23rd Parliament · 2nd Session
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. A. D. Reid) took the chair at 1 1 a.m., and read prayers.
– by leave - Mr. Deputy President, it is with regret that I have to inform the Senate of the death in Adelaide of Mr. Michael Raphael O’Halloran, Leader of the Opposition in the South Australian Parliament and a former senator for South Australia. The late Mr. O’Halloran was a senator from 1928 to 1935. He had been Leader of the Opposition in the South Australian Parliament since 1949 and had represented the electorate of Frome since 1938. Prior to his election to the Senate Mr. O’Halloran represented the constituency of Burra Burra in the South Australian House of Assembly from 1918 until his defeat in 1921. He was re-elected for the same constituency in 1924 and held the seat until 1927. Mr. O’Halloran was elected to the Senate for South Australia in 1928.
During his period in this chamber Mr. O’Halloran held several important positions, including that of vice-chairman of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts from 1929 until 1931. He was also a member of the Joint Select Committee on Public Accounts in 1932. He was Temporary Chairman of Committees from 1929 to 1935 and was Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate from 1932 until 1935. His parliamentary record is a very distinguished one and I am sure that those who knew him better than I did will agree that he had a very pleasant and sincere personality.
In the circumstances I move -
That the Senate expresses its deep regret at the death of Mr. Michael Raphael O’Halloran, a former senator for the State of South Australia who was at the time of his death Leader of the Opposition in the South Australian Parliament, places on record its appreciation of his long and meritorious public service and tenders its sympathy to his widow in her bereavement.
– Mr. Deputy President, J second the motion that has been propose. by the Leader of the Government. Every member of the Opposition is deeply grieved to learn this morning of the passing of Mr. Michael O’Halloran. As the Leader of the Government said, Mr. O’Halloran graced the public life of this country for a period of 42 years - except for a break of some three years long ago - in both the Federal and State spheres. He played a major and very distinguished part in the highest councils of the Australian Labour Party throughout his association with politics and the activities of our party. A very honorable, lovable and able man with a deep sense of responsibility and humanity has passed. To know Mr. O’Halloran was to respect and like him. I had the privilege of knowing him very well for many years. I was associated with him in political campaigns and in the halls of the party throughout that period. I had the warmest respect and regard for him, as would anybody who knew him. Accordingly, I feel the deepest sense of personal loss at the news of his passing.
I realize the blow that his death will be to all his State parliamentary colleagues. I extend to them the sympathy of members of the Opposition in this place in which he served with distinction as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, as has been been mentioned by Senator Spooner. In particular, I extend the sympathy of all members of the Opposition to his widow in her very grievous and irreparable loss. Her husband’s death was untimely; he was only 67. However, we can look back and she will be able to look back on his record with pride and know that he laboured hard and successfully and left the world, and Australia in particular, somewhat better for his being here. I trust that his widow will be given the strength to bear the grievous burden of sorrow she carries at the moment.
– Mr. Deputy President, the members of the Australian Country Party desire to be associated with the motion now before the Senate expressing regret at the death of Mr. Michael O’Halloran, the Leader of the Opposition in the Parliament of South Australia. At one time he was a senator, representing South Australia. He was elected to this chamber in 1928. Those who knew him well generally referred te him as Mick O’Halloran. I was one who knew him pretty well indeed because we came into this chamber on the same date. We were new senators together.
I greatly appreciated the friendship of Mick O’Halloran. He had1 a very engaging personality and was well liked by his fellow senators, irrespective of their political convictions. I am sure that his death will be a great loss to the Parliament of South Australia and that State to which he gave lengthy and outstanding service. We of the Australian Country Party desire to extend our deepest sympathy to his widow in her bereavement.
– Mr. Deputy President, the Australian Democratic Labour Party supports the remarks of the previous speakers. We regret the passing of the honorable Michael O’Halloran and we extend our sincere sympathy to his widow.
– Mr. Deputy President, I wish to speak to the motion proposed by the Leader of the Government (Senator Spooner) because of my long association with Mick O’Halloran. I knew him long before he came into this Parliament, when we were members of the rural committee of the Australian Labour Party. Some of the matters advocated1 by Mick O’Halloran in those days are to-day established facts. The rural policy of the Australian Labour Party emanated from that committee in the very early days before he entered Parliament. The system of land tenure in Canberra is one of the monuments to his sagacity and advocacy in those earlier times. Mick was a very lovable character. He had an extraordinary capacity for tolerance, and was possibly the only man I knew who suffered fools gladly. He adopted the view that in the worst of men there was some good, and he tried to get the best out of every individual. Because of that, he became an extraordinarily tolerant man.
The history of his later years, has been given by the Leader of the Government. He did some magnificent work, not only for South Australia but for Australia generally. I felt that I could not let this occasion pass without paying my tribute to Mick and offering my condolences to his widow.
Question resolved in the affirmative, honorable senators standing in their places.
– If the Minister representing the Attorney-General is in a position to do so, will he advise the Senate how far the Attorney-General - who, 1 believe, is sincerely interested in frustrating the machinations of take-over operators and other similar people - has gone in his investigation of the efficiency of the United States anti-trust laws against firms such as Dupont de Nemours, Reynolds, Socony and others?
– I think that Sir Garfield Barwick’s main concern is to bring in legislation to prevent restrictive trade practices from operating in this country, and he has the matter under active consideration at present. The honorable senator may have missed seeing a news item last week which disclosed that Sir Garfield had requested a senior officer of his department to go to America in order to work with him there, under his direction, in examining more thoroughly the operation of the American anti-restrictive trade practice laws, with a view to seeing whether they can be adapted to our needs.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Postmaster-General. By way of preface, I invite the Minister’s attention to the report of the Australian Broadcasting Commission just issued, wherein it is pointed out that for the last 28 years the commission’s activities have, for the most part, been carried on in temporary premises not designed for the special requirements of broadcasting, and often unsuitable in other ways. The premises provide unsatisfactory working conditions for staff and generally involve considerable additional expenditure as well as waste of staff time. I also invite the attention of the Minister to the particularly bad conditions obtaining in Adelaide, where the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s studios are located in what appears to be the partly wrecked and hideously altered structure of an historic and once beautiful church in Hindmarshsquare. Will the Minister discuss with the Postmaster-General the possibility of housing the head-quarters and studios of the Australian Broadcasting Commission in South Australia in a proper and convenient building in the city of Adelaide or its environments? Can this matter be the subject of an early submission to the Public Works Committee for examination and report?
– Later this morning I shall be tabling in the Senate the annual report of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. I have no doubt that the Minister will thoroughly consider the views of the commission expressed in its report, and I should prefer to leave to him a decision in the matter.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. Has the mission sent to India and Indonesia earlier this year by the Wheat Utilization Committee to explore the possibilities of making more effective use of wheat, completed its investigations? If so, has a report been presented to the Wheat Utilization Committee, which represents the five mainwheat exporting countries? If a report has been presented, what action is being taken? Is a copy of the report available to honorable senators and, if not, will the Minister consider making one available?
– Yes, the body to which the honorable senator refers has completed its examination and has presented a report for consideration by the Wheat Utilization Committee. There has been, I think, a preliminary examination of the report, and the committee will continue to examine it to see what action, if any, should be taken on it. The Wheat Utilization Committee will then consider whether the report should be made public at a later date.
– I address a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration. In view of the fact that only 53 per cent, of the migrants eligible for naturalization have so far applied for naturalization, will the Minister consider taking the following action: Issuing a booklet pointing out the advantages which accrue from becoming Australian citizens and British subjects, and supplying it to the various national groups of migrants, the Good Neighbour Council and other organizations interested in the assimilation of these people; making an appeal to migrants to take a pride in acquiring Australian citizenship and to join us in full citizenship; and pointing out the natural advantages which accrue from naturalization and the acquisition of Australian citizenship?
– The fact that only 53 per cent, of migrants have so far become naturalized Australian citizens is, I am sure, of concern to all Australians. We wish to see migrants adopt Australian citizenship at the earliest possible moment. I am sure the Minister will do everything he can to meet the honorable senator’s suggestions, that he will see that a booklet is issued, if necessary, and that he will take other steps he thinks desirable to encourage migrants to become Australian citizens. As the honorable senator points out, there are many advantages for migrants in adopting that course. I am certain that every member of the Senate will do all he can to encourage migrants to become naturalized citizens as early as possible.
– I direct a question to the Minister for the Navy. You will remember, Mr. Deputy President, that yesterday I asked the Minister whether it was proposed to remove to Sydney the naval victualling stores, at present situated at Port Melbourne, and that I intimated that it was feared a number of the employees would be thrown out of employment or, at best, transferred to Sydney. The Minister replied that the question involved a matter of policy and declined to answer it. In view of the uncertainty which exists amongst the employees and the firms concerned with the victualling of ships, will the Minister intimate the approximate length of time that will elapse before a decision is made in the matter?
– As the honorable senator knows, no decision on this matter which would enable me in any way to reply to the detailed question he asked me yesterday has as yet been made. When a firm decision of that kind is made - if it is made - 1 will let the honorable senator know at once, either by letter or verbally in this chamber at question time.
– My question is directed, to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. I ask him: Is it not a fact that the proceeds from the sale of wool in the months of July and August this year totalled some £18,500,000, being an increase of £3,400,000 on the proceeds of sale in the corresponding months of last year? In order to avoid misconception on the part of the public, will the Minister inform the Senate of the number of bales of wool that were sold in July and August of this year, and indicate how many more bales were sold in those months than in July and August of last year?
– I have not got those particular figures in my mind. I will look them up and send them to the honorable senator.
– In view of the many and varied statements that have recently been made about the amount of foreign capital that is invested in Australia, will the Leader of the Government in this chamber inform the Senate and the country of the amount of such capital investments during the last ten financial years?
– The matter is of such importance that I should have the figures in my mind and should’ be able to give an answer straight away, but unfortunately I find that I am not as good as that, even though I recently looked at the figures. I ask Senator Brown to place the question on the notice-paper so that he can be supplied with an accurate answer.
I content myself with the general observation that the flow of capital for investment in Australia is making such an appreciable contribution to the stability of the economy as to warrant our encouraging it in every way that we can. The interesting figures which I recently surveyed, and which I have failed to remember, showed the break-up of that capital into various categories, that is, the loans that Australia has raised abroad, the amount of direct investment in industrial projects in Australia, the amount of profits that those industrial projects have reinvested in Australian development and the normal portfolio investments by private citizens overseas who have transferred their money to Australia for investment in ordinary stocks and shares on the Australian markets. It is a compliment to Australia that overseas investors are bringing money here, when we remember the high prices that are now obtaining on the stock and share markets throughout Australia. If the honorable senator will put the question on the notice-paper, I shall obtain the figures he seeks. I am sure that they will be of great interest to many others, as well as to Senator Brown.
– Will the Minister representing the Treasurer supply figures showing the total cost of each of the trips overseas made by Ministers of the Crown between 1st July, 1959, and 30th June. 1960, taking into account the daily allowance of £12 per day paid in accordance with the Richardson report, and also the expenses of their staffs? Will he tell us also the daily allowance paid to each member of the staffs who travelled abroad?
– I think that a good deal of the information for which the honorable senator asks is contained in the accounts presented with the Budget. However, I shall examine the position. If any of the information requested is not readily available from that source, I shall direct the Treasurer’s attention to the question.
– Does the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior know whether his colleague is aware that the new offices in Perth into which federal members have been moved are not sound-proof? Will the Minister for the Interior have inquiries made as to the possibility of making the offices sound-proof, with a view to minimizing the annoyance caused by hearing telephone and other conversations taking place in adjacent rooms?
I may say, by way of explanation, that my office abuts three others, and that conversations taking place in those offices are plainly audible in my office. I presume that what happens in my room is plainly audible in other rooms.
– I shall be pleased to bring the matter before the Minister for the Interior to see whether anything can be done to overcome the difficulty.
– I ask the Minister for the Navy: Is it a fact that the age of entry to the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service has been reduced to seventeen years? What are the circumstances of this decision?
– There are no sinister circumstances behind this decision. It is quite true that the age for entry to the W.R.A.N.S. has been reduced to seventeen years. There were a couple of reasons behind that decision. In the first place, girls who have been entering at a later age have shown a regrettable tendency to get married very soon afterwards. When they marry, they are discharged from the Navy. Consequently, there is very little return for the time and money that are spent in their training and kitting. The second reason is the same as that which induced us to establish a boys’ training school at Leeuwin in Western Australia. A number of girls, when leaving school, have inquired whether they could join the Navy at that ape but have been told that they could not. They have got other jobs and later have not joined the Navy as they otherwise would have done.
– Must they leave home?
– They must leave home. At least, whether they must leave their home city depends upon its situation. But they are enlisted and billeted in the W.R.A.N.S. quarters at the various naval stations.
– Has the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior seen a letter in the “ Canberra Times “ in which it is alleged that trees are being destroyed by bulldozers in Westbourne Woods? Will he make a clear, final and definite statement on the policy in relation to that delectable place?
– I understand that Senator McCallum is alluding to the removal of trees from the Westbourne Woods area. I have been able to obtain some information from the Minister for the Interior, who has stated that I may assure the honorable senator that in no instance has approval been given for the removal of any tree which will influence the landscape effect of tree plantings made prior to the clearing of the fairways in 1950. It is true that some trees are being removed at the present time. These are trees that have been planted since 1954 in the cleared fairways of the proposed golf course. The Parks and Gardens Section is using these elsewhere in the city. The trees were planted after the west lake was dropped from the Canberra plan in 1954. They are now being removed during the appropriate season for successful transplanting in public areas in the city.
This, I might say, is a continuation of a practice that has been followed by the Parks and Gardens Section for many years. It has been the practice of that section to plant trees in dense groups so that the effect during their early growth will be more spectacular and to enable excess trees to be taken away and used for landscape treatment elsewhere. The Westbourne Woods area has always been a source of supply for such advanced trees to allow the remaining groups of trees to develop fully. I should like to repeat that not in any instance has approval been given for the removal of any tree which will influence the landscape effect of plantings carried out prior to the clearing of the fairways in 1950, and no removal of trees by the golf club will be permitted without the prior approval of the Department of the Interior.
– Has the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport received a reply yet to the question I asked in the Senate in regard to the working hours of seamen who were supposed to earn from £28 to £30 a week? Is it not a fact that the normal wage for seamen is £17 10s. a week, of which £2 10s. is taken for keep, so that in order to earn £17 10s. a week take-home money a man has to work at sea an extra sixteen normal working hours at the week-end - eight hours on Saturday at 2s. 2£d. an hour and eight hours on Sunday at 4s. 4id.? Will the Minister inform the Senate of the comparable ordinary wage rates fo> seamen under the old and new awards?
– The honorable senator refers to a question that she had on some prior occasion addressed to me as representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport. I suggest that she possibly is in error here. I remember her asking one or two questions about this matter and they were properly addressed, as I thought, to the representative in this chamber of the Minister for Labour and National Service. Possibly this question should also be directed to that honorable gentleman.
– I am sorry. 1 should have addressed the question to the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service.
– I think that probably is the correct procedure. I suggest that this question be put on the notice-paper so that a detailed answer to it may be given. The answer will show, I believe, that the inferences drawn by the honorable senator are not justified.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs, refers to the recently-published annual report of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, which includes a map showing the radio coverage of Radio Australia. It is pleasing to note that that coverage is almost world wide and certainly extends into some of the iron curtain countries. Are all the programmes that are broadcast over Radio Australia broadcast in the English language? If some foreign languages are used regularly, what are they? What proportion of the programmes is devoted to news broadcasts and talks and what proportion purely to entertainment? What types of talks, if any, are broadcast? Is the reception of these programmes overseas ever jammed or interfered with? ^’
– Not all broadcasts over Radio Australia are in English. Some broadcasts are in foreign languages and almost every foreign language is used. On the staff of the commission are people from the countries to which the broadcasts are made, such as Malaya and Viet Nam. In cases where native-born people of the country to which the broadcast is being made are not available, the services of people who can speak the particular language fluently are used. I do not know the exact proportion of news broadcasts to broadcasts of an entertainment character. An endeavour is made to maintain a ratio of news to entertainment roughly equivalent to that to which people listening to their own stations in their own countries are accustomed. Occasionally, but not constantly, there is some jamming from some countries.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Trade whether he has seen the opinion expressed by the Director of the Associated Chambers of Manufactures of Australia, Mr. Anderson, reported in the Adelaide “ Advertiser “ on Thursday, 15th September, to the effect that reimposition of import controls was possible by June, 1961, if Australia’s overseas reserves declined throughout the financial year. Is this view shared by the Government?
– The Government eliminated control of imports in the belief that its policy could be continued permanently. I see no ground for any view to the contrary.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Civil Aviation. By way of preface I point out that it is significent that the French D.C.8 jet aircraft that has just arrived in Australia is the largest aircraft yet to come here. The Minister was good enough to assure me recently that Adelaide airport was adequate to handle the Boeing jet. Will he advise me whether the larger D.C.8 aircraft can safely use Adelaide airport?
– Yes, I think it can. However, I make the reservation that, as this is a new type of aircraft operating for the first time in Australia, I should like an opportunity to check with my technical officers to ascertain whether there are any factors that would preclude the use of Adelaide airport by this aircraft. I do not think there are.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade, upon notice -
– The Minister for Trade has now informed me as follows: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The Minister for Health has now furnished the following replies: -
– On 24th August, I asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade a question without notice to which I understand he now has an answer. My question was -
Is it a fact that there is no United Kingdom Trade Commissioner office in South Australia? In view of the Government’s need to expand export trade in the next five years, the increasing need to strengthen the Commonwealth ties, and the fact that approximately 80 per cent, of the wine exported, as well as other valuable export commodities, are produced in South Australia, will the Minister take up with the United Kingdom Government the matter of establishing such an office in Adelaide as soon as possible in the hope of further developing trade with the United Kingdom?
– The Minister for Trade has now supplied the following answer: -
It is true that there is no United Kingdom Trade Commissioner office in South Australia, but the honorable senator will be interested to know that the United Kingdom High Commissioner in Australia recently announced that a trade and information office is shortly to be established in Adelaide by the United Kingdom Government.
United Kingdom trade commissioners in Aus tralia are primarily concerned with promoting exports from the United Kingdom to Australia. The promotion of exports of Australian goods to the United Kingdom is a matter for marketing boards, industry organizations and other exporters assisted by the Australian trade commissioners in the United Kingdom.
In the present financial year, the Commonwealth Government and the Australian marketing boards will spend over f A650.000 on trade promotion in the
United Kingdom. The allocation of available funds between commodities is determined by the Overseas Trade Publicity Committee, of which the chairman of the Australian Wine Board is a member. In addition to this expenditure, it is estimated that a further £850,000 will be spent during 1960-61 in the United Kingdom on trade promotion of Australian products by exporters, importers and distributors. South Australian exports to the United Kingdom will, of course, share in the benefits resulting from these expenditures.
Motion (by Senator Paltridge) agreed to -
That leave be given to introduce a bill for an act to amend the Air Navigation (Charges) Act 1952-1957.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
Standing Orders suspended.
– I move -
That the bill be nowread a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to secure from the air transport industry a greater contribution towards the cost to the Commonwealth of providing and operating civil aviation facilities. This aim was outlined by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) in his recent Budget speech. Honorable senators will be aware that as civil aviation has developed there has been a concurrent increase in the complexity - and, of course, in the cost - of the facilities needed by the industry. Technology developments in aircraft have been remarkable over the past ten years or so, and our facilities in the shape of airports, navigational aids and traffic control systems have had to keep pace. The demand for air transport has grown significantly and in a huge country such as ours it is fitting that it should continue to grow. Nevertheless, such growth has caused and will continue to cause a requirement for greater expenditure on facilities, and while we have been aware of the gap between revenues received and expenditure incurred, the condition of the industry during the last decade has not been, for the most part, one which could reasonably support additional charges.
In 1957 air navigation charges were increased by 10 per cent, for the first time since the Air Navigation (Charges) Act 1952 came into force. In introducing the 1957 legislation, it was indicated that “it was proposed to keep the scale of charges under periodical review with the object of progressively reducing the gap between the cost of providing facilities and the revenue obtained from the users “. The latest review indicates that the industry is now in a position to support an increase in charges of the order set out in the bill. The proposed increase will in a full year increase revenue by £450,000 and represents an average increase of more than 60 per cent.
Using a very strict basis of commercial accounting - which would include an amount of more than £4,000,000 for such “ invisible “ items as depreciation, interest, superannuation liability and so on - it would, indeed, be correct to say that the airports and air navigational and safety facilities provided by the Department of Civil Aviation and used by civil aircraft in this country are currently costing the Commonwealth about £13,000,000 a year to operate and maintain. Nevertheless, it is difficult to say just how much of this amount is properly attributable to the services which the department provides exclusively for use by civil aircraft as against possible use by aircraft in times of national emergency. Furthermore, we certainly would not have opened up uneconomical outback routes if profit and loss rather than development of this country were the yardstick of their desirability. It is axiomatic that a strong civil aviation industry is a vital instrument of national development. This latter role played by airways facilities in out-back development needs little emphasis from me, but it is perhaps not inappropriate for me to add that even along the heavily populated coastal belt there is a great contribution to the national development of this country by the avilability of a safe and swift method of transport and communications currently used by approximately 2,000,000 passengers annually.
There are other elements of the total cost of £13,000,000 per annum mentioned earlier which it could be argued are not properly attributable to the business of civil aviation. For example, debatable “ commercial “ costs at present in this figure include air traffic control and meteorological expenditure to ensure safety of flight as well as search and rescue expenditure. Thus on several counts, it is a matter of judgment just how much of this £13,000,000 is properly attributable to the business side’ of civil aviation. Nevertheless, whatever portion of this am’ount is considered as attributable to providing facilities for which the industry should ultimately pay in full, it is by any reckoning substantially greater than the amount now being recovered.
At the present time, the industry is contributing to costs at the rate of £700,000 per annum by way of air navigation charges. Without any doubt, this figure falls short of the attributable cost of facilities, even after taking into account the fact that the industry also pays £1,200,000 in fuel tax. Fuel tax is not an equitable method of recovering the cost of facilities because international airlines, for which storrie of the most expensive facilities are provided, are exempt from any fuel tax payments in respect of fuel used on international flights. Nevertheless, it would not be right to give the impression that the industry makes no payment to the Commonwealth other than the £700,000 in air navigation charges. There is, of course, further revenue contained in the printed Estimates under the heading of Miscellaneous amounting to some £500,000 which the department receives from many sources including rents from property, parking fees, /and business concessions, which in due course will more than offset the cost of gaining it.
It will be observed that the bill continues the basis of charging used in the present act. Under the present arrangements - the Air Navigation (Charges) Act 1952- 1957 - the airlines pay a charge for each flight representing the product of the route rating and the aircraft unit charge. The existing scale of aircraft unit charges is 4.125d. per 1000 lb. of all-up weight for aircraft not exceeding 20,000 lb. and 5.775d. per 1000 lb. for aircraft in excess of that weight. A route rating is based on the nature of the facilities provided on the route and is prescribed for each route in the schedules to the Air Navigation (Charges) Act.
The weight of an aircraft, of course, has a precise relationship to the work on which it is employed, and also has an obvious impact on the cost of airports provided for its use. Accordingly, where the present act sets out only two categories of aircraft - that is, machines of up to 20,000 lb. all-up weight, and machines of greater than 20,000 lb. - it is now proposed to employ four categories. Aircraft of less than 25,000 lb. all-up weight - and this category includes virtually all aircraft used in the private and small charter field’s and may later include aircraft in outback feeder operations - will incur only a nominal increase in charges. Aircraft used mainly on rural services will incur a not very substantial increase. Aircraft which might be described as second-line trunk-route equipment will make a fairly large additional contribution, while the heavy aircraft in the front line domestic category and the heavy international jets will - as is just - make the greatest contribution, lt is estimated that the new charges will increase recoveries by £450,000 in a full year, and by about £300,000 in the current year.
The only other amendment proposed is in the schedule prescribing the route ratings. The purpose of this amendment is to bring the table in the present act up to date by omitting certain routes which are no longer operated on a regular basis and inserting new routes mainly in the PapuaNew Guinea area.
