16th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. J. Cunningham) took the chair at IX a.m., and read prayers.
– Can the Minister for the Interior give to the Senate any information regarding the cause of the delay in the work of erecting the Villawood explosives factory? Is the delay due to faulty layout of the building, or to the sub-contractors not being able to carry on with the work?
– I shall have the matter investigated, and supply the honorable senator with an answer to his questions as soon as possible.
– Can the Leader of the Senate state the reasons for the delay m choosing sites in the various States for distilleries for the manufacture of power alcohol? According to a statement in the press to-day, no siteshave yet been chosen. Why cannot somebody be furnished with the necessary authority to choose the sites immediately?
– I shall obtain a full report on the matter.
– Has the Minister for Trade and Customs yet had time to consider the statement made by the Minister for the Army, in the House of Representatives yesterday, in connexion with the censorship of books by his department? In view of the direct contradiction between the statement attributed in the press last Friday to the Minister for Trade and Customs, and that made by the Minister for the Army, will the honorable gentleman inform the Senate as to which statement is in accordance with the facts?
– I regard the matter as serious, inasmuch as the power of censorship resides in both the Minister for the Army and myself. Recently I had occasion to intervene with regard to a large consignment of books from overseas that had been delivered in Melbourne and had been held up since March last. Although the books number about 600, only one of them was open to challenge. Despite that fact, all of the books had been held under the direction of some Army authority, but, on the position being explained, the books were released. The main point is that there is dual control. I have asked the Army authorities to communicate to me their views as to whether the power of censorship, from the point of view of subversive activities, should not reside in one authority.
– Which of the two statements may be taken as correct?
– When I receive from the Minister for the Army a reply to my recent request for a full statement on the matter, I shall answer the honorable senator in greater detail.
– Can the Minister for the Interior inform the Senate whether the industrial trouble experienced in the construction of the Greenslopes Military Hospital, near Brisbane, has been overcome, whether the Work is now proceeding at full speed, and when the hospital is likely to be available for use by the military authorities?
– The industrial trouble has terminated, but I cannot say when the hospital is likely to be completed. I shall get that information and supply it to the honorable senator.
– Will the Leader of the Senate give to the Opposition an assurance that the important regulations dealing with the control of private banks will be laid on the table of the Senate before the parliamentary recess? Can the Minister also assure the Senate that the power to control the banks will be vested in the Commonwealth Bank Board, and not in the Labour caucus?
– Both these questions appearto me to relate to matters of government policy, and the decisions reached regarding them will be disclosed to the Senate at the proper time.
Statements by the Minister for the Army and General Sir Thomas Blamey.
– Has the Minister representing the Minister for the Army seen the report in the press that the Minister for the Army had stated that a raw recruit couldbe made into a soldier in a week ? If his colleague was correctly reported, will the honorable gentleman suggest to him that he should contradict or qualify that statement, otherwise he will lose the confidence of the nation in him as a war Minister ?
– I shall undertake to discuss that matter with my colleague, and furnish the honorable senator with a reply.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Army, upon notice -
– The Minister for the Armyhas supplied the following answers: -
– Will the Leader of the Senate make a statement, on the motion . for the adjournment to-day, giving to honorable senators an indication as to when the present sittings will be concluded, and will be consider the convenience of honorable senators generally in that matter ? In view of the important bills coming forward, will he see that arrangements to conclude the parliamentary sittings are not made until he has been consulted, so that the Senate may have reasonable time in which to consider the measures to be dealt with?
– I am not in a position at the moment to make a statement as to the probable date of the termination of the present sittings, but I can assure the Leader of the Opposition that I shall consult the convenience of honorable senators opposite with regard to that matter. As to the second portion of the honorable senator’s question, as far as it is humanly possible, I shall endeavour to avoid the unseemly rush in the concluding days of the period of a session which was characteristic of the proceedings in this chamber during the regime of the previous Government.
The PRESIDENT announced the receipt of a letter from Senator Keane resigning his position as a Temporary Chairman of Committees, and, pursuant to Standing Order 28a, laid on the table his warrant nominating Senator Arnold to act as Temporary Chairman of Committees when requested to do so by the Chairman of Committees, or when the Chairman of Committees is absent.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce, upon notice -
– The Minister for
Commerce has supplied the following answers : -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce, upon notice -
– The Minister for Commerce has supplied the following answers : - 1 and 2. The Government finds that the understanding between the United Kingdom and Australian Governments is that the price may be reviewed in May of each year. The Government has also ascertained that the previous Government failed to initiate any such review. On. account of this failure it mar not be possible to arrange any change in “the price until the 1942-43 clip. The Government at present has this matter under consideration.
Reinforcements fromair Force: Manufacture of Munitions.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence Co-ordination, upon notice -
– The Minister for Defence Co-ordination has supplied the following answers:-
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Army, upon notice -
– The Minister for the Army has supplied the following answers : -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Supply and Development, upon notice -
In view of the serious danger of fires from gas-producers’, will the Government bring forward legislation to ensure -
that gas-producers be kept in good repair;
that places be provided and set apart on roads for refuelling and cleaning;
that users of gasproducers be permitted to empty containers only at specified places during summer months :
that units be examined by competent inspectors with a view to safety from fire?
– The Minister for Supply and Development has supplied the followinganswer : -
The Commonwealth has made itself responsible for ensuring, as far as possible, that all gas-producer units manufactured for sale are soundly constructed, efficient and safe. ‘ This is in the interests of manufacturers and users alike. The Commonwealth cannot control the manufacture of units for use by the manufacturer himself, and it is from these “ homemade “ units that most dangers might arise.
All motor vehicles arc subject to State registration, and the prevention of the fitting’ and use of ill-constructed and dangerous or outofrepair units is thus a matter which can he handled most effectively by State authorities. The Commonwealth has no machinery for undertaking a duty of that kind. The provision of special places on roads for refuelling and’ cleaning producers and for emptying charcoal hoppers is also a matter for State road and forests authorities. The State of Victoria has already issued regulations under the Police Offences Act and the Motor Car Regulations designed to avoid the fire danger referred to by the honorable senator, and it is understood that similar legislation has been passed by other States also.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Army, upon notice -
– The Minister for the Armyhas supplied the following answers : - 1 and 2. A production order for 2,000 of these guns has been authorized, and the preparation of drawings and specifications is proceeding to enable manufacture to commence.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Munitions, upon notice -
– The Minister for Munitions has supplied the following answers: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
Can the Minister give any information at this stage, as to how many men employed in producing non-essential commodities have been transferred, or are likely to be transferred, to establishments engaged in producing war material ?
– The Minister for Labour and National Service has supplied the following answer : -
No statistics are available. The matter is receiving the attention of the Minister for War Organization of Industry.
asked the Leader of the Senate the following questions, upon notice: -
Concerning the report dated the6th June, last, submitted to the Menzies Government by the Western Australian War Industries Committee -
Has the present Government accepted, in principle, the recommendations of that committee?
If so, will the Government make known the terms of reference issued, or to be issued, to the Western Australian Industry Expansion Commission?
Will the Government indicate the amount of money it is prepared to make immediately available in order to implement the recommendations of the committee and for the purposes of the Western Australian Industry Expansion Commission ?
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follows : -
The terms of reference decided upon arc as follows: -
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Keane) read a first time.
.- I move -
That thebillbe now read a second time.
It is my pleasant duty to submit to this chamber abill which I consider is a worthy additionto the Labour party’s great record of advanced social legisla tion. Before applying myself to the technicalities of the measure, I am impelled to make a plea to all Australians to revise that popular,but fallacious, attitude towards pensions which places some mysterious stigma on therecipients. Far from being a mere hand-out to our less fortunate citizens, a pension is more often this nation’s somewhat inadequate recognition of an individual’s long record of sturdy and useful citizenship.
In the midst of the present world upheaval, there is much airy talk of a “ new order “ when the war is over. There is no reason why this great Commonwealth, with its outstanding record of social advancement should await the termination of the war before improving the conditions of the people. Thisbill will give to all those staunch Australians, who have fought a great fight for the maintenance of that basic principle of freedom upon which our democracy is based, some necessary additional comfort in the evening of their days. For these reasons, I commend it to honorable senators, in the belief that it will receive their endorsement.
The principal object of the bill is to give effect to the Government’s decision, as announcedby my colleague the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) in the budget, to increase as from the 11th December next, the maximum rate of invalid and old-age pensions from the present rate of 21s. 6d. a week to 23s. 6d. a week - the highest amount ever paid since the inception of invalid and old-age pensions.
The Government is re-examining the resources at its disposal and, as has been foreshadowed by the Treasurer’s intimation regarding the presentation of a supplementary budget early in the new year, it then intends to introduce a bill to honour its election pledge to raise the pension level to 25s. a week. The new maximum includes a cost of living adjustment of1s. a week, 6d. of which is to be made available by the Government one month earlier than would normally be the case.
Whilst retaining the principle of associating the rate of pension with the cost of living index, the Government proposes an important amendment in order to ensure that, in the eventof a fall of the cost of living, the maximum rate of pension will not be reduced below 22s. 6d. a week without parliamentary approval At present, it is possible to reduce the rate to 21s. a week. The price index number for September, 1941, was 1009. Should it reach 102S, a further 6cl. a week will be payable.
The bill preserves the existing margins of permissible income, namely 12s. 6d. a week in respect of pensioners other than (permanently blind persons, and £3 7s. Gd. a week in respect of blind pensioners. In order, however, to clarify the position regarding permissible income, it is proposed to make certain amendments which will indicate clearly that a pensioner may possess income up to these amounts without his pension being affected. The present provision in the act relating to this matter does not indicate the permissible income as such, but merely states the limit of income, together with the pension. Consequently, it is necessary to vary this limit with every variation of the pension rate. The new provision will avoid the necessity for these variations, without in any way affecting the present permissible income.
The bill also makes provision for pensioner-inmates of benevolent asylums and hospitals to .benefit from the general increase of the pension rate. Following the practice adopted on previous occasions, the increase of ‘2s. will be divided equally between the pensioner and the institution. The new institutional rate of 7s. 9d. a week will include a cost of living adjustment of 6d., and will be the highest amount which has ever been. paid, to pensioners in institutions. Some honorable members may consider that pensionerinmates of institutions should receive the full increase of 2s. a week. I think, however, that it will be admitted that the payments made to pensioners in institutions are in a somewhat different category from those made to other pensioners who have to meet the full cost of their maintenance out of the pension money. The cost of the maintenance of au inmate of an institution is borne almost entirely by the institution, and the pension payment made to the inmate is more in the nature of pocket-money which enables him to purchase tobacco and other commodities not always pro- vided by the institution. The present cost of maintaining inmates of hospitals and some country institutions averages about 22s. 6d. a. week. It is of interest to mention that in 1920 the institutional pension of 2s. a week represented only 13 per cent, of the full pension; in 1.925 the institutional rate of 4s. a week was 20 per cent, of the pension of 20s.; in 1937, when the full pension was 20s. a week, the institutional rate was 30 per cent, of the pension; the amount of 6s. 9d. a week at present being paid, is 31 per cent, of the full pension; whilst the new institutional rate of 7s. 9d. a week will represent about one-third of the pension of 23s. 6d. a week. The act at present provides for pensioner-inmates to receive, at the discretion of the Minister, up to half of the amount of any cost of living increase granted to pensioners outside. This provision, together with cost of living variations, is being retained.
The bill also rnakes provision for other concessions indicated by the Treasurer in the budget speech. One of the most important of these is a liberalization of the conditions under which invalid pensions are granted. The act at present provides that an invalid pension shall be granted only to a person who is permanently incapacitated for work. This requirement has usually been interpreted as meaning total and permanent incapacity. There have been many instances in which this has involved hardship! All honorable Senators have seen ‘borderline cases which make an almost irresistible appeal to our sympathies. There are those doubtful cases to which the administration would wish to extend benefits, but which are now beyond the limits of the act. A great many of these claimants will now participate because provision lias been made in the bill to enable an invalid pension to be granted to a claimant’ if the degree of his capacity for work does not exceed 15 per cent.
