27th Parliament · 2nd Session
The PRESIDENT - (Senator She Hon. Sir Alister McMuliin) took the chair at 3 p.m.. and read prayers.
– I give notice that on the next day of sitting I shall move:
That the City Area Leases Ordinance 1970 (No. 45 of 1970), and the Leases (Special Purposes) Ordinance 1970 (No. 46 of 1970), made under the Seat of Government (Administration) Act 1910-1970, be disallowed.
I also give notice that on the next day of silting I shall move:
That the Senate is of opinion that the matter of lami tenure and land administration, planning and development in the Australian Capital Territory should be referred by the Minister for the Interior to the Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory for examination and report.
– My question is addressed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Where is the justice in Lieutenant Calley, the mass murderer of helpless Vietnamese, being removed from prison and treated like a hero while decent young Australians - Geoff Mullen and Charles Martin - are in Australian prisons for refusing to bc involved in this filthy war?
– What is happening in the United States of America in relation to Lieutenant Calley is a matter which, of course., is on the scene of the United States of America. Therefore, ] do noi think 1 would want to comment on that al all. As to the scene in Australia, that quite clearly is related to the laws of the Commonwealth.
– 1 direct a question to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. For some time the Senate has been concerned with the method of fixing and adjusting the salaries of certain officers of public instrumentalities. The view has been expressed in this chamber that, as an alternative to the arbitrary and sporadic method at present being followed, which depends on a Bill amending the statutes governing the instrumentalities coming before the Parliament, a composite Bill to determine such salaries should be introduced. 1 have reason to believe that, whilst the Government’s disposition is to follow such a course of action, there are numerous technical problems in doing so. Will the Minister, after the coming short recess, present a brief paper or make a statement on the matter and the difficulties being encountered in meeting the views expressed in the Senate as to the course of action ;o be taken?
Senator Sir KENNETH ANDERSONIt is a fact that there is before the Senate at the present time a Salaries Bill which contains a device in the form of a schedule and which is calculated to use a pedestrian Bill to meet a situation. 1 would not reflect upon it now because it is on the business paper and the Leader of the Opposition has the right to resume the debate on it. It is true that over the last 2 or 3 years the Senate has put its mind to the vexing question of whether a certain thing should be ‘as the Parliament determines’ or should be done by the Executive or by way of something that is subject to disallowance, ft is equally true that the previous AttorneyGeneral, consequent upon views expressed in the Senate and decisions taken by ‘the Senate, examined the matter. Who am I ro look into a crystal ball? lt may be that as a consequence of the introduction of the Salaries Bill - which I gather will not come up for debate today because we are not ready to deal with it - the matter will be posed in debate. T may then get an opportunity and the vehicle to comment on the overall question. It is not a cut and dried issue. For a variety of reasons alternative action may be desirable. I do not wish to pre-empt what I will have to say. If I do not use the vehicle of the Salaries Bill to comment, I will certainly make a subsequent statement as suggested by Senator Byrne.
– In directing my question to the Minister representing the Postmaster-General 1 refer him to Hansard of 15th March in which appears a question on television asked by Senator McClelland. In that question the honourable senator indicated that some Australian made television films, mainly ‘Homicide’ and Division 4’, were being stockpiled. The suggestion was made that that procedure will be followed until September in order to obtain credits for Australian produced shows. I have been contacted today by the Chairman of the TV Make It Australian Committee, who suggested to me that our television industry is in a desperate position. I ask the Minister to treat this matter as urgent and to determine whether the suggestions made by Senator McClelland are factual before we decide in this Parliament on any further action to be taken. The Minister could thus help us to make up our minds. I am asking merely that the matter be treated as urgent because September is fast approaching and this is a serious matter for the television industry.
– The honourable senator will appreciate that 1 am not in a position to answer the question as it is asked of me in my representative capacity. I will convey it to the Postmaster-General, together with his request that the matter be treated as urgent.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Vice-President of the Executive Council. It relates to the Office of the Environment, which is within the purview of the VicePresident of the Executive Council.
– It does not exist. We have not passed the Bill yet.
– Has the Minister studied reports of pollution of the ocean off the Sydney coast? Will he refer to the report of the Senate Select Committee on Water Pollution in respect of a national authority which would have an influence on the standards of effluent finding its way into the ocean? Will he ask the Office of the Environment to take up with the authorities in New South Wales the serious nature of the present pollution of the ocean and seek an early solution to the situation?
Perhaps I could respond first to an interjection I happened to hear when the honourable senator was asking his question. Honourable senators will recall that, when I announced on behalf of the Prime Minister the various functions of Ministers, it was indicated that pending the shape of things to come questions on environmental matters would be dealt with by myself as representative of the Prime Minister in the Senate. Coming now to the substance of the question, last week the Senate adopted a resolution to create a standing committee to deal with environmental matters. Some of the matters referred to by Senator Davidson possibly would come within the framework of that committee. I have sent to you, Sir, a memorandum containing the names of the Government senators who will serve on that committee. I have no doubt that the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and the Leader of the Australian Democratic Labor Party will have done the same thing. It may be early days for that committee. The problem in Sydney is caused by any industrial dispute* involving employees of the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board.
– The Minister is taking the easy way out.
– If the honourable senator lived in the Sydney metropolitan area he would know that what I say is true. The fact of the matter is that raw sewage-
– Why do you not sack the boss?
Senator Sir KENNETH ANDERSONIt is obvious that I am not going to be allowed to finish my answer. In those circumstances I shall rely on the answer that I have already given.
– Order! The Minister may continue. I shall keep the Senate under control.
– Thank you, Sir. I was saying that the advent of raw sewage in the sea in the Sydney metropolitan area is the direct result of industrial trouble caused by the various unions associated with the Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Air. In view of the great public interest in the current Royal Australian Air Force celebrations and the consequent cost to the taxpayers of all States, will the Minister ensure that a flight of aircraft is sent to fly over the main population centres of Tasmania rather than totally exclude that State as is now intended?
– On a previous occasion the honourable senator asked me a question about the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Royal Australian Air Force and why Tasmania was left out of the flying displays. I answered this question for him. Now he asks whether aircraft can be flown over the built up areas of Tasmania. 1 point out to the honourable senator that there has been a cut in flying hours but that, through continuous flying training, we have been able to put on these Air Force displays. 1 shall consider his request and advise him of the position later.
– Why is the Minister for Civil Aviation opposed to the use of charter flights to fly people to and from Australia? Is he not aware that the introduction of charter aircraft would make fares for overseas travel from Europe to Australia, from America to Australia and from Australia to other countries, much cheaper not only for Australians but also for tourists coming to this country? Does he not realise that charter flights could probably be one of the greatest stimulants to the development of our tourist industry? ls he aware that many Australians fly from Australia to Singapore or Bangkok and then join charter flights to Europe, thereby enjoying a much cheaper fare? Does he recognise that whilst Australians think this way about leaving Australia, the need to use this method to get cheaper fares does not induce people to come to Australia? Therefore, will He give earnest consideration to allowing charter aircraft to fly to and from Australia?
– That is a considered question with a great number of aspects which require answering. I think it could be more properly answered in detail if I were to consider it when I have read it in its entirety. However, I make one or two observations to the honourable senator because he does have some knowledge in this field. Firstly, we are operators of an international airline which has a substantial investment. Secondly, we are part of a system around the world of trying to maintain schedules and reliability of traffic. Because we are an isolated country this is of much importance to us. Equally, we are concerned to develop the tourist industry and we do what we can to do that.
The scheduled airlines - our own and others that fly into and out of Australia - have within their own fleets a substantial capacity to allow charter flying, and they do permit such flying. The fare discounts which are offered for this purpose are quite attractive. I have just approved a pamphlet in draft form which deals exhaustively with the charter operating business. All the points raised by the honourable senator are well in my mind. 1 am not trying to be exclusive and neither is the Department. We are trying to protect the Australian position and the Australian interest while being conscious that people want to fly increasingly and cheaply. However, we do have a responsibility to maintain the reliability and viability of the operations in which we are engaged.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Treasurer. What are the functions of the commercial organisations which are described as merchant banks? Do they carry out banking functions? If so, are they subject to any government or Reserve Bank of Australia controls, as are recognised banks? Is the statement in the ‘Sunday Australian’ that merchant banks have brought large sums from overseas to Australia to take profit from our excessively high interest rates correct?
– - I think it could be established that the merchant banking organisations have been influential in bringing capital into Australia. I should think that the stating of a doctrine as to the function, purpose and role of a merchant bank in Australia would be the responsibility of the Treasurer and that it would be for me to undertake to put down any such statement in the Senate. The honourable senator’s question about merchant banks taking advantage of the interest rate which prevails a! present is one which I think the Treasurer should respond to when making a statement as to the role, responsibilities and obligations of merchant banks in Australia.
– My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. No doubt he is aware of developments in South Africa - ‘apart hate’ - where sport and politics have become inseparably combined over the inclusion by the South African Cricket Association of 2 non-whites in the South African team to visit Australia. I ask: Will the Government prevail on the Australian cricket authorities to scrap the tour unless these coloured cricketers are allowed to join the team, and so alleviate the undoubted tension which is rapidly building up in this country in protest against racial discrimination in South Africa?
Senator Sir KENNETH ANDERSONI think the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs should respond to the honourable senator’s question.
– It has always been a matter of regret to Australia that the policy of apartheid has been pursued. The Australian Government has made a statement on several occasions on its abhorrence of apartheid, but it is quite firm in its view that sporting bodies should be free to make their own arrangements with regard to sporting fixtures of this sort and it certainly will not intervene to suggest that the proposed tour of a South African team be in any way impeded or cancelled. I should have thought that, rather than adopt such a suggestion, it would be more in tradition with the Australian character to treat sport as sport and to concentrate in this place upon government affairs.
– I desire to ask a question of the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. In view of the possible breach of peace which may occur in Australia as a result of the visit of the South African cricket team, in view of the widespread opposition which has been expressed in Australia to the visit and with the knowledge that a British Labor government prevented a similar breach of peace in Britain at the time of the proposed visit of a South African cricket team, I ask: Will the Australian Government, in consideration of a desire to prevent a breach of the peace in Australia, make representations to the Australian Cricket Board of Control as to the advisability of withdrawing the invitation to the politically selected South African team to visit Australia?
– I have already made it plain that the Australian Government’s attitude to the freedom of sporting bodies to go ahead with this tour is quite firm. I regard it as an affront to the people of Australia and to Australian governments to suggest that breaches of the peace will be of such order in this country as to warrant interference with the tour.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry aware that there is some apprehension among pig producers in this country in respect of the proposed legislation covering a compulsory levy? Is it correct that the views already submitted to the Government are largely those of stud pig breeders who own only 2 per cent of the nation’s pigs? Will the Minister give an assurance that the proposed legislation will not become law unless it is requested after a democratically conducted poll among Australian pig producers?
-I think that at the present time there is before the other place legislation for the introduction of a pig industry research levy. This has been requested by the industry. Every State organisation has agreed to the proposal. It has gone before the Australian Agricultural Council where the State Ministers of Agriculture have agreed to it. This Government has been requested to introduce a pig industry research levy in the same way as research levy schemes have been introduced for other industries.
A group of pig producers in the north of Victoria have said that they believe that a poll of growers should be conducted. They approached the former Minister for Primary Industry on this matter and put their views before him. However, I understand that they have made no attempt to see the present Minister for Primary Industry. One would have thought that if they were interested in having a poll of pig producers in Australia, and knowing that legislation is before the Parliament, they would have come to see the Minister.
Opposition senators - Hear, hear!
– I suggest that honourable senators keep their cries of ‘Hear, hear’ until a later date. Let us have an explanation of what has gone on. I am well aware that South Australia accepted the basic principles of the $ 1 00rr reconstruction scheme. But what I said to Senator Young last week was that the Minister for Primary Industry had not received from South Australia an acceptance of the draft agreement, which is an entirely different matter from that referred to by the honourable senator. I went on to say that Western Australia, my own State, had forwarded its comments on the draft agreement to the Minister for Primary Industry, as had 3 other States. Up to the time when I answered the question, 2 States had not commented on the draft agreement, but all States had accepted the basic principles of the reconstruction scheme.
– Can the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry inform me whether the South Australian Government has introduced legislation to amend certain aspects of the old farm debt re-adjustment scheme to bring it up to date and enable the State Government to forward the same recommendations to the Federal Government?
– I am not sure of that. When answering Senator Young’s question last week I said that in my State of Western Australia certain moneys were available to that State under the Commonwealth Loan (Farmers Debt Adjustment) Act and also to the South Australian Government under the same Act. The Commonwealth wanted the States to use that money before moneys for the reconstruction scheme were made available to the States. I went on to say that in my State the relevant legislation required amendment by the State Government but the Federal Government had made an offer to Western Australia that if it gave the Commonwealth Government an assurance that it would amend the legislation as soon as the State Parliament sat then the Commonwealth would provide money somewhere near the §430,000 which was available for Western Australia to begin the reconstruction scheme.
– I ask the Minister for Air whether it is a fact that all mainland units of the Royal Australian Air Force are being given a day’s leave on Thursday, 8th April, to mark the 50th anniversary of the RAAF and in recognition of the extra work performed in connection with the celebrations? If this is so, are all members of the RAAF to receive the same treatment? If any are to be excluded can we be informed who they are and why they are being excluded?
– This matter has not come before me and I have not given any direction on it. Leave is a matter for the station commander. If the various station commanders believe that they should grant a day’s leave I believe this is their prerogative. However I shall make inquiries for Senator Willesee and let him have some further information if it is available.
– My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate and relates to the question from Senator Davidson relating to the pollution of Sydney beaches by sewerage effluent. Did the Minister mean to imply in his answer that there was no pollution of Sydney beaches from sewage prior to the current industrial dispute?
– No, I did not mean to imply that. I hope I did not give that impression. In fact, there has always been a degree of controversy about treated sewage which is put into the sea at the outfall areas of Sydney.
– On the south side?
– Am I answering the question or is Senator Mulvihill answering it?
– We have one or two professional question answerers. I wish they would keep quiet. They are not any real help at all.
Senator Sir KENNETH ANDERSONThank you, Mr President. The situation is that there has always been a degree of controversy about the outfall of sewage into the sea adjacent to the metropolitan area of Sydney. It relates to treated sewage. I do not think that anybody who lives in New South Wales and has some knowledge of what has happened recently has any doubt - I do not think this is arguable - that a high degree of raw sewage is being put into the sea because 6 men are carrying out work in an industrial situation normally concerning 40 men.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Air. Is it a fact that spare parts for the jinxed F111 fighter bomber are being returned from Australia to America? What was the total cost to Australia of the spare parts being returned? Will Australia pay the cost of returning the spare parts? What will be the amount, if any, of rebate to Australia for the parts returned? What is the reason for the return of the spares? What are the means of transport to return them and does their return mean that Australia will not take delivery of the F111 aircraft?
– I saw this Press report and I obtained information about it. A number of spare parts for the F111C have been returned to the United States of America. They fall into 3 categories and I shall refer to each of them. The first category includes spare parts which will reach the end of their life before they can be used in our aircraft. These are perishable parts, such as tyres.
– They are perishable, all right.
– Why did you purchase them before you got the aircraft?
– Order! This practice has to cease. As soon as a Minister stands to reply to a question he receives advice from all round the chamber. This is spoiling the effect of question time. I know why honourable senators are doing it but they will not get away with it.
– These parts are perishable items, such as tyres, that will not last for ever. These spares have been returned to the United States Air Force for use in its aircraft and their value has been credited to the Australian account. We believe that the return of these parts to the United States is sensible and in the best interests of this country. If we had not returned them but had kept them longer they would have had to be condemned in the long run because they will not last. The Royal Australian Air Force can get credit for them now and can buy more later.
The second class of spares being returned are those which require what the RAAF calls re-work as a result of modifications made to the aircraft over recent months. These parts are sent back to the United States and are modified. They are then returned to Australia or retained in that country for use in our aircraft. This is a normal practice that happens in any aircraft project. Modifications are going on all the time. In some cases the reshaping of a bolt is considered a modification to the aircraft. The spares requiring re-work have been returned to the United States Air Force so that we can take advantage of the production line handling similar spares in that country. This is the most economical way of doing this. We could leave it until later but we would find then that the production line in the United States handling the modification of these spares had come to an end. We would have to re-open that production line and this would cost us a terrific amount of money. It is much cheaper to get this work done now. I understand that there are 245 lines in this category of spares. A number of these modifications which require rework are for safety reasons: so they have to be carried out.
Finally, there is a group of spares which have been returned to the United States for use by the United States Air Force. These were returned to cover shortfalls in the American Air Force inventory. Again their cost is credited to our account. The honourable senator asked how these spares were sent to the United States. They were sent mainly in United States Air Force military aircraft at the cost of the United States Air Force. These items mainly are the perishable type I mentioned. The total value of the spares returned to date is 5720,000.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Education and Science. Has the Minister’s attention been drawn to Information Report No. 8 of the Sir Winston Churchill Memorial Trust which sets out the findings of Mr B. E. Reynolds, a Churchill Fellow, on his observations while travelling overseas of the latest trends in teaching deaf children and multiple handicapped children? Will the Minister examine the contents of the report to ascertain whether any of these overseas teaching methods can be incorporated in syllabuses in the respective areas in Australian schools?
– I do not know whether the Minister’s attention has been directed to this report but certainly I have not examined it. I am indebted to the honourable senator for bringing it to my attention. I shall take the earliest opportunity to examine it and to bring it before the Minister.
– On 1st April Senator Marriott asked me a question without notice relating to marking present in the Senate those senators who attended Senate committees which the Senate, for special and important reasons, authorised to meet while the Senate is silting. The position is that Standing Order 44 provides that, for the purposes of section 20 of the Constitution, which deals with vacancy by absence, a record shall be kept in the journals each day of senators who fail to attend at some time during the sitting, lt has never been the practice to indicate in the journals that senators not present attended a meeting of a committee which had been authorised to sit during the sittings of the Senate. However, after considering Senator Marriott’s suggestion, it has been decided that the journals of the Senate will, when appropriate, carry such an indication.
– The question I direct to the Minister for Supply affects 3 departments. On 1 6th February I asked him a question relating to the dates on which the DC3 aircraft of Jetair Australia Ltd were purchased. Eventually a’ statement was made which did not contain the information sought. Can the Minister now obtain for me the answers to the following 3 questions? Firstly, what is the date of the first request from foreign governments for DC3 aircraft or the first date on which the Department of Foreign Affairs suggested to foreign buyers that they might take DC3 aircraft? Secondly, what is the date of the first intimation from Jetair Australia Ltd to the Government that it had DC3 aircraft for sale, or the date on which a Government department first approached Jetair Australia Ltd for the purchase of these planes? Thirdly, on what date did Jetair Australia Ltd cease its passenger services? Can the Minister also inform me the losses sustained by Jetair Australia Ltd on those services?
– lt is true that I made a statement in the Senate in relation to this matter. Of the 3 questions posed by .Senator Turnbull, one clearly comes within the administration of the Minister for Air and the other 2 within the administration of the Minister for Foreign Affairs. After question time I will re-direct to the appropriate Ministers the questions he asked and obtain replies for him.
– The first part of the question that 1 direct to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary
Industry relates to the answer that the Minister gave to Senator Hannan in regard to one primary industry. Do the Department and the Commonwealth Government consider that if interested bodies of primary producers do not continually and forcefully appeal to the Government for attention to the industry problems which concern them, it can be reasonably suggested that the industry cannot be concerned with those problems? Can the Minister indicate whether the Government and the Department of Primary Industry have been prompted sufficiently on the problems of pear growers in the Goulburn Valley of Victoria? Can the Minister say whether the Government will make a statement on the plight of pear growers in the Goulburn Valley of Victoria and on the now aged request by the Victorian Government for financial assistance to the growers? Will the Government be in a better position to make a statement on this matter should it be raised following the Easter recess?
Senator DRAKEBROCKMANSenator Hannan’s question related to pigs and they are a little different from pears. As I said last week, I think to Senator McManus, the Government is always interested in the various primary industries, and the door is always open for the leaders of such industries to come and talk with the Minister for Primary Industry. Both the pig producers and the pear growers have been to see the Minister for Primary Industry. In fact, the former Minister for Primary Industry went to the pear growers’ own home town and had discussions with them. In regard to the matter of pears, of which the honourable senator speaks, I have nothing to add to what I said last week. The industry has made submissions to the Premier of Victoria, who has written to the Prime Minister putting forward a case for financial assistance for the pear growers. At the present time the Prime Minister and the Cabinet are studying those submissions. I hope that a decision will be taken shortly, but I cannot give the honourable senator any undertaking that it will be, because this is a case that has to be studied in detail and if any financial assistance is to be given it has to be given in the best interests of the country and the industry as a whole.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Health. What action does his Department intend to take to correct the shocking neglect of Aboriginal children as shown by the research of the Queensland Director of Maternal and Child Services in that the Aboriginal infant mortality rate was up to 10 times the national average and the death rate of Aboriginal children aged between 12 months and 4 years was up to 17 times the overall Australian rate? I repeat: What is the Government doing to ensure that this shocking neglect of Australian Aboriginal children is dealt with immediately?
– The question was directed to me in my capacity of Minister for Health and it is in that capacity that I reply. I think the first point I should make is that this report was commissioned by the Department of Health in conjunction with the Council for Aboriginal Affairs. The purpose of commissioning this report was, firstly, to inform and, secondly, to assist nurses, teachers and those who are concerned with Aboriginals. We are alarmed” at what this report reveals; but I believe that, rather than the remarks of the honourable senator being used as a challenge to the Government to do something about an area in which it appears to be guilty of omission, commendation ought to be given because this report was brought about by the Government’s initiative to ascertain what was the position and thereafter to take remedial action. I am quite sure that what has been revealed in this report will be acted upon.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Civil Aviation. Have secret negotiations taken place between the Department of Civil Aviation or any other Commonwealth department and a company known as the Tullamarine Syndicate or any other company for the purchase of land near the Tullamarine Airport? If so, was the purchase price of this land approximately$2. 6m plus 100 acres of land situated in Milleara Road, Avondale Heights, which at present is occupied by the Army? Does the total price, including the 100 acres of land, reach the figure of approximately S3m? Was the land near the Tullamarine Airport purchased for $300,000 8 years ago, when it was zoned as rural land? Has this land been bought and sold on a number of occasions since its original purchase? Were the companies that bought and sold this land interlocking companies? If so, will the Minister initiate a full scale inquiry into the deals, which will cost the Commonwealth $3m for land which was purchased originally 8 years ago for a tenth of that amount?
