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Thursday, 7 May 1942

Dr PRICE (BOOTHBY, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) .- Before dealing with the main object of this bill, I should like to congratulate the Government upon one special feature of it, namely, the further extension of social services to the native people of Australia as recommended by the Joint Committee on Social Security. One realizes that the management of these people and the granting of assistance to them involves extremely complex problems such as distinguishing between tribalized and detribalized natives. Nevertheless, 1 am very glad to see the Government continuing the process of remedying some of the defects in our social legislation which have cast a reflection upon the Commonwealth ever since it assumed control of the Northern Territory in 1911, and began to introduce nation-wide social services in 1909. Dr. Charles Duguid, a very skilled and experienced worker among aborigines, presented an excellent summary of the case for them in a pamphlet published last year. Dr. Duguid says that our treatment of the aborigines during the past 150 years has been cruel, thoughtless and selfish, as has been the treatment of the Red Indians in "North America, the difference being that during comparatively recent years the Americans have -spent tremendous sums in a successful endeavour to redeem past errors. He goes on to pay a tribute to the work cf some of our past governments and ministers for improvements which they have effected in the conditions of aborigines, and mentions particularly the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) and the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen). He notes also that by gaining exemption from the Aborigines Protection Act, many natives have acquired the white man's freedom and are receiving from the Commonwealth Government, regular payments under the child endowment scheme, but he goes on to point the finger of scorn at an anomaly which, I am glad to say, this measure will remedy. He says, " Why any people born in Australia, who have accepted the responsibilities of full Australian citizenship, are still denied invalid and old-age pensions and the maternity bonus is a question no logic can answer. Colour is no bar to these benefits if it is Asiatic or African, but if it is Australian, one has to prove to the satisfaction of government officials that the Australian blood does not predominate ". The writer adds that, in his opinion as a medical man, the fact that so many aborigines fall victim to the terrible scourge of tuberculosis and other white man's diseases is not because the aborigines have not established immunity, but simply because they are undernourished. Sub-nutrition among our native peoples, he says, is the main reason why they are dying off, and he supports his case by citing reservations such as Swan Reach and Ooldea Soak which he declares are wholly inadequate.

It has been hinted during the course of this debate that at least part of the money which is to be distributed under this legislation may be paid through the various mission authorities and no doubt some honorable members will want to satisfy themselves that the money will be well spent. There need he no misgivings on that score because anybody who has read Bleakley's report on the appalling state of the aborigines in the Northern Territory, will realize that these missions, Roman Catholic, Anglican, and of other denominations have stood out like a beacon light in helping these unfortunate people. No one 'can doubt that the missions will use the money in the best interests of the aborigines. The cost of extending these benefits to aborigines will be very small. There are only 50,000 full-blooded aborigines, of whom 25,000 are migratory. If the pension were granted to one-twentieth of the nonmigratory aborigines, the cost would be only about £30,000 a year, in a total pensions expenditure of about £19,000,000 a year. I hope that some day when the war is ended, we shall go further in this matter and copy the magnificent work that is being done in America - work that I was i::v titrating prior to the outbreak of the war - and that we shall see in Canberra, a separate Aborigines Department similar to the Department of Indian Affairs at Washington which, with the advice of scientific experts, doctors and so on, cares for the native peoples in the United State; of America. I should like to see our aborigines and the native peoples of our territories outside Australia, handled by one department which, with the assistance of experts, would undertake the task of raising these unfortunate individuals from the degradation to which they have been debased, in many cases by the white people.

