Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 29 June 1921

Senator EARLE (Tasmania) .- The few remarks I have to make on the second reading of this Bill will be confined as closely as possible to one or two items covered by the measure. I should like, however, to say that I was" astounded to hear- Senator Gardiner advocate the abolition of the Customs system at this time, and on the ground of our war experience. I thought that if there was one thing which we learned during the war, it was the necessity of every country being self-contained and self-reliant. . Surely the experience which not only we, but the great centre of our Empire, had during the war brought home to us with irresistible force the necessity of having tho whole of our requirements provided by ourselves.

One other matter to which the honorable senator referred was the desire for economy. There -is one thing which those gentlemen who are so pronounced in their advocacy of economy overlook, and it is the fact that in Australia we have all the machinery of government necessary for governing a population 'of 50,000,000. I do not see how we could have less, or how we could abolish any of our existing Departments. When we suggest to the advocates of economy that some Department in which they are particularly interested should be abolished they at once resent the suggestion, but they are always ready to advocate the abolition of Departments in which other persons are concerned. We have a population of only a little over 5,000,000, and consequently our cost of government is abnormally high, but if we had a population of 50,000,000- the cos.tof government would not be very materially increased. If our people are to be efficiently governed, I find it difficult to suggest anything in our machinery of government that we can do without.

Senator Senior - Is not the cost of sustaining a civilized being more than that of sustaining an uncivilized being?

Senator EARLE - Naturally the cost of government must be increased proportionately with the increased cost of other services. What I want to impress upon those who are clamouring for economy is that if we had five or tcn times the number of people we have at present in Australia, the cost of government would not be increased in any very great measure.

I wish to make a reference to the question of pensions for the blind. The case to which I intend to refer may be considered an isolated one, but that should not influence us. What is important is that a legitimate grievance should be remedied. It will be remembered that last year this Parliament carried an amendment of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act exempting blind pensioners from the ordinary disqualification attaching to pensioners generally. We made provision that blind pensioners should be permitted to earn up- to £4 5s. per week without any diminution of the . pension they receive from the Pensions Department. . It was intended that that should apply to all blind pensioners. Unfortunately - and I do not hold the Draf ting Department of the Government blameless in this matter - section 22 of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act was not amended as it should have been. That section reads - No person shall receive an invalid pension unless .... his relatives, namely, father, another husband, wife, or children, do not, either separatelyor collectively, adequately maintain him.

I am sure it was the intention of Parliament, and, I believe, it was the intention of the Government, when that amendment was passed, that this section should be also so altered as to allow a blind pensioner, although his father might be in a position adequately to maintain him, to receive the full amount of his invalid pension. I addressed the following letter to the Treasurer some time ago dealing with this specific case: -

Hobart, 19th May, 1921.

Right Honorable Sir Joseph Cook, Federal Treasurer.

Dear Sir. - May I present for your special consideration the case of a blind pensioner. He has been refused the pension on the grounds that his father is able to maintain him (section 22, Old-age and Invalid Pensions Act). His father's income is approximately £518 per annum, and if his son Tom was his only dependant he might reasonably be expected to maintain him, but, unfortunately, he is not. His elder brother is a complete invalid, and his second brother has now developed blindness, and his sister, through illness, has had to relinquish a position by which she earned her own living; so you can imagine how far £518 would go with four invalids in the house. I know it was your intention, and the intention of Parliament, when the last amending Bill was passed, to pay the pension to blind persons, irrespective of what assistance they might get from friends; hut, unfortunately, section 22 of the Act was not amended, hence this trouble. Now the only way that I can see that justice may be done to blind persons, and the intention of Parliament given effect to, is by a more liberal interpretation of the Act. This son is over twenty-one years of age, and if the father turned him out the pension would have to be paid. However, I leavethe case to you with confidence that you will do the best.

I received the following reply: -

Department of the Treasury, 3rd June, 1921.

Senator theHonorable J. Earle, Parliament House, Melbourne.

Dear Sir. - With reference to your letter of 19th May, addressed to the Treasurer (copy attached ) , I have to say that the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act provides that no person shall receive an invalid pension if his relatives, namely, father, mother, husband, or wife, adequately maintain him. Information in the possession of the Department shows thatTasmania, is being adequately maintained by his father. The Act does not provide for differential treatment in the case of children who are over twenty-one years of age, and under the circumstances the law will not permit of the payment of pension. I regret, therefore, that nothing further can be done in the matter.

I cannot understand why, in the face of the Act of Parliament and the desire of the Government, the law need be so strictly administered to the very letter. There is no doubt in my mind, andIdo not think there is any in the mind of the Government, that their intention, and the intention of Parliament, was that a blind pensioner should be placed on a different footing from those invalided through other causes. There was a long debate on the question at the time, and the amendment of the Act was fully justified by the arguments then advanced.

Senator Pearce - That section applies to all invalids:

Suggest corrections