Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 20 November 1941

Mr HOLLOWAY (Melbourne PortsMinister for Social Services and Minister for Health) . - in reply - Many honorable members have given me too much credit for having brought this bill down so shortly after taking office. It could not have been done out for the excellent work of the Director-General, the Commissioner, and the staff of my own department, and' the assistance of the officers of the legal department. I was very pleased, though not, of course, surprised, at the manner in which the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart) addressed himself to the bill. I was gratified that he took charge of the debate for the Opposition, because he was responsible for much of the contents of the bill. It is true that the Labour party at the last elections promised, if elected to office, to increase pensions to £1 5s. a week. This evening the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart) chided the Prime Minister with having failed to keep that promise. But I think that the honorable gentleman appreciates the difficulties of the Government and is satisfied with what has been done.

The Government decided that the best course to adopt in the quickest possible time, was to remove the anomalies from the act and to give some increased pensions before the end of the year. Consequently, the Government decided to examine the ' act rapidly, but carefully, and place before Parliament amendments which would confer the greatest advantage, without loss of time, upon the people most in need of it. The outstanding improvement is the liberalization of the " adequate maintenance provision " relating to invalid pensions. "Borderline" cases have a special appeal. The department and successive Ministers for Social Services, being hound to observe the strict' letter of the law, were compelled to reject many " borderline " cases, which were not totally and permanently incapacitated for work. The decision to allow a certain flexibility will mean that some of tlie " borderline " eases will now be granted pensions and much hardship will be alleviated.

The honorable member for Parramatta feared that the Government's proposal to achieve this object would create greater difficulties than before. Even if that be correct, the amendment will bring into the field hundreds of deserving cases. " Borderline " cases will always be difficult, and cannot be avoided. We have to take the risk of making things more difficult in future, and at, least, by granting the 15 per cent, flexibility, we have brought into the field many people who should have been granted pensions years ago.

Most honorable members heartily supported the bill. The only really pessimistic note was struck, strange to say, by one of the youngest members, who threw a wet blanket upon the proposals of the Government. The honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Hutchinson), who was probably the most, reactionary member on this subject, found no merit in the bill. He still believes in that worn-out idea that you must starve your people to win a war. During the last six years he has consistently urged successive governments to follow the example of Great Britain. When he condemned the Government to-night for granting this small increase to pensioners he evidently overlooked tlie fact that Great Britain, where the necessaries of life have been rationed for eighteen months owing to the exigencies of war, recently increased the pension by a substantial sum a week. The pension in England, with an effective value of 19s., is greater than the Australian pension of 23s. Gd. a week. Great Britain has discarded the theory which it held a few years ago, that the most effective way in which to overcome a crisis is to reduce the standard of living to conditions of semi-poverty. Great Br i ta in now bel i e ves that, in order to get the best out of the nation, the people must be well fed and clothed. Despite that excellent example, some honorable .members desire the Australian Government to reduce pensions.

The honorable member for Parramatta was dubious as to whether the Government's proposals have reduced the difficulties of applicants for invalid p«?.- sions, and he expressed the belief that the Government has bought a lot of trouble. I disagree with that view. But the clause which relates to the adequate maintenance provision met with his approval. This increase of what is termed adequate maintenance is a great improvement.

Sir Frederick Stewart - Provision for that was made in the Fadden budget.

Mr HOLLOWAY - Yes ; the committee also recommended some flexibility. The Labour Government followed that lead. Incidentally, honorable members on this side of the House have for years advocated some relaxation o'f the harshness of the term " totally and permanently incapacitated for work". When the honorable member for Parramatta was Minister for Social Services he evidently did not realize that an applicant for an invalid pension was placed in a somewhat, different position from that, of an applicant for an old-age pension. The claimant, for invalid pension may have to depend upon the charity of his .parents, but that condition does not apply to an old-age pensioner. As a recognition of his long years of service to the country and his clean record, an old-age pensioner is entitled to the pension regardless of the means of his relatives. But a. claimant for an invalid pension, who, if anything, stands in greater need of assistance than an old-age pensioner, lias to depend upon tha earnings of the parent with whom he resides. The amendment, which was largely due to the persistent efforts of the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James), is a wonderful thing for invalids, as it places them practically on the same footing as an "applicant for an old-age .pension.

The honorable member for Cook (Mr. Sheehan) was the only speaker who feared t.he application, of the clause which introduces, for the first time, vocational training.

Mr Calwell - The honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) supported the remarks of the honorable member for Cook.

Mr HOLLOWAY - I am sorry that I overlooked the honorable member ' for Bourke. Those honorable members feared1 intimidation; but that is not the intention of the clause. The Director and the Commissioner have no intention of intimidating any invalid. The scheme is purely voluntary. The idea is that if an invalid, is capable, with a little training, of doing work, he should continue to draw tlie pension, and undergo a course of vocational training. No clement of compulsion is contained in the clause for the purpose of reducing the number of invalid pensioners.

Mr Calwell - 'Could the Minister amend- the clause in order to remove all doubt about the voluntary nature of the provision ?

Mr HOLLOWAY - If, in practice, any danger of intimidation arises, I promise the honorable member that the act will bc amended in March for the purposes of safeguarding the position.

The honorable member for Cook also doubted the fairness of the apportionment of the payment df pensions to recipients who are inmates of institutions. Two-thirds of the pension is paid to the institution, and the remainder to the inmate. In my opinion, that basis is fair. Invalid and old-age pensioners who reside in an institution are regarded by the management as being the best-paying section of the inmates. The income from these people is constant; it is- paid automatically to the institution. No arrears have ever to be collected. The practice of paying these pensons to hospitals has assumed such dimensions, and involves so much time and expense, that the department is considering a proposal to pay the pension, without deduction, to the pensioner. Then, any contribution which the inmate might make to the hospital would be a matter for mutual arrangement between the management and himself.

