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Friday, 8 May 1942

Mr HOLLOWAY (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) -Bu t not to the same degree as it did months or even years ago. It is being broken down by public statements in the press.

Mr Stacey - I made a suggestion last, night.

Mr HOLLOWAY - I am answering that. There is nothing to prevent an oldage pensioner from taking a job. He does not break any law unless he earns more than £32 10s. in a particular year. He can be employed at £5 a week. Having worked for two or three weeks, if he finds that his health will permit him to continue, and the joh does not peter out, he may ask the Commissioner to suspend his pension. He may continue to work until the state of his health obliges him to retire, or the work peters .out, when he may ask the Commissioner to have his pension restored to him. If he has any sense, he will replenish his wardrobe and provide himself with other needs while in employment.

Mr Prowse - Is the permissible income always calculated on a yearly basis?

Mr HOLLOWAY - Yes. Any man or woman in receipt of an old-age pension may have it temporarily suspended luring a period of employment, and have it restored at the termination of the employment.

Mr Hughes - Because of the red tape of public departments, before a reply is received to an application for restoration of a pension the pensioner may be dead.

Mr Prowse - When a pensioner asked1 for the pension to be restored, would the amount earned during the period of its suspension be taken into account in the annual calculation?

Mr HOLLOWAY - Rot if he had spent it as he went along.

Mr Rosevear - It is done in practice.

Mr HOLLOWAY - I cannot imagine how it could be done. The pensioner merely asks for the pension to be restored. His position is examined. If he has saved a couple of hundred pounds during the time he has been at work, it will be counted against him; but if he has not more than £59 in a bank, or has not bought another cottage, the full pension will be restored.

Mr Guy - But he has earned more than £32 in the year !

Mr HOLLOWAY - During that time, he has not drawn the pension. He does not break any law.

Mr Guy - So long as that is clear, well and good.

Mr HOLLOWAY - -I consider that it is. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) has purposely exaggerated in order to have clarified the matter he has raised. He says that a man might he dead before the pension was restored. With 340,000 pensioners, there are bound to be some bad examples. Probably, special reasons could be found in such instances. Speaking generally, a pension could be restored within seven or eight days. During the last fortnight or so, I have been associated with applications for pensions that have been granted within less than a week. If that can be done in one instance, it can be done in all instance*. During the last six months, because of th.scarcity of man-power and the additional work caused by child endowment payments and other matters, there has been some difficulty. I am certain that the commissioner and his staff will agree that there need not be undue delay in restoring an old-age pension which had been temporarily suspended because the pensioner had obtained employment. 1 have made public appeals for labour !> overcome the fruit-picking difficulty, an.! many pensioners have raised the pot 11 with me. I have made it clear that an invalid pension could not be suspended, because the pensioner is supposed not to be able to work. Any invalid pensioner who relinquished his pension in order to accept employment would have to pass a fresh medical examination if he again wished to obtain the pension, anr! thus would take a risk.

I believe that I have answered the suggestion that the permissible income should he greater than it is. First, it is noi necessary; secondly, it is something thai the pensioner does not want. The result would be greatly to increase the aggregate amount of pensions, by a large addition to the number of persons entitled t<> receive them.

Mr Guy - Has there been a calculation of what it would cost to increase the permissible income from 12s. 6d. to £1 a week?

Mr HOLLOWAY - A rough approximation is £500,000; but how many additional claimants there might be is not known. Every honorable member has had the experience of supporting an applicant for a pension, whose income was just sufficient to disqualify him. If the amount were increased, such persons would be entitled to a pension.

Mr Rankin - Men suffering from miners' phthisis need to he specially considered.

Mr HOLLOWAY - I have been working for months in regard to that matter. The Government of Victoria pays to men suffering from that complaint a pension of 12s. 6d. a week, and it knows that if it paid more than that it would be making a present to the Commonwealth Government. If the 12s. 6d. received from the Government of Victoria were not counted as income for the purpose of calculating the old-age pension, a similar concession would have to be given in respect of such payments in all of the other States. The payment to men in Western Australia suffering from miners' phthisis amounts in some cases to £2 10s. a week. The problem may be dealt with at some future date, but provision for such cases cannot be included in this bill.

The honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart) has given his blessing to this measure, as I knew he would. First, he said that the proposed increase of the invalid and old-age pension should not have been made in time of war, yet he claims that at all times, and particularly in time of war, we should provide the maximum of social security for the people in order to build up their morale. I entirely agree with the honorable gentleman in that regard, and I consider that the greatest tonic we could give to the members of our fighting services, both in Australia and overseas, would be to make them feel satisfied that the invalid and old-age pensioners are being looked after on the home front. The honorable member said he was glad that the pension is to be extended to certain Pacific Islanders now resident in Australia. He feared that there might be an element of danger in this innovation, but the department has made a thorough investigation and has found that, as in the case of Syrians and Lebanese, there are very few kanakas in this country and that they are all over the age of 70 years. They are living under civilized conditions, and no harm will he done by granting the pension to them. The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) has urgently pleaded for the extension of pension rights to these islanders living in Australia, yet last night he referred to what he described as the danger of permitting an influx of young Pacific Islanders. I do not share the honorable gentleman's apprehensions in that matter. Even if some of the Filipinos who have recently come to Australia remained in this country, a long time would have to elapse before the problem visualized by the honorable member would have to be considered. The kanaka, however, falls within a different category. Some of them were never repatriated, and some were sent to the wrong islands. There are only 200 Pacific Islanders in Australia, and I do not think more than 50 Avail be eligible for the pension.

Mr Hughes - Will the Minister explain the proposed change of the law with regard to the aborigines?

Mr HOLLOWAY - We have had some experience lately in dealing with child endowment. The problem is a difficult one, because there are very few aborigines to whom direct payment would be made, and who would know how to use the pension. To some of them, money would be of no use at all. I have travelled throughout the Commonwealth and have spent a few days in central Australia, where I inspected aboriginal camps. I offered a 2s. piece to a native who had picked up a box of food that had been lost by my party, and he looked at me as if I were mentally unsound. He attached no value whatever to the coin. I support the view of the department tha* the great majority of members of this Parliament, and many people throughout Australia, favour a little extra being done to help this dying race. It was thought that, because of the small number of aborigines who would be entitled to receive direct payment, the department should be allowed, in its discretion, to pay 5s. or 7s. 6d. a week in respect of each member of a group of aborigines which might be under the control of some authorized body for six, seven or eight months in each year. That would enable the guardians of the natives to provide them with extra food or clothing. If honorable members are not satisfied with the proposal, the Government will save some money, but it will be free from any suggestion that it has not made an attempt to confer an additional benefit upon the aborigines.

Mr Hughes - We are fighting a war for justice, and Australia is the aborigines' own country. Now the Government says that, because they would not know how to use the pension, they are not to be paid more than 7s. 6d. a week. That will not do at all.

Sir Frederick Stewart - The full pension will be paid to those aborigines who live under civilized conditions.

Mr HOLLOWAY - Of course. I know scholarly men in professions and in the churches who are aboriginals.

Mr Hughes - There is no justification for treating as outcasts those who have a better right to this country than we have, If they do not know how to use money, we should give them something which they would know how to use.

Mr HOLLOWAY - They would not be paid 5s. or 6s. a week in cash.

Mr Hughes - We should allow them the full pension, but we should pay it in kind.

Mr HOLLOWAY - It is intended to pay the full pension to the aborigines, provided it can be shown that they are able to use it to their own advantage.

Mr Hughes - Many white men cannot do that.

Mr HOLLOWAY - The next point raised by the honorable member for Parramatta and referred to by other honorable members related to another alteration to be effected by this bill. It has been decided to desist from making payments to hospitals in respect of pensioners who become inmates. We have found that 70 per cent, of pensionerinmates remain in hospital for less than 28 days, and unless a pensioner remains in hospital for more than 28 days, no deduction is made from his pension for the benefit of the hospital. The trouble involved in checking the time pensioners enter hospital and leave it, and in settling arguments between the hospital authorities and the pensioners, is more than the scheme is worth to the hospital. I believe that, as the result of this amendment of the act, the hospitals will actually get more money than before. The experience has been that some pensioners pay the hospitals whether they are, in fact, bound to do so or not. There is a wrong impression held by many people about pensioners. It is not true that, as a body, they are backward in meeting their obligations. Storekeepers say that their best customers are old-age pensioners, because they are methodical in their payments, and always pay cash. Many of the hospital authorities have said the same thing. I have not had a conference with hospital representatives, and that is the only weak point in my case, but I have invited public comment on the Government's proposals, and no complaint has been received. Indeed, many hospital authorities have asked to be removed from the list of those proclaimed under the act, because they do not want to be bothered with the scheme for the deduction of a proportion of inmates' pensions. Among the hospitals which have made this request are those at Maitland, Kurri Kurri, Rylstone, Canberra, Mareeba, Wallsend, Newcastle and Cessnock. My own opinion is that hospitals will not lose by the change.

Mr Hughes - But will the patient lose ?

Mr HOLLOWAY - How can he?

