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Thursday, 7 May 1942

Mr ANTHONY (Richmond) .- I am in agreement with certain of the views expressed by the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron). The time has arrived when people who derive social service benefits should contribute in some measure, during the years in which they are able to provide for themselves, to a fund which will enable the old-age pension to be paid to them irrespective of their financial position. If we are to go on year after year in this way with governments seeking to catch votes by the promises of greater and greater benefits, the time must come when our financial system will crack under the weight imposed upon it, and the very benefits which are desired to be bestowed will be lost. It is very easy to be generous, but when one is being generous one ought to be in a position to know that one's generosity will be lasting. The Government by introducing legislation of this character shows that it is more concerned with vote-catching expedients than with the economic possibilities of the legislation. I doubt whether the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Holloway) or the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) have given much consideration to the financial implications of this legislation. It has been said thai we could have done what is proposed to be done in this measure long ago, thai if we can expend £1,000,000 a day on the prosecution of the war, surely we can expend a. few million pound? on conferring social benefits on the people; but there are many reasons which make it extremely difficult to do so without imposing upon the community a burden which it is not, in a position to carry, and which in effect will create business stagnation and slown down thieconomic activity of the community. It is impracticable for this country or any other country to extend social legislation beyond a certain limit. Every country would be glad to make life easier for its citizens; but there are limits, and I do not think that the Government ha* given sufficient thought to that aspect of the matter. Its thoughts have been bound by the vote-catching possibilities of increasing the rate of invalid and old-age pensions by a further 2s. 6d. a week. On the one hand, we have the Prime Minister (Mr.

Curtin), the Treasurer, the Minister for War Organization of Industry (Mr. Dedman) and most senior ministers constantly exhorting the community to reduce expenditure on civil goods, and on the other hand the Minister lor. Social Services introducing legislation which will add £500,000 to the purchasing power of a section of the community and increase the demand for civil goods. Is this then an appropriate moment to increase pensions, not in accordance with the rise in the cost of living, for pensions have already risen in that respect, but in order to increase the spending power of the pensioners by an extra 2s. Gd. a week? That cannot square with the Government's policy to reduce the consumption of civil goods and it is completely out of accord with the general war policy of the Government. Every member on this side is in favour of granting to the pensioners all that can be granted, but, if that means more than the country can carry, the ultimate effect will be to do injury to the very people whose support is being sought by this specious means. It is necessary to take a long distance view, not a view of to-day or to-morrow, but a view of what will happen in, say, 20 years' time. Having been a president of a hospital board for a number of years and knowing, therefore, something about the needs of hospitals, I dislike the proposal to remove the necessity upon pensioners immediately they enter hospital to contribute a substantial part of their pension to meet the cost of their maintenance.

Mr James - Some hospital committees have refused to accept payment for treatment given to pensioners.

Mr ANTHONY - I do not know of any such hospital committee, but I am aware that most of the hospitals throughout Australia are in a dire financial position. Most of them have strained their bank overdraft to the limit. Many patients who are treated in hospitals are old-age pensioners.

Mr Spender - Are the hospital committees to be dependent on contributions from old-age pensioners to restore them to a sound financial basis?

Mr ANTHONY - No self-respecting hospital would deny admittance to an old-age pensioner who sought sanctuary within ils walls, but it is proper that a pensioner should be expected to contribute towards his upkeep while he is receiving treatment, because he would be under the necessity of maintaining himself if he were not in hospital. If pensioners are to be treated free, where are the hospitals to get the finance that would normally come from that sources - and it amounts to a considerable sum in the aggregate throughout the Commonwealth. The burden of financing hospitals will be placed on the State governments because they will have to make up the deficits. It means that the Commonwealth Government at the present critical juncture in the nation's history is placing a burden upon the States which, I hazard a guess, will amount to approximately £250,000 annually.

Mr Holloway - That is a very rough guess.

Mr ANTHONY - A substantial amount will be involved. When the question of increasing invalid and old-age pensions was being considered some, time ago, I directed attention to the plight of many old South Sea Islanders in. the Northern Rivers district of New South Wales, and in Queensland. I suggested that when an amending Invalid and Oldage Pensions Bill was under consideration, those people who were brought to this country 30 or 40 years ago - in many cases " black-birded " or shanghaied from their homes in the Islands to work on the sugar-cane fields in New South Wales and Queensland - should be granted a pension.

Sir Frederick Stewart - That is provided for in the bill.

Mr ANTHONY - I express my appreciation to the Minister for having included certain of those people in the bill. They are members of a fastdiminishing race; the youngest is approximately 70 years of age, and any grant that is now made will be of a temporary character. The small amount involved will disappear within a few years. But it will mean a lot to a comparatively few islanders who should, as a right, be entitled to. a pension. The bill sets out that certain specified classes of persons shall not be eligible to receive an invalid or old-age pension. In that category, the Government has included aliens ; Asiatics, except those who are British subjects; or aboriginal natives of Australia, Africa, and the islands of the Pacific or New Zealand. The bill then provides further that nothing in the preceding sub-section which I have paraphrased shall apply to " an aboriginal native of an island of the Pacific known as a kanaka ". I realize that the Minister is faced with great difficulty in this matter.

Mr HOLLOWAY (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - The honorable member should not attempt to make the difficulty greater, because the bill might embrace a broader interpretation than he desires. I think it is quite safe as it is.

Mr ANTHONY - I do not think it is safe. I understand that all natives from the South Sea Islands are regarded as " kanakas ". I do not believe that a " kanaka " who comes to Australia at present should be entitled to an invalid or old-age pension at the expense of this country. I do believe, however, that South Sea Islanders who come within the category I have previously mentioned should be granted an old-age pension. The difficulty could be overcome by providing that any aboriginal native of an island of the Pacific known as a " kanaka " who was not in Australia prior to, say, the 31st December, 1915, which is 27 years ago, should be entitled to a pension.

Mr Spender - How many " kanakas" have come to Australia in the last 20 years ?

Mr ANTHONY - I do not know. Whilst I appreciate what the Minister has endeavoured to provide for in the bill, I am suggesting a qualification of the class of " kanaka " who should be granted this privilege. They are provided for in one clause of the bill, but are disqualified in another clause. The Government must accept all responsibility for this measure; undoubtedly it will take all the credit, but I hope that the time is not far distant when Opposition members, as well as Government supporters, will see the wisdom of placing the whole of our social security legislation on a contributory basis, which would give a sense of security to all who may expect to become beneficiaries.

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