13th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker. (Hon. G.H. Mackay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Dr.EARLE PAGE. - I have received the following telegram from the Secretary of the Butter Stabilization Committee in Victoria: -
For your information, following telegram wassent toPrime Minister on ninth instant: - “Representatives fromall States excepting Westralia, assembled in Melbourne view with alarm chaotic conditions obtaining on Australian markets with forecasted still lower values overseas. Dairying industry facing disastrous position unless legislation passed on lines indicatedby industry to conference of Ministers for Agriculture and subsequently discussedbyPremiers Conference. Pending passing of State dairy products legislation strongly urgeCommonwealthGovernment pass enabling legislation during present session to take effect by proclamation immediatelylegislation finalized in main producing States “. Can you advise position ?
Can the Acting Leader of the House state vheu the legislation therein referred to is likely to be brought down?
– The Minister for Commerce announced yesterday that this particular matter was at present receiving the attention of the Government, and that any proposals for the stabilization of butter marketing would be introduced in the form of legislation if the Government determined that that course was desirable. Representations have been received from a number, but not all, of the States.
– The Canberra Times to-day published the following statement by Mr. M. P. Dunlop, President of the Primary Producers Union in New South Wales: -
The Federa l Governmenthas been urged by both the Premier and the Minister for Agriculture to passthe enabling legislation during the present session,such legislation to take effect by proclamation immediately legislationis finalised in the three main producing States. “ I have the authority of the Milliliter fur waking the above statement,” added Mr. Dunlop, “and on behalf of the Stabilization CommitteeI can say definitely that the Paterson scheme will continue until superseded by the new proposals “.
Will the Minister for Commerce state whether the legislation referred to will be introduced before Parliament rises for the Christmas recess?
– The Acting Leader of the House has already answered a similar question. It is entirely erroneous to suppose, as some persons do, that all that is necessary is that the Commonwealth Government should pass complementary and supplementary legislation, in confirmation of what has been done by certain of the States. An urgent matter of policy is involved, and it is not confined to the dairying industry. The Commonwealth Government has to consider the effect of a marketing policy on every aspect of primary industry. I have already stated to the House, and I now repeat, that the Cabinet has before it at the present time all-embracing proposals.
– Will the Acting Leader of the House state whether it is the intention of the Government to bring down before the Christmas adjournment legislation embracing the comprehensive marketing programme referred to by the Minister for Commerce?
– The Government at present has the whole question under consideration, for the purpose of determining whether legislation shall or shall not be brought down. In some cases it may be desirable to introduce specific legislation; on the contrary, it might be wise to make the terms general. I can say nothing further than that.
– In view of the urgent necessity for an announcement of the Government’s decision respecting proposed legislation regarding the dairying industry, with the object of handing the control of the industry to those engaged in it, and also the need for a decision in regard to the wheat industry and the dried tree fruits industry, will the Minister for Commerce acquaint the House of the Government’s intentions? The honorable gentleman has spoken frequently about the Government’s “wrapped-up policy”. We wish to know whether the Government is definitely opposed to the pooling principle in regard to the marketing of primary products.
– Obviously it would be improper for me to announce the policy of the Government in answer to a question. I remind the honorable gentleman that a duty rests on the Government to consider the interests, not only of the wheat-growers, the , dried tree fruitgrowers, and the producers of dairy products, but also of the consumers.
– It being the declared policy of the Government ‘to eschew sectionalism, will the Minister for Commerce give the assurance that any sum which may be allocated in the near future for the assistance of farmers will not be wholly devoted to one section of the primary producers, such as wheatgrowers, but will be equitably distributed throughout all branches of essential rural industries, including fruit-growers and poultry farmers, who are suffering acute distress as the result of low prices?
– It is not only the policy, but also the practice, of this Government to consider the interests of every section of the community. Appropriate consideration will be given to the needs of the industries mentioned by the honorable member.
– As the Government saw fit to assist all primary industries, other than the wheat industry, by granting a rebate on the price of fertilizers, does it. now intend to continue this form of assistance?
– It is not customary to answer questions which concern matters of policy. I may say, however, that up to the present no consideration has been given to the continuation during this year of the subsidy on fertilizers.
– Has the Acting Leader of the House any explanation to offer for the Prime Minister’s hurried visit to Melbourne? Has it any connexion with the wheat industry?
– As to whether I have any explanation to offer to the honorable member concerning the reason for the Prime Minister’s visit to Melbourne, the answer is in the negative.
– In view of the fact that to-day’s price of wheat is 2s.1d. and less per bushel at sidings, which is 1s. a bushel below the cost of production, and that farmers have already begun to cart their wheat to the railways in the earlier districts, will the Acting Leader of the House make a definite pronouncement of policy regarding the intention of the Government to provide adequate assistance to the wheat-farmers of Australia?
– I do not think that the honorable gentleman really expects that, in response to a question, a declaration of policy on so important a matter will be made. Any proposals that are contemplated by the Government will have to be placed before this House in order that they shall receive legislative approval.
– Has the Government information confirming the press report that the American dollar is now worth something under 2s. in terms of gold? If that be the case, can Australia take advantage of the depreciation to liquidate either wholly or partially its financial obligations to the United States of America ?
– Australia’s obligations in New York are on a fixed term, which does not admit of variation whenever Australia might choose to make it.
-I ask the Assistant Treasurer whether the Government has given any consideration to the advisability of redeeming that part of our American debt over which optional conversion rights are held? I understand that the amount of such debt is about £6,000,000. I ask my question in view of the favorable position of the American dollar for such a transaction. Mr. CASEY. - That subject has not escaped the attention of the Government, but taking everything into consideration, the Government does not consider the present an appropriate time for such action.
– Some time ago I asked the Assistant Treasurer for a statement regarding Commonwealth debts in America over which optional conversion rights are held. Is it correctly stated in this morning’s issue of the Canberra Times that the amount of such debts is about £6,000,000, and that an option has been in force in respect of that indebtedness since 1928 ? I ask also that, in view of the fact that the £1 sterling is now quoted at 5 dollars 15 cents, the Government will consider converting this debt in either England or America?
– I refer the honorable member to my answer to the previous question.
– Will the Minister for Trade and Customs state whether there is any truth in the statement of the proprietor of an art shop in Melbourne, published in the Star, that the Customs Department has banned books containing reproductions of the works of the artist Picasso ?
– I have seen the press paragraph to which the honorable member has referred, and on making inquiries have ascertained that a book containing reproductions of Picasso’s paintings arrived at the parcels post office in Melbourne, and that the customs officer concerned having no authority to release it referred the matter to the Comptroller of Customs, with the result that the book was handed over to the person to whom it was consigned. This is merely another instance where the facts have been misrepresented. Section 52 of the Customs Act. provides that any books of an indecent, blasphemous or obscene nature are prohibited imports, and frequently, through press criticism of the action of the Customs Department in seeing that the law is obeyed, the value of such works receives a boost. Because of that the Government has established a book censorship committee which is functioning admirably, and which does not give publicity to the books which it bans.
– Will the Minister for Trade and Customs state whether Cabinet has yetconsiderel the report of the committee which inquired into the tobacco industry at Mareeba? If so, is it the intention of the Government to afford honorable members an opportunity to discuss the report before the House rises at the end of next week?
– The report of this committee will be tabled to-morrow, when honorable members will have an opportunity to peruse it and determine whether further action by them is necessary.
– In view of the disorganized condition of the barley market due to the threatened reprisals by the Belgian Government, because of the action of this Government in connexion with Belgian glass, has the Minister for Commerce received any information regarding the negotiations that are being conducted between the High Commissioner and the Belgian Government?
– The honorable member’s question is based on premises which I do not accept, for it suggests that the projected restriction on the importation of Australian products by the Belgian Government is an act of retaliation against someaction that has been taken by the Australian Government. That fact hasnotbeen established. The High Commissioner is leavingLondon to-day for Brussels to prosecute his investigations into the matter.
– Has the Belgian Government given any reason for its retaliatory action against Australian products other thanthe exclusion by Australia of Belgian glass ?
– The action of the BelgianGovernment has no specificor discriminatory application to Australia. All that has been doneis to frame regulations empowering the prohibition of all cereals excepting those admitted under license. There as no indication that this action has been directed against Australian barley or Australian cereals generally.
-Does the Minister know whether any licences have been granted by the Belgian Government covering the importation to that country of Australian cereals or meat?
– At the moment I am unable to say whether any such importations are being made into Belgium, but I can say that,so far, the Belgian Government has not placed any prohibition on the importation of Australian products.
– If it is correct that Belgium is not making any reprisals against Australia, will the AttorneyGeneral inform me why the High Commissioner has been requested to visit that country and confer with the Government of it?
– The visit is being made in order to ensure that nothing shallbe done by Belgium which may be prejudicial to Australian trade.
– Will the AttorneyGeneral inform me whether negotiations have been proceeding -between accredited representatives of the Belgian and Australian Governments for a reciprocal trade arrangement? Is the right honorable gentleman also able to tell me whether Belgium manufactures any products other than sheet glass? If so will he undertake, on behalf of theGovernment, that any trade arrangement made with that country will not be detrimental to any British or Australian industries?
– Preliminary negotiations for trade agreements have been initiated with a number of countries, including Belgium. It will certainly be the object of the Government to see that any trade arrangements made will not be prejudicial to Australian or Empire trade.
– Is the Minister for Trade and Customs aware that certain Australian glass manufacturers have acquired the right to use the “ Fourcault “ process for manufacturing sheet glass? If so, will he see that this industry is assured of the whole of the Australian market, thusensuring economic production, and, likeother efficiently conducted Australian industries, is adequately protected under any arrangement madebetween Australia and Belgium?
– The statement has been made -I think before the Tariff Board - that an Australian glass manufacturing firm has purchased the exclusive right to use a particular process. I am not able to say whether the statement is, or is not, true. The honorable member may rest assured that not only the glass manufacturing industry, but also all our other primary and secondary industries, are properly considered in any inquiry made by the Tariff Board.
– In view of the statement that was made by the Prime Minister some time ago that the Government intended to introduce legislation dealing with the future policy of the
Commonwealth Bank, will the AttorneyGeneral indicate whether it is intended to submit that amending legislation to Parliament this session?
– I am unaware that any such promise as that mentioned by the honorable member has been given. It is not the intention of the Government to introduce amending banking legislation during the present session. The Government had hoped that some light would be thrown on the subject of central banking by the proceedings of the World Monetary and Economic Conference, but in that it has been somewhat disappointed. Recently in Canada a very competent committee inquired into the subject of central banking, and the Government proposes to wait until it has received and studied the report of that committee before considering any further action. In view of the genera] disturbed condition of the world to-day and of the manner in which the banking systems of some countries failed during the recent crisis, the Government is of the opinion that it should hesitate before interfering with a system that has served Australia remarkably well during those difficult years.
– When the Minister for Commerce is ascertaining the price of bread in the various capital cities of Australia, will he also inquire as to the price of bread in New Zealand, Great Britain and France, in order that the information may be placed at the disposal of honorable members?
– The Government has already secured the information referred to. It has been obtained within the last 72 hours.
– As I understand that the Government is giving consideration to the subject of the fixation of the price of bread. I ask the AttorneyGeneral whether some thought will also be given to the practicability of fixing the price of breadon the basis of the selling price of wheat, so that the price may rise or fall with the fluctuations in the price of wheat?
– The Commonwealth Government has no power to prescribe the price of bread.
– Has the Government yet received the report of the Tariff Board onoregon? If so, will the Minister for Trade and Customs have it laid on the table at an early date, so that Parliament may have an opportunity to deal with it?
– Thereport of the Tariff Board on Oregon has just been received, but it cannot be tabled until the Government has had an opportunity to peruse and consider it. When that is done the necessary action will he taken.
– Will, the Minister for Commerce inform the House whether the Government proposes to introduce legislation this session to extend the provisions of the Dried Fruits Act to dried tree-fruits?
– The answer which has been given to the question expressing a desire for similar legislation in connexion with dairy products is applicable in this instance. Like the matter of dairy products, that of dried tree-fruits is wrapped up in the Government’s policy in regard to the evolving of a general marketing scheme.
– Is it a fact that the River Murray Waters Commission is sitting in Canberra? If so, will the matter of weirs on the Lower Murrumbidgee be discussed by it, and will the Minister for the Interior consider cooperating with the Government of New South Wales with a view to having that very vexed question brought to a conclusion ? .
– The River Murray Waters Commission is now sitting in Canberra, and the matter referred to by the honorable member is receiving attention.
– Is the Minister for Trade and Customs aware that much of the propaganda regarding the alleged discriminatory and retaliatory trade arrangements and the prohibition of other countries against Australia is actuated by importing interests in the hope that increased pressurewill be brought to bear upon the Government to break down still further the Australian tariff wall?
Question not answered.
– During the last three weeks I have heard the Minister for Commerce reply to between 30 and 40 questions bearing upon the Government’s marketing policy. I remind honorable gentlemen that it is out of order to ask questions which arise out ofother questions.
– Will the Minister for Commerce inform me whether he has received recently a revised estimate of the Australian wheat yield for this season? If so, to what extent has the estimate declined.
– The most recent estimate of the anticipated wheat harvest is 162.000,000 bushels.
In Committee of Ways and Means: Consideration resumed from the 14th November(vide page 4480).
Department of the Treasury.
Proposed vote, £692,150.
Upon which Mr. Scullin had moved by way of an amendment -
That the amount be reduced by £1.
.- In view of the assurance given by the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), and later by the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey), that Parliament will have an opportunity, before the present, session terminates, to consider amending legislation concerning the property of pensioners, there is no reason why the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) should receive the support of honorable members. The administration of the Pensions Department concerns honorable members generally, who from time to time have cases brought under their notice of persons, who appear to be eligible for an invalid or an old-age pension, being denied that right, and of others who have been deprived of the whole or a portion of their pensions. For once I agree with the views expressed by the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear), concerning the position of persons entitled to invalid pensions, andI trust that an early effort will be made to treat them fairly. A number of persons, on being notified by the Pensions Department that they are ineligible for a pension, do not make any further representations, with the result that many who are entitled to assistance in this form are not receiving what is due to them. It is the duty of Parliament to make some provision for a board of appeal, as suggested by the honorable member for Dalley. I have made representations to the Deputy Commissioner in Victoria, whom I have always found a most courteous gentleman, in connexion with persons who I considered were entitled to pensions. When I have suggested a further medical examination, it has almost invariably been agreed to, and in some instances the applications have been granted. Reference has been made to the practice of applicants for pensions seeking assistance through honorable members representing constituencies other than those in which the applicants reside. In many instances, applicants have changed their places of residence, and, as they are often personally acqainted with the representatives of the constituencies in which they previously lived, they naturally bring their cases under the notice of those members. Yesterday the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) mentioned a case in which I had made representations on behalf of an old lady now living in that honorable member’s constituency, and for whom he has been endeavouring to secure an invalid pension. The brother of this unfortunate woman, who is unable to work, approached me, as the representative of the constituency in which she once lived, and asked if something could not be done to assist her. He said that he was willing to pay the cost of another medical examination, and I have since been informed by the honorable member for Ballarat that a full invalid pension has now been granted. It was my duty to interest myself in this case up to a point : but the persistent action, of the honorable member for Ballarat led. to a pension being granted, and probably saved this lady’s life, as, without a pension, she had insufficient funds to keep her alive.
Reference has also been made to the inconvenience caused to pensioners in consequence of the inadequate accommodation provided at post offices where pensions are paid. About twelve months ago I mentioned in this House that the accommodation at the Worth Fitzroy post office was totally unsuitable, and another honorable member said that pensioners at some post offices had to wait for long periods, exposed to the weather, before their pensions were paid. The unfavorable conditions at Worth Fitzroy are by no means unusual. There may be a wrong impression in. the minds of some honorable members concerning statements made last night. From the remarks of one or two honorable members one would think that the only post office without adequate provision for the accommodation of pensioners was the building at Worth Fitzroy.. If that were so it would be an easy matter to rectify it, but unfortunately what applies to that post office applies equally to most post offices at which, pensions are paid. There are only two officials at the post office at Worth Fitzroy and from what I can gather they are most courteous and stand high in the regard of the pensioners in the district. I understand that a great deal of inconvenience was caused to the pensioners on the most recent day of payment, when a delay of one hour took place to enable the necessary increases of pensions to be made. At many post offices there is no seating accommodation at all, and at Worth Fitzroy there is accommodation for only 40 people, although on the average 700 people receive their pensions at that office.
– What does the honorable member think of my suggestion that the pensions be paid at St. Luke’s Hall ?
– I shall deal with that in a moment. Pensions are paid at the Worth Fitzroy post office between 9.30 a.m. and 1 p.m., and the recent crowding of that office during the early hours has probably taken place because of the statement of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) some time ago that, owing to the scarcity of Treasury funds, it might be found impossible to pay the public servants and pensioners in full and that they might have to be satisfied with 12s. in the £. It is only natural that pensioners should attend early at the post offices in order to. receive their payments. The accommodation for pensioners at some, of the post offices is much better than it is at Worth Fitzroy. This is a comparatively small matter and could be easily rectified by the Government. During the depression, when there was urgent need for economy, the place of payment was changed from St. Luke’s Hall >to the Worth Fitzroy post office. I understand that the charge for the St. Luke’s Hall was 10s. a day. In many instances the local town hall was used for the payment of pensions and no charge was- made, but it was necessaryof course to have some additional staff. It is not fair that our old men and women, who have in the past borne the heat and burden of the day, should now he compelled to stand in the street awaiting their turn for payment. Even in the electorate of the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) adequate provision is not made for the convenience of pensioners. I understand that payments are made at Alberton and Hindmarsh post offices- and that on the day of payment long queues of pensioners are in evidence at both places.
– I have already- referred to that matter.
– It is a pity that the honorable member did not mention it last night when complaining about the inadequate provision for pensioners at post offices in other electorates. The pensioners are surely entitled to more consideration than they are receiving at. the present time at the hands of the Government. In conclusion, I wish to place on record the following letter which appeared in the Age of the 11th November, in respect of the Worth Fitzroy pensioners : -
I desire to protest against the attitude of the authorities towards North Fitzroy pensioners. They are compelled, on pension day, to form up in double file outside the St. George’s-road Post Office and wait their turn, sometimes having to stand in the bitter cold or heat and dust for two hours. Last Thursday, some of thom were so exhausted with their wa.it, that they had to go away without their pension. Is it a fair tiling to make these folk parade their poverty before all and sundry as well as endure a period of exhausting waiting? Many of them are personally known to me as respectable and worthy men and women. Previously, pensioners were paid at St. Luke’s Hall, but in the craze for economy, this luxury was taken away, and the old folk have to stand outside the post office and wait. If the Pensions Department is so hard put to it for the rent’ of a hall, tlie trustees of the Church of Christ will gladly give the use pf their school hall on pension day. We feel indignant that our old folk should be so callously treated.
That letter ‘a signed by the Reverend J. W. Raker, pastor of the Church of Christ, at North Fitzroy.
– I support the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin). Many honorable members have complained of the administration of the Pensions Department, but the fault lies with the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act, and not with the department. It cannot be denied that the pensions officers are administering the act to the best of their ability. Like other honorable members, I have, during the last two years, had considerable experience of applications for old-age and invalid pensions, and I can vouch for the fact that the officers of the department have, at all times, done their utmost to assist the unsuccessful applicants. By this morning’s mail I received a letter from a constituent who lives in Paddington, a suburb of Brisbane, whose three applications for an invalid pension have been rejected, on the ground that she is not permanently and totally incapacitated for work. With one application she furnished the certificates of four private medical practitioners, all of which stated that she was suffering from a certain complaint and was unable to work. She has forwarded me a further certificate from a medical man who,, until recently, practised in Macquarie-street, Sydney. It reads -
Miss- ia at present under my medical care suffering from hemasthenia in a very severe form, chronic rheumatism and chronic bronchitis, and also- from- phlebitis (both legs). She is unable, in consequence, to follow- any. employment, and is, in my opinion, a proper subject for an invalid pension.
This girl has suffered ill health for sixteen or seventeen years, and has not done a day’s work. She is unemployable.