– I read with some fascination a comment in a newspaper which, I think, is published in Melbourne. Very clearly, the honourable senator has seen the same journal. It purported to make a number of claims rather like the ones the honourable senator has made in his question. I made inquiries about this matter this morning. The answer to practically all the questions he asks is no. Nothing of the kind has happened or is suggested to happen. But 1 think I will need to give him a very detailed answer to all the questions he has asked here this afternoon because, as far as I am able to judge, this is totally an assembly of falsehoods.
– Has the Minister for Civil Aviation seen in the Press a report that a Fellowship aircraft has been withdrawn by an airline from service in New South Wales due to lack of patronage? Will the Minister ascertain whether that aircraft could be diverted for service in Queensland where use could be made of its greater speed to cover longer distances serviced by Friendship aircraft at present?
– I did not have to read Press reports to know about the matter referred to by the honourable senator. The operators told me of their intended move, which is within their rights. They acted because not enough traffic was offering at the airports served by the Fellowship aircraft. I understand that it is intended to use it in Western Australia where enough traffic is available to warrant its use. I am sure that the operators thought about the possibility of using it in Queensland but I will put the suggestion to them.
– Will the Minister for Civil Aviation have an inquiry made into the reason why last Friday, 2nd April, a Trans-Australia Airlines Fokker Friendship aircraft, carrying a full load of passengers including the Minister for Defence and a number of parliamentarians, amongst whom was myself, proceeding to Melbourne and other destinations, was dispatched from Canberra terminal only to wait for 40 minutes at the end of the runway before takeoff because of Royal Aus- - tralian Air Force requirements? Will the Minister advise what liaison exists between the RAAF and the civil airlines on such occasions? Will the Minister also have an inquiry made into the ventilation system of Fokker Friendship aircraft under conditions similar to those I have outlined when heavy exhaust fumes and carbon monoxide fumes were injected into the cabin through the air vents, causing headaches and extreme discomfort to passengers?
– Yes, I will make all those inquiries.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs: Has the Government received any protests against the entry into Australia of sporting teams, athletes and ballet or circus performers from Communist countries where one party rule exists and there is widespread denial of human rights, the latest example being in the denial of rights to Jews? Could it be that Australian protesters who are now so vocal protest only when a country of which they disapporive is involved and that their indignation is selective?
– The honourable senator has brought to notice in his question a very pertinent aspect of this matter, because complete freedom has been preserved for sporting teams and performing companies to visit this continent from Communist countries without protest. The same freedom that has been enjoyed by them will be accorded by Australia, I hope, to other people who come here for sporting reasons, although they may hold a different political outlook.
– Did the Minister in Charge of Tourist Activities view last Saturday night the ‘Four Corners’ programme which showed some unsavoury activities of a minority of Australian travel agents? In particular, had the activities of Mr Siedler and the International Fellowship Society been brought to his notice? Will such occurrences accelerate the plans of the Minister to control the operations of travel agents so that an unscrupulous minority does not continue to besmirch the reputation of the majority of travel agents?
– I was fortunate enough to see the ‘Four Corners’ programme on Saturday night. Both the programme to which Senator Mulvihill referred and the other programme that was shown deserved great commendation. I communicated with the New South Wales Minister for Tourism yesterday and I have every reason to believe that an appropriate investigation is being conducted into the matters exhibited in the ‘Four Corners’ programme. That brings me, as the honourable senator’s question does, to a reference to my own activity in this matter. Anything that can be done at present in relation to matters such as those to which I have referred will be done under State law. But. as the Senate knows, we are charged with the responsibility of legislating in appropriate cases on matters which affect interstate trade and overseas trade.
In the expanding industry of tourism an increasing number of frustrations and frauds were occurring in relation to business transactions on the part of a reprehensible minority - very few, but growing in number. They were increasing to such an extent that I felt that the matter should be brought to the notice of the Government. I did this and the Government authorised me to have discussions with the Australian Federation of Travel Agents. I am pleased to say that those discussions have taken place and that the Federation supports the proposal that regulatory legislation should be brought in on a Commonwealth basis so as to regulate the operations and the integrity of people who enter into travel agency businesses. That approval having been given, the legislation Ls now in the course of preparation. It will be discussed further with the industry and in the ordinary legislative process consultations will take place. My objective is to have the legislation before the Parliament for the Budget session.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Civil Aviation. In view of the fact that neither Qantas Airways Ltd nor Air New Zealand is agreeable to inaugurating any type of direct air service between New Zealand and Tasmania, will the Minister consider offering Ansett Airways Ltd and/or TransAustralia Airlines the right to arrange charier flights as and when required between these areas of rich and wonderful tourist potential?
– Having been in Tasmania recently and having met the honourable senator there. I must say that all he says about that rich and beautiful land and its people is correct. However, I should like to say to him that the ability of the scheduled carriers, Qantas Airways Ltd and Air New Zealand, to mount a substantial service between New Zealand and Australia would depend on the number of people who wished to fly direct. If the airline companies are not doing this I imagine that there are not enough such people. The honourable senator has quite properly asked this question and I shall find out the answer for him.
– My question to the Minister for Civil Aviation relates to services by charter aircraft and it follows on the question asked by Senator Wood. I am prompted also to advert “o the reference by Senator Wright to the Minister’s appearance on ‘Four Corners’. In view of the fact that there is evidence that two representations are being made to the Minister for permission to use additional charter services, and having regard to the fact that many of the existing charter services are insecure for the travelling public, including many migrants who wish to visit their homelands at economic fares, will the Minister consider any system, additional to the international arrangements which he has reported to the Senate, which will allow our own domestic operators, including Qantas Airways Ltd, to provide some form of charter service that would compete with the low fare charter services which often leave passengers stranded? I put it to the Minister that it is evident that Qantas aircraft, for example, often leave this country lightly loaded and that some arrangement might be made to provide a special charter arrangement other than that which now exists. Will the Minister consider this matter?
– Such an arrangement already exists. Qantas Airways Ltd has been in the forefront of international airlines which have been trying to introduce concessional fares for charter flights and group travel. In this regard Qantas has been most active. The current situation is that the scheduled airlines, of which Qantas is one, flying into and out of Australia are permitted to operate and do operate charter concessions and group flying concessions. I have often said that Qantas enjoys about 46 per cent only of the Australian international flying traffic. The charter flying concession is one which gives in a full aircraft a fare structure of 55 per cent of the economy class fare. A recent concession allows a group of 40 people to travel on a normal aircraft at about 56 per cent of the scheduled economy class fare.
The calculation of Qantas and the other operators involved in this business is that this enables them to offer bona fide travellers a substantial discount and to compete favourably with operators who are not scheduled and who are not therefore licensed in the same sense as the scheduled operators. It appears to us that within the market place in the area of operators who are, for very good reasons, licensed - for reasons which the honourable senator canvassed - there is ample opportunity for fares to be made more attractive to those people who can travel in groups or in full aircraft loads. It is important to understand that the scheduled operators, including Qantas, do this, that they have worked to do it, that they are seeking to encourage it and that, within their own system, there has been a huge growth in flying at concessional fares. The Minister in Charge of Tourist Activities, Senator Wright, and I are doing ali we can to ensure that publicity is given to the ability of the scheduled operators to provide these discounted fares.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for National Development. I ask: Is the Minister aware of the severe effect on the economy of certain municipal areas in Australia which are from time to time affected by flooding? Is he also aware of the effect in terms of personal hardship of recent floods in the Gippsland area of Victoria? Will the Minister investigate the possibility of the Commonwealth Government offering financial assistance to municipalities or to State governments so that the best possible flood warning systems can be installed on appropriate rivers? Does this proposition appeal to him as a proper matter of interest to the Minister for National Development?
– I cannot say whether this matter falls within the responsibility of the Minister for National Development. All I can say is that it is of interest to me as a Minister of the Crown and as Minister representing the Minister for National Development. I think the honourable senator would be well aware of the intensive work which is being put into stream gauging to assess the flow in the river systems of Australia. The Department of National Development, as an arm of this Government, is the body which is responsible for developing a system of measuring all of the river flows in Australia. Such a system will allow one to make some calculations as to potential floods and the potential abilities of basins to drain. Recently I was in some of the flood areas of New South Wales. Although the honourable senator mentioned only the Gippsland area, I am sure that his concern is an overall one and I share it with him. Undoubtedly some municipalities do have serious problems in this regard. All I can do for him is make an inquiry of the responsible Minister. If it is not the responsibility of the Minister for National Development, I shall ensure that it is brought to the attention of whoever is responsible for dealing with it.
– My question is directed to you, Mr Deputy President. Since four minutes past three this afternoon I have been rising in my place endeavouring to get the call to ask a question. I have noted that some honourable senators opposite have been able to ask 2 or 3 questions. 1 have also noted that 3 or 4 honourable senators on this side of the chamber have been unable to get the call.
– I rise on a point of order, Mr Deputy President. Is the honourable senator asking a question or is he raising a matter which relates to a ruling of the Chair?
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Bull) - I ask Senator Keeffe to put his question to me.
– I ask: What method of recording is adopted by you, Mr Deputy President, and Mr President when recording the names of those honourable senators who are endeavouring to ask questions? How often are names missed in the second round of questioning?
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- I can only speak for myself. 1 cannot speak for the President. I have a list in front of me. My practice has been alternately to call an Opposition honourable senator and a Government honourable senator, provided they stand in their places. Senator Keeffe, 1 have your name on the list. On one occasion I looked at you but, for some reason, you did. not. rise. I assure you that I endeavour conscientiously to be as fair as possible. I record the names of honourable senators as I see them rise in the.ir places. One could not be expected to do any more.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Civil Aviation. Will the Minister give the Senate information relative to the passenger load factor on TransAustralia Airlines’ flight 593 direct between Perth and Melbourne over the last 12 months?
– I am sure the honourable senator understands that I would not normally bring those figures into the Senate chamber with me. I have the details in relation to this matter, and I will find out for him the facts relating to flight 593.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. Has the Prime Minister received from a group of interested people in Queensland’s central west, comprising representatives of shire councils, employee, business and grazier organisations, a letter informing him of their application for this area of Queensland to be classified as a disaster area because of the ravages of drought? What attitudes does the Prime Minister adopt towards the pleas of these people who point out the seriousness of the deteriorating position of shire councils, business, farming and employee organisations in that area? Can he offer any hope for the future of towns in western Queensland following the pleas of these people?
The information before me does not reveal that any special representations have been made from Queensland, but that is not to say that such representations have not been made. All 1 can say is that I will check that information as soon as question time is over. I do know that these matters are usually dealt with on a Premier to Prime Minister level. _ From my own experience of answering questions on such issues, I know that such representations made by Premiers are dealt with very expeditiously. I will get the information for the honourable senator and let him know.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Health, ls it a fact that age pensioners will be charged by the hospital funds 46c per week as against the sum of SI -80 per quarter which was charged previously for hospitalisation in other than public wards in hospitals? As this increase will almost absorb the 50c per week recently granted to pensioners and as it will impose further hardship upon them, will the Minister consult with the Government with, a view to increasing the present subsidy from $2 per day. This would save the pensioners from having this further burden placed upon them.
– The question which the honourable senator has raised is currently receiving attention from the Government. 1 feel that I cannot take the matter any further.
– Can the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration now outline the reason why the
Malayan girl accountant mentioned by several Press and radio commentators was refused permanent domicile in Australia even though the opportunity for employment in her own country was rather limited. Will the Minister also comment on the cass of Mr Teddy Williams, a member of the musical show ‘Hair’, who seeks a contract as a teacher of modern dancing with the Australian Council of the Arts but who is facing early deportation?
– The honourable senator has raised the cases of 2 persons. 1 have some information which I can supply to him. I do not know the name of the lady to whom the honourable senator refers, but if she be the lady who was referred to in certain newspaper reports last week then I think we are talking about the same person. This lady came to Australia in 1959 under the auspices of the World Health Organisation. She commenced studying physiotherapy at the Australian Physiotherapy Association, but she discontinued that course in 1961. She then commenced studying accountancy at Sydney Technical College and qualified for membership of the Australian Society of Accountants in 1964 and for membership of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in 1969. She has been engaged in practical accounting work ever since.
Since the principle objective of the private overseas student programme is to provide young people from neighbouring countries with an opportunity to secure qualifications which can be usefully applied to the benefit of their homelands, it is accepted that students will return home on completion of their studies. The Department of Immigration has made inquiries and it has been confirmed that there is a positive effective demand in Malaysia for persons with chartered accountancy qualifications. It would therefore be contrary to the objectives of the programme to allow her to remain here with resident status.
Mr Theodore Williams, previously of the cast of ‘Hair’, arrived in Australia in the middle of 1969. He was granted extensions which I think took him up until the end of November 1970. It is true that he has been required to depart from Australia by 30th April. It is also true that he has been required to let the Department know of his travel arrangements by the middle of April. Under the policy and rules governing admission to Australia of professional entertainers it is not normal for periods of stay to exceed 12 months. Mr Williams has now left the cast of ‘Hair’ and in the circumstances there is no reason apparent to the Department why he should be allowed to remain in Australia any further. That is why notice has been given to him to depart.
– I direct a further question to the Minister for Civil Aviation. What control does the Minister exercise over the importation of jet aircraft? How many jet aircraft can be imported in the one year or at a single time by any interstate airline operator?
– Several days ago the honourable senator indicated to me his interest in this matter. However, as we have a lot of work to do and as it is a long answer I suggest that the honourable senator might be satisfied if I give him an answer by letter. I shall do that.
(Question No. 903)
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice:
The Treasurer has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
(Question No. 910)
asked the Minis ter for Health, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as fol lows:
(Question No. 912)
asked the Minis ter representing the Minister for Immigration, upon notice:
Which Australian Government Immigration Office processed the entry applications of Nikolai Vordanoff Daskaloff and Peter Nicoloff Petroff. who have been charged in respect to the recent bombing of the Russian Embassy in Canberra.
– The Minister for Immigration has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The Australian Migration Office. Rome.
(Question No. 722)
asked the Minis ter representing the Minister for the Interior, upon notice:
Why does the Department of the Interior publication ‘Northern Territory Development - Notes for 1970 Budget Debate’ when referring to Items 41 and 42, the Rum Jungle area, make no reference to the rehabilitation of the Finniss River vide the Senate Select Committee Report on Water Pollution.
The uranium and copper mining and treatment operations at Rum Jungle have been under the control of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission.
The Northern Territory Administration has, over several years, carried out tests of the Finniss and East Finniss Rivers. These tests have indicated that the rivers have been subject to varying degrees of pollution from time to time.
The tests have been part of the Administration’s normal water assessment programme and expenditure was met from the appropriation for operational expenses of the Mines and Water Resources Branch of the Administration. The results of these tests have been made available to the Australian Atomic Energy Commission.
The Minister for National Development has told me that the AAEC carried out a water sampling programme during the 1969 wet season but the results of this work, which are proving difficult to analyse as the season was an abnormal one, appear at this stage to be inconclusive. In the meanwhile a number of measures designed to prevent pollution have been taken by the Commission, and further investigations will be carried out. If there is need for further corrective action this will be taken.
In the circumstances no reference to pollution or rehabilitation of. the Finniss River was included in the publication ‘Northern Territory DevelopmentNotes for the 1970 Budget Debate’.
(Question No. 723)
asked the Minis ter representing the Minister for the Interior, upon notice:
(Question No. 877)
asked the Minis ter representing the Minister for the Interior, upon notice:
(Question No. 904)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior, upon notice:
Creek. It did not deal with the issues before the Supreme Court nor can it be said to bear upon them in any way.
Aborigines can obtain land within the law in the same way as other citizens. Where the land concerned is part of the 94,000 square miles reserved for the use and benefit of Aborigines in the Northern Territory, only Aboriginal persons can obtain title to the land for pastoral and agricultural use.
(Question No. 907)
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice:
What are the available figures at 5-yearly intervals for the percentage of national income distributed to each 10 per cent of income earners.
– The Treasurer has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
No figures are available which break up national income in the way requested in this question.
(Question No. 913)
asked the Minis ter representing the Minister for the Interior, upon notice:
Of the 64 ballot-papers which were disallowed and rejected, a few were disallowed and rejected (the number is believed to have been 4) because of the failure of a polling official at an absent voting table to include the names of all the candidates on the ballot-papers. Accordingly, there is no similarity between the rejection of voters in the Electorate of Campbelltown at the recent New South Wales State election, where a number of ballot-papers was ruled informal because they were initialled by the Returning Officer on the front instead of the back, and the rejection of votes in the Division of St George at the 1969 House of Representatives election.
(Question No. 938)
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice:
– The PostmasterGeneral has provided “the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
(Question No. 941)
asked the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
The standards cover pilot experience and all other aspects which have a bearing on the safety of international operations.
The international and Australian safety standards which have been in force for many years are constantly under review by the Department of Civil Aviation and the International Civil Aviation Organisation. These standards ensure, as far as possible, the safety of Austraiian citizens and all others who may be affected by the operation of aircraft in Australia.
(Question No. 951)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior, upon notice:
(Question No. 956)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Customs and Excise, upon notice:
– The Minister for Customs and Excise has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
(Question No. 962)
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice:
Is the Fishing Industry in Australia considered a primary industry when calculating obligations which the industry may have in relation to Federal income tax.
Senator Sir KENNETH ANDERSONThe Treasurer has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
A taxpayer carrying on fishing operations as a business is treated as a primary producer for income tax purposes. In this context, the term fishing operations’ means -
operations relating directly to the taking or catching of fish, turtles, dugong,crustacea or oysters or other shellfish; or
pearling operations. and includes oyster farming, but does not include whaling and also docs not include operations conducted otherwise than for the purposes of a business.
(Question No. 985)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services, upon notice:
– The Minister for Social Services has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The immediate increase in pension rates will be followed by a fundamental review of social services and related pensions and also of methods of adjusting such benefits. This review, has already commenced, and will be actively pursued.
– On 23 rd February 1971, Senator Kennelly asked the following question, without notice:
Will the Minister be good enough to tell me how much the Commonwealth received from the 5 per cent imposed on individual people from their leaseholds.
The Minister for the Interior has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Land rent receipts from leaseholders in the Australian Capita] Territory have been:
– On 23rd February 1971 Senator Kennelly asked a question without notice concerning car parking at Parliament House. The Minister for the Interior has provided the following reply to the honourable senator’s question:
The Australian Capital Territory Motor Traffic Ordinance provides that it is an offence to park vehicles on any part of a public street other than the carriageway. Footpaths come within this prohibition.
The control of parking is the responsibility of the Department of the Interior. The parking provision* of the Motor Traffic Ordinance can be enforced in the vicinity of Parliament House by Department of the Interior parking inspectors, members of the Australian Capital Territory Police and officers of both Houses specially appointee for this purpose.
Parkins infringement notices have been issued for contravention of the Ordinance in the vicinity of Parliament Mouse.
The National Capital Development Commission is makin;*, every effort to minimise the disruption to parking facilities caused by the current extensions to Parliament House. An additional carpark is being constructed at each end of Parliament House, off Queen Victoria Terrace. Each will have a capacity of approximately 40 cars, and the total car capacity will be greater than that previously available. Although their construction was delayed by bad weather, it is expected that they will be available shortly.
The Reserve Bank has advised me that, consistent with its policy requests, banks are exercising restraint in their new lending and are supervising closely repayment arrangements for existing overdrafts. However, statistics of bank lending do not support the suggestion of widespread cancellations and reductions in overdraft limits over recent months. 1 would add that the authorities and the banks are aware of the special problems being experienced by some sectors. In particular, the banks have assured the Reserve Bank that they are continuing their longstanding favourable treatment of rural producers and other businessmen operating in areas where activity is below norma) levels because of drought or flood.
Within the general policies determined by the Reserve Bank, individual cases are a matter for negotiation between the customer and the bank. If customers feel they are being unfairly treated, it is open to them to ask the head office of the bank concerned to review their cases.
– by leave - I intervene at this stage to say that the Senate has received 3 messages relating to the Social Services Bill 1971, the Repatriation Bill 1971 and the Seamen’s War Pension and Allowances Bill 1971. It is proposed that each be put down in turn and the Minister concerned will adjourn the debate to a later hour of the day. After the third Bill has been put down we will return to them and deal with the second reading debate of the 3 of them. This is a mechanical device. Otherwise, we will have to deal with each separately. We can have a cognate second reading debate and then deal with each in turn in Committee, if that is the will of the Senate. In other words, Senator Greenwood will put down the Social Services Bill and adjourn the debate until a later hour. Then Senator Drake-Brockman will deal similarly with the Repatriation Bill and the Seamen’s War Pension and Allowances Bill. Then we will have a cognate second reading debate and deal with each separately in the Committee stage, if amendments are to be moved.
– There are 2 amendments.
Senator Sir KENNETH ANDERSONAre they to be dealt with in the Committee stage?
– No. We will move them during the second reading debate.
Then we will keep the second reading debates separate.
– by leave - 1 think we can manage this if there is a little bit of give and take. The second reading speeches could be made by Opposition senators and their amendments moved. Then perhaps we could go on with a cognate debate so that any honourable senator could roam over the 3 matters dealt with. 1 do not think there would be any difficulty in taking the votes at a later stage, if this would assist the Government.
I think it might assist if it is the will of tha Senate to adopt that course.
– We could come to an arrangement. The matters could be debated fully and then amendments could be put by the Opposition or by anybody else. Perhaps the main part of the debate could be dealt with in a cognate fashion. I cannot see any great difficulty arising. I understand that it is expected that these Bills will be passed by the Senate certainly by the conclusion of tomorrow’s sitting.
Senator Sir KENNETH ANDERSONHopefully they will be passed tonight.
– Yes, hopefully sometime before we conclude tomorrow. Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson did not say anything about this other matter of a reference to the Standing Committee on Health and Welfare. I wonder does he wish to deal with that first?
Senator Sir KENNETH ANDERSON (New South Wales - Minister for Supply) - -by leave - The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) has 2 notices of motion on the notice paper. If it is convenient to him we can deal with that matter now. I gather that the Government is not going to oppose the first matter and that we will get a deferment of the second one. That may help the Opposition in the same way that it is trying to help me.
Motion (by Senator Murphy) agreed to:
That Notice of Motion No. 1 be postponed until the next day of silling.
– At what stage will we deal with my first notice of motion?
– You may come back to that one.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Bull) - Is leave granted to deal with the other matters in the manner outlined by the Minister for Supply? There being no objection, that course will be followed.
