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Monday, 20 May 1957

Mr DEAN (Robertson) .- It is understandable that, in debates on Supply measures, the Opposition should attack the Government's economic policy. However, in the debate on this measure, the whole purpose of the Opposition's exercise has been to indicate to the Government various ways in which more money could be expended. Although more money might be beneficially expended in a number of ways, no Opposition member has suggested a practicable means of financing such expenditure. I suggest that the best measure of the soundness of Australia's economy is the confidence that we have inspired overseas. The flow of investment into Australia in recent years is some measure of it, and the willingness of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development to make loans to this country is another illustration. The World Bank, as it is often called, has lent Australia, perhaps, more money per capita than it has lent to any other country, after making much less inquiry into the stability of our economy than it has made in respect of other economies.

I was interested to hear the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), who is now Acting Leader of the Opposition, say this afternoon that Labour wants to bring about a change in society in Australia. That is nothing new to honorable members. We have heard it said by the honorable member for Melbourne, the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), and the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) in particular. We all are aware that they wish to bring about a change in society. They have made it clear, for example, 'that they wish to change our present economic structure. They have clearly indicated that they intend, if they are ever returned to office, to change our banking laws. We have heard from the Acting Leader of the Opposition, and those who support him, that, in their own words, they will not make again the same mistake that they made last time. That is a reference to the amendments of the Banking Act initiated by the Labour Government in 1947 and 1949. Honorable members will recall that, in those years, Labour sought to change the economic and financial structure of Australia by legislation. The honorable member for Melbourne and his supporters now say that if, and when, they are returned to office, they will not adopt the same method, and will not make it quite so obvious to the electorate what their intention is. In other words, they will try to gain the same objective by means that are not so obvious. They think that they can do it by regulation. That indicates the importance of the present Government's amendments of the Banking Act and the foreshadowed measures that it intends to introduce later this year.

In view of the propaganda that has been widely disseminated throughout Australia, I think that it would be wise to say that those of us who support banking reform in no way wish to weaken the Commonwealth Trading Bank of Australia. It is an effective and strong institution which functions for the good of the general public. From this, it follows that we on this side of the House believe in fair competition, because it is in the best interests of the Australian people. The remarks of the honorable member for Melbourne make it clear that, once again, he is trying to promote the class war that one section of the Australian Labour party has been encouraging for many years. He and his supporters want to force every one down to the same level by stamping out the spirit of initiative and free enterprise. They wish to remove all those things that have been the strongest inspiration of our nation.

This debate affords honorable members the opportunity to discuss some of the financial matters that they consider to be of importance. This is the last opportunity that they will have to make proposals affecting the budget for the financial year 1957-58 before it is prepared. I should like to discuss the problem of social services first. We had quite a lengthy debate on this matter this afternoon on a proposal that it be discussed as a matter of urgent public importance, and several honorable members have addressed themselves to it already in the debate on this measure. I agree with the remarks that have been made by some Government supporters and some Opposition members.

I should like to emphasize two points in particular. The first relates to the position of single persons who depend on social service benefits. I think that it is true to say that they are suffering most severely at the present time. Married people have certain advantages over them. Several years ago, the means test was modified in order to permit a married couple to receive the full pension of £4 a week each, or a total pension of £8 a week, in addition to a maximum superannuation income of £7 a week, making the total income £15 a week. It is true that the total number of persons entitled to this benefit may not be very great, but the fact remains that there are some, and in this matter, the Government has based its thinking on a consideration of the various items of income available to married couples. However, single pensioners, who must meet most of the kinds of expenses that married couples have, are less favorably situated. Let us consider, for example, the effect of the ownership of a home. A single pensioner who owns his home still has to pay the same amount by way of rates and taxes on property as a married couple who are pensioners. That is only one example. One finds, therefore, that the single pensioner is worse off, to a great degree, than are pensioners who are married. I think that the time has arrived for us to give special consideration to individual circumstances.

Another circumstance that comes to mind is that of married persons who have saved for their old age and who, by reason of their savings, are debarred by the means test from receiving social service benefits. Let me give another example. Take a married person who has saved sufficient to buy another house for rental purposes, hoping that, with some other income, he will have sufficient to sustain him during his years of retirement. I have before me the example of a person who, some years ago, bought a house for £2,300, from which the net income that he now receives is £1 5s. a week. Because of the value of that capital investment, he and his wife are debarred from receiving the full pension. Therefore, I suggest to the Minister that it would be wise to change the method of operation of the means test. At the present time, the means test takes into consideration the capital value of assets, and I suggest to the Minister that we should amend that provision in order to provide that the means test should have regard to the income derived from the investment, rather than its capital value. In other words, a pensioner couple would have to invest at least £9,000 or £10,000 to obtain an income equal to the money that is at present paid to them. If we were to amend the means test provisions along the lines I have suggested, those who have saved for their old age by their own initiative would be in the same position as those who are receiving the full pension but who invested a smaller amount in superannuation schemes. I am very glad that the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) is with us at the present time, because I hope that, since the budget has not yet been formulated, he will be able to take this suggestion into consideration.

I have listed social services and the allied services as the first topic on which to speak to-night, because that is the largest item of expenditure in the Commonwealth budget. Speaking from memory, in the present financial year the total expenditure on social services will be greater than the total defence vote.

I take as the second item for discussion, expenditure on repatriation services. Because, so often in this place, criticism is made of the members of the Public Service and those in allied organizations, I propose to read a letter from a repatriation pensioner who has recently been an inmate of one of our repatriation hospitals. He writes -

I would like you to inform the Minister for Repatriation, on my behalf, of a bouquet instead of the usual brickbat that comes the way of a

Minister. Would you kindly advise him that he should be very proud of the department that he administers? My treatment was a revelation. The extreme courtesy extended to me and others was a pointer to the treatment that I later received when I was admitted to the Repatriation General Hospital. The organization at that hospital is a credit to the department. I would like to advise that the administration there is, to my mind, something out of the box.