There are other cases that I could bring before the committee, but I shall mention only that of a man 28 years of age, who has made three applications for an invalid pension. He contracted infantile paralysis’ when eighteen months old,, and -is paralysed from, the waist down. He has never been employed. The departmental medical certificate states that he is. permanently, but not totally incapacitated. Therefore, he cannot be granted a pension, and is living practically on charity.
Mention was made last night of the withholding of pensions from married persons who, while living apart, are not legally separated. I have had submitted to me the case of a man who is at present receiving an old-age pension of 3s. 4d. a week, which the department will not increase to the full amount because he is not legally separated from his wife, from whom he has been living apart for twenty years. I have known this man for a number of years. He has made several attempts to obtain a legal separation, but for some undisclosed reason his wife will not agree to it. Men and women who are placed in such a position should be entitled to draw the full pension.
The Government should alter the act and regulations made under it, with a view to meting out justice, or should confer on the administration wider discretionary power. The Commissioner is sympathetically inclined, and would be only too pleased to help those who are in need. [Quorum formed.]
.- In view of the definite assurance given by the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) a couple of weeks ago, that the objectionable property provisions of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act would be reviewed, before the Christmas adjournment,, and the reaffirmation of that undertaking, last night by the Assistant Treasurer’ (Mr. Casey), the amendment moved by the Leader of the. Opposition (Mr. Seullin) cannot be regarded as other than political balderdash,, which is frequently acharacteristic of pensions debates ‘in this chamber. I admit that inconsistency and harsh treatment have.- been associated with the administration of the act, but affirm that practically the whole of the objection lies against the wording of this legislation. I shall continue to agitate until the provisions which inflict hardship and cause injustice are removed, and the act is worthy of this Parliament. Although some of the injustices and anomalies have existed since the act was first passed twenty-five years ago-
– Order ! The honorable member may not discuss the Invalid and Old-Age Pensions Act.
– The administration has been charged with unjust treatment, and I was merely attempting to point out that that treatment is the result of the harsh wording of -provisions which have been allowed to remain in the act for the last 25 years.
– Order !
– I have most cause for complaint in regard to invalid pensions. The act states that a claimant for an invalid pension must be permanently and totally incapacitated for all work.
– The act does not mention “ totally “.
– The Deputy Commissioner in Sydney has definitely stated that, unless a person can be adjudged permanently and totally incapacitated for all work, he is not entitled to receive an invalid pension. Last week, I objected to the harshness that results from that interpretation. It is the duty of the Government to see that, until the wording of the provision is altered, it is administered with the utmost sympathy. It appears to me that some departmental medical officers, instead of examining the physical and mental condition of applicants, endeavour to trip them up with questions. That is most unfair. Confusion often causes a slip to be made, and some doctors are only too ready to seize upon such errors so as to have claims rejected. It is the function of these medical officers to examing the physical and mental condition of applicants, not to inquire how long they have been out of work or what they are capable of doing. If an applicant declares that he is capable of performing even the lightest class of work, provided he can get it, his claim is disallowed. It is the duty of the department to sec that these cases are dealt with more sympathetically. Something has been said regarding the delays that have occurred before claims are determined. I know of delays amounting to four months, but I believe that they were due to the understanding of the department, as cases submitted by me recently have been dealt ;with expeditiously. I consider, too, that a pensioner should be entitled to receive payments from the date when his claim is put in ‘ order.
Although the act may be loosely worded and harshly administered, I do not think that those are the sole causes why so many pensioners have voluntarily surrendered their claims as a result of the property provisions. Many have done so because the case has been misrepresented to them, in many instances by honorable members who have told them that if they sign the necessary papers their property will be confiscated. Recently, the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) used the words “ confiscation “ and “ seizure “ when dealing with the subject. If he refers to Webster’s dictionary, he will see that he has given a wrong definition to the word “ confiscation “, and has misrepresented the position to these unfortunate persons. Although I have no sympathy with the property provisions, I believe that the harsh results which have followed their introduction are attributable to a certain extent to some honorable members who have not played the game fairly. The act does not provide for the confiscation of property, but merely declares that the pension shall become a charge on the property. I urge honorable members at least to be fair-minded and to extend a little sympathy to those who own a little property and desire to obtain a pension.
It has been stated that a pension will not be paid in cases where husband and wife live apart, but have not a judicial separation. A pension is paid in such circumstances, but its amount depends upon the earnings of the husband or wife, a matter which is difficult to prove in the circumstances.
The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) said last night that he feels it to be his duty to make representations on behalf of any pensioners in any part of Australia, provided he is requested r.o do so. “With that 1 am in hearty accord. I have attended to .pension cases sent to me from every electorate in New South “Wales, and to two or three from other States, because I was asked to do so, and would have been wanting in my duty had I declined. What I object to is ihe practice that has been adopted by some honorable members and their agents of telling various pensions organizations that there are only five members in this chamber and two in the Senate who are prepared to assist pensioners to advance their claims, and imploring those Coli.vern ed to appeal to them when they wish to have anomalies rectified. Such practices are beneath contempt. The budget shows that for the year ended at the 30th lune, 1933, additional invalid pensions were granted in the following States: -
Victoria shows a reduction of 594. Per haps the disproportion between the figures for New South Wales and those for Victoria is due to the harsh treatment of applicants for pensions by the departmental medical officers in Victoria. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) has said that, the doctor attached to the .Sydney office is particularly harsh, which is also my opinion. If these officers will not administer the act with a reasonable degree of sympathy, they should not be allowed to hold their positions. I do not intend to support the amendment, because I know- that in a week or so we shall have an opportunity to modify the property provisions of the act.
– I understand that the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) is intended as a direction to the Government to introduce .a bill to amend the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act specifically for the purpose of abolishing the provisions which deal with the surrender of property owned by pensioners.
– That is so.
– I had not intended to speak on the amendment until it occurred to me that this was probably the only opportunity that honorable members will have of stating their views regarding the operation of the property provisions.
– On several occasions during the debate the Chair has ruled that the operation of an act cannot be discussed at length when the committee is dealing with an item of the Estimates.
– Are not honorable members privileged to suggest, an amendment of the act?
– Honorable members will realize that if it were in orde: to discuss the Invalid and .Old-age Pensions Act when dealing with the -vote of the Treasury, it would be in order, while considering the Estimates, to discuss any other Commonwealth act on the statutebook. I have permitted honorable members to make passing reference to the administration of an act, and to the need for amendment of it, but it would not bs in order to refer to the extent to which it should be amended.
– The Leader of the Opposition has moved for a reduction of the vote by £1 as an instruction to the Government to amend the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act by abolishing the provisions which deal with the surrender of a pensioner’s property. I take it that it is competent for honorable members to indicate their views concerning the purpose of the amendment; otherwise the position would not be a logical one.
– The ruling of the Chair is definite. Any amendment must be relevant to the question before the Chair, and any discussion must be relevant to the amendment. The question before the Chair is, “ That the vote for the Department of the Treasury be reduced by £1.”
– Do I understand that I am not privileged to discuss the suggested abolition of the property provisions of the act?
– Such a discussion would not be in order when dealing with an amendment to reduce the vote.
– I hope that when the Government does introduce a bill to amend the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act it will pay serious attention to the various suggestions that have been made by honorable members on both sides of the chamber. I am totally opposed to the property provisions of the act, and I intend to vote agains’t them, but I shall not vote for the amendment.
– Then the honorable member will probably lose his opportunity to vote against the property provisions of the act.
– If I thought that I would not get another chance to vote against those provisions, I should support the amendment.
– Why not take advantage of the occasion now presented?
– Because that would mean nullifying the Government’s budget proposals. Honorable members must remember that invalid and. old-age pensions are only a comparatively small item in the political economy of Australia. The budget is too important for us to risk its rejection. If the Government were defeated on this amendment the budget might be thrown overboard.
– The honorable member knows that that is not likely.
– I am not prepared to do anything that will deprive the people of the benefits provided for them in the budget.
– Has the honorable member ever moved for the reduction on an item?
– I have.
– And did it result in the complete rejection of the budget?
– I have never moved for the reduction of an item on the Estimates following the presentation of a budget. The proposed vote that we are now considering is directly consequential on the budget, aDd if it is defeated the budget might be defeated. I am not prepared to take that risk. At the same time. I’ wish the Government to understand definitely that I am entirely opposed to the retention of the property provisions of our invalid and old-age pensions law, and I’ hope that the amending bill, which has been promised, will provide for their complete repeal.
– Order ! The honorable member is distinctly evading, if he is not totally disregarding, my ruling.
– I ha’d no intention to do that sir.
I, consider that a case has been made out for the simplification of the administration of the invalid sections of the Pensions Act. I agree with those honorable members who have said that we do not know where we stand in regard to applications for invalid pensions. Applications for old-age pensions are determined almost automatically, but that is not the case with regard to invalid pensions. It appears that claims for invalid pensions are determined entirely on the circumstances of each case. I consider that many applicants for invalid pensions are the victims of the Government medical officers. It sometimes happens that a government medical officer is very obstinate. I know some medical officers of whom it could be truly said that they are pig-headed. Some of these persons know the applicants for invalid pensions who appear before them, and, with very little consideration, recommend that their applications be rejected. I have known clear cases of invalidity to be reported upon adversely by government medical officers. Sometimes such applicants go to other local medical practitioners and obtain reports directly the reverse of those made by the government medical officer. Yet the department will accept the opinion of the government medical officer in preference to that of even two other medical practitioners. I have been informed by the Deputy Commissioner of Pensions in New South Wales that there is no obligation on the department to accept the opinion of any medical practitioner whether government medical officer or otherwise, and that the DeputyCommissioner is the sole arbiter, having power to overrule the opinion of any medical practitioner, and to determine the application on what he regards as the merits of the case. If that is so, I suggest that the Government should give the Deputy Commissioner even greater discretionary power to determine whether an applicant is, or is not, totally and permanently incapacitated. I agree with the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Dein) that applications for invalid pensions are really decided upon the point, whether the applicant is, or is not, totally incapacitated, although no reference is made in the act to total incapacity. My experience is that if the Deputy Com- missioner of Pensions is of the opinion that an applicant is not totally incapacitated he rejects the application for a pension. I know of one applicant who had only one leg and one arm. Surely such a person, is totally and permanently incapacitated for work ! Yet, because the Deputy Commissioner, who dealt with the case, was of the opinion that the applicant could possibly earn something if he could get something suitable to do, he ruled that he was not totally and permanently incapacitated and refused a pension. It must be remembered that many people who suffer from incapacity, particularly of a mental kind, are most unsuitable for work of any description. These individuals are usually well known in the districts where they live, and find it, quite impossible to get work. If persons able to provide work are of the opinion that applicants for it are not efficient, they will not employ them. This applies to both males and females. . I know of a person who, although physically sound, was obviously mentally affected to some degree, and she could not get any work because people thought she was a “ shingle short “. Yet in her case, the Deputy Commissioner ruled that as she was capable of doing work if she could get it she could not have a pension. I urge the Government to give the Deputy Commissioners great discretionary power to deal with such cases. It is extremely difficult for any one to get an invalid pension to-day. Even though applicants obtain favorable reports from the local government medical officer and other practitioners, they cannot obtain pensions if there is conflict of any kind in the reports submitted in support of their applications. I submit that the Deputy Commissioner should be given greater discretionary power. The hopelessly chaotic condition of the invalidity sections of the pensions law causes honorable members a great deal of unnecessary work, to say nothing of the distress and anxiety that it causes the unfortunate applicants. The Government would be well advised to introduce legislation to simplify the procedure to be observed in making applications for invalid pensions.
A greater measure of justice should also be meted out to married persons who are living apart from one another. If one of the parties refuses to facilitate action for a legal separation it is impossible for the other party to obtain a pension. I am satisfied that very grave injustice is inflicted in some such cases. At present pensions are not granted to married people living apart unless a legal separation is arranged. Sometimes it is impossible to arrange for such a separation because one of the parties cannot be found, or obstinately refuses to agree to a separation. Discretionary power should be given to deal with these cases on their merits. It should not be absolutely necessary for such persons to obtain a legal separation.
I also direct the attention of the Government to the necessity for reconsidering the existing policy as it relates to reversionary bonuses on life assurance policies. I am not prepared to say whether an actual injustice is being done if the surrender value of such bonuses is counted as property, but I know that very.great, hardship is inflicted in some suc cases.
What I have said indicates that there is urgent need for a comprehensive overhaul of our pensions legislation in the light of recent political developments. We should consider whether we are not now in a position to say that our invalid and old-age pensioners should not be called upon to continue to bear the sacrifices imposed upon them by our financial emergency legislation. I believe that the general opinion throughout the whole community is that our financial position is such that we can now relieve the old and infirm indigent people of this country of the hardships which they have been bearing during the last two or three’ years in consequence of the depression. Every class of the community would applaud this Parliament if it granted reasonable concessions to these unfortunate people. No one ‘begrudges the degree of assistance which the nation renders to those who, during a long life, have rendered good service to the nation. Any honorable member who holds a different opinion would find very few people in his constituency to support him. The Government would he perfectly safe in bringing down a bill to make our pensions legislation as broad as our financial position will permit. I sincerely trust that the amendingbill which we expect to he introduced shortly will provide for the complete repeal of the objectionable property provisions of the act.
. - I do not desire to discuss the merits or blemishes of our pensions law, except to say that I endorse the statements of the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Dennis) and others, that we receive every courtesy and help from the officers called upon to administer this legislation. That, at any rate, is my experience in Western Australia. I intend to vote for the amendment, because, in my opinion, the property provisions of the pensions law are quite the worst that appear in it, and should be eliminated. I hope that when the belated pensions bill is brought down it will provide for the total repeal of these provisions.
– The honorable member is not in order in discussing the act.
– I regret that the statement has been made and reiterated that this amendment has been moved for party reasons. Surely the well-being of the aged and afflicted people of Australia is too sacred a matter to bo made the battledore and shuttlecock of party intrigue. I hope that I am right in believing that party consideration has not actuated the Leader of the Opposition ( Mr. Scullin) in moving this amendment. In any case, it is not my practice to impute motives. I never have and never shall doso. My duty is to express by my vote the opinions that I hold, and to do what I believe to be best, regardless of the motives that, might actuate those who institute any particular political action. I shall vote for the amendment, because I believe that these provisions should be eliminated. I do not question the motives of other honorable gentlemen who are supporting the amendment. My duty is to determine, to the best of my knowledge, whether a thing is right or wrong, and whether it should or should not be done. I believe that the property provisions of our pensions law should be eliminated, and for that reason I shall vote for the amendment.
.- I support the amendment moved by the
Leader of the Opposi tion (Mr. Scullin), and I believe that it is only party political bias which prevents a majority of honorable members opposite from taking a similar course. I endorse the statement of the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) that the experience of honorable members generally in travelling through their constituencies, is that an overwhelming majority of the Australian people favour the payment of invalid and old-age pensions. In almost every civilized country provision is made in some form for granting relief to invalids and the aged. Formany years I have held the view that governments have not fulfilled their obligations to these deserving people by providing them with pensions, and that, during periods of prosperity a national insurance scheme should have been adopted. Some time ago a royal commission, which visited all parts of Australia and made a searching investigation into the national insurance scheme, submitted a workable proposition.
– The honorable member would be entitled to discuss that phase of the matter only when an amendment of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act is before Parliament.
– I am not suggesting an amendment of the act, but merely showing that if such a scheme were adopted thepayment of pensions as we now know them would be unnecessary. In an amending act passed some time ago certain distasteful sections with respect to the property of pensioners were inserted.
– The honorable member is again transgressing my ruling.
– I am referring to the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition.
– The honorable member was present when I ruled that proposals for the amendment of the act cannot be discussed on this proposed vote.
– I do not wish to record a silent vote on the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition. Deputy Commissioners would deal sympathetically with many cases, but they are governed by the act under which they operate, and even in cases where they would like to exercise discretionary powers, they have to refer them to the Commissioner of Pensions in Canberra. When the Financial Belief Bill was under consideration in this House, reference was made to the fact that a person married living apart from the husband or the wife, as the case may be, cannot obtain a. pension. There are many instances on record where a man and his wife have lived happily together and, after having brought up a large family, have eventually decided to live apart. When a deed of separation is signed by both parties, a pension is payable; but when one of the parties, for religious convictions, which we must respect, refuses to sign such a document, a pension cannot be paid. I know a man in Perth who was once a large contractor and who reared a large family which decided to live with the mother. This man is in illhealth and is almost starving, and for religious reasons declines to sign a deed of separation.
– Cases of that kind are already provided for. I shall explain the position for the information of the Committee.
– I have brought this case before the Deputy Commissioner in Western Australia, who said that he cannot be granted a pension unless the applicant signs a deed of separation. I shall, however, await the explanation of the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey).
.- I agree entirely with the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green) that a large majority of honorable members would support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) but for the fact that it has been moved for political purposes.
– I did not say that.
– I rise to a point of order. I did not support the amendment for political purposes, and I object to the honorable member for Perth suggesting that I did.
– If I am asked to withdraw my statement, the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green) should be asked to withdraw his statement that honorable members on this side of the chamber are prevented by political bias from supporting the amendment. It is not, I contend, inconsistent with parliamentary procedure to say that certain action is taken for political purposes. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Hollo way) is very thinskinned if he considers my remarks offensive. I submit that they are not offensive, and that I am entitled to use such words.
– Has the honorable member for Perth declined to withdraw the words ?
– Are the words used by the honorable member for Perth offensive to the honorable member for Cook?
– Yes, I object to the honorable member suggesting that in moving the amendment the Leader of the Opposition was actuated by political considerations. I consider the remarks of the honorable member for Perth offensive to me.
– An honorable member is entitled to ask for the withdrawal of a remark which he declares is offensive to him. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports, who supported the amendment, objects to the statement of the honorable member for Perth that the amendment has been moved for political reasons. To the extent that an implication of insincerity is a reflection upon an honorable member the statement of the honorable member for Perth is out of order, and should be withdrawn.
– Under your direction. I withdraw it. To reduce the proposed vote by £1 would not possibly confer any benefit upon the invalid and old-age pensioners, but it might have some political influence. A definite promise has been made by the Prime Minister that amending pensions legislation will be brought before the House before the end of the present session.
– What promise has been made?
– The Prime Minister said that Parliament would have a full opportunity to deal with the subject of pensions. In committee oh the Estimates we are not entitled to discuss the existing pensions legislation.
The honorable member for Lang (Mr. Dein) and the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) referred to the interpretation placed upon the act in considering applications for invalid pensions. Section 20 of the act reads -
Any person above the age of sixteen years permanently incapacitated for work by reason of accident or by reason of being an invalid, is qualified to receive an invalid pension.
Under the regulations the word “ totally “ has been inserted, and this is taken into consideration by those who administer the law, but there is no authority whatever for inserting a word which definitely limits the right of applicants to a pension. There is a difference between “ permanent incapacity “ and “ permanent and total incapacity.” For instance a man who has lost an arm is permanently incapacitated. The incapacity is only partial, but still it is permanent. In some of the States, the department has adopted a sort of rough rule, that if the applicant is considered to be able to earn 6s1. a week in any suitable occupation, he should not be granted an invalid pension. That, of course, is purely an arbitrary figure, and there is no reason why it should be adopted.
– Who fixed it?
– I do not know, but that is the rule operating in at least one State. There is no reason at all for adopting an arbitrary sum of 6s. a week. It would be more logical to fix it at 17 s, 6d. a week, which is the amount of the pension, so that any person who is unable to earn the full amount of pension may receive some assistance. Some persons have lost both a leg and an arm. I know of a woman cleaner who, at One time, was in permanent employment in Western Australia, but after losing a leg she was unable to obtain any work at all. The department denied her an invalid pension on the ground that it was considered that she could earn 6s. a week. “That was not a logical or fair decision. It would have been fairer to give her some compensation. The word “ invalid “ as used in the act does not apply merely to invalids, who, in general parlance, are persons in invalid chairs or bedridden. The act also covers persons who are incapacitated by reason of an accident. The wording is “ a person permanently incapacitated for work by reason of an accident or by reason of being an invalid.” Two different classes of people are dealt with. The duty of the department should be to administer the act in accordance with its wording. This matter has- been brought up previously in this chamber, and it is one in respect of which the ruling of the department is unsatisfactory and not in accordance with the act. In fact I doubt whether it would stand the test of law, although it cannot be tested because the granting of a pension is in the nature of a gift. I hope that this will be one of the matters to be reviewed by the Government.
