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Thursday, 20 November 1941

Mr BAKER (Maranoa) . - I support this bill, which is one of the most important that has been brought before Parliament for a considerable time. I congratulate the Government, and especially the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Holloway), who is the right man in the right place - kind, humane, sympathetically understanding and understandingly sympathetic. The present act, which this bill proposes to amend, is rather brutal in some respects. For instance, it provides . that before a person shall be entitled to receive an invalid pension, he must prove that he is totally and permanently incapacitated. The question constantly arises: how is one to define total and permanent incapacity? A person who could lift an arm or move a foot could not be described as totally incapacitated. On one occasion I asked the Minister in charge of pensions whether it were necessary to wait for rigor mortis to set in before a person could qualify for a pension. One case that came under my notice was that of a beautiful girl of nineteen years of age who had suffered for years from osteomyelitis. She had been receiving a pension for some time, and then it was withdrawn. I am glad that the former Minister for Social Services (Sir Frederick Stewart) is present because I wish f> compliment him on his handling of that case. At ray request he assembled a board consisting of three medical officers, and promised to act on their report. They found that she was totally and permanently incapacitated, and she was given an invalid pension, payments to be retrospective for two years. I mention this case in order to show that the act is so rigid that it throws a very great responsibility on those administering it.-

.   This budget has running through it like a golden 'thread an appreciation of human values. A budget is not merely a collection of figures relating to certain sums of money, setting forth how that money is to be gathered and expended. In considering a budget we must think also of the human and humane side of life, and, ' according as the budget is drawn well, or ill. so will the people affected by it he happy or suffer hardship. Those who framed this budget believe with John Buskin, the great English artist and writer, that there is no wealth but life. We talk of our wonderful . wool production, our meat, our fruit, our sugar, our wheat., our wine, our dairy produce, our timber and our minerals, but what, are they compared with human life? Take a diamond - even the famous Koh-i-noor - what is it but. a little bit of carbon ? What is a sapphire but a piece of crystallized carborundum, or an opal but an amorphous piece of silica? Even the pearl is no more than a little bit of mucus which had gradually formed round a grain of sand to keep it from irritating the oyster into whose shell it had penetrated. All these things arc very beautiful in themselves, hut are nothing compared with human life. There is no wealth but human life, and I am glad that this fact has been recognized by the framers of the budget.

Comparalively few people are born defective, cither physically or mentally. In. the case of invalidity, the defects develop because of bad living conditions, bad housing, bad or unsuitable food, bad nursing, or as the result of accidents in field or flood, or in the course of daily work. My point is that invalidity develops during tlie life of the person, and we should endeavour to remove the causes. To this end we should nationalize the medical service, as well as hospital and dental services. These services arc provided for mcn when they join the Army. Doctors, nurses and dentists are engaged to keep the men fit. Why not provide the same service for the people who march in the army of life? Prevention is always better than cure. We have been told by some honorable members that we cannot, alford to provide these tilings. Nothing makes me so tired as this parrot cry, " We cannot afford it." We cannot afford not fo afford it. This war is teaching us many lessons, and one of the mast important is that money can always be found when it is wanted. We must, find money now in order to protect the Empire. " Peace hath her victories no less renowned than war." If we can find money in war-time wc can find it in peace-time. For too long money has been the master; it should be made the servant of humanity, and. from now on it will be. 1 regard this bill as another rung of the ladder which will lead us upwards to a system of complete social service from" which the nation as a whole will benefit in the end. Australia may be spared invasion during this war, but unless we have a greater population than 7,000,000 we cannot hope indefinitely to escape attack. When hostilities cease, the- warweary peoples of Europe will turn to this bright land under the Southern Cross. The Poles, for instance, are a very fine people. We hope that Poland will be rehabilitated, but there is considerable doubt of it, because Poland, lying where it is, is between the upper and nether millstones. The peoples of Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium and Czechoslovakia, all magnificent races, will seek admittance to Australia.. During this war, thousands of people in Great Britain were anxious to send their children to Australia. After the war, they themselves, together with their families, will be anxious to come, and we must provide good conditions for them. I hope to live to see a population of 20,000,000 people in Australia. Then we may sit up and talk as a great nation.

I wish to speak for a few minutes about old-age pensions. We are under an obligation to look after not only our returned soldiers, but also the army of peace, which comprises those nien who have given their youth, health and strength to develop this great land. They should draw the pension' not as a charity but as a right.' Again and again, I have been told that Australia cannot afford to provide pensions on the present scale. I remind those who hold that view that during the current financial year, Australia's national income from primary and secondary industries will total £1,000,000,000.' That represents the private credit of the Commonwealth; the public credit is ten times that figure. Yet we are told that we cannot alford to give a little to the invalid or old-age pensioner ! Obviously that is not correct.

I was greatly impressed by the speech of the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin), who said that we should endeavour to rehabilitate not only the returned soldier, but also the pensioner. People who love life in the open air should be able, when they retire from industry, to live in a healthy environment instead of in slums. They should be given a piece of land, with security of tenure, and encouraged to grow vegetables and flowers. They would gain strength from their new, pleasant mode of life. But when we advocate this, our opponents shrug their shoulders and say that the necessary land cannot be obtained. When I was visiting the south-western part of Queensland recently, I travelled along a stock route 1 mile wide and 54 miles long. That is to say, 54 square miles of country were available for a slock route; the owners of the land on each side of it were allowed to use it without cost to themselves. Sheep and cattle were driven along it at. a rate of 6 and 9 miles a day respectively.

Mr Archie Cameron - That was a pretty long paddock.

Mr BAKER - Yes, and there are many others like it. Yet our opponents ask, " Where is the land to be found for the purpose which you advocate? " I suggest a scheme analogous to that of " Boy-land ". Why should we not establish little settlements where pensioners, enjoying security of tenure, could engage in the pleasant pastime of gardening, and rejoice in the words of the poet -

This is my own, my native land.

The sentimental side of this matter should not be overlooked, whilst from the open air life, the pensioners would gain in health and strength. I am gratified that the Government decided to increase, the pension to £1 3s. 6d. a week. I am also pleased that we have the sacred promise of the Government to increase the pension early next year to 25s. a week. If that undertaking be not honoured I shall leave the party.

Mr BAKER - I thought that that would make members of the Opposition sit up. The Government has promised, early next year, to increase the pension to 25s. a week. When the Labour party makes a promise, it keeps it.

Government Members. - Hear, hear !

Mr BAKER - I regret that the bill does not make Asiatics, except those born in Australia, Indians born in British India, and the aboriginal natives of Australia, eligible to receive the invalid or old-age pension. In my opinion, all of them are entitled to it.

Mr Archie Cameron - Make the act retrospective so as to apply to those who have died.

Mr BAKER - The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) can be assured that notwithstanding the fact that he lives on the other side of the political fence he will be granted an oldage pension when he attains the age of 65 years.

This is a wonderfully humane measure. It is one step up the ladder to adequate social security in this great land. At this juncture, I should like to pay a tribute to the Acting Deputy Commissioner of Pensions in Queensland, Mr. C. R. Burdeu, for the manner in which he has administered the act. Although I havenever met him, I have had a good deal of correspondence with him and have always found him to be most sympathetic. The administration of the Invalid and old-age Pensions Act depends upon such officers as he, and I feel sure, having met. many of them, that they will have regard to not only the letter but also the spirit of the law. When granting old-age pensions, we must not always count the cost. William Jennings Bryan, the great Democratic leader in the United States of America said -

Man is crucified on a cross of gold.

It is time that we put money in its proper place, and made it the handmaiden of the services that we need.

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