29 March 1935

14th Parliament · 1st Session

The PRESIDENT (Senator the Eon. P. J. Lynch) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.

page 498


Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE, on behalf of Senator McLachlan, tabled the reports and recommendations of the Tariff Board on the following subjects :-

Agricultural Implements.

Brasswork, Bronzework and Gunmetal Work for General Engineering and Plumbing and other trades; Brass Articles and Articles composed substantially of Brass.

Cresylic Acid.

Electro-Surgical Units for cutting, coagulation and desiccation.

Felt Capelines for Girls’ and Women’s Hats Hats, Berets, Caps and Bonnets. fishbolts; Bolts, Nuts. Rivets and Metal Washers; Screws with Nuts or for use with Nuts; Engineers’ Set Screws; RailDogs or Brobs, Spikes.

Iron and Steel Wire of No. 15 or finer gauge (Imperial Standard Wire Gauge).

Motor Body Panels

Sugar Machinery

Woven Artificial Silk Piece Goods in the grey and sized.

page 499



Senator BADMAN:

asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -

What was the cost of construction of the Commonwealth Bank premises in each of the following cities: - Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Hobart?


– The Acting Treasurer has supplied the following answer : -

The question has been referred to the Commonwealth Bank, and a reply will be furnished as early as possible.

page 499



Senator SAMPSON:

asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -

  1. What is the position with regard to the preparation of. the site of the proposed aerodrome in the vicinity of Cambridge, Tasmania?
  2. Are his expert officers quite satisfied as to the suitability of the terrain?
  3. If so, when does the department anticipate that the aerodrome will be open for traffic?

The Minister for Defence has supplied the following answer : -

The information will be obtained, and a reply furnished to the honorable senator as early as possible.

page 499



Kelso Station

Senator SAMPSON:

asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -

Is the Minister in a position to say when the radio station at Kelso, Tasmania, will commence broadcasting?

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.The Postmaster General has supplied the following answer:

No; it is not yet possible to say when broadcasting will ‘commence, but the work of installation and testing is proceeding satisfactorily.

page 499


SenatorE. B. JOHNSTON (through Senator Badman) asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -

What is the position in regard to the Wyndham-Ord River air service?

When will the service be resumed ?

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.The Minister for Defence has supplied the following answer : -

The information will be obtained, and a reply furnished to the honorable senator as soon as possible.

page 499


Motions (by Senator Foll) agreed to -

That one month’s leave of absence be granted to Senator Guthrie on account of ill health.

That one month’s leave of absence be granted to Senator ‘Cox on account of hie absence overseas.

page 499


The following bills were read a third time : -

Loan Appropriation (Unemployment Relief) Bill 1035.

Dried Fruits Export Control Bill 1935.

Canned Fruits Export Control Bill 1935.

Dried Fruits Bill 1935.

page 499


Bill received from the House of Representatives and (on motion by Senator. Sir George Pearce) read a first time.

page 499


Bill received from the House of Repre sentatives and (on motion . by Senator Sir George Pearce) read a first time.

page 499


Bill received from the House of

Representatives, and (on motion by Senator Sir George Pearce) read a first time.

page 499


Report adopted.

page 499


Second Reading

Minister for External Affairs · Western Australia · UAP

[11.12].- I move-

That the bill be now read a second time.

It is probably within the recollection of honorable senators that, in June last, the Government decided that it would ask Parliament to repeal those provisions in the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act which required certain specified relatives to contribute towards the cost of pension, if they were in a position to do so. At the same time instructions were issued that all action under those provisions should be suspended, and such action would subsequently be validated by Parliament. Legislation to give effect to the Government’s decision was introduced in another place in July, 1934, but, owing to the pressure of more important business, it was not possible to pass the measure before Parliament adjourned in December last. The earliest opportunity has been taken to re-submit the matter to Parliament, and., at the risk of repetition, it would perhaps be advisable, to recount the circumstances that led to the inclusion of this requirement in the law, and the reasons that prompted the Government’s decision to repeal the provision.

The right honorable the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), in his speech on the Financial Emergency Bill, of 1932, pointed out that it was common knowledge that there were cases where relatives of pensioners who have a moral obligation at least to contribute towards the maintenance of the pensioners, and who were in a position to do so, were content to allow the cost of such maintenance to fall on the State. In the endeavour to correct this position, it was not at any time intended to place a burden on those relatives who might be described as being in ordinary circumstances, or who were already called upon to meet special responsibilities. The amendment of the law in 1932 was designed to relieve the Commonwealth, revenue of at least a portion of the burden of the pension in cases where it was equitable that the relatives of pensioners who were in more affluent circumstances should bear at least a portion of the cost of the pensioners’ maintenance. In determining, therefore, whether the relative was in a position to contribute towards the cost of a pension liberal deductions from income were made. In the case of a married relative an exemption of £312 per annum was made for husband and wife, and a further allowance of £50 for each child. An allowance of £208 per annum was made in respect of a single or widowed relative. In addition, special exemptions, such as the cost of the education of children, assistance to relatives out of employment, medical expenses, interest and repayment of mortgage, were taken into account.

