8th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. T. Givens) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
Extension of Facilities
asked the Leader of the Government in the Senate, upon notice -
In view of the declared policy of the Government to encourage tbe primary industries of thu Commonwealth, will the Government extend greater facilities and privileges in connexion with mail, telegraph, and telephone services to that section of the community than they at present enjoy?
– The PostmasterGeneral has already taken steps with the view of affording better conditions in connexion with the establishment of the services referred to.
– I move -
That this Bill be now read, a second time.
Honorable senators are no doubt aware that lo additional expenditure is authorized by either this Bill or the War Pensions Appropriation Bill next on the businesspaper. The expenditure with which they deal has already been authorized by Parliament. The purpose of these measures is to enable certain moneys in the Treasury to be paid into Trust Funds for the payment of these pensions. The moneys to be appropriated under this Bill are to be paid to the credit of a Trust Fund established under the Audit Act. The moneys are paid to this Trust Fund from revenue, and no moneys can be drawn from the fund except for the purposes of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act. Appropriations such as that provided for in this Bill have already been made by various Acts, the total amount appropriated to date being £31,250,000. Of this amount, £10,000,090 was appropriated by the Act No. 19 of 1917. “These appropriations are now almost exhausted, and are not sufficient to provide for invalid and old-age pensions which fall due next month. The total estimated payments to invalid and old-age pensioners from the inception of the Commonwealth invalid and old-age pensions system to the 30th June next are £31,562,000.
The appropriation of the large amount of £10,000,000 is sought, because when there is any balance in the Consolidated Revenue Fund at the end of the year, it is the practice to appropriate the balance for payment to the ‘ Trust Fund for invalid and old-age pensions. This practice is followed because of the provisions of the Surplus Revenue Act of 1910. Section 4 of that Act provides for the payment by the Commonwealth to the States of an annual sum amounting to 25s. per head of the number of the people of the States. Section 6 of the Act provides that, in addition to the payments referred to in section 4, the Treasurer shall pay to the several States, in proportion to the number of their people, all surplus revenue, if any, in his hands at the close of each financial year. In practice, however, the States do not receive any payment under section 6, as any balances in the Consolidated Revenue Fund are appropriated for payment to the Trust Fund for invalid and old-age pensions or to the Trust Fund for the payment of war pensions
– I think this is an opportune time to again bring under the notice of the Government the need for a very desirable extension of the invalid pensions. If the course I suggest is followed, an opportunity will also b6 afforded for the furtherance of the Government policy of increased production for Australia. Senator Newland and I, with the concurrence and pleasure of nearly every member of the Senate, received at the end of the last Parliament a practical promise that earnest consideration would be given to the request that the Government should allow blind pensioners in the different institutions for the blind throughout Australia to increase their earnings by their own labour without as a result suffering any deduction of their pensions.
– Pensioners in institutions ?
– Yes. I should like te encourage blind persons to go into these institutions, because I am quite confident that the surroundings, instruction, and organization must do much to make their lives more enjoyable. I have frequently had the opportunity to investigate the instruction and recreation provided by them for the blind, and have been struck by the capacity of persons so afflicted to enjoy life. Under the existing law, if a blind pensioner employed in mat-making, broom-making, or any of the different industries which the blind undertake and carry on so efficiently in these institutions, earns an amount equal to the maximum pension allowed by the law, he receives no assistance whatever from the State by way of a pension.
– The pension disappears on a sliding scale according to the pensioner’s earnings.
– Yes, that is so. I think that the Government might very well undertake the comparatively small additional expenditure which would be necessary to exempt blind pensioners from the operation of this restriction. To apply this principle to invalid pensioners generally might lead to considerable embarrassment and trouble, as some persons might be guilty of malingering whilst suffering apparently from some invalidity which it would be very difficult to diagnose. Where a man has lost his sight there is no difficulty whatever in deciding his invalidity on that account. If these men can, by hard study, industry, and practice, become producers, they should be encouraged to do so.
– The present Act discourages them.
