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Wednesday, 5 October 1927

Senator GRANT (New South Wales) - I invite the attention of honorable senators to the peculiar manner in which the Repatriation Act and the Oldage Pensions Act are being administered by the officials of those departments. Some time ago the son of a widowed mother enlisted and made the supreme sacrifice at the front. At that time the widowed mother was not aware that any payment was due to her from the Repatriation Department. She was in receipt of an old-age pension. Subsequently the Repatriation Department informed her that certain payments were due to her on account of the death of her son. For a period of eight years they paid her a pension computed on the assumption that the son was a private at the time of his death, whereas he was a corporal, and she was entitled to receive a higher allowance. At the expiration of that eight years the department informed her of the correct position, and placed to her credit in the bank a sum of about £120. It cannot be said that she had saved that amount. She had not even placed it in the bank. In accordance with his usual custom, the Deputy Commissioner of Pensions issued a circular, inviting pensioners to set out their financial position. This woman, having received a copy of the circular, carefully set down full particulars of her income, and included the sum which had wrongfully been retained by the Repatriation Department, but subsequently placed to her credit. On receipt of that information the department decided to reduce the amount of her old-age pension. That would have been a wrong action even if the woman had saved the money from her slender income, although it might have been perfectly legal; she did not save it, yet her pension was reduced. The amount of which she 'has been deprived should be paid to her by one of the departments, or both of them, together with interest for the term for which it was withheld. A Government which pays the Chairman of the Develop- ment and Migration Commission £5,000 a year for meandering round the country and inspecting tanks for rolling down scrub should not treat in this contemptible manner a woman who lost her son at the war. The Commonwealth's liability in respect of old-age pensions is about £8,000,000 per annum, and for war pensions a similar sum.

Senator Crawford - War pensions are increasing every year.

Senator GRANT - That is inevitable, because as time goes on the injuries received in the war, especially in the case of men who were gassed, will more and more be revealed.

Senator Crawford - The Government recognizes that.

Senator GRANT - For some years the amount of war pensions must increase; but that is no reason why this woman should be robbed of £11 or £12. From the point of. view of the department the sum is not large, but to the widowed mother it means a good deal. I understand that this woman was unaware of her right to a pension until so informed by the department. Probably thousands of other widows in Australia were, and still may be, in a similar position. I am not concerned which department pays her the money, so long as it is paid.

Senator Crawford - Has the honorable senator made representations in this matter to the Minister for Repatriation ?

Senator GRANT - I am not sure about that; if I have done so, I have received no reply from the Minister. I made representations to the Deputy Commissioner of Old-age Pensions in New South Wales, but without result. I trust that the Minister will look into this matter.

Senator Crawford - I shall see what can be done.

Senator GRANT -I shall supply the Minister with the particulars to enable him to do so.

Some time ago a royal commission was appointed to inquire into the question of national insurance. Various reports have been presented by that commission, and I understand that the Government intends to bring forward legislation to give effect to some of its recommendations. Whether it is intended to introduce one comprehensive bill, I do not know, but something should be done without delay to give relief to those who are not qualified, on account of age, to receive an old age pension, and also to those who, because hot permanently incapacitated, are ineligible to receive an invalid pension. At present, unless a person is totally and permanently incapacitated, he cannot get an invalid penson. I do not blame the officers who are administering the act; I blame the Government for not acting upon the report of the Commission on National Insurance, and bringing in a bill to give the relief sought. Thousands of people are suffering keenly because, under the pro visions of the Invalid and Old Age Pensions Act, those who are temporarily incapacitated cannot obtain financial assistance. A bill of the , kind would meet with almost unanimous approval.

Another aspect of this question is the proposal to make provision for those who are unemployed. It would be a new departure for the Commonwealth. Some people might fear that it would encourage malingerers - that men would receive payment to which they were not properly entitled ; but when we consider the matter impartially we find a very peculiar situation. A substantial proportion of the people of Australia are employed by the Federal or State Governments, municipalities, semi-public bodies, and large firms. They receive their wages regularly, are paid for holidays, and have other concessions. Contrasted with these, are men who receive intermittent wages, for instance men in the building trade. They render a service to the community quite equal and, in the opinion of some people, even superior to that which is rendered by many of those who are in permanent positions, but they lose employment frequently through slackness of trade, short supplies of material, inclemency of the weather, or strikes in other branches of trade. When they lose their work their remuneration ceases, but the home expenses continue just the same, and in fact are sometimes even greater than when they are working. In one family two boys may be employed in the service of the Government, and two may be working for private employers. The wages of the boys employed by the Government go on continuously, but the wages of those employed by private enterprise are so frequently interrupted that their average daily earnings for the year are very much less than their daily earning capacity. The time has arrived when the Commonwealth should recognize that those who are able and willing to work if they cannot get employment privately are just as much entitled to payment as those employed by the Government. The Royal Commission on National Insurance examined legislation in other countries, which appears to be working fairly well. The time is opportune for bringing in a bill to cover unemployment in Australia. The Government could introduce the measure in the Senate, and thus give honorable senators a chance to deal with it in a competent way instead of compelling them to discuss it hurriedly after it has been worn threadbare by weeks of discussion in another place: The Royal Commission on National Insurance has done better work than any commission ever appointed in the Commonwealth, and I ask the Government to bring in measures at the earliest possible moment to provide for temporary invalidity and involuntary unemployment.

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