The act as it stands at present debars from benefit Asiatics except those born in Australia and Indians in British India. The bill removes the disqualifica-‘ tion of Asiatics who are British subjects, including Asiatics who are British subjects cither by birth or by naturalization. The Asiatics who will chiefly benefit from this concession are Syrians and Lebanese. Many members of the Asiatic community or their sons served with the Australian forces in the last war, and 45 are at present members of the Commonwealth forces overseas.
Under the present act the property exemption of £50 for each pensioner is reduced to £25 each in cases where both husband and wife are. pensioners. The Government considers that there is not sufficient justification for this reduction and the provision under which it is made is to be removed from the act. The result will be that where both husband and wife are pensioners each will receive the benefit of the property exemption of £50. There are quite a number of instances where pensioners own encumbered property which they cannot sell except at a considerable sacrifice, but the value of the equity in the property may cause a reduction of the rate of pension. The bill will remove this cause of hardship by giving the Commissioner discretionary power to disregard the value of the equity possessed by the claimant or pensioner when assessing the net capital value of accumulated property in such cases.
A new provision is to be embodied in the invalid and old-age pensions legislalation with the object of encouraging invalid claimants or pensioners who are capable of undergoing suitable vocational training to do so in order that they may become self-supporting. After considering the age and mental and physical capacity of any invalid claimant or pensioner, and the facilities available for suitable vocational training or physical rehabilitation, the Commissioner may take appropriate steps either to grant or continue a pension in any individual case.
Because it is unnecessary to amend the act to give effect to the Government’s decision regarding adequate maintenance, no mention of this important and farreaching determination is made in the bill. In the future, it is intended to regard “ adequate maintenance “ as a family income sufficient to provide £2 10s. a week for each adult dependent member of the family and one-half that amount for each child under sixteen years of age. Adequate maintenance is not defined in the act, but the standard to he followed has been laid down by successive Governments, and upon the adoption of the budget the Government will authorize the administration to put the new standard into operation as from the 11th December, 1941. It is expected that this generous action will result in the admission of many claims which would have been disallowed under the present standard.
The present number of invalid and old-age pensions is a little over 335.000. They will all receive the full increase of 2s. a week at a cost of £1,743,000 per annum. The cost of the increase it. respect of. 5,450 institutional pensioners will be £28,000 per annum. The total addition to the annual liability as a result of the increases provided for in the bill will thus be £1,771,000. The cost of the increases for the present financial year will be £1,022,000, but this includes an amount of £225,000 which would have been the cost for 1941-42 of the increase of 6d. a. week on the cost of living index from January, 1942. The cost of the other concessions which I have indicated is estimated at £245,500 for a full year. The cost for the remainder of the present financial year will be approximately £143,000. The total additional expenditure as the result of the increases and concessions proposed in this bill is thus £2,016,500 per annum, the total cost for 1941-42 being £1,165,000. Taking into account the estimated increase of the number of pensioners, the total estimated expenditure on invalid and old-age pensions during the current financialyear is £19,865,000, an increase of £2,499,000 as compared with the actual expenditure last year.
Two other important phases of invalid and old-age pensions administration are at present receiving the serious attention of the Government. One of these is the extension of pension benefits to Australian aboriginals who are living under civilised conditions, or who are at least making a genuine endeavour to conform to what one might call the normal Australian standards. The second relates to the exemption from income of war pensions payable to dependants of soldiers when an assessment of invalid or old-age pensions is made. It is sincerely hoped that eventually further concessions will he embodied in the act. I commend the bill to the Senate as a worthy addition to our social legislation.
– I do not propose to make a long secondreading speech on this bill because I have had something to say in regard to the proposals’ contained in it during my speech on the motion for the printing of the revised estimates and. budget papers. In this time of war it is deplorable that the subject of invalid and old-age pensions should become the plaything of party politics. Prior to the last federal elections, the present Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) in a policy speech delivered in August, 1940, promised that if his party were returned to office he would increase the rate of invalid and old-age pensions to 25s. a week. On that occasion, Senator Amour, then leader of the famous Australian Labour party (non-Communist) in this chamber, realizing the number of votes that could bo won by airy promises to the pensioners in New South Wales, outbid Mr. Curtin and promised the invalid and old-age pensioners that if the party which he represented were returned to office, the pension rate wouldbe increased to 30s. a week. History relates what has happened since. When the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) was considering his record budget, providing for no less than £325,000,000, if press reports are correct - and my friends opposite may deny them if they are not - he decided that, in spite of the airy promises made by Mr. Curtin, and in view of the heavy commitments which the Government had to meet, the pension rate should be increased to 23s. 6d. a week and remain subject to adjustment according to the variations of the cost of living. He regarded that as a reasonable rate. The caucus met on the following Tuesday and I can well imagine my friend, Senator Amour, and the other “A” men in the Senate reminding the Prime Minister of the airy promises which he made in 1940. In spite of the fact that the former members of the Australian Labour party (non-Communist) are not over-represented in the Cabinet, they apparently wield sufficient power in the caucus to demonstrate to the people of Australia that the caucus tail still wags the cabinet dog. When the supplementary budget is brought down early in the new year they expect the pension rate to be increased to 25s. a week, subject to cost of living adjustments. At present, proposals such as that now beforeus which make such a heavy demand on the finances of the Commonwealth, and which are of such far-reaching importance, should be debated on their merits on. non-party lines. The. figures relating to the increased cost of the invalid and old-age pensions scheme since its inception are alarming. The increase of the rate of pension and the further concessions proposed in this bill will involve an extra charge on the budget amounting to £2,499,000 for this financial year. We know that the additional cost will increase in the years to come as the result of the normal increase of the number of pensioners and because of the increased cost of living which must be anticipated during the continuance of the war. It is interesting to find that, in 1917, only 25 years ago, the number of invalid and. old-age pensioners was 120,453. During this financial year it is anticipated that the number of pensioners will be 340,000, an increase of almost 300 percent. over the 1917 figures. In 1917 the rate of pension was 12s.6d. a week; the rate this year is 23s. 6d. a week. The charge on the budget in 1917 was £3,500,000; this year it will be no less than £20,000,000. Some people seem to have no conception of the ability of the Australian community to withstand these ever-increasing annual charges without excessive borrowing, without relying on that mythical bank credit about which we have heard so much and which may lead to inflation and disaster. Notwithstanding the fact that the recent loan was successful, the Government still has to raise before the end of June, 1942. no less than £137,000,000. It is suggested in the budget that portion of that amount, will be raised by loan. We know what the Government’s taxation proposals will mean to people in receipt of incomes in excess of £2,000 a year. The financial policy of the Government will cause worry and confusion to future Treasurers. I repeat that pensions should notbe made the plaything of party politics.
– Would the honorable senator give to the old people any pension at all?
Sena tor McLEAY. - I gave my entire support to the national insurance legislation introduced into this Parliament by the Lyons Government, the object of which was fo place pensions on a contributory basis. We shall render the greatest service to our people by divorcing this matter entirely from party politics and by taking the first opportunity to place pensions on a contributory basis. Our old people could then claim their pension;- not as a dole ‘but as a right. In ‘season and out of season, honorable senators on this side of the chamber have always supported the principle of old-age pensions. Our predecessors originated this legislation. Today, however, the annual cost of pensions has reached a figure out of all proportion to the Government’s other commitments. The fir.-t £100,000,000 of the budget is for civil requirements. Out of that amount a sum of £20,000,000 is provided for invalid and old-age pensions, £20,000,000 for repatriation, and £13,000,000 to meet the cost of child endowment. These three social service.* now absorb over £50,000,000 annually. That contribution is disproportionately high. It is out of all proportion to the provision which the present Government proposes to make in the interests of other sections of the community which are suffering great hardships. I refer particularly to the primary producers. A comparison on these lines should make us ask ourselves calmly whether we are handling the problem of pensions and social services generally on a fair basis. An annual payment of £20,000,000 in respect of invalid and oldage pensions is economically unsound, having regard to our other. disbursements. Recently my colleague, Senator James McLachlan, referred to the plight of the wheat- farmers. Let us examine the treatment they are to receive at the hands of the Government. The number of registered wheat-farmers based on applications for licences to grow wheat this year is 68,000. The Government proposes to guarantee a price for wheat of 3s. lOd. a bushel f.o.b., on an estimated crop of 140,000,000 bushels. Out of that figure, the farmer will be obliged to meet charges amounting to ls. Id. a bushel as follows: - Freight, 4-kl., storage, Id., handling charges 3£d., and cornsacks 4d. Thus the farmer, on the basis of’ a guaranteed price of 3s. lOd. a bushel f.o.b., will receive a net amount of only 2s. 9d. a bushel at country sidings. The total cheque which will be paid on this basis for an estimated crop of 140,000,000 bushels will be £750,000 less than the sum of £20,000,000 to be provided for invalid and old-age pensions. We must also remember that in these difficult days the wheat-farmers are unable to ship the bulk of their wheat. Consequently, they must face considerable losses owing to deterioration as well as increased storage charges. At the same time, the Government states airily that farmers on marginal areas will be transferred to land suitable for wheat-growing, and those in financial difficulty will be . assisted under the rural debt adjustment scheme. But so far it has made no provision to do any more for these people than was done by the Menzies Government. The Government should weigh carefully the serious problem that will confront our rural industries in the next few years. We shall be unable to ship the. bulk of our primary produce; and when the war is over, owing to increased costs of production, we shall not be able to compete on the world’s markets. We must cut our suit according to our cloth. The bulk of the increases of indirect taxes imposed by the present Government amounting to £9,000,000 will be borne by the primary producers. At the same time, the rate of invalid and old-age pensions is to be increased next year to £1 5s. a week. Having regard to probable further increases of the cost of living during the war, the rate may reach as much as £1 1.0s. a week.
– The rate of pension in New Zealand is.£l 10s. a week.
– If this Government were prepared to follow New Zealand’s example, and place a direct tax of 10 per cent, on incomes as low as £100, we too might be able to be so generous to our pensioners. However, honorable senators opposite are prepared to-day to eat the words they uttered in criticizing the principle of indirect taxation eleven months ago. They now intend to rely on indirect taxes. The rate of sales tax will be increased generally by 100 per cent., bringing the rate to the exorbitant figure of 20 per cent. Increases of indirect taxes to be imposed by this Government during the next, year amount to £9,000,000, made up as -follows: Sale3 tax £3,500,000, postal charges £2,000,000, customs and excise duties £3,500,000. At the same time the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Keane) talks about the old-age pensioner enjoying his smoke, and, I presume, also his beer. Does he not realize that the pensioners must also purchase soap, toothpaste and other articles on. which the rate of sales tax is to be increased by over 300 per cent.? I can imagine “Eather Christinas “, during the coming vacation, attending a meeting of old-age pensioners and explaining to them what this Government has done for them. But, is he prepared to tell the truth to the pensioners and the housewives? Is he prepared to say to them, “ Yes we have increased the rate of pension. You can put, the increase in one pocket, but by indirect taxes, we shall take it out of another pocket? “
– And a , bit more with it.
– Yes. I have already criticized, the Government’s proposal to increase the sales tax on building materials by 100 per cent. I again remind honorable senators opposite that the only houses which will be constructed during the war will be those required by people on the lower levels of income. What has the Prices Commissioner to say on these matters? In a statement, prepared by him which was read by the Minister for Trade and Customs last, night, he differed entirely from the Minister. The latter says that whilst the duty on tobacco should be increased, the retail traders should sell it at a loss. The Prices Commissioner is not a politician.. He is not given, to making airy promises. He approaches these problems intelligently. He says, “Yes, we shall increase the sales tax on these items; but we shall allow the retail traders to increase prices accordingly”. It is obvious that owing to increased prices generally, the pensioners will lose the benefit of their extra pension. This increase will be entirely fictitious. During the approaching Christmas vacation Ministers should place these facts before their masters.
