25th Parliament · 1st Session
– Honorable senators, I inform the Senate that the President and the Chairman of Committees are unavoidably absent from the sitting. Standing Order No. 30 provides that senators present may elect one of their number to act as President for the day.
Motion (by Senator Henty) agreed to -
That Senator Wood do take the chair of the Senate to act as President for this day.
Senator Wood thereupon took the chair as Acting President at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Prime Minister or the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service. Has the Government received representations from the Australian Council of Trade Unions to defer consideration by Parliament of proposed legislation relating to the stevedoring industry? What decision, if any, has the Government made on such representations? If the representations have been rejected, what is the reason for the haste? In particular, does the Minister appreciate that the proposed recall of the Senate next week will cause grave inconvenience to many senators who, acting on the announcement of sitting arrangements by the Government at the commencement of the sessional period, have made important commitments away from Canberra for that week?
– This matter clearly calls for a considered reply by the Minister for Labour and National service. I ask the Leader of the Opposition to put the question on notice.
– I address a question to the Minister in Charge of Commonwealth Activities in Education and Research. It arises out of the report of the
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, and in particular the section referring to the restriction of the growth of pinus radiata by inadequate supplies of phosphorus in the soil. The report refers to certain experiments which have been made in South Australia. Can the Minister say whether the plan of diagnosis regarding this deficiency, as outlined in the report, is proving to be satisfactory and consistent? Can he further say whether the technique now being applied in the field by the Woods and Forests Department in South Australia is being used very extensively and whether it is yielding any appreciable results?
– The analyses to which the honorable senator refers have been carried out by the C.S.I.R.O. with the assistance of and m conjunction with the South Australian department concerned. The technique mentioned by him has been carried out in the past’ and is being carried out at the moment. It is being used by the Woods and Forests Department in South Australia and by Australian Paper Manufacturers Ltd. It will probably be used shortly by the Forests Department in Western Australia. Fertilizer applications, to which the honorable senator particularly referred, have been made in accordance with the indications which were gained from C.S.I.R.O. research, but it is too early at this stage for there to have been an appreciable effect on forest production. The findings are being applied, and the results of the application of those findings are being recorded.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Customs and Excise been drawn to an article which appeared in the Sydney “ Sunday Telegraph “ of last Sunday and which claimed that there was a serious lack of security on Sydney wharfs? The article stated that at wharf No. 2, Glebe, there were two ways of leaving the wharf area without passing through the check gates, which were known to police, and went on to say that there were a number of other ways which the police knew nothing about. The article also referred to a similar lack of security at Woolloomooloo, Walsh Bay and Pyrmont. In view of the recent disclosures of the illegal entry of large quantities of narcotics, which were found on overseas vessels, would the Minister not agree that if the article is based on fact it indicates an incredible lack of security measures by his Department? On the other hand, if the statements are -untrue, would the Minister not agree that the newspaper concerned should be called to account?
– The question of security on the wharfs in the port of Sydney or in any other port is not exclusively the responsibility of the Department of Customs and Excise. Consequently, I cannot accept full responsibility for the matters raised in the question that has been put to me. The Department has built up its preventive staff. That build up of staff is continuing. We hope to be able to increase further the customs staff, which is giving invaluable service in all ports. It is well to remember that the port of Sydney has wharfs from Woolloomooloo to Balmain. Speaking off the cuff, I would say that there are about 40 wharfs.
As far as the physical side of security is concerned, I point out that a colossal staff of customs officers would be required if the Department of Customs and Excise were responsible for the security of every wharf. We are doing the best we can in the circumstances. I think everybody will agree that my officers have been doing a magnificent job. However, the wharfs in Sydney are primarily the responsibility of the New South Wales Government. Therefore, I believe that much of this criticism was not criticism of the Department of Customs and Excise but of the old and obsolete wharf facilities in the port of Sydney. The State Government has to look to that matter. I understand that it is looking to it and that certain improvements are being made. As far as the Press article is concerned, it becomes a nice question of how things are described. Sometimes articles are painted with a very heavy brush. Sometimes they are not completely accurate. These are the facts of life.
– I shudder when i hear the Minister say a thing like that.
– As practising parliamentarians, we all recognise that sometimes emphasis is given which, perhaps, creates the wrong impression. I can answer this question for the Department of Customs and Excise only by saying that in the port of Sydney we are building up our staff and increasing our security precautions; but there are grave limitations because of the very nature and age of the wharfs in that port. education:
– In addressing my question to the Minister in Charge, Commonwealth Activities in Education and Research, I refer to a statement released by him to the effect that the Government had decided to hold an investigation into the present and prospective need for a college of advanced education in the Australian Capital Territory. What steps, if any, have been notified to the Minister as to the setting up of such a college or colleges in South Australia? If any move has come from South Australia, when may the Senate expect a decision on the matter of Commonwealth assistance for which £1 million has been provided in the current Estimates for the States and Territories?
– Already, there have been discussions between myself and the South Australian Minister for Education, Mr. Loveday, and between officers of the Commonwealth Office of Education and officers of the South Australian Department of Education. South Australia has proposals which are designed to give assistance to the middle level of the South Australian Institute of Technology. That Institute, as honorable senators are aware, is a three tiered institute, as it were. The certificate level part of the Institute is already assisted through Commonwealth technical grants; the university part of the Institute is assisted by Australian Universities Commission grants; the diploma central level is the area to which the South Australian Government proposes to devote our funds and its funds for development. Dr. Wark either has gone or is going very shortly to South Australia to conduct further discussions relating to the exact application of assistance in particular fields. That is where the matter rests at the moment. civil aviation.
– I ask the Minister for Civil Aviation whether he has seen in the financial pages of today’s newspapers reports that Ansett Transport Industries Ltd., after allowing for increased taxation of £415,000, . increased depreciation of £321,000 and the writing off of a substantial loss on its television station, has still been able to make a record profit of £1.65 million? Do the reports state that AnsettA.N.A. increased the number of passengers carried by 20.4 per cent, and the freight tonnage carried by 8 per cent, for the year ended June 1965 as compared with the year ended June 1964? Is this the airline which is applying, together with Trans-Australia Airlines, for a 6 per cent, increase in air fares? I ask the Minister: What does Ansett-A.N.A. want - the world, or just a big slice of it?
– I read in the commercial columns of this morning’s Press the report to which the honorable senator refers. I noted that Ansett Transport Industries Ltd. has made the record profit to which he refers. I also noticed with some satisfaction that the Commonwealth collected nearly £500.000 in taxation from the company’s operation. The figures relating to increased passenger traffic and freight carriage cited by the honorable senator were published in the Press this morning. The honorable senator also referred to applications for increases in air fares, which I am supposed to receive shortly from the two airlines. I understand that I will receive the applications this week.
I have already advised the honorable senator that an investigation to determine whether increases in air fares are warranted must be bound up with increasing costs. When increases in costs have been fully examined by the Department during the coming year - including increases incurred because of provisions in the Budget to raise the duty on aviation spirit, and accompanying increases - we will make a decision on whether the applications will be approved. I must say that it gives me great satisfaction to see that both T.A.A. and Ansett-A.N.A. have made record profits, because I am one who firmly believes that a profitable airline is a safe airline and, brother, I travel with them and I like them to be safe.
– Can the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry state the present quota for Australian sugar allowed into the United States of America? If legislation now before the United States Congress is passed, what will be the new quota? Will the new legislation give to Australia a quota for a fixed term of years?
– The honorable senator was good enough to inform me that he would ask this question, and I was able to obtain the following information from the Minister for Primary Industry -
The Australian sugar quota for importation into the United States in 1965 currently stands at 200,307 short tons. The quota has been increased in several stages to this figure due to short falls in the quotas allotted to some other suppliers. If the proposals submitted by the House of Representatives Agriculture Committee are passed by Congress in their present form, the Australian quota would be based in future years on a complicated formula related to estimates of United States consumption. I am advised that on a total United States consumption estimate of 10 ‘million short tons the Australian quota for 1966 would bo a basic quantity of about 184,000 short tons which could increase in subsequent years with the growth of American consumption. The proposed legislation seeks to determine quotas for a five year period.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service. What were the circumstances in which the Australian Seamen’s Union relinquished its sole right to select labour? What is the present procedure by which seamen are selected for employment on Australian ships?
– What I would prefer to call the former practice whereby seamen selected labour for their industry ceased at approximately the beginning of December 1964 after discussions and conferences before Mr. Justice Gallagher between the Department of Labour and National Service, the Department of Shipping and Transport and the union. It ceased as a result of agreement at those conferences. The union agreed to forgo the old practice and it received some other advantages in the form of attendance money and things of that kind. The practice which was then applied and which now exists is that seamen register with the Department of Shipping and Transport and not with the union for employment and the Department allocates them to whatever work is offering each day.
– I direct a question to the acting Leader of the Government in the Senate. At what time is it proposed to introduce to the Senate a bill to amend the Stevedoring Industry Act? Will. sufficient time be allowed for the Opposition to examine the legislation and prepare * reply? Will the Minister agree that Parliamentary democracy and proper debate necessitates the lapse of a reasonable period between presentation of a bill and the debate upon it?
– The Bill will come to the Senate from the House of Representatives, I think, next Tuesday. I should think that there will be adequate time for honorable senators to examine the Bill because it has been presented in another place and will be debated there on Thursday night and Friday. This will give to honorable senators who wish to debate the Bill a full weekend and Monday to examine it. Adequate time will be given for debate next week. We shall meet at 1 1 a.m. on Tuesday and when we finish debating it, but not before, we will lift, so there will be adequate time for debate, if the sittings extend to Wednesday or Thursday.
– Has the Minister for Civil Aviation received any information yet from I.P.E.C.-Air Pty. Ltd. on the question of whether it is proceeding with its appeal to the Privy Council?
– No, I have not received any information nor, as far as I am aware, has my Department.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service. Is it a fact that under existing legislation the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority in each State has power to recruit labour for the waterfront if the recruitment by the Waterside Workers Federation is not satisfactory? If this is so, why is the Government enacting new legislation to give the Authority more power to recruit labour for the waterfront in view of the fact that it already has power that it has never used?
– I think this question refers directly to a bill that will shortly come before the Senate and therefore one that could better be canvassed when the bill is being debated in this place.
– Has the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior been directed to an article in this morning’s “ Canberra Times” which discloses that there is systematic illegal trapping in the Tidbinbilla fauna reserve? Which body controls this fauna reserve? Why is there no ranger supervision in the reserve to detect illegal trapping? What action is contemplated by the Minister or the fauna reserve authority to apprehend the people responsible for the current illegal trapping? What counter measures are contemplated by the Minister or the fauna reserve authority to deter future illegal activity of this nature?
– I will endeavour to obtain an answer for the honorable senator from the Minister for the Interior.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service ask that Minister to take steps to correct the distorted impression made by his statement in another place last Thursday that 260 out of some 990 applicants for registration as waterside workers in Melbourne, or approximately 25 per cent., had criminal records? Is it not a fact that of approximately 1,000 applications dealt with recently by the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority the number rejected on the ground mentioned by the Minister was not 260 but was fewer than 64, which was the total number of applications rejected by the Authority or the employers on grounds other than medical grounds? Will he bring these facts to the Minister’s attention?
– I shall refer Senator Cohen’s request for a statement to the Minister but that does not mean to imply in any way that I agree with the figures that Senator Cohen has given.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service. As the Government in the past has used consultations and references to national representative bodies, including the Australian Council of Trade Unions with which the Government frequently discusses industrial matters including waterfront problems, why was no official advice given to the A.C.T.U. before introducing amendments to the Stevedoring Industry Act and why was not use made of the long standing industrial practice of consultation with that body? Does this action and the failure to advise and consult with the A.C.T.U. indicate a new policy in the Government’s relations with the trade union movement?
– I think this question also refers to matters arising from and intimately connected with a bill that has already been introduced in another place. lt would be far better if these matters were brought up when that bill comes to the Senate.
– I direct a question to the Minister .representing the Minister for Labour and National Service. Is it not a fact that the Commonwealth Industrial Court has ample power under existing legislation to deregister the Waterside Workers Federation if the Court considers it just to do so where the Federation disobeys a court order or where the conduct of the Federation or a substantial number of its members hinders the achievement of the objects of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act? Is it not a fact also that any employer organisation or the Registrar is entitled to apply to the Court? Is it correct that for over 10 years no employer organisation or the Registrar has made any application to deregister the Federation and that no application is pending?
– It seems clear to me that this question involves, among other things, a matter of legal interpretation. I suggest that the question be put on the notice paper so that I can get a legal answer.
– Might I interrupt this barrage from unusually energetic waterside workers on the Opposition side to direct a question to the Minister representing the Postmaster-General and to bring some harmony into the place. Does the Minister recall that a select committee of this chamber produced a report on the subject of television some long, long time ago? If so, can he say how long ago it was? Will the Minister, instead of saying the report is under consideration, inform the Senate whether or not we can have a statement from the Postmaster-General of the degree if any to which the Postmaster-General pro-, poses to adopt the recommendations contained in that report? - Senator ANDERSON. - I am flattered to think that I might bring some harmony into the Senate by way of an answer. When this question was asked previously, I provided an answer from the Postmaster-General in which he said the report was under active consideration. Without notice I can only give the honorable senator the same reply. However, I will bring his question to the notice of the Postmaster-General, and, if there is some further information available, I will see that it is conveyed to the honorable senator. .
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence or the Minister representing the Minister for Supply, whichever is the appropriate Minister. Is he aware of the criticism of the Defence Department by the Vice-President of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, Mr. R. D. Day, at the Association’s annual conference held in Canberra recently, when he stated that the Government was placing orders overseas for electrical equipment which was readily available in Australia at reasonably comparable prices? Since it was difficult during the last war to maintain supplies from overseas, does the Minister not agree that it is imperative that the nation should not be again placed in a similar position should another war occur, and that therefore the purchase of local electrical supplies should be encouraged?
– I am sure the Government always encourages the production of local supplies where this is possible. I read the criticism to which the honorable senator has referred and, if I remember correctly, I read the answer given to that criticism by the relevant Minister. I have not the terms of his reply with me. However, if the honorable senator puts the question on the notice paper I will obtain an answer for her.
– I wish to ask the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service a question. Is he aware that the Minister for Labour and National Service has expressed concern at the allegedly large number of people with criminal records applying for work on the Australian waterfront? Was this information - whether it be right or wrong - conveyed to the Minister by the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority? If so, will he ascertain the facts and report to the Parliament why this matter has never been referred to in the annual reports of the Authority submitted to the Parliament?
– The answer to the first part of the honorable senator’s question is: “ Yes “. The answer to the second part is that I do not know who conveyed the information to the Minister. The answer to the third part of the question is that I will bring the request to the notice of the Minister.
– I preface a question to the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate by saying that it has been the practice of the Government’ in regard to legislation affecting outside organisations to allow those organisations to peruse such bills before they are discussed by the Parliament. I refer for instance vo the restrictive trade practices legislation. Will -the Minister give favourable consideration to extending to the waterside workers and the Australian Council of Trade Unions the same privilege with regard to the proposed amendment to the Australian Stevedoring Industry Act?
– The legislation has been before another place since Thursday, 23rd September, and is available to all honorable senators and to all organisations to which they wish to send it.
– What about the waterside workers?
– The honorable senator can obtain a number of copies and forward them to the organisations concerned. There is nothing to prevent him from doing that.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for the Army: What was the reason for the decision to countermand plans for Australian troops serving in Vietnam to take leave in Hong Kong? What arrangements are being made for our troops to take leave in acceptable conditions which are essential for the preservation of their health?
– I understand from the Minister for the Army that adequate provision has now been made for our troops to take leave in other areas. 1 am not aware of the particulars regarding Hong Kong and if that portion of the honorable senator’s question is put on the notice paper I will get an answer for him. I repeat that I understand that adequate provision has been made for our troops to take leave in other areas.
– In what areas?
– I will obtain that information and inform the honorable senator.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Civil Aviation. It is one which I have asked on more than one previous occasion, but I have not been satisfied with the replies I have received. Has he any word as to the date on which we may expect the annual report of TransAustralia Airlines, which is now three months late? He did mention that he would get some copies of it roneoed if necessary. I now ask him whether the roneo machine is in order and whether the job is being done.
– I understood that the honorable senator had raised this question because he wanted the information for the debate on the Estimates. That debate is nearly a fortnight away. I said previously - and I repeat it now - that if I do not get copies of the report from TransAustralia Airlines I will have roneoed copies made available here for honorable senators before the Estimates are being studied.
– I desire to ask the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service a question. As an answer to question No. 575 which I put on notice on 14th September, could cast some doubts on the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority to be -
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Senator Wood). - Order! No questions may bc asked in regard to the Stevedoring Industry Bill.
– I would not attempt to do so, Mr. Acting President. I am trying to get an answer to question No. 575. As the answer could cast some doubts as to whether the Stevedoring Industry Authority is an impartial tribunal, qualified to be entrusted with the registration of waterfront labour, will the Minister give a reply to the question before the Senate is asked to debate further legislation on this matter?
– I do not know how Senator Cavanagh can say that an answer to a question on notice, which he has not yet received, would or would not cast doubt on anybody. I endeavour to get answers to questions from other departments as quickly as possible and in this case I will follow my usual practice.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Civil Aviation. Is the Minister in a position to give any further information concerning my question about the high rate of accidents, including some fatal accidents, with crop dusting aircraft?
– I promised yesterday that I would give further attention to the honorable senator’s question and see whether I could get some further information. I would now like to advise him that in 1955 the accident rate was 13 accidents per 10,000 flying hours but last year the figure fell to 2.96 accidents per 10,000 flying hours. More than 16 million acres were treated from the air last year and during 1 965 that acreage looks like being increased to about 20 million or more. There is every indication that this work is becoming safer, as it must, because no industry can exist with a loss of life at the rate experienced early in the piece. In 1959 there was 1 fatal accident and this meant a rate of 11.1 accidents per 10,000 flying hours. In 1960 there were 3 fatal accidents making a rate of 8.5 accidents per 10,000 flying hours. In 1961 there were four fatal accidents, an average of 8.83 accidents per 10,000 flying hours. In 1962 there were 3 fatal accidents, an average of 5.32 accidents per 10,000 flying hours. In 1963 there were 5 fatal accidents, one of which was on the ground, and the average was 4.08 accidents per 10,000 flying hours. In 1964 there were 5 fatalities, 1 being on the ground, and the average was 2.96 accidents per 10,000 flying hours. Therefore, the fatality rate over that period of 6 years has decreased from 11.1 to 2.96 per 10,000 hours flown.
The safety controls that have been introduced after much research include a pilot rating system for agricultural pilots and new requirements for firms in the industry relating to aircraft maintenance, maintenance facilities, aircraft types and associated equipment. Agricultural pilots are graded into two categories. A class I pilot must have at least a commercial pilot’s licence and a minimum of 500 hours flying experience, 200 of which must have been on agricultural operations. A class II pilot must have at least a commercial pilot’s licence and 30 hours dual instruction. Until he meets class I requirements, a class II pilot must fly under the supervision of a class I pilot.
– My question is addressed to the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate. In view of Senator Anderson’s earlier reference to State responsibility for wharfs, I ask the Minister: How many more years will Australia have to wait before the Commonwealth Government accepts its national responsibilities and invokes its undoubted constitutional power to improve our outmoded wharfs and port facilities?
– I have always understood that port facilities are the responsibility of the harbour authorities or marine boards of the various States. The powers of those boards stem directly from the State Governments. Therefore the State Governments carry the responsibility for the improvement of harbour and port facilities. The Commonwealth Government has helped in special cases, such as when we were endeavouring to increase the export of coal from New South Wales. Apparently the honorable senator subscribes to the policy that ports are national works and therefore should come under the control of the Commonwealth Government. If honorable senators opposite think that we should pursue that policy and should remove responsibility from the Governments of the sovereign States to the Commonwealth, I remind them that very little power would be left with the State Governments.
– Has the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service examined the findings of the Devlin Commission, which investigated waterfront conditions in the United Kingdom and which recognised permanency of employment in the industry as being a basic ingredient of harmonious industrial relations?
– I ‘ have not examined those findings. As the honorable senator knows, I only represent the Minister for Labour and National Service. I cannot say for sure whether my colleague has examined the findings of that Commission, but I am quite certain that they would have been examined by the Department of Labour and National Service.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Civil Aviation. Has the Department of Civil Aviation recently purchased a Fokker Friendship aircraft from Trans-Australia Airlines? If so, is it one of the Fokker Friendship aircraft that the Government originally permitted T.A.A. to purchase and which the airline later found to be surplus to its requirements? Was the projected sale advertised? Upon whose valuation was the aircraft sold?
– I understand that the Department has recently acquired a Fokker Friendship on lease from T.A.A. As I understand the situation, the airline was prepared to lease the aircraft to the Department because it had recently acquired a Fokker Friendship of the latest type and the older one was surplus to its requirements. We will use the machine for the testing of safety devices at aerodromes. We have an urgent need for a further aircraft in this field, particularly in northern Queensland and New Guinea.
– My question is directed to the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate. I ask: Is it true that the Government has set up a committee, which is known as the Woodward Com mittee, to Investigate all aspects of the waterfront industry? When is it expected that the report of this Committee will be completed? Can the Minister advise why the Government has acted in such indecent haste in a matter which affects the waterfront, without awaiting the report of the Woodward Committee?