While one can have nothing but praise for the- extension of social services to the aborigines, I contend that the main proposals of this legislation - I am not opposing them - require very careful examination, not because we are at war, or because other sections of the community, such as the wheat farmers, also have claims, but because we must examine thi? bill as part of our system of social services, and see how far that system is adequate. Can Australia be satisfied with its federal system of social services, consisting mainly of invalid and old-age pensions, maternity allowances, and the child endowment scheme which was added by the previous Government? Surely we cannot satisfy ourselves that our system, which the Joint Committee on Social Security called a system of piecemeal development, is satisfactory when we compare it with rite systems of other countries which have made more progress. For instance, not only has Great Britain all the social services that we have to-day, hut also ithas medical benefits, optical and dental benefits, unemployment insurance and widows' and orphans' pensions. In 1935 the United States of America passed its Federal Social Security Act, which provided for a tremendous scheme of social benefits. The system in that country is that the Federal Government supplements and assists the work of the states, and the adoption of a scheme of that kind in Australia was recommended by the Joint Committee on Social Security in its first report. The American system also emphasizes the importance of having its social workers trained in social research. I was very glad to see the Minister for War Organization of Industry (Mr. Dedman) moving in that direction in an address which he gave recently to the universities. In America, highly expert organizations such as the Rockefeller Institute are beginning to realize that in the past far too much money has been spent on medical and physical science, in proportion to that spent on social science. No doubt some honorable members believe that the hour when a nation is fighting for its life is not opportune to improve social services, but there is a great deal of argument against that view, because in war-time, more than at any other time, men and women are thinking, and demanding improvement and progress. That has been the experience of Great Britain, as the Minister for Social Services indicated in his second-reading speech. Since the outbreak of war social services in Great Britain have been improved by means of emergency powers covering national health insurance, contributory pensions, unemployment insurance, unemployment assistance, invalid and old-age pensions and widows' pensions. Britain has done what the Joint Committee on Social Security recommended to this Parliament: It has made arrangements to cover temporary unemployment and to assist old-age pensioners and widows in the existing state of affairs. T need hardly stress the truth of the remark made by the Joint Committee on Social Security, that social services are important to our war effort in respect of morale and a willingness to work. In spite of terrific taxation, Britain has been prepared to improve its social services system. There is taking place in that country an immense social change, which is expressed in a spirit of co-operation and service among all classes of the community. A tremendous wealth of literature is being published, which shows that this is happening. The change is due to mutual danger, community life in the fighting services, hospital work among {he victims of Nazi savagery, home defence organizations such as the Air Raid Precautions, and community life in the shelters and the munitions factories. That sense of service and co-operation is bringing to the forefront in Britain a new class of skilled persons - technicians, schoolmasters, the lower grades of the public services, -junior officers of the fighting services, and members of the women's se: vices. These, and thousands of others, are thinking about social changes that will ensure social security. One notices a similar spirit in our services and among the people of Australia. Members of the Australian Imperial Force who have returned to Australia, members of the Australian Military Forces, workers in munitions factories, and all other sections of the community, young and old, are beginning to think about this subject. We should not be misled into the false belief that the desire is to supplant individualism by socialism. The people want to see what English writers call " a people's minimum ", which will provide social security to a certain level, above which individualism and private initiative may still operate. I agree with those views. It would be tragic if we destroyed individualism and enlarged a defect that has been apparent in some degree during the course of the war. It has been shown that the great majority of the people have magnificent qualities for cooperation, service, and sacrifice; but there is no doubt that some others have been turned into selfish slackers and leaners against posts.

A study of the bill will disclose two grave faults. The first is that it consists of a part only of a complete system. No one will say that our social services, so far as they go at present, provide a complete plan for a " national minimum ". That will not be attained until we provide services that are already in operation in Britain and the United States of America. In many respects, one agrees with the critics who say that, in respect of social services, Australia has fallen behind the times. In addition to the gaps in our social services, there are other faults. For example, in regard to State services, the percentage of attendance at our universities is lower than in England, Scotland, or the United States of America, and our free library development is infinitely below the development of other countries. But there is another great danger, apart from the faults in our social services ; that is that, as at present constituted, they may destroy initiative, individualism and thrift, because the federal services are wholly dependent upon State help, charity and relief. It was stated to-night that they are paternal in type. I admit that it is right that the general revenue and the general taxpayer shall be responsible for the provision of the greater part of social services; hut, as has been stated by the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) and others, in certain instances, such as the receipt of pensions, help should be claimable not as a State charity only but in some degree as a return for payments made, either under a contributory scheme or by means of a special tax - which the Joint Committee on Social Security recommended in its third report on unemployment relief during the war. Its wholly paternal and charitable character is a fundamental fault of our social services system. That view is supported by leading authorities in the United States of America, where there is the same conflict between paternalism and thrift. The same difficulty is recognized in Britain, in which, in respect of oldage pensions, a contributory scheme and a State gift scheme are operating side by side. In general, according to most authorities, it would seem that any plan to gain the national minimum security that we need should be a combination of both systems. For that reason, I consider that there were advantages in the scheme passed by this Parliament in 1938, which partially included a contributory system. I do not want to see any plan which would impose unfair burdens on the lower incomes, or would not give every consideration to those who might meet with misfortune; but it would be a tragedy if our national character were made to suffer because of a system which allowed even well-to-do people to waste their resources and then fall back on public relief.

