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Thursday, 20 November 1941

Mr BLACKBURN (Bourke) .- I dissent from the view of the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Mar wick), and the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart), that the payment of, at any rate, the old-age pension should be a part of a contributory scheme, which I understood the honorable member for Swan to advocate. The only really permanent achievement in the way of social advance in Australasia is the payment of the old-age pension to aged people as a right without contribution.

Sir Frederick Stewart - It is not a right. The payment of the pension is very strictly limited.

Mr BLACKBURN - It is a right, subject to conditions imposed by the act. An up-to-date Constitution would provide economic guarantees of various kinds of people, and, amongst other things, would provide a guarantee that a person who had arrived at a certain age would receive a pension which would put. him beyond want, without any contribution at all by him. In the last 50 years we have had two schools of thought on this matter, one originating in Germany, and the other in Denmark. The German idea has been that all social benefits provided by the State should be paid for by the people who are to receive them and that the payment of benefits should be conditional upon payment having been first made by the beneficiaries, and that lapse of payments should disentitle them to benefits. The German idea was unsuccessfully advocated in Australasia, and adopted in some measure in Great Britain.

Mr Ryan -What about New Zealand ?

Mr BLACKBURN - I intend to deal with the New Zealand system, which seems to be quite different. The British system is a system of paying a noncontributory pension at the age of 70. Pensions paid to people under that age must be contributed for.

Sir Frederick Stewart - There is a means test.

Mr BLACKBURN - That is a different question. Means tests should be abolished. A man, whose name I have for the time being forgotten, has made the illuminating suggestion that pensions should be paid irrespective of means, and that the amount of pension received by a person should be added to the amount of income tax which he may have to pay. That seems to be a possible way in which to do away with the undesirable means test, and yet achieve the object which it seeks to achieve, namely, the refusal of the pension to those whose means do not justify their receiving it, At present, however, the means test is provided for in the statute, and any person who complies with the provisions of the statute has the right to the old-age pension. The New Zealand system seems to be noncontributory in principle, because, although everybody is bound to pay the social security tax, a person who, from one cause or another, has not been able to pay that tax, is not debarred from pensions benefit. It, therefore, does seem to me that the New Zealand scheme is not contributory in the sense in which the honorable member for Parramatta. uses the term.

Sir Frederick Stewart - Every contributory scheme makes allowance for abatement to unemployed people.

Mr BLACKBURN - Yes, but under the National Insurance Act passed by this Parliament, a man might make contributions for years and years and find himself debarred from benefit. I think that that is why this country rejected that scheme which was sponsored by the honorable member. In an amendment to a bill introduced into the Parliament of New Zealand as long ago as 1S97 by Mr. Seddon, it was suggested that the German system of contributory social benefit .should be adopted, but New Zealand refused to adopt the scheme. Australia, Canada, and, I think, South Africa, followed New Zealand's lead in that respect. I am not certain of what the position is in the United States of America, but I arn. inclined to think that the practice there is the same as that applied in New Zealand, in that every wage or salary earner is bound to contribute, but payment of contributions is not a condition precedent to the receiving of benefit.

The proposals contained in this measure are interim proposals in the ' same "way as the increase of the rate of pension is an interim increase. When Parliament reassembles next year a proposal to increase the rate of pension to 25s. a week will form a part of a bill designed to liberalize the system, of payment of pensions. This bill does very little in that way. The bill contains only two proposals for the liberalization of the pensions system. It proposes to widen t.he class of persons who may receive pensions by

Cringing within the pensions field a certain number of Asiatics who are British subjects and who formerly were excluded. My view is that we should pay, at anyrate, the old-age pension to persons qualified by age without regard to whether they are aliens or not, provided that they have lived in this country for twenty years. 'The basis of receipt of the oldage pension is that one has been a useful citizen of the country in which one lives, and by serving that country one has been unable to make provision for old age. The feeling of the world has changed, and', in my opinion, it is wrong to disqualify a -man or woman from receiving an invalid or old-age pension merely because he or she is not a British subject. I hope that the Government will go even farther than I have suggested, and apply the principle which was applied in the child endowment legislation, so that invalid and oldage pensions shall he made payable to detribalized Australian aboriginals.