– I think that if the honorable senator raises this matter on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday of next week the answer will be apparent to him.
– Yesterday, Senator Hendrickson placed the following question on the notice paper -
As a great deal of confusion exists in country areas in relation to the introduction of the petroleum products subsidy scheme, will the Minister explain why this situation exists, and how and when the scheme will be in full operation?
I now furnish him with the following information -
As I informed honorable senators yesterday, particularly Senator Hendrickson, the petroleum products subsidy scheme came into full operation on Thursday, 23rd September. Arrangements were made by the Government through normal oil company channels- and oil companies have honored their undertaking in this regard - to ensure that all resellers were suitably informed.
The honorable senator in asking an earlier question on this subject in the Senate referred to statements attributed to Mr. Armstrong, the General Secretary of the Automobile Chamber of Commerce in Victoria. I can assure the honorable senator that officers of my Department contacted Mr. Armstrong’s office on the day on which 1 made my original announcement, informing that organisation that the subsidy scheme would commence on the following morning.
It was expected that with a scheme of these proportions some implementation difficulties would be encountered. Generally speaking, 1 consider that the introduction of the scheme was accomplished remarkably smoothly. For instance, a random check conducted by officers of my Department has revealed that people’ in places as far away as Alice Springs, Mount Isa, Bourke and Broome are enjoying the benefit of the subsidy scheme. The same random check however also revealed that in some places the full benefit of the subsidy is not yet being passed on by resellers. In these cases I have arranged for the good offices of my Department and those of the oil companies to be used to rectify the situation. However, I would appreciate it if honorable senators would pass on to me or officers, of my Department any information concerning this practice so that suitable steps can be taken.
– I desire to ask the following question of the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service: Has the Minister investigated the serious unemployment resulting from dismissals from General MotorsHolden’s Pty. Ltd.? Is there any indication that this portends serious unemployment in a vital industry? What action is contemplated to cope with this serious situation which confronts many breadwinners?
– I think that the honorable senator should not confuse dismissals from a particular industry with unemployment. I am informed by the Minister for Labour and National Service, with whom I have discussed this matter, that the Department expects no difficulty and sees no indications of any difficulty in finding alternative employment immediately for people who cease to be employed by General Motors-Holden’s Pty. Ltd.
(Question No. 542.)
asked the Minister representing the Acting Treasurer, upon notice -
Isit a fact-
Senator HENTY__ The Acting Treasurer has supplied the following answers - 1. (a) I understand that the freight rate for general cargo at present published by the interstate shipping service is 25s. per ton lower than those published by the intrastate services.
The Commonwealth Grants Commission has not to the present made an unfavorable adjustment for subsidies paid by the Tasmanian Government for Bass Strait shipping services, as it has felt satisfied that the expenditure was justified having regard to all the circumstances. If the Tasmanian Government were to provide an increased subsidy to the shipping service between King Island and the Tasmanian mainland, this expenditure would, under the Commission’s normal procedures, be investigated by the Commission when the financial results for the year of expenditure come under review.
(Question No. 544.)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Air, upon notice -
– The Minister for Air has supplied the following answers -
Yes. 2. (a) The Royal Australian Air Force maintains aircraft, equipment and personnel to meet its search and rescue responsibility for military aircraft, and it is considered that its existing arrangements in Western Australia are adequate to meet this particular obligation,
(Question No. 594.)
asked the Minister representing the Acting Treasurer upon notice -
– The Acting Treasurer has supplied the following answers - 1 and 2. On 10th July 1965 Mr. Henry H. Fowler, Secretary of the United States Treasury, announced that the United States would be prepared to participate in an international monetary conference to consider what steps might be taken to secure improvements in the international monetary system. Following his recent visit to Europe and to the United Kingdom, Mr. Fowler has now suggested that, in order to provide a firm basis for a meaningful international conference, discussions and negotiations should take place at the policy level among the Group of Ten - i.e., the 10 nations which have agreed to lend their currencies to the International Monetary Fund - and that an opportunity should then be given to other members of the Fund to participate in the preparatory discussions and negotiations. It is expected that these and other suggestions relating to future international monetary arrangements will come up for discussion at the forthcoming annual meeting of Governors of the Fund which will commence in Washington on 27th September 1965. As Australian Governor of the Fund, the Treasurer will be attending this meeting.
(Question No. 608.)
asked the Minister re presenting the Acting Minister for Trade and Industry, upon notice -
– The Minister for Trade and Industry has supplied the following answers -
(Question No. 618.)
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The PostmasterGeneral has supplied the following answers -
– On 14th September 1965, Senator Sandford asked me the following question -
Will the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral endeavour to seek some information on the inordinate delays that sometimes are experienced in the delivery of mail? Recently I was caused some grave inconvenience when a very important lette-‘ - which originated from Spring Street, Melbourne, which was posted to me at my Melbourne office at 318 Post Office Place and which bore the post mark “30th August 1965, 3.30 p.m.” - did not reach my office until the morning mail of 9th September. The letter was clearly and correctly addressed in writing. I might mention [hat the distance from the point of posting to the point of delivery is about one mile and it took 10 days to deliver the letter.
The Postmaster-General has now furnished the following information in reply to the honorable senator’s question -
Enquiries made reveal that the letter concerned was posted in a letter receiver outside the Public Offices, Treasury Place, Melbourne, in the afternoon of 30th August 1965.
In the normal course, the letter should have been sorted to the private box during the night of 30th August 1965, and made available for collection by an officer from the Commonwealth Parliament Offices from the box on the morning of 31st August 1965. A study of mail traffic records at the Melbourne Mail Exchange Branch discloses that all letter mail for private boxes was cleared shortly after 9 a.m. on 31st August 1965. Although it appears that the letter got out of course during postal transmission, the reason for this, unfortunately, cannot be established. The envelope has been examined but it does not bear any marks or endorsements which might indicate the reason for mis-handling. Where a failure of service is detected, it is the practice to arrange for the article to be specially delivered and a verbal or written apology tendered to the addressee.
Continuous sampling checks are made to measure the standard of service provided on mail matter generally. Recent studies have shown that only one per cent, of the letter-form articles posted daily in the Melbourne city area for delivery to a city address is not processed in sufficient time to connect with the first delivery after posting. In all cases, however, the letters subject to delay were processed for delivery lo the addressee by the second delivery after posting.
Bill returned from the House of Representatives without amendment.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Anderson) read a first time.
– I move -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
This is the first of two bills which the Government is bringing forward to make provision in Australia’s customs and tariff legislation for tariff preferences in favour of less developed countries. Honorable senators will recall that, in May last, my colleague, the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Henty) representing the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr. McEwen) informed the Senate of the Government’s decision to provide for the admission of selected products from less developed countries at preferential rates of duty. He also explained that the creation of new preferences would normally be contrary to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. So, in order to introduce the preferences, the Government would be seeking a waiver - or dispensation - from the relevant provisions of that agreement.
Australia’s application for a waiver is now before the contracting parties to G.A.T.T. The Government wishes to be in a position to bring the preferences into operation as soon as the waiver is granted. It therefore requests the Parliament to pass the necessary legislation. Because Australia’s freedom to operate the preferences depends on the granting of the waiver, clause 2 of the Bill proposes that the date of operation of the Act be fixed by proclamation.
In his statement’ to the Senate during the last session, the Minister for Civil Aviation set out in some detail both the nature of the Government’s proposal and its background. Broadly, the proposal envisages preferential reductions in duties on specified manufactured products from the less developed countries. The products have been selected from lists nominated to G.A.T.T. by the less developed countries themselves. The list of less developed countries for preference purposes will be determined after consultation in G.A.T.T. Certain countries will be excluded from the preferences on some of the selected products because they are already competitive in those products at existing rates of duty. Imports at the preferential rates will be limited by tariff quotas as a safeguard against disruption of the Australian market.
I will now deal with the Government’s proposal in the terms of the Bill. Clause 8 inserts in the Second Schedule of the Customs Tariff, the proposed preferential rates of duty and the tariff classifications of the products on which less developed countries will receive preferences. Except that one item has been deleted following consultations with India, the products and the rates are identical with those which were set out in the Schedule which was tabled in the Senate on 19th May. However, Clause 7 of the Bill re-numbers some of the relevant tariff classifications. A revised schedule is being circulated to honorable senators.
The products referred to in clause 8 have been selected after careful examination of the lists of products which the lessdeveloped countries have themselves nominated to G.A.T.T. as being of special export interest to them. The selection from those lists has been made on the basis that preferential reductions in the duties on imports from less developed countries should not result in the removal of protection required by Australian industry. As it always does, the Government has kept very firmly in mind Australia’s continuing need to be able to use the tariff to protect its industries and foster its own development. In this regard Australia’s situation is quite different from that of . the highly industrialised countries of the northern hemisphere.
Australia’s industrial development is comparatively recent and still incomplete. Many of the older countries, on the other hand, have long established large scale industries covering the whole spectrum of production. Their secondary industries have for years been competitive exporters to world markets. But Australian industries are only now starting to develop exports of manufactured products. Indeed, Australia faces many of the same problems as do less developed countries in establishing secondary industries and developing exports of manufactured products in the face of the often strenuous competition from established exporters in the mature industrial countries.
The system of preferential tariffs proposed in this Bill recognises -that Australia cannot act in ways that would frustrate its own development or negate well tried tariff policy. This does not mean that Australia cannot or need not take tariff action to help the less developed countries. On the contrary, we simply cannot ignore that almost all the younger countries are much less fortunately placed than Australia. We cannot ignore their need for both industrial development and a considerable expansion in both the volume and the range of their exports if they are to achieve economic and social progress.
The difficulties associated with the production of industrial products in less-developed countries inevitably affects costs in the industries concerned. In many cases, the result is that such industries are not competitive in international markets. As a result, the duties which Australian industries need for protection against competition from lessdeveloped countries can often be lower than the protective duties already established in the Australian tariff on the basis of competition from the highly industrialised countries. Moreover, the less developed countries would derive little advantage from duty reductions which applied equally to imports from all countries, ft would be the industrialised countries that would benefit most from duty reductions on that basis.
The Government therefore sees both a need, and an opportunity, for duty reductions on a preferential basis. There is need on the part of the less developed countries, and opportunity for Australia to do something to meet that need without damage to its basic policy of reasonable protection for economic and efficient Australian industry. The preferential duties proposed in the Bill are therefore intended to help less developed countries compete more effectively for a share of Australia’s trade. As I have indicated, it is not the Government’s intention to undermine the tariff protection needed by economic and efficient Australian industries. The new rates will therefore be subject to the normal processes of tariff revision, for example, by Tariff Board inquiry, if imports develop to the point where they seriously affect the position of Australian industry.
As an additional safeguard for Australian industry it is proposed to place quotas on the volume of imports at the proposed preferential rates. This will also prevent the preferences having any undue impact on the trade of third countries. The quotas proposed for the tariff classifications specified in clause 8 are shown in the schedule which is being distributed to honorable senators. Provisions necessary for the administration of the quotas are contained in clause 5.
The countries and territories which will be treated as less-developed countries for preference purposes are not specified in the Bill. Honorable senators will recall my earlier explanation that the Government believes this to be a matter for international consideration, and that the list for purposes of this legislation would be determined after the question had been considered in G.A.T.T. Clause 4 of the Bill therefore provides for the countries to be determined by the Minister and the list published in the Commonwealth Gazette. Clause 4 also makes provision for the exclusion from particular preferences of individual lessdeveloped countries which are already competitive suppliers of the relevant products to the Australian market.
As honorable senators are aware, the less-developed countries have been pressing for some time for international action to give them preferential treatment for their exports of manufactured and semi-manufactured products. In this, they have had the active support of the Australian Government. This question of preferences has, in fact, been the subject of a whole series of international meetings over the last two years. There is now a wide measure of acceptance of the general case for such preferences. However, a few of the more highly industrialised countries have been firmly opposed. Whilst these countries maintain their opposition, the negotiations for international agreement on a general system of preferences for less developed countries are virtually deadlocked.
Australia’s initiative in applying for a G.A.T.T. waiver to cover the introduction of new preferences has demonstrated our willingness and ability to give practical assistance to the trade of less developed countries. But, equally important, it has pointed to the possibility of using the existing provisions of the G.A.T.T. to cover the introduction of preferences for the benefit of less developed countries. This, in itself, may well contribute to breaking the present impasse in international negotiations on the issue of preferences. Irrespective of whether this proves to be’ the case, the Government’s initiative has been warmly received by most of the less developed countries. In fact, when Australia’s application for a waiver was first introduced in the G.A.T.T., there was a whole series of supporting statements from spokesmen for less developed countries.
Mr. Manubhai Shah, India’s Minister of Commerce, has hailed our action as “ a bold and imaginative move “ on which Australia was to be congratulated. He has also called for all other less developed countries to support Australia’s application for a G.A.T.T. waiver. Similarly, Mr. Kaissouni Deputy Prime Minister for Economic and Financial Affairs in the United Arab Republic, and President of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, has expressed appreciation of Australia’s move. And Mr. Cornelio Balmaceda, Philippines Secretary of Commerce and Industry, and a vice-president of the Trade and Development Conference, is reported to have hailed the decision, saying that Australia had given the lead to the industrialised countries. The Government derives considerable satisfaction from these expressions of support.
There are, of course, some aspects of Australia’s proposals on which more information is being sought by other G.A.T.T. members. And on some points, questions of principle have been raised. Some countries, for example, have suggested that all preferences should apply equally to all less developed countries. That is, that we should not exclude even a competitive less developed country from individual preferences. Others would like us to give preferences on a longer list of products and to set bigger quotas or no quotas at all. Then again, there are countries not included in our initial list of preference, countries who want to be added to the list.
It is, of course, inevitable that a novel and far-reaching proposal like the one the Government has put forward will give rise to a number of questions of this kind; that some aspects of the proposal should be misunderstood at the outset. It is inevitable that some countries would want us to do more or to do it differently and that others would want us to do less. I have already mentioned that some of the affluent countries would prefer that we did not give preferences at all. Naturally, we are expected to discuss and explain our proposal internationally. We are, in fact, doing this already, both in the G.A.T.T. and in bilateral discussions. Such discussion is, of course, the only way to resolve the issues that have been raised and to remove any misconceptions about our proposals.
Quite frankly, we agree that there are additional countries which should be treated as less developed countries for purposes of the preferences. We agree also that Australia might be able to give preferences on additional items or make adjustments to some quotas. But first priority must be given to getting the principle established. We would only make this more difficult if we allowed ourselves to be sidetracked into arguments about particular products, or the size of quotas, or the eligibility of individual countries. This question of whether individual countries should get preferences is in any event a matter for international consideration.
The questions of principle cannot, of course, be put to one side, but must be settled during the discussions on our waiver application. On these, we must convince other countries by the strength of our argument. We must, for instance, get it accepted that Australia’s economic situation is not on all fours with the situation of the mature industrial countries. We must get it accepted that we cannot reduce tariffs without regard to the situation of our own industries and our own need for development. We must show that just as there are differences between the affluent and the poorer countries, so there are differences between the less developed countries themselves. That just as less developed countries would derive little benefit from tariff reductions that were also available to the industrialised countries, so some less developed countries would derive little benefit from preferences on products in which their more advanced fellows were already competitive unless the latter were excluded.
The principal reason why these issues have not yet been cleared up is that the G.A.T.T. has been preoccupied with such things as the Kennedy Round, and has not yet considered Australia’s proposal in detail. Its members have, however, established a working party which is charged with doing this. This working party is currently meeting in Geneva. The Government is confident that discussions in the working party will lead to greater understanding and acceptance of the proposal. Many countries have hailed the Australian proposal as a bold and imaginative initiative to deal with an urgent problem. The proposal is important. It will enable Australia to increase its practical help to the trade of less developed countries, thus assisting their development and the achievement of higher living standards for their people. It will do this without impeding our own development.
I commend the Bill to honorable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator O’Byrne) adjourned.
CUSTOMS bill (No. 2) 1965.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Anderson) read a first time.
Senator ANDERSON (New South Wales - Minister for Customs and Excise [4.17]. - I move -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
This Bill is complementary to the Customs Tariff Bill which has just been introduced. It is a machinery measure which sets out the conditions to determine the eligibility of goods from less developed countries for entry at the preferential rates proposed in the Customs Tariff Bill. Although some consequential rewording has been necessary in the existing provisions for determining the origin of goods from other preference countries, the Bill makes no substantive change in those provisions.
Broadly, the Bill provides that imports from less developed countries will, subject to the provisions of the Customs Tariff Bill, qualify for entry at the preferential rates if SO per cent, or more of the labour and material cost of the imported product has been incurred in less developed countries, and if the last processing before export has taken place in the exporting less developed’ country. In addition, the imported product must normally be shipped direct from the exporting less developed country to Australia. Alternatively the goods may be transhipped en route but, in this event, entry at preferential rates will be dependent upon the Collector of Customs being satisfied that Australia was the intended destination of the goods when they were separated from the less developed country in which they were produced. These provisions are designed to avoid making it unduly difficult for goods from less developed countries to quality for preference, whilst providing safeguards against abuse of the proposed preferences. I commend the Bill to honorable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator 0’Byrne’ adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Anderson) read a first time.
– I move -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The Bill gives effect to the Government’s decisions on social services as announced by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) in his Budget Speech. The following measures are proposed -
An increase of supplementary assistance by 10s. a week together with a widening of eligibility by extending payment to pensioners whose resources exceed the present limits.
The payment of standard pension rate of £6 a week as well as supplementary assistance, if otherwise eligible, to a married pensioner whose wife receives a wife’s allowance.
The payment of the wife’s allowance where the wife of an age pensioner has the custody, care and control of one or more children under the age of 16 years or, in the case of a student child, under 21 years.
The payment of child’s allowance and additional pension for children where age pensioners have the custody, care and control of one or more children.
An increase in the age limit from 18 to 21 years for student children of pensioners. This also extends the eligibility for widow’s pension where the widow has a student child.
The payment of a guardian’s allowance of £2 a week to unmarried age and invalid pensioners who have the custody, care and control of one or more children.
The payment of a funeral benefit of £20 to a pensioner who is responsible for the funeral expenses of a spouse, a child or another pensioner.
For many years, flat rate increases in pension rates for all pensioners were a consistent feature of developments, but with the build up in the pension rates to a more satisfactory level, it has been possible in more recent years to pay particular attention to the relative needs of households and to bring pensions, allowances and other payments into better balance with each other. The measures contained in this Bill are a continuation of that policy.
I turn now to a detailed examination of the proposals. The present Government introduced supplementary assistance in 1958. It is currently payable at the rate of 10s. a week to single pensioners, or to married pensioners whose partner is not in receipt of a pension or allowance, who pay rent and are entirely dependent on the pension. It is a form of additional assistance available to a clearly defined group of pensioners who have a particular and recognisable need. The first of the proposals is to increase supplementary assistance by 10s. a week to 20s. a week and, in keeping with this higher rate, to introduce a sliding scale under which the maximum rate of supplementary assistance is reduced by the amount by which a pensioner’s means as assessed exceeds £26. Means as assessed, as most honorable senators will know, is the phrase used to measure a person’s financial resources and is a composite figure made up of his income together with £1 for each complete £10 by which the value of his property exceeds £200.
Under existing legislation, a pensioner is considered entirely dependent on his pension if his income does not exceed 10s. a week and the value of his property is under £210. Thus an income of 10s. a week permits supplementary assistance of 10s. a week to be paid; but an income of 10s. 3d. a week prevents the payment of any supplementary assistance. This is in contrast to the pensions means test which is a “ taper “ in that for every £1 by which means as assessed exceeds £182, £1 a year is deducted from the annual rate of pension. With an increase in the rate of supplementary assistance to 20s. a week, it is considered that a taper should be introduced to replace the present means restriction which is not inappropriate for the rate and scope of the existing benefit. The Bill provides such a taper. In conformity with the merged means test on pensions, it incorporates the principle mentioned, under which each complete £10 of the value of property above £200, or £1,000 in the case of Class A widows with property exceeding £2,250, will be equivalent for means test purposes to £1 per annum of income.
On the passage of this Bill approximately 105,000 pensioners, currently receiving supplementary assistance, will receive the 10s. a week increase. Some 34,000 additional pensioners with means as assessed of less than £78 will be brought into the supplementary assistance field for the first time and will receive increases to their present pension from 20s. down to ls. a week. This means that single pensioners who pay rent will qualify for some supplementary assistance if they own no property and their annual rate of income is less than £78 a year or, on the other hand, if they have no income apart from their pension and the value of their property other than their furniture and personal effects is less than £980. The cost of these proposals is estimated to be £4 million in a full year.
It is also proposed to make supplementary assistance available to a married pensioner whose wife is in receipt of a wife’s allowance, if the couple pay rent and satisfy the conditions of the proposed means test. Bearing in mind that in the case of a married couple the income and property of each is deemed to be half the combined income and property of both, the limits to the income or property such a couple may have before ceasing to be eligible for some supplementary assistance will be double those mentioned for a single pensioner. The previous item is expected to benefit some 5,000 pensioner households by amounts ranging up to 20s. a week.