As indicated in the Budget speech, it is proposed to review air navigation charges annually with the aim of increasing the scale of rates as the air transport industry moves along the road towards economic maturity and is able to demonstrate its capacity to pay. Ultimately, and as a long range plan, it is hoped that the industry will be able to absorb the cost of all charges properly attributable to it. While progressing to this desirable end further increases in charges will be planned with care and discretion, and will take into account the capacity of the industry to bear increased charges, and will also ensure that any such increase does not lead to increases in fares which would unduly retard the growth and development of our air transport system. I recommend the bill.
Debate (on motion by Senator McKenna adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Cole) agreed to-
That leave be given to introduce a bill for an act relating to the making of payments to or for the purposes of political parties by industrial organizations registered under a law of the Commonwealth, and for other purposes.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
Motion (by Senator Spooner) agreed to -
That Government business take precedence of general business after 8 p.m. this sitting.
Bill received from the House of Represenatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Sir Walter Cooper) read a first time.
[12.1]. - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Seven hundred thousand Australian citizens will directly benefit from the bill 1 bring before the Senate. An element of the means test that has been in existence for 50 years will be swept away. Women whose husbands are in prison will be treated as widows and a number of machinery amendments will clarify and amplify existing provisions of the law.
The bill increases the maximum general rate of age, invalid and widows’ pensions by 5s. a week. This will bring the new maximum general rates of pensions for the aged, and for invalids to £5 a week and for widows with children, to £5 5s. a week. For widows without children the rate will be increased to £4 7s. 6d. a week. For invalid and widow pensioners and for permanently incapacitated age pensioners the actual maximum pension payable will continue to be increased by a further 10s. a week for each child after the first and, for all pensioners qualified to receive supplementary assistance, by a further 10s. a week in addition to the rates I have given. These additional payments for children and for qualified pensioners who pay rent, were introduced by this Government in 1956 and 1958 respectively. As well as these additional payments the Government has introduced free medical treatment and free pharmaceutical benefits which are received by the majority of pensioners. More and more pensioners are being accommodated in aged persons’ homes which have been built with funds subsidized by this Government under a measure introduced by this Government. For the purpose of comparison I will not include these various additional payments and benefits which now augment the maximum general rate pension and which increase its value as compared with the bare maximum rate of a decade ago.
The bill provides that women whose husbands have been imprisoned for at least six months will be treated in exactly the same way as widows. At present, if they have children, they are at a disadvantage in that the rate of pension paid to them is the same as that paid to class B widows - that is, generally to widows 50 years of age or over who have no children. In future those with children will receive the same rate of pension and will be subject to the same means test as class A widows. The rate payable to them will be increased by the bill from the present £4 2s. 6d. a week to £5 5s. a week - an increase of £1 2s. 6d. They will, of course, become entitled to an additional 10s. a week for each child after the first. This is not now payable to them. Women whose husbands have been imprisoned for six months and who are over 50 years of age and who have no children will in future rank as class B widows. This will not benefit them financially but any stigma that might be thought to attach to them as a separate class will be removed.
I now pass to the most important structural change in our social services that has occurred since pensions were first introduced in 1909. I refer to the new means test that will apply to age, invalid and widows’ pensions. In the bill before us we break new ground. An entirely new means test is introduced by which the property test and the income test are married into one composite means test that we propose to refer to as the merged means test. Under it an amount equal to £1 for each complete £10 of the value of a person’s property will be added to his income. The amount by which this aggregate exceeds £182 per annum - which is the present rate of permissible income - will be deducted from the maximum rate of pension to ascertain the amount payable in any particular case.
The new means test thus has two components - a property component and an income component. The property component is £1 for each complete £10 of property in excess of the amount disregarded. The income component is the annual rate of income, which, of course, will continue to exclude income from property that a person receives. The aggregate of these two components called means as assessed is the amount that will be taken into account in determining the rate of pension payable.
Perhaps a shorter and more convenient way of determining the annual rate of pension payable in any particular case is to deduct means as assessed - which I have just described - from the sum of the maximum general rate of pension and the present permissible income. Therefore in the case of an age or invalid pensioner means as assessed should be deducted from £442, in the case of a class A widow with children from £455, and from £409 10s. in the case of other widows. The actual rate payable cannot, of course, exceed the maximum rate fixed by the act.
There are a few short technical points which I should like to mention here. The nature of income to be taken into account remains exactly the same as it is at present. For example, income from property will continue to be disregarded. The amount of income taken into account will also remain as at present; that is, any income component will be reduced by £26 a year for each child, less any payment, apart from child endowment and child allowance, received for the child before the means test is applied.
The phrase “ permissible income “ - which incidentally is not now in the act - will cease to represent a fixed amount for all cases. Inasmuch as it is now used to mean the amount of income a person may receive and still receive a pension unaffected in rate because of income, that situation will cease to exist. The rale of income that may be received for any given rate of pension payable will depend on the amount of property owned. This is in keeping with the new means test under which there is an interchangeability between property and income, and the two are brought into balance. So much for income.
On the property side, the present provision whereby a person is disqualified from pension if the value of his property exceeds £2,250 will be abolished. The kind of property disregarded will remain as at present, for example, a pensioner’s home and personal effects will be disregarded. In the case of age, invalid and class B widows £200 will continue to be disregarded. In the case of a widow with children property to the value of £2,250 is at present, in effect, disregarded; where the value of her property exceeds that amount no pension is payable. Under the merged means test, where the value of her property does not exceed £2,250 it will continue to be disregarded. If the value of her property exceeds £2,250, £1,000 of the value of her property will be disregarded.
For the record, I will give a few figures. An age, invalid or widow pensioner without children who has income from no source other than that from property, may have property to the value of £2,020 and receive a maximum general rate pension. A widow with children, similarly situated, may have property up to the value of £2,250 and receive a maximum rate pension. If the value of her property exceeds £2,250 she may have £2,820 and receive a pension at the maximum rate. A person who has no income, other than income from property, may have property to the value of £4,620 before he ceases to be qualified to receive some age or invalid pension.
A widow with children and no income other than from property, may have property to the value of £5,550, and a widow without children may have property to the value of £4,300, before she ceases to be qualified to receive some widow’s pension. The merged means test will also be applied to wives’ allowances. All figures given to the Senate should be doubled in the case of a married age or invalid pensioner. Thus, a married couple may have property to the value of £9,240 before- being disqualified from drawing some pension if they have income from no source Other than that property.
The figures and technical points I have given to you, Mr. Acting Deputy President, and to honorable senators, open up prospects that will rid us of many of those attributes of the means test that have been oppressive to many and which have been harmful to our economy. People who have made savings will no longer strive in various ways to dispose of those savings in order to qualify for a pension. A person who now has property a little in excess of £2,250 would at current rates of interest receive an income of about £112 a year and yet be disqualified for a pension. He would have to exhaust his savings progressively on the needs of day-to-day life, or alternatively find some source of expenditure, such as luxury or semi-luxury spending, so as to bring himself within the pension field. The department has many examples of persons endeavouring to reduce their capital so that they may draw a pension which, together with their other income, will give them enough on which to live.
The absolute disqualifying limit of the new means test is £4,620 which, at current rates of, say, 5 per cent., will yield an income of some £230 a year. This falls little short of the proposed maximum general rate for age and invalid pensions. Let us hope that we shall hear no more those phrases “ penalty on thrift “ and “ saving oneself out of a pension “. Let us hope instead that a positive incentive will be given to a large body of small savers to make their contribution to the welfare of our economy without thereby losing the entitlement to receive a pension.
We may expect also that the new means test will play a part in making more houses available. Since a pensioner’s home is now disregarded in the application of the means test, many pensioners who own homes that are too large or have become unsuitable, are unwilling to sell, since the proceeds of the sale might debar them from continuing to receive a pension. In the future, many pensioners so placed will be able to make more appropriate living arrangements that will permit them to continue to draw a pension and will release their former dwellings to others who are seeking homes.
The estimate is that some 100,000 existing pensioners will benefit from the new means, test. It is probable that about 20,000 persons now disqualified for pensions will receive pensions for the first time. I must, however, strike a note of caution on this figure. There is no data on which estimates can be made of the income and property of persons now outside the pension field. The figure 20,000 is the best guess the department is able to make. In the event, the figure may be more or less. Since the incentive to dispose of savings largely will be removed, it may be expected that there will be some change in the pattern of pensioners’ means in the future. The new pattern of pensioners, leaving out of account economic trends, may be expected to. include more persons with moderate amounts of property who, under the existing means test, would have dispossessed themselves of that property.
Mr. Acting Deputy President, the bill represents a great and progressive stride in the field of social services, lt will, I believe, remove the present major causes of dissatisfaction with the means test, in particular the means test on property. Not only will it benefit pensioners and future pensioners, but it will be of some benefit to our economy in that it will contribute to increased savings. In addition, it will play a part in developing further our national characteristics of self-reliance and sturdy independence.
The bill includes a number of machinery amendments, not involving any additional cost. Their object is to strengthen and clarify certain provisions in the principal act in the light of departmental experience and advice received from the Commonwealth legal authorities. I shall mention these only briefly, as they will be dealt with in more detail during the committee stage of the bill. One such amendment relates to the recovery of sickness benefit and also the cost of rehabilitation treatment and training when a person has received compensation or damages. It is only reasonable that when a person has received an award of compensation or damages he should be expected to repay to the Commonwealth the cost of the benefits and services received by him. The bill will strengthen the existing provisions by enabling recovery to be effected from the insurance company with whom the person liable to pay compensation or damages is insured.
Another amendment is concerned with the provisions under which pensioners are required to notify the department of receipt of income or property and of other changes in their circumstances which will affect their entitlement to pension. The act now requires a pensioner who has received certain income throughout a period of eight consecutive weeks to notify the department within fourteen days after the expiration of that period. As a result of the new merged means test, it will be necessary for the department to be notified in some cases at shorter notice. The provision therefore has been amended to meet cases of this kind, and the opportunity has been taken at the same time to clarify and strengthen the relevant section in the light of advice received from the AttorneyGeneral’s Department.
The section relating to prosecution for offences against the act is amended, with the object of clarifying and simplifying the procedures. This follows suggestions made by the Crown Solicitor’s Office. Provision is also being made for persons authorized by the director-general to give the actual written consent to a prosecution for an offence. Administrative instructions will be given so that the State directors will give this consent, but only after the Minister or the director-general has approved of the prosecution in the particular case concerned.
Another machinery amendment will permit an overpayment of pension, allowance, endowment or benefit to be adjusted by deductions from future instalments of the same pension, allowance or benefit. Power to do this already exists in another provision of the act, and the amendment puts the power in the logical place.
Finally, there is an amendment which will allow small items of capital expenditure under the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service which do not exceed £200 to be charged to the National Welfare Fund. This proposal is the outcome of discussions with the Treasury and the Commonwealth Audit Office.
It is proposed that the increases in pension rates provided by the bill will come into operation on the pay-days following the Royal Assent. These pay-days are expected to be 6th October for age and invalid pensioners and 11th October for widows.. The increases include those payable to existing class D widows who will become eligible for increased rates as class A widows. The Budget estimates have been prepared on this basis. The machinery amendments will come into operation on the day of the Royal Assent.
It will take some time for the Department of Social Services to make the necessary administrative arrangements for the introduction of the new means test. The bill provides, therefore, that the provisions relating to the merged means test will come into operation on a date to be proclaimed. It is hoped that this will be early in March, 1961.
The bill includes a “ savings clause “ for widows who have no children. For these widows, the present scale of reduction on account of property is £1 for each complete £12 of property above £200 up to £1,750 and thereafter £1 for each complete £10 up to the disqualifying limit of £2,250. Under the merged means test, a common scale of reduction of £1 for £10 is adopted throughout for age, invalid and widow pensions. As a result, some vidow pensioners with property whose incomes exceed £156 a year would receive lower pensions under the merged means test than under the existing means test. The largest difference could be £26 in the case of a widow with income of £182 a year - or more - and property of £1,750 or more. The “ savings clause “ will prevent any reduction merely because of the merged means test in existing pensions being paid when the provisions relating to the means test come into operation.
The increases in rates and the merged means test will add some £13,300,000 to the cost of social services for a full year. It will add £8,500,000 for the year 1960-61. The total expenditure under the Social Services Act will rise from over £233,500,000 in 1959-60 to nearly £257,000,000 in 1960-61. This total increase of nearly £23,500,000 is accounted for by the additional costs arising from the bill, the costs of the natural increase in population, the full year cost of last year’s increases and other factors. Total expenditure from the
National Welfare Fund is estimated to increase from £299,400,000 to £330,700,000, or over £31,000,000. This does not include appropriations to meet expenditure under the Aged Persons Homes Act and certain payments to the States for expenditure for tuberculosis and mental hospitals.
Mr. Acting Deputy President, it is an honour for all here to-day to play a part in the passage of the bill before the Senate. This is a proud moment for the Government, whose progressive economic policy has enabled the people of Australia to afford the huge costs involved. When the history of social services in Australia is brought up to date - that is a task yet to be done - this day and this Parliament and this bill before the Senate will be remembered. T commend the bill to the Senate.
– I regret very much that it is necessary for us to proceed immediately to debase this bill before every honorable senator has had sufficient time to study fully its very complicated provisions. I feel that the dignity of this Parliament would have been enhanced if adequate time had been afforded to us to consider these matters fully. Furthermore, I believe that honorable senators are entitled to adequate time for that purpose. If Parliament had sat last week, there would have been ample time for the discussion of this important measure. As we did not sit, and in order that the payments to pensioners due to be made from next week will not be delayed, it is necessary for the bill to be passed to-day so that it may receive the Royal Assent before the pension pay-day next week. I suggest to the Government that in future when any bill of such importance is presented the Parliament should not rise until the bill has been fully discussed by both Houses.
As it is necessary, because of lack of time, to continue immediately with the discussion of the bill, I say at the outset that we, as an Opposition, are very disappointed with it. Quite early in the year, when we made certain suggestions with regard to social services, we were told that that was not the proper time to make suggestions, and that such matters would be discussed and considered when the Budget was in preparation. Now, however, when the Budget is a fait accompli, we find that none of the suggestions we made has been incorporated in this legislation. From time to time when we express an interest in pensioners and their affairs and in social services generally, we are told that we are merely trying to make political capital out of the misfortunes of others. I do not want it to be thought that that is so, because our interest in social services and in the recipients of benefits is genuine and sincere. Therefore, we regret very much that the Government has not seen fit, at this stage of the development of Australia Unlimited, about which we heard so much last night, to do more for those members of the community to whom the various provisions of this bill apply.
Because we do not think that the Government has gone far enough in its social services legislation, I foreshadow the following amendment: -
Leave out all words after “ That “, insert - “ the bill be withdrawn and redrafted to provide among other social service benefits increased amounts for dependent wives of invalids and old age pensioners, and increased rates of child endowment, also to provide social service payments generally more adequate to meet present living costs and representing a fair and reasonable share of the national income - such rates to take effect as from the first pension day in July, 1960 “.
Having outlined the amendment, I should like to direct the Senate’s attention to certain salient features of the bill upon which the amendment is based. First and foremost, the bill, like the curate’s egg, is good in parts. We welcome those provisions which provide some amelioration of the conditions of pensioners. As a woman, I am particularly pleased with the proposed complete elimination of the category of D class widow. I think that in that provision we see the hand of Roberton, whereas in other aspects of the bill we hear the voice of Holt. I do not altogether blame the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) for the failure to extend the provisions in relation to pensions, because I feel that he is sympathetic in this regard. But he is bound by the amount of money made available to him by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) for this purpose. The elimination of the category of D class widow will remove a stigma from innocent persons, and this is in accordance with what I have come to expect from the Minister in his dealings with pensioners over the years. I am very pleased that this is being done. 1 cannot see how any Government supporter can find any satisfaction, such as was evinced by Senator Sir Walter Cooper in his closing remarks, in the introduction of a bill in which no provision is made for increasing the allowance to the wife of an invalid pensioner, who is still expected to exist on £1 15s. a week. For purposes of the unemployment and sickness benefit - which, by the way, is not altered at all - the wife’s allowance is £2 7s. 6d. a week, although it applies only during periods of temporary unemployment or sickness. What is worse is that a de facto wife, who is sometimes dignified by the name of housekeeper, is also allowed £2 7s. 6d. a week. But the wife of an invalid pensioner who, year in year out, has to attend to the needs of her invalid husband is not to receive any increase of the £1 15s. a week Which is all that this Government thinks she is worth and upon which she has to live.
I remember that when this matter was before the Senate previously I suggested that limiting the wife’s allowance to £1 15s. a week in effect decreased considerably the amount of an invalid pension. We have heard a lot about merged incomes. Merging the invalid pension and the wife’s allowance, and dividing the total by two - which is about as far as my mathematical ability will take me - we find that the invalid pension is more than halved. The Government in applying the means test to husband and wife, has established the principle of adding the amounts of their respective property and incomes and halving the total in order to calculate their entitlement. The Government realizes that the means of a husband and wife are common property. Applying this principle to an invalid pension of £5 a week and a wife’s allowance of £1 15s. a week, we find that the income of each is less than £3 10s. a week. I am amazed that Government supporters have not raised their voices in protest against this in their party rooms. No one person can take full responsibility for this injustice. lt rests upon every member of the Government parties. It is infamous to expect a woman to exist on £1 15s. a week, to provide the necessary nursing and other care for her invalid husband and to remain decent. Others, who do not undertake these extra tasks, receive £2 7s. 6d. a week under other provisions of the legislation.
Under the Budget only age, invalid and widows’ pensions are to be increased. The partial amelioration on the means test will bring into the pension field some people who hitherto were denied these benefits. We agree with that course. We think it is quite a step forward but it still does not get to the heart of the matter. More should be done for the base pensioner who has nothing but his pension. Not one penny more is to be added to the allowance for a widow who is trying to bring up children. I make a special plea on behalf of widow pensioners, who, I feel, are forgotten members of the community. They are doing a tremendous job in being, in effect, both mother and father to their children, and bringing them up on such a depleted income that it is a miracle that the children survive at all. We know, of course, that the mothers themselves go without, in order that the children may have the best that the mothers can give them. Apart altogether from the humane aspect, it is very shortsighted of the Government to treat some of our best potential citizens in this way.
The children of widowed mothers very often have to leave school at fourteen years of age and are not able to go on to higher education because they have to get a job. It is true, of course, that scholarships are available. I have met kiddies who have been eager to get a job in order to help their mothers, even though, they have realized that by doing so they have allowed great opportunities to go by. I know there are night schools to which they can go. But if higher education is to be of any use at all, surely it should be available to all those who can profit by it and not only to those whose people can afford to give it to them.. I make a special plea for the children of civilian widows.
I ask you, Mr. Acting Deputy President, how in the world we as members of the Senate can derive any satisfaction from a bill which does not seek to improve the lot of the civilian widow beyond giving her an extra 5s. a week. That sum would not buy a dozen eggs. Even here in Canberra a few weeks ago it would not have bought even half a pound of steak. An increase of 5s. a week is an increase of 9d. a day. I realize, of course, that it is more than was given to widows years ago. Tn the past they got nothing at all. I can well recall when the Labour Government, during the last war, introduced the widow’s pension. When delivering his second-reading speech in another place, the Minister for Social Services derived great satisfaction from saying that at various times the Liberal-Australian Country Party Government had done more in the giving of social services than had any other government. It is definitely not true that this Government has done more than any other government, except in relation to age pensions and child endowment. They are the two main reforms that have been instituted by non-Labour governments. This Government has introduced other minor benefits, but apart from those I have mentioned all the other social service benefits have been introduced by a Labour government. The proof of that statement is contained in a booklet which was issued by this Government and the Minister himself and in which are set out the dates of the introduction of the various social service benefits. Honorable senators need to know only a little about the history of the Commonwealth to be able to determine from those dates which governments were in office at the time the particular benefits were introduced.
It is interesting to note the attitude of a fellow Western Australian when the age pension was introduced. The present Government gives the credit for the introduction of the age pension to an antiLabour government. When supporters of the Government say that, they are talking with their tongues in their cheeks. The introduction of an age pension was always a plank of the Labour Party’s platform. When the pension was introduced/, the Labour Party was still in its infancy and did not have sufficient numbers in the Parliament. But it did suggest to the government of the day that it would withdraw its support unless the government introduced an age pension scheme. If honorable senators opposite do not believe me, let them refer to the “ Hansard “ report of 3rd June, 1908. On that day, Lord Forrest, about the removal of whose portrait from the King’s Hall some time ago there was an outcry and who was the first person to bring a Western Australian atmosphere into the parliamentary halls, had this to say -
We all know that this bill has been hurried forward practically by the Labour Party. They have told the Government “ If you do not introduce it, out of office you must go “, and, in reply, the Government say, “ Do not shoot. Colonel, and we will come down “.
I repeat that those were the very words uttered by Lord Forrest on 3rd June, 1908.
– But we read a lot of statements in “ Hansard “ that are not absolutely true.
– That statement has stood the test of time; it has never been refuted by members of the present Government or any other government. But 1 rely not only upon the report in “ Hansard “, the reports of which are most reliable. I rely also upon the original letter that was written by Alfred Deakin, the Prime Minister of the day, to AndrewFisher, undertaking to introduce an age pension scheme if his party were given the support of the Labour Party in forming a government. The original letter is in the archives of the Labour Party, and it cannot be suggested that it is not genuine. So we have proof of what I have said. In any case, I do not care who introduced the age pension scheme,’ as long as it was introduced. At that time the payment was only 10s. a week. Because of changes in the value of money from time to time, it has naturally followed that the value of the pension has been increased. I should have said that the amount was increased, because what is of importance is not how much money one gets but its value as a medium of exchange.
To-day there is an outcry from some sections of the community who want the pension to be related in some way to the basic wage. There are arguments for and against the adoption of that suggestion. The reason why some people support it is that the basic wage is the yardstick most commonly understood in such circles. They regard it as being something definite on which to base their comparison. Such a basis of comparison, of course, can be misleading. But it is the only yardstick we have, and it is interesting to note the comparisons that have been made by various governments between the rates of pension and the ruling wage rates. The average basic wage at the present time for the six States is £13 16s. a week. But that would not have been the basic wage if the Government had not intervened in the federal basic wage case before the
Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and if quarterly cost of living adjustments had not been stopped. But even if we adopt the average basic wage of £13 16s. a week for the purpose of comparison, we see that the pension, which this rise of 5s. will take to £5 a week, is very much less than the 40 per cent, of the basic wage that it has been suggested should be adopted in fixing the pension.
Let me refer also to the supplementary allowance that is payable to pensioners who live alone. There is a wide divergence of opinion about the wisdom of giving an extra 10s. a week to people who are living alone and who have to pay rent. All kinds of anomalies creep into the situation. The greatest anomaly exists in regard to the civilian widow. I have mentioned this matter before in the Senate and I intend to continue mentioning it until something is done. If honorable senators opposite are sick and tired of hearing me refer to it, they have the remedy in their own hands. They should do something to alleviate the position of the civilian widow. When something is done I shall be the first person to say “Thank you”, and I shall then keep quiet about it. An anomaly exists in regard to a widow who has children and who is trying to keep up the payments on her house, as she must do if she is to retain a shelter over their heads. It is very difficult to rent a house even if one has not children, but it is absolutely impossible if one has children. Generally speaking, houses are not made available to people who have children. In any case, the rents demanded to-day are so high that a widow simply cannot pay them. Perhaps some one is tempted to say, “ There are plenty of places available for renting”. That is so. For instance, one can get a suite at the Hotel Chevron Hilton for £220 a week if one wants it. That accommodation is available, but it is available at a price.
Very little accommodation is available at a rental which is within the range of a widow’s pension. If accommodation is available, it is sub-standard. Although in some States it is a criminal offence to write into agreements a clause that children will not be allowed to share the accommodation being rented, we know that such agreements are being concluded. So, very often a widow, in order to keep a roof over her head and over the heads of her family, tries to pay off a home upon which perhaps only a small deposit has been paid. Immediately she does that she loses entitlement to the supplementary allowance of 10s. a week.
Sitting suspended from 1.45 to 2.15 p.m.
