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Thursday, 18 September 1958

Mr CAIRNS (Yarra) .- The honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) began his speech by attacking the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) for attempting to make some political capital out of social services. I think that it ill becomes the honorable member who, to my knowledge, seeks to make more political capital out of his submissions to this House than does any other member. Some little time ago the honorable member for Mackellar offered to lead a march into Hungary. He has not yet done so. We have also just been informed that he is to lead a walk to the South Pole, followed by a party of rather aged honorable members from the Government side of the House. Now, the pied piper from Mackellar is going to lead a group of pensioners into prescribed country towns. I suggest that we will see as little of the pied piper from Mackellar in those country towns as Hungary has seen of him, or the South Pole will see of him in the future.

The honorable member makes his submissions to the House with the news sense of a journalist and his eyes on the front page of the " Sydney Morning Herald ". He is the last one who should accuse the honorable member for Port Adelaide of seeking political advantage from social services. The honorable member sees opportunities for pensioners on £4 7s. 6d. a week to buy houses in country towns! The Australian pensioner has not got the financial background of the honorable member for Mackellar. One could test the sincerity of this dramatically-minded member of this House by asking him what he did for the pensioners previously. He has suggested that the Government should give some special allowance to pensioners if they would take one of these houses in the country. What did he do when the rent rebate was taken from pensioners living in housing commission homes? Did he protest against that action? No; he did not utter one word. There would not have been any political headlines in a protest of that sort. Now, with that record, he has risen in his place to-night with a dramatic proposal, the details of which were distributed, no doubt, to the press gallery late this afternoon so that he would get headlines in the morning press.

Mr Ward - He evicted pensioners from houses on the south coast.

Mr CAIRNS - No doubt, he would evict other pensioners if he had his way. The attitude of some honorable members on the Government side can be likened to that of the pied piper of Mackellar, and I do not want to say anything more about that proposition now. The position that has been brought to the attention of the House tonight is that, although we have a social service system in Australia which is better than the comparable systems in most countries, and which has grown over the past 35 to 40 years, it must be admitted by every reasonable person that there could be great improvements, and that the age and invalid pensions should be increased. Child endowment should be increased also, and other social service benefits should be improved. There must be general agreement on that point.

Last year, more than 1,000,000 signatures were appended to petitions submitted to this House. Almost every church leader and many supporters of almost every church in the Commonwealth have supported moves in the past two or three years for increased social service benefits. Although I am prepared personally to say that the present Government has done better with regard to social services and the welfare State than I thought it would, I do say that there must be agreement among the great majority of supporters of the Government that it could have done better.

To-night we are discussing a bill in its second reading to analyse, as objectively as we can, what the Government, in fact, has done. The case made by the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) in submitting the bill to the House is that more money has been spent on social services by this Government during its period of office than was spent by the niggardly and wicked socialists before this Government was elected to office. T want to say two things about that: First, I want to examine the record of the conservative parties briefly so that we can study the background of the position that they occupy to-day. I want to examine also the Minister's statement in terms of events between 1949 and 1958. The Government parties are the logical successors of those conservative governments that have gone - whatever may have been their names. A study of Australian economic and political history shows that the conservative parties have had to be pushed every inch of the way to accept social services, even of a very minor and inexpensive nature. Tt took four or five years of constant pressure to get the Deakin Liberal Government to grant a miserable age and invalid pension of 7s. 6d. a week, and had it not been for the fact that in June. 1907. the tariff legislation of that government was in danger, the government would not have granted it then. The Deakin Government, in fact, decided to grant that pension without making any provision whatever for the financing of it. In the few years that followed, the conservative parties in this country had little power during the time in which age and invalid pensions were raised.

We come to the 1920's, a period of great prosperity in this country, during which the Bruce-Page Administration occupied the treasury bench of the Commonwealth. In 1921 a national insurance scheme was proposed. At every subsequent election when those conservative parties submitted their policies to this nation, the national insurance scheme was in the forefront of those policies. For twenty years that went on, yet that scheme was not put into legislation. At the end of the 1930's, after it had been promised at every election, and inquiries and royal commissions without number had been held, the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) resigned ingloriously from the government in which he was the Attorney-General, because that government refused to introduce a national insurance scheme. We can test the sincerity of the right honorable gentleman in the matter. Nine months later he became the Prime Minister, but his government, for eighteen months, also refused to introduce a national insurance scheme. So we can ask ourselves: Was the right honorable gentleman concerned with national insurance or with becoming Prime Minister of this country?

