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

Senator EARLE - Quite so, but other sectionsof the Act provide that the ordinary invalid pensioner shall not be allowed to earn more than £65 a year, and if he is in receipt of more, his pension is reduced, whereas the blind pensioner was specially dealt with in consideration of his special affliction. If any body of people were ever grateful for an Act of Parliament, the blind people of Australia are grateful to this Parliament for being given the opportunity of earning what they can. I do not think I ever participated in anything which gave greater satisfaction to others, or brought greater satisfaction to myself, than the passing of that Act. I appeal to the Government to introduce an amending Bill, if that is absolutely necessary. I do not know whether there are any other cases than the one I have named. There may be many, but if there is only one, that instance indicates such a manifest injustice to the individual concerned that Parliament might even rush a short amending Bill through to correct the error which obviously took place when the last Bill was before it. The father, in this case, is a really good 'citizen, and, I am sure, will carry out his responsibilities to his family to the last penny; but he has two blind sons, one crippled, and an invalid daughter, so that practically the whole family is invalided, and his position is especially hard.

Senator Crawford - Are the members of his family adults 1

Senator EARLE - Yes. -If he turned the boy out, which he would be legally justified in doing, the boy could draw the pension and earn what he might, but from the fact of his living at home with his father, the Treasury Department argue that the father is quite able to maintain him. He, therefore, cannot receive the pension, which is decidedly unfair and unjust in every way.

Another important question concerns the position of old-age pensioners who are in various institutions. It has been brought up several times in the Senate. When the Old-age Pensions Act was passed, the general practice was that the old-age pensioners in institutions were maintained to the extent of 8s. per week by the Commonwealth, which paid the money to the States or to the institutions themselves, and the pensioners also received 2s. a week each as pocket money. Since then the pension has been increased to 15s. per week, but the pocket money has not been increased to the old folk. I do not know whether the Commonwealth Government has increased the money paid to the institutions for the maintenance of pensioners, but the failure to increase the pocket' money paid to the old people themselves is contrary, to the proper policy. We ought to do all we can to encourage the old people to go into these institutions, where they are often better cared for, nursed, and kept clean, than elsewhere, and their remaining years made much more comfortable. - The policy the Government has adopted rather tends to keep them out of the institutions. If they can stay out, they receive 15s. per week, but if they go in they are paid no more than the 2s. a week which was originally granted. This question has been brought before the

Treasurer, and when I last raised it here the Minister representing the Department promised to bring it before the Government, but so far I have had no intimation that they have come to any decision.. I should like the Government to consider it, and to see whether they cannot increase' the pocket money to at least 5s. per week. Honorable senators know how rar 2s. will go in the purchase of tobaccoor other little articles that old people want.

Senator Payne - The amount allowed is the difference between the total pension and what is paid to the institution.

Senator EARLE - I do not know how the matter is adjusted. I do not know whether the States axe now receiving 13s. per week or ' whether some other method is followed. The amount involved in my request is very small. I am sure the great majority of the old people deserve the slight increase, although some may be in their present position through their own, fault.

Senator Payne - Perhaps the States would- do something in that direction by cooperatiom with the Federal authorities.

Senator EARLE - I have no doubt they could. I appeal to the Federal Government to take the initiative and, if necessary, to ask the States to do something to make the lives of these old people a little brighter than at present.

Another question which arises concerns the expenditure of nearly £750,000 a year on the maternity allowance. I spoke of this some time ago, and believed, from the Minister's expressions, that my remarks met with considerable sympathy from the Government. We are not getting reasonable value for the money which is so expended. I am not advocating any reduction, and this is not an economy stunt on my part, for I would expend more money in advancing the object for which the vote was originally passed - that is, to increase the naturalborn population of Australia . If the system of public maternity clinics, nursing homes, and so on was extended-, a great deal better work would b'e accomplished. I have had an opportunity to observe the work carried on in Hobart by the Child Welfare Association, .where a number of enthusiastic ladies are associated with doctors, and meetings are held, at which prospective mothers receive advice as to the treatment of their children. Pure milk supplies are arranged for, where the mother may purchase milk at a standard price, or get it free if she is unable to pay. Children's garments are provided by the association, and, generally, whereever necessary, advice is given and care expended on the upbringing of the child. In the method we have adopted of paying £5 on the birth of practically every child in Australia, we are rather misguided.

Senator Foster - It ought to be called the doctors' and nurses' bonus.