– Mr. Deputy President, when the sitting was suspended I was discussing the plight of civilian widows. This bill provides for an increase of 5s. a week in their pension, but the amount that they will now receive is still far short of what is needed to provide social justice. Another matter that calls for some attention is the supplementary rent allowance. Many widows are forced to buy a home on which they make regular weekly payments. They are not regarded by the Department of Social Services as paying rent and accordingly they are not entitled to the supplementary rent allowance. But very often they are paying more to keep a roof over their heads than are widows who have been able to rent a room. It is obvious that not many pensioners can qualify for the supplementary rent allowance because up to twelve months ago only 12 per cent, of civilian widow pensioners were receiving the allowance. I concede that the latest report of the Department of Social Services shows that the figure has increased to 21 per cent, but that still means that a great many widow pensioners are not receiving the 10s. supplementary rent allowance.
I again make a plea to the Government to do something to assist the civilian widows who have children. I am particularly concerned about the plight of these people. I want to see them get a fair deal. Not one of us on this side of the Senate would for a moment advocate curtailing Australia’s immigration programme, which was set in motion by a Labour government, but if we can spend such vast sums of money on immigration surely we can find more money to assist civilian widows to rear their children decently. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) has often said that in addition to her pension a civilian widow receives child endowment and may have a separate income. Her total income may amount to, I think, £12 15s. a week. But it is wrong in my view to suggest that widows should go out to work, because the aim and intention of the widows’ pension is to enable a mother to stay at home and look af.er her children. Supposing a widow did wish to earn an extra £5 a week. What kind of job could she get at £5 a week? The only jobs available would be office cleaning and laundry work. To-day the old-fashioned job of washing dirty linen has disappeared with the advent of the modern washing machine. Suitable avenues of employment are not readily available to widows. Widows should not be required to go out to work. Their place is in the home to look after their children before and after school hours. If children do not have the guidance of a parent at those times they are likely to drift into delinquency. We all know what a major social problem juvenile delinquency has become in this country.
Under the Repatriation Act the widow of an ex-serviceman is given a domestic allowance so that she may devote her attention to rearing her children. I should like to see this practice extended. We have adopted the principle of paying a supplementary allowance to pensioners who pay rent. Surely the Government could provide a supplementary domestic allowance to civilian widows who are looking after their children and who have no source of income other than their pension. The provision of such an allowance would not cost a lot of money. We know that civilian widows face a big decision when their children reach high-school age. We do not know how many potentially brilliant business, professional and scientific men have been lost to the community because their widowed mothers were not able to keep them at school beyond the minimum leaving age. The widow who is able to send her son to high school must decide on what course he shall embark. She must outfit him for school. That is a big job. I am amazed at the cost of keeping a child at a secondary school. I know of cases where it is costing parents £7 or £8 a week to send their children to secondary schools. I thought that those parents were lucky to be able to afford to send their children to secondary schools. That sum is more than a widow gets to keep herself and her children in all necessaries of life.
I ask the Minister to bear in mind the cost of completely outfitting a child for school.
Nothing has a more detrimental effect on the morale of a school child than being different from other children. I was teaching when child endowment was introduced. I remember how overjoyed one little girl was when she was able to come to school in her own sandshoes for drill. She thought it was marvellous that she did not have to go without sandshoes or borrow some other child’s shoes. Nothing upsets a child more than to feel that he or she is different from other children. Widows whose children reach high school age are faced with the problem of providing uniforms, because school leaving age varies from fourteen to sixteen years. Under the Repatriation Act some measure of assistance is given in those circumstances by the granting of a uniform allowance. I think the Minister for Social Services should confer with the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Sir Walter Cooper), from whom he may obtain many useful ideas that could be applied with practicality to social services generally. The improvements that I am suggesting would not cost millions of pounds. If my suggestions were put into effect the cost would not be a very great proportion of the national expenditure. The cost would be small compared with that of other items of public expenditure, but the benefit to pensioners would be immense. I hope that I am still in this Parliament when civilian widows receive social justice and a payment that is at least in keeping with the excellent part they play in the community.
Let me say a few words about some other aspects of social services. The unemployment and sickness benefit was introduced during war time by a Labour government. The legislation now before the Senate does not provide for any increase in that benefit. The funeral benefit has not been increased since the day it was introduced by a Labour government. It still stands at £10. You cannot get much of a funeral for £10. I do not mind what happens to my body after I am dead, but somebody will have to bury me after a few days if for no other reason than their own comfort. A majority of pensioners would like to have a decent burial. Many of them are forced to contribute to a funeral fund. I know people who have gone without something they needed in order to pay their contributions to a funeral benefit fund because they wanted to have a good send-off, as I heard it put on one occasion. However, that is beside the point. The funeral benefit should be more in keeping with the cost of funerals to-day. If the Minister does not believe what I am saying, I would like him to accompany me to a pauper’s funeral, which would speak much more eloquently than any words I use to try to convey my meaning to the Senate.
The maternity allowance was also introduced by a Labour government, much to the dismay and against the wishes of the Liberal Party of the day whose members thought it would encourage immorality. As I have said previously in this chamber, you could not expect anybody to be very immoral for £5. In any case, it would not be the immoral people who would receive the maternity allowance. That payment has not been increased by this Government, either. I believe an anomaly exists in relation to the maternity allowance in the case of a multiple birth. Recently I was approached by a lady who, very fortunately, I think, was the mother of twins. She told me that she was the third woman in her street to become the mother of twins in a month. She said to me, “What should I do?”. I said, “ Move “. She felt that the maternity bonus which is given in the case of a single birth should be given for each child in a multiple birth. In respect of twins a double expenditure is incurred. It is said that you can feed two mouths more cheaply than one, but two prams cost more than one pram, and the mother of twins has to buy two of everything that is required by a child. I have met several mothers who are concerned about this problem in connexion with multiple births. In respect of triplets or quadruplets the problem is accentuated. It is all right when quintuplets are born because the newspapers come to the assistance of the parents. It becomes quite an asset to have four or five children at one time; but with triplets or twins it is your own problem. In Australia in the last few years, as we have seen in the press, the birth of quadruplets has become quite an asset. The newspapers and other commercial firms have rushed in to help by giving their products to the parents of the children. The problems of the mother who has had four small children in single births, or twins and two single births, are much greater than those of the mother who has four children at one time. It is much more difficult to look after four children of various ages than four children of the same age.
I appeal to the Government to assist in this respect, not only with an increased maternity allowance for mothers who are faced with the problems associated with multiple births but also with an increase in the home-help scheme. Only £1,000 a year is given to Western Australia under this scheme to pay for home-help provided by people who are willing to go into homes and assist mothers in times of illness or after the birth of a child. I should like to see a larger vote made for this very important home service. At present the grant is only a few thousand pounds a year for the whole of Australia.
I pass from the maternity allowance to child endowment. I know that Government senators will smirk and say: “ This is one thing we have to our credit. You cannot say anything about it.” I admit that child endowment was introduced by a nonLabour government, but as the Government knows, the first government in Australia to introduce child endowment was the Lang Labour Government in New South Wales. Then, in 1929, Mr. Curtin and Mrs. Muscio, who were members of a commission inquiring into child endowment, issued a minority report to the Federal government of the day advocating the introduction of child endowment. It was not introduced until about twelve years later, and then only in the dying months of a parliament and with the complete accord of the Australian Labour Party. However, I give full credit to the government of the day for introducing the payment, although we all know the story behind its introduction. Even the Minister himself admitted in his second-reading speech to-day that the Government had to make a decision between increasing the basic wage or granting child endowment. Child endowment was regarded as the lesser of two evils, and so it was introduced. I am glad it was introduced when I see how it has affected thousands and thousands of homes throughout Australia and particularly when I see its effect on the children I taught and the direct effect it had upon their lives.
I become very annoyed when I hear people talk about mothers wasting child endowment. For every mother who might waste it there are at least 1,000 others who do not do so. For that very reason I believe it is money which is very well spent. All but the first child were endowed at that stage, and later a Liberal government endowed the first child. I feel we made a mistake in not doing so earlier, but we did increase the payment made for the second child and subesquent children. Those payments have not been increased since that time. The only alteration has been the endowment payment of 5s. for the first child.
The payments made by way of child endowment are now woefully inadequate to meet the needs they were intended to meet when they were introduced in 1941. In order to compensate for the current value of money, they should be at least quadrupled. The Minister says that such an increase would cost millions and millions of pounds, but it would not. There might be a payment by the department of millions of pounds but all that money would come back in circulation. I know that most mothers are waiting to receive their child endowment in order to spend it on necessaries for their children. The Government gets a big rake-off in sales tax and other indirect taxes on goods which mothers buy for their children with their endowment payments. So the Government cannot say that these proposals, if implemented, would cost an absolute amount and there would definitely be no return for the money spent.
The same position applies in respect of age and invalid pensions. They are not direct payments for which the Government receives nothing in return. A large part of those payments is received back into the Treasury. I would say that 100 per cent, of all child endowment and age pensions immediately comes back into circulation in the purchase of goods. The pensioner is waiting for pension day, not so that he can put his pension into a bank account and gradually increase his balance to a couple of thousand pounds; he is waiting for pension day so that he can buy something to eat, Or so that he can make the final payment on his overcoat for the winter, or so that he can pay for a load of wood, or something for his room. I say that you cannot take the cost of these services as being absolute. It may be an absolute payment from’ the viewpoint of the Department of Social Services, but it is not so from the viewpoint of the Government because whether one is a pensioner or the wealthiest capitalist in the country, one pays exactly the same amount of sales tax and other indirect tax on any goods one buys.
There is no section of the Australian community to-day which pays a higher proportion of its income back to the Government in indirect taxation than do the pensioners and the other recipients of social service benefits. The amount they receive in child endowment and age and invalid pensions is woefully inadequate. The invalid pensioner’s problem is accentuated, if he is married, by the fact that his wife receives only 35s. a week. The wife of an invalid pensioner who does not go out to work and whose job it is to look after her husband should receive at least the equivalent of the class B widow’s pension.
You will notice, Mr. Deputy President, that the suggestions I am making to the Government are not nebulous; I am making definite propositions to it. One is that the wife of an invalid pensioner should receive the equivalent of the class B widow’s pension. I ask that the widow with dependent children be given a domestic allowance and a uniform allowance when a child goes to a high school. These are matters which can definitely be worked out by the officials of the department. I think they are requests which could quite easily be met after a little thought and a little care. Every penny that is spent on improving the lot of these people comes back to the Government, not only in indirect taxes, but through better service to the community.
I come now to the matter of homes for the aged. I think the scheme is a very good one. I have been present at many functions held to mark the opening of such homes. However, with due deference to the department, I should like to say that I have had very few invitations of late. When people read in the newspapers that non-Labour senators have represented the Government or have been present at these functions, they wonder whether members from this side of the chamber are not interested. It is not that we are not interested; it is just that we have not heard that the functions are to be held. Party politics should not enter into the matter, because we are all vitally interested in the welfare of the aged. I have always tried to look at this matter from a non-political stand-point, but you become bitter when you find such things as I have mentioned going on. Opposition members who have advocated social reforms are completely ignored when invitations are issued to attend functions at which money from the Government is handed to an organization which has opened an aged persons’ home. I hope that the Minister will take notice of what I have just said.
I am worried about some aspects of homes for the aged. I may be regarded as a bit of a heretic, but I cannot see the justice or the wisdom of an organization demanding from an aged person a capital payment before he can go into one of the flats that are being built. An aged person may be required to pay £1,250, £1,500 or £2,000 in order to get into one of these flats. The amount, of course, is more than matched by the Commonwealth Government, and this enables the organization concerned to erect the building. If a person who paid money in this way were to die the next week, would he lose his equity in the building? He may have children who have been unable to support him, but he still has affection for those children. They may have helped him to the extent of giving him some of the money he was required to pay for his flat. When he dies, what happens to his equity in the building? Does it go to the organization and has another pensioner to pay £1,500 or £2,000 in order to get possession of the flat? If that is so, I do not think it is what was intended by the act.
I am very worried about this matter because a couple of people have come to me and told me about these things. A war widow approached an organization in Victoria which has been subsidized by the Commonwealth Government, and is providing very good accommodation. She wanted accommodation but she had to pay, I think, a sum of £1,500. When she dies, what will happen to the £1,500? What will happen to her equity in that flat or building? I do not have a suspicious mind, but you can imagine a person with one foot in the grave and another on a banana skin being given a bit of a push if the organization wants to build up its funds. I do not think that that would happen, but I would like to have the assurance of the Minister that there is no abuse in this direction.
In going through this bill, Mr. Deputy President, we come to what is the pride and joy of the Minister and other members of the Government. I refer to the merged means test. However, it is very complicated and difficult, and I wonder who is going to benefit from it. You will need a chartered accountant to work it out. I notice that the Minister for Repatriation is shaking his head, but with all due deference to him, I say that, having read his secondreading speech, and the documents that we have been given, I think the matter is most confusing. It may be a step towards the complete abolition of the means test, but I say here and now that my main concern is not so much for those who have £2,000, £4,000 or £5,000 as for the pensioner who has very little or nothing other than his pension. The spending of £20,000,000 or £40,000,000 in this way is not going to give him an extra bite of bread or an extra bit of butter. I am disappointed that in this year of prosperity something more is not being done for such & pensioner. We have heard the expression “Australia Unlimited “ and have been told that Australia is facing a year of prosperity such as it has never known before. Last night we heard of companies being sold for millions of pounds and we were told that in the next few years these companies would go on from strength to strength. In the face of that, this Government gives a pittance of 9d. a day to the pensioners, just to keep them quiet until the time when they will no longer require to receive a pension.
Having regard to the Government’s record, I do not think it is very surprising that over the last ten years no fewer than four members of the Government have held the portfolio of social services. We have had Senator Spooner, Mr. Townley, Mr. McMahon and Mr. Roberton. lt appears that nobody wants to keep the social service portfolio for very long. In the words of a television film, it is too hot to handle. A Minister for Social Services can satisfy some people, but a large number are dissatisfied. I think one of the reasons for this dissatisfaction is that there has been very little continuity in the department so far as ministerial heads are concerned. The social service portfolio should not be regarded as a training ground for something else. Surely to goodness a department which has in its keeping the welfare of hundreds of thousands of people in this community, comprising the section of the community which most needs our help and consideration, should have continuity of leadership. This is a department which has within its keeping the health, happiness and the very lives of such people. Surely the portfolio should be considered to be so worthwhile that a ministerial head would be proud to continue to hold it. I know of no other job in the Ministry, including even the Prime Ministership, in which one person can dispense so much happiness or unhappiness to so many people. The fact that within ten years this Government has had four Ministers for Social Services shows that this is a portfolio which nobody seems to want and that it is regarded as a very difficult portfolio, whereas it should be regarded as one of the most rewarding. Those of us who throughout our lives have striven to serve the community should see it as a means for the fulfilment of our dreams and a means by which we could do something to help those who are most in need of help and consideration.
– Are you suggesting a change, Senator?
– No. I think that Mr. Roberton is a very kind and generous man and that if he did not have the Treasury officials clamping down on him all the time he would do a lot more for the pensioners. I feel that he is a considerate and sympathetic person. The point I am trying to make is that in ten years we have seen the spectacle of the portfolio passing from Minister to Minister. Three Ministers have dropped it and gone one step higher. Not one of them has gone down the list as far as seniority or precedence is concerned. Senator Spooner is the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Mr. Townley is now the Minister for Defence and Mr. McMahon is the Minister for Labour and National Service. The social services portfolio is regarded more or less as a training ground for a higher portfolio. I do not think that is right. I think it should be an end in itself. To my way of thinking, there could be nothing more rewarding in the gift of a government than the portfolio of social services.
The present Minister is quite capable ot giving sympathetic consideration to the requests that are made, not only from this side of the House but from the other side as well - I know that my fellow senators on the other side are just as eager as I am to see that justice is done in these matters - but the Treasurer comes down with the cold, hard logic of £ s. d. We have been fortunate in our departmental heads.
– What stopped the Labour Government from increasing pensions in 1949?
– 1 say to the honorable senator that, of the eight years up to 1949 during which Labour was in office, five years were war years. Nevertheless, during those eight years the government of the day introduced approximately ten new social service benefits. In addition, it spread the benefits over a greater number of people than ever before. In 1949, we were providing funeral benefits, unemployment and sickness benefits, hospital benefits, pharmaceutical benefits, and widows’ pensions. All those were completely new social service benefits, introduced by the government of which Senator Wedgwood has spoken so deprecatingly. That government had faced up to all that fresh expenditure and therefore was expending far more on social services, and providing benefits to a greater number of recipients, than had ever been thought of by a non-Labour government. Mr. Chifley was one of those persons who, rightly or wrongly, would not offer new election baits. The rehabilitation of the Department of Social Services, which the present Minister and the present Government claim to be such an unqualified success, had already been started by Senator McKenna. The anti-tuberculosis scheme had gone beyond the blueprint stage but was not implemented until three weeks after the election. Honorable senators opposite cannot tell me that the Menzies Government was able to think up a scheme like that in three weeks.
I say to Senator Wedgwood that it is all very well to play the party political game and chide us with our sins of omission in the years before 1949, but I point out that during that period we were engaged in total warfare on a scale never before dreamed of. Despite that, we introduced social service benefits that were completely new, not only to Australia but also to other parts of the world. To-day, this Government looks back on a period of what it calls unprecedented prosperity. During the eleven years that it has been in office there have been no major wars. It is true that there was the Korean conflict, but it could not be regarded as a major war on the scale of the 1939-45 war. The Labour Government faced the terrific task of transferring to peaceful vocations 1,000,000 men and women of the various fighting forces, without any dislocation of peacetime industry. I wish that Senator Wedgwood had been in this Parliament during those war years. If she had been here she would know how difficult it was to do all the jobs necessary for the successful conduct of the war, and she also would know that the post-war years were very difficult ones.
It is so easy to speak of all the houses that have been built and all the progress that has been made in other directions since the war, and to ask what we were doing before 1949. It is easy to do things when you get beyond the preparatory stages and you have your man-power and raw materials assembled. It is easy then to put them to productive work, but when you have to start from scratch with the production of materials and so on it is another matter. Of course, in the light of the experience of recent years it may seem that we did not do all that we should have done, but I say that when the real history of Australia comes to be written and the achievements of the various governments from the dawn of federation are chronicled, remote from the present-day party janglings and from the modern scene, one government which will stand above all others, for its works for the DOOr and the oppressed and for its social services legislation, will be the Labour Government which was in office under the leadership of Mr. Curtin and Mr. Chifley from 1941 to 1949. T am not decrying the work that has been done by the various Ministers for Social Services since 1949. I think they have all done a good job, as far as they could go against the brake of the Treasury.
We give widows £5 a week and say, “ We are jolly good fellows “. Yet, the man who puts his imprimatur on the financial arrangements of this country and who says to the Minister for Social Services, “ You shall have so much and no more to give to the poor, the sick and the underprivileged in the community “, would be absolutely staggered if anybody suggested that his wife should come out in a frock that had been bought for less than, say, £50 or £60. He cannot get along with his own ministerial salary. His wife has to run a very exclusive dress shop in Toorak. I am certain that none of the pensioners of whom I am speaking are clients of that shop. They could not go along and buy a frock from that very exclusive salon in the Village at Toorak. I suppose they could not even get a look in the window.
It is absolutely ridiculous for these people to say that other members .of the community should live, or even try to exist, on social service payments. For what the Social Services Bill does - mainly for what it does to remove the stigma from the poor woman whose husband is in prison - I commend the Government. I commend it for at least giving to the pensioners a few crumbs from the rich man’s table. I do not agree with the march on Parliament House each year. I think that is exploitation of the pensioners. It seems to me that that is no way to go about getting improved benefits for the pensioners. But I do not know what we are to do about this matter. As I said when I started my speech, if we put up a proposition early in the year we are told that it is a matter for consideration when the Budget is being prepared. If we come here during the Budget session and put up the same proposition, we find that the Budget is a fait accompli. Where do we go from there?
Therefore, once again I submit to the Government my plea that there should be an all-party committee, either of the Senate or of the House of Representatives, to work as such a committee worked in the past, as Senator Sir Walter Cooper is aware. It was during the time that he was a member of the committee that the government of the day was able to bring down the legislation of which we are now so proud and which no anti-Labour government has seen fit to repeal. We of the Labour Party would have done a great deal more when we were in office had we been able to do so and had we enjoyed the co-operation of ‘the pharmaceutical guild, the British Medical Association, and so on. But, of course, that is another story and does not enter into our consideration of this bill. 1 acknowledge the partial lifting of the means test for which the bill provides. I have not attempted to explain the details of that, because as honorable senators will have seen, I am not much good at figures. I shall leave that aspect to others who are more successful in this regard than I am. I am concerned not with those who have but with those who have not. In these days of prosperity we should give more of the national income to those people in the community who really need help. The Government has not increased child endowment; it does not give a living pension to widows; it has ignored maternity allowances, and it also has ignored the wives of invalid pensioners. For all those reasons, Mr. Deputy President, I move -
Leave out all words after “ bill “, and insert “ be withdrawn and redrafted to provide among other social service benefits increased amounts for dependent wives of invalids and old age pensioners, and increased rates of child endowment, also to provide social service payments generally more adequate to meet present living costs and representing a fair and reasonable share of the national income - such rates to take effect as from the first pension day in July, 1960 “.
There again, I think I will be coming up against the Government, whose supporters will say that increases of pensions have never been made retrospective.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.- Order! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland) [2 56]. - I rise to support the bill and, in doing so, I should like to congratulate the Government, and the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) on adopting on this occasion a completely new approach to the problem of the means test. I should like to say to my friend and colleague, Senator Tangney, that whatever the Government does in legislation of this kind, so many of us always feel that more should be done. But I do say this:
I believe that the Government and the Minister have most carefully considered every aspect of this legislation and have endeavoured to do the best they can for the benefit of the greatest number of people. That, I believe, is very important.
I should like, also, to comment on Senator Tangney’s remarks concerning the number of different ministers who have held the Social Services portfolio since this Government came into office. I would say, Mr. Deputy President, that I believe that the Government and the people of Australia have been most fortunate in the men that have been chosen to hold this portfolio. Each of them has brought something special into his administration. Each of them has been filled with sympathy for, and understanding of, the needs of the people concerned. I believe that each of them has done his best for those people who are affected by the manner in which the Social Services portfolio is administered. I have worked with the successive ministers in different aspects of social services, and I have always been impressed by their deep understanding and appreciation of people’s problems and with their desire to do what ever they could to ease their burden. 1 believe that this Commonwealth and this Parliament are indebted to the men who have successively been responsible for the Social Services portfolio, each of whom has contributed something special during his administration of it.
Senator Tangney has referred to the wives of invalid pensioners. I think we all share her concern about the problem which faces the wife of an invalid pensioner. I do hope that further assistance will be given by the Government to these particular cases, because I feel that these women have a very difficult time indeed. I should like to remind Senator Tangney, however, that the new merged means test will apply to wives’ allowances on a similar’ basis to that on which it will apply to age and invalid pensions. That, I believe, will bring some further assistance to them. I do agree with the- honorable senator that the wife of an invalid pensioner has a very difficult problem and I believe that any assistance that can be given to her will’ be of tremendous benefit to her.
But let us look at this- legislation. The feature which to me is of tremendous interest is the new merged means test. This is an aspect of the legislation on which I shall dwell most. But first, let us have a look at other provisions of the bill. It increases the maximum general rate of invalid and age pensions to £5 per week. It increases the pension payable to widows with children to £5 Ss. a week and the pension payable to widows without children to £4 7s. 6d. a week.
I share Senator Tangney’s pleasure that the bill makes provision for women whose husbands are imprisoned. I have always felt that there has been a very great problem in relation to them. I am sure that all honorable senators have from time to time handled cases in this category, and we have witnessed the consequential family tragedies. I am very pleased that the disadvantage that has existed in relation to the children of such marriages is removed by the bill, which provides that the rate of pension payable to such women will be the same as that paid to class A widows. I express my appreciation to the Minister for including this provision in the measure.
On many occasions, the means test has been criticized by honorable senators on both sides of the chamber, and it has astounded me that, since the Minister announced the intention to introduce a merged new test, our opponents have been very scanty in their praise of it. I believe that this is a most important step forward in the whole pattern of social services. I believe that this is the most liberal amendment to the social services legislation that has ever been made. Since this Government came to office it has on many occasions alleviated the means test, and given further pension benefits. As a result of the introduction of the merged means test many people who formerly could not receive pension benefits will be able to ob-ain, if not a full pension, at least a part pension.
