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Wednesday, 31 July 1946

Mr FULLER (Hume) .- I warmly commend the Government for having brought down this bill to provide a substantial measure of relief for invalid and old-age pensioners, at a cost of more than £4,000,000 a year, whilst simultaneously providing for reductions of taxes aggregating £17,500,000. If there is any section of the community which deserves not merely our sympathy but also our whole-hearted consideration, it is that section which is composed of the aged and the physically afflicted. Even if there be a few aged persons who are in needy circumstances because of their own thriftlessness, the fact remains that the great majority of the old people have lived an honest and honorable life and have contributed their share towards the development of this country. Therefore, they are entitled to expect that, in the eventide of their lives, they will be able to experience a real sense of freedom from want. There rests upon us, also, the same obligation in respect of those who, because of invalidity, are prevented from taking their places. in industry. [Quorumformed.] I am particularly pleased with the effect which the easing of the- means test will have on elderly people who derive modest incomes from superannuation schemes. There are a great many people who, upon retirement from the Public Service or other employment, receive superannuation- of £2 a week. At present, such persons have their pensions reduced because of the superannuation they receive. - In future, however, a married couple whose only income is superannuation of £2 a week will be able to receive full pensions of 32s. 6d. a' week each, giving them a total income of £5 5s. a week. Where the amount of superannuation is £3 a week, the couple will be entitled to pensions of 22s. 6d. a week . each, giving them the same total income of £5 5s. a week. In addition, they may own their own home, and have other assets valued at £119 without their pensions being affected. The position will be the same where a married man has no superannuation, but is able to derive income from part-time employment.

I am also pleased that pensioners are not, in future, to be penalized because they hold small life assurance policies, and that certain, other items of property are to be disregarded. The Government is to be congratulated on removing the means test for parents in dealing with applications from invalid children over 21 years of age. This will be welcome news in many a home, over- which hangs a cloud of sorrow because of the permanent affliction of a' son or daughter. It will bring to the invalid a new ray of hope and a feeling of relief from the sense pf utter dependence which in the pasthas had a most depressing and disheartening effect.

Some people, no doubt, will criticize the proposed liberalization of the means test on the ground that it will not benefit the- majority of pensioners who are entirely dependent on their pensions. The Government has a complete answer to such criticism, because it can show that it gave its first attention to those pensioners by increasing the maximum rate of pension, from time to time.

When Labour took office in October, 1941, the maximum pension was 21s. a week. It is now 32s. 6d., an increase of 51 per- cent, in less than five years of Labour rule.. This increase included 5s. fid. a week granted in July of 'last year. In no previous period of five years, since old-age pensions came into operation 37 years ago, was there anything like this percentage increase.-, In addition, the Labour Government has introduced allowances for the wives and children of invalid pensioners, and provided a grant of £10 towards the funeral expenses of the pensioner. ITo previous government has a better record so far as the welfare of bid-age and invalid pensioners is concerned.

I sincerely hope that the relaxation of the means test provided for in this bill is merely the forerunner of further steps inthis direction, and that it will soon be possible to embark on a plan which will ultimately achieve the entire removal of the means test from invalid and old-age pensions. Not only will this assure that state of social security which we hear so much about to-day, but it will undoubtedly serve to encourage thrift and stimulate the will to work.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate ; report adopted.

Bill - by leave - read a third time.

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