Sir Frederick Stewart - Will the matter be discussed with the State governments, who control many of these institutions ?

Mr HOLLOWAY - Yes. The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) made an eloquent appeal on behalf of natives of islands in the South Pacific Ocean, who, he stated, were " shanghaied" to Australia before federation and set to work in the canefields. This vanishing race, numbering several hundred persons, is not eligible to receive pensions. A dozen honorable members also urged the granting of the benefits to Asiatics who have resided in Australia for many years. I have gone to a. good deal of trouble, with the assistance of departmental officers, to make a complete survey of all people who are permanently resident in Australia but who are not eligible to receive the old-age pension. The Asiatics, who entered the country before the passing of the Immigration Act, have remained in Australia for 50 or 60 years. Their sons fought in the last war, and their grandsons are fighting in. the present war. As a class, they are highly respectable. Very few of them figure in police records. Many of them were pioneers who went to outback mining towns, carrying on their backs white-sheeted bundles containing clothing for the miners. They established the original stores on the mining fields and some of them became wealthy. The numbers of those people in Australia who have attained old-age pension age have been listed. There are 42 Afghans, 11 Arabs, 3 Asiatic Jews, 2 Asiatic Turks, 8 Baluchi, 1,930 Chinese, 69 Cingalese, 41 Phillipinos, 356 Indians, 60 Japanese, 25 Javanese, 99 Malayans, '4 Siamese, 216 Syrians and 26 of other description. After allowing for those rendered ineligible by the means test, it is estimated that 1,300 additional Asiatics could qualify for the invalid and old-age pension at an additional cost of £S0,000 a year if all present restrictions of race were removed.

Mr Anthony - The charge on the Commonwealth would diminish every year as those people died.

Mr HOLLOWAY - Exactly. They are dying off, and the Immigration Act precludes others from replacing them. In this matter we should not, make two bites at the cherry. It is our duty as a democracy to make all people who have been allowed to become permanent residents of the country equal in the eyes of the law. When the Right Honorable V. Sastri came to Australia several years ago I met, him at a conference, and when I asked him why he had come here, he said that he had done so to try to secure for the 4,000 nationals of his country in Australia the same rights and privileges as were' given to other sections of the Australiancommunity. When he said that, I was ashamed on- behalf of Australia's democracy.

Mr Holt -The principle with which the Minister is now dealing, was, accepted in theChildEndowrment Act.

Mr HOLLOWAY - Yes, I promise to. consult all parties concerned. Moreover the- provisions of - the child endowment were extended to aborigines. Aborigines ought to -come first in this matter, because they are our own people, but the difficulty is to 'discover., how many of them can qualify for the pension. Long before I ever thought that it would fall to my lot to introduce pensions legislation in this House, I spent three months in Central Australia, and paid particular attention to the Mission camps, and whatI learned thenmakes me realize how difficult it is to discover how to pay pensions and child endowment to aborigines so that they, shall-derive advantage from the payments. The experience gained in the administration of the . Child Endowment Act will guide us in framing the clauses of the legislation,whichis to be introduced. next. March further to amend the Invalid and Old-age Pensions-Act, in which we propose to' insert sections 'extending to aborigines.pensions benefits.

The right honorable member for Yarra. (Mr. Scullin.) spoke- about the -real effective valueof pensions. Strangely enough, the proposed pension of23s.6d. will have" precisely t he same effectivevalueas the pension of 17s.6d. had. in 1931-32. That fact, answers :. those:- : . honorable members, -whohavesaid- that- theeffective value of the, pension is. the real. matter of . concern, not - the -cash value. The -honorable member for. Flinders laid. stress- on the. need for uniformity and -the maintenance - of -a satisfactory- figure.. The sections ofthe act'-which-relate to the adjustment of the- pension according- to. the rise and fall of the cost'of living willlook after that aspect. ' There was" only one aspect of -his speech with which -I cannot express' complete agreement, and that dealt with the need to allow old-age pensioners to earn more than the addi- tional 12s. 6d. a week which they are at present allowed to earn without having their pension- reduced. The honorable member's suggestion had support from other- honorable -members, amongst them the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Duncan-Hughes), who suggested that ' there were many old-age pensioners who -could . do gardening orother casual work, and that, in times like this,. their services ought to be employed. . The honorable member was of the opinion that there would be no danger if they' were allowed to earn up to, say, £1 10s. a week. My answer to those contentions is that, under, the present act, an old-age pensioner may, without endangering his pension, earn £32 10s. a year, and that money can be earned in as short a space of time as the pensioner finds it possible to earn it'. That means that pensioners can do casual work. Furthermore, there is nothing to prevent an old-age pensioner from surrendering his pension when he gets a regular job and regaining it when he cannot work any longer. In that respect he is in a different category from theinvalid pensioner, who, once he has surrendered his pension, must again satisfy the Commissioner of Pensions as' to his total and permanent incapacity before being able to regain, it. That means that an old-age pensioner can at any time takeemployment, provided that he surrenders his -pension if his earnings exceed the statutory limit. The tendency in the Englishspeaking world is to reduce the age- of . retirement and increase the school-leaving age. -That is the altruistic reason whypeople above -the : age at which old-age pensions become payable ought not to be in industry. The economic- reason, much.the -more powerful- reason, is that in normal "times there is -insufficient work tokeep all employable- men and women" in the community in employment.Rather than. to brave- old people working; the' tendency is the other way.

Mr Holt - Does the Minister agree that in war-time someemergency arrangements must bemade?

Suggest corrections