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Thursday, 20 November 1941


Mr SCULLIN (Yarra) .- I rise to congratulate the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Holloway) on the opportunity that has presented itself to him to be associated with the improvement of the position of the pensioners. I am glad to be a supporter of the Government that has been able, in this critical time, to 'bring down a proposal to increase the rate of the invalid and old-age pension, because for ten years, in spite of the declaration of the last speaker, with which I agree, that pensions should not be the football of politics, I have had to suffer criticism from political opponents, and 'sometimes friends, because I was head of the Government that was associated with the reduction of the rate of pensions in the depth of the worst depression the world has ever suffered. I take some pleasure in scanning a . table of figures courteously supplied to me by officials of the Minister's department. The extraordinary thing, which may surprise honorable members who examine this table, is that, when the pension was reduced to 17s. 6d., its ratio to the basic wage was higher than ever before, although Australia had passed through soma of its most prosperous years. When the pension was established in 1910 at the rate of 10s. a week, it represented 22 per cent, of the basic wage. In 1916 it was 19.7 per cent., 1920 16.9 per cent., 1923 20.7 per cent., 1925 23.4 per cent., and, in the first six months of 1931, 26.3 per cent. After July, 1931, because the basic wage had fallen, the ratio increased to 27 per- cent. In the next year, when the basic wage had fallen further, the pension represented 27.6 per cent, of the basic wage, and it stayed at that percentage until 1934, when the percentage fell to 26.5, only to rise again in 1935 to 27.3. The table for those and succeeding years is as follows : -

The present percentage i3 24.7, and when this bill is carried, it will be 27.0, exactly the percentage when the cut was made in 1931. My first purpose in emphasizing these figures is to show that' in the depth of the world-wide depression the Labour Government maintained the purchasing power of the pensioners, at a higher level than 'ever before. My second reason is the considerable criticism that « this Government, in the midst of war and financial difficulties, could see fit to increase the rate of pensions. In answer to that criticism I point out that the increase proposed will bring the pension only up to the standard prevailing iri the depth of" the depression. Surely, we can give to the pensioners now as much as we gave to them when every one suffered, when unemployment was acute, and single men were expected to live on a sustenance allowance of 6s. a week. I know of four pensioners who rented, for Ss. a week, 2s, each, a little villa in my electorate. That villa could not be rented to-day under 25s. Bent is the great, bugbear of the pensioners; housing is the problem. The cost of living figures that deal with housing do not represent the true position so far as the pensioners are concerned. They are unable to- obtain homes-


Mr Ryan - Rents are taken into account in fixing the cost of living.


Mr SCULLIN - Yes, but the figures do not represent the truth so far as that stratum of the community is concerned. I admit that8s. a week was not a true reflecti on of rent, and that it was not reflected in the cost of living figures. It was a false rent, due to the extraordinary conditions of the depression period.

I have always held at the back of my mind that, when we are dealing with reconstruction and social services, we ought to pay more attention to the problem of housing pensioners. We have thousands of them crowded together in congested areas in the cities, living in houses on land which, because it is in the congested areas, is highly valued. Some pensioners, I admit, may prefer to live in the environment they know, but many others would be glad to get . out of the congested environment of the cities where they are forced to pay exorbitant rents rising to as high as8s. and 10s. a week for single rooms. We could evolve a scheme, not at present perhaps, but when we are reconstructing after this war, whereby we could house the pensioners on the outskirts of cities, or around country towns - not in thebackblocks, of course - where land is sold by the acre at prices cheaper than city land is sold by the foot. Comfortable homes could be built, each with a half acre or quarter- acre of land on which the pensioners could have gardens which would provide them with a hobby and useful employment in the production of vegetables, flowers and fruit. It has been one of my dreams that some one with wealth would do something on those lines and, thereby, give a lead to the State and the Commonwealth Governments. At present housing is a problem in big cities. Many places which could be occupied by workers arc at present occupied by pensioners and people superannuated from public positions. If they were provided with homes on the outskirts of the cities and country towns, as I have suggested, workmen could be provided with accommodation near places of their employment. It is not feasible to build workers' cottages away from their places' of employment because of the high fares and the timewasted in travelling but pensioners and superannuated people would not experiencethose disabilities. If settlements for pensionerswere provided in theway Ihave suggested the occupants could have all the amenities of city life, and they would not have the objection to taking up residence there that they would have to going into the back-blocks. Shopkeepers would go to those settlements in search of business. There would not be much need for schools because the occupantswould be aged people, not many of whom would have families of school age. At least, they would be away from the congested areas of the city and the housing problem would be eased. The first problem in housing workers is the cost of the land. We should be able to build a home for the price thatwe have to pay for land.


Mr Stacey - In South Australia fourroomed dwellings are available at 12s. 6d. aweek.


Mr SCULLIN -South Australia has given a good lead. So has the Methodist Church in New South Wales. It has set up a little colony of cheap houses, very much cheaper even than those in South Australia. I am not putting forward this suggestion as anything new, because there are the Old Colonists' Homes at Melbourne. When landwas cheap a philanthropist bought an area on which he erected a number -of homes, the qualification for occupancy ofwhich is the receipt of the old-age pension. There the people live happily rent free. We could not go so far as providing rent-free homes, but Ave could go very much farther than Ave have done. When the war is over thousands of returned soldiers and munitionsworkers will be looking for employment. Private enterprisewill require a certain period in order to pick up the threads of ordinary business, and Governments will have a responsibility. There is no betterway than for the Government to turn its energies to the provision of housing, and a beginning could be made by giving to the old-age pensioners and superannuated people a chance to get outside the environment of tlie slum to a brighter and healthier atmosphere of fresh air and glorious sun: shine. -







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