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Friday, 24 August 1923

Mr O'KEEFE (Denison) : - I, too, am surprised at the attitude adopted by the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce). It is all nonsense for the Treasurer (Dr. Earle. Page) to say that the Government could not afford the extra expenditure, which the adoption of the motion would involve. The Treasurer has a surplus of £7,500,000, and during this short session of ten -weeks, >we have voted hundreds of thousands of pounds in remissions >of taxation, and for the payment of bounties, on the production of shale oil, and = sulphur and the export of beef. We tare told that an additional 2s. 6d. per week for invalid and old-age pensioners will amount to more than £1,000,000. The Government are ready enough to -give away large sums of money to the wealthier sections of the community, but when it is a question of providing for the needs of the aged and infirm, they .show a strange reluctance to do anything. Honorable members opposite would not treat an old cart horse in the way they now propose to treat our old-age pensioners. They would at all events see that a horse that had served them faithfully was turned out in a decent grass paddock for the remainder of his day3. They admit that 17s. 6d. per week is not enough for our invalid and old-age pensioners, yet because the Treasurer says that the Government cannot find the money, they will not press for the extra 2s. 6d.

Mr Gregory - Was not the honorable member in the Senate when .the amount was fixed at 10s.?

Mr O'KEEFE - Yes, but, as the honorable member very well knows, , '10s. then was worth as much as £1 to-day. Honorable members supporting the Government would like to vote to increase the amount to £1, but, because the party whip has cracked, because the Prime Minister has broken his promise 'to the Leader of the Opposition, and has threatened that if the amendment is carried, the Government will resign, they are now prepared to abandon their principles. Honorable members on this ; side of the House, regardless of the consequences, will vote to increase the pension to £1 per week.

Mr. MCNEILL(Wannon) £2.45].- The Prime Minister has placed his 'supporters in a very unfair position. If he had accepted the very reasonable offer of the Leader of the Opposition, and !had allowed the Committee to divide on the amendment, I am satisfied that a majority would have voted for the increase of the old-age and invalid pension to £1 per week. I suppose it has never been -the lot of the Prime Minister to learn the conditions under which some of our old people are living to-day on the existing .pension of 15s. per week I believe that if he in- vestigated those conditions he would .be prepared to accept the amendment. However, the Government is determined to regard an adverse vote on the amendment as a i vote of censure, and so its supporters are put in a tight corner, because, while many of them agree that the pension should be increased to £1, they do not desire to see the Government defeated, and will, therefore, vote against the amendment. I wish to refer to some provisions of the existing Act which require alteration. A person must have resided continuously in the Commonwealth for .twenty years before he becomes entitled to an old-age pension. I had a letter a few months ago from a lady who was born in England, and who left that country for Australia thirty years ago. She spent the first eighteen years of her residence in Australia in the State of Victoria. She then went to New Zealand, and resided there for about -six years. She returned to Victoria, and, although she is now sixty years of age, and has resided in Australia and New Zealand for the last thirty years, she is not eligible for an old-age pension. J trust that the Treasurer will consider the desirability of altering the provision .requiring continuous residence for twenty years in Australia to entitle a person to the old-age pension. I consider that a British-born subject coming to Australia, and living, say, twenty-five years, continuously in Australia and New Zealand, is justly entitled to the benefit of the Commonwealth Old-age and Invalid Pensions Act. If the Treasurer is able by regulation to alter this provision in the way I suggest, and will do so, he will confer a great benefit on many deserving persons in this community. The Act further lays it down that a man or a woman must be absolutely incapacitated from all kinds of work to be entitled to an invalid pension. We all know of cases in which, for all practical purposes, a person is an invalid, but because he is able to do a little light work he is not entitled to an invalid pension. I have had a case of the kind in hand for some considerable time, and I must admit that in connexion with it I have received the utmost courtesy from every one in the Pensions Department. The officers there have done their very .best to overcome the difficulty, but the provisions of the Act prevent them from doing the right thing. The case I have had in hand is that of a man whose left leg ds so drawn up that his heel reaches the back of his knee-cap. He is nearly sixty years of age, and, of course, no one will employ him. He cannot run a business, and can only poke about in his home. His wife has a *mall grocery store, and he is able to open the. door in the morning and sweep the floor. They have .a little jinker in which they cart groceries from & .merchant's stores in Warrnambool to their shop. The wife .or daughter harness the horse to the jinker, the husband is put into it, and drives to the . merchant's store. The - goods .required are put into the conveyance, and he drives the cart back. Because. he does this light work for bis wife he is debarred under the Act from .obtaining an invalid pension. If the Treasurer ; could meet cases of that kind by regulation he would be doing a very fine thing. '1 have stated two cases, which show .the need for .alterations of the existing Act, and I suppose there are many thousands of similar cases which deserve consideration. I trust that if the amendment is defeated the Government will, within the next twelve months, take into consideration another amendment of the law to give the old people the reasonable allowance -of £1 per week.

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