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Thursday, 1 September 1960

Mr CLAY (St. George) .- The Budget might best be described as being like the curate's egg - good in parts. It contains some features which are even praiseworthy, such as, for example, the free medical treatment for service pensioners, including Boer War veterans, for disabilities that are not due to war service, and the new merged means test. The Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) estimated that free medical treatment for service pensioners, including Boer War veterans, will cost £2,374,000 in a full year. When that is considered against the background of a total expenditure of nearly £1,800,000,000, many will say that the service pensioners have received justice, but very tardy justice. They might well ask why this provision was not made at least several years earlier. I think that ex-servicemen of the 1914-18 war were in the main the victims previously of a rather paltry attitude, and I for one feel thankful that many of them will no longer face the frequently impossible task of proving that some illness they endure to-day is a result of their war service, in order that they may get the benefit of free medical treatment. For my part, and for our part, any soldier who served in France for one winter in the 1914-18 war could have, and would have, received this benefit at least several years ago.

I like the new merged means test by which the property restriction has been levelled off to square with the restriction on income. The property restriction was a most iniquitous thing, and it often imposed great hardship on many of our elderly citizens. Perhaps this was What the Government meant when it said, through the medium of the Governor-General's Speech in February, that it would do something about restrictive practices. I expect that there will now be a marked decline in the number of elderly people taking overseas trips in order to spend their savings so that they may qualify for a full pension or a part pension. This will be to the great displeasure of overseas shipping companies. As a matter of fact, I have been advising my elderly constituents ever since last February not to spend any surplus money that they might have, because no government, however bad it might be, could much longer continue a property means test such as that from which we are to escape by early March next year. Pensioners with permissible money up to £2,020 might do well now to consider the best way to invest that money, because income from property will not be considered in determining pension entitlement, as is income, for example, from personal exertion or superannuation. It is interesting to reflect upon the speech of the honorable member for McPherson (Mr. Barnes), who suggested that pensioners should be invited to invest moneys in Commonwealth "loans and be free from any penalty.

The cost of this amelioration of the means -test, allied with that of the means test for widows, is estimated to be £4,200,000 in ;a full year. Again, we are impelled to ask, when we look at that sum against the background of the total expenditure of nearly £1,800,000,000, why it took so long to take -this action. I wonder how many elderly people are now left lamenting and regretting :the expenditures that they made in order to qualify for a full pension or a part pension.

Widows are to be treated in a somewhat similar manner to age and invalid pensioners in regard to property, but in regard to permissible income their needs have been entirely overlooked. I can find no excuse for the Government's failure to permit them to earn more than £3 10s. a week without reduction of their pensions. This is a matter that has been raised over and over again, without success, in this chamber. The Government never supplies any reason for its refusal to budge. It simply behaves like a mule or a donkey which sits down between the shafts of a cart and refuses to be stung, cajoled or coerced into getting up and moving forward. If the perfectly fair and reasonable request of the widows for an easing of their position were to cost the country something, that might possibly be advanced as a reason for refusal. However, although it would cost the country nothing, the Government refuses to budge. It is beyond understanding. When the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) is reminded of this iniquity to widows, he advances to the table, and avoids making any reply by giving a wearying and dreary recital of how the pension has been lifted from time to time, and over the last eleven years in particular. He scrupulously avoids any mention of the manner in which the value has been leaking out of the widow's £1 for the last eleven years. In the light of that fact alone, it would be fair to suggest that widows ought to be allowed to earn £7 a week. But perhaps, since such a wonderful concession would cost nothing, the Government is saving it until next year - election year. In the meantime, the widows can continue the horribly unequal struggle for a place in the sun for themselves and their children.

I am pleased that, at long last, some crippled people will be permitted to purchase a car free of sales tax. I hope that there will be no haggling about whether a station wagon comes within the definition of a motor car. For many limbless people, a station wagon will be far more suitable than a motor car, and for some even a panel van will be best. This concession is estimated to cost the Treasury £265,000 in a full year. Again, one wonders why it took so long before some relief came to those who labour beneath the dreadful handicap of limblessness Time and again, honorable members sought this concession and, in view of the almost trifling cost to the Treasury, we are impelled to ask why it was not granted at least several years ago.