.The disabilities of invalid pensioners which have been complained of by the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn), would have been removed under a comprehensive scheme of national insurance such as I advocated in 1928. In that year, I brought down a bill dealing with national insurance and, had it been passed, there would now have been no necessity to argue the many questions affecting pensions, and the anomalies that have arisen in connexion with the administration of the act would have disappeared altogether. In fact there would have been no obligation on .the part of this Government to provide for invalid pensioners, because possibly those, who, at that time, were receiving pensions are now ‘dead, and those, who are at present entitled to pensions would have been receiving them under a contributory scheme.
– -Why did not the right honorable gentleman proceed with that scheme ?
– Because, unfortunately, the party to which the honorable member belongs misled the people regarding other questions, and the Government then in power had no opportunity to put its scheme into operation. Had that legislation been passed, the existing anomalies in the act would not have arisen and the sum of £2,000,000 now paid to invalid pensioners out of revenue would have been found out of contributions.
– The honorable member is not in order in discussing a measure introduced into this chamber some years ago.
– Had that legislation been carried, there would now have been no necessity to alter the administration of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act. The annual payment of £3,000,000 to invalid pensioners is not a reasonable charge against the taxpayers generally, and should have been paid from contributions to a national insurance scheme.
– Order !
– I have accepted the assurance of the Government that it intends to bring down this week a measure dealing with the property provisions of the act. That subject really does not arise under the item of the administration of the Pensions Department which we are now discussing, because .any improvement that we may desire in that direction is prevented by the wording of that act itself. As I have been misrepresented during this debate in regard to my attitude on pensions it is only fair for me to say that some three weeks ago, I discussed this matter with the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) and the Postmaster-General (Mr. Parkhill) and they assured me that the Government would be prepared, at a later stage, to bring down a measure dealing with the property provisions of the act, and thus allow of a full discussion. Because of that assurance, I left Canberra to carry out other undertakings in the northern State. I appreciate, and still accept, that assurance, and, consequently, I shall support the Government in regard to the estimates of the department, and not support the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin). After all, the effect of the amendment, if carried, would not be to restore the position which existed prior to the passing of the amending legislation. The only way in which that can be done is by special legislation.
– lt is childish to suggest that any one believes that the carrying of this amendment will restore the original position.
– Then what is the object of the amendment?
– It is to make honorable members’ stand in line.
– There is no need to make me stand in line, because my record in this Parliament speaks for itself. During my term of office of seven years, many anomalies were removed from the act, and the rate of pension was increased on two occasions. I also brought down a measure to provide for a national insurance scheme which was far more than the Labour party did when it was in office. The increases of pensions were brought about, not by a Labour Government, but by other governments.
– The right honorable gentleman supported the property provisions of the act.
– At that time, I was being operated on in Sydney. The remark of the honorable member is absolutely unworthy of him. I am prepared to justify every action that I took as a member of the Bruce-Page Government. An opportunity will be afforded honorable members to discuss the property provisions of the act at the right time.
– I remind the right honorable member that the Chair has definitely ruled that the act cannot be discussed.
– It has been suggested that the administration of the department has been such as to deter many of our old people from applying for pensions, and one of the main reasons for opposing an alteration of the act has been the belief that a more liberal administration, of the department in the future would enable more people to obtain pensions. We should carry out not only the actual letter of the act but also the spirit of this Parliament when it passed the act. Many of our old people are illiterate. They have worked hard during their lives and are somewhat timid. I know dozens of old folk who have surrendered their pensions because of the fear that by continuing to draw them they would be doing some injury to their relatives or friends or even themselves.
– The members of the Labour party told the right honorable member that when he voted for the property provisions.
– At that time, I was confined to my bed after undergoing a serious operation. It is idle for honorable members opposite to try to make political capital out of pensions when their record stands as it does in the annals of this Parliament. The increased cost of pensions was not occasioned as the result of the sympathetic administration of the act. I am satisfied that the alteration of the act, so far as pensioners’ homes are concerned, -will nor, as it did not in the past, cause an increased payment of old-age pensions. The provision dealing with homes was placed in the act in 1910. The sudden increase of the number of pensions was caused not by that, but by other alterations such as the increase of the rate of the old-age pension. Prom 1924 to 1930, although the rate was altered only from 15s. to fi, the total amount paid by way of pension was increased from £5,000,000 to £10,000,000 at a time when the property provision was part and parcel of the act. To suggest that that provision has been the cause of the huge increase in the payment of pensions is absurd, and I trust that it will be altered by the Government in the amending legislation which it proposes to introduce.
.- I wish to deal with a few of the arguments in opposition to the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) to reduce the vote by £1 as an indication to the Government that, the members of this chamber desire to eliminate the property provisions of the Invalid and Oldage Pensions Act. Some most specious arguments have been advanced - they might more aptly be termed excuses for evading the issue - by those who are opposed to the amendment. The honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby), who has had lengthy political experience in both the State and the Federal spheres, has argued that it would be futile to reduce the amount of the appropriation, by fi. This practice is one of the oldest in our parliamentary history.
– That is . why it is obsolete.
– It may be obsolete and futile, but it affords the only means to achieve the purpose in view, and ‘ I have not the slightest doubt that on many occasions the honorable member has adopted it.
– Never ; I object to it.
– The honorable member has definite knowledge of the reason for the amendment.
– It is political camouflage.
– Its purpose is to bring out from behind the screen of camouflage those who would have it both ways. Thousands of pensioners have voluntarily surrendered their pensions rather than observe the requirements of certain amendments of the act which were supported by the honorable member for Calare and others.
– Order ! Thehonorable mem!ber for Dalley was reminded last night of the ruling of -the Chair that the act may not be discussed. The Chair proposes to insist upon the observance of that ruling. It should not be necessary to state the limits of thedebate to every honorable member .who speaks to the question.
– One of my reasons for not being satisfied with the assurance given by the Government, is that the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey) has not indicated the direction in which it is proposed to amend the act.
– Order ! The Assistant Treasurer would not be in order in giving such an indication during the present debate.
– He has .not given it al; any time. The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) last night expressed the view that many of those who had surrendered pensions live in homes worth £3,000, and said that he knew of one person who had let his house for £2 10s. a week. A further statement by the honorable member was that the surrenders were due to the propaganda disseminated by some honorable members, to the effect that the homes of pensioners were to be seized by the Government. There is not the slightest doubt that the honorable member was hinting at the definite encouragement given by the group of which I am a unit to the growth of pensioners’ organisations, with a view to the establishment of a fighting force that would safeguard the welfare of pensioners. The honorable member charged members of my party with having mis- guided pensioners, and induced them to surrender their pensions. That contention is not even remotely borne out by the figures supplied in the budget, which show that the number of pensions surrendered in New South Wales last year was 3,193, or 3J per cent, of the total number of pensioners in. that State, whereas in Victoria, where there are 30,000 fewer pensioners, the number of surrenders was 4,018, equal to 6 per cent. of the total number. In Queensland, the surrenders represent 5¼ per cent., in South Australia 5 per cent., in Western Australia 5¼ per cent., and in Tasmania 5 per cent. Therefore, the percentage is lowest in New South Wales. That disposes of the argument that propaganda has been responsible. It is regrettable that some honorable members should be so thin skinned in regard to the intrusion of other honorable members into their electorates. I am not greatly concerned about communications from my constituents to the representative of another party. If I were a pensioner and desired rectification of what I considered an injustice, I should not approach the representative of the electorate in which I resided if I thought that he was even remotely responsible for the unjust reductions having been inflicted upon me. That representations should be made to those who it is believed are unsympathetic to reductions of pensions, is not to be wondered at. My experience leads me to believe that the majority of those who have surrendered their pensions live in very poor homes. I have always advised pensioners to sign the white cards and to observe the property provisions of the act, because from the outset I have felt that the Government would not dare to face another election with those sections of the act unrepealed.
– Order ! The honorable member’s remarks are quite irrelevant.
– It is remarkable that some honorable members who preach economy in government expenditure have been responsible for the expenditure on pensions administration having been increased. The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) protested to the ex-Assistant Treasurer, and to the Pensions Department, against the practice of dealing with representations by other than the member for the electorate concerned. The result of this “squeal” was that the department was put to greater expense in furnishing the member for the district, as well asthe member making the representations, with a duplicate copy of its decisions. Much to the discomforture of the honorable member for Barton, the first such notifi cation that I received showed that the Postmaster-General (Mr. Parkhill) had “ butted in “ to the very centre of my electorate.
– Why poach?
– It is not a question of poaching. I suppose the pensioners may please themselves as to whose assistance they seek.
– What about the inspired circular that was sent out to all pensioners’ associations?
– I have not seen, and have no knowledge of, this inspired circular, about which the honorable member has been talking for a considerable time; but I have no doubt that the officials of pensioners’ organizations know who are their real friends in this chamber, and are merely doing their duty when they indicate to their representatives which members are likely to view their request most sympathetically.
The intention of the amendment is clear. It is idle for honorable members to seek to evade the issue by claiming that the reduction of £1 would not alter the situation. All rail-sitters are invited to descend to earth, and to give to the Government a clear indication of their opinions on this specific question. Some honorable members who are now so anxious to serve the interests of pensioners may not have many more opportunities to do so. The honorable member for Barton, who, in October last year, claimed that the property provisions of the act were wise, may now indicate whether he intends to climbdown in consequence of the feeling that is being manifested in his electorate. I have not the slightest doubt that the administration,which he has blamed both in and out of this chamber, is not responsible for the troubles of pensioners in his electorate, but’ that the amendments which he supported last October are responsible for the injustices inflicted. It is all very well for the honorable member to vote for something in this chamber, and then to repudiate it outside.
– I have never done that.
– Order! The honorable member’s remarks are entirely personal, and have no connexion with the question before the Chair.
– I have no desire to disobey the ruling of the Chair, but I think it only right that I should point out that throughout my speech I have merely challenged the statements of honorable members opposite, which were tolerated and allowed.
– Order ! An honorable member is entitled to vote in accordance with his convictions. The remarks of the honorable member concerning the direction in which votes should be cast on this question, are entirely beside the point.
– I have no wish to intimidate the honorable member for Barton, public opinion in his electorate having already done that. ‘The amendment is clear and. -definite, and every honorable member knows exactly what it implies.
It is difficult to discuss invalid pensions without making some reference to the act. It is. generally understood that regulations framed by the Ministry for the guidance of the department should be strictly in conformity with the act. We have been informed that a regulation prescribes that the department shall determine the degree of invalidity. The act definitely says that every person who has reached the age of 16 years* and is permanently incapacitated for work, shall be qualified to receive an invalid pension. There is no reference to totality of incapacity. No matter how long ago the intention of the act was thwarted by this objectionable regulation, there is nothing to prevent the Government from altering it. In any case, if the regulation is contrary to the spirit of the act, it surely is ultra- vires the act, and, therefore, the Government should have nc hesitation in abolishing it. While I do not think that it is necessary to alter this section of the act to ensure that it will be more sympathetically administered, I suggest that the regulation that is responsible for the harsh treatment of prospective invalid pensioners should be abolished.
.- This is peculiarly a non-party matter, and it is in that, spirit that I wish to approach it. I am confident that every honorable member in this chamber desires to remove difficulties under which our unfortunate aged brothers and sisters are labouring. Upon totalling the number of . invalid, old-age and war pensioners in my district, I find that they number 9,000, and I believe that the arrangements for the payment of their pensions at the drill hall in Elizabeth-street, opposite my office, are the best in Melbourne; I am confident that the officials concerned can do nothing more to assist them. However, I agree with many of the statements that have been made by my confreres with regard to’ the lack of accommodation for the payment of pensions. We all know that persons approaching the end of their allotted span are deficient in certain respects, and I urge that seating and lavatory accommodation should be pro«vided for the use of pensioners who have to wait for their payments. No such provision is mads at the North Melbourne Post Office, although there is a splendid big room at the old North Melbourne Town Hall which could be used for the purpose. A little while ago it was customary to hire the Mechanics’ Institute for the purpose, at a maximum cost of probably £1. I have brought the matter under the attention of the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Parkhill), who is having it investigated. I am sure that he will do his best for the old people.
I am confident that, like myself, all honorable members believe that it is the right of every citizen on reaching a certain age to be paid a pension if he is in difficult financial circumstances. If there is any honorable member who would deny such a right, let him check me. I maintain that a pension should be paid to the aged and infirm just as readily as the pension of £80,000 a year was paid to good Queen Alexandra. If there were fewer restrictions in our pensions legislation, many of the unpleasant -incidents which now happen would be obviated.
Unfortunately, in recent years, certain medical practitioners, mostly government medical officers, have formed the impression that it is their duty to whittle away pensions. In some cases eminent men of science are charged with the1 task of interviewing pensioners and applicants for pensions, and, frequently, they are not nearly so well fitted for the job as an ordinary practitioner. I know of one occasion in which the decision of three of the most eminent specialists practising in Collins-street, Melbourne, was completely upset by a general practitioner employed by the department, a man whose scientific qualifications could no more be compared with those of the other three than chalk could be compared with cheese as a nutritive food. However, I must say that every officer in. the Melbourne district, from Mr. McPherson, the Deputy Commissioner, down to his latest recruit, is most sympathetic towards pensioners.
I regret that, despite the assurance of Senator Massy-Greene that it would not be done, this Government found it necessary to transfer the place of payment of a group of pensioners to Victoria Barracks, one of the busiest parts of St. Kilda-road, where it is a risk for even the most active person to cross. The action has also doubled the fares of pensioners who have to proceed to that centre. There are no footpaths on the streets leading into the barracks and, as swift motor vehicles are continually going in and coming out, the journey is a perilous one for pensioners. I hope that the Government will pay regard to the protests that have been made in this connexion.
Provision is made for pensioners to be paid by cheques, which, even to the layman, represent an abstruse financial transaction, and are regarded with great suspicion by old folk particularly. In the circumstances, their use for the payment of pensioners should be discontinued.
The Victorian Government introduced what was termed a “ compassionate allowance, “ which was paid to any worker who, because of ill-health or accident, was compelled to relinquish his work for, say, three or six months. It was a most desirable form of assistance for those who were not entitled to a pension. Unfortunately, the practice was abolished at the suggestion of the late Sir William McPherson, a keen Scotsman and, at the time, Treasurer of Victoria. Despite my admiration for the action of that gentleman in bringing about the establishment of one of the noblest institutions in the land, the School of Domestic Economy, I must express regret that he eliminated the compassionate allowance which the late Sir Alexander Peacock was instrumental in bringing into effect.
In .the heart of’ every one there is a hunger to- possess a home, and it is unfortunate that the Government should consider such an asset a reason for reducing a pension. The valuations placed by the department on these properties are too high, and, in these difficult times, it would be much better if the Government were to take over the properties at those valuations. I know that in practically no case could a land agent obtain the price specified by the Government.
There is another great injustice which I should like to see rectified. Occasionally these aged folk find that they cannot live happily together, and it is unjust in such circumstances that a pension should be denied them. State laws provide that if husband and wife have been separated for from five to seven years, according to the State concerned, they may obtain a separation or divorce. Surely it would be possible to introduce a similar law for pensioners, and provide that, after a separation of, say, three years, they will not be disqualified from receiving the pension. Elderly persons have a great distrust of the law and are diffident about approaching lawyers. It should be made simple and inexpensive for them to effect a legal separation. I know that more than’ 2,000 separation papers have been sent to pensioners from my office. All that trouble would be obviated if the law were simplified.
I also object to the workhouse system of interrogating pensioners. The questions that are asked would cause anybody a great deal of trouble to answer. I could not give the birthdays of the members of mv own family without looking up the records. How then can we expect these old and infirm people to answer 130 questions about their own affairs and the affairs of their near relatives? A few simple questions such as “ Are you of British parentage or nationality?”, and “How long have you lived in Australia?” are all that’ should be necessary. The pension, we should remember, is not a form of charity; it is a right. I shall not be satisfied until every person, from the millionaire to the pauper, is entitled to draw a pension without any obnoxious investigation into private matters. The people have decided at election after election that the pensions’ policy of Australiashall he maintained, not as a charity, hut as a right. Why then, in the name of humanity, should we call upon the unfortunate people who apply for pensions to answer more than 100 questions? These old people - our brothers and sisters - should not be subjected to this indignity.
– I ask the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey) to give me some definite information in regard to the procedure in dealing with applications for invalid pensions. I know of several invalids who have supported their applications for pensions with independent medical testimony as to their state of health; but it has frequently happened that, although this medical opinion has strongly supported the applications, pensions have been refused. It appears that there is a great deal of divergence in medical opinions in these matters. I wish to know whether the medical evidence submitted in support ofclaims for invalid pensions is fully and carefully considered.
I wish to acknowledge that every courtesy has been extended to me at the office of the Pensions Department in Sydney by Mr. Theggie and his staff. I must admit that the operation of the property provisions of the pensions law is causing grave concern to a large section of pensioners, and is seriously affecting the welfare of some of these old people who are among our most valuable citizens. I regard every home-owner as a great asset to the Commonwealth. In my opinion, one of the best antidotes to the pernicious doctrines of communism is home ownership. Persons who have spent their money in buying homes for themselves are not likely to be led away by the political propaganda of irresponsible people. Because I hold this view, I consider that this is another reason why the property provisions of the pensions law should be liberalized or, preferably, entirely repealed. The Government has given an assurance that it intends to bring down a bill to deal with this subject, and, therefore, I can see.no justification for the moving of this amendment, and shall not support it.
.- Unlike the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath), I intend to support the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin). There can be no doubt that the officers administering the pensions law have not had anything like the difficulty in administering the other sections of the act that they have found in administering the property provisions of if. The card furnished to invalid and old-age pensioners by the department is neither more nor less, when signed, than a consent to the confiscation of the pensioner’s property by the Commissioner.
– Not by the Commissioner.
– That is a quibble. The Government, without doubt, asks pensioners to sign the card so that on their decease it may confiscate their property. This is proved by the fact that pensioners who refused to sign the card hut continued to draw the pension for three or four months after the 12th October last, were called upon to refund the amount of pension paid to them in that period, and to suffer the cancellation of their pensions. A person who drew a full pension from the 12th October. 1932, to the 12th October, 1933, is now called upon to agree to the Pensions Department taking priority among all claimants on their estate to the extent of £45 10s.
– That is not confiscation. Confiscation means taking the lot.
– The honorable member is again quibbling. In my opinion, the Government’s policy amounts to pure and unadulterated confiscation. The honorable member’s remark reminds me of the story of a man who was chained to a log for drunkenness because there was no lock-up in which he could be lodged. When a friend came along and asked why he was there, he replied that the police had chained him to the log for drunkenness. His friend said, “ But the police cannot do that, old chap.” The man replied, “But they have done it, so there can be no argument about it.” That is exactly what the Government has done with the pensioners. If pensioners refuse to sign the white card, they must submit to the cancellation of their pensions.
I wish now to deal briefly with the attack that has been made on the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) in regard to the Scullin Government’s treatment of pensioners. During tlie regime of the Seullin Government the rate of pension was reduced from £1 to 17s. 6d. a week. When the Prime Minister and Treasurer of the day returned from a certain Loan Council meeting, they informed ministerial supporters and honorable members generally that the banking institutions would not continue to finance governmetal operations unless reductions of social services were made, particularly in respect of pension payments. This would have meant that the Government would not have been able to pay more than 12s. 6d. in the £1 on its commitments for that year. Fourteen honorable members refused to agree to any reduction of pensions, and signified their willingness to fight the banks on the issue, and as an indication of their earnestness, they voted against the first, second and third readings of the Financial Emergency Bill. The honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) was then a member of this Parliament, but his name does not appear in the division lists of those who opposed that bill. I remind honorable gentlemen that the present Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) and the present Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) who were then sitting in opposition, wanted to go much, further than the Scullin Government was prepared to go. They would have made a reduction of 30 per cent, in social services, salaries and so forth. Subsequently, the present Government came into office, and those two honorable gentlemen, being then able to put into effect the more drastic policy which they had previously advocated, promptly proceeded to do so. When they were sitting in opposition, they approved of the statement, of the Prime Minister and Treasurer of the day, that immediately the financial position warranted it, they would restore the pension rate, and also salaries and wages: but when they came into office they started off by making a further reduction of pensions from 17s. 6d. to 15s. a. week, and, worse still, introduced the bill containing the property provisions in relation to pensions’ to which so much objection has been, taken during this debate. Even now, when the financial position has improved to such an extent that the Government lias been able to grant remissions of taxes to the extent of millions of pounds, they are not prepared to restore the former rate of pension, and we do not know yet to what extent they are prepared to modify the existing property provisions of the pensions law.