It is rather important, I think, that at this stage we should look back to 1909, when the first pension was paid. That is a long time ago. I do not intend to comment on which government brought in this or that. But let us face the facts. The first pension that was paid in 1909 was based on need, as determined by the application of a means test. In the original legislation, provision was made for the application of two means tests, one in relation to income and the other in relation to property. In the intervening years, successive governments have increased the base rate pension and liberalised both means tests. But the legislation now before us certainly gives the greatest benefit that has ever been given by any government to those members of the community who have savings. We all know well the problem that many people have faced. People with a spirit of sturdy independence, which we all admire so much, saved in order to provide for themselves in their old age. But what did they find? They found that the income they derived from their property was only a fraction of the pension.
Let me quote an example. The maximum value of property above which no pension was payable was £2,250. If that amount were invested at about 5 per cent., it produced income of, say, £100 to £150 per annum. But the very possession of that property or, shall we say, savings, deprived that person of a pension of £4 15s. a week. We have known of the tendency for some thrifty people who have saved to spend their capital on purchasing goods that they did not really want. Under the existing means test, they had either to spend their money or try to exist on an amount of £2 or £2 10s., which is all the income received by a person from an investment of £2,250 that he had saved.
With a very live realization of the problems of so many people, this Government has looked at this particular picture concerning property and savings. I would like to go into this aspect of the matter in a rather detailed way, because I have been very disturbed by a recent press report which gave a very inaccurate description of the benefits that may be received under this legislation. The thing that disturbs me mainly about this press report is that I am afraid there may be people who do not realize that they can get a full or a part pension and who will not, therefore, apply for one. What does this amendment really mean? It means that the former limit of £2,250 in the case of a single man, and £4,500 in the case of a married couple, beyond which no pension was payable, will be abolished, and a pension will cease to be payable only in accordance with the operation of the formula.
We ought to think back a little to when the first pension legislation was brought in. As I remarked, it is necessary to remind ourselves that the pension was designed as a supplement to help people in need, and the need was established by the use of a device known as the means test, which enabled a line to be drawn indicating when a person was in need of assistance and when he had sufficient money to enable him to get through his problems in some way. In this new scheme, we will work on what has been described by the Minister as a formula. Let me explain what this formula means. The pension rate will be £5 a week, or £260 a year, and the permissible income will be £3 10s. a week or £182 a year. Adding £260 to £182, we arrive at a figure of £442, and we call this the formula figure. That is the amount that a pensioner may receive in pension plus income, or assumed income. The first £200 worth of property, as defined, will be exempt, and property in excess of that will be deemed to have an income component of 10 per cent, of the excess. If we add the deemed income to other income, such as superannuation and wages, and deduct the result from the formula figure of £442, we arrive at the amount of pension to which a person becomes entitled.
The great advantage of this amendment is that in future people will be given some encouragement to save. That is an important point which we need to bear in mind. There is an advantage in saving. People may retain their property and, under the new formula that I have explained, receive a pension benefit and income from the property. We must ensure that the people know this important fact. A person who has saved and put money in the bank, or purchased bonds or shares, will be in much the same position as a person who has purchased an annuity or has income from wages or salary. A single person will be able to have an income of £8 10s. a week and a married couple an income of £17 a week. This, Mr. Deputy President, illustrates the benefit of the merged means test. 1 want to direct the attention of honorable senators to another point. I have found, as I am sure many others have found, that there is great misunderstand ing about the meaning of the word “ property “. I wonder sometimes whether there is some better term that we could use. I do not know what it might be, but I suggest that some consideration be given to this matter, because there is so often a query and people ask, “What is property? “
– Do you think that the word “ income “ could be used instead?
– I do not think so. Much more than that is involved. Whether “ savings “ or “ assets “ is the appropriate word, I do not know, but I should like some thought to be given to it. I am sure that honorable senators have found, as I have found, that the word “ property “ does create doubt and confusion in people’s minds. Let me try to explain the position as I understand it. Property does not include the house owned by a pensioner in which he resides, nor his motor car or furniture. lt means cash in hand, bonds, shares and, for instance, a second house in which he is not living. Income includes wages and superannuation, but it does not include income from property, dividends from shares, interest from bonds or bank deposits. Those are important points which we should ensure are very clearly understood. “ Property “ means such things as I have enumerated, and “ income “ excludes income from property. These points are so important and they show the tremendous benefit of the new merged means test. I hope that I have assisted my colleague, who apparently needed a little explanation of this point.
– You have assisted a bit, thank you.
– I think I should mention that, in addition to a house, car and furniture, a pensioner may also have insurance policies with a surrender value not exceeding £750. That is an important point. The merged means test will be of tremendous benefit. A person with no additional income but property up to the value of £2,020 may receive the full pension of £5 per week, and a part pension on a reducing seals based on the formula I have explained will be paid to persons with property as defined valued from £2,020 to £4,620. Those figures apply, of course, to a single person. For a married couple, the figures are doubled. 1 congratulate the Government on what it has done in this way. I should like to mention the assistance that is being given to widows. All widows have a very hard row to hoe. They have to be both mother and father to a family and they have all sorts of problems. We always want further assistance for them. This bill will effect a great improvement in their position. Further help will be given to them in connexion with property. At present, the first ?2,250 worth of property is exempt from the means test for a widow’s pension. If a widow possesses property to a greater value than that, she is debarred completely from pension benefits. Under this bill, if she has saved more than ?2,250 she will receive a part pension estimated on a somewhat similar basis to that which I have outlined but the first ?1,000 of property will be exempt before the new formula operates. I believe that that will be of very great benefit.
So we see that this legislation will not only effect an increase in the base rate but will also introduce a new approach to the problem which many of us have found to be so difficult over the year. People who had saved a little were debarred from pension benefits. Under the new merged means test, they will be able to receive, if not a full pension, at least a part pension. That is of very great importance. After applications have been received, it will be very interesting to see the number of people who will receive this form of pension benefit. More people will be receiving a pension benefit, and many will be receiving a greater pension. I congratulate the Government upon the step it has taken.
But that is not the only form of assistance that this Government has introduced in the field of social services. I think we will always regard with great appreciation the wonderful assistance that has been given to aged persons under the age person’s homes legislation. All over the country, as close as our nearest suburb and as far away as Central Australia, are to be found homes for aged persons. The cottage system, which enables elderly married couples to spend the twilight of their lives together, has been of great benefit. Cottage estab- lishments are to be found in the cities and rural areas. The problem of sending persons away from their own area to areas where they knew nobody has gone. Cottage establishments and homes conducted by churches and charitable organizations are being built in so many areas that aged couples are now able to live in areas in which they have always lived and near to people they have known for many years.
The problem of age is one which concerns us all. Loneliness and fear and the lack of close association with people in the same age group are causes of sadness in the lives of old people. The opportunity for men and women to live in these homes with others of the same generation at a slower pace of life is of tremendous benefit to them. They know that if they become ill they will be looked after and never will be alone. So fear and loneliness go. I wonder, Mr. Acting Deputy President, whether with your indulgence I may tell a little story against myself which emphasized to me more than has anything else the importance of aged people being able to be with those of their own generation. Some Utile time ago I viewed a film with a girl with whom I had served during the last war. We were of the same generation. The film was a war picture, and we commented that various scenes could be particular parts of a certain area in which we had served. Sitting not very far from us was a young couple. One of them said to the other, “ Those two poor old things remember the last war.” I said to myself, “ Well, a few years make a little difference.” As I said earlier, if anything has brought home to me the importance of homes for aged people, places in which people of the same generation may live together, share memories of their past and have no feeling of loneliness - it was that incident which proved what a gap there can be in a difference of a few years. In having opened the way for these homes to be established we have given these people a feeling of security. I emphasize that it was this Government which made possible this wonderful form of assistance.
– We will need to have a home for aged politicians.
– My colleague may have a point there.
I remind the Senate that, in addition to making provision for homes for aged persons, this Government, through the Minister for Health, has provided a special subsidy for home nursing schemes. It is wonderful for aged persons to know that they can get a nurse to give them assistance in their own homes. It is well for us to remember that that is another benefit that this Government has given. Let us consider also the medical benefits we are giving to aged people, and the rehabilitation benefits that have been provided for people who suffer from some kind of injury and who are unable to take their place in everyday life. I remind honorable senators also about the unemployment and sickness benefits and the benefits that are available to blind persons.
I refuse every charge, whether it has been made by members of the Opposition or anyone else, that this Government has not cared for the aged, the invalid and those in our community who are in need. The Government’s record is superb. The Government is appreciative of the needs of various sections of the community, and it wants to help them. In introducing this legislation, the Government has proved that it has never been satisfied with what has been done in the past but has always taken one more step in an effort to give assistance. That is a very important aspect of the history of the giving of social service benefits by this Government.
I congratulate the Government upon the introduction of this legislation. I particularly congratulate it, and the Minister for Social Services, upon the introduction of the new merged means test, which will mean that ever so many more people who need assistance will become entitled to pension benefits. I hope the Government will consider the various points that have been made in regard to the need for more assistance still. In supporting the bill, may I say that I am proud to belong to a government which I believe has a proud record in the field of social services.
– I rise to support the amendment submitted by Senator Tangney on behalf of the Opposition which seeks the withdrawal of the bill so that it may be redrafted to include provision for adequate social service benefits. Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin spent a considerable amount of time in eulogizing the merged means test. The merged means test is, of course, a liberalization of the existing means test and will be very welcome to quite a number of pensioners. But I remind the honorable senator, who is so proud of being a member of a government which has been generous in the social service field, that on the hustings in 1949 this Government - which was then the Opposition - promised to abolish the means test within the life of the next Parliament. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) has told us that the abolition of the means test would cost £130,000,000 but that this prosperous Australia Unlimited cannot afford to pay it. The proposed easing of the means test will cost £4,000,000 - an improvement of 3.08 per cent. Only a small improvement has been effected, in spite of the Government’s promise in 1949 to abolish the means test in its first term, of office.
Although the merged means test is welcome, the meagre improvement that has been effected is something of which the Government cannot be very proud. It will mean nothing to those people who are not in receipt of superannuation, who are on the base pension, and who will get only 5s. under legislation which has been introduced in this year of plenty. Such people are not allowed to share in the prosperity of Australian Unlimited. The increase of 5s., which will bring the pension up to £5 a week, will not restore it to its 1948 value. Despite what honorable senators opposite may say about the pension that was being paid in 1949, the pension that is being paid to-day is not worth as much as the pension that was being paid in 1948. It is wrong for honorable senators opposite to claim that the Government has been generous to pensioners. The Government has not enabled pensioners to share in the prosperity of Australia, about which, honorable senators opposite profess to be so proud. Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin referred to the free medical treatment that is available to aged persons. That is a scheme which all of us appreciate. Aged people who cannot pay for medical treatment and hospitalization are entitled to some consideration. The Government claims that it is liberalizing the means test, but it is not doing anything to facilitate the obtaining of a pensioner medical benefit card. If a pensioner is in receipt of more than £2 a week in addition to his pension he cannot obtain the medical card. But still the Government says that it has been generous.
The Government has paid some attention to age, invalid and widows’ pensions because the people in receipt of those pensions have become a pressure group and, for political reasons, the Government is attempting to placate them. But it has chosen to ignore other aspects of social services. I invite the attention of the Senate to the unemployment and sickness benefits. I concede that not many people are out of employment to-day. I think that one reason why the unions are seeking a shorter working week is prompted by their desire to make more work available. But it is little consolation to a man who is out of work to know that the Government’s estimate of his value and that of his family, no matter how large that family may be, is £6 2s. 6d. a week - less than 50 per cent, of the basic wage. It is often claimed that the age pension should be at least 50 per cent, of the basic wage, but it is unlikely that people in receipt of the age pension would have young dependants. But the man who is unemployed may well have three or four dependants. Nevertheless, the Government places a value of £6 2s. 6d. on him and his family and says that he shall not earn more than £2 a week in addition to the unemployment benefit. I commend the Government on the low unemployment figure in the community today, but what is the Government doing about other social services matters? A person who is out of work owing to sickness receives only £6 2s. 6d. a week to keep himself and his family. Quite likely it will cost him all of that amount for a bed in a hospital. The Government does not care whether those people live or die. The rate of unemployment and sickness benefits has not been increased for years.
I invite the attention of the Senate to an anomaly that exists in respect of the payment of the unemployment benefit. I am speaking particularly about Western Australia, where the school leaving age is fourteen years. Secondary schools are many miles away from some remote areas of the State. A child who completes his primary education in a remote area and whose parents cannot afford to send him to a secondary school many miles away must remain at the primary school - not learning anything - until he is fourteen years of age. The child cannot leave school and supplement the family income and he is not entitled to the unemployment benefit. Senator Scott would know something of this problem in the back country of Western Australia, where the classes of many of the schools go only to the sixth grade. The child may leave school at fourteen years of age but if he cannot find employment he is not entitled to the unemployment benefit until he reaches sixteen years of age. This problem may not apply in the smaller States, such as Victoria - you could probably walk across Victoria with ease - but it does apply in Western Australia. The Government pays an allowance to Commonwealth employees stationed in remote areas to assist them to provide a higher education for their children. But this assistance is not provided to other members of the community who cannot afford to send their children long distances to secondary schools. Those children are forced to wait until they reach school leaving age, and then seek employment.
The Government claims to be generous, but what has it done about the maternity allowance? The rate has not been increased in any way since 1943 when the Curtin Labour Government fixed the allowance at £15 for the first child, £16 for the second and third children, and £17 10s. for each subsequent child. In the last seventeen years the allowance has remained static. All that the Government has done about the maternity allowance has been to increase from £5 to £10 the amount that may be paid to expectant mothers prior to the birth of their children. The Chifley Labour Government provided that in the case of multiple births an allowance of £5 was to be paid in respect of each child in excess of one. That means that if twins are born the mother receives £15, £16 or £17 10s. for one twin and £5 for the other. I believe the Government should have a look at this matter of social services before it starts patting itself on the back. When the payment of £15 for the first child was introduced by the Curtin Government in 1944 it represented 6 per cent, of the annual basic wage. If mothers were to receive 6 per cent, of the annual basic wage to-day, the maternity allowance for the first child of the family would be £43. That will give honorable senators som idea of the reduction in the value of the maternity benefit. It has dropped to 2.08 per cent, of the annual basic wage, which is a fall of 3.92 per cent. Yet the Government does nothing to increase it.
The funeral benefit was introduced by the Curtin Government in 1943. Do not forget that these benefits were introduced during a war. At that time the benefit was fixed at £10 and it is still £10 despite increases in the cost of funerals. The Government pays a pension, the value of which is less than the value of the 1948 pension, knowing full well that the pensioner on the base rate is unable to save anything out of his pension to prepare for the time when he or she will die. But the Government takes no action to increase the meagre amount of £10 which will not pay for the burial of a pauper to-day. I do not think an undertaker would even bother taking his hearse out of its garage for £10, yet that is all the Government is prepared to pay. The funeral benefit was £10 in 1943 and it is still £10, yet this Government wants to pat itself on the back and say how generous it has been in providing social service benefits.
Child endowment is another sore point with the Opposition. I know that Government senators will take the credit for the introduction of child endowment in 1941. I think we all know the reasons for its introduction. The Government at that time was not the first government in Australia to introduce child endowment because the New South Wales Government introduced it in 1927. Child endowment was recommended to the Commonwealth Government in 1921 by the Piddington commission, yet it was not until 1941 that the Government moved to introduce child endowment under extraneous circumstances. Child endowment was progressively improved in relation to the cost of living by both the Curtin and Chifley governments up until 1948, but this Government has done nothing to improve it. This Government has not increased child endowment since it has been in office, although it bought an election victory in 1949 on the promise of 5s. for the first child. It made that payment in due course and then promptly forgot all about the 5s. for the first child. It still pays only that amount for the first child and it still pays for the subsequent children the 10s. which the Chifley Government was paying in 1948. This Government has victimized the women and children of Australia, yet it has the audacity to tell the people that we are living in a prosperous country.
In 1948 the average basic wage for the six capital cities was £5 19s. a week and child endowment was 10s. a week, which represented 8.4 per cent, of that average basic wage. In July, 1960, the average basic wage for the six capital cities was £13 16s. a week and child endowment was still 10s. a week; and 8.4 per cent, of £13 16s. would represent a weekly payment of £1 3s. I know that a child endowment payment of £1 3s. a week would be a pretty big impost on the Government, but that impost is of its own making because it has failed to increase child endowment in accordance with increases in the cost of living. The Government could have provided in each Budget for a gradual increase in the expenditure in order to increase child endowment instead of now having to consider the provision of millions of pounds to restore the value of child endowment. Therefore, the Government has to accept the responsibility when it tells the people that an increase of 5s. in child endowment would cost many million pounds and the country cannot afford it. There is no excuse for it. The Government has had the opportunity to increase child endowment during the eleven years in which it has been in office - eleven years which it calls Australia’s greatest period of prosperity. Now, because of the Government’s dereliction of duty, it is almost impossible to restore the value of child endowment.
As to the eulogy of the easing of the means test in respect of age, invalid and widow pensions, it seems to me that the Government has forgotten one aspect of the matter which bears very harshly upon certain people. I refer to the dependent wife of an age pensioner or an invalid pensioner who is 85 per cent, incapacitated. She has to stay home and look after him and is not able to go out and earn money. The means test applies to the invalid pension just as it does to the age pension, and a wife would have to work for only a very few hours before the pension would be affected.
If she is able to go out and work she is not entitled to receive the 35s. a week; it is only when the pensioner requires constant attention that the wife is entitled to receive that allowance. In effect, the Government says to the people of Australia that the value of the wife of an invalid pensioner who requires constant attention is 35s. a week. There can be no argument about that. That has been the position for a considerable time. In fact, it has not been altered since 1952 and consequently the value of the allowance has been lost.
When the allowance was introduced by the Curtin Government in 1943 it was 10s. a week and it was progressively improved by both the Curtin and Chifley governments up until 1948 when it was 24s. It was also progressively improved by the Menzies Government up until 1952. Since then it has been completely forgotten for a period of eight years of inflationary conditions, the like of which we have never seen before in this country. The Government has also refused to do anything to increase this allowance. The same applies to the child allowance for an invalid pensioner, which was also introduced by the Curtin Government in 1943 and improved to 9s. by the Chifley Government, and increased to Ils 6d. by the Menzies Government in 1951. It has been forgotten for a period of nine years.
The recipients of the social service benefits that the Government has introduced are very appreciative of the improvements that have been made and we on this side of the Senate do not condemn them. However, we do say that the Government is treating the women and children of Australia with contempt and is just looking after one section of the community.
On several occasions in this chamber, I have heard Government senators give the credit for the introduction of the tuberculosis allowance to the Menzies Government. I ask them to go at the first available opportunity to the parliamentary papers and records room, obtain a copy of the act, and have a look at it. It will be found that it is a 1948 act. The operation of two provisions was suspended until the machinery under which they had to work could be prepared, but the measure was passed by this Parliament during the regime of the Chifley Government and was proclaimed by the Menzies Government shortly after that Government came to office. The point I make is that the tuberculosis pension is the godchild of the Chifley Government and is, I think, one of the greatest benefits ever instituted in this country. It has taken us a very long way along the road to the abolition of tuberculosis in our community. I hope that the Government will continue the good work and that within a very few years tuberculosis will be a forgotten thing, but I want to make it plain to honorable senators opposite that it was not the Menzies Government but the Chifley Government that introduced that legislation.
One other aspect of social services is the provision of homes for the aged. In Western Australia, we have the Home of Peace, a home where aged people who have no one to look after them are taken care of. It is a very fine place. If any honorable senators on the Government side care to visit the home when they are in Western Australia, I should be very pleased to make arrangements for them to do so. No preparations would be needed. They could go there within ten minutes of arriving in Perth. The place would not need to be dressed up for their visit.
This home has outgrown the site on which it was built. Extensions have taken up all the spare ground, and the trustees of the home want to build regional homes in the suburbs. Instead of shifting people from their own suburbs, the trustees feel that it would be preferable to house them in those suburbs, where their friends could visit them. An application was made to the Government for assistance to build these regional homes, but it was rejected. We know that the policy of the Government is to subsidize homes for the aged on a £2 for £1 basis, but in this Home of Peace there are one or two people under the age of 65 years who have nowhere else to go. The Home of Peace runs a rehabilitation section in an attempt to rehabilitate them, so that they can become useful in the community. Because the home has a few of these younger people, the Government has declared it to be a hospital, and not a home for the aged, and refuses to give assistance. I think that the Minister in charge of this bill should bring this matter to the attention of the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton), or the appropriate Minister, with a view to giving the trustees of this home assistance to build regional homes. They are ready to go ahead at any time. The State Government has given the trustees land on which to build, and all they need is financial assistance from the Commonwealth Government. In the regional homes, the trustees are prepared to limit the inmates to those entitled to an age pension, but at present they are unable to get assistance from the Commonwealth Government because they still have younger people in what might be called the parent institution.
I should like to see the Commonwealth Government do more in the field of rehabilitation. In practice, only invalid pensioners are eligible for rehabilitation treatment. The qualification for an invalid pension is 85 per cent, incapacity. Many people in our community requiring rehabilitation have only a 30 per cent, incapacity. They may have lost a useful portion of their body such as a right arm. A person who has lost his right arm may need some training in order to be able to use his left arm or an artificial limb. A person may have lost a leg, or even two legs, but be quite capable of sitting at a bench and doing processing work. However, because such people do not qualify for an invalid pension they are not entitled to rehabilitation treatment under the social services legislation. I should like the Government to do something for these people, because I believe that a huge amount of useful manpower is going to waste.
It must be remembered that these people cannot take the same interest in sporting activities as more active people. They do not go to the pictures, to shows and many other places. They pay more attention to their work and give very good service to their employers. I listened to a “ Meet the Press “ television programme in which one of th§ men being interviewed had continually employed physically handicapped people. He said that for the type of work he was able to provide, he would not employ anyone else. We know that in other countries great attention is paid to this problem. I understand that in England it is compulsory for factories employing over 30 workers to employ a percentage of physically handicapped people. The Government could very easily sponsor a system such as that. I am not wedded to the idea of compulsion to employ workers, but surely some system such as that which was used after the war for the rehabilitation of ex-servicemen could be adopted, whereby employers would employ and train physically handicapped people. I do not suggest that the employers should bear the whole of the expense. Some of the expense should be borne by the general community, because in the final analysis everybody would benefit. If the Government saw its way clear to institute such a system, I think that good use would be made of a large pool of employable labour, to the benefit of the community.
– In rising to support this bill to amend the Social Services Act, and to condemn the amendment moved by the Opposition, I wish first of all to reply briefly to some of the remarks made by my friend, Senator Cant. He gave us a recital which showed that he knew the various social service benefits that are available to the grateful people of Australia under the regime of this Government. The rest of his talk I can summarize by saying that it showed that Labour’s policy, while in opposition, is to urge the Government to pay out more oi the people’s money in providing various benefits and then, when we come to a consideration of tax legislation, urge the Government to take less and less of the people’s money. If this Government were so stupid as to pay any heed to the bleats of the Labour Party in that respect, in three years this country would be as bankrupt financially as the Labour Party is bankrupt of ideas. All I can say to the honorable senator is that it cannot be done, and he knows it.
– Is not the country bankrupt now?
– The country is by no means bankrupt. It is passing through a period of prosperity which was not even dreamed of ten years ago.
During this year’s debate on social services, so far as it has gone, there have been fewer crocodile tears and fewer attempts to appeal to the emotions of those who are entitled to social service benefits, solely, I am glad to say, because the proceedings are not being broadcast. For that reason, more common sense is being displayed and there are fewer attempts at vote catching. I do not believe that members of the National Parliament, in dealing with the troubles of hundreds of thousands of Australians, should lower themselves by resorting to pathos. So, when I come to address myself to this measure, as I foreshadowed during the Budget debate, I find it difficult to make a new approach.