Having divested himself, in concessions to the aged, invalids, widows and service pensioners, of the enormous sum of £6,574,000, the Treasurer became alarmed at his own generosity and promptly increased the sales tax on electric shavers from 121 per cent, to 25 per cent. This was done, we are told, because of the disadvantages endured by the vendors of safety razors and safety razor blades. Purely incidentally, perhaps, the increase will yield £290,000 for the Treasury - an amount that exceeds the cost of the concession given to incapacitated people buying a motor car. I hope that I am not disturbing Professor Messel when I suggest that a tax on beards may have yielded better results.

However, whatever our feelings about the Treasurer's attempt to make easy shaving difficult and more expensive, let us rejoice in the knowledge that the sales tax on silverplated dinner ware, cut glass and pewter is to be reduced in inverse ratio to the sales tax on electric shavers. I suppose this was done to encourage our pensioners to let their beards grow while they devoured their sumptuous meals off silver plate between draughts of champagne from silver-plated cups. Undoubtedly, this reduction will also apply to the silver-plated plaques that rest on the tiny concrete posts above their ashes in the garden of a crematorium. I wonder whether the price of these items will be reduced, or does this reduction merely mean more profit for some one?

The Treasurer reminds me of the old gentleman in the old and popular piece of elocution -

He arose one morning shouting " Hurrah, to-morrow is the Budget day,

Ten million pounds I'll give-away.

No, no, on second thoughts I think it best

To put it back in the old oak chest."

On hearing this, some member of the audience, obviously no gentleman, arose in his seat and cast doubts and aspersions upon the legitimacy of the verminous and elderly gentleman - and I do not mean the Trea surer. The Treasurer went further than the character on the stage; he took it all back with interest. He re-imposed the 6d. in the £1 on company tax and the ls. in the £1 on personal income tax. Well, I suppose the Treasurer thought that was a wise thing to do. After all, the people cannot be trusted with their own money; they only spend it on the satisfaction of their own selfish desires, without the slightest regard for the Treasurer's difficulties.

Last year, we were told that our economy needed a stimulating hypodermic financial injection. So the Treasurer reduced taxes and budgeted for a deficit. The people reacted in their usual thoughtless manner and caused another burst of inflation. This burst of inflation was caused not by the Treasurer but by the people. This year, the economy is to receive a sedative hypodermic injection to slow down the rate of expansion and inflation. Taxation is to be increased and bank lending is to be reduced, because the Treasurer is budgeting for a surplus. Next year - here is the nigger in the woodpile - is election year. The Treasurer will then decide that everything is under control and we will have another burst of lower taxes, freer lending, expansion and inflation. We have been witnessing the same old cynical cycle for so long that we may well wonder whether it will ever come to an end. Yet end it must, and sometimes an end comes with dramatic suddenness, when it is least expected. The Labour Party is prepared for the day when the end comes to this Government - which has tarried too long upon the political scene, in a Homburg hat.

During this debate, a good deal of emphasis has been placed on the progressive rise of interest rates during the past eleven years, and the finger has been pointed at the enormous growth of hire-purchase companies. So much has been said already about the manner in which hire-purchase companies accept investors' money, promising to pay a dividend of 8 per cent, or 9 per cent., and re-lend it at 8 per cent, or 9 per cent, on a flat rate with monthly repayments, that it is almost farcical to mention it again. But one fact emerges with crystal clarity. Whether the private banks wanted to do so, in order to keep up with the Joneses, or the hire-purchase companies, they had to enter the same field. In my time, I have said some pretty hard things about private banks, but when we take a look at the new banking or lending force, the hire-purchase companies, the private bankers look like the angels of justice. Their directors are at least imbued with some sense of tradition and loyalty to their native land and, though profit is important to them, they do not make it their god. The hire-purchase companies, on the other hand, are totally unhampered by any scruples. Profit to them is god, and let nothing stand in their way.

Australia has only one material force left with which to control these companies, and that force is the Federal Government. The States are quite powerless and this Federal Government knows it. Of what use is it for the New South Wales Government to move against them when they have merely to transfer their registered offices to Victoria, which has a friendly Government, in order to take defensive action? Operating with the registered office in Victoria, a hirepurchase company can still do exactly as it pleases in New South Wales. Perhaps the Federal Government is hoping that competition between hire-purchase companies will force down the interest rates. This is a slender hope, because the wolves of finance hunt in well-organized packs to-day and they are unlikely to turn upon themselves and rend one another's throats.

