28th Parliament · 2nd Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Magnus Cormack) took the chair at 10.59 a.m., and read prayers.
– I present the following petition from 1 58 citizens of Australia:
To the honourable the president and members of the Senate in Parliament assembled: The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the undersigned men and women of Australia believe in a Christian way of life; and that no democracy can thrive unless its citizens are responsible and law abiding.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the members in Parliament assembled will see that the powerful communicator, television, is used to build into the nation those qualities of character which make a democracy workintegrity, teamwork and a sense of purpose by serving- and that television is used to bring faith in God to the heart of the family and national life.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– I present the following petition from 1 76 citizens of the Commonwealth:
To the honourable the president and members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. Your petitioners most humbly pray that the Senate, in Parliament assembled, will take the most urgent steps to ensure:
The Australian Prime Minister and the Australian Government voice emphatic protest to the Premier and Government of the U.S.S.R., at the government enforced exile of the Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn from his home in the U.S.S.R
We call on the Australian Government to instruct the Austrian delegation at the United Nations to raise the Solzhenitsyn case and that of Soviet writers, historians, scientists, patriots and other defenders of the rights of the people, who are in grave danger as a result of exercising their basic right of free expression.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
- Mr President, I ask for leave to make a statement on a matter concerned with the question of communication between the Government and leaders of Opposition parties in the Senate.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
Senator McMANUS (Victoria- Leader of the Australian Democratic Labor Party)- I raise this matter because of incidents in the Senate within the last 2 days. As we all know, the Senate has been considering the question of the proposed referenda. It has been traditional over the years in regard to referenda that the Yes case and the No case should be provided for the information of the people. Earlier this week I made inquiries following statements in the newspapers that the Government believed that the GovernorGeneral would make a certain decision. Because I had heard that a question of time might be involved I inquired whether the Government had approached the Governor-General and whether he had given the necessary consent to put in train the holding of the referenda. I also inquired whether any steps were to be taken to advise the Opposition parties which had voted against the referenda on the preparation of the No cases. I was surprised indeed to learn that as far as was known the Governor-General had not yet adjudicated upon these matters. It appears to me most improper that without giving the GovernorGeneral the opportunity to make his decision the Government has assumed that he will make the decision that it desires.
Prior to the Governor-General’s taking the action which sets in train the referenda, the Government told some of its officers and others to make preparations for the getting together of the Yes case and the No case. It appears to me to be a remarkable state of affairs that the GovernorGeneral is not permitted to make the decisions required by the Constitution. The Government informs people that they are to go ahead as though the Governor-General has already determined and announced his decision. I think that the Government has been guilty of what would almost be termed an insult to the office of Governor-General. No government has the right to anticipate a decision of the GovernorGeneral. It may suggest that the GovernorGeneral will make a certain decision but it does not have the right to order the instruments of government to be set in operation as though the Governor-General has made a decision when he has not yet made it.
The second matter I was told was that Mr Snedden, a member of the House of Representatives, had been advised that the case should be prepared and should be ready by Thursday of this week, that is, today. I was informed that the preparation of the case by him or by his associates was well advanced. As I have already pointed out, this is in anticipation of the decision by the Governor-General which has not yet been made. The decision of the Governor-General is taken for granted. One can be prepared to a degree, but one is not entitled to instruct civil servants that they are to act as though it is not necessary to wait for the Governor-General’s decision.
– But the GovernorGeneral is bound by the Constitution, is he not?
– According to the Constitution the Governor-General is to make a decision. He is to have regard to the advice of his Ministers. But I would point out that it is not said that the Governor-General necessarily has to make the decision which the Government wants.
– I think that after a Bill has been rejected twice he possibly has to.
– I do not want to be sidetracked by Senator Cavanagh. The crux of the situation is that the constitutional thing and the proper thing for the Government to do is to give the Governor-General the opportunity to make a decision, and not to tell people: ‘Go ahead. We know what he is going to do even before we go to see him. ‘ I think that this Government has been guilty of grave discourtesy and a breach of the ordinary channels of communications between a government and the GovernorGeneral.
Following the information I received that a person in another place had been advised that the case should be prepared, that he had taken action to prepare it and that it was to be ready by Thursday, I made inquiries about the matter. I asked the Leader of the Country Party in the Senate (Senator Drake-Brockman) what he knew about this matter. He said he had not been advised about it and he proposed to make inquiries of his leader, the Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony), in another place. I was not advised of the action taken by the Government. The Leader of the Country Party in the Senate also was not advised of the Government’s action.
– What about the Leader of the National Liberal Party?
– It is quite obvious from the inane interjections coming from the Government benches that Government supporters realise that they have been guilty of a very grave breach of parliamentary etiquette. Honourable members opposite will not sidetrack me by attempting to bring in the inane issues that they are suggesting. One proposal contained in the proposed referenda affects the Senate considerably and that is the question of making elections for the Senate coincide with the elections of the other place.
When the Government intends to give information of what it will do it does not notify, so far as I know- and I may be corrected- the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. It does not notify the Leader of the Country Party in the Senate. It does not notify the Leader of the Democratic Labor Party in the Senate. It notifies only a member of the House of Representatives. The Opposition in the Senate is kept in the dark in relation to what the Government is arranging in respect of these matters. When I referred to this matter yesterday the Leader of the Government in the Senate said, perhaps flippantly, that it seemed there was breakdown in communication on the Opposition side. I think the breakdown in communication lies with the Government. The Goverment has a duty, I would assume, to see that members of all parties in the Senate are informed of actions which may affect the Senate. The Government, in this case, adopts the attitude that it will inform a person who is not a member of the Senate of the Government’s arrangements. Its attitude then is that it has no obligation to make vital and necessry information available to other leaders in the Senate. This is typical of the cavalier attitude displayed recently when arrangements were made in regard to the adjournment times of the Senate. One Opposition party was consulted and the other two- the Country Party and the DLP were not even informed.
I ask the Government: If there are matters of importance affecting the Senate is the communication of those matters to be through a member of another place? Will the giving of information to leaders of the Opposition Parties in the Senate depend on that person from the other House making the information available to then? It will be a very bad day for the Senate when it accepts a situation that information is to be conveyed to the leaders of Parties in the Senate only through a member of another place. The Senate has certain constitutional rights. There are ways of making parliamentary information available to people. It is obviously entirely wrong for the Government to say that the channel of communication between the Government and the Opposition Parties will be through a member of the House of Representatives. I take the strongest exception to this method of communication, and I ask the Government: Will this method be used in future? Are we to be informed of things by hearsay after they have been made known to people in another place? If so, there are ways and means of retaliation.
- Mr President, Senator McManus certainly is speaking by leave granted to him by the Senate. I did not think that leave was granted to him to make a second reading speech, particularly as there is before the Senate a money Bill, upon which he could speak to matters which are relevant and relevant to that measure. I object to the making of lengthy speeches which cut into question time.
- Senator Cant, there is no substance in the last part of your observationnamely, that the speech is cutting into question time- because it is not doing so. Secondly, Senator McManus asked for leave. In accordance with the customs of the Senate, he indicated the ground he wished to cover. The Senate granted him leave, without any dissenting voice. He is entitled now to make the statement which the Senate granted him leave to make.
– I point out, not in answer to Senator Cant but in explanation, that an issue such as this is so important that it ought to be considered by itself and not as part of a discussion upon a wide variety of subjects. This is a subject on which the Senate must be informed and on which it must consider decisions which it may be called upon to make. I conclude by protesting emphatically, firstly, at the anticipation of the decision of the Governor-General, which was entirely unpardonable and, secondly, at what appears to be an attitude that information in regard to vital matters, even matters affecting the Senate, will not be made available to party leaders but will be conveyed to a person in another place and it will be left to him to determine whether he feels inclined to let us know.
– I ask for leave to make a statement in relation to the matters raised by Senator McManus.
-ls leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
Senator MURPHY (New South WalesLeader of the Government in the Senate)- The Leader of the Australian Democratic Labor Party (Senator McManus) has made some reference to what allegedly was said by me about the Governor-General. I do not recall saying anything about the Governor-General. I have examined, in the time that I have had, the questions and answers on Tuesday and Wednesday. There was one question and answer on each day. I do not find any reference by me to this subject. I do not propose to enter into a discussion on the proper relations between the Governor-General and his advisers. It is not a matter to which I will respond. I do not think it is appropriate to discuss that matter here.
On Tuesday and Wednesday I tried to assist the honourable senator as far as I could. My understanding of the matter is that when a referendum Bill is passed by both Houses the question of the submission of the cases is covered by section 6a of the Referendum (Constitution Alteration) Act, which states:
If within 4 weeks after the passage of the proposed law through both Houses there is forwarded to the Chief Electoral Officer-
an argument in favour of the proposed law, consisting of not more than 2,000 words, and authorised by a majority of those members of both Houses of the Parliament who voted for the proposed law and desire to forward such an argument . . .
An argument against the proposed law can come from the majority of those members of both Houses who voted against the proposed law. Then there is provision for sending out both cases. I suppose that some part of the answer to the honourable senator is that on this occasion the Senate opted out. The Senate did not pass the proposed law to go to the people. This is a matter which has been passed twice through the House of Representatives. I speak of one Bill but there are 4 of them. The matter is then dealt with under the Constitution. I shall not go through all the provisions. But the Senate has deliberately taken itself out of the process. The Constitution provides that in that event the process can proceed without the Senate. The honourable senator becomes upset. I suppose that if one looks at this as a matter of practical political reality one would think that those in the Opposition parties who are opposed to this measure would get together and discuss it amongst themselves. There is no doubt that it is a matter of courtesy on the Opposition side -
– How are they to get together when a considerable number of them do not even know that any action has been taken? How do we determine a majority when a vote has not been taken?
-The Government is dealing with those who voted for the proposition in the other place. As I understand it, the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives (Mr Snedden) has been consulted. He is the Leader of the Opposition. He has marshalled the forces there to vote against the matter. One would think that he would consult those who supported him whether in another place or outside in the general public. One would think he would marshal whatever arguments could be made and put in the case for a No vote. But the procedures under the Act relating to referenda contemplate the argument being formally prepared or put in the names of those in the House of Parliament which voted for the proposition. The Senate has opted out. It seems that the Leader of the Opposition in the other place has taken the view that he does not think it is worth while consulting the Senate.
– No, not worth while consulting the Senate.
– I agree. He thinks that it is not worth while consulting those in this chamber who voted against the proposals to the point where they did not get through. It is not much use complaining about the Government. As I understand it the Government is doing its best in this situation. Although there is no requirement to have cases prepared, the Government is endeavouring to do so. The real complaint here is that one of the Opposition parties has been ignored by the Leader of the Opposition in the other place.
– And by the Government.
– The honourable senator belongs to an Opposition party. The Leader of the Opposition in the House which passed the measure and which desired it to be put to the people has been approached and given the opportunity to prepare the No case. If he chooses not to consult the other Opposition parties- certainly, if he takes the view that the Senate having opted out of the matter ought not to be consulted at all- that is unfortunate. But that is something which ought to be sorted out between the Opposition parties. Senator McManus raises the question of what should be done normally. I appreciate and I accept that, as he says, where there are matters in which the Senate is constitutionally involved the Senate ought to be consulted. There should be a proper means of communication. In this case the Senate has deliberately taken itself out of the constitutional process. It has voted against the proposals and removed itself so that the referenda can be put to the people without the agreement of the Senate. It is as simple as that. This is quite a simple situation. One would think that the appropriate course would be for the Australian Democratic Labor Party and the other Opposition parties to agree to this proposal being put to the people, then to go out and prepare their case and fight it out in public. The honourable senator’s exclusion clearly is because those in the House of Representatives who voted against the Bill apparently do not want his assistance in the preparation of the no case. There is nothing the Government can do to assist. The honourable senator is against our viewpoint and we will prepare the yes case. If other people do not want the honorable senator’s assistance in preparing the no case, complain to them.
-My question is directed to the Attorney-General. In view of important matters which have arisen, I ask: Is it not a fact that in 1951 the then GovernorGeneral, Sir William McKell, and the then Prime Minister, Mr Robert Menzies, accepted that the Governor-General had an independent discretion as to how he exercised his choice under section 128 of the Constitution and the double dissolution section, section 57? Is it not a fact that, first of all 2 weeks ago, and secondly last week, the Attorney-General informed the Senate that it was urgent that the referendum Bills be dealt with by the Senate? In the light of those considerations why has the Prime Minister not approached the Governor-General? Does the Prime Minister intend to approach the Govenor-General?When does the Prime Minister propose to approach the Governor-General?
– I do not intend to get involved in questions of history, or what was done and what view was taken in 195 1. As to what the Prime Minister has done and what approaches he has made to the Governor-General, I do not propose to answer. The Prime Minister will make any statement he thinks proper to make at the time he thinks proper.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Primary Industry. In his discussions with officials of Papua New Guinea regarding the allocation of fishing rights to Papua New Guinea vessels in the Gulf of Carpentaria will he make a distinction in the allocation of rights between Papua New Guinea registered vessels which are owned by Middle East interests, notably Kuwait, and vessels which are owned by indigenous Papua New Guineans? Can the Minister indicate to the Senate on what basis that distinction will be made?
– On the previous occasion when an agreement was reached between the Australian and Papua New Guinea Governments in respect of licensed vessels fishing in the Gulf of Carpentaria, the matter of some of those vessels not being registered in Papua New Guinea was fully discussed. It is my understanding that in conjunction with the Department of Foreign Affairs it was agreed that the vessels which may not have been owned in Papua New Guinea would be included as vessels permitted to fish in the Gulf of Carpentaria. It is my understanding that the present negotiations concerning the number of licences which may be issued for the coming season do not envisage reopening this aspect of the negotiations. Currently we are considering the number of licences which will be issued. I would not anticipate that the suggestion mentioned by the honourable senator will arise or that the arrangements entered into last time are likely to be altered in the forthcoming agreement.
-Can the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs advise the Senate of the total amount of the grant allocated by the Federal Government to Western Australia for the financial year 1973-74 for the purpose of Aboriginal advancement? How does this grant compare with that provided for the same purpose during the previous year?
-Grants allocated for Aboriginal advancement this year are almost double those of previous years. They are spread over the various States and grants have been increased in all States. The grant to Western Australia for this year- that is, the 1973-74 financial year-totals $11,090,000 for all work projects. This grant again is much in excess of that of last year, which was in the vicinity of $6.8m.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Education, is related to the Government’s election policy speech in 1972 and the Prime Minister’s commitment to establish a pre-schools commission as part of the program of national enrichment. What is the present position with regard to the Fry report and the discussions which I understand were initiated with the Social Welfare Commission? Will the Government introduce this session legislation to establish a pre-schools commission to fulfil the election policy commitment and thus avoid further delay in a national responsibility to provide adequate educational opportunities?
-To answer the last portion of the honourable senator’s question first, I point out that the Government is elected for a period of 3 years and therefore has that period in which to effect the mandate given to it by the people. So the timetable for the introduction of the legislation will be a matter for determination by the Government, having regard to the overall priorities established by it. In regard to the first portion of the honourable senator’s question, I have a recollection that Senator Rae addressed a similar question to me about a fortnight or 3 weeks ago, concerning the report of the Fry Committee and discussions between that Committee and members of the Social Welfare Commission. I undertook to obtain information from my colleague, the Minister for Education, to provide to Senator Rae. I will further pursue the matter and see what details 1 can acquire for the honourable senator.
-Will the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs inform the Senate of details of the amounts of money allocated to the Western Australian Government during the year 1972-73 for Aboriginal education in that State? Was the amount allocated to Western Australia increased during the 1973-74 financial year in line with the Labor Government’s promise to increase the funds made available to that State for Aboriginal education?
– I call Senator Cotton. I beg your pardon; I call Senator Cavanagh.
-Mr President, that is nearly unforgivable. The Department of Aboriginal Affairs makes grants to the various States for Aboriginal health purposes. These grants are additional to the normal health grants. In the main the Department of Health is concerned with the health of the various communities, but this is an occasion on which -
- Mr President, if I may interrupt the Minister, my question was directed not to health but to education.
-We are all becoming confused today. The same situation applies in relation to education grants. The various States receive grants which are additional to the normal education grants. These additional amounts are voted to the various States for the education of Aboriginal people where there are special requirements. In 1972-73, $618,000 was allocated to Western Australia for this purpose; and in 1 973-74, $936,500 was voted for the same purpose.
– Thank you for the recent compliment, Mr President. I just wish that I was as good looking as the Minister representing the Minister for Transport, to whom this question is addressed. Is it a fact that upon taking office this Government abandoned plans that had been made and approved to expand and upgrade Brisbane Airport and to create new international and domestic terminals there?
– I think that some consideration has been given to the upgrading of Brisbane airport. This, too, is a matter that I shall refer to the Minister for Transport and get all the details that I can.
-Has the Minister for the Media seen a report in today’s Melbourne papers that negotiations have been settled between the Victorian Football League and the television stations about the replay rights of Australian Rules football? Can the Minister say whether the agreement has been reached and, if so, whether the agreement is in accordance with the terms outlined by Sir Maurice Nathan? Does this agreement cover replays in other States of the Commonwealth which, I understand, have large viewing audiences, particularly Queensland and New South Wales?
– I can tell the honourable senator that agreement has been reached between the Victorian Football League and one commercial station and the Australian Broadcasting Commission. But so far as the ABC is concerned the report which appears in, I think, the Melbourne ‘Age’ is not in accordance with what I have been informed. I cannot answer for the commercial station. I understand that the ABC has negotiated an arrangement whereby it will purchase Melbourne, regional and interstate rights for replays. I have been informed by both the Chairman and the General Manager of the ABC that the figure to be paid under the new arrangement is only 1 5 per cent up on the previous figure which was negotiated some 4 years ago. One also must bear in mind of course that next year colour television comes into being. Whereas previously the ABC purchased separate rights for Melbourne, regional and interstate stations it now will have only one contract covering them all. I as Minister have agreed in principle to the arrangement entered into by the ABC but the matter has not yet been submitted to me for formal approval.
– I ask a question of the Minister representing the Minister for Housing. I preface it by saying that no doubt the Minister has seen a copy of the reply sent to me about mid-February by the Minister for Housing in which he replied to a question concerning the number of houses at present required in Australia. However, that reply failed to give the estimated number of houses required. I now ask: Is the Minister able yet to advise the number of houses presently required in Australia; secondly, whether in fact we are heading for a housing shortage that will be greater than that which followed the last war; thirdly, whether the Government has any immediate plans to direct more attention to this area of need so that low income earners and young people may anticipate that one day they will be able to own their own houses; or is this attitude of individual home ownership one that the Government is trying to get rid of?
-I would say in reply to the last question that the whole attitude of the Government, as shown by its decision to give rebates of interest payments on mortgages from taxation, is to encourage home ownership. It will be remembered that when the Government came into power the Minister for Housing reported that there were, I think, 93,000 applicants for housing trust homes and that efforts were being concentrated on trying to get houses for those people most deserving of them. Special money was made available to the States at low interest rates for the purpose of increasing housing this year. A result was that the demand for housing exceeded the availability of materials and skilled manpower.
The increase in interest rates for housing loans was meant to cure this position and that has had such an effect that the Government can now see its way clear to make other concessions for the purchase of houses. As to the number of houses short of requirements in Australia we have never been able to get accurate figures. To try to overcome the position Federal Cabinet approved in December the setting up of an interdepartmental committee chaired by an officer of the Department of Housing and Construction to organise the structure and determine the desirable and feasible levels of home building for the period 1974-77. That committee has had several meetings but is has not yet made a report. I would say that this is possibly only the second time in history that there has been some planning for the requirements of the building trade. Honourable senators will remember that the Chifley Government set out the requirements in the post-war reconstruction period. We have gone along haphazardly. At times demand has exceeded supply and at times supply has exceeded demands with a consequent fluctuation of employment opportunities in the building trade. There is a determination on this occasion to assess the needs and with Government assistance to meet the needs that arise.
– My question is directed to the Minister assisting the Minister for Defence. Is there any substance in a report emanating from northern Queensland that an Australian naval patrol vessel has been cruising around islands off the coast of New Guinea with a doctor on board and that Indonesian citizens are involved?
