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Thursday, 22 October 1964

Senator ANDERSON (New South Wales) (Minister for Customs and Excise) . - The honorable senator raised some broad issues on which I should like to comment. With bewildering speed he mentioned at least a dozen different matters contained in the Estimates. In replying to honorable senators, I may omit to mention some items. Let me assure them that every question raised will be considered by the departmental officers and that any replies I have omitted to give will be sent by letter to the honorable senators concerned.

As I have said, Senator Fitzgerald raised some matters of policy. I remind him, and indeed all honorable senators, that we are not dealing here with the appropriation of funds for the general pensions field. Those appropriations are to be found in another document. The amount of £336 million to which he referred will come from the National Welfare Fund. Honorable senators will recall that in the closing stages of the debate last night Senator Murphy asked where the appropriation for special benefits could be found. I told him then that it was to be found in a departmental estimate of £650,000. Actually, it is a part of the appropriation for the National Welfare Fund, so it does not come within the ambit of our discussion here.

Senator Wedgwood - It should not be discussed here.

Senator ANDERSON - No. Last night the debate became very wide. I do not object to that, because it makes for a better debate, but in truth the subject that Senator Murphy raised last night is not one for consideration in the discussion of these estimates.

Senator Cavanagh - An appropriation for Queensland is shown.

Senator ANDERSON - That remark brings me to a matter that was raised by Senator Wedgwood last night. She mentioned the housekeeper service. Document B has been produced to show the special provisions for payments to the States. It shows an appropriation of £15,000 for the housekeeper service. That appropriation is included in that document because it is a consolidation of payments to the States. In the case of Queensland however, because the payment for the housekeeper service is not a payment to the State, it is shown in these estimates.

Senator Wedgwood - What I want to know is how it comes to be regarded as an ordinary annual service of the Government. It is a payment to the Country Women's Association in Queensland.

Senator ANDERSON - It is an appropriation of funds and must be shown in the Estimates. However, I shall obtain a more precise answer to that question in a moment. The point is that the appropriation of £15,000 is shown in document B because it is consolidated with other payments to the States. The payment to Queensland is shown under Division No. 470 of the Estimates because it is not a payment to a State. Senator Fitzgerald asked me what amount is paid to New South Wales for the housekeeper service. It is £5,900.

The matter of aged persons homes was debated very fully last night and reference was made to various organisations which qualify under the provisions of the Act. I made the point that an organisation had to be a non-profit organisation and that it had to qualify in the terms of the Act. Groups of people with charitable objectives could comply with the requirements. Provided they complied with the terms and requirements of the Department and the Act there was no reason why they should not get into operation in this field. Municipalities do not qualify. That is a matter of Government policy and I will not discuss it now. As I understand the position, in certain circumstances trade unions could meet the requirements. Subject to the normal requirements with which any other organisation has to comply, a trade union could qualify under the Aged Persons Homes Act.

The honorable senator referred specifically, I think, to Division No. 470, subdivision 1, item 03, which covers extra duties paid. The proposed appropriation is £1,000, whereas last year the appropriation was £1,370 and the expenditure was £1,255. 1 am sure that the honorable senator would be the first to agree that in a huge department this would ba an item which would depend on current circumstances of administration. I do not think that 1 need say any more about it than that. The honorable senator referred to State establishments, and in particular to Division No. 475, sub-division 2, item 08, which relates to commission on benefit payments made by Post Offices. The proposed appropriation is £440,000, whereas the expenditure last year was £448,860. This provision is for the payment of commission to the Postmaster-General's Department for the cash payment of age, invalid and widows' pensions and child endowment at post offices. The rates of commission are: for age, invalid and widows' pensions, 7s. per £1 00 paid, and for child endowment 20s. per £100 paid. I think the honorable senator sought the reason why the proposed appropriation for 1964-65 is £8,860 lower than the expenditure for 1963-64. The payment of a lower amount of commission is due to the fact that fewer payments of social service benefits are being made in cash at post offices. There is an increasing number of age and invalid pension payments made by cheque, and of child endowment payments made by cheque or by quarterly bank credit, The dissection of the estimated expenditure for commission in 1964-65 is as follows - Age and invalid pensions, £119,000; widows' pensions, £16,000; and child endowment, £305,000. These amounts total £440,000, which is the amount of the proposed appropriation.

Reference was made to Division No. 475, sub-division 2, item 09, which relates to the proposed appropriation of £28,600 for incidental and other expenditure, as against an expenditure last year of £32,297. The honorable senator asked why it was expected that there would be a fall. The item provides for all administrative general expenses other than those included in items 01 to 08 of this sub-division. It covers such expenses as freight and cartage, excluding that from supplier to departmental store for goods purchased under item 02; maintenance of office machines; repairs and maintenance of cars; pay roll delivery service; court charges and legal expenses; advertisements; purchase and repair of protective clothing; reimbursement to banks for cheques lost in transit between branches; newspapers and publications; survey costs; compensation payments under the Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Act; reimbursement of university fees paid by cadet social workers; and other expenditure of a miscellaneous nature. From 1st July 1964 provisions for the removal and storage of officers' furniture and for the tea trolley service were transferred to the Department of Supply and the Department of Labour and National Service respectively. That was a considerable item. The estimated expenditure for 1964-65 is about £3,700 lower than the expenditure for 1963-64. The main variations are: Decreases - transfer of provision for removal and storage of office furniture, £2,200, transfer of provision for tea trolley, service £2,200, freight and cartage, advertisements and other miscellaneous matters, £600, making in all £5,000. Offset against that are these increases: Maintenance of office machines, £600, repair and maintenance of cars, £200, other miscellaneous matters, £500, making in all £1,300. If you subtract the increases from the decreases, you get £3,700.

I think Senator Fitzgerald referred to payments being made to Victoria in relation to the special benefit fund. He spoke in broad terms about the fact that Victoria was getting an advantage over the other States. I only repeat what I said last evening, namely, that the provision was introduced in 1947 and has prevailed ever since. The reason for it at the time was that the other States did in fact have some arrangement whereby they made payments to deserted wives.

Senator Fitzgerald - The Commonwealth is making part payments to the other States now and a full payment to Victoria.

Senator ANDERSON - The only difference is that for the first six months Victoria gets a special rate of £4 2s. 6d. in circumstances where it is applicable and that in the other States the six months' period operates. That is the understanding that I have. It is a matter which is not unknown to Premiers and Premiers' Conferences. It is not unknown to the other States. They have not taken any action in relation to it. It is one of those things that evolved, and I do not want to make any other comment on it. It is a fact. It began in 1947, and I am not being political when I say that it happened during the lifetime of a Labour government. If there is any matter to which I have not replied specifically in the circumstances in which I find myself today, we shall certainly see that a suitable reply is given by correspondence.

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