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Thursday, 28 August 1941

Senator BROWN (Queensland) . - In the present burly-burly of party politics and at a time when we are engaged in a struggle against totalitarianism, it is with diffidence that one speaks to a measure of this kind. However, I gave a promise to a number of blind workers in Brisbane that I would present a ease to the Senate setting out their difficult economic position. Owing to the fact that our friends opposite are in the. throes of internecine political warfare, possibly not much good will result from my representations at this juncture.

Senator McBride - What a contrast with the peaceful atmosphere of the meeting of the honorable senator's party this morning!

Senator Foll - The row could be heard in Queanbeyan.

Senator BROWN - I assure honorable senators opposite that our party was most united at its meeting this morning, and that all of my colleagues are convinced that when the Government parties, owing to their present quarrels, are compelled to relinquish office, the Labour party will be ready and able as a united party to carry on the government.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - This quarrelling is infectious.

Senator BROWN - I admit that. However, I urge the United Australia party and the Country party to cease their quarrelling, and to get on with the business of the country. The Labour party cannot be blamed for the Government's difficulty, because this party has given its wholehearted support to the present Administration in its prosecution of the war effort. Not only has it approved all of the Government's war appropriations, but it has also appointed members to the various parliamentary joint committees, and has provided its best brains on the Advisory War Council. At a time when the country needs strong, enthusiastic and efficient government the Government parties should cease their petty quarrelling. If they did so we should not be witnessing the party intrigues which are now going on. I do not indulge in personalities; I believe that most honorable senators opposite are anxious to see this country united in the present crisis. I do not believe that any individual honorable senator opposite has taken partin those intrigues. Particularly in times of stress, there are certain enemies of democracy who are ever-ready to point the finger of scorn at parliamentary government, and for that reason any government should be very careful in its actions. I do not wish to detain the Senate at length at this stage, but in themidst of the existing political intrigue we should not be unmindful of those who are suffering the terrible infliction of blindness. These people have not much voice in the affairs of this country and, for that reason, they do not make much impression on governing bodies. If an organization is economically strong, like the Broken Hill ProprietaryCompany Limited, it has a tremendous influence in the affairs of a country. Similarly, if a body can control many thousands of votes, it also is a force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, the blind have neither of these advantages. Their voice is weak, and too frequently it is ignored by officials and by the Government. Consequently, there is a tendency to forget them.

There are many persons in the community who are suffering from grave disabilities, but whose ailments have not reached a stage which renders them totally and permanently incapacitated. I have been approached on several occasions in regard to this matter. In one case a resident of Goondiwindi was refused a pension because he was not regarded as totally and permanently incapacitated. Officials are unable to grant pensions to many invalids because they are still able to do some work. I recall one case very well: A friend of mine suffering from tuberculosis could not walk 10 yards without spitting blood, and it took him a quarter of an hour to walk 50 yards from the tram to my office. I made strong representations to the department, but I was informed that nothing could be clone for him because he could sit on, say, a verandah and make articles of some description. He was in possession of all his faculties. Regardless of the political party in power, it is the duty of the

Government to amend the legislation to provide some assistance for those who, although not totally disabled, are unable to work.

Blind people have always urged - and rightly so - that they should receive the pension as a right, regardless of their earnings. We have a precedent for that in the Commonwealth child endowment legislation, under which payments are made to mothers regardless of earnings. Similarly, a soldier's pension has no limitation in the matter of earnings. That is right, and the same privilege should be extended to industrial soldiers suffering from blindness. Of course, these people recognize that at this juncture they have not much chance to obtain that concession, but they do urge that their permissible income should be increased commensurate with the increase of the cost of living. At present a pensioner's income, including the pension, may be £4 9s. a week. That is to say, in addition to the pension of £1 ls. 6d. a week, he may earn £3 7s. 6d. a week. The permissible combined income of a husband and wife is £2 6s. a week, which, in addition to the pension of £1 ls. 6d. each, makes £4 9s.

In other words, the thrifty are penalized. If a blind pensioner is anxious to improve his lot, say, by buying a house, as soon as his income, including the pension, exceeds £4 9s. a week, the pension is reduced. Obviously that is penalizing the thrifty.. Another restriction is that a pensioner may not have more than £50 in a bank. Pensioners are also prohibited from letting their house. That restriction is often a hardship, especially in the case of pensioners who wish to live nearer to their employment. As is the case with invalid and old-age pensioners, if a blind pensioner lets his house, the rent received is included in his income. I submit that a pensioner should be permitted to let his house without being penalized. Several amendments relating to permissible income have already been made to the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act, a copy of which I have obtained from Mr. Magee, of the Pensions Department, but I do not propose to read them at this juncture. At present a number of people in Brisbane are having their pensions reduced, and I have here copies of notices of alteration sent out by the Deputy Commissioner of Pensions in that city, one of which intimates to a man and his wife that their pension has been reduced from 39s. 6d. to 33s. a week as from the 26th June last because of an increase of the husband's income. As there has been a considerable increase in the cost of living, the pensioners urge that there should be at least a corresponding increase in their permissible income. At a later date, I hope to go more fully into this subject. I have been supplied with all the facts relating to blind pensioners. Although the time may not be opportune to discuss details of this matter, I ask the Government to show some consideration for the disabilities and difficulties of blind workers upon whose shoulders a heavy burden is placed.

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