-The incident is over, but substantially the report is correct. The position is that on 15 March the Royal Australian Navy received a report from the Department of Health and the Department of Customs and Excise stating that a number of Indonesians- seven, I think- had lost their bearings and had arrived at an island called Dauan on a native prow from Merauke. The depts were concerned about the health of the party. HMAS ‘Bayonet’ left Cairns with a doctor on board. The Indonesians were found to be in good health and the Indonesian Embassy was advised. We are awaiting instructions about returning these Indonesians to their homeland. Action was taken fairly promptly. I am not sure what has happened since, but as far as their health is concerned they are in a satisfactory condition. As I said, we are awaiting instructions for their return.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Primary Industry. Can he indicate whether the President of the Australian Conservation Foundation has urged conservationists to ban the impending wood industry conference to be held in Canberra? Does he know whether this boycott will be imposed by the Australian Conservation Foundation? Will there be facilities at the conference to enable any honourable senator who desires to attend in an observor’s capacity to do so?
– Some reservations have been expressed by the current executive of the Australian Conservation Foundation about the forthcoming Forwood Conference. Up until recently the Foundation has given assistance to the Government in preparing the conference but I understand that there are certain executive members of the Foundation who have some reservations about the conference. The plans for the conference were drawn up 3 years ago by State ministers at a meeting of the Australian Forestry Council. The purpose of the conference is to advise the Government on long term planning aspects of forestry in Australia, not to make decisions about Australian forestry. I would hope that those members of the conservation groups will see this as an exercise designed to protect Australian forests, not to over-exploit them. In so far as attendance at meetings in concerned, if any members of the Senate is interested in attending as an observer he only has to let me know and I will make arrangements.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Tourism and Recreation. Has the Minister seen reports that the Australian Government is to pay half the cost of a world tour by an Australian Rules football team? Is this correct? Is the Minister aware that rowing crews chosen to represent their States, including the Kings Cup crew of South Australia, pay nearly all their own expenses for competing in the Australian championships? Is the Minister also aware that many in the South Australian Kings Cup crew this year are students, including some working students who have to forfeit pay as well as to incur costs to compete for their State? As the Government has stated that it is willing to give financial assistance to an overseas tour for an Australian team, will the Minister also give financial assistance to rowing crews chosen to represent their State, as well as other sporting bodies that need financial support for such competition?
– I saw a newspaper report about this matter. In the belief that a question of this nature might be raised, I sought some information from my colleague, the Minister for Tourism and Recreation. I am advised that last week the Minister for Tourism and Recreation announced that the Government would consider giving financial and other assistance to the 2 Australian Rules football teams referred to by the honourable senator that are planning overseas tours. But at no stage was it indicated by my colleague that half the costs would be met by the Government. No sums or percentages have been mentioned.
Dealing with the second part of the honourable senator’s question, the honourable senator will understand that those who participate in rowing, like those who engage in all amateur sports, are eligible to seek and to receive a government grant for national championships or world titles. Last November the Department of Tourism and Recreation informed the Australian Amateur Rowing Council of this entitlement giving accurate details of the grants available for certain events and also of procedures involved in obtaining a grant. To this date, the Department of Tourism and Recreation has not received any application for financial assistance for the national rowing championships which, I understand, are to be held at Easter. That being the case, the onus is clearly on the Rowing Association. If the competitors from the various States will pay nearly all their expenses to compete at the national championships, as claimed by the honourable senator, this will possibly be the result of an oversight by their own Council, it having failed to apply for a grant which almost certainly it would have received.
My colleague, the Minister, advises me that all national amateur sporting organisations are now fully aware of the Government’s sports assistance program. They know how and where to apply for grants. If they do not, they are likely to miss out on the benefits of this program because it is not regarded as an automatic handout machine.
– All I can say is that if that is an answer to a question without notice, it is the most brilliant demonstration of political clairvoyance I have ever come across.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Tourism and Recreation, follows upon the question that was asked by Senator Young. Was there some breakdown in communication between the Australian and Chinese Governments when an invitation was extended for a ping-pong team to visit China and instead preparations were made to send an Australian Rules Team?
– I do not know whether there was any breakdown in communication. I know that when the Labor Government came into office arrangements were made for a ping-pong team to come to Australia.
Subsequently, that led to international recognition between the People ‘s Republic of China and the Australian Government. The honourable senator referred to Senator Young’s question. Perhaps the honourable senator will realise that that game is commonly referred to by followers of the sport that he follows as aerial ping-pong.
– To get away from sport and closer to the health of the people, I ask the Minister for Repatriation, if he is not aware of the situation, whether he will institute inquiries to discover whether a number of repatriation pensioners seeking medical advice in the Australian Capital Territory are unable to obtain the services of general practitioners because so many doctors in the Australian Capital Territory, as a result of the developing sense of insecurity brought about by the Government’s emerging health policy, are either leaving the Territory or accepting salaried positions? Is it a fact that a general practioner receives only $2 for each visit of a repatriation pensioner?
– No, the information is not correct. Discussions between my Department and the Australian Medical Association have been very satisfactory in relation to surgery consultation fees. In the Territory at present a fee of $3.20 is paid. As to the availability of local medical officers, as far as I am aware the position is satisfactory in the Territory. About 60 doctors are still available for Repatriation work. Recently four have been recruited and three have left the Territory; so the position is not much different from what it was before. Whilst there are rumours about repatriation services in the Territory and elsewhere the Department keeps a close check on the situation and there are monthly summaries. We know of no rumours which indicate that anywhere, including the Territory, will there be any difficulty in servicing repatriation pensioners.
– I ask the Minister for the Media: Is it a fact that the Queensland Institute of Technology is offering a bachelor of business degree with a major in communications? Will the Department of the Media provide assistance in studies of this sort?
– It is appropriate for Senator Milliner to ask the question because I am reminded that he served on the original planning committee that was set up by the Queensland Government to establish the Queensland Institute of Technology. The Institute has decided to establish a major in Communications for its business degree course. An officer of my Department- the head of the Audio-visual Section- has been invited to take part in the arrangements that are being made to establish it and a degree course in journalism. I believe that, as a result of the developments that are taking place in this field, Chairs of Communication will be established in Australia in the next four or five years.
-1 ask the Minister representing the Minister for Housing and Construction or the Minister representing the Treasurer, whoever is the appropriate Minister: As part of the Government’s proposal for taxation deductions for mortgage interest in respect of housing, has it been decided that the benefit will be applicable to only the first home of a taxpayer or will it apply to successive homes that a taxpayer acquires during his life?
-As I understand the position, when it is finally decided it will apply to the principal home and not of necessity to the first home; but it will not apply to such buildings as shacks.
-I did not ask that. Is it the first home or successive homes?
-Successive; but it will always apply to the principal home which someone needs to live in.
-I direct my question to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. How much money was provided by the Federal Government for special works projects conducted by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in Western Australia during 1972-7? How many major projects in Western Australia were funded during that period? How many applications have been received by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs for financial assistance during the current year? What effect on the conditions of the Aboriginal population of Western Australia has resulted from this assistance?
– Special works projects have been introduced whereby we give money to local councils for the purpose of the employment of Aborigines. The increase in the number of applications has been astronomical and it has been necessary to impose some restrictions. Money is now allocated where it will have the most effect upon Aboriginal communities. The requirement is that Aboriginals are employed. In Western Australia in 1972-73 the sum of $691,000 was provided for the employment of Aboriginals. I believe that 48 applications have been received this year for assistance. The total amount paid in this respect is to be found in special figures which are under consideration at this time. This assistance has had a very beneficial effect in the north of Western Australia. In one town, a slabmaking factory has been successful. I believe it has now become a commercial undertaking.
– Has the Minister for the Media seen a report in today’s Press that the Australian-owned Advertising Agencies Council is outraged at the granting of a government contract worth $ 1.25 m to an overseas owned agency? I ask: Were any or all of the 200 Australian agencies invited to make submissions to the Government? Does the appointment of the overseas owned agency comply with Labor Government policy? Does the Government consider that Australian agencies are not competent to educate Australians about their own Government?
Senator DOUGLAS McCLELLANDShortly after this Government assumed office George Patterson Pty Ltd, an agency which has been doing work on behalf of a series of Commonwealth governments dating back to the days of the Chifley Labor Government, approached me with an idea for a creative campaign relating to aspects of the machinery of government. In turn, I mentioned the matter to the Prime Minister and to the Treasurer. It was subsequently decided to proceed with the campaign. Because George Patterson Pty Ltd had originated the idea, it was decided that that company should be responsible for and should be asked to do the creative work in that campaign. In other words, the Government’s options were to accept the idea, to reject the idea or to steal it and give it to someone else.
However, the honourable senator obviously is under a misapprehension. George Patterson Pty Ltd does not receive the $1-1 /4m. A contractual arrangement has not been entered into with that company. The simple fact is that all agency fees that are paid by the Government are pooled and distributed by an organisation known as the Australian Government Advertising Council. On that body, as a result of action taken by me to restructure it, there is a majority of Australian owned agencies. This was certainly not the case under the previous Government. An interesting point that I note is that the Chairman of the organisation known as AUSTAC, Mr Cummings, who is now critical of the Government in this regard, is one of 2 people whom I actually appointed to the Council after he was unsuccessful in a ballot for election to it. I say to the honourable senator and to the advertising industry that any agency is entitled to present creative ideas to the Government and certainly any ideas will be given full consideration.
-Could the Leader of the Government in the Senate set up a register for the purpose of keeping the Senate informed of which parties are represented in the Senate? Would provisions be included in the register that would identify the big ‘Ls’, the little ‘ls’, the trendy ‘ls’, and the flaming ‘ls’, who would be described as the red ‘1’ element? Would a call of the Senate be made to identify the National Liberals, the National Alliance, the National Party of Australia, the Liberal Party, the Country Party and the Democratic Labor Party? I conclude by asking whether the Leader of the Government could give details to the Senate of the record of this conglomerate of parties during the present session by showing the degree of obstruction being practised in the Senate.
– Order! Before the Leader of the Government in the Senate replies to that question, I point out to all honourable senators that the Standing Orders of this chamber make no reference to any party.
– Yes, I will give consideration to the first two proposals put forward by the honourable senator. I think we would all like to know just what is going on amongst those honourable senators opposite us. I do not think they know themselves. The honourable senator made a third request about the divisions which have taken place and about the results of the divisions demonstrating the obstruction by Opposition senators. I think I can comply with that request, and I will inform the Senate about this matter. There have been a number of divisions. On 6 March there were 8 divisions, and the Government was defeated 8 times. On 7 March there were 10 divisions and it was defeated 10 times. On 12 March there was one division and the Government was defeated. On 13 March there were 3 divisions and it was defeated 3 times. On 14 March there were 4 divisions and the Government was defeated 3 times. On 19
March there were 3 divisions and the Government was defeated 3 times. On 20 March there was one division and the Government was defeated.
– By way of a point of order, I raise this question: To what extent is the Leader of the Government permitted to answer in this way? He is debating material of the character which one could readily imagine being used by him in putting a point of view in the course of a debate. In my submission, it is an improper use of question time and of his right to answer.
– I am reminded of the old biblical injunction ‘He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone’.
– -If I may finish-to collate that information for the benefit of everyone, it means that so far this year there have been 30 divisions and the Government has been defeated 29 times.
– I call Senator Dame Nancy Buttfield because of matters which the Senate will readily understand. I do not wish to make it tedious for her.
Senator Dame NANCY BUTTFIELDThank you, Mr President. My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Is it a fact that when this Government undertakes to insure war service homes an upper limit of approximately $10,000 is placed on the amount of cover provided? Will the Leader agree that this amount is quite unrealistic and that if a house should be destroyed by fire, storm or tempest it would be impossible to replace it with that amount? If the Government intends to go ahead with its proposal to set up a national insurance company which would set out to insure the homes of the general community, will the Leader undertake to discuss with his colleagues the need to eliminate a limit of this type so there can be a realistic replacement value?
– I confess that I am not sure whether a limit is established, except with the concurrence of the home owner. But the matters which the honourable senator has raised are very important, and I certainly will discuss them with the Ministers who have the responsibility.
-Can the Attorney-General inform the Senate what has become of the proposal to introduce a small claims court in the Australian Capital Territory?
Was he correctly reported in the Press as saying that the court’s jurisdiction would be limited to claims not exceeding $500? As the purpose of the court, as I understand it, is to simplify legal procedures and minimise legal costs, will the Attorney-General give consideration to raising the financial limit so that more people will be able to take advantage of the court?
– Order! I hope the Attorney-General will not trespass on the business paper of the Senate in replying to that question.
– I am happy to announce that the ordinance establishing the small claims procedure will come into effect next week. At the time I was correctly reported as saying that the limit would be $500. Since then it has been altered, and it will be $1,000. This figure seems to be generally accepted. The small claims procedure was proposed by the Law Reform Commission of the Australian Capital Territory, with the exception that the limit, I think, which it suggested was originally $300. 1 was speaking to one of the members of the Commission last night. He thought that the lifting of the limit to $ 1 ,000 was a wise move. As honourable senators may know, it is intended to introduce a very simple and inexpensive procedure by which small claims may be determined without the traditional formalities and in a way which I think everyone will welcome. For example, there are no court costs, except on the actual enforcement of the execution of a judgment. In many other ways the procedures are something we have wanted for a long time.
– I direct a question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I refer to the governmental direction to the Lawn Tennis Association of Australia not to send an official team of 2 women players to South Africa later this year to compete in a Federation Cup selection event that is described by the Association as a multi-racial event. On what criteria does the Government determine its policies in relation to Australian participation in international sport? Is the sign of the hammer and sickle a prerequisite of or of major assistance in ensuring governmental acceptance of such participation?
– I think everyone here ought to be clear on the Government’s attitude to apartheid. I think the honourable senator himself will recall the decisions of the General Assembly of the United Nations and the United Nations Conference on Human Rights and the other resolutions which requested the various member nations not to participate in cultural or sporting activities with countries which were practising apartheid. As I recall it, that was not limited to non-participation in matters which were instances of apartheid. As I understand it, the resolution would apply even if a particular engagement happened to be a multi-racial one, as if that were some token. However, my understanding is that this event was not to be a multiracial activity. Whatever it may have been dressed up to be, it was not to be multi-racial. The honourable senator can be assured that the Government is doing everything it can to carry out the decisions of the United Nations in this matter and that it will continue to do so.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for the Media. In view of the very poor quality of television reception in certain areas of Canberra, will the Minister confer with his colleague, the Minister for the Capital Territory, with a view to permitting Canberra residents to erect outside antennae in an effort to improve the quality of reception?
– I have asked the Australian Broadcasting Control Board to give me a report on reception generally throughout Australia, or the inadequacies of reception. Canberra certainly is coming into that category. 1 have had discussions with my colleague, the Minister for the Capital Territory, and I have had representations from the Minister for Secondary Industry and member for the Australian Capital Territory, Mr Enderby about reception problems.
– I ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate whether he will clarify completely the attitude of the Government towards the proposed United States base on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. Is the Government in favour of or in opposition to the proposal? Will an equivocal statement be made in regard to the proposal?
-Out of deference to Senator Kane who asked a question on this matter, I trust that I will be forgiven if I do not reply. Senator Kane asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs a question without notice on precisely this subject. I have here a reply on behalf of the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs. It is to be presented later.
-Is the Minister for the Media aware that there is a move for strike action among Press secretaries to Federal Ministers and Public Service journalists because of the intransigence of the Public Service Board? Has the Board failed to honour a 20-year-old practice of granting to these employees of the Australian Government an automatic flow-on of salary increases given to daily newspaper journalists? Is the Minister aware that these Australian Government journalists are to meet in Canberra this afternoon to consider the Public Service Board’s action? Is it a fact that the New South Wales Government already has granted the full flow-on to State Press secretaries? Would not the Board ‘s current attitude constitute an embarrassment to the Australian Government and a challenge to the policies of that Government?
– I can tell the honourable senator that journalists in the employ of Ministers or of Government departments do not come within my immediate jurisdication except for those who are employed within the Australian Information Service. Representations have been made to me- in fact they were made over a month ago by the Federal Secretary of the Australian Journalists Associationin relation to journalists employed within the Department of the Media in respect of the matter raised by the honourable senator. In turn I referred the matter to my colleague the Minister for Labour and also the Prime Minister who has ministerial responsibility for the administration of the Public Service Board. I have expressed my personal sympathy in support of a case put forward to me by the Australian Journalists Association.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Primary Industry. In reply to my question of 19 March on the wheat stabilisation scheme, did the Minister’s answer imply that in the event of the Western Australian Government’s supporting a State wheat marketing authority the Australian Government would deny to the industry in Western Australia the right to obtain first advance finance from the Rural Credits Section of the Reserve Bank? If so, would this restriction be applied to other States, and if not, would this not constitute a violation of section 99 of the Commonwealth Constitution? Does the Minister’s reply contain a veiled threat to the wheat industry in Western Australia towards acceptance by the State’s growers of the new stabilisation scheme? Is he aware also that a poll of Western Australian growers on this matter is being organised?
-With great respect to the honourable senator, the so called veiled threats have been thrown around for some time and quite frankly they are pretty old hat. All I can say is that the Western Australian Government’s Minister advised me yesterday of that Government’s acceptance of the stabilisation scheme. The Australian Wheatgrowers Association Federal Executive has advised me of its acceptance. All but one State in the Commonwealth at this stage have indicated their acceptance of it. I am not aware of any survey being held among Western Australian wheat growers but I think it would be a fairly futile exercise. Insofar as the State of Western Australia is concerned, I am quite sure that it has been accepted, and it certainly has so far as this Government is concerned.
– My question, addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Air, relates to our fighter bomber. Is the role of the Fill aircraft to fight or to bite? I refer to a report in Monday’s Press that dental mechanics were being used to do fine drilling and difficult repair tasks to keep the sophisticated FI 1 1 in the air? Can the Minister give me some imformation about this report?
– This operation attracted the attention of a newspaper recently. I think it was on Monday or Tuesday.
-On Monday. As I recall the facts, it is not an unusual technique. It is a technique which is well established. In this case dental technicians were used to take an impression with dental plaster. It is possible in this way to get a very fine impression of cracks in fuel tanks, for example. This was done very satisfactorily by two musterings of the Royal Australian Air Force. It is a technique used in the United States of America and in other air force administrations. This demonstrates the adaptability of a mustering which is not being used in its own specialist category. The net result is that this is a good device for getting a mould and for repairing these tanks where necessary.
-Has the Minister representing the Minister for Education noted the statement made by the Secretary of the
SPELD organisation- that is, the specific learning difficulties organisation- to the effect that children who have difficulty in learning to read are receiving a raw deal? Is the Minister aware of the recommendations contained in the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Education Science and the Arts on the Commonwealth’s role in teacher education which urges the establishment of particular training courses for teachers to meet the special learning difficulty need and the further reference in the Karmel report calling for urgent and early consideration of the matter? Can the Minister advise on the latest position in response to these recommendations? If not, will he urge the Government to note the claims of the SPELD organisation and establish plans to meet this need?
– I do recall seeing the statement to which the honourable senator has referred, and I know that recently something was said about this matter by my colleague, the Minister for Education. But I would be relying only on memory if I dared attempt to repeat what the Minister said, so I think the honourable senator had best place the question on the notice paper and I will get a proper reply for him.
– My question which is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health refers to the drug methadone which is used in the treatment of heroin addiction. It is used as a substitute for heroin in withdrawal therapy. I ask: Has the Minister’s attention been drawn to the statement made yesterday by the New York health authorities that methadone is killing as many people as is heroin? Will the Government, as a matter of urgency, obtain the basic medical evidence from New York underlying that statement in order to guide Australian health authorities in the future use, if any, of methadone in this country?
– I have not seen the statement to which the honourable senator has referred. I shall make inquiries of my colleague, the Minister fore Health, to see what the latest position is on the matter. Knowing the efficiency of my colleague, I think it is beyond doubt that he will have something on it.
