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Friday, 18 September 1936

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) (Postmaster-General) - in reply- Despite what Senator Collings said, the cost of living constitutes a real item in the budget of this country. In respect of public servants it represents a reduction of their salaries by £1,300,000 per annum, and therefore it cannot be dismissed as negligible.

There has been some criticism regarding the haste associated with this measure. In the abstract that criticism may be justified, but I remind honorable senators that all the proposals contained in this bill are also contained in the budget and estimate papers. With Senator James McLachlan, I regret that the measures themselves have not been made available to honorable senators. When for a short period I sat on the other side of the chamber a ' few years Ago, an effort was made to have placed ou the files of honorable senators measures which were introduced into the House of Representatives, so that honorable senators could familiarize themselves with their contents. This bill received a remarkably speedy passage through the other chamber. Although not brought forward for discussion until about 11 o'clock last night, it had been passed through all stages by 12.30 a.m. to-day. In giving a whole day to the measure the Senate cannot bc accused of undue haste.

Senator Sampson - The bill has been before us for less than three hours.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The other chamber disposed of it in one and a half hours.

Senator Duncan-Hughes - It had been introduced the previous day.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I shall bring before the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) the suggestion that bills introduced into the House of Representatives be made available to honorable senators, and he will, no doubt, confer with you, Mr. President, on the matter.

The Senate was glad to hear the dulcet tones of Senator Marwick, a new senator from Western Australia, who referred to the exclusion of wheat from the benefits under the fertilizer subsidy. It may interest the honorable senator to know that most of the expedients which have been suggested have been tried and found wanting. Since this bill was drafted there has been a proposal to limit ils benefits to persons with a certain maximum income. That is a rather objectionable method, and other ways to overcome the difficulty will be sought. I emphasize that the fertilizer subsidy has led to a reduction of the cost of fertilizers, whilst the results which have been achieved through the education of the people as to the benefit to be derived from the use of superphosphates are most encouraging.

Senator Hardyreferred to war pensioners. I have had this subject looked into, and now inform the Senate that sustenance payments are made available by the Repatriation Commission in accordance with the conditions laid down in the Australian Soldiers' Repatriation regulations. Where the necessity for treatment of Avar disablement, or the supply or repair of artificial limbs, or the investigation of applicants for acceptance of disabilities as being due to war service, prevents an applicant from following his usual occupation, sustenance may be paid at a rate not exceeding £2 2s. a week to a soldier, 18s. in respect of his wife and 6s. a week in respect of each of his children. Under the bill now before the Senate, the amount payable in respect of each child will be increased to 7s. 6d. a week. Nearly every applicant for a service pension has already had his case investigated for war pension purposes, and at the time of that examination was given the benefit of the sustenance allowance. Those who regard themselves as permanently unemployable are already prevented from following their usual occupations, but not by the exigencies of treatment or investigation. They are, therefore, not eligible under the regulations for the sustenance allowance. I shall however take an early opportunity to bring to the notice of the Minister for Repatriation the observations of the honorable senator.

Senator Duncan-Hughesraised a matter of some concern when he referred to the rising charge on the revenues of this country for the payment of invalid and old-age pensions; but I remind him that the country is committed to these payments.In effort to deal with this subject,the Government has taken steps to investigate national insurance. Some years ago, when I was a member of the Bruce-Page Government,I had the opportunity to examinesome proposals which were then made, but were not proceeded with because of the burdenthey would have placed on industry.I agree that the whole subject of pensions must be watched carefully, in order to avoid serious dislocation of the country's finances, in which event the old-age pensioners would be in a much worse plight than at present. Having regard to what has been done for other sections of the community, the proposals in respect of pensioners are only just. In committee, I shall be happy to give any further information desired by honorable senators.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a. second time.

In committee:

Clauses 1 to 10 agreed to.

Cla use 1.1 (Citation).

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