– Yes, because, unless they go slow, they may suffer a penalty by the reduction of their pensions. I should like this Bill to be returned to the House of Representatives, with a request that the . appropriation of £10,000,000 for which it provides should be increased by an amount sufficient to give effect to this very desirable reform. I do not wish to move in that direction, as I prefer that the Minister in charge of the Bill’ (Senator Millen) should, on behalf of his colleagues, give a definite promise that this ].after will be immediately attended to. I have referred to the subject in the Senate on many occasions, and yesterday I received the last answer to questions I have put on the matter, to the effect that it was still under the consideration of the Government. The additional expenditure involved in conceding what I ask is so small that the Government might definitely say that, if they are not willing to give an unlimited opportunity to these men to earn money by their labours, they will, at least, make legislative provision to enable them to earn up to £3 per week without any deduction of pension. I should, of course, much prefer that the present embargo upon the industry of the blind should be altogether removed. I rely upon the Minister to make a promise to the Senate in connexion with this Bill that the matter to which I have referred will be favorably dealt with.
– I also have been interested in the matter referred to by Senator Earle. I have noticed with a great deal of satisfaction the action he has taken, and the replies he has from time- to time received from the Government. I was under the impression that early action would be taken to introduce some provision differentiating the- case of blind pensioners from that of other persons in receipt of invalid pensions. If this is a proper opportunity for making such an exception in the case of the blind, the Government ought to avail themselves of it. I noted that the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) was careful in his second-rea’ding speech to confine his remarks to the character of this Bill as an Appropriation Bill. I understood from him that in some cases it is possible, and perhaps it has been the experience of the Government, that after an appropriation has been authorized there has been a surplus, and to prevent that going back to the States under the provision of section 6 of the Surplus Revenue Act of 1910 further Commonwealth appropriations have been made. I do not know whether the Minister anticipates that the amount of £10,000,000 proposed to be appropriated by thi3 measure will more than cover the actual requirements of the Old-age and Invalid Pensions Act.
– Perhaps the honorable senator might be able1 to say whether, out of the surplus he anticipates from this appropriation, it would be possible for the Government by regulation under the principal Act, or otherwise, to make some such provision as Senator Earle has asked for, and exempt the blind from the operation of the sliding scale of reduction of their pensions according to earnings which now applies to them.
– My impression is that it would require an amendment of the Old-age and Invalid Pensions Act.
– I suppose the Act would speak for itself, but I have not a copy of it before me. If it provides for this sliding scale it is obvious that it will be necessary to amend it in order to meet the case of blind pensioners. I trust that the Government will, in the circumstances, at some very early opportunity, introduce the necessary amending legislation, so that the peculiar, call of the blind upon the generosity of the community may be met from the amount to be appropriated by this Bill. I do not know that to send this Bill back to another place, in order that the Government may obtain a further message recommending an addition to the £10,000,000 appropriation ‘ proposed, would meet the case.
– The sole effect of this Bill is to authorize the taking of any surplus there may be at the end of the year from the Consolidated Revenue, and the putting of it into a trust fund.
– If it is estimated that the surplus would meet the extended obligation indicated by Senator Earle, perhaps the Government could make early provision, by means of amending legislation, which would appropriate so much additional of that surplus as is required to make this concession to the blind. Ministers will find all round the Senate, and possibly elsewhere, hearty support for differential provisions for the blind in this regard. It is inequitable to impose a tax upon the in- dustry of these people, because that is what the present arrangement really means. ‘
– And we have increased the pensions to blind soldiers to £4 per week.
– A differentiation has been made in that case.
– Whilst giving the blind an increased pension, the new Repatriation Bill gives corresponding increases to men suffering from serious forms of other incapacity.
– But in this case, as Senator Earle pointed out, the blind in many instances go into’ institutions, and whilst there pass their time, to some extent, in. turning out various articles. If by applying themselves to industry in that way they get certain earnings, their pension is correspondingly diminished; and all ‘that Senator Earle seeks is an assurance that their industry shall not stand against them so far as the receipt of pension is concerned. That, I think, is a very fair proposition.
– There must be some limit. I am not now arguing whether the present limit is right or not, but without some limit a man might be earning quite a considerable income and still draw the pension.
– I recognise that there must be’ some limit, but it will be found in the administration of the Act that there are blind persons who, if they did nothing at all, would receive the full pension, but who, by reason of the fact that they are industrious and earning a few shillings a week, find their pension proportionately diminished. Provision should be made to meet those cases. If the surplus warrants it, in the opinion of the Government, I think the Government will be well advised, not only to give favorable consideration to the representations made here so often, but to bring down, as soon as possible, a measure to amend the principal Act, in order to utilize the surplus of this £10,000,000. I believe that such a Bill would go through both Houses practically without discussion.
