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Thursday, 14 May 1942

Senator BROWN (Queensland) . - I had not intended to speak on this measure had it not been for certain words uttered by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) and by Senator Brand. The Leader of the Opposition stated that it would be a good day when, by making contributions throughout his life, a person would be able to obtain an old-age pension as a right, and- not as a dole. T-he Labour movement says definitely that the pension is just as much a right as the pension paid to a member of the judiciary on his retirement. The man who works for his living, year in and year out, and is prepared at all times to do his duty to the country, has the same right to a pension as the man who sits on the High Court bench, or any one else who draws a pension in any shape or form from the community. A judge upon his retirement draws a pension of £1,500 a year. He is not criticized for doing so. His pension is not described as a dole; and he is not abused. As a judge, he does work for the community. Because of his mental capacity he is able to do work which is beyond the capacity of the great majority of people. But the worker, after he has performed his ordinary tasks for the community, after he has gone down the mines, or risked his life on the sea or driving a locomotive, is criticized by honorable senators opposite for drawing a pension. Honorable senators opposite are the representatives of monopolies and the privileged class. They say that the pension paid to the worker is a dole, and contend that he must contribute towards his pension in order that the stigma of a dole might be removed from it. However, many people in the community - the higher-ups one may call them - draw their pensions, and no stigma whatever is attached to them. Many aged people have felt that their pension is a dole simply because they have been taught that it is a dole. If we altered our attitude towards this subject, and the pension were generally regarded as a right and not as a dole, the psychological effect would be that our old people would accept it in the same way as a judge of the High Court accepts his pension, towards which, incidentally, the judge makes no contribution. It is a matter of psychology. If we drill into a man throughout his life that at 65, if he be down and out that he will receive a dole, he will naturally think that his pension is a dole. But if we give the pension as a right, he will accept it as such, and will not feel a blush of shame when he draws it.

Senator Cameron - Indirectly, the pensioner pays for his pension.

Senator BROWN - Yes; and he pays for it directly also. Actually, he pays for his pension by the exercise of his capacity to work until he reaches the age of 65. Many people to-day are receiving from the community money which they do not call a pension or a dole; they call it interest. They may have been born of wealthy parents, and may never have done a stroke of work in their lives; but they take payment from the community in the form of interest. However, honorable senators opposite look up to that class of people, many of whom are made lords, dukes and knights, simply because they come of certain parents, or enjoy unusually high incomes, I prophesy that for many who draw money from the community without earning it, their days of pleasure will soon be ended, because the community will soon say that before any one draws payment from the community, he or she must do some work in return. That will be the case, not only in this country, but also in other countries. It is part of the new order, of which many who now draw payment from the community without doing a day's work, are very fearful. Senator Brand mentioned drinking by pensioners. Such remarks make my blood boil. How many workers in this country are really drunkards? They might have a pint of beer, or a tot of rum. Because some of our old men have a tot or two of rum their pension may be taken from them. At the same time, rich people swill champagne, because they can afford to do so and are not penalized. Some people can afford to spend more money on champagne and suppers than a pensioner draws in twelve months. T know that the number of such people is not very great, and that that tendency is not so pronounced in this country as it is in older countries, where many people live riotously and luxuriously, and drink more than they need. But when an old-age pensioner has a tot of rum, and some one smells it on his breath, there is a cry to deprive him of the pension. It would not matter to me if all the rum and beer in this country were poured into the sea. I mention these matters merely in respect of the arguments which many people advance concerning the payment of pensions.