The maximum rate of pension payable to a married man whose wife is in receipt of a wife’s allowance is to be increased under this bill from £5 10s. a week to the standard rate of £6 a week. Some 18,000 pensioner households will receive an immediate increase of 10s. a week under this proposal. The significance of the foregoing proposals relating to married pensioners with a wife in receipt of wife’s allowance will perhaps be better appreciated when it is realised that under the existing provisions of the Social Services Act, and leaving out of account any payments’ for children, the maximum amount which may be paid to such a couple is £8 10s. a week, comprising pension £5 10s. and wife’s allowance £3. Payment of the standard rate of pension in such a case will immediately increase this total amount by 10s. a week to £9, and if the couple pay rent, a further increase of up to £1 a week may be payable thus raising the total payments to a maximum of £10, giving an overall increase in some cases of 30s. a week. I _ am sure all honorable senators will agree that this will be a notable contribution to the finances of the households affected.
The Government acknowledges the special difficulties facing the household of a married pensioner whose wife is ineligible for pension and who has children in her custody, care, and control. As honorable senators know, the wife of an invalid pensioner or an age pensioner who is permanently incapacitated for work or permanently blind may qualify for a wife’s allowance, the maximum rate of which is £3 a week. Under this Bill the wife of an age pensioner will also be able to qualify for the wife’s allowance if she has the custody, care and control of a child or children.
Hand in hand with this, the Bill also makes provision for additional payments to be made in respect of a child or children in the custody, care and control of. an age pensioner. As in the case of wife’s allowance, such payments can only be made under existing law in respect of the children of invalid pensioners or age pensioners who are permanently incapacitated for work or permanently blind. As a result of these measures qualified households will benefit on passage of the Bill by £3 a week wife’s allowance plus 15s. a week in respect of each child. 1 now come to a further provision relating to a field in which this Government has an oustanding record of achievement. I refer to payments for children and the provision in the Bill whereby the age limit for student children of pensioners will be raised from 18 to 21 years. Honorable senators will recall that it was this Government which gave practical recognition to the needs of the pensioner with a family by the introduction in 1956 of additional pension of 10s. a week for children after the first. Since then these payments have been increased to 15s. a week and extended to include children to the end of the year in which they turn 18 years where they are receiving full-time education at a school, college or university and are wholly or substantially dependent upon the pensioner.
The Bill brings the definition of student children for pensions purposes into line with that applying in the case of child endowment by raising the age limit for student children of pensioners to 21 years. The effect of this measure will be to make the additional pension for student children of pensioners and the deductions from a pensioner’s income in respect of student children, available for a further period of up to three years.
Of probably greater importance is that the amendment to the principal Act will preserve the eligibility of a widow for a class A widow’s pension where the student child aged between 18 and 21 years is the youngest child in the widow’s family. This will enable widowed mothers to continue to receive a class A widow’s pension while their children are receiving tertiary education. In addition to the basic pension of £6 a week the mother will receive the mother’s allowance of £2 a week, together with additional pension of 15s. a week. She will also receive student endowment of 15s. a week and, if qualified, supplementary assistance at the new rate of £1 a week.
A widow with one child who is a student may thus receive total payments amounting to £10 10s. a week. Under the present Act, if the child is over 18 years, the highest payment for which the widow could qualify is the basic class B pension of £5 7s. 6d. together with an addtiional 25s. a week made up of endowment and supplementary assistance. However, not all widows can now qualify for class B pensions when their student child turns 18 years. Some widows therefore who would have received only student endowment when their child began tertiary education will now receive up to £10 10s. a week.
Mr. Acting President, most honorable senators will know something of the scholarships now provided for students attending secondary schools and the universities. There should no longer be any financial reason why the child of a widow is unable to receive a university education. The mother will be maintained by the pension and other payments provided in this Bill while the student will be maintained by his, or her, Commonwealth scholarship. Doubtless, in the past, many a student has had to deny himself a university education because he was required to become a breadwinner for his widowed mother. That situation will be no more. The total Commonwealth contribution to a household of a widow with one child where the child is in receipt of a university scholarship can be up to £15 10s. a week.
In recent years the Government has paid particular attention to the needs of widows with children and, in addition to substantial increases in the pension rate, there have been fundamental changes of far reaching benefit for the widowed mother. During this time there has been a tendency to overlook the position of the widower who is unable to work and having lost his wife is faced with the task of bringing up a child or children. A grandparent who is an age pensioner is sometimes called upon to bring up an orphaned grandchild and, apart from the additional payment for the child, and the single pension, our present legislation has no provision to assist the guardian in establishing and maintaining the home.
This year the Government intends to make provision for the payment of a guardian’s allowance, similar to the mother’s allowance of £2 a week introduced in 1963, to single age and invalid pensioners who have the custody, care and control of one or more children. This will correct the less favorable position of single age or invalid pensioners with children. The guardian’s allowance of £2 a week will be, in effect, an addition to the pension. It will increase the payment to a single age or invalid pensioner with a child to £8 15s. a week exclusive of endowment, and this may be increased by a further £1 a week where the pensioner is qualified to receive supplementary assistance.
Though numbers may not prove large this most humane provision will be a significant contribution to remedying the financial hardship in households where misfortune has struck and a child has to be supported by its invalid father or, where both parents have died, by its grandparent or an invalid relative. The allowance will be payable to any unmarried age or invalid pensioner, including the widowed or divorced, who has the custody, care and control of a child or children. It will enable the children concerned to have the benefits of a home life with their relatives.
A further clause in the amending Bill deals with funeral benefit. At the present time a funeral benefit of £10 is payable to the person who has paid or is liable to pay the funeral expenses of a deceased age or invalid pensioner. For this purpose a deceased age or invalid pensioner includes a claimant for an age or invalid pension or a tuberculosis allowance, who, but for his death, would have been qualified to receive an age or invalid pension. The benefit is payable irrespective of the means of the applicant. The amount of the existing funeral benefit and the conditions governing eligibility when it is payable to a person who is not a pensioner will remain unchanged, but it is proposed to ease the position of pensioners who are called upon to meet funeral expenses where a funeral benefit is not payable under existing legislation. It is to meet this situation that we have made special provision in the Bill before us by providing a funeral benefit of £20 where a pensioner has met the cost of the funeral of a spouse, a child or of another pensioner.
The payment of £20 will be made where an age, invalid or widow pensioner, including a woman in receipt of a wife’s allowance, has met the cost of the funeral of a spouse, within the previous six months. Therefore a pensioner who has to meet the funeral expenses of a deceased spouse, including a non-pensioner spouse, will be eligible for the new benefit, so too will the person who. becomes a pensioner within six months after being required to meet the cost of the funeral of a spouse. This will be of particular benefit to a woman who becomes a widow pensioner after the death of her husband.
There is no provision in the present legislation to assist a pensioner who is required to meet the funeral expenses of a child for whom a child’s allowance or additional pension is payable but this situation will be remedied by the new provisions. It will lessen the burden on a pensioner household in time of family distress and will fill a gap in our existing social services legislation. The requirement that the child be in the custody, care and control of the pensioner at the time of death ensures that the pensioner was responsible for the child.
The higher rate of benefit will also apply to the pensioner who is required to meet funeral expenses of another pensioner. This provision will be of benefit to a pensioner who is required to meet the funeral expenses of a pensioner parent, brother or sister, but it is not confined to a deceased member of the pensioner’s family, lt will allow a pensioner to receive assistance where he has met the funeral cost of a pensioner friend. An important point to keep in mind is that the deceased pensioner in this category includes a deceased widow pensioner in respect of whom funeral benefit is not payable under the present law.
The opportunity is being taken during the consideration of this Bill to effect an amendment to section 18 of the principal Act made necessary by an amendment to the Repatriation Regulations last year. By way of explanation may I say that the Department of Social Services has for many years experienced difficulty in adjusting pension rates in sufficient time to avoid an overpayment when a pensioner is granted medical sustenance by the Repatriation Department. Medical sustenance comes within the definition of income under section 18. A solution to the problem is to be found by allowing the pension rate to continue undisturbed when a pensioner is granted medical sustenance and to reduce the amount of sustenance payable by the amount the pension would have been reduced if it had been adjusted. The Repatriation Regulations have been amended and all that remains is for section 18 to be suitably amended to give legislative effect to the solution.
Mr. Acting President, this completes the outline of the provisions of the Bill but I wish to say something about the costs involved. Quite apart from this Bill, expenditure on social services for 1965-66 is estimated to rise by some £9 million over the expenditure for the previous year. This will be brought about mainly through a natural increase in the number of pensioners and the full year cost of the pension increases granted last year. The increases in rates of pensions, allowances and benefits provided under this Bill will add some £5.7 million to the annual liability of social services. It will add some £4.2 million for the year 1965-66.
The total expenditure from the National Welfare Fund on items under the Social Services Act will rise from £335.3 million in 1964-65 to an estimated £348.5 million in 1965-66. Total expenditure from the National Welfare Fund was £445 million in 1964-65 and it is estimated that expenditure will increase by approximately £26 million to £471 million in 1965-66.
To conform with the usual practice it is proposed that the increases in the pension and allowance rates provided by the Bill will come into operation on the pay days following the royal assent whereas the increased rates of funeral benefit will become effective on the date of royal assent. I am confident the measures I have outlined will be welcomed as worthy contributions to our social services system.
Mr. Acting President, I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Senator FITZGERALD (New South
Wales) [4.38]. - I move-
That the following words be added to the motion - “ but the Senate is of opinion that the Government should be condemned for its failure -
In dealing with this matter I do so without heat, without malice and without strong adjectives to describe the hostility of the Australian Labour Party to the Government’s social service policy. Honorable senators might note that some 800,000 people in Australia are in receipt of age and invalid pensions but over 600,000 people will receive nothing at all from the legislation now before us. Speaking on behalf of my party and colleagues, I appeal to honorable senators who have some human feelings in their hearts to support the Opposition’s amendment. I assure you, Mr. Acting President, that I am heartened in many ways by events that have taken place over the past few weeks in this Parliament in righting a number of wrongs and injustices that have taken place in other forms of legislation. I speak of the International Parcel Express Company case and the Repatriation Bill under which medical and hospital treatment will be given to diggers who still survive World War I and the Boer War. I commend honorable senators who made amendments to that legislation possible. I remember, too, of course, the principles which you yourself, Mr. Acting President, have observed, and which my friend Senator Webster observed, on a previous occasion. I appeal to all senators in all sincerity to support our amendment and tosecure justice if not now, then in the future, for those in receipt of social service benefits.
What the Labour movement is cocerned with - and we say so without fear of contradiction - is the defence, development and growth of this nation, the well being of the workers in industry, the health of our people and theeducation of our children. But no legislation comes before this Parliament that obtains more support from the Opposition than that dealing with social services. In the first fighting platform of the Australian Labour Party, the principle of age and invalid pensions was embraced. That principle has been fought for on behalf of aged and invalid persons since the inauguration of the Australian Labour Party. I recall that Spence, one of the great Labour historians, wrote about what the Australian Labour Party wanted and what sort of advancement it might make in legislation. lt has been recorded that one spokesman for the Labour Party has said: “We are here to seek some of the pleasures, some of the leisures - yes - and some of the treasures, enjoyed by the privileged class of this nation. Therefore, we seek and we desire some of those benefits on behalf of the people we represent.” The Opposition today, speaking in the same voice, desires that some of those leisures, pleasures and treasures be given to the people of this nation, especially the under-privileged. We deplore the great poverty that exists throughout the world. It would be stupid for me to suggest that we have such conditions here in Australia but in this land of so-called plenty we do have many thousands of under-privileged people. It is on their behalf today that I am making an appeal to the Government.
In passing, I want to refer to the kidnapping of the little girl, Glenda James, which has been publicised throughout the length and breadth of Australia. Her family was asked why the child was not in hospital in view of the troubles and tribulations that the child had suffered. Despite the fact that her husband was earning a weekly wage, the mother pitifully said: “ We cannot afford hospital treatment. We are not in a hospital benefit fund. My husband is receiving a full wage but we are paying £1 1 a week in rent.” She said that they had only £4 a week to spend.
This is an example of some of the circumstances and conditions operating right throughout this land of ours at the present moment. The Opposition believes that there ought to be some form of assistance provided in the field of social service to overcome those dire problems that exist at the moment. A great Labour idealist once said: “With all my heart I protest against a system in which the lap dogs of the rich are socially superior to the children of the poor.” I feel that that is a principle dominating every decent Labour man, not only in this chamber but throughout the length and breadth of Australia. That is the dominating principle of Labour and it is one of which I speak here today. I am eager and anxious to see something done for those unfortunate people - those 600,000 age and invalid pensioners - about whom we are talking in this debate.
The Opposition, along with the pensioners, is. frightfully disappointed with this Budget of over £2,600,000,000. The former Minister for Social Services, Mr. Hugh Roberton, who is now in Ireland as the representative of this Government, was a man who did not believe in social services. His position is on record in a speech that he made prior to taking office. He has said that social services were a matter which ought to be dealt with by the families of the people concerned. The Labour Party felt that much better assistance might be expected from the new Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair). The Minister spoke at great length on this matter prior to his elevation to the Ministry. He talked about abolition of the means test and a lot of other matters. We felt that when he took over this portfolio something better might be forthcoming from him. Unfortunately that has not been the case.
I want to mention Labour’s concern with these matters. In 65 years of federation, Labour has governed for little over 15 years. But I want to draw attention for a moment to a fine booklet issued by the Department of Social Services which sets out the benefits available. I mention that because our amendment relates to all those benefits. We protest because not all the people mentioned in the various categories in this booklet are provided with benefits. I hope that when, in the course of this debate, Government supporters compare what their Government has done with what Labour has done, it will be remembered that the Government has been in charge of the treasury bench of this Commonwealth for the past 16 years. In fact, it has been in charge for almost 50 of the 65 years since federation.
All forms of social services are dealt with in this handbook issued by the Commonwealth, and the history of the benefits is given. Regarding maternity allowance the booklet states -
Maternity allowances’ were introduced by tha Fisher Government in 1912.
That was a Labour Government. Regarding child endowments the booklet states -
Child endowment was introduced by the Menzies Government in 1941, at the rate of 5s. a week for each child under the age of 16 years in excess of one in a family.
That rate of 5s. still remains the same despite the fact that it was introduced in 1941. But the history of child endowment reveals that it was introduced by the Lang Labour Government in New South Wales in 1925. The booklet also refers to unemployment and sickness benefits. It sets out the history and states -
Legislation for unemployment and sickness benefits was introduced in 1944 by the Curtin Government.
Regarding widows’ pensions and age pensions, the booklet states -
Widows’ pensions were introduced by the Curtin Government in 1942 . . . Age pensions were introduced by the Deakin Government in 1909.
– Yes. They were introduced by a non-Labour Government in 1909.
– As the honorable senator says, they were introduced in 1909 by a non-Labour Government. Age pensions were first introduced in 1900 by the John See Government of New South Wales in which Labour held the balance of power. Further to the interjection by Senator Wedgwood, 1 want to refer to the history of age pensions. As Secretary of the Parliamentary Labour Party, I had access over a number of years to the minute book of the Party. I was very interested to read the letters that passed between J. C. Watson, the Labour Leader in 1909, and Alfred Deakin. They are available in the minute books of this House. Alfred Deakin wrote to J. C. Watson and stated that, with Labour support, he was prepared to introduce legislation to provide for an age pension. That is how provision came to be made in Commonwealth legislation for the age pension. The invalid pension was introduced by the Fisher Labour Government in 1910.
For the few short years that Labour has been in office in the Federal sphere, it has done a very great job in the field of social services. Indeed, none of these social services would have been introduced had it not been for the Labour Governments’ social service programmes and the referendum on social services that was held by theChifley Government. The funeral bene fit was introduced by the Curtin Government in 1943. In addition, the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service was introduced in 1941 by the Curtin Government under its wartime powers. Those powers enabled the Commonwealth to introduce a lot of social service legislation, and the Commonwealth’s authority in this field was finally confirmed by the referendum to which I have already referred. Aged persons’ homes legislation was introduced by the Menzies Government in 1954 and legislation dealing with the provision of accommodation for disabled persons was introduced by the Government in 1963. That is a history of the legislation that is administered by the Minister for Social Services.
We on this side of the Senate have protested over the years against the Government’s inadequate provision for social services by moving amendments to various social service bills. An amendment that we moved in 1963 summarises our opposition and gives some idea of what has led the Government to provide some amelioration in this field. Labour’s 1963 amendment was couched in the following terms -
. the Senate is the opinion that -
It is now proposed, of course, that a pensioner who is responsible for the funeral expenses of his wife should receive an additional £10. It is a paltry benefit. In our current amendment we condemn the Government for its meanness. In our 1963 amendment we stated further -
It will be seen that for many years we have protested vigorously about the social service legislation that has been introduced, particularly over the last 15 or 16 years.
Supplementary assistance is now paid to 105,000 pensioners. Under the legislation now before us 34,000 additional pensioners will be brought into the supplementary assistance field for the first time and will become eligible for increases ranging from £1 down to ls. a week. The estimated cost of this item for a full year is £4 million. Five thousand pensioner households will benefit from the supplementary assistance that is to be payable where a pensioner’s wife is in receipt of the wife’s allowance. The estimated cost of this benefit for a full year is £275,000. Approximately 18,000 pensioner households will benefit from the proposal to pay the standard rate pension, which is £6, where the pensioner’s wife is in receipt of a wife’s allowance. The estimated cost of this proposal for a full year is £465,000. It is expected that approximately 100 wives’ allowances will be paid where an age pensioner has a child. The estimated cost for a full year is £15.000.
No doubt the people who will receive these benefits will be very grateful: nonetheless I believe that the Government is to be condemned for the miserable and paltry benefits that are. forthcoming. The payment of the child’s allowance and additional pension for children where an age pensioner has a child will benefit approximately 250 children. The estimated cost for a full year is £10,000. Approximately 215 children and pensioners are involved in the proposal to increase the age limit from 1.8 to 21 years for student children of pensioners, with extended eligibility to class A widows. It is expected that the cost of this item in a full year will be £20,000. Approximately 5,200 guardians will benefit from the guardian’s allowance of £2 a week. The estimated cost of this benefit is £520.000 per annum. Approximately 26.500 funeral benefits per annum will be paid, at an estimated cost of £400.000 in a full year. The estimated cost of all these social services, for which provision is made in a Budget of £2.600 million, is £5.7 million. This is quite inadequate, and there is no doubt in my mind that honorable senators will express themselves accordingly.
I have before me a chart issued by the Department of Social Services which sets out the number of people who receive the various benefits. As at 30th June 1965, there were 735,573 age and invalid pensioners. During the year, 228,139 maternity allowances were paid. The number of endowed families was 1,582,801. The total number of endowed children in families was 3,546,040, and there were 26,255 endowed children in institutions. The number of widow pensions current at 30th June was 65,398. A total of 27,612 wives’ and children’s allowances were current, and 43,702 funeral benefits were paid during the year. As at 30th June, 25,356 unemployment and sickness benefits were current. Those figures show that, although we are living in a socalled affluent society, many people are living in dire circumstances. Of course, honorable senators opposite, because of the information that they are able to secure from various departments, may point out that the basic wage in New South Wales is £16 9s. per week and in Canberra £16 3s. They may also point out that the average family income, as stated recently in the “ Daily Telegraph “ which is the bible of the Government, is £42 per week and that the average Australian adult earns £25 per week. The pensioners who are in necessitous circumstances have to pay the same rates and other charges as the adult who earns £25 per week. We say that poverty exists amongst the pensioners.
No doubt various tables will be introduced during the debate, as they have been introduced in another place, but the fact is that most of the difficulties and problems confronting pensioners revolve around the question of how much rent they must pay. I have been secretary and chairman of the Labour Party Social Services Committee. I have heard the heartrending stories which have been told by pensioner organisations and by individual pensioners. It would make you cry, Sir, to hear the stories that are told by people who come to us or correspond with us. The happiness and delight of these people when they receive their medical cards must be seen to be believed. Senator Toohey and many other honorable senators on this side of the chamber over a long period had urged the Government to grant the cards to a wider range of pensioners. Under the Labour Party legislation, all pensioners had been entitled to them. The Government has agreed to make the cards available again and I think that most pensioners are very happy about it.
In our amendment we state that we want a permanent committee to be appointed to undertake a continuing review of the operation of the social services legislation and to do everything humanly possible to give to these unfortunate people all that this nation can afford. I think they are entitled to it. The main protest that we have received has been concerned with the facts that mental patients are denied a pension. There are approximately 7,000 mental patients throughout Australia. The question is: How can they be rehabilitated? This presents a terrible problem for the family of such a person. We believe that all inmates of mental hospitals should be eligible for social service benefits. Another protest which has been made concerns the discrimination which is exercised against pensioners who are paying off a home. These people are faced with the problem of finding money to meet the weekly repayments on their home, council rates, water rates, insurance and the cost of repairs that are necessary in order to keep the home in good condition. Many of them are in very dire circumstances. They are debarred from supplementary assistance because they are paying off their homes.
