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Wednesday, 1 September 1937

Senator HARDY (NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is not clue to the Labour party that they will be able to do that.

Senator BROWN - For many years the Labour party have been demanding an increase of pensions as an act of justice to pensioners. I am convinced, also, that the pensions law would not have been enacted but for its strong advocacy by members .of my party; they have always been in the van fighting for social reforms which have been won despite the resistance of our political opponents. Ministers will claim all the credit for what is being done, and it is essential that the true position should be put before pensioners, some of whom have good memories, and do not forget .what happened to them shortly after the Lyons Government came into office. They have received many hard and cruel knocks from this Administration. They have good reason to remember the incorporation in the act of the- provisions relating to pensioners' property. That caused them a great deal of anxiety. All Labour members, and I suppose many Government supporters also, received letters from hundreds of pensioners asking what they should do - whether it would be better to surrender their pensions or continue to receive them with the definite prospect of having claims made against their estates after their death. In many cases, the pension became merely a loan on the security of pensioners' properties. Sir John Latham, the present Chief Justice, was Attorney-General in the Lyons Ministry when the obnoxious property provisions were inserted in the act. He declared that, in addition to the 12,000 pensioners who surrendered their pensions, 13,000 persons, who otherwise would have been eligible, refrained from applying for the pension, and he estimated that the property provisions saved the Government an expenditure of £610,000. From this it will be seen that by increasing pensions to £1 a week the Government is merely doing tardy justice to a most deserving section of the community. When the Financial Emergency Bill was being discussed in the House of Representatives, Mr. Lyons, who was then Leader of the Opposition, declared that-

Not one member on this side of the House- the Tory side - supports withpleasure a reduction of wages and pensions. As far as we are concerned the reductions will not operate longer than is necessary for the restoration of financial stability.

Senator Hardy - What does the honorable senator mean by his reference to the Tory side?

Senator BROWN - I mean the political troglodytes; those who have always opposed political and social reforms. All conservatives are Tories. It is a generic term and includes members of the United Australia and Country parties, especially men of the political school to which Senator Hardy belongs..

Senator Hardy - Then even ministers and supporters of a government that introduced and passed the legislation dealing with war pensions would be, in the view of the honorable senator, Tories?

Senator BROWN - That legislation was the outcome of constant agitation by Labour members. In fact, all social reforms have been won only after continual pressure from Labour and Liberal sources upon the conservative elements in control of governments. For instance, when the bill for the payment of maternity allowances was being discussed, its Tory opponents called it a sop to profligacy, and when Queensland introduced its scheme of national insurance, Tory opponents described it as a " Loafers' Paradise Bill ". I suppose it is natural that opponents of reform should fight for the interests of the classes to which they belong, and this being so there always will be in the community a certain number of " dyedinthewool Tories". Some of them are supporters of this Government, which, shortly after it came into office, reduced pensions from 17s. 6d. a week to 15s. a week. When that fact was stated in this chamber a year or two ago Senator Duncan-Hughes challenged it, yet the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) stated the case quite fairly this afternoon when he said that, in certain cases, the pensions were reduced to 15s. by the Lyons Government.

Senator Duncan-Hughes - Is the honorable senator suggesting that there was an all-round reduction to 15s. a week?

Senator Grant - That is what he is trying to do.

Senator BROWN - I wish to be perfectly clear.

Senator Duncan-Hughes - The honorable senator does not suggest that an allround reduction to 15s. was made by this party.

Senator BROWN - I said that in moving the second reading of the bill, the Leader of the Senate dealt with the subject fairly by saying that in certain circumstances there was a reduction to 15s. The Government at that time reduced the rate of pension, and made definite excuses for doing so. In the first six months it had a surplus of £1,300,000, and in the second it said that to make certain " cuts " of the pensions rate were essential because there was a possibility of a deficit. When the members of the Labour party and others protested, Mr.Lyons said, "In what way is the Government to get money?" The Prime Minister was told that the Government would have a surplus. The year closed with a substantial surplus, but the pensioners were robbed of an amount to which they were entitled.

Senator Hardy - Was not a Labour government responsible for the first reduction of pension ever made in Australia?

