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Monday, 20 May 1957

Mr MINOGUE (West Sydney) .- I have gone through the Additional Estimates for the Department of External Affairs and I find there an item of £4,700 in respect of representation in Ireland. That is an indication that the Government is determined not to carry out the promises it made at election time in 1949, more especially in Brisbane. It is determined to break the promise it made to send ahighranking representative to Ireland. In the next few months, Her Majesty the Queen's No. 1 Irish pipe band will be in Australia and will tour every capital city. As that visit will cost the promoters £100,000, it signifies that the 25 per cent, or 27 per cent, of the Australian population who are Irish-born or of Irish descent deserve better recognition than they are receiving from the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) and the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden). The Government has been told over and over again that it is wrong not to send a representative to Ireland. The amount allowed for representation in India is £19,000, for Pakistan £16,000, and for the Union of South Africa £11,000; but the Menzies-Fadden Government is determined to be represented in Ireland not by an ambassador, but by a clerk. It has never said why it will not send a high-ranking representative there,, and that is something we still want to know.

I wish to bring another matter to the notice of the House. From time to time I have made requests for an air-strip to be built at Lord Howe Island. People there are dependent on the vagaries of the weather te- determine whether they can approach or leave the island. Through their own representatives and the State Government, they have requested that the Commonwealth give some help. This Government says that it is a State matter and that the island is controlled by the State Government. Yet, this Government, at the present time, has from twenty to 30 men working on the island on radar stations. Those men have become part and parcel of the island. If the Federal Government continues to evade its responsibilities in this way, it is not shouldering its responsibility to develop this country. The shipping companies have wiped their hands of it, and have said that they could not run a service to Lord Howe Island because it would not be a paying proposition; yet the Commonwealth collects pay-roll tax from every person there on the island who is liable to pay it. It also collects income tax from the people of Lord Howe Island, but gives nothing in return. So, as their member, I shall try to bring their case before the House every time the opportunity offers. Surely it would not be too much for this Government to look into the matter, and help the State Government to provide a service to this island.

In order to get to Lord Howe Island at the present time one may have to leave Sydney at two o'clock in the morning and arrive there about half-past five. The aircraft alights 200 or 300 yards away from the shore, and one has to get to shore as best one can in a dinghy. If the wind is not favorable it may be necessary to remain two or three days longer than one intended to stay. I was there in August, 1955, when young people who had intended to return to the mainland on the Saturday were unable to leave. They could not get away on the Sunday. They waited until Tuesday, and then the service had to go to Coffs Harbour. Those people were stranded on the island for four days more than they had bargained for, and they may have lost their employment as well as a week's wages. There are over 200 people on the northern end of Lord Howe Island. They used to vote Liberal, but they are waking up to themselves and, at the last general election, I received 90 per cent, of their votes. They have sent delegations to Canberra and have been promised everything, but that is all that they got from the Government - promises. I appeal to the Government to do something now in this matter.

The next subject on which I wish to speak concerns telephone services in Sydney. Here again, it is a shocking state of affairs that people who applied for a telephone five or six years ago are still waiting. When they wrote to the Postmaster-General they were informed that they might obtain a service in six months or twelve months' time but, on the expiration of that period, they still had no telephone. On one occasion, I rose in this House and told the Government about a man who had been waiting for ten years for a telephone, and within two weeks of my raising the subject he got his telephone. Surely honorable members should not have to cite every individual case in the House in order to have services provided. Hundreds of people in my electorate of West Sydney have been waiting for a telephone for five or six years. The applications are still outstanding of some people on behalf of whom the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) made representations when part of the present electorate of West Sydney was within the electorate of East Sydney. The applications are also outstanding of people on behalf of whom the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. O'Connor) made representations when he was their member. I hope and trust that the Government, in the very near future, will do something for these people.

I am also interested - and I think that every honorable member should be interested - in the supply of money for social services. It will be three or four months before the budget is presented in this House. Those persons who are in dire distress are waiting for the time when they will get some relief from the additional social service benefits which they hope will be provided for in the budget. I should have thought, with the cost of living rising week after week, that the Government would have seen some merit in the requests that have come from pensioners' organizations, and would have made some provision for them in this bill. Pensioners are having a terrible time trying to pay rent and exist on the paltry few shillings that they receive at the present time.