At the beginning of the war, there was general agreement on the matter. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Bland) was one of those who expressed the view - in his case to a conference of the Institute of Political Science - that once upon a time Australia had led the world in the field of social welfare and social services. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) also expressed the view in 1941 that Australia had slipped into a very backward position. At that time, just a fraction over 2 per cent, of Australia's national income was provided for social and welfare services.

From that point onwards, the great event in the history of this matter was the establishment of the Joint Parliamentary Com- mittee on Social Services, which continued' investigations for three and a half years and laid down the pattern of the social and welfare services of the Commonwealth. As I have said, in 1941, when the Curtin Government came into office, a fraction over 2 per cent, of the national income was going in social and welfare services. In 1949 when, after seven and a half years, the Curtin Government went out of office,. 5 per cent, of our national income was going in social and welfare services, that is, more than double the percentage of the national income had been transferred to those people who needed it most. This was a great movement of redistribution in the history of this country, and in a few moments I shall tell the House a little about what has happened since then.

When we come, upon the basis of that history, to try to judge what the present Government has done in its term of office, these are the propositions that are put to us: That this Government has maintained the real value of social services, as it said it would; and that it has spent more money on social services than was spent by the Labour government before 1949. These propositions are wrong. Time and time again the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) and other Ministers, when quoting the amount of money spent on social services, have ignored completely two important things. First, they have ignored the vast increase in the number of people who received those social services. That omission on their part means that the increase in the amount is not because the individual is getting any more, but because there are so many more individuals. Secondly, speakers for the Government have consistently and knowingly ignored the fact that the number of pounds spent in social services in 1958 buys just a little more than half what it bought in 1949.

The occurrence of inflation during this Government's term of office has struck at the very root of the social and welfare system of this country. It is useless for the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Dean) to talk, as he did a little while ago, about the necessity for retaining prosperity in the country if social services are to be worthwhile. That is the very opposite of what this Government has done. The Government has permitted inflation to drain away the value of every social service, with the exception of only one, namely the unemployment and sickness benefit. That is the only social service benefit in this Commonwealth that has maintained its real value.

That is the record of this Government. Even the real value of age and invalid pensions, taking the most favorable measure, has not risen. Let us have a look at the value of the social services. If we think, as the Government encourages us to do, only in terms of the money value, we find a completely misleading position. In 1949, in the last year of Labour, nearly £91,000,000 was spent on social services. That represented 4.050 per cent, of the national income. In 1957, the corresponding figure was £183,500,000, and the percentage of national income was 3.916. I am quoting now from the report of the Director-General of Social Services. So, as a proportion of national income, the amount of money paid in social services fell in that period from 4.050 per cent, to 3.916 per cent.

If we take another standard of comparison - I shall take several before I conclude - and compare that figure, as the DirectorGeneral of Social Services does, with the amount of Commonwealth expenditure from revenue, we find that in 1949 it was 13.78 per cent., and in 1947 it was slightly more, 13.98 per cent. There was no advance even upon that figure. And let us not forget that the Commonwealth is drawing more upon the central bank and treasurybills for its resources than it did in 1949. But even if we look at that standard, there has been no increase. In the White Paper on national income, we are given a number of other figures. We see there that although the proportion of social services expenditure to national income has made no increase at all, and all Commonwealth expenditure from revenue has made only a slight increase, there has been a considerable fall, and fluctuation, between those levels in the years between. Even if we are prepared to concede that about the same -proportion of national income is being devoted to social services in 1957 as in 1949, if we contrast that position with the change that took place under the two preceding Labour governments, we will find that the -proportion of national income going in this direction was more than doubled. What the Government has done is to take the same proportion of national income, but as I have said it is considerably more than it was before 1949. But although the proportion of national income has, at best, remained something like it was, fluctuations have caused the pension rates to fall below the two constant figures at the beginning and end of the period under consideration.

What has happened to the proportion of people who are drawing upon that fairly constant figure? Has it remained constant? Of course, it has not. The proportion of age and invalid pensioners as a proportion of the population was 4.06 per cent, in 1948-49, but in 1957, at the end of the period, it was 4.83 per cent. The proportion of children receiving endowment in 1948-49 was 14.2 per cent, of the population, but it was more than double at the end, 30.4 per cent. On no test that you like to make has the Government's undertaking in 1949 been maintained. It undertook to maintain the real value of the social services. In no sense, has the real value of any social service payment been maintained.

