderly people. Through no fault of their own, they are sometimes required to relinquish beds that they occupy in hospitals, and to transfer to a mental hospital where beds are available. But immediately they enter a mental hospital their pension ceases. Of course, that may be in conformity with the agreement under which the Commonwealth makes grants to the States for the maintenance of mental institutions, but the sad feature is that the pensioners concerned lose the small amount of pocket-money to which they have been accustomed. Several have cried to me, saying that all of a sudden they just did not have a penny in the world. They have been accustomed to spending a few shillings a week on postage, personal requisites, and perhaps occasionally on small gifts. This anomaly in the law causes great mental agitation to the elderly people concerned.
If time permitted, one could speak at length on the changing attitude of the community towards the needs of the aged. As the expected span of life is now greater than formerly, we are confronted with problems associated with the maintenance of elderly people for a greater number of years. Senator Cameron said that when the system of age pensions was first introduced, the pensions were on the lowest scale possible; but I remind him that when age pensions were first granted it was not expected that many people would reach the age when they would become eligible for them. If honorable senators look at a table of life expectation they will find that at the turn of the century the expectation of life was not even 60 years.
– What about myself?
– I hope to live to be as old as Senator Cameron; but in the last few years the expectation of life has increased so greatly that the present generation, and future generations, will have to find the answer to the problem of the care of the aged which at the present time seems almost insoluble. I am not prepared to say that if the pension were increased to £4 10s. a week that would be sufficient to keep a person who does not own his own home or who is sick, and I do not think that any honorable senator opposite would advocate that. However, it is undeniable that if we are to spread an increase of social services over a vast number of pensioners, the increase will have to be spread very thinly, and consequently we shall give no real assistance to the pensioner who has nothing but his pension.
We have had some thoughtful contributions on this subject from both sides of the Senate, and I agree that an independent authority should determine pensions. Under the present legislation, a person can own a home worth £10,000 or £12,000- indeed there is no limit to the value of a home a person may own - and still qualify for the pension. Of course, I do not suggest that there should be such a limit, but pensioners may have any amount of money invested in a home, they may own motor cars, receive superannuation payments and be in a position to receive an overall income of £16 10s. a week as well as medical and pharamaceutical benefits. Are such pensioners to be paid an additional 10s. a week, or should the increase be confined to those who have nothing but their pensions? I know which side I should be on in that matter.
I support the bill. I believe that in the circumstances the Government has taken another progressive step in social services legislation consistent with its attitude ever since it came to office. But I hope that it will see its way to set up some body which will lift the whole matter of pensions out of the realm of party politics. We have heard many pleas made in this chamber to discuss pensions free from party politics, but immediately after those pleas have been made the matter has been discussed from a party political angle. However, the subject is now of such importance to so many people that it should be completely divorced from party politics lest an insuperable burden be placed on future generations. I hope that the suggestion made by Senator McManus and supported by Senator Wright and Senator Kennelly, and which, I believe, has the general approval of all honorable senators, will be considered by the Government so that social services payments and contributory retiring allowances for all persons will be determined and placed upon a proper basis. I support the bill.
– I appreciate the deep sincerity of Senator Wedgwood and her feelings towards people who need to participate in our social services. I know that she, as a social worker, has made a profound study of the problems that face all those persons who are so unfortunate that they need assistance from the welfare State, or from persons interested in providing welfare services. However, one aspect of this matter has been studiously avoided by the Government, and that is that more than 50 per cent, of our pensioners are living at starvation level.
– Senator Kennelly said-
– I do not care what Senator Kennelly said. I did penance listening for about an hour to Senator Wedgwood’s address, and I now ask her to listen to mine. More than 50 per cent, of our pensioners have to live on only the maximum rate for a single person. When two pensioners, that is a man and his wife, are living together, they receive £8 a week, or £4 a week each. All those people are in desperate circumstances. Honorable senators can talk about soup kitchens, mobile meal services and the provision of accommodation for a small minority of the pensioners, but none of those things affects in any way the 50 per cent, of our pensioners who are destitute.
During the debates that have ensued in the Senate since the budget was introduced, petitions have been presented from thousands of destitute pensioners and placed before the relevant Ministers, but they have not even been acknowledged. I should like to know what has happened to those petitions, because they were drawn up after much hard work and at considerable expense by people who are suffering and destitute. I have before me a pile of letters from such people to which I shall refer later. These people do not seek to be placed in positions of affluence; they want just enough food to keep them alive. I know that every honorable senator on the Government side would be prepared to work as a social worker among those people. No honorable senator’s head or heart is so hard that he does not appreciate the difficulties of the pensioner; but we must deal with real issues.
The Government has stated that it has made remarkable strides in social services, and the Opposition claims that it should be given some credit for its part in improving our social services system; but nobody can feel satisfied with conditions under which a vast number of people are not adequately provided for. Despite all this boasting and all this self-aggrandizement on the part of governments it is tragic to think that in an economy in which margins are being lifted, in which wages and costs are being increased, the most defenceless citizen in the community, the pensioner, is expected to exist on the flat rate of £4 a week. With every piece of legislation it introduces, the Government reminds us of the increasing costs of departments and services, yet it stubbornly refuses to increase the pensioner’s paltry pittance. It is all very well to say that an extra 10s. a week will not completely correct his position; I agree that it will not, but we as a Christian nation are charged with the responsibility of caring for these people, and they should be given some consideration. As an example of the inadequacy of the present miserable pension, I remind honorable senators that if a pensioner pays 2s. 6d. for each of three meals in a day and then spends only 5s. for a bed he has already over-spent his pension.