It is pleasant to see that many people, church people and others, have been interesting themselves in the plight of the pensioners. There are about 4,500 pensioners in West Sydney and, perhaps, fewer than 100 have homes of their own, or any other permanent shelter. Night after night, they pay from 4s. to 6s. for a room, and that amounts to about £2 a week. Surely that state of affairs should not be allowed to continue. It is a problem that should be tackled immediately. The past ten years have been the best that farmers in this country have ever known, yet when a flood, a drought, or a fire affects them the first thing that they do is to appeal to the Government, and rightly so. In New South Wales, the other day, the Government cut the rail freight rate in country areas by 50 per cent, to enable feed to be carried to stock. Yet the pensioners are left, possibly to starve, and are given no assistance. If assistance can be given to the farmers who receive subsidies in connexion with many of their activities, surely it would not be too much to subsidize the butter and tea and other things which are out of reach of pensioners.

Mr Turnbull - Butter is subsidized.

Mr MINOGUE - Butter is subsidized, but not for the pensioner, who has to pay as much for it as anybody else in Australia. He can see eggs in the shop windows at 6d. each, and that is as near as he can come to getting them. Yet butter is sold on the London market, possibly for half the price at which it is sold in Australia. Why not give the pensioner a subsidy or a special ticket to enable him to get butter? Surely it would be a humanitarian act to enable pensioners to meet the cost of living. But no! This Government is not concerned with them one way or another.

Let us consider the housing position of ex-servicemen who have to wait for two years for housing finance.- They have been placed in this position by a government which often tells us how much it is doing for them. The Government has told them to get temporary finance elsewhere. Any sensible man or woman knows what they are up against when they have to spend £4,000 to buy a home. Two or three years ago, the then Minister for Social Services said to honorable members, "Why not tell the ex-serviceman, when he comes to you, that if he borrows from a private bank or insurance company the Government will come to his aid in eighteen months' time, and then he will be able to repay the money? ". Is that the act of a stable government which has said that it would support the returned servicemen? The soldier who raises a short-term loan has to pay interest at the rate of 10 per cent, or 15 per cent, in order to get it. It might not be difficult to pay 15 per cent, on a small sum, but an interest rate of 15 per cent, or 20 per cent, is a big item when it has to be paid on a loan of £1,000 or £2,000. This money is not available because it is being absorbed by hire-purchase companies, which are able to pay high rates of interest. Despite all that, this Government boasts of what it has done for the ex-servicemen!

I commended the Government for the aged persons homes scheme it started in 1954, but what has been done since? Three years have passed but less than £1,417,000 has been paid out for the erection of homes. The Government said it would give £1,500,000 each year for the erection of homes for the aged but it has attached a string to that. The organization concerned has to provide 50 per cent, of the cost and must have the land. That is an impossibility. It is useless to offer this money unless it is offered without strings attached. Many councils in Sydney would be only too willing to undertake the provision of homes for the aged if the Commonwealth would provide 50 per cent, of the cost as it does under the Aged Persons Homes Act.

This Government proudly boasts that it gives the pensioners £4 per week to live on. It is left to the State Government to provide them with free transport passes and free hearing aids, among other things. This Government prates about what it has done and quotes figures for the years since 1949 to support its case; but I say that figures will not feed people who are practically starving. Figures are no good when you have no bread and butter. The Government would do well to increase pensions by at least £1 a week, and even then the pensioners would not be getting enough. The Labour party believes that pensioners should get at least half the basic wage.

Budget time is not the time to deal with this matter. Pensioners want relief now, and this Government and the State governments could easily work out some better way of dealing with their plight. It will not be enough for the Government to increase pensions by 7s. 6d. or perhaps only 2s. 6d. a week in its budget. Any person who is living on £4 a week is in a desperate plight at the present time. The people of Australia would wholeheartedly support an increase of pensions if the question was put to them. The Minister said here this afternoon, " Do not blame me. I would give it. It is the Ministers and the Cabinet who decide what the pensioners are to get and I am not responsible if it is only £4 ". But it is no good passing the buck. The Government must act to-day.

My colleagues, the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Cope) and the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) have told the House in no uncertain way of how people are living while they await action by the Government. In the last budget the Government did not increase pensions by one penny. It was waiting for an election year. I hope that does not happen again. If the Government proposes to hold an election shortly after Christmas it might decide to give the pensioners something this year.

Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.

Mr MINOGUE - During the suspension of the sitting for dinner I partook of some Formosan tea. Honorable members and other persons outside the House have declared that such tea can be sold in Australia for about 4s. per lb. If this is so, and having tasted it, I must strongly recommend it. Indeed, I hope that some one will tell me where I may obtain some, so that I shall be able to take it back to organizations of pensioners in my electorate. I should like to give them the opportunity to try it so that, if they like it, the racket in tea at 7s. per lb. in Sydney and other capital cities can be broken. Pensioners receive only £4 a week to meet all the expenses of living. They have a constant battle and tea is only one of the items for which they have to pay inflated prices. Pensioners pay the same indirect taxes as every one else in the community. The Government, when it is framing the next budget, should give thought to some system that will enable them on the presentation of their pension entitlement cards to buy free of excise duty and other Commonwealth taxes commodities such as tobacco and cigarettes that are heavily taxed.

