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Wednesday, 21 September 1960

Mr DALY (Grayndler) .- During the course of this debate, supporters of the Government have been endeavouring to convince the Australian people that they are the pioneers of social service legislation in Australia. As a matter of fact, the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) very modestly had this to say when introducing t he bill to the Parliament -

This Parliament knows that there is no known way to reconcile differences of opinion on the question of social services, but the historic fact remains that, during the last 60 years, great changes have been made and, if I may say so without undue pride, most of them have been made by the present Government.

The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) last night clearly exploded that theory because it is undoubtedly recorded from the time of Alfred Deakin that the only pieces of social service legislation introduced by tory governments were those relating to age pensions and certain child endowment provisions many years later. I do not intend to go over that period. The Leader of the Opposition produced Andrew Fisher's letter and statements from "Hansard" by Lord Forrest and others, and clearly exploded the theory put forward by the Minister for Social Services and supporters of the Government that this Government had introduced major reforms in social service legislation.

The fact of the matter is that supporters of the Liberal and Country Parties in State and Federal parliaments are bitter enemies of social progress, as have been the supporters of Liberal and Country Party governments of different ages. Under a great variety of names they have come forward and opposed every little increase of social service payments designed to help those in the lower income brackets.

I heard a grunt from Country Party members as I made that statement and, unintelligent as it was, it calls for an answer. When the Australian Labour Party, through the government of the day, held a referendum seeking, among other things, power for this Parliament to make provision for social service benefits, members of the Australian Country Party, without exception, went throughout the length and breadth of the land and opposed that referendum. In the face of their opposition, the referendum was carried and thus many of the benefits for which the Minister for Social Services is taking credit were introduced by a Labour government in spite of the Australian Country Party.

Supporters of the Government have displayed humbug and hypocrisy by building on the foundations laid by the Labour governments and then seeking to gain full credit for a policy that they have opposed continuously, simply because most of the cost had to be met from taxes drawn from the wealthy monopolists and others who support this Government. The fact is that this Government has practically destroyed the National Welfare Fund which was established by the Chifley Labour Government to ensure that social services" Would be maintained at a maximum, and so that, iti good seasons and bad, the people would always be able to enjoy the social service benefits that ate their right.

On 1 1th February 1943, Mr. Chifley,- who was then the Labour Treasurer and Minister for Post-war Reconstruction, introduced the National Welfare Fund Bill,, and in the course of his speech he said -

It therefore proposes tor introduce to comprehensive scheme of national welfare and to develop it progressively. The welfare scheme includes health, sickness, unemployment and other associated services". The parts' of the scheme which it is proposed1 te? introduce immediately are a new maternity benefit and the liberalization' of the present maternity allowance, and the provision of funeral benefits' for old-age and invalid pensioners. Investigations cif unemployment and sickness benefit- schemes are proceeding. It is anticipated that the unemployment benefit scheme will be' brought down within six months, and that the sickness benefit scheme will be' introduced three months later. The several health services will need much- detailed preparation.- It may be impracticable to introduce a complete health- service during the war.

That was the introduction of the National Welfare Fund. Even in that time of great national crisis, trie Labour Administration of the d'ay Was thinking of the later years because it knew that pe'ople so' easily forgettheir obligations fo servicemen and' others. We" believed in laying the foundations of* a social service" scheme, 6u£ unfortunately it has since' been destroyed in many respects by the present Administration. Ohe may say that the" National Wel'fare Fund ha's Seen destroyed s"o" far as the purposes for Which it wa's" established are concerned'. Instead of having huge reserves constantly being increased from social' service taxation and certain other payments made to it, the fund has been almost pegged by this Government at a set amount. As a result, if a crisis should arise, we might easily find that social services will have to be cut because the basis that was set down by Mr. Chifley for the maintenance of social services has been destroyed by this Government.

I have listened to supporters of the Government saying what they have and have not done. The fact is that they have cutright through the pattern of social service legislation and, with the exception of the two items I have mentioned; every one of the present social service benefits has been introduced By a Labour government. They include invalid pensions; pensions for husband; Wife' and first child, maternity allowance, child Endowment, Widows' pensions,funeral benefit,- unemployment and sickness benefits"; Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service, hospital Benefits, pharmaceutical benefits, medical benefits, medical benefits for pensioners?, pharmaceutical ben'efits for pensioners, tuberculosis allowance,- child nutrition, miscellaneous services and rent rebates.All those benefits have been introduced by Labour governments. Let us consider the legislation concerning tuberculosis which was introduced by a Labour government. Because of its implementation,- that legislation has been responsible for" practically wiping out that dread disease in- Australia. This Government can take no credit for that achievement because it was one df the great schemes introduced by a- Labour government.-