The Minister for Aircraft Production (Senator Cameron) appears to be dumbfounded. When he makes his next oration to the Australasian Council of Trade Unions I ask him to be fair and tell his masters exactly what the Government’s financial proposals really mean. He might very well say to them “ Twelve months ago I told you that I opposed the increase of the rate of sales “tax by the dreadful Menzies Government, but to-day I am sorry to .say, I must tell you that we have increased that rate on numerous commodities by 100 per cent,.”. I urge the Minister to place the facts before the trade unionists in order that public opinion may be enabled to view these matters intelligently. The Government, must bridge a gap of £137,000,000 before the end of June. I urge all hon.or.able senators opposite, including the extremist element in the Government party, when, they are next tempted to commit this country airily to huge expenditure of this kind which it cannot afford, to bear in mind the facts I have given. It is simply fooling the pensioners to give this rise to them and then deprive them of it by increasing indirect taxes.
– Two aspects of this measure deserve consideration, namely, the humanitarian and the economic. I propose to deal first with the humanitarian aspect, and to show that the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) in his speech this morning has run true to form. His appeal to the Government did not contain one atom of humanitarianism. His speech savoured of an appeal to savages to allow the old people to starve. Apparently in the honorable senator’s estimation the aged are’ unworthy of the slightest consideration. After they have toiled all their lives, created vast profits for their employers, and have been fooled, ruled, and robbed from the cradle to the grave, they are to be denied mere sustenance. Now that they are no longer profitable to their employers, and are obliged to ask for something to sustain them in their declining years, the Leader of the Opposi0tion would not give them anything. He discards them as if they were not worth a second thought, and looks forward to the time when- their children will grow up and be exploited as their fathers hare been. That is the outlook of a savage; it is in accordance with the ethics of the wolf pack. When the aged male wolf which has Icd. the pack and protected the young, year in. and year out, becomes too feeble to afford protection, TIle pack turns upon Lim and devours him. Here we have that attitude exemplified in genus homo, and personified in Senator McLeay.
– The Leader of the Opposition spoke for the United. Australia party.
– Of course he did. From the day the Labour party first advocated invalid, and old-age pensions, tlie party to which, the Leader of the Opposition lends his support has opposed them. However, we have succeeded, year after year, in breaking down that opposition to some degree.
– I rise to a point of order. I suggest that you, Mr. President, should ask the honorable senator to speak the truth.
– That is not a point of order.
– I repeat that, right from the outset, the party to which the Leader of the Opposition belongs has consistently opposed invalid and old-age pensions. Why? Simply because pensions are a charge on profits and on consolidated revenue, and because those individuals who have exploited the workers all their lives are taxed for the purpose of giving back to the aged a little of the wealth which they have amassed..-
– I do not wish to interrupt the Minister’s speech, but what, he has said is untrue and he knows it. The Minister has said that the party to which I belong has always opposed old-age pensions. That is untrue.
– The honorable senator will have an. opportunity if he so desires to refute any statements which the Minister has made.
– It is untrue just the same.
– When, the Labour party last hold office it reduced invalid and old-age pensions.
– I shall answer that charge later. I intend to pursue one theme at- a time; the honorable sena tor cannot distract me in that way. Whilst I am thankful for the assistance which honorable senators opposite are apparently endeavouring to give me, I assure them that I do not need it. I regret that I have to repeat these statements, but when one is dealing with a cement-set mentality such as that possessed by the Leader of the Opposition, repetition, is necessary to drive thorne a point. Forcible, clear and convincing language is necessary to make Lim understand. I repeat that the party to which the honorable senator belongs La3 opposed invalid, and old-age pensions from their inception because they are a charge on profits. If that were not so, there would bo no objection from honorable senators opposite. Here is the proof of my contention: The Leader of the Opposition said that he believed that invalid and old-age pensions should be on a contributory basis. Just what does he mean by .that? Translated into simple language his words can mean only this: In their younger days pensioners were paid’ a wage which did not represent all that they earned or the full value of what they created, but a. wage based upon the minimum, cost of living. Under a contributory pensions scheme the workers would be asked to accept less than that living wage; in order that they might make provision for their old age. Naturally there is no objection by honorable senators opposite to such a scheme because it does not interfere with profits. But, as the policy laid down by this Government is aimed’ at reducing profits, and because the hip-pocket nerve of honorable senators opposite is the most sensitive of their nerves, objections are raised to this proposal.
– What objections?
– Objections to an increase of invalid and old-ago pensions.
– Who is objecting?
– Senator Amour was taunted by the Leader of the Opposition because he favoured increasing invalid and old-age pensions to 30s. a week; but I am in favour of that too.
– Why not £2 a week?
– I should bo prepared to go even further than that.
Our arbitration courts Lave fixed a basic wage which they consider to be the minimum weekly remuneration necessary for a man and wife. If it were possible, I should be prepared to pay the basic wage to pensioners. And why not? If, during their lifetime, they have created all these profits, why should they not get a little back in their old age? That is all that is involved. Surely it cannot bc claimed that those so-called entrepeneurs, those colossal intellectuals and super-human individuals who are in charge of various commercial concerns, . create all the profits. Proof that that is not so is to be found in the fact that immediately workers say that they will not continue to work profits cease. In their individual capacity these super-men are just as helpless as any one else. The profits which are being made to-day on a colossal and unprecedented scale are created entirely by the workers. Yet when these workers grow old and weary, and cannot, take their places in industry, honorable senators opposite would deny them reasonable sustenance. It is not proposed that they should get the basic wage, or. even 30s. a week, but just barely enough to keep body and soul together. It is alleged that we are making the pensioners the plaything of politics, but that is not true. Honorable senators opposite are merely trying to rationalize their brutal inhumanity towards their fellow-men. I should like some members of the Opposition to come face to face with miners hewing coal, or workers who sweat day and night Iia udi ing white-hot ingots of steel at such huge industrial undertakings such as the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, and then say what they have said in this chamber.
– What did the Minister say eleven months ago about indirect taxation?
– I do not withdraw anything; I do not apologize for anything, and I can explain everything. Honorable senators opposite should not imagine that just, because they have developed a certain amount of amateur capacity for distorting the meaning of words, that they are disconcerting mc or even misrepresenting me. I say again that when honorable senators opposite oppose an increase of the invalid and oldage pension on the plea that sufficient money is not available, or some such silly excuse, they are simply endeavouring to rationalize their acquisitiveness, their brutal inhumanity, and their utter disregard for their fellow-men who have beon responsible for putting them where they are to-day. I remind Senator Gibson that his parliamentary allowance of £1,000 a year is made possible only by the efforts of the men who work in the fields, the factories and in the workshops.
– If the allowance were reduced to £500 a year I should still be happy.
– I have offered to accept a similar reduction. I again remind Senator Gibson that the comforts and privileges which he enjoys as a member of this chamber are made possible only by the efforts of working people whom, in their old age, he would deny a paltry increase of pension. In that attitude we see what constitutes the Opposition’s idea of generosity and fellowfeeling towards these old people. I leave it at that.
I turn now to the economic aspect. One would be almost led to believe that the proposed increase was in reality an increase, but that is not so. As the purchasing power of money has been substantially decreased, it is not in fact an increase, either in terms of gold or of commodities. The 23s. 6d. which it is proposed to pay will not buy the pensioner any more bread, meat, or fruit. I remind honorable senators opposite that they were mainly responsible for hundreds of thousands of bushels of fruit being allowed to rot on the ground rather than sell at rates which would have been within the reach of pensioners and other unfortunate individuals in the community. When I say that the purchasing power of the pension in terms of commodities is not equal to what it was previously, I am stating a fact. Compared with 1914 a £1 note to-day is worth only Ss. To-day we have an excess of production, and particularly of meat and other primary products. The policy of honorable gentlemen opposite is that those goods should be dumped rather than that, the invalid and old-age pensioners should be privileged to have a little more of them. Our excess products cannot be shipped overseas. Shall we do as is done in other countries, and. allow them to rot or be dumped, subsequently restricting production? By devious means it is possible to keep the workers dependent on the basic wage. Production is restricted, prices are kept at a high level, and the invalid and old-age pension is kept down.
I am not surprised at the attitude of the Leader of the Opposition. He is running true to form. Twenty-five years ago, he would have opposed the payment of invalid and old-age pensions, lock, stock, and barrel ; but to-day, because the people believe that the provision of pensions is a legitimate charge on the Consolidated Revenue, he is prepared to admit the principle, although he would keep down the expenditure on pensions to the lowest possible amount. To say that his philosophy is similar to that peculiar to savages is to do an. injustice to the savages. When Australian aborigines have plenty to eat, no attempt is made by them to deny food to any tribe which may be short, of it. To-day we live in a land of plenty, yet honorable gentlemen opposite attempt to do what savages would not do. They would deny their fellow-men adequate food and shelter when plenty is available. If I have any criticism to offer regarding the attitude of my colleagues, it is that they are far too forbearing and. lenient, because they are inclined to give credit to the Opposition for a degree of altruism which, in my opinion, it does not possess. 1 may use language more forcible than that which some of my colleagues deem advisable. I ask honorable senators opposite to imagine how they would feel, in the autumn of their lives, when they could no longer work as in earlier years, if they were denied the elementary things necessary to sustain life. If they were denied a few crumbs in their old age, would they not consider that they had been treated brutally? The proposed increase of the invalid and old-age pension could be granted without honorable senators opposite ha ving to lose one meal, or one suit of clothes, or be deprived of any comfort. Could anybody imagine anything more brutal than such an attitude of mind?
SenatorHerbert Hays. - That mind is not present in this chamber.
SenatorGibson. - Except in the imagination of the honorable senator.
– I say emphatically that it is, but it is so subtly and ingeniously expressed, and there is so much make-believe, that its presence might be overlooked. Honorable senators opposite would deny to the invalid and old-age pensioners a few paltry shillings, and I say emphatically that that mind is more conspicuous in this chamber than it is outside the Parliament. The man in the street, in his crude vernacular and limited vocabulary, is not discriminating in his choice of words. He is not a skilled dialectician, and has not cultivated the astuteness of the legal man, but says quite frankly what he thinks. In the Senate, however, we have those astute gentlemen who have learnt to some degree how to advance an argument and conceal their true intention. Plausible arguments have been used about the many millions of pounds that have to be provided, and the implication is sought to he established that if it were not for those millions the pensioners would be granted an increase. In their hearts, however, honorable senators opposite know that they are misleading the people. The brutal intention behind t heir arguments is to deprive the pioneers of this country, whobuilt up its wealth, and who made possible the presence of honorable senators in this chamber, the payment of their allowances, and the enjoyment of their privileges, of a few more crumbs or another very thin slice off the loaf. As I have already said, that mind isconsolidated and expressed to a far greater degree in this chamber than outside. I should have no hesitation in making that statement before any audience the Leader of the Opposition chooses to name and in justifying it.
. - I congratulate the Labour party on making this early move towards increasing the invalid and oldage pensions’. One thing we must admire about that partyis that it is sufficiently courageous to cut across many of the old preconceived ideas as to what should or should not be done with regard to the elderly folk in the community. Ever sinceI have been connected with politics, I have taken the stand that there is nothing too good for them. What I am afraid of is that the financial policy of this Government is such that not only will this increase be necessary,but also many more, so longas Labour remains on the treasury bench. It requires only a bread-and-butter economisttorealize that the Labour party’s method of finance will tend to increase prices,and cause inflation which will depreciate the value of the £1,so that the real value of the pen si on will bemuch less than the £1 3s. 6d. a week which the Government is new offering. Continual increases of payments to meet the rising spiral of costs will lead only to tragedy. It is more than probable that we shall later be asked to pass an amending bill providing for a further increase of the pension by 2s. a week, instead of1s. 6d. a week. The Government cannot claim any credit for that part of the increase, namely, 6d, which is due to the increased cost of living.