I have been a member of the Parliament for seven years and have seen the introduction of seven Budgets. I believe that in discussing legislation of this kind we should try to express constructive thoughts, because I am convinced, from my relatively short experience, that departmental officers read the “ Hansard “ reports of the debates in the Senate, trying though that must be at times. I think that if those officers see the glimmer of a new thought or a constructive idea they give it a thorough examination. Therefore, it is not entirely a waste of time to speak to the depleted ranks of the Senate on a Thursday afternoon. It would appear that the airline companies are doing good business as I speak.
The difference between the two major parties in this Parliament, in their approach to social service legislation, is that, while the Government parties have been taking action, the Australian Labour Party has had eleven years in which to come forward with something new, with helpful ideas, but instead has brought forth merely growls and groans. I understand that in recent months the party has appointed a committee to see whether it cannot bring out of the hat a real election winner. Of course, Labour tried to do that some time ago, when it undertook to abolish the means test if it were elected to office. As we know, the electors said on that occasion, *’ We will have none of you “. The Government parties have had eleven years of responsibility, during which, time they have had power to do this and to do that. On no fewer than four occasions since they swept Labour out of office the electors of Australia have re-endorsed the policies of the Government parties and returned them to office, with the result that to-day the strength of the Opposition in another place is so low that it cannot give the Government parties a vigorous contest.
In past years, the second year of the life of Commonwealth governments has tended to be the year in which they consolidated, to save money for the future, for the window-dressing campaign in the election year. But this Government - and I am proud of it for doing so - has refused to sit back and say, “ We will coast along “. Instead, it has come out with an enlightened policy in the form of the merged means test. That new development has been well and thoroughly explained by the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Sir Walter Cooper) in his second-reading speech, and I propose to say no more about it than to congratulate the Government on its introduction. I think there is occasion for congratulation when one considers that 700,000 Australian citizens will benefit directly from this bill, as the Minister stated in his opening remarks.
This new approach to the gradual elimination of the means test will help age, invalid, widow and service pensioners. It will help them in a worth-while way. I think it is correct to say that the departmental officers have calculated that, apart from service pensioners, the legislation will bring an additional 20,000 Australian people within the ambit of our social service provisions. That is a step in the right direction. I say without equivocation that I do not believe in the abolition of the means test at the present time. I am aware that, in spite of what we are doing as a nation, there is a section of the people which requires more help in the way of social services. I think there are still some people who have been thrifty, who are missing out and require consideration, but if we abolished the means test, while those people and the present recipients of social service benefits would not get a penny more, a lot of money would go into homes where it was not needed. It is not my political philosophy to collect taxes from all and sundry - the poor, the well-off and the not so well-off - and hand the money to the wealthy. I believe that this National Parliament has a grave responsibility to see that the underdog receives the most that the nation can economically provide. So, I repeat, I oppose the abolition of the means test at the present time, although I am glad to see that serious and successful attempts are being made to abolish it gradually
Let me summarize the achievements of this Government in the field of social services. First, the merged means test for which the bill before the Senate provides, is a great achievement. The homes for the aged legislation is enlightened legislation which the Australian community has accepted with enthusiasm. Many aged people are living lovely lives in great comfort and serenity as a result of it. I do not know about the position in other States, but I know that in Tasmania the State Labour Government has, through the provision of money by the Commonwealth - not necessarily for this purpose but nevertheless allocated for it - constructed flatettes for aged people. There is also a wonderful scheme whereby, on payment of approximately £1,000, aged people may become life tenants of these small homes which include a dining room and general amenities area. The flatettes are separated one from the other. The old people live in great comfort for the rest of their lives, with no landlord to evict them, no rent to pay and no electricity to pay for. When their term on earth is ended, the accommodation reverts to the State, which then makes it available to other people who are not in a position to pay for a roof over their heads. I think that this nation is to-day doing wonderful work for its aged people. It is fair to say that we are providing for social services, in the best manner that we have been able to devise so far, a fair share of our national income.
Another point that I wish to touch on briefly concerns the recognition by the bill of the need to help the wives of prisoners in our gaols. The Minister for Repatriation (Senator Sir Walter Cooper) stated in his second-reading speech -
The bill provides that women whose husbands have been imprisoned for at least six months will be treated in exactly the same way as other widows.
He went on to say -
Women whose husbands have been imprisoned for six months and who are over 50 years of age and have no children will in future rank as class B widows. This will not benefit them financially but any stigma that might be thought to be attached to them as a separate class will be removed.
I believe that the Government is to be congratulated on its humane outlook. It is a shocking state of affairs when, because a husband is imprisoned for infringing the laws of this land his wife and children are left in poor financial circumstances. None of us will ever believe that the wife could be held responsible for her husband being put into gaol. Therefore, 1 believe that these women should not be punished but should receive all the help that this nation can give them. This is another move forward in social services legislation. The Government is providing something that has been wanted. We have to realize, particularly in the case of long-term prisoners who have young families, that if the children are not provided for, are not helped by the nation, through no fault of their own they may become delinquent and develop into the criminals of tomorrow.
The amendment that has been moved by Senator Tangney on behalf of the Labour Opposition in this chamber does not contain any new thought. It says, in effect: “We do not like the bill. Take it away and bring in another one and start payments earlier.” Honorable senators opposite have been in Opposition for eleven years, and that is the only thought they have about this matter. A Labour senator has expressed regret that the Government has made it necessary for the debate on this bill to be hurried. She stated that honorable senators had not had sufficient time to study the measure but added that, although it was unfair to ask them to proceed with the debate, the Opposition would not delay the legislation. If honorable senators opposite are sincere they should believe that the amendment will be accepted. If it were accepted, the present measure would go into the melting pot because a new bill would have to be introduced in another place and brought forward to the Senate. That procedure would involve considerable delay. I feel confident that the majority of the people concerned want Parliament to get on with the job of passing the legislation, so that the measure may be given the Royal Assent and so enable pensioners to receive the benefits without delay.
There are problems facing Australia in relation to social services legislation. They will continue to face this Government and the governments of the future unless some particular thought is given to the matter. Sound common sense dictates that a government cannot apply all its revenue or a great amount of its revenue to the provision of social service benefits. Our population is growing and it is a social fact that the percentage of aged people in the community is increasing. The number of aged persons entitled to social service benefits increased by 2 per cent, between 1933 and 1955. That is a big increase. This indicates that an increasing percentage of the population may become entitled to social service benefits.
If we look at the other end of the scale - this reveals something in the Government’s favour - we find that in 1871, 42.09 per cent, of the population was under 15 years of age, and the proportion was 30 per cent, in 1959. This indicates that we are growing into a nation of aged people, thanks to our splendid living conditions, medical science, hospitals and all the other care that elderly people get. If we could stop the slaughter on the roads of this country, the increase would be greater. We can say that each year, regardless of budgetary or legislative alterations, successive governments will have to provide much more money for social services. Therefore, we members of this National Parliament, before saying that we will give this or that, in order to do what is right must have regard to the overall picture.
I wish now to refer to the subject of child endowment, because I touched on it briefly during my speech on the Budget. Since then, a noted cleric in Hobart was reported by the Tasmanian press to have attacked the Commonwealth Government on child endowment in similar terms to those used by the previous speaker and which would probably be used by any speaker from the other side. But hard, cold facts must be considered if we are fairly to review child endowment. Last year, child endowment was paid in respect of 3,250,000 children at a cost to the revenue of £62,500,000. The total cost would have been about £3,000,000 more than that but for the fact that in 1959-60, I think, the number of pay days was one less than the number there will be this year. When cnild endowment was introduced in 1942 by what was described as a great measure, representing a new advance in social legislation, endowment was paid in respect of 900,000 Australian children at a cost to the nation of a little over £11,000,000. To-day it is considered a paltry sum - our share of Bell Bay!
Our expenditure on child endowment is increasing at the rate of about £2,000,000 a year, yet our critics say that we have not increased child endowment. I remind honorable senators opposite that an increase of endowment of ls. per week per child would cost the nation £8,000,000 a year. As I said in my speech on the Budget, any government that increased child endowment by less than 5s. a week - at a cost to revenue of £40,000,000 a year - would be laughed out of office. Is any member of this Senate who has any accountancy knowledge or business acumen and sincerely believes in the future of Australia prepared to get up and say that the Government should have increased child endowment by 5s. per week per child?
– The Government should have increased child endowment by 10s. a week.
– Senator Cole, who is the Leader of the Australian Democratic Labour Party, is sillier than usual, perhaps because he has not got his deputy leader with him. His interjection indicates how reckless are his thoughts. Many onechild families are receiving endowment of 5s. a week, which costs the nation £12,000,000 a year. I believe that the payment of 5s. a week to many of those families means scarcely anything to them at all. Generally speaking, the two-child families are in the group that can live comfortably without a government hand-out of 5s. a week. The people we must feel sorry for are the families in which there are four, five or six children. It is a fact that most of those are in the lower income group. We, as a Parliament agree to pay out millions of pounds a year, with considerable expenditure on administration and distribution, to families whose share hardly represents the price of a packet of cigarettes. It is of no help at all to them.
– You are advocating abolition of the 5s. payment?
– I advocate that the best brains possible be brought to bear on this matter - I do not want the honorable senator to misquote me on this matter, as he is liable to do - with a view to cutting out child endowment completely and introducing a scheme whereby those people with the most children will receive some form of government help. I suggested in my speech on the Budget that this could be done by means of allowable deductions for taxation purposes, but on studying and discussing the position I find that that would not help, because in most cases the fathers of families of four or five children, being in the lower income group, do not pay income tax at all at present. Higher deductions in respect of children would not help them, and under the scheme I suggested they would be deprived of child endowment. Too many people to whom it means nothing are receiving child endowment, and too many who need substantial financial help are receiving only 10s. or 15s. a week. This is not enough in many cases. We should devise a plan to give to those who are in need. We should forget the wealthy, who will look after themselves all right, as they have never failed to do.
– You are only helping to maintain the profit-makers of the future.
– I am most sincere in this matter. The honorable senator obviously has not given it sincere thought. He just wants to belt the Government. He has been doing it for so many years that he sounds just like a broken record. I have given a lot of sincere thought to the matter and discussed it with sensible knowledgeable people. Too many people with too litlte are not getting enough assistance. The wealthy are getting assistance which they do not need. This National Parliament should do all that it can to make it economically safe for families of Australian children to be reared. I congratulate the Government on its immigration policy. Our immigrants have been an outstanding success, but I still think that we should encourage the Australianmade article. We should devise a plan to replace child endowment and give aid to those who need it. I have not sufficient knowledge at the moment to be able to propound a plan. Perhaps some others could give it thought. I congratulate the Government for what it proposes in this legislation, and I laugh the amendment out without consideration.
– Any occasion when a social services bill is before the Parliament is important, because it is one time when we can help the under-dog in the community. Senator Marriott said that the Government’s policies must be correct because they have been endorsed at each election. The same reply is made to criticism of all the legislation that comes before the Parliament. Ministers and other Government supporters say, “ The Government has been returned year after year because it has proceeded with its social services scheme.” That is foolish, because if there is one thing that needs revision it is the social services legislation. The Government’s victory at elections is not an indication that the people are really giving their support to the Government’s social services legislation. Many other things are considered by the people when they cast their votes. It may be that they believe that our economic life is at a reasonable standard and that this Government’s ideology is not as dangerous to the country as certain other ideologies that permeate our civilization, and so they make their choice. The choice is not made on the basis of whether the social services are good and should be continued. If that were the only criterion, I am afraid the Government would lose any election.
Before the Budget was introduced I read in a Melbourne newspaper an editorial which, I believe, puts the position in very clear and concise language. This is not a newspaper that would support any Labour or left-ish ideas. It stated -
The pensioner is still the forgotten member of the community. While most people have been able to share in the country’s post-war prosperity, the pensioner, far from having a reasonable share, has fallen further behind in the efforts to make ends meet. Wage and salary earners and those who draw incomes from investments have largely been able to go along part of the way with inflation. The pensioner has not even been able to hold a place in the race.
That was an editorial comment in a capitalist newspaper, which recognizes the position of the under-privileged in our community. The editorial continued -
The present system of fixing pensions simply by Government decision on the cheapest calculations compatible with popularity is quite unreal.
Those are words that should mean something to the Government. I do not want to take up too much of the Senate’s time to*day because social services get quite a thrashing in this Parliament. I believe we have almost reached the limit of what we can pay out of our national income to pensioners and underprivileged members of the community. I believe the Government is doing as much as it can without increasing income tax. But its thinking will have to undergo a change in the not too distant future. The aggregate cost of the social service benefits that we hand out to the people, or which they earn, if we prefer to use that expression, is increasing by millions of pounds each year.
There is only one way in which justice can be extended to people when they reach a certain age or when they are crippled through no fault of their own. When a person begins work and starts to earn money he should begin to save, to put away, or to make provision for the time when he is too old to earn or when he becomes an invalid. A national insurance scheme is the only solution to the problem of giving a decent standard of living to aged persons. Such schemes have been introduced in other countries. I understand that a national insurance scheme was formulated by supporters of the present Government and that it almost reached the stage of being presented to the Parliament, lt was not proceeded with. The cost of social service benefits is rising so rapidly that it has become necessary to replace the present system with a national insurance scheme.
A national insurance scheme would do away with most of the anomalies under the present social service scheme. The adoption of such a scheme would mean the lifting of the means test, because a person who had provided for his old age would have the legal right to demand what he had paid for. If a national insurance scheme was adopted, we would not be faced with the rising cost of providing social service benefits. The money needed to provide pensions would be coming in from the time people commenced to earn early in life. We could spread ourselves and give to the pensioners a decent standard of living.
I turn to child endowment. Senator Marriott said that we should change our thinking about this subject, and he referred to the adoption of a graduated scale, or some such system. The only assistance that the ordinary married person with a family can get for the education of his children is the child endowment payment. I have said time and time again - it beats repeating - that under our present wage system a single man with few responsibilities receives the same wage as a married man who has five or six children. The only way in which we can make it up to the family man is to pay him child endowment. That is the way in which we have started to help him, and it is the only way in which we can continue to help him. As Senator Marriott said, the scheme is in favour of the larger families. The Australian Democratic Labour Party has formulated a scheme which has been placed before the Parliament many times. It is one which the Government would be very wise to adopt if it wants to help the family man.
I am speaking at this stage because I want to remind the Senate that at the committee stage the Democratic Labour Party will submit amendments similar to those it has submitted for about the last five years. They are designed to give effect to the social service policy which we think should be adopted. We believe that pensions should be fixed by an independent tribunal which would be quite outside the Parliament which would not be concerned with getting votes at election time. The setting up of such a tribunal would remove the fixing of pensions from parliamentary interference. Many people say that it is the responsibility of the Parliament to fix pensions. I have said before that it is not the responsibility of members of the Parliament to fix their own salaries. It is interesting to note that in Tasmania at the present time there is quite a furore- over salary increases for members of the Tasmanian Parliament. More success has been achieved over in Tasmania than here, because it is not proposed to increase salaries until at least after the next election. The Tasmanian Parliament has decided to set up an independent tribunal to fix the salaries of its members. As the Premier of Tasmania said, the Tasmanian Parliament will not have to shoulder the responsibility. The same principle could be adopted in regard to social services. An independent tribunal could ascertain what would be a reasonable standard of living for pensioners. It would be an onerous task, but it would be well worth while. So at the committee stage the Democratic Labour Party intends to try once again to force the Government to listen to its proposals.
Once a pension rate is fixed it may remain unaltered for two or three years despite the fact that the cost of living is rising continually. We know that the cost of living will continue to rise in the future but the income of pensioners will remain relatively static. Pensioners do not receive cost of living adjustments. Although a pensioner may have a reasonable standard of living to-day, in two or three years’ time his standard will have deteriorated because he does not receive cost of living adjustments to his pension. I have already indicated that in the committee stage I will move an amendment to provide for cost of living adjustments to pension rates.
I should like to know whether a person who has £1,000 in a bank is eligible to receive a pensioner medical card. Pensioner medicals cards are of great value to pensioners but there are numerous anomalies associated with the granting of the cards. A pensioner in receipt of income or annuity of more than £104 a year - or £208 a year in the case of a pensioner couple - cannot receive a medical card. This restriction is causing great difficulty to pensioners. Something must be done by the Department of Social Services and the Department of Health to broaden the scope of pensioner medical cards.
The administration of social services is a difficult task for any government, but the Australian Democratic Labour Party believes, that the implementation of its policy in relation to social services could assist pensioners. When the bill is in tha committee stage I will move an amendment consistent with the policy that my party has enunciated year after year.
– I rise to support the bill and warmly congratulate the Government and the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) for having placed before the Parliament in legislative form proposals that have been the cause of discussion and contention for more than 50 years. Before dealing with the bill I should like to refer to some of the criticisms that have been levelled at the Government. My colleague, Senator Tangney, stated that insufficient time had been allowed to discuss this bill. I remind the Senate that the main provisions of the bill were outlined in the Budget speech of the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) about five weeks ago. In addition, when introducing the bill in another place the Minister for Social Services gave details of the legislation. I should have imagined that anybody who was interested in the matter would have had ample time to acquaint himself or herself with the contents of the bill.
I regret that Senator Tangney saw fit to refer to changes that have taken place in relation to the portfolio of social services. Like my colleague, Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin, I believe that each Minister who has been responsible for this portfolio has given to his office his very best. All of those Ministers were assisted by a very excellent department and it is wrong to assume that because there have been changes in Ministerial direction the situation of the pensioners has in any way been * prejudiced. I do not believe that it has.
– Senator Tangney did not say that, of course.
– The reference was unfortunate, because if Senator Tangney did not believe that the position of the pensioners had been prejudiced, there was hardly any need to mention the fact that a number of Ministers had held the portfolio. As long as the work is done to the best advantage of the pensioner I do not think that it matters how many Ministers have administered the portfolio.
– Senator Tangney was trying to show how onerous the job was.
– That may bc one reason why there have been changes in the portfolio.
I felt that Senator Tangney was in error in going back to 1908 in an attempt to minimize the record of the Menzies Government in the field of social services. I agree with Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin that it does not matter who first thinks of desirable improvements. The main consideration is that the pensioners should receive the very best that the country can provide for them.
Senator Cant said that the scheme for the payment of tuberculosis allowances was the brainchild of the Chifley Government. Nobody disputes that. The legislation went through the Parliament in 1948. But when the Menzies Government came into office at the end of 1949 no payments had been made to any State under the tuberculosis scheme. Therefore it is a somewhat specious argument to claim credit for putting the legislation through the Parliament when so much time was allowed to elapse before the scheme was put into operation.
Senator Tangney was generous enough to concede that Liberal governments were responsible for introducing age pensions and child endowment. I remind honorable senators that they are the benefits which cost the Government the most money and assist the greatest number of people. When one realizes that to-day over 50 per cent, of all persons of pensionable age are receiving pensions and that the number of endowed families has risen to 476,835 and the number of endowed children to 3,228,657, one gets some idea of the magnitude of the benefits that were conferred by legislation introduced by the Menzies Government or by other Liberal governments.
However, it is idle to contend that all reforms come from one side of the Parliament, or are conceived by one section of the community. The best reforms have always come from the thinking of many people, often with widely diverse opinions on many matters but united by a common desire to help those people who are less fortunate than themselves. Because the record of the Menzies Government has been challenged I think it is only fair that I should quote few figures to prove that since 1949 the Government has been continually vigilant of the needs of the unfortunate people for whom the community as a whole must accept responsibility. When the Menzies Government came into office in 1949 it inherited the conditions that existed when Mr. Chifley refused to grant an increase in pensions in 1949. By way of interjection earlier to-day I asked Senator Tangney to tell the Senate who was responsible for refusing an increase in pensions in 1949 because she accused the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) of refusing to make more money available for the payment of pensions this year. Senator Tangney smartly changed her ground and gave a description of the conditions that existed in 1949. Therefore, I think it is only fair that I should say that those conditions were in existence when the Menzies Government was elected to office.
At that time the full rate of age and invalid pensions was £2 2s. 6d. a week, and the permissible income was £1 10s. a week. There was a savings exemption of £100 beyond which a person was ineligible for the full pension, and there was a property limit of £750 at which eligibility for pension benefit ceased altogether. At that time 403,022 persons were in receipt of pensions and the total expenditure on social services was £92,000,000.
The Menzies Government was returned to office in December, 1949, and in 1950 it increased pensions by 7s. 6d. a week to £2 10s. The next year the Government raised the pension rate by 10s. to £3 and increased the property limit by £250 to £1,000. The next year, 1952, it increased the base rate of pension by 7s. 6d. to £3 7s. 6d. The following year, 1953, it increased that base rate by 2s. 6d. to £3 10s., the permissible income was increased by 10s. to £2 a week. The savings limit also was increased by £50 to £150 and the property limit by £250 to £1,250. In 1954, the Government increased the permissible income by £1 10s., bringing it up to £3 10s. It exempted income from property and increased the savings limit by £50 to £200 and the property limit by £500 to £1,750. It also introduced the Aged Persons Homes Act. In 1955 the base rate pension was increased by another 10s. to £4 and ceiling limits abolished. In 1957 the rate was increased by 7s. 6d. to £4 7s. 6d. In 1958 the property limit was raised to £2,250 and the supplementary pension of 10s. was introduced. In 1959 the rate was increased by 7s. 6d. to £4 15s. The point I am making is that year by year, the Menzies Government consistently took positive action to improve the conditions of pensioners. This bill provides for a further increase of 5s. which will bring the base rate to £5 per week.
When my colleagues on the other side of the chamber state that the pensioner is worse off than he was in 1948, they completely disregard the benefits that are available under the pensioner medical and pharmaceutical scheme under which last year valuable benefits were conferred on 89.4 per cent, of pensioners. This year it is anticipated that the expenditure from the National Welfare Fund will be approximately £331,000,000. Those figures are incontravertible and they show the readiness of the various Ministers who have been in charge of social services, the department, and the Government to increase year by year the benefits payable to pensioners. There are a number of other small benefits to which I have not referred because I have confined my remarks to the major benefits.
I agree with Senator Tangney and Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin that the rate of allowance for the wife of an age or invalid pensioner should be at least the same as that of the wife or de facto wife of a man drawing unemployment or sickness benefits. The allowance paid to the wife of an age or invalid pensioner is not proportionate to the service that she is called upon to render to her husband.
I am delighted that the Minister has decided to abolish the class D widows’ pension. Before I entered this Parliament I was very interested in prison reform, among other things. I know something of the conditions of the life of women whose husbands have been imprisoned for a length of time, particularly when they have the care of young children. Very often the woman is unaware of the misdemeanour committed by her husband until the charge has been laid and the man has been taken from the home. These women have been sadly penalized in the past because they have had thrust upon their shoulders, very often at short notice, the responsibility of caring for a family and also of combating the shame and the disappointment following the imprisonment of their husbands. The increase of £1 2s. 6d. in their pension will be a great help. They will be entitled also, for the first time, to receive an additional 10s. a week for each child after the first.
In company with my other women colleagues in this Senate, I suggest that the Government have a look at the position of the civilian widows, particularly those with children. On 30th June last, 51,922 widows were receiving pensions. Of that number, 12,337 received the extra allowance of 10s. a week for each child after the first. That indicates that those 12,337 women had the responsibility of caring for more than one child.
When thinking of widows, I also think of the deserted wife who, under the social services legislation, eventually comes under the category of a widow. As we know only too well, desertion is something that is increasing all over Australia. I have had the saddest experiences in connexion with women whose husbands have left them practically destitute. I have been at my wit’s end to find somebody who could take over the responsibility of caring for these women and their children until Commonwealth and State formalities had been complied with. I recall immediately the case of a woman with three small children, all of them under three years of age. She was on a country railway station, where a very kind-hearted woman, out of her own purse, gave her a few pounds to enable her to travel to Melbourne so that she could stay with relatives until some provision could be made for her. lt is true that in time both the Commonwealth Government and the State governments will accept some responsibility for that woman and her children, but the problem was to meet her immediate needs. I do not know what can be done in these cases. There are organizations in my State, such as the Ladies Benevolent Association, which provide immediate help, but the position of the deserted wife in the twilight period is very difficult.
