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Thursday, 7 May 1942

Mr CLARK (Darling) .- I congratulate the Government upon introducing this legislation for improving the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act, and I am gratified that the Ministry has honoured its promise to increase invalid and old-age pensions to 25s. a week. Although the amount is not a princely sum, it will assist pensioners to meet the cost of living which has risen sharply from month to month since the outbreak of war. It is pleasing to note that 25s. a week is the minimum pension, because provision is made for the rate to increase automatically as the cost of living rises.

I welcome the clause that entitles aborigines, who live under civilized conditions, to receive an invalid or old-age pension. This provision will remove a hardship that had been inflicted upon a considerable number of persons. Before they were granted a pension they had to prove that they were not predominantly of aboriginal blood. The proposed benefit should have been granted to certain aborigines many years ago and though belated, it is most welcome. In respect of other social benefits, the practice has been followed, where the recipients live in mission compounds, for the money to be paid to the authorities, who administer it on behalf of the aborigines. In1 my opinion, any person of aboriginal blood who is considered to he capable ' of handling, the money wisely, should receive the pension personally. The equivalent should not be doled out to them in the form of rations, tn their active years, they contributed to the development of the country, and are entitled to receive a pension on the same basis as any other citizen.

At present, an old-age pensioner is permitted to earn up to 12s. 6d. a week before his pension is affected. En my opinion, that amount should be increased, as I believe that the maximum permissible income, added to the pension1, is little enough to pay for rent,, clothing, blankets and the necessaries of life. This contention applies particularly to invalid pensioners, upon some of whom this restriction has inflicted considerable hardship because of the need of medicines, &c. An invalid pensioner is permitted to receive 12s. 6d. a week, provided the money comes from a source upon which he is not required to expend any effort. If the amount of 12s. 6d. is a gift, or income from property, the invalid pensioner is permitted to draw the full pension. But if by some slight effort he earns 12s. 6d. a week, the department deems him not to be totally and permanently incapacitated.

Mr James - An invalid pensioner is no longer required to be totally and permanently incapacitated before becoming eligible for a pension.

Mr CLARK - I believe that the department now allows 85 per cent, incapacity; but if the invalid pensioner earns a small income, his pension is reduced. He is placed on a different footing from that of an old-age pensioner. I should like to see an extension of the pensions scheme on the same basis as family endowment. Endowment is paid in respect of all children of a family with the exception of the first and regardless of the income of the parents. That is an excellent idea, because it removes the impression that a person must be almost a pauper before he may receive a social benefit In my opinion, the pensions scheme should be extended to all persons in the community. Regardless of their earnings, they should be entitled to participate in the national dividend. If they became unemployed, they would still share in the national dividend and would not be compelled to apply for the miserable dole, as people were during the economic depression. One of the greatest fears in life is economic insecurity. Many people live from day to day in fear of what the morrow will hold for them. I recommend that 25s. should be paid to the husband, 25s. to the wife, and 5s. in respect of each child. That would be a guaranteed income to a family whether or not the husband had employment. The adoption of this plan would represent a remarkable social advance. Wages would be affected accordingly, and industry could be taxed for the purpose of providing this national dividend.

At present, an aged couple experience great difficulty in providing from their combined pensions rent for a comfortable and respectable dwelling. Government housing schemes should include homes for invalid and old-age pensioners at reasonable rentals, and I hope that in the very near future, legislation will be introduced to achieve this objective.

Another matter to which I desire to draw attention is most important. A husband might be receiving an invalid pension, and his wife might decide to seek employment in order to augment the family income. If the husband is receiving the proposed full rate of pension of £1 5s. a week, his wife will be permitted to earn a similar sum before his pension is effected. If the wife should earn £2 a week, onehalf of that amount would be charged as income to the, husband and his pension would be reduced accordingly. He would be permitted to receive an income of 12s. 6d." a week but because of the wife's earnings, his pension would be reduced by 7s. 6d. a week. That is> definitely an anomaly. If the husband and wife were each receiving a pension and one of the parties were earning £2 a week, each of them would be entitled to £1 17s. 6d. a week, which includes the pension and earnings, and their combined income would be £3 15s. a week. If the husband alone receives a pension and his wife works, the combined incomes would be reduced by 17s. 6d. a week. ' I am sure that the Minister will rectify that anomaly, now that I have brought the matter to his notice.

I join with other honorable members in stating that, although war expenditure has increased the Commonwealth budget to £350,000,000 a year, this is the appropriate time for Parliament to increase social benefits. As I stated earlier, £1 5s. a week is not a princely sum, and pensioners are not likely to be accused of being guilty of extravagant spending upon non-essential goods, thus absorbing man-power that is required for war industries. The invalid and old-age pension is one of the most important payments that Australia is making to the people. Aged persons, during their working life, contributed to the national wealth. For their great pioneering work, the country owes them a substantial debt and the pensions which they are granted are something to which they are justly entitled. The payments are definitely not a charitable gift to them from the nation. [ hope that the Minister will cover the points that I have raised regarding a wife and invalid husband, the payment of pensions to aborigines, the income limit and provision for housing and other social benefits for pensioners.

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