13th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon.G. H. Mackay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– Has the Minister for Commerce read the statement published in the Melbourne newspapers that after a consignment of eggs by Mr. Earle had been graded and passed by the department for export, 3,000 cases were stopped at the ship’s side, involving a dislocation of trade and causing the exporter to notify his country agents to discontinue buying eggs? I understand that Mr. Earle is pressing for a departmental inquiry ; does the Minister intend to grant it?
– Following the publication of the paragraph to which the honorable member referred, the newspapers published statements by the National Society of Utility Poultry Breeders and other exporters of eggs saying that they were satisfied regarding the equity of the departmental inspection. In compliance with Mr. Earle’s request for a departmental inquiry, his case was investigated by the secretary of my department and other officers, and I understand that the eggs in question are to be repacked and shipped in due course.
– In view of the widespread request by wheat-growers for an export bounty on wheat this year, will the Minister for Commerce inform the House whether the Government has reached any decision on this matter?
– The question relates to a matter of Government policy, which is not usually announced by answers to questions.
– I ask the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs whether, in considering any request for the application of a dumping duty toRoumanian petrol, he will have regard to the interests of Australians who need cheaper motor spirit? Are the anti-dumping laws intended for the protection of foreign companies sending petrol to Australia, or for the protection of Australian industries only?
– The interests of Australian consumers of petrol will receive due consideration. In regard to the consignment of petrol supposed to be en route fromRoumania to Australia, I have ascertained that nothing in the nature of dumping is likely to occur. As to the second part of the honorable member’s question, the anti-dumping laws are intended for the protection of Australian industries, but as the oil companies operating in this country import crude oil and refine it locally, their industry may be regarded as local and entitled to the protection of those laws.
Housing Finance - Price of Electricity
– Last week I asked the Minister for the Interior whether the Government would represent to the Commonwealth Bank the desirability of making money available for advances to those desirous of building homes for themselves in Canberra, thus relieving unemployment in the Federal Capital Territory? I also asked whether in view of the reduction of charges in New South Wales for electricity from the Burrinjuck scheme, the Government would request the State Government to make a similar reduction in the price of electric current supplied to Canberra? Is the Minister yet in a position to reply to those questions ?
Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.Representations in regard to an advance for housing in Canberra are being made to the Commonwealth Bank, but unfortunately, so far as the department is aware, very few people at present desire to take advantage of this scheme. The price of electricity supplied to Canberra from Burrinjuck also is being investigated. I hope to let the honorable member have replies to both questions within a few days.
– Has the Minister for Commerce read a letter published in to-day’s Sydney Morning Herald, in which the Commonwealth Government is severely criticized for its alleged failure to contribute to the research relating to the export of chilled meat from Australia ? Does the Commonwealth make any such contribution; if not, will the Government consider the advisability of doing so?
– Through the Council for Scientific and IndustrialResearch, the Commonwealth Government is participating in the investigation into the possibilities of exporting chilled meat. I understand that these investigations give considerable promise of success.
– Has the Prime Minister any knowledge of any other country that has decided to reduce invalid, old-age, and war pensions? If so, what are the countries and what reductions have been proposed?
-Recently pensions were reduced in New Zealand, but I have no detailed information in regard to other countries. Provided that undue expense is not involved, I shall endeavour to get the information that the honorable member desires.
– I ask the AttorneyGeneral when the royal commissioner will commence his investigations into the methods and activities of the Australasian Performing Eight Association?
– The inquiry will be formally opened to-morrow at 10 a.m., and will then be adjourned to a date that will suit the convenience of the parties.
– The regulations of the Post and Telegraph Department provide that linesmen shall be supplied with suitable waterproof coats. For a considerable time the staff of the Deputy Postmaster-General at Brisbane has been experimenting with different classes of coats suitable for this purpose. Is the. Postmaster-General aware that a large number of the outdoor staff of his department in Queensland are without suitable waterproof coats? Will he issue instructions immediately for such coats to be supplied to all linemen and other outdoor workers before the commencement of the wet season? Will he also consider the advisability of having these coats manufactured in Brisbane instead of in Melbourne as at present?
– The PostmasterGeneral is absent, but I shall bring the honorable member’s question to his notice.
– In an endeavour to bring about uniform wages and hours of working, and to effect co-operation between the Commonwealth and States, will the Prime Minister cause a proposal on that subject to be placed upon the agenda paper for the next Premiers Conference?
– I am unable to give an assurance that the subject will be placed uponthe agenda paper of the next Premiers Conference, but the Government itself will give consideration to the matter.
– When introducing the amending Sales Tax Bill, the Prime Minister intimated that agricultural and mining machinery, among other things, were to be exempt from the tax. At the time, I asked if it was the intention of the Government to include in the exempt list explosives used by miners on contract work in the metalliferous and coalmining industry, as that commodity might, in the circumstances, well be regarded as a tool of trade. Has the Prime Minister yet given effect to the promise that he would have the matter investigated ?
– The matter will be fully considered by the Government before the Sales Tax Bill is disposed of.
– Will the Minister concerned advise whether the Government has issued instructions to the administration of the Mandated Territory to bring about the reduction of the salaries of the members of that public service? If so, will the Government, before such reductions are effected, take into consideration the fact that no increase has been granted to the public service of the Mandated Territory since 1921, and that the cost of living has since risen. Further, that the maintenance of that service imposes no charge upon the revenues of the Commonwealth?
– It is not proposed to make any cut in the salaries of the public servants in New Guinea. The Go vernment recently approved a classification, which had remained in abeyance for eighteen months, but which will now come into operation with retrospective effect from the 1st July, 1931. While the Government is endeavouring to reduce expenditure in the Mandated Territory, it is exploring avenues other than the reduction of the public service salaries to effect its purpose.
– Many press reports appear from time to time concerning the alleged activities of the Resident Minister in London in regard to a proposed conversion loan. The Prime Minister has told honorable members that they should look to the Government for information on such matters and not to the press. In the circumstances, will the right honorable gentleman make a declaration of the policy of the Government regarding future loan conversions?
– Information concerning the activities of the Resident Minister in London in connexion with the proposed conversion loan on behalf of the New South Wales, or any other loan, will be imparted to this House at the proper time. When negotiations are in train to secure the best terms available is not an opportune occasion.
Market for Meat
– In view of the very large numbers of aged sheep and cattle in the Commonwealth suitable only for canning, is the Government doing anything to establish a market for tinned meats in the East? Has the Government a representative there at the present time, and if so, are any results being obtained?
– The Government has been doing everything possible to ensure that the requisite refrigerated space shall be made available on ships trading to the East. When that is provided, there will be little difficulty in disposing of our meat on that market. At present there are no representatives of the Australian Government in the East, but both the Government and Australian subjects in the East receive a great deal of assistance from resident representatives of Great Britain, who have been helpful on many occasions in enabling us to find an outlet for Australian products.
– On the 9th September, the Postmaster-General advised the House that £50,000 was being provided in the Estimates for the construction of regional broadcasting stations. Will the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral advise whether it is intended to establish such a station in Western Australia? Otherwise, even when 6WF has been erected, the Darling Range will prevent satisfactory broadcast reception east of that range throughout the agricultural districts and on the gold-fields.
– I shall obtain information on the subject, and impart it to the honorable member.
– When is the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Gullett) expected in Australia, and when will he make a statement in this chamber on the proceedings at the Ottawa Conference?
– The Minister for Trade and Customs will arrive in Sydney tomorrow. It is hoped that he will submit his report on the Ottawa Conference on the loth October.
– Is it a fact that a charge is made for the treatment of isolation cases in the Canberra. Hospital? Will the Minister for Health cause inquiries to be made, and, if such a charge is not made elsewhere, will he see that free treatment is given to isolation cases in the Federal Capital Territory?
– A charge is made for attention to cases in the isolation ward at the Canberra Hospital. This community is differently situated from any other in Australia. Elsewhere, the general public pays for the upkeep of isolation wards in hospitals. The Government is at present considering ways and means of reducing the cost of the Canberra Hospital to the Administration.
– Will the Prime Minister advise whether it is correct that the Government intends to institute an. inquiry into the payment of pensions? If so, what will be the terms of reference to the commission, and when will the commission begin its inquiries ?
– The Government does not intend to institute such an inquiry.
– Will the Minister for the Interior advise - (1) The number of buildings in Brisbane occupied by the Commonwealth Government, whether leased or otherwise; (2) the names of the persons or firms who own those buildings; (3) the number of departments housed in the respective buildings; (4) the weekly or annual rental paid by the Commonwealth in respect of each building rented or leased ; (5)the estimated cost of the erection of the proposed new Commonwealth building on Commonwealth property adjoining Anzacsquare, Brisbane, as prepared by Common wealth Works Office, Brisbane?
– I shall have the matter investigated, and determine whether the estimated cost of compilation warrants a reply being made.
– I wish to inform honorable members that it is not intended in future to allow so much time for the asking of questions without notice. In the main, the questions that are asked are not urgent, and, in justice to those seeking information, Ministers should have notice of them, so that they may have adequate answers prepared.
The following papers were presented : -
Newnes Shale Oil Undertaking - Agreement, dated 12th May, 1932, between the Commonwealth of Australia of the first part, the Shale Oil Development Committee Limited of the second part, and R. A. Treganowan and C.O. Chambers of the third part, together with documents ancillary thereto.
Dairy Produce ExportControl Act - Seventh annual report of the Dairy Produce Control Board, for year ended 30th June, 1932, together with a statement by the Minister regarding the operation of the act.
Northern Territory Acceptance Act and Northern Territory (Administration) Act - Ordinance of 1932 - No. 18 - Prison.
Debate resumed from the 21st September (vide page 655), on motion by Mr. Lyons -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Mr. Scullin had moved by way of amendment -
That all the words after “ That “ be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “ the bill be withdrawn and redrafted for the purpose of re-adjusting the Government’s financial proposals in order to rectify the gross injustice which the bill imposes on the poorer section of the community.”
.- The legislation now under consideration is a bill to amend the Financial Emergency Act 1931, and for other purposes, and to the motion of the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) “ That the bill be now read a second time,” the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) has moved an amendment asking” that the bill be withdrawn and redrafted for the purpose of re-adjusting the Government’s financial proposals in order to rectify the gross injustice which the bill imposes on the poorer section of the community.” I am in complete agreement with the terms of that amendment. Like the right honorable gentleman, who has moved it, I feel that the provisions of this bill are the most drastic and unjustifiable that have been submitted to this Parliament for a considerable period of time. It is inconceivable that the Government could be so audacious in carrying out a class conscious programme as to introduce a measure of this character which visits hardship and brings humiliation upon the poorer section of the community without bestowing upon it any corresponding advantage, and at the same time, makes no claim upon the more favoured section of the community for further sacrifice or contribution. These proposals make demands only upon those who can least afford to meet them, and are in direct conflict with election promises and propaganda. It will be recalled that at the last federal election, honorable members who now comprise the ministerial party endeavoured to create the impression that they could safely be trusted to look after the welfare of old-age pensioners and the working community generally. The Government has certainly departed from the definite promises contained in the literature it circulated during the election. I have with me an advertisement which appeared in the Adelaide press on the 14th December last. It is a striking piece of propaganda designed particularly to exploit the prestige of the leader of the party opposite (Mr. Lyons) and featuring the Australian flag as if the United Australia Party candidates alone were devoting themselves to the interests of their country.The advertisement is headed -
Old-age Pensioners and Unemployed.
Do you realize what Mr. Lyons has done for you?
The purpose of that advertisement was to create the impression that the leader of the United Australia Party had been responsible for preventing a greater reduction of the pension than was made last year. This is an opportune moment to answer the question: “Do you realize what Mr. Lyons has done for you?” Before many days pass over their heads, invalid and oldage pensioners and civil servants will be fully conscious of the unjust claim that is being made upon them in order to fill the public exchequer so that remissions of taxation may be made to the wealthier sections of the community. This advertisement makes a special appeal on behalf of the candidature of the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Stacey), the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb), the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Cameron), the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Price), and the honorable member for Grey (Mr. McBride). The gentleman thus named will have to honour the definite obligation entered into on their behalf when the claim was made in their electorates in support of their candidature. A definite claim was then made for the support of members of the Federal
Public Service, and of invalid and old-age pensioners. Those honorable in embers cannot support this bill on the ground that they are bound by the ties of party allegiance. I have before me the following statement, which was made on behalf of the Emergency Committee candidates, including the honorable members whom I have mentioned : -
Thu committee wish to send to Canberra free mim,. who will use their own judgment in the best interests .of every section of the people of the State.
If that statement was true, the honorable members for Boothby, Angas, Barker, and Grey cannot contend that they are tied in this matter by party allegiance. They are . supposed to be free to vote on this issue as they desire. They will not be able “*j shelter behind the plea of party expediency, if they support the bill. They will be required to answer to their constituents for the deliberate vote given by them on this measure.
In bringing down this legislation, the Government is pauperizing the invalid and old-age pensioners. It is pledging their cottages as though to a money broker. For them the bill is definitely a passport to penury. It will be well for honorable members to realize the precise nature of the proposal to which they are asked to give their assent. The founders of the social benefits enjoyed under federal legislation to-day never dreamt that there would be associated with invalid and old-age pensions a feature that would bring upon the recipients direct humiliation. In 1912, the Parliament deliberately excluded from the Invalid and Oldage Pensions Act any provision suggesting that a pensioned was obliged to accept support from a son or daughter, or from any other relative. It was considered desirable to rid the pension of all semblance of charity. Yet, twenty years later, we have a Government that invites this Parliament again to humiliate the recipients of the pension, when it should be our aim rather to eliminate undesirable conditions associated with the qualifications necessary to entitle an aged or invalid person to the pension. Aged folk are naturally very sensitive about their dependence on relatives or friends. We should remember that throughout the greater part of their lives they have honestly contributed to the revenues of the country, and have thus’ assisted to provide social benefits for others. Therefore, they have a right to expect that in the evening of their lives, and in their time of necessity, they will not be obliged to accept the mantle of charity which the Government is now seeking to place upon _ them. This measure will cause to be visited upon the pensioners an inquisitorial examination regarding their domestic affairs which is most degrading, unjust, and humiliating. Some aged persons, I have no doubt, would suffer embarrassment and humiliation to such a degree, under the Government’s proposals, as to cause them to refrain from applying for the pension. I am satisfied that the Government has taken this action deliberately for the purpose of discouraging applications for pensions. It apparently wishes to scare off applicants, so that they will be reluctant to make a claim for this social benefit, which it has been possible for aged people to enjoy in the past without being humiliated.
What is the reason for the introduction of legislation of this description? We are told, through the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham), that the measure is necessary to preserve the solvency of the community. If that be true, it is most unfortunate for the Attorney-General and for the Government that, on the very day when the notification of the Government’s intention to submit this legislation appeared in the press throughout Australia, a summary of the financial position of the Commonwealth was also published. It was there revealed that for the first two months of the present financial year, that is up to the 31st August, after the payment of pensions at present rates had been provided for, there was a surplus of £2,141,000. That is £1,541,000 more than for the corresponding period of last year. In the light of these facts, the time is ripe, not for the reduction of pensions or any interference with the social rights of the people, but for the restoration of some of the privileges which have been taken from these unfortunate people. The surplus to which I have referred, corresponds to the amount contributed to general revenue By pensioners last year through the reductions of pensions under the Financial Emergency Act. If it be, as the Attorney-General has said, that these reductions are necessary to save this country from financial insolvency, it is remarkable that the Prime Minister should recently have stated that the finances of Australia are so buoyant that the Government expects to be able to make remissions of taxation, including a remission of the super tax on -incomes from property, about February next.
– The Prime Minister’s statement shows what is in the mind of the Government. Not only is a reduction of the super tax on incomes from property probable, but a remission of a portion of the land tax is also contemplated. In this connexion the Government is being subjected to considerable pressure by certain interests. The poorer sections of the community will not benefit from any reduction of federal land tax, since property valued at less than £5,000 is exempt from that tax. Only the well-to-do section of the community is to obtain relief. Obviously, the Government is concerned only with the interests of the privileged class in the community. It will see that the commercial community and the wealthy land-owners shall receive concessions at the earliest possible moment, and it cares not that those concessions will be granted at the expense of the invalid and old-age pensioners, and the mothers of this country. I challenge also the justice of the Government’s proposal to reduce still further the salaries of public servants. The proposal to reduce old-age pensions will receive support in those quarters in which it is considered the right thing for the relatives of aged persons to accept the responsibility for their care. The. Government is making an unjust demand on the relatives of some of the aged persons in the community. Those least able to maintain their aged relatives will be called upon to do so, while the more affluent section of the community will escape.
– Do they not pay income tax?
– I shall reply to that interjection later. Let us compare the positions of two families; one in which the father is in affluent circumstances, and is able to keep his children in luxury ; the other, a working-class family. The rich man’s sons have no need to worry about their future or that of their parents. A family so fortunately situated ought to be called upon to contribute to the upkeep of others who have helped to put them in their favorable positions. In the case of the workingclass family, the father receives the basic wage or, perhaps, a little more. Obviously, his sons cannot enjoy the privileges which the sons of the rich man share; they have to strive against many difficulties to make a little headway in life and provide for their future. Should they by their own industry rise to positions in which they will receive little more than the basic wage they will, under this legislation, be called upon to maintain their parents. It is not that these people in poor circumstances are unwilling to maintain their parents; most of them would regard it as a privilege to do so. But how do the wealthy face up to their obligations to the aged poor? Poverty does not visit their homes. My .point is that, in many instances, this legislation will inflict hardships on the working-class community, while the families of the wealthier sections will escape. From my knowledge of the workers of this country I can say that the way in which they care for their parents does them tremendous credit. Most of them have responded magnificently to their their obligations. If honorable members opposite want evidence in support of my statement, they will find it in the fact that many hundreds of aged persons in the community eligible to receive the oldage pension have never applied for it, thus demonstrating clearly that their children have cared for them to the utmost of their ability. The honorable member for Lang (Mr. Dein) said that the rich people in the community pay income tax. They are supposed to do so and so are working people also ; but payment of income tax should not relieve them from contributing to what should be a national obligation - the care of the aged in the community. It is unjust that those who can best afford to pay should be granted remission of taxation at a time when additional burdens are being placed on the poor. It is outrageous to think of taking ls. 3d. a week from the aged and invalids in institutions. Surely the 5s. now received is little enough. I shall strongly oppose the proposal of the Government to reduce the pensions of these deserving people. Honorable members opposite will find it difficult to justify on the public platform the action of the Government in imposing additional burdens on those least able to bear them, while relieving the wealthier section of the community from contributing towards the social services of this country. The Government will find difficulty in justifying its action. Having receded from its position in regard to a flat reduction of 2s. 6d., because of the wrath of the people, it is seeking to appease them by substituting these proposals which in effect go deeper in their dire consequences. Now it is endeavouring to keep from public knowledge the fact that this legislation constitutes an underground method of bringing about the desired reduction in pensions. Certain conditions are to be imposed which will, in many instances, curtail pension payments. That is evident because the Government has not altered its estimate of £10,500,000 for old-age and invalid pensions. Even under these proposals the Government expects to effect a considerable saving in pensions. Some people seem to think that no reduction in pensions is to take place at all. But in order to disillusion them I shall give one instance of what will take place under these proposals. At present, a claimant for a pension is permitted an income of £32 10s. per annum, which is supplemented by a pension of £45 10s., making the total income £78 per annum or 30s. per week. Under these proposals a claimant will be permitted an income of £32 10s. The pension payment will be £39 per annum, making the total income £71 10s. per annum or 27s. 6d. per week. Iu that way there will be an actual reduction in pensions of 2s. 6d. per week.
– There is a reduction only in certain instances.
– The instance that I have given will have wide application. Let me show honorable members bow these proposals affect the blind who work in institutions and elsewhere. These people are most deserving’ of their pensions and should receive them as an absolute right. At present, a blind worker is allowed an income of £175 10s. or £3 7s. 6d. per week. The maximum pension is £45 10s. per annum or 17s. 6d. per week. linder these proposals the blind worker receiving a pension of £39 per annum will have to earn £182 per annum to place him on a basis as favorable as his present one. It is impossible at a time like this for these people to increase their earnings. Because of the lack of subscriptions and work, many of these institutions are now less able to assist these unfortunate people than at any previous time. It is in that way that the blind worker is to suffer a reduction in pension. I make an earnest appeal on behalf of these brave people, and look to members to do the just and right thing. The operation of this legislation will clearly demonstrate to the pensioners of this country the utter falsity of the promise of the Government that its proposals would not affect adversely those members of the couuB.uni.ty who are fully entitled to a pension. Furthermore, the introduction of this legislation is one of the greatest blows ever aimed at thrift and industry in this country. One distinct anomaly in the system of old-age and invalid pensions is that those who have, through the exercise of care and thrift, made some provision for their old age, are not entitled to a full pension. This legislation will accentuate that anomaly, because immediately a person who owns a home accepts a pension, a mortgage will be placed on his home. The question as to who are to constitute the immediate relatives of a pensioner will, in numerous instances, have to be decided in open court. To avoid publicity, many of the aged and infirm in the community who have finer feelings will be driven into the hands of the money lenders, because they will mortgage their homes so as to bc relieved of the necessity for applying for a pension. That is a most invidious and unfair position in which to place them. The Government has to accept the responsibility for these unfair and unjust conditions.
I dislike criticizing a public servant except in his presence. In this instance, the Government may think fit to answer on behalf of the Auditor-General, who is the subject of my criticism. I submit that that officer has to accept a tremendous share of responsibility for the introduction of this class of legislation. His paltry practices and meddlesome methods in trying’ to formulate public policy have been responsible for misrepresenting to the people the position in respect of pensions and other matters. I hope that ere long honorable members of this House will express- strong resentment of the action of the Auditor-General, whose duty is really to audit the accounts of- the Commonwealth, in seeking to formulate principles of public policy. He certainly should be required to answer to the public for the erroneous, false and unfair position in which he has placed our pensioners.
I wish to compliment the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Department upon the efficient way in which its work is done. In my opinion, it is one of the most efficient departments of the Commonwealth Public Service. I have been surprised at the remarkably effective system employed by the department to ascertain the details of the position of applicants for pensions. In most cases this difficult work is done without humiliating the applicant in any way whatever. The officers of the department have almost invariably acted discreetly and worthily. But the conditions sought to be imposed by the provisions of the bill will force them to adopt an entirely different system, for, in many cases, proceedings in open court will be necessary.
– That is not right.
– Any honorable gentleman who says that my statement is not accurate indicates that he has not read the bill.
The honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) has handed me a sheet of paper, but it conveys nothing to me. I arn surprised that the honorable member should find himself in his present position. As a supporter of this Government he is prepared, apparently, to allow the application df what practically amounts to the third degree method to pensioners. There is no honorable member who, in Iiia time, has sought more than the honorable member for Ballarat to parade hi* desire to conserve the interests of our pensioners. I have often commended him for what he has done for the poorer people of our community. But he will be required to answer before the bar of public opinion for any change of front of which he might be guilty in his efforts to placate his conscience and to preserve his changed position in the public life of this country.
I wish now to make some reference to the proposed alteration of the conditions applicable to the payment of the maternity allowance, which will inflict upon the motherhood of this country a humilia-, ti on which was never contemplated when the beneficent idea of the payment of a maternity- allowance was first expressed in our legislation. It was intended that this payment should be entirely free from any idea of charity. The nation wished to show to the mothers of Australia that it was not unmindful of the wonderful sacrifices which they were making for the good of the race. But “this Government is seeking to humiliate the mothers of Australia by making the payment of the maternity allowance conditional upon their financial position. The idea underlying the payment of the maternity allowance was that it should Ite an expression of the goodwill of the nation to the mothers of the race.
– But the honorable member supported the action of the previous Government in altering the basis of the allowance.
– The Minister must know full well that last year I voted against all cuts in the benefits provided under our social welfare legislation.
– But the honorable gentleman assisted to keep the Government in office.
– And I do not know that I did anything amiss in that respect. I did not subordinate my manhood. Further, in view of the fact that I occupied the position of Speaker at that time, I could have justified the adoption of a neutral attitude in this connexion. But
I was prepared to create what was regarded as an almost objectionable precedent by going on to the floor of the chamber to protest and vote against this legislation.
