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Tuesday, 30 August 1960

Mr COPE (Watson) .- The honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Chresby) raised a matter that he could well have raised during an adjournment debate, and I believe that it is my duty as a member of the Opposition to say a few words about his remarks. The honorable member represents a swinging seat and must use redbaiting tactics to encourage th° Australian Democratic Labour Party to give him its preferences. Let us look at the attitude of this Government towards communism. Not one Government supporter has complained about Senator McCallum being elected on Communist preferences in 1955, when he received 73 per cent., or 112,000, of Jim Healy's preferences. Nothing was said last year when the Liberal Youth Conference of New South Wales advocated recognition of red China by the Liberal Party. No protest has come from the Government side about the Deputy Prime Minister, Leader of the Australian Country Party and Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) advocating the recognition of red China. Nothing is ever said by honorable members opposite, particularly by the honorable members for Moreton (Mr. Killen) and Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth), about the restoration of diplomatic relations with Russia. Incidentally, the Government arranged for these relations to be restored at a convenient time just after the election. It was not done prior to the election because the Government was afraid of losing the preferences of the Australian Democratic Labour Party, lt is interesting to note that not only did the Government restore diplomatic relations with Russia, but the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) also restored drinking relations with the Russian Embassy. He was there as a representative of the Government drinking vodka with the Russian officials.

This professed anti-Communist Government objects to Communists coming into Australia and to Communists in Australia going overseas to receive instructions. Who is responsible for granting permission to these Communists to come into Australia and to Communists in Australia to go overseas for instructions? No one but this Government! The honorable member for Griffith referred to what some one had said about the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell). Let me read what a Liberal supporter said about the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). The honorable member for Mackellar said -

Mr. Menziescan neither call nor command as a Leader. Under his leadership, the party broke up. Yet he refuses to co-operate under the leadership of any one else. In these circumstances, the greatest national service he can render the party in Australia would be to quit politics.

Mr Ward - Who said that?

Mr COPE - The honorable member for Mackellar. Honorable members opposite refer to comments made about the Leader of the Opposition. Some of their arguments are quite ridiculous! 1 should like to refer to the Budget, but before doing so I want to congratulate the Leader of the Opposition on the magnificent contribution he made to this debate. No one can deny his undoubted ability and sincerity in putting the case for the Opposition. I also congratulate the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) on his maiden speech. There is no doubt that the people of the Hunter electorate will be just as well represented by him as they were by his father, Mr. Rowley James.

This Budget reflects the callous disregard of this Government for the real needs of age and invalid pensioners. Once again, many honorable members opposite have referred to the percentage of the basic wage paid as a pension during the regime of the Labour government and the percentage paid now by this Government. In my opinion, this argument is completely irrelevant and serves no useful purpose. The solution to the problem is bound up with the answers to two questions: First, is £5 a week enough to sustain any person in reasonable security and in keeping with our standards of living? Secondly, can the economy afford to pay more? Let us examine the first question. I contend that a Treasurer in budgeting for a surplus of £15,500,000 is showing a disregard for the real needs of the pensioners. The age pension could have been increased by another 7s. 6d. a week, making the total increase 12s. 6d. a week, at a further cost of less than £14,000,000. This would still have left a Budget surplus of £1,500,000. It is true that the Government pays a supplementary allowance of 10s. a week to single pensioners who pay board, rent or lodging but whose income does not exceed 10s. a week and whose assets do not exceed £209. However, single pensioners who own their homes are debarred from receiving this allowance despite the fact that they may have no money other than their pensions and no assets except their homes. In many instances such people are paying out more in rates and taxes than other pensioners who receive the allowance are paying in rent - yet they are denied this supplementary allowance.

I think it is reasonable, Mr. Temporary Chairman, that we concern ourselves not with the 15 per cent, or 20 per cent, of pensioners who receive income apart from their pensions, such as superannuation or supplementary earnings, or with the 8 per cent, who receive the supplementary rent allowance, but with the vast majority of pensioners whose only means of subsistence is the pension. From time to time, we hear honorable members on the Government side boast of how much it is possible for pensioners to receive in pensions, supplementary earnings, superannuation, and so on. However, as I have said, I believe that we should concern ourselves with the great bulk of the pensioners whose only income is the pension.

We must not forget that the age pensioners of to-day had to raise their families the hard way - without help from the Government. Until 1941, New South Wales was the only State in Australia that paid child endowment, so it is safe to say that more than 60 per cent, of the present age pensioners had to raise their families without one penny piece of child endowment to h~Ip them. Naturally, the lack of this assistance nullified their prospects of acquiring a little nest-egg for their years in retirement.