Men who have smoked all their lives are entitled to continue when they are receiving an age pension. This Government should be able to work out some form of subsidy that would enable pensioners to obtain commodities free of taxes, which in some cases represent as much as 50 per cent, of the prices they pay. No one can reasonably expect pensioners on a social service payment of only £4 a week to manage in these times of rising costs and prices even barely to exist. If I have repeated myself in emphasizing the inadequacy of social service pensions, I make no apologies. I accept full blame, though I have committed no fault. After all, when an injustice is being done to many persons in this community, it is the responsibility of an honorable member of this chamber to take every opportunity to call attention to it and demand its rectification. Members of the Australian Country party are the first to oppose any suggestion for the relief of pensioners.

Mr Turnbull - That is absolutely wrong.

Mr MINOGUE - It is not wrong. Time and again members of the Australian Country party have objected; but when flood, drought or fire strikes in country areas, they are the first to expect the Australian Government and the State governments to come to the aid of victims of such disasters. Country residents have had ten years of prosperity, yet so soon as a flood or a fire hits them, the members of the Australian Country party rush to the Government, cap in hand, for assistance for them. This action is rightly taken and I commend the Australian Country party for its activity on behalf of those it purports to represent. I am taking action as vigorously on behalf of those I represent, many of whom are quite unreasonably expected to pay rent and live on the small sum of £4 a week. Millions have been spent on the Colombo plan and other aid to Asian countries, yet this Government is fearful of appropriating a few million pounds to improve the conditions of our own kith and kin during the present winter months. The budget will not be brought down for another three months, but action is needed now. This Government prates about what it has done for Australia but its last budget provided not one penny increase in social services, though the year before, which was, of course, an election year, it granted an increase as a bribe for votes. If there is no election next year the rise in pensions, if any, will not be worth getting; but if the Parliament goes to the polls early next year possibly a worth-while rise will be contained in the next budget.

The national housing situation is disgraceful. Within a few days the Government of New South Wales will join the other States and the Commonwealth in an Australian

Loan Council meeting and will try to wrest from the Federal Treasurer an adequate proportion of the money that has been collected in New South Wales. I favour uniform income taxation but I consider also that it should provide some justice to the States in which most of the taxes are collected. The State of New South Wales gets back only about 4s. 6d. in every £1 that is collected there in taxes yet it is expected to build homes for the aged, and for the immigrants that this Government has brought into the country, as well as meet all normal housing demands of its population. In 1949 the immigration programme was approved on all sides of the House and the Menzies-Fadden Government promised that it would accept responsibility for housing the immigrants it brought here. Did it honour that undertaking? No. It invites the immigrants to New South Wales and expects the State government to find homes for them. This Government promised to meet that responsibility. In Sydney 85 per cent, of homes in the low-price range are bought by new Australians and thousands of the people for whom I am speaking to-night are thrown into the streets and the parks where they have no shelter.

This Government claims to be a national government, but what a sorry story its record reveals. Its actions are a travesty of justice. If the Government goes to the people next year, honorable .members on this side will be active to remind the voters of its deficiencies, and I am sure that the electors will not fail us. They will return a Labour government that will bring justice to the pensioners. A Labour government will bring justice also to young people, and to married men and women with children who are living under conditions of deplorable overcrowding. Every Monday morning married couples with two and three children come to my office, seeking my aid in obtaining a home. Many of them are living in single rooms. They are denied, through the failures of the Menzies-Fadden Government, their basic right to a home. At a meeting of the Australian Loan Council two years ago the States decided how much money they needed for their purposes but the Federal Treasurer said to them, in effect, " Whatever you agree upon, I will not agree to it ". This world has had its dictators, but I have yet to see any dictator more ruthless than the Federal Treasurer was on that occasion. He said, in effect, "No matter what you decide on, no matter what the vote is, I am the boss and you will take what I give you ". I hope that his attitude at the next Australian Loan Council meeting will be different and that he will agree to allotting to New South Wales - the State in which I am particularly interested - adequate funds for housing. I am particularly concerned about shelter for aged people. I hope that the Government will consider also some alleviation of the plight of pensioners who do not get enough money to buy even the food that they need, and will give them an increase of at least £1 a week in their pensions. We have in Sydney such men as Sir Edward Hallstrom, who, every year, gives a prize to be competed for at a function for the benefit of pensioners. On 27th September next the West Sydney pensioners will hold a dance.

Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay).Order!The honorable member's time has expired.

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