Inflation affects the pensioners. They pay the same prices as everyone else for bread, butter, beer, cigarettes and everything else that they require. The payment of rent presents a grave problem to these unfortunate people. They enjoy only one decent meal a day. They have toast and tea for one meal and bread and butter for the other. One member of a deputation who came to Canberra to interview the Labour Party Social Services Committee said that the pensioners cannot afford to buy suits or shoes. They have to go to jumble sales conducted by the St. Vincent de Paul Society and organizations of that nature to get suits, shoes and other clothing so that they can dress respectably. These are the conditions under which the pensioners are living. Another man said that they cannot obtain chiropodist services, drugs for diabetics and asthma patients, and influenza injections.
I have been to St. Vincent’s Hospital and have seen there pensioners for whom certain pain killing drugs had been recommended. They were obliged to sit there all day so that they could receive the drugs because they were not entitled to them under the benefits provided by the Government. Another proposal that has been submitted to the Labour Party Social Services Committee is that the means test should be abolished and an increase of 30s. granted in pensions. I know that honorable senators opposite will turn their minds to the amount of money that such a proposal would cost the Government. It may be said that an increase of ls. a week in pensions would cost £60 million a year. This money would be spent on clothing, food and blankets. Like the circulating sovereign, it would create employment for people. The cost of such a proposal is small when it is compared with the amount of money that some nations are spending on efforts to send men to the moon. I believe that the Government should give careful, quick and sympathetic consideration to these matters. Another question which has been raised is: What protection will be given to these people when decimal currency is introduced? The invalid pensioners are particularly concerned about this matter. They are also concerned that the maximum amount of £3 10s. a week which a pensioner is allowed to earn without it affecting his pension was fixed 11 years ago.
They contend that the allowance paid to the wife of an invalid pensioner should be increased to the full pension rate, and that a generous supplementary allowance should be granted to invalid pensioners who require special diets or who need nursing assistance. It is also contended that, in respect of child endowment, the relationship which existed between it and the basic wage in 1941, should be restored and that full endowment should be paid for the first child. The matters to which I have referred are some of the proposals which have been put to us by various pensioner organisations. I have a letter signed by Mrs. Ellis, Honorary Secretary, and Mr. Barraud, Honorary President, of the Australian Commonwealth Pensioners Federation. It was sent to us on the day following the Budget Speech by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt). The letter states -
The Budget will sound the death knell to many thousands of pensioners who will not benefit in facing the high- cost of living to those who are struggling to pay their way from week to week and will face a further deterioration in their already tragic economic position.
At him the Government has heeded our just claim for the lifting of the means test on pensioner medical service. The 10s. rise in supplementary assistance will only assist a relatively small section of pensioners - denying the vast majority throughout the Commonwealth. The raising of the funeral benefit still falls far short of our claim for £60 but the Government in making this increase recognises the justice of our claim. We are keenly disappointed that there has not been an increase in the general pension rate as Mr. Holt in his budget speech said that the Government each year gives consideration to the trends in costs and prices.
The Federation contends there has been a callous disregard to this matter and will campaign more vigorously for justice and our objective of SO per cent of the male basic wage with cost of living adjustments as endorsed by Adelaide Federal Conference.
I also have a letter from Cessnock. It states -
I am writing you cn behalf of the plight of our pensioners. We have a Budget with increases of food prices and we pensioners have to pay the same price for everything the same as anyone else which I think is ar disgrace and we want you, Senator, to speak on our behalf to get an increase. I don’t ask for half basic wage, which I think is out of the question. No government can do that even if the Labour Party was in power tomorrow. Now, Sir, please stir things up and let us have this increase before Christmas.
It is signed by the secretary of the Cessnock Branch of the Old Age and Invalid Pensioners Association. I quote the following letter from the secretary of the Hardys Bay Branch of the Australian Labour Party - :
I have been instructed by the members of the above branch to request that you bring to the notice of the Senate the. anomaly which we feel exists between the Old Aged pension and the Invalid pension.
A person on the Old Aged pension is permitted to earn £3 10s. per week but the person on the Invalid pension is not permitted to earn anything as he has to be at least 80 per cent, incapacitated to even qualify for the pension.
This branch feels that the Invalid pensioner should receive £1 per week increase (to £4 10s. per week) to off-set the lack of earning power.
Any person already in receipt of the Old Aged pension, but who is too sick to earn, may apply for the Invalid pension after a medical examination.
That letter shows the situation that worries these - unfortunate people. They concern themselves with their own particular problem. I hope that the Minister for Social Services is listening to me and that he will bring this matter to the attention of his departmental officers and of the Government Members Social Services Committee. I am sure that if we were in government today we would be doing something along the lines that have been suggested.
I know that Senator Tangney will deal very effectively with the problems of civilian widows. She has talked about them a great deal over a period of many years. Despite the so-called prosperity of the community, great poverty exists among widows, particularly among those who have children. Many children go hungry. The means test should be removed from this paltry benefit. Were it not for the family welfare bureaux that operate in the various States - I refer particularly to the one that operates in New South Wales - the Smith Family and the many other charitable organisations, these unfortuntate people would be in a very bad position.
Benefits should be granted to deserted wives from the date on which the summons is issued against the so-called husband who has deserted his family. The waiting time of six months is disgraceful. Very severe penalties should be inflicted on men who desert their families. I believe that the Government should bring down some form of legislation which would act as a deterrent to men who walk out on their wives and children, leaving them in necessitous circumstances. The mother of an illegitimate child, if she retains the control and custody of the child, should be classified as a widow for social services purposes.
I have mentioned that the Disabled Persons Accommodation Act is a worthwhile act. However, I suggest that the Government watch rackets in this field. The Commonwealth has brought a very high standard of goodwill to disabled persons’ homes and has created one of the best businesses in the Commonwealth. Some people look forward to buying these homes if they can get them registered. They need a certificated nurse to control the home. The homes have to be inspected. I believe that the inspection ought to be much more rigorous and much more efficient than it is at present. The Government should watch this matter very carefully. Many of these homes have become nothing better than crowded old men’s homes or old people’s boarding houses. They should be supervised more effectively by the Department of Social Services. Perhaps municipal councils, if they were given some remuneration, could act on behalf of the Government.
Under the Disabled Persons Accommodation Act, in each of the financial years 1963-64 and 1964-65 an appropriation of £150,000 was made for eligible organisations under the Act. By way of a question to the Minister for Social Services, I have drawn attention to the fact that in 1963-64 nothing was claimed and in 1964-65 only £6,600 was claimed. The position is that the appropriations were based largely on voluntary organisations and the wrong legislation was drafted. The Government should look into this matter because there are many worthwhile organisations, such as those that conduct sheltered workshops and homes for mentally retarded people. Honorable senators may recall a statement that the number of mentally retarded people in Australia means that 220,000 families are affected.
T have been told that time is running out on me. In conclusion, I ask the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Anderson) and all other honorable senators to support the Opposition’s amendment. It proposes that the increases be made retrospective to 1st July 1965. That is not a new procedure. Retrospectivity has been provided for in the case of ministerial salary increases, parliamentary salary increases, judges’ salary increases and the superphosphate bounty. Also, the payment of child endowment to student children was backdated from April 1964 to December 1963. So, our proposal would not set a precedent. Tt would represent a very fine Christmas gift to the unfortunate people who are desperately in need of these benefits.
Our amendment also suggests the appointment of a joint parliamentary standing committee. We believe that the appointment of such a committee would overcome many of the problems and injustices that exist today in the field of social services. We members of the Australian Labour Party are pledged to a social services platform which provides for the payment of local services benefits at the highest possible rate warranted by the respective services and which the national revenue can sustain; for the payment of social services benefits to assist the needy sections of the community and thus remove gross inequalities in living standards; for the appointment of a joint parliamentary standing committee to continually review the operation of social service benefits; for the progressive easing of the means test with a view to its ultimate abolition; that no Australian citizen shall be disqualified from receiving a. social service pension on account of the period of residence in Australia; and that Australian citizens shall not cease to receive pensions because of residence abroad. The Australian Labour Party also has a health platform which would be of great value and benefit to the aged and infirm. I say without hesitation that the Australian Labour Party, immediately on becoming the government of this country, would implement its policies in connection with social services and associated benefits.
– First, I congratulate the new Minister for Social Services, the Honorable Ian Sinclair, on the presentation of his first bill to the Parliament. I also commend the officers of the Department of Social Services on their work, not only over the past year but also over a period of many years. The Joint Committee of Public Accounts currently is engaged in an inquiry into all the ramifications of the Department. I am sure that, when the report of the Committee on that inquiry is before the Parliament and is available for distribution to the general public, it will provide excellent reading, not only as a report of the Committee’s inquiry but as a report on the work that is undertaken year by year by the Department of Social Services.
I support the Bill and oppose the amendment moved by Senator Fitzgerald. He fell into the error into which members of the Australian Labour Party always fall when dealing with social service legislation, particularly in the Senate. They take every Bill in isolation. They do not regard each measure as part of a programme that , the Menzies Government has been developing ever since it came into office in 1949. I have been provoked by Senator Fitzgerald into mentioning some figures, because the honorable senator went back to 1942 in his references to the handbook of the Department of Social Services in an attempt to destroy credit that must be given to the Menzies Government for its work over the past 15 years. The total expenditure from the National Welfare Fund for 1965-66 will amount to £471 million. This is an increase of £26 million over the preceding year and represents about one-fifth of Commonwealth expenditure for the year.
Our programme always has been related to the capacity of the nation to pay for social services. As 1 cite these figures, I think it must be accepted that the Menzies Government has ensured that social services have kept pace with Australia’s development. In 1950, 413,792 age and invalid pensioners received pensions totalling £44.354 million. In 1965, 735,573 age and invalid pensioners received pension payments totalling £213.298 million. The appropriation for 1966 in this respect is £223.6 million. That illustrates the progress made in the period from 1950 to the present time. In 1950 the average fortnightly payment of age and invalid pensions was £4 ls. Id., and pensions were paid to 4.98 per cent, of the population. In 1965, an average fortnightly payment of £11 5s. 2d. was made to pensioners representing 6.48 per cent, of the population. The figures show clearly the increases in the number of pensioners as a percentage of the population and in the average pension payments.
Senator Fitzgerald referred to widows’ pensions and to -the fact that the Chifley Government introduced them in 1942. I am sure that every honorable senator is glad to know that widows’ pensions quite recently have been increased to what I admit is a much more realistic figure than previously paid. In 1950 approximately 40,000 widows received £4.421 million in pensions. In 1965. pensions totalling £23.522 million were paid to 65,398 widows. The appropriation for 1966 is £25.3 million. I am not suggesting for one moment that we believe that a widow should not receive the very best that the community can give her, particularly when she has young children in her custody; but I shall say a little more about widows later.
I turn now to child endowment. In 1950, about 633,000 families received child endowment in respect to 1,836,322 children.
The amount of endowment paid in that year was about £39.126 million. Child endowment payments totalling £86.415 million were made in 1965. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair) has stated that, currently, child endowment payments are made to about 1.7 million families in respect of over 3.7 million children. Therefore, Sir, it is true to assert that over the years the Menzies Government has progressively improved the positions of all people in receipt of pensions or allowances.
The Bill before the Senate provides for immediate benefits for about 150,000 persons. It follows the pattern adopted all along by the Menzies Government, in that it has increased rates in some cases, widened eligibility in other cases, extended allowances and removed anomalies where it has felt they have existed. The Government has also given help to those people whom it has considered could best do with help. I believe that the Bill before us is a good one. Perhaps the most important concession is the increase in supplementary assistance. This increase has been advocated very strongly for some time. Another important concession is the extending of eligibility for the pensioner medical service to all pensioners. I have said on many occasions in the Senate that there are benefits that no amount of money can buy. There are benefits that a government can confer in a way that will provide much better care and attention for the needy and the sick than does the granting of an extra few shillings a week. I have visited people who could not lift their hands to their faces. To give those people a few extra shillings a week would mean nothing. It would be insufficient to buy the care and attention that are necessary. However, to place the money in the hands of an organisation or agency which could take direct help to them would be to give money in a way that would bring the best benefits to the sick and the aged. Therefore, by extending the application of the pensioner medical service to all pensioners, the Menzies Government has granted to the aged and invalid and to widows a benefit that cannot be calculated. What it means to those people cannot be assessed.
I would like, now, to refer very briefly to some other social services because I think they demonstrate the attitude behind the Government’s social welfare programme.
We are very proud of the Aged Persons Homes Act and of the fact that through it approximately 25,000 people have been housed. We are also very proud of the fact that the Government also saw fit to subsidise all domiciliary nursing services in the Commonwealth. For the expenditure of a relatively small sum of money, probably no other service has given more direct assistance to sick and needy people. In my own State, the Melbourne District Nursing Service does a magnificent job. Last year it received a Commonwealth subsidy of £51,925. It also receives a grant from the State Government, but when i tell the Senate that this service looked after 11,616 patients and made 320,180 visits, the Senate will have some idea of the benefit that comes from money so directed. The service is duplicated, of course, over and over again in every State of the Commonwealth.
The point I am making, Sir, is that it is possible to get benefits through to people, without necessarily increasing the base rate pension. I do not want to be misunderstood. I do not want it to be felt that I am ever opposed to any increase in the base rate. I am in favour of such increases whenever they are possible and practicable, but I am also strongly in favour of giving assistance in the ways that I am attempting to illustrate now. There is developing in the community the idea that aged people, whether it is possible for them to live in homes such as those that are provided under the Aged Persons Homes Act, or whether they live in other homes, should be in the surroundings that they know best. Therefore, in -Victoria, we are developing the day hospital service. Money is channelled through payment of Commonwealth moneys to the State Hospital and Charities Commission to set up day hospital centres. They have been most successful. In the metropolitan area alone, there have been 25,000 visits to day hospitals. The patient is able to receive treatment and then return to his or her own home. This is another way in which direct assistance is given to help the sick and the needy.
There are several things thai did disturb me in my reading of the report of the Director-General of Social Services. One was the great increase in the numbers of deserted wives. This increase is reflected not only in increased appropriations foi pensions paid to these unfortunate women but also in the annual reports of almost every charitable organisation to which 1 belong or the annual meetings of which I attend.
– In what way?
– I refer to the benevolent and charitable organisations which make direct contact with these people. Over and over again they have said that they find great difficulty in meeting appeals from deserted wives for help for their children in money or in kind. A saddening fact is that the number is steadily increasing and more of the women who are deserted are in the younger age group.
– What about more enforcement of maintenance orders?
– That is the point to which I am coming. The report of the Director-General of Social Services contains a table which shows that, as a group, deserted wives were younger and had a higher proportion with more than one child than women whose husbands were deceased. We notice from the number of grants that have been made to deserted wives in class A - most of them are in that class - that the percentage has risen from 27.7 in 1960-1961 to 32.8 in 1964-65. Therefore, I believe it is high time that the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth and the Attorneys-General of the States met to see whether there is not some way in which maintenance orders can be enforced to give some measure of protection to these women and their families.
Another point that rather perturbed me in the report of the Director-General was the fact that fewer people had received rehabilitation services during the past year. The number accepted was 1 ,447, which was 188 fewer than the number accepted in the previous, year. The average number undergoing treatment was 933, compared with 1,130 in the previous year. I have had an opportunity, as many other people have had, to have a look at the rehabilitation work that is done by the Commonwealth services. I would say that it is second to none, but I should like to see it extended further, if possible. I have in my hand a photostat copy of a speech that I made in this chamber on 27th September 1956, when I made a very special plea to the Government to make provision in the rehabilitation scheme for the assistance of housewives.
I went on to cite three cases which had been brought to my notice by a leading Melbourne doctor. I shall not give the details of them now. The first was a woman who suffered a hemiplagia. She had to leave hospital for financial reasons. The second was a woman who, during her ninth pregnancy, developed poliomyelitis and was transferred to Fairfield. The third was a woman who had hepatitis. She was confined to bed for a long time. The doctor who presented . those cases to me said that he was very alarmed at a situation which allowed the attitude of mind that only people who worked outside the home should be eligible for rehabilitatory treatment. 1 placed the matter before the Government, and I know that some of my colleagues also have spoken about it on a number of occasions. 1 was very interested to read in the “Canberra Times” of 18th September 1965 the opinion expressed by Dr. R.- Jeremy, who is Chairman of. the Rehabilitation Committee of the New South Wales Division of the National Heart Foundation. I will not deal with Dr. Jeremy’s general opinion because it concerns the attitude of the Commonwealth Public Service towards the problem of rehabilitating employees who suffer from heart disease. Honorable senators may obtain the cutting from the Library if they are interested enough to do so. I was attracted by Dr. Jeremy’s statement that there are three main faults in the current handling of people with heart disease. The third fault is the failure of physicians to deal with the problem of the housewife with heart disease. Now the need exists for rehabilitation treatment for the housewife with heart disease. As yet, no such treatment is available. I commend this matter to the Government for attention.
I now return to the main part of this legislation. In doing so I again stress the point that over the years the Menzies Government has worked consistently on formulating a policy designed to ensure that social service benefit’s were made available where there was the greatest need for them. I believe that the Bill before us is an extension of that programme. I repudiate the claims that have been made by the Opposition that the Government is not sympathetic towards the needs of the recipients of social service benefits and that social service payments have not kept pace with the country’s prosperity. I support this measure and reject the proposed amendment.
Sitting suspended from 5.43 to 8 p.m.
– I associate myself with the amendment to the motion for the second reading of the Social Services Bill which was moved today by Senator Fitzgerald on behalf of the Opposition. I believe I should begin by listing the main provisions of the Bill, otherwise it might be said that I have been less than just to the Government. We recognize that the Government has provided some benefits, including some very material benefits, for pensioners in the Bill. The first of these is an increase of supplementary assistance by 10s. a week with a widening of eligibility by extending payment to pensioners whose resources exceed the present limits. Then there is the payment of the standard pension rate of £6 a week, as well as supplementary assistance if otherwise eligible, to a married pensioner whose wife receives a wife’s allowance.
The payment of a wife’s allowance is to be made where the wife of an aged pensioner has the custody, care and control of one or more children under the age of 16 years or, in the case of a student child,under 21 years. The Bill provides for the payment of child’s allowance and additional pension for children where age pensioners have the custody, care and control of one or more children. There is to be an extension of the provisions of pensioner medical entitlement to all pensioners. This is a very, important concession.
The Bill also provides for an increase in the age limit from 18 to 21 years for student children of pensioners. Provision is made for the payment of a guardian’s allowance of £2 a week to unmarried age and invalid pensioners who have the custody, care and control of one or more children. There is to be an increase of £10 in the funeral benefit to a pensioner who is responsible for the funeral expenses of a spouse, a child or another pensioner. The total benefit now will be £20. All these provisions prescribed in the Social Services Bill will cost about £5.7 million. This is nol a very great sum of money when one considers the general pattern of Commonwealth revenue today. However, I give the Government full credit for the extended benefits.
Having done that I pass to areas where I think the Government merits some criticism. The first point is that there has been no increase in the base rate of pensions. Age and invalid pensioners expected and, indeed, were entitled to expect, that there would be some increase, however slight, in the base rate of pension provided- in the Budget this year to meet the increase in the cost of living that has taken place over the past 12 months. But no increase was given. It need not have been substantial. Even a 5s. increase would have been acceptable and would’ have helped to bridge the gap between the pension and the higher cost of living. I need not stress the fact. Honorable senators know that this increase in living costs takes place from year to year in these days of inflation. In this regard, the pensioners have been let down.
The Opposition believes that the Government could have made some concession also to a very needy section of pensioners by increasing the special allowance to those who have no means or income other than the pension but have a small home or cottage. All of us have a natural desire to have a home and to retain that home no matter what age we may be. Honorable senators know the difficulty that confronts a single pensioner who has a small home or a married pensioner couple who try to maintain a home on their meagre pension when they have no other means. They have to pay rates and taxes. Some might argue that pensioners in that position should relinquish the home which they have tried for a lifetime to acquire. I do not accept that proposition and I do not think that it is acceptable to most honorable senators. If we concede, as i think we must, that here is a great area of hardship, we ought to be directing our minds towards doing something about it.
I have heard people arguing the case of all types of pensioners in all sorts of circumstances; but it seems the people’ who have a small home and no means except the pension fall into the category of a legion of the lost. Nobody seems to think of them. Those who come in contact with them, as do honorable senators on both sides of the chamber, must recognize the need that exists to do something for these people. I do not think a great deal of money would be in- volved but even a small supplementary payment would help to alleviate the severe problems from which these people suffer and I hope this plea will not fall on deaf ears. I have mentioned it before as honorable senators will recollect and I feel impelled to keep mentioning it until some consideration is given to pensioners in this class.
I pass now to the allowance for a wife. I notice that the Government proposes to extend the payment of a wife’s allowance to the wife of an age pensioner who has the custody, care and control of one or more children under the age of 16 years or, in the case of a student child, under 21. This is a step in the right direction but I do not think that anybody would quarrel with my contention that much remains to be done in this field. Let me give some illustrations of cases in this category. Let us take the case of a pensioner who reaches 65 years and who has a wife aged 58 years. The husband qualifies for a pension of £6 a week. He does not qualify for an invalid pension so his wife does not have to look after him as an invalid. Therefore she does not qualify for a wife’s allowance and so the two people have to exist on £6 a week. A married pensioner couple where the wife is two years older than the case I mentioned earlier receive £11 a week, or a difference of £5.
