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Friday, 21 November 1941

Senator ALLAN MacDONALD (Western Australia.) . - I congratulate the Labour party on making this early move towards increasing the invalid and oldage pensions'. One thing we must admire about that partyis that it is sufficiently courageous to cut across many of the old preconceived ideas as to what should or should not be done with regard to the elderly folk in the community. Ever sinceI have been connected with politics, I have taken the stand that there is nothing too good for them. What I am afraid of is that the financial policy of this Government is such that not only will this increase be necessary,but also many more, so longas Labour remains on the treasury bench. It requires only a bread-and-butter economisttorealize that the Labour party's method of finance will tend to increase prices,and cause inflation which will depreciate the value of the £1,so that the real value of the pen si on will bemuch less than the £1 3s. 6d. a week which the Government is new offering. Continual increases of payments to meet the rising spiral of costs will lead only to tragedy. It is more than probable that we shall later be asked to pass an amending bill providing for a further increase of the pension by 2s. a week, instead of1s. 6d. a week. The Government cannot claim any credit for that part of the increase, namely, 6d, which is due to the increased cost of living.

Senatorcollings. - But it is giving it a month earlier than it would have taken effect normally.

Senator ALLAN MacDONALD -. That is a small matter.

The Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) has laid down a financial policy which is more detrimental to the invalid and old-age pensioners than to any other section of the community. Persons, like the pensioners, who are in receipt of fixed incomes, and those who receive superannuation and similar forms of pensions, have no recourse to increases of their income as have workers who can appeal to arbitration courts. I picture the elderly people calling at the village post office for their old-age pensions, and the Minister in charge of this bill (Senator Keane), accompanied by his Melbourne colleague, the Minister for Aircraft Production (Senator Cameron), waiting behind a nearby hedge to "dry gulch" them as they come out of the post office, andpepper their hides full of buckshot in the form of taxes by means of the cost blunderbuss that the Treasurer has shown himself to be capable of using effectively. For every cup of tea that the old folk take, they will have to pay extra, because the price of tea has gone up 2d. a lb. recently, and, according to the Minister for Aircraft Production, a further rise of 4d. a lb. can be expected in the near future. I can imagine his senior colleague, the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Keane), turning to him, and saying, "My word, Don, we got them that time. Let us give them the other barrel ".

Senator Large - Did the honorable senator say that they were hiding behind a. tree?

Senator ALLAN MacDONALD - I said " hedge " ; a tree would not be big enough. Every time a pensioner wants to light a match, drink a pot of beer, or to fill his pipe, the same thing will happen. The Treasurer and the Minister for Trade and Customs seem to think that they can sit on the lid of rising costs merely by differing from some departmental officer and saying that the increased costs shall not be passedon. But if the brewer, who, by means of an increased excise duty, finds the money with which to buy labels to stick on the casks, is not allowed to pass on the added costs, Australians will have to drink that foul " war beer " that people in the Old Country had offered to them in the last war. No man can run a brewery, or any other industry, on rising costs which he himself has to pay. He must either pass on those costs, or reduce the quality of the ingredients of the article that he offers for sale. The increased costs will be an additional burden on these unfortunate people. I do not know of anything more brutal or callous than to give something to a person with one hand and to slap him in the face with the other hand. Yet that is what the Government is doing to the invalid and old-age pensioners. In other words, the Government is posturing for political purposes. At various places along the coast of Western Australia pensioners are trying to eke out a living by fishing, but this brutal and callous Government desires that they shall pay heavier taxes on the gear used by them to catch the fish.

Senator Collings - No.

Senator ALLAN MacDONALD - If that is not "bush-whacking" or "drygulching" I have not heard the terms properly defined. The crocodile tears of the Minister for Aircraft Production - it would be more correct, perhaps, to describe them as glycerine tears, since glycerine is used in the factories under his control - are as nothing compared with the hypocrisy of giving with one hand to the pensioners and slappingthem in the face with the other hand. And sothe story goes on. I take second place to no person in this chamber in my regard for these elderly people. I have helped them, and will help thorn on every possible occasion. Should the Government seek to increase the invalid and old-age pension I shall help it to do so, but I do ask it to have some regard to the economic structure of the country and not to force up costs. Food and other costs rise quickly enough without being forced up. That financial genius, the Treasurer, is doing his utmost to force costs up; by increases of the sales tax, he seeks to increase the cost of living. One might think that the weight of the Minister in charge of this bill (Senator Keane) would be sufficient to keep down the lid on. vising costs, but despite his efforts, costs are rising. Unfortunately, it is true that prices are actually being forced up by the methods adoptedby the present Government to financethe country. The Government is doing a disservice to these elderly people, who deserve the best that this country can give to them.

Those of us who look to the morrow, and put something away for our old. age, generally in the form of assurance policies, will be penalized. Under our existing legislation, a person who takes out an assurance policy, the value of which he hopes will increase as the years pass, will automatically be debarred from receiving the invalid or old-age pension should he fall on evil times in the future. Soma means of more generously assisting assured persons should be provided in this measure. I do not doubt, the sincerity of the Government in its humanitarian regard for these people, hut I urge it to consider the point mentioned, in order that the thrifty people in the community shall not be penalized through being denied a. pension. No one can say to-day what the future has in. store for him. The Government should take every step possible to ensure that the value of the pension is not dissipated before it is paid over the counter to the pensioners.I say frankly and bluntly that a government which forces up costs by indirect taxation - and I never thought, that I would live to see a Labour government do that - is not having regard to the welfare of these elderly people. On. the contrary it is merely taking the back-door way, the cowardly way, to raise money - in the hope that no one will see the tax-gatherer sneaking in. The best way to extract money from the people is by a direct tax on incomes, because that tax, if applied properly, falls on all persons alike, and ensures that every one contributes his or her share towards the cost ofconducting the war. I know of instances of small contributions towards the war effort being received from pensioners, and I applaud them for their patriotism, but I warn the Government that its proposals for financing the country must inevitably have the effect of increasingc osts and reducing the value of the pension which the pensioners receive every fortnight.

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