I am dissatisfied with the provision in clause 3 for the assessment of the degree of a man's capacity to work. I agree with the honorable member for Parramatta (.Sir Frederick Stewart) that this proposal involves an arbitrary test, which would exclude many people from benefits. I have urged, over and: over again, in this House and before the Joint Committee on Social .Security, that invalid pensions should be granted on the same basis as workers' compensation. I refer -again to the case of the man who, having sustained an injury to a limb, was found to bc fit only for certain occupations in which the New South. Wales Commission had found that he would be extremely unlikely to be able to get employment. The High Court decided that, in those circumstances, the man was entitled to workers', compensation on the basis of permanent and total disability. The case was that of Wicks v. Union Steamship Company of New Zealand Limited. I refer the House to the High Court's judgment, as reported in 50 C.L.R. 33S-

Tlie commission was, therefore, called upon to decide whether the worker had. been permanently and totally disabled, an expression which, in our opinion, means physically incapacitated from ever earning by work any part of his livelihood, '.this condition is satisfied when capacity .for earning has gone, except for the chance, of obtaining special employment of h-ii unusual kind.

The court decided that tlie man was " permanently and totally disabled " within the meaning of the Workers' Compensation Act. The only difference .between that phrase and the phrase contained in the Commonwealth's act is in the use of the word " disabled " instead of "incapacitated". I cannot see what satisfaction can lie given by clause 3. How is the " degree of capacity for work " to be assessed to the satisfaction of the claimant? I hope that the Government, in its next amending bill, will adopt the principle laid down in relation to the Workers' Compensation Act. I should also like to see that principle applied to service pensions. There is no suggestion in the bill that the Government proposes to provide a scheme of vocational training or physical rehabilitation. In my opinion, it has put the cart before the horse. AVe should first have a scheme of physical rehabilitation for incapacitated persons, whether they .be incapacitated as the result of industrial accidents, or as the result of some other kind' of accident.

Such a scheme would have to be very expensive and elaborate, and it- would require 'many provisions that we have not yet thought about. A pamphlet by Dr. Hermann Levy; entitled War Effort and Industrial Injuries, published by the 'Fabian Society, contains a passage that is apposite to my remarks -

Beal "recovery" does not mean just that the worker is 'patched ' up sufficiently to make further treatment in hospital, or by his medical attendant., unnecessary; that lie walks out of hospital feeling "all right", but neither well nor confident that he will be able to find any work or that he can hold down a job if he does fiind one. ".Recovery" of that sort is apt to end in crippledom - if by a cripple be understood one suffering from permanent partial incapacity for social and economic life. Real "recovery" means much more than that: as most progressive nations have realized, it implies some form of rehabilitation treatment, which in itSelf falls into two parts - first, medical after-care, including massage, physical training or other type of reconditioning, in order to make the disabled worker fit for a fresh start; and secondly, actual training for work, whether this be part of the man's former job or some alternative occupation.

The pamphlet refers further to what is being done in a number of countries, particularly in some American States, and in the Canadian province of Ontario, where the Scheme of rehabilitation has been linked with the workers' compensation scheme. Unless the Governmentfirst establishes a scheme of vocational training and physical rehabilitation, and proves that it can operate satisfactorily, it would be- unfair to apply the principle that is embodied in this clause. It should initiate such a scheme in connexion with the workers' compensation acts of the Commonwealth and the States. I agree with the- honorable member for Cook (Mr. Sheehan) that any unfortunate invalid pensioner,- who was told that he would have to relinquish his pension unless he submitted to some scheme of rehabilitation, the efficacy of which had not- been tested, -would have reason to be apprehensive of the result.

I am glad that the rate of pension is to be increased by the' small amount proposed, but' I am sorry that the Government has not increased it in one step to 25s. a' week." I cannot see anything in this measure which deals with the matter which was mentioned by the honorable member for Parramatta, and which has been raised in this House previously by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James).

Sir Frederick Stewart - It is not necessary; it can be clone administratively.

Mr BLACKBURN - One of the disadvantages of that policy is that the establishment of a man's rights to a pension is a matter of administrative determination, upon which different administrators might take different views. In this connexion I am in agreement with the honorable member for Swan that the conditions of the grant of a pension should be laid down clearly in the act, where everybody could see them, so that there could be no doubt about them. There should be no means of evading the responsibility to pay a pension. The Government should take the bold course of removing from clause 17 and clause 22 the provision relating to the adequate maintenance of a claimant by his relatives. These matters should not be the subject of decision by administrators. As the bill stands its provisions might be administered conservatively by one Minister, and generously by another Minister.

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