The point that emerges from this illustration is the utter impossibility of the situation facing a married couple in such circumstances. I know it is argued in theory that women over 50 years of age are employable. I contest that proposition in the light of modern industrial trends. I believe every honorable senator would agree that apart from exceptional cases women of that age will not find employment anywhere. I concede that there are some people, both male and female, who because of some special quality or some special physical endowment might be able to earn income at almost any age. They might be able to find gainful employment, but I am referring to the vast number of people of the ordinary type in the community. Generally, in industry, women over 50 years of age are not regarded as employable unless they have some very special qualifications. So we, as legislators, condemn these people to live in an impossible position - in the utmost poverty - simply because we fix an arbitrary age of 60 years for the payment of a pension to a woman. Unless she is an invalid or unless other special circumstances exist she receives neither the wife’s allowance nor the pension until she reaches that age. Surely there is no need for us to accept this arbitrary figure of 60 years. Surely, coming into contact with these cases as we do from day to day, we should consider lowering the age in the circumstances I have outlined. I feel that it is impossible for anyone to employ any logic against the arguments I have submitted on behalf of these people.
One can bring in statistics, but when the argument is reduced to terms of human values I think it is impossible to undermine the proposition that I have put before the Senate on behalf of the pensioner couple, where the woman is under 60 years of age and where, because the male pensioner is not regarded as an invalid, the wife’s allowance is not paid. I hope this matter will engage the attention of the Senate and I have put the proposition forward earnestly, in the hope that it will do so. 1 now pass on to what I consider to be another very grave anomaly in the field of social services. This is the question of permissible earnings. I remind the Senate that the figure of permissible earnings was last increased 11 years ago, in 1954. Since that time there have been quite a number of increases in the base rate of the pension and all sorts of concessions have been given in the alleviation of the means test, many of them directed to a more just understanding of the needs of people in the various age groups. But in the past 11 years no consideration whatever has been given to the question of permissible earnings or income. In 1954 the base rate of pension was £3 10s. a week and today it is £6 yet the permissible earnings still remain at £3 10s. for the single pensioner and £7 for the pensioner couple.
As 1 think honorable senators will remember, I have raised this matter year after year in the hope that some consideration would be given to the position of these people. I repeat that it is now 1 1 years since any adjustment was made in this figure. When we consider that in those days the basic wage was £5 or £6 a week less than it is now and the base rate of pension was £2 10s. less, surely we should direct our thoughts towards the alleviation of the position of these people in respect of the amount of permissible earnings and income. In fact, if the amount had kept pace with the increase in pensions and with the. increases in the basic wage and cost of living - I think that the figures today, instead of being £3 10s. and £7 respectively would be £5 and £10. And indeed they should be. Many of the people hardest hit by the low figure of permissible earnings are the ones who have done great service to this country. They include for instance, former public servants such as railway men and many others. When they come to pensionable age they find that the amount of the permissible income prevents them enjoying the fruits of the superannuation schemes to which they have contributed so much over the years. Surely we can give these people a break without in any way undermining the economic structure of this country. It would not cost us very much to increase the permissible earnings but it would mean a great deal to a large section of the community. It is something that these people deserve and, if granted, would do them less than justice at the present time. I feel sure that no honorable senator would quarrel with that statement.
Another matter which concerns me and to which I have referred on more than one occasion in the Senate is the lack of adequate publicity for social services entitlements. This lack of publicity has been the cause of thousands of people throughout Australia failing to receive their just entitlements under the Social Services Act. From time to time the Department gets out very good brochures, carrying a great deal of information regarding widows and age pensions and things of that kind. But unfortunately they do not reach the general run of pensioners. They are placed in some obscure corner of a post office or on the counters of the offices of the Department of Social Service in the main centres throughout Australia. It seems to me that although the information contained in these brochures is comprehensive and covers most aspects of social service entitlements it does not reach the people it ought to reach. i will now put forward a suggestion which i do not think can be criticised: It is that tha
Department of Social Services might consider sending by post to every household in Australia a pamphlet giving a clear and concise .outline of social service entitlements. I do not mean something like the pamphlet that I have in my hand which, although the information it contains is comprehensive, is printed in small type that the average elderly person could not read. I mean something printed in bolder type, setting out the basic pension rates and entitlements in terms that the people can understand. I submit this suggestion to the Senate in support of my contention that the publicity put out by the Department of Social Services is net getting Over to the people.
From time to time in South Australia I have sent out special little cards indicating pension entitlements and some of the main points associated with the means test. Every time these cards have been sent out there has been a flood of people coming to my office in Adelaide - people who have suddenly become aware that they have an entitlement of which they previously knew nothing. I think this is a serious matter. We do not insert provisions into our social service legislation in the hope that people will forget about them and not avail themselves of the benefits; we enact the legislation in the hope that people will take advantage of it and I think it is our responsibility to make sure that, in the first place, they are made aware of their entitlements and that, in the second place, they have the opportunity to apply for them. The work that I and others have done in notifying people of their entitlements has met with a response which indicates beyond any shadow of doubt that there must be thousands of people in Australia who have some form of pension entitlement although in many instances they never know about it until someone directs their attention to it.
– I can vouch for that as I have had the same response in Tasmania.
– I think all who had experience of dealing with the general public in this matter have had the same response. I do not think there is any disagreement here. We should be thinking of how we can correct the present position and I suggest that as an experiment there should be sent into every home in Australia a little folder containing the basic ingredients of the Act - pension rates and entitlements, and details of the means test - not closely written in small print, but all in easily read print. I found that I could do this on a card about 3£ inches by 2i inches, folded. If I could do it I feel that the Department could do likewise. If the. Department took this step it would find that social services would cost considerably more.
I believe that there is another matter that reeks of injustice and that is that no matter what the circumstances may be regarding an application for a pension there is no retrospectivity whatever as far as the Social Service Act is concerned. A person may find that he or she was entitled to a pension or part thereof for some two or three years but had not been aware of it because of ignorance of the Act. But no matter how well they can establish that fact with the Department of Social Services, when they make application there is no retrospectivity whatever. The pension is paid only to the date nearest to that on which the application was made. If entitlement exists I feel that there should be some field of retrospectivity in regard to these things. This is provided for in most awards, in compensation cases, and in court orders. Why should not a person who has a legitimate entitlement to a pension have some retrospective claim? I recognise that there would have to be, perhaps, some period beyond which payments could not be made retrospective. But I do not believe that any elderly person in the community should be penalised for ignorance of the Social Services Act, particularly in view of the fact that, although something is being done to make them aware of entitlements, not enough is being done. I think all honorable senators will agree with that statement. That it is true is proved by the work honorable senators do individually in their own electorates.
I come now to what I consider to be a most important question. It was dealt with exhaustively by Senator Wedgwood. I refer to the very grave social problem of deserted wives. If my memory serves me correctly, I read an article in the Press recently concerning the astronomical costs involved in trying to trace some of these husbands who have refused to shoulder their obligation to look after their wives and children. All of us, at some time or other, have had this problem brought home to us by having some unfortunate woman come to our offices because she has been deserted by some wastrel husband who has left, not only her, but the State as well. Before such a woman can even establish an entitlement to social service payments, she has to go through the legal formality of satisfying the Department that she has taken every possible step to secure maintenance from the departed husband. Everybody knows that in 99 cases out of 100 there is no hope of getting maintenance from a husband who walks out on a woman in this way. Yet this stupid formality has to be undergone before entitlement to social service benefits is recognised. I think there ought to be some conference between State and Commonwealth authorities with a view to taking more severe measures against men who desert their wives and refuse to accept the fundamental responsibility of parenthood. Not enough is being done about this matter. It seems to me that we take the easy way out by saying: “Nothing can be done about it because the States have their respective laws in regard to the matter and the Commonwealth cannot intervene.” I think that there ought to be some intervention. I think there ought to be some discussion on these matters to see whether we cannot catch up with some of these people who leave women in such circumstances. This is a responsibility which the Senate should not ignore. I commend Senator Wedgwood for raising the matter. I had the matter noted myself. I think she dealt with it very well indeed.
Another matter which engages our pity is the position of elderly people who, because of illness, are forced to leave their homes. This immediately poses for them a very grave problem. It poses an equally grave one for their relatives. What happens is that if a pensioner has to leave his home for a protracted period, because of illness or infirmity, at the end of about 12 months he is deemed by the Department of Social Services to have left the home and the capital value of it is then assessed against him for social service purposes. This immediately affects his pension and in some instances it is taken away altogether. It seems to me that this is wrong in principle. Happenings such as this - illnesses and departures from the home - occur at a time when people are in need of money. Yet, because of the acts passed in this Parliament, we take something away from the pensioner, saying: “ You are not going to return to your home. Therefore it is now a capital asset to be held against you and your pension will be materially affected, if not taken away altogether.” There are not so many people involved in this procedure that we should take pensions from them. Most of these people have only a year or so left to live, once they reach this stage. I feel that the pension should be continued.
Whilst I am on this question, I want to refer to those pensioners who have to seek hospitalisation. I believe, Mr. Acting President, that not enough facilities for hospitalisation are provided throughout the Commonwealth for elderly people. It becomes a dreadfully expensive proposition for them in most States of the Commonwealth. If they are not faced with the expense, then their families are. I wonder whether the Commonwealth could give consideration to providing a greater subsidy for hospitalisation of elderly people who have become incapacitated to such a degree that they can no longer look after themselves and need sustained medical care for a long time. I know that something is being done in this regard but honorable senators who understand the situation existing in their own States know that not enough is being done. Unless we keep plugging away at this problem it will be forgotten and nothing will be done about it.
I now come to my final point which concerns the amendment moved by Senator Fitzgerald. I particularly want to refer to the third point in his amendment calling for a joint parliamentary standing committee or a select committee of the Senate. The particular part of the amendment states that it is -
Mr. Acting President, if that proposition were put into effect it would enable this Senate to initiate a move which would enable us relentlessly to seek out and eradicate any pockets of poverty which exist in this country and about .which we hear so much.
.- Mr. Acting President, I congratulate the Minister for Social Services, as did Senator Wedgwood, upon his first second reading speech. I would also like to compliment the officers of the Department of Social Services on the Department’s work for the year as outlined in the report we have just received for 1964-65 from the Director-General of Social Services. I cannot agree with the contention set out in the amendment moved by Senator Fitzgerald to the motion for the second reading of the Social Services Bill in that it condemns the Government for its failure to increase age, invalid and widows pensions and other social service benefits. The second part of the amendment contains a suggestion that a joint parliamentary standing committee or a select committee be appointed to ascertain the extent or severity of distress in the community. All supporters of the Government in this House and in another place can take pride in the record of this Government in regard to social services.
It is accepted by social workers, whether professional or voluntary, both in Australia and throughout the world that economic planning and social planning must be very closely related. Social planning cannot be developed without very keen attention being given to economic planning. Ever since this Government assumed office, with the introduction of every Budget excellent measures have been brought forward to meet the needs of people in the community. We all wish that the assistance that is given could be extended to other groups of people whose plight is obvious. I repeat that we must plan wisely to meet the needs of all sections of the community. I believe that as our economic prosperity increases still further, this Government will continue to give constant attention to meeting the needs of the less fortunate members of our community. There are many groups, not only in my own State of Victoria but also, I am quite convinced, throughout the Commonwealth who pay constant attention to the needs of our less fortunate citizens and endeavour to meet those needs by setting up new voluntary services. As has been stated in the report of the Director-General of Social Services, the Department itself is carrying out research from time to time. I hope to touch upon one piece of research a little later.
It has been contended by members of the Opposition that certain groups in the community have been neglected. I point out, however, that thousands of people will benefit from the proposals that are now before us. I shall not go through the benefits one by one, but I point out that widows, single pensioners, and in some cases pensioners who are married but whose wives do not receive a pension, will receive an increase of 10s. a week in their supplementary allowance, bringing it up to £1, to enable them to pay rent. That, of course, applies to people who are completely or substantially dependent upon their pension. Reference has been made to the payment of a wife’s allowance where the wife of an age pensioner has the care and custody of children under the age of 16 years, and to the payment of the child’s allowance.
I should like to develop a little further the point that was made by Senator Wedgwood in regard to the class A widow, she being a person who has lost her husband, and also the deserted wife who is classified as a widow. I wish to do so because I am very much aware of the plight, not only of these women who are widows indeed or who are deserted, but also of the children of such women. A woman who has lost her husband and children who have lost their father suffer a very great emotional shock. The widow has to become father and mother and therefore is placed under tremendous strain. I wish that such persons could receive a greater pension. To have to discharge the responsibility of a father and mother without being able to earn to the same capacity as did her husband places the widow under considerable strain, and the children have to be deprived of many things.
I note that the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair) stated in his second reading speech that a widow with one child who is a student may receive payments amounting to 10 guineas a week. Of course, when the child is no longer dependent upon the mother the income is reduced accordingly. A widow is able to earn an extra income of up to £3 10s. a week, and she receives 10s. for the child. That means that the total income of a widow with one child who is a student could be £14 10s. a week. If she has to pay rent - a great number of widows have to do so - she would receive £1 by way of supplementary assistance. I suggest that the average rental would be £6 or £7 a week. If we take into consideration the sum that she would need to pay for food and clothing for herself and her child, she would have very little over with which to meet emergencies. I hope that as soon as possible the amount of income which such persons may earn without loss of pension will be increased. I hope that the fact that a widow receives £1 a week as supplementary assistance will not cause any State department to reduce the amount that she may be given as supplementary assistance by that State. Unfortunately, that has happened in the past.
The report of the Director-General of Social Services states that the sum expended on widows’ pensions last year was £23,521,956, an increase of more than £2,700,000. I suggest that that is a very considerable increase. The total number of widows’ pension being paid at 30th June was 65,398, class A widows accounting for 29,713 and class B widows for 35,574. The number of class C widows was smaller. To return to my reference to the strain that is placed upon a widow and her children, I note with interest but with very great regret that the average age of class A widows is 38.3 years. If we take the class A widows, 41.5 per cent, are between the ages of 40 and 49 years, and 25.9 per cent, are between the ages of 30 to 39. I again stress the fact that the greater proportion of deserted wives are in the younger age group. Of the total number of deserted wives, 44.1 per cent, are under 30 years of age and 34.1. per cent, are in the age group from 30 to 39 years. The number of pensions granted to deserted wives has increased in the last few years. Of the total number of class A pensions in 1960-61, deserted wives represented 27.7 per cent., and in 1964-65 they represented 32.8 per cent. I regret the necessity to have to quote so many figures, but they tell the story so graphically. As at 30lh June 1965, of a total number of 29,713 class A widow pensioners, there were 17,421 widows and 9,324 deserted wives. There .were 2,704 class B deserted wives, that is, widows without dependent children, and that makes a total of 12,028 deserted wives.
Both Senator Wedgwood and Senator Toohey referred to the large amount of money involved in the payment of pensions to deserted wives and the fact that so many husbands leave their home State or endeavour to leave the country. They referred to the great difficulty involved in recovering maintenance debts. I understand that where it is known that the husband has moved to another. State, the Clerk of the Court in that State co-operates with the Clerk of the Court in the State in which the wife resides in an endeavour to trace the husband and enforce the maintenance order. Unfortunately, conditions vary from State to Slate. I agree with Senator Wedgwood and Senator Toohey, that the Commonwealth and the State Attorneys-General should give further consideration to this matter. I know that it has been under consideration for some time and I hope that the deliberations will bear some result in the very near future.
Again turning to the annual report of the Director-General of Social Services, I find that the number of class A widows has increased from 17,717 in 1951 to 29,713 in 1965. That category covers widows who have the custody, care and control of one or more children. The report also sets out the number of children of these class A widows. As at 30th June of this year, 44 per cent, of class A widows had one child, 28 per cent, had two children, 15 per cent; had three children and 7 per cent, had four children. As I mentioned before, the Department has made surveys and conducted research into this matter. The report sets out a very interesting account of a statistical survey of current pensioners in New South Wales. The survey was conducted in order to provide the Department with up to date information about the needs of pensioners and for policy, planning and general research purposes. The survey showed that a higher proportion of deserted wives had children. If we take the age group under 30 years we find that 8.7 per cent, had two children and 7.1 per cent, had three children. It would be possible to carry out a mathematical calculation and arrive at the number of children involved. There is very deep concern indeed for these children.
– Is any reason given for the increase in the number of deserted wives?
– 1 have not been able to find any definite reason. It seems to be a combination of many factors. Undoubtedly, further research is required. Voluntary organisations are continually trying to arrive at the cause of desertion.
– It is not so much research as action that is required.
– These organisations are taking action in order to relieve the needs of these people. Reference has been made to the number of widows who are paying rent. This survey which was conducted in New South Wales showed that a little more than one-third of class A widows owned their own homes or were in the process of purchasing them. That is a very small number, lt illustrates my point that rental represents a very high proportion of expenditure by widows. It makes a large inroad into their total income.
I think it might be of interest to honorable senators to know - if they do not already know - that there is a great problem regarding children of deserted fathers. Recently I received a copy of a pamphlet entitled “ A Study of Deserted Fathers”. It dealt with his problems. A survey was conducted by the Social Services Committee of the Victorian Government in conjunction with seven family service agencies, which, .1 might say, also concern themselves with the problems of deserted mothers. These organisations undertook the survey in the hope of collecting information which would help them to meet the needs of the deserted father and, in particular, to meet the needs of the children of the deserted father. They were careful to point out that the figures and conclusions drawn from the survey are only an indication of areas in which further investigation can be made. The survey covered a period of six months from November 1962 to May 1963. A total of 54 fathers were questioned; 24 of the wives in the marriages surveyed were under 20 years of age, obviously had not attained a very advanced stage of maturity and were unable to cope with the problems of marriage, such as bringing up children. It is sad to read in the report of this survey that in the 54 families a total of 114 children - 99 of whom were under school age - were left by their mothers. The fathers, apparently, have coped with the situation with the help of neighbours, relatives when possible, and family service agencies. If they have an income below the basic wage, they receive aid from the State; otherwise they have to cope as best they can, with assistance from home help services, child minding centres and the various other family services that are available. Apparently, in all these cases there was a history of marital instability and desertion in the family of the husband or the mother.
As I have said, this research work is being carried out to a very great extent by voluntary organisations. The marriage guidance councils throughout Australia are doing excellent work in this regard. They are establishing up to date methods of conducting research into the causes of marital breakdown and desertion which very often follows. Honorable senators might be interested to know that the number of cases dealt with by the Marriage Guidance Council of Victoria in the last 12 months was 777, and the number of interviews was more than 3,000. This work involves more than counselling. The counsellors receive excellent and thorough training. The marriage guidance councils are also specialising in education, hoping by that means to avert this very problem about which I am speaking tonight, namely marital breakdown and desertion. Much of the work of the marriage guidance councils has been made possible by the subsidies granted by the Commonwealth Government to all approved marriage guidance councils. Before the Commonwealth Government decided to grant these subsidies the work was being carried out with a great deal of enthusiasm; but because of the extra funds developments are now taking place on a very large scale. The work in Victoria is spreading throughout the State. We hope that by means of education, such as in preparation for marriage, there will be a greater realisation of the responsibilities of marriage and a greater honouring of marriage vows.
I refer now to another point that Senator Toohey made, namely the lack of publicity of social service benefits. This has been realised by the voluntary social service groups. I am glad to say that in Perth and Adelaide citizens advice bureaux have been set up. People who are in need are able to attend these bureaux and to be put in touch with the agency best able to meet their needs. This follows a pattern which was established some years ago in Great Britain, where at least 600 - the figure may be higher now - of these agencies exist. I understand that other Australian State capital cities are considering establishing similar organisa-tions. It is very well known that often various agencies are trying to help various members of a problem family. That involves a great deal of overlapping in lime, knowledge, skill and money. It is hoped, by means of the citizens advice bureaux, to establish records and to direct people to the most appropriate source of help, and so to avoid overlapping.
This work could be greatly enhanced and developed more rapidly if more trained professional social workers were available. The annual report of the Director-General of Social Services refers to this shortage. Municipal councils are trying to gain the services of trained social workers. One repeatedly meets this great problem of the lack of trained professional social workers. I am hopeful that the problem will be solved. I am sure my hope is shared by other people who are interested - as all good Australians should be - in this problem of marital breakdown and desertion and, more particularly, putting it positively, in building good homes in which children, are able to develop as we would wish them to develop. I hope that, by means of Commonwealth Government help in tertiary education, more men and women will be attracted to courses in social studies at the universities. It is realised that professional social workers working in close co-operation with voluntary social workers will produce the results that we so keenly desire.
I conclude by referring again to the second reading speech made by the Minister for Social Services in another place. In reading it, I was most impressed by his very warm, human attitude to all of his social service work. I am sure that everybody who reads his speech and everybody who is engaged in social service work will take great encouragement from his attitude to the work of his Department. The sum of money expended from the National Welfare Fund in the form of social service benefits indicates very clearly that a large proportion of the total revenue of this country is being devoted to this very worthwhile social service work. 1 support the Bill and oppose the amendment.
– When we have regard to the huge expenditure by the Department of Social Services from “the National Welfare Fund- it was £336,1.15,972 in 1964-65 - we have a better realisation of the importance and magnitude of this Department. The performance of its functions calls for the greatest degree of efficiency and sympathetic administration. I believe that a great measure of good work has been performed in the interests of pensioners. To many of us, the Bill before the Senate is most disappointing. Nevertheless, it provides for improvements in certain cases. I readily commend the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair) and the Government for bringing about those improvements. However, I believe there is general public disappointment that in the Budget no provision was included for an increase in the base rate of pensions for aged persons, invalids and widows.
