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Tuesday, 21 May 1957


Mr COSTA (Banks) .- I am not in a position to say whether the delegation that is going to China as the representatives of the Australian Labour party will accept all the suggestions that have been made by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen), but I am certain that they will give them very careful consideration. Knowing that they are all very good Australians, I can say that the part that they will play when they go to China will be well intended on behalf of Australia.I was surprised at the honorable member's statement that he would refuse to shake hands with the Chinese. I notice that he did not take any objection to the fact that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) went to Japan and shook hands with people who had committed against Australia the greatest atrocities that were ever committed in the history of the world.

In view of the measure at present before the House, this is an opportune time for me to put to the Government some of the matters that are affecting people in my electorate. The Australian Loan Council will meet in Canberra this week, and this bill gives all honorable members an opportunity to ask the Government to take a more realistic attitude to matters affecting the States when the Loan Council meets. I do not altogether agree with the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison), who did not blame the Commonwealth Government for the position of the States. I do blame the Government. I believe that if it took the correct action in the Loan Council there would be better relations between the Commonwealth and the States, and that the Loan Council would fulfil its proper functions. I disagree with the contention of the honorable member for Blaxland that everylocal-governing authority and semi-governmental authority should have representation on the Loan Council. This chamber would not hold all the representatives. I am quite satisfied that the Premiers meet here well fortified with all the necessary information in relation to those bodies, and that they put their case properly to the Loan Council.

It is not an easy matter for the Slates to develop a work force to carry out the various works in which they must engage. The Premiers came to Canberra last year, but after taking everything into consideration, the Government cut their allocation down to the barest minimum. The States asked for £210,000,000 and they only got £190,000,000. All the Premiers and therefore the majority of the Loan Council voted for the larger sum of money, but this was vetoed by the Commonwealth Government. So I say it is the Commonwealth Government that is at fault and not the Loan Council.

The States have very great responsibilities. They have the great responsibility of education, and I know how education has been affected in my own State by the shortage of finance. I also know that what applies in my own State applies in every other State. Australia has a development economy. Its immigration scheme is bringing a lot of extra people into the country, and they are distributed throughout the States. In New South Wales the number of children attending school is increasing by 25,000 each year. If that number is divided into classes, it is found that 700 extra classrooms are needed each year and, of course, each new class needs a new teacher, so that means 700 extra teachers are needed each year. So, the States have very great responsibilities, and when they come to Canberra, I think the Loan Council should take what they say into account and not prune them down.

The States also have rapidly increasing hospital responsibilities, owing to the natural increase of population and the influx of new Australians. The existing hospitals are not nearly adequate. Transport, roads and water conservation are all State responsibilities. Housing is another very important State responsibility. All these things demand that the Loan Council should take cognizance of and give proper attention to the representations of the Premiers when they come here. If the Commonwealth Government continues to prune the amounts allocated to the States this will not only prevent progress but also will have an effect upon employment. In fact, it is already having that effect. I listened with interest to the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) yesterday when he presented a petition on behalf of people who cannot obtain employment. He petitioned this Government to be more generous in its allocation of finances, so that unemployment would not develop.

This is an opportune time to remind the Government of the many important matters that must be attended to in the 1957-58 budget. It will be too late to complain about omissions when the budget has been brought down. Yesterday, the Opposition, as a matter of urgency, brought to the notice of the Government the needs of the aged and infirm people. I think that when the budget is being compiled first priority should be given to ensuring that the pioneers of Australia shall get their proper deserts. I submit that £4 a week is a very improper desert for them. All honorable members know that the present age and invalid pension and, indeed, all social service payments have less purchasing power to-day than they have had for many years. In 1943, the relationship of the pension to the basic wage was 33.85 per cent. To-day, although the pension is £4 a week, its relationship to the basic wage - which has increased twice in the last twelve months while the pension has not increased at all - is only 31.1 per cent. That is the lowest it has been since 1945. In the peak year, 1948, the relationship of the pension to the basic wage was 36.4 per cent. That was the last time the Labour party, under Mr. Chifley, increased the pension. Our social services then had the highest value in their history. I challenge the Government to take that into account and to carry out the promises it made in 1949. It said at that time not only that it would maintain the purchasing power of the pension, but also that it would increase pensions. I challenge the Government now to carry out that promise.

There are many other matters that are affected by the inflationary spiral for which this Government is responsible. Repatria tion pensions have lost their value. Pensions to widows and war widows have lost their value. Child endowment has lost its value. The Opposition asks this Government to restore those values. Then there are the unemployment and sickness benefits. We know how important they are. Judging by what the honorable member for Fremantle said yesterday, there are quite a few thousand people unemployed in Western Australia. The unemployment benefit is only £2 10s. for a husband and £2 for his wife, making £4 10s. in all, which is even less than the pensioners are getting. That is a matter that should receive the attention of this Government.

Another matter raised by the Opposition is the funeral allowance made to age and invalid pensioners. When it was introduced in 1943 by the Labour party it was £10, and it is still £10. Surely the Government recognizes that that amount is out of date! Not long ago in the metropolitan area of Sydney one of two pensioners who had been residing together died. There was no' money to pay for a funeral and no undertaker would carry out the burial service. The burial of this pensioner was delayed. The State was not responsible for this unfortunate happening. It was not possible to provide a pauper's grave because the circumstances did not permit it. That state of affairs should not be allowed to obtain for our pioneers. The Government should look into this matter and bring the funeral allowance up to date. These things are disgraceful and they should have been attended to. I challenge the Government to restore value to all social services in the next budget.