Senatorcollings. - But it is giving it a month earlier than it would have taken effect normally.
-. That is a small matter.
The Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) has laid down a financial policy which is more detrimental to the invalid and old-age pensioners than to any other section of the community. Persons, like the pensioners, who are in receipt of fixed incomes, and those who receive superannuation and similar forms of pensions, have no recourse to increases of their income as have workers who can appeal to arbitration courts. I picture the elderly people calling at the village post office for their old-age pensions, and the Minister in charge of this bill (Senator Keane), accompanied by his Melbourne colleague, the Minister for Aircraft Production (Senator Cameron), waiting behind a nearby hedge to “dry gulch” them as they come out of the post office, andpepper their hides full of buckshot in the form of taxes by means of the cost blunderbuss that the Treasurer has shown himself to be capable of using effectively. For every cup of tea that the old folk take, they will have to pay extra, because the price of tea has gone up 2d. a lb. recently, and, according to the Minister for Aircraft Production, a further rise of 4d. a lb. can be expected in the near future. I can imagine his senior colleague, the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Keane), turning to him, and saying, “My word, Don, we got them that time. Let us give them the other barrel “.
– Did the honorable senator say that they were hiding behind a. tree?
– I said “ hedge “ ; a tree would not be big enough. Every time a pensioner wants to light a match, drink a pot of beer, or to fill his pipe, the same thing will happen. The Treasurer and the Minister for Trade and Customs seem to think that they can sit on the lid of rising costs merely by differing from some departmental officer and saying that the increased costs shall not be passedon. But if the brewer, who, by means of an increased excise duty, finds the money with which to buy labels to stick on the casks, is not allowed to pass on the added costs, Australians will have to drink that foul “ war beer “ that people in the Old Country had offered to them in the last war. No man can run a brewery, or any other industry, on rising costs which he himself has to pay. He must either pass on those costs, or reduce the quality of the ingredients of the article that he offers for sale. The increased costs will be an additional burden on these unfortunate people. I do not know of anything more brutal or callous than to give something to a person with one hand and to slap him in the face with the other hand. Yet that is what the Government is doing to the invalid and old-age pensioners. In other words, the Government is posturing for political purposes. At various places along the coast of Western Australia pensioners are trying to eke out a living by fishing, but this brutal and callous Government desires that they shall pay heavier taxes on the gear used by them to catch the fish.
– If that is not “bush-whacking” or “drygulching” I have not heard the terms properly defined. The crocodile tears of the Minister for Aircraft Production - it would be more correct, perhaps, to describe them as glycerine tears, since glycerine is used in the factories under his control - are as nothing compared with the hypocrisy of giving with one hand to the pensioners and slappingthem in the face with the other hand. And sothe story goes on. I take second place to no person in this chamber in my regard for these elderly people. I have helped them, and will help thorn on every possible occasion. Should the Government seek to increase the invalid and old-age pension I shall help it to do so, but I do ask it to have some regard to the economic structure of the country and not to force up costs. Food and other costs rise quickly enough without being forced up. That financial genius, the Treasurer, is doing his utmost to force costs up; by increases of the sales tax, he seeks to increase the cost of living. One might think that the weight of the Minister in charge of this bill (Senator Keane) would be sufficient to keep down the lid on. vising costs, but despite his efforts, costs are rising. Unfortunately, it is true that prices are actually being forced up by the methods adoptedby the present Government to financethe country. The Government is doing a disservice to these elderly people, who deserve the best that this country can give to them.
Those of us who look to the morrow, and put something away for our old. age, generally in the form of assurance policies, will be penalized. Under our existing legislation, a person who takes out an assurance policy, the value of which he hopes will increase as the years pass, will automatically be debarred from receiving the invalid or old-age pension should he fall on evil times in the future. Soma means of more generously assisting assured persons should be provided in this measure. I do not doubt, the sincerity of the Government in its humanitarian regard for these people, hut I urge it to consider the point mentioned, in order that the thrifty people in the community shall not be penalized through being denied a. pension. No one can say to-day what the future has in. store for him. The Government should take every step possible to ensure that the value of the pension is not dissipated before it is paid over the counter to the pensioners.I say frankly and bluntly that a government which forces up costs by indirect taxation - and I never thought, that I would live to see a Labour government do that - is not having regard to the welfare of these elderly people. On. the contrary it is merely taking the back-door way, the cowardly way, to raise money - in the hope that no one will see the tax-gatherer sneaking in. The best way to extract money from the people is by a direct tax on incomes, because that tax, if applied properly, falls on all persons alike, and ensures that every one contributes his or her share towards the cost ofconducting the war. I know of instances of small contributions towards the war effort being received from pensioners, and I applaud them for their patriotism, but I warn the Government that its proposals for financing the country must inevitably have the effect of increasingc osts and reducing the value of the pension which the pensioners receive every fortnight.
. -I am glad to know that invalid and old-age pensioners are to receivea greater sum each fortnight in. future. The additional amount which will be paid to them is small, but there is some consolation in the knowledge that the first payments will be made before Christmas. I had hoped that it would be possible to increase the pension to 25s. a week forthwith, but although that is not contemplated, I am pleased that early in the New Year that will be the rate of the pension. I am pleased too, that the Government has decided that certain Lebanese and other Asiatics will in future be eligible for pensions, and. I hope that when legislation is introduced in the new year to increase the rate to 25s., Australian aboriginals living a civilized life also will be included. These people are entitled to more than 25s. a week.In his policy speech as Leader of the Australian Labour party (non-Communist), the present Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Beasley) said that he hoped that a Labour government would be able to increase the pension to 30s. a week.
– He is now a member of the Cabinet.
– Even 30s. a week is not sufficient, in my opinion. 1 should like to see every pensioner receive an amount equivalent to the basic wage. On three occasions composite United Australia party and Country party governments gained control of the treasury bench because ofa promise to expend £20,000,000 on housing, but they never attempted to spend one penny in that direction. Can honorable senators opposite point to a worse example of political trickery? Yet honorable senators opposite jibe at the present Labour Government because of its promises to the pensioners. I am confident that among honorable senators opposite there are some who object not only to the pension being increased, but also to paying any pension at all to these oldpeople.
– Nonsense !
– The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) said that the present time is not opportune to increase the invalid and old-age pension. That always has been, and always will be, the cry of men like the honorable senator whenever an expansion of social services is contemplated. I rejoice that on the 11th December next the pensioners will receive 23s. 6d. a week, and that early in the new year that amount will be increased to 25s. a week. The McKell Labour Government in New South “Wales has gone farther: it has extended to invalid and old-age pensioners the right to travel on railways, tramways and omnibuses at half rates.
– They do not, travel about a great deal.
– I thought that the honorable senator was sincere when, at the commencement of his speech, he referred to the invalid and old-age pensioners. Doeshe not know that many of these people have to visit, hospitals for treatment because they cannot afford to pay a doctor to visit them in their homes? In the aggregate, these people travel thousands of miles each year in order to receive treatment in various hospitals throughout Australia. Moreover, the Government of New SouthWales provides an attendant to accompany pensioners to hospital in certain circumstances. The privilege of travelling at half rates enables pensioners to take an occasional trip by tram orbus to places of interest. I do not think that the pensioners will appreciate what Senator Allan MacDonald has said about their money being expended in buying beer. After meeting necessary expenses for food, rent and clothing, there will not be much money left out of their pensions with which to buy beer. I imagine, too, that the consumption of tea by these old people will have to be considerably reduced in the future. Various organizations have written to me and to other members of this Parliament asking for support of the Government’s proposal to increase the pension. .
Silling suspended from 1845 to 2.15 p.m.
– The members of the invalid and old-age pensioners’ organizations throughout Australia are as decent and reputable citizens as are to be found in any other organizations. I am confident that they will appreciate the value of the assistance rendered to them by the Government. I trust that the day is not far distant when social services of all kinds will be extended and that the means test will be abolished. I look forward to the day when the qualifying age for the receipt of old-age pensions will be reduced, in the case of men to 50 years, and in the case of women to 45 years, and when the wealthy sections of the community will be subjected to a special tax in order to provide the revenue required to meet the pensions bill. A precedent for the abolition of the means test has already been established in the child endowment legislation passed by this Parliament recently. I trust that the Government will see its way clear not only to increase the pension rate still further but also to bring down a scheme of widows’ pensions on lines similar to that which is now in operation in New South Wales.
– I congratulate the Leader of the Opposition on his second-reading speech on this bill. When dealing with a proposal such as is contained in this measure it is the right and duty of the holder of that important office to draw the attention of the people generally to the large but not unjustifiable expenditure of public money involved. During the course of h is speech the honorable senator referred to the dimensions to which the appropriation for invalid and old-age pensions has grown. In order to bring the people to a realization of the enormous amount of money involved in the provision of invalid and old-age pensions, the honorable senator said that the net proceeds of the whole of this season’s wheat crop will be insufficient to pay the annual pensions bill. He did not oppose the payment of invalid and old-age pensions; on the contrary, he commended to honorable senators the object for which this money is appropriated. Honorable senators cannot but be mindful of the fact that the cost of the splendid social services provided by State and Commonwealth Governments has to be met by 7,000,000 people. In view of our small population we are doing remarkably well. Every honorable senator was, I am sure, astounded at the unwarranted, abusive, and unprovoked attack on honorable senators on this side of the chamber by the Minister for Aircraft Production (Senator Cameron).
– It was not unprovoked.
– On other occasions I have replied to the extravagant remarks of the Minister, not that I was specially called upon todo so but because I could not remain silent after listening to his typical outbursts. On this occasion the honorable senator’s attack was entirely unwarranted. I venture to say that when he reads the proof of his speech he will be ashamed of it. It is not for me to play the part of schoolmaster and deliver a lecture to the honorable senator. Whatever his disposition might be, whatever his inclinations are, he cannot shed his responsibility as a Minister of the Crown to maintain the dignity of this chamber.
– The Crown stands for justice just as much as does one of its Ministers.
– The Minister should he thoroughly ashamed of himself.
– To what portion of my remarks does the honorable senator object ?
– If the honorable senator’s remarks are to be taken as evidence of the feeling of his colleagues what chance is there of securing the goodwill and co-operation of honorable senators on this side of the chamber? Honorable senators on this side are only too willing and anxious to co-operate with the Government in every way; but an unwarranted and unprovoked attack such as was made by the Minister will do nothing to foster a spirit of cooperation in this chamber. The Minister should set an example of good conduct to others. What are the facts about the pensions legislation? We have no desire to claim that the parties on this side of the chamber have alone given consideration to the betterment of the people of this country. The Minister knows that the statements he made this morning are untrue. He said that honorable senators on this side of the chamber have always opposed any increase of the invalid and old-age pension rate.
SenatorCameron. - I said more than that. The parties represented by honorable senators opposite resisted the granting of the invalid and old-age pensions when that reform was first mooted.
– The facts are well-known. An anti-Labour Government was in office when the first Invalidand Old-age Pensions Bill was passed by the Commonwealth Parliament. It is also well known that with one exception every increase in the rate of invalid and old-age pensions has been grantedby a government supportedby the parties on this side of the chamber.
-Not at all. I admit that in every instance the proposals for the increase of the pension rate were supported by the members of the Labour party. The Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration was instituted by an anti-Labour government. Similarly, the child endowment scheme was initiated by a government supported by honorable senators on this side of the chamber. It ill-becomes a Minister of the Crown to make abusive statements which are not in accordance with the facts.
– I say that they are in accordance with the facts. The honorable senator says that they arc not. It is merely a difference of opinion.
– The Leader of the Onpositio.11 said, amongst other things, that contributions should bc made towards the establishment of a fund for the extension of social services generally. The Minister for Aircraft Production bitterly opposed such a suggestion, yet I remind him that no member of this Senate has enjoyed greater privileges than -he has as the result of contributions made by the workers towards the expenses of the party to which he belongs.
– The workers got excellent value for their money.