Senator EARLE - There is a great deal of truth in the suggestion that the mother in most cases acts only as an agent between the Commonwealth Government and the doctor or the nurse, but it is also true that in many instances the money is misapplied. I find, from sworn evidence taken before a Committee of which I was a. member, that for 99 per cent. of the births in Australia the bonus has been claimed. Practically in every case the maternity allowance has been claimed. If the institutions I have named were subsidized by the Government a great deal more effective assistance would be given to those people who require it, and those who do not need it would not suffer.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - It would be making paupers of some people.

Senator EARLE - The honorable senator is quite wrong, asI would be the last to assist in doing that. I have seen the work of these institutions, and can say, without hesitation, there is absolutely no suggestion of pauperism, because women of all classes visit the clinics to receive advice, which they frequently pass on to others. I quite understand what Senator Thomas has in mind, but I would bc the last to do what he suggests. I feel sure that this system could be carried out without branding any one as a pauper. I strongly urge the Government to take the earliest opportunity of considering the advisableness of dispensing with the present system of paying maternity bonuses, and to spend a similar amount in co-operation with the State Governments. I believe that if anamount of £750,000, which is at present expended, were devoted to the work I have suggested, the State Governmentswould co-operate by subsidizing that work. I feel positive that a considerable number of Australian citizens would also assist by augmenting the funds, and thus render valuable aid to those whom we desire to benefit.

I desire to refer to our expenditure in searching for oil. There is an item in theschedule dealing with the work at Papua, and I would like the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) to indicate what is being done in that direction. I have a very strong suspicion that there is an unseen and powerful influence existing in Australia with the object of preventing the discovery of oil. lt is most remarkable that every effort to discover oil in Australia has been frustrated, either by ridiculous mismanagement, or some accident at what may be, to some, a most opportune time. In connexion with the shale oil in Tasmania a syndicate was floated, with which a gentleman who is a member of this Senate was closely associated. They obtained the services of a man who had been employed by a big oil company to manage the affairs of the syndicate, and advise it as to the capital required.; but, instead of starting to exploit the discovery in the most economical way, the retorts were placed on the opposite side of thehill from the adit. Honorablesenators will readily realize that with the deposits on one side of a hill and the retorts on the other, the handling costs were considerably increased, with the result that the syndicate became insolvent.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Who was responsible for that?

Senator EARLE - The manager, or the syndicate which was taking the advice of an expert officer.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Why is the honorable senator suggesting that it was the result of sinister influence?

Senator EARLE - That is what I suggest, and, although I believe such is the case, I cannot prove it. The same peculiar happening occurred in New South Wales. Honorable senators, I suppose, are well aware that, approximately, £1,000,000 was spent at the Wongan Valley, where a railway was placed on the' opposite side of the hill from where the deposit existed. After expending, approximately, £1,000,000 the company found that when they were in a position to commence operations their capital was exhausted, and they had no opportunity of developing the deposit. At Roma, in Queensland, where natural gas is rising from the earth, there are strong indications of oil; but when the bore reaches a certain depth, and one at which they expect to find oil, something breaks, and the bore becomes choked.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is quite a common occurrence in boring for artesian water.

Senator EARLE - It is a common boring for oil. So far as I can learn, when the point at which they expect to discover oil is reached, something breaks, and the money expended is lost. In regard to Papua, I wish to be very careful, because I have the highest opinion of Dr. Wade, with whom I was closely associated in connexion with his report upon the shale deposits in Tasmania. He appeared to me to be a practical man; but I am now advised that, after all the money we have spent in Papua on his advice, the AngloPersian Oil Company, in co-operation with the Commonwealth Government, has abandoned the original site and commenced operations 40 miles distant.. The Minister for Repatriation can inform me if I am correct, but I have read a statement to that effect in a reputable paper, and I, therefore, believe it to be true.

Senator Payne - On whose advice did they do that?

Senator EARLE - It was done evidently on the advice of the AngloPersian Oil Company, as they are contributing to the cost, and I imagine that they would make a genuine effort to discover oil. It is not likely in these circumstances that they would wish to throw us off the scent. I would like to know if our expenditure in co-operation with this company is anything appreciable. If Dr. Wade, as Australia's oil expert, agrees to abandon all that has been done, and recommends additional expenditure upon a site 40 miles away, some explanation is necessary. Perhaps when the Minister replies he will be able to give some information on the point.

Suggest corrections