A good deal has been said during this debate about the administration of our pensions legislation. I have found that the officers of the department have acted with reasonable generosity in interpreting the act, but in spite of this, an effort has been made to make the pensioners believe that, the Commissioner and his deputies ave really responsible for what has happened.
– That is very cowardly.
– The cowardice of politicians who refuse to face up to the acts which they allow to be passed, must be admitted. It is useless for honorable gentlemen to try to excuse themselves on the ground that certain regulations have been framed. Regulations should not. override the provisions of an act of Parliament, But it appears that the addi tion of the word “ totally “ in the regulations, is enabling certain honorable gentlemen to evade their responsibilities. Whatever may be said about the pensions policy of the Scullin Government, it must be admitted that the pensions policy of the present Government is incomparably more severe.
It is not difficult to understand the attitude of some persons who refuse to surrender their equities in their homes. Some of these people have undergone severe hardships, suffered many voluntary economies, and denied themselves many pleasures during a long life, in order that they might live in their own homes. In numerous cases the purchase of homes has been made possible only by the sacrifices of children. It is not fair in these circumstances that pensioners should be called upon to surrender whatever equity they may have in their homes. There are, of course, some people who refuse flatly, on principle, to sign the white card. I again direct the attention of honorable members to the case of a man named Newton at Claremont. Two of his sons helped to establish him and his wife in a home in 1914. Subsequently, they enlisted, but they continued to make contributions towards the repayment of the loan for the purchase of the home. There is now’ about £200 owing on the property. Unfortunately, both the boys were killed at the front. The father has taken the stand that he will not surrender his home, because his boys gave their lives fighting for the protection of the homes of the British and allied people. He says that he will not hand over his home to any Shylock, governmental or otherwise. As a matter of fact, this Government is now doing the very thing that the Germans tried to do. It is seeking to seize the homes and lands of the people. Because this man and his wife would not sign the white card, they had to -surrender their pensions and they are now liable to repay to the pensions department an amount of £25 - £12 10s. each - which they received in pension after the 12th October, 1932, and before their pension was surrendered. The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) cannot substantiate his statement that persons owning homes valued at £1,250 are receiving £2 10s. a week in rent, because under the act recently amended a pensioner was compelled to live in his own home, and, if he let it, the rent would be assessed as income. Twenty years ago land in the Normanton district was worth £100 an acre, but it has so depreciated in value that the owners would be pleased to sell it- to avoid pay- ‘ ment of the municipal rates. It has not been revalued for many years, and many owners are unable to pay these rates. The Pensions Department accepts the valuation of the local governing body. Some applicants for pensions who own township blocks grasp the opportunity to transfer them to the Pensions Department, which immediately inquires whether the rates are paid. If the department discovers that no payment has been made for some years it will not accept the liability, and, unless the arrears are paid, the application is refused.
For about two years I handled the case of an ex-officer of the Indian Army who arrived in Australia in 1908 and commenced work with the Shell Oil Company. Later he left New South Wales and went to Northern Queensland, but he was unable to state on his application card that he had re- sided in Australia continuously for twenty years. I ascertained the date of the arrival of the vessel on which he travelled to Australia, but I could not furnish other necessary particulars and the department refused to grant a pension. This man then wrote a personal letter to a member of the Government and shortly afterwards his pension was granted. I do not blame- him for exercising his right in that direction, but there is something radically wrong when my efforts over a period of two years were fruitless and a personal application to the Minister met with immediate success.
The age of an applicant when an inmate of a hospital, perhaps ten years ago, is accepted by the department in determining the age, but in the case I mention the information supplied to the department was not accepted.
When the honorable member for Barton stated last night that he had been successful in arranging for twelve months’ retrospective payment to a pensioner an honorable member interjected “ That is right. “ That is surprising to me because the pensions office in Queens^ land has definitely ruled that retrospective payment can be made for only a fortnight, thus showing that there is differential treatment. An application for a pension from Camooweal takes a month to reach Brisbane. It is then returned for investigation to the police officer, or whoever represents the department at Camooweal, and he returns it to Brisbane. By that time three months have elapsed. Pension cards have then to go through the same process, and in such cases six months elapse before the pension is paid. If the department is permitted to make retrospective payments to the extent of only a fortnight, a pensioner at Camooweal would be deprived of his rights for five and a half months.
– The ruling -was. that a pension if granted should be from the date of application.
– Apparently there is differential treatment. I have over 200 applications on my files, and an additional 50 which I am negotiating, and I should like to know if the Government will make retrospective payment to those whose applications are eventually granted. Owing to the delay which occurs in making inquiries in Queensland, sometimes twelve months elapse hefore a pension is paid. An invalid named Johnston, living at J ulia Creek, who was considered totally and permanently incapacitated twelve months ago, received a communication from the department the other day to the effect that his papers are now in the possession of the department’s representative at Julia Creek, who is probably the postmaster. These papers have now to be returned from Julia Creek to Brisbane, but as they contained the doctor’s certificate, no further information should have been required. At Longreach and other centres, the local doctors, who act as the Government referees, have to give a certificate of total and permanent incapacity before a person is entitled to an invalid pension. In Queensland, the departmental representatives adhere rigidly to the regulations, and say that the responsibility is not theirs because they have to comply with the act. As stated by the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Gander) last night, some of the applicants are approaching the gate of St. Peter before a pension is paid. Some have proceeded even further, because fourteen weeks after an applicant had died, I received a notification to the effect that a pension had been granted to him.
The cost of living in the Kennedy electorate is higher than it is in any other part of Queensland. Pensioners in that locality cannot obtain rooms at cheap rentals or benefit by the lower cost of living which obtains in the cities. If some of these old chaps who have built huts on the stations should be ordered by their medical advisers to visit the seaside, their pensions are stopped until the department ascertains whether they are receiving rent from their homes. Of course, where . it discovers that the pensioner’s’ home is situated on a station in an isolated part. of Australia it decides to continue the pension, but its activities in that direction have caused great inconvenience to pensioners.
A self-appointed committee of members of this House inquired into the pensions system, and recommended that legislation be passed with a view to bringing about reforms; but, unfortunately, the Government has taken no notice of the recommendations. The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) has now promised to introduce amending legislation. A promise was given during the last election campaign that, if the United Australia party were returned to power there would soon be no unemployment. No attempt has been made to give effect to that promise, but in spite of that I am prepared to accept the assurance of the Prime Minister, and at the same time to support the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin), thus placing myself in the position’ of having a doublebarrelled gun. A good shepherd provides six or seven gates, including the main gate, to enable his sheep to leave a pasture, but the Prime Minister has provided an enormous number of gates for the black sheep of his party. The object of this amendment is to force those black sheep to pass through the main gate. The honorable member for Ballarat was chairman of the self-appointed committee of members to which I have referred, and I hope that he will grasp this opportunity to bring about some permanent reform in our pensions system. He advocates an exemption of £500 or £600, but what would be the use of that when the object of honorable members generally is to place the pensioner who owns the property on the same footing as the pensioner who owns no property at all. A man who has saved and made sacrifices in order to obtain a home by the time he is 65 years of age should benefit, and nott be penalized, as at present, under the pension law.
– I wish to correct a misstatement of the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan). He said that last year this Government introduced legislation, which resulted in a reduction of pensions by 2s. 6d. a week. That statement is totally inaccurate. When that legislation was introduced, 79 per cent, of the pensioners were receiving the full pension. This year the percentage is 62. Therefore, only one pensioner in six suffered a reduction of payment. Yet the honorable member for Kennedy, the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear), and others, have taken the trouble to inform various pensioners’ associations that this Government has been responsible for a reduction of pensions by 2s. 6d. a week. It did nothing of the sort. I am not defending the provision of the act which brought about a reduction in the payment of one pensioner in six. All I am doing is to expose the action of some honorable members opposite who have travelled from one electorate to another endeavouring to enlist the sympathy of pensioners by making false statements. The honorable member for Kennedy has said that the signing of the white card is equivalent to confiscation. That statement is totally untrue.
– I ask that the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Dein) withdraw his statement, which I consider is un parliamentary.
The ACTING CHAIRMAN (Mr. Nairn). - I rule that it is not unparliamentary to say that’ a statement is untrue.
– The act provides that the pensioner shall not sell or mortgage his property without the prior consent of the Commissioner. That is not confiscation. I admit that the administration of the department is not what it should be, but I have never stated that it has been responsible for the whole of the hardship inflicted upon pensioners. Since my entry into this Parliament, and long before the passing of the recent amendment, I have been loud in my protestations against the harsh provisions of the act, and. in my advocacy of its alteration in many directions. I claim not to take second place to the loud-mouthed members of the Lang group in my sympathy with the pensioners. The administration of the act should certainly be liberalized. The provision relating to Vacant land, which was mentioned by the honorable member for Kennedy, has always been in the act, yet I- have no recollection of his voice having previously been raised in objection to it. T am prepared to defend my attitude on pensions. I do not expect to be fully satisfied with the promised amending legislation., because I shall never rest until we have an Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act worthy of this Parliament.
– The honorable member need not worry about that, because he will not be here after the next elections.
– The honorable member owes his place in this chamber to the worst tragedy in our political history. While the hardship provisions remain in the act I shall continue to raise my voice in opposition to them.
.- I intend to support the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition .(Mr. Scullin). During last night and to-day I have endeavoured with a conspicuous lack of success to catch the Chairman’s eye, and I am, therefore, pleased to have this opportunity, although it is somewhat belated, to discuss this item. I regret very much that the standard of this debate was considerably lowered and disfigured by the speech of the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) in his attack upon the Leader of the Opposition, and I should like to know whether I shall be hi order, in accordance with the ruling of the Temporary Chairman (Mr. Nairn) in saying that the statement of the honorable member was untrue.
– The Temporary Chairman is responsible for the ruling that he gave, and the honorable member cannot refer to a previous ruling of the Chair.
– It is fortunate that we seldom hear speeches of that nature, and I certainly believe that the honorable member for Ballarat would not have made use of his remarks had the Leader of the Opposition been present in the chamber at the time.
Up to the present the administration of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act has been in direct opposition to what has always been regarded as the fundamental principle of the pensions legislation of Australia. From the inception of pensions legislation, it was believed that those who had served the nation faithfully and well during their best years, would in their years of need’ be entitled to receive assistance from the nation. Only twelve months ago, however, a monstrous change of principle was inaugurated by this Government. It was then decided that in future pensions should be a loan instead of a payment for services rendered.’ The administration gets much of the blame for this, although it is merely giving effect to legislation passed by this Parliament. It is regrettable that even some of those who assist to make laws are ready to throw the responsibility for them on to public servants who are only doing their duty. The amount to be repaid to the Government is increasing every year. It has been stated this afternoon that honorable members of the Opposition have advised the surrender of pensions. I have advised against the adoption of that course, and believe that every other member of the Opposition has done so, too. I have always contended that the Government would not dare to go to the polls with these provisions of the act unrepealed, and that those pensioners who survived the next election would avoid the need for considering whether they should surrender or retain their pensions.
It, has been mentioned that the act merely states that in order to be eligible for an invalid pension it is necessary that a person should be permanently incapacitated. By a regulation made under the act, however, it is also required that he or she must be totally incapacitated. As no regulation can give powers that are not given by the act under which it is made, I contend that that regulation is ultra vires. Practically all acts include the” definite provision, that regulations inconsistent with them may not, be made, and the Pensions Act is no exception. By section 55, it provides that “ The GovernorGeneral may make regulations not’ inconsistent with this net”. I contend - and I consider that the contention is beyond refutation - that there is a very big difference between being permanently incapacitated, and being permanently and totally incapacitated.
– “What is the meaning of “ incapacitated “ ?
– If it. means totally, where is the necessity for the regulation ? Obviously those who framed the regulati 011 must have considered that it was needed, on the ground that “ incapacitated “ of itself did not mean “ totally incapacitated “.
– Tlie honorable member’s Government did not. challenge it.
– One reason for that is, that the Labour party has been in power in both Houses of the Parliament for only two of the last twenty years, parties of the same political complexion as the present Government party having been in power for the balance of that period.
– This regulation is as old as the act itself.
– It, needs to be altered. It is further proof of the practice of this and other parliaments, of giving complete power to the Executive. The question should be settled before Parliament rises this year.
The Attorney-General has contended that the amendment submitted by the Leader of the Opposition is unnecessary, because the Government has promised to bring down legislation this session. There are several reasons for my unwillingness to act upon that assurance. We are informed, through the press, on the authority of the Prime Minister, that the Parliament will rise on Friday of next week. Business will have to be transacted very rapidly if the Government is to honour its promise. My second reason is that no statement has been made by the Government as to the terms of the proposed legislation. How are we to know what form it will take? The Government may intend to make the act worse than it is, if that be possible. No clue as to its intentions has been given. My third reason is a statement of the AttorneyGeneral on the Financial Emergency Bill last year. The right honorable gentleman then said -
The bill also provides tor a charge upon property after the death of the pensioner. It is difficult to see any reasonable objection to a proposal-go eminently fair.
It is no secret that the Attorney-General is the leading member of the Cabinet. Only twelve months ago he could not see any reasonable objection to a proposal over which the honorable members for Ballarat and Lang, and other honorable members, are working themselves into a frenzy, notwithstanding the fact that they voted for it. If it is proposed to repeal the property provisions, the right honorable gentleman will have to swallow his words. It is obvious that the charge of political expediency can be laid at the door of only one party, and that the party which voted for what its members oppose to-day. Sufficient time to consider the provisions was not given, because a time limitation was placed on the debate.
– I have no objection to the principle, which I believe to be right.
– The present deathbed repentance comes too late to save honorable members from the fate that- awaits them at the elections which are speedily approaching.
The Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page) has contended that the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition is useless. He and other honorable members, while agreeing that the procedure is archaic, must realize tl] at no other course is open to express displeasure at the Government’s action. If. the Government does not fulfil its promise, this Parliament will not have another opportunity to deal with the matter. I agree that the procedure is as clumsy as the foolish and stupid practice of the Speaker leaving the chair, proceeding to his room., returning to’ the chamber, and professing to have no knowledge of what has occurred in committee.
– The honorable member’s remarks are quite irrelevant.
– I agree that there is considerable scope for the improvement of parliamentary procedure, but point out that the only method open to us is being adopted to express an opinion upon what we regard as one of the most important problems with which this Parliament should deal before the Christmas adjournment. It may be advisable for honorable members opposite to seize this opportunity, because they may not be given another.
The Leader of the Country party also
Stated that the particular legislation with which the amendment proposes to deal was embraced in the act of 1910. Coming from a gentleman who has had such lengthy parliamentary experience, and who must have an exact knowledge of the position, that can only be characterized as deliberate misrepresentation. When the act was first passed-
– The honorable member is aware that the Chair has ruled that the act may not be discussed.
– I am dealing with matters that have been raised by other speakers.
– Order !
Mr.- BAKER. - In giving effect to the provisions of the act, the administration must necessarily notice the difference between the present law and that which was enacted in 1910. This particular provision, which lays it down that a pension is to be merely a loan, was introduced last year. Under the earlier law, a pensioner was allowed to own £400 worth of accumulated property, whether in or out of Australia, and was allowed to deduct the capital value of the home in which he resided. There was no other reference in the act concerning homes, the provision with which we are now deal- ing having been introduced. by the present Government.
– Order ! The honorable member is clearly discussing the act.
– I am pointing out that the administration now has to deal with matters which were not within its scope some years ago.
– The honorable member cannot evade my ruling.
– Would you, sir, consider that I was evading your ruling if I said that until recently the pensions administration did not attach pensioners’ homes, but that the practice has been instituted during the last twelve months, when this Government was in office. A committee of Cabinet was appointed to consider pensions legislation, and it made certain recommendations.
– The honorable member is distinctly out of order, and I shall not remind him again.
– It has been said that, on making application, some honorable members have been able to secure retrospective payments to pensioners, extending as far back as twelve months. The honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) and I have submitted several cases to the department in an endeavour to obtain retrospectivity, but without success.
– The honorable member is referring to increases of pensions, not to the granting of new pensions.
– I have submitted both classes of case without success, and consider that the anomaly should be rectified.
A number of cases have been submitted t;o me in which, despite the medical history and the evidence of outside doctors, the opinion of the Government medical officer has been accepted. In such cases, the act gives discretion to the commissioner, who rarely exercises it. The act should be amended to provide for the appointment of medical referees to hear the case of applicants whose claims have been rejected. I also think that there should be an amendment of the act to make simpler the conditions relating to husbands and wives who are separated.
The department should exercise every precaution before launching prosecutions against pensioners, and I shall cite two cases in which that was not done. In the first a summons was issued which was brought to my attention, and, .after reading it, I said that there did not appear to be a sound case against the person concerned. I therefore made representations to the Deputy Commissioner in Brisbane, the commissioner in Canberra, and the then Treasurer (Senator Massy-Greene). However, my intercession was of no avail, and the department persisted in its prosecution. The pensioner won the case after a good deal of trouble and a little expense. In the second instance, the pensioner also won, after having been put to some slight expense. I hold no brief for those who draw pensions when they are not entitled to do so, but I consider that the department should be extremely careful before launching prosecutions, as iri the majority of cases, these unfortunate persons have not sufficient money to fight them.
The existing position with regard to the property provisions would be Gilbertian if it were not so pathetic, and the Government would be well advised to amend the act. Peculiarly enough, those persons who, a few months ago, were so vigorous in their support of this legislation, now condemn it.
When the act was first amended, it was provided that the maternity allowance should not be paid to any person in receipt of more than £4 a week. I am of the opinion that the amount should be reinstated at £5 a week, as a most worthy section of the community would then be benefited.
Sitting suspended from 6.12 to 8 p.m.
.- It has been amusing to listen to the efforts made by some honorable gentlemen to excuse themselves from voting for the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin), but their attempts to justify their glaring inconsistency are futile. I suggest that, as the Standing Orders provide that honorable mem’bers must vote as they call, they should be amended to provide that honorable members must vote as they talk. Those who have protested against the harsh treatment, of pensioners under our existing legislation should be obliged to vote in support of their speeches. As the Standing Orders are so antiquated that they do not provide for’ this to be done, they should be amended at the earliest possible date.
– The honorable member may not discuss the Standing Orders under this proposed vote.
– Honorable members opposite, who have alleged that they desire to cheapen and simplify the administration of our pensions legislation, and to remove the harsh provisions from it, should show their bona fides by voting for the amendment. If they refuse to take advantage of this excellent opportunity to indicate their disapproval of these obnoxious property provisions of the pensions law, they cannot object if wc take every chance we get to tell their constituents that they talk one way but vote another.
– The honorable member must discuss the item before the Chair.
– It has been convenient for honorable gentlemen to try to escape their responsibilities-
– The honorable member must discuss the item before the Chair, and the amendment thereto.
– You, sir, did not allow me to complete my sentence.
– The votes of honorable members cannot be discussed under this item. They are cast at the discretion of honorable members.
– Surely I am. entitled to use the persuasive powers that I possess, small though they may be, to try to induce honorable members to support the amendment. I contend that some honorable gentlemen opposite are arguing in one way, but have every intention to vote in another way. Some of these honorable gentlemen say that the administration of the Pensions Department is at fault, and others, like the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Dein), say that the administration is all right, but that the act is all wrong. Personally, I am satisfied that the officers of the Pensions Department work under definite instructions issued, not by irresponsible committees of honorable members of the parties supporting ‘ the Government, but ‘by Cabinet itself. Orders come to these officers through ministerial channels, and they are obeyed. We hare been told that the officers of the department are sympathetic towards the pensioners; but the fact is that they are not able to display any sympathy that they may possess, for they must work within the provisions of the law. I have had many rulings given by the department which I have subsequently submitted to the responsible Minister, and on not one occasion has the decision of the department been reversed. This proves to me that the department is acting under instructions from the Minister. For that reason rulings given by the department are always upheld by the Minister when an appeal is made to him..
