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Monday, 20 May 1957


Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Lawrence) - Order! Will the Minister please take his seat? The honorable member for Watson was heard in silence and I am going to insist that the Minister also be heard in silence. I shall take action if there are interjections.


Mr Peters - On a point of order, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker-


Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER

Order! There is no point of order involved. The honorable member for Scullin will resume his seat.


Mr ROBERTON - I am sorry if the Opposition is going to take umbrage before I actually start my speech. Obviously, when an honorable member opposite brings forward a matter of urgency, some one must reply to it. Surely it is competent for an honorable member on the Government side, particularly if he is the Minister responsible for the administration of the department concerned, to answer the criticisms that have been levelled at the Government!

Every literate person interested in the question of social services generally knows the circumstances of the aged, the young, the bereaved, the lowly, the sick, the unemployed, the maimed, the broken and the homeless when this Government took office in 1949, and they know, too, the circumstances of people in receipt of social service benefits and assistance of every kind to-day. This is not a matter of interpretation or speculation. It is not a matter of what I think has been done or of what honorable members opposite think has been done; the important thing is what the record shows in arithmetical facts which are not to be contradicted by me, the honorable member for Watson, or any other honorable member.

The cold facts are that in 1949, social service benefits for the Australian community were confined within the financial limits of £80,000,000. That was the best that any socialist government had ever been able to do for people who might be considered to be in necessitous circumstances, no matter how minor the degree. The total expenditure on health and social services was £80,000,000. Year by year, as I have told honorable members in this place on a number of occasions, these social service benefits have been increased, expanded and liberalized to include hundreds of thousands of people in the community, until to-day the total expenditure on health and social services exceeds £227,000,000 a year.

That is the record in hard cash, if honorable members opposite understand the term. The range of increase was from £80,000,000 to more than £227,000,000 in respect of health and social service benefits alone.

But the proposal for discussion now before us alludes also to repatriation. Although I am not willing to do so, I must include expenditure on repatriation among the facts that I have to give in answer to the contentions of honorable gentlemen opposite. In 1949 the best that the socialists could offer in the way of discharging the repatriation responsibilities of the Australian people was £20,000,000. To-day, the annual expenditure on repatriation benefits is £45,000,000. Yet, there are those who say that this Government has been inactive in respect of repatriation benefits.

So, the annual aggregate expenditure on health, social service benefits and repatriation benefits has risen from £100,000,000 in 1949, under the socialists, to £272,000,000 to-day. Yet, honorable members opposite try to disguise these facts; they try to confound the credulous and the uninformed; they try to harrow the feelings of those unfortunate people who are in necessitous circumstances, and to excite the cupidity of people in receipt of social service benefits, no matter what their social circumstances may be. So, the case submitted by the Opposition during this discussion must be rejected. Every literate member of this House, and every literate person outside this House-


Mr J R FRASER - I rise to order, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker. Is the Minister in order in implying that there are in this House honorable members who are not literate?


Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! The Minister may think that, but he did not say so.


Mr ROBERTON - The honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory might have some cause to take exception to the adjectives that I use from time to time, but I have a variety of other adjectives that the honorable member might be interested to hear at some more convenient time.

Opposition members interjecting,

Mr. ACTING DEPUTYSPEAKER.Order! There are too many interjections. I shall take action unless they stop.


Mr ROBERTON - Every literate person knows that the rates of social service benefits, repatriation benefits, and benefits of the kind, are determined each year by this Parlaiment and by nobody else. I have no hesitation in saying that if the determination were mine exclusively I would do all that lay within my power to increase social service benefits to a maximum amount, within the financial capacity of the people to pay for them, even to the impoverishment of honorable members of this place and of another place. That is my personal inclination in the matter. But the determination does not rest with me; it rests with the Government in the first place, and with the Parliament in the second place. So I say, once again, that since this matter has been raised it is my duty to point out the increases that have taken place in the entire range of our social services benefits. I know that honorable members opposite will not like it. I do not want to do it, but it has been forced upon me and forced on the Government. The cold facts are that in 1949 the age pension was £2 2s. 6d. a week; it is now £4 a week. In addition, permissible income has been increased, and the limit of permissible property has been raised. These are the cold facts of the case, and honorable members opposite must accept them. Similarly, the invalid pension, which was £2 2s. 6d. a week in 1949, is £4 a week to-day, plus 10s. for each child after the first.


Mr Cope - How much does that cost the Government each year?


Mr ROBERTON - I have already told the honorable member for Watson that; and I have already indicated that there are people who, because of their limitations, cannot understand simple facts.


Mr Cope - I am talking about the children.

Mr. ACTING DEPUTYSPEAKER.Order! The honorable member will cease interjecting.


Mr ROBERTON - Similarly, in 1949, the Class A widow's pension was £2 7s. 6d. a week; to-day it is £4 5s. a week, plus 10s. a week for each child under sixteen years of age, after the first. The Class A widow's pension was confined in 1949 to a widow with one child under the age of sixteen. The socialists said that if she had three or four children under the age of sixteen years they could do nothing extra to help her. The result was that the Class A widow with ten children was in exactly the same financial position as the Class A widow with only one child. It remained for this Government last year to bring down an amendment of the Social Services Act to provide an increase covering each child after the first by 10s. a week. B and D Class widow's pensions, which were £2 2s. a week in 1949, are now £3 7s. 6d. a week. The Class C widow's pension also has risen from £2 7s. 6d. a week in 1949 to £3 7s. 6d. a week. Blind persons received £2 2s. 6d. a week in pension in 1949; to-day they receive £4 a week and with no means test.


Mr Ward - That is not true. There is a means test on the blind, and you know it.

Mr.ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKEROrder! The honorable member for East Sydney must remain silent.


Mr ROBERTON - It makes no difference, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker. A pest is a pest wherever it is to be found, and one must do the best one can. The Government is paying child endowment of 10s. a week for each child, after the first, under the age of sixteen years. The only child in a family was ignored by the socialists. A young man and woman bringing a child into the world were ignored by the socialists. They said, "There is nothing we can do to help in a situation of that kind. We are interested in families only after they are established. We are not at all interested in establishing the family in the first place". Just as it remained for a Menzies-Fadden Administration to introduce child endowment of any kind on a Commonwealth basis, so it remained for the Menzies Government to introduce child endowment for the first child, for the first time in the history of social services in this country.

Unemployment and sickness benefits, a subject that is frequently flogged by honorable members opposite, were each £1 5s. a week when the socialists were in office; to-day they are £2 10s. a week. And so it is through the entire range of social service benefits.


Mr J R FRASER - Including child endowment?


Mr ROBERTON - Covering the entire range. These increases have moved up year by year, and budget by budget. Prior to the election of this Government to office, the homeless among the aged were completely ignored by the socialists. It remained for this Government, again for the first time in history of our social services, to bring down legislation to give assistance to churches and charitable organizations which alone had been engaged in this kind of work for a great many years.


Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER

Order! The Minister's time has expired.







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