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Thursday, 20 November 1941

Mr RYAN (Flinders) .- This bill goes a' long way towards removing the anomalies in the existing pensions legislation, and I congratulate the Government on following to a very considerable extent the lead given by the previous Government. The bill will be widely popular with the possible exception of one particular point, namely, the increased rate of pension. On that point a great deal can be said. In considering the standard rate of the invalid and old-age pensions there are three interests to be considered. ' The first interest is that of the pensioners themselves. It is only natural that they will wish for the pension to be as high as possible. The second interest is humanitarian. The community, as a whole, wishes invalid and old-age pensioners to he reasonably well treated. The third interest is national. The people's energies are directed to the successful prosecution of the war, which requires the wholehearted effort of all of us. Therefore, any diversion of energy to needs not directly connected with the war must be deprecated unless it can be fully justified. Opinions differ regarding this proposal to increase the rate of pension to 23s. 6d. a week. The needs of the pensioners must be considered in 'conjunction with the needs of the nation. Nobody will dispute that 23s. Gd. a week can provide no more than a meagre existence for any individual with prices at their present level. At the same time, this increase will impose an additional burden of about £2,000,000 a year on the financial resources of the nation. Tha increase is justified, but I am worried by the tendency that exists to increase pension rates at short and regular intervals. Obviously, if we increase the rate to 25s. a week somebody will, in course of time, raise an outcry for a further increase to 30s. a week. There must come a time when the Parliament will say, " This is the final rate of pension, which has been fixed in consideration of all of the circumstances." I do not know when that stage will bo reached, but I hope that it will be reached soon. We should say now, not as separate . political parties, but as a united Parliament, that a certain rate is justifiable, and that, in present circumstances, it must not be exceeded.

I shall now refer briefly to t.he pension schemes of other countries. ' Two forms of old-age pension are. payable in Groat Britain. The first scheme is contributory, and under it aged persons receive 25s. a week. The second, which is noncontributory, was established for those people who cannot contribute to the first scheme. The non-contributory pension was inaugurated some years ago at 10s.' a week, but the rate has been increased, since the outbreak of war, to 19s. Pen-: sion rates in New Zealand are somewhat higher than they are in Australia. As the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) has said, two schemes operate in New Zealand. The first is a system of universal superannuation, which applies to every citizen on reaching the age of 65 years. At the present time, the annual amount provided for each pensioner under this scheme is £10, but the rate will be increased annually by £2 10s. until 196S, when it is intended to reach the maximum of £78. Nobody knows what will take place between now and then, and it is probable that many changes will be made to the scheme. Apart from this superannuation scheme, there is an old-age pension for which people may qualify at the age of 60 years, by passing a means and residence te3t. The pension for a single applicant is £52 a year. A married man is entitled to £73 a year, plus £.13 a year for his wife and for each child under the age of sixteen years. A married man's income including pension may not exceed £4 a week. This scheme is more liberal than the one proposed in the bill.

I welcome this measure as being a small, but important, part of the comprehensive scheme of social security which I hope to see brought into effect some clay. Australia has lost the proud position which it held about twenty years ago as the most advanced country in the world in respect of social legislation. Invalid and old-age pensions were introduced in this country in 190S; the maternity allowance became payable in 1912. In 1906-07 the social expenditure of the

States - at that time there were no Commonwealth social services - was only £5,600,000, or 11.7 per cent, of the combined Commonwealth and State governmental expenditure. By 1913-14, the total had reached £12,000,000, representing 13.2 per cent, of the Commonwealth and State expenditure. I point out that these amounts included expenditure on the maintenance of law and order, which can hardly be regarded as social expenditure. After 19.13-14 there was a steady increase of the volume and variety of social services, and this increase was accentuated by the post-war depression. In 1939-40, when there was a great deal of wartime expenditure, the Commonwealth had a record social services budget of £57,300,000, which represented 22 par cent, of gross governmental expenditure from Consolidated Revenue and loan funds. Figures relating to Australia's national income were not compiledregularly until 1920-21, but from that year till 1939-40 social expenditure increased from 4.1 per cent, to 6.6 per cent, of the national income, which itself had increased by more than half. It is interesting to compare these figureswith the figures relating to social services in Great Britain. In 1936-37, Great Britain expended £455,000,000 on social services, or 10 per cent, of its national income. The net cost to public fluids of social services for that year was £305,000,000, or 32 per cent. of public funds. The percentage in Australia for that year was 22 per cent., which shows that we lag far behind Great Britain in social service. Therefore, after the war is over, we should be able to spend on social services at least10per cent, more of our national income, and that would bring the amount to £100,000,000 a year. That figure, of course, would include the whole range of social security services, including unemployment insurance.

The increase of the rate of old-age pension to 23s. 6d. a week will be of great assistance to the pensioners. I support the suggestion of the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin), that we should not only provide a part of the incomes of old-age pensioners, but also endeavour to improve their environment. One way to do this would be to build small, cheap houses for them, which has been done already to a limited degree in Melbourne. In existing circumstances, when a man and wife in receipt of the old-age pension become infirm they have no option but to seek a haven in some institution. Few of these establishments will take both the man and his wife, with the result that in the twilight of their lives, when they are most dependent upon each other, they are torn apart and taken to separate institutions. From that time on they rarely see each other. Many oldage pensioners do not like to leave the places where they have spent most of their lives, and when they are taken away from their homes and friends they suffer greatly. Therefore, the proposal to build homes for old-age pensioners is commendable, and might well be considered by the Government, possibly in conjunction with its housing scheme.

At the present time the allowable earnings of an old-age pensioner must not exceed 12s. 6d. a week, if he is to continue in receipt of the pension. That amount is worth very little in these days of high prices. The demand for labour often exceeds the supply, and many aged people could secure some form of employment which would pay them more than 12s. 6d. a week. Therefore, in the circumstances, I suggest that the permissible earnings of an old-age pensioner should be increased to £1 a week, or even £2 a week.

SirGeorge Bell. - Of course, that would increase the number of pensioners.

Mr RYAN -Not necessarily. The Government might now extend the rate of permissible earnings to £2 a week, instead of later increasing the rate of pension to 25s. a week.

Sitting suspended from6.15 to8 p.m.

Mr RYAN - As the Government desires other business to intervene, I ask leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.

Leave granted ; debate adjourned.

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