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Friday, 8 May 1942

Mr FALSTEIN (Watson) .- I congratulate the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Holloway) upon having introduced a bill which makes some attempt to overcome many of the administrative difficulties and anomalies in the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act. The Minister personally has administered the act in a very sympathetic "way. He has given greater consideration to claims for pensions than was given by previous Ministers, and in that way he has dispelled much heart-burning amongst people who consider that they ought to be entitled to pensions but, because of some minor technical difficulty, are precluded from obtaining them. Recently I witnessed a play entitled " The Man who Came to Dinner", and the opening words of the play were, "I may vomit". I think those opening words may be applied aptly to some of the speeches which have been made on this bill by Opposition members, and more particularly to that disgusting speech made by the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron). Apparently, that honorable member takes the view that whereas 25s. a week is too much to pay to old-age pensioners, the Commonwealth Government should continue to pay to him both his salary as a member of Parliament, and his military pay. I think the Government should not stop at 25s. a week for pensioners, but should grant a sum that will allow pensioners to live decently. Some Opposition members seem to think that pensions are not now on a contributory basis, and they argue that contributions should be made in cash.

Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.

Mr FALSTEIN - I contend that those individuals who qualify for the oldage pension, and probably those who qualify for the invalid pension, are entitled, by virtue of their contributions to the national wealth and productivity of this country over a long period of years, to at least the pittance which they receive. Expenditure on invalid and oldage pensions amounts probably to less than 1 per cent, of our national income. Some honorable members opposite should recognize that had it not been for the work done in this country - by work I mean all kinds of services including even services in the home - by the men and women who have now reached the pensionable age, Australia would not be the nation that it is to-day. Therefore,I reject the contention that pensions in this country are not on a contributory basis. Men and women who have spent their lives working for the betterment of the nation as a whole should receive a pension as a right. Whenever pensions legislation has been before Parliament I have advocated the adoption of a system of universal superannuation. Such a system operates now under the Social Security Act in New Zealand, where superannuation is available to all citizens upon reaching a certain age, and to invalids. The old-age and invalid pension in New Zealand is 30s. a week, and the conditions under which it is payable are much more liberal than are the conditions in this country.

Sir FREDERICK STEWART (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) -. - Pensions in New Zealand are on a cash contribution basis

Mr FALSTEIN - That is true; but the contribution is mainly to cover medical, dental, and pharmaceutical benefits.

Sir George Bell - That is not so. The main expenditure is on invalid and old-age pensions.

Mr FALSTEIN - To ascertain whether that is so, it would be necessary to dissect the amounts of money required to meet expenditure involved in the various sections of the scheme, but my own belief is that a contribution is levied primarily for the purpose of paying the capitation fees to doctors, dentists, chemists, and so on, who render services to people in various panels.

Sir George Bell - That is not so.

Mr FALSTEIN - The honorable member for Darwin (.Sir George Bell) may be making his claim in good faith, but I suggest that if he wishes to challenge the veracity of my statement he should dissect the relevant figures.

Sir George Bell - They have been dissected in this Parliament in previous discussions.

Mr FALSTEIN - The National Health and Pensions Insurance Act which was passed by this Parliament some years ago provided for a scheme of social services which was nothing like the New Zealand system. It was not nearly so advanced. The most desirable way to provide for invalid and aged people is by means of a system which would give to them a superannuation payment as a right earned by virtue of his or her citizenship in this country.

There is another anomaly to which I should like to direct the attention of the Minister for Social Services. I do not know whether it is created by the act itself, or whether it arises from a rule adopted by those responsible for the administration of the act. I refer to the case of applicants who are living apart from their husbands or wives without an order of the court. That is to say, they have no order for judicial separation, nor have they a decree absolute in favour of either party. In some cases, the applicant for a pension may not know whether his or her spouse is alive, or where he or she is residing, but that information may be in the possession of the department, and should the spouse be in receipt of an income, then half of that income is regarded as being the income of the applicant. In that way a person may he deprived of a pension although no financial assistance whatever is being received from the spouse. There are few such cases, and I suggest to the Minister that where satisfactory evidence is furnished that the parties are residing apart, a pension should be granted to an applicant.

Sir Frederick Stewart - Discretion in that regard is exercised now.

Mr FALSTEIN - It is not so much a matter of discretion as of interpretation of the section of the act which provides that if the husband or wife of a claimant has an income then the claimant is deemed to be in receipt of half that income. My complaint is that that section still applies even when the two parties are living apart and, quite possibly, one does not know where the other lives. In one case which was brought to my notice the wife was endeavouring to trace her husband, and she asked me to obtain his address from the Pensions Department, because under this provision she had been disqualified from receiving a pension. In my opinion the Government should give to the pensioners, not merely 25s. a week plus adjustments in accordance with .the cost of living, but an amount which would allow them to live decently and honorably in the evening of their lives. The fact that the pension rate is so low is leading, in some cases, to the employment of subterfuge, and that is not desirable or necessary. I believe that the pensioners as a class are most honest people. The least that should be paid to them is an amount which would enable them to purchase at least the barest necessaries of life. Some honorable members have complained that the 30s. a day which they receive by way of travelling expenses as members of various parliamentary committees is little enough. If that be so, how can they believe that 25s. a week is sufficient for invalid and old-age pensioners who have no other assets?

Sir George Bell - Why not reduce the travelling allowance paid to members instead ?

Mr FALSTEIN - I understand that the practice of paying travelling allowances to members of parliamentary committees has been in operation ever since such committees commenced to function, and I do not think that that is a bad principle. My argument is if that much money can be paid to members of Parliament merely for travelling expenses, then 25s. a week is little enough to pay to_ invalid and old-age pensioners.

Once again I commend the Minister for the introduction of this bill, and 1 hope that later on in his term of office, he will so amend it as to ensure that pensions will be payable with the minimum amount of discomfort to the claimant, and the maximum benefit so far as living conditions are concerned.

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