– by leave - I move:
I owe the Senate an explanation for this motion because 1 know how sensitive the Senate is to the matter of a committee sitting while the Senate is sitting. Indeed I am sensitive to it myself so that makes me all the more concerned to inform the Senate of the circumstances which have caused me to ask for leave and to propose the motion that I have proposed. Pursuant to a resolution of the Committee last Thursday, a quorum of the Senate Select Committee on Securities and Exchange proceeded to Western Australia in order to examine some witnesses to lest against evidence which we had derived during the week. It was hoped at that time that this evidence would be concluded by last night, Monday, and that the senators would be able to return to their duties in the Senate today. As a result of some unexpected evidence I informed the Acting Chairman, Senator Sim, that the Committee should remain in Perth and take that evidence, and that later in the day I would seek permission of the Senate for the Committee to sit. As it is past the hour when the Committee is able to sit without leave of the Senate, I telephoned some half an hour ago to Senator Sim and stated that the Committee was not to sit under any circumstances until such time as the Senate had considered and agreed to my proposal.
There is an additional piece of information which I think is relevant and which I believe the Senate should know. One of the terms of reference that the Senate imposed upon the Committee was to examine the problem of insider trading. Insider trading has been tested with witnesses over a period of 7 or 8 months. Most witnesses have replied to questions relating to insider trading in much the same terms that the late Senator Coolidge of the United States used when he was asked his opinion of sin. He replied briefly that he was against it. We were interested in the problem of insider trading at the time of the Poseidon matter and pursued it, but unfortunately the scent had gone and the tracks were blurred. In the case of the Leopold matter which is topical and which is before the Committee at present, I feel that it is important that the Committee should follow this through to attempt to discover the extent of insider trading, if there were any, and the extent of insider knowledge. I commend the motion to the Senate.
– I do not blame the honourable senator for this but it was most difficult to hear exactly what was said. Is it the intention of the Committee to sit in 2 parts?
Senator Sir MAGNUS CORMACKNo. A quorum of the Committee consists of 3 senators. For reasons of expense, flexibility and the fact that 2 members of the Committee live in Perth the Committee resolved that a portion of it, which in fact constitutes the Committee under Standing Orders, should seek and take this additional evidence in Perth. So there are 3 senators in the service of the Senate at present in Perth awaiting the permission of the Senate to pursue their inquiries this afternoon. Does that clear the specific point for the honourable senator?
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Assent to the following Bills reported:
Customs Bill 1971
Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court Bill 1971
Naval Defence Bill 1971
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Greenwood) read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The Bill gives effect to the announcement made by the Prime Minister on 15th March that an immediate increase would be granted in pensions now being paid at maximum rates, with similar increases for certain other benefits.
The increase of 50c in the basic standard rate payable to age, invalid and widow pensioners will bring the new rate to $16 a week. This, of course, excludes additions to the pension such as supplementary assistance and additional payments for children. The increase of $1 a week for married couples will bring their combined basic rate to $28.50 a week. The maximum basic rate for widows without children will rise to $14.25 a week.
The full increase of 50c will be payable to all pensioners who are now receiving the maximum rate, that is, those whose means as assessed are not more than $10 a week in the case of unmarried persons, or $17 a week for married couples. A proportion of the 50c increase will be payable to unmarried pensioners whose means as assessed fall between $10 and $11 a week, and to married pensioners where the combined means as assessed of husband and wife are between $17 and $19 a week. The provision to pay portion of the 50c increase to these pensioners will ensure that their total income is not less than that of maximum rate pensioners with full allowable means. Similar increases will apply to sheltered employment and rehabilitation allowances. Long-term sickness benefits will also be increased by 50c a week, bringing the maximum rate to $16 a week for adults and married minors, or to $10.50 a week for other persons. These rates apply after a person has been in receipt of sickness benefit for a. continuous period of 6 weeks. Additional amounts payable for dependants will, where applicable, continue as at present.
The Government has decided on these increases outside the course of the Budget having regard to movements in the consumer price index since pension rates were last fixed. In addition, honourable senators will recall that the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) has indicated that the increase in pension rates proposed is an interim measure only, and he said that ‘any increases given in the Budget would, in justice to pensioners, need to be quite substantial’. Furthermore, he stated that the
Government is undertaking “a fundamental review of social services and related pensions and also of methods of adjusting such benefits. This review, which has already been commenced, will be under consideration in the near future with the object of bringing emerging decisions into effect for the year 1971-72’
Honourable senators will be interested in the progress that has been made over the years by Liberal-Country Party governments in improving the real value of pensions. The improvement in the real value of the pensions and in the position of the pensioner is clearly demonstrable. The rates proposed will not only be the highest on record in money terms, but they will also give to pensions a greater purchasing power than at any previous time in Australia’s history. A table has been prepared, having regard to the consumer price index for the December 1970 quarter - the latest available - showing the actual purchasing power of the pension in force at various dates since 1947, expressed in terms of current prices. With the concurrence of honourable senators I incorporate the table in Hansard.
As indicated very clearly in the table, the pension of $4.25 a week which the Menzies Government took over from the Chifley Government at the end of 1949 would, at today’s prices, as reflected in the December 1970 quarter price index, be worth $10.33 a week. Honourable senators may contrast this with the rates of $16 a week for a single person and $14.25 a week for each of a married couple proposed in the present Bill. I would stress, further, that this contrast does not take into account supplementary assistance payable to certain ‘single’ pensioners, additional payments for dependants or the value of the various fringe benefits which have been introduced by Liberal-Country Party governments. The Government has shown a continuing interest over the years in the welfare of pensioners.
The real level of the pension - that is, its purchasing power in terms of goods and services - is usually set at Budget time at a level which, in terms of real purchasing power, generally, though not invariably, gives pensioners an increase. Last Budget the increase in money rates just about covered the increase in prices, so that the pensioner’s position was held static. Since that time there has been a rise of about 2.5 per cent in the consumer price index. The present proposed increases in the pension rate over the same period are substantially greater than this, namely, 3.2 per cent in the single rate and 3.6 per cent in the married rate. It is true that the December quarter price rise was 1.9 per cent, which was out of line with previous experience. The March quarter figure is not, of course, yet available, and it would be wrong to pretend to any accuracy in forecasting it, but preliminary indications, for what they are worth, suggest that the rise will be less than for the December quarter.
Nevertheless, the price rise which has already taken place gives grounds for the present extra-budget rise in the basic pension rate, and one hopes that future price rises will slow down. The Prime Minister has already described the present pension increase as an interim measure, and it would be agreeable indeed if the rise in money rate which he has forecast for the next budget were to be substantially a rise in the real rate of pension, that is, a rise which would not be significantly eroded by subsequent price increases. In stressing that this increase lifts the pension to a record level, not merely in money terms but in terms also of real purchasing power, I do not mean that the Government regards this as reaching an ultimate goal. As productivity rises, so also should pensions.
One other point is of major importance. Pension rates are not the only assistance which is important to the pensioner. Housing, nursing services and home help - and indeed many of the fringe benefits most of which have been introduced by governments on our side of politics - are all vital. The Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) believes that, in the course of the present Parliament, it will be possible to improve them still further. The Prime Minister has spoken of the ‘fundamental review of social services’ which is now in process. This is too large a matter to be dealt with here, as its scope exceeds the purview of this Bill. The Prime Minister also referred to consideration being given to the ‘method of adjusting’ our social service benefits in the future. This matter also is under review, and, once again, it is the expectation of the Minister for Social Services that the Government will be shortly considering it.
The Government has decided that the increase in all pension rates will apply in respect of all payments due after 31st March, namely, 1st April for repatriation pensions, 8th April for age and invalid pensions, and 13th April for widows’ pensions. The rates of service pensions - which are paid under the Repatriation Act - depend upon the rates set in the Social Services Act. It is thus essential that the whole of the legislation should operate as from 1st April, and honourable senators will note that clause 2 of the Bill provides for this.
In order to pay with the least possible delay, the Department of Social Services has been instructed to prepare its next issue of cheques at the new and increased rates. This huge task involves changes in a great number of pension records and the preparation of over one million pension cheques for the fortnighly payments. Accordingly, in order that the proposed increases may become effective within a reasonable time, this step has been authorised in anticipation of the early and speedy passage of this legislation. The provisions of this Bill will benefit the great majority - over 80 per cent - of age, invalid and widow pensioners. It will also assist recipients of sheltered employment allowances and long term sickness benefits, all told, about 850,000 people will receive an increase in their payments at a cost to the Commonwealth of $5m in the current year and$22m for a full year. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Fitzgerald) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator DrakeBrockman) reada first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of the Bill is to give effect to the Government’s proposals, announced by the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) in the Parliament on 15th March, to increase the rate of certain repatriation war and service pensions from the first pay day after 3 1st March 1971. The clients of the Repatriation Department will receive the increases as from 1st April 1971 even though royal assent may not be obtained by that date. Clause 2 of the Bill is so worded as to achieve the desired date of payment. It was originally hoped that the Bill would go through both Houses in time for royal assent to be obtained by 1st April 1971; but, due to the Opposition’s request in another place for an adjournment of the debate for1 day, this will not be achievable. Another obvious reason why it will not be possible to receive royal assent by 1st April is that Parliament was not sitting the week before last. The Government wishes to make it clear that the retrospectivity involved on this occasion because of special circumstances should not be taken as a precedent for the future, particularly in view of the very small time period involved and because of the other factors mentioned.
This Bill now before the Senate provides for higher war compensation payments by way of increases in the rates of war pension for totally and permanently incapacitated ex-service men and women and those who, because of the severity of their warcaused disabilities, receive payments equal to the TPI rate, namely, the war blinded, those temporarily totally incapacitated, those receiving the special rate of war pension for tuberculosis, and those double amputees who receive additional amounts under the first 6 items of the Fifth Schedule. It provides also for increases in the intermediate rate payable to those whose war-caused incapacity allows them to work only part time or intermittently, and for an increase in the rate of pension payable to war widows. The Bill also incorporates some amendments to the Act of a machinery nature necessary for applying to service pensioners the increases which are being proposed for age and invalid pensioners.
I shall now proceed to explain the changes in more detail. The rates of war pension for which increases are proposed in this Bill are to be found in the schedules to the Repatriation Act. Although they are expressed in the Act as fortnightly amounts, it has long been the custom for honourable senators to refer to the weekly amounts payable and I will continue this practice. The Bill provides for an amendment to the Second Schedule to the Act to give effect to an increase of$1 a week for the special totally and permanently incapacitated rate of pension paid to those people whose war caused incapacities prevent them from earning more than a negligible percentage of a living wage, to the war blinded and certain sufferers from tuberculosis. The new rate will be $39 a week, which will also apply to exservicemen who are temporarily totally incapacitated. The amounts payable under the first 6 items of the Fifth Schedule for more severe incapacity resulting from double amputations will also be increased by SI a week so that the total amount payable to these pensioners will continue to be equal to the TPI rate of pension.
The intermediate rate, payable under the sixth footnote to the First Schedule to those who. because of war-caused incapacity, can work only part-time or intermittently and are thereby unable to earn a living wage, will be increased by 50c a week. The new rate will be $28.50 a week. The Bill amends column 3 of the First Schedule to provide an increase of 50c a week in war widows’ pensions. As honourable senators will know, the Repatriation Act provides for payment of service pensions at rates expressed in the Social Services Act as applying to age and invalid pensions. However, to enable the new provisions proposed for age and invalid pensioners to be similarly applied to service pensioners, it has been necessary to make some machinery amendments to the Repatriation Act. Clauses 3, 4 and 5 of the Bill do this. The Bill also appropriates the Consolidated Revenue Fund to the extent necessary to provide during the current year the additional payments to which this Bill gives effect. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Bishop) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Drakc-Brock- man) read a first time.
The Bill before the Senate is in accordance with the usual practice of the Government to keep the rates of pensions and allowances payable to seamen war pensioners under the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act in line with the rates of war pensions and allowances payable to other war pensioners under the Repatriation Act. The purpose of the Bill is to raise, in relation to seamen, various rates of pension in line with the increases of corresponding rates being made in the Repatriation Bill just introduced. These increases are in accordance with the higher rates recently announced by the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon).
Clause 3 of the Bill increases the intermediate rate of war pension by 50c a week to $28.50. The intermediate pension is paid to seriously disabled persons whose wax caused incapacities render them incapable of working other than on a part-time or intermittent basis. Clause 4 substitutes a new First Schedule to the Act to provide for an increase of 50c in the weekly rate of pension payable to widows of Australian mariners. The Bill does not have to provide for the increase of $1 to $39 per week in the rate of the totally and permanently incapacitated pension or for the increase of $1 in the weekly amounts payable in respect of certain disabilities described in the Fifth Schedule to the Repatriation Act, as the increased rates under that Act will apply automatically to seamen pensioners by virtue of section 22a of the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act.
As is the case in respect of the repatriation legislation, the Bill provides for the increases in pensions to be payable from 1st April 1971 as announced by the Prime Minister. The Government wishes to make it clear, however, as I have stated in my second Reading speech on the Repatriation Bill, that the retrospectivity involved on this occasion because of the special circumstances should not be taken as a precedent for the future. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Bishop) adjourned.
– I move:
Many Australians think that our country is still in the vanguard of most industrial nations in social welfare. This is not true. About 1900 Australia was justifiably regarded as a social welfare laboratory. Now we have slipped to about 17th among the developed nations in the provision of social services for our people. Our social welfare system is inadequate, unjust and inequitable. It does not deserve to be called a social security system because it provides merely for survival. Any country as wealthy as Australia should regard social welfare as essential, along with services such as health and housing. The official philosophy regarding the aims and objectives of social welfare benefits is stagnant. The official concept of the objectiv of the benefits and services is to permit recipients to exist, in the famour words of the previous Prime Minister, in frugal comfort. A morass of rules and regulations prevents our social services meeting the real economic needs of our citizens. This is a reason for community shame.
One of the major ways to help to transform our present patchwork social welfare system into one which provides proper social security is to create a national superannuation scheme. Such a scheme geared to income would help to avoid the great social disaster which occurs when the average worker retires. For a great many workers the economic blow of retirement can be softened by some form of superannuation, but with inflation eroding the value of money the retirement benefit - in a lump sum or by weekly payments - loses real value to the point that a planned, comfortable retirement becomes a nightmare. As so many schemes are not transferable, an employee can be tied to one employer for his working lifetime, ignoring greater opportunities merely because he knows he must remain to collect his superannuation. This may be unfair, especially when an employer’s contribution is below an acceptable level, or the administration of a fund is defective.
There is a bewildering array of terms and conditions among over 50.000 superannuation funds now operating in Australia. These have been recently surveyed in an issue of the ‘Australian Financial Review’. Two examples given there indicate the results of 2 different schemes. The first tells of a man who started with a firm at the age of 20 years on $1,000 a year and retired 45 years later on a salary of $8,169 a year. He received a superannuation cheque for $8,060, a sum less than a year’s salary, to keep him for the rest of his life. Probably it was just large enough heavily to affect his age pension. The survey, based on real cases, showed that if the same man had spent 45 years at the same rate of pay for another company with a different superannuation scheme, he would have had a superannuation cheque for $37,000 because it was a better scheme than that of the first company. However, if the same employee on the same salary had worked for 45 years with a third company with a yet better scheme, his cheque would have been $55,000, which is about $47,000 more than he would receive under the first scheme. It is clear that such schemes vary with their management, and it is equally clear that it is time for a closer legislative consideration of this important area of social welfare.
Professor Downing, who is Professor of Economic Research at the University of Melbourne and a noted economist, points out in the survey article that the meagre 2i per cent contribution by the employer in the first example which gained the employee superannuation of only $8,060 over 45 years could be regarded as part of what he calls the employee’s deferred remuneration. If we accept Professor Downing’s view, the employee was working for 2i per cent less than he would have got from a company with a more progressive policy which would have paid 5 per cent of his wages into the superannuation fund. Compounded over 40 years that extra 2i per cent represents a lot of money. The article points out that a superannuation expert from a nationwide insurance company claims that the average superannuation plan these days provides that the employee shall pay about 4 per cent of his salary and that the employer shall pay about 6 per cent. If I may interpolate, this is not what I recall as being provided for as deductions from persons in this place. My impression is that the payment by senators and members is about 114- per cent.
It is clear that there is a wide controversy and divergence on the kind of schemes which result in an employee retiring to penury, in some cases, or to a financial position roughly equal to his standard of living when working, in other cases. Although enlightened employers would probably regard an efficient and equitable superannuation scheme as a vital aspect of their industrial relations and staff recruitment programmes, there is obviously a huge number of employees who do not get the advantages of such enlightenment and suffer on retirement because their employer did not care or did not know whether the fund was managed poorly, or perhaps because their superannuation suffered from the downs of the employer’s business. Surely the employee should not have to share that with the employer in the period after his retirement. li seems that it is time for a radical change from these piecemeal and unsatisfactory arrangements. We have had proposals over the years in this Parliament for a national superannuation scheme. Those familiar with the history of this country are aware that governments have been split on this question. I think the failure to proceed with such a scheme was once regarded as a reason for bringing about the downfall of a government, although it is said that the gentleman who assigned thai as bis reason did not thereafter, although he had ample opportunity to do so, proceed to bring in the scheme which had so excited him at the time as to bring about the fall of his own government. 1 understand that a measure was introduced into this Parliament but was never acted upon. Bus certainly outside the Parliamen proposals have been raised from time to time, in political parties, in the universities and by many citizens writing to the newspapers. Generally there has been a feeling that the retirement of our citizens should not be dependent upon the private arrangements which are made sometimes satisfactorily but sometimes in such a way as to be a complete disappointment to those who are dependent upon them. lt is time for us to adopt the philosophy that when a person retires he should continue to live at the same standard of living as when he was working. This may mean that he would receive marginally less salary or wages because, presumably, his expenses might be slightly less, but the amount of his income should not be appreciably less. I do not think it is satisfactory to have schemes where people are paid as superannuation half of what they have been earning, or paid less than that or even two-thirds of what they have been earning. After a full working life they should be able to retire on an amount which enables them to maintain the same standard of living without any diminution. They should not have to cut out the kind of necessities or luxuries that they were having: they should not have to move to a cheaper house; they should not have to cut back on their way of life in any way. This is the desirable standard at which we should aim.
Not long ago 1 was over in continental Europe and 1 was interested to find that in Germany this was the approach which was taken by the Government of that country to a considerable group of government employees. Their retirement schemes provided for them to be paid the same wages as when they were working, lt seems to me that this is a desirable standard and that a country as wealthy as ours should be able to afford this, if we have the properly designed and properly managed superannuation scheme. One of the most important benefits offered by such a scheme would presumably be its portability, that is, the right of an employee to employment mobility, secure’ in the knowledge that a national superannuation scheme would provide for a reasonable income after his retirement. As about only half of ihe private work force is covered by superannuation, such a scheme would provide a real social benefit to those not covered by private schemes.
The Senate may be interested to know that, so far as I know, proposals in the Parliament for portability in the Government area were first raised in this Senate. When Senator Gorton was the MinisterinCharge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation the question was raised with him at the instance of the scientists there who were concerned about the lack of portability between the scientific organisations and the universities. At the instance of those in the scientific organisations I asked him to make some investigation of the scheme. Finally, after a number of years of study within the Public Service, a proposal came up and now I believe that it is the subject of legislation before the other House. These aspects of portability are extremely important, but the ways of dealing with them in the context of a number of private schemes - there are tens of thousands of them in Australia - and of various government schemes present almost insuperable difficulties of transfer. The computations would be extremely difficult because the rates under the various schemes are different and the aims of the various schemes are different, lt may well be, for example, the desire of the private schemes to ensure that experts stay with a firm whereas it may well be the desire of the Government to have some kind of mobility in the transfer of experts from one sphere to another. This is notable in the science field at present but it will be a common feature of life in the future. The rapid changes in technology are going to cause a great deal more mobility in our work force in the future.
It has been said that members of the next generation can expect to have four or five quite distinct occupations during their lifetime. It will mean that it will be very difficult, in the absence of uniform superannuation schemes, to cope with this problem of portability or the transfer of superannuation rights along with the transfer from one job to another. The obvious answer is to have a national superannuation scheme. Participation in such a scheme should be regarded as a social and economic right. Properly worked it would mean victory for retired persons in their battle against poverty. With the advent of centralised computer systems and, perhaps, the making of contributions through the present taxation system, such a scheme would be quite feasible. The huge investment pool which would be created would be also an invaluable national investment asset. We could invest our own money in our own country to provide for our own future.
My colleague in the other place, Mr Hayden, who is the Australian Labor Party’s specialist in this field, recently outlined such a scheme in broad terms. I have no doubt that if this matter is referred to the Committee it will take into consideration the notions he has proposed as well as those proposed by other persons in the community. He believes that a system of transfer payments based on a redistribution of income from those currently employed to those in retirement, adjusted annually according to movements in the cost of living and average weekly earnings, offers an acceptable basis for a national scheme. The Australian economy would be easily able to bear the cost of such a scheme. Fortunately about 8.4 per cent of Australia’s population is over 65 years of age. Predictions by the Bureau of Census and Statistics show that this proportion will remain relatively unchanged into the next century.
Australia is therefore in the happy position where a small segment of its population is over the retiring age now and that proportion will remain fairly steady into the future. Thus our aged will be more easily supported by the work force than the aged of other nations which are generally regarded as having more advanced and generous forms of social welfare. For instance, the proportion of the population of Sweden over 65 years of age is 12 per cent; of the United Kingdom it is 11 .9 per cent; of Norway it is 1 0.9 per cent; of West Germany and Denmark it is 10.6 per cent; and of the Netherlands it is 9 per cent. I repeat that in Australia it is 8.4 per cent. Each of those countries has, or is in the process of organising, a system of contributory national superannuation. lt is said that there are two general lines in the constructing of such a scheme. The first relies on the accumulation of a fund built up over a number of years before benefits are paid out, such as in Sweden and the United Kingdom. The second general concept is based on direct and immediate transfer from the work force to those in retirement. This concept is followed in the Netherlands. The first scheme has several drawbacks, the main one being the inordinately long time - 20 to 30 years - between the beginning of collections and the provision of benefits. There are other disadvantages, such as falling interest levels on invested funds and possible changes in governmental philosophy which might mean that contributions could bc put at a very high level to gain a greater part of public savings for national investment programmes.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Lawrie) - Order! It being 2 hours after the time of meeting of the Senate, Orders of the Day will be called on pursuant to standing order 127.
Motion (by Senator Greenwood) agreed to:
That consideration of Orders of the Day be postponed until after further consideration of Business of the Senate, notice of motion No. 1.
– On the face of it, Australia could comfortably afford a scheme based on the second concept, which is the immediate direct transfer from the work force to those in retirement. This speedily implemented scheme would be publicly welcome at this time when Australians are justifiably growing very restive indeed about their inadequate social security programme. Such a scheme would be also more efficient to run under the present administrative set up and it would be less open to misuse for political motives than a funded scheme.