– The honorable member is a wonderful fellow !
– Possibly, I have as many good qualities as the Minister. I shall certainly not take second place to him in such matters as we are now discussing.
I wish now to refer to the provisions in this bill relating to the cost of living and Public Service salaries and wages. No legislative action is necessary to make such adjustments in Public Service salaries and wages as the Government is now contemplating, because the Public Service Arbitrator has provided that such adjustments shall operate automatically from the 1st July in each year, upon the declaration of the cost of living index figure by the Commonwealth Statistician. If the proposals of this bill in this regard are adopted, the public servants of the Commonwealth may be put in a most unfair position. In times when prices were ascending, our public servants had’ to wait twelve months for the declaration of the Statistician’s cost of living figures, and the consequent adjustment of their remuneration thereto ; but now that prices are falling it is proposed that the fall shall be almost anticipated. This is not fair. In awards governing workers in other industries the failure of wages to keep pace with rising prices was not so noticeable as in the Public Service for, in the first place, wage adjustments were made quarterly, and, secondly, an amount of 3s. a week was added to wages to compensate for this lag. When the officials of the Commonwealth’ Public Service organizations drew attention in the times when prices were rising to the disability under which they were labouring, it was pointed out to them, that in the time of falling prices the matter would adjust itself as the fall in prices would precede the fall in Public Service wages; but the Government is taking steps which will rob the public servants of that measure of justice. Honorable gentlemen opposite may think it popular to announce to the public that they are making this adjustment, but I remind them that the great majority of public servants are drawing, not princely salaries, but a remuneration much more in keeping with the ordinary basic wage. Eighty per cent, of our .public servants are employed in the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, and the great majority of these are on the ordinary wage basis. I shall strongly resist the Government’s unfair and unwarranted interference with the present arrangements for the determination of adjustments to the salaries and wages of public servants.
-The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- It is to be regretted that subjects such as invalid and old-age pensions cannot be kept out of the strife of party politics. The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) has delivered a speech such as we expected from him. When the Scullin Government was in office the honorable member opposed any reduction in invalid and old-age pensions, but he supported a government which reduced such pensions by £1,625,000. I do not admire the action of the honorable member at that time in retaining the speakership instead of breaking away from the party with which he is associated, and joining the other branch of the Labour party in this chamber, which, at least, can be said to be consistent, if rather erratic, in its views. He commenced his speech by saying that this was a distinct case of class-conscious legislation. If this is class-conscious legislation, that passed by the previous Government, in which provision was made for a similar reduction, was also classconscious legislation. The ex-Treasurer (Mr. Theodore), in dealing with certain economic phases of this subject, when it was last under consideration in this House, said -
The purchasing power of money is greater now than it was a few years ago, and, therefore, the pensioner will not be relatively worse off than he was two years ago. According to the cost of living figures, 17s. Od. per week will purchase slightly more food and groceries than could be bought for £1 iu 1925, when the pension was increased to fi.
– Where is the man who said that?
– I am not a supporter of the general political policy advocated by that gentlema’n, but we ‘ have to face economic facts. Honorable members opposite speak of the indigent and aged in speeches made for home consumption, as if they were the only champions of the old people, or that they had a monopoly of human sympathy. Subjects of this kind must be studied from an economic view-point. Every honorable member has the greatest sympathy for the aged and infirm in the community, but sympathy will not relieve them. Every honorable member knows of the calls that are made upon the people in these difficult and depressed times, and no one wishes any one to suffer-. The old people in our midst are entitled to the greatest generosity that can be extended to them ; but the payments made to them can be only what the country can afford. Do honorable members opposite realize that Australia’s . huge internal debt of £550,000,000, in connexion with the giant conversion of which the Australian people so patriotically and voluntarily responded to the extent of 97 per cent., represented an overhead expense in interest to the Commonwealth of 5 per cent.? Although that indebtedness has been converted at a lower rate, our’ income has diminished to such an extent that that overhead now represents 6 per cent. The position has to be faced. The honorable member for Hindmarsh surely appreciates the fact that when one’s income is reduced, the amount available for spending is also reduced. He attacked the Auditor-General and the Treasurer in such a way as would be adopted by a a man who thought he was worth more than he was receiving would attack his firm’s directors and the office staff. The Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) stated yesterday that if some half-wit - he did not say whether a member of this House or not; but, if so, he can speak for himself - proposed that £20 a week should be paid to every member of the community, there are members who would be afraid to vote against the proposal. Members of this Parliament are, in regard to the affairs of the Commonwealth, like the directors of a business concern, and, as such, are expected to conduct its affairs on sound lines in an endeavour to give the people the greatest measure of prosperity and happiness. That cannot be done if we close our eyes to economic facts, by blinding ourselves to the national income, and by promising, particularly at election time, to give the people more and more. I wish to put forward a proposal which I think will be helpful to the Government, and of benefit to the aged and infirm in the community. The scheme I suggest would prevent these old people from being exploited by parliamentary candidates who say that they will raise pensions. No doubt the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) has promised to restore the amount of the last cut.
– I intend to do that.
– Regardless of the income of the Commonwealth? These old people should no longer be exploited; and it is time that the adjustment of invalid and old-age pensions should be removed from the province of Parliament. A bill should be introduced providing for pensions to be brought under the purview of the Commonwealth Statistician, who could adjust the rate of pension according to fluctuations of the official rates. I intend to quote some figures to show that this could be done equitably. As honorable members are aware, the system of Commonwealth invalid and old-age pensions was instituted in 1910, when the rate of pension was 10s. a week. That rate prevailed until the 12th October, 1916. When pensions were first paid, the annual cost to the Government was £1,433,585, but by 1917 it had increased to £3,554,1.35. In these circumstances, cognizance had to be taken of the situation, and as the cost of living increased, the weekly rate was increased by 2s. “6d. In 1921, the rate was raised to 15s. a week. I am quoting these figures from a table used by’ the ex-Treasurer, Mr. Theodore, when submitting proposals covering the last’ reduction. In 1925, the rate was raised to 17s. 6d. a week, and in 1927 to 20s. a week, at which figure it remained until last year, when the Scullin Government reduced it by 2s. 6d. Increases in pensions have, with one exception, been made by Liberal or Nationalist Governments, and the only decrease was that made by the Scullin Government. Seeing the initial annual expenditure on pensions has increased from £1,433,585 to £11,700,000, which is the amount at which it stood last year, honorable members would be recreant to their trust if they fail to take stock of the situation. Our financial burden is much greater than it was in those days. At that time, pensions cost only 6s. 7d. per head of the population, but last year the cost had risen to 36s. Id. Although the Government balanced its budget last year, and showed a surplus of £1,300,000 made possible only by the Hoover Moratorium, which is being carried forward, in my opinion that amount should have been utilized to pay off a portion of our floating debt to the Commonwealth Bank. It has, however, been carried forward so that less sacrifices are necessary this year. If a scheme of automatic adjustment were instituted, no honorable member could offer any reasonable objection. Those acquainted with our industrial system know that the basic wage is adjusted quarterly on the cost of living figures supplied by the Commonwealth Statistician. That system has worked smoothly, it is largely the alterations to the margin for skill made from time to time by the court that have caused trouble. Strikes usually occur when these rates are reduced ; but for the most part the cost of living alteration has been well received. 1 brought this matter forward in a question that I asked in this House some weeks ago, and. I read in the newspapers that the Treasury had said that a Treasurer would need to possess psychic powers to know the amount of revenue that would be obtainable from such a source, because the cost of living figure might move up or down. My reply is that a Treasurer would no more need psychic powers than does the Minister for Trade and Customs in estimating customs revenue. In the latter case the estimate is frequently inaccurate to the extent of millions of pounds. That is not surprising, because no person can foretell the amount of customs revenue that will be received. Similarly, the estimates relating to pension payments have always been on the wrong side. That has been particularly the case within the last year or two, for the reason that large numbers of persons have . been obliged to apply for a pension on account of their families being unemployed. Previously they forebore to apply, in the belief that in some way the stigma of charity was attached to it. That is not the case; it is the right of any citizen who is eligible for it, to receive a pension if he so wishes. It is to the credit of the people of Australia that 55 per cent, of those who are eligible for a pension have no wish to draw it. Consequently, I am unable to understand the agitation that has developed against the proposal of the Government to remove many of the anomalies that now exist, and to prevent fraud. I agree with, the honorable member for Hindmarsh that the Pensions Department is one of the best managed of the Commonwealth departments. But it must be admitted that occasionally there are cases of fraud.
– Very rarely.
– That may be so; but they do occur. Only two or three cases would furnish sufficient justification for a thorough investigation of the position.
– Hear, hear !
– The interjection of the honorable member shows that he agrees with me; yet he and other honorable members opposite have not so far expressed approval of that sentiment. Some persons who wish to defraud the department make application in one State, and upon refusal, apply in another, supplying different particulars.
– I have never heard of that being- done.
– If the honorable member were to ask for a confidential report on certain cases he would learn that this practice is followed. Sometimes six or twelve months may elapse before the department becomes aware that the two applications have been made by the one person. I am glad that this is not a frequent occurrence. Honorable members, however, must admit that if it is possible an inquiry is warranted.
I was sorry last night to hear mention made of soldiers’ pensions by the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) .and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde)’.
Mr.WHITE. - Because they are in a different category. A returned soldier is given a pension because he suffers a certain measure of disability. He is compelled to submit himself at regular intervals to a medical examination, and his pension may be either increased or decreased according to his physical condition. Except in some special cases, soldiers’ pensions have not been increased since 1920. The table that I have read shows that the last increase made in old-age pensions was in 1927. In that case the object of the increases was to compensate pensioners for rises in the cost of living. Consequently, no increases having been made in soldiers’ pensions generally since 1920, they are in a different category.
– The invalid and old-age pensioners were told that half a crown did not represent the full extent of the increase in the cost of living.
– I have never heard, it contended that the rate of 10s. a week was in sufficient during the period that it operated. Taking into account the total increase in the cost of living between 1910 and 1932, the rate of 15s. a week will be found to have the same value now as 10s. a week had then. The Government does not intend to reduce the pension to that figure; it proposes that pensioners shall not be affected to the same extent as members of Parliament, public servants, and outside wage-earners, but that, in order to effect the saving in expenditure that is necessary, the act will be policed and imposition prevented.
The index figures of the Commonwealth Statistician, on which the basic wage is determined, show that there was a reduction between the third quarter of 1931 and the second quarter of this year, from 1447 to 1419. It will thus be seen that the curve is gradually dropping. Therefore, I put it to honorable members that the Government is perfectly justified in scrutinizing every avenue of Commonwealth expenditure.
Those who sit on this side have been attacked by the honorable member for Hindmarsh because of an advertisement that appeared at election time, and so impressed the electors of South Australia with the virtues of the United Australia Party, that every sitting Labour man, with the exception of himself, was defeated. The fact that he is the sole survivor is a tribute to the intelligence of the South Australian people.
Iurge honorable members to give some consideration to the proposition that, in a spirit of helpfulness, I have put forward. It has operated in other spheres, and actually is dealt with under the provisions of this bill relating to the automatic adjustment of salaries in accordance with the cost-of-living index figure. The matter should not be one for a display of oratory, or the exploitation of the helpless and the aged at election time, but should be placed on such a basis that the people concerned will know that an honest judgment will be given, and that they will be free from exploitation by unscrupulous politicians.
– This measure is really a child of the Financial Emergency Act 1931, introduced by the Scullin Government, under which “ cuts “ were made in different avenues of employment as well as in the social services embraced by the budgetary proposals of that day.
I regret very keenly the introduction of many of the provisions of the measure, particularly those that affect aged and invalid persons in Australia. I support the proposed increased reductions of 30 and 25 per cent. in the salaries of Ministers and members. The title of the bill is really a misnomer, because there is no emergency. Consequently, the suggested “cut” in the case of aged and invalid persons is not justified by the financial circumstances of the country. Last year the budget was balanced, and this year a surplus of revenue over expenditure is predicted. I consider that the expected surplus has been under-estimated. Reference to the trade and customs . figures for the last couple of years, and a comparison of them with the returns for that period of the present financial year which has expired, will show that in all probability a surplus of several millions of pounds will be disclosed at theend of the year. That being the case, there is no necessity to reduce pensions. I am confident that I voice the opinion of all honorable members when I say that we should mate every endeavour to maintain in the greatest possible degree of comfort our old and infirm people. Unfortunately, however, influences are at work, not necessarily in the ranks of the Cabinet and among honorable members of this House, but beyond the walls of this Parliament, in the direction of lessening, by one means and another, the burden of taxation as it affects large groups of financiers. Their suggestions have apparently induced a feeling among Ministers that steps should be taken to make these reductions at once, so as to relieve these people of a burden which they should be prepared to carry in the interests of our pioneers, to whom we should show the utmost consideration in the evening of their lives. I strongly oppose any action that, to satisfy such a desire, or to make possible a grant to three States of nearly £2,000,000, will cause suffering to our old pioneers. It is claimed that Australia, has led the world in a number of important social reforms. This is as it should be, and we should not now be afraid to stand up to our obligations and show the world that Australia, to-day, as hitherto, is determined to care for its old people. I hope that this Parliament will, in the next few years, adopt some scheme under which it will be possible for all our old people who may be in needy circumstances to enjoy an adequate reward. It is not their wish that they should become a burden on the State unless that is absolutely inavoidable. Their pension is not a charity, it is a right. The Government’s original proposal to reduce pensions by 2s… 6d. a week did not meet with approval, and I am pleased to know that it was withdrawn. But the present scheme is distasteful, and in administration will, I feel sure, press unfairly upon pensioners. Those responsible for the administration of the act must observe the strict letter of the law, and not infrequently, as we have reason to know, this means hardship. A letter which I have received to-day from a widow illustrates this point. The pension payable to this woman under the parent act was reduced, by 21 per cent, under the Financial Emergency Acts introduced by the Scullin
Government. She has now written to me in the following terms: -
I am writing to see if you can assist me. I have been drawing a pension for the death of my son who died in France during the war. The amount at first was 10s. a fortnight, and it dropped to 7s. 6d. Now I have received word it has been stopped. We sold our property. The money for same has not been, paid, and we have very little prospect of getting any for some considerable time, and. things are in a bad way with us. The 7s. 6d, just paid our rent. I am appealing to you to do all in your power for me, which I am sure you will.
I strongly opposed this further cut in invalid and old-age pensions. The amount which pensioners now receive is little enough to provide them with the necessaries of life. No one can say truthfully that our aged or infirm citizens can live even on 17s. 6d. a week. Their age or their infirmity makes it necessary for them to have comforts which young people can do without. Surely we can carry on without taking away from these people the few shillings necessary for their existence? Having in mind our improved financial position, I do not think there is any justification for this further cut; but I am aware of the disposition on the part of many people to approve of further reductions in the cost of all social services. Some of them may be warranted, but there is a limit and, in the case of invalid and old-age pensioners, we have reached that limit. If we are going to restore prosperity to Australia we must draw the line of reduction somewhere. The bill also contains provisions under which applicants for pensions will be required to furnish all manner of detailed information. Already they supply full particulars with their statement of claim. If an applicant has property, his pension payments reduced in proportion to its value. In some cases, because of the property qualification, the payment amounts to only 2s. 6d. a fortnight. Under this bill if the sons or daughters of a claimant own property of a certain value, and are in a position to contribute to his support, they will be called upon to do so. Most of them do so to-day. It is undesirable to put applicants in tie position of being forced to accept assistance from near relatives who, under existing conditions, are not disposed to give it. This bill places a stigma on the great; majority of the relatives of applicants, who, I repeat, are quite willing to do what they can to help their own people. If relatives have means and will not help their aged parents, this bill will compel them to do so. Old people will not want the assistance under these circumstances.
Another provision with which I disagree is that relating to a further reduction in Public Service salaries owing to the fall in the cost of living. It is not generally known that the Public Service has already been subjected to a substantial cut. In accordance with the percentage reductions under the Premiers plan, payment for overtime, Sundays and holidays has been already cut out. In addition, the Public Service Arbitrator’s determination regarding the payment of a minimum living wage has been disallowed so that certain adult employees in the Postmaster-General’s Department can be paid less than the basic wage. Prom the minor’s wage which these people, though of adult age, are now receiving, the Government proposes to deduct a further £8 a year. A close examination of this proposal reveals its injustice. It is true that a huge Public Service has been built up at the expense of the people, but in recent months many anomalies have been rectified, and reductions of staff have occurred in all departments. When the public realizes these facts it will admit that the ship of State cannot be put on an even keel by creating more poverty in the community and diminishing spending power. During the last four years the total number of employees, permanent and temporary, in the federal service, has decreased from 45,051 to 31,280. Whatever may have been the case in the past, the Public Service is not overstaffed to-day; indeed, the Public Service Arbitrator has so declared. The present number of public servants represents an increase of only about 2,500 during the last twenty years, and about 82 per cent, of the total are employed in the Postmaster-General’s Department. That department is a commercial undertaking and pays its way, and who will say that there are idle hands in its branches in city or country? The officers in small country towns work long hours and strenuously in the service of the public, and their zeal is an example to the rest of the community. The staffs in public departments have been reduced, and duplication has been eliminated; but there is a limit to this policy, and no” good purpose will be served by reducing the service given to the public, particularly in country districts, through further curtailments of staff or denying to officers a reasonable reward for their labour. Legislation exists for regulating payments to the Public Service in accord’ance with the rise and fall of the cost of living, and no objection is taken to that, but this bill proposes a further reduction under the same heading. I direct the attention of the Government to these two paragraphs in a statement by the combined Public Service organizations -
The reduction of salaries of Federal Service employees averages 20 per cent, at the present date, compared with the salaries ruling at 1st July, 1930. This represents the full reduction provided for under the Premiers Conference plan. If a further reduction of £8 a year is imposed it will have the effect of making the average percentage reduction 2 or 3 per cent, higher than the reduction provided for by the Premiers Conference plan.
The proposed further reduction of salaries by £8 a year has been termed a “ cost of living adjustment.” This is most misleading, since every adult’ male employee has already suffered reduction corresponding to the full drop in the cost of living. For instance, the cost of living under the financial emergency legislation, which came into operation in July of last year, amounted to £34 a year. From the 1st July of this year, a further cost of living adjustment of £8 a year took effect. This made a total cost of living adjustment of £42 a year. Every adult male employee in the Service has already been reduced by the full amount of the cost of living adjustment (£42) while the great majority have suffered a much greater reduction.
As the legislation regulating the salaries of public servants already provides for reductions in accordance with the fall in the cost of living, it is not fair to enforce that reduction a second time under this emergency measure. The average public servant receives a salary much lower than many of us consider just many receive less than the basic wage, and only 5 per cent, of the government employees draw salaries exceeding £500 a year. I am not unaware of the great disabilities suffered by the Australian people to-day. Industry is depressed, and many thousands of people are without work; in those circumstances, public servants are fortunate in having government employment. The primary producers suffer greater hardships than any other section, but I do not desire to bring other sections down to their level, and make that the basis of the reward of toil. I hope that this Parliament and the Australian people will be able to increase the reward of the primary producer to an amount that is in keeping with his labour and enterprise.
– How does the honorable member propose to do that?
– Certainly not by reducing everybody else to his level. I submitted a motion last week which, if adopted, would help to that end by giving the primary producer control of the handling, distribution, and price of his products on an Australia-wide basis. 1 am sure no primary producer desires to see other sections of the community rewarded in accordance with the quite inadequate return he receives to-day for his labour. My honest endeavours in this Parliament have been directed towards raising the value of products of the farm. An unnecessary reduction in the purchasing power of the people will further hamper the producer. We must require of public servants such sacrifices as are necessary, but I am opposed to the duplication of their disadvantages, thus reducing them to a lower level than is inevitable. Instead of accepting the standards of other countries as our guide, we should hope that the downtrodden races will be brought up to our level. The right honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce) speaking in the United States of America a few days ago said that we should look, not to a reduction of prices and wages for the building up of prosperity, but to an increase of prices and a larger reward for toil throughout the world. That sentiment I have already expressed, and I hope that the Government will do everything possible to give practical effect to it. For the reasons I have stated, I am opposed to the reductions of public servants’ salaries and invalid and old-age pensions. I am convinced that the people will be quite prepared to pay the amount that is required to provide the necessaries of life for the aged and infirm, and invalids.
– This bill is intended to give effect to a portion of the policy announced in the Treasurer’s budget speech. I strongly support the principle of the Premiers plan, because I realize the absolute necessity for the balancing of budgets at the earliest possible date, but the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) rightly said in his budget speech -
The dominant note of the plan was the sure but progressive balancing of budgets. It was obvious, of course, that any attempt to give full effect to the recommendations at once would involve too drastic a cut and too much dislocation.
The balancing of budgets must be achieved gradually; we must avoid drastic changes that would involve excessive cuts and undue dislocation. In dealing with this bill, we have to consider its proposals in relation to the general budget policy. I do not propose to discuss all of them, but in regard to two I am not prepared to give a silent vote even on the motion for the second reading of the bill. I shall deal first with the proposed reduction of the invalid and old-age pensions. In his budget speech, the Prime Minister announced the Government’s intention to reduce the pension by 2s. 6d., in addition to the cut of 2s. 6d. made last year, thus fixing the standard at 15s. Had that proposal come before the House I would have opposed it. The amended provision in the bill is almost equally objectionable, for reasons which I shall state.
I ask honorable members to review the history of the pension, and to have regard to the principle upon which it was originally adopted by this Parliament, and maintained by practically every party since. It was on the suggestion of Mr. Howe, a representative of South Australia, in the federal convention, that provision for the payment of an invalid and old-age pension on a national basis was embodied in the Constitution. There was, however, difficulty in the first ten years of the Commonwealth in providing for the payment of such a pension, as the Constitution provided that for a certain number of years three-fourths of the customs revenue should be refunded to the States, which left an inadequate amount for the payment of invalid and old-age pensions. In 1908- the Commonwealth Law Department advised that the Surplus Revenue Act would enable the Government to anticipate with safety the date on which a pension scheme could be inaugurated, and in that year, the Government introduced “the original bill. The Prime Minister of the day, the Honorable Alfred Deakin, was to have moved the second reading of the measure, but just before the House met a family bereavement necessitated his absence. At short notice, I took charge of the measure on the 3rd June, 1908, and supervised its progress from 3 o’clock that afternoon until 2 o’clock the next day, when it was agreed’ to by all parties.
This amending bill ought not to be considered on party lines, nor should the suggestion be made, particularly by a responsible Minister, that the- views of certain honorable members are voiced for the purpose of exploiting political feeling. Such tactics are unlikely to conduce to the best interests of Parliament, or the nation. We should approach the problem as a deliberative assembly, and endeavour to do what is best in the interests of the nation. It was in that spirit that the original bill was introduced in 190S. A royal commission was appointed in 1906 to investigate the matter of pensions, and it made a definite and clear recommendation, as follows: - ¥our commissioners ure of opinion that it should be distinctly laid down in the proposed Commonwealth legislation that old-age pensions are to be granted of right and not as a charity.
That was the principle underlying the proposal. The commission was not constituted of the members of any party, but was representative of all sections in the House. I happened to be head of the Law Department at the time the bill was framed, and, in introducing the measure, I emphasized its fundamental principles. “When the measure was introduced, the Lender of the Opposition (Sir George Reid) stated that he had had only short notice of it, and I quote an extract from his speech -
Having taken such time as I could to go through the bill, I propose very briefly to deal with une or two aspects of it: but before doing so I wish to heartily commend its > character, in so far as it removes any suggestion of an old-age pension being a charitable allowance. Such an idea degrades a system of old-age pensions. I should look upon a person who qualified under this act to receive a pension, as being just as fully entitled to it as is a commander-in-chief of the British Forces, or the Chief Justice of Great Britain, or of any other part of the Empire, to receive a pension under any other system. An oldage pension, in my opinion, is just as honorable as is a pension given under any other system to distinguished public servants.
Mr. Andrew Fisher also expressed the same opinion, in these words -
The people believe in this principle, and will from time to time demand that it shall be extended. I was glad to hear the Leader of the Opposition say that the bill would convey no “taint of pauperism to the recipients of a pension under it.
