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Tuesday, 19 May 1942

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON (Barker) . - In the framing of legislation one of the first considerations is to make clear beyond doubt the intention of the legislature, but it appears, from ministerial statements upon the issue before the committee, that it is intended to leave this point indefinite. The Government wants to have it both ways.

The Government thinks that it will be extremely popular in New South Wales, because it will be able to say that, notwithstanding the fact that it instituted a system of widows' pensions for the whole of the Commonwealth, it has not done anything to prevent the continuance of the system of widows' pensions operating in that 'State. The attitude of the Commonwealth in this matter is that it is the authority that should grant pensions. If the States like to duplicate tho Commonwealth's efforts that i3 their own affair, but they have no standing. It was a very different matter when the very unpopular question of the control of liquor came up for consideration at the recent conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers. The Government then said : " Oh, no ! We leave that matter entirely to the 'States. It is no concern of ours. We shall not interfere." We had the spectacle of the Government whip, the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Conelan), visiting Adelaide on the subject of horse racing. I wish the honorable gentleman had seen what the Stock and Station Journal had to say about him. But on the subject of horse racing the Government's attitude was, " That is likely to be unpopular. We won't interfere. We won't bring in any federal regulation or law on such matters." But on the pensions question its attitude is entirely different. In a federation, particularly, one of the aims is division of legislative and administrative responsibility, but we endeavour to dispense with the overlapping to which the honorable member for Gippsland referred. On numerous occasions complaints have been made in this chamber that we have failed to dispense with such overlapping; yet the Government deliberately, with its eyes open, is perpetuating the system.

The laws of this country require an alien to be resident in Australia for five years before qualifying for naturalization, yet under this bill a widow from overseas, provided she complies with other requirements, will become entitled to a pension whether she is naturalized or not after five years' residence.

Mr Holloway - That is not so.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - Under this bill she would become entitled to a widow's pension whether she is naturalized or not at the end of five years. In other legislation, now before Parliament, the Government says specifically that the State taxation officials, who will be taken over by the Commonwealth, shall not be entitled to both State and Commonwealth superannuation benefits but shall continue to make contributions to a State superannuation fund. To be consistent the Government must say that they shall be entitled to participate in the State superannuation scheme, if they like, and shall also be entitled to participate in the Commonwealth scheme.

Is it the intention of the Minister to pay to a widow of a soldier a widow's pension in addition to the pension to which she is entitled under the Australian Soldiers' Repatriation Act?

Mr Conelan - Why not?

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - That is the point. If it be just that the State of New South Wales shall have the right to supplement widows' pensions payable under this legislation what will the Ministry do about the widows of soldiers? The Minister will have only one answer, namely, that the Government does not intend to allow soldiers' widows to draw an additional pension under this measure. It is, therefore, the bound en duty of the committee to make clear to the taxpayers and to the States the intention of the Commonwealth legislature. One of the important points of the Australian Constitution is that when services and responsibilities are taken over by the Commonwealth, State services and responsibilities cease. When this Parliament passes a law in regard to banking, insurance, divorce or any other matter listed in the schedule of powers contained in section 51 of the Constitution, the corresponding .State law ceases to operate. Parliament must lay it down that a widow's pension is to be paid only to certain widows with certain qualifications and exempt from disqualification. The amendment provides that a pension shall be payable to any widow who is not paid a pension under the act of a State.

Mr Paterson - It still leaves it open for a State to pay pensions to widows, but it debars a widow from collecting two pensions. It conditions the Commonwealth payment.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - Yes. I say to the Minister and his supporters that it is not the intention of the Commonwealth to allow widows to draw a pension from the Commonwealth as well as from a State. So, what is wrong with expressing the intention in this bill ? The Government's refusal to accept the amendment leaves it open to suspicion. When we are asking for so many things these days, it ill-becomes any government, even in a measure of this description, to try to obtain full credit throughout Australia for having introduced a scheme of widows' pensions and special credit in New South Wales. A cry which dominates every federal election campaign in that State is : " At any rate, whatever we did as a Commonwealth we did not interfere with what the tiger did in New South Wales."

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