All this reminds me of an immigrant who came to see me recently about his brotherinlaw. His brother-in-law had been refused permission to come to Australia. The customary official phraseology was used: He was unable to comply with normal immigration requirements. Further inquiry revealed that the man had served a gaol sentence. His crime was that he had advanced a small sum of money on loan and had charged a rate of interest 2 per cent, in excess of that allowed by the laws of his country. What a pity that man committed the crime of usury before he could come to Australia! Had he waited until he came here he would have become a highly respectable financier in no time at all. He may even have been invited to join the Liberal Party. He would certainly have been invited to subscribe to the Liberal

Party's funds and in due course he would have been rewarded with a knighthood and may even have ended his strangely eventful life with a peerage and a seat in the House of Lords. It is an unsatisfactory situation for the banks of this country to be the only institutions bound by law in respect of interest rates on loans. It is amusing to read how they have been told recently to restrict their lending further.

I want to say something now about payroll tax. Pay-roll tax is a burning question all over Australia. Certainly it has been eased to the extent that organizations or companies with an annual pay-roll of less than £10,000 are exempt from paying the tax. But that still leaves a large number of hospitals, friendly societies and other organizations that must pay the tax. One such organization that comes to mind is the New South Wales Railway, Tramway, Omnibus and Road Transport Employees' Hospital and Convalescent Fund. In addition municipal and shire councils throughout the country are faced with the burden of pay-roll tax. A very strong case can be made, and has been made, for exemption being granted to those bodies. If exemption were granted it would certainly make a large dent in the Government's revenues but when we consider the fine work that is done by some councils - work which goes a long way to relieve the Commonwealth of some of its social obligations - we can agree that exemption should be granted to them. In my electorate, which bears the mighty name of St. George - it incidentally has produced a world famous football team which wins competitions with almost monotonous regularity, not to mention the St. George baseball team, which is the premier team this season - two councils have established home nursing services. The Commonwealth certainly subsidizes those services to the extent of £400 per nurse employed per annum and the cars used by the service are purchased free of sales-tax. But that amount represents much less than half of the cost of maintaining this valuable humanitarian work on the part of the councils. The councils themselves, aided by private citizens and the Service clubs, must provide the rest of the finance needed. I often feel that the Government leans too heavily on the councils and the Service clubs, which, after all, usually consist of citizens and local businessmen who do not have much time to spare. 1 do not think that it would have hurt the Treasury if the grant per nurse had been increased. 1 believe that it should have been increased.

I want to deal briefly with ambulance services. Ambulance services should have been treated on the same basis as the home nursing service. Ambulances frequently transport elderly pensioners without making a charge. If the Federal Government does nothing else it should reimburse the ambulance services for the work that they do.

I return to councils and pay-roll tax. Let us look at the position of one council - the Rockdale Council. Let us look at some of the things the council has done, so that I may support an argument for the abolition of pay-roll tax. The council has not only established a home nursing service but also assisted in the establishment of four senior citizen centres and has gone a long way towards creating a youth community centre. The council carries the cost of baby health clinics and provides rest centres for women. The council conducts a vaccination campaign against poliomyelitis and relieves the Commonwealth of the need to make the ceremonial arrangements so necessary in naturalization ceremonies. The council subsidizes pre-school kindergartens. It has provided land for bowling clubs and has established a public golf course. It subsidizes its own opera company. It fosters ballet and has its own symphony orchestra. The council conducts an excellent library. It pays its share to the St. George County Council, which handles the distribution of electricity. It provides £9,800 a year for local fire brigades and pays £8,500 a year to the Cumberland County Council. Street lighting costs the council £28,000 a year and this year the council will spend £20,000 on parking facilities to assist local residents to do their shopping with greater facility.

Although the council was permitted to borrow £100,000 this year, that amount was reduced by the Australian Loan Council to £75,000, of which £30,000 is an unused carry-over from the previous year. Incidentally, but not less important, £30,000 of the loan of £75,000 this year must be applied to the widening of one street which will become an important highway for people leaving or entering Sydney.

Out of the local rate of 3|d. in the £1 the Main Roads Board receives id. and all the achievements that 1 have mentioned are thus performed by the council on an actual rating of a little more than 3d. in the £1. That being so, it must be agreed that the financial genius of local government could do a much better job with this Budget.

