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Wednesday, 21 September 1960

Mr LUCHETTI (Macquarie) .- The tirade of the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) does not do him, or the legislation, justice. His bitter attack on the war-time Labour government - a government which was charged with the onerous responsibility of bringing this nation from war to peace through those difficult days of transition - was quite unjustified, because that government is deserving of the highest praise of the nation. Outside of this place, indeed, there are few people in responsible positions who would not say that the leadership of Mr. Chifley was the most outstanding financial leadership this nation has ever had. Yet it was left to the reckless honorable member for Canning, in his swan song to this Parliament, to say otherwise. That is a tragic state of affairs. I am sure that the honorable member would have done much better had he consulted a publication issued by the present Administration dealing with social services. He would have found there the lie direct to his claims regarding social service payments. I do not intend to go through all of that detail, which is available not only to honorable members but also to Australians everywhere, to read and find the answer to the reckless, unwarranted statements made by the honorable member for Canning.

The business before the House is the Social Services Bill, though honorable members would not know that as a result of listening to the honorable member for Canning, for he roamed the world dealing with all sorts of matters not related to the business before the Chair. He referred to a wide range of subjects concerning the war period, and at no time dealt with the fundamental matters contained in the bill.

I support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Bonython, which reads -

That all words after " That " be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: - "this bill be withdrawn and redrafted to provide among other social service benefits increased amounts for dependent wives of invalids and old age pensioners, and increased rates of child endowment, also to provide social service payments generally more adequate to present living costs and representing a fair and reasonable share of the national income. Such rates to take effect as from the first pension day in July, 1960."

The Opposition believes that if other payments can be made retrospective payment of pension increases also should be made retrospective. There seems to me no valid argument against the adoption of this course. Not many months ago in this Parliament members on the Government side were voting with the greatest glee to increase substantially the salaries received by many people in the Public Service, and those increases were made retrospective. If it were good enough to have retrospectivity in a matter of that kind I see no reason why this matter should not be regularized and pension increases backdated to 1st July.

The present bill will add another patch to the patchwork quilt of social service legislation passed during this Government's term - another patch which fails to cover the needs of the citizens. The merged means test provisions, Mr. Speaker, are welcome, but this is a tardy recognition of the cause of the thrifty. There are many anomalies in the bill. They concern such aspects of social services as the wife's allowance referred to in the amendment - the allowance for the dependent wives of invalid pensioners. There is also the failure of the Government to increase funeral benefit from £10, the level at which it has remained since the Labour Government was in office. There is, too, the position of the civilian widows, whose pleas have gone unheeded by this Government. There is the need for a substantial increase in the maternity allowance. There is also the outstanding problem of the need to increase child endowment so as to help parents in this country to fit their children to face the great problems, educational and otherwise, that they will meet.

Social service legislation ought not to be brought forward as this bill has been brought forward. Since the Government came to office social service measures have

Deen dealt with on a number of occasions. Fourteen bills in all have come before us in regard to social services, and also seven amending the National Health Act. Now we have before us a bill to deal in a patchwork way with the great problems that face many people in Australia. It is my view that there ought to be a clear-cut plan regarding social service payments. All the disputation that we hear regarding the percentage of the basic wage represented by the pension at various times is cold comfort to people who are in need. We ought to be able to base on our productivity the pension payable by the nation to the pioneers of this country, to the aged who have blazed the track, to those who, because of infirmity or ill-health, are in need, to the widow who has been bereaved, to the children who will carry the burden, and finance payment of pensions out of a fund which would meet the situation.

It is well known that when the Labour Government was in office in 1948 the age and invalid pension represented 37 per cent, of the basic wage. I am not arguing that that was an adequate percentage, that that was all that the pensioners were entitled to; hut, looking through some statistics I have here covering the period from 1951 to 1959, I find that at no time has the present anti-

Labour Government, either when it was the Menzies-Fadden Government or, as it is now, the Menzies-McEwen Government, ever brought the pension to the ratio that it held to the basic wage when the Labour Government was in office. In 1951 the age and invalid pension was 29.6 per cent, of the basic wage. Towards the end of 1951 it rose to 30 per cent., but in 1952 it fell to 29.3 per cent. In 1953 it was 29.7 per cent., and thereafter it rose to 33.9 per cent. In 1956 it dropped from that point to 32.5 per cent., then to 31.3 per cent. The percentage then rose to 34.2 and thereafter fell to 33.5 and 31.7. Those are percentages. I am concerned with humanity and with trying to get a system whereby the pensioners will receive the amount of money they are entitled to.