Honorable members opposite cannot escape their responsibility in this matter by saying that the previous Government failed to rectify certain anomalies. This Government and its supporters must accept full- responsibility for whatever is done. The plain fact, is that, although the Government has behind it a majority of honorable members in both Houses of the Parliament, it ha3 failed to remedy the grievance brought before it on behalf of pensioners.
Let me direct, .the attention of honorable members to a. few cases of so-called sympathetic treatmen t.
I have had brought under my notice, and have subsequently brought under the notice of the Government, the case of a man who enlisted and served with our forces overseas. ‘Eventually, he was wounded on active service, returned to Australia, and granted a war pension. Dp to that point no question had been raised as to whether -he was or was not a British subject. Apparently honorable gentlemen opposite, who talk so much about patriotism, and who indulge in so much flag-waving, have no objection io foreigners going away to fight for this country.
– Order !
– After this man returned to Australia his experience was regrettable. I brought this case under the notice of the Government, and, although I know it will not be palatable to its supporters for the particulars to be publicly described in this way, I now feel it my duty to refer -to them. Eventually this man’s war pension was cancelled, although his physical condition had not improved. He then made an application for an invalid pension, and his application was rejected by this sympathetic department, not on the ground that he was not totally and permanently incapacitated, hut on the ground that he was not a naturalized British subject ! How can honorable members opposite talk about sympathetic treatment in the face of that kind of tiling? No question was raised as to this man’s nationality when he enlisted for overseas service. It was only after he returned to this country, broken in health and spirits, that this department, acting under instructions from the Government, denied him the right to a pension, which would give him the bare necessaries of life. The Government, so fur, has taken no notice of the representations made to it on this man’s behalf.
I now direct attention to the case of a woman who arrived in this country from Germany when she was a child eight months old. She worked here during her long lifetime and helped to make Australia what it is. .Her parents both became naturalized British subjects and eventually received the old-age pension. Their daughter, supposing that she automatically became a British subject on tlie naturalization of her parents, applied for a pension in due course. The department ruled that, as she was not a naturalized British subject, she was not eligible for a pension. Some honorable gentleman with legal’ training may say that this case has nothing to do with our pensions law, hut is covered by some Other, act of Parliament. I suggest, however, that a grave injustice has been done to this Australian citizen. I brought this case under the notice of the Government some time ago, but. nothing has yet been done to remove this injustice, and now that the Government is rushing Parliament into another recess, T suppose the anomaly will remain unrectified, and the injustice will be perpetuated.
I come now to the case of an Australian citizen -employed as a seaman on the Burns Philp steamer Morinda, trading between Australia arid Papua. While this Australian citizen was travelling in this steamer in other than Australian waters he was taken, ill, and although he was working under Australian articles at the time, his application for a pension was rejected on the ground that his disability was not incurred within the Commonwealth. Another similar case was that of a theatrical employee travelling on the Fuller circuit in New Zealand. He was engaged for a six weeks’ tour, and while he was on it became ill. He also, being an Australian citizen, applied for an invalid pension, and his application was rejected because his disability was not incurred within Australia.
The whole point is, of course, that officers of the Pensions Department cannot be sympathetic even if they desire to be, for they must act within the provisions of the law and on the instructions of the Government.
Another source of complaint that we have is that cases which have been unsuccessfully brought under the notice of the Government many times by some honorable members have subsequently been successfully brought under its notice by certain official political bodies that carry considerable influence with the Government. Several honorable members have made persistent representations in the interests of certain applicants for the pension, but with unfavorable results. One such case was later taken up by the National Council of Women, which made a big noise, with the result that, although the Pensions Department, backed by the Minister, had previously stated definitely that the applicant was not entitled to a pension, that decision was reversed and she received one. This shows clearly that there is partisanship in dealing with pension claims.
Another case of the same kind which was unsuccessfully handled by an honorable member of this House was later taken up by an anti-Labour representative in the Legislative Council of New South Wales, who was able to obtain a pension for the unfortunate applicant, although a Labour representative in this Parliament could not do so. The circumstances had not changed in this case. We do not regret that the claimant, was able to obtain a pension, but. we protest against the practice of giving preferential consideration to representations made by individuals and bodies that support the Government.
We also complain that conflicting decisions are frequently given in connexion with the same case, and that decisions are sometimes reversed under unsatisfactory conditions. I have in mind the case of a lady who was granted a pension. Subsequently three persons sent a confidential communication to the department, with the result that the pension was cancelled. Later one of the women who signed this confidential communication repented of the injustice she had done and submitted a sworn declaration to the department to that, effect. What did the department do in that case? It interviewed the two other signatories to the confidential document and, because they said that they were still of the same opinion, took no notice of the sworn declaration of the third party. In support of my contention that conflicting decisions are given, I direct the attention of honorable members to a paragraph which appeared in a letter that. I received signed “ J. Watson, Acting Deputy Commissioner “. After stating that the application had been rejected, this officeradded - “ It is not considered that Mrs.- is deserving of the pension “. The case was subsequently brought under the notice of the department in Canberra, and a letter signed “W. Massy-G-reene, for the Treaurer “, contained the following statement : -
The evidence, however, indicated that the claimant was not permanently incapacitated for work within the meaning of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act.
These two letters, one from the Pensions Office in Sydney and the other from the authorities in Canberra, are, in my opinion, in conflict. It appears to me that the departmental officers have tried to smother up a wrong’ decision. Anonymous letters, and even signed letters, sent to the department in connexion with pensions claims are not always thoroughly inquired into, and ex parte statements are not always verified. The department should always take notice of sworn declarations of the kind submitted by the woman to whom I have referred.
I agree with the honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Baker) that honorable members opposite who are now protesting against the property provisions of the pensions law are making a deathbed repentance. Honorable gentlemen such as the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane), the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Dein), and the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath), are using their positions as members of this Parliament in a way that is not justifiable. I suggest that they are now only trying to excuse their opposition to something in which they have professed to believe for some time past. The Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page) made a great noise outside of the Parliament about the need to move certain amendments to the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act, but when the House assembled and an opportunity was given to vote upon matters which he professed to support, he suddenly found that his duties carried him to the north of New South Wales.
– The honorable member’s remarks are distinctly personal and have nothing to do with the item before the Chair.
– As I have said previously, it is regrettable that the Standing Orders do not permit an honorable member to state the truth in respect of certain matters. It cannot be denied that the supporters of the Government are now complaining about the very things for which they were originally responsible. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) has been accused of moving the amendment for political purposes; but if the spirit of the amendment were right I should support it no matter who moved it, whether he be the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) or any one else.
All these restrictions were placed upon pensioners simply because the supporters of the Government were broadcasting the fact that the pensions bill of this country had increased to such an enormous figure as to warrant the strictest economy. Now they say that they are in favour of liberalizing the provisions of the act, which, of course, would increase the expenditure. Their present attitude is in direct conflict with the attitude that they adopted when these restrictions were originally imposed upon applicants for pensions and upon those receiving pensions. The Standing Orders provide that an honorable member who wishes the Government to recast any particular financial measure must first move for a reduction of the item itself. That is a stupid procedure, and because it lias to be followed, many honorable members will attempt to mislead the public outside by saying that the Leader of the Opposition moved for a reduction of the amount paid tn invalid and old-age pensioners. Some honorable members, including the honorable member for Lang, had to refer to the dictionary to ascertain the meaning of the word “confiscation”. Although the honorable member was a schoolmaster before entering this chamber, ho evidently has not mastered the English language. Paragraph e, sub-section 2 of section 52 of the act, states-
– Order ! The honorable member may not discuss the act.
– If honorable members will take the trouble to peruse the Estimates they will find that the cost of the administration of the Pensions Department has been increased owing to the appointment of certain investigation officers.
– They are really pimps.
– That is so. These men were appointed to spy into the lives of the applicants for pensions and, by the use of certain intimidatory methods, to prevent the applicants from proceeding with their applications. I do not particularly blame these officers for the nature of their examinations, because they merely carry out the instructions of the department, and, like the majority of our citizens, are unfortunately more concerned about pleasing their employers than about doing the right thing. The honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Jennings) and other honorable members have referred to the courtesy that they have received at the hands of these officers. That may be true because, naturally, members of the, Parliament, taken collectively, are the employers of these men; but an applicant for a pension would probably find that these officers would not extend to him the same courtesy as is extended to honorable members. I know of instances in which old people have been put through the third degree process of examination and have left the pensions office absolutely panic stricken, preferring to forgo their pensions rather than be subjected to another such ordeal. These inspectors should be instructed to extend the utmost courtesy to the applicants for pensions and pensioners who have grievances. The method of examination does not satisfy me. Persons for whose integrity I have the highest regard have informed me of what transpires at these examinations, and of the nature of the questions1 put to them. It is an examination* that should not be permitted by any government which professes, by lip service1 only, to be sympathetically disposed towards pensioners. We should demonstrate our sympathy with the pensioners not by talk in this Parliament but by our votes. That is what the members of my party have done in this chamber. I make no apology for what I have done and for what I shall do in the future. 1 shall not hesitate’ to address the electors in any con- stituency and place the true facts before them. I shall reveal to them the absolute hypocrisy of many of their representatives who talk in one way and vote in another. The Estimates provide for an amount of £5,000 for medical examinations. I want to know from the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey) who are the individual doctors, the payments that they receive for medical examinations, and the basis on which they are paid, whether at so much per head or by results.
– I have already given the honorable member that information twice.
– The Assistant Treasurer has not referred to this item since I have been in the chamber. I want to know whether any instructions have been issued to these medical officers, and whether, if they give decisions contrary to the wishes of the Government), their services are likely to be dispensed with?
– They have the benefit of private practice. ‘
– These officers have private practices. Many of them do not undertake the examination that is warranted in the circumstances. In one case a woman was suffering from sugar diabetes, and it is well known that any one suffering from that complaint has to have a blood test taken. She was sent to a medical officer who was working in conjunction with the Pensions Department, Sydney, and he merely felt her pulse and said that there was nothing wrong with her. Another case which I have
Drought before the notice of honorable members is that of a pensioner whose payment had been cancelled. She was totally and permanently incapacitated, and although we asked that a further examination be made, no action was taken by the department. Within a few days of the cancellation of the pension this girl committed suicideby throwing herself over the Gap in Sydney. Honorable members supporting the Government cannot excuse themselves by saying that this is an isolated case, because I can quote case after case of persons who have not received from the medical officei’3 the sympathetic treatment to which they are entitled. Instead of trying to patch up the existing pensions law we should scrap it altogether and re-enact fresh legislation to cover these unfortunate people. The aci is one mass of- anomalies. The supporters of the Government have, on the plea of economy, tried to justify certain obnoxious sections of the act.
– Order ! The honorable member is out of order in referring to the sections of the act as obnoxious. No honorable member can reflect upon any act unless to advocate its repeal when it is before the Chair for discussion.
– If I cannot express my opinions in this chamber I shall avail myself of the first opportunity to express them outside.
The honorable member for Barton and the honorable member for Lang suggested that the members of the party to which I belong had addressed meetings of pensioners and advised them not to sign the white cards, and. give to the Government the control of their property and their life’s savings. Let me say that we have advised the pensioners to sign every card submitted to them by the department and not to allow the Government or any one else to cajole them into refusing a pension to which they are rightly entitled. I have told them that all they had to gamble on was that they may, live until the next elections when a Labour government would be returned to office and the whole of the forms which had been signed by the ‘ pensioners under compulsion would furnish one of the greatest bonfires ever witnessed in the Federal Capital Territory.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
– A number of honorable members have referred to couples who are eligible by age for the pension but are living apart without legal separation. The Commissioner has full power to disregard the circumstances, provided he is satisfied that such action is warranted. That is as near as one could get to the placing of complete discretion in the person of the Commissioner. Certain honorable members have suggested that the situation should be clarified and crystallized by an amendment of the act. I discussed the matter with departmental officers, and can merely repeat what I have said previously, that the position would not be made more advantageous to those concerned if it were provided for in set terms, because every possible circumstance could not be covered, and there could be no departure from a rigid provision. Honorable members opposite would be the first to bring along a sheaf of cases that did not fit within the four corners of the amendment. To ensure fairness, some discretionary power would have to be given. I have examined the officers of the department, and find that there are no genuine cases of hardship under these sections of the act or the regulations.
– Under the act, unless there is a legal separation, there is no power to grant a pension.
– I repeat that, under the act. and under regulation 13, the Commissioner has the power to disregard the circumstances. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green) made a point of having consulted the Deputy Commissioner in Western Australia. Deputy Commissioners have no discretion. I suggest to the honorable member - an old parliamentarian - that, had he referred the- case to the Commissioner in Canberra, it might have been given further consideration.
– The Minister must be aware that the Commissioner bases his decisions upon material supplied by the Deputy Commissioner.
– I think it is fairly well known that honorable members can approach the Commissioner direct.
– But the file is sent from the office of the Deputy Commissioner.
– As the discretion lies ultimately with the Commissioner, a personal conversation with him is more likely to be fruitful of results.
Comment has been made upon the qualifications for an invalid pension, and some discussion has taken place regarding the interpretation of “permanent invalidity”. The regulations, on this subject, which go some little way towards the further definition of “permanent invalidity”, have been in existence as long as this section of the act. At a very early stage in the existence of this legislation, it fell to the Commissioner to provide an interpretation of the words “ permanently incapacitated “, and they were defined to mean “ total and permanent incapacity to work”. Actually, it. has not been so harshly administered; because, as honorable members probably know, in certain circumstances, invalid pensioners are allowed to earn a few shillings a week.
– They are not.
– I repeat that, in certain circumstances, invalid pensioners are allowed to do light work which brings them in a few shillings a week.
– That must be a new provision.
– It is not in the act. I arn merely explaining bow the act and the regulations are administered. The earning of a few shillings a week from light work does not disqualify a person from receiving the invalid pension. If honorable members can supply me with eases that are in contradistinction to that statement, I shall be glad if they will do so.
– What is the meaning of “ total and permanent incapacity “ ? As soon as light work is obtained, the pensioner is disqualified.
– The meaning of the term is “ inability to work “ ; but a liberal interpretation by the department, in the administration of that particular section, does not exclude a few shillings a week that a pensioner may earn for rendering small services. I am not prepared to say what the limit of earnings would he, but I suggest that 3s., 4s., or even 5s. a week would not be a bar to the retention of an invalid pension.
I was rather surprised that the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) should refer, in terms of contumely, to the .attitude towards pensioners of Dr. Ludowici, one of the medical referees in the department. I have, since the honorable member spoke, taken the trouble to obtain the record of this gentleman, and I find that it is completely good. This is the first suggestion of impropriety or bias that has been made against him.
– That is not right; I have several such letters on my files.
– If the honorable member can supply me with information which disproves what I have said, I shall be glad if he will do so. The departmental records show that this officer has for many years carried out his duties faithfully and well. He is not a public servant, but practises privately. He is paid a certain sura for each case referred to him.
– How much ?
– The total amount paid to medical referees is £5,000 per annum. A slightly less amount was expended last year. Medical officers attached to the Department of Public Health have recently performed portion of this work.
– Can the Minister say how much each doctor receives for an examination ?
– The fee for each examination is 10s. That is -not a large fee.
The honorable member for Kew England (Mr. Thompson) referred to the administration of the invalid pensions provisions in language, which can only be described as exaggerated. He has no authority for making so broad a statement as that the administration is hopelessly chaotic.
– That is my experience of it.
– I shall be glad if the honorable member will supply me with particulars that warrant the use of such an expression: My experience as a private member was entirely in the opposite direction. I received every sympathy from the department, and in no case did it fail to give me satisfaction.
Reference has been made to form 47, on which the department makes a claim on the estate of a deceased pensioner. It has been suggested that the submission of this form to the executors of a deceased pensioner soon after his dea’th is -somewhat callous and hard-hearted. I find that, on the average, a period of from -two to three weeks elapses, after the death «of a pensioner, before the form is forwarded, and 30 days are allowed from that date for its return. There is a distinct necessity for the fairly rapid presentation of a claim of this sort. Probate and letters of administration have to be taken out in every State. Under the hanking laws, the Commonwealth Savings Bank may pay up to £100, and State Savings Banks up to £200, without requiring the formality of probate to be first passed through. If the Government charge is not made apparent to the executors at an early stage, the estate may be dissipated and thus its claim may be destroyed.
The honorable member for New England complained that the surrender value of bonuses on insurance policies is regarded as income. That, I am glad to say, is not the case. Bonuses on insurance policies are taken into account as property, not as income.
The honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) referred to the transfer to the Commonwealth of property on which there are encumbrances or debts. The Commissioner has no option but to obey the law, which provides that he may take over properties on which there are no encumbrances, but not those on which rates and taxes are owing.
A Government member objected to the delays that have occurred in the last twelve months in the payment of increases of pension, and said that in one case he had obtained increases dating back many months. Admittedly the department has been somewhat slow in ascertaining the facts of certain cases, because the whole of the 250,000 cases in existence at the 12th October, 1932, had to be tooth-combed and examined; but there has been no delay in the grant- ing of increases to those whose pensions were reduced in October of last . year. New applicants are dealt with as speedily as possible, and delays in the department are now of short duration.
– How far can the increases date back ?
– That depends on the circumstances of the case.
– The department says that the period is a fortnight.
– I do not think that that is so.
The ‘honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) referred to a case of naturalization. The act contains a provision which debars aliens from receiving an invalid or old-age pension.
– Would the honorable , gentleman give an alien the right to fight for the British Empire?
– I have no doubt that the honorable member may have heard that every man who enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force had to swear that lie was of British origin. It is quite conceivable that when dealing with hundreds of thousands of enlistments, compliance with that instruction might occasionally have been overlooked. In this case the nian is clearly an alien who enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. and was subsequently discovered not to be a British subject.
The honorable member also referred to the cancellation of pensions on evidence supplied by anonymous letters. I assure the honorable member that the department does not act upon information anonymously supplied, unless it is borne out by investigation.
– I have the admission of the department itself in this regard.
– I shall be glad if the honorable member will substantiate that statement in writing.
– The department will not accept the evidence of outside doctors.
– That is completely untrue.
– It is not, and I ask that the honorable member’s statement be withdrawn.
– If the honorable member takes exception to my remark, I withdraw it, but’ I repeat that the medical evidence supplied by outside doctors is taken into account when the eligibility of a person for an invalid pension is being determined.
– If two private medical practitioners submit certificates which are contrary to the evidence submitted by Dr. Ludowici, whose opinion is accepted?
– In the capital cities if outside medical evidence is submitted which is in conflict with the decision of the Government doctor, in most cases, in fact, in every case where there is strong disagreement, the matter is submitted to another government medical officer.
The right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) referred to the National Insurance Bill which he introduced in 19 2$, and gave as- an indication why that measure was dropped-
– Order ! I did not allow the right honorable member for Cowper to discuss that measure.
– I shall not pursue the subject other than to say that contributory schemes which provide for pensions, while very attractive to the majority of persons at first sight, are found, when further investigated, to be confronted with tremendous financial, difficulties during the first years of their existence.
I do not propose to traverse the many cases that were submitted by the honorable member foi- East Sydney except to- suggest thai; he used the language of gross exaggeration, with a com’plete disregard for the meaning of words. The honorable member spoke about the infliction on applicants for pensions of something which approached the third degree, and I shall be glad- if he will come from behind the cl’oak of anonymity and supply me personally, and not necessarily publicly, with some casein which there has been even incivility on the part of departmental officers. I assure him- that the matter will be probed to itsdepths.
In general I submit that now that honorable members have had an opportunity to n.i,r a number, of matters in connexion with pensions administration, the majority of them must, in all fairness agree that it is fair and reasonable and that, at least in respect of the officers of the department, this committee has no cause for complaint.
– I waited patiently to obtain an answer from the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey) to two important questions that I raised, but he has either forgotten or ignored them.
I Want to correct the honorable gentleman’s statement that this is the first time that any complaint has been made against Dr. Ludowici in connexion with his treatment of pensioners. Unfortunately, my work being of such an extensive nature, I am not able to keep a filing cabinet which would permit me quickly to ascertain how many times I have written to the department complaining about this medical officer. From memory I can safely say that I wrote at least half a dozen times to the Deputy Commissioner in Sydney, and I personally consulted him on the subject on a number of occasions.
