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Friday, 21 November 1941

Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) .- First, I should like to congratulate the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Keane), who introduced this bill, upon an innovation which I have long advocated, namely, the circulation of copies of second-reading speeches delivered by Ministers. That is a great improvement. I hope that the Government will also make provision for the distribution each morning of " pulls " of all the speeches delivered in this chamber on the previous day. At present honorable senators are provided with proofs of their own speeches, and it would be necessary to supply only a few more proofs in order to provide honorable senators with a complete report of the debates of the previous day.

Senator Aylett - Why was not that system introduced when the honorable senator's party was in office?

Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I have advocated it on several occasions.

It is a great pity that so much heat should be evinced in a debate of this description. It seems that members of the Opposition have only to breathe a word of criticism against any of the Government's proposals, to be branded as inhuman and brutal. The remarks made by the Minister for Aircraft Production (Senator Cameron) this morning were quite uncalled for. What he said was untrue, and insulting because honorable senators on this side of the chamber are just as humane as are honorable senators opposite. No right-thinking person would believe the accusation made against the Opposition by the Minister. For proof that the allegations were without foundation, one has only to study the social legislation placed on the statute:bool during the past 50 years. On many occasions the Leader of the Senate (Senator Collings) has deplored the fact that his party had never been in power sufficiently long to pass the social legislation which it believed to be desirable. It is quite true that during the past 50 years the United Australia party, or the Conservative party, or whatever it may be designated, has been in power for a large proportion of the time, but it is also true that no country has better social legislation than Australia.

Senator Aylett - The Labour party was -the first political party to advocate invalid and. old-age pensions.

Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I am .not referring particularly to invalid and old-age pensions. I am speaking of our social legislation generally. I contend that our social legislation, for most of which the United Australia party or similar political parties have been responsible, is better than that of any other country. That should prove quite conclusively that we are not the inhuman people which honorable senators opposite believe us to be. I also resent the claim made by the Minister for Aircraft Production that it was the pensioners of to-day who brought Australia to its present state of development. No doubt they did their share, but they represent only one section of the people. To say that they alone made Australia what it is to-day is . absolute nonsense. Many of them were wonderful pioneers, but to give them the entire credit for our present economic structure is nonsense. The pensioners are only a section of the people, and they are entitled to no more than their fair share of the good things which this country can offer. Our criticism of this measure and of other similar legislation is not actuated by inhumanity or selfishness. It emanates from the belief that in war time an extension of social benefits is inopportune. Our opposition does not arise from the fact that we arc opposed to invalid and old-age pensioners. It is not that wc do not wish to give them all that wc possibly can, but we contend that in this time of stress, when our finances are strained to the utmost and every penny is required for war purposes, the people generally should not be burdened with extra payments to pensioners. There is a distinct possibility that our ordinary expenditure will exceed our revenue and, as was pointed out by Senator Allan MacDonald this morning, we are not doing the pensioners a particularly good1 turn by increasing pensions whilst at the same time we place additional impositions on practically every commodity which they use. It would have been preferable to have left pensions at the existing figure, with perhaps provision for a rise or fall according to variations in the cost of living, and thus to have avoided the necessity for some of this heavy indirect taxation.

I should like to commend the Government in respect of one clause which has been included in this bill. Quite a number of pensioners own property which they cannot sell except, at a very great sacrifice, but the value of their equity in the property causes a reduction of the rate of pension. I know quite a number of pensioners whose property is valued at a sum which interferes seriously with their pension, whereas the property is not worth a quarter of the valuation which is placed upon it. The 'Commissioner of Pensions should Iia ve the right to place his valuation on a pensioner's, property.

It has been stated that when further amendments are made, provision will be made for the payment of pensions to aborigines who are living a civilized life. Before the Government takes that step. I trust that it will consider the proposition very carefully. Whilst I cannot, speak authoritatively in regard to other States in South Australia large sums of money are being expended on the aboriginal mission stations at Port Pierce, Port McLeay and elsewhere. The aborigines are being exceptionally well treated, and I do not think that it is necessary to bring them within the. scope of this legislation. They live on the settlements all their lives and are given rations. To pay them a pension in addition, would be extravagance. I am quite prepared to support this measure, and I can say quite honestly that I am glad that the old people are to. receive this increase. However, I do believe that the time is inopportune for this legislation, and therefore I am .compelled to come to the conclusion that the invalid and old-age pensioners are being regarded from a political rather than from a social viewpoint.

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