In administering this legislation pressure of work occasioned by other amendments of the law rendered it necessary at the inception to confine attention to pensions granted after , the 12th October, 1932. In March, 1934, however, the provisions of the act were applied to pensions which were already in force at the 12th October, 1932. The operation of this provision was at all times closely watched by the Government. Experience showed that, owing to the liberal exemptions allowed, only a small percentage of relatives were in a position to contribute towards the cost of pensions. The investigation of the circumstances of relatives of pensioners resulted in contributions being obtained of an annual value of £6,698, the amount actually received up to the 21st June, 1934 - the date on which the operation of the section was suspended - being £2,4S6. It was clear that the reduction of pensions expenditure due to this provision was not sufficient to compensate for the difficulty and cost of administration, and it was that fact that prompted the Government to repeal the law.

The Government has taken the opportunity afforded by the recess to review the whole of the Invalid and Oldage Pensions law, and it particularly examined the effect of what are popularly, or perhaps, unpopularly known as “ the property provisions “ which were incorporated in it by the Financial Emergency Act 1932. Briefly, these provisions made the pension paid after the 12th October, 1932, a debt due to the Commonwealth. At the death of a pensioner the debt became a charge on his estate in priority to all other debts, excepting certain specified encumbrances. All pensioners and claimants were required to furnish the “ white card “ undertaking that they would not transfer or mortgage their real property without the consent of the Commissioner of Pensions. When these property provisions were introduced it was not thought that the main benefit to the budget would arise from the amount received from the estates of deceased pensioners or the amounts, contributed by relatives. It was known that there were pensioners and claimants who, although eligible for a pension, were not actually in need of it, and it was thought that the provisions would act as a deterrent, both to pensioners and claimants. That this belief was well founded is demonstrated by the fact that before the “ white card “ undertaking was repealed the voluntary surrenders of pensions were in excess of 12,000 and the claims for pensions had diminished by 13,000. A comparison of the increase in the pensions roll in the last few years is also illuminating. In 1929-30 the number of pensioners increased by 141,000, in 1930-31 by 22,000, and in 1931-32 by 15,000. In 1932-33, the first year in which the property provisions operated, the number of pensioners decreased by 6,400. That is the only year since the establishment of the system of invalid and old-age pensions in 1909 in which the number of pensioners has not increased. Section 52e of the act, which contained the chief property provision, was amended in December, 1933. The amount of pension paid after the 31st December, 1932, continued as a debt due to the Commonwealth, recoverable out of the estate of the deceased pensioner; but the debt was not made a charge on the property of a pensioner, as previously. The Commonwealth debt was given no priority over the other debts, and liabilities of the pensioner, and liberal exemptions were provided. The “ white card “ undertaking became unnecessary, and the pensioners were free to deal in their real property as they wished. The only obligation placed on the pensioner was to advise the department of any transfer or mortgage of real property. That the “ white card “ undertaking was a deterrent was again amply demonstrated. Whereas the pension roll contracted when the obligation to furnish the undertaking was imposed, it swelled again when that obligation was removed. Although the law was not actually amended until December, 1933, the intentions of the Government were known, or at least, guessed, in the previous October, and there was an immediate increase of the number of pensions. During the four months ended the 31st October, 1933, the number of pensioners “increased by 603; in the following four months the increase was 4,375, and for the four months ended the 30th June, 1934, the increase was 6,534. Thus, the increase in the pensions roll for the year 1933-34 was 11,512, compared with a decrease of 6,442 in the previous year, a difference of 17,954, involving an additional annual charge of about £750,000 on the budget.When the then Attorney-General, the Right Honorable J. G. Latham, introduced the amending bill in 1933 he stated that the legislation would almost certainly lead to a considerable increase of the pensions expenditure. It will be seen that Mr. Latham was guilty of no flight of imagination, when, on being pressed, he stated that at least £650,000 a year was involved.