We are living at a time when, in the language of the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt), our economy is at a high pitch and there is an abundance of evidence of affluence and prosperity. Our daily newspapers bring us news of the increased profits of public companies and payment of increased dividends. Honorable senators know from their own experience that Crown employees, public servants and parliamentarians over the years have received many increases in salaries and wages. We also know that since 1961 the Commonwealth basic wage has risen by £1 12s. a week. That is not very much, it is true, but when it is considered that the base rate of pension has increased by only 5s. since 1961, it seems that the general public disappointment with the Budget was properly founded and justified.
I do not intend to weary the Senate with a lot of figures, because I feel that one does not need to be a statistician or an economist to realise that the base rate of pension is inadequate, particularly when regard is had to the constant increases in prices of the essential commodities on which pensioners are required to live. Almost every day the prices of the bread and butter commodities are increased. The price of meat today is at a prohibitive level which places it certainly beyond the pockets of pensioners.
When these matters are taken into consideration, surely we must have some sympathy for the pensioners whose pensions were determined at a time when prices were much lower than they are now. I repeat that since 1961, pensioners have received an increase of only 5s. a week. That was granted in 1964.
I hope there is nothing significant in the fact that pensioners received an increase in 1961, which was an election year, and an increase of 5s. in 1964, which was another election year. I would hate to think that this section of our community was granted increased pensions only when the government of the day was required to give an account of its stewardship to the people, instead of determining pensions on the basis of justice and merit. 1 believe it is generally agreed that, in dispensing social services, the people. with the greatest need must be given the highest priority. Surely no honorable senator can be satisfied that pensioners are receiving as much as they need to meet their present day commitments. No-one is doing anything to arrest the ever increasing prices of goods and services. The price of a hair cut has risen considerably. The prices of all services are increasing and all people who live in the .community are required to meet the increases, just as you and I must. All governments are content to allow the trend to continue without any attempt being made to arrest it. We are told by trade and industry representatives that competition controls prices. I have had too much experience to fall for that. I know that true competition could be the best price fixer of all. But, in the absence of any authoritative price control, too many rings and combines are growing which act against the interests of the country. They certainly do not act in the interests of the welfare of the people, particularly the less fortunate amongst us.
Pensioners generally have nothing more than a bare existence. Surely we are entitled to give them greater consideration than they have received up to the present. I say very definitely and irrespective of party affiliations, that pensioners have been poorly treated throughout the years. The figures I shall cite prove my point. In 1948 the age pension was 32.9 per cent, of the Commonwealth basic wage. In 1964 it was 34.1 per cent. There is not a great deal of difference in the percentages; at least it is evidence that the pensioner did not get very generous treatment from any Government. I think the time has arrived for reassessment of pensions so that recipients of social services may be better treated than they have been in the past. Would any honorable senator care to live and maintain a wife on £11 a week? Of course not. lt will be said that the needs of pensioners are few; that they do not need very much clothing or ‘food and, for that reason, are not entitled to any more than they are receiving.
– It is worse when a pensioner lives alone on £6 a week.
– That is so. All pensioners must be having a terrific struggle and must be doing without a lot of delicacies which, because of their age, they need and deserve. None of us can be very happy, I repeat, about what we are doing in this connection. Whilst I am grateful for the improvements in conditions that are to be provided by this Bill, we have to face up to this matter very soon and see that the base rate pension is improved. If we are not prepared to do that, let us face the issue in another way, and see to it that the deterioration in the purchasing power of the £1 is arrested, so that these people will get greater value for what we are paying in the form of pensions than they are getting today or will get if prices are allowed to continue to increase as they have been doing over the years.
Reference has been made to anomalies in social services. I suppose that with the ramifications of this organisation it is to be expected that there will be anomalies, but some of them are so obvious and so puzzling to me that I just cannot understand why they are being allowed to continue. I listed some of the matters raised by Senator Toohey so that I might make reference to them. It was not that I had just discovered them, because I know that some of them have been dealt with by Senator Toohey previously. I should like to give him my support on the matter of the married pensioner whose wife is still under 60 years of age. A man who reaches the age of 65 years is forced out of employment and receives a single pension. If his wife has not reached the age of 60 years, she receives no pension at all. That man has a legal and a moral duty to support his spouse, yet the Government of this country says that he has to maintain her on a single pension. That is unjust. It is unfair, and it is preventing that man from discharging his moral and legal duty. He has done so up to the age of 65 years when he is forced out of a job.
Let me refer to a case that came under my notice recently. A woman in this position went to the Department of Social Services and a sympathetic officer suggested that she might be able to get an invalid pension if she could get a doctor’s certificate to the effect that her health was not good. A very honorable and independent woman, she resented the suggestion that she should engage in deception, deceit and lying, and she said that she would not be a party to that, that she would have to wait for two years until she reached the age of 60 and got a pension. In the meantime she and her husband would have to live on a single pension. I believe that there is a great deal of dissatisfaction amongst pensioner married couples who are receiving nothing at all towards their rent or who are still paying off homes. They are glad that the single pensioner is receiving something towards rent, but they feel that they should be equally as well treated as their brother pensioners, and I believe that they have some merit in their case.
Let me say something about the means test which, when applied to cases just over the border line, particularly, is, I believe, nothing short of cruel, pernicious and wicked. It is a penalty on thrift and a penalty on industry. This is something which should be remedied as rapidly as possible. At a time when there is a labour shortage, and the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) is appealing to married women to take part-time jobs, industrious pensioners who are prepared to take part time jobs should be permitted to do so. At present if they earn an amount in excess of the allowable income they are penalised more than the excess amount which they have earned.
– The amount has not been altered for 11 years.
– Senator Toohey makes a very good point when he says that the allowable amount has not been altered for 11 years. It is time that it was altered. The case came under my notice recently of a man who took a part-time job and earned £32 6s. 6d. in excess of the allowable amount. He was in receipt of a war pension and his wife received an age pension. Their pensions were very similar in amount. She was penalised to the extent of £18 8s., and he was penalised to the extent of £18, making a total of £36 8s., for having earned £36 6s. 6d. in excess of the allowable amount. I was puzzled as to just what the formula of calculation was because it seemed very unjust to penalise that couple to that extent.
I should like to cite another case. It relates to the category of widows. We have heard some very good contributions on this matter tonight. This is the case of a young widow whose husband was an ex-serviceman. She writes -
Why not allow a widow with a civilian pension to earn as much as will bring her income up to the female basic wage? I, for example, do not ask for handouts, but T. have a B.A. degree and can be useful to the community for many years to come. At presentI coach in Junior English and Mathematics. BecauseI have a little over the allowable £208, I cannot earn all of the miserable £3 10s. permitted.
She asks -
Who settled this amount of £3 10s. and when? How did they reach this astronomical amount?
She goes on to say that she cannot prove that her husband’s death was connected with war service, and so she cannot receive a war widow’s pension. She continues -
If I received that, I could earn as much as I liked.
She then states that her husband was buried on the day that the Public Service superannuation scheme was improved. So the poor little womana’s luck was out on all sides. She continues -
I found I could not keep myself and the house on the widow’s pension, plus the £2 odd allowed, so I surrendered it. A part time job is all I can take, because of my obligations to my home and my children.
That is the result of the means test. I am not going so far as to suggest that the means test should be totally abolished overnight. I am realistic enough and responsible enough to know that that cannot be done, but 1 am well enough informed to know that there are many people who are prevented from doing one or two days’ work a week instead of being encouraged to do so in the interests of the community, of their health and of the it mental satisfaction. Not every man is content to live on the pension when he turns 65. Most men are industrious and they would certainly be happier if they were encouraged to do a bit of work instead of loafing about and trying to live on the pension as it stands today.
The time is long overdue for a complete review of our social services legislation. We must have another look at it. It has been m operation for many years and has been improved from time to time. The sceptics say that it has been improved only at election time, but I would hate to think that because I cannot imagine any government being so miserable as to engage in tactics of that kind. We must ensure that the pensioners get their measure of justice. If we are not now receiving sufficient revenue to meet the bill, we must get it from somewhere. It means that we must tax those who have the means to give to those who have not, to enable them to live decently in a democracy such as ours. The alternative is to let them starve to death. I, for one, would not permit that state of affairs to exist without raising my voice.
In recent times we have read the advocacy of the Parliamentary Leader of the Australian Labour Party in another place for the establishment of a commission to inquire into the incidence of poverty in our midst. Senator Toohey also referred to the incidence of poverty. I suppose we must admit that there is a pocket of poverty in the community. If that is so, we should try to eradicate it. In a democracy such as ours, at a time of unprecedented prosperity and affluence, there is no justification or reason for poverty except, of course, that there is always a section of the community which it is very difficult to help. Generally speaking, I believe that most people are within the reach of our assistance.
Who will carry out the investigations to ascertain the measure of poverty existing in Australia at the present time? I believe the suggestion is that a royal commission should be appointed for this purpose. The party to which I. belong has been advocating for many years that social services should be removed from the field of politics and that a tribunal or a commission should be set up consisting of men and women of experience and ability competent to make a proper investigation of this all important question and to report to the Parliament on what they believe to be adequate and just pensions for the people who are covered by our social services scheme.
– Has the honorable senator ever put forward the type of personnel he would expect to be appointed to the commission?
– I have not had any previous opportunity to put that forward. There are men and women who would be quite competent to do this job. We have men and women engaged in social work in our community who would know where the poor are to be found in each State. There are also people of judicial bearing and ability who could discharge this duty with advantage to those whom we aim to serve.
We have established arbitration commissions and industrial courts to determine the wages and working conditions that are to obtain in industry. If it is good enough for a commission to determine the wages of our workers, what is wrong with having a tribunal or a commission to determine pension rates? I can see nothing wrong with that. It would also remove this very contentious matter completely from the field of politics so that no longer could it be said that one government increased pensions for political gain or that another government increased pensions only on the eve of an election. At election time there is intense bargaining with the Leader of the Government offering an increase of so much in old age pensions and the Leader of the Opposition offering an additional half a crown. All this is most humiliating to the pensioners. After all, the pension is not charity. The pensioner contributed towards his pension in his working days, in the form of taxation. I do not think he should be humiliated from the hustings as he is now at election after election.
– Who would be responsible for finding the money?
– The honorable senator wants to know who will find the money. I was the leader of a government and at times my financial position was not too good. The unions would apply to the court for an increase in the basic wage and it would be increased by 5s., 10s. or some other amount. Mark you, I was nominally the greatest employer of labour in the State. Did 1 quibble about it and say that I could not or would not pay the increased basic wage? No. I had to accept the decision of the court and pay, and I had to find the money the best way I could. The same responsibility would rest on the central government. It would have the obligation of finding the money and we would at least have the satisfaction of knowing that a just decision had been made on the pensions to be paid to the age, invalid and widow pensioners. I cannot see anything wrong with this proposition which has been advanced time and time again and has been rejected consistently. We put it forward again in the belief that by doing so at least some people will see the merits of it and the reasons for it. We hope they will recognise that the present position is not satisfactory and will be prepared sooner or later to give our proposal a trial. I believe that the appointment of a tribunal or commission would be in the interests of the Government and also of pensioners. It would give a great deal of satisfaction to many of us who are trying to do something for this unfortunate section of the community.
The first part of the amendment moved by Senator Fitzgerald is acceptable to my colleague and me, but we cannot see that there is any merit in the second part because its adoption would mean leaving the matter of pensions in the realm of the Parliament. When I say “ the Parliament “ I mean that pensions would still remain a political football to be kicked about, mainly by the two major political parties in this Parliament.
– The honorable senator’s party could contribute something, though.
– I should say that we could contribute a lot. I think that this very important matter would still remain in the field of politics, whereas our aim is to remove it from that field. Governments of all political shades say readily that the question of wage increases is one, not for the Government, but for the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. Why do they say that? Why have they continued to say it over the years? It is, first, because they do not want the responsibility of making a wage determination. Secondly, they rightly believe that the appropriate body to determine wages is a court comprised of men of experience and knowledge, with a sense of justice and the ability to sift the evidence that is placed before them.
I give notice at this stage that I intend to move in Committee an amendment which will provide for the postponement of clause 1 and further, as an instruction to the Government, that immediately on the payment of the present increases, provision should be made for the establishment of an independent tribunal to ascertain and inform the Parliament Of suitable amounts which should be made payable for the comfort and the needs of the recipients of age, invalid and widows’ pensions. I hope that honorable senators who are genuinely interested in the welfare of pensioners will give the amendment I have outlined the support that it merits. We are not putting this matter forward merely to attract publicity. We are genuinely and sincerely concerned with the present state of affairs and we believe that the establishment of a tribunal is the solution of the problem that faces governments from time to time with regard to the dispensation of social service benefits to the needy section of our people.
I know that most, if not all members of the Senate have a genuine concern for the less fortunate people in the community. I think that most men are sympathetically disposed to their fellow men, particularly those they believe to be in need. I do not think that [ have a monopoly of solicitude, for the poor or for the pensioners. I believe I share such solicitude with all good men. So let us resolve to face up to this question and to engage the services of people who are competent and qualified to make thekind of investigation I have suggested. Let us get away from the almost annual tirade’ of criticism and expressions of disappointment and resentment because the Government has not seen fit to increase pensions.
If we had the time we could go through the pages of “ Hansard “ and find that many of those who are supporters of the Government today were criticising the Curtin Government and the Chifley Government for not having done more in the field of pensions. They probably did so in good faith, although some would have done so for political advantage. When there was a change of government what did we find? We found that those who had been supporters of the Government that had failed, according to some people, to give justice to the pensioners were in Opposition, and without the responsibility of government they found it much easier to criticise and to condemn. I suppose that is party politics, but that is why I believe this matter is too important to remain a political football. It should be removed from the field of politics. Decisions in connection with pensions should be the responsibility of members of a tribunal or commission which we hope will be established in this country in the very near future.
– I shall refer briefly at this stage of my speech to the remarks of Senator Gair. It will be recalled that, as a State Premier in another field of politics, he no doubt had the task of carving up the financial turkey and distributing it to those to whom he thought it should go. Perhaps he is a senator now because he received a lot of criticism on that account. In any event, he was in a different situation from that of the Treasurer of the Commonwealth of Australia. He did not have to find all the money. The honorable senator has suggested that his party would like to see a commission or tribunal appointed for the purpose of investigating and deciding social service questions, and in that respect he referred to the fixing of wages in Australia. I should hate to see as much dissatisfaction with the fixing of pensions as there is with the fixing of wages in Australia.
Why does the honorable senator think that, with the appointment of a commission or some other tribunal, criticism would cease? I suggest that there would be endless and, possibly, even more bitter criticism, perhaps with more justification, than that which is levelled today at the Government in power. I may refer to this matter again a little later in my speech. While it is a privilege, it is not an easy task nor is it an altogether enjoyable one, to be upstanding in the Senate and discuss the social service structure of this country. This Bill is not the work of one man in his spare time. It is the culmination of at least a year’s work by many people. It is the work of a department headed and staffed by dedicated people well versed in the problems of those requiring social service benefits. The officers of the Department of Social Services have the advice, readily and freely given, of many welfare organisations which do not make a lot of fuss but which sincerely put forward their ideas as to how social service benefits can be either widened or increased. It is no secret that the Government has the help of a social services committee made up of senators and members of another place who meet at least every fortnight when the Parliament is in session. That Committee finally puts its ideas to the Minister. Therefore, the whole realm of our social services is fully studied. I believe the Government is fully informed of the many suggested improvements that could be made to our legislation. The Government then, shouldering its responsibilities, takes action. We in this Senate have a Bill before us tonight which has been passed by another place and we have to give it our concurrence, or amend it, or knock it back.
With respect to the amendments to our social services legislation which are contained in this Bill, I always acknowledge the right of the Opposition to suggest further amendments to the legislation. I do that because honorable senators opposite are Her Majesty’s Opposition with a policy on matters which are so profoundly important as social services. If they see that their policy and their ideas are not being incorporated in legislation they have every right to be upstanding in the Senate. On this occasion, I am not going to agree with the amendment moved to this Bill but I do not criticise the Opposition for putting it forward. My belief is that the Opposition says, in effect: “ Let us promise as much as we can, because, if the Parliament agrees, we do not have to bear the responsibility of finding the means by which the benefits we suggest shall be paid “. The Opposition does not accept the responsibility of providing the expenditure that has to be met by the Commonwealth Government in many important fields.
There will be many speakers in the debate on this Social Services Bill. Many honorable senators will relate the amendments to the Act which it contains. I am only going to deal with a couple of them and to put on record that in this financial year, if the Government does nothing more to help, over £9 million will be expended because of the increases in benefits last year and the natura] increase in the number of pensioners. This Bill, if it comes into operation in its present form and structure, will call’ for an extra expenditure of more than £4 million. In my firm belief, it is factual to state that in 1964-65 this Parli’ament provided £335.3 million under the Social Services Act which we are amending tonight. This year the Government will provide £348.5 million. If the money that will come out of the National Welfare Fund in respect of health services is added to that sum, we find that the. Australian nation is being called upon to provide £471 million i’n the current financial year.
The amendments in this Bill are many and meaningful. But, quite frankly, very few people who read them would be able to follow what they really mean. Therefore 1 shall not read them to the Senate. They are worded in a very difficult language and appear complicated to the average person. But the Department of Social Services issues a booklet on these matters. I hope that the new booklet will be issued speedily after the Department gets the word to go ahead with the amendments to the Act which are incorporated in this Bill. 1 was very pleased to see included in the amendments to the Act the increase from 10s. to £1 a week for supplementary assistance. That benefit, which is comparatively new in the social service field, is a good one. The increase this year will add about 40,000 pensioners to the 105,000 Australians receiving it at the present time. A reading of the second reading speech of the Minister for Social Services shows, to my mind, that the new Minister, Mr. Sinclair, has gone on developing what was an obvious theme of his Department and his predecessor in respect of social service legislation, paying particular attention to the household - the family unit. I think that is most commendable. There is nothing more valuable in a nation than a family unit. As Parliamentarians, we should do all we can - if need be, by providing finance - to encourage the family unit. The action taken in this legislation to extend assistance for student children to those up to the age of 21 years is another move in the right direction. I understand the amount of this benefit is 15s. per week per child. It is true to say that because of this extension, and because of the scholarships now provided for students attending secondary schools and universities, there should no longer be any financial reason why the child of a widow is unable to receive a university education. The Minister’s words about this are very apt. He said -
The mother will receive the pension and other payments provided in this Bill, while the student will receive his, or her. Commonwealth scholarship. In the past many a student has had to deny himself tertiary education because of the necessity to maintain his widowed mother. The situation will now be considerably improved. The total Commonwealth contribution to a household of a widow with one child attending a university where the child is in receipt of a Commonwealth scholarship can be up to £15 10s. a week plus all associated fees.
This financial assistance will enable those receiving the benefit to undertake higher education and it is certainly a move in the right direction. We live in a world of specialists. It is for the good of this nation and for the economic prosperity of the children concerned that they be given the chance, if they are willing to undergo higher education and specialise in many of the fields that are open and are crying out for people, to join in the task of developing this country.
Another amendment to the Act contained in this Bill - I pick it out almost haphazardly - represents a new and improved approach to social service benefits and relates to the guardian’s allowance. This is equal to a mother’s allowance of £2 a week per child. It is paid in the case of a pensioner who has the guardianship of a child who may be an orphan. Those people will now be able to receive assistance from the Commonwealth in their very worthy and onerous task of helping to bring up an orphan.
As one looks back over the past few years, one realises that gradually- the field of social services has widened. Of course, our efforts in this regard cannot cover every form of human need or human right. But what we have done goes a long way towards achieving that objective. I do not believe that we should do anything to dampen the enthusiasm of charitable and public spirited welfare associations and organisations. This is a human characteristic in a young country like Australia that must be developed. The flame of human kindness should be kept alight, and we as members of the Parliament should, in our own small way, encourage people to think of others who are not as well off as they are. These organisations to which I have referred of their own free will bring to people who are in need that something which no act of parliament, no parliament and no department can give. Many deserving people are receiving this help. We should commend those who are taking part in such activity.
Let me say quite frankly that I am not in favour of establishing a full welfare state. Perhaps that is the basic point of difference that exists when we gather here and debate social service legislation with the Australian Labour Party. The responsibility of the central Government is very heavy and widespread. I do not believe that any government would ever be able to tax the wealthy to the extent that it could raise all the money that would be required to give everything that is needed to the less fortunate members of our community. Distasteful though it may be, I believe it to be a fact of life that if you tax those people who have money - call them the wealthy, if you like - too heavily you not only will take their wealth from them but also you will take away their initiative and lose the value of their skills. If ever a country needed anything in large quantities, Australia today needs the skill and initiative of its people to carry out the task of developing our land.
I have referred to certain organisations but have not named any. Two in particular should be encouraged. They do not handle money; indeed, they do not cost a lot of money to run. In the main they operate on their own private resources. They are doing a job that no government or department could do. I refer to the marriage guidance councils and Alcoholics Anonymous, the activities of which are widespread. They are doing a wonderful job and, as I said earlier, we should give them every encouragement.
