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Wednesday, 27 May 1942

Senator AMOUR (New South Wales) . - I congratulate the Government upon bringing down this bill, which represents a measure of security for certain widows of the nation. I am confident that the Government intends to introduce further legislation of this kind for the benefit of the people as a whole. Honorable senators opposite quibble over the wisdom of improving our social services in a time of war. It is most essential that during the war, not only Australia, but also every other democratic country, should improve its social services. If the governments of democratic countries wait until the war is over before they pass such legislation, it will be too late, because the people as a whole will be utterly tired of the promises made to them of a neworder. Therefore, I trust that, before the war ends, the Government will bring down further measures to improve our social services. Among the classes who will benefit under this bill are many widows in New South Wales who, after drawing a pension under the State scheme, were disqualified on a means test as their children grew up, and went to work. Honorable senators opposite contend that the workers should contribute towards every pension scheme. The captains of industry are really responsible for the social security of those who provide their wealth. I do not agree that the workers should contribute towards schemes designed to provide pensions for widows and the aged. I desire to see the rate of invalid and old-age pensions and widows' pensions brought up to the basic wage; and I shall not be happy until that is done. At present, the Arbitration Court prescribes that the basic wage of £4 12s. be paid to workers, many oh' whom are in their sixties. Surely, it is absurd to say that a man who has been paid the basic wage as the minimum sum necessary to enable him to subsist, should live on a pension of 25s. a week from the day following that on which he is dismissed, or loses his employment. If it be necessary in the opinion of the Government and the Arbitration Court to pay him a wage of £4 12s. a week until he is 65 years of age, surely he must require the same income to enable him subsist after he passes that age.

Senator Aylett - An old-age pensioner is allowed to earn only 12s. 6d. a week.

Senator AMOUR - Yes; and many station-owners take advantage of that provision. They employ old-age pensioners at 12s. 6d. a week, knowing that . the pensioners cannot object. I repeat that it is the responsibility of the captains of industry to provide by way of taxes the revenue needed to ensure social security for their employees in their declining years. I disagree with the recommendation of the Joint Committee on Social Security that a widows' pension scheme should be on a contributory basis. I cannot understand how certain members of that committee supported such a proposal. If a man be killed at his work, compensation is paid to his widow under the Workers' Compensation Act. Under this measure a widow who benefits in that way will not be entitled to receive a widow's pension until the amount of compensation paid to her has been expended. In many cases the death of a worker is hastened by the conditions under which he is obliged to labour. Many men have to work up to their waist in water. Often, they are obliged to cease work owing to some illness which they contract at work; and very often the illness proves fatal. In such cases the widow does not receive any compensation, because her husband actually had no employer at the time of his death. Who do such men work for? For their wives? No; but in order to provide wealth for their masters in return for a wage which enables the worker barely to keep body and soul together. Many workers are killed on their way to or from their place of employment. The Government of New South Wales endeavoured to provide that compensation be paid in respect of employees who met with fatal accidents on their way to or from work, but the Legislative Council in that State defeated that proposal. Honorable senators opposite, with one voice, unfortunately, urge that the workers should provide all forms of pensions. They have put forward the argument that this scheme should be on a contributory basis in order to ensure that the rate of pensions will not be reduced as happened during the regime of the Scullin Government. I recall that at that time there was a large majority opposed to the Scullin Government in this chamber. I looked up the debate on the invalid and old-age pensions at that time and found that no honorable senator was really anxious to prevent a reduction of the rate of pensions at that time. The same honorable senators were only too happy to reject regulations designed to improve the conditions of employment of workers on the waterfront. It is not surprising, therefore, that they did not oppose the reduction of the rate of invalid and old-age pension. That legislation is a blot on our history. No government, least of all a Labour government, should have attacked the conditions of those on the lowest rung of the social ladder. That was a tragic measure, and I for one shall never make excuses for the government responsible for it. However, the fact remains that it passed through this chamber without one honorable senator making a genuine protest against it. Honorable senators opposite have had a lot to say about the National Health and Pensions Insurance Bill which was introduced by the Lyons Government in 1938. After it had passed the House of Representatives and had been sent up to the Senate the government got jittery about the fate of the measure, because as the result of an election the Labour party's representation in the Senate had been increased. Therefore, the Government had the bill brought on in the Senate so that it could be passed by the 30th June, before the twelve new Labour senators took their seats in the Senate on the 1st July. The Government had a majority in both Houses and although the bill was passed the act was not proclaimed. I am sick of the political faking of honorable senators on the Opposition side asserting that the workers should contribute to :i fund for widows' pensions. The time has arrived when political humbug will not be tolerated any longer in Australia. It is political humbug for Opposition senators to declare that the worker should subscribe to the fund for widows' pensions. The worker provides all the wealth in the country and there would not be one wealthy man in Australia were it not for him. What wealthy man provided his own wealth? He got it by virtue of Arbitration Court awards and by pulling political strings to prevent the workers getting fair awards. When the Lang Government introduced a rural workers award in New South Wales there was a scream of protest throughout the State from the wealthy section. When the Lang Government was defeated the first administrative act of the Stevens Government, which succeeded it, was to revoke the rural workers award. The wealthy classes wanted to get the services of cheap labour so that they could accumulate more wealth. The captains of industry went so far as to dress women in certain types of frocks and those women as witnesses gave sworn evidence in the Arbitration Court that they had bought the dresses for 18s. lid. each, when it was well known that they could not be purchased at anything like that price. The object was to cut the workers' wage to the lowest limit. Those captains of industry have their satellites in this chamber who claim that the workers should contribute to a widows' pension fund. The workers of Australia provide the wealth of this country and therefore those who get the wealth should contribute to a widows' pension fund. I have seen what is happening in different industries. Men working twelve hours a day get so fatigued that their health is seriously impaired. Yet the Opposition objects to the payment of pensions out of Consolidated Revenue to the widows of workers, and it employs the argument that the workers should provide the pension out of their earnings. Those who use that argument should try to do a week's work in some indus tries. They should take employment under the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board of Sydney or go into the mines and try to work where the rock choppers are operating. Then they would realize the serious injury done to the health of the workers. The method of paying the pension has been commented on in the debate, and the suggestion has been made that it might be paid out of bank credit. Senator McBride said that the trading banks must have security before they issue credit and that the credits issued do not exceed the value of securities held. I suggest that the banks would lend more on his home than on himself. The banks' security is not men and women; it is bricks and mortar. I congratulate the Government upon the introduction of the bill because I am aware that under the New South Wales scheme widows have been denied the pension because their families have grown up. From the 27th July next those widows will receive a pension, and I am sure that they and many other widows will be thankful to the Labour Government, which had the courage to bring down this valuable social legislation during war-time.

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