If one looks at the number of people involved one will see one of the main reasons why the money figure of the amount paid has, in fact, increased. In the case of age and invalid pensioners there were 403,022 in 1949, and 554,017 in 1957. The number receiving maternity allowances was 177,955 in 1949, and 216,617 last year. In the case of child endowment 1,105,299 payments were made in 1949, and 2,978,191 in 1957. In the case of widows' pensions the number has not increased so much. There were 43,262 at the beginning and 45,416 at the end. The main reason why the Minister for Social Services can claim that the amount paid has risen to something like £273,000,000 lies in the increased number of people to whom these payments are being made and also in the inflation that this Government has permitted to take place in the meantime. The value of money is no more than half what it was in 1949.

Now let us examine the value of these social services. I will take the case which is best for the Government to begin with. The Minister for Social Services said, in his speech -

The rates of pensions benefits and allowances have been increased consistent with the increasing capacity of the community to pay them.

He chooses, at the outset, to take the increased capacity of the community as a measure of what the increase in social service payments should be. The only measure we have available to us is the Commonwealth basic wage. As the honorable member for Stirling pointed out earlier in the debate, if we take that measure we find that the age and invalid pension to-day is 1 8s. lower than it should be. So that on the standard which the Minister for Social Services lays down at the beginning of his speech, the most favorable pension unit in the social services of the Government is 18s. lower than it should be. But let us take the C series retail price index number, and see how the pension measures in relation to that. If we take the most favorable basis, as I have done, the 1958 level of pensions of £4 7s. 6d. is 2s. 6d. in advance of what it might be if it were adjusted to the C series retail index number. That is making a comparison on the most favorable basis and on the smallest rate of increase.

But having said that let us see what happened in the years that have gone by. Taking this most favorable comparison for the Government, the actual pension at the beginning was £2 2s. 6d., but the adjusted pension on that standard should have been £2 6s. Consequently, throughout 1950, the age and invalid pensioners of this country were 3s. a week down in purchasing power. In 1951, on the same standard, the actual pension was £2 10s., but the adjusted pension should have been £2 12s. In that year the pensioners were 2s. a week worse off. In 1952, the actual pension became £3, but -the adjusted pension should have been £3 4s. 6d.; so the pensioners were then 4s. 6d. a week worse off. In 1953, the actual pension was £3 10s.. and the adjusted pension should have been £3 12s., which meant that they were 2s. a week worse off. In 1954, the actual pension was £3 10s., which was 3s. 6d. a week less than the adjusted pension of £3 13s. 6d. In 1955, -the actual pension was still £3 10s., but the adjusted pension should have been £3 15s., making the deficiency 5s. In 1956, for the first time, they caught up. In that year the actual pension was £4, but the adjusted -pension would have been £3 18s., so that the pensioners were 2s. a week better off. But in 1957, they were 2s. 6d. a week worse roS. Applying that comparison to this year, at any rate to the beginning of it, the pensioners have been 2s. 6d. a week better off. That is the Government's record in regard to pensioners so that while it talks about what it has done for them during these years it should realize that in every one of those years, except one, the pensioners have been worse off by 2s., 3s., 4s. or 5s. a week.

Mr Stokes - We have never reduced it.

Mr CAIRNS - 1. should not be surprised if the Government had.

Mr Stokes - Well, we never have.

Mr CAIRNS - 1 am surprised that the Government has not reduced the pension. But the position is infinitely worse for the Government if we look at child endowment payments. Child endowment is the abandoned social service of the Commonwealth of Australia. In 1950, the endowment was 5s. a week for the first child and 10s. for the other children in the family. If those figures were to be adjusted to the C series retail price number and the cost of living taken as the most favorable basis to the Government, the endowment for the first child to-day would be approximately 10s. and for the others approximately £1. But, throughout the term of office of this Government, in each year that has gone by those members of families who have taken their child endowment out lost several shillings each week.

It is unnecessary, of course, to go through the other social services which have been similarly abandoned. Maternity allowances of £15 and £16 should be at least £30 or £32, and funeral benefits instead of being £10 should be at least £18 or £20. These figures illustrate what this Government has done in relation to social services.