– I need hardly assure the two honorable senators who have spoken that in common with the rest of the community, my sympathies are naturally with men who have been so sorely stricken as to lose their sight, but they cannot expect me, in a matter which involves Government policy, to give a definite answer to the representations they have made, other than to say that I will put them before the Government; and I think I can also say that these matters will be considered in the preparation of the Estimates for the new financial year. Beyond that, let me point out one general fact which it is as well that the community should begin, to recognise. There are a hundredandone things that we would like to do, and the justice of which it is difficult to dispute, but we must not forget that we are face to face with a considerable measure of increased taxation. Whether we like it or not, as the result of our commitments we have growing burdens. For instance, on the war gratuity there is an interest bill to meet next year. A considerably increased burden will also be thrown upon the taxpayers because of the decisions of the Arbitration Court, and there are many other unavoidable increases of expenditure to which the country is committed. There is only one way in which such demands can be met, and that is by increased taxation. It is as well to bear this in mind when we are prone to respond to the promptings of our hearts in making concessions of this character. I desire honorable senators to recognise that the Government are charged with the responsibility, whilst listening to appeals of this character, of balancing the national ledger.
– But if all these men “went slow,” it would not affect them at all.
– That is quite right, and it is very difficult to find answers to all these things, but whilst there may be hundreds of concessions which we should like to make, we have still to consider how far we can provide the necessary funds. I shall not only personally inform my colleagues of what has been said here to-day, but I shall see that the Hansard report of the speeches of the two honorable senators who have spoken is placed before each Minister.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 (Appropriation of £10,000,000 for invalid and old-age pensions).
– We all recognise with the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) and the Government the very strenuous condition of the finances, and in any matter where it is necessary to conserve the revenue I personally, and, I am sure, the majority of honorable senators, are in sympathy with and behind the Government, but the expenditure necessary to give effect to the suggestion I have made is very small. There is no question that the vast majority of blind pensioners are not working up to their fullest capacity, simply because, if they do so, they lose their pension. They recognise that they might just as well go easy and keep within the limit. Consequently an amendment of the Act to allow them to work to their fullest capacity will not incraese the financial burden upon Australia to any appreciable extent.
– We cannot make any alteration here.
– No, but I want something definite from the Government. The Minister has given us a definite promise that the matter will be fully brought before the Cabinet for immediate consideration. We cannot ask for more than that, but I wish to point out to the Cabinet, through the Minister, the incontrovertible fact that the increased expenditure on this proposition would be very small, because a considerable advantage would- he gained through the greater production of necessaries in the shape of the goods which are made in the different blind institutions. I am not particular if the Government allow these men to earn £3 a week from personal exertion. I think that would be a wise step. I do not want wealthy blind men to receive the pension, but I should like to see unrestricted opportunities to extend their operations given to those blind persons who are earning additional income by their own. personal exertions. If the Government could do that, so much the better, but if they can only extend the limit from the present figure of £62 up to, say, £150 or even £200 a year, it will be a boon which the blind pensioners will very much appreciate.
– It will be within the recollection of honorable senators that a few weeks ago I put the case of a blind man from an institution in South Australia. Since then, I have had communications from practically every blind institution on this matter. In fact, I have quits a considerable amount of correspondence.
– You brought it on yourself.
– I am glad I did, because I recognise, as I am sure the Minister does, that this is a very deserving case. It is very hard when blind men who are careful and frugal are called upon to repay to the Pensions Office moneys which the Department alleges have been overpaid to them. That is the sort of case in which no Administration would get any sympathy. It is impossible to make any alteration of the scale of pensions in this Bill, but I am glad that the Minister has promised to put the whole matter before Cabinet. During the last week or ten days, I have been endeavouring to arrange for a deputation to wait upon the Acting Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) in order that this matter might he very fully brought under his notice. If the Minister for Repatriation does as he has promised - and I have no doubt he will - it may not be necessary for us to wait on the Acting Treasurer in the way that we intended, in order to bring under his notice the facts that we have gathered from various institutions, and to impress upon him the need for liberalizing the pension. The blind are in a different position from other invalid pensioners. As a rule, they are young and vigorous, and want a good many of the comforts and conveniences that people with sight want. Under the limited pension arrangement now in force, they cannot get them. A very strong point is the fact that because their pensions are reduced their energy and determination to work and earn more is crippled. They recognise that it is of no use to work and turn out more goods, if they are in institutions - because so soon as they do their pension is reduced proportionately. I accept the Minister’s assurance that early steps will be taken to reconsider the matter, because these blind men are looking to this Parliament very anxiously indeed to do something to improve their conditions.