– I referred the matter to the Commissioner in Canberra.
– The Commissioner would not know anything about it.
– He is the Commissioner.
– But he cannot be expected to know every detail of a department which has such huge ramifications. In the circumstances, it was unfair for the Minister to make a statement based entirely on what the Commissioner told him, and implying that my complaint had not the slightest foundation., and was, therefore, unjustified.
– Had there been any serious complaint against Dr. Ludowici, it would have reached the Commissioner at Canberra.
– Not- necessarily. For one thing, the Commissioner has not occupied his position long. However, I do not wish to argue the case from the point of view that I would expect the Commissioner to be kept closely in touch with every detail. This matter is common knowledge to the Deputy Commissioner in Sydney, to whom many complaints have been made about Dr. Ludowici’s treatment of pensioners. There should be an immediate investigation into the conduct of this doctor. My colleagues and I have found it necessary to go to considerable trouble to collect medical evidence to prove that he has acted unfairly towards pensioners, and on occasion we have brought about a change of decision, but, unfortunately, without retrospective effect. It is interesting to learn that these medical officers receive 10s. for each examination that they make. The Minister should have gone further and informed us how much Dr. Ludowici has received for the last, financial year.
– The information is not available in Canberra, but it can be obtained if desired.
– The Minister made the interesting statement that an invalid pensioner is entitled to earn a small amount in addition to his pension, and I hope that the press will give the greatest publicity to that announcement. I am inclined to think that, as was done in connexion with a statement made by the then Assistant Treasurer (Senator MassyGreene), and contradicted by the Deputy Commissioner in Sydney, the Government will dissociate itself from the present Minister’s assurance.
– Does the Minister mean income or earnings?
– Earnings. I hope that the Government will abide by the statement of the Minister. The act and the regulations provide that an applicant for an invalid pension must be totally and permanently incapacitated. I am informed that when pensioners come before departmental officers to have their cases reviewed, they are asked, “ Can you do light work?” ; and if they reply in the affirmative, the examination is immediately discontinued, and the pension dropped. The department will then tell those who inquire that the applicant had declared his ability to do light duties such as selling papers, driving a lift, or, in the case of a woman, sewing. If it is asked where the applicant can obtain light work, the department answers that that is not its responsibility, and dismisses the matter. I know that the information will be of advantage to many whose applications have been rejected.
On the last occasion when I urged that an appeal tribunal similar to that granted to returned soldiers should be set up, I had the support of the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page), who in a member of the medical profession. I should, like the Minister to express an opinion on. the subject, and hope that the Government will consider the appointment of such a tribunal when introducing its amending legislation.
As I stated yesterday, when pensioners are forced to leave their homes in order to live close to a hospital where they receive treatment, the ownership of the home is assessed ‘against them and their pension is reduced. While the department is most sympathetic in the matter, the responsibility should bc lifted from it.
My last point concerns the payment of maternity allowance. The law provides that no person whose household has an income in excess of £208 per annum is entitled to receive the maternity allowance. I know of many cases where, after the wage tax is deducted from the earnings of the person, concerned, the net income is less than £20S, but the person is still deemed not to be eligible for the allowance. I think that the Government should rectify that anomaly. If that were done, I am sure that every lion or able member, irrespective of his party associations, would be pleased. I am not saying that I agree with the iucome restriction, but this is not the time to discuss that aspect of the subject. In view of the fact that the wage tax is paid in order to assist unfortunate unemployed, individuals in the community, 1 do not, think that it should be included as income of other persons, thereby depriving them of the right which they would otherwise have to the maternity allowance.
– The explanation of the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey) of some points in connexion with invalid pensions has been most interesting to honorable members. It came to us all as a great surprise to learn that an invalid pensioner could legally earn a few shillings a. week without running the risk of the cancellation of his pension. I had always thought that the capacity to earn any income whatever was a complete bar to the granting of the invalid pension. I agree with the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) that hitherto the admission that an invalid was able to earn a few shillings a week by performing light duties was an absolute disqualification for the pension. I trust that the press will blazon from one end of Australia to the Other the statement that this is not so, for a grave injustice has been, and is still being, done to many people in consequence of the widespread impression that I myself have held until this evening.
I think the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) was very unfair in the statements he made about the attitude adopted by officers of the pensions department towards claimants for the pension. I,’ personally, have always found the department most sympathetic. The officers administering the1 pensions law have a most difficult task to perform. Perhaps the honorable member for East Sydney does not realize that they are called upon to deal with thousands of applications, some of which, I am sure he will readily admit, are not bona fide. The duty of the officers is to winnow the chaff from the corn. I have always found the officers most sympathetic when the facts relating to any case have been fully and frankly placed before them.
I regret that there still lingers about the pension some taint of pauperism that marked the old methods of treating the poor people of Australia, -Great Britain and other countries. This pension is a right and not a charity. Men and women who reach the statutory age and become eligible for an old-age pension, or who through invalidity become eligible for an invalid pension, are as much entitled to it as is a workman to his pay, a judge to his pension on retirement, or an unemployed man to the dole. This is sometimes forgotten. The spirit which inspired the structure of our pensions legislation was that the pension should be a recognition of work well done. It must be assumed that these people have, on the average, done their work well and truly and so are entitled to a pension on reaching the statutory age or on invalidity. In my opinion the time is fast arriving, if it has not already arrived, when the statutory age for a pension should be greatly reduced.
– If the honorable member moves for a reduction of the age I will support him.
– This is not the occasion for action of that kind. I repeat, however, that the pension is a right. I take the strongest possible exception to the amendment made to the pensions law in 1932 by which pensioners were required to give the Commonwealth a mortgage over their homes.
– Order ! I have already ruled that the provisions of the act may not now be discussed.
– I am discussing these Estimates, bearing in mind that the department is required to administer those provisions. We should not blame the department for what has happened. The responsibility rests entirely with this legislature which, I hope, by now has seen the error of its way3 and will take the earliest opportunity to amend them.
I agree with the Assistant Treasurer that it is extremely difficult to define the word “ invalidity. “ The law uses the phrase : “ total and permanent incapacity.” But what does total and permanent incapacity mean ? A man who is by trade a blacksmith may become totally incapacitated from following that avocation, but what is to happen to him if he is of such a type that he is practically incapable of doing anything else ? Honorable members will realize that there are persons of that nature. But, without narrowing it down so finely, it is obvious that a person may be totally incapacitated from following his ordinary occupation and still be capable of earning something. A cabinet-maker or a storeman or packer may be incapable of following any one of those occupations, but may be able to use a typewriter, address envelopes, or mind a shop. Until the Assistant Treasurer made his statement this evening I was under the impression that if he did any of those things and earned a few shillings thereby he automatically lost his eligibility for the pension, but apparently a man may earn 3s., 4s., or 5s. a week.
– The Minister went as far as 6s. a week.
– Perhaps in a later effort the ‘ honorable gentleman may spring another shilling, and so make it a shilling a day.
I hope that the Government will, at the earliest possible moment, increase the pension to such a rate as will give the old and infirm people of this country a reasonable income. I do not for a moment admit that we cannot afford to do this. I hope that the odious amendment that was made to our pensions law last year, which required the pensioners to assign their property to the Government, will be repealed.
– Order !
– Having said so much, let me end on an optimistic note. I rejoice exceedingly at the positive assurance of the Assistant Treasurer that whatever may in the past have been the definition of invalidity, and whatever may have been the defects in the administration of this legislation, the interpretation of the law will in the future be on a much more liberal basis than we have hithertounderstood to be possible. Having obtained that assurance from the Assistant Minister, it may be said that the time we have spent in discussing this subject to-day has not beenwasted.
.- I regret that the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey), in the speech delivered by him a few minutes ago, did not deal with a, certain question, and I wish to ask him to make a definite statement regarding the date upon which pensions first become payable after they havebeen granted. Apparently the department fixes an arbitrary date. I direct the attention of the Assistant Treasurer to a case concerning which I wrote him on the 8th September. The original application was made to the department in June, but when no information had been received about it after nearly three months, I was asked to take it up. My letter was acknowledged on the 15th September, and I was advised on the 21st September that a pension had been granted at the maximum rate as from the 31st August.Why was that time arbitrarily fixed ? It seems to me that when applications for pensions are delayed until the applicants call in the aid of their parliamentary representative to press for a decision, the claim, if subsequently approved, should be paid as from the date of the original application. In this connexion I have received the following ruling from the department : -
Date of first payment is first pay day within fortnight of claim.
– The Assistant Treasurer was surprised when that statement was brought under his notice.
Mr.R. GREEN.- The ruling continues: -
In case of rejection and representation made by member subsequently, payment is dated from such representation, not from original claim.
I can understand that if the claim is rejected and subsequently approved upon a new application the payment should date from the date of the fresh application, but I cannot Understand why the first payment on an original claim should not date from the date of the claim. The ruling also contains this statement-
Claim means lodgment of form of application.
I hope that an explanation will be given me of why a claim made in June, and subsequently granted on the 21st September, should be payable only from the 31st August. I am sure that honorable members generally do not know the procedure adopted by the department in fixing the date of the commencement of the payment of a pension, and if the Assisttant Treasurer can give the committee some information on that point, it will be of great assistance to honorable members, and will save considerable correspondence withthe department in the future.
.- I should like the Assistant Treasurer (Mr Casey) to impress upon the medical officers who act in conjunction with the Pensions Department, the necessity for extending sympathetic and kindly treatment to applicants for pensions and those receiving pensions, who appear before them for examination. I know of one doctor who is most inhumane in his treatment of pensioners. He never has a kindly word for them, and always leaves a bad impression. When the Labour party held office, I reported him to the Government. I was bitterly hostile to him then, and I am just as hostile to him to-day. I should like the Assistant Treasurer to give this officer a rap over the knuckles,and to instruct him tobe more courteous to those whom he is called upon to examine.
– Why not dismiss him?
– If it were within my power, I would dismiss him tomorrow. A kindly word costs nothing, and would go a long way towards easing the lot of many unfortunate pensioners.
One would imagine from the remarks of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) that the provision in the act relating to naturalization was something new, yet it has been in operation since the inception of the pensions legislation. When the Labour party was in power, the honorable member was an active supporter of it, yet he never opened his mouth to complain about the operation of this provision, and took no action whatever with a view to improving the lot of the pensioners. Quite a number of people are indifferent to the necessity for becoming naturalized until they awaken to the fact that they are in need of a pension. They then complain that they have to pay a naturalization fee of £5. Any person living in this country who is unnaturalized and wishes to apply for a pension should be compelled to pay £5 for that privilege.
– If the applicant is an invalid, how can he obtain £5?
– An exception could be made in the case of persons who are in bad health provided that they are good citizens, but in the ordinary course of events, the naturalization fee should be paid.
Reference has been made to the earnings of invalid pensioners. Last session, I stated clearly and definitely - and the statement was reported in practically every newspaper - that invalid pensioners were permitted under the act to earn up to, say, 6s. a week.
– The honorable member must have been the only member aware of that fact.
– I am not responsible for the honorable member’s ignorance of the provisions of the act. I admit that under the recent restrictions the payment to invalid and old-age pensioners earning 3s. a week and over, was reduced by 2s 6d. a week, but that anomaly has now been rectified. The Government has pro mised to amend the property provisions of the act before the end of next week, and apart from those provisions the pensions legislation is now infinitely better than it was prior to the advent of this Government. The administration of the act has also been considerably improved and a pensioner with an income of 12s. 6d. is now entitled to a full pension.
– The honorable member held a different opinion the other day when he referred to the callousness of those with whom he is associated.
– What I said was perfectly true. I am pleased indeed that Senator Massy-Greene has resigned from the Ministry, because he was responsible for the cruel and callous administration of the act. However, that is a thing of the past, and conditions are different to-day. We should be proud of the act as it now stands, and I hope that next year, if the finances permit, there will be a complete restoration of the invalid and old-age pension to £1 a week.
– So soon as the Labour party is returned to power, the pension will be increased to £1 a week.
– The Labour party is not likely to be in office for many years to come. I ask the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) to withdraw his amendment, because, even if it were carried, it would serve no useful purpose. It would merely reduce the vote by a paltry £1.
– As the honorable member has been Chairman of Committees, he should know much better than that.
– I know my business probably a great deal better than the ex-Speaker, the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) knows his business. If the amendment were carried there would be £1 less to distribute among the old-age and invalid pensioners, and I suggest that it be withdrawn in view of the assurance of the Prime Minister that amending legislation will be brought down before Parliament adjourns for the Christmas vacation.
Mr.HOLLOWAY (Melbourne Ports) [9.28].- The reply of the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey) was satisfactory from the point of view of future administration of the department, .and his interpretation of the existing act is much more favorable than that of the department. What I find fault with is the way in which the Assistant Treasurer dismissed altogether the suggestion that married couples who had been separated for years had been unable to obtain pensions. He was emphatic that there were no such cases. I have already brought two such cases under the notice of the Commissioner in Canberra, and I am confident that both of these claims will be granted. I do not’ think that the Minister will mind the disproof of his statement that no such cases exist.
Since the amendment of the law last year, particularly as the result of instructions issued by the ex-Assistant Treasurer (Senator Massy-Greene), there has been speeding up by the administration in all the States, especially in Victoria, with a view to the reduction of the cost of pensions. In order that all existing pensions could be reviewed quickly, the department took the risk of reducing, suspending, and cancelling without investigation, placing on the pensioners the responsibility of proving that they were being improperly treated: I have handled 30 or 40 cases of that nature, and have heard of scores of others. Probably 90 per cent, of the pensioners would enlist the aid of members of Parliament. When the cases were reviewed, it was found that there was no justification for the action that had ‘been taken and the pensions were restored, hut only from the day on which the matter was rectified. I am certain that the Minister will not sanction an injustice of that sort in the future. Where there was no justification for it, the payment should have been dated back to the time of such, suspension or cancellation.
I repeat that I have handled cases, the existence of which the Minister has denied. His statement must be based on the fact that they have not been brought to Canberra. I suggest that only a small percentage of the protests that are made against the treatment of pensioners comes to Canberra. Honorable members depend on Deputy Commis- sioners, and go over their heads to the Commissioner only on odd occasions. I admit that I have obtained better results from Mr. Metford. One of the two cases that I have sent to him to-night is that of a miner in Lauriston, near Ballarat, which I have been handling for a year, and the other is that of a cripple who has been refused a pension for the sole reason that he cannot discover whether his wife is alive or dead, and, consequently, cannot prove that she is not in a position to maintain him. He has not seen her for twenty years. It is wrong to place such a responsibility on the applicant for a pension. I hope that the Minister will place on the administration the onus of proving disqualification.
– I wish to give the particulars of a case in which great hardship has been inflicted on a man who was born northwest of Port Augusta over 70 years ago. His people were engaged in station work, and the difficulties associated with the registration of births in that distant part were evidently so great that Ins birth was not registered. He has followed mining of late years, and his health is now broken, yet he is denied a pension on account of his inability to prove that his age entitles him to receive one. A man in Kalgoorlie is prepared to swear that the applicant was carting wood as a lad of about fifteen years of age in Saltia 55 years ago. It is impossible to produce further evidence of his age. I took the case to the Deputy Commissioner in Western Australia. It is useless to find fault with a member who is unable to derive satisfaction from that source, because he naturally regards such a. decision as final. I look upon the Deputy Commissioner in Western Australia as a man of wide sympathy, and in ordinary circumstances would not dream of going over his head to the Commissioner.
– Does the applicant for the pension look his age?
– Every year of it. When immigrants from counties in Ireland, where births were not registered years ago, applied for the pension, their declaration of age was accepted. The only step taken by the department was 10 search the passenger lists of the vessels in which they came to Australia, in order to check the year of their arrival. Immigrants from the United Kingdom, foreigners who have become naturalized, and Hindus who could not speak the English languagewhen they came to Aus- tralia, have been able to obtain pensions after a residence of twenty years in this country; yet this Australian-born is denied one. In the circumstances, a sympathetic administration would see that the pension was granted.
.- The information given by the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey) to-nighthas pleased me greatly. It proves that I was correct in my assumption that the honorable gentleman would make a very good Minister. He has said that invalids may earn up to 6s. a week.
– I said 3s., 4s., or 5s.
– I have known old-age pensioners to hold horses outside restaurants while commercial travellers are having their lunch, for which service they receive1s. a day. Let us, therefore, place the amount at 6s.a week.I have handled the case of a girl who made application for an invalid pension, was medically examined, and had her claim rejected. The reply of the department reads -
I have to acquaint you that your claim for a pension has been rejected, on the ground that it is unproved that you are totally and permanently incapacitated for work of any kind.
– Regular work.
– A letter written by her sister reads -
She has not been successful, as you will see by enclosed rejection. The State Labour Exchange stopped the dole, because they considered her totally unemployable.
Yet, the predecessor of the present Assistant Treasurer would let this girl starve. I intend to place the case in the hands of the Minister, in the confident belief that he will see that the claim is granted.
Another case that I am handling concerns a lady who is slightly deaf. A letter that I have received from her states -
As you are aware, I am trying for a pension on account of my health. I wish to say that before I left England over thirteen years ago I was in good health, and passed a doctor before I could obtain my passport, whichI have now.My children were all single when I arrived out here; they were all living at home with me, and were all working for Australia, whilst I. remained at home looking after them all, including washing and cooking all myself, as well as my housework. I did not think I would have been expected to go out to work as we’ll as my family.
Yet the administration, under instructions from the predecessor of the Assistant Treasurer, ruled that this ‘ woman must go out to work before she would be entitled to an invalid pension. The letter goes on to say -
My eldest son was in the Australian Army. The second one was chief gunner in the British Navy, and was on the Russell when it was blown up. After the war they all came home to live with me; since then, they have all married, but one. His work is only casual. He is all the support I have, and my health has been gradually failing, until I am crippled in every joint. I have tried for a pension before, but was told I had never worked for Australia. I am63 years of age, andam hoping that you may be able to help me in this.
I shallnot mention the name of the lady. I leave the matter with the Assistant Treasurer, feeling confident that it will meet with the same fate as the previous one submitted by me. I am also pleased that the honorable gentleman has given anassurance that, where the evidence of two independent doctors overrides that of Dr. Ludowici, it will be accepted.
– That is not so. Their evidence will be taken into consideration, and if the Commissioner orhis deputy decides that justice has not been done, the case will be submitted to another medical referee for determination.
– That places the Commissioner or his deputy in a false position. The fairest thing would be to decide that, if there is a preponderance of medical evidence against Dr. Ludowici, the matter shall be decided in favour of the applicant.
I again seek the support of the Minister in connexion with the case of the woman pensioner at Auburn, who has thirteen boarders who are also pensioners. The Government pays State institutions 12s.6d. a week for pensioner inmates, the amount previously being11s. 9d. This old lady receives only11s. 3d. a week from each pensioner, and cannot show a profit. In the circumstances I urge that, she be paid the full pension of 17s. 6d. a week.
My last point deals with the simplification of formalities to effect the official separation of an aged couple. At present it is necessary to have the forms signed by ‘both parties, which frequently is impossible, as I proved a short while ago. Reputable persons are permitted to certify as to the eligibility of a pensioner, and a similar arrangement should be in operation concerning the separation of a couple. I know of an instance where an honorable member was asked by a lady to obtain the necessary form from the department, which he did, and sent it on to her. The next day she visited the Federal Members’ Rooms at the Commonwealth Bank, Sydney, and said, “You, a member of Parliament, ought to be ashamed of yourself for corning between husband and wife; it is scandalous that you should have sent me a separation form to sign.” That sort of thing would be avoided if it were provided that any reputable persons could sign the necessary form certifying’ that a couple was living apart.
I have found the officials of the department, who are public servants, to be most sympathetic in the treatment of cases put before them, and I know that, if the Assistant Treasurer were to say to them, “ I want you to give pensions to all these cases that have been referred to by the honorable member for Reid,” it would be done. The whole thing rests with the honorable gentleman. It is the first time that he has occupied his present august position, and dealt with the estimates of a department. Let him commemorate the occasion fittingly, and, in so doing, help some of the fine old pioneers of the country.
Mr.MAKIN (Hindmarsh) [9.55].-I should like the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey) to reply to my question concerning adequate maintenance. I know cases in which hardship is placed upon parents with small incomes who have to provide special foods, medicines and medical assistance for an invalid child, and should like to see a broadening of the provisions of the act in this regard.
