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Friday, 21 November 1941

Senator BROWN (Queensland) . - I see Senator Brand smiling, and so I smile in return. I find it somewhat amusing when honorable senators on both sides wax hot in debate. To a man who has in him a large streak of humour there is something humorous about a number of otherwise amiable gentlemen decrying one another over a question that has been settled long ago. Anyone who is not so seriously minded as to be devoid of humour must be struck by what has occurred in this chamber this afternoon. I shall try, without heat, to put the position in regard to invalid and oldage pensions impartially. I may find thetask difficult because I was brought up among workers who had to fight hard for a crust, and suffered many disabilities in an unequal struggle against those who took every opportunity to exploit them. However, anyone who views this matter calmly and coolly will admit that pensions were first established in this country as the result of the activity of persons associated with the Labour movement. When Mr. Deakin was Prime Minister, the Labour party offered its support to the Administration in return for certain concessions. One of those concessions was the introduction of a scheme providing for invalid and oldage pensions. That is how this social legislation first found its way to the statute-book. In its efforts to improve social conditions, the Labour party has always been opposed by what Senator Darcey calls the conservative mind. I speak quite impersonally when I say that honorable senators opposite represent that section of the community which is conservative. It. is historically correct to say that the conservative element in the community has always opposed reforms, including the introduction of invalid and old-age pensions.

Senator McBride - There is no foundation for that incorrect statement.

Senator BROWN - The political history of the Old Country where I was born--

Senator McBride - Why not talk about this country?

Senator BROWN - I am not taking orders from Senator McBride. It may be that the honorable senator has some slaves working for him, to whom he gives orders; buthe is not giving me orders. If the honorable senator persists in interjecting, I may have to speak longer than I intended.

Senator McBride - The longer the honorable senator speaks the more he discredits himself.

Senator BROWN - I am not discrediting myself. Any impartial listener to me to-day will say that at least one honorable senator has tried to speak calmly, and to deal with the subject in a way which would reveal the truth to those who either heard him or read his speech. I was about to refer to the political history of the Old Country. When I was a boy the workers of that country began a movement to compel the Government of Great Britain to grant pensions to men at the age of 75 years and to women at 70 years. I have a vivid recollection of a certain lord in the Old Country saying that if 5s. a week were given to such persons the morale of the workers of England would ho undermined. That speech was delivered nearly 40 years ago, but it is still clear in my memory. When I was in Canada, where I was a. member of a party which advocated reforms, I found that the conservative section of the community fought bitterly against us. The same thing is revealed by a study of Australian history ; the conservative element has always been opposed to reform. However, as the result of education and intense political activity, various governments have been compelled to bring about certain reforms. If we indulge in recriminations like a lot of school children it shows that we are lacking in perspicuity and that, despite our grey hairs, we have not reached the age of mental manhood. I agree at once that governments supported by the parties opposed to Labour were responsible for placing, the invalid and old-age pension legislation on the statute-book and for increasing the rate of pension. That was because anti-Labour governments were in power at the time. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that they were forced to do so by the pressure exerted on them by the Labour party and as the result of outside agitation. Honorable senators opposite have conveniently forgotten the fact that the Lyons Government, which they supported, inserted in the pensions legislation restrictive clauses relating to income from property. This should not be a matter for recrimination, hut one in respect of which the plain facts should be stated. The invalid and old-age pensioners in this country were worried to death when It was stated by the Lyons Government that it. would compel them to sign away their properties. The facts speak for themselves. They are within the knowledge of every officer of the Pensions Department.

Senator Herbert Hays - Then why bother about them? Let us get on with the bill.

Senator BROWN - A number of erroneous statements have been made by honorable senators opposite whichcall for correction. As an intelligent, member of this Senate I am merely desirous of stating the position frankly and. impartially so that those who read Mansard will know that at least honorable senators on this side of the chamber are prepared to give the facts about the pensions legislation. Honorable members opposite have stated only part of the truth. I have admitted that governments supported by the parties which sit in opposition have placed on the statute-book legislation embodying reforms of our pensions legislation; but had I sufficient time I could prove by quotations from speeches and by historical records that these reforms were brought about as a direct result of pressure and agitation by mem- bers of the great Australian Labour movement. It is frankly admitted that some of the greatest reformers the world has known have been men of substance; but, speaking generally, as a class our economic rulers, and. those who support them, are conservatives. It is only the bottom dogs who have waged the fight for reforms. If a man is well contented and has everything that life can give, if he sits on soft cushions and clips his coupons and draws his interest, he will naturally be a conservative. That is inevitable. But if a man has to struggle in order to keep his job, is constantly faced with the possibility of being thrown on the unemployed market, and when he reaches the age of 65 years, after a lifetime of struggle, still finds that he is "broke", he will naturally advocate the payment of pensions. That is only sensible reasoning. During my long membership of this