– Has the Minister for the Media seen a report that the Australian Broadcasting Control Board yesterday backed down from its ultimatum to the Channel 7 network to revise drastically the new television program ‘Class of ‘74’? Is this report correct? Is the program ‘Class of ‘74’ still to be shown in family viewing time?
– I am advised by the Australian Broadcasting Control Board that there was considerable discussion yesterday between members of the Board and representatives of the Channel 7 network about this program. I am informed by the Board that agreement was reached that a statement should be issued stating that the station had agreed with the Board that it, the station, had produced a program which was not in accordance with the Board’s family viewing time standards and that the station would drastically revise the program accordingly. The Board has revised one or two episodes of the program and I understand that for the time being it is now looking at every episode before it goes to air. I am informed also by the Board that the manager and program manager of the station concerned are being called in for interview by the Board this afternoon in order to have them explain the reason for the apparent departure from the agreed statement.
– I ask that further questions go on the notice paper.
- Mr President, I invite the Attorney-General to say why he is departing from the usual practice of allowing an hour for question time. There is a motion which I could move but which I do not want to have to move. There is a common arrangement that we have an hour for questions. Now question time is being cut down to 50 minutes. Is this an indication of some new practice that is going to be followed?
– I do not know whether question time has been cut down. I have not taken any notice of it.
– I invite the Leader of the Government in the Senate to indicate whether he is following this procedure today because he knows that the Leader of the Opposition is not here.
– Order! I must absolve the Leader of the Government in the Senate from any blame in this regard because I asked him to come to my chair. I said to him that every honourable senator who has tried to catch my attention this morning has had a question allotted to him and that it seemed perhaps a convenient time, if necessary, to end questions because of the loaded notice paper that we have today. I accept the blame.
– 1 thank you, Mr President, for–
– I raise a point of order. I was of the view, Mr President, that you had noted my name on your pad, having looked at me once or twice since 1 1 o’clock I was anxious to ask a question. If I could be permitted to do so, I would be grateful.
– I am sure that the Leader of the Government in the Senate -
– May I have leave to make an observation?
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– I thank you, Mr President, for saying what you did. I did not intend to say this, but I think it would be more appropriate if these suggestions about somebody doing something because the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Withers) is not here were not constantly thrown up. I do not think an imputation of this kind really helps us. I think it would be more appropriate if we were able to carry on our business without that kind of suggestion constantly being made.
It seemed to me that my action was appropriate in the light of what you said, Mr President. If somebody was standing, and if we are to have some peace today, perhaps the best thing to do is to go on. But I may put to the Senate a proposal about question time. Frankly, in the view of the Government an hour is too long. It is not assisting the Senate; it is not assisting question time. I think we probably would be better off if we accepted the traditional three-quarters of an hour which operates in the House of Representatives. No doubt this can be discussed in some formal way on a motion.
– Is question time finished, Mr President?
– It is up to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. He can listen to the plea by Senator Webster if he so desires. I call Senator Webster.
– As a result of the statement made by the Leader of the Government, I feel that if I were to ask a question in these circumstances the Minister concerned would direct that it be put on the notice paper. So I decline to ask the question.
– I had not intended to do this, but I now ask that further questions go on the notice paper.
– Order! Just as a matter of interest to honourable senators, I point out that the time occupied this morning on questions was 64 minutes of which 58 minutes was occupied on questions without notice.
– Which clock were you looking at, Mr President?
– Order! I rely not on my sight but on my officers who keep the actual time in respect of the business that occupies the Senate.
- Mr President, I seek leave to make a short statement in response.
-Is leave granted?
– Leave is not granted.
Motion (by Senator Murphy) agreed to:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent Senator Drake-Brockman proceeding with the motion for the second reading of his Industries Assistance Commission Bill 1 974, which is order of the day No. 7.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Honourable senators will recall that when the legislation to establish the Industries Assistance Commission was introduced last year, the Australian Country Party expressed its opposition to the proposal to establish such an organisation and opposed the legislation. It will be recalled that the Australian Country Party objected to the establishment of what we saw as a new bureaucratic central planning body with powers and influence of a kind that should reside only in the Government and the Parliament. We also expressed concern at what we saw as the ending of the long-established system of consultation and negotiation on a direct basis between industry and government. The Commission is now in operation, of course, and while our objections remain, the purpose of the Bill I have just introduced is to close a loophole which has become apparent.
The recent decision of the Government to let the bounty on superphosphate lapse without having the matter examined by the Commission has brought this legislative loophole to light. I am sure that all honourable senators were under the impression- as I was- that any assistance measure of this kind would be referred to the Commission before the Government made a decision as to whether it should be abolished or continued. Section 23 (4) (h) of the Industries Assistance Commission Act says, in effect, taken in association with other clauses, that the Australian Government cannot suspend, withdraw, increase or reduce financial assistance provided to industry for a period exceeding 2 years without a prior reference to the Commission. I think that this would have been taken by most people to mean that the long-standing fertiliser bounty assistance, for example, could not be withdrawn without a reference to the Commission.
However, a legislative subtlety allows the Minister administering the Act to escape this requirement. Section 23 (3) says that the Minister ‘Shall not take any action’ on the matters referred to in Section 4, including paragraph (h), before reference to the Commission. Thus, the Minister is able to claim that in allowing legislation to lapse he is not ‘taking action’. He is simply allowing something to expire. This Bill provides that where assistance has been provided or is being provided under legislation, and the assistance will lapse with the expiration of the legislation, the Minister is legally obliged to refer the matter to the Commission for inquiry and report.
To express it in the simplest terms, the Bill says that what has been provided in the past in the way of assistance should not be taken away without the recommendation of the Commission. Faced with the reality of the commission, the Country Party believes the Government should not be able to pick and choose amongst the matters to be referred to the Commission. This Bill obviously would have specific application to the fertiliser bounties which are scheduled to expire at the end of this year, but other legislation also would be affected. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Wriedt) adjourned.
– I move:
I will indicate to the Senate the proposed sitting dates. We will resume on 2 April and in that week sit on 2, 3 and 4 April. In the following week we will sit on 8, 9 and 10 April, the first of those dates being a Monday. Then we will sit on 17,18 and 1 9 April in order to cope with the Easter period, and again on 30 April, 1 May and 2 May. In the following 2 weeks we will sit on 7, 8 and 9 May and 14, 15 and 16 May. That sets out the pattern. It does not necessarily end there, but it is probably not safe to go beyond that date at this juncture. I am giving the information to the Senate as I understand it, and it is subject to the will of the Senate and changes in the Government’s program. I could take a program through to June but it is clear that the times are based on 3 sitting weeks followed by 1 week’s recess. I do not think honourable senators should draw any conclusions about other matters simply because of the pattern. If there is any change, I will let the Senate know as soon as I can. Obviously honourable senators need to program their own engagements.
– At what time do we resume on Tuesday?
– The sessional orders provide for resumption at 1 1 a.m. on Tuesday.
– As I understand the motion it is that we resume on 2 April. Naturally, the Opposition appreciates the information that the schedule we have been given will be adhered to. We are also grateful that the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Murphy) has clarified what had been a matter of some doubt as to the sitting dates. We now know what the sitting dates are to be. Whilst it is not a matter for the Opposition to approve or not approve of those sitting dates we know what the Leader of the Government in the Senate has in mind. But 2 questions do arise. The first is how these dates will fit in with the date of the Senate election. The second is whether it is suggested that a Senate election could be held and senators would not be permitted, because of the Government’s desire that the Senate should be sitting, to move around their electorates and to campaign for that Senate election.
The first matter to which those questions give rise is the date of the Senate election. I think it is time we were told what the date of that Senate election will be. I refer the Leader of the Government in the Senate to what would appear to me to be eminently sensible words which he used in the past, in the hope that he would desire some consistency in this area. I note that on 28 September 1 972 Senator Murphy said to the Senate:
Why has no indication been given by the Government as to when the election is to be held? This is a matter of some seriousness to the Parliament. Surely this childish approach to the programming of Parliament has gone on long enough and the Parliament is entitled to be told when the election will be held and what the program is for the Parliament.
– How did you reply to that?
– I think that statement was made about 2 months before the 1 972 election. From my recollection, and I do speak from recollection, almost immediately thereafter I do not say it was cause and effect- the date of the election was announced. I can only suggest to the Leader of the Government in the Senate that what he said then as Leader of the Opposition has a particular relevance at present. The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) is playing a cat and mouse game, which is a silly and childish game, in not stating when the Senate election is to be held. I invite the Leader of the Government in the Senate to respond.
The second aspect, of course, is to obtain some indication of what the Government’s intentions are with regard to the sittings of the Senate- possibly the sittings of both Houses of the Parliament- during the Senate election campaign. Is it the view of the Leader of the Government in the Senate that the Senate should not rise to enable senators to campaign for the Senate election? Is it his view that we should be sitting throughout the period of the Senate election campaign? If his view is that we ought to have the opportunity to campaign, is he prepared to say that the dates he has given us will not be changed? What is the reason for, as I said, keeping the Senate in the dark and not disclosing what the Government’s intentions are? This attitude is contrary, if I may say so, to that promise of openness in Government which was so attractive before 2 December 1972.
– I rise to make a brief reference to this matter. The election to which Senator Greenwood referred by quoting Senator Murphy was a House of Representatives election. This election which we are approaching is a Senate election. The Senate has an undoubted right to know what legislation the Government will ask it to consider and to pass or to reject before the time which it is reasonable to give for a Senate election campaign. I do not believe that a decision on that matter should reside in the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Murphy) whose Party is in a minority in this House. The Opposition parties ought to indicate that we will require a period of 3 weeks in which to campaign, and we will cater for a program of legislation that can be properly considered and passed so as to leave a period of 3 weeks before the date on which the Senate election is held. The Senate ought to begin to regularise its business and not wait upon the will and whim of the Leader of the Government in the Senate to tell us from day to day or hour to hour what we are to be invited to consider.
– I rise to support the remarks made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Senator Greenwood, and also by Senator Wright. I wish to take the matter a little further, but I shall not do so in speaking to this motion. I shall use the forms of the Senate to do so at a later opportunity.
– The Australian Democratic Labor Party has a particular interest in this matter. There is no open government in Australia. The date of the election is a secret. When the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) intends to go to the Governor-General to get the certificate for the referenda is a secret.
– Whether he will ask for a double dissolution is a secret.
– Whether he will ask for a double dissolution is a secret. Everything is a secret under open government. We are not to be told whether there will be a period in which senators can campaign.’ We are denied any knowledge as to whether the Government intends to keep the Senate sitting. Is it the intention of the Government to keep here the 5 DLP senators, particularly the 3 who will be fighting for their seats, while the Senate campaign is conducted by members of the House of Representatives and by State parliamentarians who are members of the Government Party? Is that the proposal? If the Government suggests that it proposes not to permit the Senate to rise for an adequate period to allow senators to put their case before the people, this Party will be one which will not shrink from voting to ensure that the Senate rises for an adequate period. It is for other parties to determine their point of view, but if the Government proposes to deny Senators Kane, Byrne and Little the opportunity to campaign and to defend their seats and if the Government proposes to keep them here while other people do the campaigning, the DLP, if nobody else does, will move that the Senate rise for an adequate period.
– in reply- The motion is a simple one. It is that the Senate at its rising adjourn until 2 April. I would have thought that Senator McManus in particular would have welcomed the fact that members of his Party will have the opportunity to campaign in the way in which they desire, which is so necessary and which probably will be so futile. We propose to give them that opportunity. Until 2 April there is a good opportunity. The honourable senator also referred to the terrible conduct of the Government in not informing the Senate whether the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) proposed to ask the Governor-General for a double dissolution. I would have thought that the honourable senator would be appalled if anyone suggested that such matters should be aired in the Senate or elsewhere prior to the Governor-General’s being approached on that question. I do not think it is fitting for me to enter into discussion of what the Prime Minister may or may not ask or when he may or may not ask the Governor-General to exercise any of his functions.
– Would it be fair to ask whether your point of view has been sought?
-The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has pleased me, which he does not do very often, by citing me as an authority for his propositions. If that is possible, anything is possible in this chamber. I am struck by the wisdom of what he read from my remarks in September 1 972.I will convey those remarks to the Prime Minister. We will see whether they have the result that they had in September 1972. If so they may go down in history and be repeated whenever such a question arises. Seriously, what I endeavoured to do at the request of Senator Withers was to indicate broadly to the Senate the pattern being followed and particularly to deal with the matter of Easter because there is a switch in the normal days of sitting. I did not really want to get into these other questions. They are important. I have received the message from honourable senators opposite. I shall convey it to the Prime Minister.
As to the requirements which might be put by the Opposition to the Government, after all it is for the Senate to determine these matters. But we on our side, in any event, and I think the people of Australia will be very pleased when the day of this motley collection of Opposition Parties is no longer in a position to require anything of the Government. To request is one thing but for an Opposition to consider that it is in a position to demand of the Government is indicative of a state of affairs which needs alteration. I think the situation will be altered. The Government will entertain all requests and endeavour to comply with the reasonable ones and even with some which are unreasonable. But no government will accept, and I do not believe the people will accept, that Opposition parties can require and demand of the Government as has been indicated.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from 19 March (vide page 372), on motion by Senator Murphy:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– I simply indicate that I had information from the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Withers) before he was called away for reasons which are known to the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Murphy) that other matters would be taken. This debate has come to us as a surprise and it was not anticipated.
– I am sorry. The Social Services Bill has not come across. It was expected that it would have arrived. If it had it would have been called on.
– Could we suspend?
– If the opposition is caught short- I thought that it would never be caught short in such a measure- then I suggest that the sitting of the Senate be suspended.
– I seek leave to continue my remarks.
Leave granted; Debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended from 12.53 to 2 p.m.
Motion (by Senator Douglas McClelland) proposed:
That Government Business take precedence of General Business at 2.30 p.m., and that meanwhile the Senate proceed to debate order of the day No. 7.
-As I understand it, there are 2 limbs to the motion. The first is that Government Business will take precedence of General Business, which ordinarily, as provided by the sessional orders, would have precedence. If that motion is carried, we will proceed forthwith with order of the day No. 7 which is Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 1973-74. To that motion the Opposition offers no objection; but I wish to take this opportunity to express on behalf of the Opposition our concern about certain ways in which the business of the Senate is being presented.
Let me stress right at the outset that our willingness to agree to Government Business taking precedence over General Business is an earnest of our co-operation and our desire to work with the Government to have a heavy legislative program considered and dealt with. I stress, for the record, that this is the third occasion in this session on which the Opposition parties have yielded their rights in regard to General Business for the purpose of dealing with Government Business. On the first 2 occasions, of course, it was apparent that the referendum Bills were desired by the Government and we co-operated with the Government in ensuring that those measures were debated. We can only regret, in the light of other things said earlier today, that we still do not know whether the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) has approached the GovernorGeneral and, if he has, whether the GovernorGeneral has determined what action he will take in regard to the Government’s request. The Opposition’s attitude- I stress it because the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Withers) has made it clear time and time again- is that where there is agreement on Bills the Opposition certainly will facilitate their passage through this chamber, but not denying, of course, to the Opposition the opportunity to make shortly, such pertinent comments as the measures may require. Where there are matters to which the Opposition is opposed, the Opposition will make its attitude abundantly clear. We have said, and will continue to say, that in regard to those measures which the Opposition rejects the Opposition will always challenge the Government to exercise the right that it has to take the question to the people for them to decide if there should appear to be a difference between the Houses. No democrat can object to a procedure whereby the people will make the decision if a conflict exists between 2 Houses equally entitled to claim that they are democratically elected. What I have said refers to the aspect of co-operation.
We are concerned about the lack of clarity in this chamber as to what the Government’s legislative program is and what measures are to be discussed. I appreciate that the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Murphy) is not in the chamber at the present time. I say nothing at all about the Ministers who are here because I imagine that they do not have any of the handling of those matters. I accept also that to a very considerable extent the Leader of the Government in this place is not master of the legislative program because he is dependent upon what comes from the other House. However, the administration of the affairs of this whole Parliament, not just of this chamber reflects the same shoddy management as is being shown in regard to the affairs of the country at large. In terms of the country at large, one only has to mention issues such as inflation, interest rates, monetary policy, the growth in the Public Service, strikes and so on, to get some idea of a government which is rudderless and which does not know where it is going or where it will finish up. I sense that an element of that appears in this chamber.
I refer now to the legislation which is supposed to be dealt with today. The first matter- I understand it is a prime necessity today- is the Social Services Bill. Why is the Social Services Bill such a prime necessity? It is because, as we are told and as we accept, unless it is passed today the persons who are to receive the benefits will not receive them at the earliest opportunity that the Government intends? We accept that and therefore are prepared to co-operate, as was made apparent earlier today in discussions between the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Government, in having that Bill passed through the Senate.
Equally, there are some aspects upon which Opposition senators, and doubtless other senators, wish to express themselves. What is the position? We were led to believe that that Bill would be received in this chamber by message at an early hour this day and that when we had finished question time and the formalities of the Senate day we would debate it. At 12.45 p.m. the Bill was not here. It still U not here. At some stage this afternoon- we cannot say that it will be any earlier than 3 o’clock- the Bill will be here.
– We cannot help that.
– I appreciate that Senator Douglas McClelland, who I imagine will be handling the Bill in this chamber as the representative of the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden), is not master of when the measure goes through the House of Representatives. I gather from what I have been told that he was not even aware of when the Bill was to be introduced into the House of Representatives. The point I make is simply that the Government has control of the legislative program and it ought to be able to manage the affairs of the Parliament so that if assurances are given in one chamber the representatives of the Government in the other chamber will be able to adhere to a program. There never has been any doubt about the Government’s ability in the House of Representatives to guillotine measures through, to gag measures through and to insist upon a rigid timetable. Why has that not been done in this case? I can only stress that in this chamber it creates enormous difficulties if an arrangement which is made in the first place is not adhered to. Furthermore, why should the Social Sevices Bill be brought forward at this last minute stage? It has been discussed in the newspapers for months. It has been known for months that there was to be an increase in the pension and that the amount was to be $3.
We know that there have been problems in the Labor Party Caucus. Who is running this countrythe collection which constitutes the Labor Party Caucus or the Government members who are receiving the added emoluments because they are supposed to be running the country? Is that the reason why the introduction of a Bill to give effect to policy is left until the second last day? It was yesterday that it was introduced into the House of Representatives. Is it that the Government has a guilty conscience because it is embarrassed by the fact that there has to be a large increase in order to give just plain justice to pensioners and to others? Is it that the Government fears that there will be debate and caustic comment? Is it fearful of what might be said, for example, about the scandal that exists in regard to the payment of the unemployment benefit, an increase in which is involved in this measure? The real difficulty that the Opposition points to and emphasises is that we do not know, under the way in which this chamber is managed and under the way in which the Parliament as a whole is managed, what are the legislative matters coming up for debate upon which Opposition speakers should be ready and prepared to speak.
To take another Bill on the notice paper, the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 1973-74 was introduced into this chamber yesterday. Although as far as I can see it was not stated on the record in this chamber, the common view expressed around the Parliament was that the Appropriation Bill had to be passed this week in order to ensure that the salaries of public servants were able to be paid after the end of March. Therefore that Bill was speeded through the House of Representatives and it was sought to be dealt with immediately it was introduced into this chamber. But the indication this morning was not to have that Bill debated today. Is it because the Bill is not as urgent as it was, or is it that the original reason given for it being urgent was not the proper reason? But the difficulties which an Opposition is confronted with when a Bill is regarded as urgent on a Wednesday night, is adjourned part-heard, and is not proceeded with on the Thursday and apparently is not intended to be pursued, is self-obvious. If in place of that Bill one is asked to debate a Bill which the Opposition has indicated it wanted time to consider and which cannot under any circumstances be regarded as an urgent Bill, such as the Superior Court of Australia Bill, one asks: Why is that Bill being given a priority above Bills for which an urgency is claimed?