There is another matter apropos the age and invalid pensioners which requires urgent attention. I refer to the funeral benefit. In 1943, the Curtin Labour Government instituted the payment of £10 towards the funeral costs of pensioners. Despite the great diminution in the value of the £1 that has occurred since 1943 the funeral benefit remains static at £10, although £10 to-day has a value equal to only £3 10s. 6d. in 1943. The Estimates provide for an expenditure of £371,000 on funeral benefit this year. I submit, Mr. Temporary Chairman, that the funeral benefit should be increased to £25 as a commencing rate, at a further cost to the revenue of £556,000, which would bring the total estimated outlay this year to £927,000. 1 believe that the need to increase this benefit has been overlooked by the Government, despite many protests from the Opposition benches over the last two years. Let us hope that this defect will be remedied in the very near future.

Now I turn to another important branch of social services - child endowment. The allowance for the first child is 5s. a week, and no adjustment has been made to this rate since it was introduced in 1950. Endowment for the second child has remained at 10s. a week since 1948. On the ground of the loss of purchasing power alone since these rates were last set, they should be increased this year. The purchasing power of money has fallen to half what it was ten or twelve years ago, and the Government should have given some assistance to the recipients of child endowment even had it increased the rates by only a small amount. I believe that such assistance is essential in the interests of Australia's future development.

Occasionally we hear many good speeches about our immigration programme, which was introduced by the present Leader of the Opposition, when he was Minister for Immigration, in 1947 or 1948. It is a programme of which we are all justly proud, and it has been carried on by this Government since it took office. We are told in many a speech that we must populate or perish. We must also realize that we should encourage Australians to raise bigger families, because every baby bom in Australia, whether of old Australian or new Australian parents, is just as welcome and just as important as a person brought from overseas. The need to raise larger families in this country is something of which we are losing sight. When child endowment was introduced in New South Wales by the Lang Labour Government, in the mid-1920's, it was introduced in order to assist needy families in the lowincome group to raise their children in some degree of comfort and to give them a decent education. It was also intended to encourage the birth-rate. However, as the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) said in his speech on the Budget last week, this Government has treated child endowment as a dead letter.

My daughter became a proud mother a few weeks ago. I made inquiries from her and she told me that she now takes the baby to a baby health centre which prescribes special foods and other essentials which cost her between 35s. and £2 a week to provide. Yet from this Government she gets only 5s. a week in child endowment. Naturally, people in other circumstances, with more children, are in a worse position in that respect. If people are to have the incentive to raise large families the Government must give them some financial help. There are many thousands of mothers and fathers in Australia to-day who are eager and willing to raise large families, but are unable to do so because of their economic circumstances. Yet the Government does absolutely nothing about increasing assistance to Australian mothers.

A matter of deep concern in connexion with our secondary industries is the alarming shortage of skilled tradesmen. The seriousness of this shortage is evidenced by statements emanating from government leaders, chambers of manufactures, and employers' organizations. One such statement reported in the press was made by Mr. P. J. Self, the secretary of the New South Wales Employers Federation. According to the report Mr. Self said the shortage of skilled tradesmen was " acute and rapidly growing worse. "

The report further stated -

The situation called for prompt co-ordinated action by the Commonwealth and N.S.W. Governments. " Since the war we have drawn fairly heavily on overseas sources for skilled tradesmen, Mr. Self said. " The proportion of skilled tradesmen in the male work force has been 50 per cent, higher among migrants than among the Australian population. "Now it is becoming increasingly difficult to attract these people to Australia because of improved conditions overseas. " That is one reason why the shortage is rapidly growing worse. " Another reason is the falling off in the number of apprentices entering skilled trades. "Some positive steps must be taken to arrest these trends and to ensure an adequate supply of skilled workers for the State ".

There is a similar statement from a representative of the Chamber of Manufactures, which I have not time to read. The indications are that this is a very serious position. There are only two ways of obtaining more skilled tradesmen. The first is to bring them from overseas - and apparently that is out, because we cannot get them in any appreciable numbers because of the improved conditions abroad and because of housing shortages and so on in Australia. The second is to obtain them through the recruitment of more apprentices.

Let us look at the reason why there is a lack of apprentices in Australia to-day. The margins for skill in Australia are ridiculously low, as I shall endeavour to show. The fitter is used as the yardstick by which all margins for skill are measured, so I shall use the fitter's wage to illustrate my point. In 1947 when the basic wage was £5 9s. he received a margin of £2 12s. 6d. a week. The margin was 48 per cent, above the basic wage. Let me now contrast that position with the present-day set-up. The fitter's margin for skill now stands at £4 16s. a week with the average basic wage at £13 16s. The margin is now only 34 per cent, above the basic wage. In other words, the skilled worker's margin has deteriorated by 13.3 per cent, in thirteen years. If the margin which obtained in 1947 applied to-day it would be £6 12s. 6d. a week or £1 16s. 6d. a week greater than it is.

