Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 13 October 1955

Mr JOSHUA (Ballarat) (Leader of the Anti-Communist Labour party) .- I move-

That the clause be postponed.

I do this as an instruction to the Govern ment -

That immediately on payment of the present in creases provision should be made for the establishment of a royal commission to ascertain and inform the Parliament of suitable standards of living and comfort which should be established and maintained for the comfort and needs of the various recipients of repatriation payments.

Mr Haylen - Is the honorable member asking for a royal commission? I did not hear him.

Mr JOSHUA - Yes. I am asking that a royal commission be appointed. The reason for this amendment, as I foreshadowed in my secondreading speech, is that there are various inconsistencies in the rates now. The whole question of pension payments is reaching such vast proportions that it is necessary that they be placed on the soundest possible footing. So far as I know, there has never been any systematic approach to this subject in the history of repatriation. At the moment, very large amounts are being paid out of the Treasury. Some people just do not know where they stand in connexion with this matter. None of these payments is based on any proper inquiry, and we suggest it is high time that the Government conducted a suitable examination. It could do so immediately by appointing a royal commission whose findings could be made available before very long.

The types of anomalies that we see under the act are differences in rates of pension for no apparent reason. For example, a special rate is applied to the totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen. Is that the right rate ? Under this bill, an elderly pensioner and his wife will receive about £15 a week. On perusing the bill a little further, honorable members will see that, other people in the same circumstances do not receive that amount. Great differences between the payments made to other deserving sections of the community are revealed. Compare the position of the elderly married couple who are receiving £15 a week with the position of the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman in his 'twenties or 'thirties who has a wife and two children, aged twelve and fourteen years. According to the Minister's statement, that young man will receive only £14 4s. 6d. a week. That seems to be quite inconsistent. The young man who has a wife and family will obviously have greater responsibilities than the elderly married couple. I cannot see any reason why the Government should not institute a proper inquiry to ascertain why these inconsistencies occur.

Again, I cannot see why a single totally and permanently incapacitated soldier should receive £9 5s. a week while the elderly war widow receives only £7 10s. Surely the cost of providing decent standards of comfort for an elderly war widow is not less than the cost of providing them for the single totally and permanently incapacitated soldier. Proper and decent standards must be provided for war widows. That matter has never been properly examined. "We have had most extraordinary cases of the public's idea of human sympathy, yet they have not been reflected in the smallest degree in anything done by the Government. The case of the war widow merits the closest attention, and I suggest that the appointment of a royal commission would be the best way of examining this complex subject. An elderly war widow will receive £7 10s. a week to compensate her for the loss of her husband! I feel that this is just a "rough and ready" amount and I do not know how it was arrived at. These matters should be investigated properly.

Another thing that the royal commission could do it seems quite impossible for this Parliament to do it would be to establish certain rates and arrange for the maintenance of them. The Government, when it increases rates for the benefit of certain recipients of pensions, should compensate them for increases in living costs.

The allowances also vary. For example, the war widows have been given a rise of 10s. in their basic rate. That sounds quite a sizeable amount, and much has been made of it by the Minister, but the children's allowances have not been increased, education allowances have not been increased and domestic allowances have not been, increased. When these things are taken into account, it will be found that the 10s. barely compensates for the rise that takes place in the cost of living from time to time. We suggest that certain rates should be established and that they should be related to some standard such as the basic wage, the C series index or other reliable measure of real value. The Government's approach to this matter is wrong. It should make a proper start on this subject.

As I have pointed out before, the trouble is that we have this bidding in connexion with social services. The Repatriation Act is made a political football. As time goes on, the Government offers something, the Opposition will offer more and I suppose that before long I shall be expected to fall into line and offer something even more generous. The Government should give careful consideration to this subject. The answer that has been given so far constitutes- no good reason why the Goverment should not appoint a royal commission immediately so that its findings may be made available to the people and to Parliament.

The reason put forward as to why we should not have this royal commission to inquire into these complex matters is that most of the information that the commission will require will be given by officers of the Department of Repatriation, who have already supplied much information to the Government and that, in those circumstances, the Government would not be helped by the findings of such a commission. That reasoning is absolutely wrong. The type of information that would be required by a royal commission would be that which may be obtained, not from departmental officers, but from the general community. If my suggestion were adopted, it would be the means of putting our Repatriation Act on a very much firmer and sounder basis.

The honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) delivered a speech this afternoon that completely supported this view of the Anti-Communist Labour party. I shall be pleased to see him support that amendment.

Sir ERIC HARRISON (WENTWORTH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - When is he going over to the honorable member's party ?

Mr JOSHUA - This is a most important matter. It is put first amongst the amendments proposed to the bill. We would have moved it even earlier in the proceedings if we had not been thwarted in our attempts to do so by a large list of amendments, some of them quite formal, moved by the Evatt Opposition. I therefore move my amendment with great confidence, and hope that the Government will accept it because I believe that it is a very necessary measure and one that would be of great benefit to the community. Its acceptance would do much to lift this matter of repatriation benefits out of the political arena.

After all, are not these things important? Are not they the things that ought to be established first, before the Government comes to its budget? It appears to me that the Government makes up its budget, or its economic pattern, and then says, " How much can we give foi repatriation? Is there anything left for repatriation pensioners?" If there is not much left, they go without. It is obvious that they are the last ones to whom any thought is given. The Government's first objective should be to ascertain, after proper investigation, what payments the recipients of repatriation pensions should enjoy. How can the Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis), who is also Minister for the Navy, expect to attract recruits to the Army and the Navy if servicemen have not the comforting feeling that, in the event of terrible consequences, their dependants will be looked after?

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order ! The honorable member's time has expired.

Suggest corrections