Supporters of the Government applaud the proposed increase in pensions of 5s. a week. That is equal to 8d>. a day - a miserable pittance! A pensioner will now get £5 a week compared with £2 2s. 6d. in 1948-49. The honorable member for the Australian Capital- Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser) has shown that a pensioner could buy more for £2 2s. 6d. in 1948 than he can Buy for £5 a week now. The simple reason is1 that under this Government, prices have increased by 98 per cent, and the purchasing power of money has never been lower at any time in our history. Inflation affects particularly those who are receiving social service benefits and irrespective of the increases in payments that this Government claims to have granted, the real purchasing power of money has declined tremendously during this Government's term of office.

I have listened to the Minister and supporters of the Government speaking on this legislation. It is true that the Government has made certain changes in the means test which appear to be very desirable; but I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that these alterations should be called the Thompson changes in the means test because, when all is said and done, the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) has been sponsoring this scheme foc twelve years. This proposal has been stolen from the Labour Party, as have most of the good things in the policy of this Government and are claimed to be the result of Liberal Party thinking. Most of these Changes were desirable but I do not know from whom the Government will take the extra 5s. a week it proposes to give to the pensioner*. Undoubtedly, there is tremendous scope for an increase beyond 5s. when we consider the state of the economy.

It is useless for Government supporters to say that the Government cannot find the money to increase the maternity allowance, child endowment and pensions generally. A mere glance through company profits will show that there is a vast untapped field of taxation from which great benefits might be given to the people - particularly to the aged, sick and infirm - by way of social services. The fact is that the people who are bearing the full brunt of the inflationary policies of this Government are those who are receiving pensions and other social service benefits. The full impact of increases in prices falls upon them and the Government refuses to do anything about it.

Let me give a few examples of how living costs have increased. Rump steak now costs lis. per lb. The price of butter is about 5s. per lb. It is absolutely impossible for the ordinary family man to pay these prices. Where does £5 a week go when food and other necessary commodities command such terrific prices? The fact of the- matter is that despite the pension increases that honorable members opposite have boasted about, the standard of. living of the pensioner has never been lower.- 1 listened',, as. I said, with great interestto the- speech of the Minister for Social Services, and there are one or two matters contained in it to which I would like to refer. It is true, as the Minister said - or we accept it as true - that some 700,000 Australian citizens will benefit from this legislation. The Minister went on to say that the increase of 5s. a week in age, invalid and widow pensions, various other machinery changes- that are proposed and other adjustments to the act will have farreaching effects on people dependent on pensions, and that the alleviation of the means test will benefit a considerable number of people. I do not intend to go into the complications of the means test, but I do want to quote a few remarks" made by the1 Minister in his second-reading, speech. He said:~

It is estimated that Some 100,000' existing pensioners will benefit from the new means test. Of these 96,000 Will be age and invalid pensioners and 4,000 will be Widow pensioners, iri addition', it is probable that some 20,000 persons now ineligible will receive pensions for the first time. This latter figure includes 17,000 aged' persons and invalids, and 3,000 widows. On the estimated numbers of these' n£w entrants 1 must, however, Strike a note' of caution. It will, perhaps, b'e appreciated that the department has no data on. which we can estimate the income and/or property of persons now outside the pension scheme.

Then the Minister went on to say that the scheme would come into force on 6th October. Why should it not be back-dated, as the Opposition has consistently suggested, to 1st July of the financial year in. which it is instituted? In this day and age when mechanization and automation are so widespread, and when the most modern bookkeeping methods are available to government departments, particularly those which are concerned with paying, pensions, what reasonable excuse can the Government have for not paying the increased pensions from 1st July? If is idle to say that it cannot be done. The pensioners would not mind waiting a few weeks for the back payments. I see no reason why an injustice of this kind should be' done to people who are expected to live on these miserable rate's of pension.

Similarly, the benefit's to be derived from the adjustments to the means test will not be available until next March'. This represents a considerable delay', aird every effort should be made to eliminate it, because it' should be apparent that people expect these benefits to be paid not at some time in the future; which will", be almost ire the1 nextfinancial year, but at the' beginning of the financial year in which the provision's are introduced.