I was impressed by what Senator Tangney said about widows who are forced to leave their homes and go out to work in order to provide for their families. It is true that to-day many women leave their homes and go to work. Whilst that may present a reasonably simple problem if the children are older, it presents a great problem when the children are young. A widow is unable to pay out of her widow’s pension, and the allowance made by the State government, for satisfactory attention for her children, with the result that many children are separated from their mothers and are to be found in institutions all over Australia. Whilst I do not say for one moment that it is impossible for a widow to bring up a family, 1 suggest that it is very difficult for her to do so. For an example of a widow who has reared a family of which she can be proud, we need go no further than Senator Agnes Robertson in this chamber. I am sure that a supplementary domestic allowance or extra assistance of any kind would be very acceptable to the civilian widows.
Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin referred to aged persons’ homes. The trend to build these homes in country districts is a very good one. Prior to .1954, very few homes for aged people were built in the country areas, and those that were built were of the institutional type. To-day we are finding that more homes are being built in country areas, thus reducing the need for elderly people to leave their friends and families. Last year, the majority of the grants made to aged persons’ homes were paid to homes in country areas. I should like to inform Senator Wood that of the money paid out under the Aged Persons’ Homes Act, a total of £7,320,853, 37.3 per cent, has gone to Victoria. That is because we in Victoria are very conscious of the need to provide for our elderly people, and we have been able to match the Commonwealth subsidy with money of our own.
– That could be well emulated by Queensland.
– It could be well emulated by every State.
– How much did you say had gone to Victoria?
– Victoria has received 37.3 per cent, of the total subsidy paid. I know that Senator Sheehan, a fellow Victorian, is very interested in aged persons’ homes. I say that because I have met him on many occasions at homes and at gatherings for elderly people. I do not want to repeat what other honorable senators have said about the new merged means test, but I believe that the Minister was perfectly right when he said that it is the most important structural change in social services since the introduction of pensions by the Commonwealth. We have already heard that it will benefit about 100,000 people who already receive pensions and, in addition, will bring in another 30,000. These, I submit, are very impressive figures.
I should feel that I was failing in my responsibility if I were not to congratulate the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson). As we all know, he has worked unceasingly to find a solution of the problems inherent in the means test, particularly in relation to age pensions. I have had a number of conversations with him and have had the privilege of learning his thinking on this matter. As has been said by the Minister, two means tests have always operated in connexion with pensions - a permissible income means test and a property means test. Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin has defined the meaning of property within the act and therefore I do not intend to discuss that aspect at any length, but I should like to say that the most recent report of the Director-General of Social Services, for the year 1959-60, states that at 30th June last, 24.3 per cent, of age pensioners and 13.2 per cent, of invalid pensioners received pension at a reduced rate. So, we see that there is quite a sizeable group of pensioners who have been receiving pensions at a reduced rate. It is these people, and others who have received no pension at all, who will benefit from the new means test.
Whatever could be said in favour of the income means test, I am sure that most people will agree that the property means test has been unsatisfactory from the very day it was included in the Social Services Act. We all can recall countless instances of people aged 60 or 65 years who have found that their lifetime savings have been the means of debarring them from receiving a pension. Others have been forced, very much against their inclination, to dissipate their savings in order to render themselves eligible for the pension. But now, we have a completely different system. In future, the pension will be calculated on a merged income and property means test. It is a property test based on a formula figure of £442 for a single age or invalid pensioner or widow without children.
The first £200 of the property will be exempt, but all property over that amount will be deemed to have an income component of 10 per cent, of the excess; so that, under the scheme, a pensioner who has no income other than exempt income from property may have £2,020 - in shares or in assets, as Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin suggested - and receive the maximum general rate pension. Complete eligibility for the pension will not cease until the value of the property or assets exceeds £4,620, or double that amount in the case of a married couple. Widows also will benefit, in that a widow with children may have property of £2,820 and receive the maximum rate of pension. Eligibility will cease completely when the value of the property is £5,500. I am sure, Sir, and I think most other honorable senators will agree, that these proposals will cover a large number of people and will confer great benefits on them.
I wish to refer to a particular instance, concerning a little old lady who comes to see me very frequently. She was over 80 years of age when she first applied for a pension. Being independent all her life, she had tried to exist on the small amount of capital left her by her late husband. However, she was advised by a bank manager to see me, as a result, she obtained a pension, lt was not a full pension because of the limitation of the means test. She was involved in an accident, as a result of which she received £500 in compensation, which increased her capital to £1,000. Immediately, her pension was reduced. To-day, the pension payable to that person is £180 per annum because she has £500 of savings and £500 of compensation, but under the new merged means test she will receive a full pension of £260 a year, which is an increase of £80. Her joy and pleasure when I told her of this will remain in my mind as a justification for this scheme.
I want again to congratulate all those who have labored to bring it into being. It is a great achievement, but like Senator Marriott and Senator Cole, I am not unmindful of the problems associated with the pensions system in Australia with payments out of general revenue. I came into this Parliament in 1949, and I think in my first speech I stated my conviction that the only real and permanent solution of the problems associated with pensions and the means test was the introduction of a contributory national insurance scheme. We have spoken to-day of the rapidly increasing demands for social security in the com munity, of the increase of payments and of the increasing number of persons eligible for social service benefits. That is all to the good in a country which is enjoying a period of great expansion and financial strength, at a time of good seasons and favorable international conditions. In my opinion, national superannuation should be based actuarially on a permanent scheme, which provides for payments to people on a contractual basis and free of any means test.
I am very pleased with the proposal to introduce the merged means test. I believe it is a great step forward in social service legislation, but I sincerely hope that the Government will not abandon its idea of thoroughly investigating the practicability of introducing a contributory scheme. I hope, Sir, that it will present such a scheme to this Parliament on some future occasion. We will then see the final stage in the elimination of a means test that has been, as 1 have said, unsatisfactory since it was written into the legislation of this country. 1 support the bill.
.- It is not my intention to delay the Senate for very ‘long. I wish to refer to only one or two matters. Senator Marriott has chided the Opposition for submitting the amendment whilst saying that, as the Government wants to get the bill through all stages, it will not delay the passage of this measure. The submission of the amendment, which I support, is not inconsistent with our attitude on this matter, because Senator Marriott will see, if he refers to it, that one of the effects of acceptance of the amendment would be that increased amounts would be payable retrospectively from the first pension day in July, 1960. I remind the Senate that the amendment which Senator Tangney has proposed to the motion that the bill be now read a second time is in in the following terms -
Leave out all words after “ bill “ and insert “ be withdrawn and redrafted to provide among other social service benefits increased amounts for dependent wives of invalids and old age pensioners, and increased rates of child endowment, also to provide social service payments generally more adequate to meet present living costs and representing a fair and reasonable share of the national income - such rates to take effect as from the first pension day in July, 1960”.
If our amendment were accepted by the Government, although the recipients of social services benefits would have to wait a few weeks longer for the increases, they would gain in the ultimate.
Senator Wedgwood has indicated in her speech the need to review social services. I disagree with quite a lot of what she said, particularly when she gave credit to the Government for increasing the amount of age and invalid pensions over the last ten years. It is true that, in terms of money, pensions have been increased, but when one has regard to the decrease of the purchasing power of money that has taken place the Government is not entitled to very much credit for increasing the pension. In my humble opinion, the pensioners are to-day worse off than they were during the regime of the Chifley Government. I know that figures can be quoted to show that expressed as a proportion the pension to the basic wage now payable is very nearly the same as the proportion during Labour’s term of office; but do not forget, Mr. Deputy President and honorable senators, that a good deal of the expenditure that is incurred by the recipients of social service benefits was not taken into account when the basic wage was determined. As we know, pensioners in metropolitan areas who have to travel about on public transport are worse off to-day than they were formerly because bus, tram and railway fares have been increased. Likewise, additional expense is incurred by pensioners in country areas when visiting the metropolis because of the big increase of railway fares. Transport and other increased costs are slowly but surely whittling away the increases of pensions that have been granted over the years.
Quite a lot remains to be done in order to put pensions on a proper basis. I know that certain amendments will be moved to the bill at a later stage. Senator Wedgwood said that pensions should be lifted out of politics. In my humble opinion, that would be a very difficult thing to do. Senator Marriott has attacked the Opposition because we have suggested that the means test should be abolished.
There is one good feature of the bill. By means of the merged means test, an attempt is being made to grapple with the problems that, have arisen as a result of the application of separate means tests in relation to income and property. I do not quarrel with any move that is made to eliminate some of those difficulties. I point out that, if the means test were abolished, every one, irrespective of income, would receive something from the national exchequer. It must not be forgotten, of course, that this income would be taxable.
Honorable senators will recall that during the election campaign before the last, Labour promised that if returned to office it would abolish the means test. During the campaign, various people said to me, in effect, “ Why should so-and-so who has a good income receive a pension? “ I replied that, in the long run, a pension would not benefit people who were already in receipt of goc J incomes because their taxation would bc increased. Even if the means test were abolished, we would still have to deal with ihe question of pensioners on the base rate. It is of no use kidding ourselves that because pensions are being increased by 5s. the great majority of the people concerned will be better off.
There is one thing that worries me in relation to this matter. Senator Wedgwood has referred to Australia’s prosperity as a result of bountiful seasons. She said that everything is going along swimmingly. Yet the fact remains that many people are still claiming social service benefits. Is that not an indication that this country’s prosperity is not being shared equally amongst the people? While some are getting a great share, many others are getting little, and it should be the aim of the Government in this democratic community to see that the income of the nation is more equally divided. That would be the solution of the great worry of many people in regard to a displacement of our system of democracy. It would get rid of the fear that our system will be overthrown and that we will have a form of dictatorship. We should devote our minds to that problem, in order that we may continue in our present way of life.
Some good has come from our social services legislation. Every improvement is a step along the road and we like to see it. The Opposition’s amendment suggests that the bill be withdrawn and redrafted. Some reforms have been made. I am pleased with what the Government has done in the provision of homes for aged persons, but this is a subject to which we must give even more attention. The old idea of herding aged men and women into institutions is fading. The quicker it goes, the better. It is true that when aged persons become ill they have to be admitted to hospitals, but it is wrong to force into institutions aged men and women who are enjoying relatively good health. We should have for them more homes where they will have some independence and be able to entertain their friends, with radios and even television receivers. They would then feel they were not a nuisance and would be likely to enjoy their old age much more than if they were confined to institutions. On more than one occasion I have welcomed the provision of funds for the building of aged persons’ homes, but I should like more to be done in that direction. The chairman of the Victorian Hospitals and Charities Commission, Dr. Lindell, is a very keen advocate of this kind of social service, and he has expressed the hope that in the near future elderly citizens will be provided with more of these homes.
If the amendment is carried and the 0111 is withdrawn, the Government should give more attention to the position of civilian widows and deserted wives. I am sorry that when the matrimonial causes legislation was before the Parliament more honorable senators did not appreciate the needs of deserted wives. If there had been greater appreciation of their position, perhaps there would not have been a majority in favour of the very obnoxious section 28 (m). However, that provision is in the law and it may be that because of it in the future a greater claim will be made on governments for the maintenance of deserted wives.
We shall have to give more consideration to the formula applicable to the new merged means test before we shall be fully conversant with all the details. In another place the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) and here the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Sir Walter Cooper) have stated that it will give relief and anomalies will be ironed out.
I want to make a point in relation to the manner in which the Parliament is being treated, i This measure is being rushed through. I know that we can only make requests for amendments of bills relating to money and that the funds are made available in another place. When this measure was being debated in the other place the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt), who is in charge not only of the finances for social services but also of all the other finances of the country, was not present. About six hours were allotted to the debate, and there are 123 members in the other chamber. Six hours had to be divided amongst 123 members for the discussion of one of the most important bills that has come before the Parliament. Is that government by the Parliament? ls it government by the elected representatives of the nation? This is a matter that must be examined. The rank and file supporters of the Government are denied the right to debate a measure in the manner in which they desire. Government supporters, who are in the majority, must take a hand in this matter. We talk about dictatorship and the possibility that democracy may go. Here is the very thing happening before our eyes. A democratically elected parliament is simply being ignored and a small section of the executive is virtually controlling the destinies of this country. The Treasurer is away, the AttorneyGeneral is away, and I understand that the Prime Minister has had an urgent call to leave the country. Honorable senators opposite can rectify the situation. We cannot, because we have not the numbers. All we can do is to direct the Government’s attention to it. I repeat that this country has drifted to the point where, in fact if not in name, it is being ruled by a dictatorship.
– Mr. Deputy President, I rise to support the bill. Before I deal with the details, I should like to assure Senator Tangney that I was very sympathetic with one part of her amendment. Indeed, it was the only part with which I was sympathetic. I refer to that part of it which recommends that the bill -
If the amendment had stopped at that point, more than likely I would have voted with my friends on the other side of the chamber. I cannot follow the rest of the amendment.
The Opposition has been very misguided in submitting an amendment which seeks to have the bill recast. Honorable senators opposite know very well just how long it would take to do that. It seems to me to be quite a contradiction for the Labour Opposition to pour out tales of woe about people who are starving because they are not getting adequate social service benefits, and then for it to submit an amendment which, if agreed to, would delay the payment of further benefits to those people. The Opposition’s attitude just does not make sense to me.
I am glad that Senator Cole agrees with me about the desirability of introducing a national insurance scheme. I am very happy to be reminded by Senator Wedgwood that just after we both were elected to the Senate in 1949 she spoke about the desirability of having a national insurance scheme. I have yet to be persuaded that there is no way of formulating a scheme that would be sound actuarily To-day, our young people are getting wages that are out of all proportion to the work they are doing. I do not say that in any spirit of carping criticism. Those of us who have been engaged in social work, and who have observed the way ar young people are spending their money, cannot help feeling that there will come a day of reckoning in this country and that our social service system will not be able to carry the burden that is imposed upon it by a welfare state. We must remind ourselves that, although Australia has a population of 10,000,000 people, we have only 3,000,000 taxpayers. Those 3,000,000 taxpayers are carrying the burden of our social services.
I refer now to a subject that I have, shall I say, harped on ever since I was elected to the Senate - the ridiculously low retiring age. Sitting about in Australia are people of pensionable age who have talents and health and who are willing to take part in the development of the country. Unfortunately, when those people reached the age of 60 or 65 years, they were retired. Medical science has given us all almost another twenty years of life. Why have we to sit about for twenty years waiting for the reaper to come? Let us all get busy and let the Government get busy about examining the legislation to see whether something cannot be done to alter the retiring age. The happiest people are those who can work. I know plenty of people who have been dead from the ankles up from twenty years of age; they never want to work. But the great majority of the people who have been retired at what is now a comparatively early age are very miserable because they have been obliged to accept the pension. Goodness knows, there are plenty of positions available for them. I have mentioned before that in the week before last the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ had fourteen pages of advertise ments for positions in New South Wales. So, when considering our social service scheme, we must realize that a very radical change must take place.
I was very interested to hear my colleague Senator Marriott express what I had in mind in criticism of the suffering of the pensioners. I note that Senator Tangney has just returned into the chamber. May I say to her, as did Senator Marriott, that the Opposition, in submitting this amendment, did a great injustice to those people who are waiting for the benefits that the bill seeks to provide. The sooner the bill is passed the sooner will those people receive the benefits that they have been promised.
I congratulate the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) and the department upon the magnificent job they have done in the field of social services. Senator Cant criticized the tuberculosis allowance. I remind the honorable senator that, although the Chifley Government gave some thought to the subject, it did not pay a single penny to tuberculosis sufferers. It is because of the efforts of this Government during the last eleven years that the incidence of tuberculosis has been curbed and that sufferers from tuberculosis have been greatly helped. But I do give the Chifley Government credit for having thought about a tuberculosis allowance. It thought about a lot of things. It thought about giving endowment for the first child, but it did nothing about the matter. I remind honorable senators opposite that the Labour government has been the only government that has ever reduced the age pension. The history of this Government shows that, in every Budget it has presented since 1949, some section of the community has benefited in the provision of social services. I congratulate the Minister upon his research in this field.
One of the outstanding measures that have been passed this year was that which made certain social service benefits available to aborigines. The provision of those benefits to aborigines is one of the splendid things that this Government has done. The measure was belated and I know that we should have done more earlier; but action has been taken, and a great number of very worthy aborigines are now able to participate in the social service benefits that have been provided by this very benign Government.
The report of the Director-General of Social Services for the last financial year has been presented in another place. That report shows great advancement in the provision of benefits. It gives details of the payment of age, invalid and widows’ pensions, unemployment and sickness benefits and child endowment, and of the extension of social service benefits to aborigines. It also indicates the help that has been given in the field of rehabilitation and the allowances that have been paid for the establishment of aged persons’ homes. I do not intend to cite individual figures. My colleagues on this side of the chamber have already quoted figures showing the amount of the various pensions to date and what they will be after this legislation is passed. The report of the Director-General shows that for the year ended in June last a sum of £7,320,853 was spent on the establishment of aged persons’ homes. Wonderful homes have been provided for approximately 9,000 aged persons. The total expenditure last year on benefits covered by the bill now before us was £233,612,946.
Sitting suspended from 5.45 to 8 p.m.
– Before the silting was suspended 1 was saying that it is sheer hypocrisy for honorable senators opposite to complain that they have not had sufficient time in which to study this bill. I have noticed that not too many of them are anxious to enter into the debate. I do not think they are hanging back because of lack of time in which to study the bill. I think they are not entering into the debate freely because they do not have any constructive suggestions to offer. The bill obviously will benefit a great many people and for all practical purposes honorable senators opposite have thrown in the towel. It is almost six weeks since the Budget was presented. Most of the provisions contained in this legislation were outlined in the Budget, which the Opposition has had ample time to study.
I am sympathetically disposed towards that part of Senator Tangney’s proposed amendment which refers to civilian widows and the wives of invalid pensioners. Some honorable senators will remember that when I spoke in the Budget debate I referred to the handicaps under which civilian widows live. A civilian widow is not allowed to earn a great amount of money. If she had been engaged in a profession before her marriage and returned to it she would become ineligible for the pension, lt is a great pity that any restriction should be placed on the amount of money that a civilian widow may earn. Most civilian widows are condemned to do work of a kind to which they have possibly never been accustomed. No means test is applied to a war widow - that is as it should be - but a means test is applied to a civilian widow. I think that the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton - and his department should look further into this matter with a view to doing something to assist the civilian widows. 1 am disappointed that the wife of an invalid pensioner is to receive only 35s. a week. These women act as wife, mother, comforter, nurse, laundress, cook and shopper. In addition they must be financiers of very particular skill in order to eke out the money that comes into the home. The allowance that is paid to these women calls for attention by the Minister.
As to child endowment, I have the same feeling about it as Senator Marriott expressed in his well-reasoned speech this afternoon. I think that a means test should have been applied to child endowment. All of us know that child endowment is being paid to hundreds of families in Australia to whom the money means nothing - it is merely a drop in the bucket. But if a means test had been applied to child endowment, governments, whether Labour or formed by a coalition of the anti-Labour parties, as the present Government is, could have directed child endowment to those families in the greatest need
The figures in relation to child endowment are staggering. The report of the DirectorGeneral of Social Services shows that at 30th June, 1960, approximately 3,252,000 children were endowed in Australia, representing almost one-third of the population. Endowed families numbered 1,476,835 - an increase for the year of more than 25 per cent. Those figures are truly substantia] and accordingly 1 agree with Senator Marriott that the Department of Social Services would be well advised to study this matter of child endowment. 1 am sorry that I cannot support Senator Tangney’s amendment, although one aspect of it does appeal to me.
Senator Sheehan this afternoon bemoaned what he claimed to be the fact that the wealth of this country was so unevenly divided amongst the people. What arrant, exaggerated nonsense! He could easily have obtained figures from the Taxation Branch which would have shown how very few people in this country have what might be called abnormal incomes. The customers of the savings banks, as 1 pointed out to Senator McKenna a few weeks ago, operate about 8,000,000 banking accounts. Australia is a working man’s country. Senator Sheehan is a working man; I am a working woman. All of us work with either our brains or our hands. Australia is not a country that contains any idle rich. lt is nonsense to say that the wealth of this nation is not evenly divided amongst the people. A glance at the figures in relation to hire-purchase transactions and bank deposits, particularly savings bank deposits, must convince anybody thai the wealth oi this country is fairly evenly divided. If Senator Sheehan wants to see countries whose wealth is unevenly divided he should go to South-east Asia. That is where he will see the haves and the have-nots; he will never see them here. Australia is a wonderful country and whenever I hear of anybody who is dissatisfied with it I am reminded of the character in the Army joke who, when replying to his comrade who was complaining about conditions in the trenches, said, “ If you know a better ole, go to it “. That is what I would like to say to people who claim that the wealth of this country is not shared fairly evenly by its people.
The report of the Director-General of Social Services also gives details of the amounts paid in invalid and widows’ pensions, unemployment and sickness benefits, child endowment, social service benefits for aborigines, the amount spent on rehabilitation services and payments for aged persons’ homes. The annual expenditure by the Commonwealth on social services is phenomenal. Last year it amounted to £233,612,946 - an increase of almost £13,000,000 on the expenditure of the previous year. Since this Government came to office in 1949 expenditure on social services has increased with each budget. 1 remind the Senate that in addition to social service payments, most pensioners enjoy medical and pharmaceutical benefits.
The bill provides for an increase in pensions of 5s. a week. The age and invalid pension will now be £5 a week. Widows with children will receive £5 5s. and the pension for widows without children will be £4 7s. 6d. A generous gesture has been made to women whose husbands are in prison and special allowances are provided for their children.
The outstanding feature of the legislation is the modification of the means test. The Minister stated that some 100,000 existing pensioners, who have suffered because of their thrift in providing for their old age, will benefit from the new means test. Those people have suffered while other people have been enjoying the full pension. The Minister also said that probably 20,000 persons now ineligible for pensions will receive pensions for the first time. Those figures are phenomenal and I think it is high time the Government initiated an insurance scheme so as to meet these commitments in a much more satisfactory way than is being done at present. The Government’s desire is for everybody to benefit from the money that is collected from the taxpayers, but although we have a population of 10,000,000, only 3,000,000 of them pay taxes and the load is becoming very great. The Government’s accomplishments in the field of social services in the past eleven years have been astounding. The same remark applies to the repatriation scheme administered by the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Sir Walter Cooper). The social services scheme and the repatriation scheme have given great satisfaction to people throughout the Commonwealth. I firmly believe that that has been made possible only by the wise, far-seeing policies of the present Government. We should also remember that the Government has tried in every possible way to make the lot of our pioneers more comfortable in their old age.
In conclusion, I say that the figures I have quoted show that some type of national insurance scheme must be devised and made actuarially sound before it is put to the people. I commend the Government for what it has done and I support the bill.
.- Mr. Deputy President, I have very much pleasure in supporting the bill because 1 believe it is one of the humanitarian pieces of legislation which have been introduced almost every year since this Government has been in office. Everybody in this chamber, irrespective of his politics, should have a deep sympathy for the requirements of people over the age of 65 years. How those requirements can be met depends upon the economy of the country. Earlier in this debate I listened very intently to Senator Tangney. She made a very sincere contribution. This is one of the subjects on which she has always spoken and although she sits on the other side of the chamber I give her credit for her sincerity. The position of the wife of an invalid pensioner, which she discussed to-day, is a very good point which deserves the consideration of the Government. I have always been of the opinion that, irrespective of which side an opinion comes from, it should be respected and if it is a good one, where possible, it should be adopted. The point Senator Tangney raised was a very good one and I hope the Government, at a convenient time, will amend the act in accordance with her suggestion.
Of course, the theme of the speeches from Opposition senators has been as usual, that the humanitarian approach comes mainly from the Labour side, indicating that they are the ones who look after the workers, as they term them. I think Senator Robertson from Western Australia put the position clearly. A person is a worker whether he does manual work or office work, and whether he is an employer or an employee. Everybody works at a job, whether he is an employer or an employee.
I think the records show that the Opposition doubtless has a sympathy for people who may not be as well off as others; but the humanitarian feeling of those on this side of the chamber towards underprivileged people is just as strong as it is on the other side. I believe that is a characteristic of the Australian people generally. As one speaker said - I think it was Senator Robertson - the distinction between employer and employee in this country is not very great and is completely different from what it is in many other places which she mentioned.