Another matter on which I would like to say a few words is superannuation. This, too, has lost its value. Superannuation was introduced in 1923, when the unit was worth 10s. The value of the unit has been increased until now it is 17s. 6d., but that is only a 75 per cent, increase. In view of the greatly increased cost of living the value of the unit should be considerably more than 17s. 6d. When this scheme was first introduced, the usual thing was for public servants to contribute for about eight units which entitled them to a retiring allowance of £4 a week. At that time the basic wage was also £4 a week; but now the basic wage is £12 16s. and the eight units of superannuation are worth only £7. It is out of all proportion. I challenge the Government to put some value back into superannuation payments. The Joint Council, consisting of representatives of the Commonwealth Public Service Board, various government departments and unions of employees in the Commonwealth service, has agreed upon an increase in the value of superannuation units, and I ask the Government to take heed of its recommendations.

At present, the allowance for the widow of a contributor to the superannuation scheme is only 50 per cent, of the allowance that the husband would have received. The council representative of the Public Service Board, departments and unions, has suggested that this allowance should be increased to five-eighths of the contributor's superannuation allowance. This is the rate that applies for the widow of a Prime Minister. I am not disputing, of course, the right of a Prime Minister's widow to five-eighths of her husband's superannuation allowance, but I consider that the same rate should apply to the widows of contributors to the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund. Another recommendation of the council is that the superannuation payments to an orphan child should be increased to £104 per annum. The allowance for dependent children is at present £26 per annum, and the council suggests that this should be increased to £39. The suggestion of the council in respect of the value of units is that the first eight units of a contributor's pension should be increased from 17s. 6d. a week to 20s. a week. A number of Crown employees have contributed for many years for a number of units that they considered would afford them a reasonable pension when they retired, but the inflation that has developed in recent years has deprived that number of units of the purchasing power they thought it would have. The proposal to increase the value of the first eight units of a superannuation allowance would assist lower-paid employees who contribute for a smaller number of units of superannuation. An increase of 2s. 6d. in the value of the unit, making it £1 instead of 17s. 6d., would help them. I am bringing these matters to the notice of the Government now because if nothing is done about them it will be too late to complain when the budget is brought down.

The honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) mentioned the matter of sewerage reticulation in Sydney. He pointed out that the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board of Sydney is a corporate body, semigovernmental in character, and that the extent of the sewerage works it may undertake depends on the extent of its allocation of loan funds from the Australian Loan Council. The honorable member for Blaxland told the House that over the last three years the board has been permitted to raise loans to a total of £6,500,000. All honorable members realize that the sum of £6,500,000 allotted to this work over the last three years will not, because of inflation, do as much work as was estimated when it was set aside. I consider that loan allocations to the board should be reviewed. When the Premier of New South Wales puts before the Australian Loan Council an application for a greater allocation to local government and corporate bodies in that State - particularly the Sydney Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board - I hope that the Commonwealth representatives will take notice.

The honorable member for Blaxland mentioned also the great progress that has been made in the Bankstown district. He intimated that the population there has increased by 100,000 in ten years; the number of dwellings has grown from 10,000 to 34,000, industrial buildings from 38 to 500, and commercial buildings from 270 to 1,300. He mentioned also the importance of reticulating sewers to schools, in the interests of the children's health. I represent the southern suburbs in the municipality of Bankstown, which cover almost half the local government area. This district is worse served than any other in the Bankstown municipality in relation to sewerage reticulation. In the whole of the municipality are 28 schools and about 21,000 children attend them. I should like the Treasurer, who presides at the meetings of the Australian Loan Council, to come to Bankstown in the summer months and visit the schools there, as I have done, to see for himself the great need for making money available to the Premier of New South Wales for allocation to the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board for the important work of sewerage reticulation.

The board, with the money that it is receiving at present, is able to undertake 100 miles of sewerage reticulation each year. At this rate work is falling behind. The board needs to lay 150 miles of sewerage reticulation each year merely to keep pace with development, without making any inroads on the work that is necessary to catch up with the lag in reticulation. The ideal would be for the board to be granted enough money to permit it to lay 200 miles of sewerage reticulation each year. This would enable it to overtake the lag, keep pace with development and eventually reach the stage where it could lay sewers in advance of the building of the homes they would serve. Present methods of reticulation are unnecessarily expensive. Sewers are laid after kerbing and guttering have been put down and roads have been built. It costs a lot of money to break through improvements to lay a sewer line. It would be more practical and economical for the Sydney Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board to be able to do its important work before land is fully developed; and for this it needs more loan funds.

I believe that the findings of the Australian Loan Council should be based not on what the Australian Government will grant but on what the State governments need for their purposes. The plan should be not to make development fit finance but to make finance meet the requirements of development. If that plan could be put into effect, important works that must be done could be done. I appeal to the Government to take into account all the matters that I have raised here to-day so that when its representatives attend the meeting of the Australian Loan Council they will be ready to give earnest and sympathetic consideration to the many problems that will be put on behalf of the States.







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