Mr. Joseph Cook, as he then was, spoke strongly on the subject, as the following extract shows : -
I know of no more meritorious heroism, shall I say, than that which is practised in the lower ranks of industrials in Australia and elsewhere. The real heroism of life is represented by those nien with large families, wlm have to deny themselves from the beginning to the end of their career, in order to maintain themselves and their dependants in tolerable decency and comfort; and I venture to say, that hereafter, when account is taken of all things human, those nien, who, day by day, are undergoing these privations _ and sufferings - those mental tortures - will “be found a high place amongst the heroes of the race. Such men ought to receive pensions from the State. They have earned them just as honorably and are just as much entitled to them as the highest in the land. I make that statement without the slightest hesitation, and hope that the day will never come in our democratic Australia when any other sentiment will prevail.
I quote those remarks to give point to my contention that pensions were originally regarded as a right, not as a charity. Yesterday the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) was chaffed somewhat when speaking to this amending bill for expressing the like view, because I believe that the idea in his mind was similar to that expressed by Mr. Joseph Cook, when he said - 1 rather look upon an old-age pension system in the light of a national scheme of insurance, in which the insurers are all men who contribute to the upbuilding of the country, and the insured, those who need money and take it in the shape of pensions.
That is the way in which we should approach the subject/, for the principle remains to-day what it was in 1908: a pension is given to an aged person as his right. I stress that point because, in recent times, there has been a tendency to criticize and make unfair suggestions about the payment of old-age pensions, implying that, prima facie, the man in receipt of an old-age pension is akin to « pauper maintained by the charity of the public. It is necessary to combat that impression. Ever since I entered public life 1 have stood for the principle that an old-age pension must be regarded as a right. I maintain that attitude to-day. It is partly because I do not want the payment of pensions to be regarded in any other light that I now oppose the proposal of the Government. What was a principle in 1908, remains a principle to-day. Human nature was suffering then, and it is still suffering. It still has its weaknesses and faults, and, despite the oft-expressed hope that time may effect improvements, I fear that during the past 30 years there has not been great progress towards perfection. When introducing the original bill referring to invalid pensioners, I said -
In our modern civilization, States are beginning to realize the sense of deep national responsibility to every single unit in the community, and to feel that, if any single person in the great industrial army meets with disaster in the course of his work, a duty is owing to bini. A carpenter, in erecting some fine building for us to live in; is, in his particular . sphere, doing a national -work; and we, as a nation, owe to him a duty, so that, if trouble or accident overtakes him, we should see that he is not sent to the workhouse or left to starve in the streets. That is the spirit and feeling which is more and more animating the legislation of the times.
That feeling has grown since 1901. The sense of community and national responsibility has become more evident, each man realizing his obligations to and the rights of his neighbour. This legislation came into being because of the existence of a Christian spirit which recognized the need of caring for the aged and those invalided through disease and accident. That spirit should still guide our deliberations.
This bill is different from that contemplated by the Government earlier in the session. When it was proposed to make the reduction a general one of 2s.- 6d. a week, there might have been some point applying the argument of cost of living and the purchasing power of money. That argument does not apply so strongly to these proposals. In my opinion, the introduction of costofliving statistics is misleading and improper in relation to the payment of” invalid and old-age pensions. When the sum of 10s. a week was fixed in 190S, that rate was not chosen as a; carefully-considered standard based upon what had been proved sufficient to provide reasonable sustenance for an invalid or old-age pensioner; an amount that would cover the rent of a room, his living, medical attention, clothing and oddments such as tobacco. It was chosen because it was the sum that Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria could then afford to pay. Those States had gone through hard times, and were just recovering. The Commonwealth Parliament also had its hands tied for a time by the constitutional provisions, and even when legislation was introduced in 190S it was not possible immediately to put the scheme into operation, for the Federal Government had not the necessary money. The rate fixed was an amount designed to obviate the need of those concerned entering charitable institutions. The passage of that measure represented a tremendous progress in the affairs of the nation, and was a most commendable innovation.
I ask honorable members to remember that under the Constitution this Parliament deals principally with such matters as defence, postal services, aviation, and other national activities. The payment of old-age pensions is one of its few contacts with the social welfare of the community. That being so, we should be careful, as a national legislature, to ensure that we do not set an unworthy standard.
– Does the honorable member approve of the cut that was made last year?
– I do not advance the fact that I was not a member of this House last year to escape my responsibilities in regard to that reduction. It was almost unanimously adopted by this House.
– At any rate, it was adopted by a very large majority, and in view of the conditions then existing, if I had been a member at that time, I should have supported the reduction. The figures given yesterday by the Leader of the Opposition were such as to justify the proposal he then put forward. The conditions to-day are different from those of last- year. The cut ha3 already been made; the pensioners have already made the sacrifice required of them, and the cost of living figures ought not to be regarded as the sole test with 10s. as a basis. I have already explained the conditions under which the pension was fixed at that amount in 190S. At that time we all believed and hoped that as the nation progressed and the wealth of this community advanced we should be able to do better for the old-age pensioners. It must be remembered that the bill when first introduced applied only to males. It was not until later that, by proclamation, it was made to apply te women on reaching the age of 60, and the extension of the pension to invalids also came later. The 10s. must be understood as the amount which the country could afford to pay in 1908. Statistics may be illuminating, but the cost of living figures are not very consoling when applied to the unfortunate person whose income is on the 10s. level.
With the exception of a break of two years, I have been for 24 years in touch with the administration of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act, and have come into contact with large numbers of pensioners. I have witnessed the struggle of those people to eke out an existence upon a small weekly payment, and nothing would justify my voting for a further reduction of the pension unless the very existence of the nation were in peril.
– What is the basic principle at stake?
– I am dealing with what I regard as the basic principle - the standard of pay for the oldage pensioner - and I have no wish to see it lowered, which would bc done by a further reduction of 2s. 6d. a week. As a general principle, the Government desires to maintain the pension at 17s. 6d. per week. I reviewed an earlier decision, and am now of the opinion that the 17s. 6d. level should be main tained. I do not think there is one honorable member in this chamber who wishes to reduce the pension, and, indeed, the Government has indicated all along that it has had no desire to do so - I accept the word of the Prime Minister in that regard - but it has now submitted proposals to save money in three distinct ways. Although I have heard no official pronouncement by the Prime Minister or by any one else that by these means the Government will save the amount of money which would have been saved by an all-round reduction of the pension. It is stated in the press that such is the expectation of Ministers. The three ways in which it is said this saving will be made are by revising the administration of the act; by calling for contributions from relatives; and by taking the property of an old-age pensioner at his or her death, and recouping the country out of the proceeds of its sale.
For as long as I can remember, the officials administering the act in Queensland and in the Central office have been desirous of treating pensioners and applicants for pensions fairly and deserve praise for their good work, and I believe that they have always been watchful to prevent fraud. I know that they have been particularly careful in cases where there has been a transfer of property prior to an application- for a pension. Their decisions, in some cases, have caused hardship. Sometimes parents in perfectly good faith have transferred their farm to their children, and have bought a home in a township hoping to receive a little each year from their children to keep them going; but droughts have caused the children to lose the farm, and the transfer of the property has deprived the parent of the right to a pension. As I say, many of these decisions have caused hardship, but taking it right through I think the administration of the act has been fair. I am of the opinion that if an inquiry is set up, the Government will not find, many cases of fraud and dishonesty. The persons who have come to me for help in securing pensions have always made the fullest disclosure. Honorable members know that with men who are over 65 years of age, and have led a hard life it is often difficult to ascertain exactly what their position is when filling in claims for pensions. Such persons are not to he regarded in the light of criminals trying to get at the Crown. They must be handled sympathetically. It is only to be expected, in many instances, that they quite honestly forget incidents in connexion with the handling of any property that may have been in their possession. I do not think that the Government will find that there have been many cases of deliberate fraud.
The next saving proposed to be made is in respect of contributions. The commission to which I have referred recommended in 1906 that a Commonwealth invalid and old-age pension- system should be adopted, and it reported in favour of a contribution from relatives on the lines now proposed. The present proposition is therefore not a new one. Indeed it was in the 1901 Victorian act, but in no other State did it exist. But the Commonwealth Government in 1906 decided not to adopt that principle. When introducing the bill I said that for good reasons the Government did not propose to adopt the principle of compulsory contributions by relatives who could afford to contribute, to which there were grave and serious objections. On that occasion the then Leader of the Opposition (Sir George Reid) commented upon the provisions of clause 23 of the bill. This clause provided -
The amount of an invalid pension shall in every case be determined annually by the Commissioner or Deputy Commissioner, having regard to any income or property possessed by the applicant and the fact that his relatives contribute to his maintenance, and the fact also ofhis having received compensation from any source in respect of any injury.
The comment of Sir George Reid was -
Although is is not compulsory for children to contribute to the maintenance of their parents, the fact that they do so is to be taken into account.
That is the. law of the Commonwealth to-day. Section 22 provides -
No person shall receive an invalid pension unless -
his relatives, namely, father, mother, husband, wife, or children do not, either severally or collectively, adequately maintain him.
– But that does not apply to the old-age pension?
– No; I am referring now to invalid pensions. I am simply saying that the contributory principle is already in the act, although it applies only to invalid pensions. Sir George Reid went on to say -
I do not object to that. I heartily approve of the action of the Government in declining to copy any legislation which compels children to contribute to the support of their parents. Surely the humiliation of some aged man or woman whose children are unnatural enough to refuse - instead of welcoming it as their highest privilege - to shelter their parents in their declining years, is sufficiently disgraceful without advertising them as the father and mother of such degraded specimens of humanity.
– The honorable member would make other people pay. .
– The pension is given to the pensioner on account of his merits, and not on account of the demerits of his children. His entitlement to a pension depends on whether he has lived a decent life as a citizen. Ishe to work out his career and make his sacrifices only to find in the long run that he has not the wherewithal on which to live? Is it right to expose him to the humiliation, if he claims a pension, of the fact being made known that his children have to be compelled to contribute to his keep ? No matter who contributes towards a pension, it is the community as a whole which is taxed, and the pension is given as a right by the whole community.
– Surely the community has a right to get a contribution from those who are under a moral obligation to contribute?
– The community simply looks at the fact that the pensioner has finished his active life, and is now unable to support himself, and must be helped in his old age. The suggestion has been made that a contribution from children who can afford it to the keep of their parents will help to bring about a better family life. I do not think that we can encourage a better feeling in family relationships by prosecuting children for not supporting their parents. Reform in this respect must come from instilling into the human heart a higher conception of duty; a better feeling of relationship; and a better realization of Christian responsibility.
– Does the honorable member agree with the Leader of the Opposition that children have a moral obligation to support their parents ?
– Certainly; but I say that that will best be brought about by a reform within the hearts of the children. It certainly cannot be brought about by an act of Parliament. We are not likely to bring about a better family life by introducing legislation penalizing a man if he does not pay a certain sum of money. This is not a new principle. It was rejected in 190S by all parties.
Another feature of the bill to which I direct attention is that it enables the Government to recoup itself for pension payments by securing a lien over the home and property of the old-age pensioner. Such a practice would have most serious consequences. On the death of a pensioner, the amount paid by way of pension is to be regarded as a debt due to the Crown, which is to have the right, subject to the encumbrances on the property, to sell and dispose of it, to recoup itself out of the proceeds, and to pay the money into the Consolidated Revenue. Where the pensioner is married the right of the wife who is also a pensioner is preserved dur- - ing her life. Not long ago, I was speaking with feelings of pride of the independence and self-reliance of the Australian people, as shown by the largeness of the sum deposited in savings banks, the number of life insurance policies taken out, and the number of homes acquired by them. The official statistics for 1921 showed that 42.9 per cent, of the householders in Australia owned their homes, while 13.4 per cent, were gradually acquiring them under a purchase by instalments. All honorable members, I think, will agree that a family man who has his own home, and does his best to encourage family life, is a steadying and most desirable influence in the community, and is unlikely to become a political extremist.
How are these homes being acquired in Australia? Under the War Service
Homes Act, 36,813 homes are being provided for Australia’s ex-soldiers. I have not the figures before me for all the States; but, in Queensland, 14,498 homes were erected under the Workers’ Dwelling Act since 1910. Under the Workers’ Homes Act, Which is designed to meet the needs of those with very small incomes, 2,276 homes have been erected in Queensland since 1923. Take the position of an occupant of a war service home. The ex-soldier may be in perfect health today, and he uses what- little money he can spare in completing the purchase of a home, which he eventually acquires. On reaching the age of 65 years and being without income he is entitled to the old-age pension, and the home in which he lives probably represents all his worldly possessions. He may live for a further period of ten years, and draw a pension of, say, £45 10s. a year. He is entitled to receive so much consideration from the community. He has struggled throughout his life to be a decent citizen, and he has provided a home for himself and his family. But he finds, under this measure, that the home provided by him under the War Service Homes Act may not pass to his children on his death, but may be sold to pay the pension he has received.
– If the children of a pensioner have not sufficient love for him to assist in supporting him, they do not deserve the property that he leaves.
– They may not be in a position to support him. The honorable member will realize that I am dealing with the legal position that will arise under this bill with regard to the property of a pensioner. Only a small percentage of the workers whom we encourage to provide homes for themselves earn sufficient income to do much more than pay their way. Honorable members are aware that working men in receipt of a very small wage can provide their own homos through the help of building societies. Two such societies have been established at Toowoomba, and many homes are being provided there through those agencies. The workmen contribute small sums periodically for the purpose of eventually owning their homes. The payments made in that way are all they can afford to put by, after meeting their ordinary household expenses. They have no opportunity of investing money in Commonwealth stock, or similar securities, to provide them with an independent income on reaching the age of 65 years. Those who are acquiring homes in Queensland under the Workers’ Dwellings Act, represent some of the best elements in the community. They feel confident that, in the event of their death, their widows will, at least, have a home and the oldage pension, and the home can be left to the children. Surely, there are hallowed traditions associated with the home of the working man, as well as with the mansion of the rich. Is it worth while, for the sake of the saving that the Government expects to make under this measure, to take the home of the pensioner to recoup the country for an expenditure on a pension to which aged people have been considered entitled? Personally, I do not think so. I consider that this proposal will adversely affect the working of the Workers Dwelling Act. In one case with which I am familiar, a soldier’s widow had a war gratuity bond amounting to under £600. She purchased a home for about £350, and on reaching the age of 65 years, she obtained the oldage pension. That was a perfectly proper thing for her to do. She naturally concluded that the home provided by her husband would remain her property, but under this bill it may be sold by the Crown to pay for her pension.
In 1900-07, the amount collected, in Victoria under the same principle of contribution by relatives as contemplated by this bill totalled £4,081. In 1905-06, £1.89,127 was paid in pensions, and the proceeds by way of contributions amounted to £3,623. On the 31st December, 1906, 10,786 persons in’ Victoria were entitled to the pension. That principle was in operation for six or seven years; but apparently the contributions did. not realize much. It is unfortunate that the Government has submitted these proposals. They are contrary to the original conception of the old-age pensions scheme.
On examining the details of the bill, one sees that a number of penalties are provided for, and these will cause further anxiety -to pensioners, lest they should bring themselves within the meshes of the law. Under the proposed new section 52m, the procedure to be followed to make relatives contribute to the support of a pensioner is prescribed, and penalties are provided. A relative of a pensioner may be summoned before a court of summary jurisdiction to show cause why he should not be ordered to contribute towards the cost of the pension. Sub-section 11 of the proposed new section 52m states -
Where any amount due under any order made under this section is not recovered upon distress being levied, the person against whom the order was made may be summoned to appear before the court, and unless he satisfies the court that he is without means to comply with the order he may be ordered to pay a fine’ not exceeding’ Fifty pounds or to be imprisoned for a period not exceeding three months.
The proposed new section 52a provides - (1.) Every pensioner and every claimant shall, within such time as is prescribed, furnish to the Commissioner the prescribed particulars relating to the real property owned by the pensioner or claimant or in which he has any estate or interest, and relating to hia relatives being husband, wife, father, mother or children as are prescribed. (2.) Any pensioner who fails to comply with the requirements of the last preceding subsection shall be guilty of an offence and shall, upon conviction, be liable to a penalty not exceeding Fifty pounds and in addition the Commissioner may cancel the pension granted to him. (3.) Any claimant who fails to comply with the requirements of sub-section (1.) of this section shall not, while such failure continues, be entitled to be granted a pension:
Other sections are penal. These all create an improper atmosphere in regard to pensions.. For the reason I have given I oppose the pension amendments.
I am not satisfied with the proposed further reduction of the wages and salaries of public servants. That matter will be dealt with in committee. My main reason for speaking on the second reading of the measure was to make it clear to the House that I cannot support the bill because of the alteration effected by it with regard to the invalid and oldage pension. In every other respect I am prepared to assist the Government, so far as possible, to bring about a condition of affairs that will conduce to national prosperity and happiness.
.- 1 congratulate the honorable member for Darling Downs (Sir Littleton Groom) on his excellent review of the pensions system. .Honorable members should particularly appreciate his remarks because of the close attention he has given to the legal and social aspect of this matter. The whole community has waited anxiously to see the results of the operation of the Premiers plan. For that reason public attention has been focussed upon the budgetary position, and I feel sure that even wholehearted supporters of the Premiers plan will be sadly disillusioned when they realize that the Government, for the purpose of balancing the budget, now proposes to slash the invalid and oldage pension. It has been claimed by honorable members opposite that an attempt has been made to make political capital out. of this issue. Attention has been focussed on the pensions issue, because the public has come to realize that the Government desires to balance its budget at the expense of invalid and old-age pensioners. It is late in the day for Government supporters to t.-ilk of making political capital out of pensions, for they have already done that. No subject has been given more prominence in the press during recent weeks than the proposal to reduce pensions, and some honorable members sitting behind the Government, who have professed to rebel against the Government’s policy, have taken the fullest advantage of that publicity.
There is no justification for a further reduction of Public Service salaries. As is usual in times of financial difficulty, the Public Service is singled out for harsh treatment, and made the target for press and political criticism. A reduction of Public Service salaries is an easy way out for politicians who seek to save their Owl faces. 1 am not afraid to express my opposition to the proposal to reduce further the allowances of members of Parliament, and I believe that honorable members generally, even though they vote in favour of the reduction, agree that it is not justified. I hope that those honorable members who, in their hearts, are opposed to the reduction will stand against it.
Apparently, those people most interested in the discontinuance of the gold bounty are well able to look after themselves, for the Prime Minister has already indicated that he is prepared to listen to reasons for its retention. In view of the influence that these people evidently have with the Government, I shally not deal further with the gold bounty, but shall concentrate on the proposal to inflict hardships on invalid and old-age pensioners.
Of late, certain supporters of the Government have received considerable publicity in the press of Australia because of their professed opposition to its proposal to reduce pensions. They received an advertisement which otherwise they would not have been given. Where do those honorable members stand to-day? Do they think that the public will be deluded into believing that the change of front on the part of the Government means that the pensioners are not to lose what was first intended? The figures comprising the number of pensions supplied by the Government itself show that the sacrifice demanded of invalid and old-age pensioners in the Government’s original proposal amounted, not to the £1,100,000 mentioned in the budget speech, but to £3,660,000. Notwithstanding the changed policy of the Government, and accepting its own figures, the fact still remains that of a sacrifice of £1,479,000 demanded of the people of Australia, invalid and old-age pensioners will be required to provide £1,100,000. The Government’s latest proposal only means that a smaller number of pensioners will be . affected ; but their sacrifice will be greater than was originally intended. It stands to the eternal discredit of the Government that it should call upon the most helpless section of the community to make this disproportionate sacrifice.
It would appear that the differences of the supporters of the Government have been smoothed out. Usually, these things are done by means of the party steam roller. The people, however, will judge for themselves in this matter.
A notable feature of this debate has been the claim of Government supporters that pensions are entirely a charitable gift, whereas those who oppose the Government in this mutter regard them as a right. Government supporters act as though the old-age pension were a substitute for the poorhouse. The Opposition view it as a partial recompense for services rendered in a lifetime of service to the community.
The invalid has a moral, as well as a legal, claim on the community for assistance. It is not his fault that he is not so strong as his fellow, or that he is the victim of our industrial conditions. The party with which I am associated believes that any community which fails to give adequate protection and sustenance to its invalids does not deserve to exist. The Government is inconsistent, in that while it is prepared to cut the pensions of the aged, it believes. in paying large pensions to judges on retirement from their wellpaid positions. This party finds no fault with the policy of providing pensions for soldiers and public servants; but it objects to a policy which treats unjustly that section of the community least able to defend itself. The Prime Minister attempted to justify this legislation, on the ground that the legislation of Victoria, England, South Africa, and Canada contained similar provisions. I suggest that this measure contains the worst, rather than the best, features of the legislation of those countries. During this debate the honorable member for Corio (Mr. Casey), the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson), as well as the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) and the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), quoted figures, ‘ percentages and decimals, in an attempt to prove that, under the Government’s proposal old-age pensioners would bc infinitely better off than at any time previously. If we are to consider percentages and decimals, why not consider them also in relation to food values, and the other factors taken into account in ascertaining the cost of living figures? If decimals and percentages were food, the old-age pensioners in this country would be amply provided for with food for the rest of their lives in the speeches of the honorable members I have mentioned. The cost of living figures are no true indication of the needs of a family. The cost of living has never been adequate, nor has the pension.
– What does the honorable member consider would bc a fair pension ?
– The budget speech indicates that still further reductions are contemplated by the Government. The Prime Minister said that if the Government did what it was entitled to do, the pension would be reduced to lis. lid. a week. One wonders whether tha’t statement should be regarded as a threat or as a promise. Does it mean that the Government is not satisfied with its present proposals, and intends to call upon the pensioners to make still further sacrifices? Supporters of this measure have referred to the various increases and decreases of the old-age pension from time to time. It is notable that at no time were pensions increased twice within fifteen months. Yet within fifteen months pensioners have been called upon twice to make sacrifices. Every increase followed a long way behind an increase in the cost of living. The honorable member for Corio gave figures intended to show the percentage of certain revenue which has been absorbed in the payment of old-age pensions. Probably it was only a coincidence, but the very taxes that he cited are those which the Prime Minister promised certain interests would be reviewed in the near future. Are we to understand that, in the past, pensions have been paid directly from these taxes, and that now pensions must be reduced in order to lighten the burden on the section of taxpayers concerned? In view of the somewhat far-reaching nature of the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin), it is interesting to compare, the sacrifice which is being demanded of the helpless in our midst with that asked of other sections in the community. In an optimistic outburst towards the conclusion of the budget speech the Treasurer said “ We have weathered the storm “. It is true that certain privileged classes in the community have weathered the storm ; but other sections are still being buffeted by it. In order to understand how the various classes in the community have weathered the storm, I propose to quote from the budget speech. In it the Treasurer said -
A marked improvement has also taken place recently in the values of general industrial shares on the market. An examination of a list of sixteen representative stocks of companies with a paid-up capital of £20,976,883 hows that whereas on the 2Sth June last the market value of these shares was £39,129,909 to-day the market value is £44,241,082. This rise represents an appreciation of 13.00 on the market value in the period stated and a capital appreciation on the par value of- the shares of 17.15 per cent.
The Prime Minister selected sixteen representative companies. I am reluctant to think that they were hand picked, so I shall accept his figures. These sixteen representative companies, despite the depression and the sacrifices that every section of the community has been called upon to make, are- in the peculiar position that they have a paid capital of £29,000,000, which to-day is worth M4,000,000, their holdings having advanced in value by 17.15 per cent. That section of the community has at all events weathered the storm. The remarkable fact is that, according to the budget speech, those same wealthy interests are to secure relief of taxation to the extent of £1,200,000. To permit of that relief being given the pensioners are to be called upon to make a sacrifice of £1,100,000.