Mr Hughes - He cannot afford to pay £2 a week to a hospital.

Mr HOLLOWAY - That is the aggregate amount which a hospital could lose.

Mr Hughes - But it costs more than 12s. 6d. a week to keep a patient in hospital ?

Mr HOLLOWAY - The hospitals have never refused to take pensioners.

Mr Hughes - Very well, we shall try this new scheme, and see how it works out.

Mr HOLLOWAY - The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard), who is chairman of the Joint Committee on Social Security, says that he was delighted that the Government was so quick to take advantage of the committee's recommendations. The Government is very grateful to the committee, first because it did its work quickly; secondly, because it reported concisely upon those matters regarding which the Government urgently wanted guidance.

Mr Barnard - What does the Minister mean by that?

Mr Curtin - The Minister means that the committee judged the Government's resources admirably.

Mr HOLLOWAY - The honorable member for Bass expressed the hope that the Government would eventually be able to bring in comprehensive social security legislation. I assure the honorable member that, as soon as the legal draftsman has time to give the matter his attention, [ intend to get him to frame a consolidating bill. When it becomes law, we shall have one concise act which every one will be able to understand. The honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Ryan), who is also a member of the committee, gave the hill his blessing. Nearly all' those who have spoken on the bill have expressed the opinion that the amount which the pensioner is permitted to earn should bc increased beyond the present limit of 12s. 6d., but I think that I have disposed of that matter. A strange thing is that those who fought against an increase of the pension rate want to increase the permissible income although that would have the effect of bringing in a large number of new pensioners. Either they do not mean what they say, or they do not understand its import. The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) did not make any reference to the bill at all. The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) expressed fears regarding the extension of pension' benefits to Asiatics. However, his fears arc groundless, because the number of such persons is steadily diminishing. The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Guy) said that the pension increase would be of no benefit to the recipients, and that it would be better to allow them to earn more money.

Mr Guy - I said that the increase would be of no benefit to them because increased indirect taxes would reduce the purchasing power of the pension.

Mr HOLLOWAY - The honorable member's case is weakened still further by that admission, because there is no increase of tax on 90 per cent, of the articles which pensioners use. Moreover, the honorable member overlooked the fact that the pension rate is adjusted according to the variations of the cost of living. It is provided in the bill that the rate shall not fall below 25s. a week. The rate of the pension will not be increased' or decreased unless Parliament so decides ; but the amount will fluctuate in accordance with the cost of living index figure. The rate of 25s. stands in the same re lation to the cost of living as did the rate of 22s. Cd. Our object is to ensure that, the present purchasing value of 25s. shall remain to the pensioner. That dispose of the argument advanced by the honorable member for Wilmot.

Other honorable members, particularly the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn), expressed regret that provision is not being made to provide pensions in respect of inmates of hospitals for the insane. Such persons are about the only class of aged, or invalid people who are excluded from the provisions of this measure. However, inmates of such institutions could not themselves use the pension, and, therefore could not benefit by it. The care of the insane has always been regarded as an obligation of the States. At the same time, I am aware that, in many cases, private individuals are obliged to pay for the maintenance of inmates of hospitals for the insane.

Sir Frederick Stewart - That i? generally the case.

Mr HOLLOWAY - Our statistics do not bear out that statement. On that point I emphasize that the extension of the pensions scheme to embrace various institutions which have not hitherto benefited will alleviate this position. For instance, pensions will be paid in respect of mentally afflicted persons who are not certified as being insane, but who are inmates of State institutions. I also point out that the measure dealing with widows' pensions, which the Government hopes to introduce next week, provides in certain cases for the payment of a widow's pension to the wife of a person who is an inmate of an institution for the insane.

Sir Frederick Stewart - Nevertheless, inmates of mental hospitals, whether they he partially, or wholly, insane, are still excluded from the provisions of this measure.

Mr HOLLOWAY - We shall deal with that point in committee. The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) asked that dwarfs be regarded as invalids for the purposes of this measure. Such claimants would have to pass the necessary test; and it would have to be proved that they are incapable of working. However, many dwarfs earn much higher incomes than honorable members do. For. instance, many appear on the stage and at exhibitions. These persons really come within the class of persons who are not quite fully classified as invalids, on whose behalf representations have been made by the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Jolly). Under the act such persons may obtain a temporary pension while they undergo vocational training for special kinds of work suited to their capacities. I recall that when this provision was inserted in the act. the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) expressed the fear that it might be used to intimidate pensioners. That danger certainly did exist. However, the provision has not been used in that way; and I am sure that it will not be so used.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In committee:

Clauses 1 to 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 (Persons disqualified - oldage pensions).

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