The social service set up in Australia is something which appears to me to be an appalling administrative morass. A large number of departments are involved with social services in some way or another at the Commonwealth and State levels. These include, in the Commonwealth sphere, the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Labour and National Service and the Repatriation Department. A run through the field of social services will show that there are many departments interested in only one aspect of social services. One would think that, at a federal level, these matters should be in the hands of one body, ft is equally true that al a State level the administration of social services covers quite a considerable number of departments. 1 should think that this would add not only to the cost of the provision of these social services but also to the confusion of the citizen because he does not know where to turn when he is in difficulty. I am sure that citizens often miss out on provisions which they would get if they were a little more knowledgeable of the intricacies of our governmental set up.
The marching of people upon the city of Washington and the setting up of a resurrection city there caused the Congress to have a closer look at what was actually happening in the field of social services. It found that what was happening at the level of the citizen was not what was envisaged by the legislators. Indeed, the administrative arrangements were such as to call for a great deal of rectification. I have the feeling that much the same position exists in Australia. I believe that in many ways the administration of the legislation is not quite as effective as it might be. The criticism I am making is not so much directed at those who are engaged in the administration of the legislation as at ourselves, the legislators. We are responsible for an administrative framework which is extremely complicated and often very confusing.
Professor Downing has described a scheme with contributions related to earn ings. His scheme could be considered by the Committee. Calculated in 1968-69 terms, his scheme involves briefly an expenditure above age pension allocations equivalent to about 5.5 per cent of the gross national product. Benefits would be at ti rate of 100 per cent for incomes up to §42 a week and would bear a declining ratio to income, reaching a base ratio of 67 per cent for incomes of $90 a week and above. Contributions would range up to 3.9 per cent for incomes of S90 a week and above. Contributors and the Commonwealth Government would provide a quarter of the total cost of the scheme, while a payroll levy of about 6.7 per cent on employers would provide the remaining half. If the community decided that it wanted a scheme related to earnings at the time of retirement, the Downing scheme seems one which might be considered. Of course, it has drawbacks. Firstly, it seems to involve fairly expensive contributions from low and moderate income earners. For those same people the benefits seem inadequate for a comfortable and self respecting retirement.
– What would be the Government’s contribution?
– The Government’s contribution would be a quarter of the total cost of the scheme, to which would be added a payroll levy of about 6.7 per cent on employers, in effect, this would mean that the Government would be contributing §13 per week for incomes up to $42. In other words, a person earning up to $42 would receive a 100 per cent benefit. As I read it here, if one related it to that particular salary, the Government would be contributing $13 per week. However, I think it would be more satisfactory to say that the Government would put in a quarter of the whole of the cost of the scheme. To dissect it on the basis of an individual benefit would not be the best way of approaching it because the balance would be drawn not so much from the contributors as from the rest of the scheme. I will repeat for the honourable senator what I said a moment ago. Contributions would range up to 3.9 per cent for incomes of $90 and above. Contributors and the Commonwealth Government would each provide a quarter of the total cost of the scheme, while a payroll levy of about 6.7 per cent on employers would provide the -remaining half.
To overcome the drawbacks of having a lesser sum than would seem desirable for those on the lower incomes would involve a means tested income supplementary scheme, probably involving a few hundred million dollars extra a year to bolster the benefit levels. Also it may be questioned whether the state - I use the word ‘state’ in the sense of the organised community at large - has the right to decide the retirement level income for each group in society. Maybe some people would prefer to spend more money on enjoying life before retirement than to pay contributions which would somewhat curtail those pleasures for the sake of deferring them until retirement. For these reasons a scheme based on an adequate flat rate benefit, while allowing those who wanted a higher income level after retirement to make supplementary private fund arrangements, may be preferable.
Mr Hayden has put forward a purely tentative proposal for such a flat rate benefit scheme. The details of that scheme are available to the Senate. I do not know whether it would be useful to give those details in some summarised form. As I said, Mr Hayden has published them in a valuable document which is available to any honourable senator. If this matter is referred to the Committee, I imagine it will go through the proposals in full, but I believe that they indicate that a national superannuation scheme based on moderate contributions and bearing worthwhile benefits is practical and desirable and can easily be borne by the economy. A national superannuation scheme obviously would not be a panacea for all the social misery after retirement, but it would go a Jong way to giving a much better deal to our retired citizens. It could also provide the foundation for an entirely new approach to social security, an approach where the state cares for the total welfare of all its citizens and not just for the lucky minority.
The proposal for the consideration of the Senate is not in relation to any particular national superannuation scheme. It is not even indicated that the Committee should consider such a matter in any particular way. However, it is time that legislative consideration was given to such a scheme. Whether it is desirable and feasible would, I think, taking into consideration the experience of other countries, be answered in the affirmative. There are a variety of ways in which such a scheme might be financed and operated. If the Senate is to consider such matters, it is important that honourable senators be able to raise questions with the Ministers concerned. At some stage or other one may request the introduction of legislation or, if it became necessary, the Opposition could find some way of introducing such legislation.
A great deal of work needs to be done to form the basis of this scheme. This would involve receiving submissions from the government departments concerned and from the statisticians who have the vital statistics available. It would involve obtaining expert knowledge on how such schemes work overseas, their advantages, their disadvantages and the problems that have arisen, the views of people expert and inexpert in this field in Australia, and perhaps the views of at least some experts from outside Australia. It is necessary to do all these things if we are to approach this matter on the basis not merely of our emotions and our prejudices but on the basis of accurate information and logical argument. 1 therefore submit for the consideration of the Senate, and for its commendation, this motion that the matter be referred to the Standing Committee on Health and Welfare.
– I move:
I propose this motion having heard the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) and sensing that before his departure a short time ago the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson) had expected that this matter would come on at a later date. I do so also because I know that members of the Government parties would wish to consider in the Party room what the Leader of the Opposition has said. I have moved that the debate be adjourned so that it can come on tomorrow and be resolved tomorrow.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed (vide page 754).
– It is unusual for me to be speaking so soon after the Minister for Health (Senator Greenwood) has introduced Ihe Bill. But this course has been followed upon agreement between the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson) and the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy). This Bill is due to come into operation as from 1st April 1971. Senator Bishop is to resume the debate on the Repatriation Bill and the Seamen’s War Pension and Allowances Bill. The Opposition does not intend to delay the passage of these measures. I hope that our spirit of co-operation will be matched by Government supporters when we vote on the amendment which I shall now propose. I move:
The increase of 50c a week in the basic standard rate payable to single age. invalid and widow pensioners which is provided in the Bill will bring the new rate to S 16 a week. The increase of $1 a week for married couples will bring their combined pension rate to $28.50 a week. The maximum basic rate of widows without children will rise to S14.25 a week. The full increase of 50c will be payable to all pensioners who are receiving the maximum rate. But there a difference takes place. A provision is made to pay a portion of the 50c increase to pensioners whose means as assessed fall between $10 and $11 a week and to married pensioners where the combined means as assessed of husband and wife are between $17 and S19 a week. This is a most complicated system. It would cost more for departmental officers - whom I see in attendance and to whom 1 pay the highest tribute - to work this out than to pay the full pension. The Minister for Health has admitted grudgingly that the Government has decided that an increase in pensions is warranted to meet ‘the increase in the price of consumer goods but it has refused to make any adjustment to dependants’ allowances and has therefore deliberately reduced the living standards of many homes.
Today dependent wives of pensioners receive $7 a week which is the same amount as they have received over the past 3 years. We all know of the great increases which have occurred in costs over that period. In 1951 the wife’s allowance was $3 a week and the basic pension was $6 a week. Had the Government kept to the same basis, today those people would receive not S7 a week but $8 a week. Honourable senators must remember all the time that the Government boasts that the average weekly earnings are $84.80. When we are analysing and discussing pensions I think this should be foremost in our minds. It is amazing to find Government supporters trying to justify the 50c pension increase by a comparison with what happened over 20 years ago. Let me put the record straight. No-one on this side of the House has ever said that in 1949 pensioners were receiving an adequate pension. Far from it. In 1949 we were still recovering from the effects of the Second World War and we were rehabilitating our service men and women. We were returning them and the workers engaged in war industries to peace time employment. In that period there was no affluent society. Now we all recognise that we were lucky we survived the difficult periods we had gone through from 1939 to 1945. But that did not stop the Chifley Government. It gave to Australia the social service programme which was introduced as a result of a referendum. This was carried by 55 per cent of the people voting for the proposals and 45 per cent voting against the proposals put forward by the then Chifley Government. As has been said here on numerous occasions this was the forerunner of the great social services programme of Australia.
On different occasions 1 have intimated that this Government was not happy about that referendum because 45 per cent of the people did not vote against proposals which would not have been possible unless there was a strong and solid opposition. That opposition came from supporters of the present Government in that period. The passing of this referendum allowed the Commonwealth Government to introduce many forms of social service legislation which otherwise would not have been possible. I ask honourable senators whether it is any wonder that the name of Ben Chifley is revered throughout Australia and will not be besmirched by anything which has been said in the other chamber or, in turn, which might b<”. said here at a later stage. The table which is attached to the Minister’s second reading speech creates a lot of confusion, It creates some confusion in this House. I notice that the table has all sorts of headings. One such heading is Price Index for Quarter (1966-67 = 100).’ We see from the table that in March 1971 the standard rate for a single pensioner is recorded at 1 14 points. The basic rate for the single person was §16. In the same period despite the fact that the married rate was $14.25 the new increased rate is still shown at 1 14 points. Is it any wonder that this table creates confusion, especially among those who have to live on the amount which is paid?
The talk of the 1949 payment is a smoke screen to overcome Liberal Party promises. We all recall that that Party promised to put value back into the pound and abolish the means test. As a matter of fact it destroyed the national welfare fund which was set up by the Chifley Government for the purpose of abolishing the means test. With the concurrence of honourable senators I shall incorporate in Hansard a table which was issued by the Minister for Social Services in a reply to a question asked by the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) in another place on 18th March.
In this table we find that in 1949 the single age pension as a proportion ot average weekly earnings was 24 per cent. In October 1970 - it is stated that this is for the quarter ended September 1970 - the figure is 19.6 per cent. This table becomes quite confusing when we read it in conjunction with all the tables which have been introduced into the debate in another place. I think that even the Minister himself must regret the introduction of such a small amount as 50c which has necessitated such an attack in the other chamber against the trade union movement, its leaders, the arbitration system and everything which the Minister for Social Services could think of. I am pleased to note that the Minister for Health when introducing the Bill on behalf of the Minister for Social Services did not resort to that policy.
Nobody is fooled by this inadequate pittance in this period of high living costs and inflation. This paltry increase of 50c is granted to appease or to calm pensioners. I sincerely believe that had it not been for the Australian Labor Party and our Leader, Mr Gough Whitlam, in moving a motion of want of confidence in the Government, the pensioners and the people who are desperately in need would not have received anything. They would have had to wait until the next Budget in August. They would not have received any increase until next October which is over 6 months away. It has been suggested that the 50c is a symbol to mark the accession of the new Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) to office. For the rest of the financial year the cost of this increase will be S5.5m. This is the amount the taxpayers are paying to give the new Prime Minister an extra boost. Personally I am glad - as 1 feel most honourable senators are - to see the pensioners gain this inrease, miserable as it is. But I certainly regret the neglect shown in other, social services such as the wife’s allowance, child endowment, guardian’s allowance, sickness and unemployment benefits and maternity allowance. People in receipt of these benefits have to live.
Let us pause briefly and consider this period of 1970 and 1971 and the untold wealth of our great mineral finds. It was said recently in a booklet entitled theFar Eastern Economic Review’ which I have in my possession that Australia is sitting on a gold mine. This is the great, affluent society in which we are operating at the moment. Obviously we do have a sort of gold mine because the Government can spend millions of dollars of theF- 1 1 1 aircraft, possibly$1,700 a day for the parking and storage of these aircraft in the United States, and some $400m to $500m ayear on the war in Vietnam. There is no reason why people should not talk so glibly of our present prosperity. 1 repeat that our average weekly earnings are $84.80.
Is it any wonder that everyone is appalled that pensioners are denied proper justice and are called upon to surfer financially because of Government mismanagement, overspending and inflation? Increased charges for rent, bread, butter, milk, every food line, clothing and municipal rates, in fact every increase, affect our people who are in need. This is a moral issue to the Labor movement. Is it any wonder that the demand by the trade union movement for an increase of $5 a week is supported by practically every church leader throughout the Commonwealth and by practically every decent citizen?
Not since the days of the depression 40 years ago has any government made pensioners the main sufferers as a result of its so called lack of finance. All of us vividly recall the humbug in speeches by Government supporters in reply to urgent requests and questions from a number of members of the Opposition who were pleading for benefits for those in need. We recall the statement by the former Treasurer who said that the economy was so finely balanced that an increase of 50c a week for pensioners would seriously affect it. Obviously that statement was nothing but a lot of utter nonsense.
The Opposition will not deprive pensioners of this additional 50c a week. They are so desperate that they are eager to receive even small mercies. I assure honourable senators that we and the trade union movement generally believe that an increase of $5 a week should be paid so that pensioners can enjoy our affluent society as it is often called. Unfortunately it is not enjoyed today by our senior citizens and pensioners.
The first 4 points of the Opposition amendment to this Bill are identical with those contained in the motion which I moved on behalf of the Australian Labor Party in the Senate on 22nd September 1970. Those 4 points were:
That motion was carried by 26 votes to 22, a majority of 4, as shown at page 820 of Hansard of 23rd September 1970. There is nothing unusual in this Government’s failing to take action to give effect to the wishes or decisions ‘of the Senate. How long will the Senate continue to allow its decisions to be ignored? This policy has been continuing. I mentioned the vote taken on 23rd September 1970 and I now refer the Senate to a vote taken on 16th February of this year in respect of a debate on a matter of urgency, social service payments. The motion was moved by the Australian Democratic Labor Party supported by every member of the Australian Labor Parly, and was carried by 2S votes to 24, a majority of 4. I asked the Leader of the Government in the Senate when action would be taken in relation to that vote. I said:
In view of the decision of the Senate on Tuesday last asking the Government to introduce immediate legislation to provide increases in the rales of social service payments to pensioners who are in necessitous circumstances, I ask the Leader of the Government: Can this urgent legislation to assist those in need be expected now or is this decision of the Senate to be ignored? What action is the Leader of the Government in the Senate prepared to take to ensure that decisions of the Senate are given effect?
The Leader of the Government said that that decision had been effected. In his reply he said:
Without wishing to beg the question, Mr President, let me say that, in the light of what was said here on the day following the debate, and the ruling that you gave in response to a question asked by Senator Murphy no less, what we decided on Tuesday was to sit al 2.55 instead of 3 o’clock on Wednesday afternoon. ‘
The Senate debated this matter of public urgency for hours and made a determination. The Government then said that it had accepted the decision. It argued that the vote did not represent condemnation of the Government or a demand upon the Government. I believe that it was. The Democratic Labor Party obviously must have thought along the same lines, otherwise its members, with ours, would not have continued debating this matter for hours and would not have voted as they did. The Government claimed that the vote meant that the Senate was required to meet 5 minutes earlier the following day. This is the sort of nonsense that goes on in this Senate at the present time.
That is not the only matter that leads to the Senate being regarded as quite a joke. An amendment I moved in the debate on the New South Wales Grant (Flood Mitigation) Bill was carried on 16th March of this year by 28 votes to 24. It called for the establishment of a committee to deal further with flood problems in that State. Other similar matters 1 can recall relate to repatriation Bills, the site of the new and permanent parliament house, the sale of the Canberra abattoirs and the sale of merino rams, f ask honourable senators: How long will this continue? How long is this House to be ignored? It is rapidly becoming a joke. We have an opportunity now of destroying the gulf between the Executive and the Parliament. I request all honourable senators to support the Opposition’s amendment. I mentioned earlier that we voted and came to a. determination previously in respect of 4 of these matters. We feel that the fifth point in our amendment is quite justified. 1 hope that honourable senators will accept our proposition and make a determination in respect of these proposals.
It was our intention to refer this matter of social services to a select committee of the Senate. However it was thought generally that this may not be an acceptable proposition because we have so many committees at the moment and we were advised of 2 more today. It is our intention to refer to the Senate Standing Committee on Health and Welfare this question of all aspects of poverty in accordance with a motion yet to be resolved by the Senate. There is also the matter of the proposed reference of a matter adjourned from 2nd November 1970. We hope that that question will be dealt with when it comes before the Senate. We believe that we must know the extent of poverty in Australia. It is the humanitarian wish of every person in the Labor movement to rid Australia of this grave problem. Australia, the wealthiest nation in the Southern Hemisphere, should be rid of the great menace of poverty and hunger. This is one of the cardinal principles upon which the Australian Labor movement was founded.
It is believed that there are some 60,000 families which are ill-fed, ill-housed and ill-educated and that there are over 1 million people living in real poverty. The injustice of poverty in a society of plenty should be repugnant to all. A great Labor spokesman, Eugene Debbs, 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’. The policy of members of the Australian Labor Party is to eliminate poverty. There is poverty in Australia and when one is engulfed it is almost impossible to get out of it. We hope that ali honourable senators will support our amendment. We likewise hope that they will support the other items appearing on the business paper when we deal with them.
We believe that this is an important amendment. If implemented it could do much to right many of the injustices that are suffered by a lot of people in our community. An investigation by the Standing Committee on Health and Welfare - later we shall ask honourable senators to support a proposal for a reference to that Committee - would prove of benefit. At present the Committee is “dealing with matters related to physically and mentally handicapped children. Before the session ends - as we believe it will ‘ by the end of this month - we hope to bring down a report on that matter. The Committee then will be free to handle the reference which we suggest and to present’ ‘a report to the Senate which will show ‘the degree of poverty which exists in our midst. I ask the Senate to support the amendment which we have proposed because I believe that it could do much to help those who are in need.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Lawrie) - Order! Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment.
– 1 rise to support the Bill and at the same time to deplore the inadequacy of the increase for which ‘ it provides. I had cause to smile at the ‘many reasons given by Senator Fitzgerald for the Government’s decision to grant a 50c increase in the pensions of the aged, the invalid and the widowed. He said, first of all, that it was due to the want of confidence motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) in another place. Then he said that the increase was given to enhance the image and prestige of the new Prime Minister (Mr McMahon). He went further and paid some measure of credit to the urgency motion which I, on behalf of the Australian Democratic Labor Party, moved on 16th February, the day following the commencement of this sessional period.
There were many reasons why the increase was granted, but 1 claim that the urgency motion for which 1 was responsible, and which’ was carried in the Senate wilh the support of Labor Party senators, was the main influence on the Government, particularly as it was based on the fact that on 15th December or the,eaabouts- 2 months previously - when I gave notice of my motion the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission had granted, a day or two before, a 6 per cent overall increase in wages and salaries. J thought that that was a most opportune time for the Government to correct the very grave injustice that it had perpetrated in the Budget by giving only a 50c increase in pensions. When the Arbitration Commission decided that the cost of living had increased to such an extent that it should award an overall increase of 6 per cent in wages and salaries, I thought that the Government would take the opportunity to remedy the inadequacy of the increase in pensions covered by the previous Budget. Now the Government has decided to increase pensions by a further 50c. I believe that the increase should be made retrospective to the time of the Budget because an increase of Si at that time would have been the irreducible minimum, having regard to all factors. 1 do not propose to debate the subject of social services at any great length because, as I have said, 1 moved an urgency motion on .1 6 th February in regard to this matter and took the opportunity then, in the limited time at my disposal, to enumerate the reasons why the Government had an obligation in the name of justice to grant a substantial increase in social service benefits. I took the opportunity also to deal with the inequity of the means test and how it has handicapped and even prevented responsible provident citizens who subscribed to supernnuation schemes, both within and without the Public Service, from obtaining any pension in their old age. These people find that their income has been eroded so rapidly by increasing costs that today they are little better off than a pensioner. Because their income is a little more than is permitted, they are denied the important fringe benefits, particularly medical and pharmaceutical benefits, which are received by pensioners on the full rate pension. 1 dealt also with the anomalies which exist in our system of social services, particularly in regard to pensions. I do not propose to repeat all of them but I will emphasise one. For the life of me, I cannot understand why this one is allowed to exist. A man reaches the age of 65 years and, because of the system operating in his place of employment, he is required to pack up and get out. Because his wife has not reached the age of 60 years she is not entitled to any pension or allowance with the result that 2 people have to live on 1 pension. As 1 have said, I cannot understand why that injustice is perpetuated. There are many couples with an age disparity of 7 or 8 years. At that age a woman is not able to obtain employment.
– lt is not desirable that she do so.
– As my colleague has said, it is not desirable that a woman of that age seek employment. Probably she has reared a big family and has been provided for by a dutiful husband all of their married life. Whilst he has a moral obligation to maintain that woman, be is denied the opportunity to do so, firstly, because he is forced out of employment due to his years, and secondly, because he is not given an allowance, under the social services scheme, to provide for his wife. She is not acknowledged. She gets nothing except in certain instances, and then she receives what is called a ‘wife’s allowance’. These are the things which have to be corrected.
In addition to a substantial increase in pension being required to meet increases in the cost of living, rents and transport charges have increased. This aspect has been mentioned already. Even the PostmasterGeneral (Sir Alan Hulme) felt compelled recently to direct attention to the many greedy landlords who put up rents immediately a pensioner receives an increase in his allowance. I do not say that all landlords are greedy. Many of them are not wealthy people. Because of the recurring increases in rates and maintenance costs, they are compelled to increase rents. But there are many others who are in a much better position and who should refrain from increasing rents every time the pension rises. I hope that this 50c is only the forerunner of a more substantial increase at Budget time, or before if it is necessary because of any marked increase in the cost of living.
When speaking on my urgency motion on 16th February, 1 said that 1 hoped that the pensioners would not be the only section of the community required to carry the burden of solving the problem of inflation. But that would appear to me to be the case in the light of the big increases that are being made in the salaries of governors, chief justices and justices in the various States of the Commonwealth and of highly paid public servants who, I understand, are to have the 6 per cent increase tacked on to their big salaries which have never been the subject of decisions by an arbitration tribunal but are merely the result of decisions of the Public Service Board. Their classifications are determined by high officers of the Crown and, in addition, they receive the benefit of every little increase that is granted by the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. 1 just cannot follow that. I believe that when the classifications were determined (he Public Service Board would have had regard to the possibility of increases in the cost of living over a period. However, their salaries are reviewed regularly and determined very generously. 1 am not a low salary labour man. I believe that we have to pay for brains. I believe in and will support any policy along those lines. But the fact remains that we want to keep a proper balance. To use an old expression: Do not let us just grease the fat pig all the time at the expense of the puny one.
– They are not very nice references, are they?
– It is a term. It is all right. It does not upset me. Does it upset you?
– I do not come into either category.
– Don’t you? Then what are you concerned about?
– Other people. I think of other people, not of myself.