A further factor that must be considered and upon which the Government stands condemned is the way in which indirect taxation affects the pensioner. He is required to pay indirect taxation at the same rate as is any other person in the community and in this way he returns a considerable proportion of his miserable pittance to government revenue. For instance, if a pensioner buys a pasty, pie or piece of fruit-cake in an attempt to make his pittance go further, he is required to pay sales tax on it; and I see hundreds of pensioners buying these things in Perth. It is disgraceful to think that the Government should adopt this means of reimbursing itself for the paltry sum it makes available to these unfortunate people. At this stage I make it clear that I have nothing but praise for the work done by administrators and all other officers of the Department of Social Services in the various States, and it is good to be able to say that progressively the Government is developing a social conscience; but, at the same time, the mere development of a social conscience does nothing to ameliorate the plight of that unfortunate 55 per cent, of our pensioners who are struggling to exist on sub-standard conditions and are suffering from poverty and malnutrition. Medical men and leading social workers admit that most of the medical treatment which these people are receiving is not for any physical illness but for malnutrition. The Government may be able to boast about what it is doing in the way of establishing institutions, which I admit are doing excellent work, but in actual fact it is only scratching the surface. During this time of inflation when it is extracting the highest possible sums from our citizens by way of indirect taxation irrespective of capacity to pay, this Government is recreant to its obligations to care for the most defenceless section of our community, the pensioners, who are expected to exist on a pension which remains static at the miserable sum of £4 a week. I have with me a number of letters written by pensioners who ask in the name of Christ that that they be given food. They want nothing else. Incidentally, they have each paid 3-Jd. in postage on their letters, and I remind the Senate that if they had been written a few days later the charge would have been 4id. Yet, their pension remains the same. All they ask is that they be given food. They want nothing else. If the Government denies them that, it is recreant to its obligation to the really poor in the community.
It may be argued that at this time we should not increase all pensions, that we cannot afford to do so. If we cannot afford to increase them all, if there is to be some discrimination, then I am confident all honorable senators will agree that we should first take action to remove from the 55 per cent, to whom I have referred the threat of eventual extermination through malnutrition. I leave the letters to which I have referred with the Clerk of the Senate in the hope that he will pass them on to the Minister. I repeat that they are letters from people who want nothing more than food.
Other matters have been discussed at length by other honorable senators, all of whom are charitably minded and can still see room for some better evidence of a full appreciation of the plight of these unfortunate citizens.
The Government did not improve the field of social services when it excluded certain pensioners from pharmaceutical and medical benefits. It extended the means test, and so brought some persons into the pensions field, but then it excluded them from pharmaceutical benefits, medical treatment and hospital treatment. Those pensioners have been placed in a class on their own, and they are suffering as a result. Some of them have retained their membership in medical and hospital benefits funds, but most of them cannot afford to join an approved society. The Government should consider them, and treat them more sympathetically.
Government supporters have stated thai the Government is spending £226,000,000 a year on social services. That is a frightening figure. Unfortunately, successive governments have made a political football of social services, and they always reach a point where they speak of the huge liability that is involved. A sincere attempt was made once to establish a national welfare fund. The government of the day set aside certain money which was to be available only for social services. The Government was not pleased to call it a national insurance scheme, but that is what, in effect, it was. Money was collected by way of taxes which were levied according to ability to pay. The money was to be used exclusively for social services. In effect, the people were paying a premium, and the money was put into trust.
We would have had a national insurance scheme in operation now if that money had been left undisturbed, but there was a change of approach to this matter on a government level. The new government decided to pay the money that had been collected into Consolidated Revenue. It imposed a tax to raise revenue, and returned to the bad and antiquated method of paying money from Consolidated Revenue into the National Welfare Fund, and then distributing it to the people. There are no reserves in that fund. As the national economy fluctuates, the welfare of the people who are dependant on social services fluctuates also. If we had another depression, we would return to the position in which we were placed before. The Government would have to rely on Consolidated Revenue, money would not be available and social services payments would not be made because of the Government’s poverty and maladministration, or because of unfortunate national circumstances. Social services should be run on an insurance basis so that reserves would be available. Any scheme evolved should be based on ability to pay. The strong should carry the weak, even if they are a charge on the fund at the beginning. 1 direct attention to the plight of immigrants from the United Kingdom, who require a pension or social services benefits. A reciprocal agreement for the payment of pensions has been reached between the United Kingdom and the Australian Government. Generally, it works fairly satisfactorily, but anomalies arise from time to time. A man may be a member of an insurance scheme in the United Kingdom, but his wife is not a contributor. If they immigrate to Australia and the wife becomes ill her case is referred to the United Kingdom under the reciprocal agreement but, as the wife has’ never been a contributor to the scheme, her husband has to carry the liability. We do not provide any relief for such a person unless she has been a resident of Australia for five years. There are not many of these cases, but some arrangement should be made to meet the need when it arises. I suggest that the Deputy Directors of Social Services in each State should be given some power to grant assistance in those cases.
The Opposition believes that the Government has a duty to those pensioners for whom I appealed in opening my speech. Thousands of pensioners have nothing else but the pension. They have no homes, and they are living in poverty. The Government should amend this measure to meet their needs.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Motion (by Senator O’sullivan) agreed to-
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn to Tuesday, 16th October next, at 3 p.m., unless sooner called together by the President by telegram or letter.
Senate adjourned at 4.58 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 27 September 1956, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1956/19560927_senate_22_s9/>.