He then mentions the name of certain personnel attached to the establishment and says -

They are most efficient, kind, sympathetic and considerate. As for the sisters in the ward where I spent about three weeks, no praise could be too high. The nurses and orderlies were also very good. In these times when one likes to throw brickbats at Government departments, a word of genuine praise now and then must come as a tonic and I would like you to see if you could get these comments to the administration. Whether the persons mentioned will receive this praise i? another matter, but I cannot let this opportunity pass without some little effort to see that they get it. lt is with pleasure, therefore, that I have quoted the letter. I agree with the writer that, in many instances, those who are engaged in public service come in for a great deal of criticism. It is good to know that, although criticism is warranted on some occasions, there are those in the community who appreciate that a great number of the people who are serving the public do not always get the recognition they deserve.

During the week-end I had an opportunity to attend the annual general meeting of the War Widows Guild, at which several matters in connexion with anomalies in the act were brought to my notice. Some of us already know that hospital treatment for war widows is a matter that is administered by the Repatriation Department, and that, on the recommendation of the repatriation doctor in the relevant locality, a war widow may be admitted as a patient to a repatriation general hospital. If, however, a war widow in need of treatment lives in a country area and her illness is not sufficiently serious to warrant the attention of a specialist, she must seek treatment in a district hospital, where the benefits of the Repatriation Act are not available to her. In other words, she has to pay her own expenses while she is an inmate of such a hospital. The War Widows Guild has requested that, in cases in which repatriation doctors recommend that war widows should be admitted to public hospitals, the Repatriation Commission should make itself responsible for the expense of such hospital treatment. I think that that is a reasonable request and I ask the Minister for Social Services, who represents the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) in this House, to make representations on my behalf.

At the meeting to which I have referred, my attention also was directed to the fact that, in the near future, a conference will be held in Rome of several international bodies to discuss the problems of fatherless families. This is a problem which receives a great deal of attention from organizations such as Legacy and the War Widows Guild. I made some inquiries regarding this proposed conference and found that it was being organized by the International Union of Family Organizations, established in Paris in 1947, the constitution of which was adopted at the first General Assembly in Geneva in 1948. It is a consultative body of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. It is believed that Australia should have representatives attending that conference, and I can think of none better qualified than representatives from Legacy of Australia and the War Widows Guild. I bring this matter to the notice of the Parliament in the hope that the Government may see fit in some way not only to encourage that representation but also to give some assistance to the organizations that intend to promote the sending of delegates to the conference.

Later this week the State Premiers and the Commonwealth's representatives will meet in the Premiers conference and the Australian Loan Council. I think, therefore, that it may be opportune to state once again the great objective which so many of us here have in mind in our relations with the Loan Council and the Premiers. One of the great problems which has faced Australia during the post-war years is the problem of expansion and how to deal with the tremendous number of public works which are necessary for our development. It is now well known that the Commonwealth's representatives have pleaded with the representatives of the States for the establishment of a system of priorities for public works. It seems to me a simple matter of arithmetic that, with the comparatively limited finances available to Aus tralia because of our small population and huge size, we cannot do all the necessary public works at once. So it is necessary for Australia to have a system of priorities for public works. But in answer to the pleadings of the Commonwealth for the establishment of such priorities the representatives of the States quite rightly say that the States are independent entities in so many ways and are not subject to instructions from the Commonwealth. I think that the time has been reached when, whilst acknowledging the argument of the States, we should come to a more co-operative basis with them and establish such a system. As I have said, this could apply very well to public works; but we have other examples coming to us constantly of lack of cooperation between Commonwealth and States. There are organizations in Australia which are continually approaching members of this Parliament urging that the Commonwealth take a greater degree of responsibility in respect of education, roads, local government activities in general, hospitals and so on. But it is not just a matter of the Commonwealth taking over roads or hospitals. Under the Constitution these matters are entirely the responsibilities of the State governments. While it is possible for the Commonwealth to give financial assistance in respect of them it has no say in the administration of these matters within the boundaries of the States. So, I think that is a second sphere in which, at the forthcoming conference between the Premiers and the Commonwealth, true cooperation could take place for the benefit of Australia.

There is one thing going on in Australia at present which gives great cause for worry. That is the domination of parliamentary representatives, in certain spheres, by outside organizations. We see what is happening in Queensland at present. But that is nothing new. We have seen it happen in New South Wales on several occasions; but when it has happened in New South Wales the Premier of that State has not stood up for his rights as the present Premier of Queensland has done. Indeed, the Premier of New South Wales has bowed to the dictates of the body outside Parliament. We know the same thing is going on at present in Tasmania. We have seen what has happened in Victoria. I bring this matter forward once again because

I believe that it is absolutely necessary, no matter on what side of this Parliament we sit, for us to impress on the people that the Parliament is the stronghold of democracy in Australia.

Australia holds rather a unique position in this part of the world. We may not be large in numbers, but we are the oldest established democracy in the south-west Pacific, or South-East Asia, whichever term may be used. A number of countries which are at present developing their democratic institutions look to Australia for a lead. So, 1 think it is absolutely necessary for us in Australia not only to maintain the democratic institutions that we have inherited and enhanced but also to do all in our power to see that they do advance, and that we ourselves, as members of this Parliament, set an example to the people in the newer democracies.

I direct the attention of honorable members to the threats that are being directed from various places to the Parliament of our nation. I put this forward not in any party-political sense, but for the good of this Parliament, believing that we have a combined responsibility to see that the dignity of the Parliament is maintained, and that we shall continue to enhance the great progress that I know a democracy can make.

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