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Friday, 8 May 1942

Mr BRENNAN (Batman) .- Speakers on this side of the chamber have congratulated the Government upon having introduced this bill. I have no objection to offering congratulations to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Holloway), in general terms, upon a fairly long life mostly spent in the service of the down-trodden and the destitute; but, actually, I must chide the Government a little for having taken so long to present this legislation. If congratulations are to be bestowed, the favours might more properly be offered to the Labour party as a whole, and, still more, to the organization of the pensioners themselves, who have had the common sense to organize, and to present their claims in an intelligent and manly way. Among the specious arguments, if one may call them such, addressed in opposition to the bill, none is so futile or fatuous as that based on the assertion that this increase of money in the hands of the pensioners must result in increased spending upon what are known as luxury goods. I wonder whether people who speak in that way really know what the life of the ordinary pensioner is. Do they appreciate the daily struggle against fate that is involved in eking out an existence in a manner calculated to win the respect of neighbours on the miserable pittance of 25s. a week? Do such critics realize how the additional 3s. 6d. a week, which is what the increase amounts to, will be spent? It will, of course, he spent on goods the purchase of which has been too long deferred, but which are nevertheless the necessaries of life of the pensioner and his humble household. It may he spent in mending a hole in the roof, or it may be spent in acquiring on time payment clothing that has been long needed, but could not. be purchased previously because of lack of funds; hut however it is spent, it will certainly not be spent wastefully or in the purchase of articles that are not strictly necessary. So I cannot help thinking that those persons who urge that the increase of pensions means an increase of luxury spending are speaking ironically, or with their tongues in their cheeks.

After all, why should the pensioner at the present time be entirely forgotten in the scheme of economy? We have reached the stage - from one point of view happily, and from another point of view unhappily - when all workers are working, and they are working, of course, at the highest rate they can obtain. Nobody blames them for that. At work also are the manufacturers and the business men, and, in the very heyday of their achievement, the exploiter and the gogetter. They are all working with tremendous enthusiasm to see how much can be derived from the necessities of the nation. I blame the exploiter and gogetter, who are using the nation's hour of adversity for their own enrichment. One sees these people everywhere. The present era is an era of great spending. If one goes to ordinary business places, one finds that, in spite of the difficulty of supplying the public with many articles, the current of business is flowing rapidly, and turnovers are excellent.

I do not know why, in such circumstances, there should be denied to those on" the very lowest rung of the social ladder the right to participate in this vast orgy of expenditure. Unless our avowed adherence to christian principles is so much make-believe, the invalid and aged, those people who in the ordi nary social structure are not able at the moment to look after themselves, should be a charge in a very special way on an organized community. The measure of relief that is offered to them must, as other speakers have pointed out, have some relation to the value of money and to the general conditions of the social structure. As a matter of fact, we are living in a land flowing, apparently, with milk and honey. There is ample production of wealth. Take, for example, the staple product of wheat, the basis of bread. We are informed that there is in stock three years' supply of wheat without harvesting another acre. I do not approve of the proposal to restrict the planting of wheat, but the fact remains. Fruit is littering the ground, perhaps not so much so in the present season as in the previous one, but there is clearly a vast superabundance. Our wool supply is so great that we are able to sell it on terms to the British Government, and even now we are in communication with that government to see if we can obtain a better price for our vast exportable surplus. I 'could wish' that we were using more of it for clothing for the poor. The same considerations apply to butter, which is a staple article of food. There are ample materials for the building of houses to replace slum dwellings, so as to make the lot of the poorer classes happier and better than it is now. We are living in a. land which has an almost unlimited production of the essential commodities - a production certainly beyond the means, and it may be beyond tha requirements, of the common people. It would be a happier condition if the distribution of this wealth were equitable, and the goods which a bountiful nature has provided were wisely and honestly distributed. They are not, of course, equitably distributed.

I listened last night to the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) speaking in his superior manner with nodding head and deprecating style. He lectured honorable members, and foretold the wrath to come if we continue along present lines. He ingenuously disowned the suggestions that he was drawing two salaries; but, after all, even the emoluments of a member of this House provide him with as much money in a month as it is proposed under the increased scale to allocate to an old-age pensioner for a whole year. If I understand the position rightly, the honorable member himself has an interest in the wheat-fields of this country, and he can afford to say with pleasure, in the words of Blackmore in Lorna Boone -

Then the yellow harvest came and brightened all the glad hillside.

The honorable member himself can reach out and garner a few pence from his fields, and what applies to him applies also to the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Marwick), who made lugubrious forecasts of the effect at the present time of increasing the pensioner's allowance. I am not one of those who believe that at this time we should resort to sackcloth and ashes. I am not favorable to a policy of down tails down and anticipating evil times ahead, although [ see with clear vision much evil in lie world. But I do believe that in the years to come this country, under its democratic institutions, will continue to progress, if that is the word, very much as it does to-day. In any case, I suggest that we should proceed along the lines - the very healthy lines - of " business as usual ". Each to his task. A part of our task is social legislation. A part of our task - it is a hard task, I admit - is to equalize the burdens of life and to make the lot of the poor easier and the burden of the rich proportionately greater. I have not seen any tremendous enthusiasm on the part of honorable gentlemen for participation in the horrors and terrors of the battle-field. I have seen one or two furnished with the appropriate uniform of the battle-field, but they occupy alongside other honorable members their comfortable positions in this chamber, unchallenged, and, I suppose, unchallengeable. The horrors and terrors of the battlefield are not for us. It is our duty and responsibility to direct policy, to tell other people what they are to do, to lecture, and, apparently, if one may judge from the debates, to forecast all sorts of evils. Well, I simply say to honorable members that, if they have any faith in the future, let them manifest it, and let them start to-day to introduce the new order which is forecast for the future. The policy of Labour is socialism - I confess and deplore that one does not hear much about it now. That is our job, and it is in the highest degree desirable that, if we have faith in the future, we should now, in everything we do and at each stage of our effort, have in mind the reconstruction of the social organism on a new and better basis. The position, as nobody knows better than the Minister for Social Services, is that the old order has produced the chaos, misery and destruction in which we are now enmeshed. Can we hope to have a new and better order? Are we serious when we speak of a new and better order, or do we, like those who deplore luxury spending, talk with tongue in cheek? Are we, who have been returned as the representatives of the people in this Parliament in comfortable and relatively happy conditions, ready to continue the existing order ? If so, I remind honorable members that it is seriously challenged now.

Mr Calwell - It is rocking.

Mr BRENNAN - Yes, it is rocking, not only from internal causes, but also from the fact that it is threatened externally by forces which are seeking to obliterate that veneer of democracy which in the past has dictated our conduct and to which we have rendered so much lip service. At any rate, in spite of the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) and his double receipts from the wheat-fields and his parliamentary salary, which we may assume to be, in the aggregate, at least twenty times greater than the invalid and old-age pension, in spile of the opposition of the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Marwick), who has the distinction of being from the State which itself is the pioneer amongst the mendicant States of the Commonwealth - in spite of all those things I am glad that a little belatedly, a little slowly, but still at last, the Labour party has redeemed its promise and will bring to the invalid and old-age pensioners of this country an additional measure of frugal comfort.

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