– That :is surprising to me. I would want to have greater evidence than a statement by you on that point. Mr Acting Deputy President, I promised not to go over the ground that I covered on the 16th February. The amendment moved by Senator Fitzgerald receives our support in part; but I desire to submit a further amendment. .
The ACTING DEPUTY.. PRESIDENT (Senator Lawrie) - Order! ; ;You are foreshadowing this amendment,, are you?
– Yes. [ foreshadow the following amendment to Senator Fitzgerald’s amendment: 1
Leave out paragraph (5) and, insert the following new paragraphs:
Let me just repeat what I said at the outset
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT - Order! I point put, Senator Gair, that you may move an amendment to an amendment. 1 can accept a further amendment.
– That is what I hat! intended to do originally, Mr Acting Deputy President: but you’ said that you wanted me to foreshadow it. I acquiesced in and complied with your1 desire. I now move the following amendment to Senator Fitzgerald’s amendment:
Leave out paragraph (5) and ‘insert the following new paragraphs:
rates of pensions should be determined by an independent tribunal . or committee of experts on social services including pensioner representation:
pending the creation of “an independent tribunal or committee to determine pension rates, pension payments should be a proportion of average weekly earnings adjusted annually’.
Naturally, we are in favour of the Bil), which provides for the 50c increase. We deplore the fact that it is not a more substantial increase. We trust that the Government will make a thorough investigation of this matter with a view to meting out justice to a section of our people who arc urgently in need of assistance. I am speaking particularly of the pensioner who has nothing but his pension on which to live. There is also the part pensioner or the pensioner who. because he is able to earn something to supplement his pension, is not in as bad a position as the complete pensioner. But, generally, they are all in need of financial assistance in order to live a reasonably comfortable life.
– Mr Acting Deputy President, does Ihe amendment moved by Senator Gair require a seconder at this stage?
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Lawrie) - It does not really.
– In rising to support the legislation now before the Senate, 1 will follow the example of the 2 previous speakers - Senator Fitzgerald and Senator Gair - and not speak for long. 1. do not believe that in this legislation we desire or need a full debate on all aspects of social services and repatriation benefits. I was interested to hear Senator Gair suggest or imply that when the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission gave an across the board increase of 6 per cent to wage earners in Australia the Government should have given some thought to increasing the pension benefits.
When we had a debate on this matter earlier in this session I touched on the across the board increase of 6 per cent granted by the Commission and said that in my opinion the Commission was taking control of the economy of Australia. 1 suggest that, if we maintain this system of salary and wage fixing by the Commission and say to it: ‘You do what you want to do and pensions will rise accordingly’, we will leave the Government with very little room for movement in providing for all the other responsibilities which all honourable senators know come under the jurisdiction of the Federal Government. I do not believe that any court should be in control of the economy of this country. It is surely the right of the Parliament to exercise that control and it is the will of the people that the Parliament should control the national economy.
Senator Gair also suggested complete retrospectivity of pension increases, as I understand him, at least to the date of the last national wage increase granted by the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. On second thoughts Senator Gair might appreciate the fantastic amount of work involved in determining the people to whom the retrospective payments would be made. Difficulties would arise because of alteration of the situation of claimants in relation to the means test, the death of partners in married pensioner couples and of single pensioners, and new claims made under certain conditions during the period. Such changes would necessitate a very detailed examination of pension cards and records of well over I million Australians. The cost in lime and labour would be heavy and many weeks, if not months, would elapse before the Department could state accurately the just legal payments due under the law made retrospective by 2 or 3 months. I do not believe that it is fair or wise to ask that retrospectivity be granted for pension payments.
I understand that we are dealing with the 3 related Bills together. This interim action to increase pensions has been taken by the Government because the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) and Cabinet agreed that the national finances are sufficiently healthy and sound to make these payments to the end of the current financial year and until the new Budget comes into operation. We are urged to keep politics out of pensions. Naturally, anybody who has said anything in or out of this Parliament that has been critical of the Government’s last 50c pension increase will claim a share of the kudos for the action now taken by the Government. I remind the Senate that when I addressed myself to the last social services legislation I stated unequivocally that when I heard in the Budget speech that the pension rise was to be only 50c I felt keen disappointment.
I always will have to remind myself and the Senate whenever we talk of a pension increase in this affluent country that we are giving benefits to 1 person in every 13 in the community and that is true of the legislation we are debating today. That ratio gives some idea of the large group receiving social service benefits amongst our population of about 13 million people.
One has only to look at the records to find the numbers of people who served the nation in war in the armed Services and in peacetime and are now receiving benefits. How many of our people in need, in 99 per cent of cases through no fault of their own, because of ill health and misfortune, are calling upon the national purse to provide them with a livelihood?
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– Prior to the suspension of the sitting I said that I did not propose to go through the whole range of social service and repatriation benefits and discuss the need for them. However, I do want to point out to the critics of the Government - and a government will always have critics - that a government must govern in all spheres and it must be responsible for all its decisions, particularly decisions in regard to its fiscal policy. Those who sit in Opposition have every right to be critical of the Government, and I have come to expect continuing criticism of all aspects of the Government’s policy, but 1 believe that sometimes - I might be accused of being biased in saying this - criticism is unfounded. If the record could be properly researched I think it would be found that whenever payments from Commonwealth revenue are being discussed the critics of the Government will say that the payments are not enough and that the recipients of these payments need and deserve more, but whenever legislation imposing any form of taxation or charge on the purses of the people is being discussed the same critics will say that the Government is stifling initiative, hindering production and being unfair to the low wage earner.
At this time in our history the friends of the Australian Labor Party and those people whom they appoint to the Australian Council of Trade Unions are wielding mighty power over this land: I would point out to them that their influence could be and should be for the good of the country. I believe that everyone would benefit if they were able to exert influence on the employers and the employees to consider the benefit to the country of their actions. The point I want to make is that Commonwealth revenue would grow without the need to impose further charges and taxation on the people if every person in
Australia did a full year’s work, granted all the holidays. If there were no strikes Commonwealth revenue would be greater because the greater the production in Australia the more we would bc able to export overseas. It is not only Government policy that has an effect on what revenue the country has to disburse to those in need. In the era through which we are passing 1 believe that there is a duty - I think the country is calling for it - for the Australian Labor Party and those people who are in charge of trade unions to try and bring peace to the industrial world so that more work will be done, more production will take place and more money will be able to be paid out of Consolidated Revenue to those in need.
J wish to refer now to the legislation in respect to repatriation benefits. Under it the main pensions are to be increased by $1 a week and the Service pension by 50c a week. I would, in: &.! very kindly way, draw the attention of the Minister for Air (Senator Drake-Brockman), who represents the Minister for’ Repatriation in this chamber, to a phrase which I think should be struck out of his second reading speech. He referred to the clients of the Repatriation Department receiving increases. I think the Senate will agree with me when I say that the people to whom he was referring are not clients of. the Repatriation Department but people who, because of war caused disabilities, are getting some monetary repayment. It was put much better later in his second reading speech when the Minister reminded us- probably in his own chosen words- that .the Bill now before the Senate provides for higher war compensation payments, by way of increases in the rates of war pension. 1 wished merely to make, the point that the recipients of repatriation benefits are not clients of the Repatriation .Department.
I turn briefly to the’ amendment which has been proposed by Senator Fitzgerald to the motion that the Social Services Bill be now read a second time.’ I understand that Senator Fitzgerald’s amendment has- been partially endorsed by the “Australian Democratic Labor Party. The amendment is only an expression of goodwill or wishes in respect to the Social Services Bill; it does not propose to hold up the enactment of this legislation. Of course, it does not involve putting politics into pensions or pensions into politics; it is just that the opportunity has been taken to spell out some of the emerging policies in respect to social services. I shall deal briefly with them. Senator Fitzgerald reminded us that the first 4 paragraphs of his amendment are mere repetition. We have become used to these matters being raised in debates on this type of legislation and they have again been raised in the legislation we arc now discussing. The amendment commences by saying that the Senate is of the opinion that the increases proposed are inadequate. 1 believe that that is a very clumsy way of offering criticism. If the Australian Labor Party has been doing its homework and it really wants to be helpful, I believe that it should at this stage - after 21 years in Opposition - be able to say what it regards as being adequate. The word ‘inadequate’ is inadequate because it means nothing. Therefore, 1 do not believe that the Senate would bc right in adopting such a meaningless phrase as an addendum to the motion that the Social Services Bill be now read a second rime.
The amendment goes on to state that social service payments generally are inadequate to maintain an acceptable standard of living. Here we have another airy-fairy expression. 1 ask the Labor Party straight out to state whether it disagrees with me when I say that the present social service benefits - remembering those who come within the scope of benefits because of the merged means test and remembering what are known as fringe benefits but what I would call extra benefits - are sufficiently generous to enable many of our pensioners to live a comfortable way of life. I know that there are pockets of poverty in Australia which should not exist in this affluent land. Both Senator Gair and I have talked in times past of this aspect. My keen disappointment is that the Government and its advisers have not seen fit to bring forward some plan to deal with the pockets of poverty. However, as long as 1 am a member of the Senate I will not bc supporting the abolition of the means test until this Parliament has ensured that those people who, through no fault of their own, have lo be and are regarded as being in pockets of poverty are properly looked after. ( am man of Ihe world enough to know that in Australia, as in any other country, there are people who, through misfortune and through their own fault, will suffer a state of near poverty, whatever their income is. We know that some sharebrokers are in this situation at present. 1 think the second paragraph of the amendment is meaningless. I have put to the Government a proposition - I shall not repeat it tonight but I hope the Government will consider it - which I believe would provide a way in which the branches of the Department of Social Services in each State could be armed with the authority and provided with the money to enable them to alleviate the distressing pockets of poverty that are dotted about this country.
In the third part of the amendment the Opposition suggests that steps should be taken immediately to eliminate poverty. In my view the people referred to as suffering under this standard of living would come under the second part of the amendment. I cannot oppose or strongly criticise the suggestion made in the third part of the amendment, but I believe that the Opposition should be able to advance some constructive suggestions of ways in which we could attack these pockets of poverty in order to relieve the situation, lt is of no use to suggest that we can eliminate poverty by spending extra dollars each week across Ihe board in social service benefits.
The fourth part of the amendment states that a national superannuation system should be established and the means test eliminated. That is easy to say. I am aware that in earlier years those who were representing politics on this side of the House made promises along these lines, and 1 believe that this is a goal for which we should strive, but I believe that there is too much urgent work to be done among the really needy of this land before we eliminate the’ means test. I come next to the fifth part of the amendment which suggests that pension payments should be a proportion of average weekly earnings adjusted annually. This is a difficult provision for me to comprehend fully. Whose average weekly earnings arc referred to here? Is this the average weekly salary, allowances and wages taken right across the board of the people in Australia, or is it the basic rate of wage as fixed by the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission? What is the average and who determines the average weekly earnings?
– The Commonwealth Statistician would determine the average. The honourable senator should read his reports.
– Every 3 months the Commonwealth Statistician publishes an adjusted average figure.
– Then the Opposition would want the figure to be adjusted according to average wages and not salaries?
– Average weekly earnings.
– Tha t is average wages. This brings me back not to the point of no return but to what 1 said in the early part of my remarks and to what it is that the Opposition really wants. The Democratic Labor Party has an amendment lo paragraph 5 of the Opposition’s amendment, but I believe that what the Democratic Labor Party proposes is really an amplification of paragraph 5 and sets out in greater detail what is aimed at by the Opposition. So far as I can see. the Opposition wants wages and pensions to be related so that when wages rise pensions will rise. I have no wish to see wages fall, but if this proposal were accepted a fall in wages would mean a fall in pensions. I te/ve it at that. It appears to be the current policy and desire of the Opposition that pensions should be so based that they will rise in proportion to rises in the average weekly earnings of the people of Australia.
– Is that not reasonable?
– I do not believe that it is reasonable for good and responsible government. It is being suggested that wages and pensions - the Commonwealth pays wages and pensions - shall have the first draw on the common pool. The Opposition does not spell out the order after that in which the other responsibilities of central government shall come. I refer to matters such as education, health, the States, the arts and a hundred and one other responsibilities, and finally the defence of this country. I believe that I am being fair when I say that the Opposition is suggesting that as a matter of policy the first draw on the Commonwealth pool should be for wages as decided by the Arbitration Commission and that the second draw, or co-equal draw with the first from the common pool, should be for pensions which have been adjusted to the average earnings of the Australian people, which amount would be fixed by the Arbitration Commission. I believe that this would be putting our economy in the charge of people outside this Parliament. I do not believe that would be a wise policy to adopt. 1 can suggest no way of ensuring that a fair proportion of the Commonwealth’s revenue is devoted to social service and other benefits than for pensions to bc fixed other than by the responsible government which has to raise the money bringing forward to the Parliament the proposals embodying what it believes it should and can do and then allowing the Parliament, which is composed of people who face the public at election time, to make the decisions. I believe that any member of the national Parliament who really thought deeply about this subject and kept politics out of pensions would say that there is no doubt that we do not want a tribunal of outsiders telling us what this nation shall give as pensions, that the Parliament which is elected by the people lo govern should make the decision and should rise or fall by its triumphs or mistakes. That is why f support this legislation. I believe it is wanted by the people and will be appreciated by them. As we come towards the end of our twentysecond year in power we know that we are in office because the people are aware that from us they get responsible government in all spheres of our activity.
– I wish that Senator Marriott had not uttered those final words.
– Yes, they worried you.
– The worry is on the other side of the chamber at the moment. I support the amendment proposed by my colleague, Senator Fitzgerald. Very briefly I should like to comment on the remarks passed by Senator Marriott. The first paragraph of the amendment proposed by the Opposition states that the increases proposed are inadequate. My friend Senator Marriott claims that these words arc clumsy and meaningless, and he used a few other adjectives which he pulled off the top of his head. Paragraph 2 of our amendment states that social service payments generally are inadequate to maintain an acceptable standard of living. Again our friend from the Government benches claimed that this was an airy fairy expression. He went on to tell us about the glories of the merged means test and these fantastic fringe benefits. I shall talk later about fringe benefits and prove that what the honourable senator said was probably the most airy fairy part of his speech. He then claimed that there are large numbers of people in the community who are in receipt of social service benefits and who. because of the fantastic sums and things they are receiving as fringe benefits, are living very comfortably. A million people in this country today live below subsistence level. It is not of much use talking about pockets of poverty. Some people are more poverty stricken than others, and that is the only difference. A million people fall into the category of those who live below the standard to which every one of us would normally subscribe and at which we would expect to be able to live.
The third part of the amendment proposed by Senator Fitzgerald reads:
Steps should be taken immediately to eliminate poverty.
For some reason or other the honourable senator mentioned the abolition of the means test and decided that he would concentrate on the pockets of poverty. Today there are probably people in the Liberal Party who could be described as living in pockets of political poverty because they do not know where they are going tomorrow. The fourth part of our amendment states:
A national superannuation system should be established and the means test eliminated.
We find again that the Government spokesman feels that this is not yet to be the case. The fifth part of the amendment states:
Pension payments should be a proportion of average weekly earnings adjusted annually.
Here Senator Marriott fell down because of his ignorance of the subject about which he was speaking. He was trying to give us a description of what would happen if the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions or the President of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission or somebody else made a certain decision in relation to this matter. I shall touch upon some of the other remarks made by the honourable senator in a moment. But it was in relation to this point that the Government spokesman found himself in very deep water indeed. His final words were that the decision of the Arbitration Commission or an independent organisation, as set out in the foreshadowed amendment, should not be taken into consideration.
The Labor Party has never said that at any stage. I will go on to quote the policy of the Labor Party, which will be the policy under which the Department of Social Services will be administered after the next general election, whether it is held in a month’s time or in 1972. This is the Australian Labor Party’s policy:
That is the point on which Senator Marriott bogged down. This is our policy and this is what our amendment says:
Social securty payments will be tied to a proportion of the average weekly earnings so that persons receiving benefits will receive automatic increases as either productivity increases or as other factors increase general prosperity or as inflation occurs.
The last part of our policy which I have just quoted has been included in our amendment.
Let me now talk about how the proposed alteration to the Social Services Act arose, lt is an amendment proposed by the
Government out of fear and as a result of a motion of no confidence moved in the other House by the Opposition against the Government. Apparently this increase in pensions was plucked out of the air by the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) without the knowledge of the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth), because later in the day on which this announcement was made the Minister for Social Services looked completely beaten when a television interviewer asked him whether the matter had been discussed with him. Apparently he had been told about it but it had not been discussed.
I suppose one can understand the feelings of the former Prime Minister as he looked over his shoulder and saw 32 people wilh a knife ready to put between his political shoulder blades and the thirtythird man with 2 knives. I repeat that the amendment produced by the Government was born of fear. The proposed increase of 50c should have been paid at the time of the last Budget, with’ an additional $1 at least. Our policy, which has been advocated over a fairly lengthly period, is that there should be a minimum $5 increase in order to bring about some sort of social justice. Only today I received a reply to a question which I put on the notice paper some weeks ago. The first part of the question asked whether a large number of people in this country were living in poverty. The responsible Minister in the Senate had the audacity to say: ‘No’.
– The question was not as you have stated it.
– I will read it out to the Minister in a moment if he would like me to proceed with this. What I said was near enough to the terms of the question, anyway, lt was the sense of the question. For the benefit of. the Minister for Health (Senator Greenwood) the question was in these terms: ls every pensioner in Australia who has no supplementary income forced lo live at below subsistence level?
The second part of the question was in these terms:
Will the Minister take action to raise questions by $5 in lieu of the 50c which has been proposed?
The Minister for Social Services provided to the Minister for Health, who represents him in this chamber, the following answer to the first part of the question: ‘No.’ This was his reply to the second part of the question:
As announced by the Prime Minister the Government has decided in anticipation of the increases that will be granted in the next Budget to grant a minimum increase of 50c a week in the pensions of the most needy.
The immediate increase in pension rates will be followed by a fundamental review of social services and related pensions and also methods of adjusting such benefits. This review has already commenced and will be actively pursued.
I will take a few moments to show the Senate that we heard the same sort of waffle about a review of pensions approximately 3 years ago. I shall quote the Minister’s words on that occasion. First of all, let me return to Senator Marriott’s remarks. Apparently he is the Government’s spokesman because none of the prominent members of the Government parties wanted to take up the cudgel. He has become the Government apologist.
– You are the apologist for the Opposition.
– I think we might indulge in a little more of that shortly. Senator Fitzgerald introduced the Opposition’s amendment. He is one of our prominent members and one of our spokesmen in this field. I am sure that Senator Marriott has been the spokesman for the Government parties before in relation to social services.
– He is Cabinet material.
– They are very short of Cabinet material at the moment and anything could happen. This small increase in pensions is an election sop. a bribe - call it anything you like. But it is not a real attempt to help the pensioners in this country under any circumstances. It is an amendment born of fear, as I mentioned a moment ago. The Government is able to waste S200m on the Fill aircraft and not bat an eyelid. We could come down to the mini-scandal of Jetair (Australia) Ltd where a couple of hundred thousand dollars of taxpayers money does not seem to matter either. The Government spends varying sums. We cannot ascertain the exact sum but possible about $800m is being spent each year on a war in Vietnam.
When the Parliament resumed this year we had the sad spectacle of no action being taken for 2 weeks in this chamber while internal wrangles occurred inside a Government party and between the Government parties. With few exceptions letters and urgent telegrams to Ministers went unanswered because no Minister knew whether he would be administering his portfolio on the next day. Correspondence went unanswered and a dangerous situation developed where humanity ought to have been exercised but was not exercised while the Government continued with its wrangling. This is all the Government can produce after that period of time and now we are told, because of the Government’s fear of public criticism, that it is going to close down the Parliament of this country on 29th April and go into slumber for up to a period of 4 months. We know that a few weeks ago frantic efforts were made to get the Parliament to rise and to cease the activities of government because of fears in the Government parties. Now the Government is taking the alternative step of closing the session which was scheduled to go at least until the end of May. lt is in black and white that it was to go until 21st May. Possibly it was to go until the end of May or early June. Now the Government has decided that it will not face criticism, so it will carry on government by the Executive for a period of 4 or 5 months.
– The Government will close up shop.
– As my colleague said, it will close up shop because it has practically no goods to sell and because it is frightened that somebody will look at the quality of those it now has on the shelf..
Senator Marriott, again as the official Government spokesman, said that he did not believe in retrospectivity in relation to the payment of pensions. I remind the honourable senator that the last time that salaries of politicians were increased retrospectivity was granted. If it was good enough for him to get retrospectivity in his salary grab at that time, it should be good enough to give retrospectivity to pensioners who will get a lousy 50c a week.
– Did you vote against the salary grants?
– Regardless of what I did, I am correcting something that has been said. In this instance the spokesman for the Government said that he did not believe in the retrospective payment of pensions. If it is good enough in one field, it is good enough in another field. I understand, from the words of the Government Whip, that already this year he has been agitating for a massive increase in the salaries of parliamentarians.
– How do you know?
– That is one way out of it. He is trying to throw up a smoke screen to avoid facing the truth. I suggest that he might have another look at the position. He should think of the pensioners while he is trying to justify an increase for parliamentarians. While he is handing out to himself $50 a week, he should think of giving another $1 to the pensioners.
I must touch on another point that was raised by the Government spokesman, and that is a call to the Australian Labor Party for industrial peace so’ that there may be greater productivity, which would mean that larger pensions could be paid. This is putting the cart before the horse. I would have had much more respect for the honourable senator if he had called for some kind of suppression of profits or for some kind of restraint on . big businesses to ensure that more finance was made available to help pensioners. Any struggles that have happened in the .industrial sphere have been manipulated and brought about not by people in the trade- unions but by those who employ trade unionists. The honourable senator’s final shot was at the Minister , for . Air (Senator Drake-Brockman) who . represents the Minister for Repatriation (Mr Holten). The honourable senator made reference to clients of the Repatriation Department. People who are entitled to repatriation benefits have been given’ all kinds of descriptions by the Government in the 5 years that I have been a’ senator, but never once has it adopted a humane attitude to these people whose health has suffered as a result of wounds received’ in battle. The Government should have given them some kind of justice. I do not propose to expand this point because my colleague, Senator Bishop, will be enlarging on- it at a later stage in the debate. Whatever Senator Marriott’s worry might have been in this regard, it was quite obvious that his speech was just a play on words because these people have been clients of the Department ever since this Government has been in office.
The Government has urged the saving of money, but it has done stupid things such as changing the brand of toilet paper in the Treasury Department and switching off one light where two lights operated in a room in this House. Another silly act was to bring out 4 little garden-hopping lawn mowers to mow the lawns in front of Parliament House. All were set at different levels. Surprisingly enough, 25 minutes after my colleague, Senator Poyser, mentioned this at question time, the 4 men with their 4 little garden-hopping lawn mowers were taken away. The Government carries its so-called, economy measures to the extreme in some directions, but it is not prepared to make concessions to those most in need in the community.
