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Wednesday, 21 September 1960

Mr J R Fraser . - Sir, since this debate commenced we have heard a great deal about the so-called cost of social service benefits in this country. We have heard criticism that proposals which have been made from time to time by members of the Labour Party would cost far too much. I suggest that that is a completely wrong attitude to adopt when looking at this question of social service payments. Surely it should be the duty of a government to assess what is the right and proper thing to do for the various classes in the community who suffer the ailments from which all suffer some time - old age, or invalidity, or widowhood, or sickness. Surely it should be the duty of a government to say what is the right and proper thing to do and then tax the people in order to provide the benefits at the scale which the Government considers just and not to provide anything less than should be provided, simply because of a fear to impose the taxation which would be required.

Mr. Deputy Speaker,when introducing this measure, about a week ago, the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) said he believed that social services should not be made a matter of party political argument, but in his very next sentence he made this question just such an argument by accusing the Labour Party of using those tactics. It is completely true to say that many Government members who have spoken in this debate have sought to decry what was done by a Labour government in the years between 1941 and 1949. I fear that many members on the Government side of the House, who have come into this place recently, have not studied even the brief history of social services provided in the booklet issued by the Department of Social Services, and have accepted the unwise words of some of their elders who deride and decry what the Labour Party has done in the field of social services. It is quite common to hear a member on the Government side of the House who has been here only a fortnight or so say to the Opposition, "What did you do in this matter?" It might be beneficial to give Government members some information in that regard, as I now propose to do.

The Curtin Government came into power in 1941. For 23 of the 25 years before that date, it must be remembered, anti-Labour governments had been in power in this Parliament. In the other two years there was, of course, a Labour government but an antiLabour Senate. So, in effect, for that quartercentury anti-Labour governments were in power in this Parliament.

Mr Turnbull - The people just would not have you.

Mr J R Fraser - The answer to that interjection is-

Mr Freeth - Do you say that the tail - the Senate - wagged the dog?

Mr J R Fraser - I shall show shortly what the Minister's own department has done to pensioners in this Territory. For 23 out of the 25 years before 1941, antiLabour governments were in power. When the Curtin Government came to power the only social services being provided by the Commonwealth were the age and invalid pensions at a maximum rate of £1 ls. 6d. a week; the maternity allowance, subject to a means test, and paid at a rate ranging from £4 10s. to £7 10s.; and child endowment, which had been in force for only a few months and which, as honorable members will recall, was introduced by the then anti-Labour government under threat not only from His Honour Judge Beeby but also of the two Independent members of this chamber who subsequently wrought the overthrow of the Menzies Government of that time. They were the only three Commonwealth social service benefits being paid in this country at that time. Legislation providing for age pensions had been introduced in 1909 by the Deakin Government, and the pensions became payable in 1910, the year in which the Fisher Government introduced the invalid pension. The maternity allowance was introduced by the Fisher Government in 1912, and it was introduced against most violent opposition from the anti-Labour parties of those days. They said it was a completely immoral proposal and that it would lead to baby-farming, and they fought it tooth and nail. They allowed the rate to remain at the figure set then all through the years until November, 1931, when they reduced it. Admittedly that was during a time of depression. Subsequently it was restored to approximately the rate I quoted a few minutes ago for 1941. The only Commonwealth social service benefits existing when the Labour Government came to power in 1941 were age and invalid pensions, maternity allowance and child endowment at the rate of Ss. for the second and every subsequent child.

In the period of eight years for which the Labour Government was in office under Mr. Curtin and Mr. Chifley - and let us not forget that that period covered the worst years of the war and the difficult post-war period - it almost doubled the rate of age and invalid pensions, increasing them from £1 ls. 6d. to £2 2s. 6d. a week and providing for a very considerable easing of the means test. It more than trebled the initial amount of the maternity allowance, increasing it from £4 10s. to £15. That amount has not been altered since. It also abolished the means test for that social service benefit. It doubled the amount of child endowment by increasing it from 5s. to 10s. a week for the second and each subsequent child, and it introduced a whole range of new social service benefits that had never before been introduced by a Commonwealth government. It introduced widows' pensions, assuming federal responsibility for the payment of pensions to widows for the first time in the history of the Commonwealth. It introduced unemployment and sickness benefits. It introduced special benefits for sufferers from tuberculosis, although, admittedly, that was done through the health administration. It introduced allowances for the wives of age and invalid pensioners, and it introduced funeral benefits for age and invalid pensioners. It also introduced what I believe to be one of the most Christian schemes ever introduced in this country - a rehabilitation service for invalid pensioners and those qualifying for unemployment or sickness benefit.

That is a very proud record of achievement by a Labour government in a period of eight years, a period which, as I have said, included the worst years of the war and the difficult years of the post-war period. Not only did it introduce all these new benefits, but it also very substantially eased the operation of the means test for age and invalid pensioners by permitting recipients to earn up to £1 10s. a week at that time and by raising the property bar to £750.

Those on the Government side who seek to criticize what the Labour Government did in relation to social service benefits should bear well in mind that the present Government, in its eleven years of office, has made no increase at all in the rate of maternity allowance. The only alteration it made was to increase from £5 to £10 the amount of maternity allowance that could be paid out within four weeks of the approaching birth of the child. Admittedly, in 1950 it did introduce child endowment for the first child at the rate of 5s. a week, but it has left that rate unaltered ever since. It has left completely unaltered the rate of child endowment fixed by the Chifley Government in 1948 at 10s. for the second and each subsequent child. It has left completely unaltered the funeral benefit introduced by the Curtin Government in 1943 at the rate of £10.

Mr Duthie - And the cost of funerals is prohibitive.

Mr J R Fraser - That is right. The cost of everything has gone up. AntiLabour governments did not introduce these benefits; they opposed the introduction of them. But they have not had the courage to remove them from the statutebook, although they have sought to destroy them by leaving the rates completely unaltered for a period of eleven years.

Mr Turnbull - What did they increase?

Mr J R Fraser - I give them credit for what they did increase, and I am sorry that I cannot reply in a husky voice.

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