– Have not some of them dependants?
– Some of them have quite large families, but in those cases they are allowed a slightly increased pension. Still, the fact remains that their pensions are reduced in proportion to their earnings. I hope that, as the result of Cabinet consideration, something will be done to relieve the very difficult position in which these blind persons find themselves.
– I can understand the Minister’s position, and sympathize with it. At the same time, the case of the blind pensioner needs to be put before the Government upon these lines. The wants of an oldage pensioner are very much more limited than those of a blind man. The latter may be either a young man or a man of middle age. If he be a married man he has to shoulder all the responsibility which attaches to the ordinary citizen who is possessed of his sight, and, in addition, ho is penalized should he succeed in earning more than a very limited income. To my. mind, it is very desirable that we should encourage blind people to speed up rather than to go slow. I would further remind the Committee that a blind man who is single has a considerable advantage over a blind man who is married, inasmuch as he can earn up to the maximum sum allowed, without suffering any deduction from his pension, and the combined amount is sufficient to maintain ‘him, though it is not sufficient to maintain the married man. Consequently we ought to provide that blind married men shall be granted additional assistance to enable them to meet the needs of their families. It is not advisable to impose upon this class of pensioner a condition which will retard production. The Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) has expressed his entire sympathy with the suggestion which has been put forward this morning, but has stressed the fact that we cannot always yield .to the promptings of out hearts, because of the financial obliga-tions which would thereby be incurred. That is not a new argument by any means. It has been put forward whenever any appeal of this character has been made. I have no- doubt that the cry will be repeated by the Minister so long as he occupies the Treasury bench.
Clause agreed to.
Preamble and title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
– I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
To all intents and purposes this measure has a similar object to that which we have just passed, the only difference between them being that under this Bill any surplus revenue will go into the Trust Fun(]1 far the payment of war pensions, whereas under the previous measure any surplus will bo paid to the credit of oM-age and invalid pensions. I do not think that I need say any more than that.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from Committee without amendment; report adopted.
– I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
In doing so I desire to point out that the local sugar crop for 1919 was insufficient to wholly provide for the Australian consumption, and it therefore became necessary to import considerable quantities of foreign sugar. Owing to the world’s price for sugar having reached an abnormally high figure, the foreign purchases will Tesult in a considerable loss. It is estimated that the loss involved to meet the local demands until the 1920 local crop is available will be £718,000.’ To this must be added tHe cost of reconditioning sugar damaged by the 1918 cyclones, which will bo about £220,000, leaving an estimated deficit on the sugar business of £938,000. The future sugar control has been so arranged as to leave a small margin, which will be applied to liquidate the deficit referred to. In the meantime, the Treasury, acting under powers conferred by the Sugar Purchase Act 1915-17, has undertaken to finance the overdraft. The Sugar Purchase Act, as it now stands, limits the amount of the overdraft which the Treasurer can incur to £500,000, and in order that he may have the power to incur an overdraft up to the amount of the estimated deficit, the amending Bill increases the amount to £1,000,000. This will leave a margin in excess of the estimated deficit on the sugar business, but the overdraft will, of course, not be used to it3 full extent unless circumstances demand it.
Debate (on motion by (Senator Crawford) adjourned.
The following Bills were received from the House of Representatives, and (on motion by Senator Millen) read a first time : -
Supplementary Appropriation Bill 1917-18.
Supplementary Appropriation (Works and Buildings) Bill 1917-18.
Supplementary Appropriation Bill 1018-19.
Supplementary Appropriation (Works and Buildings) Bill 1918-19.
Senate adjourned at 11.45 a.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 7 May 1920, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1920/19200507_senate_8_92/>.