One could ask in relation to the whole legislative program of the Government: What is intended to be passed in this session? Are we to have a re-introduction of Bills of which we were given notice in the last session and some of which were introduced, or is there to be a host of new Bills which are sought to be rushed through with an indecent haste such as we have seen on other occasions? I invite the Minister for the Media (Senator Douglas McClelland), who is sitting in for the Attorney-General and the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Murphy), to explain what is the Government’s program in these areas. We acknowledge that as an Opposition we have an obligation to co-operate with the Government of the day in ensuring that the Government legislation is dealt with, but no chamber can operate unless there is cooperationa degree of give and take- and certainly some notice of when measures are to be discussed as well as a willingness to adhere to the arrangements which are made beforehand. Even where arrangements are made in general terms, so that they cannot be regarded as textually binding, there ought to be an appreciation that people act upon those arrangements. I only regret that the Leader of the Government is not here so that he could at least respond and give some indications as to what the future will be.
We naturally support the motion. We are prepared to agree to the program which has now been outlined, but I stress that it is contrary to the arrangements which were made this morning when we sought to get some indication as to what was to occur today. We regret what has happened. I have used this opportunity, in the unavoidable absence of Senator Withers, to express views which he would express himself if he were here.
– The Minister for the Media (Senator Douglas McClelland), who is standing in for the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Murphy), has asked us to reverse the sessional order whereby General Business takes precedence of Government Business after 2.30 p.m. on Thursdays. He is asking the Senate to do the opposite of what is the general practice. His reason for asking us to do this is that there. is certain legislation which the Government wants to put through. I agree with the action that the Minister for the Media has taken. 1 think the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Withers), the Leader of the Australian Democratic Labor Party (Senator McManus) and I indicated earlier in this sessional period that when this legislation came before the Parliament we would give it a swift passage through the Parliament.
But I want to express my concern- I refrained from doing so on a previous motion- at the way in which this Senate is beginning to operate. This is the fourth Thursday on which the Parliament has sat during this sessional period. On the first Thursday in the session we heard the Speech of Her Majesty the Queen. We recognise that we could not deal with General Business on that day. On the following Thursday the Opposition parties gave way to the Government in regard to debating General Business so that the Government could get on and deal with the AddressinReply because we believe that under standing order 14 the Address-in- Reply debate should be got out of the way before any General Business debate takes place in this chamber. When the referenda Bills were introduced into this chamber the Government said that it was anxious that these Bills be put through the Senate immediately. The Senate objected to this and said that the Address-in-Reply debate should be concluded and then the referenda Bills-would be given a swift passage through this chamber. The Opposition parties saw to it that that course was followed and again went so far as to give up the debate on General Business on Thursday afternoon so that that could be done.
Today is the fourth Thursday of this sessional period and the Government has again requested the Opposition to give up to Government business what I believe is a vital period in the parliamentary week. On behalf of my Party, I indicate that I have no objection to giving up the debate on General Business because I accept the reasons put forward by the Minister for the Media. I am sure that I am quoting the words of the present Leader of the Government in the Senate when he was Leader of the Opposition when I say that that portion of the parliamentary week which is set aside for the discussion of General Business is a most vital period to the Opposition parties and to the back bench members of this Parliament. It is the time in which they can discuss and debate vital issues affecting the economy of this country and matters that they believe are of great importance to the electors.
It has been said- it was said today by the Leader of the Government- that the Senate is frustrating the Government’s legislative program. Let us just have a look at the situation. Earlier in this sessional period the Leader of the Government put down a motion relating to the times of sitting of the Senate. When that motion was debated the Leader of the Opposition said that he believed that the Senate should sit for longer hours each day in the parliamentary week than was proposed by the Leader of the Government. That motion was not carried but an amendment moved by the Democratic Labor Party that we should sit on Tuesday nights, which the Leader of the Government had not included as part of his motion, was carried. So the Senate is sitting longer hours than was proposed by the Leader of the Government. I do not believe that the Opposition parties have obstructed the Government. In fact, they have gone out of their way to provide the Government with more hours in the week in which to debate its business.
I was most perturbed this morning when I heard the Leader of the Government say that the Government was thinking of cutting down on question time. I believe that question time is a most important part of the Senate’s proceedings. I know that when Government senators were on the Opposition benches they would have been very concerned if the Leader of the Government at that time had made any mention of cutting short question time. The cutting short of question time is a very retrograde step. I can assure the Minister for the Media and the Leader of the Government that my Party will oppose any such proposal. I hope that the Leader of the Government will talk to the Leaders of the Opposition parties about this matter so that we can ensure that the arrangement which we have enjoyed in the past in this regard is maintained.
I was very concerned, too, to hear the Leader of the Government today refer to the Opposition as a motley collection of parties. I see no reason for this and 1 am quite sure that such comments do nothing to help the running of the Senate. I would hope that the Leader of the Government would cease talking this way. I was also concerned to hear Senator McManus speak this morning in the way he did about the lack of communication that exists between the Leader of the Government and the Leader of the Democratic Labor Party. I recognise his concern because I have had things happen to me in the same way. Fortunately, I am in a position where the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Withers) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator Greenwood) do have a talk with me each morning, and what little information is available from the Leader of the Government is passed on to me. But my colleague the Leader of the Democratic Labor Party (Senator McManus) does not enjoy this privilege. I believe that if the Government wants this Senate to function in a proper manner there should be some level of dialogue between the Leader of the Government and the Leader of the DLP. I believe there should be greater dialogue with the Leader of the Opposition and me because we are vitally involved in this.
I agree with the request that has been made to the chamber. I have a great deal of concern as to the future running of this chamber because I understand that the Leader of the House in another place has said that this sessional period will have a much heavier workload than the previous sessional period. If this is to be the case I believe there must be a great deal of give and take between the Government and Opposition Parties. I just say to the Acting Leader of the Government that I support him on this basis.
-Leader of the Australian Democratic Labor Party) (2.21)- The Democratic Labor Party has already indicated that it will give a speedy passage to benefit Bills, that is, Bills of the social services type which are designed to benefit members of the community. Therefore when we vote for a motion such as this we do so only for this reason. During lunch I was thinking of an old poem that related to affairs between Britain and Holland in the 19th century, the words of which began:
In mattersof commerce the fault of the Dutch Is offering too little and asking too much.
I think it has perfect application to the way the Government is trying to conduct the affairs of the Senate at present. I think it is bewildering. One minute we are told ‘This Bill must come up’, then we are told ‘No- some other Bill must come forward’. Then we are told ‘We want to make a special arrangement here’; then we are told ‘We want to make a special arrangement there’. I would say that the present organisation of the passage of business through the Senate under present conditions could only be described as a shambles. In 14 years in the Senate I have never before known a situation where people were so many times unaware of what was being done or where they were going. Even members of the Government whom I have at times asked what is going on say ‘We do not know; we cannot find out either’.
I think it is appalling that the Government cannot organise its affairs better than it is at present. Look at the present situation regarding the number of Bills we have been considering. The Leader of the Government has pleaded for consideration from the Opposition on the ground that for constitutional and other reasons he may have to fit in with time schedules. He said these are important matters, that time schedules must be observed and he has asked us to facilitate his dealing with the matters. He has asked us to organise them on certain lines. Then, when we say to him ‘What are the times?’, the reply that we get is ‘We are not going to let you fellows know the date of the election ‘.
Only the other day I was approached with a request about a certain Bill; it was made clear that the Government had certain matters in view for the consideration of this Bill and that it would like us to help with respect to the date when it would be given consideration. I said ‘Surely you are able to give us some idea of the organisation of the business; what you propose to do. What are the dates that you want us to oblige you on?’ Again I was told ‘We are not going to tell you a thing’. In other words we are being asked by the Government to help it, to offer it every possible consideration to fit in with certain time schedules- but that under no circumstances will it tell us what those times will be. I describe that as farcical. There is no other term to describe what is going on at present than ‘farcical’, for we are asked to fit in with time schedules and the Government denies us any knowledge of what they will be.
I think it is rather mean and contemptible of the Government to be holding out on this question of the date of the election. We all know that this is a matter of plain unscrupulous tactics. The
Government knows that for the organisation of a party’s electoral campaign that party has to organise publicity and to obtain dates. These days you cannot go to a television or radio company and say: ‘I want to book some time for the election’, for when they say ‘When is the election coming on’ and you say ‘I do not know’, they laugh you out of the place. You have to book time 2 months ahead. What is happening is that the Government is giving advantages to its own political machine. It knows the date of the election. It is able to book halls and radio and television time. It is unworthy of a decent government to be acting in the way that it is to obtain advantages for itself. It indicates, in my view, as I said before, a total disregard of the normal courtesies that one associates with Parliament and with the Senate.
I have already spoken about the lack of communication. To try to get any information out of this Government on its intentions is like trying to get blood out of a stone. I sometimes wonder whether Government supporters themselves know. Perhaps I am unfair to them. They do not know where they are going. The whole business of the Parliament is being organised on a day to day basis. The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) is so far out of the country when he ought to be here supervising the passage of the country’s business through the Parliament that when I was in Western Australia for an election campaign the other day, one of the pleas being made by people in the community was for Australia to have a resident Prime Minister.
– I think we are lucky as we are.
– I do not think we are lucky. The Government is acting in a hole and corner manner. Here is a Government that said We believe in open government’. What has happened? The Government knows when the election will be held, lt is organising its campaign and seizing every possible advantage for itself, and it thinks that there is something shrewdly tactical in denying knowledge to the rest of the Parliament, which any honourable, decent and courageous government would give to us right away. On the other hand I think that we in the Opposition Parties have been too long-suffering. I honestly think that we have now reached the stage where we have to jack up. If the Labor Party had been in opposition in similar circumstances it would have jacked up long ago. If it had had the numbers it would never have given to the Government in power the co-operation that this Government has received; it would have jacked up immediately and said: ‘We refuse to go on unless you come into the open and tell us exactly how the business is to be organised and essential matters such as the date of the Senate election’.
As I have already said, the fault is on the Opposition side for tolerating this sort of treatment. I think that if we are prepared to tolerate it that is what will happen. The numbers are on this side. In my view it is past time that the Opposition parties made a stand and said to the Government: Either you run this House of Parliament like a Senate; or, if you are not prepared to run it like a Senate- that is, to organise your business and to let us know what you are going to do- we will have to take over and organise the business and make this House resemble something like a businesslike organisation’. The present position is an absolute scandal. All sorts of things happen. I will not refer again to the matter I raised this morning, namely, the cavalier manner in which the Governor-General is treated whereby instructions are given to carry out certain things before he has even given his authorisation. There are any number of other factors which must cause anybody interested in the proper functioning of Parliament the gravest disquiet. But, as I said before, I blame the Government for the poor management of this House today, with all kinds of sporadic decisions and changes of mind and intention, including changes in the times that this Senate is to meet. The whole organisation of this Senate today can only be described as a shambles. But I will blame the Opposition Parties if they accept this kind of thing in future and if they accept a situation that they can be told one thing at 1 1 o’clock in the morning, something entirely different at 2 o’clock in the afternoon and something entirely different again at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. The Government ought to settle down, determine what it intends to do and then do it. It should not be in the position of changing its mind every 5 minutes.
– It might be fair enough to remind the Senate that the Government has not done any business in this Senate since yesterday afternoon. We had a debate on an urgency motion which continued until 9 o ‘clock last night.
– You would not let us meet until 4 o’clock.
– I think the honourable senator was a guest at the courtesy luncheon held in honour of a visiting head of state, as were most other honourable senators. Man does not live by bread alone. These courtesies that we extend to leaders of other countries have been a tradition and I hope that this will continue in the best interests of this country and of this Parliament. I have no excuses to make about the person who was our guest, the quality of the philosophy that he was able to expound at that luncheon, or the general tone of what I regard as an interparliamentary activity.
I just want to stress the point that no Government business has been done in this Senate since Tuesday. As I have pointed out, there was a debate on an urgency motion which continued until 9 o’clock last night. We had the advantage- I suppose it could be called that by the Oppositionof speaking on the first reading of Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 1973-74 about things which were relevant and things which were irrelevant to the provisions of that Bill. That debate went on until 11 o’clock. Yesterday, of course, was broadcasting day for the Senate. Today we gained an additional minute’s sitting time due to the important result of the urgency motion. We changed the sitting time for today from 1 1 a.m. to 10.59 a.m. When question time was completed today we went on to non-government business, namely, a Bill introduced by Senator Drake-Brockman. We adjourned for lunch. Since resuming we have been more or less having an exercise in verbosity of the most extreme kind. If Senator Greenwood attempted to admonish members of the Government Party or the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Murphy), we can only assume either that he was being facetious or that he had some other motive that was not accepted by us on this side.
I just want to make mention of the cheap jibes that Senator McManus made about the responsibilities of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) as a Prime Minister in this time of world convulsion and future shock. He has had to go around the boundary fences which were in need of repair after such a long period during which our defences were neglected. Our relationships with our neighbours were such that they had fallen through. I would go so far as to say that our Prime Minister, as Prime Minister and during the time that he was Foreign Minister as well as Prime Minister, has done more to have Australia recognised as a country in its own right, with its own mind, its own nationhood and its own destiny, than any other man in the history of this Commonwealth. The days of the old tag along and the obsequiousness of being tied to the apron strings of the mother country and all the guff that went on about that have gone. When the cards were laid on the table all that we seemed to be any good for was to supply the raw materials for the shopkeepers and the raw manpower for their wars.
-Order! I think the honourable senator should direct his remarks to the motion before the Chair.
– I am about to do that, although I feel that Senator McManus was allowed to get away from the terms of the motion.
- Mr President, I raise a point of order. On page 138 the notice paper states that General Business is to take precedence over Government Business at 2.30 p.m. My point is that, instead of listening to this nonsense, should we not obey the orders of the day and get on with General Business?
– The question is: That Government Business take precedence over General Business at 2.30 p.m. and that intervening business be postponed until after consideration of order of the day No. 7. Therefore, I cannot do anything other than allow the debate on the motion moved by Senator Douglas McClelland to continue.
-It is only fair to point out that the business of the Senate must be flexible. We know very well that we cannot have any set timetable in the Senate because Government Business is completely out of our hands. It was pointed out that there have been 30 divisions in a short period of time and the Government has been defeated on 29 occasions. So we cannot claim that we have any control over the business of the Senate. We can only conduct the business by negotiation, arrangement or across the table discussion. Unfortunately, Senator Withers, who was privy to the arrangements for this afternoon, evidently is unavoidably delayed. The last I heard of him was that he was in the dining room. He could quite easily be here to instruct the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator Greenwood) on the arrangement that he made, but he is conspicious by his absence.
– What about your Leader?
-If I wished, I could disclose the exact nature of the business on which my Leader is engaged. I can assure honourable senators that it is of great importance to the Senate and to them. I will leave it at that.
The flexible arrangement that was made depended on the passage of legislation through another place. The proceedings there are being broadcast today. I think that most honourable senators know that that has some dynamic attraction to members of Parliament. In such circumstances, when the proceedings are being broadcast they find it difficult to round off their remarks. The Social Service legislation is of great interest to the electorate. I am quite certain that many members in the other place would wish to express their views on this very important social aspect of legislation.
– Order! Senator O ‘Byrne you must not refer to current debates taking place in another place.
– I beg your indulgence, Mr President, to state that this is the very matter that we have before us. It is because the legislation has not come to us from another place that the flexibility of our arrangements has not been effective. If the Deputy Leader of the Opposition had been a little more tolerant and a little less political, this matter could have been resolved amicably in the absence of both the Leader of the Government in the Senate and the Leader of the Opposition in this place. But, no, Senator Greenwood seems to have within him the desire to use every possible opportunity for a little petty political point making. The present position is probably satisfying to him because obviously he is feeling a little frustrated. He has gone from the mighty heights of his previous ministerial status to being, more or less, just one of us and having glory without power. It is a very humbling experience.
I can understand Senator Greenwood’s predicament. Nevertheless, I think that he is just as guilty as he tries to accuse us of being. He had no communication with his leader. I can assure him that this arrangement was made. It was made not only between the 2 leaders but also with the officers connected with the administration of the Senate. They knew of the time table and knew that the social services legislation and the repatriation legislation were to be presented to the Senate after lunch. For the information of Opposition senators, I state that there had also been an agreement that they would endeavour to pass this legislation as expeditiously as possible so that the payment of these social service pensions could be made at the agreed time. I do not know how deeply that was discussed by honourable senators on the Opposition side. But that was part of the flexible arrangement.
As it happens, the debate in another place has continued longer than expected and we find ourselves in the present position. We on the Government side were accused of a lack of clarity in our arrangements. I think that all Opposition senators know what our policy is. When we have matters on the business sheet, we can never even be certain whether they will be debated. In fact, the
Opposition has the numbers to change the business around if it wishes to do so. The only occasion on which the Government can ever find out whether its business will proceed is when there is an arrangement to ask the Leader of the Opposition whether we can proceed in one direction or another. So I would like to remind Senator Drake-Brockman, Senator McManus and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Senator Greenwood, that the business of the Senate is more in the hands of the Opposition than it is in the hands of the Government because the Opposition has the numbers.
– If the honourable senator wants us to take over the business and run it properly, we will do it.
-The honourable senator is obliged, as we all are, to follow the precedent of the whole history of this Parliament under which legislation is initiated as a matter of Government policy as a result of a mandate that the Government receives at the time of an election. Most of the legislation must be initiated in another place. The Senate has no power to initiate money bills. In this day and age, as it has so quietly and effectively in the past, money talks all languages. It is in another place that money bills are initiated. Eventually they come into the Senate. So the Senate has no authority in that direction. We have to wait until those bills come into the Senate. Further along the line, the Government cannot continue the direction of those bills because it does not have the numbers in the Senate.
We have seen Opposition senators put on a sham fight- a sham circus, almost- saying that the arrangements are not known and that there is no communication. The only communication we have about the arrangement of the business is what is said across the table between the Leader of the Government and the Leader of the Opposition. That is the only time that Senator Withers, as Leader of the Opposition, will have a talk to the Leader of the Government to discuss the program. The breakdown that has occurred is between Senator Withers and Senator Greenwood. Senator Greenwood came into the chamber after the suspension of the sitting for lunch and he had not consulted with his leader, the Leader of the Opposition. It was obvious that he had not -
– How does the honourable senator know that?
– Because I spoke to the honourable senator and asked him.
– And what did he tell the honourable senator?
– He said that he did not know of this arrangement between the Leader of the Government and the Leader of the Opposition. I understand that it was difficult for them to communicate this morning because Senator Withers was in very close conference with Mr Snedden, the Leader of the Opposition in another place. This is quite understandable. It is part of the exigencies of being in opposition to discuss these matters. But the point we are considering is this: If the passage of the legislation that we are awaiting had followed the timetable set for it in the other place, we would have proceeded with it quite smoothly. But because of a slight hitch, we find that Opposition senators, with all the frustration that is in them, hop onto the bandwagon to have a little blow on the trombone. As a consequence, this debate has ensued for 45 minutes after all that other time that the business of the Senate has been out of the Government’s hands. That was the whole of Wednesday, all of Thursday morning and now until 2.50 on Thursday afternoon. During that time no Government business has been done at all. Actually, it is a disgrace to the Opposition that they allowed that to happen. I reject the jibes of Senator Greenwood, just as I reject those of other honourable senators who have spoken in the debate. I now believe that we can proceed with the business as though this debate had never taken place.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Douglas McClelland) read a first time.
– I move:
This Bill more than honours the Government’s commitment to provide bi-annual increases of at least $ 1.50 a week in the basic pension rate until it reaches 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. It also makes allowance for financial assistance for certain persons outside Australia not qualified to receive an Australian social service pension and provides for payment of child endowment, pensions and similar long term benefits to the credit of savings accounts with approved credit unions and also the payment of pensions and similar long term benefits to the credit of bank accounts, as has been the case with child endowment since its introduction in 1 94 1 .
Honourable senators will recall that when I introduced the Social Services Bill (No. 4) on 18 September 1973 I said that the Australian Government was determined to achieve its goal of a standard rate pension of 25 per cent of average weekly male earnings and, if necessary, the pension increase for the autumn session would be greater than $ 1 .50 a week. After due consideration of all the factors we have decided that increases considerably in excess of $ 1 .50 are justified. The standard rate of pension for aged persons, invalids, widows and supporting mothers is to be increased by $3 a week to $26 a week. The married rate is to be increased by $2.50 a week to $22.75 a week, or from $40.50 to $45.50 a week for a couple.
