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Wednesday, 27 May 1942

Senator COOPER (Queensland) . - Like other honorable senators on this side of the chamber, I welcome this bill; it is a measure which I hope is merely the forerunner of other social legislation which will be introduced into this Parliament. In the near future, I trust that the recommendation of the Joint Committee on Social Security, of which I am a member, that social security legislation, to be administered by the Department of Social Services, shall be passed, and that its provisions will be sufficiently comprehensive to embrace all social legislation now in existence in Australia; and also that from time to time other legislation, which will provide greater social security for the people, will be enacted. After the war, the social legislation of both the Commonwealth and the States will have to be consolidated in a Commonwealth measure and made to apply to the whole of Australia. At present, only two States have passed legislation providing for pen.sions for widows and children. The rate of pension in New South Wales is similar to that embodied in the legislation before us, but the Victorian scheme is much less liberal. In the other States no special provision is made for widows and children.

Most of the debate on this measure has been directed to the method of financing the scheme. In this connexion, I shall read from the introduction to the first interim report of the Joint Committee on Social Security, wherein the committee states -

In a democratic community, the right of an individual to share in community production must be accompanied by an obligation to contribute to community welfare to the utmost of his physical and mental capacity.

When further social security measures of this kind are introduced, it will be necessary to make adequate provision for financing the schemes. The Joint Committee on Social Security, in dealing with a proposal similar to that now before the Senate, recommended that the simplest and most equitable plan in the present circumstances would be to impose a general tax on every income earner in the community with the exception of those on the lowest scale. It suggested that the tax should be graduated according to the income of the taxpayer, and that there should be a small exemption limit varying in accordance with the income and family responsibilities of the taxpayer, the proceeds of the tax to go to a special fund, to be drawn upon only for the purposes specified. That recommendation was subscribed to by three Labour members and three members of the Opposition. It will be necessary to adopt some such method, or to follow along the lines of the New Zealand scheme, which provides for a straight-out tax of so much in the f 1, in order to enable social security measures, which I regard as most necessary, to be placed upon a sound financial basis. A graduated tax, as has been pointed out by the Joint Committee on Social Security, would spread the burden to a far greater degree than would a straightout tax. Senator Aylett, referring to the New Zealand scheme, remarked that a tax of 2s. a week on widows in receipt of £2 a week would be most unfair, but the Opposition does not intend that widows should be called upon to pay 3s. a week out of their earnings by way of tax. Under the New Zealand scheme the recipient of. the pension is not taxed at all, but even a small contribution would help to provide some security for the fund available for the payment of the pension. In 1930, when a Government of the same persuasion as the present one was in charge of the treasury bench, there was insufficient money available in the Treasury to pay invalid and old-age pensions and war pensions at their full rates and pensions had to be reduced. All that is desired by the Joint Committee on

Social Security is that the necessary funds shall always be available for the payment of the pensions provided under social security legislation. A graduated tax would result in persons with the larger incomes making a greater contribution to the fund than those in receipt of the smaller incomes. It is essential that all members of the community, except those on the lowest incomes, should make some contribution towards their own social security. I believe that the great majority of the people would prefer to be independent, so that when adversity overtook them they could draw a pension as a right.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - And then the pension could not be cut down at the whim of a government.

Senator COOPER - That is so. Their position would be more secure than it is at present. This country is involved in the greatest conflict in which it has ever been engaged, and we should endeavour to imbue a spirit of independence in the rising generation. People should not he encouraged to imagine that they need only to ask for financial assistance in order to have it provided by a benevolent government. I have always derived the greatest pleasure from those things for which I have had to work hard to obtain, and a spirit of independence among the people would be developed by requiring them to take a share in the building up of the funds necessary to provide social benefits. It is generally agreed that widows and children are particularly deserving of the protection of the community, because children are one of the best assets that a country can possess.

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