Earlier I mentioned the statement about the investigation that will be made into social services. This is what the then Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin), who represented the Minister for Social Services, had to say when the Social Services Bill was presented in 1968. She said:
This process of examining and evaluating all proposals is continuing as the Government is aware that social welfare is an area which should never remain static Also some of the problems are so complex and immense that prudence demands further study. Tangible evidence of the Government’s policy of increasing social service benefits is the introduction of the States Grants (Deserted Wives) Act earlier this year, whereby the Commonwealth is now subsidising the States to assist mothers of children who are not eligible for benefit under the Social Services Act.
That is what the Minister said in August 1968. It is almost August 1.971. What did the present Minister for Health, who is now the representative of the Minister for Social Services, say when he presented this Bill? He said:
The Government has decided on these increases outside the course of the Budget having regard to movements in the consumer price index since pension rates were last fixed. In addition, honourable senators will recall that the Prime Minister has indicated that the increase in pension rates proposed is an interim measure only and. he said that any increases given in the Budget would, in justice to pensioners, need to be quite substantial’. Furthermore he stated that the Government is undertaking ‘a fundamental review of social services and related pensions and also of methods of adjusting such benefits. This review, which has already been commenced, will be under consideration in the near future with the object of bringing emerging decisions into effect for the vear 1971-72’.
After the passage of almost 3 years the Government is conducting a review - a review that was commenced in 1968 or earlier. I ask the Minister, when he is replying, to tell us whether this review is the original review, whether it was one that was thought up under the Gorton regime or whether it is a brand new one under ‘little Willie’ - 1 am sorry, the Prime Minister. About 2i years ago another member of the Government parties - I refer to the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett) - addressing a pensioners’ conference, advocated publicly that pensions ought to be 50 per cent of the male basic wage. He said that there ought to be a cost, of living adjustment. Was he speaking on behalf of the Liberal Party? He made this statement at a public meeting in Townsville. Was he speaking on his own behalf? Was he engaging in a little politicking in order to ensure that he got a couple of pensioners’ votes?
– You tell us; you are answering your own questions.
– I am asking honourable senators opposite a question. He is one of their spokesmen. He is not one of ours. None of our people would be so stupid as to say something which was not policy. Is it their policy or is it not? That is what 1 am asking. He also claimed that there ought to be a review of pensions parallel to the review -of wages. I was at the meeting. I had with me a stenographer who took down in shorthand what the honourable member said. These were his words.
– Who was this?
– This was the honourable member for Herbert, the man who was not available to vote for John Gorton when he was defeated.
– Is that Duke Bonnett?
– That is the man. I will quote an editorial from the magazine, which was put out by shipping, coal and metal interests and which was called ‘The Harbour’. It has now gone out of existence. This was published in September 1968. It is interesting to see the chickens coming home to roost. The editorial refers to the present Prime Minister, who was the former Minister for Foreign Affairs and who at that time was the Treasurer. At that time he brought down a Budget which, honourable senators will recall, was known as a compassionate budget. This time he has brought down an amendment to the Act that is known as a frightened amendment. The editorial’s criticism was:
One wonders what the old lime Treasurers of the Commonwealth, some of them untidy old gentlemen wilh extensive business experience but wilh no degrees in economics, would have thought of Mr McMahon’s Budget. Or of Mr McMahon for that matter as he appeared on TV on the fatal day, kissing the ladies in an old age pensioners” pressure group which waylaid him at the steps of Parliament House. How they got there by bus and otherwise from parts beyond ihe ACT it would be interesting to know.
I suppose the inference is that the Government paid their fares, but I would like pensioners to know that the Government did not. I will read another paragraph. The editorial continues:
And if the business community pays for the compassion. Mr McMahon knows that, as a matter of habit, it will not vote Labor. Similarly, if he and his Government yield to the current illbased Leftist campaign for compassion and land rights for the aborigines to the lune of several million dollars, this move will pacify the ABC which is always ready to espouse any odd-body or mischief maker who needs a platform from which lo air his aberrant views al national Government expense.
But the final paragraph is the killer, lt is taken from the publication called ‘Harbour1. lt is one of those very right-wing, ultra-conservative business journals, now bankrupt. I think it had something to do with resale price maintenance. It states: lt is quite right that the country should look after ils sick and old who need it, but the measure of its expenditures in this field has reached the borderline of reason. There is supposed to be a means lest, but it is so easily eluded that so long as the blessed day of retirement is well anticipated and savings arc spent one can live life up to the last penny, spend anything that is over on a trip round the world before entering the real rank of ‘senior citizen’, put one’s house in one’s son’s name and play a few other tricks on the revenue, one can look forward to a nice subvention to an already comfortable living from the Commonwealth.
The thinking in that editorial is consistent with the general thinking of the Government at all times. The point I am trying to highlight is that for 3 years Government supporters have talked in all these sort of double thinking ways about what the Government is going to do for the pensioners. Tonight we are passing a Bill which is going to give them this shocking 50c.
– Only 5 members of the Government are here.
– One of my colleagues has drawn my attention to the fact that only 5 Government senators are in the chamber. This is consistent with their general attitude to Bills of any importance particularly when they relate to social services because this is when they like to go and hide. The Minister for Justice - I think he is still the Minister for Justice: I have not heard the latest report from Queensland tonight - wrote to the Minister for Social Services on 10th July,’ 1968. I have here a photostat copy of the original letter sent to Mr Wentworth. The letter states:
Following the sympathetic expressions about Pensioners by the Prime Minister and yourself, I forwarded the enclosed circular let.:er to all the Pensioners in mv Stale Electorate, numbering 1,234-
Incidentally, this is the Queensland Stale electorate of Bowen -
Many hundreds answered and the arguments in favour may be summarised as -follows:
With the concurrence of. honourable senators 1 incorporate in .Hansard the table which followed
In regard to No. 5, the appliances mentioned were radio, television, jugs, toaster, radiator, stove, refrigerator and hearing aids and batteries.
The letter from this. State’ member of Parliament goes on:
Many raised the problem of bus fares and ta.xi fares where there was no public transport, as in the country. Many found the cost of note paper, envelopes, and stamps precluded them from writing too often to friends and relatives.
Another reason frequently advanced was the difficulty in replacing house linen, blankets and clothes. Most thought the Means Test should be progressively relaxed as many were too old or invalid to earn any supplementary income.
This is surprising. This is from a person in the Queensland Parliament belonging to the same political Party as the official spokesman for the Government who told us a while ago that he did not believe in the abolition of the means test. The letter continues:
A multitude of other reasons were advanced by some, but because of no consensus of any magnitude, I have omitted them. 1 believe the facts adduced by my local survey confirm other larger ones and I desire to urge upon yourself and the Prime Minister the absolute necessity of an increase in all Pensionsto enable the recipientsto meet the ordinary expenses of the life in the minor key in which they live.
The anomaly of the costs of home ownership in rales and upkeep as compared with cost of rental premises, it is suggested, ought to be examined with a view to correction by the provision of a similar allowance.
The Minister for Justice finishes his letter with this beautiful phrase:
Your continued sympathetic consideration of Pensioners leads meto expect a favourable examination of this submission.
It is signed: Peter R. Delamothe, O.B.E. Honourable senators might recall from Press stories that Peter Delamothe is the projected new office bearer in higher places in London. At the moment he is fighting for his political life. He may be lucky if he finishes up representing the local sanitary contractor if the Liberal Party in Queensland keeps on going the way it is going at the moment. The main point which I think we ought to look at is that there are more than pockets of poverty. Large numbers of people in this country live at a standard which we would not expect.
Now I shall refer quickly to the current rates of pensions subject, of course, to this large increase which is about to take place. My figures are taken from the latest publication of the Commonwealth Department of Social Services. It slates that the standard or single rate for a pensioner is $15.50 weekly and the married rate is $13.75. If a pensioner lives in a benevolent home the single rate pensioner receives $5.30 and the benevolent home receives $10.20. The single rate, supplementary assistance pensioner receives$6.30 and the benevolent home receives $11.20. The married rate pensioner receives $5 and the benevolent home receives$8.75. Then we have set out other allowances such as the additional pension for children. If the wife happens to be too young to obtain a pension she receives the fantastic sum of $7. A while ago we heard a top of the pops song about the fringe benefits. The pensioner medical service is a fringe benefit. But what the Government has failed to say is that thousands of people in this country today are not receiving such a service because the doctors have gone on strike and the Government is doing nothing about that either. The pharmaceutical benefits are another fringe benefit. It will be interesting to have a list of all those drugs which have been taken off the list because pensioners eat too many of them. Other benefits are the hospital benefits, hearing aids, the radio and television licence concessions and telephone rental concessions. Recently 1 had to complain to the Minister because the last rise in the telephone rental in fact had not been deducted from pensioners’ accounts. I think the matter has now been adjusted but I am not sure. I am waiting for further evidence to make sure that the money has been refunded. The funeral benefit comes to the fantastic sum of$40. It comes in 2 categories. The first miximum amount is $40 and the other maximum is $20. Today, if anybody can be buried for $40 plus an extra few bob out of the money box then I would like to know the name of the undertaker who will do it so that I will be ready for him when I pass away from this world.
Then we have the training scheme for widow pensioners. I do not know whether the Minister approves of this. There are 2 types of training. Those who come back into industry through the Department of Labour and National Service receive a brush up course which would not take them anywhere. In many instances the training scheme for widow pensioners is money down the drain because of the inability of the Department to see that it is properly spent. It is surprising, too, that many of these girls do not come into the 21 years of age group. They are between 25 and 40. If they are over 35 and qualify as a typist or clerk-typist the Commonwealth Government will not give them a job. It is just one vicious circle. The Government says to private industry: ‘We have trained this girl because she is a deserted wife or a widow. We now expect you to give her a job.’ Why does not the Government set an example and do something about this problem? In some cases all that is happening is that girls who are particularly bright are able to learn very well indeed but with others it is a continuous struggle. First of all they have an inadequate income. They have young children to look after. They have a home they are probably trying to pay off or if they are not lucky enough to be paying off a home they are paying rent and they can ill afford to make such a payment out of their income.
In order to give support to the story whichI mentioned about the so-called pockets of poverty which in fact are one big pocket, I refer to a survey which was compiled from the results of the last census - this is about the only accurate way one can conduct a survey - by C. P.
Harris, senior lecturer in economics at the University of Queensland. He entitled his survey. ‘A Survey of Some Aspects of Poverty in Queensland and Brisbane’. In the survey 120,000 households were covered. These 120,000 houses contained 160,000 persons. The number of persons as appropriation of the population of the area was 9.6 per cent. The classification of persons according to type, including spouse where applicable, was 106,000 aged, 27,000 invalid and sick, 11,000 widows and deserted wives and 15,000 children. The total income as a proportion of the area’s total income was 4.8 per cent. This is shocking in anybody’s language, even that of the Australian Government. The average income per household per annum was $833. This table is a very interesting one. I will not bore the Senate by reading all of it but with the concurrence of honourable senators will incorporate it in Hansard.
The Australian Labor Party moved its amendment in good faith and we believe it ought to be carried. The Democratic Labor Party has moved an amendment to our amendment. The purport of it differs from ours. It states:
The Opposition does ‘not support that amendment. It is merely another fishy way politically for the Democratic Labor Party to get out from under. On numerous occasions we have seen this corner Party vote against increases in pensions because it had to do so. 1 do not criticise it for this because it is a matter of. political survival. It cannot possibly afford to buck the Government. One of the most tragic things that could happen-
– Quote an occasion when we did that.
– You waffle so much it is not worth while listening to you. One of the most tragic things that could happen would be for the Democratic Labor Party to gain representation in both Houses of Parliament. The Democratic Labor Parly has moved its amendment in order to look politically responsible in the eyes of the pensioners and not because it wants a general review. It wants to get off the hook and not have to vote for an Australian Labor Party amendment. I submit that our amendment is the only reasonable one that can be carried in the circumstances and I suggest to the Government that the best thing to do is to increase the pension by S5 at the first possible moment.
– I gather from the tenor of the amendment put before the Senate by the Opposition that there is some sort of desire for the whole sphere of social services - the whole spectrum of material, funds and assistance offered in the form of social services - to be taken out of the realm of politics and placed in the hands of certain other machinery and dealt with according to a certain established formula. One look at the wording of the amendment conveys that impression. I emphasise this point and relate it to the speech we have just heard from Senator Keeffe. If ever a speech was designed to imply, to repeat and to confirm that the honourable senator wanted to make social service benefits and pensions a matter of political argument and bitter debate, it was his speech. I submit that his speech is completely inconsistent with the amendment moved by the Opposition. For that, and for many other reasons. I think the Senate would be wise in rejecting it. 1 support the Bill which, as the Minister for Health (Senator Greenwood) said, is to give effect to the announcement by the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) on 15th March that an immediate increase would be granted in pensions now- being paid at maximum rates with some’ increases to certain other benefits. I recall, as other honourable. senators have done,, that a number of us took part in a debate on social service matters earlier in the session. During the course of that debate I expressed the view that the pension content in the Budget was not sufficient. I expressed the view that before long at least some additional amount would] be forthcoming in order to assist pensioners. This was at a time when there had been some considerable cutback in a whole range of expenditure.
I note with some degree of approval that this extra amount has been added. More importantly, together with this increase, a promise has been given that the whole sphere of social services is to receive a considerable amount of review and attention. The fact that the Government, without waiting until the next Budget, has come forward with this increase and with the promise of further assistance is the element which gives me’ the opportunity to give the Bill my support. ..[Quorum formed] This legislation will affect about S50.000 people who will receive an increase in their payments, lt is expected that it will cost in the vicinity of §5m this current year and some $22m in a total year. Furthermore, over 80 per cent of the eligible pensioners will receive this increase. It will assist also those who enjoy sheltered employment allowances and long term sickness benefits.
In any discussion of social services and the pension scheme it should never be forgotten that included in the Government’s pattern of social services is a tremendous range of services and assistance provided to a great number pf organisations and people. One is well aware that in a complex scheme of this kind there always will be pockets of need. There are anomalies always. When dealing with a wide ranging programme of social service benefits it frequently and naturally follows, human beings and human needs being what they are, that it is extremely difficult for a Government programme to provide for every written -and every known need. I refer the Senate to the ‘Australian Handbook 1971’, in particular the section on social services. I will quote briefly from this volume:
In the field of welfare services, Australia provides a comprehensive social security system.
Government benefits include health services, pensions for aged people, invalids and widows, unemployment and sickness benefits, a rehabilitation service, maternity allowances and child endowment. Certain age. invalid and widow pensioners and their dependants are entitled to free public ward treatment in public hospitals, free general practitioner medical care and a comprehensive range of medicines. Repatriation benefits are provided for certain ex-servicemen and women and their dependants. The provision of accommodation for aged and certain disabled people is subsidised, as is Ihe establishment of sheltered workshops. Employers are required by law to pay compensation for injuries received by their employees at work.
Tn 1969-70. the Federal Government spent $ 1,327m on social and health services from the National Welfare Fund. Total expenditure exceeded that of the previous year by 5175.000,000. The Federal Government provides its main cash welfare services under the Social Services Act 1947-1969. Benefits are paid from the National Welfare Fund, which is financed from consolidated revenue. All benefits, except repatriation and a few minor social and health benefits, arc a charge on the Fund, which is used only to finance the benefits, not the cost of their administration, nor the cost of any associated capital works.
The Social Services Act also provides for reciprocal arrangements wilh certain other countries. Reciprocal arrangements have operated for age and invalid pensions, widows pensions, child endowment and unemployment and sickness benefits between Australia and New Zealand since 1949. and between Australia and Britain since 1954.
That may be a general expression of what is being clone but I direct the attention of the Senate to the enormous demand that this makes, not only upon government but upon people - in this case the people of Australia. As the demand grows, so the people and the Government will be required to meet the demand. (Quorum formed). Pensions are not the only forms of Commonwealth assistance referred to in my quotation. There is also - I do not propose to state them again - the wide range of what we call, rightly or wrongly, fringe benefits. The Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) believes that in the life of the present Parliament it will be possible to improve those fringe benefits even further.
In looking at any total programme to meet the needs of the Australian people and acknowledging, of course, that it is the nation’s very high responsibility and obligation to care for its senior citizens and its needy people, one must agree that pensioners and the aged arc not perhaps the only needy ones in the community today - not the only areas of very great need. One might mention in passing, but without developing these subjects, the education sector, the rural segment and other segments of the community all of which are part of what I will call ‘a wave of needs’ which is being presented to the Government. Therefore, in dealing with pension increases the Government, much as it would like to see pensions advanced to the maximum, has to take into account a whole range of other circumstances and then balance needs with what is available in terms of funds. The Government must take into account the whole spectrum of the development of the Australian community prior to making a decision on the question of increasing pensions. Even against this background the Minister said in his second reading speech that the Bill provides for the lifting of the pension to a record level, and when he refers to a record level he means a record level not only in money terms but also in terms of real purchasing power. As has been pointed out, as productivity increases so also should pensions.
In spite of the fact that the rates proposed in this Bill will be not only the highest on record in money terms but also will give pensions a greater purchasing power than at any time in Australia’s history, and in spite of the fact that the pension rate has been raised to this high degree of usefulness and ‘ effectiveness, if problems exist in the area of people who receive pensions - I believe that problems do exist because there’ arc areas of need, there are pockets of poverty and there are people with special problems and difficulties - then perhaps the Government should adopt a new- formula. It may take on one of a number of processes.1 The people generally must be prepared to stand by this formula and to pay for it because all of us are aware that if wages advance in substantial steps then the cost of all items affecting the pension do exactly (he same thing. I think all of us in the Senate are aware of the hardship confronting various establishments which care for our senior citizens. It is true - this should be repeated - that the Government through the years has provided an enormous amount of money to assist organisations and people to set up homes and establishments for the care, security and comfort of our senior citizens and our pensioners. If the Government is to provide this money it must receive the support of the people. Wages, having increased by varying degrees and circumstances to the extent that they have, impose an additional and tremendous cost upon the maintenance of all pensioner and senior citizen establishments. A formula must be adopted so that these costs can be met. The people must be prepared to stand with the Government and to meet them. lt is all very well to say that the abolition of the means test will rid the country of the pockets of poverty and will provide all of the answers to the questions confronting our needy and senior people. The Government has given a great deal of consideration over the years to the question of abolishing the means test either completely or partially for persons in certain age groups. Through the years it has reviewed the field of social welfare and has taken as its standard the object of assisting those in the most need while at the same time not discouraging self-help and self-reliance. The question of the abolition of the means test is a very complex and difficult one. It would be true to say that the Government could not give to this question the priority which some people think it should have until such time as we have made more progress in combating areas of need and poverty. An indication of the Government’s good faith in the matter of assisting people in need is the liberalisation of the means test, the extension of fringe benefits and the wide range of assistance which is given to aged people.
A factor which should not be overlooked in any discussion of this subject is the great changes which have taken place in the last 2, 3 or more decades in the social patterns of people in the age group of which we are speaking. Older people no longer live as they used to do within the family home. There are more of them now and they are in greater need, perhaps simply because they live alone or have not any one to care for them. As a result of advances in medical science there is a greater number of senior and older people in our community today than previously. Therefore, there are more demands upon this area of Government expenditure and, because society has developed in the way that it has, there are demands for increases in existing benefits and for a wider range of benefits. Through the years the Government has endeavoured to meet those demands.
I take these remarks briefly beyond the realm of Australia and look at the report of the International Conference of Ministers Responsible for Social Welfare which was held at United Nations headquarters. Amongst the many countries represented by Ministers was Australia. The report may be regarded as typical of those coming from the United Nations in terms of its phrasing and wording. I relate the following portion of the report to Australia’s role in understanding the requirements of social welfare:
The Ministers responsible for social welfare participating in the conference affirmed their commitment to the goal expressed in the Preamble of :he United Nations Charter ‘to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom’. In so doing, they underlined their conviction that social welfare was of fundamental significance in furthering’ this goal in all countries of the world, at whatever stage of development. At the same time, they recognised that respect for human rights and individual freedoms and the avoidance of any kind of discrimination constitute the indispensable basis of all social welfare development.
The Conference had no doubt that a unique opportunity now existed for social welfare to make its full impact felt in national development. Given the firm resolution ali national leaders in the social field, and; particularly the Ministers responsible for social welfare, to make sure that the social elements in ‘development are given proper emphasis in overall policy and planning, social welfare could . fulfil its potentialities … to enhance the quality of human life. …
Finally, social welfare provided necessary supportive services to the development of health, housing, education, manpower training and employment as well as broad policies of rural development. . . . Social welfare also had a supportive function in population policies, which in many countries were fundamental to overall development.
As I said a moment ago, that may be a broad statement of the. kind one would expect to find in an international document relating to this subject. But I say to the Senate that it is a general description of what might be called an international discussion of social welfare, an integral part of which is the whole pensions pattern or scheme. It relates social welfare to the other aspects of Australian life. I believe that when the Government is giving consideration to its social welfare programme, including its pensions pattern, this has to be taken into account.
Therefore I say, as I have said on previous occasions, that to suggest that the Government is not sympathetic to the needs of the pensioners and the needs as expressed in this Bill is quite wrong. To suggest that the Government has no sense of concern is also quite wrong. Of course, every action which a government may take may not - in fact, will not - satisfy everyone. I for one hope that the pattern of social welfare, set alongside the pattern of overall development of the Australian nation, will provide before too long a wider and better range of benefits for those people who are in particular need.
I take support for this from the speech made by the Prime Minister, in which he said that ‘any increases given in the Budget would, in justice to pensioners, need to be quite substantial’. The Prime Minister also said that the Government is undertaking ‘a fundamental review of: social services and related pensions and also of methods of adjusting such benefits, and that this review, which has already been commenced, will be under consideration in the near future with the object of bringing emerging decisions into effect for the year 197l-72 So, F hope that the Bill will be passed and that, as it is passed, the support given to it by the Senate will remind the Government that if has given this assurance that these investigations and reviews arc taking place and that it will be able to meet this need in the Australian community wilh as much satisfaction as it possibly can.
– I welcome the opportunity to enter this debate, especially as I see that the Minister in charge of the legislation is Senator Greenwood - a new Minister in this place. That brings lo mind the strange situation that forced the Government to choose a member of the legal profession as the Minister responsible for the health portfolio. I do not .doubt that the Government was considerably embarrassed in the other place, as it is termed, by the fact that in the Opposition there were 5 doctors who placed the former Minister for Health, Dr Forbes, under pressure. In order to avoid further discomfiture, the health portfolio was sent over to the Senate.
