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Tuesday, 1 October 1935

Debate resumed from the 27th September (vide page 310), on motion by Mr. Casey -

That the bill be now read a second time.

Mr.CURTIN (Fremantle) [9.28].- This bill relates to certain adjustments it is proposed should be made in the principal act which dealt with conditions of financial emergency existing in 1931, and which interfered, very drastically in some cases, with payments then made to persons coming within certain categories. It is designed to effect some improvement of the salaries payable to public servants, and to members of Parliament. Insofar as it accomplishes a partial restoration of rates of pay, the Opposition welcomes the measure, but feels, as I said earlier this evening, that in failing to place first things first, it is based on a mistaken conception as to what claims for such restorations should be of paramount consideration to this Parliament. Many statements which were made earlier to-day, will be repeated until such time as the justification for such agitations ceases. This Government entirely misapprehends the obligations of this Parliament when it improves the conditions under which more favored sections of the community live, whilst at the same time it neglects entirely to effect any reasonable improvement of the conditions under which the more indigent sections of the Australian people have to live. I confess that, in the absence of the complete capacity to restore the salaries of public servants which were affected by the financial emergency legislation, it is not easy to decide where the first step shall be taken. The Treasurer has informed us that the finances are in a much more satisfactory state than they were last year. We regret to be obliged repeatedly to declare that, until such time as there is a complete restoration of the payments to invalid and old-age pensioners, we shall not consent to the general financial policy which the Government is seeking to implement. We take the stand that, as the Government is remitting taxation imposed under the financial emergency legislation upon certain sections of the community and removing burdens from others in more comfortable circumstances, its paramount obligation is to improve the conditions of those who to-day are in a most desperate plight. It is for this reason that we appeal repeatedly on behalf of the unemployed for relief; it is for this reason that we contend that the bill should include provision for the complete restoration of invalid and oldage pension payments. I do not propose, in view of what has been said, since Parliament re-assembled, to deal with this matter at great length to-night.

The principal act effected reductions of the salaries of public servants and the allowances of members of Parliament, as well as reductions of payments to invalid and old-age pensioners, and generally affected the expenditure of all Government departments insofar as that expenditure was adjustable. We now take the stand that, in the process of recovery made possible as a result of the improvement of conditions generally as reflected in the increased revenues of the Government, the Ministry should reverse the order in which it is removing the burdens which were imposed upon the various categories of citizens. By its readiness to improve the rates of pay to members of the Parliament and the Ministers of State as well as highly paid public servants, and to remit taxation paid by those whose incomes in any event are large - for the most part they own property in the large capital cities and, strictly speaking, are not engaged in primary production - while still leaving unaffected the reductions of payments to invalid and old-age pensioners, the Government has failed to honour the undertaking sincerely given that pensioners should not continue to bear this unfair share of the sacrifice a moment longer than was necessary. The only reasonable assumption is that, in the opinion of the Government, the pensioners have less right to share in the national recovery than have members of Parliament, Ministers of State, the higher-paid public servants, and large taxpayers. I move, as an amendment -

That all the .words after "that" be omitted, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words " the bill be withdrawn and redrafted to provide for such alterations as would, without increasing the appropriation, provide for the complete restoration of the reductions in invalid and old-age pensions, which was effected in the Principal Act.

I put it to the House that we should not engage in any extended liberalization of the conditions of those sections of the community whose circumstances are the more fortunate until we have made complete restoration to invalid and old-age pensioners, who were called upon to make such a heavy sacrifice in 1931, and who, since that time, have had imposed upon them other onerous disabilities. There ought not to be any further use of the capacity of this House to make allowances out of the improved financial position to various sections of the community who, we believe, have less claim on the generosity of the Parliament than have the invalid and old-age pensioners. Before we do more for those for whom we have already done something, we should at least do something for those for whom, up to the present, we have done nothing.

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