I come now to the overseas bondholder, who has made no sacrifice at all. During the current year the people of Australia have to find in interest payments £26,301,000, and in exchange £6,674,000, or a total of £32,975,000. Everybody knows that the value of fixed incomes from bonds has considerably appreciated during recent years. These bondholders are another class who draw on ‘ Commonwealth revenue and have successfully weathered the storm. The Prime Minister said in his budget speech that this class of people might contribute to the welfare of the country by agreeing to a reduction in interest rates, provided that we take no foolish step in the meantime. I suppose that this reduction in pensions is to be an indication to the bondholders overseas that the Government does not intend to take any foolish step by inflicting burdens on the wealthy section of the community. Is it for the purpose of currying favour with the wealthy overseas bondholders that the Government proposes to make up its shortage of £1,479,000 mostly at the expense of the old-age and invalid pensioners? Apparently neither the Government nor its supporters have taken into account the fact that the cost of the administration of the Pensions Department will inevitably increase. The provision in the bill compelling pensioners and their families under threat of penalty to provide returns will,- in itself, mean an immense increase in the staffing of the pensions office. Another army of officers will be required for the collection and disposal of cash contributions by the relatives of old-age pensioners. An additional army of pimps will be required to spy on pensioners and theirrelatives. The Prime Minister in his budget speech said -
Cases of fraud have been coming to light of such a nature that it has been decided to experiment with a system of inspection which, if it is found to justify itself, will be extended.
There is not the slightest doubt the Government has decided that it will be absolutely necessary, if the Government’s policy is given effect, to extend that system of espionage. To-day the department’s inspectors examine the affairs only of old-age pensioners themselves, but, of necessity, when this legislation is in operation, the department will be compelled either to throw additional work on those inspectors or to considerably increase the staff, because, in addition to prying into the affairs of the old-age pensioners, it will be necessary for the inspectors to examine the whole of the affairs of the members of their families.
– The honorable member would not object to that if additional employment were thereby given.
– I do not object at any time to the provision of legitimate employment, but I strongly object to being a party to providing work for pimps and spies on old-age and invalid pensioners. The whole inference to be drawn from the provisions of this now measure is that the invalid and oldage pensioners as a class are nothing more or less than potential frauds, because no piece of legislation has so far passed this House in which we see so much evidence of the Government’s desire to prevent what it terms fraud. This legislation will, therefore, cause considerable embarrassment to claimants of old-age pensions.
– The position is bad enough now.
– That is so. In the past the pensioners had -to give an extensive history of their own affairs and personal belongings, but, under this legislation, their claims will be held up until a similar history in respect of their relatives is supplied to the department. The members of many families are scattered throughout the length and breadth of the Commonwealth. Is it reasonable that the claim for a pension should be held up until the whole of the family affairs have been investigated? In many instances I have found, when filling in information papers on behalf of claimants, that they do not possess a knowledge of the whereabouts of their children. “What will be the position in such cases? This legislation definitely lays it down, that pensions will not be granted until such time as the affairs of the claimants’ relatives who may be called upon to assist in maintaining them are known to the department. . If a son or relative- has, in the past, been contributing 10s. towards the upkeep of his parent who is a pensioner, and the department decides that that sum must be paid through it as part of the pension, the son or relative may find it impossible to contribute an additional 10s. for the maintenance of the parent. The immediate result will be that the pensioner will lose the voluntary benefit that he enjoyed previously.
I come now to the confiscation - it amounts to that - of the pensioner’s estate’ at death. I fail to see how the Government justifies such an action. After all, we have to consider the manner in which these homes have been acquired by the pensioners. The claimants for pensions are in the vast majority of cases people who have given a lifetime of service in the) industrial world. having been forced to exist on the lowest basis of wages. By exercising thrift and foregoing pleasures enjoyed by others, they have acquired a home of their own. The Government is now saying to these deserving citizens, “Yes, you may have the pension, but on the understanding that from the moment you receive it an ever-increasing mortgage will be placed upon your homes”. No provision of this bill limits the power of the Government in that respect. On the death of a pensioner the ‘ Government will have first claim on the property to recover the amount of pension paid during the lifetime of the pensioner. It has been said on behalf of Government supporters that this will be just treatment to the children of pensioners who fail to maintain their parents during their lifetime. But if it was never within the power of such children to support their parents, what becomes of that argument? As a matter of fact, this is the most unjust, ridiculous and iniquitous proposal in the bill. After a lifetime of thrift and sacrifice, a person should be able to say that the home which he struggled to put over his head, is his to dispose of as he thinks fit when he no longer requires it, but under the provisions of the bill the Commissioner will undoubtedly have an unlimited claim to such a property with a right of disposal.
I come now to the classification of .pensioners. It has been said that the amended proposals of the Government as set forth in this bill, have been formulated to salve the conscience of the rebels among the Government supporters who objected to the original proposal to cut 2s. 6d. a week off all the pensions. But how far do these alterations provide a salve? I am touching this point, let me say, not to make political capital, but to reveal the true position. We have been told that there is no new classification of pensioners; but it cannot be denied that the Government is classifying one section of pensioners in a pauper class, and that this is a new class. It is proposed to reward such persons for their services to the community with a full pension of 17s. 6d. a week, but if by any chance such a pensioner earns 2s. 6d. a week, he must within one month, at the risk of such penalties as gaol, notify the department of his change of fortune. As soon as a pensioner earns 2s. 6d. a week he is removed from the pauper category, and becomes what I shall call a second-class pensioner, and is entitled to a pension of only 15s. a week. But even then his permissible income including pension without further reduction of pension is limited to £11 per annum. Not satisfied with even this provision, the Government is following the unfortunate pensioners into asylums, or poor houses, hospitals, and homes of one kind and another. Hitherto pensioners in such institutions have been entitled to a payment of 5s. a week to provide them . with a few comforts for the winter of their life. But the Government will have its pound of flesh even from these unfortunate. people, for it proposes to reduce their allowance for tobacco and other comforts from 5s. to 3s. 9d. a week.
– It is much more than a tobacco allowance.
– That money is used to buy boots, clothes, and other necessaries.
– These people do not spend v 5s. or even 3s. 9d. a week in tobacco.
– Honorable members may, if they desire, work out to a decimal fraction the cost of living which is represented by the difference between 5s. and 3s. 9d. The whole provision is iniquitous.
It has been argued by those who have supported this bill, that the duty rests upon every man and woman to provide for the old age or invalidity of parents. There might be some justification for that contention if the workers in industry received sufficient wages to make such provision. But it is a remarkable commentary on our twentieth century civilization that while even the beasts of the jungle are prepared to fight to provide for their young, we find people who are willing to send missionaries to the islands to civilize the natives, advocating in the Commonwealth Parliament that the human race should be compelled to live on its young. This is something which even the beasts of the jungle do not do.
Something has been said about the increase in the number of claims for pensions in the last two years. The conditions under which we are living have been largely responsible for this.
– And the closing of the Government Savings Bank of New South Wales.
– And the stopping of the buses.
– Perhaps that has also had something to do with it.
– The claim that the stoppage of the buses has had anything to do with the. position cannot be substantiated, for very few persons over the age of 21 were employed on the buses. The fact is that our pensioners have been forced out of industry by the conditions of modern life. Not only have they been denied employment in industry, although they are prepared to work for their living, but their children have, in many cases, also been denied work. Even children who would be quite prepared to do their utmost to maintain their parents are unable to do so to-day because they cannot earn sufficient money to maintain even themselves and their families. Our economic circumstances have made this impossible. I do not know whether the present Government can do a great deal to remedy this state of affairs, but even if it could it would not have the courage to do it. The plain fact is that many people have been forced to accept pensions because work has been denied them. Even many estimable citizens who have struggled all their lives to provide, by a bank account or a home, for their old age have, through longcontinued unemployment, been forced to give up hope, and claim a pension. This state of affairs, though not caused by, has been largely contributed to by this Government, with its policy -of hacking at wages, pensions and other social services.
A number of Government supporters have professed to be solicitous for the welfare of our pensioners. I shall not claim that the party to which I have the honour to belong has a monopoly of all charitable feelings, but I draw attention to the fact that although the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham), in his speech on the bill said that’ he was cut to the heart by the plight of many pensioners, he spent most of his time in uttering cheap witticisms at the expense of other honorable members, and very little of it in justifying the Government’s proposal. His attitude was very similar to that of a literary character whom I may call a co-professional,. Uriah Heap. He sympathizes with the pensioner - but only in a small way.
I come now to the proposal of the Government to reduce the number of persons, entitled to the maternity allowance. The Government might have spared itself the humiliation of adding to the injustice imposed on the mothers of Australia fifteen months ago. After all, it is only the poorer section of the community which has taken advantage of the maternity allowance, though there may have been .a few exceptions. There was absolutely no need for the Government to call upon the poorer section of the ‘ people to make a still further sacrifice in this direction. The maternity allowance was never intended to be a charity dole. It was provided :as a small acknowledgment by the nation of the sacrifice and devotion of the mothers of the race, to make possible some small additional comforts at a time when they were urgently needed. The infliction of this additional miserable hardship on the mothers of Australia is entirely unworthy even of a government which is prepared to balance its budget. at the expense of old-age and invalid pensioners. The attitude of the party to which I belong to this measure is quite clear. “We have never at any time subscribed to the Premiers plan or to the cutting of old-age or invalid pensions.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I thought while the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) was speaking that it was a good thing that he realized that he was his brother’s keeper, and that I had the advantage of having him here to see that I walk in the paths of rectitude. It was kind of him to read an advertisement -of the Emergency Committee in South Australia which contained the statement that each member of this Parliament associated with that committee was independent. I should think that one who is such a party hack as the honorable member for Hindmarsh almost wished that he had as much liberty as he will find that I have if I am spared to see out the life of this Parliament.
In Labour conferences and in trade union committees, I have, on many occasions, met with what may be called double-barrelled resolutions; but this bill can hardly be described as a doublebarrelled bill. Neither could one appropriately apply to it the term “ automatic seven chamber “. I am more inclined to agree with an honorable member who interjected that it was a machine gun measure. I agree with the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Latham) who recently stated that there is an urgent need for the consolidation of Commonwealth statutes. If Parliament is to be asked from time to time to consider Financial Emergency Bills, such as this, which amends a number of acts, such a consolidation is essential. If this procedure is to be continued, it will be exceedingly difficult for members of Parliament and others to understand the legislation passed by this Parliament. It will be said by some that this is merely an emergency bill, but I do not intend to be deceived by that. I do not look upon it as such. Some of the proposals which it contains will remain in ‘operation indefinitely. It would be far better to amend the principal acts involved by separate measures rather than by a comprehensive bill such as this. Members of this Parliament act in the capacity of members of a board of directors of a parent company which controls a number of subsidiary companies. In discussing this bill, I am not permitted to deal generally with the budgetary position, of the Commonwealth, but I shall take a long range view of the finances of the parent and its subsidiary companies. Briefly, the present indebtedness of the Commonwealth and the States is £1,187,827,868. The indebtedness of the Commonwealth and States increased last year by £31,792,951; of which amount £10,166,185 was the Commonwealth’s share. The accumulated deficits of the Commonwealth and States in 1930-31 was £27,200,000; in 1931- 32, £20,147,000, and the estimate for 1932- 33 is £9,000,000. It will be said by some that the States are largely responsible for the deficits real and anticipated, but I remind honorable members that the accumulated Commonwealth deficit to-day is in the region of £17,000,000. In these circumstances it is useless to blame the States. The actual position of the Commonwealth last year was that instead of there being a surplus of £1,314,091, there was, if we take into account our real obligations, which under the Hoover moratorium we avoided, an actual deficit of £4,600,000. Against that, however, is the amount the Commonwealth would have received in reparations. Had we met our obligations, the deficit last year would have amounted to £4,600,000. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) raised two important questions on which he based his speech. The first was : Are the measures proposed in this bill necessary ; and the second : Are they equitable ? I cannot agree with the contention of the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition that the crisis is over.
– I said that the budgetary crisis was over.
– It is not over, seeing that we had last year a real deficit of £4,600,000.
– The crisis I referred to was the possibility of immediate default.
– Default was avoided only by shipping or proposing to ship overseas, a large proportion of our gold reserve. There is every indication of a bountiful season this year, but droughts are always likely to occur. If they do, it will be exceedingly difficult with a further fall in our national income to meet our obligations. In the event of adverse seasonal conditions, the Government will be forced to meet a crisis as great as that which the Leader of the Opposition had to face when he was Prime Minister. The right honorable gentleman referred to the increase in revenue; but he knows as well as any one the dangers associated with a heavy increase in customs revenue. I give the Government of which he was the leader credit for dealing with the situation as it did when the customs revenue was of such proportions that it presented a real danger.
I do not want my remarks on this measure to be construed in such a way that it could be said that I am opposed to what is known as the Premiers plan. I do not wish it to be thought that I am “ squibbing “ on the plan. I am not ; I believe in it, and the principle which it embodies. I have said that the members of this Parliament are similar to directors of a parent company, and in considering this measure we have first to consider the directors’ fees. The portion of the bill which deals with the parliamentary allowances of Ministers and members is so cunningly worded that it would appear that we are submitting to a reduction of 25 per cent. in our allowance. We all know that that is not so; the actual reduction under this measure is 5 per cent. I ask honorable members whether they do not think that it should be greater. I was surprised yesterday to hear the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) say that the people outside consider that members of Parliament will sustain only a 25 per cent. reduction in their parliamentary allowance, and then proceedto argue that we have a net income on which the reduction is from 35 per cent. to 37½ per cent., which justifies our holding up our heads. Is the reduction of pensions, the maternity allowance, and the salaries of the lower-paid public servants, justification for holding up our heads? Did the honorable member mean that we had no cause to hang our heads when we passed our constituents, or that we could expect to be buoyed up by a spirit of exultation and of triumph in our righteousness? I say to him and to other honorable members, that the pensioners also have a net as well as a gross income, and that many of them are assisting to the extent of their capacity to keep children who are out of employment. It is not right to takeso much credit for a reduction of a mere 5 per cent.
– Make it 50 per cent.
– I intend to propose an increase in the amount fixed by the bill.
The right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) complained about the reduction in Government expenditure compared with the national income ; and the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) said that the major problem was to bring down the cost of government, and that definite proposals were demanded instead of generalization. I accept his invitation. I give notice that, in committee, it is my intention to move an amendment, the effect of which will be to make the reduction in parliamentary allowances 40 per cent, instead of 25 per cent. That, if accepted, would bring the allowance back to the figure at which it stood in 1.920, namely, £600. In its present position, the country cannot afford to pay more than £600 per annum, as an allowance to members of the Federal Parlia-ment. If I cannot obtain the support of honorable members on my right, who are opposing the principal provisions of this measure, I have a right to expect it from those who are responsible for the proposal to reduce old-age pensions by 2s. 6d. a week, and to bring the salaries of some public servants below £3 10s. a week. Tire honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) has said that we lack practically nothing, comparing our condition with that of pensioners. In many respects that is correct. I know that it will be said that only a small saving would be effected > .1 point out, however, that the saving would be £22,400 per annum, compared with the £5,600 proposed by the Government. If the country’s need is as great as is alleged, I trust that members who support the Government will be prepared to make this additional cut in their allowance.
– Cannot any honorable member repay the difference if he so desires?
– I am glad of that interjection. Any honorable member who does not wish to draw a portion of his allowance, need not do so. I know that from past experience. If the inference of the honorable member is that I should not be a party to taking it off others, I do not agree with him. During nearly three years, I left with the Commonwealth Treasury, a portion of my parliamentary allowance, representing about £965. Some of those who, on , that occasion, drew the increase which I declined to accept until an election had been held, spent the greater part of their time in the parliamentary billiard room. While the Commonwealth Parliament sat in Melbourne, some honorable members who were solicitors made it a practice not to attend until the evening, unless they were dragged in by the party Whip. So long as things like that take place, X. nm not prepared to prescribe for myself a further dose of the medicine that I then took. I ask all honorable members to support me in this proposal, which is fair and proper in the existing circumstances of the country.
Having dealt with our own allowance, we should review the position in regard to the Public Service. The amendments proposed by the bill deliberately aim at the reduction of the wage of an adult, probably a married man, in the Commonwealth Public Service, below £3 10s. a week. I shall not support the removal of that limitation. The AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Latham) yesterday read from the plan the proposal respecting the 20 per cent, cut in government expenditure, but he did not quote that portion which says that such reductions should be equitably adjusted. I admire and respect Mr. Brown, the Director of Posts and Telegraphs, from whom I have received some consideration, but I cannot consent to a proposal under which his salary of £50 10s. a week is to be reduced by only the same amount as that of a Commonwealth public servant who receives £3 10s. a week. Is there any honorable member who will say that that is an equitable adjustment? If there is, he does not know the meaning of words. I am not contending that public servants should not be prepared to accept an additional share of the burden that has to be borne; but I do claim that it is possible to devise something better than this slipshod scheme that we have before us. The measures introduced by the previous Government were not slipshod, but provided for an equitable adjustment of the burdell. That was the basis of the plan, not for one year only, but for as long as the plan was necessary. I am not prepared to stand for equitable adjustment for one year, and “ Rafferty rules “ at the expiration of that period. That is the only way in which the proposal of the Government can be characterized.
I come now to the subject of pensions. The Attorney-General is a gentleman for whom I have always held the highest respect. While he sat in Opposition, J regarded him as one who was above the ordinary politician, in that, as a. rule, he kept himself, to a certain extent, above party politics. Yesterday, however, he used the specious argument that this bill was only an amendment of the principal act. That, was the utterance of thi lawyer, not of the man. The honorable gentleman knows that this is a radical alteration of the whole basis of pensions.
– I did not say anything about its being a mere amendment of the act, but pointed out that it was an amendment. That is perfectly true.
– The manner in which the honorable gentleman said it might get past a jury, but it did not catch me.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to8 p.m.
– A careful perusal of the bill has convinced me that many of the amendments are very subtle. I have every respect for those Government supporters who, apparently, put up a good fight in the party room in the interests of our old-age and invalid pensioners, because I know what a fight in the party room means. I realize how reluctant members are to be out of step with the majority, and I know how ready they are to accept any proposal which in any way seems to meet their objections. But I am just a little afraid that honorable members sitting behind the Government will find that the proposals contained in this bill, with regard to the pension payments at all events, are so much dead sea fruit. As we know, the Government compromised by providing in this bill that pensioners with no source of income should continue to receive 17s. 6d. a week.
– Is not that desirable?
– I am not finding fault with that part of the proposal ; but I invite honorable members to bear with me while I examine more closely the precise nature of the Government’s amendments. I assume that most honorable members have read the bill. Therefore, they will have noticed that the additional payment of 2s. 6d. a week is payable only in the event of pensioners having no source of income. That looks all right, but I direct attention to clause 12 of the bill, which amends section 34 of the principal act in this way -
That amendment appears to be so innocent that one might almost think that the draftsman was playing with the alphabet; but examined closely it means that receipt by the pensioner of any gift or allowance, from children, grandchildren, stepchildren or adopted children will be treated as income. Hitherto that has not been the case; the department has not, when assessing pension payments, taken into account any gifts of the nature mentioned.I feel sure that many Government supporters will be surprised to learn the real intention of this amendment of section 34. Two or three to whom I have spoken have told me that my interpretation of the proposal is wrong, but I can assure them that I am right. A month ago on the last Sunday I was in South Australia, on my way home from church I visited an old lady 84 years of age, who can truly be described as a Mother in Israel. I had not been sitting by her bedside long before she asked me what the Government intended to do about the proposed pension reductions? In reply, I told her I thought there might be certain slight reductions, and that the Government would probably take steps to prevent the payment of pensions to persons who were not entitled to them. In further conversation, she explained her position to me. “I am paying £1 a week for this room,” she said. “ The people with whom I am staying provide me with food, warmth, light, and give me a certain amount of attention. I could not expect them to do it for less than£1 a week. My children, who, as you know, are poor, and cannot afford very much, are helping me to the extent of 2s. 6d. a week so that I can pay£1 for this room.” That old lady, when a girl of fourteen, lost her mother and she had to bring up the family. Later she married and brought up another family most creditably. Unfortunately she will suffer harshly if the bill passes in its present form, because the pensions department will regard as income the contribution of 2s. 6d. a week, which she receives from her children, with the result that her pension will be reduced to 15s. a week. It is a fact that any gifts or contributions by relatives will be treated as income and the pension reduced accordingly. I am loth to believe that any member of this House will countenance such action. But let me go a little further. Suppose a son is boarding with his mother, who is an oldage pensioner, and is paying her 20s. or 25s. a week. Hitherto that has not been regarded as income, but under this amending bill some portion of the money which a sou pays to his mother for board and lodging will be treated as income and her pension reduced - to what extent I cannot say, but certainly by 2s. 6d. a week. If a. man works on a farm or in a house looking after a garden, and gets 12s. 6d. a week, he will suffer in the same way. Suppose that an old-age pensioner, is living with her son. Her board and lodging will now be considered as income - to what extent I do not know but in the case of a pensioner working on a farm, his board is now reckoned by the department as having a value of 12s. 6d. a week, and is treated as income. Take another case. Suppose a son every month gives his mother, who is an old-age pensioner, a 10s. note to help her along. In future if this gift comes within the official knowledge of the department, the mother’s pension will be reduced by 2s. 6d. per- week. I hope that Government supporters will give this matter their most serious attention, and when the bill is in committee will so amend it as to prevent hardship in such cases as I have cited. I can assure honorable members that my interpretation of the amending provisions in this bill is absolutely correct. The alteration of the definition section in the act will mean that gifts in any form to old-age pensioners will, in future, be regarded as income. If action by the pension department is challenged a magistrate will quite properly argue that Parliament altered the definitions for a special purpose, and that he has no option but to rule that gifts received by old-age pensioners must be considered as income.
I agree with the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley), who said yesterday that honorable members frequently agreed to the passage of legislation without realizing its true import. The honorable member cited one or two cases in support of his contention. I can instance another, that of a widow receiving a war pension who had lost both her boys in the Great War. She had war gratuity bonds which, with accrued interest, amounted to £290. When the Government was considering its economy proposals last year, it adopted the recommendation of the soldiers’ committee, and, as a result, that woman lost her pension simply because she had property to the value of £290. I fought her case down in Melbourne. The Melbourne office took the view that the possession of over £200 worth of realizable assets justified the withholding of her pension. I then asked her to apply for an old-age pension. After a lapse of about four months, due to her reluctance to persevere, I induced her to put in an application, and to my surprise she was allotted the full pension, the war gratuity money not being taken into account by the department. I hope that it is not due to an oversight, that the provision with regard to war gratuity payments has not been interfered with by this amending bill.
I also endorse what has been said by the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) with regard to blind pensioners. Most of our blind people are able to earn something, so they will all bc subject to the provisions in this bill. But all of them require an attendant, unless they are married, and, therefore, their pension payments should not be interfered with. We heard something this afternoon about political exploitation “ in connexion with this appeal on behalf of blind pensioners. That charge cannot be levelled against me, because I have no blind institutions in my district; but I put it to honorable members that no greater disaster could overtake a person than to lose his sight. This is borne in upon me as I walk about in Canberra looking sometimes at the snowcapped western ranges, at the mists rising over the slopes of Mount Ainslie, or upon the golden wattle blooms and see God’s smile in every one of them. At such moments I cannot help feeling how thankful we ought to be for the wonderful gift of sight, and how ready we should be to do all we can to make easier the lot of those who have lost it. I also make an appeal on behalf of those old-age pensioners who are inmates of benevolent asylums and other institutions. Honorable members may, if they wish, charge me with “ political exploitation “ in this case, because I have an old Mien’s home in my district, and I know many of its inmates. The Government proposes to cut down their allowance from 5s. to 3s. 9d. One honorable member, I think the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear), suggested that this would mean .stopping the old men’s tobacco money. But these old people buy many other things besides tobacco. They use the allowance to obtain a variety in foodstuffs. I have often seen them taking home pies, confectionery, and fruit.
– I said that they used the money to get supplies of tobacco and other comforts.
– I hope that the old people in these institutions will continue to receive their usual allowance; that they will be exempt from the provisions of this amending bill. Many of them have lived for the best part of their lives in the outback districts, and are now spending their last days in these homes. One has only to see the long line of beds in the corridors occupied by these whitehaired old men to realize that they deserve all that we can give them. I hope that there will be no interference with their allowance money.