– It was given on ability.
– I do not doubt that Senator Greenwood will bring to this portfolio the tenacity and loquaciousness that he has displayed in the Senate from time to time. I often wonder whether the Government would not have done better, when choosing the new Ministry, to have done what the Athenians did quite some time ago - in fact, 2,000 or 3,000 years ago - when they were trying to find those who would lead them in government. They put all the names in the hat and drew them out. I doubt whether they would have chosen-
– You are wrong. What your countrymen did was to put stones in a pot.
– No doubt they put them in a hat or a pot. Nevertheless, they drew out the names and the only person they were not prepared to choose by that means was the person in control of the water supply. In any case, using that method they would never have chosen a minister of religion to be Minister for the Navy. The Government had its problems in trying to fit into the new Ministry those who were not discredited.
– Do you propose to link this up with pensions as you continue to speak?
– Yes. I was about to say that, in spite of what I have said. I believe that Senator Greenwood will endeavour to deal with his portfolio as it ought to be dealt with, namely, with some humanity. This afternoon I listened to his answer to a question on Aboriginal affairs. I hope that it represents the pattern he will follow in the future.
I was a little surprised that in his second reading speech this afternoon he quoted some figures that seemed to indicate that the pensioners have never been better off. According to him, his figures showed that over the period since 1946 the pensioners have progressively improved their position in relation to the consumer price index. I say to him that he has chosen the wrong set of figures. He would have been much more just if he had chosen the figures that show the level of average earnings. That is a fair comparison. They would have shown that the pensioners are 25 per cent worse off than they were previously. Earnings are the true reflection of the standard of living within the community. If we look at average earnings, which include all sorts of things such as overtime and over-award payments, we find that the pensioners are not anywhere near as well off as the Minister would like us to think they are. That is reflected in the position in which many pensioners find themselves in the crowded cities of this nation.
Let me refer to the position in which pensioners find themselves in the suburb of Brisbane that we call Spring Hill. There pensioners wander around neglected, in search of reasonabe accommodation, in search of reasonably priced goods and depressed in such a way that the young students in that area have found it necessary to establish a community aid centre. I find it most strange that in one of our affluent cities young students should find it necessary to set up a centre to which pensioners can go to receive goods at below cost price, assistance in social welfare and directions as to where they can obtain medical care. I. find this situation appalling, especially as there are in this country the means to raise the necessary finance or at least to direct or alter the direction of our expenditure in certain fields so that we can give more to social services. 1 regard this 50c increase as an affront. I find it difficult to accept. How much more difficult must it be for the pensioners to accept a 50c rise? Mr Daly, a renowned colleague of mine, pointed out that the increase represents merely one unit with the Totalisator Agency Board, or tote as he called it, at the Canberra races. It represents 2 units on the New South Wales TAB. In other words, the Government is not even considering that the pensioners might have a bet at the races. They have certainly not been given through the increase the cost of 2 ounces of tobacco or a packet of soap. I find it abhorrent that in an outrageously ad hoc manner the new Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) suddenly decided to grant an extra 50c a week to pensioners, and that he feels so proud about it. It is outrageous that honourable senators opposite tonight should defend the increase as an humanitarian approach to the pensioner problem. Let us be fair. If
Government supporters feel so deeply about the position of .pensioners in the community they should ‘. seek at least to grant to them a wage on which they can live in dignity and comfort. They should no! be forced to live in a situation of complete want. lt is of no use saying that the instances of extreme need of which I speak are isolated. A survey carried om by direction of the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) indicated that about 50,000 pensioners in Australia, are living in extreme need. Why not make a full hearted and complete gesture and raise the pension to a level comparable to the basic living wage? The economy should not need a great deal of adjustment for that purpose. We could consider whether the Fills could- be done without. We could save ourselves a considerable amount of money in that direction. Perhaps we could exercise some sort of restraint in Vietnam. We could do ourselves a service internationally by withdrawing from Vietnam. We could save ourselves many’ millions of dollars a year and could show our compassion by directing that expenditure away from killing, slaughter, atrocities and complete devastation of the land, lt could be directed to the pensioner’s within our own shores, the people who need-it most.
If we can lift the basic level al which these people live we will lift the level at which society within Australia lives. We are judged by the way we treat our older citizens. I repeat that it is; an affront to conscience that pensioners should be granted a miserable increase of 50c a week. It is a pittance. The approch of the Labor Party in the field of social services is sensible and seeks to go to the root of the problem. We seek, to institute a superannuation programme under which everyone would pay according to his ability to pay and those in need would receive according to their need. These may sound like platitudes but the Government will face continual criticism on this point. Since I have been in the Senate, pension increases of $1 a week and 50c a week have been granted. Each time members of the Opposition have indicated exactly what the increase means to pensioners - perhaps an extra item on the grocery order at the end of the week. Surely as a nation we are affluent enough to be able to afford more appropriate increases for our pensioners. We could do so if the Government would place a turnover tax on the rogues who seek to manipulate the stock market to their own advantage, as has been evidenced of late, so that millions of dollars change hands. Some people are enriched but many are impoverished. Surely some income could be derived by the Government from that area and diverted to the field of social services. Senator Greenwood is the new Minister who represents in the Senate the Minister for Social Services. I charge him with the responsibility to take back to his Party room the desire of the Senate that justice be given to pensioners. This small handout of 50c a week as an insult to his Party, the Senate and the nation itself.
– I support the 3 Bills we are taking together - the Social Services Bill, the Repatriation Bill and the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Bill. They provide as an interim measure for increases in pensions. These Bills cannot properly be likened to the Bills brought down to implement Budget provisions when the whole gamut of our economic policy is considered. At that time we examine those fields in which to make alterations or to give added assistance. We are’ now considering measures to provide interim relief and as such I welcome them. In this debate speeches have ranged all over the field but not much has been said up to date about repatriation benefits.
– You have not heard Senator Mulvihill yet.
– I am glad that someone on that side of the chamber will take an interest in ex-servicemen. Probably one of the main’ reasons why no honourable senator opposite has taken much interest up to date is because Australian repatriation benefits are considered to be amongst the best in the world. They have been increased time and again since this Government has been in power. Fringe benefits are not mentioned by honourable senators opposite when dealing with pensions or repatriation payments. In some areas of repatriation benefits have been increased since 1949 by over 400 per cent and in other areas by over 600 per cent.
– Have you heard about the plan of the Returned Services League?
– Yes, I have. The Minister for .Repatriation (Mr Holten) dealt with that in his speech to the other House. Someone has to pay for all these benefits. It is all very well for members of the Opposition to say that the Government should spend millions of dollars on this and millions on that. Unfortunately, it is the taxpayers who have to find it. A responsible government will ensure that the taxpayers’ money is effectively used in whatever direction it thinks necessary. In a debate such as this honourable senators opposite argue to hand it all out in repatriation benefits or pensions. If tomorrow we are discussing hospitals they will want a few more millions spent in that direction. It is the same old story when we debate education measures. Who is to pay for it? I believe that this Government has shown responsibility in all these fields and that is why it has been in office for over 20 years and will remain there for some time to come.
There has been a great deal of talk tonight about social service benefits. It is interesting to note that the Opposition has traversed the whole field of social services without taking into consideration the fringe benefits which are available. The Opposition wants to get rid of the means test. We all know that a considerable sum would be involved in doing so. Some of the people who would be entitled to pensions would be millionaires and others would be the people Senator Georges mentioned who operate on the stock exchange. It should be remembered that those in most need in this community are the pensioners who, through no fault of their own, do not own their own houses but have to pay rent.
– What about the superannuitants?
– I am talking about the pensioners at this stage. I do not think that I should go over the whole field of retirement income. The pensioners who are paying rent have to pay out quite a substantial part of their pension to meet this commitment. These people are in extreme difficulty. If the Government had $ 10Om to spare I think it would be better spent on providing accommodation for these people - putting a roof over their heads - rather than on an across the board payment to others in less need.
– But the Government is not doing either.
– The Opposition wants the means test abolished and across the board increases.
– It wants justice. Is the honourable senator opposed to abolishing the means test?
– It is a question of abolishing the means test at a time when the nation can afford to do so. It is probable that the means test could be abolished tomorrow if the productivity of this nation were increased. It is, as an honourable senator mentioned earlier, the dissipation of productivity by strikes and other tactics that is responsible more than anything else for the fact that pensioners are not getting the full value from their pensions. Surely the pensioners need security more than anything else. The security of having a roof over their heads and not having to worry about any sickness is the greatest assistance we can give them. Anyway, as I said earlier, these bills are merely interim measures to enable people who have been caught up in inflation to receive special benefits. They do not deal with the whole gamut of things which are debated at Budget time. For this reason I do not think that I should cover the whole field of social services. I support the legislation and congratulate the Government on bringing it down.
– Senator . Maunsell commenced his speech by referring to these Bills as interim measures and he finished on the same note. I think that an examination of the Opposition’s amendment to the motion that the Social Services Bill be now read a second time will show that the Opposition is trying to deal with that very point in paragraph 4 of its amendment. The history of social services in this country shows that numerous opportunities for a happier launching of the social services ship were lost. I start by referring to the period prior to World War II when a future Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, was very enamoured of the original British national insurance scheme which was then in its infancy. However, the Prime Minister of the day, Mr Lyons, was timid and held sentiments very much the same as those of Senator Maunsell today and nothing was done.
It is true, as was pointed out by Senator Fitzgerald, who led for the Opposition in this debate, that in Australia attempts were made in the war and post war period by the then Commonwealth government to consolidate what the various States had done. A system of social services roulette existed at that time. Certain benefits were available in some States but not in others. The consolidation done by the Chifley Labor Government was not the milleniumfar from it. However, as Senator Fitzgerald pointed out, it laid the foundations. I am prepared to concede that, until the early fifties, even with the change in Government, it could be said that Australia’s social service benefits were on a par with those paid in Western Europe. However, at that period of time we came to the parting of the ways. As post war Europe recovered and Britain . adopted the Beveridge scheme, a large part of the political bargaining was taken out of social services. At least the social services schemes were self supporting.
Senator Davidson referred to the concept of a National Welfare Fund. Where the Opposition parts company with the Government is the. fact, that in the era of Sir Arthur Fadden a ceiling was virtually applied to the National Welfare Fund. The point I make is that so many members of our work force were at their peak earning period - I mean physically - that the Government of the day would hot have found any difficulty in introducing a national welfare scheme. I appreciate that in an earlier debate the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) referred to the introduction of a national superannuation scheme. Regardless of its mechanics^’ the point 1 wish to make is that there were many opportunities to introduce such a scheme. 1 am not saying that it should have been completely in line with what the Australian Labor Party advocated at the time. However, if such a scheme had been implemented it would have. ‘to a large extent shared the load rather than leave the determination of social service benefits to the whims of a particular Treasurer.
The decision of the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) to increase pensions reminds me of a B grade western movie. The settlers are beseiged’ in a fort by Red Indians, who are riding around it with their bows and arrows, when all of a sudden the sound of a bugle is heard and the United States cavalry is seen coming to the rescue with General Custer at its head. This is the impression that honourable senators opposite try to create with the installation of a new Prime Minister in office. When, a few months earlier, John Gorton, the then Prime Minister said that he would have liked to increase pensions but he could nol do so because of the state of the economy his loyal supporters decided that they should get on the same wave length. However, the new Prime Minister, this General Custer comparison, brought in a whole new era.
I revert back to the words of Senator Maunsell that these pieces of legislation are only interim measures. 1 think it is significant to note that one of the greatest criticisms advanced about the nonintervention policy of the former Prime Minister. Mr Gorton, was that we were then in both the best of times and the worst of times, lt is unquestionable that there will be a dampening down effect in a war or depression era. I do not say that there is complete equality of sacrifice but the inequality is less. However, the moment there is an unfettered economy what have we found? We have found the gap between social services benefits and average weekly earnings widening.
I do not think enough people appreciate the concept of having a mobile work force in Australia. Far too often wonderful words of vision are expressed about national development and frontier outposts. A lot of people who live in isolated areas are earning short term lop wages. Otherwise they would not work in these regions. If every member of the community worked in a capital city he would be better off in many ways. Most of the people who work in isolated areas have only their labour to sell and if they are injured they are in trouble. When they get into their fifties they look back and find that they have lost opportunities to better themselves. I believe that at times in the upper echelons of government there is a belief that if things are made too good for the workers they may lose their, inclinations to indulge in a bit of thrift. Many people, at some period of their lives, have to tide sons or daughters over misfortunes. The shoe really pinches when one gets to the age of lost opportunity. This is the reason why the Opposition has endeavoured to inject some feeling into this debate. The Opposition has been not merely offering carping criticism.
I hark back to what Senator Maunsell said about this legislation being an interim measure. The Opposition has looked in vain for the creation of a national superannuation scheme. We do not say that a Labor government would wave a magic wand and over night solve all the problems, but we do suggest that each year we would phase in a certain number of age groups. Whether we adopted the British system or that which applies in Belgium or France, this inequality would cease to exist. To prove that point I invite honourable senators to consider that in Belgium and France - in fact in all the Common Market countries - 15 per cent of the gross national product is fed into social service payments. I think the percentage of our gross national product spent in this way would be considerably less than that. That is one of the points which we must bear in mind when considering a reconstructed Europe.
Even conceding to our rural comrades that there have been droughts, the plain fact of the matter is that we cannot look back on our social services record and say that ours has been a mighty good performance. lt has been characterised by stop and go measures. I know, and so does Senator Hannan who is now interjecting, that in his own State of Victoria various surveys have revealed that there are 600,000 really poor people. That should never have happened in Australia. Our country was never devastated by war and there have been no major economic disturbances since 1936; yet that situation has developed. The point I am making is that all these things vindicate our emphasis on the need to create a national superannuation scheme. 1 want to conclude by referring to the remarks of the third force party in this chamber. 1 have noticed that Senator Gair consistently talks about a tribunal, which he refers to as an independent tribunal. I am sure that Senator Little will relay my remarks to Senator Gair, who may take me to task about them over breakfast tomorrow morning at Brassey House. I should like to visualise the situation that would exist if Senator Gair had his way on this amendment. I ask honourable senators to cast their minds back to the time when Senator Gair was Premier of Queensland. If a State authority - not one dealing with pensions but one dealing with something else - stepped out of line or exceeded its economic ambit with costs which upset the equilibrium of the budget brought down by the Premier of Queensland, he would have had whoever was responsible into the Premier’s office next morning and would have reminded him of who was Premier.
Without trying to defend the view advanced by Government supporters I am, for the benefit of Senator Little and his colleagues, making the point that it would be foolish to refer to a pensions tribunal as an independent tribunal because at some time the Treasurer of the day, whether he w><! a Socialist like us or a Conservative like a Government supporter, would have thai tribunal under his thumb. He would not allow it to go off at a tangent. Honourable senators will recall that in Great Britain at the moment a situation has developed over the Wilberforce report. The Conservative Government of Great Britain could not allow collective bargaining in the power industry to get out of hand and there had to be a certain amount of give and take. 1 correct the point that Senator Gair is always espousing, with this holier than thou attitude in which he says lv will not indulge in this filthy bargaining on pensions but will leave the matter to a tribunal.
I believe that there should be a certain amount of autonomy, but no matter who the Treasurer is - whether it is the future Treasurer, Mr Frank Crean, or whether it is the present Treasurer (Mr Snedden) - the plain fact of the matter is that at some point of time the Treasurer will have to dictate to the tribunal. 1 do not criticise the Government for not accepting the suggestion that an independent tribunal be appointed because I suggest in all sincerity that when Senator Gair was Premier of Queensland, by virtue of his temperament, he would have been the last person to allow a State subsidiary to override the Treasury’s concept of finance. The Opposition’s view is that it is not sufficient to say in respect of pensions that $1 has been given and other adjustments have been made. We feel that there needs to be immediate planning and a phasing in of age groups over the next 10 years. This course will be necessary if we are to come within striking distance of conditions applying in most European countries, whether they are in the East or the West, or to achieve some parity with the basic wage, which is lagging at the moment, lt is on that basis that I support to the hill the amendment proposed by Senator Fitzgerald. I believe that in my humble fashion I have more or less shot out of the sky the first paragraph of the amendment proposed by the third force party.
– I understand that the procedure to be followed in this debate is to talk about this Bill, together with the Repatriation Bill and the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Bill. 1 intend to refer particularly to repatriation and seamen’s war pensions, and I indicate also that at the conclusion of my remarks I intend to foreshadow amendments which I shall move at the second reading stages of those Bills. Consequently, whilst this debate is on the general question of social services, my comments will be related particularly to repatriation and seamen’s war pensions. Senator Mulvihill suggested that this has been an extraordinary debate because most Government supporters who previously had commended the Government under the former Prime Minister, Mr Gorton, who said that no improvements could be made in pension levels, now support what has been said by the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon), that it is reasonable to give an increase of 50c. But I remind honourable senators that the increase is a meagre 50c.
At the time when Prime Minister Gorton was in power and Mr Wentworth was the Minister for Social Services, it was claimed that no immediate increase could be given to pensioners, but now for reasons stated by Government senators tonight reviews of the situation are being made by the Government. The Minister for Health (Senator Greenwood) has referred to reviews which are currently under discussion by the Government and as a result of which we might find during the Budget debates that the Government has again increased pensions by 50c. The fact is that pensions for ex-servicemen, aged persons and seamen are not only inadequate but also are quite unreal. Anybody who talks about $16 a week for a widow of a serviceman killed in Vietnam being a reasonable pension is being most unreasonable. Anyone who contends this is not looking at the wage standards for this country and certainly is not conforming with the philosophical concepts which have been stated in the past by the Prime Minister.
When Prime Minister Gorton came to power he said that it was the intention of the Liberal Government to abolish poverty and to take the strain off people who were on the bread line and who were not able to live at a reasonable standard. But we find in 1971 that the best that the Government can do is to provide a meagre basic increase to the pension of 50c a week. This increase gives to a widow who has recently lost her husband in Vietnam a pension of $16 a week. At present, of course, the minimum wage, which is the wage for almost the lowest category of labourer under awards of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, is at least $47. Very few people in industry would receive only $47 a week; yet a widow who has lost her husband in Vietnam receives $16 a week. The totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner will receive an additional $1 a week, :f he is lucky, and it has been calculated that only two-thirds of TPI pensioners will receive the increase. Their rate will become $39 a week. The minimum wage awarded by the Arbitration Commission is $47 and the average weekly earnings in Australia are $88 a week. How can Government supporters stand up in this place and justify this situation?
Senator Marriott said that he was disappointed with the levels of improvements but that he does not intend to vote against the Government. Senator Davidson talked about a new formula being required, but when will we see a new formula introduced? Senator - Maunsell, who has now disappeared from the chamber, said that he intended to talk about repatriation benefits, but after a few short sentences left that issue. The Opposition does not intend to oppose the legislation, but we intend to move amendments in the second reading stage. Our reason for not opposing these measures is that we think it is better to have an increase of 50c than to have no increase. We can only conclude that for political reasons the Prime Minister has found it expedient to give this very small increase to pensioners. But in giving this small increase to pensioners he has not met the requirements of the ex-service organisations which since 1965-66 have been pressing the Government to establish a relativity with what was awarded after the review in 1950. They argued reasonably, in my opinion - I have never heard an argument which has been able to knock the concept - that if the Government in 1950 established a review of repatriation benefits and believed that that was the proper level for all these benefits - TPI, the general rate pension, the service pension and all the other associated pensions - then the benefits payable ought to be adjusted regularly in each year. In the arbitration field and in industry generally the courts do this.
Despite the criticism by governments of the present Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, it is fair to say that the Commission has discharged its task in accordance with the Act and, to a large extent, in accordance with justice and the propositions advanced by the union movement. Workers generally, through the good offices and representations of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, have been able to get regular increases in the national wage. If these increases in the national wage occasion price increases because of the lack of controls by the Commonwealth Government, it is certainly not the fault of the Commission or the trade union movement. Australia can have, and has had, an increase in productivity but that increase has not been reflected in wages, because there is no price control, profit control or investment control. So the Government has an obligation to see that wage standards and particularly repatriation pensions are increased to the standard which it accepted in 1950.
Repatriation is a subject which is charged with a great deal of sentiment because it refers to people who have served in the Services and the dependants of those servicemen who have lost their lives. As honourable senators know - we have canvassed this in the Senate on many occasions - the arguments of the Returned Services League and other ex-service organisations have been that there ought to be proper compensation for the people who have served in the Services, and that that service should be quite apart from any other employment. I completely agree with that argument. I might mention that former repatriation Ministers have accepted this proposition. 1 refer in particular to the late Senator McKellar who on many occasions stated that he accepted that service in the armed Services, either in -war conditions or under peace conditions, was a peculiar sort of service and ought to be recognised. His excuse for not achieving a proper repatriation standard was always that he had made recommendations to the Cabinet but that the Cabinet had not agreed with them.
The attitude of the Opposition is that we can be justly proud that in all the years we have supported the argument that repatriation benefits ought to be related to the last government review, although we criticiCisc the Government for not commencing this sort of review which was carried out by the Labor Government in 1943. As most honourable senators know, some earlier examinations of repatriation benefits were made in 1917, and again in 1918, but the last real inquiry was conducted in 1943 under the then Labor Minister for Repatriation, Mr Reg Pollard. That was the last inquiry into proper methods of testing the sort of benefits to which ex-servicemen should be entitled which was conducted by a government. Although repeated requests have been made by the Opposition, the Returned Services League and others to have this inquiry re-established, the only acceptance we got from the Government was that it would conduct its own inquiry. In 1950 the Government made such a review but the 1950 standard, as has been pointed out by the RSL and other people, has been depleted and not maintained by the Government. The argument of the Government is that it accepts the review of repatriation standards in the same way as it would accept the review of social service payments. We of the Opposition do not accept that as being a proper consideration of repatriation benefits. We believe that the long dissatisfaction with repatriation benefits arises from this situation.
The Returned Servicemen’s League has put up 2 main principles in relation to repatriation. The first states:
The very nature of service in the armed forces, especially in time of war, sets it apart from other forms of employment. The harshness of the conditions under which men serve, the element of danger, the strain lo which mind and body are subjected-
– The sentence of death.
– That is true, not to mention the situation in Vietnam today, which 1 will talk about shortly, lt continues: the separation from home and loved ones, the burden of responsibility for human life which so often must be accepted, all combine to impose exceptional demands on all who serve. All this means that the conditions under which men serve, especially those relating io compensation, medical treatment and re-establishment in civil life, must be the best the community can afford. This is a principle that has in modern times been universally accepted. These are the principles on which the Australian Repatriation Aci and all associated legislation is based. lt is true to say that those reviews to which I referred had this concept in mind, and in those years repatriation benefits in Australia were the best in the world. The second principle set out by the RSL is as follows:
A commitment, freely and unreservedly given by the community in time of danger, cannot subsequently be repudiated. Every man and every woman who served in the 2nd World War, and those who served subsequently, were reassured by the knowledge that in the event of incapacity or death arising out of their service they, or their dependants, will be properly compensated and cared for. This is an undertaking which the community must honour to the full, in spite of the pressure of opinions originating frequently from those who in many cases were loo young to appreciate the circumstances of total war . . .
