11 March 1920

8th Parliament · 1st Session

The President (Senator the Hon T. Givens) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.

page 289


Old-age and Invalid Pensioners.

Senator MILLEN:
NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1910; LP from 1913; NAT from 1917

. -In view of the position which exists in the other branch of the Legislature, I have no optionbut to move -

That the Senate do now adjourn.

Senator EARLE:

.-‘i take this opportunity to direct the attention of the Government to the way in which the Old-age and Invalid Pensions Act isbeing administered. I fail to see why we should constitute ourselves Neros and continue to fiddle because Rome is burning. This is rather an important question, which may with advantage be brought before the present Government, or the Government which is to be, if such a calamity as the defeat of Ministers should overtake Australia. Sections 15, 16, and 17 of the Old-age and Invalid Pensions Act provide that every man who attains the age of sixty-five years, and every woman who attains the age of sixty years, shall be entitled to the old-age or invalid pension under certain conditions. The present Government, and previous Administrations, have hitherto followed the practice of paying to the various . States a certain sum for the maintenance of pensioners within their borders who are inmates of certain public institutions. I was always under the impression that these inmates themselves received the oldage pension, but had 8s. per week deducted from the same to cover the cost of their maintenance, thus allowing them 2s. weekly as pocket money. I now learn that the Pensions Department, under sections 45 and 47 of the Act, has decided that inmates of these institutions are not entitled to the old-age or invalid pension. Although there is nothing in the Statute itself which compels the Treasury to pay for the maintenance of these old people, past Administrations have consistently recognised this obligation, and I am of opinion that at is quite possible for the Commonwealth Government to look upon the institutions which shelter them in a somewhat different light from that in which it views insane asylums or charitable institutions. I am anxious that these old men and women should achieve that independence to which they are entitled under the provisions of the Act. Many ofus to-day are enjoying privileges which are the result of their enterprise, energies, and labours during past years. Of course, many of them have been improvident, whilst others have been unfortunate. But, in any case, it is the duty of the Government to make the closing years of their lives as happy and independent as possible, whilst exhibiting a sane regard for the finances of Australia. Despite the interpretation which has been placed on the Act by the Government, to the effect that any person who is an inmate of an asylum for the insane or of a charitable institution must cease to be a pensioner, I am of opinion that these men and women can be regarded as pensioners, and that the Commonwealth can allow the States controlling such institutions to deduct a certain sum for their maintenance, whilst giving them a reasonable amount for pocket money.

Senator Fairbairn:

– What additional expenditure would the adoption of that course involve?

Senator EARLE:

– I hardly know-how many old men and women are inmates of these institutions, but I think that the additional money required from the Commonwealth would be a very small amount, because we are now paying to the States for the maintenance of these pensioners an amount which is satisfactory to them, and the pensioners are getting 2s. a week pocket money.

Senator GUTHRIE:

– The amount is not satisfactory to the States.

Senator EARLE:

– The States accept it. These old men and women, knowing that the old-age pension has been increased from 10s. to 15s. a week, are now asking why they are not allowed more than 2s. weekly for pocket money. There is no doubt that many of them would like to be able to put aside a shilling or two per week. Many of them desire to end their existence in a respectable way, and to be accorded a decent funeral.

Senator Barnes:

– They cannot put muchaway now.

Senator EARLE:

– No doubt, the present allowance does not provide them with the necessary pocket money, but. if the latter amount were increased to 4s. or 5s. per week, they enabled to save a little from it. In any case, it would give them a greater feeling of selfreliance than they enjoy to-day. These old people are deserving of the very best that we can do for them. In the nature of things they will not survive very long, and it is desirable that they should be induced to enter these public institutions, where they can be properly disciplined, and where their absolute cleanliness can bo insured. That is not possible when they have to rely upon their own resources. The fact that inmates of such institutions cease to be self-reliant, and are regarded as objects of charity, prevents many high-spirited men and women from entering them. The policy of the Government should be to induce them to enter these institutions by assuring them that they will not thereby become objects of charity, but merely lodgers who will be receiving that reward to which the State considers their services entitle them. I submitthis question for the consideration of the Government, and I am confident that if they are as liberal in their interpretation of the two sections which I have mentioned as they have been in their construction of the Act generally, they will come to the conclusion that inmates of these institutions are entitled to receive the old-age and invalid pensions. Such an interpretation of the Act would certainly conduce to the happiness and welfare of these old people.

Senator PRATTEN:

– I desire to support Senator Earle’s suggestion. In New South Wales there are, perhaps, a couple of thousand of the oldmen and women to whom the honorable senator refers, and the thing nearest their heart is the question of getting a shilling or two a week more. At this, the very earliest opportunity which this new Parliament has had to refer to this increase of the old-age pensions, representations might be made, and action taken by the Government in the direction suggested. Many of these old people have been rightly described as among the pioneers of Australia. They see the decline of their lives in these institutions. A little extra pocket money would be everything in the world to them for such little luxuries as tobacco and papers. A beneficent Parliament has given them the franchise. They have no franchise in State matters, but, so far as national matters are concerned, the vote of these old men and old women is just as weighty and important as that of any one else in the land. By giving them the vote, this Parliament has recognised that they are not in charitable institutions, but still remain citizens. This is a matter that has come immediately under my personal attention on several occasions, and as the present is the first opportunity of supporting the very excellent suggestion made, I do so in the hope and belief that the Government will see that concurrently with the grant of an increase in old-age pensions throughout the Commonwealth, the residents of these institutions are given an increase in pocket money.

Senator MILLEN:
Minister for Repatriation · TASMANIA · NAT; UAP from 1931

– I am sure that honorable senators do not expect me to say more than that I have noted the point which has been raised.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Senate adjourned at 3.14 p.m.

Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 11 March 1920, viewed 22 October 2017, <>.