I should also like the department to be instructed to revert to the old practice of making pension payments retrospective to the date of application. Unfortunately, the extraordinary pensions legislation that has been introduced by the Government has overwhelmed the department with all sorts of complicated problems, so that it has experienced difficulty in dealing with new applications for pensions. It is unfair that persons whose applications have been delayed by the department should be deprived of a certain amount of money. It would be equitable to make the payment retrospective to the date of application.
I agree that a strong case has been submitted for the. appointment of appeal boards, and I hope the Government will take the necessary action in this direction. I should like to say that I have received every consideration from officers of the department, either in Canberra or in Adelaide, when I have made representations on behalf of pensioners. But I have found distinct difficulty in consequence of the undue hardship inflicted upon pensioners because Government medical officers have dealt . unsympathetically with them. In my opinion applicants for invalid pensions have a serious grievance in this connexion. Certain Government medical officers, through excessive zeal to serve the department well, have served claimants for pensions most unjustly. I do not say that this has been done deliberately, but apparently certain medical officers cannot forget that they are associated with a public department. This seems to warp their judgment and to cause them to give insufficient consideration to the invalidity provisions of the pensions law. Seeing that claims for invalid pensions are determined onmedical evidence submitted by departmental doctors, every care should be taken to ensure that justice is done to claimants. I support the request that has been made for the setting up of independent medical tribunals to hear appeals from unsatisfactory decisions of departmental doctors. If such independent bodies were constituted, a good deal of the dissatisfaction that at present exists would be removed.
I also support the request of the honorable member forWest Sydney (Mr. Beasley) that the practice of making deductions from pensions in respect of those persons who are required temporarily to leave their homes to obtain medical attention at a hospital or other institution.
We all know that in such cases invalid pensioners sometimes go to live temporarily with a son or daughter who resides close to an institution which can provide them with the needed treatment. Frequently the old people have to close up their own homes, because they cannot let them. Such extra treatment nearly always involves increased expenditure. There is, therefore, no justification whatever for reducing the pensions of persons who need this additional attention. This provision of the act should be interpreted as sympathetically as possible pending an amendment of it.
Attention has been directed in this debate to many anomalies in the act which indicate the crying need for its complete overhaul. I urge the Government to give the most sympathetic regard to the aged and infirm old people of this country who are dependent upon the pension for the bare necessaries of life. These unfortunate citizens should not be required to endure any hardship that can be avoided.
.- No doubt to-day’s discussion of our pensions law has been worth while, if only because it has caused the responsible Minister (Mr. Casey) to promise that more generous treatment will be accorded pensioners in the future. The honorable gentleman has said, for instance, that invalid pensioners may earn up to 6s. a week without endangering their pensions. But throughout my parliamentary experience I have discovered that Ministers anxious to get the Estimates for their department through the committee are prepared to be very generous, at least, for the time being. They will promise that this, that, and the other thing will be done. The Assistant Treasurer, in his new-born enthusiasm and generosity, has this evening made reference to the earning capacity of invalid pensioners. But we shall probably discover that when the officers of the Pensions Department are consulted on the subject they will say that invalid pensioners may not earn even a few shillings a week without surrendering their pensions, and will point to the provisions of the act which govern the situation. It appears to me that if all the promises made this evening to liberalize the administration of the pensions law were implemented, an increased expenditure of £1,000,000, or even £1,500,000, would be incurred in the current financial year, and I am not optimistic enough to imagine that this is possible without a considerable amendment of the law. I do not cavil at the Minister for promising that the act will be sympathetically administered, nor have I any grouch against the officers of the Pensions Department, though many claimants for pensions may feel aggrieved because their claims have been rejected. But I am quite certain that when the officers of the department are called into consultation regarding the promises made this evening, they will say that the Minister evidently spoke under some misapprehension.
Take, for instance, the case of husbands and wives living apart from one another. When we approach the Assistant Treasurer with a request that a pension be granted to either one or other of the parties concerned, he will doubtless call his officers into consultation, and they will certainly direct attention to the provision of the act which reads -
If for twelve months of the previous five years the husband or wife has deserted either one or the other, they are not eligible for the pension.
The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) referred this evening to the case of an applicant for a pension who had not seen his wife for the last 30 years, and had not even heard of her for more than 20 years. Even that man had Buckley’s chance of getting a pension. I also direct attention to the following provisions of the act: -
– (1.) The net capital value of accumulated property shall be assessed in the prescribed manner, and, unless otherwise prescribed, the following provisions shall apply: -
In the computation of income -
I have brought under the notice of the Deputy Commissioner of Pensions for Queensland, Mr. Maguire, many applications of married people living apart from one another, and he has invariably said that nothing can be done unless a separation order is obtained.
Reverting for a moment to the assurance of the Assistant Treasurer that invalid pensioners may earn up to 6s. a week, I point out that the act uses the term “permanent incapacity”, and the Deputy Commissioner for Queensland has ruled that a person who can earn any money is not totally and permanently incapacitated. The word “ totally “, by the way, appears in the regulations, but not in the act. I know of a woman who was wheeled to the departmental office in Brisbane in an invalid chair. At the inquiry into her circumstances, it was ascertained that she was able to earn a few shillings a week dressmaking, and for this reason, it was ruled that she was not totally incapacitated. The woman’s health was very bad, and she had to use what little money she could obtain to buy medical necessaries. She was not able at that time to produce a doctor’s certificate to the effect that she was totally and permanently incapacitated; even now she is not able to do so; but surely a woman who must be wheeled about in an invalid chair, and suffers incessantly, should be entitled to an invalid pension. We have all known of cases of the cancellation of invalid pensions when it has been discovered that the pensioner has been earning a few shillings a week. I had brought under my notice recently when I visited Aramac, in my district, the case of an old lady who has been a sufferer for many years, and who spent almost the whole of her pension of 17s. 6d. a week in medicine and other requirements of a person in her poor state of health. She was in the care of her daughter, whose husband was on relief work for only three days a week. As soon as it was discovered that she was living with her daughter, the Pensions Department intimated that the value of her board and lodging would have to be taken into account in assessing her pension, and in consequence of this being done, her rate of pension was reduced from 17s. 6d. to 15s. a week.
That occurred under the amending legislation passed last year. Despite the statement of the Assistant Treasurer respecting the earning capacity of invalid pensioners, it is on record in letter after letter that the payment of a pensioner who was receiving board and lodging from a relative was reduced from 17s. 6d. to 15s. a week. This afternoon the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Dein) said that the Government had not reduced pensions by 2s. 6d. a week and he quoted figures to show that only one pensioner in six had had his pension reduced by that amount. The pensioners know the circumstances and it is of no use for the supporters of the Government to say that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) has moved this amendment for political purposes. As the majority of pensioners vote for the Labour party it, would be only a waste of time for the Leader of the Opposition to move an amendment merely for purposes of political propaganda. The honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) has complained about the reduction of the maternity allowance. Let me remind him that that reduction was brought about by legislation passed last year and supported by the honorable member. No person in receipt of an income of over £208 per annum is entitled to maternity allowance and no provision is made for exemptions. In parts of Queensland allowances are made on account of the high cost of living and an income of £200 at, say, Longreach would not be anywhere near the value of a similar income in Brisbane. That applies also to pensions. The maternity allowance is now treated as a sopinstead of a payment to which the mother of a new-born babe should, if the original intention of the Parliament were carried out, be rightly entitled. The Government should deal with this matter before the House adjourns. There is plenty of time between now and Christmas to rectify many of the anomalies in our pensions, maternity, and other legislation.
.- I shall be pleased to accept the invitation of the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey) to bring directly under his notice the complaints of many pensioners and applicants for pensions that they have been treated discourteously by officials of the Pensions Department. I can assure the Assistant Treasurer that it will require more than an hour of his time to deal with those complaints, and if he will make arrangements to spend’ a week in Sydney I shall keep him busily occupied. My reference to the discourtesy meted out to the applicants for pensions and those in receipt of pensions whose cases were under review, did not include the whole of the officials of the department, because, naturally, in all departments there are some officials who are prepared at all times to be courteous. However, there are far too many instances of discourtesy, and the Assistant Treasurer has adopted the right attitude by promising to make a personal investigation of these complaints.
Referring to my statement that applications for pensions had been refused on the ground that the claimants had failed to become naturalized, the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) said that that had always been the case under the act, but evidently he is not well versed in this particular legislation, because at one time no naturalization fee was required and only in later years has the department required alien applicants to pay such a fee. I have suggested to the Government and to the department that where the failure of an applicant to become naturalized is the only bar to his pension, the. payment of the fee should be deferred until such time as it is repaid by small deductions from the pension.
The Assistant Treasurer, referring to the case of uri ex-soldie’r, said that the man had enlisted for service overseas, but had misled the authorities in respect of his nationality. That, of course, was a foolish action, hut the defence authorities at. that time were quite prepared to accept his statement without question, and T suggest that in justice to this unfortunate individual who furnished incorrect information so that he might serve overseas, the department should at least be prepared to assist him to obtain a pension in the declining years of his life when he is unable to work for a living.
I was surprised to learn from the Assistant Treasurer that invalid pensioners are allowed to have an income from personal exertion. If the Minister investigates all the complaints that I have placed before him he will’ find that a certain method of cross-examination takes place when an applicant for a pension is interviewed by a special magistrate. Special magistrates like other public servants are instructed that they have to investigate cases along certain lines, and trick questions are put to the applicants. They are asked how they manage to do their housework and to clean their rooms, and invariably they answer that they struggle through it. They are asked to sign a statement to that effect, and when they sign it they are told that as, on their own admission they are able to do their own housework, they are not totally and permanently incapacitated, and, therefore, are not entitled to a pension. Most of the applicants will sign anything in order to leave the office as quickly as possible, and when later they ask honorable members to ventilate their cases the department produces signed statements to support its action in. refusing a pension. The pensioners’ associations, which represent the great majority of the invalid and old-age pensioners in this country, should be allowed to appoint a representative at these inquiries so as to watch the interests of their members, and if that were done I believe that many of the grounds for complaint would be removed.
The Assistant Treasurer has said thatsome of the charges made against Dr Ludowici were unfounded. In respect of one ‘ case which was brought before the notice of the Assistant Treasurer, the honorable member concerned was asked to obtain from the neighbours of the applicant evidence to the effect that they had seen her in an epileptic fit, and three neighbours testified to that effect. Dr. Fenner, of Balmain, stated that the claimant was totally and permanently incapacitated. Dr. Porter, the Medical Superintendent of the Sydney Hospital, made a similar statement. Yet all that evidence was set aside in favour of the opinion of Dr. Ludowici. I suggest that that medical officer should be treated in the. same way as any other employee of the Government who is incapable of fulfilling the duties assigned to Lim. He should be dismissed and replaced by a competent officer. The following astounding reply was furnished by the department -
I have had the claimant examined by the Commonwealth medical referee and the position now is one for and one against.
That statement shows that the outside testimony of reputable witnesses was entirely disregarded. However, the department said that, as the result was one for and one against, the doubt would be given to the applicant. There should be no doubt in that case, because the opinions of . three reputable doctors were directly opposed to the opinion of Dr. Ludowici. Medical officers are paid 10s. for each examination, and it is only natural that Dr. Ludowici and other medical practitioners employed by the Pensions Department who have private practices can demand a higher fee than 10s. from their own patients. On some mornings when they are asked to make medical examinations on behalf of the department they may have calls from patients, and will hurry through the departmental examinations as was done in the case of examining those enlisting for war service. The situation would be amusing if it were not so tragic. I know of a woman suffering from sugar diabetes, who by means of her pension was able to pay for a special diet and for periodical injections of insulin, and whose condition improved slightly. She was then called up for a further examination, and the medical referee, on finding that her condition had slightly improved, recommended that her pension should be cancelled. The amazing decision of the department was that, if her condition grew worse - naturally it would when she could not purchase what she required - her pension would be restored.
Another case which may interest the Assistant Treasurer, who says that in certain cases invalid pensioners are allowed to earn a small income, is that of an invalid pensioner in New South Wales suffering from some rheumatic condition in the joints of the hands which prevents him from undertaking ordinary work. The medical authorities said that if he undertook ‘light employment it would allow him to exer- else his fingers and his condition mightimprove. He was given permission to make artificial paper flowers, and during the period of about twelve months he earned about 2s. 6d. a week. The department then decided that as he was able to use his fingers even only slightly his condition had improved, and his pension was withdrawn.
The Assistant Treasurer should at the earliest possible moment notify honorable members when he can spare a week in Sydney, and we shall then be able to keep him fully occupied hearing complaints from applicants for pensions and from those whose pensions have been either reduced or cancelled. If he does so, he will realize that the statements made by honorable members on this side of the chamber can be fully justified.
.- I should like to’ know how the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey) proposes to override the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act and regulations framed under it, which definitely provide that -persons in receipt of invalid pensions shall not engage even in light work. Before and since I have been a member, of this House, cases have been brought under my notice of pensioners who have been deprived of their pensions because they could perform only light work.
– They were not allowed to earn anything.
– Where does the act so provide ?
– The honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) quoted the act.
– Does the honorable member suggest that they may not do work of any kind?
– The act provides that an invalid pension is paid only to persons permanently incapacitated, but in a regulation the word “ totally “ has been inserted. I have known invalid pensioners in my electorate whose pensions have been cancelled because they have undertaken light house work. We have now been informed that they are entitled to earn up to 4s. or 5s. a week, and as I have told people that under the law they are not permitted to do any class of work, I should like some definite information on the subject. According to the act and the regulations applicants for invalid’ pensions must he permanently and totally incapacitated, and medical officers must, of course, be guided by the law in recommending applicants for pensions.
.- The Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey) has stated that the Government medical officer rejects applications for invalid pensions when two outside medical practitioners arrive at a different decision with respect to the total and permanent incapacity of an applicant.
– If the Deputy Commissioner so decides.
– That statement differs from one which the Assistant Treasurer previously made. I was going to suggest that Deputy Commissioners should be instructed to exercise discretion in such cases: The latest statement of the Minister nullifies that which he previously made. Do I understand that a Deputy Commissioner has discretionary power if two medical practitioners disagree with the opinion of the Government medical officer ?
– I did not say two.
– The Minister’s statements are somewhat confusing. I believe that if two medical certificates are given in favour of the applicant, the Deputy Commissioners should be instructed to use their discretion in obtaining the opinion of another medical officer acceptable to both parties, whose decision should be final. I understand that the Minister has now said that an invalid pensioner is allowed to earn up to 6s. a week.
– I said that he is allowed to earn small nominal amounts of an intermittent character of, say, 3s., 4s., or 5s. a week.
– The act and the regulations provide that applicants for invalid pensions must bc permanently and totally incapacitated. It has always been understood that the only persons entitled to an invalid pension are those who are so incapacitated that they cannot earn anything. As a matter of fact, I know of a specific case in which a man was adjudged to be totally and permanently incapacitated, and was granted a pension. He was so sick that he went to hospital for a considerable time. He recovered to some extent, and,, upon his return home, felt so much better that, on. two different days, he performed some voluntary work as a carpenter in the erection of a church. He did not work continuously, but rested when he felt inclined, and went home when he was tired. He did not receive a penny payment, but an anonymous letter was sent to the department stating that he had been seen working, and his pension was suspended. I made representations on his behalf to the Deputy Commissioner, and was informed that if the man had done any work, whether he was paid for it or not, and whether it was continuous or intermittent, he could not be permanently and totally incapacitated, and was not, therefore, entitled to receive a pension.
It is laid down in the act that a pensioner may not earn any income, but the Minister, apparently overruling the act, says that pensioners may earn up to a certain amount. We’ know that the Minister has, on previous occasions, overruled the act, but it is not likely that he will do so in the interests of applications brought forward by members of the Opposition. If he does, however, it will merely prove that we are engaged in a farcical proceeding in passing acts of Parliament. If the Government is sincere, it will introduce an amending bill laying it down definitely that a person may earn up to a certain sum, and still be entitled to. an invalid pension.
– Replying to the point raised by the honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Baker), I desire to state that I have not given any interpretation of this act in respect of invalid pensions that is not in accordance with existing practice. In order that there may be no misapprehension, I shall repeat in specific terms what I said on a previous occasion. I said that invalid pensioners were permitted to receive nominal payment of a few shillings a week for rendering small services. I suggested that they might receive 3s., 4s., or 5s. a week, not as payment for regular work, but as nominal payment for this class of intermittent or casual work.
– Under what section of the act may that be done?
– The honorable member knows that there is no section in the act under which it may be done, but the act has been liberally interpreted in that way. The fact that such an interpretation has been placed upon it in no way mitigates the fact that a claimant for an invalid pension must be totally and permanently incapacitated, and the case quoted by the honorable member for Oxley does not prove that the practice I have referred to is not being followed. It is evident that if a carpenter, a stonemason or a blacksmith is able to work at his trade, even casually, or for a short period, he is not permanently and totally incapacitated. There are, however, many ways in which a man may earn a few shillings a week at intermittent and casual employment in the way of rendering small services without forfeiting his right to a pension.
– What about applicants who perform their own housework?
– I should think that such applicants would have proved that they were not permanently and totally i ncapacitated.
– Can the Minister quote any specific case in which the act has been interpreted in the liberal way he speaks of ?
– As a private member,I knew of more than one such case, and since I have become a Minister I have become acquainted with others.
Several honorable members complained of the condition of the premises in which pensioners are paid at NorthFitzroy. This matter was brought up over twelve months ago by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Dennis), and I thought that the trouble had been remedied. Pensions used to be paid at St. Luke’s Hall, and to revert to the use of that building would involve the Commonwealth in considerable extra expense. However, I shall have the matter investigated to see whether conditions are such as to justify that expense.
References have been made to the manner in, which Dr. Ludowici has carried out his duties as an examining officer in connexion with pension applications. I have never met this gentleman, and his name was unfamiliar to me until: to-night; but it is only fair to him to say that, although honorable members have criticized his decisions in regard to applicants for pensions, there has been no reflection upon him in his professional capacity.
The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) mentioned the case of pensioners who had to leave their homes and reside elsewhere, and he suggested that the act should be amended so that no deduction would be made from their pensions in respect of the houses they vacate. He quoted the case of a man who, because of sickness, had to leave his home and live in the city. He admitted that the Deputy Commissioner had been liberal in his ruling in that he did not charge the value of the unoccupied premises against the pensioner. This is a matter which has to be left to the discretion of the Commissioner, so long as the property provisions remain in the act; and an unoccupied home has, as a general rule, to be charged against the pension rate. I imagine that the case mentioned by the honorable member for West Sydney is a typical one. The honorable member admitted that the Deputy Commissioner had exhibited a liberal spirit by not charging the home against the rate of pension. In the interest of the pensioner, it is much better to leave the matter to the discretion of Deputy Commissioners, all of whom are humane and reasonable.
In respect to the minimum income entitling one to the payment of the maternity allowance, the deduction of the wage tax from the total income is a new point that I undertake to investigate and consider.
The honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green) raised the point of proof of age having to be furnished by a claimant for a pension. I draw his attention to the specific provision in the act which reads -
In. respect of the age of the claimant, the magistrate, if otherwise satisfied, may dispense with corroborative evidence.
It is thus within the discretion of the examining magistrate to judge a man’s age by his features and his general condition. The production of a birth certificate is not insisted on.
– I shall place before the Minister to-morrow correspondence which proves that it is.
– I have quoted from the act to show that corroborative evidence may be dispensed with if the magistrate is otherwise satisfied.
The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) raised the question of the adequate maintenance of invalid pensioners who live with their parents. In such cases the rate of pensions is based on the circumstances of the parents. If, upon a reasonable computation, £ 1 a week may be attributed to the maintenance of the in valid pensioner, the full rate is paid. If the amount that may be so attributed is 30s. a week, the pensioner receives a half pension. Generally, this is not an unfair method of computation.
– Why not revert to the 30s. rate ?
– Times have changed, and in the circumstances the method of computation is fair.
– Is the Minister prepared to consider whether, where no other disqualification exists, an unnaturalized person may be granted a pension and defray the cost of his naturalization out of subsequent payments ? Will he also give to pensioners’ associations the right to be represented at inquiries held by the department ?