It having been abundantly proved that the deterrent effect of the Financial Emergency Act 1932 had disappeared with the subsequent amendments of the law, the only benefit to be derived from the remaining provisions consisted of the amount which could be recovered from the estates of deceased pensioners. The position was then carefully examined from that angle. Statistics have been collated, covering 177,000 pensioners, and it is found that approximately 70 per cent, of the pensioners, most of whom are drawing the maximum pension, naveno estate from which the debt due to the Commonwealth can be recovered. The circumstances of the remaining 30 per cent, are as follows: -

It will be seen from these figures that the field from which the amount of pension paid can be recovered is very limited. This narrow field is still further reduced by the priority given to the other debts and liabilities of the pensioners, and by the liberal exemptions allowed by the law. The following property is exempt from the provisions of the act: -

Personal effects up to £50 in value.

Property which passes under the will of the pensioner to a relative, who is a pensioner or is in necessitous circumstances, or was residing as a member of the family in a home owned by a pensioner.

Friendly society benefits to the extent to which they exceed the funeral expenses.

As these benefits are not included in the value of the pensioner’s property, just quoted, and as funeral expenses, in common with other liabilities of the pensioner’s estate, have priority over the Commonwealth debt, they do not enter into the present considerations. In addition to these specific exemptions, power is given to the Commissioner to exempt, either wholly or in part, any property which, on the death of the pensioner, passes to a person . who would suffer undue hardship if the application of the provisions of the law were applied to that property.

In the earlier stages of the administration of the property provisions comparatively little difficulty was experienced in collecting the debt due to the Commonwealth. The position- has now entirely changed with the growth of the debt. Where, two years ago, or even one year ago, the payment of the debt would not have caused undue hardship to the beneficiaries, the applications for relief on those grounds are now becoming more insistent. It is in these circumstances that the Government has decided to repeal section 52e of the act, and provision has been made accordingly in the hill.

I have now dealt with the repeal of section 52m, which deals with contributions from the relatives of a pensioner towards the cost of the pension, and with section 52e, which makes the amount of pension paid after the 31st December, 1932, a debt due to the Commonwealth recoverable from the estate of the deceased pensioner. It will also be necessary to repeal the other sections introduced into the act in 1932, and which are really complementary to section 52e. These are -

Sections17fa, which deals with oldage pensions, and 22ga, in relation to invalid pensions, which provide that if a claimant has, within a period of five years, transferred, otherwise . than bona fide for value, property in excess of £100 in value, he shall not be eligible for a pension. These cases will be dealt with in the future under the original sections 17f and 22g respectively. If a claimant has transferred property otherwise than bona fide for value, he will not be disentitled to a pension, but he will be placed in exactly the same position as if he had not so transferred his property. The value of the property will be maintained against him and the rate of pension assessed accordingly.

Section 52a, which requires pensioners and claimants to furnish particulars of real property owned by them, and relating to their relatives, being husband, wife, father, mother or children.

Section 52c, which provides that where a pensioner becomes the owner of property exceeding £400 in value - or £800 where both husband and wife are pensioners - he shall repay the amount of pension paid since the 31st December, 1932, to the extent by which the value of the property exceeds £400, or £800 in the case of husband and wife who are both pensioners.

Section 52d, which requires pensioners who transfer or mortgage land to give notice of the transaction to the department.

Section 52f, which provides that contributions made by relatives under section 52 m shall be deducted from the amount recoverable by the Commonwealth under section 52c.

It will also be necessary to amend section 52k. This section provides that where a pensioner’s home is destroyed by fire, the Commissioner may consent to the insurance money being used for the purpose of building another home, and thereupon section 52c shall not apply, nor shall the rate of pension be reduced by reason of the receipt or ownership of those moneys. This provision is a concession to the pensioners and should be retained. It will be necessary, however, to omit the reference to section 52c.

Of the amendments made in 1932 there are only two other sections which will remain, namely: -

Section 52b, which requires a pensioner to advise the department whenever he acquires property or receives income which affects the amount of pension payable to him. Section 52ga, which empowers the Commonwealth toaccept a transfer from a pensioner or a claimant of any unencumbered property or of any interest under a will. The value of any such property or interest shall not be taken into account in determining the amount of pension. Section 52gb, which provides machinery for giving effect to section 52ga.

It is provided in the bill that all debts due to the Commonwealth under any of the sections to be repealed, and unpaid at the date of the commencement of the amending act shall cease to exist. Beyond this, the Government is not prepared to make the repeal retrospective, or by any other means to refund any amount already paid to the Commonwealth under the provisions of sections 52c or 52e of the act.