Let us further reflect that Commonwealth properties, such as post offices, military establishments, banks and aerodromes, are not rateable. It is fair that I should mention that the 1 8th Light Anti-aircraft establishment and the Rockdale branch of the Commonwealth Bank do pay rates ex gratia. But the post offices and the Sydney (KingsfordSmith) Aerodrome do not pay . rates. However, if the aerodrome does not contribute towards the finances of the council it certainly contributes noise from lowflying conventional and jet aircraft in the most immoderate and excessive quantities. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has refused to provide the residents of the area with the relief that would come if the Government would extend the 16/34 runway, which would take planes out across Botany Bay instead of over the homes of my constituents. Loud as is the noise of a jet, unfortunately you cannot hear it 440 miles away in Kooyong. Therefore, we can expect no relief. I wager that if the airport were in Kooyong, something would be done about the noise problem very swiftly.

This year the Rockdale Council, from its own slender budget, will contribute approximately £8,000 to the Commonwealth in payroll tax. I have mentioned the Rockdale Council in particular, but there are many other councils - few, if any, as good - that would be in a similar plight. I submit with due respect that the £8,000 which the council will contribute in pay-roll tax could be more wisely and prudently spent by the council, applying its local judgment. A powerful case has been made out for the exemption of municipal councils from pay-roll tax.

I notice that the Defence estimate has increased by about £4,500,000. I have no' quarrel with spending money on the defence of our native land, but something has been done of which I entirely and completely disapprove. In St. George we had a battalion with a name made famous through' the sacrifices of the men of St. George, and' their womenfolk, over several decades. T. think it was Australia's best-known battalion - the famous fighting 45th. It was born of the 13th Battalion in 1916 and its soldiers had received their baptism of fire on Gallipoli. The newly born 45th was in the front line on the Western Front, at Fleurbaix, in France, four months after its birth. A little later, it was fighting on the heights of Pozieres, where it suffered 488 casualties in its first nine days in the line. On this unit's colours are emblazoned the names " Pozieres ", " Bullecourt ", " Messines ", " Polygon Wood ", " Passchendaele ", " Ancre ", " Amiens", " Albert ", " Epéhy " and " Hindenburg Line ".

Between the two world wars, the 45th lived on, confirming the traditions it had built, until, in 1942, when Japan had entered the war, it was disbanded and most of its members went to the 113th Heavy Anti-aircraft Regiment, which later served in New Guinea. In 1948, the unit was reborn in the Citizen Military Forces as a machine-gun battalion, and in 1951 it reverted to type and became an infantry battalion again. It then began to take in national service trainees, every one of whom must have become a better man because he had served with the famous 45th. On a bleak winter afternoon in 1960, by direction of the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer), the battalion laid up its colours quietly and with dignity, in St. Paul's Church of England on the Princes Highway, Kogarah. With a few strokes of the pen, the Minister succeeded where the Kaiser, Mussolini, Hitler and Tojo had failed. He obliterated, even if he has not destroyed, a name which is cherished and honoured in thousands of homes in St. George.

Mr. Temporary Chairman,in the few minutes that remain to me, I remind the committee that the average Australian family of husband, wife and two children paid £10 7s.10d. a week in taxes in 1959-60. I remind those taxpayers who may be listening that whenever they buy a gallon of petrol at 3s. 6½d., they pay 1s.1d. in tax. I remind those people who patronize hotels that whenever they buy a bottle of beer at 3s.1d., they pay1s. 7¾d. tax. I remind all those people who have bought television sets costing £234 that £39 was paid in tax. I remind all the people who have bought baby cars costing £925 that they have paid £175 in tax, and those who have bought larger cars costing £1,170, which is the price of the Holden, that they have paid in tax £223. I remind the people that industry pays large sums in company tax, pay-roll tax, customs and excise duties and the like. Mr. McKellar White, a taxation expert, reminds us that when the Prime Minister brought in the supplementary Budget of March, 1956, he described it as a temporary emergency measure to counter inflation. But the temporary tax increases of 2s. 8d. a gallon on beer, 3d. on a large packet of cigarettes, and 3d. a gallon on petrol, and the 30 per cent. increase of the sales tax on cars are still with us. Mr. McKellar White says that these figures are the result-

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