– The first request involves an amendment of the act, which is not a matter for discussion on these Estimates.
The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green) complained of delay in the investigation of claims for pensions. Where undue delay, which is not the fault of the claimant, occurs, the Commissioner has discretion to allow a reasonable amount by way of retrospective payment. During the last twelve months the department has been under considerable stress in re-assessing the 250,000 cases of existing pensioners. Though greatly to be regretted, that was unavoidable. Happily, however, that stress is now practically removed, and I assure the honorable member that undue delay will not occur in the future.
– Cannot the payment be made retrospective for the period during which the delay has occurred ?
– It has not been the practice to allow retrospective payment to the date of the claim.
.- I support the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) that the amount be reduced by £1 as an instruction to the Government to remove from the act certain of the property provisions. This debate has clearly demonstrated to the Government, and certainly to the majority of the committee, that the innovations and impositions of the Government are resented all over Australia.
– How much of that resentment is against the administration, and how much against defects in the act ?
– The biggest part of it obviously is against the policy of the Government.
– That means that it is against the act.
– Yes. The imposition of certain iniquitous provisions-
– Order !
– Certain iniquitous provisions, which compel pensioners to sign cards, and mortgage their property to the Government, make it no longer a pension.
– Order ! The honorable member knows that I have ruled many times that the act may not be discussed.
– Because of this disqualification there is widespread resentment which has been reflected in one of the longest debates on the pensions law that has ever taken place in this Parliament. I desire to bring to the notice of the Minister an anomaly in connexion with the consent to sell. Under the act as amended by this Government, a pensioner owning property is forced to sign it away. In hundreds of cases pensioners, to ensure that their property shall be passed on to their children, have made special efforts to procure sufficient to refund to the Government amounts paid in pension since October of last year. In one case that came under my notice recently, a refund having been made, the pensioner anticipated that consent to transfer the property would be given, but to his surprise discovered that it was withheld. When the act was amended by this Government, auctioneers, estate agents and others doing this class of business, were advised that they would he liable to all the penalties of the law if they had any part in the transfer of a pensioner’s property over which the Crown had a lien. It has been ruled, in New South Wales courts, at all events, that upon a refund of pension payment being made, the penal provisions of the set no longer apply, and that, therefore, no consent is necessary for the transfer of property. That might be good law but it does not satisfy estate agents or auctioneers. The Commissioner of Pensions or the Deputy Commissioners in the various States should make it widely known that where refunds of pension payments have been made, those provisions ofthe act dealing with consent to transfer no longer apply.
Although this debate has been most protracted, it has been worth while in that it has disclosed a number of extraordinary features in administration. For instance, the Assistant Treasurer tonight has made the astounding statement that it is possible for a totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner to earn 3s., 4s. or 5s. a week without having his pension affected. I have been in this Parliament since 1917, and I know from experience that in every case where , a pensioner was found to be in employment, his pension has been stopped. There has never been any suggestion that pensioners could earn 3s., 4s. or 5s. a week without suffering a reduction of payment. In every instance the pension ‘has been stopped, and in some cases I have been obliged to make representations for several months before securing its restoration. It is evident, therefore, that the Government, in its administration of the act, has one policy for members of the Opposition and some of its own supporters, but a different policy for those who are in the “know” as to how the act is interpreted. One result of the Minister’s statement will be that the Pensions Department will be inundated with applications for a reinstatement of pensions, and probably for increased payments, because of pensions having been withheld in cases where pensioners have been earning a little money. I strongly protest against pensions authorities in some States being permitted to use their discretion in the matter of pensioners’ earnings, while the officials in other States are required to administer the act strictly. Altogether the Minister’s statement has disclosed an extraordinary position, which hitherto has been kept remarkably secret. Very few members of this Parliament had any knowledge that discretionary power was vested in some of the Deputy Commissioners.
The next point to which I wish to refer is the method of computing the cost of living, upon which pension payments are based, namely, on index figures for the six capital cities. I hope the present system will not be retained for long. A change of government will mean that the whole of the iniquitous provisions of the act will be repealed. The present system operates unfairly against pensioners living outside the sixState capitals. In the electorate of Darling, for example, and the same remark would apply to other country electorates, the purchasing power of the pension is probably from 25 per cent. to 30 per cent. below that of the capital cities. Prom time to time I have made representations to the Minister, pointing out that as climatic and district allowances are paid to Commonwealth and State public servants, and to unionists working under Arbitration Court awards, the same principle should be applied in the payment of pensions.
– That subject could more appropriately be discussed when the promised amending bill is before the committee. -
– I have no desire to debate it further at this stage, except to say that the present method for the computation of pensions is unsatisfactory, and means a loss to very many pensioners.
– I wish to address myself to division18, “ Commonwealth Stores Supply and Tenders Board “. Some weeks ago I mentioned that the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, Brisbane, purchased brushes, brooms and baskets from Sydney or Melbourne when it could have bought articles equally as good from the Queensland Blind, Deaf and Dumb Institution, and the. Postmaster-General (Mr. Parkhill) promised that he would have the matter investigated. This most deserving institution is subsidized by the Queensland Government and provides work for men who cannot obtain a livelihood elsewhere I urge the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey) to give every consideration to its products when such articles are required by the Brisbane subtreasury.
– I shall have the matter to which the honorable member has referred investigatedto see whether anything can be done along the lines suggested.
Question - That the amount be reduced by £1 (Mr. Scullin’samendment) - put. The committee divided. (Chairman - Mr. Bell.)
Majority . . . . 23
Question so resolved in the negative.
.- The Sales Tax Act provides that returns shall be made and lodged monthly with the Commissioner of Taxation by the 15th day of the following month, a penalty being provided in the event of default, the minimum amount being £1. The returns have to be sent to the Commissioner of Taxation, and, in some parts of Australia, if the post is used, it is not possible to furnish them within 21 days of the end of each month. I have received a letter from the Secretary to the Taxpayers. Association of Western Australia, Mr. L. E. Home, stating that the steamers’ sailing dates are often at long intervals at northern ports, and that returns for August last posted on the 1st September at Broome reached the Perth office on the 2nd October, resulting, in a penalty of £1 being imposed. Obviously it is wrong to impose any penalty for failure to comply with the provisions of the act, when compliance is impossible. I suggest that the Minister should accept the date of posting as that on which the returns are submitted. Not only in Western Australia, but also in the Gulf country of Queensland, it must be impossible to. submit returns within 21 days.
– If a return is posted within 21 days of the end of the month, that is deemed to constitute compliance with the provisions of the act. If the honorable member will show me the letter received by him from the Taxpayers Association of Western Australia, I shall furnish him with a specific reply to that effect.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Proposed vote, £157,500.
– The cost of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court is a matter of great importance to the people of Australia, and we are fortunate in the fact that the present Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) has been closely associated with industrial arbitration. In January, 1931, under an award of the court, the employees in most of the trades and callings with which the court has dealt suffered a reduction of their wages by 10 per cent. This came about almost automatically, because far too much time would have been occupied by the Court to satisfy the employers in hearing individual plaints. Since that time, almost a complete change of opinion has occurred throughout Australia. The present Government, public bodies and groups of employers, other than those who work under court awards, have at least partially restored the amounts by which wages were then reduced. I asked the AttorneyGeneral recently to ascertain whether the business of the court was now congested, and whether the claims for the restoration of the former wages were likely to be heard within a reasonable period. At the present time no fewer than 133 cases are listed for hearing, and if these are to be dealt with before the claim for the 10 per cent, restoration, .in inordinately long period must necessarily elapse -before decisions are given. It would be unfair to allow judgment in these matters to be further delayed without some effort being made by the Government to assist the court to deal with the cases more speedily.
Business people generally are feeling the effects of the continued reduction of the spending power of the workers, and although many employers have expressed a desire to refrain from making any further wage reductions, even small reductions on account of fluctuations in the cost of living, no employer cares to take individual action in the matter because of the keen competition. Several large companies have recently refused to apply for wage reductions rendered possible by reductions of the cost of living, but only large firms or companies, or public bodies like the Sydney City Council, can take the risk of increasing wages unless the restoration is uniformly applied. Competition makes it almost impossible for private employers generally to depart to any considerable extent from the standard set by the less reputable employers. I suggest that it is fair and reasonable to ask the AttorneyGeneral to assist the community in this matter. I recollect that, when discord arose over the subject of uniform working hours, both the employers and the employees thought that the slowness of the court procedure was harmful to industry; and on more than one occasion, through the action of the Attorney-General, an award with a general application was made instead of cases having to be heard individually. Since January, 1931, the amounts by which the salaries and wages of public servants, and even the sum by which the parliamentary allowance was reduced, have been partly restored, but no restoration has been made to the great mass of the workers- of the 10 per cent, reduction of real wages. One or two odd applications have, been heard, and there has been a partial restoration of the 10 per cent, cut in one or two industries ; but speaking generally, the workers of Australia are still suffering the loss of wages which was inflicted upon them through the general 10 per cent. cut. If special applications have to be made in every industry, the hearing of the cases would extend over many months, and the workers in certain groups of industries would be still suffering after others had been helped back to their old wage level. The hearing and granting of applications piecemeal would cause chaos in industry, and place some employers at an advantage compared -with others. There is. only one sound, economic ‘way of doing it. I appeal to the AttorneyGeneral ‘ to do what is necessary to help the court to deal with n general application for the restoration of the 10 per cent. cut. If the judges need more help, it should be given, and if additional registrars or industrial officers are necessary, they should bo appointed. The court has always been prepared to accept advice from the Attorney-General of the day on a matter of this kind!, and has not regarded the tendering of it as an interference with its functions. On more than one occasion, to my knowledge, the judges have suggested- that some other authority -Parliament - should give them a lead when any new principle of wage adjustment or any vital alteration of conditions has been proposed. It would help employers and employees alike if some formula could be applied on a universal basis for the restoration of the 10 pex cent, reduction of wages. It will be remembered that when the standard of working hours was altered from 48 to 44 some years ago, it was done on a general basis. I could give tlie names of 20 or 30 firms and public bodies which have expressed the view that it would be in the best interests of the community if wages were restored to their old level. Many people who felt some time ago that the reduction of wages would be efficacious in restoring prosperity to the country now doubt the wisdom of that policy, and would gladly revert to the old standards. If the millions of pounds which were subtracted from the general wages fund by the 10 per cent, reduction could be restored, it would have a very marked effect on commerce and industry, and would give to business that necessary stimulus which is now lacking. Chambers of manufacturers, chambers of commerce, and employers’ federations can do nothing of themselves to meet the situation. Action must be taken through the Arbitration Court. If the AttorneyGeneral would take the initiative, he would perforin a real public service. An application for a general restoration of the .1.0 per cent, cut was made to the court some time ago, but not granted. I believe that the judges would welcome a proposal from the Attorney-General that the restoration of wages should be on a general basis, just as the cut was on a general basis.
The present position in the court is that, there are 133 matters awaiting attention. I suppose a year would elapse before all of these could be dealt with.
– The part,les are not pressing for the hearing of the matters awaiting attention. The Full Court has sat for only 38 days, and single’ judges for only 51 days in the last six months. For their own reasons, the parties concerned in the applications now waiting attention are not pressing their claims; but the great majority of those claims have nothing to do with the 10 per cent, reduction of wages.
– There are 30 industrial disputes, 81 applications for variations of awards, 16 applications for interpretations of awards, two cases involving alleged breaches of awards, and four appeal cases awaiting attention. The central executives of the trade unions have re quested the court to deal with the application for the restoration of the 10 per cent, cut on a general basis, and the employers also wish the matter to be dealt with in that way, so that there shall be no unfair competition in industry. To suggest that the unions do not want their awards reviewed, and the 10 per cent, reduction restored is quite wrong ; but they desire the court to hear a general case to cover all employees. In these circumstances, I appeal to the Attorney-General to make a suggestion to the court with this object. He has done such a thing before.
– I have not” done what the honorable member is now suggesting that I should do.
– But the right honorable gentleman, has, on occasions, made a proposal that the court should act in a certain way.
– I have intervened in an actual case, and would be prepared to do so again, but I shall tell the honorable member presently why I cannot do what he is now asking me to do.
– I am certain that the court would not regard it as an interference, for I have been present when the ‘Chief Judge has stated that he would be glad if a lead were given to the court.
– He meant a legislative lead. That was suggested some time ago in connexion with a case affecting the railway service.
– I had in mind the case in which the judge asked for a lead in .connexion with the method of arriving at the index figure for determining the basic wage. No objection would be raised if the Attorney-General arranged for a general case to -deal with the restoration of the 10 per cent. There is no other way in which the position can be met, and I, therefore, appeal to the Attorney-General to take steps accordingly. If something of the kind is not done, the position will never be rectified, because one employer cannot restore the 10 per cent, to his staff unless his competitors do the same. The court took away the 10 per cent, in one act, and it should restore it in the same way.
A few days ago the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby) referred to the action of Mr. Justice Starke in ordering some copper beaters to cease work because the noise they made interfered with the hearing of a case over which he was presiding. The <firm concerned realized that the judge was justified in complaining about the noise, but I point out that his action has prevented the firm’s employees from working at their legitimate occupation during the hours that the court is sitting. Consequently, they have been put off, and are losing their pay.
– I do not think that is the case now.
– I hope that the Attorney-General is right; but it is a fact that the men lost time and pay which can never be made up. The firm in question was in business in the locality making divers’ suits and vessels of copper long before the court building was erected, and it is not right that it should be hampered because the proceedings of a court which was set up many years later are interfered with. It would appear that the firm and its employees are to be penalized because the court is not equipped with proper facilities for excluding noise. If there is nothing in the Estimates to provide those facilities, provision should be made accordingly. [Quorum formed.]
.- I shall deal first with the second point raised by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway), namely, the incident which took place when His Honour Mr. Justice Starke requested, and, indeed, directed, that a certain noise which was interfering with the hearing of a rather intricate case should cease. I am, of course, well acquainted with the locality. I know the works in question. The High Court and the ‘ Supreme Court are close to the works. The honorable member has rightly said that these works have been there for some 50 years, and I think that I am correct in saying that this is the first occasion on which they have interfered with the conduct of the business in the courts. Apparently, the inter ference arose because of the manufacture of two particularly large vacuum pans, and the hammering upon them caused far-reaching reverberations. I do not think that any apprehension need be felt as to this happening again, and it is only the particular circumstances which caused the difficulty. The work on these two vacuum pans will now be able to proceed without interference because the High Court is sitting in Sydney. In the past, on occasions, noises have interfered with the judicial tribunals. For example, when the notorious Deeming was being tried in the Supreme Court of Melbourne, the presiding judge had to stop certain noises which were interfering with the hearing of the case of a man on trial for his life. That occurred, I think, early in the ‘nineties. I have been closely associated with all the courts since the beginning of this century, and I know of no other occasion on which it has been necessary for a judge to take similar action.
The honorable member suggested that the Attorney-General had Borne power which he could properly exercise for the purpose of bringing about an early hearing of a claim for the restoration of the reduction of wages of 10 per cent, made in January, 1981, which still generally obtains, although it has been restored in a limited number of special cases. I do not intend to discuss the question of the desirability or otherwise of making that restoration, because that will be one of the most important matters for decision by the court; but I certainly agree with the honorable member ‘that it would be a good tiling if the restoration could be made. That, however, would depend upon various conditions. The honorable member has heard in this House claims from practically every rural industry, except the wool industry, for some sort of assistance or relief. The conditions, therefore, of the whole community have to be kept in mind in connexion with any such application.
The honorable member suggested that I, as Attorney-General, could do something to expedite the hearing, but it is quite impossible for me to do that. As a matter of fact certain applications for restoration of reductions have already been refused, although a few have been granted; and the court has intimated that, as it understands further applications are to be made, it will hear them early in the new year. Up to the present no such applications have been made. That is the position. There is, therefore, nothing in relation to which the Attorney-General can conceivably act until the applicationsare made.
Another point taken by the honorable member was that there have been occasions in the past on which, as Attorney-General, I have intervened under a section which I myself drafted and had inserted in the Arbitration Act for the purpose of bringing about the hearing of a general question affecting the basic wage or standard hours. That section was enacted with the idea of making possible the discussion at one general hearing of a question affecting many industries. The effect of the intervention of the AttorneyGeneral was not that the AttorneyGeneral would appear and argue the case, but that upon his intervention a notification would be inserted in the Gazette, and anybody interested might apply and obtain the right to be heard. I thought, as I still think, that that was a useful and valuable provision in the act. Unfortunately, however, last year the Railways Branch of the AustralianWorkers Union, in a case affecting the railway workers at Port Augusta, raised the point that this legislation was ineffective. The union was successful in its argument, and the result was that it obtained a decision from the High Court which almost entirely deprived this legislation of its efficacy.
– The AttorneyGeneral, himself, made the law state that only three judges could alter the basic wage, whereas one judge had altered it in the railways case.
– I have no wish to enter into an argument on difficult legal technicalities. As the result of the High Court decision, now, as the legislation stands, every dispute which involves an alteration of the basic wage, either up or down, by one penny must he heard by three judges, and that, I venture to say, is unnecessary, and was not the real desire of the union which took this point in the particular case. I have been con sidering the matter, but have not yet found a satisfactory solution of the difficulty.
Another result of the reference of the railways case to the High Court is that the High Court has laid down what I always suspected it might decide - that every decision given by the Arbitration Court must be a decision in relation to a particular dispute. The only jurisdiction of the court is to determine particular disputes, and to make awards or register agreements in relation to them. It cannot lay down a general rule to be applied by the single judges of the court, and accordingly a single hearing of a general question applicable to all cases is not possible under the sections of the act.
– Unless there is a dispute.
– There has to be a separate hearing for each dispute. I am considering whether it is possible to devise, even under the existing law, some means of meeting the position, in order to prevent the hearing of the same point in quite a number of separate cases. The practical difficulty is, of course, that one union or group of employers may refuse to be bound by something which does not legally bind it, and may threaten to argue the question again. By consent the parties can agree that one argument will suffice for a number of cases; but if they insist upon their individual right to be heard, considerable difficulty may arise in the future. I have been interviewed on this matter by representatives of trade unions, and I asked them some months ago to make suggestions for the solution of the problems to which I have referred. Although I have not received any suggestions from them, I have not abandoned hope, arid I am trustful of finding some way out of the difficulty.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Norfolk Island Act - Ordinances of 1933 -
No. 4- Health.
No.5 - Amendments Incorporation.
Papua Act - Ordinances of 1933 -
No. 1 - Census.
No. 6 - Supplementary Appropriation, 1932-1933
No. 7 - Appropriation, 1933-1934.
Discussion of the Estimates.
Mr. LATHAM (Kooyong - Attorney-
General) [12.3 a.m.]. - I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
In thanking honorable members for remaining somewhat later than the usual hour to-night, I should like to remind thorn that Supply has been granted only until the 24th November, which is Friday week. The money available is insufficient to provide fully for the payment of public servants’ salaries falling due on that date, and, in order to provide funds, it will be necessary for the Estimates to be passed by both Houses byWednesday next. Honorable members will agree that the Government has not curtailed debate on subjects in which they are particularly interested, and I therefore venture to ask them to expedite the discussion of the Estimates so that the Senate may receive the Appropriation Bill on Friday morning next. It is hardly fair to ask senators to pass the bill within a few hours under the threat that, if they fail to do so, public servants will not be paid on the ordinary day.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 12.3 a.m. (Thursday).
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
e. - Information is being obtained in reply to a series of questions asked by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), upon notice, in regard to the method of analysing crude oil for determining thepetrol content for customs purposes.
s. - Inquiries are being made, and a reply will be furnished as soon as, possible in reply to questions asked, upon notice, by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) in regard to income tax collections.
Constitutional Reform : Premiers conference athobabt.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
s. - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Northern Territory School Teachers.
s. - On the 24th October, the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) invited attention to the position that had arisen in regard to the Christmas school vacation for school teachers at certain schools in the Northern Territory.
I now desire to advise the honorable member that Mr. H. C. Brown, secretary, Department of the Interior, has not made any report in regard to the cancellation of the Christmas vacation at Darwin or any other schools in the Northern Territory. A report furnished by Mr. Brown raises the question of additional leave granted to school teachers over and above the ordinary school vacations. This report is at present under consideration.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 15 November 1933, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1933/19331115_reps_13_142/>.