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Friday, 24 August 1923

Mr BLAKELEY (Darling) .- This question is one of the most important that this Committee has had to discuss. Every effort should be made to pay an equitable pension. Our duty is to pay the invalid and old-age pensioners an adequate amount; and even the Government admits that the pension is not adequate. The most pathetic correspondence that honorable members get comes from the old-age and invalid pensioners. Sometimes they get six such letters at a time, and all of them plead for an increase in the pension so that the pensioners may enjoy a little more of the good things of life. Even 20s. would not be a sufficient pension, for it would provide only a bare existence. I believe that the first call on the revenue of the country should be for these pensions.

Mr Bruce - Did I understand the honorable member to say that both £1 and 17s. 6d. a week are too little?

Mr BLAKELEY - I did say that. Honorable members on this side do not by any means admit that 20s. a week is an adequate pension.

Mr Bruce - Then, the Government must make it vital that its judgment shall prevail over the judgment of the Opposition.

Mr BLAKELEY - I disagree with that. The honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) remarked that the wealthy classes of this community had been assisted by the Government. Unfortunately, the poor pensioners have no political "pull," and therefore they have little chance to obtain justice.

Mr Watson - Do not put it in that way.

Mr BLAKELEY - I cannot help putting it in that way. A number of honorable members opposite advocate 20s. a week for the pensioners, but, because the Prime Minister has made the matter a vital issue, they will not stand by their convictions.

Sitting suspended fromV to 2.30 p.m.

Mr BLAKELEY - The declaration oi the Prime Minister was such as might have been expected from a man in a desperate situation. Apparently the Ministerial supporters have weakened to such an extent, as a result of the onslaughts made by honorable members on this side, that the Prime Minister has resorted to the very desperate expedient of threatening them with a dissolution if they dare to vote for the amendment. The prestige and dignity of the Prime Minister should not be paramount in a matter like this. It is extraordinary that, in connexion with what is, perhaps, the most important measure that has been dealt with by Parliament this session, honorable members supporting the Government should meekly back down and desert principles which they have enunciated until recently. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) and the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Austin Chapman) have been constant in their declaration that the aged and infirm people of this country are entitled to at least £1 per week. In the last Parliament, the Minister, who was then a private member, went so far as to put on the notice-paper a motion which, if carried, would have been a direction to the Government to increase the pension to £1 per week. It will be very difficult for him to justify his present attitude. I hope that honorable members will stand to their principles and vote for the amendment.

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