Let me now deal with the shortage of apprentices. Is it any wonder that parents do not encourage their youngsters to learn a trade when they leave school, now that the margin for skill is so low? A few weeks ago Sydney newspapers carried an advertisement which had been inserted by the Sydney County Council seeking labourers at £17 15s. a week. I am not suggesting for one moment that that wage is excessive for labourers, but when one remembers that in New South Wales the federal basic wage is £14 3s. and the fitter's margin is £4 16s., making a total wage of £18 19s. which is only £1 4s. above the labourer's rate, is it any wonder that there is a shortage of apprentices? What mother and father would want their boy to learn a trade, knowing that when he finished his time - after having accepted low wages, after having spent a lot of his leisure time in study, and after having endured a good deal of worry at examination times - he would be only £1 4s. a week better off than a labourer? Why should parents be concerned about putting their youngsters to a trade while this state of affairs exists? Why should a skilled worker receive only a few shillings more than does a labourer?

Let me mention now a few of the privileges to which a fitter and turner, working under the federal metal trades award, is entitled. He receives three months' long service leave after twenty years' service, a week's sick leave every twelve months - this can be accumulated for only two years and then is lost unless it is used - and a fortnight's annual leave. Let me contrast those privileges with the privileges of a labourer who works for the Sydney County Council. He receives three months' long service leave after ten years' service with an additional 1.3 weeks for each subsequent year, double the sick leave which a fitter receives, and three weeks' annual leave. When those privileges are considered and valued, there is very little difference between the pay of a labourer employed by the Sydney County Council and that of a fitter and turner. If the Government, the chambers of manufacturers and the employers' organizations are serious in their statements calling for more recruits for apprenticeships, they should do something to encourage young men to take up trades by giving them, when they finish their time, a much more satisfactory margin than a tradesman now receives.

Let me refer now to overseas shipping freights. I am at a loss to understand exactly where the Country Party stands on this matter. In the five years in which I have been in this House, there have been three increases in overseas shipping freights - a 7} per cent, increase in 1955, a 14 per cent, increase in 1957 and a recent 6 per cent, increase. But not once in that time have I heard one member of the Country Party express dissatisfaction or concern about the burden which overseas shipping freights places upon the primary producers. Why do County Party members not try to represent the country people? They complain about the high cost of production but, in the main, they claim that this is due to workers' wages or the slow turnround of ships. None of them ever speaks one word about the tight grip which overseas shipping monopolies have on the Australian economy in general, and the primary producers in particular.

If we are to expand, develop and become the great nation which we hope to become, it is imperative that we re-establish a Commonwealthowned shipping line. The Australian economy is based on exports and imports but we do not own one ship which travels overseas. We depend on overseas shipping companies for our very existence. What are we expected to do? Are we expected to continue like this for ten, twenty or even 50 years? Surely a start must be made somewhere. One honorable member interjected a moment ago and mentioned the cost of providing a Commonwealth-owned shipping line. Admittedly the line may lose money for a time, but what difference will that make if the line will save the primary producers, protect our economy and lower shipping freights? Are those advantages not worth a temporary loss in operating costs? At present we spend £200,000,000 on defence. I do not quibble about that expenditure, but it is a dead loss.

Our economy, which is dependent on overseas shipping companies, is just as important to Australia as is our defence system because, if an overseas combine decides not to send its ships to Australia, what can we do? We do not have a shipping line of our own, but much smaller nations than Australia with much smaller populations and much weaker economies have their own overseas shipping line. I refer to Finland, Sweden, Greece, Iceland, Panama and others. 1 have been told on good authority that even the Republic of Eire now has its own shipping line. Those countries have realized that their existence depends on overseas shipping, and so they have provided their own ships. But what has this Government done? We have the Australian Overseas Transport Association which negotiates with overseas shipping combines on freights. When the overseas combines seek an increase in freights the association meets them in conference. The best that it can hope to do is to beat down the proposed increase. In 1955 the combines sought a 10 per cent. increase in freights and the Government proudly beat its breast because the proposed increase was reduced to Ti per cent. But we knew before the negotiations started that the combines had asked for a greater increase than they expected to receive. That is the best that we can hope for - to beat them down. This is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs particularly when we remember that we have to send our products 12,000 or 14,000 miles away and bring our vital imports the same distance back to Australia. As 1 have said, if the overseas shipping combines said that they were unable to carry our produce, we would be out on a limb. What would happen if we were faced with a war or a state of emergency? What would happen if we were cut off from the United Kingdom in those circumstances? How would we transport our exports and imports which are so vital to our economy? The answer to that question is that we could not move them because we would not have the means to do so.

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