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Friday, 21 November 1941

Senator KEANE (Victoria) (Minister for Trade and Customs) . - in reply - I am indebted to honorable senators for their support of this measure. WhenI was a member of the Opposition I endeavoured to deal with parliamentary business in such a way , as to eliminate friction, and I shall continue on those lines while I am a Minister. The introduction of this bill arose out of a report by the Joint Committee on Social Security, on which each branch of the legislature has an equal number of representatives, and it may be taken that the subject with which the bill deals has been considered exhaustively. The majority of the amendments provided for are the result of inquiries made by the committee from departmental officers and others who have special knowledge of the subject.

Senator Cooper - The committee did not recommend an increase of invalid and old-age pensions.

Senator KEANE - That is so, but it favoured' pensions for widows and orphans, and it recommended the adoption of a scheme of unemployment insurance. It had not taken sufficient evidence on those matters to justify final recommendations regarding them. I am glad that the present Government has entered into arrangements that will enable the joint committees that have been set up to continue their useful work. The information already gathered by them has been helpful to all of the members of those committees, and I am sure that the report of the committee dealing with social security has proved of value in the preparation of the bill.

Little of the criticism that has been offered regarding this measure calls for a reply from me. The gravamen of it is that, perhaps, the increase of invalid and old-age pensions was inopportune, in view of the war conditions prevailing; but I maintain that, despite the war, some instalment of the new order is necessary. Senators Allan MacDonald and James McLachlan claim that, despite the proposed increase the recipients of the pension will be heavily mulct in additional payments because of the new taxation proposals in the budget. I point out, however, that the majority of the commodities purchased by pensioners are exempt from sales tax. . The increased excise duties on beer and tobacco may be felt to some degree by them, but some government must grapple with the revenue problem and evolve a formula to overcome the difficulty due to increases of wages going up the staircase and the cost of living going up in the lift. It was remarked by Senator Foll that the Scullin Government had had to do objectionable things. He said that if it had grappled with the problem of the finances of Australia earlier in its career, it would not have had the trouble that it experienced later; hut when that Government came into power in 1929, the loan market of Great Britain was closed to us, the price of primary products had fallen, and 400,000 men in Australia were out of work.

Senator Allan MacDonald - And the Labour Government introduced legislation authorizing a fiduciary note issue.

Senator KEANE - A fiduciary issue of £18,000,000 would have given £500,000 a month for twelve months to the men on the land, and £1,000,000 a month for twelve months to the unemployed. Conditions were so bad that Great Britain increased its fiduciary note issue from. £50,000,000 to about £900,000,000. On that occasion this Senate prevented relief from being given to the vast army of people in Australia who needed it. I give an assurance that the present Government will not indulge in any crazy scheme of finance.

Senator Allan MacDonald - The Labour party's platform provides for it.

Senator KEANE - That is not so. The budget provides for the raising of revenue by means of loans, and I resent the propaganda comments of the honorable senator. The policy of the Government is to reform the Commonwealth Bank as far as possible, so that it will exercise the functions discharged by it before it was emasculated by the BrucePage Government in 1924. The private banking interests will not be interfered with, apart from the control to be exercised under the regulations that are to be promulgated under the National Security Act, and the nature of those regulations will he known to the whole of the community.For the present the

Government will persevere with the system of raising money by means of loans, because increased revenue has to be found immediately. The assistance of the public was assured when the recent loan of £100,000,000 was fully subscribed, but that amount is but a small proportion of the total sum that will be required.

I have experienced heckling similar to that received by the Minister for Aircraft Production (Senator Cameron). He and I regard political problems from similar points of view, and 1 believe that he had some warrant for his remarks, because when he was a member of the Opposition he received rough treatment at the hands of the present Opposition. In my opinion, he is not deserving of the accusations which some honorable senators opposite have levelled against him. I am in agreement with Senator James McLachlan that pulls of Hansard should be made available to honorable senators daily when bills are under discussion, so that those who have not spoken on the measures may ascertainwhat has already been said regarding them. I shall ascertain what can be done in that matter.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In committee

Clauses 1 to 12 agreed to.

Clause 13 (Direc tor-General of Social Services).

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