Honorable senators opposite declare that all pensions should be on a contributory basis. Let us look at this matter from the economic view. What does saving really mean? You do not save a lot of goods, and pile them up in a huge warehouse. Saving means that you stop people from exercising their power to buy certain goods from the community. You tell them not to buy, but. to save ; and urge them to decline to buy new suits or beer. At the same time, manufacturers and business people expend thousands of pounds annually in order to persuade people to buy new suits, beer and rum. We hear requests over commercial broadcasting stations day in and day out, urging us to spend our money to the utmost of our capacity. "We know that, due to the huge expenditure, on advertising campaigns, some goods cost far more to sell than to produce. On previous occasions in this chamber I cited the instance of a sewing machine which some years ago was selling in this country for about £14, although its landed cost was only 50s. Before the war that machine was being sold for about £35. I suppose that its cost would not exceed £5. We have developed a system of society in which the power to produce is far greater than the capacity of the people, under the present financial system, to purchase. We give to the masses of the people an amount in wages which will enable them to buy only a small proportion of the goods produced. This state of affairs led to the development of the time-payment purchase system. At the same time, all kinds of systems of advertising to persuade people to buy these goods were' carried on. The result is the topsy-turvy economic system which, if we get to the bottom of the matter, will be 3een to be one of the causes of the present war. Some honorable senators opposite are inclined to smile when I speak in this strain ; but I know that I speak the truth. When the war is over we shall have a better financial system, which will enable the community to take off the market all of the goods that are produced. We shall have a new order. It may not be communism or fascism, but I point out that communism and fascism are the results of attempts by certain people to overcome the disabilities of capitalism, which prevents the people from consuming the goods that they produce. Senator MoBride very often laughs at my statements. Personally, the honorable gentleman is all right, but as an economic theorist he is all wrong, and I remind him that loud laughter often bespeaks the vacant mind. I say to the honorable senator, that when the war is over, the productive power of the community will be 30 great that the chief problem of government will not be to persuade the people to save - or, in other words, not to consume goods - but the disposal of the goods that are produced. At present, honorable senators opposite are obsessed with false conceptions of finance that they should have swept aside years ago. They tell the young man in times of peace that he should save as much as he can, that he should not buy clothes or travel. That is bad advice. It reminds me of an incident which occurred many years ago and which made a lasting impression on my mind. A man whom I knew in Victoria, British Columbia, told me that he intended to save money until he reached the age of 65 years, when he would stop working and have a good time. He invited many of his friends to his 65th birthday party in 1911. He had saved money and had a. large sum to his credit in his bank account. He hired a small hall for the party and provided the choicest of viands and plenty to drink. Just after the party had assembled, he was .called away to receive a telephone message and left, saying that he would return in a few minutes. He did not return. On his way back to the hall, he was knocked down by a bus and killed. That unfortunate incident made me decide that in future I should advise my friends to take the best that the world could give them right through life instead of waiting until they became old and senile and close to death. There is a moral in that anecdote which honorable senators opposite should take to heart. We, on this side of the Senate, say that the community should be so organized as to provide the best of consumption goods to the people and enable them to enjoy life to the full. I am not going to say to the man who works in the cane-fields and whose health is impaired by the heat of the sun, to the man who goes down into the bowels of the earth to hew coal, as I have done, and to the man who works on the railroad as a navvy: "Look, old man, you are only earning a lousy £5 a week. It is your duty to save; do not have a good time, do not drink beer, buy good food, or new clothes, but save as much money as possible, so that when you reach the age of 65 years you can have a little fun". Honorable senators opposite, many of whom are men of means, cannot bluff me with their false economic theories in this day and hour of economic development, when the power of the community to produce goods is higher than it has ever been. They cannot persuade me in peacetime io go abou t, the country asking people not to buy this, that, or the other thing. I admit that the war imposes a special set of conditions on the community. Every thoughtful person realizes that in wartime we must conserve labour as much as possible in order that we shall have adequate resources to produce bombs, bayonets, gun3 and. foods that are needed by our soldiers in1 order to defeat the enemy. In these circumstances we arecompelled to ask the community to refrain from buying certain goods so that fewer people will be employed in the production of those commodities and more people will be diverted to work that is essential to the successful prosecution of the war. I admit further that, on the grounds of war-time needs, honorable senators opposite could bring forward certain arguments against increasing pension rates. But they have not done so. Even if they did, 1 should not agree with them unless they could prove that, by keeping pensions at a low level, we should contribute materially to the successful prosecution of the war. Oan Senator McBride, Senator MeLeay, Senator Spicer, or anybody else, produce evidence to show that, as a result of this act of justice to the aged, the invalid, and the blind, our war effort will be retarded ? In passing, I take the opportunity to say that I am delighted that the Government has decided to give a greater measure of justice to the blind. If honorable senators could produce any such evidence, we should be prepared to listen to them. However, they, have not done so, and I whole-heartedly commend the action of the Government in introducing this bill, which will extend a greater measure of justice to the needy members of the community than has hitherto been granted to them. I am sure that such good work will be continued as long as the Labour movement holds the reins of government in this country. I have endeavoured to give honorable senators food for thought about our social problems.. In these times, when social developments are occurring with great rapidity, members of this Parliament should endeavour to the best of their ability to keep' abreast of them. They fail to realize that they live in a time when changes are taking place fundamentally in every country in the world. I ask them to- throw aside those ideas, which are based on a false financial system.. It is a system that frightens people with figures and " cows " them with cyphers. The honorable senator who leads the Opposition, and who looks like Mr. Pickwick, has read to us figures that astound him. He said that, on the present basis, in 197S there will be 50 pensioners to every 100 workers. Prior to the war there were some persons who said that it would be a good thing for the country, and would help to provide work for young people, if we pensioned off every person at the age of. 55 years. That was advocated as a remedy for the failure to provide work for young people. Those who advocated that policy did not understand that the financial system they were living under did not fit in with the economic system. We have an archaic -financial system, and the trouble is that its supporters do not realize that the world has moved while they have stood still. They play with figures but forget economic facts.

