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Friday, 8 May 1942

Mr HOLLOWAY (Melbourne PortsMinister for Social Services and Minister for Health) (Minister for Health) . - in reply - Perhaps if at this stage I reply briefly to some of the requests made by honorable members in the course of this debate, it may shorten the committee stage of the bill. It has been pleasing to me to note the tone of this debate. The measure has met with more general support than similar measures have obtained in previous years. That is a good sign. Honorable members, in fact, have been almost unanimous in their support of the measure, although some have been more wholehearted than have others. Yet a few rather strange points of view have been expressed.

It was argued by some honorable gentlemen with a conservative outlook that the Government should make provision for a larger permissible income for pensioners. I gather that they held the opinion that that procedure would be preferable to an increase of the rate of pension. However, if the desires of those honorable gentlemen were acceded to, the pensions expenditure of the nation would be increased more than will he the case by the variation of the rates now proposed, because such action would automatically and inevitably increase the number of persons entitled to a pension, and it would also involve an upward variation of the pensions of persons now receiving payments at broken rates. It would probably cost £500,000 to meet the added cost of applying such a principle to broken pensions alone. Immediately there was an addition to the amount of permissible income, by the exemption of payments on account of phthisis or for some other reason, the field of eligibility would be enlarged and the number of broken pensions would be greatly increased. I am not saying that that is either right or wrong. It is said that the weakness of the act is that a pensioner is not allowed to earn a greater amount than is stipulated. In normal times, because of the improvement of all the means of production and distribution, and in order to deal with technological unemployment, which increases with greater momentum every year, the tendency is to raise the school-leaving age and lower the age at which workers leave industry. The object of that is, not merely to satisfy humanitarian instincts, but also to keep in work those who ought to remain. For that reason, the idea is to keep fairly low the amount of permissible income. We do not want old men and women to work. Normally, there is not sufficient employment offering for the absorption of every fit person. But there is another logical answer in these times, when any man who is physically fit can obtain employment. Any man who can work is an asset to the community, because there is not enough labour to meet requirements. I have made appeals to old-age pensioners to accept employment.

Mr Guy - They fear that they would lose their pension.

Mr HOLLOWAY - There is that fear. It is not so great now as it was previously. During the last six months, I have induced scores of pensioners to undertake fruit-picking for canning purposes in the Shepparton and other areas, and they have earned as much as £4 and £5 a week. Generally speaking, the offer of work is not accepted because of the fear that the pension will immediately be lost and might not be restored for several months.

Mr Stacey - That fear still exists.

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