By any measure, these increases are the most generous in pensions in Australia for more than 20 years. In absolute money terms, they are the highest increases awarded since age pensions were introduced over 60 years ago. Unemployment and sickness benefits rates will also be increased in keeping with the Government ‘s policy of a common benefit rate for all pensions and for unemployment and sickness benefits. The rate of unemployment or sickness benefit payable to unmarried persons is to be increased by $3 a week to $26 a week. The rate payable to married persons is to be increased by $2.50 a week to $22.75 a week and the rate of additional benefit payable in respect of a dependent spouse is also to be increased by $2.50 a week to $22.75 a week. The proposed pension increases will flow to persons receiving sheltered employment allowances and rehabilitation allowances. These allowances are also payable under the provisions of the Social Services Act.
Let me give some examples of the effect of the proposed increases in rates. A class A widow or a supporting mother will receive a basic pension or benefit of $26 a week, together with a mother’s allowance of $4 a week and additional pension of $5 a week for each child in her care. The rate of mother’s allowance is increased to $6 a week if she has a child under 6 years of age or one who is an invalid. Thus a mother with 3 children over 6 years of age will now receive a maximum pension of $45 a week; this amount would be $47 a week if she were entitled to the higher rate of mother’s allowance. The same rate of pension will be payable to a single age or invalid pensioner with children. Moreover, if the pensioner or supporting mother is paying rent, the rate of pension or benefit may be further increased by $4 a week supplementary assistance. A married pensioner couple will also qualify to supplement the basic married rate of pension fo $45.50 a week by an additional $5 for each child in their care.
I should mention that whenever the basic rate of pension is increased it has the effect of raising the limits of income and property at which pensions cease to be payable, thus enabling many people who are excluded from pension entitlement to qualify for the first time. As a result of the proposed increases, a single person without property affecting his pension will retain some pension entitlement until his income reaches $72 a week. A single pensioner without other income will be eligible to receive some pension until the value of his non-exempt property reaches $37,840. For a married couple, the equivalent limits of income and property will be $125.50 a week and $66,060 respectively. A widow with one child and no property affecting will now be able to receive income of up to $96 a week before losing her entitlement to widow’s pension, or up to $100 if her child is under 6 years of age or an invalid child requiring full time care. If she has no income affecting, a widow with one child may have property to the value of $43,600, or $45,680 if her child is under 6 years of age or an invalid requiring full-time care, before her entitlement to widow’s pension is extinguished.
These pension increases will mean that single people with income of between $66 and $72 a week and with no property affecting will now qualify for part pensions for the first time. They were previously just outside the field of eligibility. Married couples with income between $1 15.50 and $125.50 a week, and with no property affecting, will also now qualify for part pensions for the first time. There will be a corresponding widening of the field of eligibility for people whose means consist of property rather than income, or of a combination of both. The new standard rate of pension will be 22.57% of average weekly male earnings, seasonally adjusted for the December quarter 1973, of $115.20 a week. For married couples, the new combined pension rate will represent 39.5% of average weekly earnings.
When this Government took office 1 5 months ago, the standard rate of pension was 20 per cent of seasonally adjusted average weekly earnings. Half way through our first term in Government, we have passed the half way mark towards achieving our goal or raising the basic pension to equal 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. Moreover, the percentage that the pension rate will represent of seasonally adjusted average weekly earnings will be the highest it has reached since 1 950 for the December quarter, the latest for which figures of averge weekly earnings are available. We know, however, that pension increases- even record pension increases such as we now propose- are only part of the answer to the problem of how to improve the quality of life of the less privileged in our community. I can promise the Senate, Mr President, that we will not be content merely with lifting the basic pension to a quarter of average weekly earnings. We will not then sit back and congratulate ourselves that what we have promised, we have done.
Searching inquiries into various aspects of our social security programs and allied fields are currently being undertaken by a number of expert bodies set up by the Government for the purpose. As their reports become available, I can assure honourable senators that they will be given most careful consideration. Mr President, before leaving pensions and turning to another of the progressive steps introduced by this Bill, I would like to give the lie to some rather snide comment which, I am sure, all honourable senators will have noticed in the Press recently. I have seen cartoons, and other comment, which imply that old people would be better not to get marriedto ‘live in sin’ as I have seen it distastefully expressed- because the single rate of pension is higher than the rate paid to each partner of a married couple. With the present increases, the standard rate of pension, at $26 a week, will represent 57. 1 per cent of the $45.50 payable to a pensioner couple. Mr President, I am sure that, on this occasion, honourable senators opposite will join me in deploring this sort of irresponsible comment. The allegations I have spoken of are simply not true. The reason for granting a higher rate of pension to a single person is that a married couple can share the costs of day-to-day living whereas a single person needs a relatively higher rate in order to enjoy the same living standard.
In continuing to award differential pension increases, the Government has maintained a policy which has been followed in Australia for many years and is an almost universal feature of overseas pension schemes. It has been alleged that this differential amounts to a financial penalty on marriage. This allegation goes too far. Two single people could not ‘beat the system’ by simply living together as man and wife. We could not countenance this. Our view, and that of our predecessors in office, was that a couple who live together in this way are, in effect, married, and they are treated accordingly by the Department of Social Security. This is no way reflects a moralising attitude. It merely represents a realistic appreciation of the facts of the situation for what they are. I hope we will see no more of this nonsense in the Press.
I now return to the provisions of the Bill before the Senate. Honourable senators will recall that in June last year the Social Services Act was amended to provide for the payment of pensions generally overseas to pensioners who left Australia after the legislation came into operation, that is, from 8 May 1973. This legislation did not rely, as did the provisions of the law which it superseded, on the conclusion of reciprocal agreements. Its basis rested on the principle that, having qualified for a pension in Australia, a pensioner was entitled to continued payment on leaving Australia, wherever he chose to live.
In our considerations associated with the introduction of portability of pensions generally, the Government became aware of individual cases of people overseas who had left Australia before 8 May 1973 and had lived here for long periods. These people could not satisfy the conditions for payment overseas and are suffering hardship. This Government, being a responsible and compassionate Government, saw the need to provide financial assistance to relieve hardship of such people. Accordingly, it is proposed to amend the Social Services Act to enable the grant of pensions to people overseas who are in special need and who would, if they were in Australia, be entitled to pensions. This will apply to applicants who have lived. in Australia for a total of 30 years and left the country after reaching age pension age or were within 5 years of reaching age pension age at the time of” departure. The 30-year residence qualification will not apply to people who became permanently incapacitated for work or widows in Australia. In anticipation of Parliament’s approval of this proposed measure, we are at present providing pensions on an act of grace basis.
I now leave pensions and address my remarks to other features of the progressive Bill before the Senate. At present child endowment is paid either by cheque each 4 weeks or by credit to a bank account at 12-weekly intervals. It is proposed that payment of child endowment be made to the credit of saving accounts with approved credit unions. An approved credit union would be one registered under the law of a State or the Australian Government. Preparations will be made to introduce this new method of payment for child endowment later this year.
Although initially it will be possible to pay only child endowment to credit union accounts, eventually the new provisions will extend to other payments under the Social Services Act which will include all pensions, supporting mother’s benefit, sheltered employment allowance and rehabilitation allowance. There also will be provision for the payment of pensions and similar long term benefits to the credit of bank accounts.
Honourable senators will know, of course, that child endowment may be already paid in this way. Initially it appears that only a 12-weekly credit service will be available for pensions. However, negotiations are continuing with the banks and I hope that a more frequent payment cycle can be obtained.
There is a little matter I would like to raise here before I conclude. At least it seems a trivial issue in so far as Opposition members are concerned for they never address themselves to it namely, what is their policy on pensions? Do they commit themselves to 25 per cent of average weekly earnings for the basic rate of pension? If they do we congratulate them on arriving at this goal. After 23 years of government they could not identify it. After 15 months of opposition they have been able to discover it. They have been most painstaking as an Opposition in indicating to us as a Government ways in which we can improve every conceivable aspect of public administration. But they made little effort to remedy these defects when they were a Government.
They are far more valuable to the country in Opposition than they ever were in government. In Opposition they can see the defects of past administrations of their political colour, but could you trust them to be as active in government again? They have a split personality. They showed that in their 23 years of government. They did little and they especially neglected the pensioner. If ever they were to return to government they would revert to type. In Opposition they are at least noisy and critical even if they are not constructive.
But let me pose the question again: What is their policy on pensions? Their then leader as Prime Minister at the last election said that pensions, if his Government at that time had been returned, would ‘be increased in line with increases in the consumer price index’. He added: ‘The adjustment will be automatic every half year’. Now let us get to the nitty gritty of this promise. What would it have really meant for the pensioner? The first thing the community must bear in mind and pensioners must be especially aware of is that the consumer price index increases at a much slower rate than average weekly earnings. When we came to office in December 1972 the standard or single rate of pensions was $20 a week. Between the December quarter 1972 and the December quarter 1973 the consumer price index, seasonally adjusted, increased by only 13 per cent per year, compared with average weekly earnings increasing in the same comparable period by over 1 5 per cent.
A 1 3 per cent increase in that $20 would mean that today, the third occasion on which, if a Liberal-Country Party government had been reelected, it would have increased the pension rate since the 1972 election, the pension would stand at $22.64 for the standard rate pension. The increases in the pension rate for which we have responsibility today are not only greater than the increases in the consumer price index; they are twice as great as the rate of increase in average weekly earnings. The standard rate will now stand at $26, a 30 per cent increase over the rate which existed at the time we came to office, a rate of increase far greater than either that which would be contributed by merely tying the pension movement to the consumer price index or average weekly earnings movements.
Let me put it another way: In cold hard money terms pensioners are nearly $3 a week better off under Labor than under the cautious proposals of the Liberal-Country Party. Do the Liberals and the Country Party still stand behind that proposal or do they endorse Labor’s program of 25 per cent of average weekly earnings as its goal for the standard rate of pension? Of course now they are languishing in the irresponsibility of the sort of Opposition they present- they present that Opposition in a way which has not been seen in this Parliament for more than 2 decades. They will probably give a quick hip fire response of an even more generous nature than we are proposing. The important thing is for them to discover where they do stand, what their commitment really is on this, and then let them explain their target date and their costings- the same sort of difficulty and rigorous disciplines we had to undergo as we developed our policies in Opposition.
We want to know the price to the taxpayer of the Opposition as a proposed government. Our policies were responsible in Opposition, a claim proved by their practicability now. The country needs a responsible Opposition today so that it can benefit from a clear analysis of and from constructive challenges to the nation’s administration. It is good for the Government, it is good for the public. Now is the time for the Opposition to respond to this great public need. Now is the time for the Opposition to give an undeviating commitment that we will never have a regression to the sort of treatment pensioners knew in the past where on 6 occasions under Liberal-Country Party administration there was no increase at all, not a brass farthing increase in pensions for more than a full calendar year. I need not remind honourable senators that not only are we committed to achieving 25 per cent of average weekly earnings as a standard rate of pension, but that we will have eliminated the means test by the 1975 Budget. We will take the second-last step in our next Budget and we will assuredly eliminate the means test for age pensions over 65 in our 1975 Budget. We have always been proud, of the public identification of our Party as the Party of conscience, of moral concern. Our achievements in social welfare services and benefits to date, in really such a short time, are so significant, are such an advance on what has gone before, that the public confidence and respect in identifying our Party in this way is clearly well placed.
In accordance with the usual practice, it is proposed that the pension increases provided under this Bill will operate from and including the pay days following royal assent. The increases in unemployment and sickness benefits will, as usual, operate in respect of the benefit week ending on the date of royal assent and each benefit week thereafter. The cost of the pension and benefit increases is expected to be $222m per annum or $50m for 1973-74. The estimate of $50m for 1973-74 has been based on the assumption that payments of the proposed pension increases will date from 1 8 April in the case of age and invalid pensions, and 23 April for widows. However, if the Parliament can pass this Bill quickly, we will be able to make the increases effective from earlier pay-days, in which event, the estimated cost for 1973-74 will be of the order of $60m. If it proves impracticable to pay the increases actually on the first relevant pay-days after the legislation receives the royal assent, arrears will be made available subsequently. I am sure that all honourable senators will consider this expenditure well justified in terms of the manifest improvements in social security introduced by this Bill. I commend this Bill to the Senate.
– The Senate Opposition supports the substance of this Bill and will do everything to expedite its passage.
– Tell us what the policy of the National Liberal Party is on this matter.
– The Opposition believes that it is of the utmost urgency that pensioners receive the increases, however small, as quickly as possible. I think it would be fair to say that rarely, if ever, in the history of this or any other parliament have we heard a more shrill, defensive, even hysterical kind of speech than the second reading speech of the Minister for the Media (Senator Douglas McClelland). The speech was superficially political and totally lacking in substance. Paragraph by paragraph, like naughty little boys caught with their hands in the jam pot, like naughty little boys caught out, the Government had to defend itself. Instead of justifying its policies, it querulously asked what the Opposition would do. The speech was a token of the Government’s total disarray. I have never heard a more pathetic, more lame duck second reading speech in this chamber.
In March of last year the Senate Opposition, through its spokesman on social services matters, Senator Rae, expressed to the Senate and to the people of Australia a clear warning about the basic defect of the philosophy of the Labor Government in its approach to the economy and to pensions, and a warning of what was likely to happen. I will read from Senator Rae ‘s speech, as reported at page 362 of the Senate Hansard of 13 March 1973. He set out to make the point that no policy on social services could be taken in isolation and that a pension, in terms of itself, was as nothing unless it was related to the stability of the economy. He said:
But the thing that underlies, and must underlie, all welfare programs is the continuation of sound economic policy, Sound economic policy must precede improvements in welfare. Without that sound economic policy the possibility of increasing welfare provision to those who need it and those who deserve it is simply not a proposition which a government can entertain. Unsound economic policies now place this country and all pensioners in jeopardy. Already we find that there are indications of gross inflation to take place this year. Already we find indications that with the rate of inflation this year, unless economic policies are changed by the new Government, it will not be possible at the rate proposed ever to achieve a base pension rate of 25 per cent of average weekly male earnings. I hope, and I am sure all honourable senators on this side of the chamber hope, that the Government will realise that some of the matters on which it has embarked already will have a disastrous effect upon the economy unless they can be curbed and unless they can be related further to sound development and the curtailment of inflation.
Earlier Senator Wheeldon, by way of interjection, said: ‘Tell us about some of your policies’. In March 1 973 the Senate Opposition said to the Government: ‘Our policies would be to proceed with sound anti-inflationary policies so that the purchasing power in the community can be stabilised, so that inflation can be contained and reduced and so that pensions, in terms of their real purchasing power, can have some meaning’. As the Government is so querulous in seeking from us our policies, let me say that that is the basic thing. The Australian Labor Party went to the electors with a policy speech which said:
The basic pension rate will no longer be tied to the financial and political considerations of annual budgets. All pensions will be immediately raised by $1.50 and thereafter, every spring and every autumn, the basic pension rate will be raised by $ 1 .50 until it reaches 25 per cent of average weekly male earnings. It will never be allowed to fall below that level.
Inherent in that statement was the belief and the pledge that by increasing the pension by $1.50 twice a year it would reach, and reach in quick time, 25 per cent of average weekly male earnings. Inherent also in the statement were the promises of the Government that it would reduce inflation, it would lower interest rates, it would keep down the cost of housing and land and it would keep down the cost of food. So that we can put this matter in perspective, because of the hysteria which was induced by the Minister and by way of light comic relief, I read to the Senate some of the thoughts not of Mao but of Mr Crean on 5 August 1972, as reported in the ‘Australian’. In a prepared address to the Securities Institute of Australia Mr Crean talked about his philosophy for controlling the economy, keeping down inflation and, therefore, increasing purchasing power. The report in the ‘Australian’ stated:
Mr Crean suggested it would be rather better for the people to get a 2 or 3 per cent return on funds rather than 5 or 6 per cent. ‘The community as a whole is advantaged if interest rates are lower rather than higher’, he said.
The report also stated:
This drew scattered guffaws from the audience.
These pension increases are to be seen in the light, not of 2 or 3 per cent, not of 5 or 6 per cent, but of 12, 13, 14 or 15 per cent realities of commercial interest rates. These pension increases are to be seen, not in the terms of an increase of $1.50 twice a year until the basic rate is 25 per cent of the average weekly male earnings but in terms of the fact that today the Government would have to give more than $3 twice a year; it would have to give something like $4.50 or $4.60, maybe $6, which is double the present increase, to achieve its goal. That is the measure of the destruction of social services by this Government- a destruction which is biting into the purchasing power of all people.
It is an extraordinary and incredible situation that page after page of the second reading speech contains naiveties. The Minister, with the most indignant self-righteousness, said:
The purchasing power of this pension, which is now to be raised by $3, will fall each day until in the next month, the second month or the sixth month, when another pittance is granted, the purchasing power will fall far below this 22.5 per cent and will be back beyond where it was before the $3 raised it. The simple fact- I test it- is that the Government has said: ‘For the wage earners who are affected by rising costs as shown in the consumer index there ought to be quarterly adjustments in average wages. For the pensioners every 6 months will do. They can trail behind ‘. We should argue not about what this pension will buy now, because that is only fleeting, but about what it will buy, in terms of purchasing power, in 2 months time, 4 months time or 5 months time. The pensioner has to live on this pension in the face of grossly rising inflation, for the next 6 months. This fact must be tattooed on the souls of the socialists opposite.
The inflation rate in this country, which we must continue to remind the community was running at 4.7 per cent and falling when the LiberalCountry Party Government left office, is now running at 14.2 percent and rising- and economists predict that it will be running at 20 per cent by the last quarter of this year. So the argument that the purchasing power of this pension will be good enough to help towards Labor’s policy is arrant nonsense, as are all the arguments which are embodied in this. After all, it is the Labor Party through its policies which has created this erosion by inflation. It is the Labor Party by its destruction of good, sound rural policies that has forced up food costs and robbed the pensioners of both the quantity and the quality of food. This must be kept in mind. Today we have record food prices which have been deliberately contributed to by the policies of the Minister for Primary Industry (Senator Wriedt) who is now sitting in this chamber. Those food prices will rise because of the destructive policies of chis Government. For example, the proposal to get rid of the superphosphate bounty will in fact finc*. its way into robbing the pensioner of funds.
But looking at the value of the purchasing power of these pensions we must keep in mind that when the Liberal-Country Party Government went out of office pensioners in nursing homes, whether in general care or intensive care, because of the Government subsidy to nursing homes along with the size of the pension, found that after paying the full bill for the nursing home, they had up to $6 a week in their pockets. Now, what this Government fails to say is that for those unhappy tens of thousands of pensioners in Australia who lie in nursing homes, this $3 a week will be as nothing at all. The only way they can remain in nursing homes is if their families, relatives or friends reach into their own pockets and subsidise the pensioners in the nursing homes. Today nursing homes are turning away pensioners by the hundreds because the pensioners cannot afford the costs. Despite the $3 increase, there will be nothing left in the pockets of pensioners in nursing homes. On the contrary, they will have to find relatives or friends who will add to the pension. This is the background against which we are doing these things. The attitude of the Government seems to be: Quarterly adjustments are good enough for the workers, for the trade unionists, but half yearly adjustments, lagging behind badly, will do for the pensioners; we will not worry. After all, Mr Crean has asked: ‘What is wrong with a bit of inflation of 10 per cent or 12 per cent? What is wrong with that?’ What is wrong with it? Ask any pensioner what is wrong with it.
I thought that in this chamber I would never hear the simulated indignation of the Minister for the Media (Senator Douglas McClelland) when he told us of his righteous revulsion against a Press which suggested that having a single rate of pension more than half that of the married rate would be creating immorality. Who was it who sowed this idea in the minds of the Press over the years? What histrionics. How natural that this should come from the Minister in charge of histrionics. Who was it who brought on these histrionics? It was the Labor Party, Senator Wheeldon ‘s party. It was the Party to which Senator Wheeldon, with his smug smile, belongs which peddled this idea that it was utterly wrong that the single rate of pension should be more than half the married rate. Who was it who said that this would create immorality with single people living together to get a few more pence? This was the Labor Party’s invention. Today the prize, the Oscar, the Emmy for all things must go to the Minister for the Media for his incredible second reading speech in which he said: ‘I am utterly shocked and annoyed with the wicked Press which raised these nasty things and suggested that we were encouraging immorality.’ My goodness, how Labor’s propaganda bites back on it.