Speaking of my own experience, I started work very early in life and I knew the circumstances of a mother who had to fend for herself and her children. I then became an employer in business, and I have always maintained that the average Australian employer has quite a warm feeling towards his employees. I always deplore political attempts to create a feeling that because one is an employer and another is an employee there is a very great difference between them. I believe that generally speaking, if we keep that division out of our general life and do not attempt to create it in our political life, we will be a happier people. I have not known any employer who wanted to see his employees depressed. Most employers want to see their employees happy and contented. I think that is how we should all feel.
I believe that the desires of those on this side of the chamber are just as strong as those of Opposition senators in dealing with legislation for the requirements of the aged. Honorable senators know that I will be critical of the Government which I support when I feel it should be criticized; but despite what has been said, I believe the Government has been most responsive in respect of the requirements of the aged. There have been demonstrations seeking an increase of this and an increase of that-
– There should be a bachelor’s tax.
– That might not be a bad way of raising funds for the aged and as a bachelor I would be quite happy to pay it.
– If I were a bachelor I would be happy to pay it too.
– There you are! That shows that it could be worth while to be a bachelor after all. The point I am making is that it is very easy for people to demand or ask that a certain amount be paid to aged people and it would be easy, if you were in opposition, to say that a larger amount should be paid to age pensioners But when you have the reins of government and the control of the finances of the country, the economy very largely dictates to you what can be paid.
Some speakers in this debate have pointed out very clearly the large amount of money that is being spent on social services to-day. I did not have the figures before me, but my colleague, Senator Wedgwood from Victoria, who takes a very keen interest in this subject, informed me that the amount to be spent on social services this year is £331,000,000. That is a very large slice of the present national income. When age pensions and other social service benefits are increased, the increase does not have to be many shillings to increase the total amount very considerably. So, we have a problem because on one hand people want increased benefits, but on the other hand somebody has to pay for them. Quite often people will say, “ Give the pensioners more “. Even in gall up polls people have said, “ Give pensioners a lot more “. But if taxes are increased to meet the extra expenditure, there is a squeal from the other side. 1 have been in public life for quite a number of years now, both in the municipal sphere and the federal sphere. I think that in the municipal sphere one comes closer to the people when rates are increased and other taxes are extracted from the people. One notices the reaction much more in the municipal sphere than one does in this far removed Federal Parliament, but the reaction is there just the same. While we may like to make these increases, when taxes are increased to provide the necessary money there is always a howl. Therefore, we have to strike a happy balance between what we have and what we can give. Looking at the situation as I see it, I think the Government has done its best in the circumstances. Both Senator Robertson and Senator Wedgwood strongly pressed the point that this matter should not be dealt with on a political basis. I, too. feel that social services, particularly in respect of aged persons, should be taken out of the political football field. One of the things I very much regret is that often a political party promises that if it is elected, it will increase age pensions by so much. If that party is not elected, there is a sense of regret in the minds of aged people because the increase has not been made. I think that is an unfortunate thing. It is not good to make the old people discontented by making promises such as that, especially when we know that even if the party which made the promises had been elected it probably could not have found the money necessary to honour the promise, having regard to the present means of raising funds. I therefore agree with my two colleagues that the payment of pensions to aged people should be kept out of the political field.
I think it would be much better to have a national insurance scheme. I know that there are many difficulties in the way of such a scheme and that every time you mention the proposal arguments are raised against it. It would be necessary to face up to the position and examine the problem thoroughly. There probably are ways of putting such a scheme into operation. We tend to become rather set in our ways in relation to the allocation of money for various activities. We tend to become accustomed to believe that a certain department requires a certain sum each year, and we go on in that way until somebody gives the Government a jolt, showing that the allocation for that department should be reduced and that another department should get more money. I am well aware that it would cost a great deal of money to establish a national insurance fund. Thinking the matter over, I have wondered whether we are really getting the value that we should get from the money that we have been spending on defence. I have wondered whether in these days, when the cost of defence is so very high, we are just fiddling with the problem in that our expenditure on defence, though large, is not large enough to achieve the results that we desire.
It seems to me that future wars will be fought not by individual countries, but by a number of countries linked together. I think that the present cost of defence is too high for a country of the size of Australia, and 1 do not think we are getting the results that we expected when we commenced to spend these huge sums on defence. It might be better to allocate some of this money to a national insurance fund. That is just a thought that I have. I admit that such a proposal might prove to be impracticable when it is more thoroughly investigated.
– The vote for defence does not change over the years.
– The first appropriation of approximately £200,000,000 for defence was probably more valuable than the similar appropriations that are made now. 1 feel that what we are spending on defence is not meeting our needs and that it might be better to allocate some of the money to something else, possibly to a national insurance scheme which would give great benefits to the people of this country, particularly to the pensioners.
– You would not need a national insurance scheme if you did away with the defence vote.
– You need some money to start with in order to avoid heavy taxation. 1 have not gone into the actuarial side of this matter. 1 am just expressing an idea that has occurred to me.
Another problem at which Senator Robertson has been hammering for several years is that of the retiring age. I do not think that anybody should say that the average person should retire at the age of 65. We should have a fresh look at this problem. Years ago, a man aged 65 years was considered to be old, but I do not think that that is regarded as a great age to-day. With the longer span of life that medical science has brought about, there is no reason why the retiring age should not be increased, perhaps by a year at a time. If we were to do that, it would assist in implementing a national insurance scheme because each year added to the retiring age would postpone the time for a lot of people to come under the pensions scheme.
By forcing people to retire at 65, we are wasting a lot of man-power and womanpower which this country needs, and which surely could be used to the betterment of the country. I think, too, that a later retiring age would be better for the people themselves, because when people retire from work too early they tend to go to pieces. I have found that the people who maintain the best state of health are those who are the busiest. They are too busy to worry about themselves or to think of themselves, and as a consequence you generally find that they are the healthiest people. I think that when we force physically fit people to retire at 65 we are doing a foolish thing, because we put the idea into their minds that they are of no further use. This has a bad psychological effect on them. The Government should look at this matter and, if necessary, step up the retiring age, but only by a year at a time so that there will be no great dislocation in industry. I think that by doing this we would help to build a better nation. We would be using to greater advantage the abilities of our people, and we would be throwing fewer people on to the pension fund. That would make a difference to the economics of the social services structure of this country.
The bill before us shows a change in the outlook of the Government to aged people and pensions. I refer to the new merged means test. I am very happy at the Government’s decision to introduce this new means test, because I think it will bring happiness to a lot of people who have been thrifty. As a result of their thrift, they have hitherto been placed at a disadvantage in that they have been prevented from enjoying the full rate of pension available to other people. Because of the new means test that discrimination will be eliminated. I am confident that when the people realize the full significance of the merged means test, they will decide that this bill is one of the best that has been brought down since this Government has been in power, and probably for many years before that. My Queensland colleague, Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin, and other honorable senators have dealt extensively with the value of the new scheme in various respects, so I do not propose to deal with the matter in detail. I think that the adoption of the merged means test, in preference to lifting the means test in other directions, is a step forward, and something for which many people will bs grateful to the Government. Senator Wedgwood mentioned the case of an elderly lady and told us how happy she had been when she knew that her pension would be increased as a result of this legislation. The beautiful story Senator Wedgwood told us of the happiness of that old lady I think will be repeated in many homes throughout Australia. In my opinion, this is one of the wisest steps that could be taken to help the thrifty people who have been so penalized in the past.
Praise has been given to the Government and to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) for this bill, and while I do not wish to detract from that praise, because the Government must make the final decision to bring such proposals before the Parliament and give them legislative force, I nevertheless want to pay tribute to the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) and the Government’s social services committee which has worked with him for so long. I also pay tribute to the various back-benchers, including Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin and Senator Wedgwood, for their work. I have discussed this matter with them many times. I congratulate them on the very fine spirit they have displayed and the thought they have given to the subject, in their efforts to induce the Government to introduce this legislation.
– Are they the authors of it?
– I am not going to say they are the authors. I do not know where the credit for authorship lies, but I do know that they, as back-benchers, have played a magnificent part in inducing the Government to bring this scheme to fruition. 1 think it should be known to the people of Australia that in this Parliament things are done not only by Ministers and the Cabinet but also by back-benchers.
This is a striking illustration of what back-benchers can do if they are strong enough and determined enough in their efforts to get the Government to appreciate what can be done. I think it is probable that when this matter was brought to the notice of the Government difficulties were seen in the way of its implementation, but due to the determination of back-benchers in this place we have the very happy state of affairs that we are discussing to-day.
It is good for the people of Australia to know that the representatives they send to this National Parliament are not just rubber stamps for political parties, but have vision, imagination, drive and courage, and are prepared to stand up and say to their party or to the Government, as the case may be, what they think should be done.
During my remarks I have referred to Senator Tangney’s speech. On this side of the chamber, our three lady senators - our Whip, Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin. Senator Robertson and Senator Wedgwood - all have spoken.
– You seem to lean to them;.
– I owe a lot to my mother, and I have a great regard for the humane approach of women to legislation such as that now before the Senate. The speeches of the honorable senators to whom I have referred indicated the warmth of their humanitarianism. I know that over a period of time they have worked incessantly to improve pension rates and social services generally. I listened to their speeches and I thought they were excellent. Not only did they contain food for thought; they also gave a clear indication of the feelings of these honorable senators in this regard.
As a Government back-bencher, I am proud to see in this Parliament women of their calibre, women of determination and courage, who are prepared to stand up for the rights of elderly people, particularly, and to say what they think should be done In the field of social services. That indicates to me that there is a place for women in this Parliament, particularly when legislation of a humanitarian character comes before us. Their influence also is worth while before the proposals reach this place, when they are being discussed at party meetings and by committees. I therefore offer my meed of praise for the work they have done and for the speeches they have contributed to this debate. I congratulate the honorable member for Sturt and other members of the Government’s social services committee, and also the Government and the Minister on having introduced what I regard as one of the finest pieces of legislation affecting age pensioners ever to come before this Parliament. I therefore com.mend the legislation.
Senator Sir WALTER COOPER (Queensland - Minister for Repatriation) [8.36]. - Having listened to the debate, I think I am right in saying that the proposal for the merged means test has received the blessing of honorable senators on both sides of the chamber. Senator Cole asked whether a pensioner who had £1,000 would be entitled to a medical card under the pensioner medical scheme. I inform him that this legislation will not affect in any way a pensioner who already holds such a card. Much would depend on the way in which the £1,000 was held.
– As money in the bank.
– In that case, the position would not be affected at all. The person concerned would still be entitled to pensioner medical benefits. A person may have approximately £2,000 before his pension rights are affected.
In regard to the amendment moved by Senator Tangney on behalf of the Opposition, I think it is obvious to honorable senators that it would take a considerable length of time to redraft this bill. It is desired to pay ‘the increased pension rates as from 6th October, so there would not be sufficient time to draft a new bill before that date. Having regard to the number of people who will benefit from the legislation, the Government could not possibly accept the amendment.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be left out (Senator Tangney’s amendment) be left out.
The Senate divided. (The Deputy President - Senator the Hon. A. D. Reid.)
Majority . . ..11
Question so resolved in the negative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 (Short title and citation).
– I move -
That clause 1 be postponed.
As an instruction to the Government -
That immediately on the payment of the present increases provisionshould be made for the establishment of an independent tribunal similar to the Richardson committee to ascertain and inform the Parliament of suitable amounts which should be made payable for the comfort and needs of the recipients of age, invalid and widows’ pensions.
I feel constrained to move this amendment, Mr. Temporary Chairman, because it has been said in this chamber to-day that pensions should be taken out of the political arena. I have said each time social service legislation has been before this chamber in the last four years that the only way in which pensions can be lifted out of the political arena is to set up an independent tribunal to make sure that the pensioners will be looked after. Earlier to-day, I read to honorable senators an extract from an editorial in the Melbourne “ Age “ of 10th July, which confirmed my opinion on this subject. The article stated -
The present system of fixing pensions simply by government decision on the cheapest calculations compatible with popularity is quite unreal.
It ignores the basic economic needs of the individual and the variations in the cost of living. Some system must be devised which will allow rates to rise with the cost of living and will remove them from the political arena.
That was the considered opinion of one of our main newspapers in Australia, as expressed in its editorial. I trust that the committee will accept my amendment in order to make sure that pensions are removed from the political arena. This could be done by the establishment of an independent tribunal as stated in the amendment.
– I second the motion.
Senator Sir WALTER COOPER (Queensland - Minister for Repatriation) [8.49]. - The provision of social services as a whole involves the expenditure of vast amounts of money. The expenditure on social services in this financial year will be about £330,698,000. The Government feels that the Parliament should appropriate the taxpayers’ money, not an outside body over whom we would have no control in any way. Parliamentarians who are here to do their job will definitely oppose giving an outside body control over millions of pounds of the taxpayers’ money.
– Whether the amount is large or small is only a matter of relativity.
– That does not matter. The question is whether we are elected to run the country or to shelve responsibility to some outside body. I think that we are here to accept the responsibility. If we cannot afford the money, that is the Government’s responsibility. If we can afford it, that too is the Government’s responsibility. For those reasons, the Government is not prepared to accept the amendment.
– This is one instance in which the Opposition supports the Government’s attitude. An expenditure of £330,000,000 a year is involved and in addition there is the matter of the rendering of a service by the Parliament to the community as a whole. The members of the Parliament are responsible to the community and answerable to it for that service. No committee, however well constituted it might be, which has no responsibility to the people could undertake this duty. The Parliament is the proper authority to determine the matter.
However, the Parliament could be assisted in this work by the reconstitution of the all-party Social Security Committee. I should think that this would meet the objections of the Leader of the Australian Democratic Labour Party (Senator Cole) to pensions being considered by the Parliament in the way in which they are now considered. All sections of the Parliament could be represented on a special committee which would make recommendations to the Government. Of course, the Government would not be bound to accept the recommendations. The committee could act in an advisory capacity and the Government would be in a much stronger position when submitting proposals on pensions to the Parliament.
Our agreement with the Minister’s attitude on this matter does not mean that we agree with the bill, as I have been at great pains during the day to demonstrate. We believe that the Parliament is the body to deal with the expenditure of this vast sum of money that is collected from the taxpayers. The Government, in its social services administration, deals with a large percentage of the community. Unfortunately, as we know, this percentage is rising. These are people who have, throughout their working years, made contributions to the revenue of the Government. The Government is the custodian of those contributions.
– In 1953 you put up the same scheme as Senator Cole has proposed.
– I have always believed that the Parliament is the proper authority to decide these matters. I do not think that any independent committee that was not responsible to the Parliament could possibly do the job satisfactorily. That is my studied opinion, and it is the attitude of the Parliamentary Labour Party, which believes in democratic government. Because the Government has been elected by the people it must accept the responsibility that it is given. If the Government does not face up to that responsibility it is up to the people to see that the Government is removed.
We support the Government on this proposal, but I hope that the Government will consider my suggestion for the reconstitution of the Social Security Committee of the Parliament. The Minister in charge of the bill can speak with authority of that committee. He knows the value of the work it did, because he was one of the most hard-working members of it. lt was able to approach these problems without any party bias, so that pensions and other social services did not become a partypolitical football. We were able to meet on common ground. I agree with other speakers that no political party has a monopoly of compassion or of judgment in the matter of social services. I believe that we could all work together in an advisory capacity. While I cannot support the amendment, I again suggest the reconstitution of the all-party Social Security Committee.
.- We have heard from the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Sir Walter Cooper) and from Senator Tangney, by implication at least, a perfect argument for the abolition of any form of independent arbitration. If it is the duty of the Government to safeguard the finances of the country, if necessary at the expense of the pensioners, it is also the duty of the Government to safeguard the finances of the country at the expense of the wage-earners whom it employs. If it is all right to have the salaries and emoluments of Government employees determined by an independent tribunal whose decisions the Government accepts, why is it all wrong to have the emoluments of pensioners determined by a similar form of independent tribunal whose decisions the Government will accept? I see no difference at all between the two propositions. I am in favour of equal treatment for all sections of the community. If wages are to be determined by arbitration, let pensions also be determined by an independent body.
It is entirely illogical that pensions should be determined with one eye on what the Government thinks the finances of the country will stand and that wages should be determined, apparently, without regard to that. To be consistent, both sections of the community should be given equal treatment. When I see so many instances where governments appoint tribunals of an independent character to determine payments, not only to their own employees but also to the employees of other bodies such as commissions, I think that the Government’s argument that in regard to pensions it must hold the purse strings is entirely illogical. I know that the salaries of employees of State governments are determined by such a tribunal. Why should this not happen in the case of pensioners? Is there something so special about the pensioner that the amount he receives must be at the whim of the Government? It is a disgrace to this Parliament that year after year pensions are made a political football - the Government, with one eye on the next election, determining how much the pensioner should be given in an effort to keep him quiet, and the Opposition demanding from the Government all sorts of things, including some things which the Opposition possibly would not give if it was in power. Then we have representatives of the pensioners coming to Parliament House to plead with members foi justice. It is degrading. The way out of this situation is to appoint an independent tribunal of sensible men. Why is it suggested that we could not get a tribunal of reasonable and sensible men who would give a just emolument to the pensioners? Why is it suggested that such a tribunal would get out of hand and would award extravagant amounts? I say that it is possible to get people who are experienced and skilled in these matters to make a determination. If you got the right people, in some instances you would get a better determination than is often made by the arbitration authorities. The advantage of having pensions determined by such a tribunal would be that they would cease to be a political football. We would cease to have both sides offering the pensioners bribes at election time. We would cease to have the old people used for political purposes. 1 have seen them used disgracefully during some election campaigns within the last few years.
I support the proposal advanced by Senator Cole. It seeks to extend justice to the pensioners. The argument used against it is one of expediency. So, when we have on the one hand expediency and on the other hand justice, I am amazed that honorable senators who have said time and time again that pensions should be taken out of politics should persist with a procedure that will keep the fixation of pensions irrevocably in the political arena.
Senator VINCENT (Western Australia; [9.2]. - Senator McManus has used a very powerful argument to support the amendment that has been proposed by Senator Cole on behalf of the Australian Democratic Labour Party. It is suggested that the responsibility for the assessment of a fair, reasonable and just level of pensions should be taken from this Parliament and should be placed with an independent tribunal. Senator McManus, in support of his argument, drew an analogy which at first glance seems to be rather powerful. He said that, although as a Parliament we accept the principle of arbitration in respect of wage fixation, we deny it in the fixation of a just and reasonable level of pensions. At first sight that seems to be a rather good argument. Let us examine it: Is it a proper analogy? I suggest that upon closer examination it is not a good analogy. 1 suggest that the argument advanced by the honorable senator is a false one. When the argument is looked at in the light in which I propose to show it, it does not contain very much force.
No one will deny that pensions are a parliamentary responsibility. Of course, the Parliament could shelve that responsibility and pass it to an independent tribunal. But the situation is somewhat different from that. The payment of social services is a matter in relation to which the Parliament should accept political responsibility because-
– Pensions come from the taxpayers’ money.
– The Parliament should accept that responsibility because, as Senator Hannaford suggests by way of interjection, these benefits come from public funds. The disbursement of those funds is the responsibility of this Parliament, and it cannot divorce itself from that responsibility. This Parliament has not only the responsibility of assessing the quantum of social service payments but also the responsibility of evaluating the total amount of social service benefits that shall be payable as against other government expenditure. No independent tribunal could accept that responsibility, even if we wanted to give it to such a tribunal. That is a problem which would confront any independent tribunal if it were given unlimited power to assess pension levels. No tribunal out side this Parliament can evaluate the respective proportions of public expenditure to be allocated to defence and throughout the whole gamut of government activity right down to the provision of social services. So I think Senator McManus’s argument in that respect is not very sound.
I take the matter further. The analogy he drew was not a good analogy for a second reason. Although this Parliament is responsible for the assessment of the level of pensions and other social service benefits and for payments from public funds, the employer is in a somewhat different position. The employer’s payments come from his own funds; they do not come from public funds. Wages come from the employer’s funds. A good case can be made out for the Parliament to say: “ We will not be the umpires because we might favour either the employer or the employee. We will not tamper with the employer’s funds. We will set up an arbitration tribunal which will be impartial.” Of course, the decisions of the arbitration tribunal have not always been accepted by both the employers and the employees as being satisfactory.
I believe that the argument advanced by Senator McManus fails on a third count. He implied that once an independent tribunal was Set up all would be well. I heard that story many years ago when people were talking about arbitration in the fixation of wage levels Things have not always been well with arbitration proceedings. There has been many an argument before the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission about wage levels. One could expect similar arguments to arise if an independent tribunal were appointed to assess pension levels for these unfortunate people, even though it may function effectively. For those reasons, I do not think the amendment is sound. I believe that we must continue to accept the responsibility and not be side-tracked by the argument that pensions are a political football. I repeat that we as a Parliament must accept the responsibility.
– Mr. Temporary Chairman, any move to improve the lot of the Australian pensioner would certainly have my wholehearted support. Of course, I do not claim to have a monopoly of that sentiment. I wonder whether the amendment moved by Senator Cole would, if agreed to, have the effect of taking pensions, to use his own term, out of politics. When all is said and done, “ politics “ is a fairly wide term and takes us outside the Parliament. I note that the amendment contains these words - to set up an independent tribunal similar to the Richardson Committee to ascertain and inform the Parliament . . .
It seems to me that whatever inquiries were made, the matter would come back to the Parliament and therefore back into the political arena. I have yet to learn that the Richardson committee took anything out of the realm of politics. As I recall the situation, the Richardson committee threw everything right into the political arena. I think the attempt to draw an analogy with the Richardson committee is an unfortunate one.
The amendment confines itself to age, invalid and widows’ pensions and therefore completely overlooks all the other social service benefits, including unemployment and sickness benefits, maternity allowances and child endowment. If ever there was a benefit that needed to be reviewed, it is child endowment.
– The amendment is related to the bill now before us.
– The amendment does not take into account rehabilitation benefits, funeral benefits and so forth. Let me say, in reply to Senator Cole, that the moment you deal with social services you open up the whole field of social service benefits. £As has already been pointed out, we are not dealing with chicken feed. We are dealing with benefits that involve the payment of about £300,000,000 a year. Every time a government increases pensions by ls. a week, nearly £2,000,000 a year is added to the social services bill. So we are not dealing with something that can be paid easily. It must be taken into account in the budgetary calculations.
Senator McManus referred to the Commonwealth Arbitration Commission, and Senator Cole, interjecting, said, “Answer that one! “ As I said last night, my complaint with the Arbitration Commission today is that it is not an independent tribunal. If you look back over the years you will find that from time to time political influence has been exerted on our arbitration tribunals. I can remember on one occasion in Western Australia when the C series index indicated that there should be a rise in the basic wage, the president of the State ‘Arbitration Court, under the powers that he claimed he had, and which he undoubtedly did have, said that he would not increase the basic wage. But the Premier of the day instructed him to increase the wage. I complain bitterly about the way the Menzies Government is interfering, dominating and intimidating the Commonwealth Arbitration Commission. Surely we would have a repetition of such domination if we set up another pseudoeconomic body to deal with pensions.
The Arbitration Commission is being encouraged, by the type of evidence presented to it by the Government, to set itself up as an economic body. If you establish more of these economic bodies you will get further and further away from the concept of parliamentary duty and responsibility. I am afraid that in the first place such a body, having to report back to Parliament, would be subjected to political influence. The amount of money involved in this proposal is not small. Before I would agree to the formation of such a body as has been advocated by Senator Cole, I would require an assurance that it would be independent and more free from interference by the Commonwealth Government than is the present Commonwealth Arbitration Commission.
.- I am entirely unconvinced by the arguments of Senator Vincent and Senator Willesee. I point out to Senator Willesee that his party supports the principle of arbitration. I am advocating arbitration in this particular case. The fact that there are imperfections in the industrial arbitration system does not prevent his party from nailing its colours to the mast and standing by arbitration. Similarly, all the suggestions that there may be imperfections in having an independent tribunal determine pensions do not prevent me from advocating the adoption of such a system.
I am sorry to hear suggestions that there is something wrong with the principle of arbitration. I say to members of any party who attack arbitration: Go to the people as was done in 1929 and ask them whether they want arbitration or whether they believe in it.
– I did not say anything about arbitration.
– I was referring to Senator Willesee.
– I did not say anything about it either.