Senator BROWN - Senator Hardyknows the circumstances of the financial blizzard which swept not only Australia, hut also other countries, and how the then Prime Minister of the Commonwealth was strong enough, despite the pressure brought upon him, to reduce pensions rather than do as some suggested, place the responsibility upon his political opponents. At that time he said, " A Labour government should be able to govern in times of depression as well as in times of prosperity." Mr. Scullin was afraid that if his Government did not act in the way it did, pensions might be reduced by the succeeding government to even 12s. a week. Although at the time I did not agree with him, I admire .Mr. Scullin for the _ moral courage he displayed at that critical period in our history. Undoubtedly his policy had a most beneficial effect upon the .Commonwealth ; it placed Australia on a; much better financial footing, -and enabled the Tory Government which followed to benefit by his action. The present High Commissioner (Mr. Bruce) has given Mr. Scullin credit for his statesmanlike action. Only yesterday a representative of Queensland in the House of Representatives spoke most highly of Mr. Scullin's courage, and said that no other action was possible to get Australia out of the financial morass in which, it then found itself. I know that there is a tendency on the part of some to villify that gentleman, but those who are acquainted with all the circumstances will recognize that James Scullin is a statesman of great ability, who on that occasion had the courage to do what he knew was in the interests of Australia. Many members of the Labour party wanted him to hand over the reins of government to his political opponents rather than reduce pensions, but he declined' to do so. The Lyons Government reduced pensions by 2s. 6d. a week at a time when it knew there was every likelihood of the Treasury having a surplus. As a result of reductions of pensions since 1932, pensioners have lost approximately £7,000,000. Mr. Lyons also said that as soon as the financial stability of the country permitted the pensions would be restored to the original amount, but the right honorable gentleman did not honour his promise. Having regard to the fact that there was a surplus in that year, the full rate of pension should have been restored instead of remitting the taxes of those able ' to pay them. The aggregate value of taxes remitted between 1932 and 1936-37 was approximately £1S,500,000. Although these huge remissions were made to the wealthy, the Government said that it was impracticable to give a- few paltry shillings to pensioners. I an. pleased to learn that pensioner inmates of hospitals or other similar institutions are to receive an additional 6d. a week, but it would have been an act of grace had the full increase of ls. been given to them rather than allow the institution to collect one-half of the amount. I doubt if the cost of living has decreased to the extent suggested, but if it has those controlling the institutions in which pensioners are accommodated will be well paid even if the amount they are now receiving is not increased. From an economic viewpoint Australia can well afford to maintain pensioners who, generally speaking, live almost entirely on goods produced by Australian labour. If pensioners had to be maintained on commodities produced in other countries the position would be entirely different, hut surely a community such as ours can afford to provide pensioners "with the necessaries of life, ail of which, with the exception of tea and coffee, are produced in this country. I am strongly opposed to those who always denounce an increase of pensions. The majority of pensioners are thrifty men and women and are entitled to assistance. According to an advertisement published by the Australian Mutual Provident Society a year ago, in 40 years of every 100 healthy men now 25 years of age, only one will be wealthy, four will be well off, five will be working for their living, 36 will he dead, and 54 will be dependent on relatives or on charity. That destroys the argument used by some honorable senators opposite that many pensioners Have been thriftless and consequently are compelled to come to the Government for assistance. The Labour party believes in the pension system and contends that every man or woman on reaching the age of 65 years is entitled to a pension. A man who works hard throughout his life should not have to seek assistance from relatives. Under our present system how can he save sufficient to maintain himself when he is unable to work? The suggestion that he should have saved sufficient to maintain himself is so much "bunk." Possibly some pensioners have been thriftless, but the majority deserve the best the community can give them. I was pleased that some measure of justice is to be given to invalid and old-age pensioners, but I regret that £1 a week is to be the statutory maximum and that no provision is made to increase the amount in certain cases. Had a Labour government been in power greater consideration would be shown to the working classes and the pensioners than is shown' by this Government which merely protects the interest of those who live on the labour of others. Within a few weeks a Labour government will be in power, and will have the opportunity to legislate in the interests of the real workers of this country. Such a government will not put the fear of God into the hearts of pensioners as this Government did when it enacted the property sections of our pensions legislation, and by that means deprived certain people of their rights.

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