The wine bounty has been subjected to many alterations ; it has indeed, had a chequered history. What most concerns me in. the proposal contained in this bill is its vagueness concerning the rate of bounty which governs the price to be paid for grapes. It provides only that “ progress payments may be as prescribed.” I am not in favour of such an important matter being left to regulation, because the rate of bounty governs to a large extent the price paid for grapes. My concern at the present time is greater than ever before, because Mr. Gollan, who was Chief Excise Officer, has left the Commonwealth service; he was the growers’ friend, although many of them doubted it. On his advice the price of grapes was fixed. The growers have now foolishly agreed to the price being fixed by a committee on which they will have equal representation with the winemakers, and probably the deciding vote will be left to a Commonwealth officer. The growers’ representatives will be afraid that if they fight. the wine-makers too subbornly, they will be boycotted, and especially in a glut year, that fear will make them . more pliable to the wishes of the wine-makers. I propose to have more to say on this provision when the bill is in committee.
The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) has moved an amendment -
That the bill be withdrawn and redrafted for the purpose of readjusting the Government’s financial proposals in order to rectify the gross injustice which the bill imposes on the poorer section of the community.
The phrase “ gross injustice “ is very strong, but I am afraid there is some justification for it. Because of that, I shall support the amendment. I would prefer to be able to support the Government, and I re-entered this House with that intention and desire, subject to its policy being such as would mete out evenhanded justice to all sections of the community. I expressed that condition on every platform in my electorate, and the first pamphlet issued by the Emergency Committee in South Australia contained the promise of its candidates standing for equality of sacrifice. I warn the Government that if it becomes too conservative, if it does not hold the scales of justice evenly, and if it supports the more wealthy section at the expense of the poorer classes, as it sows, so will it reap. I do not desire to risk the return of the Labour party to office,’ knowing what its inflationary proposals will mean and what is behind them, and I say to the “ urgers “ of this Government - I am sure there are “ urgers “ outside this Parliament- ‘
– It is not rot. Those urgers will consult their best interests if they do not exert too much pressure on the Government to give favours to the wealthy. If the Government will hold the scales of justice evenly, it will do well and be worthy of the support of every man who desires fair treatment foi all. The Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) used the phrase “ political exploitation.” I do not know whether he was referring to me, but if I were desirous of gaining by political exploitation, I would enter the present ministerial party and meekly follow at the heels of the Government wherever it chose to lead. I shall never do that. If the Government is worthy of my support il will receive it, and I appeal to it now to withdraw this bill because - of those provisions in it which press harshly on the lower-paid sections of the community. If it will mete out even-handed justice it will deserve and receive the blessings, instead of the curses, of the community.
.- I congratulate the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) on his inconsistency. He was in the Labour party at one time; he could have rendered more valuable service ‘to the old-age pensioners and the poorer section of the community if he had remained with us and fought the battle of those who returned him to Parliament. But he “ dingoed “ on the Labour party, and now, apparently, is prepared to “ dingo “ on the present Ministry. One feels ashamed that a national parliament should find it necessary, especially having regard to the fact that in the first two months of the current financial year the revenue exceeded the expenditure by £2,000,000, to make a mean attack on the poorer section of the community. The pensioners and others who suffered as a result of the reduction of social services last year, were promised that as the financial position improved what had been taken, from them would be restored. The Prime Minister tells us that we have turned the corner, and his Government is now about to reduce taxation, while, at the same time, dealing a further blow at the invalid and old-age pensioners and making no effort to restore to employment the 34 per cent, of our people who, to-day, have no income and are dependent on government relief, which costs the country £13,000,000. The people who are forced, to accept the dole in order to get food and clothing do not ask for charity; they want work. During the last general election the Prime Minister and his colleagues promised that if they were returned to power public confidence would be restored, prosperity would return, further reductions of social services, such as pensions, maternity allowance and wages, would not be necessary, and jobs would be found for those who were unemployed. Many of the newspapers that in 1931 supported the United Australia Party and helped it to gain office - including Smith’s , Weekly, the Brisbane Truth, the Melbourne Age, and the Sydney Truth - have turned against the Government, and if another election were held to-day there would not be “ a pick apiece “ for the electors. The Commonwealth old-age pension scheme was introduced into this Parliament in 1908. The firs* reading was moved by Mr. Alfred Deakin, and the second reading, on the 3rd June, by the then Attorney-General Mr. (now Sir Littleton) Groom. In explaining the scope and purpose of the measure he did not suggest that the pension should be based on the cost of living; it was, he said, a reward for those who had borne the heat and burden of the day and had rendered service to the community, to help them in the evening of their lives. He said that the provision proposed for the aged and infirm was liberal - though not unduly so - and just, and he hoped that it would become more liberal. Generally, he made a most effective speech, and I regret to say that while I was reading it in the library this afternoon I missed another excellent contribution by the honorable gentleman on thissubject. I am pleased to learn from others who heard him speak, however, that he is of the same opinion as he was in 1908, when he said -
It is not necessary at this stage of our national development to support with arguments the need for a Commonwealth old-age pensions system. In every enlightened community the establishment of old-age pensions is regarded as an ideal whose attainment should be earnestly sought, it being felt to be a reproach to civilization that many persons whoso lives have been spent in working for the advancement of the State, should, in their old age, through no fault of their own, be compelled to end their days in charitable institutions.
The honorable gentleman said that the pension was not charity; it was the just reward of the aged for the services they had rendered to the State. He continued -
Further, we do not propose to call upon relations for contributions. . . . The only State in which the principle of contribution is recognized is that of Victoria.
– And I am ashamed of it.
– There are very serious objections to be urged to it; but I do not propose to discuss them at this stage.
Even in 1908 the- principle of contributions by relatives was recognized by the then Attorney-General as had. Yet the present Government, instead of moving forward, is going backward to a lessenlightened age before a non-Labour Government of the Commonwealth took the old people from the care of the States and gave to them as a right a national pension.- At that time the principle of the payment of old-age pensions was incorporated in the platform of all parties. It is seldom that I waste the electric light of the hotel reading Ilansard, because I am one who helps to fill it, but last night I gave a little time to its study. I found that when the pension bill was introduced in 190S, Mr. Alfred Deakin had to depend upon the Labour party to support it. Speaking to the measure, Senator Mulcahy, of Tasmania, said -
I am prepared to give the Labour party every credit in the matter, and I assert that if a scheme for the establishment of old-age pensions is approved this session, the whole of the credit for it will be due to the Labour party and not to the Government. Until the meeting to which I referred took place there was no idea that this bill would become law this session.
The meeting to which the honorable senator referred was that of “ a certain political ‘ party “, the Labour party, by whose grace the Government was allowed to remain in office. The introduction of the Pensions Bill was the price paid. It is evident to all who are prepared to see, that the Labour party forced the Nationalists to place this legislation on the statute-book.
I have heard the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) declare that the Labour party was not responsible for this legislation. Evidently the honorable member and Senator Mulcahy, one of his own party and a senator when the original act became law, hold different opinions on the subject.
I believe that the Government is about to commit hari kari. However, that is its business. The Brisbane Truth, which supports the Nationalist party, stated in a leading article that the Government was committing political suicide. It referred to the action of the previous government, and also to the election of 1917, and declared that if the Lyons administration went to the country offering the people a reduction in taxation,, to the extent of £1,500,000, to be effected by a compensat- ing reduction in pensions, the taxpayers would be’ humane enough to reject the proposal - and the Government with it. Not content with slashing old-age and invalid pensions, the Government, has also attacked the maternity allowance, a product of the Fisher Government, which remained intact until last year. Its excuse is financial stress. The Government proposes to further amend the Financial Emergency Act and make the maternity allowance a form of charity, degrading to those who apply for it, something never intended by its originators. When moving the second reading of the bill in 1912, Mr. Andrew Fisher said thai he did not intend to make any qualification regarding those entitled to draw the allowance, for if that were done, it would appear to be charity, and consequently, degrading to those who participated in it. I do not wish to weary honorable members by quoting extensively from speeches of those days, but I recommend them to read that of the then honorable member for Wide Bay. If they do so, and appreciate the principle underlying his remarks, they will not countenance this amending bill.
I come into contact with quite a number of honorable members, and I am convinced that, granted the necessary authority, many who sit opposite would not allow the general public even free air. I know, too, that other honorable members opposite do not give this class of legislation their whole-hearted support. They have been whipped into line. A couple of weeks ago the strong man of the Nationalist party, the Prime Minister, declared that the Government would not back down on its declared policy regarding reductions in invalid and old-age pensions; the proposed reduction from 17s. 6d. to 15s. a week would be enforced. Then the right honorable gentleman’s urger, the AttorneyGeneral, held forth in Melbourne and said most valiantly that the Government would not retract from its intention. After that the rebels from Lang (Mr. Dein), Macquarie (Mr. John Lawson), and South Sydney (Mr. Jennings), threatened to destroy the Government if it persisted -in that policy. The Govern-, ment went into caucus, advanced alternative proposals which were accepted by the party, and honorable members opposite now find they have been sold a pup. I ask the intrepid mutineers who threatened the Government, what they make of the Prime Minister’s declaration that the Government will effect even greater savings as a result of this change of policy.
– The right honorable gentleman did not say that.
– He was reported in the press to have done so.
– The honorable member appears to be’ disappointed because the reduction to 15s. is not being enforced, lt appears to have cramped his style.
– Not at all, but I am sadly disappointed that the honorable member for Lang has retracted. It is significant that when the old-age pensioners in his electorate wired asking him to attend a meeting he replied regretting his inability to get there. He could not face them.
One of our sacred duties is the care of the aged. Another sacred obligation is the care of the sick and maimed. Those unfortunate classes are being attacked by the Government through this bill, to which members of the so-called United Australia Party have given their approval. Eventually, those honorable members will take the platform and assure the electors that they saved old-age pensioners from a cut of 2s. 6d. a week. How will they reconcile that claim with the declaration of the Prime Minister that the Government will be able to effect even greater economy by substituting this for the old proposal! If I am- to lose £5 it does not matter whether some one takes it out of my pocket, I drop it, or lose it, or it is burned. That is the position of the pensioners. They are still to lose £1,200;000 this year. That fact cannot be burked by the would-be “Wat Tylers who sit opposite.
Personally, I see no need for this reduction. The leader of my party declared that if we were returned to power our social services would be restored to the 1931 level as soon as the financial position permitted. Had the Commonwealth revenue been nearly as buoyant as it now is, cuts would never have been made , in the first place. This Government insists upon effecting economies at the expense of the old-age. pensioners. If it is sincere in itsdesire to economize, why was the right honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce) appointed to the position of Resident Minister at a salary of £5,000’ per annum, plus expenses equal to that, sum? Surely the right honorable gentleman could have struggled along on a. little less. It is well known that if a politician or public servant is given an, office and a little authority, he will quickly build about him a pretentious department. It seems certain that such will be the case in London, and that the estimate of the Resident Minister’s expenseswill be greatly exceeded. Again, if the Government really desires to economize, why did it send the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) and Sir Donald Cameron on a jaunt to Geneva, and the Attorney-General to Lausanne?
– Order ! The honorable member will be on safer ground if he confines his remarks to the bill.
– I am endeavouring to point out that if the Government had refrained from sending so many of its supporters on costly trips abroad some of these reductions in social services could have been avoided.
– Compare the record of the Scullin Government in that regard.
– Two wrongs do not make a right. On that subject the Scullin Government had no more severe critic than I, but I should not like to have the task of running down a person so far in front of me as this Government is in front of the Scullin Government in that regard. The Government has squandered the reduction from the allowance to expectant mothers and the 2s. 6d. a week that is to be taken away from the old-age pensioners in providing generous holiday excursions for the right honorable member for Flinders, the AttorneyGeneral, the right honorable member for North Sydney, Sir Donald Cameron, and other political friends. Can we wonder when we pick up newspapers and read criticisms of the parliamentary system and of parliamentarians in general? ‘Truth, in a leading article on the 17th September, said -
Everything taken into consideration, an election boils down to - not so much, a battle for the welfare of Australia - but a battle for the spoils of office, and, to put it bluntly, the boodle of office. And to keep political parasites on boards and commissions and to create more jobs for political parasites the Government heartlessly cuts 2s. Cd. off the pension of the old and needy. Nothing could be more damning on our present system of government, and nothing could be a greater reflection on the outlook and mentality of our politicians.
Such is the opinion of newspapers. Our parliamentary system is coming into contempt. The Melbourne Age, dealing with the cut in pensions, said -
Nothing the Government has ventured to say in excuse for making this second demand after backing down on its original callous proposal has dispelled the impression that the old and invalid were made victims because they seemed powerless to offer effective resistance.
The Agc strikes ihe right note when it says that the old-age pensioners are attacked because they have no organization. This Government does not attack organized bodies. Smith’s Weekly, in a recent issue, headed an article with a cartoon showing a battalion of old-age pensioners passing the steps of Parliament House, and across this cartoon were the words -
Lyons takes the salute from his doomed battalions in the march to prosperity.
Then the subjoined letterpress contained the following: -
Treasurer Lyons and his prompter, AttorneyGeneral Latham, were scared out of their first bludgeoning proposal to reduce old-age and invalid pensions from 17s. Cd. to 15s. a week.
Now they have propounded an inquisition scheme instead. Pensioners and invalids, if utterly without aid from relatives, may slowly die on a whole 17s. 6d. a week. But all near relatives and pensioners will be hunted out and forced to contribute. The unhappy old people on pensions will still get 17s. (id. only; and the Federal Treasury will pocket, in its own revenues, whatever the sons and daughters contribute.
This second stage of the pensions cut is even more cruel than the’ first.
When the Treasury conies face to face with the hard facts of the moment, Smith’s doubts whether Mr. Lyons will find very many of those alleged pitiless sons and daughters who refuse to help father or mother from their own substance. …
Either Lyons is sadly without intelligence, or he has deliberately shut his eyes to the meaning of the figures’ he himself quotes. To Parliament last week he cited the follow- ing numbers of yearly new claimants for oldage and invalid pensions: -
Does not the Treasurer realize that on account of the economic position which commenced in 1930 and grew worse’ in 1931, when the Premiers plan and the financial proposals of the Government were first introduced, quite a lot of people who until then had been supporting their parents were thrown on the unemployed market, with the consequence that their parents were compelled to apply for the old-age pension? According to figures supplied to the press by the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), there are over 300,000 people in Australia eligible to draw pensions, yet only 185,000 draw them. Thus nearly half of those entitled to pensions have made provision for their old age or are being supported by their sons and daughters. The present financial position has undoubtedly forced quite a number of people to apply for pensions who in other circumstances would not have done so. In the cities of Sydney and Melbourne the old horses are thrown to the lions at the Zoo. It is the responsibility of this House to save the old men and women of the community from the Lathams and Lyons. I prophesy that 90 per cent, of honorable members who support these proposals will not see the inside of this Parliament again when next they face their electors. The voting strength of the invalid and old-age pensioners may not be sufficient to displace them, but friends and relatives of pensioners and those who believe in the provision made by this country for its invalid and old people wall see that those who now support a reduction of social services do not get a new lease of life in this House.
The Government spoke of equality of sacrifice, and set about securing it by reducing every civil servant by £8 a year, the man drawing £50 a week and the girl with a salary of 25s. a week. It then began to reflect a bit, and, in an endeavour to make the sacrifice a little more equitable, it modified its proposal by proposing a graduated scale of reductions ranging from £4 for juniors and £5 for females to £8 for all others. As the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) said, the officer controlling the post office will have his £50 a week reduced by little more than that of the girl with a salary of £50 a year. So much for equality of sacrifice! The whole of the attack of the United Australia party is evidently directed at the poorer section of the community.
One section of the community has not been asked to make a sacrifice. The interest bill of the Commonwealth is exceedingly high, although we are told that as a result of the visit of Mr. Bruce to London we may secure a reduction of interest on future loans. Goodness knows we will need them if the trade balance keeps drifting as it has done during the last few months. The honorable member for Angas is concerned about the sufferings of the 34,000 people who have lost their employement as a result of the economies of this Government. The honorable member would have been on safer ground if he had supported an issue of fiduciary notes instead of standing by the Premiers plan and the legislation introduced to give effect to it. We were told that that legislation would get people back to work, that the banks would make finance more elastic, and that unemployment would diminish. Now, fifteen months later, we find that unemployment has risen from 28 per cent. to 34 per cent. To-day the Prime Minister was asked whether he would make money available between now and Christmas to provide work for men who have been out of work for a long time, and thus ensure some little Christmas comfort for them and their dependants. He replied that no further money would be made available for the purpose. The policy of this country has been dictated by the banks ever since I have been in this Parliament.
I was speaking of the interest bill of the Commonwealth. In 1930 it was £55,365,449, compared with £10,465,906 in 1912. The total debt per head of the population, which was £63 5s. 8d. in 1912, is now £17711s. 4d. In 1912 the annual interest bill was £2 5s. per head of the population; now it is £8 12s. To show how the banks have fulfilled their promises to the Premiers, I propose to quote from the Monthly Summary of
Australian Conditions for June, 1981, issued by the National Bank of Australasia. Limited. Under the heading, “ The Banks and the Premiers Conference “ I find the following : -
The suggestions of the sub-committeeof economists and Under-Treasurers with regard to a 20 per cent. reduction in adjustable government expenditure, and in interest payments on the internal national debt, are definite and specific. No percentage reduction was suggested in bank interest rates, the subcommittee recognizing that this difficult problem should be solved by arrangement between the main financial institutions.
Did we allow any arrangement to be made between the old-age pensioners, the expectant mothers and the public servants? Yet the banks must not be interfered with and must be allowed to make their own arrangements. The statement continues -
This fact is clearly shown in the report of the Premiers Conference, from page 1, of which we reprint the following section of the subcommittee’s proposals.
The article, after a good deal of beating around the bush, goes on -
The bankers have at no time agreed to go beyond the terms of the clauses quoted above. To require them to do so is an unwarranted extension of the provisions of the general plan. As they announced through the press on 26th June: - “The trading. banks of Australia have decided to make the following alterations in interest rates, totake effect on and after 26th June, 1931 : - Fixed deposits (new money and renewals) ; 3 months,3½ per cent. per annum; 6 months, 3¾ per cent.; 12 months. 4 per cent.
– The remarks of the honorable member are entirely irrelevant to the subjectmatter of the bill, and he must not proceed on those lines.
– I am endeavouring to show that economies could be effected by other means than those proposed under the measure.
– Arguments such as the honorable member has been employing for the last ten minutes should be used only incidentally.
– I was pointing out that a reduction of 1 per cent. in interest rates would make this bill unnecessary; but if the discussion is to be limited strictly to the bill, I shall produce, for the information of the House, a letter showing that an old lady aged 84 years, on making application for the pension, received a communication from the department which was couched in technical terms of a most bewildering character.
-The honorable member has the option of obeying the ruling of the Chair, or of resuming his seat. I point out again that the bill under discussion provides for amendments of the Financial Emergency Act in certain particulars. There are no fewer than eight subjects available for discussion, and honorable members need hot depart to any great extent from the scope of the bill.
– I bow to your ruling Mr. Speaker. Honorable members opposite do not represent the poorer sections of the community, and, therefore, 1 suppose that attacks by them upon the old-age and invalid pensioners are to be expected. I have before me a circular issued by the Country and Progressive National Association, of which the organizing secretary is Mr. W. J. Ferguson, and the northern division organizer Mr. J. J. McDonald, who ask for election expenses and other assistance from the people of Townsville. This circular states -
As tlie next two elections are the most important in the history of Australia, this’ executive are determined not to have a lastminute rush, so they are commencing to work at once in preparation for the fight. We represent !)0 .per cent, of the capital in Australia, and yet we are the poorest organization in politics. . . .
One can readily understand why old-age pensioners and expectant mothers are to “ get the boot,” and why the basic wage of £184 per annum has been reduced. The circular continues -
The moat hard hit farmer pays his £1 cheerfully, and the cane farmer contributes his penny or half-penny per ton of cane annually.
I wonder whether they will do so at the next election. The old-age pensioner, the public serva’nt, and the manufacturers have certainly “ got it in the neck.” It is true, as the Sydney Bulletin said recently, that the present Ministry is a Government of amateurs.
Referring to the Leader of the Country Party (Dr. Earle Page), and to the Minister who is absent overseas, thatjournal stated -
They went into public life, not because they had any particular bent for it, but because they reckoned it a decent thing (being decent fellows) for men in their position to do. They attained power by the accident of circumstances before either of them had served much of an apprenticeship, and they have drifted on to a financial crisis of their own making, without convictions or a plan . . . . Their colleagues, for the most part, are even more amateurish than themselves. The one conspicuous exception is Pearce, who has been, by turns, freetrader, protectionist, and revenue tariffist, socialist and anti-socialist -
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I regret the tone that the debate has taken with reference to invalid and old-age pensions, since we are considering a bill providing for amendments of the Financial Emergency Act. Members seem to forget that this is a national Parliament, and that calm and considered judgment is necessary in dealing with all measures that come before us. No attempt should be made to influence votes by means of emotional appeals; but I am afraid that honorable members opposite are endeavouring to make political kudos out of this bill. One can quite understand the reason for the arguments that have been put forward, particularly by members of the Lang group, because, no doubt, they are indulging in window-dressing for the congress of the Australasian Council of Trade Unions. Yet I am sure that those honorable members do not agree entirely with the arguments that they submit from time to time. I have listened with great attention to this debate, and it seems to me that the most valuable suggestion made is that the whole administration of pensions should be placed beyond parliamentary control. Instead of dealing with this subject on its merits, and realizing that the Commonwealth is in straitened financial circumstances, necessitating governments living within their means, honorable members opposite seem to have discussed the bill from a sentimental point of view. Notwithstanding the fact that the cost pf living has fallen since pensions were first paid, it is argued that they should be maintained at the fairly high level fixed by the last Government. I have no doubt that the many opponents of this bill supported to the utmost the amendments introduced by the Scullin Government, when it made a big reduction of pensions. They now argue that the Scullin Government had to take that action because of the financial crisis; but the present Government, which has adopted a humane view of the situation, is accused of representing financial interests outside. That is the illogical argument used by honorable members opposite.
I congratulate the Government upon the impartial adjustments proposed under this bill. Honorable members opposite should realize that taxation has increased out of all reason, particularly owing to the increased taxes imposed by the last Government. It increased direct taxation to the tune of about £16,600,000, apart from the indirect taxation imposed by means of customs and excise duties. Honorable members opposite did not point out that this indirect taxation bears heavily upon the consumer. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) referred to the taxation of certain companies, and said that this Government* proposed to give them relief in the near future at the expense of the invalid and old-age pensioners. But the honorable member appears to forget that when big firms receive relief from taxation, the charges borne by the consumers are reduced. I submit that Australia has just about reached saturation point in the matter of taxation. There is a limit -to the amount of revenue that can bo raised, and it is necessary to spread the money available for social services over the widest field. These services now absorb about one-third of the total revenue, and we must allow for the increase in the number of pensioners due to the depression. The present financial position must be improved or absolute chaos will be experienced.
Judging by the remarks of honorable members opposite, one would imagine that the present proposals of the Government are without, parallel. I point out, however, that in other countries the members of the families of old-age pensioners are required to assist in supporting them. The South African act definitely provides -
If any child of a pensioner is, in the opinion of the commissioner, able to maintain him or to contribute towards his maintenance, the pension payments made such pensioner may be recovered from his child or children, unless the commissioner is of the opinion that the measure of maintenance accorded to the pensioner by such child is reasonable, having regard to his means.
Other countries than South Africa also have successfully adopted a system whereby the pensioner’s family is called upon to support him. The provision of the bill requiring the repayment to the Government, in certain ‘ circumstances, of amounts paid by way of pension is also in operation in Canada, but there additional restrictions are imposed. Not only is the estate of the pensioner attached, but Canada insists on recovering interest at the rate of 5 per cent, per annum, compounded annually. In endeavouring to bring the pension bill down to reasonable limits, this Government is merely following the practice adopted in other countries in the administration of social services.