This is the very concept which many young mcn in Australia think the Government is accepting, but the Government is not accepting this concept. Frequently I - no doubt other honourable senators also have had this experience - in the course of my movements within my State have met young people, not only those conscripted but those who intend to join the Services, who talk about the benefits they will receive if they serve in Vietnam. They expect to get from the provisions of the repatriation legislation the sort of benefits which were applicable in 1943 and between 1943 and 1950. They will not receive those benefits because, as I have pointed out, the pensions which are now provided by the Government are much lower than they should be. The standard has been allowed to decline. As a result we have had the persistent agitation by the
RSL and other ex-servicemen’s organisations which have argued that the level should be restored. In addition to this basic position we have had a long standing complaint about the Act itself.
In the background of all this dissatisfaction we have the Government developing a great agitation in support of the present policy of conscription for Vietnam, as a result of which young people are forced to go to Vietnam to fight in a war which is of long standing and which, in the opinion of most people, is almost unfruitful and might continue for many years. Despite the fact that these young people will be moving into these sorts of circumstances, they will not be rewarded on the basis of the repatriation legislation as it was when it was first introduced. They ought to be rewarded on that basis. If we require those people to go to war we should see that the standards are adequate, that they are equivalent to the standards set by the reviews which I have spoken about. If they are not, something should be done about it. We should see that those who volunteer to serve their nation should be rewarded. We know the long history of agitation about the conditions of exservicemen, because the conditions have been ventilated in this Senate. This is another reason why there is great discontent in the Services. I put it to the Senate that in the context of the present commitments of the Government the position in relation to repatriation benefits is most unsatisfactory.
I have mentioned the position of a widow whose husband was killed in Vietnam. At present she receives $15.50 a week. When this increase is granted she will receive an extra 50c a week. She will get the magnificent sum of $16 a week. As recently as October 1970 Senator Keeffe asked:
How many Australian widows are in receipt of war widows pensions as a result of - the loss of their husbands in the Vietnam war?
The answer was that there were 9 V widows and that there were 162 children, including one double orphan. Against a background of Government agitation to get more men to serve in Vietnam, it pays a very paltry pension of $16 a week to widows of men killed in Vietnam. That is not enough. The situation should be remedied quickly. As at 21st October 1970 the number of wounded ex-servicemen who had served in Vietnam and who were entitled to a special total and permanent incapacity pension was 22. Most of those ex-servicemen would be working in industry if they had not been injured. Today they would have been receiving a wage between the minimum wage of $47 a week and the average weekly earnings of $89 a week. As most people know, today many people are receiving not only their basic salary of $69 or $70 a week as a mechanic or fitter but also a number of fringe benefits such as overtime. This brings their earnings up to the average weekly earnings of $89 a week. Twenty-two soldiers, who were wounded in Vietnam and about whom we are always hearing great platitude from Government speakers, will receive an extra $1 a week pension. They will receive $39 a week because they are totally and permanently incapacitated as a result of the Vietnam war. Something has to be done about these people.
On a number of occasions in the Senate we have asked that a special inquiry be conducted. On 3 occasions the Senate - the Australian Labor Party moving the motion, which was supported by the- Democratic Labor Party and by the independent senator - has carried motions which called for the setting up of an inquiry and which affirmed the principle of free ‘ hospitalisation for veterans of the Boer War and the First World War. As honourable’ senators know, the Government has decided to take no action in respect of free hospitalisation. On one occasion it dropped a Bill which had been introduced in the Senate. It introduced a new Bill which ‘ was - a complete denial of what the Senate had carried. On the other 2 occasions’ the Minister said that the Government did hot intend to take any action in respect of the decisions of the Senate. So we have the spectacle that on 3 occasions the Senate nas affirmed the principle that the Government has a case to answer in relation’” to the’ Repatriation Act and that the benefits df exservicemen should be re-examined by some kind of specialist committee.
The only time we have been successful in getting any attention paid to this matter was when we moved a motion in September last year. Earlier we were defeated by the Government because the new Minister for Repatriation ‘(Mr1 Holten), after the Senate had carried a motion for an inquiry, wrote saying that the Government did not intend to take any notice of the Senate’s opinion. In September last year we moved:
That there be referred lo the Standing Committee on Health and Welfare the following matter - All aspects of Repatriation, including the operation of the Repatriation Act and of the War Service Land Settlement Agreements Act.
I understand that that Committee has been very heavily laden with work. It is possible that the Committee may not be able to discharge its obligations in respect of this matter. I make it very clear that in all these debates, with the exception of 1967 when Senator Wright gave us some support, Government senators have always voted against the amendments which have been moved by the Opposition. The amendments have been based on requests by the Returned Services League and by ex-service organisations.
I repeat what the National President of the RSL said in 1970 when the matter was then under consideration. This is a quotation from the New South Wales journal of the RSL. The article states:
The National President of the RSL (Sir Arthur Lee, K.B.E., M.C.) said the new Budget increases for repatriation pensioners were ‘totally unacceptable’. Sir Arthur said: ‘Why should ex-servicemen and women who had suffered disabilities through war service find the compensation they receive adversely affected by the need for allocation in other areas of Government expenditure?’
That shows the failure of the Government in respect of repatriation. What happens with repatriation is that the Government makes the same tests in respect of this compensation as it does in respect of the general level of social service payments. It is a consideration with which exservicemen and the Opposition do not agree. We think that the RSL plan this year is reasonable. The RSL advocates the setting up of an independent inquiry. On this occasion the Opposition does not intend to promote this concept because, as I have mentioned, we were able to get the matter referred to the Standing Committee. The compensation plan seeks:
That is the $47 which I have mentioned. The plan continues:
That would make it half of the $47, which is the minimum wage. The plan goes on:
The plan also seeks:
The Senate carried a motion to that effect. It also included returned ex-servicemen of the Second World War. The Government decided not to support that motion. The compensation plan then calls for something which is so evident that one would have thought that the Government would have approved it. I refer to the funeral benefit. The present benefit is $50. In 1970 we asked that the amount be increased to $150. At the time there was evidence from a number of organisations which proved that funerals cost much more than $150. On this occasion the RSL has asked that the amount be increased to $200.
For the reasons I have given, it is evident that the Government intends to mark time in respect of these matters. A case has been made out for the setting up of an inquiry. The only movement which the Government has made since pressure for an inquiry was applied was to say that it is conducting its own inquiry. The Government’s inquiry will probably take a number of years to complete. It is a closed inquiry. Representatives of ex-service organisations and other people will not be able to say what they think the Government should do. Much argument in support of what the Government now proposes to do has been based on what it calls fringe benefits. I point out to the Government that many of the fringe benefits that are now extended to repatriation pensioners come from the State governments. State governments are becoming increasingly unable to provide the fringe benefits. This is because of the current lack of Commonwealth financial support to the States. I refer to the restrictions that the States are placing on transport concessions to pensioners. If the present inflationary policies of the Government continue, subsequently most of the fringe benefits provided by the States will cease.
The payments to pensioners are most unsatisfactory. Repatriation pensions should be adjusted to the 1950 standards. We have asked for and supported that standard over the years. No effort has been made by the Government to adjust the outstanding anomalies in the Repatriation Act. I refer to the contentions which have been made in this debate and on previous occasions about the failure of the Government to apply the onus of proof provision in the Act correctly, I refer also to the number of unsuccessful applications to the Repatriation Commission and to the tribunals by people who have a history of complaints arising from their war service. I also refer to a pertinent argument which ought to be repeated in respect of serving servicemen. In the wars that have passed many servicemen have failed to have an application to the Commission or tribunals granted because their record of medical service has been deficient. It has been deficient because many servicemen have nol made application for treatment to commanding officers, doctors or regimental aid post services. So nothing has appeared on their records.
This position was accepted in principle by the late Senator McKellar who put on record in this Senate what he accepted to be a deficiency. He said he accepted that many applications were deficient and would be restricted because the record of the serviceman was not complete because* he had not obtained medical attention. But the late senator said: ‘Despite that, 1 think tribunals might give proper weight to the applications.’ Those of us who are interested in this matter know that in many cases many ex-servicemen fail to obtain justice from tribunals because of these very circumstances. But there are some other circumstances too. The Act wants reviewing.
There is the anomaly of people who have served in organisations like the Red Cross and various philanthropic organisations such as the Salvation Army who are entitled to act of grace benefits under the Act but who. are not entitled to benefits in respect of war service homes or taxation allowances which people at present serving in Vietnam are entitled to. Although submissions have been made to the Government by people who are affected and who have asked for these concessions the Government is not prepared to alter the position. There are lots of anomalies in the Act. The Opposition takes the same stand now as it did in the years when we discussed repatriation. We think that not only are social service standards wrong and inadequate but also in respect of repatriation they are most unjust. When the Repatriation Bill and the Seamen’s ‘ War Pensions and Allowances Bill is again debated in the Senate at the second reading stage I intend to move this amendment:
At the end of the motion add: ‘But the Senate is of the opinion that the pension rate for totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen, the general rate pensioners and war widows should not have been allowed to decline notwithstanding the proposed increases in relation to average weekly earnings’.
A social service matter has come to my attention in recent days, it is’ the plight of unmarried mothers in respect of social service payments. 1 mention this because in recent months there has been some publicity as to the position of unmarried mothers. I refer mainly to the group of women who have enough courage to decide that because of circumstances they- cannot marry the father of their child. ‘They have the child and try to keep it iri proper comfort. Recently with 2 cases I . have found that Commonwealth social services are not applicable to unmarried mothers. They cannot obtain unemployment benefits because they are not available for work as they have to stop home and look after the child. They cannot receive sickness benefits because they are not sick. They cannot obtain the defacto wife entitlement because they do not have ihe qualifying status accepted by the Department of Social Services. They do not live as a wife and would live with a husband under the conditions which the Government accepts. The Department of Social Service’s accepts a defacto qualification, but an unmarried mother who decides to raise a child and not take the ordinary course which is now available in many cases cannot receive the defacto benefit. She cannot receive the various State social services unless she is destitute, if she happens to have some moneys in the bank or if she happens to receive some compensation from the father of the child she is not eligible for any pension from the State social service departments. Here we have a grave anomaly which ought to be corrected. I direct this position to the attention of the Minister. I hope that he will occasion some inquiries to be made. Those young girls who have enough courage to decide to keep a child the father of which might be unable to marry her. perhaps because he is already married, ought to be given the same consideration as a defacto wife. With those comments 1 indicate that I intend to move the resolution lo which 1 have referred at a later stage.
– lt is no reflection on either the personal sincerity or the political conviction of those who have engaged in this debate that it has lacked stimulation. 1 think stimulation is lacking because there is little enthusiasm. There is little enthusiasm because the facts justifying this measure are so transparent lo those who support the measure as to those who oppose it that there cannot be any stimulus in this debate. I have sensed that throughout the debate. But that is not lo say that the case which has been made by the Government for the introduction of this measure lacks that material which amply justifies il. I remind the Senate that last year the pension was increased by 50c. This was designed broadly to keep the pension position static. Since that date there has been a rise in the consumer price index which. ‘ without the current 50c increase proposed by this Bill, puts the pensioner behind what over the last 12 to 1S months has been a static position. I think that that stands out as a sound reason why the Government should give consideration lo whether the rate of pension should be increased.
When one contemplates the wage increases which have occurred as a result of the national wage case, when one considers the other increases which have occurred in the wages of a significant section of the population and when one looks in the last quarter of 1970 at an increase of S5 in the average weekly earnings in this country one senses that the price momentum which that generates will create further problems of which government must be and of which government has indicated it is aware. 1 emphasise what the new Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) said less than 3 weeks ago: This proposal which we are now debating is a proposal which is but an interim measure. It is a harbinger of what will occur in the Budget. I think we can all take assurance from that statement.
It should also be borne in mind what will have more significance in the longer term and that is that at the same time the Government is undertaking a fundamental review of all pension payments. I think that is an area which attracts the interest of Senator Bishop in the light of what he has said. Indeed, I think he has particularised a feeling which many honourable senators have. At the same time the Government is giving consideration in terms of what the Prime Minister said to the method of adjusting pension changes. One can hope that as a consequence of this there will be a type of improvement which will again result in the same lack of stimulation from honourable senators opposite which I have sensed in the course of this debate.
May I refer to some 3 aspects which have arisen out of the debate on this measure before I address myself to what is contained in the various amendments which have been moved? The first point is that the proposal contained in the legislation before us is essentially an interim measure and. therefore, there is not a general increase - an increase for dependants of the character which was referred to by Senator Fitzgerald. The second point is that there are complicated features of the Social Services Act and there are complex features involved in the assessment and the determination of pension rates.
I suppose there were features of the second reading speech I delivered earlier today which might legitimately raise queries. One of those queries was raised by Senator Fitzgerald. He drew attention to the fact that there were problems in paying to those persons whose means as assessed fall between SIO and Si I a week, in the case of unmarried pensioners, and between $17 and S19 a week, in the case of married pensioners, a proportion of the 50c increase. There is an explanation for this and I hope it will be of interest to the Senate generally as well as to Senator Fitzgerald.
Under the tapered means test, in the case of an unmarried person the maximum rale of pension is reduced by half the amount of income above the allowable limit of SIO a week. Thus the total an unmarried person can receive by way of pension plus the allowable means is presently $25.50 a week. If the pension has been increased by 50c only for persons receiving the maximum rate of pension, the total pension plus allowable income would have risen to $26 a week. However, without some further action persons receiving pensions within 50c a week of the maximum rate would have received, by way of pension plus other income, something less than the S26 a week applicable to a pensioner with precisely a full pension and the maximum allowable figure. To ensure that the limit of pension plus allowable income in no case would be less than $26 a week for a single person, it was necessary to provide some proportional increase for such a person.
By definition, these are the persons with income between $10 and $11 a week. For example, an unmarried person with an income of $10.60 a week would now be eligible for pension of $15.20 a week, providing a total income of $25.80 a week. Under the Bill such a person will qualify for an increase of half the amount by which his income other than pension is less than $11 a week - in this instance 20c. The increase of 20c a week in the pension of such a person will provide him with income by way of pension and other income of $26 a week. The position is the same for the married person, the relative range of means as assessed being $17 to $19 a week. I trust that explanation is pf assistance to Senator Fitzgerald, because he raised the point. I sensed the difficulties which he experiences. It is part of that complicated side of the Social Services Act which the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) said recently that he is hoping can be comprehensively reviewed with a view to making it simpler. I am sure, Mr President, that that is a hope which every honourable senator would echo. 1 want also to emphasise one further point. It relates to the fringe benefits. I am not sure what Senator Bishop had in mind when he said that fringe benefits to the pensioners, acceptable though they . were, were largely provided by the State governments and not by the Commonwealth Government.
– 1 was referring to transport.
– I. thought he must have been referring to transport. If transport alone is referred to he is ignoring the tremendous range of what are called fringe benefits provided by the Commonwealth. Undoubtedly the States do play a part in providing some concessions. ( imagine that transport concessions are the major ones involved. Here and there, when the Commonwealth range of provisions does not apply, there is opportunity for the States to step in with various types of medical, dental and pharmaceutical benefits. But the range of fringe benefits developed over the last 19 years represents the really substantial improvement in the lot of pensioners in this country. One can point to figures which indicate that the pension, in money terms, has risen from about $4 a week to $16 a week over the last 19 years. One can stress that in that same period the real value of the pension has risen at constant present day prices from $10 in 1949 to what is’ now $16. They are significant achievements. But the real advances - they cannot be ignored and should not be unstated- are the various facilities, the help and assistance, provided for pensioners.
One need mention only some of them, over the life of Liberal-Country Party governments, to give an indication of their comprehensiveness. They include medical benefits for pensioners, aged persons income tax concessions, pharmaceutical benefits to pensioners, the . aged persons homes scheme, the television ‘licence concession for pensioners, additional pensions for second and subsequent Children, home nursing subsidies, supplementary assistance for pensioners, nursing home benefits, the mothers allowance for widowed; pensioners with children, telephone rental concessions, the sheltered employment allowance, the hearing aid service, .the subsidy for dwellings for aged persons,, .the personal care subsidy for aged pensioners, home care and paramedical services, and the meals on wheels subsidy. I have stated some of them, Mr President, not all of them. They are an indication of the range of services which have been provided.
I mentioned these things because I thought that Senator Bishop was inclined to disparage the area of fringe benefits provided by the Commonwealth. I regard them as substantial and I would have thought that pensioners appreciate them. These things indicate not only the improvement in the monetary and material side of the pensioners’ existence but also the attention given to improving the quality of the life they lead. Having said that, I hope I have not conveyed the impression that all that could be done has been done. What I hope I have conveyed is that the Government, over the years, has shown real, humane and sympathetic attention to the plight of pensioners. I seek leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Sir Kenneth Ander son) agreed to:
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn till tomorrow at 2 p.m.
Motion (by Senator Sir Kenneth Ander son) proposed:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– The Senate and the House of Representatives met on 16th February. All of us were aware that there were grave problems to be solved in regard to inflation and particularly in regard to the rural crisis. Even allowing for the amount of time taken up by alterations within the Government, I cannot let the opportunity pass without expressing my keen disappointment at what I regard as an almost total failure to deal with important issues relating to the rural crisis. I would have expected that the Government would have taken strong action in regard to rural credit for both farmers and storekeepers. In many instances storekeepers have provided credit assistance which the Government should have given. The whole situation is briefly summed up in extracts from 2 letters I received today. They are typical letters, because I have received a lot of similar ones over the last 12 months. The first letter states in part:
I have a first and second mortgage on this grazing property with a finance company.
The name of the company is mentioned. The writer continues:
The second mortgage is at 15 per cent which I was forced to take. They want, to throw me out in 2 weeks’ time. I have auctioned the place with no buyers. I have applied to the Rural Finance Commission, but how long it may take is unknown. The first mortgage people at 7½ per cent are pretty decent but they say they need the money too. Senator, is there a moratorium act that I could apply to to save my farm.
Prior to the Senate election I advocated that there should be a moratorium. I thought a farmers’ debt adjustment body should be set up to try to assist farmers pending consideration of their cases. Nothing of that sort has been done. There have been some attempts or suggestions by the Government for certain activity. At times they appeared to be bogged down because of relations between the Commonwealth and the States.
The situation today is that a large number of people in Australia are losing their properties because of an almost complete failure to meet the situation.I turn now to the second letter which is in these terms:
We have a general store, and the way things are going with no help from the banks or other agency we have a good chance of losing our home and store after 20 years in business. We are not an isolated case among country storekeepers by any means. We have security which should cover our overdraft but the bank manager says No’ and tells us that this crisis in the rural areas could go on for years. If that is the attitude, there will soon be no country stores left in small towns.
I repeat that many a country storekeeper today is almost bankrupt because of credit which he made available to farmers. He has received little or no assistance from the Government and he is going to the wall because he has fulfilled a need that some governmental agency should have fulfilled. The Parliament is going into recess at the end of April and what have we done? Let us be honest. We have done next to nothing this session.
– Do not look at us. Look at honourable senators on the Government side.
– The honourable senator is a contributing factor. He is a member of the Opposition. Everybody must accept some responsibility for it.
– The honourable senator must accept some responsibility for it.
– Yes. and the things done by the PaTty to which the honourable senator belongs maintain the Government in office. If his Party exercised any common sense as the Opposition the Government would have been out of office, but the Opposition has been the Government’s bestfriend because of the way in which its members have carried on within their own Party. Let us forget the inter-Party bickering and look at the situation of the people who will lose their properties. The Parliament will go into recess this month for 3 months and the people will be left to themselves. I make my protest. We should be ashamed of what has happened in this Parliament in the past 2 months in the face of the rural crisis and of inflation.
What is our position? We have today the highest bank rate of any comparable Western country. Great Britain has dropped her bank rate to 6 per cent, the United Stales to 5 per cent and the other day West Germany dropped her bank rate to 5 per cent. When this matter was raised in the other place and it was pointed out that oversetts interests are now bringing large sums of money into Australia because they get a straight out bonus of 2 per cent or 3 per cent by investing here, the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) replied that we should be pleased that Australia was so attractive to overseas investors. I repeat what I said before. I am completely ashamed of what this Parliament has done in the face of the rural crisis and of inflation.
– Very seldom have I taken part in an adjournment debate but Senator McManus’ speech caused me to rise. Let us at least do away with hypocrisy. All of the things that Senator McManus wanted to be done could have been done if he had been in earnest a-bout them. Let us be fair. Do not let us fool ourselves completely. The Australian Democratic Labor Party, to which Senator McManus belongs is responsible for the Government’s being in office. He and his colleagues claim that the Government has not done what they want it to do. I can assure you, Mr President, that if I held the balance of power the Government would do what I wanted it to do.
Knowing my ex-colleague of years gone by, and knowing how he can fight for what he believes to be right, I am surprised that he should say tonight: ‘I am disappointed. The Government has done nothing for the rural sector. The Government even has not had a decent debate on the inflationary condition in which the nation finds itself.’ The 5 members of the Democratic Labor Party who sit in the corner could have moved for the adjournment of the Senate on any day they wished to discuss this matter. In the few days left to me I have no reason to stand in this chamber to make any more hard speeches. Some have said that I have made enough. I do not want to leave this chamber with bad friends, but 1 ask honourable senators to judge the speech of Senator McManus. lt should be judged. He is a capable speaker and he used a lot of nice words but he knows politics as well as I do. We were together for nearly a quarter of a century. Let him not come here and say in that nice manner, using nice words: ‘1 am disappointed. I am shocked that nothing has been done.’ 1 say without any hard feelings that if nothing has been done the fault lies in his corner more than it does anywhere else in the Parliament of this nation. lt hurts me to say that speeches are made here that are wonderful for the consumption of the rural dweller, whether he be a shopkeeper or a farmer, but that does not put a shilling in his till; that will not give him an additional penny a pound for his wool; that will not help him to sell his portion of the 150 million bushels of wheat already stored in this country. If we do not do that we lose markets. I give members of the Democratic Labor Party credit for having political strength in this country but I regret that they do not use it more to obtain the things for which they tell the people they stand. I regret that the speech has been made. I regret that it was a political rather than an honest speech.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 10.38 p.m. till Wednesday, 7 April at 2 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 6 April 1971, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1971/19710406_senate_27_s47/>.