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, 17 March 1966

Mr COPE (Watson) . - One or two of the matters raised by the honorable member for Evans (Dr. Mackay) need clarification. The honorable member said that Mao Tse-tung was an enemy of Australia. I freely admit that. But let us look at this Government's attitude to Communist China. Is it hypocrisy for this Government to supply Mao Tse-tung with the goods with which to keep his Army on its feet? Is it hypocrisy for the Government to supply the wool with which to make uniforms for China's Army? Is it hypocrisy for Australia to supply China with metals that may be used in war? What protest has the honorable member for Evans made to these actions since he has been a member of this Parliament. Absolutely none.

Mr Robinson - What would the honorable member do?

Mr COPE - That is not the point. The honorable member for Evans said that it was fair to conscript every tenth Australian boy in a particular age group. Anybody who buys a ticket in a lottery hopes to win a prize, but the national service lottery is one in which none of the candidates hopes to win a prize. During the First World War the people were given the opportunity at a referendum to say whether they believed in conscription. The Opposition seeks a referendum on this issue. Whatever is the decision of the Australian people, the Labour Party will abide by it, because we are a democratic party. I do not seek to cast personal asper sions on anybody, but in 1916 the former Prime Minister had an opportunity to say at a referendum whether he should go to war. I venture to suggest that he voted against the conscription proposal. But what the former Prime Minister did was a matter for his own conscience. I do not criticise that, but he was given an opportunity to say whether he should be sent to the First World War. However, he denied that same opportunity to the people of Australia. He did not give them an opportunity to say whether their sons should be conscripted. No lucid explanation of this attitude has been given by honorable members opposite so that we may know where they stand.

I do not intend to devote my remarks to international affairs. I believe in sticking a little closer to home. First I take the opportunity to congratulate my colleague, the honorable member for Dawson (Dr. Patterson), on the splendid contribution he made in his maiden speech on Tuesday night. It augurs well for the future of Australia that we have such a person willing to fight for the progress of the people of northern Australia. I have no doubt that we will hear a lot more from the honorable member in the near future.

In supporting the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) I should like to direct the attention of the House to the fact that the Prime Minister's statement on 8th March last about Government policy touched on many important matters affecting the future of Australia. But the right honorable gentleman failed completely to mention inflationary trends in the economy and the steps that his Government intends to take to maintain the purchasing power of wage and salary earners. The value of age, invalid, widows' and repatriation pensions has rapidly declined since the rates were last adjusted. Nobody can deny that the price of consumer goods and the cost of home building has reached a staggering level. Indeed, one is justified in claiming that the position is frightening. The position is so alarming that many people are asking where will it all end. It is admitted that the current high prices are attributable partly to the drought in New South Wales and southern Queensland. However, the inflationary spiral had commenced long before the effect of the drought was felt.

While on the subject of inflation let me refer to remarks by the late Ben Chifley and the former Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, during the prices referendum campaign in May 1948. Mr. Chifley said that unless the referendum was carried we would see a never ending process of a dog chasing its tail, which in simple words meant wages chasing prices. On the other hand, Sir Robert in strongly opposing the referendum proposals said that the States can effectively control prices and charges and that private enterprise and healthy competition would keep prices stable. Well, as everyone is aware, every word of Mr. Chifley's prediction was true. As to Sir Robert's prediction the truth of that can best be judged by honorable members themselves.

About 18 months later during the 1949 general election campaign Sir Robert Menzies used a great .vote catching gimmick. He said: " Our greatest task is to get value back into the pound ". One would have thought he was Longfellow reading a poem. Sir Robert won .the election, but he neglected to keep this important promise and others that he had made at the time. When the Menzies Government took office in December 1949 the average basic wage was £6 9s. a week. Today it is $30.80 or £15 8s. - an increase of more than 138 per cent. In the intervening 16 years of inflation and three recessions we have seen the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Public Service organisations acting on behalf of wage and salary earners, repeatedly frustrated by this Government in their efforts to obtain increased margins and an increased basic wage so that employees may have a fair and reasonable share of the increased value of the gross national product.

I turn now to the subject of age and invalid pensions. This is a matter of great importance to me, as it is to the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Minogue), the honorable member for Dalle-/ (Mr. O'Connor), the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Devine) and the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly), because a substantial number of our constituents are pensioners. It is admitted that something has been done to assist some single pensioners by the introduction of a supplementary allowance specifically to pay rent, board or lodging. What I object to strongly is the fact that single pensioners who own, or who are paying off a home, are excluded from this benefit despite the fact that water rates, local authority rates and maintenance costs are in many cases equivalent to the rents paid by other pensioners. I believe this to be most unfair and unjust. Such i position certainly would be remedied by a Labour Government.

I turn now to the position of married pensioner couples. These pensioners receive the paltry sum of £5 10s. or $1 1 each a week. It is indeed a struggle for these people, particularly those who have no other income, to make ends meet. How these unfortunate people exist on this amount of money is beyond my comprehension. If any honorable members think I am exaggerating, let them try it for a few months. I also remind everyone that these people pay the same prices for their meat, bread, groceries, fruit and vegetables as does any other member of the community.