Senator BARNES:

– I have no desire to delay the passage of this measure by asking for the adjournment of the debate, because, like ‘all other honorable senators, I am glad that the Government has at last made up its mind to repeal the obnoxious provisions of the amending legislation which was introduced in 1932. At that time we on this side predicted that the net result to the Treasury would be slight indeed. The speech by the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) to-day shows clearly that that prediction has been fulfilled. Perhaps the most irritating provision of the legislation now about to be repealed was that which required the relatives of pensioners to subscribe to their support. The Opposition pointed out at the time that even if a man were in practically continuous employment, and appeared to be in fairly comfortable circumstances, it might not be possible for him to make any contribution to the upkeep of an aged relative. Owing to the depression many relatives who formerly were in a position to contribute to the support of pensioners now find themselves unable to do so, and in some cases their plight is as bad ‘as that of the unemployed. I am sorry that the Government has not thought fit to go a step further and make refunds to pensioners who have had a portion or the whole of their pensions stopped as the result of the operation of these sections of the act. The Leader of the Government has told us that the amounts collected under the provisions which it is now proposed to repeal have been very small and have had no effect upon the budgetary position of the Commonwealth. Perhaps it is for this reason that the Government now desires to appear magnanimous.

Senator BROWN:

– Honorable senators on this side are pleased that the Government has at last recognized the justice of the protests of the Labour movement against the iniquity of certain sections of the pensions act. At the time these provisions were inserted in the act honorable senators on this side classed them as politically damnable, morally indefensible and socially cruel. That our criticism was justified has been made manifest.We have been ‘closely in touch with pensioners and have seen how severely they suffered as a result of the operation of these . iniquitous sections. The Leader of the Government has spoken of the number of people who have surrendered pensions to which they were not entitled because their relatives were well off, and able to maintain them ; but I remind the right honorable senator that included in the number are hundreds who were induced to take this action because of a fear that under the amended property provisions their properties might be confiscated after their death. Many pensioners have approached me asking whether in the circumstances they should give up their pension and whether, in the event of a change of government, their properties would be safeguarded. In all cases they were advised to cling to their pensions, but, despite that advice, large numbers of them surrendered them sooner than take the risk of having their properties confiscated. The bill now before the Senate clearly shows that we were right in our attack on the Government of the day when these sections were first inserted in the ‘act. The Leader of the Government has told us that under them only a few paltry pounds were collected from the relatives of pensioners, and it is possible that this may be one of the reasons for their repeal. At the time this iniquitous legislation was placed upon the statute book the Government claimed that it was necessary because of the unfortunate position of the finances of the country. I well remember hearing Senator Sir Massy-Greene paint a verydoleful picture of what would happen to Australia if the drift in our financial position were not checked. Yet honorable senators apposite must have known then that the financial position did not warrant such action against the oldage .pensioners of this country, because a few months ‘after these sections were incorporated in the act, the Government produced a surplus. At last tardy justice is to be done to the pensioners, and we on this side flatter ourselves that the Government has been influenced by the just criticism of Labour senators. This bill, however, does not remove all the disabilities which old-age pensioners suffer and honorable senators on this side will continue in the future as in the past to bring their grievances before the Senate.

I desire to bring under the notice of the Senate the case of an old-age pensioner, a resident of Maryborough, Queensland, who has tried time and again to get a pension, but has been refused it on the ground that he sold to his son for £400 a property which the Deputy Commissioner considers should have brought more. Today that man is destitute. The proceeds of the sale of the property have been expended partly in the purchase of a house and partly in medical expenses owing to the sickness of the applicant and his wife. From what I have gleaned from the remarks of the Leader of the Senate, it seems that there is some hope that this man, who has suffered great injustice in the past will, in future, be able to draw at least a part pension.

I am sure that no honorable senators would in any way condone the offence of drunkenness. We all agree that men are fools who, as Shakespeare has it, “put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains.” It is unfortunately true that some pensioners do take too much drink; but we must remember that an old man becomes intoxicated after having consumed a very small quantity of liquor compared with what he may have been able to take in his youth. If a. pensioner is so unfortunate as to be convicted of drunkenness his pension is stopped for periods up to twelve months. But why is this applied only to old-age pensioners? We have many State pensioners who are drawing pensions up to £1,000 per annum. No question is raised as to whether or not they spend their money on champagne and get drunk; but should an old age pensioner overstep the mark the Deputy Commissioner penalizes him in some cases to the extent of one year’s pension, amounting to over £40. Take the case of two men convicted for drunkenness; one man is 65 years of age and is not a pensioner and the other a pensioner 65 years ‘of age. In each case the man is taken before the magistrate and fined £1. But the pensioner in addition to being fined £1 may also be fined by the Deputy Commissioner a sum equivalent to one year’s pension. lt is grossly unfair that such an extreme penalty should lie imposed upon those unfortunate individuals who, through lack of self control, allow themselves to be overcome by the effect of spirituous liquors.

