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Wednesday, 27 May 1942

The PRESIDENT - Order ! Did I understand the honorable senator to use the term " crucified Christs " %

Senator CAMERON - I intended to say that the people I had in mind posed as martyrs in the same way as Christ was a martyr when he was crucified to save the world. I had in mind people appearing to be Christ-like who would save the world by word of 'mouth but by legislation are impoverishing the people to the very limit. I have heard it implied that this bill is a sort of fraud and that it will compel certain people to provide the money for widows' pensions. It does not make the slightest difference to me whether those who so imply pose and postulate as great public benefactors because I know they would translate their theories and words into legislation that would perpetuate the impoverishment of the people in the future to the same degree as it has been done in the past. The statement has been made that war debts will not be paid. As a matter of fact, war debts have been paid over and over again.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - What has the subject of war debts to do with widows' pensions?

Senator CAMERON - An honorable senator made a reference that was seized upon by other honorable senators and they attempted to refute what he said. War debts have been paid over and over again and will continue to be paid over and over again. They are paid in the form of interest in perpetuity. In the light of that statement, the suggestion that we want to make certain that widows' pensions will be paid so that war debts cannot be paid, cannot be substantiated by facts. That is the construction which I place on the suggestion that the Government has introduced this legislation in order to make it impossible to pay other debts.

Senator McBride - Nonsense! That has never been suggested.

Senator CAMERON - So long as the present wage system continues and the people who make progress possible - I refer to the great masses who perform useful work in the community - are satisfied to live from day to day with just sufficient food, clothing and shelter for their minimum immediate needs, there will be an accumulation of wealth in excess of what the workers receive; and that wealth will be appropriated, possibly in the form of' principal, but certainly in a form of interest, to pay war debts or other debts. Viewed in the light of those circumstances, this bill is many years overdue. It proposes to give to certain widows only 25s. a week, which is barely sufficient to pay the rent of a room and provide firewood. The bill is more than justified, and any honorable senator who thinks that it gives too much to those whom it will benefit should be ashamed of himself.

Senator McBRIDE(South Australia; [6.11] . - All honorable senators will agree that the debate on this measure has covered a wide field. That is all to the good, because whilst the bill sets out to do a certain thing, that result cannot be achieved without provision being made for the money which will have to be appropriated. The speech which the Minister for Aircraft Production (Senator Cameron) has just made is practically a repetition of other speeches which he has delivered in this chamber on many occasions. When the honorable senator sat in Opposition, it was easier for him to put forward misleading or inaccurate statements than it is now when, as a member of the Cabinet, he must accept more responsibility than as a private senator. When he speaks of " racketeering " in Australia, he reflects on himself and his colleagues in the Cabinet for not taking steps to prevent such a state of affairs.

Senator Cameron - Give us a majority in both Houses and see what the result will be.

Senator McBRIDE - The Minister cannot say that wrongs in the community to-day are due to a tory reactionary government being in office, because, if they exist, they exist under an allegedly Labour government. On many occasions the honorable senator has claimed that the workers produce all the wealth of the country, but he has never attempted to define the word " workers ". He has. however, subtly suggested here - and he has no doubt said so in more definite terms on the Yarra bank - that the producers of this country are confined to wage-earners. The Minister must know that many producers in Australia are not paid any wages at all, and that others do not receive the basic wage.

Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.

Senator McBRIDE - The Minister made an unfortunate reference to butter. I do not think that he would suggest that the dairymen of Australia are profiteering or could be classified as rich people, yet the Paterson butter scheme which compensates dairymen, and gives to them a fair return for their labour, is supported by the Government of which he is a member. Many other persons who are engaged in the production of various commodities are just as much wealthproducers as are those in the class referred to by the Minister. It is of no use producing goods in any part of the Commonwealth unless they can be distributed among the people who require them.

Senator Courtice - What has this to do with widows' pensions?

Senator McBride - I believe that all members of the community should contribute to the cost of pensions, and that those who the Minister suggests are ground down to the dust, and are unable to make any contribution to the cost of pensions, are not only able to do so, but many of them are more than willing to make a contribution towards schemes by which they will be provided for in their invalidity and their old age. The small storekeepers who distribute goods throughout the Commonwealth are not in receipt of a wage, but I do not believe that any one would suggest that they are rich profiteers. The Minister made a caustic remark about the effect of indirect taxes on the workers. He spoke of the duties on tobacco, but there are many indirect taxes besides excise duties. The Government of which he is a member only recently increased indirect taxes, by increasing the sales tax by £6,500,000. I mention this to show how out of step the Minister is with honorable senators opposite, and even 'with his own colleagues in the Cabinet.

