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Wednesday, 27 May 1942

Senator LECKIE (Victoria) .- I am afraid that a good many red herrings have been drawn across the trail in the course of this debate. Much has been said about various systems of finance which actually have very little to do with this measure. The theme of Senator Brown's song was that we could afford to feed the widows and the orphans; but who said that we could not?

Senator Cameron - Senator Spicer said that we could not.

Senator LECKIE - He said nothing of the sort. He simply said that, when legislation such as this was introduced, some indication should be given of the method by which it was to be financed. The honorable senator did not say that he objected to the payment of a pension to widows. In fact, he agreed, as I do, that this is a very worthy bill; but he objected, as I do, to the Government refusing to disclose the source from which it is proposed to obtain approximately £1,600,000 a year to finance this scheme.

Senator McBride - The Leader of the Senate (Senator Collings) said that it would be financed by means of bank credit.

Senator COLLINGS (QUEENSLAND) - I said nothing of the kind.

Senator LECKIE - It was suggested, In the first place, that the money would come from Consolidated Revenue - that great unknown quantity which is supposed to be inexhaustible - but the financing of a scheme such as this would leave a big hole in Consolidated Revenue, and all that honorable senators on this side of the chamber desire to know is how does the Government propose to fill that hole ? The money must be obtained from somewhere. Senator Brown said that it could be obtained by means of bank credit.

Senator Brown - I said nothing of the kind.

Senator LECKIE - The honorable senator said also that banks create credit, but banks cannot create credit unless they have adequate security in the form of goods.

Senator Collings - All the banks put together have never produced a ton of potatoes.

Senator LECKIE - But they can issue the credit represented by a ton of potatoes. If there be security in the form of goods which are of a certain value to a bank, then credit can be created and distributed through the ordinary channels. Senator Brown argued that if we could afford to feed and clothe widows and orphans, as well as members of our fighting forces, in war-time, we could afford to feed them in peace-time. The honorable senator seems to visualize an interminable state of war. Does he suggest that we are suffering no inconveniences and no hardships as a result of this war; and that we can go on fighting the war indefinitely, pouring out millions of pounds and employing man-power in non-productive work, without foregoing some of the amenities of life that we enjoyed in peace-time? Surely he knows quite well that that is a fallacy. Members of the fighting forces represent units of production, and unless they are pro.ducing something, the rest of the community must suffer. Senator Brown also said that the national debt would never be paid. I do not know whether b% that he meant that it should be repudiated, but he knows perfectly well that in connexion with every loan which is floated, provision is made for contributions to a sinking fund by means of which millions of pounds is paid back every year.

Senator BROWN - But the debt remains.

Senator LECKIE - It does not remain, unless new debts are created. The debt is not paid out of the loan itself, but out of the sinking fund which is financed from Consolidated Revenue, and Consolidated Revenue in turn comes from the pockets of the taxpayers. There should be no misunderstanding about that. 'When the previous Government introduced a child endowment scheme, it provided a proper basis of finance; every body in the community is called upon to contribute towards the scheme. The same thing should apply to this proposal. It is all " tommyrot " to suggest that under a contributory scheme, the widows would have to pay their own pensions. After all, widows are only a small section of the community. Under a contributory scheme, a beneficiary would have the satisfaction of knowing that she could claim her pension as a right because she had subscribed to it in better days.

Senator Aylett - That is what she will be able to say under the present proposal.

Senator LECKIE - No. Honorable senators on this side of the chamber are not objecting to the payment of a pension to widows. We recognize, however, that it is the duty of any government, when introducing a proposal such as this, to indicate the method by which it is intended to raise the necessary finance. It that were done, we should have no objection to the scheme at all. In everyday life, before a person makes a purchase he must, first of all, know where the necessary money is to be obtained.

Senator Cameron - Does the honorable senator want us to tell him that it is to come out of Consolidated Revenue?

Senator LECKIE - I have been told that a dozen times. The Minister for Aircraft Production (Senator Cameron) seems to regard Consolidated Revenue as son, e inexhaustible source of money, which the Government can tap continually, and need not replenish. This money must come out of some one's pocket.

Senator COURTICE (QUEENSLAND) - It will come out of industry.

Senator LECKIE - The source of all revenue is production. It cannot corns from anywhere else. This debate has resolved itself into a discussion on finance. The contention of honorable senators on this side is that the Government should clearly indicate how it intends to meet this expenditure, which is entirely new. That is all we ask.

Several clauses of the measure will require considerable explanation. It would appear that in some respects the Government is adopting new principles. Senator Spicer pointed out that, whereas the qualifying age for an old-age pension is 60 in the case of females, and 65 in the case of males, pensions are to be paid under this measure to widows at the age of 50 years. In effect, the Government declares that no widow should be obliged to work after reaching the age of 50 years. At the same time it does not make any provision in respect of spinsters of that age. It says that, at <50 years of age, no widow is capable of working.

Senator COURTICE - Does the honorable senator think that a widow can do very well on 25s. a week?

Senator LECKIE - No; but what is the reason for this distinction in respect of spinsters, who, apparently, must wait until they reach the age of 60 years before they can qualify for financial aid from the Government? That is an entirely new principle, and requires very careful consideration. Several of the definitions contained in the bill also require explanation. The payment of pensions to de facto wives and divorced women appears to be a direct incentive to what might be called immorality. A woman who is divorced may have been divorced through her own fault. Should she re-marry she will lose her pension. However, she can retain her pension if she lives with a man without marrying him. Admitting that the de facto wife has a just claim for this assistance, T point out that such a woman may later become the de facto wife of a second, or third, man. Will such a woman still be entitled to receive this pension? Matters of this kind must be fully explained.

Honorable senators on this side do not oppose the measure. They object to the method by which the Government brings forward a bill of this kind, and leaves the Senate entirely in ignorance, in spite of the airy speeches and promises of honorable senators opposite, as to how it proposes to raise the sum of £1,600,000 required to finance the scheme. The remarks of some honorable senators opposite concerning bank credit reveal alamentableacquaintance with the first principles of finance. I repeat that several clauses of the measure will need to be very carefully considered. I ask the (Government to take the Opposition into its confidence, and to explain exactly how it proposes to raise the money required tofinance this scheme.

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