The Labor Party should understand one thing: Physician, cure thyself. If ever we had a sheer. fruity melodrama of the music halls of the 19th century we had it today. The Minister said: ‘I am annoyed and shocked by the cartoons in the paper. ‘ But these are the boys who invented this idea with their multitude of propagandists. The only thing the Labor Party does well is propaganda. It cannot create a good product but it can create an enormous amount of sales. These are the people who now say that this is naughty, that it is shocking. Incidentally, I notice that we are making some arrangement about the payment of child endowment through credit unions. But nothing is said about the fact that child endowment is falling badly in its purchasing power all the time and that the working families dependent upon it are being robbed more and more. It is fascinating that the second reading speech, apart from its righteous indignation, should say: Please, Liberal and Country parties, tell us what your policy is. Tell us by how much you would put up the pension rate because perhaps if you did this we might find some kind of an argument to get us off the hook. ‘ I will tell the Government because Senator Wheeldon has acknowledged that that is its tactic. He is awfully handy. There is always a need for a Senator Wheeldon in these matters.
It was a government of the Liberal and Country parties which instituted the Henderson Committee in which the Labor Government now finds so much virtue. It was Professor Henderson in his book on poverty who said of the 20-year period in which the Liberal-Country Party was in government in Australia that compared with any other country in the world there was no real poverty in Australia. This is the Professor in whom the Labor Party finds virtue and, indeed, so do I. The Professor went on to say- if I may precis him- that in Australia and one or two of the Scandinavian countries there is such an egalitarian range of earnings with so little extremes between the very poor and the very rich that poverty as it is known elsewhere does not occur. Shakespeare wrote:
Mark you this, Bassanio, the devil can cite scripture Tor his purpose.
Well, the Labor Party is citing scripture for its purpose now. Professor Henderson acknowledged that the Liberal-Country Party Government policy over 2 decades created a greater egalitarianism, a greater sharing of wealth and initiation of social services than ever before in history. From the time of federation until now the overwhelming majority of the basic social services, the great institutions of social services in this country, came from governments of Liberal faith and not governments of socialist faith. Here we are being asked: ‘What is your policy?’ We instituted the Henderson Committee study. We will be fascinated to follow it. Professor Henderson may well decide that the bench mark of a pension should not be 25 per cent of the average weekly wage. He may make an entirely different finding. We will be willing to look at that. But our policy on pensions and social services is as it always has been. We will be in the future what we have been in the past- the pacesetters in introducing in Australia new and major social services. We will be pacesetters with the socialists following us. As always in government we will tell people that economic management will be our primary function. If you want social services to have any meaning, if you want people to be able to live in dignity and reasonable standards, you will establish an abatement of inflation so that the purchasing power of money can be there. These are not idle words because just as we established our social service programs in the past, so in the past we were able, second to none in the whole industrialised world, to keep inflation under control. It is no good members of the Labor Party getting up and blaming inflation on events happening outside Australia. When inflation in other countries ran high over the last 20 years it ran low in Australia. When costs soared elsewhere, in Australia we stabilised. If a Liberal-Country Party Government gave anything it gave stability to the economy and real emphasis to the purchasing power of the rising real wages of the people.
Today the Labor Party literally is flatly on the defensive. Indeed, it is good to see, although the newspapers were flying some kites otherwise, that the Labor Party reaffirms that it will adhere to its policy to eliminate the means test in the lifetime of this Parliament. That at least will be some achievement. If that is so it will be the one policy point out of some hundreds that may be achieved. But I remind you, Mr Acting Deputy President, that the history of this matter is that it was a Liberal-Country Party Government which said that it would remove the means test over 3 years. I think the Labor Party was thinking of doing this in terms of 6 years. We were the pace setters in this as in anything else in social services.
Government supporters ask us our policies but they are trailing behind- snivelling behind- the great reformist policies that we laid down. There is nothing for the Labor Party to take comfort from in this document from Professor Henderson. It acknowledges this by the near hysteria which permeates every page of this apologia. The Labor Party acknowledges it by trying to say: ‘What would you do in any case?
We are in a fix but what would you do?’ We reply by saying: ‘We showed in the past what we would do. We would control inflation. We would maintain and increase rising real wages. We would maintain and expand social services and, speaking to those who now find merit in Professor Henderson, we would continue a policy of social service reform and the real distribution of wealth in this country. Under a Liberal-Country Party Government, second to none in the world, we would be sharing real purchasing power’. That would not be a bad achievement. It is not the Liberal Party or the Country Party which is saying this; it is contained in the book by Professor Henderson that I commend. I commend the payment of these amounts as quickly as possible. I regret very much that their purchasing power will immediately start to erode.
– It is again my turn to kick at this poor old deflated, worn and smashed football of pensions. Succeeding governments over the years have kicked this football around this chamber, boasting of their own accomplishments and speaking about the deficiencies of their predecessors until we have become completely weary of it. I am sure that the pensioners in some way feel contaminated and disgraced every time we have to grab this old football and kick it around again to the glorification of one political party and to the detriment of another. Succeeding governments claim that they do so much for the poor deprived pensioners that nobody else has ever done.
The Democratic Labor Party time and time again has suggested that this is not the way in which social services should be treated. Social service recipients have rights in the community, the same as members of a parliament, judges, plumbers or bricklayers, who have their incomes fixed by a tribunal which determines what their services are worth to the community. Nobody feels that it is by an act of grace or charity that money is found for them. Why is it that we get this disgraceful performance, this boasting and chest beating in the Parliament, every time the income of social service recipients is revised? These are the people who have served this country best. They are the people with whom age has caught up. The economy of this nation should be sufficiently virilent to give them a standard of living that is theirs by right, not by the charity of politicians who sit in places like this. But we get it every time and we have had it again today; the same old performance, only, of course, the actors have changed places. Those in the centre of the stage today are the people who sat in the wings a year or so ago but it is the same old performance. The same old weary lines are being trotted out; Look at what we have done- more than anyone else has done before. ‘ The only people who are not convinced are the pensioners who are still battling for a subsistence.
What has this Government done? It boasts here not only of this increase under discussion but the previous increases that it gave. The Government case is that it has actually put pensions up $3 a week overall. That has not happened in this one increase because even this Government is too ashamed to suggest that the money tokens that it has given on this occasion are actually what they appear to be worth or what it would like to think they are worth. The Government has increased pensions by $3 in one hit but what does this glorious sum of $3 amount to? I picked up the newspaper last night and I realise that it means 1 .5 lb of steak in Sydney. That is all it amounts to for pensioners. It amounts to an extra 1.5 lb of steak because at the moment steak costs over $2 a lb in Sydney. Are pensioners not supposed to eat steak? Do they always have to have the residue of the carcass or are they supposed to be in such a state of health that a diet of steak would be too much for their physiques.
I am sickened that we have to hear this boasting and witness this chest beating on the part of political parties which say that they have done more than the others and that no one has ever done as much before. Their supporters then try to analyse the situation to prove it. Every honourable senator present would know what we say now and have said for something like 1 5 years; that this is not an issue which should be decided here with all this phoney boasting, cheering and backslapping, and abuse of ones political opponents. The rate of income for pensioners should be established by a tribunal independent of political boastings in this Parliament and independent of an atmosphere of bribing the pensioners, paying them more than someone else to get their votes. These people do not have to be bribed to be able to make a political decision and I do not think they are very much impressed by it. The whole purpose of the plays wearily trotted out is to try to convince the pensioners that they are better off under one government than another. Of course pensioners have the right to be as well off as the economy of this nation can sustain. They do not want to be any better off than that. There is nothing in the statements of this Government, or those of previous governments, to indicate that pensioners have ever approached anything like that status.
Pensioners have received miserly handouts of increased money tokens but those payments are not taking up the slack. They are not coping with the increases in the cost of living that occur from day to day. It is the pensioners who pay the price for the industrial anarchy that is prevalent in this country today. Because of stoppages sufficient goods are not being manufactured to meet demand. But even this miserly gesture by the Government is adding to this situation from day to day. There is no attempt to curb the nonproduction of goods in order to meet the demand so that inflation will be brought under control. Rather the contrary is the case.
Plots are being worked out to bribe more votes out of another section of the community in this country. I refer to those people who work for a deliberate wage or are under a deliberate time schedule. The Government says to them: ‘We will try to get you the 35-hour week’. Of course, if it implemented a 35-hour week in the full employment situation that exists at the momentthere is currently a shortage of labour and a shortage of goods- it would crucify every pensioner. But such a proposition is being entertained by this Government. As a trade unionist I tell the Government that it is not planning for a better way of life even for the people to whom it wants to give a 35-hour week if it is given in the present circumstances. If the Australian Council of Trade Unions- as a member of 2 unions I happen to be a financial subscriber to that organisationwas the honest body that it used to be under the leadership of Albert Monk, it would not be pushing this economically crazy proposal at this point in the economic history of this country.
– What about stopping for a short commercial?
– I believe that at least my commercial would be honest, and that is more than the honourable senator could say about the sort of commercial that he has become rapt in. Of course Senator O’Byrne would make that sort of interjection. The whole second reading speech is nothing more than a commercial. The honourable senator’s mind is completely engrossed with slogans such as ‘It’s Time’ or something else. He does not like to listen to honesty. His brain cannot cope with it. That is his trouble. He should get out amongst the pensioners and find out how they feel about the Government’s bragging and the charity that the Government is throwing at them today instead of giving them what is their right. All that we ask is that the type of independent tribunal that has been set up to determine politicians’ salaries be set up to determine pensions. If that is done, the pensioners will not ask for any more than that. Perhaps then Senator O’Byrne will be more honest and will not sit there prattling about commercials. He should sit in silence and listen to the situation being put to him in honesty, instead of having the temerity to interject in a way that not one of his colleagues has been prepared to do up to date.
Honourable senators should look at the statements contained in the second reading speech. It even sets out to prove that the cost indices which have shown increases really lag behind increases in average weekly earnings, and that even if the pension is not quite 25 per cent of average weekly earnings the pensioners are not as badly off as they used to be. When Government senators come in here and legal representatives of the unions go into the arbitration courts to argue the wage concept, they argue the other way; they say that wages are lagging behind. So honourable senators opposite can see how their commercial is inconsistent with the case that is put on their behalf elsewhere. Senator O’Byrne talks to me about commercials. I know whose minds are commercially oriented over and above a sense of justice. If the Labor Party were half the Labor Party that it used to be, it would not tolerate this sort of hypocrisy; it would be honest; it would get rid of the old political football and the footballers such as honourable senators opposite.
The Labor Government says that it is better than other governments because it gives to the pensioners. It does not have anything to give. The increased revenue going into the coffers of the Treasury, which has been created by the inflation to which the Government itself has contributed, is three or four times as much as is being handed back to the pensioners. Why does not the Government give the pensioners an increase which is equivalent to the increased amount received from the taxpayers because of inflationary forces? The Government does not give them anything; it does not have anything; it is the taxpayers’ money.
The people out in the streets, whom the Government has forgotten and whom it is supposed to represent, are doing the giving, if anyone is giving at all. The people to whom the Government should be giving are those who have provided the opportunity for its members to sit in this chamber and who have created everything else in this country up to date. They are the generation that built it up to what it is today. They built it up on stable economies in which price levels shifted very little over periods of 10 years. In those days, if one bought a house for 1,000 Pounds, 10 years after purchase, it was still worth about 1,000 Pounds, with perhaps something off for depreciation. If one can buy a house today for $20,000, in 10 years time it will take 30,000 of the same dollar tokens to buy the same house, in spite of the fact that it is 10 years older. Yet Government senators pose as the people who know how to run a country. With that son of appreciation of what makes an economy tick they could not run the corner store, let alone a nation. So they should not boast about it. They should not try to pretend that they are better than they are, because they are not.
This Government tried to counter the criticism that it must have expected because I have always made that criticism. I say to Senator Carrick who has just resumed his seat that it was not always the Labor Party that preached the gospel that it is wrong to pay married pensioners less than unmarried pensioners. Are they any different? Do married pensioners eat less? It is said that two can live more cheaply than one. We all know that that is not true. We all know the mental pressures on an old married couple. Perhaps one partner is ill. The expense of that illness alone can be crippling. Of course, when there are 2 people the chances of illness are doubled. When one partner is ill the other pensioner is really sacrificing a great portion of his income to help meet the added costs of the medical attention for his married partner. But honourable senators opposite say: ‘Oh, no; invariably two can live more cheaply than one’. Apparently the payment of a pension is not theirs by right as individuals, because if a pensioner happens to be married the amount he receives is less than that received by a single pensioner. Of course, he should receive the same pension. Pensions should be paid on an individual basis, but this Government boasts that it is continuing the system of awarding differential pensions to married people.
Yet this same Government is toying with the idea of altering the laws of this nation to allow 2 homosexuals to engage in a marriage ceremony and become a married couple. Is this not a strange philosophy? I have written to such people, who in my view are sick but are anxious that this should be part of our law, and reminded them that they might be sorry if it becomes part of our law because homosexuals grow old just the same as everybody else, and when they reach pensionable age they will find that as married pensioners they will receive less than they would have received had they remained single. But the Government is boasting of the fact that it is granting a differential pension increase to married couples. By doing so it is continuing to widen the gap. Because of inflationary forces the value of the money tokens which we are allocating to pensioners is decreasing, and any increase in pensions is merely trying to keep up with these inflationary forces rather than putting the pensioners in front. The Government is trying to retrieve the lost ground.
So on the one hand, the Government’s philosophy is: Let us be charitable in our thinking; never mind about how it may eat into the moral fibre of the nation; let us encourage those’ people who have this enormous difficulty and let us grant to them the supreme honour of being able to marry, whether or not they are homosexual. Honourable senators opposite are advocating it in their policies, are they not?
– We are not advocating it.
– Of course you are. Then you come along here with this one and say: ‘Once they are married, then of course when they become old aged pensioners we will be able to save some of the money that we allege is ours and which we are giving them’. After reading this document my heart bleeds for honourable senators on the Government benches. I see them walking around with their hands continually in their pockets, giving their own money to the age pensioners. They know very well that they have their hands in the poor old taxpayers’ pocket all the time. They let his wages go up and then they swoop on him and take his money from him in the form of taxation. Then they pretend that it is their own money that they are giving away. They say: ‘We give to the pensioners’. They could not raise enough between the lot of them to buy a Sydney steak. What are they talking about? They give the pensioner nothing. All they are doing is taking from them the pride and dignity that ought to be theirs by right.
Why do not Government senators listen to what we have told them over the years and take this humiliating situation out of this political arena? Let them get it off the football ground and have it fixed by an independent tribunal and put onto their own Government or any other government the future responsibility to find the money tokens with which to give these people the justice they deserve. I renounce the idea of a differential rate between married and single pensioners. The Government says that of course two can live cheaper than one. It goes further than that and says: ‘People who publish cartoons emphasise this point and that is most unfair to us because if two people were living together in a de facto relationship, their pension would be cut down’. Government senators boast of this. Would it be cut down in the case of the homosexuals of whom I was speaking? Could the Government prove its case if 2 males or 2 females pensioners were living in the same house and sharing the expenses of the house- two living cheaper than one? No, it is done only if 2 people have a marriage certificate.
– Sit down, senator.
-Yes, I know that Senator Georges would want me to sit down. How Government senators squirm when one hits them where it hurts. The honourable senator is pleading with me now to shut up. He knows my reputation in politics. It may do for the weak and the defenceless to plead with me, but when the plea comes from politicians such as honourable senators opposite I enjoy it. They can crawl on their knees if they want to. They will get no mercy from me when they come here with this sort of baloney- this sort of malarkey- and claim that this is a policy. This is not a policy, it is an insult to the older people in the community which they should not have to suffer at their age. If Government senators continue to try to produce the phoney arguments that they have produced here they will inevitably make the stupid mistakes that they made when they tried to evaluate the situation between single arid married pensioners.
The Government has got to the stage now of boasting, by saying: ‘Look what we are doing now in terms of child endowment. We are going to make it possible to pay it to credit unions’. I have no doubt that the children will be delighted, and their mothers also, now that they know they can get it through a credit union. It will be only the same amount of money- the same amount of tokens which are worth half what they used to be worth. But they can get it in a different way: They can collect it through a credit union. They will be delighted when they read that that is the policy of this Government which is supposed to be in the interests of the ordinary people. There is no increase for the ordinary people at all.
The rest of the document recognises the injustice to those whom the Government has singled out for some of its cold charity. It has proved the case for them- that they should get more- but it gives them nothing extra. All it does is give them something in a different way. It says: ‘We are robbing you, but be pleased about it, because whilst we are robbing you, if you have a credit union account you will be able to pick it up there instead of picking it up at the bank’.
The last Government was not good on these questions and my criticism of it was the same as it is of the present Government. But it did not come forward trying to justify its policy by a stupid argument like that of the present Government. Senator Georges, surely is not proud of that. I respect him as a gentlemen- and that is more that I can say for many of his colleagues. I hope that my saying that about him will not do him any political damage. I can understand why I am not popular with his Party: I know too much about it. I know where the bodies are buried, to start with. I say to Senator Georges, be careful. He is a little honest. Some day I might know where his tombstone too is located, if he is not a little more cautious and a little less honest than he is.
The Democratic Labor Party’s attitude to this Bill is what it has been to nearly all other pension Bills. The Government will not do justice to these people by making political footballs of them every time it drags their degradation- which it has created- into the Parliament to boost itself and its own political stocks. The Government will do it only when at last it is forced, as it will be, to take up another plank of the Democratic Labor Party policy and put these pensions in the hands of an independent tribunal to assess what they are worth. Let Government senators put this matter where they have put their own salaries and then they will get unqualified support from the DLP. Today they get that support only because they are giving the pensioners back a fraction of what they have already taken from them. That is bad enough- but when Government senators boast about it they will get from us what they have got today.
– I rise to speak on this Bill on behalf of my Party. I say at the outset that I would not agree with the comment made by Senator Little that the deciding of pension increases should be taken from the Government and granted to a tribunal. Over the last couple of years I have had at least eight or nine letters pleading with me that various areas of government concern should be taken out of the hands of government and placed in the hands of an independent tribunal. It is a very attractive proposition. I received last week a letter from someone in Victoria who said: ‘Surely the allocation of finance for schools should be taken out of the hands of the Government. Why should the question of whether private schools should get money be half a religious argument all the time or an argument of the wealthy against the poor? It should be taken from the Government and given to a tribunal’.
– One aspect of that is that there would be a bit of responsibility and stability, for today all politicians seem at be competing with handouts for education or social services.
– I acknowledge Senator Wright’s intervention. However, it appears to me imperative in our type of system that a government must be responsible for the type of Budget it puts forward and for the way it collects revenue and expends it. I think that the face that the Government puts to an increasingly knowledgeable public demonstrates its ability or otherwise to control the economic purse. Whether this Government is capable of controlling the economy of this country has been well noted in the past 12 months. No member of the Government nor of the Opposition could be proud of the record relating to our economy which the Government has demonstrated in the last year. It is a pathetic story. Perhaps it has been brought about by a Government new in office not knowing what it should do and taking gasps to expend money wherever it can. But there is a time for responsibility and that time will be when the effects of this year’s expenditure become known.
The Minister’s second reading speech discloses the ambit of the proposed increases. The Minister said that the cost of the pension and benefit increases is expected to be $220m per annum or $50m for 1973-74. The Minister goes on to say that the estimate of $50m for this year is based on the assumption that payments of the proposed pension increases will date from 18 April in the case of aged and invalid pensions and from 23 April in the case of widows’ pension. I prompt honourable senators on the Government side, who I acknowledge are very keen to ensure that pension increases are paid to those who are less fortunate in the community or those who are dependent on social security benefits, to recall that traditionally in this country when a Bill to increase pensions has been passed the benefit has been paid within 7 or 14 days or generally as from the next pay day for pensioners. Even supporters of this Government when they were in Opposition readily agreed to pass legislation to increase pensions so that the increases could be passed on to the pensioners at the earliest date possible.