I should like to confine the remainder of my remarks on age and invalid pensions to the permissible income rate of £3 10s. or $7 a week for a single pensioner and £7 or $14 a week for a married pensioner couple. These amounts were last adjusted in 1954 when the pension rate was £3 10s. or $7 a week. It will be seen that the permissible income then equalled the pension rate, but today the allowable income equals only 58 per cent, of the single pension and 63 per cent, of the combined pensions of a married couple. These rates certainly call for readjustment. In addition, we have the ludicrous position that where a person who is in receipt of superannuation receives an increase in superannuation payment, it is of no benefit to him because his pension benefit is reduced accordingly. For example, a single pensioner who is receiving £5 or $10 a week by way of superannuation and who has property assets worth less than £209 would receive a pension of £4 10s. a week. But, should he receive an increase in the number of superannuation units with a consequent increase in his superannuation benefit to £5 10s. a week, his age pension would be reduced to £4 a week because he is not permitted to enjoy a total income of more than £9 10s. a week. I submit that most honorable members will agree that this position should be remedied, particularly when the easing of the means test has been advocated constantly by members on both sides of the House. 1 turn now to a subject of a different nature. It is our balance of trade position. Our excess of imports over exports for the first eight months of this financial year has reached the staggering total of 231.1 million dollars. One may reasonably assume that this figure will increase to about 300 million dollars by the end of the financial year. To this sum must be added the cost of freight and insurance which totalled 330 million dollars last year. Therefore, this year we could be 640 million dollars in the r;d with our trading after meeting the cost of freight and insurance. Let me emphasise that this figure does not include the payment of dividends, interest and other invisibles which are payable overseas. This financial loss to Australia would pay for another project similar to the Snowy Mountains scheme. It would certainly more than pay for the northern development water conservation scheme so ably outlined by my colleague, the honorable member for Dawson, in bis maiden speech last Tuesday night.

Let me now examine the content of our imports. It has been stated that 82 per cent, of our imports are essential. The other -18 per cent, have been classified as nonessential. There are two ways in which we can save money which we now needlessly squander on imports. First, we could reduce substantially our intake of some of the nonessential items such as expensive luxury motor cars, expensive fur coats, jewellery, preserved foodstuffs, vegetables, confectionery, biscuits, shell fish such as prawns, oysters and so on. It is interesting to note the prices of some of these articles. Fur coats costs up to 4,000 dollars. The prices of diamond rings range from 1 ,000 to 4,000 dollars and of diamond wristlet watches up to 1,000 dollars. Luxury motor cars cost from 4,000 dollars to 10,000 dollars. I do not think it would be a hardship for any of the silver tails to do without these items for a few years.

In addition, although we have manufacturers as Cadbury's, Nestle's, McRobertson's, Red Tulip, Sweetacres, Small's and others producing chocolates and other confectionery comparable in quality with any in the world, quantities of these items are being imported. Again, we manufacture biscuits of top quality, yet biscuits are being imported. We are searching for export markets for our tinned primary products, yet we are importing these lines. We have the best oysters in the world and our coastal waters are teaming with prawns, yet we are importing these delicacies.

The second step to take if we are to save money on imports is to cut down on the importation of manufactured goods which can be produced in ample quantity in Australia. I refer in particular to machinery, electrical goods and radio and electronics equipment. In these troubled and uncertain times, it is essential that we be able to rely on our own secondary industries should any emergency occur. For example, the Australian radio and electronics industry would be of paramount importance to us in such an event. Yet this industry is being starved of orders while our defence departments are placing orders overseas for radio and electronics equipment. In the interests of our national security we cannot afford to neglect our secondary industries. They must be encouraged and expanded in order to be able to play an important role in our defence if called upon.

The loss of customs revenue to the Commonwealth through the restriction of the importation of manufactured goods would be more than offset by the additional revenue derived from our own manufacturers who pay 42i per cent, of their gross profits in company tax, who pay payroll tax and who would pay additional income tax as the result of increased sales. I should point out, too, that goods ordered overseas by the defence departments are imported duty free. Therefore, on the defence orders, the Commonwealth loses company tax, payroll tax and income tax. I submit that we must reduce our imports bill by at least 300 million dollars a year if we are to start paying our way. We have survived so far through the investment of overseas capital in Australia, but this state of affairs cannot go on much longer. We must not continue to sell our assets for the sake of political expediency.

In concluding my remarks, I refer to the housing of age and invalid pensioners. I make an appeal to the Government to provide additional funds to the New South Wales Housing Commission for the erection of units to accommodate age and invalid pensioners. I am aware that the position is being alleviated somewhat through the operation of the Aged Persons Homes Act, but the success of the scheme covered by that Act is dependent entirely on the efforts of outside voluntary organisations. These bodies have done and are doing yeoman service in this field, but the finance made available to them under the Aged Persons Homes Act does not keep pace with the accommodation requirements of pensioners, as is borne out by the fact that at the present time the waiting period for units is between six and seven years. 1 should like to point out also that the New South Wales Housing Commission has undertaken a slum clearance project in my electorate. Here again it is hampered by lack of finance. Slum clearance is a very costly work. For example, it costs the Commission between 100,000 dollars and 120,000 dollars an acre for the acquisition and demolition of sub-standard properties. In other words, a 10-acre slum clearance project would cost the Commission between -1,000,000 dollars and 1.2 million dollars before any new dwellings were erected. I presume that the Government supports slum clearance. If it does, then I request it to lend its support in a practical way by meeting at least portion, if not the whole of the cost of acquisition and demolition. Finally, Mr. Deputy Speaker, let me put this to you: We realise that we must provide necessary accommodation for our younger generation and the migrant intake. However, in the process of doing so, we must never forget the needs of our pensioners for housing. They, after all, are the people who laid the foundation stone for a prosperous, progressive nation.

Suggest corrections