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Thursday, 12 August 1926

Senator NEEDHAM (Western Australia) (1:25 AM) . - I move -

That the word "July" be left out, with a view to inserting in lieu thereof " September." .

If this amendment is agreed to I shall then move to strike out the word ' five " with a view to inserting in its stead the word "six." The effect would be to make the bill operative from the 1st September, 1926, instead of, as proposed, from the 1st July, 1925. A few days ago Senator Barnes directed the attention of the Senate to the treatment meted out to an applicant for an old-age pension - a lady who, because she had made a mistake in her first application as regards her age, was deprived of pension payments to the amount of £22. Her request for retrospective payment was ignored. In the circumstances I fail to see why increased salaries to be paid to the Taxation Commissioner and the Assistant Commissioner should be made retrospective to the 1st July last year.

Senator McLachlan - The trouble is that a promise was made by the Government.

Senator NEEDHAM - The committee is not responsible for promises made by the Ministry.

Senator Thompson - But the Government must keep faith - it must honor its promises.

Senator NEEDHAM - I understood Senator Thompson to complain a moment or two ago about the retrospective nature of this bill.

Senator Thompson - But I have heard the Minister's explanation, and am satisfied.

Senator NEEDHAM - If it is argued that the committee must honour the promises of the Government, then all I can say is that we shall be setting up a very dangerous precedent. The Government was so anxious to defeat the Labour party last year that it plunged this country into a general election, and, apparently, overlooked its promises.

Senator McLachlan - Would not the Government be guilty of an act of injustice if a promise given were not honoured ?

Senator NEEDHAM - I can best answer Senator McLachlan's question in the approved Scottish way by asking another - Is it not a piece of arrogance on the part of any Government to give a pledge to public servants, and, fifteen months afterwards, present a measure to this committee and expect us to endorse it ? If the proposed increases are paid to the officers concerned from the 1st of next month, instead of from the 1st July, 1925, they will be handsomely dealt with. In addition to the case mentioned the other day by Senator Barnes, I could quote innumerable instances of Australian soldiers who went through the hell of France and Gallipoli, and who experienced the utmost difficulty in securing war pensions. In no case were the pensions made retrospective. Many applicants had to battle, not for a month or two, but in some cases for over a year, before they were granted a miserable pension.

Senator Thompson - All war gratuities were made retrospective.

Senator NEEDHAM - But the war gratuity, after all, was only a dole. It was not a fitting reward for men who risked their lives for this country.

Senator Thompson - The Australian soldiers received more consideration than those of other countries.

Senator NEEDHAM - The honorable senator knows that many men who rendered splendid service to their country are not receiving just treatment from the War Pensions Department.

Senator Sampson - There are quite a number.

Senator NEEDHAM - Yes ; and when Senator Sampson and other honorable senators have made representations to the department on behalf of returned soldiers they have found it impossible, in most cases, to obtain for them some of the benefits to which they are entitled. Honorable senators can, without reflecting in any way upon the two officers concerned, support the amendment.

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