With honorable members generally, I realize that it is our duty to recognize the value of the pioneering work done by our aged people. The pension was never intended to provide the aged with a comfortable living ; it was merely a grant in recognition of what they had done’ in the development of this country. Listening to honorable members opposite, one would think that the party to which they belong was the only one with any bowels of compassion fer the aged. It is well, therefore, that we should trace the history of old-age pensions. In doing so, we find that this and other social services were introduced by Nationalist or Liberal Governments. The legislation providing for the old-age pension was brought in by the Deakin Government, and of the increases beyond the original grant of 10s. a week three were introduced by Liberal or Nationalist Governments. The party with which I am associated claims to be just as sympathetic towards pensioners as is the party in Opposition. A good deal of trouble would have been saved, and a greater measure of justice given to pensioners had the pension been adjustable in accordance with the cost of living figures as determined from time to time by the Statistician, rather than by the arbitrary act of any government. The cost to the country of old-age pensions has increased considerably during its twenty years of operation. During the first year that the pension was payable, less than. £2,000,000 was distributed ; last year, notwithstanding the reduction of 2s.. 6d. a week made by a Labour Government, it was £11,126,000 - about six times the expenditure in the first year the act was in operation. It is interesting also to consider the cost per head of the population. In 1910-11, old-age pensions represented 8s. 4d. per head of population per annum ; in 1931-32, the per capita contribution was 34s. Id. During the last twelve months, the number of invalid and oldage pensioners increased by 15,089. That increase indicates not only the seriousness of the present depression; it shows also that a number of aged persons claimed the pension for the first time, possibly because they received no rental from property which they possessed.
– They cannot get the pension if they have other property.
– In 1920, when the pension was increased to 15s. per week, the cost of living index figure was 1.823. Last quarter it was 1444. An examination of the Statistician’s report reveals that last year lis. lid. would have purchased what’ it took 15s, to purchase in 1920. When the original measure providing for pensions was introduced it was made clear that the pension was to be regarded not as a charitable gift, but as a help to the aged. Not until the last increase was made did the rate of pension have any direct bearing on the’ cost of living; but at no time has the cost of living equalled the pension. Even now, with this further reduction, that position will not be altered. When our national income was high, we could afford to pay a generous pension; but now that it has fallen, an adjustment of the rate of pension is imperative.
I was impressed by the arguments of the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson). He said that a person who had been thrifty and had saved money to provide for his old age would require to have accumulated about £2,000 to place him on a level with an old-age pensioner. He went on to say that a pensioner was in a far better position than the person who had denied himself luxuries all his life in order to provide for his old age. All that this bill purports to do is to make the pension payable to those to whom it was originally in tended it should apply. It removes duplication and mis-statements, and for that reason. I commend it to the House. In these times of difficulty, we should see that those who are in ‘Straitened circumstances are paid the maximum pension possible, and that those in better circumstances bear their fair share of the national sacrifice. Notwithstanding our straitened circumstances, Australia is still paying the highest pension in the world.
It is not my intention to deal in detail with the clauses of the bill, but taking a general view of the measure, I feel that I must compliment the Government on its courageous action in bringing it forward. The Scullin Government reduced the pensions to 17s. 6d. a week, and those still in need will get that amount. It should be recorded that there will be no alteration of the pension payable to those in need.
I am glad that war pensions are not to be reduced for I consider that the cut made in them last year by the Scullin. Government was’ sufficient. It is typical of the “Diggers” that in the time of national crisis they appointed a committee of returned soldiers to make recommendations in regard to soldiers’ pensions. The Government accepted all the recommendations of the committee! It is well that those who, because of their war service, have suffered in health, and are no longer capable of enjoying life to the full, should not have their pensions reduced.
The Government is also charged with callousness because of its proposals in regard to the maternity allowance. I submit that the action of this Government bears more than favorable comparison with that of the Scullin Government, which reduced the maternity allowance from £5 to £4. It is not intended to alter the rate of the allowance, but the Government proposes that it shall be paid only in cases in which the income of the claimant and her husband does not exceed £208 per annum; at present the limit is £260 per annum. By that . alteration the Government hopes to save £60,000 per annum wi thout reducing the amount of . the grant to those entitled to it. Rather than that the allowance should be paid to the mother, I should prefer it to be paid to a maternity home, in order that the mother may be sure of receiving proper attention in her time of need. In the past mothers have not always received proper treatment in maternity cases, with the result that in the cases of both infants and mothers the mortality was far too great. Each year 5,000 infants under the age of twelve months die, 50 per cent, of them within two or three weeks of birth. I advocate payment of the maternity allowance to properly conducted maternity homes in order to ensure that the mothers of the race will receive proper treatment.
– To whom is the allowance now paid ?
– It is paid to the mother on the signing of the application, or to the maternity hospital when treatment is given there.
– It is generally paid to the maternity hospital.
– The allowance is not paid in every instance to the maternity institution. When treatment is given at home, the maternity allowance is usually the only payment that the nurse receives for attending to the mother. I maintain that the treatment in the maternity, institution is preferable to home treatment, even when the mother is attended by a district nurse.
I commend the Government for deciding to reduce Public Service salaries in accordance with the reduction in the cost of living, because by so doing it is to some extent lifting this vexatious subject of Public Service salaries out of parliamentary control. This legislation will tend to place the public servant on a level with the average outside worker. The application of the cost of living figures to Public Service salaries and wages will, in this instance, effect a saving of £220,000. The public servants should offer no objection to the proposed reduction. They are in a sheltered position, and have little knowledge of the rationing system which is operating generally in outside industries. The public servants must also remember that they are being kept in their sheltered positions by the efforts of the poor unfortunate taxpayers of this country who recently have had to bear additional taxation to the extent of £16,000,000. The Go vernment has been attacked by honorable members opposite, who contend that’ on principle this reduction should not take place. I remind honorable members opposite that the concessions which have been made to the Public Service from time to time, such as the Arbitration Court, and Child Endowment and Superannuation schemes have all been sponsored by Liberal or Nationalist Governments. Honorable members opposite are purely destructive in their criticism. It is Ci~ . to criticize. Unfortunately, they hae*, …. constructive or helpful suggestions to make. Honorable members occupying the corner benches have indiscriminately attacked the Government, the Labour party and the Country party. The members of the “ spare parts “ party are always vociferous in their attacks, but I have still to hear from them some logical deductions, and constructive suggestions.
The Government, in proposing to suspend the wine and the goldmining bounties is adopting a sensible attitude. It is absolutely essential to exercise some control of these ever-increasing bounties. We should view the wine export and the gold-mining industries in their true perspective, and give them only the assistance which is absolutely essential to their well-being. Bounties have been granted in respect of many products, including wine, gold, sugar, cotton and butter.
– There is no bounty on sugar.
– The assistance given to the sugar industry is equivalent to a bounty. As Shakespeare said, “ A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” These bounties, and even grants to States, should be carefully reviewed by the Government. The spoon-feeding- of primary industries has continued too long, and one wonders how long the suffering taxpayers will tolerate this , extravagant expenditure. The object of this legislation is to curtail unnecessary expenditure. Too long have successive governments allowed this country to drift, and the action of this Government in budgeting for the first time in many years for a surplus is an innovation which must be welcome to not only the members of this side of the House, but also the people generally. The Government is budgeting for a surplus of £12,000, but I contend that if the departments exercise a proper administration, particularly in regard to social services, a considerable saving will be made, thus enabling this Government at least to afford some relief to the unfortunate taxpayer. The relief from taxation, which has been foreshadowed by the Prime Minister, will, if given, enable many industries and businesses in this country to offer additional employment. If that happens, this Government will be able to hold up its head and to claim that at least it i3 a government of commonsense. But for the extravagance of past governments, the effect of the depression on Australia’s finances would have been less severe, and I would welcome at this stage any assistance that could be given to the industries and businesses of this country to enable them to expand and absorb some of the unemployed.
– ‘This legislation has been introduced allegedly as the result of the unsatisfactory financial position of Australia. I propose not to touch on the broader principles set out in the budget speech of the Prime Minister, except where absolutely necessary, but to confine my remarks generally to the measure before the lor.se. In considering the necessity for this legislation, one must recognize that the remarks of the Prime Minister, when introducing the budget, were significant. He said -
With an estimated revenue of £65,980,000 this - referring to previous expenditure - left a deficit of £2.781,000. I again remind .honorable members that this omits obligations arising out of the war debt to the British Government of £0,900,000 per annum, or £4,900,000, if we take interest only into account. If these sums had been included, the deficit £2,781,000 would have been increased to £9,081,000, or £7,081,000 respectively. . . . After deducting the surplus of last year from the deficit on this year’s accounts, the Government was still faced” with a gap of £1,407,000, by which it was necessary to reduce the expenditure side of the budget.
The Prime Minister then stated that to bridge this gap, the Government was submitting several proposals, including the suspension of the payment of the gold bounty, the limitation of the payment of the wine export bounty, the limitation of the payment of maternity allowance, a further reduction in ministerial and parliamentary allowances, a reduction of £8” per annum in Public Service salaries and wages, and a reduction of 2s. 6d. in old-age and invalid pensions. In considering those proposals, we should not lose sight of the question whether this House should suggest how the budget is to be balanced, or whether we should continue the practice that has been growing, particularly in this Parliament of recent years, of making that task the sole responsibility of the Cabinet. In May last the Public Accounts Committee presented to this Parliament a report on public accounts, and some of its remarks are apropos to this subject. The report reads -
As Durell, in Parliamentary Grants, states : - “ The modern tendency is undoubtedly to magnify the power of the Executive at the expense of individual members of the House, and is one which, in the interests of parliamentary control, should be resisted, though the power of resistance is too often weakened by the necessities of public expediency and inconvenience.” .
Those remarks are much to the point, but even more to the point are the remarks of Mr. F. A. Bland, who is recognized as an authority on public finance. In his work, Budget Control, he said -
The initiative in all financial matters lies with the Executive, or more accurately, with the Cabinet. …. It is not strange, therefore, that Ministers jealously guard their privilege to be the sole medium for recommending to Parliament what money shall be collected, and how it shall bc spent. Because finance goes to the root of almost every governmental action, they treat all questions of finance as one involving the confidence of the House in the Government. If they are defeated on such a question, Ministers usually resign. Looked at from another angle, however, this practice is not as artless as it seems. Members of Parliament generally like to defer meeting their masters, the electors, as long as possible, and the threat of a ministry to resign if it is defeated, often has the effect of making members find that they are not so opposed to a measure as they were thought to be. Whether Ministers domineer over the House is a question which would take us too far afield, but it is clear that Parliament has, in the twentieth century, lost ground in its perennial struggle with an executive which can effectively coerce members by a threat of dissolution.
I have read that extract from the report for the reason that some honorable members appear to think that the alteration which has been made by the Government in its pensions policy absolves them from responsibility. This, of course, is not so.
Early in his budget speech the Treasurer reminded honorable members that the salient points of the Premiers plan were as follows: -
Some of those matters are referred to in this bill. I shall deal with them in the order in which they appear in the bill.
I consider that the Government has done the right thing in connexion with the gold bounty. I have always thought that by providing a bounty on the production of the standard commodity of barter throughout the world we advertised that we had adopted false standards and had departed from the real basis of world commerce. I have never been able to see the force of the arguments that were used in support of the proposal to pay a bounty on gold production. Consequently, I shall certainly not oppose the abolition of the bounty.
I have no objection, either, to the Government’s proposal in regard to the wine bounty.
The next matter dealt with is the maternity allowance. I can see no reason why I should not support the Government’s proposal in this regard. The maternity allowance was originally provided with the object of increasing the population of Australia. Whether it has had that effect I have not the slightest idea. It certainly does not seem to be reasonable to assume that the payment of an allowance of £5 could possibly have that result. I have no objection to the Government’s decision to limit the scope of this allowance.
In regard to the proposal that ministerial and parliamentary allowances shall be reduced, I am prepared to be generous. In view of the need for economy, I shall support these provisions of the bill.
– Will the honorable member vote for the amendment ofthe honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) ?
– No. Dealing with Public Service salaries and wages, I am of the opinion, as pointed out by some honorable members, that the proposal for a flat rate reduction irrespective of the amount of salary and wages drawn by individual officers, is not equitable, and will not result in the spreading of the burden in a just way. Other suggestions made by honorable members to achieve this end are worthy of consideration.
I come now to the pensions proposal of the Government by which it is intended to save £1,100,000 of the £1,479,000, to be saved by the provisions of this bill. When the invalid and old-age pension first came into force the weekly payment was 10s. This gradually rose to 20s., but last year it was reduced to 17s. 6d. At the time that reduction was first proposed I, in common with other honorable members, received many letters from pensioners pointing out the hardship that would be inflicted upon them, and in my replies I promised to do my best to see thatthe pension was not reduced below 17s. 6d. a week, and I claim to have been consistent in my attitude.
In this connexion, I direct the attention of honorable members to the report of the Royal Commission on National Insurance which was presented to Parliament in June, 1925. That commission, of which both the Assistant Minister (Mr. Francis) who is at present in charge of the House, and myself, were members, took evidence for a considerable length of time from all classes of citizens in every State of the Commonwealth. Dealing with superannuation benefits, it reported to the following effect : -
Mutual Benefit Associations, &c. - Mutual benefit associations do not provide for the whole range of benefits which come within the scope of a comprehensive national insurance scheme, but they mainly aim at partial relief during temporary incapacity, and, to a very limited extent, towards assistance during an extended period of invalidity. They fail to make any adequate provision fur permanent incapacity to work as the result of invalidity or old age. In more recent legislative enactments in various countries old-age pensions ave payable not as a matter of charity, but, in the majority of cases, are included within the scope of compulsory national insurance. It has been suggested that the payment of oldage pensions on the basis of services rendered to the community tends to discount thrift, whilst voluntary schemes fail to attract other than the more thrifty. There is no evidence, however, to support the former suggestion.
Honorable members may be surprised to learn that at the time that report was made old-age pensions were payable with subsidy by the State in the following 23 countries : - Belgium, France, Holland, Hungary, Italy, New Zealand, Portugal, Switzerland, Argentine, Austria, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Yugoslavia, Luxembourg, Portugal, RonmaniaSpain, Sweden, and Norway. In other words, practically every country which considers itself enlightened has a scheme of old-age pensions in operation. The age of eligibility for the pension varied from 55 years to 70 years. In most countries it was between 60 and 65 years. The commission recommended that a definite contributory scheme for old-age or superannuation benefits be made available to the people, but very little notice was taken of its report. The right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) introduced a bill on one occasion to give effect to the recommendations of the commission in that regard, but a dissolution of Parliament took place soon afterwards, and there was no discussion of the bill.
In view of the introduction of this bill, it is interesting to note two of the recommendations of the commission. The first to which I refer is -
That a superannuation benefit of 20s. per week be payable to male insured members after attainment of age 05 and to female insured members, after attainment of agc (>0.
Although the pension at that time was 17s. 6d. a week, the commission, after a full investigation, recommended that a pension of 20s. a week be paid. The second recommendation to which I direct attention, reads as follows: -
That the existing rights of -pensioners under the Commonwealth Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act 1D0S-23 should not be interfered with.
This Government has seen fit to disregard that recommendation, for the proposals made in this bill materially alter the conditions which have hitherto prevailed.
– What was the budget’ surplus in 1925 ?
– So far as I know, the royal commission did not pay any attention to that aspect of the subject. If the Assistant Minister is interested in the so-called surpluses in government accounts, I refer him to the report of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts which shows clearly how illusory some of the alleged surpluses in public accounts really are. There is no reason why a contributory scheme of superannuation should not be brought into operation now. Last year, the Government spent £11,126,000 in the payment of invalid and old-age pensions. That amount if provided as a subsidy to a contributory superannuation scheme would certainly keep the fund solvent. Possibly later on the governmental contribution could be varied. On page 23 of its report, the commission set out a table of weekly rates of contribution for various ages from 16 to 45 for pensions of 20s., 30s., and. 40s. a week. At an age of entry of sixteen, the weekly contribution would be 9.4 pence for a- benefit of 20s. a week payable at the age of 65.
– The 20s. a week received from a contributory scheme would not be influenced by the budgetary position.
– It would remain stationary. Moreover it could not be said that the amount so received was in any sense a charitable gift on the part of any one. A contributory scheme such as I have mentioned was casually referred to by the right honorable the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) in his budget speech in this way-
The Government will endeavour to devise a contributory system of old-age pensions, but the problem is so complex, particularly in the present time of depression, that it is not prepared ito give any definite undertaking as to the introduction of such a system.
I trust that action, will be taken at the earliest possible date to formulate a contributory system in order to prevent any further drastic cuts in invalid and old-age pensions. The Premiers plan provided for a reduction of 20 per cent, in adjustable expenditure, but the reduction now proposed in old-age pensions goes beyond the rate agreed upon under that plan. I supported the Premiers plan, but I do not see that there is any justification for asking the poorer sections of the community to make a further sacrifice. I am sure that that is not the desire of the majority of honorable members. The Government contends that £1,467^000 lias to be made up in some way, and several suggestions have been made as to how it should be done.
If honorable members do not agree with some of the proposals submitted, they should submit alternative suggestions. The right honorable the Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page), the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) and the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley), submitted proposals whereby this deficiency could be made up.. I propose to show the Government an easy way of raising more than double the amount required. At present an overwhelming section of the community wishes to have a voice in the government of the country. We have often been told that there should be no taxation without representation, but my proposal is based upon no representation without taxation. I suggest that every elector, who wishes to record his vote should pay an annual licence-fee of 20s. Licences are issued for many privileges enjoyed by the people, and if the 3,468,303 persons who voted last year had paid a licence-fee of 20s., nearly £3,500,000 would have been received. Surely it is not too much to ask those who wish to have a direct voice in the government of the country to pay such a fee. Under our compulsory system those who refrain from voting are fined £2, and there does not appear to be any reason why those who vote should not pay £1. The proposed reductions in pensions are not in accordance with the Premiers plan, and are in every sense inequitable. The reduction in public servants’ salaries on a flat rate basis is also unjust, and in these circumstances, T have no alternative but to support the amendment moved by the right, honorable the Leader of the Opposition.
.- The criticisms levelled at the Government in connexion with this measure, which is framed with the object of stabilizing
Commonwealth finances, are very unfair. Honorable members must recognize that many of the difficulties with which we are now confronted have been inherited from our predecessors. I do not suggest for a moment that they are responsible for all our troubles, because I know that they are largely due to a world-wide depression. We should, however, expect more sympathetic consideration from honorable members opposite, particularly when the Government is endeavouring to rehabilitate Commonwealth finances. One would assume from their remarks that conditions were normal; that plenty of employment was available at remunerative wages. Honorable members opposite endeavour to prove that they are the only representatives of the poorer sections of the community. I know from experience that they have misrepresented that section for many years, and that it has always been left to the party on this side of the chamber to pass effective legislation in the interests of all sections of the community. Whenever Labour has been in office it has misused its powers and injured the country. It has always been the responsibility of governments supported by the party of which I am a member to put matters right. The sympathy which honorable members opposite are seeking on behalf of the pensioners is similar to that which they ask for the unemployed, whose claims they are always pushing but only to assist themselves. They say quite glibly that if the Government went before the electors there would be a great change.
– The honorable member is not prepared to face the electors.
– I could face them with more certainty of being returned than many honorable members opposite. The old-age pensioners know that they are more likely to receive just treatment from a government such as this than from one representative of honorable members opposite. I can easily prove that. The Scullin Government said that it represented the poorer sections of the community, but when it appealed to the people it was hopelessly defeated. Four or five months later the champion of socialism went to the electors in New South Wales, and was stripped of three-fourths of his followers. “When we talk to the people in a practical way they soon realize that more sympathetic treatment is meted out to them by a government such as that now in office.
It has been said that the Government wishes to reduce expenditure by over £1,400,000; but it is not its intention to do anything of the kind. When the higher rate of pension was paid the finances of the country were buoyant, but in our present straitened circumstances pensioners recognize that some adjustment must be made. Many existing anomalies should be removed. I say without fear of contradiction that a number of persons are exploiting the fund provided for pensions. Some prospective pensioners who have a few hundred pounds in the bank are advised by their relatives or friends to dispose of their capital in order to secure a better income.
– The honorable member should give some proof of that.
– I” shall do so. Last Saturday morning a woman who is at present receiving a pension of 9s. a week asked me if I could assist her to get a higher pension. When I examined her pass-book I found that, in November last she had £186 in the bank, and that during the mouth of December she had drawn £16 at the rate of £4 per week, in January £20, and in February £16. She had been drawing her capital at the rate of £4 per week. I asked her who was getting the money, and she replied, “ I am living well for an old-age pensioner “.
– What right had the honorable member to ask who was getting the money ?
– If the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) acted in that way I would be man enough to tell him that he had no right to claim the pension. I would reprove him for his action.
– Satan reproving sin!
– The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Gander) knows that I have guided and sheltered him a good deal during his political life. It is evident that pensioners to-day are being exploited by those who induce them to believe that, by disbursing a certain amount of what they have saved, they be- come entitled to a higher rate of pension. The proposal of the Government is, not to decrease the pension in the case of those who rely wholly upon it; the reduction is to affect only those who have other sources of income. Consequently, very few pensioners will receive less than 17s. 6d. a week. I do not believe that a lower rate will be paid to more than 1 per cent. or 2 per cent, in the aggregate. We cannot, as a general rule, legislate for every individual case. It is obvious, however, that the tightening up of the act is essential. I believe that a substantial saving will be effected. I hope that power will be given to the Commissioner to expose relatives and others who exploit pensioners and do much to destroy their happiness and comfort.
My friends opposite seek to make political capital out of this proposal of the Government. They are just as much astray in the attitude that they are now adopting as they were at the last election in loudly proclaiming that “ Lang is right “, when every intelligent person said that he was wrong. They consider that if they protest vociferously enough some persons will believe that an injustice is being done.
Reference has frequently been ..made during the course of the debate to the Premiers plan. That proposal, as honorable members know, was initiated, not by this Government, but by the government that preceded it. The plan is still on trial, and it is unreasonable of honorable members opposite to proclaim that it should already have rectified the position in which the country was placed when it was first implemented.. That was never intended ; the complete results of its operation will not be realized for another twelve months or two years.,
– Are there to be more cuts ?
– No government in Australia has cut the wages of the workers to a greater extent than that which was led by the gentleman whose seat the honorable member for Reid is warming today. “ One honorable member said that the basic wage in New South Wales was to be reduced to £2 lis. 6d. a week. Time and again during the last election campaign I challenged anybody to produce a railway or tramway employee who was receiving the basic wage of £4 2s. 6d. a week from the Labour Government that was then in power. Rationing and reductions were so severe under its administration that the whole of those employees were receiving £3 10s. a week or less.
– Order! I have allowed the honorable member very considerable latitude. During the remainder of his speech he must deal with the merits of the bill.
– I was merely attempting to reply to the assertion that cuts in wages and pensions had been made only by those who now sit on this side of the House. One of my objections to a flat rate reduction of 2s. 6d. in the pension payment was that the fall in the basic wage had not operated long enough to ensure an appreciable lowering of the cost of living.
– On a point of order, I submit that the honorable member is discussing matters that are entirely irrelevant to the bill.
– I assure the honorable member for Newcastle that the Chair is following very closely the remarks of the honorable member for Burton, and that if he departs radically from the subject-matter of the bill he will be reprimanded.
– Honorable members opposite would not think of condemning the Soviet Government of Russia for the failure of the five-year plan to achieve the fullest results within a shorter period. I believe that within the next few months the drop in the cost of living will be such that even those pensioners who, because of the possession of other means, are precluded from receiving 17s. 6d. a week, will not feel very greatly the reduction that is proposed.
Some honorable members have argued that it will be competent for inspectors under the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act to enterworkshops for the purpose of conducting an investigation into the wages that are paid to employees. The inspectors appointed by this Government will be different from those who inquire into the circumstances of applicants for the dole. It is grossly unfair to suggest that there will be an inquisitorial inspec tion of employees at the places where they are engaged.
The bill provides that members of a family may voluntarily approach the Commissioner and present their case to him. No honorable member of this House will deny the right of a family to look after the interests of its parents. Some families need no corrective measures; but others pay little regard to the interests of their parents, and it is necessary to take action with respect to them. The provision relating to contributions by the children of pensioners is a wise one, that may impress on many persons the duty that they owe to their country as well as to their parents. The pension has been obtainable too easily. The regulations have been too wide and too loosely applied, with the result that the parents have been exploited in a manner that was never intended. There will be a marked depreciation in the amount required in the future for the payment of pensions.
It has been asserted that the Government is failing in its duty by not compelling a reduction in the interest that is charged on our debts. The difference between the party that sits on this side of the House, and some of its opponents, is that we believe that the right and honest way of effecting a reduction in interest rates is by mutual arrangement between the parties affected, instead of by the adoption of the dishonest practice of refusing to pay what is owing. We are doing what we believe will, in the end, bring happiness and contentment to oldage pensioners. Every man in the community will have the opportunity of earning a decent living for his family, instead of existing on the dole.