Senate I 'have always appealed to honorable senators not, to be guided too rauch by mathematicians, not to be frightened unduly by figures. Unfortunately, many thousands of people to-day are frightened by figures. During his speech 'on this bill the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) criticized the Government, as he has a perfect right to do. I did not object to his criticism. I do not object even, when honorable senators opposite use such expressions as " hypocrites " and " cowards " in their condemnation of us. As I have said on other occasions, my epidermis is too thick to permit, those expressions to upset me. The Leader of the Opposition, viewing this matter from the angle of the dyed-in-the-wool conservative, spoke of the many millions of pounds that have been expended on invalid and old-age pensions, and tried to frighten the people by saying that a. few years ago the pensions bill amounted to £3,000.000, that to-day it is £20,000,000, and 'that it, will soon be £30,000,000. Let lis look at Australia as an economic unit. In this time of war, when foodstuffs are not being shipped away in the same quantity as they were before the war, we should be guided by realities, not by figures. This country is capable of producing all. the foodstuffs that its people require. The productive capacity of this country is sufficient to enable us to give to the invalid and old-age pensioners the standard of comfort that is represented in 23s. 6d. a week. I feel sure that, we should give them a weekly pension with which they could purchase goods to the value of 25s. As the result of this war the old conservative idea of finance, as wc understand it to-day, will be swept aside and before long we shall develop an economic conscience, on economic understanding that will impel us to look at this question, not from the point, of view pf figures, of so much money in the bank, or of so much interest earned through the financial system, but as one to be determined by the productive capacity of the nation. Senator Herbert Hays appears to be laughing at me. Does he think I am not serious ?

Senator Herbert Hays - I did think that the honorable senator was serious; now I think he is a joke.

Senator BROWN - Any one who listens intelligently to me must know that I am not joking. I am trying to show to honorable senators that there arc thousands of people in this community who have resolved that they will not stand for financial humbug.

Senator McBride -. - Then I advise the honorable senator not to give it to them.

Senator BROWN - I am. referring to conservative financial humbug. I realize that there are what may be termed the earnest and sincere humbugs, those who actually believe the false doctrines which they preach. I am speaking kindly of the honorable senator. I have listened to such financial humbug from honorable senators on the other side of the chamber for many years. As the result, of this war a new order has been set up in the world based on the capacity of the nation to organize itself as an economic unit in order that its people may produce all that is -essential for mili tary and economic purposes. The Labour party has to deal with the realities of the situation. It is placed in the unfortunate position qf having to remedy the mistakes of the past; but whilst it has to work within the ambit of the financial system it 13 compelled to deal with the invalid and. oldage pensioners in the manner prescribed in the bill now before us. We are trying by this bill to reform and improve their lot. As time progresses this or some other Government will be compelled to set aside the financial system as we understand it to-day and organize the community on a real economic foundation which will enable every man to be placed in employment so that he may become a producer for the common good of the nation. If, as has been tritely said by Senator Darcey so many times, it is possible economically to do the decent thing by our invalid and old-age pensioners then we shall make it possible under a new financial system. Is not that plain? Those of us who look a little ahead realize that it is possible in Australia to-day to give to every man and woman over 60 years of age a modicum of comfort which expressed in financial terms is valued at, more than 25s. a week.

Senator Herbert Hays - That was tried in Paraguay.

Senator BROWN - Thirty years ago, when I was a young boy, I joined the Social Democratic Federation of Great Britain. At my first meeting I listened to an inspiring address by a man of high intelligence and wonderful oratorical ability, Mr. H. M. Hyndman, the leader of the SocialDemocratic Federation. At question time, when Mr. Hyndman was trying to show the need for national organization for the benefit of the whole of the people, a member of the audience at the back of the hall said, " Oh ! They tried that in Paraguay ". Mr. Hyndman pointed out to him that we were dealing hot with the matter of a few people going to South America and forming a colony on certain theoretical lines, but of the nation and the empire as an economic whole. It is utterly beside the point and most futile and foolish for any honorable senator who aspires to be recognized as an intelligent human being to endeavour to floor me by saying, " Oh, that was tried in Paraguay ".

In Germany there is a form of national socialism which we do not like and which we do not want to be imposed on the world. Under that form of government the individual is crushed, individuality is stamped out, and the State is paramount. The German people, however, because of their knowledge of finance and of real economics have been able to organize their nation to the highest peak of efficiency ever known in the history of mankind. As the result of the financial system being forced to be the servant of the nation, Germany to-day is an enemy we cannot afford to despise. Let us take a lesson from that country and, through our democratic machinery, let us see to it that as the Parliament of thiscountry we do our best for our invalid and aged people, even in time of war. If we do that we shall live to be called the blessed. Ihave no ill-will towards honorable senators opposite. I haverecognized the stupidity of some of their remarks; but, at the same time, 'I realize that they have been' bred in a' certain environment, and are affected byreason of that fact just as we are affected by our environment. However, the fact remains that invalid and old-age pensions are the direct result of the efforts of intelligent and honest Labour men who have fought for them. Those pensions have been secured as the resultof the activities of men and women who have been prepared to risk economic ostracism and even gaol itself. Those facts cannot be disputed. All of the. shrewd words ofhonorable senators opposite, and all of the quotations they have made from Hansard, cannot gainsay the fact that, whilst conservatism is a strong force in all countries, the reformers generally have arisen from the lower sections of society which are represented in this country by the present Government.

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