I repeat that under this Bill the Government proposes that the increased age and invalid pensions shall be paid as from 1 8 April. Today is 2 1 March. A period of about 4 weeks will elapse before payment is made. Why is there this delay? There is no argument that accountancy procedures could not be completed earlier. There is no argument that the machine which turns out the forms could not do it more quickly. We on this side say that this Government does not wish to pay pensioners the increases at the earliest opportunity. It wishes to save as much money as it can.
– That is nonsense. We made pension increases retrospective when we came into office and that is something which your Government never did.
– The honourable senator from South Australia is again interrupting with his cackle, as he always does. He says: ‘We made the increases retrospective when we came into power.’ But the honourable senator now says in respect of this legislation: ‘Now that we have been in government for about a year we are going to take a month to pay the increases after the Bill has been passed. ‘ How this Government has changed!
– No, that is not quite right.
-Not quite. But it is only 4 days short of a month.
– Read the next sentence too.
-Do not worry, I am coming to the next sentence. The Minister has said by way of interjection that the delay will not be a month. He is, of course, quite right in one respect because today is 21 March and the increased age and invalid pensions are to be paid as from 1 8 April and the increased widows’ pensions as from 23 April. In one case the delay is 3 days short of a month and in the other it is well over a month. So let us not argue about that.
– Will you read the next sentence?
– I will read it because it relates to what this Government has attempted to do in the Senate today. In their wisdom, whatever their difficulties were and whenever they proposed that they would give pensioners a rise, I suppose that honourable senators opposite have been thinking about this since Christmas. Has the Department of Social Security given any thought since Christmas to granting a rise for pensioners? Has the Government been preparing a Bill with an unknown figure or perhaps a $ 1 .50 increase as promised or- and I compliment the Government on this- a generous rise of $3? Was it necessary to wait until there were difficulties confronting the preparation of a Bill or until this Senate had been sitting for a period of 3 weeks to present to the house of review a Bill on the last day of this 3-week sitting? Was it necessary for us to wait until 2 1 March to hear about the matters which have been referred to and to which the Minister has drawn attention? In his second reading speech the Minister said:
However, If the Parliament can pass this Bill -
That includes the Senate. The Minister will acknowledge that this Bill came into this place after 2.30 p.m. today. I think he commenced his second reading speech at about 2.30. He may prompt me on this but perhaps he does not wish to mention the time. Let us accept that it was at 2.45, as somebody suggests by interjection. So the second reading speech was read by the Minister about an hour ago. What has been the attitude of the Opposition towards agreeing to passing this legislation in haste so that the increased benefits can be granted to pensioners? I think that when the Government prepared the second reading speech it knew when the Senate would rise and it intended to introduce the legislation into the Senate at this time. Under the normal procedure honourable senators would have an opportunity to debate a measure such as this at length. On this occasion it is obvious that the Opposition would be blamed if the legislation were not passed on 2 1 March- today
– And rightly so.
-And rightly so. Here we have the Government bringing in a Bill at 2.45, knowing that the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Murphy) has already proposed that the Senate should rise at 5 o’clock on Thursdays. The second reading speech states:
However, if the Parliament can pass this Bill quickly -
That means, if the Parliament can pass this Bill within a couple of hours - we will be able to make the increases effective from earlier ay days, in which event the estimated cost . . . will e . . .$60m.
I challenge the Government on this matter. It is my view that the Opposition will pass this Bill this afternoon.
– In General Business time, do not forget.
– I will deal with that point too. But I imagine that we will pass this Bill this afternoon. I challenge the Government to state why it is unable or why it will not pay the proposed pension increases as from 1 April. The former Government was able’ to manage. Why is the Labor Government not able to do it? The reason is that its financial affairs are a wreck. It has not only ruined the country- one could use other words- but also it is unable to find sufficient funds to pay the proposed increases for pensioners. I believe this is a despicable act. It illustrates the position this Government is in. Every time the Leader of the Government in the Senate gets up on his feet he moans about the Opposition Parties frustrating this and that legislation. He spent 5 minutes this morning telling us about the number of Bills which could not be stomached by the majority of the members of the Senate.
It is interesting to note that when the former Government was in power this sort of thing did not happen. The Government of which I was a supporter had a hostile Senate during all the time I was in this place but it never had abhorrent legislation such as this Government is putting forward. I have noted that the Labor Party apparently intends to use second reading speeches from now on to denigrate the Opposition. This is not new. It has been in evidence in the last 12 months. This denigration is exemplified in the Minister’s speech, whoever wrote it for him. Every speech is the same and we are becoming used to it. The practice in the past was that second reading speeches would describe the Bills. They were not used to criticise or denigrate the Opposition. I point out to those pensioners and other people who work in the community and are interested in comments that are made in the Senate in relation to social welfare Bills, that in fact the Minister devoted almost 25 per cent of his speech to criticising the Opposition. If I have noted the position correctly, the Minister devoted about 5 pages of his second reading speech to denigrating the Opposition. Perhaps he ran out of words to evaluate and critically look at what the Government was able to do and what it hoped to do in the ensuing period. I could think of many things to say in this regard. The Government has been generous. It promised a $1.50 a week increase in the pension rate every 6 months. I think it has done something unique in Australian history. It has granted a $3 a week increase. That is a very considerable amount. The Government has done this during 1974. I think the Minister said in his second reading speech that this is the first time in 60 years that such an increase has been granted. I think the Minister could have gone on to say that during that 60 years Labor has been in office at various times but apparently at no time during that period was an increase of this amount thought necessary to assist those in the community who are less fortunate than others. I was making the point that the Minister could well have spent the time that he spent on denigrating the Opposition on making a careful evaluation of what an increase in the pension will mean to pensioners. I imagine that the Opposition will not wish to debate at any length those other Bills that are yet to come before us today. We will probably agree to pass them within the stipulated time so that the Government can pay the pensioners. But there should be an evaluation of what this $3 increase will mean. I think I should incorporate in my speech many of the comments that were made by Senator Carrick when he examined the general percentages that are emanating from Government sources at the moment. The fact of the matter is that when the Liberal-Country Party Government left the government benches in December 1972 -
– In a horrible mess.
– I think the average person would agree that we did not conduct our business as business would be conducted in a fowl house. That is the type of language that I know the honourable senator would understand to describe the way things look at the moment.
– What is wrong with fowl houses?
– The honourable senator asks what is wrong with fowl houses. If I had sufficient time to tell the honourable senator what is wrong with fowl houses, he would see typical Labor legislation scattered about.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Marriott)- Order! I ask the honourable senator to address his remarks to the Bill and to address the Chair.
-Mr Acting Deputy President, the honourable senator interrupted my speech, which is annoying. We know the honourable senator’s background and the expertise that he brings to the Senate. It is not in social welfare matters. If I am to be interrupted by an honourable senator who says: ‘What is wrong with fowl houses?’, what can I do but respond to him? In December of 1972 we had the situation in which the basic pension could be compared with average weekly earnings, to give some sort of a gauge of the cost of living. If I recall the position correctly, members of the Australian Labor Party generally were arguing that if average weekly earnings rose, the pension rate should rise accordingly. I never accepted that calculation. I thought it was fallacious to speak in that way. Of course, those who command a certain expertise may be able to receive higher wage rises. While the Government has thought fit to compare average weekly earnings with the level of pension payments that should be made, it always appeared to me that pensions should probably relate to how far a person was able to climb up the ladder and that person’s cost of living. I think it is wrong for the Opposition or the Government to speak about average weekly earnings. I do not accept that proposition myself.
We have seen figures produced which, I imagine, are very embarrassing for the Government. We heard the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) declare in one of his irrational moments during a speech that the Government intended to see that the pension rate represented 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. The gentleman really did not know what he was saying. This has been demonstrated during the past 12 months. Within a year of Labor coming to office that is, as at 2 December 1973- the pension rate, regardless of what the Government has done in relation to pensions, still represented 20.05 per cent of average weekly earnings. The Government had made no step forward whatsoever. It is introducing this Bill a few days before the end of March. I suppose that within a couple of weeks further figures will be produced which will indicate the increase in average weekly earnings over the 3-month period we have gone through. Once again the situation will be that if the figure for average weekly earnings at that time is compared with the figure for average weekly earnings in December of 1 973 in order to see just what the Government is doing, it will be found that there has been a depreciation in the value of the pension below 20.05 per cent which is the present pension rate, expressed as a percentage of average weekly earnings, that is being paid to pensioners.
What has happened since this Government has been in office? I think the pensioner associations are well alert to the untruth that has been put forward by the Government. In actual fact, they have calculated that the increase in the pension rate should have been $5. I notice that the Minister, as he would have done in other times, did not even refer to what those pensioner associations have said. But here is the situation: The value of the pension, on the basis that it was proposed by Mr Whitlam, has depreciated during the term of office of the Labor Government. I do not think that Labor intended that. I think it had a genuine hope to increase the basic pension to a quarter of average weekly earnings. Certainly, it could not have predicted that the pension rate, expressed as a percentage of average weekly earnings, would be the same at the end of its first year of office as it was when the LiberalCountry Party Government left the treasury bench. So in actual fact the Labor Government has done nothing for the pensioner.
What will be the situation after another 6 months of the Labor Government in office? I think Senator Carrick and Senator Little put the position very well. Again, we have this shadow that the Labor Government throws over its affairs. The Minister devoted 5 pages of his second reading speech to denigrating the Opposition. But he did not draw the attention of pensioners to the fact that even though the Government is giving them a $3 a week pension increase, it has, through its management of the economy, brought about a 14 per cent depreciation in the pensioners’ spending power or in the value of the dollar during last year. The Minister does not say: ‘We will not tell you what the depreciation in the value of the dollar will be in the first 3 months of 1974, in the second 3 months of 1 974, or even what it will be after 9 months’. But in all probability, the depreciation in the value of the pensioner’s dollar over this period will be 12 per cent or 13 per cent. The Government says: ‘We will keep that quiet and in December we will keep our promise to give the pensioners another $1.50’. I am sure that if the Government is still in power it will do this. Perhaps the amount granted will be even higher. But for all that, the Government is running the community into a serious financial situation. I think Australia is a pretty wonderful country. I congratulate the Government -
– It was until 18 months ago.
-It is a most resilient society. No matter what the quality of government has been like and no matter what effect outside influences have had on this country in matters of trade, finance of business activities, the Australian society has demonstrated a great resilience. I believe that eventually it will be able to unscramble the egg which the Labor Government has scrambled.
– The honourable senator has a bitter hatred of the poultry farmers.
– I apologise for mentioning eggs again. I did not intend to do that. But the honourable senator would understand what a scrambled egg looks like. Really, that is the position with our economy at the moment. The Minister made one or two important points. He said that it is to the benefit of the Australian community that we are able to pay a pension. I emphasise this point in closing: The single pensioner, who does not receive other income will be eligible to receive some pension until the value of his non-exempt property reaches approximately $37,000. 1 believe that that is a pretty good effort for our society. The Minister went on to say that for a married couple the equivalent limits of income and property will be $ 125.50 a week and $66,060 respectively. The Minister may have been able to give other figures which would have been even more impressive. It is my recollection that about a year ago- undoubtedly the situation is maintained today- a pensioner could have up to $ 130,000 or $ 140,000 in assets and still be eligible for a pension. That is a wonderful situation to visualise. I understand that the marital home is not taken into account when calculating the property value for social security purposes. The home can be of any value, as can the property inside it, without affecting eligibility.
I know of a pensioner in Victoria- probably there are many in a similar position, and I am pleased that there are- who drives to collect his pension in the type of car favoured by Labor politicians- a Mercedes. I know that that occurs in my State. I could name the pensioner who is able to do that. I think that is wonderful and that if we are able to sustain that situation in our society it should be continued.
– Are you really serious in saying that? It must be a scandal beyond description.
– I am saying it for the benefit of the Government as well as of the Opposition. I am stating a fact.
– Why do you not move an amendment to cut it down?
– I will continue with my speech. I would prefer that such an interjection were not recorded in Hansard because I do not think that this situation is a scandal. I think it is wonderful that we are able to achieve that result in our society. I hope that, whatever level of pension is paid and whatever benefits we are able to provide for the less fortunate in the community they will be able to build proper accommodation and to maintain and furnish it. I hope that they are able to have some of the amenities that we think are due in every area of life. I have in mind refrigerators, air conditioning and transport. They should have the benefit of saving for those amenities in their old age. I have pleasure in supporting the Government on this measure.
-I am very pleased that we on the Opposition benches are giving this Bill a speedy passage. I am very pleased to be part of the Opposition that is acting in that way at this time. However, I was rather disappointed to hear the Minister for the Media (Senator Douglas McClelland), who represents the Minister for Social Security (Mr
Hayden) in this chamber, speak so glowingly of the tremendous increase of $3 a week that is now to be given to our senior citizens. To some extent, I agree with Senator Little who said that he would like to see the whole matter of pensions taken out of the political field. I wish that we could devise some means of doing that. I also wish that we would stop using the term ‘pensioners’ when referring to our senior citizens. Today we are enjoying the fruits of the labours of our senior citizens. They are the people who built this nation and helped to make it prosper. We are enjoying much of what they have contributed during their life span. In their twilight years they are more than entitled to help from the Government. A man now aged 65 years probably started work at 17 years of age. He would have paid taxes for more than 40 years and would have helped to build this nation in many ways as well. Through circumstances beyond their control, our older people may not have saved as much as they need for their comfort in their later years. I believe that they are entitled to a share of the nation’s wealth.
I am pleased that our senior citizens are to receive a pension increase of $3 a week, but when it is related to the current rate of inflation and the high cost of living I am afraid that it will not be of great benefit to them. They still have to pay the same amount for half a pound of butter as other people pay. They still have to pay the same amount for a little tin of jam. Three dollars will not be of great benefit to them, I am afraid, because of the mismanagement of the Government in allowing the high rate of inflation and the high cost of living. The Minister said that the unemployment and sickness benefits also are to be increased. I have no objection to that. I commend it. Some people within the community fall on hard times and unfortunately are not able to work for a living. They are entitled to assistance. The same is true of people who are genuinely ill and are unable to work to earn the money they need to support themselves and their families. I have nothing against that.
My objection is to the number of people who today are taking advantage of the unemployment benefit. I speak with most experience of my home State of Queensland. When I look around there I see people who are prepared to live on social security payments because of the high rate that is being paid. I could cite many instances. In my home town there is a man who has a number of children and works for the local council. He brings home a pay packet of $75 a week after paying tax. There is a gentleman- I call him that for want of a better word- who lives in the same street and who, to my knowledge has not worked for the last 2 years. He brings home $85 a week for which he does not have to work. Does it give any encouragement to a man who is working, supporting his family and paying his taxes when he knows that there are other people living on social security benefits who never do a day’s work?
– Why does he not have to work?
– You have had your say, let me have mine.
– How many children does he have?
– We have heard a lot of senseless prattle from Senator O’Byrne. I am speaking of something that is relevant to the Bill. If you want to prattle, Grandad, do it in your own time and not in mine. I have only about one minute left. I would be very pleased if the Government would look more closely at payment of the unemployment benefit. Whilst we are prepared to pay social security benefits to those people who are genuinely unemployed and are looking for work so that they can be helped over a bad spot, I think we also should be looking at the people who are receiving the unemployment benefit and are not prepared to make any contribution at all. When I was a boy I lived in New South Wales. At the time my stepfather was unemployed and in receipt of the unemployment benefit, although at that time it was called relief. But there was no way in the world that he could go down to an office and pick an amount of money. He had to do a certain amount of work before he could receive relief funds. I cannot for the life of me see why a similar requirement cannot be applied today. I strongly urge the Government to examine a scheme by which unemployment benefits could be paid into a local government, city council or similar body and instead of a bloke just being able to walk down to an Employment Service office and pick up his 75 or 80 bucks a week he would have to do a certain amount of work for the money. A lot of work can be done by these people. There are parks and gardens to be attended to and there are senior citizens who are in need of assistance. This is the kind of work these people who are receiving unemployment benefit could be doing.
Honourable senators can rest assured that if many of these people who are drawing unemployment benefit and are doing nothing for it had to do some work in order to receive that money they would certainly look around for a permanent job. Whilst they are allowed and encouraged to accept this kind of benefit without making any effort to work themselves they will continue to do so. We will be encouraging people to become dependants of governments. Perhaps this is the kind of situation that the present socialist government would like to see. Perhaps it would like to see people dependent on governments. If that situation arose we would have to go to Big Brother with our caps in our hands all the time. It is not the kind of thing I want to see in this country of ours. I am very pleased to be able to help to give this Bill a speedy passage through the House. I hope that the senior citizens and other people who will benefit by the provisions of this Bill will be able to receive their payments at the earliest possible time.
– I will be the last speaker for the Opposition in this debate. I will be speaking for barely 2 minutes on this measure. I rise to stress the Opposition’s dismay at the manner in which this Senate has been treated in dealing with this Bill. It is everyone’s desire, we all know, that the payments which this Bill will provide should be made as soon as possible. The Opposition has co-operated to ensure that the Bill will be passed today to enable that to be done. But it is not in the traditions of Parliament, which we want to uphold, nor is it in the interests of the Senate as a chamber, that we should be asked to deal with a measure as portentous as this in the short space of time, less than 2 hours, which we have been allowed.
This is a Bill with which all honourable senators agree. It is a tremendously significant Bill for a number of reasons. One of them, of course, is the very large amount of increase which is involved. It is an important Bill because the circumstances in which an increase of that character is made are circumstances which raise a host of implications for the future of our pensions. I desire to take time to speak about the fact that the unemployment benefit is being raised to $26 a week. Whilst the Government has been priding itself on the fact that the figures of the unemployed have dropped since it has been in power, we see an increase in the number of persons who are receiving unemployment benefit. I have searched for and endeavoured to ascertain from the Minister the conditions upon which unemployment benefit is granted. I have not been able to obtain those facts.
We are aware that there is an abuse and a scandal and, I would believe, a matter warranting the fullest investigation in the way in which unemployment benefit is paid and administered in Australia. Yet we are denied the opportunity of expressing views because of the way in which this Bill has been introduced and the limited time which has been made available for us to debate it. But there are other occasions when a matter of this character, which would appropriately be raised in this place, can be raised. I assure the Government that the Opposition will be raising these matters. The Government cannot hope to sweep under the carpet matters which are an embarrassment to it. It cannot hope to prevent debate by introducing matters at a late stage and by using the threat that the Opposition will be accused of denying benefits unless the Bill is passed forthwith without debate. Occasionally the Government may succeed in those endeavours but it will not shut out from being said those things which the Opposition wants to say.
With those comments, and expressing a regret which the Opposition feels about the whole way this matter has been treated, we endorse the fact that it is appropriate that because of the alarming inflationary situation in this country, the rise in costs, and the dismay and despair which are being caused to hundreds of thousands of people they ought to be given what this Government is giving them under this Bill. The Government has created the problems. This is small enough alleviation.
– In reply- It is not my intention because of the urgency of this legislation which seeks to increase pensions and because of the Government’s desire to get this legislation through, to speak at length. I wish merely to put one or two matters in support of the Government’s case. When this Government came into office, the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) gave an undertaking to the Australian people, and particularly to those people on pensions, that we would move in Parliament each session for an increase of $1.50 a week until such time as the pension was 25 per cent of average weekly male earnings.
Last year in the first Parliament under a Labor Government, we carried out that undertaking. The Government gave an increase of $1.50 a week and made that increase retrospective to the first pay period after the date of the House of Representatives elections in December 1972. Again, in the Budget session of last year the Government likewise moved to increase the pension by $1.50 a week in accordance with the mandate it received from the Australian people. In this session the Government has moved to increase the pension by $3 a week in the case of single pensioners, and $5 in the case of a married pensioner couple. The Government now seeks to increase the pension to one-quarter of average weekly male earnings. When we came into Government the pension was 20 per cent of average weekly earnings. Under this legislation, when it is enacted, the pension will be 22.57 per cent of average weekly earnings. So, within 16 months of the Labor Government’s coming to office it has passed the half way mark so far as that undertaking is concerned.