– That is a matter of opinion. I have no desire to indulge in personalities–
– Order! The honorable senator is not in order in referring to contributions made to- union funds fdr- the purpose of providing the salaries of its executive- officers. I ask the honorable senator to connect his remarks with the bill.
– I bow to your ruling, Mr. President; but with great respect I remind you that the Minister said it was ‘improper that any contributions should bc levied on the people in order to finance a scheme of national insurance, or- to provide for invalid and -old-age ‘ pensions or other social services. I was merely drawing an analogy between such contributions and the union duos paid by workers in order to defray the salary and expenses of the Minister when ho was a union official.
– Order! There is no reference in the bill now before the Senate to relief schemes of the kind mentioned by the honorable senator. I again ask him to confine his remarks to the bill.
– Without questioning your ruling, Mr. President, I Submit that the Minister dealt with subjects not covered by the bill. I do not condemn the workers because they make -contributions to their organizations. All I say is that- 1 see no difference in principle between compulsory contributions made by a worker to meet the expenses of the union to which he belongs and compulsory contributions made to finance a national insurance scheme. Do you rule. Mr. President, that 1 am not entitled to refer to complementary pensions schemes such as national insurance?
– I did not rule to that effect, nor can any such inference be drawn from my remarks. The honorable senator is entitled to refer to national insurance, -or to any other pensions scheme, but, he is not entitled to talk across the floor of the chamber to another honorable senator regarding industrial and other organizations whose members -make Contributions for the purpose of providing the wages of their employees.
– With respect, Mr. President, I did not carry on a conversation across the floor with another honorable senator. I cannot under-‘ stand why honorable senators opposite should make invalid and old-age pensions the subject of heated debate and abuse.
– The honorable senator’s leader, started it.
– Exception has been taken to the statement that the subject of pensions has always, figured prominently in political election campaigns. All of us, irrespective of party, agree -with the principle of paying invalid and old-age pensions, and any virtue associated with that attitude is not confined to one side of this chamber. We, on. this side, have played our part equally with members of other parties in- endeavouring to do the right thing by invalids and the aged. The main point arising under this measure is what should be the limit of the rate of pension. No honorable senator on this side has objected to this increase. There will not bc a division on the second reading of the bill. However, we have quite properly pointed out that the increase provided for under the measure, owing to increased taxes which must cause a rise in the cost of living, is more apparent than veal. When the pensioners receive this increase, and weigh it against- increased costs they will be obliged to pay owing to rising prices of commodities, they will have nothing for which to thank either this Government or the Opposition.
– Will not the pensioners be better off as the result of this measure ?
– That remains to be seen. If the cost, of living be increased as a result of the increased sales tax to which we have just agreed, and our economic system runs true to form, that extra cost will be passed on through the price-fixing authority to the consumers. Consequently increased prices will follow gains of this kind in a vicious circle, and the pensioners, cannot escape from the process. In ordinary circumstances, but more particularly ‘at a time like, the present, the Government -‘would be- better advised to make available to the pensioners the benefits alleged to be represented by this increase of- pension, by placing a direct tax on those in receipt of lower incomes. By selecting that means of raising revenue instead, of increasing the rate of sales tax on various commodities, the cost of living would bc lowered, and the pensioners would thus be enabled to derive more real benefit than from a nominal increase- of their pension which must obviously be offset by increased prices.
– Does the honorable senator suggest that the pensioners would be better off if we reduced the rate of their pension?
– The pensioners will gain no real advantage from this increase- if, at the same time, the Government -causes living costs to rise by increasing indirect taxes on various commodities. That fact should be clear to every honorable senator.. No honorable senator on this side desires to do anything that would prejudice the comfort and enjoyment of the old people in their declining years. To say that we are opposed to improving the lot of the pensioners is contrary to fact.
– Every word uttered by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) revealed the conservative mind which has much to answer for in this great crisis. It takes no notice of the passing of time, and the great changes which time brings. The honorable senator compared the pe11sion figures of 1917 with those of 1941. Does he not realize that in that period our population has increased, and the productive capacity of this nation has increased? That means that the capacity of the nation to afford this increased cost has increased correspondingly. However, such facts never occur to the conservative mind. Professor Sir Grafton Elliott Smith, one of the most notable men of our time, in. his introduction to Human History, says -
Most nien, even without being consciously dishonest, or wilfully stupid, seem to be unable to examine heterodox views with understanding and impartiality. U lie inertia of tradition and the lack of courage to defy it when new evidence fails to conform to it. seems to be potent enough to blind all, except the ablest and most fearless of men, to the most patent facts.
Honorable senators opposite have referred to my ideas on finance as foolish, fanatical and mystical. There is nothing mystical about them, because they are embodied in the report of the Royal Commission on Monetary and. Banking Systems, appointed by. a government which honorable senators opposite supported.
– I ask the honorable senator to connect his remarks with the subject-matter of the bill.
– When the idea of paying old-age pensions was- first proposed, the conservative mind replied that such a proposal was very bad- indeed, because it would discourage the great and valuable asset of thrift. The original rate of pension was fixed at 12s. 6d. a week. Whilst I do not suggest for a moment that we should do anything that would discourage thriftiness, I point out that it was the thrifty people who. suffered most as the result of the financial crash in 1S92 when the banks and building societies went bankrupt. Those people lost all their savings in that crisis, which was brought about mainly by the rapacity of those institutions. That catastrophe made it necessary to provide pensions for these people in their old age, because the savings they had accumulated through years of thrift were completely lost to them. Had they not been given an oldage pension they would not have been able to live. Do honorable senators opposite realize than 60 per. cent, of people who work all their lives and morally earn a pension in their old age never reach the age at which they can qualify for the pension? That is another fact which the conservative mind should recognize. Sixty per cent, of the people who really earn a pension to assist them in their old age never receive a pension, because they die before they reach the qualifying age. I have heard speeches delivered in the House of Representatives along the Tines of that delivered by the Leader of the Opposition to-day. The honorable member concerned had something to say - about pulling money out of the skies. That, of course, is the reaction of the conservative mind to a new idea. I have shown how this war can be financed without extra taxation, but honorable senators opposite are So immersed in tradition that they cannot appreciate that fact. ‘ I have told honorable senators over and over again the reason why this heavy taxation is necessary. Senator Herbert Hays has just said that this increase of the pension will be of no real benefit to the pensioners, because it will be absorbed in meeting the increased costs of commodities. The fact is that the benefits will be nullified by increased taxes. I have proved to all but the conservative mind that no necessity exists for further increasing taxes in Order to finance this war. Our main purpose in increasing taxes is in order to meet the interest accruing on our past borrowings. I have known many people who were better off than Senator Gibson is to-day, who were forced on to the dole as the result of the bank smash in 1892. They lost everything they possessed. That financial epidemic and the bank-created depression sent more people to their graves than any epidemic or disease. This bill is long overdue. A nation such as Australia, with an earning capacity of £1,000,000,000 per annum, can readily afford to meet this slight increase of invalid and old-age pensions.
.- First, I should like to congratulate the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Keane), who introduced this bill, upon an innovation which I have long advocated, namely, the circulation of copies of second-reading speeches delivered by Ministers. That is a great improvement. I hope that the Government will also make provision for the distribution each morning of “ pulls “ of all the speeches delivered in this chamber on the previous day. At present honorable senators are provided with proofs of their own speeches, and it would be necessary to supply only a few more proofs in order to provide honorable senators with a complete report of the debates of the previous day.
– Why was not that system introduced when the honorable senator’s party was in office?
– I have advocated it on several occasions.
It is a great pity that so much heat should be evinced in a debate of this description. It seems that members of the Opposition have only to breathe a word of criticism against any of the Government’s proposals, to be branded as inhuman and brutal. The remarks made by the Minister for Aircraft Production (Senator Cameron) this morning were quite uncalled for. What he said was untrue, and insulting because honorable senators on this side of the chamber are just as humane as are honorable senators opposite. No right-thinking person would believe the accusation made against the Opposition by the Minister. For proof that the allegations were without foundation, one has only to study the social legislation placed on the statute:bool during the past 50 years. On many occasions the Leader of the Senate (Senator Collings) has deplored the fact that his party had never been in power sufficiently long to pass the social legislation which it believed to be desirable. It is quite true that during the past 50 years the United Australia party, or the Conservative party, or whatever it may be designated, has been in power for a large proportion of the time, but it is also true that no country has better social legislation than Australia.
– The Labour party was -the first political party to advocate invalid and. old-age pensions.
– I am .not referring particularly to invalid and old-age pensions. I am speaking of our social legislation generally. I contend that our social legislation, for most of which the United Australia party or similar political parties have been responsible, is better than that of any other country. That should prove quite conclusively that we are not the inhuman people which honorable senators opposite believe us to be. I also resent the claim made by the Minister for Aircraft Production that it was the pensioners of to-day who brought Australia to its present state of development. No doubt they did their share, but they represent only one section of the people. To say that they alone made Australia what it is to-day is . absolute nonsense. Many of them were wonderful pioneers, but to give them the entire credit for our present economic structure is nonsense. The pensioners are only a section of the people, and they are entitled to no more than their fair share of the good things which this country can offer. Our criticism of this measure and of other similar legislation is not actuated by inhumanity or selfishness. It emanates from the belief that in war time an extension of social benefits is inopportune. Our opposition does not arise from the fact that we arc opposed to invalid and old-age pensioners. It is not that wc do not wish to give them all that wc possibly can, but we contend that in this time of stress, when our finances are strained to the utmost and every penny is required for war purposes, the people generally should not be burdened with extra payments to pensioners. There is a distinct possibility that our ordinary expenditure will exceed our revenue and, as was pointed out by Senator Allan MacDonald this morning, we are not doing the pensioners a particularly good1 turn by increasing pensions whilst at the same time we place additional impositions on practically every commodity which they use. It would have been preferable to have left pensions at the existing figure, with perhaps provision for a rise or fall according to variations in the cost of living, and thus to have avoided the necessity for some of this heavy indirect taxation.
I should like to commend the Government in respect of one clause which has been included in this bill. Quite a number of pensioners own property which they cannot sell except, at a very great sacrifice, but the value of their equity in the property causes a reduction of the rate of pension. I know quite a number of pensioners whose property is valued at a sum which interferes seriously with their pension, whereas the property is not worth a quarter of the valuation which is placed upon it. The ‘Commissioner of Pensions should Iia ve the right to place his valuation on a pensioner’s, property.
It has been stated that when further amendments are made, provision will be made for the payment of pensions to aborigines who are living a civilized life. Before the Government takes that step. I trust that it will consider the proposition very carefully. Whilst I cannot, speak authoritatively in regard to other States in South Australia large sums of money are being expended on the aboriginal mission stations at Port Pierce, Port McLeay and elsewhere. The aborigines are being exceptionally well treated, and I do not think that it is necessary to bring them within the. scope of this legislation. They live on the settlements all their lives and are given rations. To pay them a pension in addition, would be extravagance. I am quite prepared to support this measure, and I can say quite honestly that I am glad that the old people are to. receive this increase. However, I do believe that the time is inopportune for this legislation, and therefore I am .compelled to come to the conclusion that the invalid and old-age pensioners are being regarded from a political rather than from a social viewpoint.