– Senator Willesee attacked what he regarded as certain imperfections in the Commonwealth Arbitration Commission and he used those imperfections to bolster an attack on the principle of an independent arbitration system to determine pensions.
– I complained about the way this Government is using the present Arbitration Commission.
– Order! This is not a debate on arbitration. The discussion should be related to the clause that is now before the committee.
– I am happy to accept your ruling, Mr. Temporary Chairman, and I shall now proceed to refer briefly to the remarks passed by Senator Vincent. Senator Vincent based his objections to Senator Cole’s amendment on very high ground. He said that the Government has the job of evaluating exactly what can be provided for pensions and other social services. He said that the Government had to look at the quantum of public money that would be involved. Therefore he felt that it would be entirely wrong to set up an independent tribunal of the nature that we have advocated. But did we not believe in and appoint an independent tribunal to determine our own salaries? In that regard we were not worried about the quantum of public money involved or anything else. We thought that it was the right and proper thing to do. If it is right for members of the Parliament and wage-earners to have their salaries and emoluments determined by an independent tribunal, what is wrong with giving the old people the same privilege? You can talk about imperfections, possible troubles and doubts, but when it is all boiled down pensions to-day are deter mined solely on economic grounds. I say that scope exists for a tribunal where not only economic grounds but also humanitarian grounds would be given weighty consideration.
Question put -
That clause 1 be postponed (Senator Cole’s amendment).
The committee divided. (The Temporary Chairman - Senator K. M. Anderson.)
Majority . . . . 38
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 2 to 5 agreed to.
Clause 6 -
Section twenty-eight of the Principal Act is amended -
Section proposed to be amended -
28.- (1.) . . .
(1a.) The maximum rate of age or invalid pension is, subject to the next succeeding sub-section, Two hundred and forty-seven pounds per annum.
.- I move-
At end of sub-clause (a), add the following words: - “ which amount should be reviewed annually and shall at least be increased in accordance with any upward movement of the cost of living as measured by the weighted average retail price index for food, clothing and groceries as ascertained by the Commonwealth Statistician for the twelve months ending on the thirty-first day of March each year “.
I have moved amendments in those terms in this chamber on a number of occasions with the object of having cost of living increases added to pensions. Honorable senators know that the value of money has been decreasing. Had the committee passed the first amendment which was designed to set up a tribunal so that proper benefits could be given to pensioners, the value of pensions would have gradually decreased over the years because of the failure to add cost of living adjustments to them. I have moved this amendment so that whether or not there was an increase in pensions under the Budget, there would be an increase if the cost of living had risen during the year. The result would be that the pension would be kept at its true value. I should like to quote again from the editorial in the “ Age “ newspaper. I read some of it before, but I shall read it again. It is -
The present system of fixing pensions simply by government decision on the cheapest calculation compatible with popularity is quite unreal. It takes no account of the pensioner as a human being who has to eat, clothe himself, and find shelter and warmth. It ignores the basic economic needs of the individual and the variations in the cost of living. Some system must be found which will allow rates to rise with the cost of living and which will remove them from the political arena. . . The only point with which the mass of the people are concerned is that the system should be altered to give justice to pensioners, remove them from the edge of starvation and spare them the ignominy of constantly pleading for relief.
That is part of an editorial in one of our respectable newspapers.
– Which one?
– The “Age”. That is why we say the Government should introduce a provision under which increases in the cost of living will be added to the pension so that its true value will be maintained.
– I second the amendment.
[9.27]. - The great majority of honorable senators have agreed that the matter of fixing pensions and dealing with the large amount of money involved is one for the Parliament. It is the duty of Parliament to fix the rates of pensions and allowances because that involves the spending of the taxpayers’ money.
I think I am right in saying that all governments, regardless of their political beliefs, have reviewed age and invalid pensions and repatriation benefits every year in conjunction with the presentation of the Budget. I feel that there is no need for an amendment of this kind.
– But the cost of living has risen in some years and the pension has not been increased.
– Had pensions been adjusted in accordance with increases in the cost of living they would have been lower than they are at the present time. The Government is not prepared to accept the amendment.
.- 1 should like to state the attitude of the Opposition to this amendment. One naturally has a good deal of sympathy with a proposal which would enable pensions to rise in accordance with some kind of index that reflected increases in the cost of living. 1 think that Senator Cole’s amendment is much closer to the reality of taking pensions out .of politics. However, I see one great defect in it. The honorable senator proceeds on the assumption that the present rate of pension is adequate. The amendment, in effect, accepts the present rate and provides for variations in accordance with movements in the cost of living. The Opposition has already indicated, in the amendment it proposed to the motion for the second reading of the bill, that it does not regard the payment, including the increases provided by this bill, as being adequate. I think the first step to take would be to select an amount that would be generally acceptable, not only to the pensioners themselves, but also to the public and to the Parliament. It is at that point that the suggestion of Senator Tangney becomes important. She has suggested that the appointment of a social security committee, representing all parties in this Parliament, might well be the best approach to ascertaining what would be an adequate amount.
It seems to me that the preliminary step is to determine what is required for basic needs.
– You have accepted half the basic wage.
– I think that at one time the honorable senator did tie this proposed variation to the basic wage. We were not prepared to accept that. On the short notice 1 have had of this amendment, I express my opinion that it would be an improvement on what Senator Cole suggested previously. But there is a third element which must be taken into account. 1 was probably diverted by the interjection. 1 was indicating that a social security committee, composed of members of all parties in the Parliament, might well determine an amount that would be accepted with some degree of universality - at least with the minimum of dissent. We do not live in Utopia, and I have not yet found any proposal to which there was not a dissentient. However, we could get a fair measure of agreement through a properly conducted inquiry at which pensioners and their representatives or advocates could be heard. 1 cannot argue against the equity of the proposal that pensions should move upwards with increases in the cost of living, but even then I would not think that full justice had been done, lt is impossible to lay down a basic rate in the pension field, even if you provide a cost of living allowance, and assume that that rate will meet the needs of all pensioners. It certainly would not. There would be cases of great hardship and cases of emergency amongst the pensioners. In order to achieve full justice it would be necessary to take a third step and to provide an adequate discretionary supplementary allowance which could meet those cases of hardship. No omnibus provision could fit all the hundreds of thousands of cases in the pension field. No one uniform rate could do justice. The approach should be to start with an adequate amount, vary it according to changes in the cost of living and, above all, have a general supplementary allowance of substantial proportions designed to meet all the cases that cross the line and that cannot be covered by one fixed total amount which is supposed to be adequate for all pensioners. There is no sum that would be reasonable or adequate for all pensioners.
The honorable senator knows perfectly well the operations of our party in relation to amendments. We of the Opposition have had no more notice of this amendment than has anybody else in the chamber. I am not in a position to make a decision in favour of a proposal which goes only a part of the way, that functions on what is an inadequate base, and which does not tie the approach up adequately by some form of supplementary pension. For these reasons - inadequacy and shortness of notice that does not enable me to confer with my party officially - I regret that the Opposition cannot support the amendment.
– We have to be practical in this matter. We have to realize that the base rate of the pension will be that set out in this bill. The amendment that I am moving envisages a commencing point and will meet the situation until we reach the stage of having either an independent tribunal or the all-party committee suggested by Senator Tangney and Senator McKenna to fix a proper remuneration for pensioners. After this bill has been passed, the base rate will be that specified in the bill. That would be a beginning. By March of next year the cost of living adjustment could be added to that base rate pension. 1 know that it is inadequate and it was for that reason I supported the Opposition’s amendment. What I am submitting now would be a beginning. We would at least know that by March the Government would have something on which to act. The Government has not increased pensions every year; there have been years when it has omitted to do so.
– Not in the last eleven years.
– You missed one year.
– That is all.
– When the Labour Party was in power, it missed one year too, I think it was in 1949, and in that year the cost of living rose considerably. The increase in the pension in the following year did not make up for what had been lost by not keeping pace with the cost of living the previous year.
I repeat that our proposal would be a beginning. The bill establishes a base rate. If the amendment is passed, the principle will be established that pensions shall maintain their relative value. From the speeches that have been made in the chamber to-night, I feel that we shall not get an independent tribunal, but we could get a committee of the Parliament. I would be prepared to support the establishment of such a committee. I repeat that the bill would give us a base rate and that if this amendment is passed we will have something on which to work. I ask the Senate to accept the amendment for what it is worth.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be added (Senator Cole’s amendment) be added.
The committee divided. (The Temporary Chairman - Senator K. M. Anderson.)
Majority . . 35
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
Remainder of bill - by leave - taken as a whole, and agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from 21st September (vide page 622), on motion by Senator McKenna -
That the following paper: -
Bell Bay Aluminium Works - Proposed Sale -
Ministerial Statement - be printed.
.- I rise to support the action that has been taken by the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner). It seems somewhat incongruous that we should be discussing with a good deal of vituperation the sale of the aluminium works at Bell Bay. As a citizen of Tasmania and as one who has taken a good deal of stock of the feeling in that State regarding this matter, I assure the Senate that I have neither heard uttered nor seen published a word of condemnation of the transaction, by the State Government or by any other body. This subject is not a live issue in Tasmania today, and I cannot see the necessity for a long discussion of it in this chamber. After all, the people of Tasmania are the ones who are most concerned with the sale of the aluminium works at Bell Bay.
I believe that there is in Tasmania a pervading sense of satisfaction that such a suitable arrangement has been made and that private industry will be called upon to develop the works, with the object of increasing their capacity, as has been stated by the Minister for National Development. So far as I can see, there is no necessity for honorable senators to speak at length about the transaction because, I repeat, it is not a live issue in Tasmania. As far as I am aware, the Tasmanian Labour Government, which will retain a third interest in the undertaking, has not uttered one word of condemnation of the transaction, nor has any labour organization in that State. Nobody concerned in any way with the undertaking has condemned the Commonwealth Government for what it has done. Because the people so directly concerned with the undertaking have accepted the transaction with, I feel, a certain degree of satisfaction, I think it may be said that it is not regarded as being detrimental to the interests of the State. That being so, a lot of the venom that has been injected into the discussion in this chamber is a little out of place.
Much has been said about the history of the works at Bell Bay and of the difficulties encountered by the commission that was established to get it started and manage it, difficulties that one would expect to be encountered in the inauguration of any new industry in the Commonwealth. I was particularly interested to hear Senator Armstrong say, in the course of his speech, that he had stood on a platform with Mr. Beasley, who I think was Minister for Supply and Shipping at the time, and had heard Mr. Beasley say that the agreement would be signed and the scheme got under way. I call to mind quite well that that was during the course of an election campaign. Senator Marriott has referred to it. He said that the Labour Government at that time felt that it was obliged, for political expediency, to do something for Tasmania. Mr. Beasley, at an election meeting in Hobart, said that if a Labour government were elected the agreement would become a reality forthwith. At that time, I was a member of the State Parliament. I assure honorable senators that to many thoughtful people the announcement did not sound well. They said: “ This is only a political stunt in the heat of an election campaign. The promise has been made to influence votes in Bass and other parts of the State.” So the undertaking got away to an unfavorable start.
I believe it is to the credit of those concerned that they did eventually get an industry into production. I believe also that a tremendous amount of credit is due to the present Commonwealth Government, inasmuch as it has carried on the work and has now called upon the resources of private enterprise to expand the industry in order to make possible the development which is so desirable in Tasmania.
It seems to me that any government in its right senses which was faced with the necessity either to pour millions of pounds into the Bell Bay enterprise in order to increase its production to the desired extent or to raise funds from private enterprise - either overseas companies or Australian companies or any other source - would do as this Commonwealth Government has done in the interests of the taxpayers of this country.
A good deal has been said to the effect that this Government is selling out the interests of the people. I think that Senator Armstrong said that, and I believe that Mr. Calwell has made a similar statement. Similar statements have been made for a good many years in regard to governmentoperated enterprises. Those statements do not weigh very much with me because I am one of those people who believe that a wellconducted and efficient private enterprise is of greater advantage to the people than a nationalized industry. The contention that because an industry is a nationalized industry and is therefore the property of the people and should not be disposed of - as the Bell Bay undertaking has been disposed of - is something that does not weigh with me very much. I think that a greater benefit accrues to the whole community from private enterprise - or, at least, that has been the experience of this Commonwealth - than from an industry that is nationalized.
Since I have been a member of the Senate, I have been interested to note that the Labour Government in Tasmania has on more than one occasion seemed to speak with a different voice from that of the Opposition in this Commonwealth Parliament. I think it was Senator Wood who pointed out that this Parliament is far removed from local matters and that a State government is harnessed with the direct responsibility for the welfare of the particular State. There is a Labour government in Tasmania, while in this Parliament, the Labour Party sits in Opposition. In this matter, the Tasmanian Government has certainly spoken with a very different voice from that of the Opposition in the Commonwealth Parliament.
Mr. Reece, the Premier of Tasmania, recently sent to Europe a delegation consisting of the best talent that he could obtain in the State. It was headed by the Tasmanian Attorney-General, Mr. Fagan, and included the hydro-electric commissioner, the Under-Treasurer and, I think, one other person whose name I have forgotten. The sole purpose of its mission was to encourage industrial concerns to invest their money in Tasmania and to start industries in that State. The delegation was away for several months, and I do not think for a moment that, in the representations it made in several countries of Europe, it was very concerned whether the companies it approached had international ramifications - including branches in several countries - or what their position was otherwise so long as they brought money to Tasmania and started industries there. That was the common-sense way in which to approach the matter. The delegation claims that it was successful.
I say without hesitation - I have said this before - that we need every £1 of capital we can get, whether it conies from outside sources or is raised in Australia, in order to develop the latent potential of this Commonwealth. I think it is foolish in the extreme to look askance at industries that have been started merely because their capital came from overseas sources. It has been estimated that about 10 per cent, of the development capital invested in this country has come from overseas. Therefore, by far the greater proportion of our investment capital comes from Australian sources. In my opinion, it would be a retrograde step to do anything that would result in the curtailment of the flow of overseas capital into Australia. Such curtailment would mean that less developmental work, on which this country so greatly depends, could be done. Mr. Reece, the partner in this enterprise at Bell Bay, far from being critical of what the Commonwealth Government has done, has said this -
My government has won an industrial victory of major proportions, but more and more lies ahead of us. The construction of hundreds of new homes, and more schools, the bridging of the lower reaches of the Tamar and the search for still more industrial development in the Tamar Valley built around Bell Bay Aluminium, will be our early objective for this year.
He went on to say -
Undoubtedly, British and European industrials who will be coming to Australia during the spring and the summer-
Those were the people that the delegation interviewed overseas - will show particular interest in a region which lends itself admirably to intense industrial development.
The Premier spoke in glowing terms of the advancement that will occur in the Tamar valley because of the Commonwealth Government’s action.
For all these reasons, I support the proposed sale of the Bell Bay undertaking. It is a good thing that the Government has been able to induce this company to invest its millions in these works on the Tamar River, with the certainty that more millions will be found for expansion. This is infinitely preferable to pouring in the taxpayers’ money which would have been the only alternative course to adopt to achieve expansion and development. I heartily commend the Commonwealth Government upon the action that it has taken.
.- Senator Lillico has made one of his typically conservative speeches. But I have noticed quite frequently that when he has to choose between private enterprise and public enterprise in the field of air transport his attitude is not the same and that he chooses Trans-Australia Airlines. I would go so far to say that if T.A.A. were given a free run in that field it could teach private enterprise many lessons. The honorable senator contended that nothing was right with public enterprise and that private enterprise was so much better. It is on that very ground that I wish to develop the Opposition’s case against this proposal to sell the Bell Bay works of the Australian Aluminium Production Commission to overseas monopolistic interests.
I want to clear every one’s mind on the Opposition’s attitude. We have no objection to the extension and expansion of the undertaking. Tasmanians welcome the prospect of seeing, at long last, the Bell Bay project reach the point that it was intended to reach, so that by stages it will be able to supply the needs of the Australian aluminium consumer and eventually be able to build up considerable exports of this very valuable material. I agree that the Bell Bay project supplies Tasmanian people with excellent employment opportunities. It plays a most important part in the economy of Tasmania and the Commonwealth, lt is part of the mosaic of our developing national resources.
I pose this question to Government supporters: Would we have had an Australian aluminium industry had the Labour Government not commenced this one? Was there any prospect of overseas aluminium interests coming to Australia when they had a virtual monopoly of the supply of bauxite and the manufacture of aluminium in other parts of the world? We can be absolutely certain that it would have been many years before Australia had an aluminium industry. We on this side of the Senate, who were responsible for the establishment of this industry, believe that the Government is taking a retrograde step in allowing this industry to pass virtually into the hands of the monopolists whose attitude was partly responsible for the establishment of the industry.
One does not need a very long memory to recall the situation in Australia during the last war when supplies of most important metals for our aircraft industry and other purposes were unavailable. It was essential for a government with any consideration for the security of the country to ensure that that situation never occurred again. That was the inspiration for the establishment of this industry. The Labour Government was given a very close insight into the manner in which monopolists controlled the world’s supply of aluminium and that was one of the reasons why it was found expedient to establish the industry.
I wish to refer to the speeches made bySenators Henty and Marriott, which I considered quite unworthy of Tasmanians. They insinuated that the establishment of this industry was the result of some political connivance for the purpose of gaining votes. We heard the same allegation in regard to the Snowy Mountains scheme. It was said that that was a political stunt. However, more recently we have heard from the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) and other members of the Government that that scheme was a very important part of this country’s development, and credit has been given for the work of bringing the States together to agree to commence that great undertaking. Generations for centuries to come will pay tribute to this generation for having established this industry.
The expansion of the Bell Bay undertaking has been a matter of controversy and a matter of concern to the Tasmanian Government. The Tasmanian Government realized that, the capacity being only 12,500 tons a year, the overhead costs involved in the construction of the plant made it an uneconomic proposition. The State Government realized also that the only way in which the undertaking could be put on a solid footing was to expand production. Not only should the Tasmanian people be eager to see the industry expanded, but all the people of Australia should feel happy about the fact that we are able to use our natural resources in this undertaking.
We must be fair about this matter. When it was decided to establish the industry, what chance did any of the other States have of offering the necessary facilities? Certainly neither Queensland nor New South Wales nor Victoria had sufficient electric power for such an industry. We can all recall the limited power output in those States. Because of the inability of existing installations to supply immediate power requirements, blackouts were the order of the day. When Senator Henty and Senator Marriott speak about the use of political intrigue to have the plant established in Tasmania, they forget about Tasmania’s great electric power potential. Tasmania has the natural resources which encouraged the Government to install the plant at Bell Bay. I can remember going with my colleague, Senator Armstrong, on an inspection of the various available sites in Tasmania. I do not think any one doubts that the right site was chosen and that Bell Bay is an admirable site for this project.
I should like to pay a tribute to the Tasmanian Government for the role it played in the establishment of this industry, and especially for its decision to retain its interest in it. When Senator Spooner speaks about a sale price of nearly £11,000,000, about a two-thirds share of the capital value of the undertaking, and about the £3,000,000 which the Tasmanian Government will have invested in the undertaking, he should be reminded that the Tasmanian Government has had to pay to tha Commonwealth interest on the money it has put into the venture. Indirectly it has invested as many millions of pounds in the undertaking as has the Commonwealth Government. The Tasmanian Government set about the tremendous task of damming the South Esk River at the second basin above the Cataract Gorge and of driving a tunnel approximately 1 mile long through hard dolomite in the mountainside at Trevallyn. It successfully completed that work. It also erected very expensive and intricate generating equipment on the West
Tamar riverside and reticulated the power over a distance of 35 miles to Bell Bay, thus making available to this undertaking a constant and cheap supply of electricity.
It has been argued that the cost of electricity in Tasmania has been an important element of the ultimate selling price of the aluminium produced at Bell Bay. Tasmania produces the cheapest electricity in the Commonwealth and in the Southern Hemisphere. By providing cheap power, Tasmania has provided this aluminium undertaking with a great advantage that it would not have enjoyed had it been established in any other State. The Tasmanian Government has been involved also in the building of several hundred homes at Georgetown, a town near Bell Bay. It has had to provide all the ancillary services such as roads, educational facilities, recreational facilities and medical facilities. In addition, the Georgetown municipal council has provided kerbing and guttering. AH these services have involved the Tasmanian Government in the expenditure of a considerable sum of money. Indirectly, that money has been invested in the industry. I join issue with this Government for refusing to take that fact into consideration when negotiating this deal. The Tasmanian Government more or less has handed all these facilities on a platter to a company having overseas capital, in the proportion of two-thirds to one-third.
Moreover, the Tasmanian Government, in order to assist the industry, has built a sealed highway from Launceston to Georgetown and Bell Bay. Under the North Esk regional scheme, it has reticulated an abundant supply of good water to the project. All these facilities have cost the Tasmanian Government approximately £10,000,000. That means to say that Tasmania has invested about £11,500,000 in the industry. In addition, it is involved in the investment of another £1,500,000 to bring the capacity of the plant up to 16,000 tons a year, making a total investment of £13,000,000. The wharfs at Bell Bay that are used by vessels to unload bauxite and to load ingot have been erected for almost the exclusive use of the Bell Bay project. No recognition has been given to these things in this deal with the overseas company.
Senator Spooner said that so far 50,000 tons of aluminium ingot has been produced at Bell Bay but that the venture has not proved to be a conspicuous commercial success. I think that most people will agree that this project has never received a fair go at the hands of the present Government. It is apparent that overseas experts with technical know-how have been reluctant to give advice to the people running the plant at Bell Bay. It is obvious that overseas firms had no desire to see the project prosper because, on the admission of some Ministers, an agreement was entered into under which the British Aluminium Company Limited had first refusal of the purchase of the Commonwealth interest in the project. I think it is wrong that the Parliament should not be allowed to see that agreement, because apparently it was made without the knowledge of all members of the Government. The people who were opposed to the establishment of the industry in the first place were called in as advisers and have managed to retain an interest in the industry ever since. The Government has had to overcome numerous difficulties and in the circumstances has done very well to make any profit at all. Early in the life of the industry, the Public Accounts Committee conducted an investigation into the expenditure involved in setting up the Bell Bay project. At that stage some items of expenditure were little short of a public scandal. Expenditure built up and has become a continuing burden on the industry. This happened at a time when the Government was pursuing a policy of inflation - when costs were rising rapidly.
Senator Spooner was quite cynical when an honorable senator referred to the goodwill of this industry. Senator Spooner said that no goodwill was involved in a project that showed a profit of only 1.4 per cent, on its capital investment. But he did not say that in the near future production will rise to 16,000 tons annually. An increase in production of 20 per cent, and the expenditure of £1,500,00*0 on the industry obviously will improve its profit-earning capacity. That is one of the plums that overseas interests will pick as soon as they take over the industry. The overseas interests that will now control the Bell Bay project will be able to obtain their bauxite supplies from Weipa instead of from Malaya. That will reduce the cost of production at Bell Bay. Surely some goodwill is involved in having access to the rich bauxite deposits at Weipa. The overseas interests are obtaining exclusive rights to natural resources in this country that rightly belong to the people. The advantage that those overseas interests have obtained will be reflected in the ultimate cost of aluminium produced at Bell Bay.
asked whether the Labour Party wished to forego the development of this industry in Tasmania. Of course we do not wish to forego the development of this industry. The sooner production reaches 50,000 tons annually the better it will be for Australia in general. As a matter of fact, an annual production output of 50,000 tons will not be sufficient to cope with Australia’s growing demand for aluminium. We on this side of the Senate are not opposed to the expansion of this industry. What we do oppose is the action that has been taken on this occasion by the Government.
– It was the Commonwealth Government that refused to find capital to expand the industry.
– Yes. The Tasmanian Government wanted to expand the industry. Naturally we in Tasmania want the industry to expand but the Commonwealth Government has been slow to develop this government-owned enterprise. It has been waiting for the day when it could dispose of the undertaking.
asked whether the Labour Party resented the introduction of overseas capital and the benefits that would flow to the people of Tasmania from the efficient operation of this industry. We resent the natural resources belonging to the people being sold to overseas interests. Something of a similar nature happened in respect of the Suez Canal. In that case the Egyptian people thought that their government had made a good investment.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. A. D. Reid). - Order! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 10.30 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 22 September 1960, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1960/19600922_senate_23_s18/>.