Senator Herbert Hays - 'Will the honorable senator explain, his system?

Senator BROWN - I am trying to show-

Senator Herbert Hays - The honorable senator is trying, but he has not succeeded.

Senator BROWN - Some minds are composed of concrete, which I cannot penetrate, no matter how powerful my arguments may be. I know that if all the forces of intelligence in the world were concentrated on the brains of some people, no good could be achieved, because their brains are impervious to new ideas. Tha t is the penalty of senility - a stage which some people reach sooner than others, when their brains will not absorb new ideas. That is why reformers have so much difficulty in trying to convince the world of the need for reform. It is really the logic and power of events thai produce reforms, rather than the talk of speakers like myself, Senator Darcey anc! other members of the Labour party.

Before I conclude I wish to say as clearly and emphatically as I can that the march of progress is so rapid that the financial system under which we live has not been able to step in unison with economic development, and the result has been a clash. I recognize that the Leader of the Opposition is a man of goodwill - I give him credit for that - but he has ideas that lead him to frighten people with figures. He does' that because he does not really understand that he is playing the game of the financier, who is seeking to maintain his financial control in a world where he is outdated and outmoded. The time has arrived when we should look at the matter not from the standpoint of figures or bank balances, but from the standpoint of whether, as an organized economic unit, this country can provide for the essential needs of invalid and old-age persons. I put this to Senator Herbert Hays : Can Australia give to the old-age and invalid pensioners, and the blind people of this community, those commodities that we produce in abundance; and, further, can we do that without suffering as a community in the prosecution of the war? If we can do that, and thus keep them in the eventide of life in moderate comfort, it should be done. We say that if it can be done economically, it can be done financially.

I.   ask those honorable senators who have laughed at us on the Government side of the chamber, what would they have said before the war if they had been told that Australia's annual expenditure would increase to £530,000,000? Those honorable senators would have laughed us to scorn. They would have said that the country would be bankrupt. They have f or a long time been saying the same shout Germany; but is Germany bankrupt? They said the same about Japan; but Japan, as we too well know, is one of the most powerful nations in the world. We are in a spot of bother with Japan, and we have a powerful foe to fight. We cannot go bankrupt so long as we have men and the necessary materials available in this country. So long as Germany has the men and materials, she will not go bankrupt. The United States of America will not go bankrupt. There may be trouble between the banking institutions, but those countries will not become bankrupt. So long as we can provide blankets, clothes, and food for the invalid, aged, and blind pensioners, regardless of the financial cost, they will receive justice from the Labour party.

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