– When I decided to speak on this bill, I was under the impression that the Opposition intended to oppose it. However, after hearing the more recent speeches of honorable senators opposite, I have been agreeably surprised to learn that the bill is to be supported by them. It seems, therefore, that when the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) criticized the Government for incurring this additional expenditure of £1,771,000, he was not speaking on behalf of his party. The honorable senator gave his interpretation of what happened in the Labour caucus in regard to this measure. As I said yesterday, the mind-reading capacity of honorable senators opposite is sometimes defective. I say the same to-day of the Leader of the Opposition. He is not a good clairvoyant. Obviously, he is incapable of mind-reading, because he is completely astray in his impressions of, what happened on the occasion to which he referred. This bill came before the caucus and was agreed to unanimously. There is nothing wrong with that. It was also decided that at the earliest possible date we should honour our pledge to the electors. Surely there is nothing wrong with that. As I happen to be the only honorable senator present to-day apartfrom another honorable senator, whose name has already been mentioned, whose surname commences with the letter “ A”, I am proud to state that I supported the proposal to introduce a measure later to increase the invalid and old-age pension to £1 5s. a week. But I should not be proud to admit that I would not. favour an increase of the invalid and old-age pension, unless a similar advantage were given to the big wheat-growers of this country as I remind the Leader ‘ of the Opposition that we do not see old-age pensioners going cap in hand to the Liquid Fuel Control Board every week, pleading for some petrol to use in their big motor cars. The pensioners are paid only the meagre allowance of £11s. 6d. a week, which is now to be increased to £1 3s.6d., and that is all they have to live on. Nobody should quibble if it were double that amount, yet honorable senators opposite claim that if invalid and old-age pensions are to be increased, wealthy property-owners must also have their incomes increased.Obviously, such an argument cannot be substantiated. The Leader of the Opposition also claimed that this was not the time for the introduction of social welfare legislation. Actually, with an increase of 2s. weekly the pensioners will not be any better off than they were a few years ago, when they received only £1 a week. This measure is merely an indication of our endeavour to maintain existing social conditions. The Leader of the. Opposition suggested that it was unnecessary to increase invalid and old-age pensions to 23s. 6d. a week, because social legislation in the Commonwealth, such as the present provisions for pensions, child endowment and repatriation benefits was far superior to that in operation in Europe. Does the honorable gentleman wish those who fought for us in the last war to be brought down to the same level as the inhabitants of the countries that have been overrun by Hitler? The only in ference to be drawn from his remarks is that he does. No amount that we could pay to the invalid and old-age pensioners would be too great.
Almost every member of the Opposition who spoke on the measure tried to pump life into the corpse of national insurance, but the Opposition itself was responsible for the defeat of that proposal. The tail that was wagging the dog brought about that result. The Labour party favours a national insurance scheme, but not one that would prevent the workers and others from being able to purchase sufficient of the necessaries of life. If honorable senators opposite meant what they said when they contended that the establishment of a national insurance scheme would save the present expenditure on invalid and oldage pensions, why did they not go on with it when they were in office? Why did the ex-Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) resign from ministerial rank when he could not get his own. way with regard to the scheme? The Leader of the Opposition stated that under national insurance the invalid and aged would pay for their ownpensions and would not be in receipt of a dole. If the honorable gentleman regards the pension as a dole to those who have helped in the development of Australia, and in producing the profits in which the honorable senator shares, God forgive him. I regard the pension as an inheritance to which invalids and the old folk are justly entitled. They have earned every penny of it, and my only regret is that the bill does not provide for an increase of the pension to 25s. a week. I hope that the Parliament will be called together early in the New Year, and that another measure will be brought down providing for an increase of the pension to 25s. a week. If the necessary funds cannot be provided in any other way, I suggest thatwe should increase the taxes of those who have said that in order to help in overcoming the financial difficulties of the Commonwealth they are willing to forgo the income they receive in excess of £500 a year.
.- I have never listened to a debate in which there has been more deliberate misrepresentation of members of the Opposition than has been indulged in by the Minister for Aircraft Production (Senator Cameron) and Senator Aylett with regard to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay). My leader would have neglected his duty to the country if he had not drawn attention to the economic and financial problems confronting Australia. He made no suggestion that he was opposed to the payment of invalid and old-age pensions, nor that in proper circumstances there should not. be an adequate increase of the pensions. lEven during my own term in the Senate, which now extends over 24 years, I have seen the bill for invalid and old-age pensions increase from about £3.000,000 to over £20,000,000. Members of the Opposition have no desire that any proper payment to the pensioners should be withheld from them in their declining years; but it is” imperative that public men should direct attention to the financial burden being - imposed on the community, and seek to ascertain whether more equitable means whereby the obligation could be met could be devised. In the light of what, has happened, I regret that the National Health and Pensions Insurance Bill did not become operative. In view of the high level of wages and employment in Australia the establishment of a national insurance scheme would have resulted in the building up of a large fund that would have been ‘ invaluable during the post-war period. One of the reasons why there was great difficulty in regard to the measure was that it did not cover a sufficiently wide field, and in many cases it duplicated existing services. In Queensland, for instance, various social services have been provided by the Government of that State, and if the national insurance scheme had been, superimposed upon the State schemes, industry and workers alike would have been - faced with a difficult situation. I look forward to the time when Australia - will have a comprehensive national insurance scheme, and there will be no other State government schemes in competition with it. It would be a good thing if every individual in the community were encouraged to provide for his own superannuation,- so that, the payment would come to him, not as a charity, but as a right.
For the last 15 or 20 years, invalid and old-age pensions have been increased by several hundred per cent. Yet arbitration courts throughout Australia have awarded increased wages and have improved the conditions of those engaged in industry. We all know, and are gratified, that the conditions of employment in this country have improved, and it is most desirable to encourage thrift among the people, so that they will be able to provide for themselves in the declining years of their lives; but, unfortunately, under the method of government adopted, those who try to make a success of their lives are always penalized. Such persons are targets for every form of taxation, until it seems that governments of the day desire to encourage only that section of the community which is prepared to lean on the administration and not make an effort to secure financial independence. As I have said, I regret that a complete scheme of national insurance is not in operation throughout Australia to-day. The Labour party was completely hostile to the proposal. When the measure was under consideration in this chamber, the Senate did what it had never previously done. It met on a Saturday, because it was known that a large number of new Labour senators were to take their seats in the following week, and that they were opposed to the desirable form of national insurance provided for in the measure. The Labour party bitterly opposed the bill entirely on political grounds. It objected to it because it had been introduced by the parties now in opposition.
– Can the honorable senator mention one occasion when we said that?
– We know perfectly well that Labour, when in opposition, opposed the bill.
– The workers from one end of Australia to the other refused to touch it.
– The Leader of the Senate knows that his party was opposed to the bill. I resent, the suggestion that has been made by the Minister for Aircraft Production (Senator Cameron), who made a most unworthy attack on members of the Opposition, and particularly on my leader. Had he not indulged in that abuse of members of the Opposition, this bill would have been passed perhaps, a, couple of hours ago. I offer the Minister a word of advice; he certainly needs’ it. I suggest that he should allow the .Minister in charge of the bill (Senator Keane) to take charge of the debate on ‘behalf of the Government, and. not to rush in where angels fear to tread. If the honorable senator thinks that he can use his ministerial position in this chamber to make inaccurate and unfair statements without a reply from the Opposition, he is mistaken. He has demonstrated, as wo all knew, that he is a ‘immaterial misfit. I draw the attention of honorable senators, who have been so anxious to criticize and attack mem.be.rs on this .side, to the history of invalid and old-age pensions in this country. Such, pensions were first introduced by the Deakin Government in 1909. At that time the rate of the pension was 10s. a week, or £20 a year. In 1916 the pension was raised to £32 10s. a year by the Labour Government then in office. With the exception of a .period of two years during the depression, when the Scullin Administration was in office, governments representing the political parties now sitting in opposition were on the treasurybench. Those governments steadily increased the amount of the pension as circumstances made it possible to do so. In addi tion, they improved the conditions associated “vit.li. the granting of pensions, until finally the rate reached. £52 per annum.
– All of those governments acted, under pressure from the Labour party.
– That statement by the Leader of the Senate is utter nonsense. If he will examine the division lists of this Parliament he will find that the ‘rate of pensions was increased by governments with the same political outlook as the present Opposition when such governments had a majority in each House of the Parliament. One increase was granted when the representation of government members was 52 to about 20 sitting in. opposition. What pressure could those twenty exercise which would force the then government to take certain action? At the time the majority in the Senate was about two. to one in favour of the government of the day. Indeed, on. one occasion when the invalid, and old-age pension was increased there was only one representative of the Labour party in the Senate. It is sheer nonsense, humbug and hypocrisy to say that the Labour party exercised”” pressure which forced an increase of the pension. There was no need for any pressure to be exercised, because members outside the Labour party have as much con.5idcra.tion for their fellows as have members belonging to that party. The only difference between Labour and its opponents is that whilst Labour members are content with lip-service, the others prefer to render practical service to those in need. “We on this side, and governments holding views similar to ours, have not sought votes from any particular section of the community. We have not said, “ Vote for us, and you will get a little more for yourself “. When non-Labour Governments have been in control of this country they have done the best possible for every section of the community, in order to ensure that the burden would not bear unduly on any one section. I remind honorable senators opposite that the only reduction of the invalid and old-age pension was made by a Labour government. That reduction was brought about because the government of the day was in. financial difficulties and had to use the pruning-knife in many directions. Had the Scullin Government listened to the representations made by the parties in opposition to it, as to the need to put the financial affairs of the country in order, instead, of waiting until the country was nearly bankrupt, there would have been no necessity to reduce the invalid and old-age pension, or to reduce wages generally so drastically as was done. Only the cowardly neglect of the financial affairs of the country brought about that state of affairs. Honorable senators now sitting on this side of the chamber have every reason to be proud of what the parties to which they belong have done for the pensioners of this country, and, indeed, of their achievements generally in matters of social legislation. I point out, for instance, that it was not a Labour government which pegged the pension to the index figure so that it would rise with any increase of the cost of living. Non-Labour governments have many other forms of social legislation to their credit. For years efforts were made to improve the conditions of men employed on ships travelling in the waters around the Australian coast. A government composed of members of the parties now in opposition brought in the Navigation Act which provided for decent conditions for seamen. The Menzies Government was responsible for giving effect to a scheme of child endowment which the Labour party had mouthed for some time but had not done anything to bring about. Indeed, that scheme was criticized severely by numbers of persons closely associated with the Labour movement both inside and outside Parliament. I exclude the Minister in charge of the bill (Senator Keane) from this criticism because he gave a fair and careful analysis of the position in regard to pensions. The Leader of the Opposition pointed out that there are other sections of the community which have been badly hit by the conditions which now exist, and may be hit again. You, Mr. President, know that many primary producers have experienced great difficulties because of bad seasonal conditions and other causes, and that over a number of years many of them have not shown a return greater than that of numbers of old-age pensioners. All that the Leader of the Opposition did was to draw attention to the financial difficulties confronting the Government.
– He did more than that.
SenatorFOLL. - If the Minister for Aircraft Production thinks that he will silence members by making abusive and inaccurate statements - and he has been in the habit of making them both before and since he entered this chamber - he will find that there are men on this side who will oppose him in the interests of the whole community. In bringing before the Senate a careful analysis of the country’s financial position the Leader of the Opposition has rendered a distinct service.
– I see Senator Brand smiling, and so I smile in return. I find it somewhat amusing when honorable senators on both sides wax hot in debate. To a man who has in him a large streak of humour there is something humorous about a number of otherwise amiable gentlemen decrying one another over a question that has been settled long ago. Anyone who is not so seriously minded as to be devoid of humour must be struck by what has occurred in this chamber this afternoon. I shall try, without heat, to put the position in regard to invalid and oldage pensions impartially. I may find thetask difficult because I was brought up among workers who had to fight hard for a crust, and suffered many disabilities in an unequal struggle against those who took every opportunity to exploit them. However, anyone who views this matter calmly and coolly will admit that pensions were first established in this country as the result of the activity of persons associated with the Labour movement. When Mr. Deakin was Prime Minister, the Labour party offered its support to the Administration in return for certain concessions. One of those concessions was the introduction of a scheme providing for invalid and oldage pensions. That is how this social legislation first found its way to the statute-book. In its efforts to improve social conditions, the Labour party has always been opposed by what Senator Darcey calls the conservative mind. I speak quite impersonally when I say that honorable senators opposite represent that section of the community which is conservative. It. is historically correct to say that the conservative element in the community has always opposed reforms, including the introduction of invalid and old-age pensions.