The Government has been charged with an intention to lift taxation from the rich and to place it on the poor. This country can never regain industrial prosperity until taxation is substantially lowered and the money that is now flowing into Government channels is diverted to private enterprise. The sooner taxation is lowered, the better; but it will be lowered in the interest, not of the wealthy class, but of the working class and of pensioners.
The provison under which the amount of pension paid will, upon the death of a pensioner, be a first charge upon his estate, is a very wise one, and will prevent a considerable amount of imposition. It is known that in many cases, persons have parted with their property so as to become eligible for a pension. I remind honorable members opposite that the parties supporting the Government have really been responsible for increasing payments to our invalid and oldage pensioners, and that it was left to a government supported by honorable members opposite to reduce them once, and raise them once. This being the case, I am surprised - that they now have the effrontery to charge this Government with lack of sympathy. I hope that henceforth, they will help the Government in its efforts to rehabilitate the Commonwealth, and restore the financial position in New South Wales.
..- The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. E. J. Harrison) dealt at some length with the payment of maternity allowances, and told us that the system would be all right if the money was made available to those homes in which expectant mothers can receive proper treatment. For many years, I. have been a member of a hospital committee, and 1 have no hesitation in saying that the major portion of the maternity allowance is spent on behalf of mothers in maternity homes throughout the country, where they receive much better attention than it would be possible for them to get at home. If this form of assistance is not continued, many of them will be unable to receive proper care in future. I also remind the honorable member for Wentworth that a few years ago, the wife of the present Prime Minister, Mrs. Lyons, for whom apparently the honorable member has a great deal of respect, spoke at a public meeting in Hobart convened to protest against any interference with the maternity allowance. The following report appeared in the Standard of the 29th August last: -
In the days when Mrs. J. A. Lyons was the wife of a Labour member of Parliament, thu Labour women of Hobart organized a meeting to protest against any interference with the Maternity Allowance Act passed by the Fisher Government. Mrs. Lyons was the principal speaker, and she used all the eloquence she possessed to denounce the outrageous suggestion that mothers should not be paid an allow ance; she resisted the then contemplated reduction in the amount; she stressed the importance of direct payment to the mothers, and exposed the hollowness of the statements that the money was not being used properly.. Now Joseph Aloysius proposes to cut down the allowance, and in view of Mrs Joseph’s recent demand for a more determined feminist movement, it would be interesting to hear what she has to say regarding her husband’s attack upon the mothers of Australia.
It should not be necessary for me to observe that Mrs. Lyons should know a great deal more about thi3 business than does the honorable member for Wentworth-. I should add that she is only one of a considerable number of women who hold the same view on this important subject.
The protest from this side of the House against the Government’s proposals is not being made, as the honorable member- for Wentworth suggests, for the purpose of exploiting the sentiment of the people, nor is it so much window dressing. The honorable member, and a number of other speakers from his side of the House, would have us believe that the Government’s proposal will not impose any hardship upon our invalid and oldage pensioners. They apparently overlook the fact that the Prime Minister has indicated that it will mean a saving of over £1,000,000, so hardship is inevitable. The original proposal not being acceptable to the Government’s supporters, another and a much more despicable scheme was substituted. Had the original proposal to reduce the pensions from 17s. 6d. to 15s. been adopted, pensioners would at least have known exactly what was going to happen to them. Under the altered scheme, they will not know. I resent theassertion by supporters of the Government that the sons or daughters of pensioners are neglecting their duty. In many cases, pensioners are living in homes provided for them by their children, and under the Government’s amended scheme, these properties will be regarded as assets in the estate, and realizable to reimburse the Government for expenditure incurred by way of pension payments. I have personal knowledge of two or three instances in which the children of pensioners have, by a lucky chance in a lottery or some other fortuitous circumstance, secured £200 or £300 which they have invested in homes for their parents.
Under this amended scheme, this or some future Government will make a claim against such properties as a set-off against pension payments, and, so far as I can gather from my reading of the bill, there is no provision whereby any balance, after meeting the claims of the Government, will revert to the children.
The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) has alleged that in only a few cases are children adequately supporting their parents. I resent that statement. There are very few who are not prepared to do all that is possible. Yesterday, the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) suggested that the bill contained no provision for legal action to recover payments to pensioners with provable assets. I say there is, and that the inquisitorial application form is a cruel device, calculated to deter many people from making application. One can hardly doubt that it has been framed for the purpose of ensuring fees to lawyers, whose assistance will have to be sought by many applicants desiring to fill in the form. The honorable member for Darling Downs (Sir Littleton Groom) referred to penalties -that might be imposed on applicants who do not fill in the form properly. This will be such a difficult undertaking that an applicant might quite unintentionally be liable to a charge of attempting to defraud the Government, and mulcted in fines because of carelessness.
The unjust nature of the Government’s original proposals were apparent to its supporters, -many of whom announced their intention of crossing the floor of the House and voting against the Ministry. Consequently, the Government altered the scheme, and it now contains many subtle amendments, some of which were mentioned this evening by the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb). The Government is achieving its purpose in another, and, I suggest, cowardly way. It is introducing amendments the effect of which will be to discourage eligible persons from making application because of the fear that hardship may be imposed upon their children. All pensions payable from now till death will be a charge against property possessed by a pensioner.
In the case of an aged couple, the one who lives the longer will enjoy the use of the home until death, but afterwards it may become theproperty of the Commonwealth Treasurer. Similarly unfair treatment is to’ be meted out to the inmates of benevolent institutions and homes for aged people. Their allowance is to be reduced from 5s. to 3s. 9d. In many cases, these old people are obliged to spend 8d. or ls. on bus fares to collect the pension. This sum will be deducted from the 3s. 9d., so that the actual amount received by them will be a miserable pittance. It ill becomes Government supporters and especially the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. John Lawson) to laugh at honorable members on this side who are protesting against the Government’s unjust proposals. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. E. J. Harrison) would have us believe that the system of invalid and old-age pensions was introduced by r. Liberal Government of the day. As a matter of fact, it was the price paid by the Deakin Government, at a critical time in its history, for the support of the Labour party. The following letter, written by Mr. Alfred Deakin, the then Prime Minister, to Mr. Watson, leader of the Labour party, puts the position beyond all doubt: - 5th July, 1905.
I am now able to inform you that the programme of business to be submitted to the present Parliament will include, in addition to the budget, and other ordinary requirements of that kind, any necessary legislation upon the matters and lines embraced in the Ballarat platform, 1903, or since arising out of the action of the House. I may mention among the subjects that we hope to deal with - some of them being already advanced more than one stage - are the following: - (1) White Australia; (2) Iron bounty; (3) Preferential trade; (4) Rural development; (5) Navigation; (6) High Commissioner; (7) Tariff commission report; (8) Trade marks; (9) Fraudulent marks; (10) Papua; (11) Quarantine: (12) Electoral requirements;
We cannot hope to dispose of all these great problems, but may be enabled to secure further consideration for those upon which legislative action is not yet desirable.
Yours very truly,
This Government declares that it is anxious to economize in every direction, yet this morning’s Commonwealth Gazette contains a notification of the appointment of an Assistant Public Service Commissioner at a salary of £1,094 a year. Although we are told that the country cannot afford to pay members of Parliament their full allowance, the gentleman who fills this new position is to be paid more than the allowance previously paid to a member of Parliament. I object to the payment of high salaries to nien who, apparently, are appointed to advise the Government as to the best means for reducing the salaries of public servants. But this is only one of many increases of salaries recently given by the present Government.
It will probably take three or four months before the old-age pensioners fully appreciate the effect of this legislation. If they do not, within one month, notify the Commissioner of the acquisition of any property they will render themselves liable to a fine of £10. Many of them receive little gifts from their kith and kin, yet it will be a misdemeanour on their part if they fail to advise the Commissioner. It is too great a responsibility to place upon the shoulders of the pensioners.
To-day the honorable member for Darling Downs (Sir Littleton Groom) in eloquent language told the House that invalid and old-age pensions when first provided for, were not made available to the aged people of this country on any cost of living basis, but were given for services rendered to the country in their younger years.
– On equity and justice. The reason advanced by the gentleman who piloted the first bill through this Parliament was that the pension was given, not in charity, but- in return for services rendered. The present Government proposes to consider it solely on the basis of the rise and fall in the cost of living as disclosed by the Statistician’s figures, which, I have always held, are a very doubtful basis from the view-point of justice. Indeed, the Acting Statistician has publicly acknowledged this. As an advocate in the Arbitration Court for many years past, I have always protested that the method adopted in arriving at the index figure relating to the cost of living is based on wrong Premises. There may have been a little reduction recently in the cost of particular items in certain cities, but things which are in general use in homes are now not very much cheaper than they were two or three years ago.
– The ex-Treasurer (Mr. Theodore) said that they were.
– I am not concerned with what he said or with what the honorable member says. I have had a note passed to me intimating that it is proposed to move the closure at 11 o’clock. I think it is nothing short of a shame and a scandal that an important piece of legislation such as this should be closured.
Motion (by Mr. Lyons) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mk. Speaker - Hon. G. H. Mackay.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question - That the words proposed to he omitted (Mr. Scullin’s amendment) stand part of the question - put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. H. Mackay.)
Majority . . 21
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question - That the hill be now read a second time - put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. H. Mackay.)
Majority . . . . 21
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Declaration of Urgency
– I declare this bill an urgent bill.
Question - That the bill be considered an urgent bill- put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. H. Mackay.)
Majority . . . . 15
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Allotment of Time
– It is intended to limit the time that will he allotted to the remaining stages of the bill.
– Is this a deliberate attempt to burke a discussion on parliamentary salaries ?
Honorable members interjecting,
– I ask honorable members to give the Prime Minister an. opportunity to explain the intention of the Government. The motionwill be subject to debate when it is submitted to the House.
– If the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) will have patience, he will be given an opportunity to discuss the salaries of honorable members, and to move an amendment if he so wishes.
– Why all this urgency?
– When the Government submitted its budget, it based its pro jected economies upon the operation of its proposals over a period of nine months of the present financial year. Unless more rapid progress is made with the bill which is now before the House, and with other matters originated in the budget, the Government will not be able to achieve its purpose. The Senate will meet on Wednesday in order to receive business from this chamber-
– Why should not this House meet on Tuesday?
– Even if we met on Sunday it would make no difference in the decision that will be registered on this and associated measures. I am confident that if honorable members were to continue the debate for the next month, the result would be the same as that, registered to-night and to-morrow when votes are taken.
– Honorable members on the Government side have been whipped into line.
Other Op position members interjecting,
– Honorable members opposite, by these frequent interruptions, are robbing themselves of an opportunity to speak upon the measure. It is not my desire to delay the proceedings. It is necessary, in the interests of the Commonwealth finances, that this bill should be proceeded with expeditiously. I therefore move -
That the time allotted in connexion with the bill be as follows: -
It is proposed to rise at 2 o’clock tomorrow morning, and to resume at 10.30 a.m. That will give the honorable member for Angas and others an opportunity to discuss the early clauses of the bill until 2 o’clock to-morrow morning.
.- I realize that any time spent in discussing this motion robs honorable members of an opportunity to discuss the clauses, but I protest that the time allotted is un. reasonably inadequate. There may be ground for applying the guillotine under certain urgent conditions, but they cannot properly be claimed . to exist now. Nor is the application of the guillotine reasonable in connexion with a bill like this. As honorable members, know, this is a composite measure embodying amendments to six different acts of Parliament. I do not complain about that. I realize that it is emergency legislation amending an act passed by the administration of which I was head.. At the “same time, I remind honorable members that, though the position was infinitely more urgent last year, when that measure was introduced, my Government did not apply the guillotine. It used the closure, but only under the strongest provocation.
– The honorable member’s Government had not the numbers.
– Oh, yes it had. That will be revealed by an examination of the division lists. The Prime Minister tells us to get on with the business. If we allowed ourselves to be provoked by the Government’s action, we should be involved in the makings of a first-class debate, for the honorable gentleman has stated, in effect, that we must close up Parliament and leave the legislation of the country to the room next door. The Prime Minister said, in effect, that there is no need to discuss the matter, that the decision of the Government cannot be altered.
– Did the honorable gentleman say that?
– He said that if we debated the bill for six months, the result would be no different. Apparently Parliament is to become merely a registering machine, The Prime Minister has shown that the whip has been so well cracked over his supporters that they have no opinions of their own. We have had two days in which to debate the second reading of an important measure which amends practically six separate acts, and are to have only a portion of the night and a third day to discuss the committee stages. I protest against such tactics.
.- I honestly and sincerely declare that it is cowardly of the Government to compel the House to attempt intelligently to deal with this measure in the limited time that has been allotted. Only a moment ago I and other honorable members had fifteen amendments placed in our hands. I have spent the whole of the day going through this and associated measures in an endeavour to appreciate fully the purpose of the Government’s proposals. The task is too great in the limited time allotted. It is evident that the Government does not want an honest review made of its proposals. Honorable members opposite cannot honestly claim that they are competent to discuss, within the time proposed, the details of the bill as it should be discussed, seeing that it will affect the very existence of thousands of persons throughout Australia, Experience has shown us that measures introducing new principles often prove impracticable when an attempt is made to administer them. Yet the Prime Minister asks us to deal with some of the most important proposals in the bill within the next 2^ hours. I warn the Government, as the Leader of the Opposition lias done, that the people of this country will visit their vengeance upon those responsible for this measure. If it is passed, I hope that it will cause discord and discussion, and that its operation will prove to be impracticable.
.- It is hard that a measure like this, which will have serious effects on our old and afflicted pioneers and expectant mothers, should be rushed through the House. We shall be asked to-morrow to adjourn until next Wednesday; but if we had any genuine interest in the aged people of this country, we would be prepared to -sit every day next week in order to give the matter full consideration. It is impossible for us properly to deal with the measure in committee in the short time proposed to be allowed. About a dozen amendments to the bill have just been put into our hands, and it is practically impossible to realize their ‘significance; but the bill is to be gagged through. “Do not honorable members opposite stand for British justice? If so. why are they willing to allow the Government to prevent full discussion on this measure? The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) said that it was necessary to pass this bill as quickly as possible in the interests of the finances. The Government is not acting in the interests of the down-trodden section of the community, and that is why the Prime Minister has listened to that cold-blooded lawyer whom he has been with during the last few minutes.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I join with the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin), the honorable member for Hunter “ (Mr. James), the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley), and other members of the Opposition in their protests against the most unseemly manner in which members of this House are being treated in connexion with this - legislation. Nobody can say truthfully that we have had a reasonable opportunity to reviewfully every aspect of the measure. It is difficult to follow the proposed amendment of the law, because of the technical nature of this bill and of the amendments brought down by the Government only this evening, and members are not being shown the consideration that is due to them as responsible representatives of the people. If I employed words sufficiently strong to express my indignation over the Government’s action, they would be regarded as unparliamentary. The people themselves will deal with this Government at the first opportunity presented to them. The Prime Minister certainly does not do himself justice, nor does he give the House credit for much intelligence when he claims that we can consider carefully the provisions of eleven clauses of the bill between now and 2 a.m. It is preposterous to suggest that the motion before the Chair is a reasonable one. Surely the Prime Minister and those associated with him recognize to some extent their responsibilities to the House and to the public. During the twelve years that I have been a member of this Parliament, T have never known such an important debate as that on the present bill to be limited in the way proposed by the Government. >
– -Twelve years is too long.
– Possibly too long for honorable members opposite; but I shall probably be a member of this House when the Minister who interjects is no longer a member of it. It may not be long before members on this side occupy the places now taken by honorable members opposite. Actions of the description taken under this bill will cause the public mind to revolt against a Government that is prepared so to misuse its powers as to stifle the free expression of opinion to which the representatives of substantial numbers throughout the constituencies have a right. Many matters affected by this bill, such as pensions, especially those paid to the blind and to invalids, and Public Service salaries, should be very fully discussed, otherwise justice will not be done. This House should jealously safeguard its privileges, and should not permit the Government to encroach on the sacred rights handed down to it by the Crown.
.- I have been_ a member of Parliament for over eleven years, and I have never wasted one minute of the time of this House, and during five years spent as a Government Whip I do not remember the “ guillotine “ having been applied so severely as now proposed to so important a measure as that under consideration. I have not previously spoken on this bill. With other members, I desired to speak on the second reading, and the fact that I did not take part in the debate left more time for other members. It is impossible for me, in the time at my disposal, to examine thoroughly the amendments that have been brought down to-night. It is said to be necessary to expedite the passage of the bill because it must take effect from the 1st October. The object of the Government could be achieved if a clause were inserted providing that the measure should take effect from the 1st October, and then it would not matter if it were not passed until December. I protest against the motion before the Chair.
. - No honorable member can fairly claim that he is able to grasp the full significance of the three pages of printed amendments that were handed to us a few moments ago. They are a nightmare of legal intricacies, and God help the old-age and invalid pensioners who endeavour to discover their meaning. During my 43 years of political life I have had a wide experience of pensioners of all kinds and of their difficulties, and I have the utmost sympathy for them in the position in which they will be placed under this bill. I cannot understand why the Government has taken the action contemplated under this motion. Time is not so pressing that the Government could not give the House full opportunity for the discussion of the bill. I regret that the people who create a parliament one day in every three years have not the power to destroy it on any day of the three years, when such things as this happen. I wished to take part in the debate on the bill, but I have had no opportunity. The Government, by its action, is inflicting a grave injury upon invalid and old-age pensioners. I would rather cut my throat than reduce their pension by one penny.
.- If Ithought that any good purpose could be served by a discussion on the clauses of the bill, I would not take up the time of the House in speaking on the present motion. I also intended to take part in the second-reading debate, but I was unable to catch the Speaker’s eye. The action taken by the Government against the interests of the invalid and old-age pensioners is not the result of a decision of the nominal Prime Minister. What has been done by the anti-Labour forces originated in the cold, calculating, callous and cowardly mind of a lawyer.
– Is that remark parliamentary?
– Did the honorable member for East Sydney apply that term to a member of this House?
– I applied it to the mind responsible for the present motion.
– I ask the honorable member to withdraw the expression.
– I withdraw it. I regret that the Standing Orders-
– Order ! The withdrawal must be unconditional.
– I am handicapped in that the Standing Orders do not permit honorable members to speak the truth unless they frame their remarks in language that will not hurt the feelings of other honorable members who are prepared to take advantage of their position here to attack people who cannot protect themselves. Honorable members opposite attempt to laugh off the charge that they are attacking the unfortunate old-age pensioners.
– The question before: the Chair is a motion allotting the time for the discussion of the remaining stages of the bill. That is the only subject which may be debated.
– I was endeavouring to show that a good deal of the time of the House is devoted to matters which are not so important as that contained in this bill. For instance, the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. E. J. Harrison) took up a good deal of time recently in discussing pearl buttons. That is not a matter of such importance as is an attack on the standard of living of a great number of our citizens. The Government is prepared to take what I consider is a cowardly action in restricting discussion because its supporters are fearful of the criticism of honorable members on this side of the chamber. Certain honorable members supporting the Government indicated recently that they were opposed to the proposals which are now to be bludgeoned through the chamber, but they are not prepared to stand up here and oppose this bill, or even to listen to any criticism of it. The honorable member for Lang (Mr. Dein) was in the Sydney Domain last Sunday, where discussion was not restricted, and he was glad to get out of the place. So cowardly was he-
– I rise to a point of order. Is the honorable member dealing with the motion before the House?
– He is not; but his time has now expired.
– The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) said that a certain member of this House behaved in a cowardly way. To his statement, I object. I ask that he be required to withdraw it.
– If the honorable member applied that expression to another honorable member he must withdraw it.
– I withdraw it.
– What he said is a lie, anyhow.
– Order ! I ask the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Dein) to withdraw and apologize for his offensive remark.
– In the Domain last Sunday, I told the honorable member what he was.
– The honorable member is now aggravating the offence.
– However, in deference to you, Mr. Speaker, I withdraw the remark and apologize.
– Many honorable members who desired to speak to the second reading were unable to do so because of the action of the Government in applying the closure, although there had been no undue prolongation of the debate. The motion now before the Chair means that honorable members will not have an opportunity to give the bill the consideration that it deserves. The Government has acted in a dastardly manner.
– Order ! The honorable member, as an experienced parliamentarian who has on many occasions acted as temporary chairman of committees, must know that the Standing Orders require him to address himself to the motion before the Chair, which is that a certain time shall be allotted to the remaining stages of the bill. As the time allowed for this debate has now expired, the question must be put forthwith “ That the motion be agreed to “.
Question - That the motion be agreed to - put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. H. Mackay.)
Majority . . 14
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
Sitting suspended from 11.59 p.m. to 12.30 a.m. Friday.
Friday, 28 September 1982
Clause 1 -
.I move -
That at the end of sub-clause 1 the following words be inserted : - “ for the purpose of further enslaving the old-age and invalid pensioners, expectant mothers, public servants and wine-growers.”
– On a point of order, I submit that the amendment is frivolous.
Mr.Beasley. - I regard that statement as an insult.
– The honorable member must confine his remarks to the point of order.
– The point of order is based on the statement that the amendment is frivolous, and I suggest that such a reference must be taken as an insult. If it is sufficient to say that the amendment is frivolous, that objection could be taken to any amendment. Sixteen amendments have been circulated to-night, and there may be several more before we finally dispose of the bill, and of any of them any honorable member might say that it was frivolous. The honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) intends to move a certain amendment, and if we followed the Attorney-General, all that would be necessary to defeat that amendment, would be to say that it is frivolous.
– I rule that the amendment is not relevant to the subjectmatter of the bill, and is, therefore, not in order.
– I move-
That the ruling of the Chair be dissented from.
You, Mr. Chairman, have ruled that the amendment moved by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) is not relevant to the bill. The amendment has been moved for the purpose of exposing the real object of the bill, and it is wrong to say that it is not relevant. The measure deals extensively with old-age and invalid pensioners, and it alters, to a degree never attempted previously, the conditions under which pensions are to be paid to these unfortunate people. It introduces new matter into the Financial Emergency Act and the Old-age and Invalid Pensions Act, matters which were never before contemplated, and never before discussed in this chamber. To rule that the amendment is not relevant seems to me to be an extraordinary procedure. The bill teems with references to old-age and invalid pensioners. If the honorable member for Hunter believes that the object of this measure is the further enslaving of the unfortunate pensioners, he is entitled to try to have it so stated in the bill. If the title of the bill does not express truly its contents, in what position will we find ourselves when it is finally amended and disposed of by the House? The bill also contains a provision affecting expectant mothers, some of whom will be placed under a severe disability once this legislation has been passed. Therefore, I contend that the honorable member for Hunter is justified in moving to provide that, in the title of the bill, reference shall be made to the fact that expectant mothers are to be further enslaved. The honorable member also suggests that the title of the bill should refer to the further enslaving of the public servants of the Commonwealth. It cannot be denied that the public servants are involved in this measure, because quite a number of its provisions are devoted to their salaries and wages. Finally, the honorable member for Hunter considers that the title of the bill should contain a reference to the further enslaving of the winegrowers, because of the proposed limitation of the wine bounty. The bill makes drastic alterations to the procedure which was previously followed in regard to all these matters. It, therefore, seems to me that you, sir, in ruling that the amendment is not relevant to the bill, are taking the extraordinary course of restricting the opportunity of honorable members to express reasons why the title of the bill should be such as to indicate clearly the nature of its provisions.
– Whatever opinions may be held as to the merits of the amendment, I do not think that your ruling, sir, that it is irrelevant, is sound. If it were impossible for an honorable member to move an amendment for the purpose of widening the title of the bill so as to express what he believes is its real purpose, we should be greatly limited in our powers of amendment. It may be possible to argue that the phraseology of the amendment is not acceptable, but I cannot see that there is any ground for the ruling that it is irrelevant. I think that the amendment is relevant to the bill. In the Financial Emergency Act, which we are now amending, there is a rather lengthy preamble explaining the purpose of the measure. I think that a number of honorable members agree with me that although the phraseology of the amendment may not be acceptable to some honorable members, the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) is entitled to move an amendment to test feeling of the committee upon it. It is certainly relevant to the bill to refer to the enslaving of oldage pensioners, public servants, expectant mothers, and wine-growers. It is for honorable members to say whether that is or is not the purpose of the bill. The amendment is certainly relevant to the bill, and honorable members should have an opportunity to vote upon it.