Another case is that of a man whose pension after being stopped was only partially restored to him. He wrote to the Pensions Department inquiring why only a partial pension was paid, and saying that he had been sufficiently penalized by the complete loss of the pension for a number of months. The Deputy Commissioner replied that, in his opinion, 12s. 6d. a week was sufficient for his maintenance. Thus, in addition to the loss of the pension for several months, a further penalty was imposed upon this man. Here in this chamber we have the spectacle of Senator Rae again sitting amongst us after having been suspended from the sitting of the Senate for an offence committed yesterday. He has paid the penalty, and atoned for his offence, and is now free to take part in the delates in this Senate. That is quite right. When a man has offended, and has paid the penalty, that should be an end to the matter. But, so far as the old-age pensioner is concerned, lie may be brought to court on a charge of drunkenness and, after having paid the usual fine for what, after all, is a petty offence, he is mulcted by the Deputy Commissioner in a fine forty times as great as that imposed by the court.

Senator Duncan-Hughes:

– If an honorable senator commits a second offence in the same session, a heavier penalty is inflicted in respect of the second offence.

Senator BROWN:

– The point I am making is that Senator Rae was suspended yesterday, has paid his penalty, and to-day is again sitting amongst us. He has not been kept waiting on the doorstep.

The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. P. J. Lynch). - The honorable senator is not in order in reflecting upon or referring to a previous vote of the Senate.

Senator BROWN:

– I thought I should be in order, Mr. President, in citing the case of a senator who had been ejected from this chamber. I suppose it would be in order for me to cite a case of the kind which took place some years ago.


– The past is dead.

Senator BROWN:

– Then we shall let the dead past bury its dead. In ordinary practice, a criminal or any one who commits a misdemeanour is haled before the court and fined or sent to gaol. Having paid the penalty, he is once again free. The pensioner, however, is fined not only by the magistrate, but also by the Deputy Commissioner.

Senator Brennan:

– The position of the pensioner is analogous to that of a man who embezzles money. He is sent to gaol, and, in addition, he loses his billet.

Senator BROWN:

– Not always. The honorable senator seems to miss my point. I am citing the case of two men - a pensioner and non-pensioner - who are both convicted of the same offence. They are taken before the court and fined a similar amount, but the unfortunate pensioner has then to face an additional penalty imposed by the Deputy Commissioner.

Senator Brennan:

– But, as a result of his offence, the non-pensioner may have lost a billet worth far more than £40.

Senator BROWN:

– That is so. . He may possibly lose his billet; but, in the case of the pensioner, he certainly loses his pension. I again congratulate the Government on its apparent desire to be reasonable in dealing with the old-age pensioners. I am sorry that it ever placed upon them the hardship which was inflicted by the property provisions of the act, for it caused intense misery in many homes. I hope that, in future, the Government will not slip from grace in this respect, but will continue to treat the pensioners fairly.

Senator BAE (New South Wales) “1.1. 46]. - prise to bring under the notice of the Senate the economic aspect of the double penalty inflicted upon pensioners convicted of drunkenness. We have heard a good deal about the severity of the punishment of suspending the pension for, perhaps, twelve months; but I point out that, owing to our excise laws, pensioners who occasionally lapse into intemperate habits contribute a considerable sum to the revenues of this country. Consequently, no matter how much we may deplore lapses of this kind, these pensioners pay back into the revenue a good deal more than do ordinary individuals. Personally, I do not take strong drink, and I do not excuse drunkenness.

Senator Reid:

– Does the honorable senator advocate that a refund of revenue should be made to the pensioners, who are occasionally inebriated ?

Senator Foll:

– Perhaps it would be fairer to reduce the excise duty in their cases.

Senator RAE:

– I desire to do nothing to encourage the drinking habit. But, once an old-age pensioner has fallen into intemperate habits, he is not from an economic point of view so great a charge upon the State as is the average pensioner. When an ordinary member of the community is fined for drunkenness, he is not in danger, like the old-age. pensioner, of losing his income on which he relies for his bare existence. The suspension of the pension means an enormous penalty tothese old people.

Senator Sir George Pearce:

– It is suspended for six months.

Senator RAE:

– I have known cases in which persons have been deprived of the pension for twelve months.

Senator Sir George Pearce:

– There would then have been two offences.

Senator RAE:

– Of course, increased penalties are imposed for additional offences, and that seems to be unjust. If a man gets drunk and is fined £1, he is supposed to have wiped out the offence; but, if he again lapses into intemperance, why should he be fined £2 on the second occasion? It is next to murder, in some cases, to deprive these elderly folk of their pensions because of occasional lapses. .