It is important that we should point out to the Government that it has completely failed in respect of social services. The miserable increase in the base rate pension, amounting to 8d. or 9d. a day, is hardly worth mentioning, having in mind the tremendous increases that have occurred in costs. There is one particular benefit, however, originally introduced by a Labour government, that has been completely ignored for many years. I refer to the maternity allowance. The Minister said -

Maternity allowances have remained unchanged for some years, but this Parliament knows that an additional £5 to some 231,000 expectant mothers would approach £1,160,000 in the present financial year. The inevitable question arises as to whether that sum of money, if it were available, might be spent to greater advantage in improving the maternity services of our country.

In what better way could we spend this amount of more than £1,000,000 than by giving it to the people who are bringing young Australians into the world? We spend countless millions on bringing immigrants to Australia, and nobody quibbles about that expenditure. We are also spending large sums of money in bringing to Australia certain disabled persons, thus making a contribution to the important welfare work that is being done in various parts of the world. But if we can spend large amounts of money for these purposes, then we should also be able to increase the maternity allowance granted to the mothers who give us the best immigrants of all, Australian children. We have waited for practically a generation, during which no increase has been made in this benefit, and there is still no indication from the Government that any increase is contemplated. The Government's attitude is nothing short of scandalous, particularly when it is dealing with a Budget of more than £1,700,000,000.

Let me also mention the matter of child endowment. The Minister said -

The question of child endowment presents even greater perplexities.

I suppose it would present perplexities to a Scotch Minister who does not like spending money. He went on -

It was comparatively simple for this Parliament to reach a decision - although it took many years and was resisted by honorable members opposite - to pay child endowment for the first child. But that was the end of the simplicity of the matter. An increase of 5s. a week would involve the community in additional expenditure of some £43,000,000, and I am bound to say that all the representations which have been made to me have been in multiples of these figures.

The Minister says that a 5s. a week increase would cost £43,000,000 a year. There was no problem in providing unlimited money for expenditure on the Woomera rocket range when it was in use. It is quite easy to provide about £200,000,000 a year to be mis-spent, in many instances, by our defence Ministers. But it is impossible to get sufficient money to increase child endowment payments, which are simply a practical way of giving a helping hand to the family man who has to maintain his Australian children.

Child endowment payments have not been increased for a generation or more. The payment for the first child is still 5s. a week. Compare the value of 5s. to-day with its value in 1948 or 1949. I doubt if there is 6d. worth of value in 5s. to-day compared with its value ten or eleven years ago. Under this Government, which boasts of its social service scheme, the value of endowment payments has progressively declined. There can be no justification for spending unlimited amounts of money on immigration if that money is to be taken from Australian mothers and fathers and children, who should be enjoying the benefits to be derived from higher rates of child endowment and other family allowances.

I think the Government is very vulnerable on this question of social services. In 1949 it made some strong appeals to Australian mothers. I wish I had some of those heart-rending documents here to-day. Many members of the Government owe their places in this Parliament to the fact that they practically wept on the shoulders of Australian mothers in 1949, with pledges that they would increase child endowment and other social service benefits. Having got the votes of the mothers by false pretences, they have completely forgotten their promises and have refused to grant increases in child endowment, and for this the Government deserves the censure of the Parliament. It seems that nothing will be done to increase these payments until, perhaps, the eve of an election. It is only on those occasions that the Government shows any activity and the people can get any promises from it - and even then there is very little chance that the promises will be honoured. As I say, the Government is most vulnerable on the matter of social services. Let me read a passage from the policy speech delivered in 1949 by the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), then the Leader of the Opposition. I remind the House that this policy speech was subscribed to temporarily by the Australian

Country Party, which is opposed to social services. The right honorable gentleman said -

Australia still needs a contributory system ot national insurance against sickness, widowhood, unemployment, and old age. It is only under such a system that we can make all benefits a matter of right, and so get completely rid of the means test. During the new Parliament we will further investigate this complicated problem, with a view to presenting to you at the election of 19S2 a scheme for your approval.

The Government is as out of date as the horse and buggy. It is eight years since the time when it promised it would bring forward such a scheme to this Parliament, but, far from easing the means test, it has imposed a means test which is most vicious with regard to the payment of the 10s. supplementary rent allowance. It has denied medical benefits to pensioners and others by the introduction of a means test in that field, in direct contradiction of its announced policy. The right honorable gentleman continued -

Meanwhile, existing rates of pension will, of course, be at least maintained. We will, much more importantly, increase their true value by increasing their purchasing power.

The honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory, in a brilliant speech this afternoon, showed that the purchasing power of money has never been less, and the value of pensions to-day is less than it has been at any time since 1948, when pensions were only about half the amount that they are to-day. One honorable member said that the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) has made a courageous stand for pensioners in this Parliament. But, of course, he had a simple arrangement. He could say what he liked about the Government, provided he voted for it. It was said that he was always trying to do his best for pensioners. But when Labour, at an election several years ago, offered to abolish the means test, he went on to the platform and opposed the scheme that he now espouses in this Parliament. That is no more than humbug! The fact that honorable members opposite can play up to the pensioners in that way shows that the Liberal Party has the happy knack of putting it over this deserving section of the community; it repudiates the promises that it makes.

Let us look at other social services. Let us take the funeral benefit which stands at £10. The Labour Government introduced that benefit a long time ago. From memory, I think it was introduced about 1st July, 1943. But the amount still remains the same to-day. Under this so-called progressive Liberal Government, no increase has been granted in this benefit. It is almost too dear for a pensioner to die to-day. You could not bury a dog now for £10, much less bury a citizen with respect and dignity. This Government says that it has acted humanely, but it refuses to increase by £5, £10 or £20 a benefit that provides only a fraction of the cost of burial. Yet the Government boasts of what it is doing in the field of social services. This is scandalous! Some day, perhaps, the Government may find that people do not like being treated in this way. No one looks forward to death. No one wants to be the central figure at a funeral. But inevitably death catches up with us. Therefore, an obligation rests on the National Parliament to provide at least a reasonable benefit so that in a time of great sorrow close relatives can ensure that these pensioners are buried with dignity. The National Parliament should make a more adequate contribution to the cost of burial and substantially increase this benefit.

Right down the line of social service benefits the story is the same. Take the allowance paid to the wife of an invalid pensioner. It is 35s. a week. What a tremendous amount that is! I should say that the Prime Minister would spend about that amount on tips after every meal he has abroad. Yet this is the amount allowed to the wives of invalid pensioners. This allowance has not been increased for many years. It should be increased by at least 5s. or 7s. 6d. a week, although these amounts are considered extravagant by the Liberal Government. It says that an invalid pensioner can exist on £5 a week and, although he may have no other income, he receives only 35s. a week for his wife. To make it worse, this allowance does not apply to age pensioners, except in very special circumstances. That in itself is nothing short of scandalous and proves that this Government is concerned to increase only certain sections of social services and disregards many major sections.

I hear members of the Australian Country Party continually interjecting. Members of the Liberal Party are at least decent enough to keep silent on these matters; they know their shortcomings. But this party sitting in the little corner here, its numbers getting fewer and fewer after each election, State and Federal, continually opposes social service legislation and referendums which would affect reforms of benefit to these pensioners. Members of the Australian Country Party interject and say that the Government is doing a good job. Nothing is further from the truth! The fact that I am pointing to the incompetence of the Government in these matters undoubtedly hurts them very much.

Take the matter of free medicine. When we introduced such a scheme in the time of the Chifley Government, Country Party members voted against it and said it was the basis of socialism in our time. What happened? As soon as we were in opposition, this Government introduced our scheme with many modifications. Our scheme provided for benefits for all. The Liberal-Australian Country Party Government took our scheme and modified it. Not one of the long list of social service benefits that I have given would have been introduced in these prosperous days, before the war or just after the war, if it had been left to the Liberal-Australian Country Party. What has happened is unfortunate but true. The Government has taken splendid pieces of legislation introduced by a Labour Government, such as legislation providing for a free medicine scheme and other matters that I have mentioned, has chosen the best parts and hypocritically introduced the schemes as its own. That is the only method that can be adopted by this Government because there is lack of thought, planning and desire in tory governments to give these people the social service benefits to which they are entitled.

The legislation now before the House gives the minimum of benefit to those who most need it. It is introduced in a way that prevents us from criticizing it at length. If we did so, the Government would say that we were delaying the payment of these benefits. But the Government has refused to back-date payment because it wants to stop criticism such as I am now levelling at it. The pattern of social service legislation introduced by this Government is such that, despite the increase of the pension to £5 and other benefits, pensioners to-day have a lower standard of living than they have had at any time in ourhistory. I sincerely trust that the Opposition's amendment will be carried as a protest against the policy of this Government, which gives to the wealthy, the powerful and the influential at the expense of the sick, the poor and the needy. I hope the amendment will be carried as a censure of the Government, because it is deserving of our censure for its treatment of those who depend upon social service benefits.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Hamilton) adjourned.

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