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Thursday, 8 July 1920

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN (Eden) (Monaro) .-- While there are some portions of these proposals with which I cannot quite agree, it appears to me that this motion is somewhat on the right lines. Only this afternoon I asked certain questions concerning what might be done regarding old-age and invalid pensioners; and the answer, in plain language, was that there was no money available to provide further assistance.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - The answer wa9 that we had just given an increase involving £1,500,000 per annum.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - What would it matter if it involved £2,500,000 per annum ? Why was the original Act passed ? It was to provide relief for the aged and invalid poor. I was chairman of the Commission which inquired into the whole subject, and was a member of the Government which brought in the eventual Bill. The reason why the sum of 10s. was fixed was that it was the smallest amount upon which it was considered a person could live. So low a figure was fixed because it was thought that that was all the country could afford to pay. The very fact that the rate of pension has been increased indicates that that was obviously a mistake. The increase has been made because it has been realized that the original amount could not keep body and soul together. It is now the duty of Parliament to perceive, further, that 15s. per week is not as much to-day as was 10s. when the legislation was originally introduced. The payment of pensions is no charity. If we admit that it is a matter of right, as we should all do, then is there any honorable member who will say that we should let the poor and invalid half starve and half live? It is a matter of necessity and of urgency that our Pen:sions Act should be amended. It is only right that we should find more money to help keep our aged' and sick folk alive.

There are several anomalies in our pensions legislation. The Act to-day provides that pensioners may not work to earn money. That is a mistake. Many men and women who receive pensions would be glad to earn a few shillings per week by way of supplementing their dole ; and there are many folk in the community who would like to employ the aged folk in order to help them out. If pensioners possess property to-day a proportional debit is made against their allowance. Of course they are permitted to own their own homes - that is quite right; but it is anomalous that while a pensioner may live in a home of his own which is worth even £1,000, and have nothing debited against his pension, yet at the same time if he owns £100 worth of land or property the amount of his pension is reduced proportionately. That should not be so. There are many other changes that might well be made in the Act. This country can afford to be decent to the aged poor, many of whom have pioneered1 Australia. We should show that in the opinion of the Federal Parliament it is no crime to be poor. I know of nothing more urgent than that reasonable and adequate aid should be afforded needy old folk. Of course the Government say that there is no money available to do more than has been done.

Mr Considine - It is not hard to provide money when it comes to a question of killing people rather than endeavouring to preserve life.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - Sometimes it becomes necessary to kill in order to preserve our own lives. Where would this country be but for those brave young men who offered their services on behalf of the Empire, and went out prepared to do some killing? I sent my two boys to defend the honorable member and his people, and I strongly resent his interjection.

Mr Considine - You were talking about the difficulty of finding money for pensions, and I merely pointed out that when it came to a question of killing people you could find the money quickly enough.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - Yes, and the honorable member was referring to the men who won Australia for us. Compare their action with his and that of many others of his age.

Mr Considine - You are quite right. They won Australia for you, not for themselves.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - Well, I hope they did not win Australia for the Bolshevists, anyhow.

Mr Considine - The Bolshevists will win for themselves.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - All I can say is that when Bolshevists appear those men who went out to fight for this country will be found as ready to take the Bolshevists by the throat and settle them as they did the Boches.

Mr Considine - I think you will find them under the same banner as the Bolshevists.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - After all, this question has not very much to do with the motion before the Chair, unless some of those gentlemen who would not fight to defend this country claim that they were above the age limit.

Mr Considine - They will defend it all right when it belongs to them, as your people found out when your fellows went to Russia.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - Our men gave a good account of themselves wherever they went.

Mr Considine - But I am talking about your propertied friends.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - Did not our , propertied friends, as the honorable member calls them, also fight for this country? Were nob representatives of property and the working classes fighting side by side in the war ?

Mr Considine - Very few.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - I say they were, and they did their duty splendidly. And now they will not give the honorable member any credit for sneering at them and calling them "killers."I am proud of them.

Mr Considine - Naturally you are.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - I am proud of them because, for one reason, my boys went out with them. They fought for the honorable member and his friends, who would not fight for themselves.

Mr Considine - They did not fight for met.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - They foughtfor this country, and now the honorable member is sneering at them.

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