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Friday, 18 September 1936

Senator HARDY (New South Wales) . - I have very few comments to make, and I do not propose to fire any political ammunition at the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings). I can readily understand his difficulty in finding any ground for constructive criticism of the proposals now before the Senate. A sure test of whether a government is wise and successful in administration is its ability to lift from the community the emergency burdens imposed by another government. This bill leaves little doubt that this Government is able to lift the burdens which were imposed by the Government of 1931, and, what is more important, relieve the community of burdens without at the same time imposing others to replace them. The tax remissions are an example of what this Government has been able to do.

I cannot agree with the Leader of the Opposition as to the relative unimportance of the cost-of-living figures. A guide to monetary standards of the country is essential, and it is the cost of living index which indicates the purchasing power of money. The necessity for a cost-of-living standard is shown in the fixing of Public Service salaries. I understand that, due to the fall of the cost of living, Public Service salaries will still be £1,300,000 less than they were before the operation of the financial emergency legislation. Yet, according to the Leader of the Opposition, the decline of costs of living is insignificant. In fact, the honorable senator would ignore the effect of living costs so long as falls meant reduced salaries, but if price levels rose, he would claim that pensions must increase proportionately. To-day, when reduced prices mean reduced wages and reduced pensions, the honorable senator declares that the price index cannot be taken as a reasonable or logical guide and makes of it a political football.

In relation to war pensions and service pensions, a serious anomaly exists in the making of sustenance payments during the period in which applicants are in hospital for investigation. Under the repatriation provisions there are two classes of pensioners. There is the pensioner who claims that his disability is due to war service and who applies for a war pension. He is admitted to a repatriation hospital in one or another of the capital cities for investigation. Immediately he is admitted, even if he is without a job, he is presumed to be suffering a 100 per cent. disability, and during the whole of the period in which he is in the hospital he receives a full sustenance payment of approximately £2 to £4 a week according to whether or not he is a married man. The applicant for a service pension is a border-line case. He, also, is admitted to a repatriation hospital for investigation, but he does not receive sustenance while he is there. There we have the ridiculous anomaly of two men lying side by side in hospital, one receiving full sustenance, and the other receiving none. That is a definite hardship on the applicants for service pensions. The view taken by the Repatriation Department is that the applicant for a service pension makes his application on the grounds that he is permanently unemployable, and, therefore, is not entitled to sustenance. Men who apply for a war pension may also be unemployable, but they arepaid sustenance. I could tell the Senate of men who, although desirous of applying for a service pension, refrain from doing so because they wouldnot receive sustenance while their case was being investigated in the repatriation hospital.

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - The honorable senator realizes that many of the applicants for service pensions are also applicants for war pensions.

Senator HARDY - I do, but only one application can be made ata time. The limit of the permissible income in respect of a service pension is about £80 a year, but there are men who are capable of doing very light work, such as odd jobs in gardens, by which they earn about £30 or £40 a year. Such men might desire to apply for a service pension, but they generally are afraid to do so because they are not prepared to cause hardship to their families by sacrificing even their slight income as they would have to do if they went into hospital for two or three weeks to have their cases investigated. 1 am sure that when the Government decided to provide service pensions for border-line cases it was not its intention to debar from benefit such men as I have mentioned. There is a great deal of technical argument about the matter. I have asked questions as to what amount would be involved in extending to service pension applicants the same sustenance rights as are given to war pension applicants, and I have no doubt that in time I shall receive the information. I propose to deal more fully with this matter when the Appropriation Bill is before the Senate, but, in the meantime, I trust that the Government will give the fullest consideration to the points I have raised, and take action to remove the hardship which is operating, and which, I am sure the Government did not intend should exist.

In the House of Representatives and also outside the Parliament there has been considerable criticism of the exclusion of wheat-growers from participation in the fertilizers subsidy.

Senator Collings - The wheat-growers receive another bounty.

Senator HARDY - The Leader of the Opposition has argued previously that it isonly fair that the wheat-farmer should participate in the subsidy, but for guid ance in debate on this question, the fact should be remembered that this subsidy was not granted as a form of financial assistance, nor was it the intention of the Government to try, by the payment of the subsidy, to bridge the gap between the cost of production and the selling price. The Minister has already explained that the subsidy was given to provide superphosphates to certain primary producers in order to instruct them regarding the value of such aids. Those who criticize the Government for excluding the wheat industry might say that it should be paid the subsidy in order to encourage it to use fertilizers, but I remind them that there is no need to do this. Wheatgrowers have for many years realized the value of superphosphates. There is need, however, to instruct the dairymen, the producers of fat lamb, and other small farmers as to the benefit of using fertilizers. Indeed, one of the greatest problems which Australia must face in the near future is an intensive policy of pasture improvement. I impress upon honorable senators that if the wheat industry participated in the amount of money set aside for the payment of the fertilizer subsidy, the rate would be cut down from 10s. a ton to less than 5s. a ton. The proposal contained in the bill is correct, because it ensures that the subsidy will be distributed amongst those industries which need education in the use of fertilizers.

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