I do not believe that all responsibility for social services rests with the Federal Government. Indeed, not only is it my belief that that is so. Each State Government has a social service department of one kind of another. I can speak fairly intimately only of the department in Tasmania, which I believe is doing quite a good job. I . know that the officers of that department co-operate with the officers of the Department of Social Services. I wonder whether there should not be a conference at least once a year between the Federal Minister for Social Services and his counterparts in the Stales so that they may bring to one another their ideas or suggestions about how they may better interlock their activities. I do not think this conference should aim at bringing any State down to an average. The conference should not be governed by what the Commonwealth will or will not do. I believe that a gathering of ideas and an assessment of prospects in the various fields of social endeavour could be of real value. The Ministers who are in charge of tourist activities, the Education Ministers, and the Ministers who are in charge of forestry activities meet for a similar purpose. A conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers in charge of social service activities would be of benefit to the Federal and State departments and, I believe, to our Minister for Social Services.
Now I come to the amendment that has been moved by the Opposition. An amendment has been foreshadowed by the Australian Democratic Labour Party. So far we have not heard anything from the independent senator.
– The Senate will in due time.
– The first part of the Opposition’s amendment seeks to have payment of the new rates of pension benefit made retrospective to 1st July 1965. Every year since this Government assumed office back in 1949 we have debated this aspect of social services. In the years 1947, 1948 and 1949, when the present Government parties were in Opposition and the present Opposition party was in power, the Opposition of those days put forward exactly the same suggestion. Neither the Labour Government nor the present Government has acquiesced. The reason for their not doing so is quite clear. This is a financial matter. Every organisation or company has a financial year, and the Commonwealth has a financial year. Moreover, we have a calendar year. A social service year has been developed from October one year to October in the next year, and the current rates of social service benefits run for that year. To adopt this suggestion of the Opposition would not improve the legislation. The Opposition has proposed also the setting up of a joint parliamentary standing committee or, failing that, a select committee of the Senate to go into all the ramifications of social service activities.
– Hear, hear!
– I heard a distant and half hearted cry of “ Hear, hear “.
– It was not half hearted.
– Though the acumen of many members of Parliament is great and though their desire to help in this matter is sincere, I do not think they would be able to add to the present social service legislation anything that would be of benefit. It would take the committee an interminable time to go into the matter and gain any more knowledge than is possessed at the present time by the organisations to which I have referred, and by the Department and the Minister. New problems arise from day to day. The committee would be out in the distance and would not know what was going on. It would be a waste of time and money. I believe that the members of the Commonwealth Parliament could not give the time or do all the travelling that would be needed to assess and reach conclusions on the problems connected with social services in this country.
– It has been done before.
– Because it has been done before, I do not think the position will be improved by doing it again. I do not believe that the committee would be of any benefit to the country.
– Why does the honorable senator not read the previous reports? He would then be convinced.
– No, I would not.
– The honorable senator must be stubborn.
– I am never stubborn. I believe that a joint committee or a select committee of the Senate would do no significant good. I believe that we can carry on as we have done in the past. Never at any time will all the social service legislation receive the plaudits of all the people; but it is our bounden duty as indi viduals to study all the problems that we come up against in our day to day lives and to make suggestions to the Government. The Government will consider and put into effect through legislation all the suggested benefits that it feels this nation can give to the people.
Earlier I dealt very briefly with the suggestion which was made by the Leader of the Australian Democratic Labour Party. I do not think that the pensioners would gain anything if pensions were placed in the hands of a tribunal. I believe it is the duty of this Parliament to accept the responsibility for social services. If some people want to play party politics with social services, we cannot stop them. But if we, as a House of Parliament were to say, “ We will give a tribunal the right to decide the amount of pensions payable and to whom they will be paid “, should we not also say, “ As the tribunal is to spend the money for us, it should take the responsibility for raising it.” ?
– What do we do about the Public Service?
– Parliament has the overall authority. I am rather amused to hear the cackling of a former Tasmanian treasurer. I remember a period in the Tasmanian Parliament when the then Treasurer would not give to a tribunal the right to spend the money that he raised in revenue. I oppose the amendment which has -been moved by the Democratic Labour Party. I do not think it is a well thought out idea. The suggestion has come from the Democratic Labour Party at election after election. We have heard the cry that we must take politics out of pensions. My colleague, Senator Wright, by way of interjection asked what type of people would constitute the tribunal; Not enough detail or solid argument was given by the honorable senator who put the proposal to the Senate to enable us to consider it seriously. His Party has had years to think about it. If it really wants a tribunal, surely its spokesman in forecasting the amendment could have said: “This is the type of person whom we will appoint to the committee and this is how it will go about the business of solving this question of social services “.
It is my firm belief that the responsibility in the social service field should rest with the Parliament. I congratulate the Minister and his Department on the way in which they have broadened the scope of the benefits and have granted some increases. Like the general public, I am not fully satisfied, but I believe that they have done an honest job and that they will continue to carry out research into and listen to the problems of “the people. I think that both the amendment moved by Senator Fitzgerald and that foreshadowed by Senator Gair should be -defeated.
.- Mr. Deputy President, in rising to support the amendment proposed so ably by Senator Fitzgerald, 1 would like to express my condolences to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair) whose first showing in this field is so weak. He has not been given very much material on which to work. Therefore, I would say that the Social Services Bill which we have before us is one of the weakest bills that I have ever seen in my 22 years in this chamber. I think it gives less than any other social service bill that has come before the Senate during all those years.
– Can the honorable senator relate that to amounts of money?
– 1 am speaking of actual benefits and the number of people who will receive them. A number of honorable senators opposite who have spoken in this debate referred to the wonderful benefit that is to be given to the wife of an aged pensioner. She will receive a wife’s allowance if she has the custody of one or more children under the age of 16 years or, in the case of a student child, 21 years. It is interesting to note the number of people who will receive this benefit. In a reply which was furnished in another place, the Minister for Social Services stated that 100 people will be affected by extending this allowance. Although we are dealing with a pension field which covers one million pensioners, only 100 people will benefit from the extension of the wife’s allowance. When we come to a further benefit - the payment of the child’s allowance and additional pension to aged pensioners who have the custody and control of one or more children - we find that only 250 people will be affected. Senator Marriott laid great stress on the new provision under which, so we are told, widows will be able to send their children through the universities because the age limit for student children has been raised from 18 to 21 years. But how many widows will be affected? Only 215. These are not my figures; they are figures given by the Minister. Senator Marriott said that it took the Department of Social Services a whole year to work out this Bill. I can understand why it did. The departmental officers must have got to work to see which benefits they could give which would appear to give a great deal but which, in fact, would give a little to a few people. I cannot see any other section of the social services legislation which could be improved and give so little to so few people. Finally I come to the payment of a guardian’s allowance of £2 a week to unmarried age and invalid pensioners who have the custody, care and control of one or more children. That reads very well. It is very good for the people who will receive this allowance. However, only seven in every 1,000 pensioners are in this category. These are not my figures; they have been given by the Minister for Social Services in writing. The funeral benefit has been increased to £20 when a pensioner is responsible for the funeral expenses of a spouse, a child or another pensioner. Well, that is that. We are grateful for the little that this Bill gives.
I will not go into the details of the supplementary allowances that are being given under the Bill. They have been dealt with already. However, I will go into the details of the supplementary allowances that are not given under the Bill. That may sound a bit Irish, but I think honorable senators will know what I mean. Certain pensioners in the community are badly off and do not qualify for this supplementary allowance because they are paying off their homes by instalments. They may have lived in their homes for quite a long time. For example, a widow pensioner whose husband has died and left her an equity in the home may still have to pay off the home. As I mentioned in this place only a fortnight ago, such a widow pensioner also has to pay rates and taxes and pay for any repairs and improvements that have to be made. She has only her pension. Because she is paying off the house and not paying rent, she is not entitled to the supplementary allowance.
Because she happens to be her own landlord, to a limited extent, she does not receive this allowance. It would not cost the Government a great deal of money to rectify this anomaly. Its rectification would be of very great benefit to the widows concerned.
As I think back on the speeches that have been made today by my friends on the Government side of the chamber, I think my suggestion would be supported by Senator Wedgwood and, Senator Breen and also by Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin. Surely the women in the Senate - although we are here not as women but as senators - can appreciate the problems that face other women in much less fortunate circumstances that we are in. I hope that the Minister for Social Services will consider granting supplementary assistance to the widow who is much worse off, both financially and otherwise, because she is trying to keep the home together for her children, and who therefore is penalised in not being able to receive this assistance. The second part of the amendment moved by Senator Fitzgerald refers to the setting up of a joint parliamentary committee on social services. I wholeheartedly support that proposition. I am sorry that Senator Marriott is not here to hear why I do so. I was a member of the Joint Committee on Social Security from 1943 until it was disbanded in 1946 because the Liberal Party refused to co-operate with us. I was able to see how much that Committee did. Senator Sir Walter Cooper was a very valued member of it, and so was Senator Foll. The Committee consisted of members from all parties and included members of the House of Representatives. The fact that every recommendation that that Committee made is now on the statute book of this country is a standing monument to its work. If Senator Marriott were here, perhaps that would convince him that a committee such as the one envisaged in this amendment could assist in the solution of the social services problems that beset this Parliament.
The greatest change that I have seen in my years in the Senate has been the complete revolution in the thinking of members of the Government parties on social services. I have told the Senate before that when the Labour Government introduced unemployment and sickness benefits the then Leader of the Opposition, who was a mem ber of the Liberal Party, told us that the introduction of those benefits would encourage malingering and idleness among the workers. According to him, the workers were so dishonest that we could not trust them. He said that the Treasurer would be robbed. That is why I am pleased that in the annual report of the Director-General of Social Services the lie direct is given to that statement and the inherent honesty of Australians in whatever circumstances they find themselves is proved.
I was interested to note that last year, although there were nearly one million recipients of unemployment and sickness benefits and widow, age and invalid pensions, there were only 133 instances of pensioners trying to defraud the Government. That represents one pensioner in every 7,250. Surely that is a record that could not be equalled in any other community. It shows that the dire predictions that were made in 1943 or 1944 - namely, that the dishonest workers of this country would try to cheat the government by making false declarations and by malingering - have not been borne out by the facts. I believe that it is a great compliment to the average Australian that over the years so few people have tried to cheat the Department of Social Services when, as you know as well as I do, Madam Acting Deputy President, so many people in other walks of life regard the government as fair game and try to take advantage of it in some way. The fact that so few recipients of social service benefits try to cheat and to get something to which they are not fully entitled shows that, in the main, they are a very respectable section of the Australian community.
I come now to another aspect of this Bill, with which I am very disappointed. I refer to the fact that the base rate of pension has not been increased at all. I am not wedded to the idea of abolishing the means test altogether as long as the basic pension remains so below a subsistence level. We have to endeavour to raise the standard of the basic pension before we start talking about the complete abolition of the means test. Even within the limited field of the benefits that this Bill confers there is another group of women who have been completely neglected - I would say criminally neglected - by this Government. I refer to the women who have been mentioned by honorable senators on both sides of the chamber, namely the wives of age pensioners who are not of pensionable age, whose husbands are not invalids and who therefore are not entitled to the wife’s allowance. Surely to goodness it is criminal to expect women in their late 50’s, who have been out of the employment market for very many years, to turn around and try to get jobs. 1 was talking to one of these women the other day. She told me that she went to an office of the Commonwealth Employment Service and the people there could not even offer her office cleaning work because that work is now done mainly by big firms that employ their own staffs. She could not get any kind of work at all. So we have two people trying to exist on £6 a week. How can they do that? How can they pay rent and pay for their subsistence? Even if they own their own home, both of them would have to be magicians to be able to exist on the amount of money that we senators are given, in addition to our salaries, to meet our expenses for one day. Yet two people are forced to exist on that amount for a whole week. Surely to goodness we, as senators, should have some conscience in this matter. I am quite certain that had there been in existence a Senate committee or a joint committee of both Houses, we would never have allowed this anomaly to go unchallenged. It is wicked. I hope that a supplementary Budget will be brought down or that something will be done soon to relieve the plight of those who are forced to live, not only in sub-economic conditions, but almost at sub-subsistence levels. It is my hope that the united voices of honorable senators from both sides of the chamber will cause something to be done soon to relieve this position.
I refer now to the provision of housing for aged persons, which has been a great blessing to many people in the community. I believe that the Government when it began the scheme acted on a set of very good ideas. When the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Public Accounts undertakes the investigation of social services in this country, I hope it will pay particular attention to the section of the Department of Social Services which deals with homes for the aged, because something is going on in that connection that should be investigated. It might be quite all right. I would not like to say it is not, but I have my doubts about some homes for the aged. Since the scheme began 10 years ago 1,186 organisations have been assisted by grants. Some are religious organisations, some are charitable or benevolent organisations and some are ex-servicemen’s organisations. I have no quarrel with those organisations. However, other organisations receive the approval of the Governor-General. It is probable that the Governor-General does not even know they exist and that the approval is given by somebody in the Department of Social Services. They receive the Department’s imprimatur.
In Western Australia, approval for payments of grants has been given to 77 organisations. In analysing the figures provided in the report of the Director-General of Social Services I have come across some interesting- comparisons. In Western Australia the average cost of housing each aged person in a home for the aged is £1,700. The figures do not vary much from State to State. Because I am more familiar with affairs in my own State, I would like to stick to the figure of £1,700 for Western Australia. Of that amount, the Commonwealth has contributed £1,140. According to my arithmetic, the balance is £560, but most of these organisations demand payment of nothing less than £1,000. Those who are lucky might gain entrance for only £850. From my analysis of the figures, a balance of £560 is required after the Commonwealth contribution, but in most cases £1,000 is needed to gain admission. In some States it is more.
I have received letters from residents of homes in other States who have paid up to £2,000. In some cases, although the original tenant has occupied a unit for only a few weeks the succeeding tenant has had to pay the same amount as the first tenant. Even putting at £400 the difference between the Commonwealth contribution and the cost of housing an aged person, in Western Australia about £675,000 has gone somewhere. Has it gone into the funds of the homes for replacements? I agree that church, charitable and ex-servicemen’s organisations need funds to carry on their work, but I am referring to persons who have banded together to form a company to start a home for the aged. A few years ago the directors of such a company called for public money to float a company, and within a few months, £93,000 had gone down the drain. The directors were not prosecuted, for a reason I would rather not dwell on at the moment. The directors of that company are now the directors of a home for the aged. You can bet your bottom dollar that they were not in it for the good of the health of the pensioners.
I know of cases in which elderly people have owned homes and the wives have found that they were unable to cope with the work. They have decided to sell out and enter one of these homes units, or whatever they are called. One couple was urged to give up their home, which was valued at over £4,000, as the price of admission to a home unit. Luckily, their son got wind of the proposed transaction and rang me about it. We were able to stop it going any further. At that time, the amount required as key money for admission to a home unit was only £800. These things might be quite all right, but, not only must they be all right, they must appear to be all right to the general public.
– Has that case been reported?
– Yes. But unfortunately the lady who owned the home died before we could go on with the matter. I had mentioned the case to officers of the Department, but I had been requested to prepare a proper case. The people who would have been most concerned would have been the trustees of the heme, because they missed out on a very good bargain. I would like to see these grants made available to authorities who will not demand that the incoming tenants pay key money of from £800 to £2,000. This legislation was intended to help people who need housing. If people can afford to pay £2,000 to gain admission to a home unit costing £6,000 which is subsidised by the Government, I do not think they are the persons with whom we should be primarily concerned. I believe other agencies in the community could do more with the grants than some of the instrumentalities at present receiving grants. I refer to State Governments and local government authorities which I mentioned here a few weeks ago.
I think there is a loophole in this excellent legislation. It is excellent in its origin and purpose of helping elderly people in the community, but it could be made much more effective in housing those who really need it. The grants could be better devoted to providing housing for elderly people, who are existing in back rooms and spending more than half their pensions on rent. For a couple of days before pension day they must depend on charity for food because they do not have enough money to buy it. Some organisations provide great assistance and are worthy of a good deal of thanks from this National Parliament. I also maintain that no government can ever comp.pletely take the place of the members of the many organisations in the community which gave so much assistance, themselves, in voluntary service for the aged and the oppressed in the community, long before Government aid was given.
We say that everybody who is a decent citizen has a right to at least a decent minimum of subsistence and a decent roof over his head. While we are paying out the present contributions to social services, the Government and the people of Australia are entitled to get the best for their money and to give the best possible benefit to people who would not be social service beneficiaries if they could possibly help it. Since I first entered the Senate 22 years ago there has been a complete reversal of thinking in the community and particularly among my friends on the Government side, who realise today that the Government does have an obligation towards the sick, aged, handicapped and unemployed in the community. The Government has given away the ideas that it had in the 1940’s. It has come round to the way of thinking not just of the Australian Labour Party, to which I have the honour to belong, but of people generally in the community. This is a change not only on the part of the Australian Government. lt is part of a world wide movement, which can be seen even in such countries as the United States of America. The late President Kennedy declared war on poverty and his successor as President of the United States is putting that policy into effect. When we are budgeting for the expenditure of so many thousands of millions of pounds, the amount that we expend on social services is the very least that we can devote for this purpose.
We are not simply giving this money away. The Government is getting back very much of it in the form of indirect taxes which are added to the commodities which the recipients of social service benefits need to keep body and soul together. Even today I heard on the wireless that the cost of basic foodstuffs - 30 articles were mentioned - will be rising in the next few weeks. I cannot quite understand the reason. As I have said so often, one has only to look at me to see that I am not much good at figures. The reason given for the rises in the prices of these commodities was the introduction of decimal currency next year. It just gets me down. The Government must take cognizance of this. While the additional benefits to be provided by this Bill will make little contribution towards the material wellbeing of the vast majority of pensioners, this additional benefit will depreciate further in the coming months if the present trend towards an increased cost of living is allowed to go unchecked. While 1 am grateful, like Oliver Twist, for the little that is being provided, one has to be honest. The Bill will not add greatly to the sum total of social service benefits already in existence.
The appointment by the Senate of a select committee to act either independently Or in conjunction with a committee of the other House could do nothing but good. It would have the record of previous committees on social security to show just what can be done when people of goodwill get together. Neither side of the Parliament has any monopoly of goodwill in this matter. We are all anxious to see that the best is done far the greatest number of people in the community. I give credit to all honorable senators for what I claim for myself - goodwill to see that these things are done. I am quite certain that if we were to get together on a committee of this character there would be no need for the commission envisaged by the Leader of the Democratic Party. The work could be just as well and truly done by the members of this Parliament, who have a direct obligation to the people of Australia to see that nobody wants because of our negligence in this national Parliament.
.- We are dealing with the Social Services Bill 1965. The debate has been very interesting. We have heard statements of various attitudes towards the policy that should be followed by a government administering such a difficult matter as social services for the community of Australia. The Bill gives effect to the determinations of policy of the Budget which was introduced earlier in this session of the Parliament. The Bill seeks to broaden welfare measures generally. It is of interest to note that the former policy favouring a flat rate of increase in pensions is now replaced by a policy whereby individual needs are looked at and an attempt is made, after study of the matter, to remedy a particular need. I believe that this Government has, during its term of office, done an enormous job for the Australian community. It is disappointing to note that scarcely a word of commendation has come from the Opposition in relation to this matter. One would think that honorable senators opposite could see no virtue in the seven points of policy which have been enunciated by the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair) as the ones chosen by the Government for action in what must have been very difficult circumstances for any Government.
When heavy demands are being made on the Government, an enormous amount of money is being devoted to ‘ social services. Senator Tangney said that very little had been done. I queried the amount of money that had been spent and the comment was made that very little had been done individually for pensioners. I think it is as well to note that in the current year, in times as difficult as one can possibly imagine, with demands arising from war time activity and demands for important development, an amount of £4.2 million is to be added to our social services commitments. In a full year the additional amount will be £5.7 million.
– That is in addition to the normal increment.
– That is the extra expenditure which will be incurred under the provisions of this Bill. I thank the Minister for directing my attention to the fact that in the normal process of persons becoming due for the benefits that apply now, prior to the operation of the additional benefits proposed, an additional £9 million will be added to commitments during the 12 months.
– That would have happened whether or not any concessions were given..
– That is quite right, and the honorable senator agrees that this is a very great contribution by the Government.
– I do not agree that the Government has contributed anything. This is just something that happens because persons qualify for. a pension.
– It is because they qualify for pensions. Is it insignificant that £5.5 million should be added to the commitment for social services? Under the Bill, over 150,000 pensioners will immediately receive increased benefits. The total expenditure from the National Welfare Fund will rise from £335 million to over £348 million. This is an enormous commitment by the people of the Commonwealth, who are the first to be congratulated on being able to afford, out of a total Budget of about £2,600 million, over £348 million towards benefits for pensioners and others in the community who are in need. The Australian people are to be congratulated; those who have guided the Government along this path are certainly to be congratulated, and the Minister for Social Services, one of the youngest Ministers in the Government today, is to be congratulated for being able to put his mind to such a brilliant piece of legislation.