– There is no foundation for that incorrect statement.
– The political history of the Old Country where I was born–
– Why not talk about this country?
– I am not taking orders from Senator McBride. It may be that the honorable senator has some slaves working for him, to whom he gives orders; buthe is not giving me orders. If the honorable senator persists in interjecting, I may have to speak longer than I intended.
– The longer the honorable senator speaks the more he discredits himself.
– I am not discrediting myself. Any impartial listener to me to-day will say that at least one honorable senator has tried to speak calmly, and to deal with the subject in a way which would reveal the truth to those who either heard him or read his speech. I was about to refer to the political history of the Old Country. When I was a boy the workers of that country began a movement to compel the Government of Great Britain to grant pensions to men at the age of 75 years and to women at 70 years. I have a vivid recollection of a certain lord in the Old Country saying that if 5s. a week were given to such persons the morale of the workers of England would ho undermined. That speech was delivered nearly 40 years ago, but it is still clear in my memory. When I was in Canada, where I was a. member of a party which advocated reforms, I found that the conservative section of the community fought bitterly against us. The same thing is revealed by a study of Australian history ; the conservative element has always been opposed to reform. However, as the result of education and intense political activity, various governments have been compelled to bring about certain reforms. If we indulge in recriminations like a lot of school children it shows that we are lacking in perspicuity and that, despite our grey hairs, we have not reached the age of mental manhood. I agree at once that governments supported by the parties opposed to Labour were responsible for placing, the invalid and old-age pension legislation on the statute-book and for increasing the rate of pension. That was because anti-Labour governments were in power at the time. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that they were forced to do so by the pressure exerted on them by the Labour party and as the result of outside agitation. Honorable senators opposite have conveniently forgotten the fact that the Lyons Government, which they supported, inserted in the pensions legislation restrictive clauses relating to income from property. This should not be a matter for recrimination, hut one in respect of which the plain facts should be stated. The invalid and old-age pensioners in this country were worried to death when It was stated by the Lyons Government that it. would compel them to sign away their properties. The facts speak for themselves. They are within the knowledge of every officer of the Pensions Department.
– Then why bother about them? Let us get on with the bill.
– A number of erroneous statements have been made by honorable senators opposite whichcall for correction. As an intelligent, member of this Senate I am merely desirous of stating the position frankly and. impartially so that those who read Mansard will know that at least honorable senators on this side of the chamber are prepared to give the facts about the pensions legislation. Honorable members opposite have stated only part of the truth. I have admitted that governments supported by the parties which sit in opposition have placed on the statute-book legislation embodying reforms of our pensions legislation; but had I sufficient time I could prove by quotations from speeches and by historical records that these reforms were brought about as a direct result of pressure and agitation by mem- bers of the great Australian Labour movement. It is frankly admitted that some of the greatest reformers the world has known have been men of substance; but, speaking generally, as a class our economic rulers, and. those who support them, are conservatives. It is only the bottom dogs who have waged the fight for reforms. If a man is well contented and has everything that life can give, if he sits on soft cushions and clips his coupons and draws his interest, he will naturally be a conservative. That is inevitable. But if a man has to struggle in order to keep his job, is constantly faced with the possibility of being thrown on the unemployed market, and when he reaches the age of 65 years, after a lifetime of struggle, still finds that he is “broke”, he will naturally advocate the payment of pensions. That is only sensible reasoning. During my long membership of this
Senate I ‘have always appealed to honorable senators not, to be guided too rauch by mathematicians, not to be frightened unduly by figures. Unfortunately, many thousands of people to-day are frightened by figures. During his speech ‘on this bill the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) criticized the Government, as he has a perfect right to do. I did not object to his criticism. I do not object even, when honorable senators opposite use such expressions as “ hypocrites “ and “ cowards “ in their condemnation of us. As I have said on other occasions, my epidermis is too thick to permit, those expressions to upset me. The Leader of the Opposition, viewing this matter from the angle of the dyed-in-the-wool conservative, spoke of the many millions of pounds that have been expended on invalid and old-age pensions, and tried to frighten the people by saying that a. few years ago the pensions bill amounted to £3,000.000, that to-day it is £20,000,000, and ‘that it, will soon be £30,000,000. Let lis look at Australia as an economic unit. In this time of war, when foodstuffs are not being shipped away in the same quantity as they were before the war, we should be guided by realities, not by figures. This country is capable of producing all. the foodstuffs that its people require. The productive capacity of this country is sufficient to enable us to give to the invalid and old-age pensioners the standard of comfort that is represented in 23s. 6d. a week. I feel sure that, we should give them a weekly pension with which they could purchase goods to the value of 25s. As the result of this war the old conservative idea of finance, as wc understand it to-day, will be swept aside and before long we shall develop an economic conscience, on economic understanding that will impel us to look at this question, not from the point, of view pf figures, of so much money in the bank, or of so much interest earned through the financial system, but as one to be determined by the productive capacity of the nation. Senator Herbert Hays appears to be laughing at me. Does he think I am not serious ?
– I did think that the honorable senator was serious; now I think he is a joke.
– Any one who listens intelligently to me must know that I am not joking. I am trying to show to honorable senators that there arc thousands of people in this community who have resolved that they will not stand for financial humbug.
-. - Then I advise the honorable senator not to give it to them.
– I am. referring to conservative financial humbug. I realize that there are what may be termed the earnest and sincere humbugs, those who actually believe the false doctrines which they preach. I am speaking kindly of the honorable senator. I have listened to such financial humbug from honorable senators on the other side of the chamber for many years. As the result, of this war a new order has been set up in the world based on the capacity of the nation to organize itself as an economic unit in order that its people may produce all that is -essential for mili tary and economic purposes. The Labour party has to deal with the realities of the situation. It is placed in the unfortunate position qf having to remedy the mistakes of the past; but whilst it has to work within the ambit of the financial system it 13 compelled to deal with the invalid and. oldage pensioners in the manner prescribed in the bill now before us. We are trying by this bill to reform and improve their lot. As time progresses this or some other Government will be compelled to set aside the financial system as we understand it to-day and organize the community on a real economic foundation which will enable every man to be placed in employment so that he may become a producer for the common good of the nation. If, as has been tritely said by Senator Darcey so many times, it is possible economically to do the decent thing by our invalid and old-age pensioners then we shall make it possible under a new financial system. Is not that plain? Those of us who look a little ahead realize that it is possible in Australia to-day to give to every man and woman over 60 years of age a modicum of comfort which expressed in financial terms is valued at, more than 25s. a week.
– That was tried in Paraguay.
– Thirty years ago, when I was a young boy, I joined the Social Democratic Federation of Great Britain. At my first meeting I listened to an inspiring address by a man of high intelligence and wonderful oratorical ability, Mr. H. M. Hyndman, the leader of the SocialDemocratic Federation. At question time, when Mr. Hyndman was trying to show the need for national organization for the benefit of the whole of the people, a member of the audience at the back of the hall said, “ Oh ! They tried that in Paraguay “. Mr. Hyndman pointed out to him that we were dealing hot with the matter of a few people going to South America and forming a colony on certain theoretical lines, but of the nation and the empire as an economic whole. It is utterly beside the point and most futile and foolish for any honorable senator who aspires to be recognized as an intelligent human being to endeavour to floor me by saying, “ Oh, that was tried in Paraguay “.
In Germany there is a form of national socialism which we do not like and which we do not want to be imposed on the world. Under that form of government the individual is crushed, individuality is stamped out, and the State is paramount. The German people, however, because of their knowledge of finance and of real economics have been able to organize their nation to the highest peak of efficiency ever known in the history of mankind. As the result of the financial system being forced to be the servant of the nation, Germany to-day is an enemy we cannot afford to despise. Let us take a lesson from that country and, through our democratic machinery, let us see to it that as the Parliament of thiscountry we do our best for our invalid and aged people, even in time of war. If we do that we shall live to be called the blessed. Ihave no ill-will towards honorable senators opposite. I haverecognized the stupidity of some of their remarks; but, at the same time, ‘I realize that they have been’ bred in a’ certain environment, and are affected byreason of that fact just as we are affected by our environment. However, the fact remains that invalid and old-age pensions are the direct result of the efforts of intelligent and honest Labour men who have fought for them. Those pensions have been secured as the resultof the activities of men and women who have been prepared to risk economic ostracism and even gaol itself. Those facts cannot be disputed. All of the. shrewd words ofhonorable senators opposite, and all of the quotations they have made from Hansard, cannot gainsay the fact that, whilst conservatism is a strong force in all countries, the reformers generally have arisen from the lower sections of society which are represented in this country by the present Government.
– I am sure that honorable senators listened with interest to the remarks of the honorable senator who has just resumed his seat, and accept the apology he has made. He dealt with much historical matter, giving us certain quotations, some of which he misinterpreted. Nevertheless, in spite of his use of camouflage, he was obliged to admit that the social services of this country have very largely been instituted by governments of the political colour of the party now represented by honorable senators on this side of the chamber. Consequently, no good purpose will be served by recounting the history of those social services. During the last few days, we have had evidence of the great strain under which members of the Government are working at present. Having had the privilege of occupying a seat in the previous Cabinet, I recognize that heavy calls are made upon Ministers from time to time, and that these calls are felt very acutely by Ministers opposite who are new to their jobs and are obliged to pick up the threads of the work in their various departments in a most difficult period. For that reason the irritation and impatience which has been exhibited byone or two Ministers in this chamber lately can be excused. Yesterday, we had an unfortunate occurrence when the . Leader of the Senate (Senator Collings), who has been a member of this chamber for a very long time, chided the Opposition in a fashion most unworthy of a Minister simply because, in accordance with democratic parliamentary practice, we criticized the budget and the Sales
Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Bill.I remind him that when he was Leader of the Opposition he showed no diffidence at all in criticizing measures introduced by the Government of the day. Therefore, on second thoughts, perhaps, he will admit that the Opposition has not only a right, but also a duty to perform in that respect. I need hardly say that we intend to carry out that duty. To-day, another Minister figured in an outburst which would he unworthy of a private senator. I refer to the tirade which the Minister for Aircraft Production (Senator Cameron) levelled against members of the Opposition in a fashion for which he has become famous, or infamous, during his membership of this chamber. He resumed the practice which he has indulged in to a very much greater degree outside of the Senate. He endeavoured to appeal to mob psychology and “Yarra Bank” philosophy. He accused the Opposition of complete indifference to the welfare of the pensioners and, indeed, of all our people on the lower social scales. On many occasions we have heard similar outbursts from this honorable senator. Apparently, whilst he is prone to make allegations of that kind, he overlooks the fact that those people, inside and outside of this chamber, upon whom he usually concentrates his attacks, are the very people who have made it possible for this and other governments to provide the social services which the people of Australia at present enjoy. He usually concentrates his attacks on big companies and individuals who possess property and wealth. I point out that it is due to the energy, capacity and willingness of those organizations and individuals that the workers of this country are enabled to get jobs under conditions which we are proud to describe as Australian industrial conditions. So far as I know, and I am open to correction on the matter, the honorable senator himself has never by his own initiative, or capacity, originated any of the conditions which our Australian workers enjoy to-day.