Now, let us look at the peculiar method of the Government in regard to rent allowances for single pensioners. I say that this method is unsound in economics and bad in principle. The Minister for Social Services, with his affectation of liberalism and generosity, had this to say in his secondreading speech on this subject -

I remind honorable members that the Commonwealth has no " poor law " tradition in the administration of social services.

I say that it has a poor law tradition from this day onwards. It has created a second-class, or low-caste, group among age and invalid pensioners, lt has selected a small number of people whom the Minister describes as being called upon to bear grim misfortunes. He said that he does not want - . . to draw odious comparisons between the people who, by their grievous circumstances qualify to receive this supplementary assistance and those who, by their more favourable circumstances, are excluded from it.

But that is precisely what the Minister is doing. He is making odious comparisons between the single pensioner living as a tenant and the rest of the pensioners. He is saying, " Here is a perpetually depressed group of people ", and he is introducing the poor-law system into Australian social services. Although these single pensioners who are tenants are undoubtedly very badly off, my experience is that they are not particularly worse off than are other pensioners. I believe that the only group to recommend this allowance was the Brotherhood of St. Lawrence in Victoria. The only other people to mention it were the members of the University of Melbourne who wrote on the subject.

The Government has granted this allowance as a substitute for an increase in pensions, which would cost only a few miserable millions, lt has no real knowledge of these pensioners. Of my own knowledge of pensioners in my electorate - and I have been closely associated with them - I can say that the single pensioner who is a tenant is not significantly worse off than many other pensioners. The pensioner who is worse off than any other, as the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) said, is the pensioner whose wife is not also a pensioner. He has to live on £4 7s. 6d. plus 35s. a week allowance for his wife. The single pensioner is very often in a relatively better position than is the married pensioner in regard to rent. Frequently, the amount of rent that he pays is not even half the amount paid by the married pensioner. In addition to having a larger room in which to sleep, the married pensioner must have cooking facilities which often cost more than the difference between his rent and the rent of the single person.

We also have the striking anomaly of the pensioner who is paying an uncontrolled rent in such States as Victoria, where there is a Liberal government, contrasted with pensioners who are paying a controlled rent. The uncontrolled rent is often two or two and a half times as much as the controlled rent. The difference between pensioners who are paying a reasonable controlled rent and pensioners who are paying uncontrolled rent is far greater than the difference between single pensioners and married pensioners. The whole basis of the Government's case for the payment of a supplementary allowance to pensioners who are single and tenants disappears when it is examined. It is wrong in principle because the Government is introducing a lower class of pensioner. Tt is introducing a means test within a means test. It is introducing a workhouse principle in Australian social services. It is wrong in practice because these pensioners are not necessarily as badly off, relatively, as other sections of the community.

I believe also that it is unsound economics. It is difficult enough for a pensioner to retain a general increase in his pension when it is granted for no staled reason. There is a tendency then for landlords to increase the rents of pensioners, and for other people to increase their demands on pensioners. But when a particular allowance is given for a particular purpose, such as the payment of rent, there is a far greater probability that the demand made upon pensioners will be increased. I have already heard of dozens of cases in my electorate where, because of this increase of 10s., a demand has been made on pensioners.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

Mr Wentworth - I ask the House for leave to make a personal explanation. I claim that I have been misrepresented by the honorable member for Yarra. The honorable member said, in his opening remarks, that the concrete proposals T had made to help pensioners were made merely for the purpose of publicity and that no doubt I had discussed them with the press late this afternoon. That is absolutely and completely false. [Quorum formed.] I was saying that the honorable member for Yarra had completely misrepresented me. He accused me of making a concrete proposal for the alleviation of the lot of pensioners simply for the purpose of getting the front pages and he said that no doubt I had been in touch with the press late this afternoon.

Mr Calwell - I rise on a point of order. In what way is the honorable member misrepresented when another honorable member interprets his action as being for a purpose other than he himself believes it to be?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - I have listened very carefully to what the honorable member has said. I believe that so far he is in order.

Mr Wentworth - The honorable member for Yarra said that no doubt I had been in touch with the press and given newspaper representatives advance information of what I was going to say late this afternoon. Those were his exact words, as far as I can recall them. They are utterly and completely false. Whether they are meant as an innuendo or a statement, I do not know, but in either case they are equally false. I do not know whether the Standing Orders of the House permit me to require an apology and withdrawal from the honorable member for Yarra, but if they do so, I now require that apology and withdrawal for this unwarranted slur.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - The Standing Orders do not so provide.

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