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Thursday, 7 May 1942


Mr BAKER (Maranoa) .-I congratulate the Government and the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Holloway) upon the introduction of a measure that will give effect to a promise made by the Labour party to the people before the end of last year. Opposition members have asked me if the promise would be honoured and I have replied that the Labour party always carries out its promises. 1 added that if the party's promises were not carried out on this occasion, I would leave the party; but I did not say that I would cross the floor of the House. It is with much satisfaction that I find that the increased payments are to be made retrospective to the 2nd April, 1942. It reflects great credit on the Government that in a time of national crisis it has introduced legislation that will have the effect of making the Commonwealth a better place to live in, and a country to which the members of our fighting forces will be proud to return. Those who have borne the heat and burden of the day should have the sunset of their life made easy. It has been suggested that people should save for their old age; but I should like to know how a worker on the basic wage, with a wife and family to support, can hope to save sufficient to provide for his needs in his old age. It is the anxiety caused by the likelihood of need in their old age, when they are no longer able to work for their living, that causes many people to fail before their normal time. Aged parents who have given their sons and their grandsons to fight for the defence of democracy must be cared for by that democracy. They have spent the best part of their life in pioneering and building up a great Commonwealth, and have received little remuneration for the work they have done. I regard an old-age pension as deferred pay for services rendered to the nation.

I hope that this measure is a forerunner to a long line of amending social legislation to be introduced by the Government. We have already in existence a child endowment scheme, and widows' and orphans' pensions and pensions for soldiers who have suffered the privations of war in the defence of Australia are being considered. In addition, we shall provide what should be the birthright of every person in this country - the right to work. One effect of this measure will be to quicken and stir the moral conscience of the people. We should be ashamed to think that in a land of plenty there are destitute people in our midst. After all, we are our brother's keeper and there are certain obligations in life from which none of us can escape. We have a duty to perform to the aged, the young and the helpless.

I do not agree with the bogy raised by the honorable member for Barker (Mr.

Archie Cameron) and the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony), who have claimed that the time is not ripe to increase pensions. When will the time be ripe for us to bring about this muchneeded reform ? It should be the aim of "very body to leave this world a better place than when he came into it. The honorable member for Richmond has stated that the economic system of the country cannot carry this added expense. That is typical of the viewpoint of certain members of the United Country party. If the present economic system cannot carry the burden, let us get a new one. We are gradually discarding the system that will not carry the load. The honorable member for Richmond has claimed further that we should take a long-distance view in these matters. I am afraid that he took such a longdistance view of this matter that he could not see anything at all. He is like the Pharisee who passed on the other side of the road and did not see what was wrong. However, in this world of plenty, shame will make us ensure that changes are made in our social order. More and more we are recognizing that there is no wealth but human life, and no values but human values. I am confident that when this measure becomes law it will be administered in a sympathetic and humane manner. The Minister will be bound not. only by the letter, but also by the spirit of the law. I hope that in due course the minimum age limits will be reduced from 65 years for males and 60 years for females to 60 years for males and 55 years for females. It has been suggested that we cannot afford to increase invalid and old-age pensions, but I point out that a nation is wealthy only if it has a contented and happy people. One of the outstanding lessons of the present war is that if money has to be found then it can be found. We are spending approximately £1,000,000 a day on the war, and no doubt even this huge sum will be exceeded in the near future. If we can find such a colossal sum for war purposes, surely we can find a few hundred thousand pounds to benefit our aged and helpless. I am glad that the Labour party has been able to introduce this bill, and so to carry out its promise to the people of this country.

A discordant note in this debate was struck by the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) who suggested that in legislating for an increase of 2s. 6d. in invalid and old-age pensions, the Government is doing something sinister or with an ulterior motive. Such a suggestion is unworthy of the honorable member. If I gave bread to a hungry child, would it be suggested that I had an ulterior motive or was acting in a sinister manner? I regret exceedingly that the honorable member made that suggestion. I am proud to be associated with this measure.







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