Senator Sir George Pearce:

– In every State provision is made for indigent elderly folk, and they are often persons who cannot look after themselves.

Senator RAE:

– Steps should be taken to provide another method of dealing with those who repeatedly lapse into intemperance.

Senator Sir George Pearce:

– Habitual drunkenness shows lack of selfcontrol, and inability to use the pension for its proper purpose.

Senator RAE:

– I admit that; but if a man is proved to be destitute of selfcontrol, provision should be made by which the money could be handed over to some person who would act as his trustee. I am glad that the alterations of the law to be made under this bill have been proposed. Some day, perhaps, it will be recognized that the pension should be given irrespective of any property held by a pensioner. While this would increase the total expenditure on pensions, it would avoid many of the complications which now arise in administering the act.


– I also welcome the proposed return to the former position in regard to old-age pensions. If pensioners occasionally take ardent spirits it should be remembered that brandy and whisky are often valuable for medicinal purposes. It is difficult to say that no pensioner should ever use stimulants. I object to any attempt being made to penalize a pensioner who takes liquor, unless he is incorrigible, and then he should be treated in an institution. The Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) had something to say about the ex-Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) prophesying that if the recent amendments of the Pensions Act were repealed an increase would occur in the total expenditure on pensions. That is only natural. Mr. Latham might also have said, when he submitted those amendments, that a considerable number of elderly people would not accept the pension on the ground that they objected to interference with their property rights. I know many cases of persons between the ages of 70 and 90 years who were very worried over the recent amendments of the law, because their sons and daughters, and perhaps other relatives, had helped considerably ‘ to pay for their homes. When they were asked practically to give up their property, and regard any future pension payments as a debt on their homes, they refused any longer to take the pension. Of course, there was a tremendous decrease of the amount expended on pensions, and of the number applied for. No doubt the Government made a grave mistake; it should berealized that this class of legislation is not palatable to Australians. It is generally considered that no political party should countenance such legislation, and I believe that no attempt will be made in future to put such proposals into effect.

I have received a number of complaints about the way in which the present law has operated. It should be realized that men with considerable assets in the way of land could not obtain the paper value of their property if they were forced to sell it in the open market. An old-age pensioner wrote to me pointing out that he had certain commitments to meet for rates and taxes on land, and I told him that I had had some experience of unimproved lands. In Queensland cities and towns - and no doubt the position is similar in other States - small blocks of land which are valued for taxation purposes at, say, £200, would scarcely realize £50 df they were sold to-day. Some of such land is actually unsaleable. Yet the old-age pensioners receive no credit for commitments which they have to meet by way of rates and taxes. When an attempt was made to force relatives to contribute to the pension, they had been hit so badly by the depression that they could not afford to do it, despite their desire to assist the aged pensioners. I regard the recent amendment of the law as an attempt to put the axe to the root of a very valuable principle - the recognition of the need to give indegent aged folk something to depend on in their declining days.

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia - Minister for External Affairs) [12 noon]. - in reply - There is one matter about which, there appears to be some misapprehension, and which [ think I should mention before the bill passes the second reading. I refer to the attitude of the department towards pensioners who may become drunkards. I do not know whether Senator Rae has recently read the act and knows what really happens in such cases. In any event it is desirable that I should read the relevant sections so as to make the position quite clear. They are as follow : -

  1. – (1.) When a pensioner is in any court convicted of drunkenness, or of any offence punishable by imprisonment for not less than one month, then, in addition to any other punishment imposed, the Deputy Commissioner may, by order, forfeit any one or more of the instalments falling due after the date of the conviction. (2.) Where a pensioner is twice within twelve months convicted of any offence punishable by imprisonment for not less than one month, or whore any pensioner is convicted of any offence punishable by imprisonment for twelve months or upwards, then, in lieu of forfeiting any instalment of the pension, the Deputy Commissioner shall, by order, cancel the pension certificate. (3.) In any case where any pension certificate is cancelled by the Deputy Commissioner, the pension shall be deemed to be absolutely forfeited, and the certificate shall be delivered up to the Registrar, and forwarded by him to the Deputy Commissioner.
  2. – (1.) Notwithstanding that a pensioner has not been convicted of drunkenness, a Registrar may, and, if so requested by the Deputy Commissioner, shall, at any time summon any pensioner to appear before a magistrate to show cause why his pension should not be cancelled, reduced, or suspended for a, time on account of his drunken intemperate or disreputable habits; and at the time and place mentioned in the summons the magistrate may, if he thinks fit, recommend to the Deputy Commissioner the cancellation,, reduction, or suspension of the pension. (2.) The Deputy Commissioner shall, if he thinks fit, cancel, reduce, or suspend the pension accordingly.