Honorable senators on this side are just as much in sympathy as are honorable senators opposite with the pensioners, and other people who are not so fortunately placed economically as we ourselves are. Consequently, it is not from any inhuman motive that we criticize the measure now before us. We realize our responsibility as members of this chamber in dealing with legislation brought before us. In respect of a measure of this kind, which proposes to improve one of our social services, we must consider our capacity to finance the proposals submitted to us. Unfortunately, as has been stated in the debate, the subject of pensions has been made the shuttlecock of party politics. Referencehas been made to the attempt by a. previous government to withdraw the subject of pensions from the realm of party politics by setting up a national insurance scheme. I, personally, regret that that measure, which has been placed upon the statute-book,has never been im plemen ted. I believe that the present is an opportune time tobring it into operation. Although honorable senators opposite, as the Opposition of the day, opposed that scheme, I believe that as they have since risen to positions of greater responsibility they now have a better appreciation of the part played by social services in our economic structure, and, consequently, are now more favorably disposed towards that scheme. In reply to Senator Aylett, I submit that the opposition to that scheme on the part of those who were to benefit under it, was insupportable. I remind honorable senators that the Labour Government of our sister dominion of New Zealand established a somewhat similar scheme and called upon the beneficiaries under it to contribute towards it on a scale very much in excess of that which was embodied in the scheme introduced in this Parliament. I have no doubt that something of that kind must be introduced in the near future. We cannot deal with this measure without paying regard to its financial implications. Taxation has already reached such a high level in this country that we must soon reach a point beyond which we shall be unable to go. That observation applies in respect of not only taxation but also loans and extension of bank credit. In 1918-19, during the last war, the total income tax collections by the Commonwealth Government amounted to just over £10,250,000, or an average tax of £2 10s. a head of the population. In 1919-20, at the conclusion of the last war, that figure had increased to nearly £13,000,000, whilst the average per head of population remained approximately £2 10s. During the last financial year, 1940-41, the amount raised by way of income tax exceeded £39,000,000, and, under the Government’s present budget, it is estimated that, during the ensuing financial year, income tax collections will amount to nearly £57,000,000, or an average of a little over £8 per head of the population. A similar trend is apparent in respect of taxation as a whole. In 1918-19, all tax collections by the Commonwealth Government amounted to £33,000,000, or £6 10s. per head of the population, compared with the estimate under the present budget for 1941-42 of a total of £158,000,000, or an average of £22 per bead of the population. It is futile to suggest that we can go on granting concessions to one section of the community, without having any regard whatever to the financial capacity of this nation, whether by way of taxation, loans, or what has been consistently advocated by several honorable senators opposite, credit expansion. One criticism which I have to offer is that honorable senators opposite are continually suggesting to the people that by their method of administration, they will improve the living standard of the community during the war. That is a bad impression to be promulgated by any government.
– It is not a bad objective.
– It is a very good objective, and one which we all share; but there is a proper time to endeavour to reach such an objective, and I suggest that the present is not the proper time. I say again that honorable senators opposite are continually laying stress upon the claim that their ideals and objectives are improving the conditions and standard of living of this country. Obviously, their objectives and ideals are in that direction. There is not one honorable senator in this chamber who does not share those ideals and objectives, although some of usmade a more realistic approach to this matter, and appreciate the fact that if Australia is to render a full war effort, in collaboration with the rest of the Empire, not only willour living standards not be raised, but also they may not be maintained. When we are giving lip service to this ideal of a 100 per cent. war effort, we should analyse just what such an effort involves. If we do that, we shall realize that our war effort during the past two years is not so creditable after all. Our achievements during that period have been gained under almost ideal conditions. We have had no interruptions, no invasion, and no air raids. Consequently, we should have been able to do very much more than has been done by our kinsmen in the Old Country, who have had to contend with air raids, and real shortages of essential commodities. Not only have their living standards not been raised, but they have been substantially reduced.
– Wages have risen there.
– That is an interjection which I did not expect from the Leader of the Senate, or from any member of the Government. The honorable senator is obviously trying to mislead the people into believing that because this Government will increase wages–
– No, I said that in the Old Country wages have risen.
– Yes, but the implication is that the wages of people in this country will be raised.
– Even if the honorable senator did not mean that, it has often been said by honorable senators opposite. It is entirely misleading to make the people believe that they will benefit by increased wages when honorable senators opposite know that the policy which has been” adopted by this Government will reduce the real value of wages. I am endeavouring merely to compare what we are doing in this country with what is being done by the people of Great Britain. In this budget, we are devoting less than 25 per cent. of our national wealth to our war effort, whereas in Great, Britain under the 1941-42 budget, it is proposed to devote approximately 40 per cent. of the national wealth to the war effort. That comparison indicates clearly that now is not the time to. talk- of raising standards of living; rather is it the time to devote our attention, wealth, energy and resources to the war effort.
– The Leader of the Opposition said that the budget was too severe.
– I do not remember my leader saying anything of the kind. As I said when speaking in the budget debate, I have no objection to the high rates of taxation. My only complaint is that the taxation increases have not been carried right down the scale. I am prepared to submit to any rate of tax _ which I consider necessary to enable this country to make its contribution to the Empire’s war effort. Consequently, I maintain that whilst an increase of invalid and old-age pensions ds most desirable and is supported by all of us in principle, it is’ something which should not be done until Australia is in a position to devote more of its income to national security.
.- I believe that I may have been responsible to some degree for the trend which this debate has taken. The discussion would have terminated much earlier-had- it not been for the provocative speech made by the Minister for Aircraft Production (Senator Cameron). Recently I chided Ministers in good humour, and said certain things which apparently induced the Minister to embark on a diatribe and to make charges against honorable senators on this side of the chamber which should not go unanswered. I remind the Minister and his colleagues that the position which they occupy on. thai side of the chamber is totally different from that which they occupied when in opposition. If, by their ill-feeling, they deliberately provoke the Opposition to make, reprisals, they have only themselves to blame. The Minister for Aircraft Production has the most conservative mind of any honorable senator. I define a conservative mind as one which never alters its outlook, never learns anything, and never gains by experience. He has been saying the same things for the last 50 years. Apparently he was born in bitterness, nurtured in ill-feeling, and has been indulging in this type of oratory ever since. In defence of honorable senators on this side of the chamber I should like to point out that it is the desire of every one that die less fortunate members of the community should receive all the comforts and conveniences which the community can give to them. But, is those honorable senators who pose as the particular .champions of the pensioners choose to set us by the ears and create a feeling of bitterness, they have only themselves to thank if the business of this chamber is delayed.
I shall support the bill, although, as I indicated in my speech on the budget, I regard this increase as more apparent than real. Probably the greatest piece of social legislation ever passed by this Parliament was lost to the community because of the wholehearted and bitter opposition of the members of the Labour party. I refer to the National Health and Pensions Insurance Bill. I have always supported national insurance, and I sincerely hope that when conditions improve sufficiently, that act will be implemented. However, I still believe that the scheme should be on a contributory basis, so that when a worker is too old to take his place in industry, or is incapacitated, he will be given, not charity, but something which is his by right. It ill becomes the Minister for Aircraft Production to accuse honorable senators on this side of the chamber of inhumanity, cruelty and brutality. It is true that the working people create the wealth of every country. Everybody knows that; but the man on the .basic wage does not create all of the wealth. Every man who works contributes his share. Probably one-third of this country’s wealth is owned by the State, and another one-third is required every year for the services of the community. It cannot be suggested that the invalid and old-age pensioners are solely responsible for this nation’s wealth. If .the speech made by the Minister for Aircraft Production accusing honorable senators on this side of the chamber of inhumanity and brutality, is. an example of the speeches which we are to hear in future from the treasury bench, more opposition, and probably a little bitterness may be expected from this side of the chamber.
. - in reply - I am indebted to honorable senators for their support of this measure. WhenI was a member of the Opposition I endeavoured to deal with parliamentary business in such a way , as to eliminate friction, and I shall continue on those lines while I am a Minister. The introduction of this bill arose out of a report by the Joint Committee on Social Security, on which each branch of the legislature has an equal number of representatives, and it may be taken that the subject with which the bill deals has been considered exhaustively. The majority of the amendments provided for are the result of inquiries made by the committee from departmental officers and others who have special knowledge of the subject.
– The committee did not recommend an increase of invalid and old-age pensions.
– That is so, but it favoured’ pensions for widows and orphans, and it recommended the adoption of a scheme of unemployment insurance. It had not taken sufficient evidence on those matters to justify final recommendations regarding them. I am glad that the present Government has entered into arrangements that will enable the joint committees that have been set up to continue their useful work. The information already gathered by them has been helpful to all of the members of those committees, and I am sure that the report of the committee dealing with social security has proved of value in the preparation of the bill.
Little of the criticism that has been offered regarding this measure calls for a reply from me. The gravamen of it is that, perhaps, the increase of invalid and old-age pensions was inopportune, in view of the war conditions prevailing; but I maintain that, despite the war, some instalment of the new order is necessary. Senators Allan MacDonald and James McLachlan claim that, despite the proposed increase the recipients of the pension will be heavily mulct in additional payments because of the new taxation proposals in the budget. I point out, however, that the majority of the commodities purchased by pensioners are exempt from sales tax. . The increased excise duties on beer and tobacco may be felt to some degree by them, but some government must grapple with the revenue problem and evolve a formula to overcome the difficulty due to increases of wages going up the staircase and the cost of living going up in the lift. It was remarked by Senator Foll that the Scullin Government had had to do objectionable things. He said that if it had grappled with the problem of the finances of Australia earlier in its career, it would not have had the trouble that it experienced later; hut when that Government came into power in 1929, the loan market of Great Britain was closed to us, the price of primary products had fallen, and 400,000 men in Australia were out of work.
– And the Labour Government introduced legislation authorizing a fiduciary note issue.
– A fiduciary issue of £18,000,000 would have given £500,000 a month for twelve months to the men on the land, and £1,000,000 a month for twelve months to the unemployed. Conditions were so bad that Great Britain increased its fiduciary note issue from. £50,000,000 to about £900,000,000. On that occasion this Senate prevented relief from being given to the vast army of people in Australia who needed it. I give an assurance that the present Government will not indulge in any crazy scheme of finance.
– The Labour party’s platform provides for it.
– That is not so. The budget provides for the raising of revenue by means of loans, and I resent the propaganda comments of the honorable senator. The policy of the Government is to reform the Commonwealth Bank as far as possible, so that it will exercise the functions discharged by it before it was emasculated by the BrucePage Government in 1924. The private banking interests will not be interfered with, apart from the control to be exercised under the regulations that are to be promulgated under the National Security Act, and the nature of those regulations will he known to the whole of the community.For the present the
Government will persevere with the system of raising money by means of loans, because increased revenue has to be found immediately. The assistance of the public was assured when the recent loan of £100,000,000 was fully subscribed, but that amount is but a small proportion of the total sum that will be required.
I have experienced heckling similar to that received by the Minister for Aircraft Production (Senator Cameron). He and I regard political problems from similar points of view, and 1 believe that he had some warrant for his remarks, because when he was a member of the Opposition he received rough treatment at the hands of the present Opposition. In my opinion, he is not deserving of the accusations which some honorable senators opposite have levelled against him. I am in agreement with Senator James McLachlan that pulls of Hansard should be made available to honorable senators daily when bills are under discussion, so that those who have not spoken on the measures may ascertainwhat has already been said regarding them. I shall ascertain what can be done in that matter.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 12 agreed to.
Clause 13 (Direc tor-General of Social Services).
– What will be the position of members of the staff of the Pensions Department after the DirectorGeneral of Social Services has taken control? Where will the head office of the department be situated, and will the Deputy Directors of Pensions in the various States retain their present status and offices?
.- The main objective under the clause is the alteration of the title of the officerincharge from secretary to the Department of Social Services to that of DirectorGeneral of Social Services. The head office is now in Sydney, but we hope soon to transfer it to Canberra. The branch organizations will remain as they now are and the staffs will not be altered.
Clause agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
-In conformity with the sessional order, I formally put the question -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
Question resolved in the negative.
Motion (by Senator Collings) agreed to-
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn till Tuesday next, at 3 p m.
War. Loan : Contributions by Private Banks and Insurance Companies.
Motion (by Senator Collings) proposed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
.- Will the Minister representing the Treasurer obtain for the information of honorable senators the exact total amounts which the private banks and the insurance companies reconverted and contributed in new money towards the recent war loan ?
– The information will be obtained.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following paper was presented : -
Post and Telegraph Act - Regulations -
StatutoryRules 1941, No 261.
Senate adjourned at 4 35 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 21 November 1941, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1941/19411121_senate_16_169/>.