– It is with great diffidence that I challenge your ruling, Mr. Chairman, but I feel that there is merit in the motion of the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley). The amendment of the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) is respectfully worded. It is couched in parliamentary language, and is therefore permissible. It complies with the requirements of the Standing Orders so far as it relates to the clauses that are under the consideration of the committee. Although the amendment might have been worded a little differently, you, sir, have no justification for ruling it out of order as irrelevant. It is strictly relevant to the bill. I submit that the motion of the honorable member for West Sydney is justified, and I regret that. I must disagree with your ruling.
– To be relevant, the amendment must have at least reasonable application to the subject-matter of the bill, and I am astonished that the motion is being seriously discussed. There is an obvious distinctionbetween a fair description of the subject-matter of the bill and mere political propaganda, and upon that distinction the ruling of the Chair rests.
Mir. Holloway. - I do not say that the amendment is word perfect; but it has a definite application to the subjectmatter of the bill. Any lack of seriousness in this discussion is due to the insincerity of the Government in pressing the measure through without affording honorable members an adequate opportunity to discuss it. I submit that your ruling, Mr. Chairman, is not correct, inasmuch as the amendment does relate to the subjectmatter of the bill. The whole purpose of the measure is to interfere with certain pensions, allowances and salaries. The people who will be affected are the lowest paid in the community; if they are not already enslaved they are nearly so, and if the bill be passed they will be com pletely enslaved. If the wording proposed by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) is not perfect, it can be amended. I take this opportunity to protest against the manner in which the Government is stifling discussion.
– Would I be in order in moving that the motion to dissent be now put?
– If the honorable member for Martin (Mr. Holman) presses that motion, it will be impossible for me to reply to the arguments that have been advanced in support of the motion to dissent frommy ruling.
– I submit that a motion to close this discussion would not be in order.
– The amendment which the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) has described as frivolous is intended to express the scope and purpose of the bill, and the sacrifices it will impose on certain sections of the community. Honorable members must admit that many of the clauses are pernicious, and will enslave the people. I refer particularly to the proposed new sections which require pensioners to supply to the department information regarding the property owned by their relatives, or suffer certain penalties. If those are not enslaving conditions I do not understand the meaning of the term. In addition, some persons are to be required to accept a reduction of their pension to 15s. a week, whilst others may lose their pension entirely if, in the opinion of the court or a justice of the peace, their relatives are able to maintain them. If my amendment to the title be agreed to, and the people are able to read at a glance that the purpose of the hill is to enslave further certain sections, they will take more interest in the activities of the Government.
– The amendment of the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) proposes to alter the title so as to describe this measure as a bill “ for the purpose of further enslaving the old-age and invalid pensioners, expectant mothers, public servants, and wine-growers.” I ruled the amendment out of order on the ground that it is not relevant to the subject-matter of the bill.
In dissenting from that ruling,the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) contended that pensioners, expectant mothers, public servants, and wine-growers will be enslaved by the provisions of this bill ; but he made no reference to the first words of the amendment, “ for the purpose of further enslaving,” which suggest that the principal act already enslaves the classes referred to. There is no measure on the statute-book of which that can be truly said. I am certain that if honorable members will seriously ponder the meaning of the words “ further enslaving,” they will agree that my ruling is correct.
Question - That the Chairman’s ruling be dissented from - put. The committee divided. (Chairman - Mr. Bell.)
Majority . . . . 26
Question so resolved in the negative.
.- I move -
That the word “Pensions”, second occurring, sub-clause 5, be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “ mortgages “.
The words “ invalid and old-age pensions “ do not truly, express the purpose of the measure.Actually the bill provides that the properties of claimants for pensions shall be mortgaged to the Government, before they are entitled to receive assistance. A lien on the property is to be given to the Government so that, immediately on the death of the pensioner, it may be disposed of by the Commissioner or his deputy to recoup the Government for moneys paid to the deceased. The bill goes further, and provides that the Government shall have first claim on any property owned by the pensioner. How then can the measure properly be described as an invalid and old-age pensions bill? I admit that if a person is destitute he may receive a pension, but in the majority of cases claimants will own their own homes, which will be made over to the Government as a kind of deposit for the pensions that will be paid to them.
– The amendment proposed by the honorable member is irrelevant.
– I move -
That after the word “Pensions” second occurring, sub-clause 5, the word “ Curtailment “be inserted.
The sub-clause would then read - “ The Invalid and Old-Age Pensions Act 1908-1928, as amended by the principal act, as amended by this act, may be cited as the Invalid and Old-Age Pensions Curtailment Act 1908-1932.
Honorable members on both sides must agree that the purpose of the bill is to curtail pensions by reducing the amount of money to be expended on that social service. The curtailment is to be effected by making it more difficult for claimants to become eligible for a pension, by declaring ineligible many who are now eligible, and by taking out a garnishee order on the property of deceased pensioners, to recoup the Government for moneys paid to those persons. In the circumstances, the measure could appropriately be described as the “Invalid and Old-age Pensions Curtailment Act “.
– It would not be in order to add the word “ curtailment “ to the description of the act. The amendment would really apply to the title of the principal act,whereas we are dealing with an amending bill.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 2 agreed to.
Clause 3 (Definitions).
– When changes are to be made in a measure it is customary for the Minister in charge to explain them to the committee. I know that, prior to the supper adjournment, the Prime Minister intimated that though we remained here until Christmas the decision of the Government in respect of this measure would not be altered. If that idea is to determine the Government’s action during this debate-
– Order ! The honorable member is entitled to ask the Minister in charge of the measure for an explanation, but not to indulge in a dissertation upon the policy of the Government.
– I shall resume my seat and give the Minister an opportunity to make an explanation.
– Some of the amendments proposed in the bill are of a complicated nature. This one is so simple that it did not occur either to the Prime Minister or myself that any explanation was required. The explanation is that provision is made in section 9 of the Financial Emergency Act for the reduction of certain emoluments attached to parliamentary offices. Clause 5 of this bill proposes further reductions to those emoluments, and introduces a new section, 9, in which the parliamentary offices concerned are referred to specifically as “senator”, “member of the House of Representatives “, “ President of the Senate “, “ Speaker of the House of Representatives “, and so on. There is, therefore, no longer any need for the general definition “ Parliamentary office “.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 4 agreed to.
Clause 5 -
Section nine of the principal act is repealed, and the following section inserted in its stead: - “ 9. Notwithstanding anything contained in any act, the allowances or salaries and allowances which would, but for this act, have been received annually by any senator or member of the House of Representatives shall be reduced as follows: -
the allowance as a senator or member of the House of Representatives - by twenty-five per centum;
the salary as President of the Senate or Speaker of the House of Representatives - by thirty per centum;
the salary as a Chairman of Committees in either House of the Parliament - by twenty-seven and onehalf per centum; and
the allowance as Leader of the
Opposition in either House of the Parliament - by twenty-five per centum.”.
.- I move -
That the word “ twenty-five “, paragraph (a) of proposed new section 9, be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “ forty “.
The purpose of my amendment is to bring the parliamentary allowance of honorable members and senators down to £600 per annum. I am pleased that we shall have an opportunity to record a vote on this issue. It certainly appeared earlier in the debate that that would be avoided. I shall be pleased if some honorable member will call with me for a division to show where members stand on this matter. If my amendment is carried, the salaries of Ministers, as well as those of other members, will be reduced. I stated in my second-reading speech that the position of the country was such that it could not afford to pay members more than £600 per annum.
Mr.Blakeley. - The parliamentary allowance of a Minister is now £600 per annum.
– And that of the Speaker, too.
– I was not aware of that. I do not wish especially to exempt Ministers from the reduction that I am proposing, and I am not setting out to attack the salaries of Ministers. At the remuneration of £600 per annum every member can attend to his job. It is true that at the end of the year there would not be much left of that allowance, but most honorable members entered this House imbued with the spirit of service. Some of us have probably been disillusioned on discovering how slowly the parliamentary machine works, and how little effective work an individual member can do. Every member who has voted for the reduction of the invalid and old-age pension should support my amendment.
– If the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) would apply the proposed reduction to those members of Parliament who have income other than their parliamentary allowances, I would be prepared to support him. Some members, particularly if they entered this House imbued with the idea of rendering service to the community, and have no outside ties, earn their salaries; but many members who support the Government, being handsomely rewarded by vested interests, would willingly render the service involved by attendance in this chamber without pay, in return for benefits that can be conferred on them by means of certain legislation which is bludgeoned through this Parliament.
– This is not a meeting of the Sydney City Council.
– All honorable members have not had an opportunity, ‘ such as came the way of the honorable member for Warringah, of selling a parliamentary selection for £3,500.
– Order !
– I ask that that filthy, untrue, and insulting remark be withdrawn.
– I heard no remark that could be described as filthy; but I called the honorable member for East Sydney to order for making a personal reference.
– The words used were that I sold a selection. I regard that expression as offensive in the way that I have described.
– If - the remark is offensive to the Minister it must be withdrawn.
– I withdraw it. I may have been wrong with regard to the figure which I mentioned. Other members have had unique opportunities of making themselves independent of their parliamentary salaries. I remember an occasion when the honorable member for Warringah was connected with a committee of the Nationalist party-
– The honorable member will not be in order in discussing an honorable member’s private affairs.
– I was trying to point out that if the reduction proposed by the honorable member for Angas were applied to all members of this House, it would involve a sacrifice by some of them,, while it would mean no sacrifice by others. I understand that the matter which I was about to mention was given great publicity. A gift was made to this particular member of the House because of a. service he rendered to particular interests outside of this Parliament.
– I rise to a point of order. The honorable member stated that I received a testimonial for services rendered to interests outside this Parliament. That statement is absolutely untrue. It seriously reflects upon me, and I ask that it be unreservedly withdrawn. If the honorable member for East Sydney continues in that strain an apology should be demanded.
– I have already asked the honorable member not to refer to the private business of an honorable member. If his intention is to reflect on any action taken in this House the remark is certainly out of order.
– What I was saying was that some honorable members have derived additional income because of their services in this Parliament to vested interests. Therefore, the reduction proposed under the amendment would have a harsh effect on some members, but not on others. One honorable member was made the recipient of a testimonial in the shape of £25,000, according to a statement published in the press. If it is possible for members, because of their services to particular interests outside this Parliament, to receive such large sums, I do not suppose that it will be contended that this money is subscribed by invalid and old7age pensioners or by the poorer section of the community. We can decide for ourselves what interests provide this extra remuneration for certain members. We know that legal men, many of whom are supporters of the Government in this House, have large incomes from their profession, and are not compelled to adopt the practice which is applied to members of trade unions when they appear before the court for an adjustment of their wages and working conditions. The worker Las his wages and conditions fixed for him by the judiciary, but the organization of the legal fraternity fixes its own fees and demands that those fees shall bc paid before their work is done.
– The honorable member must confine his remarks to the amendment.
– Labour members have more calls upon their purse than an ti; Labour members have, because the former are more approachable. During election times it is very easy to see those candidates who run in the interests of antiLabour parties; but when the elections are over, if one dared to call at their mansions-
– I have repeatedly called the honorable member to order for dealing with irrelevant matters. He must confine his remarks to the question before the Chair.
– May I suggest that at least the calls made upon the salaries of members have some bearing upon the amendment, Labour members, at any rate, are called upon to pay their own electioneering expenses, because the section which they represent in this .Parliament is unable to contribute to the cost of their campaign; but honorable members opposite receive substantial donations from financial interests. Honorable members opposite certainly earn those donations by the services which they render in this Parliament to those interests. Owing to the fact that the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) has not discriminated in his amendment between members with outside sources of income and those who devote the whole of their time to their parliamentary duties, I cannot support it.
.- The Government cannot accept the amendment. I recognize, as everybody does, that Ministers as well as other members of Parliament, should share in the general sacrifice being made by the community at the present time. When the financial emergency legislation was brought down by the last Government, provision was made for the reduction of parliamentary salaries and of pensions; but when, at the last election, I was asked whether I was prepared to support a further reduction of members salaries - there was then no question of reducing the salaries of Ministers - I expressed the opinion that in view of the services rendered by members of this House, and the expenses incurred by them in carrying out their duties, I considered that members were not overpaid, and I was not prepared to support a further reduction of their salaries. At a later stage I was asked as to the possibility of any further reductions in the salaries of public servants, pensions, and other matters, and I expressed the hope that it would not be necessary to make any further cuts. But I said that if the time “came when further cuts would have to be made, the first reductions would apply to Ministers and members of Parliament. In making the proposal contained in the bill before us, I am carrying out the undertaking that I gave on that occasion. I feel confident that, the public realizes that the services rendered by- members of this Parliament are at least equal in value to the remuneration they receive. I do not believe that the electors desire to bring about a position which would prevent any suitable candidate from submitting himself for election to this Parliament. If the emoluments of members of Parliament continue to be lowered, we shall destroy the possibility of democracy expressing itself in this Parliament, and do something to reserve membership in this Parliament to a class. I feel confident that no member desires to bring about that state of affairs.
– Half the people think we still receive £1,000 a year.
– I believe that that is so. At Port Adelaide, I made the position clear, and many in the audience were surprised to know that members receive only £800 per annum. From time to time, comparisons of the reductions in the salaries of members of Parliament, public servants, and others, have been made. In his second-reading speech, the honorable member for Gippsland made the position clear.
– He ought to be ashamed of himself for what he said.
– He stated the facts. The majority of the people of Australia will admit that members of Parliament and Ministers have made a fair contribution to meet the needs of the country. What sacrifices have they made? When this bill becomes law, every member will be contributing £250 per annum to the national exchequer. Under the Financial Emergency Act, the reductions in the remuneration of Presiding Officers of Parliament, honorary Ministers, and Ministers, vary from £250 per annum to a3 much as £700 in the case of the head of the Government. These are definite reductions which sometimes the public are inclined to overlook.
– Many people think that members of Parliament do not pay any income tax.
– The Government has considered this matter from every aspect. When we are asking other sections of the community, including public servants and pensioners, to make further sacrifices, we must set them an example. Still, I am confident that the people of’ this country do not desire members to make any further sacrifices than they will be called upon to make when this bill becomes law, and therefore the Government cannot accept the amendment.
.I feel that I should express the view of the Opposition on the amendment moved by the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb). The amendment is not a reasonable one. The only possible justification for it is that since old-age pensioners are being called upon to suffer a reduction of 25 per cent, of their pension, instead of the 12-J- per cent, reduction under the Financial Emergency Act, the reduction in members’ salaries should be double what it now is, and should be made 40 per cent. That the Government proposes something unjust in the case of pensioners does not warrant a departure from the principles underlying the Premiers plan, which the honorable member for Angas has supported with so much eloquence. The honorable member should be consistent in opposing all departures from that plan, whether they affect old-age pensioners or members of Parliament. It is remarkable how many are the persons in the community who are unaware that a reduction has already been made in the salaries of members of Parliament. It is neither necessary nor desirable that, in discussing this bill we should disclose our private affairs; but if the honorable member for Angas wishes the salary of a member to be brought down to £600 per annum he is disregarding facts. Honorable members from distant States, as well as those representing far-flung electorates, such as those in the north of Queensland, have to travel long distances, pay hotel expenses in Canberra, and, in addition, meet the cost of an election once in about every two years - we have had three elections in three years - and have nothing left out of their parliamentary salaries. Honorable members like the honorable member for Angas, give a lead to that cheap form of criticism which is manifest throughout the community when people sneer at the value of the services rendered by members of Parliament. I do not believe in high salaries. Perhaps there is no man in the public life of Australia to-day who has more simple tastes than I have; but I know from experience that the emoluments and allowances of a member of Parliament are not adequate for the position he has to maintain, and the calls made upon him. No member of Parliament who is dependent upon his salary can become a rich man. As one who for two years led the Government of this country, I can say that no man who occupies the position of Prime Minister leaves it richer than when he takes it up. Nor should he. We should enter this Parliament to render service,- not to make money. But we should not write down the value of our services below the cost of production, and that is what the honorable member’s amendment amounts to. I do not think there is any .chance of the amendment being carried, and consequently, I am not concerned greatly about it; but I could not, in my capacity as Leader of the Opposition, let the amendment pass without expressing the views of my party.
– I support the amendment of the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb). This is a time which calls for sacrifice on the part of the whole nation.
– Let the sacrifice be voluntary.
– The sacrifice should commence at the top. Although in 1893 the outlook was gloomy, the condition of the country was not so serious then as it is to-day. Nevertheless, the salaries of members of the Victorian Parliament under Sir George Turner were then reduced to £150 per annum. I submit that we can do with £600 a year. Any of us who can afford to do without his parliamentary ‘salary should be prepared to throw it into a pool in the interests of those who need the money. I am prepared to do that tomorrow if the thing can be arranged on an equitable basis. Australia is passing through a crisis, and I am afraid that the worst has. yet to come. I fear that, before we arethrough, we shall be glad to receive even £600 a year. In a measure, I am sorry that I am not hard up myself; then my support of the salary reduction would not be misunderstood. My sons, however, are carrying on my business successfully, and I am free from financial worry. I support the amendment wholeheartedly.
– I should be glad to support the amendment of the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) if members of this Parliament were guilty of the practice of making their jobs as cheap as the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) does; but as that is not their practice, I cannot do so.
.- I was surprised to hear the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) claim that, in order to make it possible for democracy to be represented in the National Parliament, the payment of £12 a week to members is necessary. I challenge his statement. If the members who now represent the workers of this country are not prepared to do the work for £12 a week, other men, equally good, can be found to take their places. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) spoke of cheap criticism. After this vote has been taken there will be no need for any member to offer cheap criticism. Members who are prepared to deal with old-age pensioners and other needy sections of the community in theway proposed in this bill, and are not prepared to make sacrifices themselves, should not speak of cheap criticism. Their action makes criticism unnecessary.
Question - That the amendment (Mr. G abb’s) be agreed to - put. The committee divided. (Chairman - Mr. Bell.)
Majority . . . . 47
Question so resolved in the negative.
– I wish to make a personal explanation. I had not time to speak before the amendment of thehonorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) was put to the committee, and I wish to explain that I supported that amendment in conformity with my election pledges, by which I considered that I was bound. Before voting for the amendment I tendered my resignation as a member of the Government. That action is not in any way connected with any disagreement that I have with the Government on matters of policy.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 6 (General reduction of salaries and wages).
– This clause amends a provision in the principal act dealing with the general reduction in Public Service salaries and wages. The original act provided that the wage of an adult male officer should not be reduced below £182, which was the basic wage at that time, according to the Statistician’s figures. Since then, as pointed out by me when introducing this bill, the cost of living has fallen to an extent which justifies a reduction of £8 a year in salaries and wages as provided in clause 10. Clause 6 is really a machinery clause which removes the barrier of £182, and thus enables the intention of clause 10 to operate fully in connexion with cost of living adjustments of Public Service salaries and wages. The bill also makes provision that, in future, after this reduction in salaries is made, the cost of living figures, whether upward or downward, will automatically operate.
– I oppose this clause for two reasons. The first is that Parliament has no right to interfere with the Public Service Arbitrator. Under our arbitration system, provision is already made for the operation of automatic adjustments. There is no logic, reason or science in the manner in which the Government is now applying the cost of living figures to Public Service salaries and wages. This is direct interference with the public servants, in order to take from them the money which the Government budgeted to save for the purpose of remitting taxation to wealthy interests. My second reason for opposing this clause is that there is no other precedent in arbitration proceedings in this country for the action of the Government. Its supporters claim to have been associated with the framing of the arbitration system ever since the beginning of federation, but I know of no other established system under which a toll-gate method of bringing about reductions in wages has been resorted to. There is no science in applying a flat-rate reduction to persons, whether they earn 18s. or £6 a week. Under this clause a junior in the Service who receives 17s. or 18s. per week will lose £4 a year- as a result of this proposed automatic adjustment according to the cost of living statistics, while others in the Service receiving four or five times the’ wage of the juniors will be subject only to a similar reduction. The reduction is out of all proportion to the cost of living statistics, because it is being superimposed upon previous reductions suffered by public servants, who were deprived of many of their conditions under the emergency legislation passed last year. There is no logic or justice in applying this cost of living reduction - if it really is a cost of living reduction - to a number of employees without any regard being paid to the percentage value of their wages. Ever since the Arbitration Court has been established, it has made cost of living reductions upon a percentage basis, and a juvenile earning 15s. or £1 a week would never be expected to lose as much as an adult earning £5 or £6 a. week. The Government’s scheme is nothing but pretence, and the real object is to provide the amount of money which the Government budgeted to save to enable it to remit taxation to its political friends.
– I’ also wish to protest against this clause, because it violates an award of the Arbitrator. The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) has wrongly represented the position to this committee in referring to these reductions as cost of living reductions. The original act reduced the salaries and wages of public servants by up to 24 per cent, covering all grades - a reduction which was far in excess of what would have applied had the cost of living figures at that time been taken into consideration. If cost of living reductions are now to be taken into account, the public servants should be entitled, not to a reduction, but actually to an increase in salary. The Prime Minister has misrepresented the position, and therefore I shall vote against the clause.
.I, too, enter an emphatic protest against the gross departure from the accepted principle of arbitration and the fixed basic wage.
– The time allotted for the committee stage up to clause, 11 hasexpired.
Circulated amendments -
Clause 8, omit paragraph (a).
Clause 10, after proposed new section1 8b insert the following section: - “18c. The Salaries of members of the permanent naval, military and air forces, at the rates payable immediately prior to the commencement of this section, shall be subject to reduction to such extent, and in such manner, as are prescribed :
Provided that the amount of reduction under this section in any such salary shall not exceed that which would have been effected under section 18a of this act had that section applied to that salary.”.
Question - That clauses6 to 11, as amended by the printed and circulated amendments of the Government, be agreed to - put. The committee divided. (Chairman - Mr. Bell. )
Majority . . 15
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Clauses 6to 11 agreed to.
Motion (by Mr. Lyons) put -
That the Chairman do report progress, and ask leave to sit again.
The committee divided. (Chairman - Mr. Bell.)
Majority . . . . 29
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr. Lyons) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– On two previous occasions I have endeavoured to discuss a very important subject - the setting aside of the determinations of the Federal Arbitration Court. When moving the adjournment of the House to debate the matter a few days ago,the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) advanced many reasons to show why that action should not have been taken against a selected section of the community. In order to understand the significance of the attack that has been made on the workers, it is necessary to trace the history of the men who sit on the benches of the Arbitration Court and determine these matters. We know that, on the application of the New South Wales Transport Commission, these individuals have been prepared to depart from their own basic wage determinations. When we examine the matter we find that the men who sit on the bench-
Attention called to the state of the House. There being no quorum present,
Mr. Speaker adjourned the House at 2.20 a.m. (Friday).
The following answers to questions on notice were circulated: -
Disabilities of States Under Federation
Whether the Government has had time to consider favorably the advisability of creating a permanent committee to deal with the disabilities under federation of. the State of South Australia and other States of the Commonwealth*
Grants by Rural Credits Department.
Will he make available particulars of grants made by the Commonwealth. Bank from the development fund of the rural credits department of that bank?
Increments of Postal Employees
Is it a fact that a number of postal employees who were due for increments as from the 1st July last, have not yet been paid the increase; if so, will he inform the House why these payments have been delayed, and whether it is possible for all such moneys due to be paid on the next regular pay day?
Mr.Fenton. - The information is being obtained.
Holdings of Taxpayers
Will he furnish a statement showing the number of taxpayers in each State holding land with unimproved value of -
£700,001 to £1,000,000;
£500,001 to £700,000; and
£200,001 to £500,000?
Selling Prices of Australian Butter
Wholesale Selling Price of Sugar
Is he in a positionto give an estimate of the cost of collection of the sales tax?
What was the amount of federal income tax collected in each State from building societies in respect of each of the financialyears 1923-23 to 1930-31, inclusive?
Unemployment Relief Grant
Enrolment of Electors
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 22 September 1932, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1932/19320922_reps_13_135/>.