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Thursday, 14 May 1942

Senator McBRIDE (South Australia) . - I regret that I cannot discuss the bill with the complete confidence displayed by Senator Brown. I have not such a happy solution of the problem to offer as he has enunciated. I cannot forget some of the things that have happened in the past, and I am quite happy to be designated a conservative for still believing that some of the principles that have operated economically, financially, and socially in the past will continue to operate in the future. Consequently, I cannot give to the Senate such a happy and easy solution of the problems now confronting us - problems that will, unfortunately, confront us when we have won the war.

Senator Brown - I did not say that the solution was easy.

Senator McBride - The honorable senator talked in such a flippant, joyous manner that it appeared to me that he regarded the solution as easy and that he regarded himself as the greatest optimist Australia could produce. I suggest to him that he rendered a disservice to this country when he put forward the most extraordinary theory that it was wrong for people to save. That false doctrine has been preached not only in war-time, but also in peacetime. If the people of this country were to follow the advice given by Senator Brown, we should have many more per- sons on the pensions list than I hope we shall have in 1978, or any other year in the future. I hold strongly to the belief that thrift should be encouraged in the community. It is the sheet-anchor of our social, economic and financial stability; but I believe that there are, unfortunately, too many honorable senators opposite who travel throughout the length and breadth of the country advocating the theory that has been enunciated by Senator Brown this afternoon. It is impossible to alter the opinions of the people with a few words, and we are now faced with the results of the advocacy in the past of Senator Brown and those who think with him. We had a most distressing instance of this only last week. The Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) has appealed to the people to save in order to save themselves. They were asked to refrain from buying articles that they could possibly do without; but as soon as an announcement was made that goods were to be rationed, in order to distribute the available supply as equitably as possible among the people, panic buying occurred throughout the country. It is disturbing to find that the people do not yet realize that they must deny themselves, if we are to win the war.

I support this bill, but I do it with a good deal of uneasiness. I am uneasy about it for several reasons. I ask honorable senators whether we are justified at this period in extending increased benefits to invalid and old-age pensioners. The Minister, in his second-reading speech, announced, in support of the Government's action in this matter, that increased benefits had been given to the invalid and aged people of Great Britain and New Zealand ; but he omitted to state some relevant facts in connexion with the pension schemes in those countries. He did not say that they were contributory schemes, and that the scale of benefits were much lower than that operating in Australia. Before we increase the scale of benefits in this country we must decide, as the Prime Minister and many others have said, whether this is an all-in war, or whether Australia is to make only a partial war effort. We should ask ourselves whether we are entitled to give to this section of the community a greater advantage than is enjoyed by similar classes in Great Britain or New Zealand, or whether we are entitled to say to them, "We should like to extend these increased benefits to you, but we think that in doing so we should be out of step with our allies ". We might well consider the matter from that point of view.

When we are dealing in hundreds of millions of pounds it is easy for the Government to say blithely that, because child endowment did not cost so much as was expected, it might well hand out portion of the sum allocated for that purpose in order to increase the payment to the invalid and old-age pensioners. We are told that the cost of the war will be tens of millions of pounds more this year than was estimated, and for all we know next year's Estimates may also be greatly exceeded. I hope that the suggestions put forward by the Opposition will have the full consideration of the Government. If increased benefits are to be given to the aged and infirm, we should introduce immediately a contributory scheme of pensions and other social services. Modern civilization demands such services, and the people would then be compelled to make savings for their own future benefit. I have no doubt as to the Government's sincerity of purpose in introducing the bill, nor did I doubt the sincerity of the Scullin Government. Surely the present Ministry can learn something from the sad experience of a previous Labour government, which was compelled by circumstances to be the first Commonwealth Government to reduce pensions.

Senator Cameron - It was forced to do so by a hostile Senate.

Senator Keane - With the support of the Opposition.

Senator McBRIDE (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I have already said that it did not desire to reduce pensions. One of the safeguards against a repetition of such an experience would be a contributory scheme for the provision of social services. If finanical reserves were built up for the post-war period, the government of the day would be in a much better position to continue the present scale of pensions than itwould if those reserves did not exist. I believe that many of the old people themselves have ideas on this matter consistent with my own. They are not all eager for the increased pension. I am fortified in that belief by a letter from a pensioner, 87 years of age, who has been a resident of Australia for many years. Portion of the letter reads :

These are not my words; they are the words of an old-age pensioner who obviously has concern, not only for himself, but also for the future of the aged and invalid people of this country. I believe that a great many of our old people would be quite prepared to forgo this increase, if necessary. I emphasize again the need for caution in continually expanding our commitments without making provision for the future of social security in this country. I believe that this Government would be doing one of the best acts in the history of federation, if it were to introduce a comprehensive social security scheme, on a contributory basis, in order to build up reserve funds to meet future expenditure. I am conservative enough to think that rainy days will come again, and I believe that the best way to provide for them is to build up reserve funds for the payment of those benefits which we believe are necessary in a civilization such as ours.

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