Mr James - The workers get a lot to waste !

Dr PRICE (BOOTHBY, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The honorable member knows perfectly well that a large number of those who receive pensions were not basic-wage earners.

Consideration of old-age pensions raises the vital matter of the future cost of social services, which are being extended in what the Joint Committee on Social Security has described as a " piecemeal fashion ". In 1919-20, there were 134,000 pensioners in receipt of £4,500,000. In 1939-40, there were 332,000 pensioners in receipt of £16,500,000. It is estimated that in 1978 there will be 1,250,000 pensioners in receipt of over £32,000,000. This enormous estimate for 1978 is due to the growing expectation of life in the Australian community which, whilst an excellent thing, will throw an increasing burden on the citizens of the working agegroups, who will have to support an increasing number of aged persons. Even before the war, with its toll of casualties, the declining birth-rate waa making the percentage of younger income-earners and taxpayers relatively smaller. In 1938, it was estimated that there were 1-00 wageearners supporting every 26 pensioners. Et has been estimated that in 1978 there will be 100 wage-earners supporting every 54 pensioners. If we continue to meet the cost of each new social service, and to increase the present social services from ordinary revenue, the burden will be higher than, the estimated Treasury contribution of £32,000,000 in 1978. The United States of America has done a lot of work in regard to this problem. At present, about 8,000,000 of a total population of 140,000,000 in that country are of 65 years of age and over. It is estimated that in 1980 there will be 22,000,000, or one-seventh of the total population, in that age-group, and that. with a declining birth-rate, not more than one-third of the population will be in the best productive years - from 18 to 45.

The honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Baker) has just said that he hoped to see the time when men will be able to retire at the age of 55 years, and women at the age of 50 years. The Americans are looking forward to the time when they will have to re-adjust their economic system in order that the older people may be able to continue to do light work for a longer period.

There is another point of very great importance, and it is the last that I want to mention : The danger of political pressures evolving as the result of a noncontributory pensions scheme. Such political pressure groups always seem to evolve in a democracy under such schemes. The classic example of a pressure group is the war veterans' organization, which is one of the strongest political forces iu the United States of America. When 1 was in America some years ago, I was told that they still have on their list dependants of veterans of the Civil War of 1861-65. It was also stated that there were still left a few dependants of those who took part in the British-American War of 1813. [ found that this was possible. The Americans are very anxious, because the old-age pensions groups in the United States of America have already begun to exert political pressure. The position had become so serious that the Social Security Board had been forced to file formal charges and withhold federal assistance until political abuses by old-age pensioners had been remedied. American experts say that the outlook for the future is ominous. One authority says that the political strength of the old-age movement in the United States of America has been amply demonstrated during the last few years, both in the Federal Congress and in many of the States. But this is only a beginning. It is said that in 1980 thos, citizens who are 50 years of age and over will command nearly as many votes as citizens who are under 50 years of age. One authority has written that without exaggeration it may be said that the aged of that day will be able to dominate the political situation so completely that tha only limitation on their power will be that of their self-restraint. One can fairly say that signs are not wanting that in this country, with its declining birth-rate, the increasing length of life of its citizens, and its increasing number of pensioners, the same thing may take place. It would be tragic if the increasing political strength of the pensioners led to competitive offers by rival political parties, or induced members of Parliament to vote, not according to conscience, but in the interests and under the pressure of any group. Even in war-time I am in favour of improvements in our social services. Indeed, I believe that progress is necessary. This view is held by other members of the Opposition, as is shown by the fact that the previous Government, which we supported, introduced the child endowmentscheme now in operation. The bringing in of this bill by the present Government is also evidence that progress is particularly vigorous in periods of violent upheaval such as war-time. Nevertheless, I believe that our present methods of providing social services have fallen behind best modern practice, in that they are so ill considered and piece-meal in character that they may bring us- face to face with grave dangers in the future. The present Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) in 1938 moved an amendment to the motion for the second reading of the National Health and Pensions Insurance Bill introduced by the Government then in office. It contained the following words : -

The hill should be withdrawn and redrafted and a more liberal bill decreed from the defects now enumerated should be introduced without delay.

Those words could be applied to this bill. My argument in this connexion is in accord with the findings of the Joint Committee on Social Security, which has recommended the Parliament to pass a social security act and to develop Australian social services on an organized plan, which would provide us with an adequate and up-to-date system.

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