This Bill introduces several areas of benefit. I wish to mention only two. One is of great importance. A person is considered to be entirely dependent on his pension if his income does not exceed 10s. a week or the value of his property does not exceed £210. In this case an additional 10s. a week supplementary assistance is provided making this supplementary assistance £1 a week. I think I am correct in saying that the proposed increase will be based on a sliding scale so that the assistance will range from ls. to 10s. a week depending upon the pensioner’s income. Some 105,000 pensioners will receive the immediate benefit and 34,000 additional pensioners will receive the supplementary assistance for the first time. This increase is, in fact, the very teeth of this Bill. It is expected that £4 million of the £5.7 million that I have mentioned will be expended in a full year in meeting this commitment. It would be a pity if this House did anything to delay the payment of this benefit to the 105,000 people who are already receiving the pension and the 34,000 who will receive the supplementary assistance for the first time.
The second point to which I wish to refer is that at present if the wife of a pensioner receives a wife’s allowance, the pensioner is paid only £5 10s. a week. With the addition of the wife’s allowance of £3 a week, the pensioner and his wife receive £8 10s. a week. The Bill now before us provides for an immediate increase in the pension of 10s. a week, bringing it to £6 a week so that the pensioner and his wife will receive a total of £9 a week. We are all aware that if the pensioner couple pay rent they are entitled to an additional £1 so that in those circumstances they receive a total of £10 a week. I have heard various Opposition senators attacking the Government on this aspect. They have criticised the payment for being so small and have asked how people can live on this amount.
– Does the honorable senator think that they can?
– This is obviously a political point because it is not intended that the pension should be the total income of a pensioner, nor is it intended that people should look forward to the pension as the total amount that they will be expected to live on. I hope that the young people of this country, as well as those who are approaching retiring age, will put something aside and will spend their money wisely so that when they do reach the retiring age they will have quite a nest egg. I agree that some people, through unavoidable circumstances, reach the lowest ebb of fortune’s tide. Undoubtedly these unfortunate people should receive some additional consideration. I ask honorable senators to calculate the size of the investment that would need to be made to return an amount equivalent to the pension. I have calculated that a person would need to invest £7,000 or £8,000 to obtain upon his retirement an income of about £10 a week. I think that I have stated the position pretty conservatively. It is not an easy task for anyone to save that amount of money.
– He would need to get 9 per cent, interest on his investment.
– I am glad that the honorable senator agrees with me that a man would need to be very prudent with his investment. Taking into consideration the amount that such a man would be required to pay in taxation and to meet other commitments, the honorable senator will find that my calculation is pretty right
I have mentioned several items contained in this Bill. Other items have been dealt with by previous speakers. I was interested to hear Senator Tangney’s comments. She is to be. complimented for directing the attention of the Senate to some things that appear to be happening in the provision of accommodation for aged persons. I endorse her statement that some inquiry should be conducted into the operations of organisations which receive assistance from the Government for the purpose of providing accommodation for aged persons. Like the honorable senator, I know of individuals wishing to obtain accommodation in buildings which have been constructed with the aid of Commonwealth funds who- have been asked to pay quite substantial sums of money.
The honorable senator, referred to accommodation that costs perhaps £2,000. Suitable two bedroom accommodation can be provided for that amount under a good building scheme. Although the Government will provide perhaps £1,100 towards the cost of the accommodation, the individual who wishes to take advantage of it is required to pay £1,000 or even more. The surplus over and above the cost of constructing that flat or unit goes into the hands of the association or body which provided the accommodation. I do not know whether the Government intended that this should be so when it introduced the scheme. I do know that this practice is making further development possible and probably the Government hoped that this would be the result, but it is not right that the person who wishes to occupy the accommodation should be required to pay more than is necessary to make up the balance between the cost of the building and the Government’s contribu-tion. I endorse the honorable senator’s comment and I hope that this aspect will be investigated because I believe there is a need for the position to be made clear. lt must be most difficult for a government to decide towards which avenue an increase in social service benefits should be directed. I. suppose there is not one honorable senator who has not suggested to the Department an avenue which should receive some additional benefit. Each honorable senator who has spoken has referred to circumstances of which he is personally aware. I have been closely associated with the plight of handicapped persons. It is pitiful to see a handicapped person endeavouring to do work of some kind or other to earn more money. At the present time handicapped people receive a variety of benefits from the Government, and this makes the position difficult.
They may be receiving assistance by way of pensions. In addition there may be Commonwealth aid in the way of facilities provided by sheltered workshops, and there may be Commonwealth assistance in regard to accommodation. It is disheartening to hear, as I have heard from several individuals, that they are unable to increase their rate of earning, even though they are severely handicapped physically, because if they were to do so they would jeopardise their pensions. I agree with honorable senators on the Opposition side who have said that the means test should be looked at in relation to recipients of social service benefits generally and handicapped people in particular.
I revert to my comment about looking to the Government to provide a pension of an amount that would enable individuals to retire and live in peace for the rest of their days. I have mentioned that because of misfortune or calamity some people find themselves dependent on the pension. I hope -that it would be the wish of alt honorable senators that young people should be encouraged to put aside money for themselves and to acquire property. I believe that every person who is working should look forward to the prospect of being able to manage without applying for a pension when he retires. Of course, if a person chooses to live in such a manner that his money is dissipated freely - and this surely is easy enough for all of us to do - then the pension is there for him.
I have no doubt that next year we will find that, no matter what the Government has done, there will be a demand from senators on the Opposition side for greater provision in the field of social services. This year, while there has not been a general rise in the basic pension, the Department over many months has made an intensive study of the matter and has considered questions put to it by members of the Parliament. It has considered ways in which benefits could be increased, and it has presented to the Parliament a schedule of seven items which, we must agree, represents a wonderful contribution to the improvement of social service benefits. But we do not want the community to reach the stage where all the members of it look forward to the benefit of a pension. At the present time taxation is scaring investment away from the community. Honorable senators have heard people in their late forties or fifties say, as I have: “What is the use of my saving? I will have too much money. I want to get the pension. I am going on a holiday.”
– Who said that?
– The honorable senator has heard it said, as I have.
– I have not heard it said.
– Then I suggest that the honorable senator should speak with his colleagues. He will find that they have heard it said.
– Perhaps Senator Webster mixes in different circles.
– I do not. I have a high regard for the people who need a pension and I respect them, but I am sure that honorable senators opposite will agree that there is a feeling abroad today that if a person has too much money he denies himself a pension; that he is better off if he takes a holiday and reduces the amount of money he has.
When we in this Senate put our hands in our pockets to help other people, although each of us receives the same salary some of us may say that we have need of the money for ourselves. I think that the propositions that are presented to this Government in regard to social service payments also apply to each of us.
– We have our own pension scheme and are happy about it. Yet the honorable senator is saying that we should not give a pension to other people.
– I think we should consider the fact that senators contribute to their pensions. However, this is a matter that could be opened up on another occasion. I firmly believe that private enterprise could provide each honorable senator with a much better retiring pension than he gets at the present time for the weekly contribution he makes to the scheme we have here.
It must be agreed that a great deal of credit is due to the Commonwealth Government and also to the people of Australia for the wonderful contribution that has been made to the social service scheme. I think that generally speaking the members of the community appreciate the benefits that they have gained under the Social Services Act. This Bill is a part of a progressive scheme. As a result of conversations I have had with the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair) I am aware that already many schemes are being discussed and investigated. These should prove of great assistance in coming years. Honorable senators have directed attention to aspects of the social service scheme which call for improvement, but I think that in the circumstances in which the Budget was presented this year the Bill reflects great credit on the Government and the people of Australia generally for the contribution that has been made to the improvement of the Australian social service structure.
.- The purpose of this Bill is to amend the Social Services Act 1947- 1964 and to give effect to the provisionscontained in the Budget Speech of the Treasurer (Mr. Harolt Holt) as they affect recipients of social service benefits from the Commonwealth Government. I suggest that honorable senators consider the provisions of the Bill. It provides for an increase of 10s. a week in supplementary, assistance, together with a widening of eligibility by extending payment to pensioners whose resources exceed the present limits. It provides for the payment of a standard pension rate of £6 a week as well as supplementary assistance to a married pensioner who is otherwise eligible and whose wife receives a wife’s allowance. It also provides for the payment of a wife’s allowance where the wife of an age pensioner has the custody, care and control of one of more children under the age of 16 years or a student child under the age of 21 years. In addition it provides for the payment of a child’s allowance and additional pension for children where age pensioners have the custody, care and control of one or more children.
Business of the Senate - Cost of Living - Trade Practices.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Senator Wood). - In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– Mr. Acting President, I did not think there would be competition for this privilege of rising to speak on the adjournment. I regret the necessity of rising tonight, the late night of the week. But the reason for doing so is appropriate. I want to refer to the question I asked this afternoon concerning consideration of legislation. I do not desire to offend against the Standing Orders by discussing a bill that is now in another place despite the fact that my question was concerned with that particular legislation. This afternoon I asked the Acting Leader of the Government in this House (Senator Henty), as the appropriate Minister and as one whom 1 thought was the most responsible Minister in the House, whether sufficient time would be given to the Opposition to discuss the legislation to which I have referred when it was brought to this chamber. I asked when the Stevedoring Industry Bill would be brought into this chamber.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Senator Wood).- Order! The honorable senator may not allude to a measure that is impending.
– 1 asked the Acting Leader of the Government, Mr. Acting President, when this legislation would be introduced into this House and whether sufficient time would be allowed for this chamber to give consideration to it. I asked for his opinion as to whether or not a democratic parliament should have sufficient time for consideration of legislation and whether popular and advisable debate required sufficient time for consideration of legislation. Surprisingly, the Minister replied that there would be sufficient time for honorable senators to consider the particular legislation as it had been introduced in another place and was to be discussed on Thursday night and subsequently discussed in this chamber next Tuesday.
I should not think that a responsible Minister would reduce this chamber to a second rate House - that in order to consider legislation we should have to follow debates in another’ chamber. I think that it belittles the importance of the Senate as an institution to adopt the attitude that because legislation is discussed somewhere else that should furnish sufficient information for honorable senators to formulate discussion in this chamber on that particular matter.
– That is not a fair conclusion from what was said. It was said that we would have all next week to debate the legislation if that’ time was required.
– On most occasions, I respect the honorable senator for his logic but he has no knowledge of the reply I received this afternoon if he makes such a suggestion.
– I heard it.
– If the honorable senator reads “ Hansard “ tomorrow he will find that he has gone astray somewhere between this afternoon and tonight. Somebody on this side of the chamber has interjected that there is evidence of the truthfulness of my statement. The reply i received from the Acting Leader of the Government was that there would be sufficient time for the Senate to consider the legislation because it would be discussed in the other chamber on Thursday night.
– Let the Minister rise and deny that that was his reply. The whole purpose of my question was to ascertain whether legislation would be introduced into this House on Tuesday and whether we would then be asked to debate it immediately the second reading speech was made. Would any honorable senators suggest that- that is a proper procedure for a democratic parliament or a proper procedure to enable logical debate? If, as has been stated, the reply meant that we would have all next week to debate the legislation, what will the Senate do between the introduction of the Bill and the time at which the Opposition will be called upon to reply? At this stage we do not know what the Bill which will be presented here contains. We may have studied that which was presented in another place. But we have not had the Bill presented to us. We have been told that a bill is to be brought into this House next Tuesday, the ramifications of which we do not know, and we are going to be asked on Tuesday, I believe, to reply to this legislation.
According to Senator Wright’s interjection, I may be misinformed about this and it may be that we shall have the opportunity to reply at some subsequent time. If that is the proposal, I am not opposed to it. But as I understood the Minister’s reply to my question today, we shall follow the second reading speech on the Bill with an immediate discussion of it. The Minister appeared to consider that we would have had adequate time to consider it since its introduction in another place. I can understand Senator Wright’s concern about this matter and his trying to assert that my interpretation of the Minister’s answer to me was not the actual reply, because I think he is one of the greatest upholders of the dignity of this chamber. I do not think he would tolerate such a position for one moment.
But the position is, as I understand it, that that is what is going to happen. If I am right in my interpretation of the reply of the responsible Minister, it means that the Senate is being reduced to a follow-up House - to a House which is second to another place. I say that that is not good enough for those who defend this Parliament. How do we know that, whatever legislation may be discussed on Thursday night in another chamber, it will not be altered before it reaches the Senate? How do we know what Bill is to come to this House? How can we prepare a reply to a bill, the contents of which may be changed subsequent to its introduction in another place? I ask the Senate, in all sincerity, whether it is right that we should have to read the “ Hansard “ of another place in order to decide on our reply to this or any other legislation. We do not have a copy of the Bill or the proposed amendments and I do not think we are entitled to have them at this stage when it has not been introduced in this chamber. While it is true that we could, perhaps, apply to the Clerk in the other chamber to obtain a copy of the Bill, again I question whether that is the right procedure. I question whether we should be reduced to seeking a copy of a bill introduced in another place which may be an entirely different bill by the time it reaches this chamber.
If we are to remain a House of review we should review the legislation sent to us from another chamber. I say that it is unjust and unfair to ask the Senate to debate a bill immediately it is introduced. The Minister in charge of the Bill may have to read a second reading speech which may cover several pages. It is unjust and unfair to ask the Opposition at that time to decide how it should debate the Bill and what its attitude should be to it. I believe that there is an understanding between the Government parties and the Opposition that sufficient time will be made available to enable us to consider any legislation that is brought forward and to receive any party instructions that are necessary.
– To receive what?
– To receive any party instructions or decisions that are necessary.
– From whom?
– From our caucus.
– This is a House of review, but the honorable senator intends to take instructions from his Party caucus.
– The honorable senator need not appear surprised and say that that is not a reality. Let me say that we may take it back to our Party to receive the advice of the Party.
– That is different.
– It is only a matter of words. I have done that to appease Senator Wright. We may not have in the Senate the best talent in our organisation, but nevertheless I submit that it is not fair for legislation, particularly contentious legislation, to be introduced and then discussed immediately. We cannot visualise what this legislation is unless we follow newspaper reports. I conclude by saying that it is offensive for a responsible Minister to suggest that, because a particular bill has been debated in another chamber, we have had sufficient time in which to consider it.
– I want to comment on the Senate notice paper and then to offer some comment on similar lines to that offered by Senator Cavanagh. Honorable senators who have lived for any period of time in the outback or in the Mallee district where reading matter is scarce will, I am sure, believe the story that is told about the man who shot his mate because he opened a condensed milk tin upside down. I wish to direct my remarks to the Minister who is responsible for leaving on the notice paper in the Senate, where we have a plethora of reading matter, a question that is dated 23rd March. Poor Senator Branson obviously is frustrated.
– Who is the Minister concerned?
– It is the Minister representing the Prime Minister. Perhaps Senator Branson, who is not here, has committed suicide out of sheer desperation. Either the question has been placed in the *: Too hard “ basket and should be removed from the notice paper or a contemptuous attitude has been adopted towards Senator Branson for daring to ask such a question or there has been inefficiency on somebody’s part. Honorable senators may choose whatever alternative they like. To have a question on the notice paper since 23rd March is just too much, because it is the first thing that we read every day. The first thought that comes to one’s mind is this: “ That darn question of Senator Branson’s is still there “.
When we turn to the back of the notice paper we see certain Notices of Motion, some of which are quite important. Senator Wright’s Notice of Motion, for example, is important. Some decision should have been reached on that. We should have discussed some of the Orders of the Day that appear on the notice paper. We sat yesterday, but we adjourned at approximately 10 to 9 last night. I understand that we will adjourn at 4 p.m. tomorrow. I think it was on the Wednesday in the previous week, when the proceedings of the Senate were being broadcast, that the Whips went around pleading with honorable senators to continue talking.
The Whips had to drag people into the chamber and keep them talking until 11 o’clock. On that day, even though the proceedings were being broadcast, even I was asked to speak. Honorable senators will see just how desperate the Whips were when they asked me to speak. What I am pointing out is that a little more attention should be given to the business of this House. As I said earlier, there are important items on the notice paper that we could have been discussing. For example, there are the Constitution alteration bills.
– We could even have been discussing the acceptance of cancer as a war caused disability.
– Even that subject could have been discussed. Finally, it is an insult to this House for the Senate to be asked to sit next week. If the Government has an urgent reason for our sitting and were to tell us what that reason was, I believe we should sit. I believe that we should sit if there is a reason of national importance for us to do so. I understand that the Australian Labour Party is prepared to accept our coming back on Tuesday next.
– The matter will come up tomorrow.
– If there is a national emergency, we should come back. But if there is not a national emergency, what is the point in making us come back? All of us have made our arrangements for next week, but now we are told that we must come back next week because the Government wants to get certain legislation through. No other reason has been given. I object strongly to this House being made subservient to another place without a real reason being given for our having to come back.
– I shall not delay the Senate unduly. I want to draw the attention of the Government to the astronomic rise that has taken place in the cost of living in recent months, especially since the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission gave its decision on the basic wage and margins issues, and to indicate that this astronomic rise in prices is having a drastic effect on the value of the take home pay of workers generally. Moreover, the dismissal by General Motors-Holden’s Pty. Ltd. this week of 1,046 employees because of a reduction in the number of motor cars that are being purchased is having an effect on the unemployment benefits that are being’ paid. I accuse this Government of failing to enact the restrictive trade practices legislation which, after a period of years, was floated in this chamber towards the end of the last sitting period.
– It has been floated in another place.
– I thought it was floated here, too.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Senator Wood). - Order! The honorable senator must not refer to the Trade Practices Bill, because it is now before the other House.
– The Leader of the Opposition in the New South Wales Parliament indicated in that Parliament last week that he had seen a new price list that was circulating in the grocery trade and which notified increases of between 4 per cent, and 30 per cent, in the wholesale price of essential household commodities, the increases to take effect as from 1st October. It cannot be said for one moment that these increases are the result of an increase in wage rates. I suggest that manufacturers and retailers are deliberately taking advantage of the consumers.
I have in my hand a Press statement that was released on Sunday last. I do not know whether it was published. It states that a prominent Sydney food retailer has accused the Chocolate and Confectionery Manufacturers Association of conspiring to keep the prices of branded chocolate artificially high. The grocer concerned is the managing director of a 68 store supermarket chain. He has claimed that the Chocolate and Confectionery Manufacturers Association has refused to supply his chain of stores and other chains that have persisted in slashing the prices of popular brands of chocolate and confectionery. He has stated that members of the Chocolate and Confectionery Manufacturers Association include nearly all the famous name makers of popular brands of 2s. and ls. blocks of chocolate. He said that when his chain and others reduced the price of the 2s. blocks to ls. 9d. and the price of the 1s. blocks to 10id. the Chocolate and Confectionery Manufac turers Association immediately decided to refuse them all supplies of chocolate and confectionery as from 1st September. I suggest that this is something of which the Government must take cognisance. At the present time, workers in industry and housewives are finding it very difficult to meet the increased cost of living. If there is a conspiracy on the part of these people to keep the price of essential commodities artificially high, I suggest that the Government should do something about it and enact the restrictive trade practices legislation, which should have been passed by this Parliament before now.
– I would like to reply to Senator Cavanagh first. Senator Wright was correct in what he said. Senator Cavanagh’s memory is not in very good shape on this occasion. In reply to the question asked by Senator Cavanagh, I said -
We shall meet at 11 a.m. on Tuesday and when we finish debating it, but not before, we will lift, so there will be adequate time for debate, if tha sittings extend to Wednesday or Thursday.
Those are my exact words.
– Carry on.
– I know it is old hat to get off a subject on which one is weak and try to get onto something else.
– Read the lot.
– That is the end of the answer. The Bill was presented in another place on Thursday of last week. Therefore, had Senator Cavanagh known his way about this place - and I think he has been here long enough to know it - he could have obtained a copy of the second reading speech and the Bill in which he is interested, on Thursday, 23rd September.
– Should I have to do that?
– The honorable senator made his speech. I listened to him quite patiently, as I always do, and with a great deal of interest. Although his approach on certain matters is not very logical, it always sounds sincere. I always listen to him. The Bill was presented in another place on 23rd September. The Bill and the second reading speech have been available to all members and senators from that date. By the time the Bill reaches the Senate next Tuesday, Senator Cavanagh will have had almost a fortnight in which to get a copy of the legislation and post it to the organisations which he said are so interested in it. Those organisations could study the measure and issue their written instructions accordingly. I think that answers the question raised by Senator Cavanagh.
As regards the matter raised by Senator Turnbull, I will do my utmost to meet his requirements and get the question off the notice paper. It has been there for a long time. It is not an easy one to answer. A lot of detail is required and some research will be involved. I wonder whether it could ever be answered.
– The Minister should just say that he does not know the answer.
– That would be O.K. with me. If the question were addressed to meI would rise and say that I did not know the answer. However, I shall ask all
Ministers in the Senate to give an undertaking that they will get in touch with their Departments to see whether they can get some of the questions off the notice paper as early as possible.
Senator McClelland raised the matter of prices and mentioned trade practices. Legislation to deal with this matter has been presented in another place. A study is being made of that legislation. When the legislation is debated in this Chamber, the honorable senator will have an opportunity to deal with the matters which he raised. It is very complicated legislation, and I think it has been wisely left so that a very close study can be made of it. Informed comments can be made when it comes to the Senate. I have no doubt that Senator McClelland will be amongst those who will give us a very informed opinion when it is debated here.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 11.25 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 29 September 1965, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1965/19650929_senate_25_s29/>.