We had an extraordinary dissertation from another honorable senator with regard to finance. He pointed out that under war conditions we use our financial system in -a manner which would not be considered possible in times of peace. He said that in fighting the enemy we do not hesitate to depart from old financial principles, but introduce what lie calls a creation of credit. As a matter of fact, that has not been done, and even the Government which the honorable senator supports has not to any great degree departed in principle from the financial system that has operated in the past, but the Government has certainly increased credit by a considerable amount. The honorable senator reiterated the statement made repeatedly by honorable senators opposite regarding that rather nebulous thing known as the creation of credit. He even went so far as to declare that the private banks of this country extended credit at will, but that is entirely contrary to fact. The only bank in Australia that can extend credit at will is the Commonwealth Bank. The creation of credit is confined entirely to that institution. The Commonwealth Bank is not extending credit of its own accord, but is being bludgeoned into doing so. I defy any honorable senator opposite to show me one instance of the private banks having extended credit in excess of the deposits held by them. The extension of credit is entirely different from the power to create credit. If honorable senators examine the balancesheets of the private banks they will find that in every instance, as far as I am aware, the total deposits are in excess of the advances made. Consequently the power of the private banks to extend credit is definitely limited by the deposits in their keeping.

Members of the Opposition do not oppose this bill because we believe that it is necessary to provide the service contemplated under the measure, but we are alarmed at the haphazard and irresponsible manner in which the scheme has been prepared. The Government has not suggested, and we are still waiting to know, how these pensions are to be paid. It appears that the Government is so surfeited with millions that, in its opinion, the way in which a mere £1,600,000 is to be raised for pensions for widows is not worth consideration; but we know that for all of the expenditure now being incurred the money must . be obtained by taxation, loans or the extension of bank credit. I ask you, Mr. President, whether you believe that a social service which has to be carried on after the war should be financed on a sounder basis than by the extension of credit or by means of loan money? All of these services should be financed from current revenue raised either by means of taxation or by compulsory contributions to the various schemes. The Government of "which I was a member brought down a scheme of child endowment which was financed in a definite manner, first by means of contributions, and secondly by provision made from Consolidated Revenue. I considered at that time, and I still believe, that we are acting wrongly in introducing these social services by instalments. There should be a comprehensive social service scheme which would relieve and give security to all in need of it, and it should be financed on a contributory basis. I was interested in the reference by the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Keane), in his second-reading speech, to countries that had provided these social services. In every country cited by him, with the exception perhaps of Denmark, the schemes were of a contributory nature. The Labour party in Australia has not a monopoly of brains, and I suggest that the governments of other countries which have probably a longer experience and wider background than we could possibly have in Australia have decided in their wisdom to introduce these schemes on a sound contributory basis. I urge the Government to reconsider the matter and realize that, whilst it is at present blatantly evading the issue, and trying to give a semblance of permanence to these schemes, if it continues in the way it is now going the greatest difficulty will probably be experienced in maintaining the same scale of relief in the future as is now proposed. I now repeat a remark that I made recently, when speaking of invalid and old-age pensions, that Labour governments in the past have no doubt had similar ideas to those of the present Government. I do not doubt their sincerity of purpose, but the fact remains that, owing to the hand-to-mouth method of finance adopted for the payment of invalid and old-age pensions, a former Labour government was the first and only ministry in this country to reduce the rate of the pensions to the invalid and elderly sections of the community. "We do not wish to see a repetition of that. "We desire that social services shall be established on a permanent basis, so that the recipients of the widows' pensions and social benefits may expect at least the same rate of benefit as is now proposed. I suggest that the only /Senator j j j satisfactory solution is to establish a scheme on a contributory basis and build up a reserve fund. It is completely inaccurate to say that all of the persons who are to benefit under this bill are not now in a position to make a contribution towards the proposed service. I am disappointed that the Government has not seen fit to provide in this bill that persons now in receipt of a similar pension under a State scheme shall not receive both State and Commonwealth pensions simultaneously. I believe that the Commonwealth should take over the social services of Australia and place them on a uniform basis, but I do not favour the payment of a pension by the Commonwealth and a duplication of that pension by a State government. At the appropriate time I shall submit an amendment to prevent persons from receiving a double pension. Although an amendment to that effect was rejected in the House of Representatives I hope that after further ' consideration the Government will be prepared to accept such an amendment in the Senate.

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