Senator Little referred to the haste with which this legislation has been introduced. He suggested that the proposed pension increase should date from 1 8 April in the case of age and invalid pensions and 23 April in the case of widows’ pensions. If the Bill is passed today the increases will operate in the case of widows pensions from 26 March and in the case of age and invalid pensions from 4 April; hence, the estimated increase from $50m to $60m in the event of this legislation being passed today.
– If we did not pass this legislation today the Government would have said that the Opposition had prevented the pensioners from being paid until some time in April. ls not that the position?
-For a long time Senator Greenwood held things like that against us when we were in Opposition. He is assuming that we would do the same as his Party did to us when we were in Opposition. Senator Greenwood will recall that as well as being the Attorney-General in the previous Government he was also the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services in this place. Senator Greenwood now rises and says: ‘I have been asking for so long to find out from the Minister what the conditions for unemployment benefit are.’ Senator Greenwood surely should have known the conditions on which unemployment benefit is paid. He had the responsibility, in the previous Government, of answering questions in this place as Minister representing the Minister for Social Services. The conditions operating under this Government in relation to unemployment benefits are basically the same as those which were applied under the previous Government. Be that as it may, if this Bill is passed today widows will receive payment at the old rates on 26 March but arrears of the increase will be made available to then with the first regular payment at the new rates on 9 April. Increases in age and invalid pensions will be paid on 4 April. In essence, these are being paid a fortnight earlier and, as I indicated in my second reading speech, that provision will cost an additional $ 10m this financial year.
Senator Little trotted out the Democratic Labor Party’s policy on pensions and suggested that these matters should be referred to an independent tribunal. I refer to the obiter dicta of the former Minister representing the Minister for Social Services, the present Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Senator Greenwood, who at page 1167 of Hansard of 26 September 1972 is reported as saying:
The difference between a tribunal that fixes pensions and a tribunal that fixes wages is that a tribunal that fixes wages, such as the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, is a body which undertakes a judgment that will have ramifications across the whole range of industry and a body which, in the public interest, has been established to resolve disputing claims between employer and employee. In that sense it represents the community interest in resolving what otherwise might be resolved only with great strife and hardship to the community; whereas a tribunal that fixed pensions would be determining, in effect, what the community can allow or what the Government can allow, having regard to all its other items of expenditure, by way of remuneration to pensioners.
I believe that the Government will be commended by the Australian people for the initiatives which it has taken in social reform in this country, especially so far as pensions are concerned. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– At this stage I register my complete objection to the increase in unemployment benefits. I think it is wrong that they should be increased at this time. From recent announcements in the Press by the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) and the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) it is obvious that they have finally taken notice of some of the statements which I have made in the past about slackers, loafers and shirkers. They have finally admitted that there are slackers, loafers and shirkers. The Government should take strict action to make these people work. At this stage there should be no unemployment in Australia. In my opinion, there is absolutely no excuse for anyone to be receiving unemployment benefits. Those who receive such benefits are absolute shirkers. Therefore, I do not want to agree to the increase in the unemployment benefits. I asked the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator Greenwood) whether I could move an amendment at this stage to ensure that that clause was deleted. I received a notice that time would not permit; that the Bill would be held up.
– That notice was for me.
– I do not mind. I register my objection to this part of the Bill. I do not think we should be increasing unemployment benefits at this stage.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Douglas McClelland) read a third time.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Bishop) read a first time.
– I move:
I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-
As you know, Mr President, in little more than a year, the Government has done more for repatriation pensioners than any other previous government did. The Bill currently before the Senate is designed to give legislative effect to further improvements in pension rates to bring them in line with or move them towards the levels promised by the Government. In fact, the special (T & PI) rate will again be equal to the adult Australian minimum wage and the general rate will now move further towards 50 per cent of that wage. There will also be substantial increases in pensions payable to war widows. In addition to the increases in war pensions, there will also be increases in service pension rates that flow automatically from proposals that my colleague, the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden), has already announced.
The opportunity will be taken in this Bill, to abolish the payment of special compensation allowance introduced by the previous Government in 1968 and which this Government considers to be an anomaly in the present pensioning structure. Provision has been made in the Bill to permit members of repatriation boards to be appointed or re-appointed for a specific period not exceeding 2 years. Currently, members of
Boards cannot hold office for a term of less than 2 years. This has created problems where it has been necessary to appoint members for short terms. The Bill will not affect the tenure of office of members of boards holding office before the commencement of the new provisions. The Bill also provides that in future the salaries and allowances paid to members of statutory authorities set up under the Repatriation Act will be fixed by the Remuneration Tribunal established under the Remuneration Tribunals Act. At present the members of these bodies receive such remuneration as is determined by the GovernorGeneral. The amendments made by the Bill preserve the existing salaries of these persons pending a determination by the Tribunal. I will now outline in more detail to the Senate the increases proposed and the other provisions of the Bill.
The Special Rate War Pension
This Bill provides for an increase of $4.50 a week in the special (T & PI) rate, taking it from $55.60 to $60.10 a week and once again bringing this class of pension to the current level of the adult minimum wage. The special (T & PI) rate pension is also payable to the war blinded, certain sufferers from pulmonary tuberculosis, and to those who are temporarily totally incapacitated. About 20,000 will receive the proposed increase of $4.50 a week at a cost of $4.3m in a full year. I might add, that war pensions are not subject to income tax, so that the real value of the special rate is in excess of equivalent earnings. In addition, some pensioners may also be eligible for the recreation transport allowance, the attendants allowance and certain other fringe benefits. Therefore, the weekly income of these pensioners is well in excess of the net value of the minimum wage after tax.
The Intermediate Rate War Pension
The intermediate rate pension is designed to compensate those who, because of Servicerelated incapacity, are able to work only parttime or intermittently. It is proposed to increase this pension by $2.25 a week, taking it from $38.80 a week to $41.05 a week.
The General Rate Pension
The policy of the Government is that the general rate pension should be the equivalent of 50 per cent of the minimum wage. The proposed increase in this pension will take its level closer to our goal. It should be remembered that about 190,000 ex-servicemen and women receive their pensions under this rate at percentages ranging from 10 per cent to 100 per cent. Consequently, while it is the intention of the Government to restore the value of this pension, it must be done progressively. As you know, Mr President, in the last 15 months, the general rate will have been increased on 3 occasions. This is in marked contrast to the record of the previous Government which left this particular pension unchanged for 8 years.
The Bill provides for an increase in this rate of $3 a week from $19 to $22 a week at the 100 per cent level. There will be corresponding increases at lower levels. The cost of this increase for a full year will be $ 12.3m. As I mentioned earlier, in conjunction with these increases, it is proposed to abolish the special compensation allowance. Although most pensioners currently receiving this allowance at the maximum rate did not receive an increase in the Budget and will not under this Bill, I should mention that they will not suffer any reduction in the amount of compensation they presently receive and, after the allowance has been eliminated, they will thereafter participate in general rate increases in the same way as all other general rate pensioners.
The War Widow’s Pension
The Government’s program in this area is to ensure that, by means of progressive increases, a war widow is adequately compensated for the loss of her breadwinner as a result of Servicerelated causes. As a further step in our program, it is proposed in this Bill to increase the war widow’s pension rate by $3 a week from $23 to $26 a week. As honourable senators are aware, a war widow may also receive a domestic allowance if she has a child, including a student child, or if she is 50 years of age or is permanently unemployable. Approximately 97 per cent of war widows receive the domestic allowance which is currently payable at $9.50 a week. I should also like to point out to honourable senators that, in addition to the war widow’s pension and the domestic allowance, about 21,000 war widows also receive part age or invalid pensions. The cost in a full year of the proposed increase in the. basic war widow’s pension will be $7.9m, affecting approximately 50,000 widows.
Service Pensions Generally
The proposed increases in age and invalid pensions foreshadowed by my colleague, the Minister for Social Security, will, under the provisions of the Repatriation Act 1920-1973, automatically flow on to Service pensions. There is no necessity to amend the Repatriation Act to provide for the proposed increases of $3 a week for a single person and $2.50 a week for each of a married couple. The proposed increases will take the maximum service pension to $26 a week for a single person and to a combined total of $45.50 for a married couple. The cost of these increases will be $ 1 3.4m for a full year.
Date of Effect
The Bill provides that the increased rates of payment will be effected from the first pension pay after royal assent.
Cost of increased pensions
The total cost of increases to which I have referred is estimated to be $8.8m for the remainder of this financial year.
The Bill appropriates the Consolidated Revenue Fund to the extent necessary to provide during the current year the additional payments to which it gives effect. It gives me considerable pleasure, Mr President, to introduce this legislation. It represents further steps in the Government’s program adequately to compensate those who have served in the defence force of this country and to their dependants. Contrary to continuing and unfounded rumours, the Bill confirms the Government’s continuing and vital interest in the welfare of those who have served their country. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Might I suggest that the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Bill be debated cognately with the Repatriation Bill?
-Is there any objection? There being no objection, the Bills will be debated as cognate Bills and voted upon separately.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– The Opposition parties support the Bill. They wish to expedite its passage and to incorporate their remarks made in the previous debate.
– Order! The Bill has been read a second time. Will the honourable senator make his observations in Committee?
Bill passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Bishop) read a first time.
I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-
This Bill relates closely to the Repatriation Bill. It is to give effect, so far as seamen and their dependants coming under the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act are concerned, to Government decisions that provide for further increases in war pensions and allowances to be made early in the present sittings. It also gives effect to the Budget decision to abolish the special compensation allowance for a serious incapacity, and removes from the Act the power to prescribe the remuneration of members of the Seamen’s Pensions and Allowances Committees, in consequence of the Remuneration Tribunal Act 1973.
Under the Bill the existing intermediate rate of war pension is being increased by $2.25 a week to $41.05 a week. This is the rate paid to seriously disabled persons whose war caused incapacities render them incapable of working other than on a part time basis or intermittently. The Bill also increases the general rate pension in respect of Australian mariners by a further $3 a week to $22 a week and the war widow’s pension also by a further $3 a week to .$26 a week. The Bill does not have to provide for the increase of $4.50 a week in the special (TPI) rate, which brings it to $60. 10, or for various increases in the weekly amounts payable in respect of the serious disabilities set out in the Fifth Schedule to the Repatriation Act as the increases in rates under that Act will apply automatically to seamen pensioners by virtue of section 22 A of the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act. The special compensation allowance introduced by the previous Government in 1968, and regarded as an anomaly in the pension structure, was halved under the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act (No. 2) 1973. This Bill completely phases out this allowance. Elimination of the existing allowance, however, will be off-set by the increase in the general rate pension.
The principal Act makes provision for prescribing the remuneration of persons appointed to Seamen’s Pensions and Allowances Committees. The Remuneration Tribunal Act 1973 established a tribunal to determine the remuneration of, inter alia, the holders of such statutory offices. The Bill therefore omits this provision and inserts appropriate new provisions. The Bill does not appropriate the funds required to cover the increased benefits, as they are included in the appropriation under the Repatriation Bill. The increases in pensions and allowances will be payable on the first pension pay day after the date on which the Act receives the royal assent. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
– by leave- The Senate will be aware that to fulfil the requirements of the Constitution the next Senate election must be held before 30 June 1974. Accordingly, the Government has advised His Excellency, the Governor-General, to communicate with the State Governors proposing that the next Senate election be held on Saturday, 18 May 1 974. When replies have been received from the States, I shall inform the Senate of the full timetable proposed for the election.
I also inform the Senate that the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) has advised the GovernorGeneral that in respect of the following proposed laws: Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) 1974, Constitution Alteration (Mode of Altering the Constitution) 1974, Constitution Alteration (Democratic Elections) 1974 and Constitution Alteration (Local Government Bodies) 1974, the conditions in the second paragraph of section 128 of the Constitution have been complied with. The Prime Minister has recommended that His Excellency shall submit them to the electors. His Excellency has informed the Prime Minister that he accepts the advice the Prime Minister has tendered and that he will submit the proposed laws to the electors. It is intended that the referendums be held concurrently with the Senate election.
– For the information of honourable senators I lay on the table of the Senate a submission by the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Willesee) on
Australia’s position regarding refugee and migrant applications from Chile. I move:
Debate (on motion by Senator Greenwood) adjourned.
– For the information of honourable senators I table a statement made in the House of Representatives on 14 March by the Hon. W. L. Morrison, Minister Assisting the Minister for Foreign Affairs, concerning Papua New Guinea. I move:
Debate (on motion by Senator Greenwood) adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Murphy) proposed:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
-I assure the Senate that I will not detain it for very long. Honourable senators will be away before 5 p.m. Yesterday in the Senate an honourable senator of the Australian Labor Party, Senator George Poyser, made a series of statements attacking a Victorian based insurance company and also my political Party, the Australian Country Party. Senator Poyser has had some years of experience in the Senate. Indeed, he leads the Labor socialist Senate team in Victoria at the forthcoming election. I understand Senator Poyser has had no commercial experience. His unfortunate outburst may give those members of the public who pay attention to the Hansard debates an evaluation of his character, competence and practical motives in this matter.
I believe the statement is regrettable because it contains untruths. The general content of the statement is intended to convey a denigration of a Victorian based company. The honourable senator has attempted to take an unfair and untruthful advantage of a political party for the benefit of a Labor candidate for a rural seat in Victoria which is held by the Country Party.
I believe the matter is more serious when the statements made by the honourable senator harm an institution. Publicity in the Press today leads me to make this statement. This insurance company is an institution which I know well in Victoria. I have known it for many years. It is held very high in public esteem and it has been a pioneer in insurance in Victoria. This company has been in the field of offering insurance and protection against loss of livelihood to many in the community. Federation Insurance Ltd has an outstanding record of service and progress in my State. No company is more highly regarded. I invite Senator Poyser to show his strength of character in this matter by repeating outside the chamber the statement which he made in this Senate under privilege.
Much could be said on this matter but undoubtedly there is little time this afternoon to clear the clouds and to throw proper light on the events of this matter. Senator Poyser’s remarks are to be found on page 452 of the Senate Hansard. The challenge which came forward in the paper today and which the honourable senator made was that a company was in grave trouble, that in fact it was losing $30,000 a year. That statement is untrue. In actual fact Federation Insurance Ltd made a pre-tax profit in 1971-72 of $1,013,738. For the past year, 1972-73, it made a pre-tax profit of $1,173,550. This is indicative of the stability of this insurance company.
The honourable senator went on to indicate that there was something untoward in the fact that this company made payments on commission for a body such as the Australian Country Party which, in fact, pursues business in the interests of the insurance company. It is paid commission and this is in line with the facts which Senator Poyser gave, as we find in his speech in the debate. The arrangement is an entirely commercial one. If Senator Poyser cares to look into this matter he will find that similar arrangements are made. This certainly does occur, not in isolation with respect to the Australian Country Party, but with a great number of large employer and employee organisations throughout the country. This situation is not unusual. We know that automobile societies carry out insurance on a similar basis, paying commission to certain groups. We are well aware that Mr Hawke was investigating this matter with one insurance company in Melbourne, I think just prior to some trouble being found here. We know that Mr Hawke has been interested in insurance for the purpose of gathering surplus or profit to the particular organisation. It was a commercial evaluation by that gentleman.
But the overriding commission on sales which is paid by that insurance company has found its way over 35 years to the Country Party. We have this arrangement as there is some political and commercial competence within our Party. We have not found that we can appeal, like the Labor Party has, to international organisations and societies to assist us. We have found that on a commercial basis we are able to achieve benefit for the Party. The falsehood which the honourable senator put forward in stating that there was a loss by Federation Insurance Ltd was, in my knowledge- and it is fact- based on this company venture into a retirement scheme. This is something in which it had not been involved. I think this happened either two or three years ago. This was a very new scheme of which I knew. Indeed, the company is just commencing the operation. In the past 2 years Federation Insurance Ltd did have a loss of $30,000 in that particular sector of its operations compared with the overall profit I mentioned. The fact is that the remarks of Senator Poyser were very unfair and very untruthful and they demonstrate the character of the gentleman who raised the metter. Certainly, when figures like this are disclosed one can only evaluate the character of an employee of the company, one Brian Smith, who apparently is the endorsed candidate for Mallee, as being that of a person who is recreant to his trust as an employee of that company.
– I do not intend to take up the time of the Senate for too long. I was prompted to make some remarks about what Senator Webster said because he endeavoured to denigrate the character of Senator Poyser by claiming that he made untruthful statements in this Parliament and used the forms of the Parliament to do so. I remind Senator Webster that he did something similar to what he has accused Senator Poyser of doing in this chamber when, during the last session, he stood in this place and used a letter to accuse 2 very reputable citizens of Darwin, one of offering a bribe and the other of being under the influence. I invited Senator Webster to make a public apology at that time when I proved to him that what he said was untruthful. He did not see fit to do so. I now invite him to make those statements outside this House, just as he has extended such an invitation to Senator Poyser.
– I rise only to make the record clear for the purposes of Hansard. You will recall, Mr President, that this morning I was refused leave to make a statement. I sought leave because you had said that a certain amount of time had been allocated for question time and that statement was at variance with what I had earlier informed the Senate. I was concerned that if there was any discrepancy my sincerity should be expressed. I have since checked with the Deputy Clerk of the Senate and confirmed my recollection that the time for questions without notice was as 1 originally stated, 50 minutes.
– I rise briefly to support the words of Senator Webster in relation to the firm that he was discussing. It has a branch or so in Western Australia and it has performed a very valuable service there. It is of the highest integrity and I fully support the comments made by Senator Webster.
– I shall be very brief. If I correctly recall what Senator Poyser said the other night, he drew the attention of the Senate to what to me was an example of what a private company can do to a person’s livelihood. He referred to a man who has been associated with an insurance company. Because that man declared himself as belonging to a political party and exercised his democratic right to stand as a candidate, something which every man of the required age and qualifications is entitled to do in Australia, he was treated in a cavalier manner by the company. The company said: ‘Bring your book down and bring the car down and you will be going back by train’. That is a most underhand way of treating a loyal employee. I gather that this man had done splendid work and that his figures were high. The company could not point to anything against him in relation to the efficiency of his work and the contribution he had made to his company’s activities. This man was victimised by this organisation.
I believe that any senator with any sense of justice would rise in his place and draw attention to this injustice. I think that Federation Insurance Ltd stands condemned for the attitude it took in this matter. I think it was of very great interest to the Senate to hear Senator Webster admit that this insurance company is able to make a profit of $ 1 m and is able to pay the Australian Country Party $30,000, $40,000 or $60,000 a year commission. Those figures are rather substantial. The honourable senator tells the general public that the cost of living is going higher. Insurance is part of the cost of living and it is part of the cost of inflation. The contradiction is that we see Senator Webster stand in this place and shed crocodile tears for one of his main political contributors who are participating in the inflationary push.
I would like to add to Senator McLaren’s words concerning Senator Webster’s character. I would match Senator Poyser ‘s character against that of Senator Webster at any time. I think that Senator Webster, having raised this matter, is morally obliged to go outside and publicly apologise to the people that he maligned and defamed in this chamber.
– Referring to the matter raised by Senator Greenwood, I am quite sure that no Clerk would misinform the President of the Senate when asked a question. Obviously I misheard the Clerk and therefore I have cast aspersions on the veracity of Senator Greenwood. I take this opportunity of apologising to him for it.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 5.7 p.m. until Tuesday, 2 April, at 11 a.m.
The following answers to question’s were circulated:
Australian Broadcasting Commission
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
The particular event which prompted the Minister’s statement was the US/British announcement about steps to be taken at Diego Garcia. It goes without saying that the Australian Government would in no way favour or encourage the further growth of Soviet military and naval power in the Indian Ocean.
Looking to the future, the Australian Government considers that the most effective way of moving, with the littoral states, towards the long-term objective for the Indian Ocean would be for both great powers to agree to exercise mutual restraint there. The Government is prepared to encourage this process, which would give the littoral states a more stable environment within which to pursue this objective, free from the prospect of mounting action and counter action.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 21 March 1974, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1974/19740321_senate_28_s59/>.