I have consulted officers of the Pensions Department as to the procedure under these sections, and I am given to understand that on a first conviction the pensioner is warned by the Registrar that, if he does not mend his ways action will have to be taken. When a pensioner has been twice convicted within twelve months his pension is cancelled. I would, however, impress upon honorable senators that no person so offending is dealt with in an arbitrary fashion. If occassionally a pensioner has a birthday and gets drunk, nothing happens beyond the warning; but obviously if a man forms the habit of getting drunk, he becomes a menace to himself because these are old people and care must .be taken of them. It is not correct to say, as Senator Rae did, thai by doing this, the department is taking away the pensioner’s capacity to live. I indicated, by way of interjection when he was speaking, that in all the States there are homes for the indigent. Some are maintained by State governments, and others by some form of private charity. If a pensioner, after having been warned, continues ,to get drunk, he is unable to take care of himself and live properly, ‘because he is dissipating his pension and. has no other source of income. The best place for him is a home where he -will be under some form of control. After his pension has been taken away, if ultimately that course is resorted to, a pensioner may, at the termination of six months, make a fresh application, ‘and if he has become an inmate of a home, he may apply. As honorable senators are aware, a considerable amount of the old-age pensions bill is paid to the various States for the maintenance of pensioners in homes, and portion is paid to the pensioners themselves in these homes.

Senator Brown:

– Oan the Minister give any information as to the procedure in the ease of an applicant whose pension has ; been restored,but only in part?


– That, I imagine, would come under the property provisions of the law.

Senator Brown:

– No; the man I have in mind is absolutely destitute.


– I know of no such cases. Senator J. V. MacBonald referred to the declinein the values of property owned by pensioners and urgedthat this matter should receive consideration in the administration of the pensions law. If a person considers that his property has been over-valued, he may submit evidence in support of his contention and the department . will probably review the case. Rates paid on property cannot be allowed as a deduction from the value of the property, but they are allowed as a deduction in assessing income derived from that property.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time and reported from committee without amendment or debate. Report . adopted.

page 508


Second Reading

Senator BRENNAN:
Acting Attorney-General · Victoria · UAP

– I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

This measure is designed to provide a remedy in cases of groundless threats of legal proceedings by persons who claim to be the owners of copyright; but it does not in any way apply to the case of an owner of copyright whose copyright is, in fact, infringed. It is modelled on similar provisions in both the Patents Act and the Trade Marks Act. Some time ago, a royal commission inquired into the claims of the Performing Right Association, and in its report referred to the necessity for some such enactment. Although it may be thought that the bill has been introduced to give effect to the recommendations of that commission, its genesis really had no association with it. The reasons for its introduction arose in this way: There was at the last federal election in a certain electorate, which I need not name, a plethora of candidates belonging to the same side in politics. One of the candidates issued a “How to

Vote “ Labour card and immediately sought registration of the copyright of the production as for a literary work.

Senator Sampson:

– He was a sportsman !

Senator BRENNAN:

– He was. But some one else also got out a “ How to Vote “ Labour card. The only difference between the two cards was that the advice given to the voters varied slightly in that on one card the name of a particular candidate was printed in capital letters with, opposite it, the figure “ 1 “ ; while on the other card the word “ Labour “ was, I believe, spelt in a different way - either with or without the letter “ u “-and the figure “1 “ in large type was opposite another name. When the “ sportsman,” as Senator Sampson calls him, who had applied for the registration of his literary work, found that other persons were circulating “ How to Vote “ cards of a similar nature, thus prejudicing the chances of his candidature, he sent an agent to threaten his opponent with proceedings for a breach of his copyright. So effective was the threat that the supporters of the other candidate desisted in the distribution of their literary production, in respect of which the other man claimed to hold the copyright. I do not know whether what happened proves the effectiveness or otherwise of the written word; but I can say that neither candidate was successful. Honorable senators, therefore, need not look around this chamber or another place in the hope of seeing the “sportsman “. As a matter of fact, one lost his deposit, and he claims to have lost it because of the threat issued by the other party to prevent him from issuing his “How to Vote” card. The bill had its origin in a somewhat trifling incident, but the necessity for its introduction extends beyond such cases as the one I have quoted. We are incorporating in the principal act a provision almost exactly similar to that contained in the Patents Act and the Trade Marks Act, and we have been influenced to some extent by the recommendation of the Royal Commission on Performing Rights. The Government thought it right that there should be some such provision, and this amending bill has been introduced for that purpose.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate.

page 509


” The Soviets - To-day.”

