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Friday, 24 August 1923

Mr COLEMAN (Reid) .- I regret that the Treasurer could not accept my proposal to increase the allowance to pensioners in hospitals and other institutions to 4s. per week. As he pointed out, this concession would involve an amount of £50,000. In view of the manner in which public funds have been squandered as the result of the maladministration of the War Service Homes Commission and in other directions. I am surprised that the Treasurer should pose as an exponent of economy at the expense of the old-age and invalid pensioners. The Commonwealth are* at present retaining 4s. per week, and that is an injustice. The full amount of the difference should be given either to the pensioner in the hospital or te the hospital itself so as to improve the food and the general treatment that is meted out to the inmates. The Government's only payment to these pensioners is 2s. per week, and 3s. is now proposed. If the extra 4s. per week is not to be paid to the pensioners, it should be given to the State Governments responsible for their maintenance. The Treasurer has stated that the allowance to the State institutions is not being increased. The actual position is that when pensioners enter public hospitals for medical treatment, those hospitals receive 12s. 6d. for the period of their detention. Yet the State institutions will continue to receive the 10s. 6d. that has previously been allowed. That is quite unjustified. In New South Wales are two large hospitals, the Lidcombe and Newington. In one are 1,600 aged and invalid men, and in the other 600 aged and invalid women. It costs 18s. 6d. per head to maintain the inmates of those institutions. I believe in Western Australia it costs 10s. 6d.

Mr Groom - It is a State institution.

Mr COLEMAN - Nevertheless, the Commonwealth has no right to evade its responsibilities.

Mr Groom - The Commonwealth and States have their own institutions.

Mr COLEMAN - The Commonwealth should give either the State or the pensioner the full benefit of the increase. Under the Old-age and Invalid Pensions Act a magistrate has power to force a pensioner to enter an institution, and can deprive him of his pension if the pensioner will not enter the institution. Sub-section 2 of section 31 of the Invalid and Old-age Pension Act reads -

If it appears to the magistrate that the claimant, although otherwise qualified for, is unfit to be intrusted with a pension, a pension at the rate of 2s. per -week may be granted to the claimant, and payment of the pension may be suspended until claimant has become an inmate of a benevolent institution.

Under the Act the Commonwealth has power to commit pensioners to benevolent institutions. It is certainly in the interests of the Commonwealth that pensioners who are feeble or completely incapacitated should seek the protection of an institution, but at the same time the Commonwealth has no right to profit at the expense of the pensioners. It should rather endeavour to improve the conditions of the institutions. It should, by making a weekly allowance and other conditions more generous than they are at the present time, offer inducements to some of these people, Who are now begging in the streets of the cities, to enter institutions. But the Government is not prepared to do that. It is willing to effect economy at the expense of flesh and blood, but not when millions of pounds can be saved by the collection of the Commonwealth's just dues from the wealthy section of the community. That was demonstrated when the Land Tax Assessment Bill was before the House. There are a number of invalids in the benevolent institutions and hospitals who, in their declining years, require what to some in other circumstances might be regarded as luxuries, but in their cases are necessaries. I have seen in some of these institutions the deplorable condition of health which these people are enduring. It is a reflection upon the Government that it does not provide an allowance sufficient to give a little extra comfort to them in the evening of their lives. There are also in the hospitals many returned soldiers who have not been able to secure war pensions, on the ground that their present condition of health arose from a prewar disability; their conditions also should be considered. The Minister for Defence (Mr. Bowden) stated that he had visited the hospitals, and that the pensioners had not asked for more than 3s. a week. I have consulted the inmates of the hospitals in my electorate and they claim, rightly, that they should receive the full difference between the amount paid to the State for their maintenance and the full pension. They would then be receiving 7s. per week instead of the 3s. that the Government proposes to pay them. When the Minister for Defence visited the hospitals during the last elec- tion campaign he pledged himself, so I am informed, to increase the allowance to inmates as from 24th December last. The Government proposes to make the increase operative from September next, and that is another reason why it should increase the allowance from 3s. to 4s. as a set-off against making the clause retrospective. I am not attacking the management of the hospitals in my electorate. Newington and Lidcombe institutions are ably conducted on humanitarian lines. The food supplied in them is good, though plain, but the pensioners do not enjoy those extra necessaries that would help to make their lives more pleasant. I should like to Congratulate the pensions administration on its efficiency. The officials in New South Wales are thoroughly efficient, and invariably courteous, and if they can strain a point in favour of the applicant they do so. Such defects as I have complained of are not due to the administration, but to the restrictions and technical obstacles imposed by the Act.

Clause agreed to. Clause 7 agreed to. Clause 8 -

Section forty-seven of the Principal Act is repealed and the following section inserted in its stead : -

47.   " If a successful claimant of a pension is an inmate of a benevolent asylum he shall not, so long as he remains an inmate of such asylum, be entitled to receive a full pension but shall be entitled to receive a pension at the rate of three shillings per week.".

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