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Friday, 24 August 1923

Mr CHARLTON (Hunter) .- Honorable members agree that this Bill is very necessary,, and I am very pleased that the Government have introduced it before the close of the session. Provision is made for many changes in the old-age pension conditions, and in many respects they are liberalized. The important feature of the Bill is the increase of the pension itself. I have persistently urged in the House, and I believe I have the support of many honorable members on the other side, that the amount should be increased to £1 instead of 17s. 6d. per week. When this matter was previously discussed in the House I asked that the order of leave be made sufficiently wide to enable such an amendment to be moved, but at this stage the order of leave does not permit of it. I understand that if the House is tested and a majority is favorable to the increase of the pension to £1, the Government will offer no objection.

Dr Earle Page - The Government have already intimated that the finances cannot stand an extra expenditure of nearly £1,500,000.

Mr CHARLTON - Two or three weeks ago the Prime Minister informed me that the order of leave would be sufficiently wide to enable the House to decide whether the pension should be 17s. 6d. or £1. 1" later questioned the Treasurer, and he said that the Prime Minister had already given me that promise.

Dr EARLE Page - I said that the Prime Minister had staged that he would give consideration to the honorable member's request.

Mr CHARLTON - I understood from the Prune Minister that if the House agreed to the increase the Government would accept it. Honorable members are entitled to know whether that is so, and if not, I shall take action on the second reading. If possible I intend to curtail the debate on the second reading and to deal with this matter in Committee, but only on the assurance that I received from the Prime Minister this morning. The Treasurer now seems to: object. It seems now that an amendment cannot be moved.

Mr Gregory - It would be rather an extraordinary action on the part of the Government.

Mr CHARLTON - The Treasurer has shaken my confidence, and I ask the Prime Minister to let the House know the position. In view of the present state of the finances, I conscientiously believe that the increase to £1 per .week could be made. The Treasurer stated that the increase of 2s. 6d. per week and the raising of the earning capacity to 25s. per fortnight involved an expenditure of £1,136,000. In 1923 there were 107,389 old-age pensioners and 40,064 invalid pensioners, making a total of 147,453. By making the increase 5s. the amount of £1,136,000 would not be doubled, but would be £1,916,889, inasmuch as the figures relating to the earning capacity and other matters would already be included in the 2s. 6d. increase, and therefore would not affect the further increase. A further increase of 2s. 6d. would add £958,444 to the amount of £1,136,000, making a total of £2,094,444. I see no reason why a .larger increase of the oldage and invalid pension cannot be provided from the large surplus which the Treasurer has in hand. The honorable gentleman stated that, in comparison with the time when the pension was first granted, the purchasing power of the sovereign to-day is only 14s. 3d., and. I understand that the latest statistics show that the cost of living increased by 3.6 per cent, during the last quarter. In view of the constantly increasing cost of living there is every justification for enlarging the pension. I shall not move any amendment on the second reading. I am purposely deferring my action until the Committee stage, in the hope that the Government will permit the House to express its opinion as to whether the pension should be increased to 17s. 6d. or £1. I wish it to be distinctly understood that any vote upon that issue will not be regarded by the Opposition as vital.

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