The honorable member for Canning referred to the National Welfare Fund. He had much to say about the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) for driving home in this House the telling argument based on the efficacy of the Chifley legislation which enabled the National Welfare Fund to provide, in a growing and vigorous manner, the financial means to meet the social service needs of the day. At that time, I repeat, the age and invalid pension was 37 per cent, of the basic wage. The Chifley Government, in dealing with the National Welfare Fund, also provided that as time went on it would be able to finance the amelioration of the means test and greater benefits for the people.

It is well known that in 1952 this Government, with its strange ideas about finance, closed the National Welfare Fund insofar as that fund covered the broad aspects of social service payments. It pegged the fund at the level at which it then stood, and provided that only sufficient money would be paid into it to enable it to meet the needs set by the Government from time to time. This was done instead of allowing this fund to continue on the firm foundations on which it was established by the Labour Government. The Government, in effect, left the fund with no means of increasing its income to meet the growing cost of social services. Instead of following the path so clearly marked out by the Labour Government, this Government adopted its own. strange way of financing social services, which it has dealt with in a patchwork of fourteen pieces of legislation. And after these fourteen pieces of legislation the pensioners - those in need, those on the bottom rung of the ladder - are worse off to-day than they were in other days!

The Chifley Government's legislation on the National Welfare Fund, which was part of the Budget programme of 1945-46, set out to deal with this matter in a thorough way. The legislative provision governing the fund, which was created in 1943, were amended by the 1945 measure, and were further amended by the present Government in 1950. Then, in 1952, this Government to all intents and purposes stopped the fund from growing. Mr. Chifley, in the course of his Budget speech, said -

The Government considers thai the increasing outlay on social services, representing as it does nearly one-half of all non-war expenditures, makes essential a new financial approach. Moreover, now that hostilities have ceased and the Budget will bc concerned more and more with peace-time revenue and expenditure, the time is appropriate to reconsider the problem of social security finance.

He went on to point out the need for coordinating these funds to ensure sufficient income to guarantee, not only the payment of age pensions, but also expenditure in the broad realm of the welfare state. It is amazing to hear honorable members opposite speaking in favour of the welfare state. They were the people who, in the early stages of social services legislation, opposed that legislation because it did not fit in with their scheme of things. They were utterly opposed to any form of welfare state. Mr. Chifley, in his Budget speech to which I have referred, went on to say -

In conclusion, I would say that we are fully mindful of the splendid service and the sacrifice of the members of the fighting forces and are determined to do everything possible to speedily re-establish them in civil life.

Shades of Mr. Chifley! With all the years that have gone since the termination of the war, ex-servicemen are to-day forced to seek temporary finance at prohibitive rates of interest in order to house their families. Shame on the Government that these people have to borrow money at 10 per cent, and 12 per cent.! This is the type of administration that professes to be concerned about the ex-servicemen. Mr. Chifley further said-r-

The Government's policy of full employment and social security will contribute towards a happy and healthy community.

Those were the sentiments of the Labour Party at that time. Those sentiments permeate the Labour Party to-day and are expressed in the amendment moved by the honorable member for Bonython (Mr. Makin). Our programme is to take step after step in an overall plan for the wellbeing of our people. The statement on the National Welfare Fund at page 13 of Mr. Chifley's Budget speech showed that rental rebates under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement for 1945-46 were estimated to be £200,000. The present Government, under the new Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, withdrew that benefit from the needy, the aged and the infirm. I believe that the National Welfare Fund is essential.

We welcome the merged means test because it recognizes the needs of the thrifty. But needy people whose only income is the pension are finding it increasingly difficult to live because of inflated costs. Since the freezing of the basic wage the prices of butter, bread and sugar have increased. With steak at about 8s. per lb. the price of meat is almost prohibitive to the aged and the infirm. This legislation, in spite of the merging of the property and income means tests, fails to do all the things that ought to be done. There is nothing in this bill which will remove those aspects of social services legislation which deal harshly with the people.

In the past, means tests have related to income and to property. These have affected the rate of pension payable. There has also been a means test on eligibility for medical cards and on the special rent allowance. In regard to the rent allowance, I am particularly concerned with the grave anomaly which exists in respect of the pensioner who is buying his home. He does not receive the special allowance although the pensioner who pays rent receives it. The person who is discharging his mortgage and has to pay rates, taxes and fire insurance as well as maintaining his property should be entitled to the special allowance. Every single person, every widow and widower, every spinster and every bachelor ought to be entitled to the 10s. special allowance. The means test relating to that allowance ought to be eliminated immediately. This means test is a petty thing which is hurting many good citizens at the present time.

The Government should have taken action in regard to other anomalies to which I have referred. The funeral allowance of £10 was made available by the Chifley Government when a £1 was a £1, but the amount has never been altered. This allowance makes the Commonwealth Government no more than a pall-bearer at a pauper's funeral. The sum of £10 would not now pay for a funeral. By making it available the Government is certainly not saving anybody from a pauper's grave. This is a matter with which the Government could have dealt very easily. My plea is for a national plan and a welfare fund to ensure that all pensioners shall get a living allowance adequate to their needs. I think that the pension should be disassociated from charity.