Motion (by Senator Sir George Pearce) proposed -

That the Senate do now. adjourn.

Senator BROWN (Queensland) 1 12.17.]. - I direct the attention of the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) to a petty piece of obscurantism. My attention has been directed to the fact that a magazine entitled The Soviets - To-day has been denied thu right of passage through the ordinary channels of the Postal Department. I should like to know the real reason for this action. Two copies of this publication have been sent to me. T was keenly interested in the articles and illustrations they contain. The articles arc not of a blasphemous character, nor do they advocate the overthrow of constitutional government. They include a contribution by Mr. H. G. Wells, and articles on a children’s theatre at Moscow, the development of a new city in Siberia, and the sowing of wheat by means of aeroplanes. The lastmentioned article was illustrated, and described the success which has attended this method in Russia.

Senator BROWN:

– 1 candidly admit that I did not see the article mentioned by the Minister; but on my return home T shall read it. Will the Minister say if the distribution of this magazine through the usual channels has been prohibited because it contains seditious articles? I do not suggest that publications which contravene the Commonwealth law should be permitted to pass through the usual channels, particularly if they contain articles written with the idea of attempting to suborn the members of the Australian naval forces or to bring about a revolution in Australia.

But, so far as I could see, the magazine I received did not contain anything of that nature. Those interested in the socialistic experiments taking place in various parts of the world are anxious to obtain the fullest information possible. I would protest just as strongly if the distribution of magazines issued at Rome relative to the work of Mussolini or at Berlin in connexion with the activities of Hitler was prohibited. On general grounds I am opposed to the postal authorities acting in this way simply because a publication is issued from a .particular quarter. Whether we do or do not agree with the socialistic experiments being conducted in Russia we have to remember that that country is now a member of the League of Nations, and that its representatives sit check by jowl with those of the British Empire. Russia advocates universal disarmament.

Senator Duncan-Hughes:

– Russia has an enormous army.

Senator BROWN:

– Yes, following on the lines of other nations. Surrounded by huge arsenals it would be stupid to disarm.


-Hushes. - Has not Russia the largest army in Europe?

Senator BROWN:

– I believe that it has and one which is feared by other nations. Russia would disarm if other nations would also disarm. This petty form of tyranny should cease, particularly when it 13 exercised by individuals who because they are prejudiced against certain nations go to the extreme of preventing others gaining knowledge of their working. If this policy is to be continued the Government might as well erect a wall around Australia and isolate us completely. I trust that the Minister will give the reason why the circulation of this magazine which, so far as I know, docs not contain seditious or blasphemous statements has been prohibited.

Minister for External Affairs · Western Australia · UAP

[12.26]. - In the absence of the Postmaster-General (Senator McLachlan) I am unable to express the viewpoint of the postal authorities who doubtless have good reasons for the action they hare taken in connexion with the magazine referred to by Senator Brown. I happen, however, to have perused the two specimen copies to which, I presumo the honorable senator refers. I am. not quite sure on that point, but judging from the honorable senator’s description of the articles they contain the magazines are those which I read. They are very interesting. In one article a contrast was drawn between the methods of conducting the Australian Navy and maintaining discipline, and those obtaining in the Soviet Navy. Knowing the insidious nature of the propaganda directed from Moscow, one has only to read the article to see what is intended. It is meant to suggest that the system adopted in the Russian revolution of controlling the navy by committees from the lower deck should be copied by the Australian Navy. Appreciative reference is. made to the attempt to suborn the members of the Australian Naval Forces not very long ago, and deprecatory remarks are made in regard to the punishment inflicted upon those who attempted to introduce direct action in the Australian Navy. The article does not advocate the overthrow of constitutional government by force or violence, but, of course, we are not quite so simple as not to know what is intended by that propaganda. Are we to be so stupid or so foolish as to allow people, who blazon on their programme that their aim is the overthrow of capitalist governments by force or violence, to make such statements ? They do not openly advocate a bloody revolution, but adopt a system of white-anting and undermining. Are we to allow the liberties of the people of this country to be taken away by giving a licence to certain persons to do that sort of thing? This Government is not quite so simple. It is in power with the consent of the people, and it does not intend to allow Australia to be influenced by such insidious propaganda.

Senator RAE:
New South Wales

Mr. President-


– The Minister having replied, the debate is now closed.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

The Senate adjourned at 12.30 p.m.

Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 29 March 1935, viewed 22 October 2017, <>.