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Friday, 21 November 1941

Senator AYLETT (Tasmania) . - When I decided to speak on this bill, I was under the impression that the Opposition intended to oppose it. However, after hearing the more recent speeches of honorable senators opposite, I have been agreeably surprised to learn that the bill is to be supported by them. It seems, therefore, that when the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) criticized the Government for incurring this additional expenditure of £1,771,000, he was not speaking on behalf of his party. The honorable senator gave his interpretation of what happened in the Labour caucus in regard to this measure. As I said yesterday, the mind-reading capacity of honorable senators opposite is sometimes defective. I say the same to-day of the Leader of the Opposition. He is not a good clairvoyant. Obviously, he is incapable of mind-reading, because he is completely astray in his impressions of, what happened on the occasion to which he referred. This bill came before the caucus and was agreed to unanimously. There is nothing wrong with that. It was also decided that at the earliest possible date we should honour our pledge to the electors. Surely there is nothing wrong with that. As I happen to be the only honorable senator present to-day apartfrom another honorable senator, whose name has already been mentioned, whose surname commences with the letter " A", I am proud to state that I supported the proposal to introduce a measure later to increase the invalid and old-age pension to £1 5s. a week. But I should not be proud to admit that I would not. favour an increase of the invalid and old-age pension, unless a similar advantage were given to the big wheat-growers of this country as I remind the Leader ' of the Opposition that we do not see old-age pensioners going cap in hand to the Liquid Fuel Control Board every week, pleading for some petrol to use in their big motor cars. The pensioners are paid only the meagre allowance of £11s. 6d. a week, which is now to be increased to £1 3s.6d., and that is all they have to live on. Nobody should quibble if it were double that amount, yet honorable senators opposite claim that if invalid and old-age pensions are to be increased, wealthy property-owners must also have their incomes increased.Obviously, such an argument cannot be substantiated. The Leader of the Opposition also claimed that this was not the time for the introduction of social welfare legislation. Actually, with an increase of 2s. weekly the pensioners will not be any better off than they were a few years ago, when they received only £1 a week. This measure is merely an indication of our endeavour to maintain existing social conditions. The Leader of the. Opposition suggested that it was unnecessary to increase invalid and old-age pensions to 23s. 6d. a week, because social legislation in the Commonwealth, such as the present provisions for pensions, child endowment and repatriation benefits was far superior to that in operation in Europe. Does the honorable gentleman wish those who fought for us in the last war to be brought down to the same level as the inhabitants of the countries that have been overrun by Hitler? The only in ference to be drawn from his remarks is that he does. No amount that we could pay to the invalid and old-age pensioners would be too great.

Almost every member of the Opposition who spoke on the measure tried to pump life into the corpse of national insurance, but the Opposition itself was responsible for the defeat of that proposal. The tail that was wagging the dog brought about that result. The Labour party favours a national insurance scheme, but not one that would prevent the workers and others from being able to purchase sufficient of the necessaries of life. If honorable senators opposite meant what they said when they contended that the establishment of a national insurance scheme would save the present expenditure on invalid and oldage pensions, why did they not go on with it when they were in office? Why did the ex-Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) resign from ministerial rank when he could not get his own. way with regard to the scheme? The Leader of the Opposition stated that under national insurance the invalid and aged would pay for their ownpensions and would not be in receipt of a dole. If the honorable gentleman regards the pension as a dole to those who have helped in the development of Australia, and in producing the profits in which the honorable senator shares, God forgive him. I regard the pension as an inheritance to which invalids and the old folk are justly entitled. They have earned every penny of it, and my only regret is that the bill does not provide for an increase of the pension to 25s. a week. I hope that the Parliament will be called together early in the New Year, and that another measure will be brought down providing for an increase of the pension to 25s. a week. If the necessary funds cannot be provided in any other way, I suggest thatwe should increase the taxes of those who have said that in order to help in overcoming the financial difficulties of the Commonwealth they are willing to forgo the income they receive in excess of £500 a year.

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