Arrangements ought to be made for medical and nursing care for the elderly sick, either in their homes or in a suitable place. Hospital treatment for the aged and chronically ill should also be provided. If these services were provided we would be making real progress in this important matter. A proper national welfare plan would pay due regard to the wife's allowance and to increased maternity allowances. What better people have we in this country than the young people who are growing up? Record seasons, record harvests and increasing national income all assure that the nation could make the payments that I have suggested, and they assure the practicability of the proposal contained in the amendment moved by the honorable member for Bonython.

Perhaps the matter which is of the greatest importance is that of the endowment of the family. The first effort to deal with this question in Australia was made by the Labour Government of New South Wales in 1927 when a rate of 5s. per child was fixed for every child under fourteen years of age. In special circumstances, that pension for every child was continued for two years thereafter. I put it to the Parliament that if those payments could be made as long ago as 1927 and if they could be continued throughout the war and a depression as they were, a much better and bigger contribution should be made to the family income now. The failure of this Government to have regard to a contribution to assist families to develop and preserve our nation is to be deplored. Families are an integral part of the nation. That is selfevident. The home is the nursery of our most cherished possessions and the sheetanchor of our way of life. It is the citadel of our standards. The history of Australia is the history of its families, yet the families have been virtually ignored by the Menzies Government in the Budget.

Despite raging inflation with rising prices and costs there has been no increase in family endowment since November, 1948. For eleven years payments to families have remained stationary. Meanwhile, prices of essential food's which are in abundance in Australia have soared. Rents for homes have risen. The mother who has remained at home to care for her children is faced wilh recurring financial problems. Sacrifices must be made by the parents if children are to be given equal opportunities with other children; yet a Liberal spokesman, Senator Marriott, according to a press statement, recently declared that family endowment payments should be abolished. That is one of the challenges facing the people of Australia. While every thoughtful person isdirecting attention to the need to do something for the families, we find a senator on the Government side advocating the abolition of family payments.

While I believe that we must build up our population as rapidly as possible, I direct attention to the fact that it is probably costing about £120 a head to bring migrants to Australia; yet nothing is being done for our families. An immediate substantial increase in endowment payments is required, and further assistance should be given to the families by way of tax concessions. The great burden of the high cost of living is being borne by the families to a much greater extent than by any one else, and I believe that family endowment should be increased for a variety of reasons. First, it will help the family to develop. It will assist in the education of children and endowment should be paid as long as a child continues to go to school if we are to have a community healthy in body and mind. It is not much use making payments for further university training unless we give consideration to this important matter.

As I have said, child endowment payments were introduced in New South Wales in 1927. They were not introduced by the Commonwealth Government until 1941. A Labour government was in office when the rate was 5s. for the second and each other child. The rate was increased by the Labour Government to 7s. 6d. on 1st July, 1945 and was increased again by a Labour government to 10s. on 9th November, 1948. A non-Labour government - the Menzies Government - made child endowment available for the first child on 20th June, 1950. Since the beginning of 1950, fourteen social service measures and seven national health measures have been passed by this Parliament, but the Government has omitted to include provision for families in any of that legislation. The Government should deal with this matter quickly.

I have referred to the money we are paying this year to maintain our Department of Immigration, totalling £11,457,000. I merely divide that by approximately 100,000 representing the number of immigrants coming into Australia. Only a small percentage of them are not assisted. Consequently, the cost of bringing the assisted immigrants would be substantially greater than the figure I have mentioned.

This matter should excite the feelings of every honorable member. We are all concerned with moral values. Every seriousminded person has given some thought to declining morals and child1 delinquency. These problems have been debated on every forum. I say to the Government: Provide sufficient child endowment so that mothers may stay in their homes. They can do more than any paid worker for our children. The mother's work in the home is more valuable than any advice. Nothing can replace a mother's love and care; but the Government has failed to face up to its responsibilities to help the mothers. The Government has disregarded entirely the great burden that is being borne by mothers in particular. Often, while a child is going to school happy, tidy and clean, in the home there is a mother who is weary because of the sacrifices she is making. Many mothers are denying themselves something so that a child might have opportunities.

I have before me a copy of the Sydney " Sun " of 25th August containing an article headed, " We're Caught in the Tax Web ". The article points out that the average Australian family - husband, wife and two children - paid £10 7s. lOd. a week in taxes in 1959-60. Most of that is hidden in indirect taxation. The Government ignores the mothers because there is no pressure group in Australia to speak on behalf of the families. There is some one to espouse the cause of every other section and group in the community but when it is a matter of building up the nation - and that can be done only in the home and through our families - the Government has deserted our most priceless heritage.

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