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Friday, 24 August 1923

Mr MANN (Perth) .- I regret the mode of this debate on old-age pensions. This question should not be made the " cock-shy " of party politics. It should be an occasion for calm and cool discussion rather than for invective and insinuation. I shall discuss the pension independent altogether of the fate of the Government, and I refuse to be embarrassed in any way by the statement of the Prime Minister. I am satisfied that this Bill is fair. I am perfectly justified in the stand I am taking, and will have no difficulty in satisfying my own conscience and my constituents when I appear before them. I expected that definite facts would have been stated to support the various opinions that have been expressed. Some honorable members have said that they consider the increase insufficient, and others have taken the contrary view. There has not been that quiet discussion that would form a basis upon which judgment could be formed. This is the position. The first old-age pension was 10s. per week, and, as far as I know, that was not then considered inadequate or ungenerous.

Mr E RILEY (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Ten shillings a week then was worth more than 25s. now.

Mr MANN - I am coming to that aspect. In 1910 the pension was not considered inadequate.

Dr MALONEY (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - It was in my constituency.

Mr MANN - Individuals may have had different opinions, but the people as o whole believed that 10s. a week was a fair thing. The Treasurer has shown that the sum which represents the purchasing power of the sovereign at the time the pension of 10s. a week was granted is 34s. 3d., which is not an increase of 100 per cent. If the pension is made £1 per week it will be an increase of 100 per cent, on the original pension.

Mr Forde - That increase does not take the cost of clothing into consideration.

Mr MANN - For the first time in the history of the pension this Bill proposes to increase it in accordance with the purchasing power of the sovereign, which is both fair and generous.

Mr Forde - The honorable member should be fair, and take the increased cost of clothing into consideration.

Mr MANN - I am giving a comparison of figures that were fixed on the same basis throughout, and on which the Treasurer has based his estimates. In addition, the general conditions of the pension have been greatly liberalized. The Government are making the pension equivalent to the original rate, taking into account the depreciated value of money, and that seems to me a very powerful and convincing argument.

Mr Atkinson - The Labour party did not do that when they had the chance.

Mr MANN - I do not wish to make comparisons between one party and another. All the comments and insinuations of honorable members opposite will not convince my constituents that I am unsympathetic towards the old people, because I have their interests at heart just as much as has any one else. A great many old people live in my constituency, and when I return I am quite prepared to tell them how I voted, and why. This matter should not be simply governed by (sympathy. Every honorable member wishes to give freely; but I do not know whether there would be that desire if we were dealing with our own money.

Mr E RILEY (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is our own money

Mr MANN - The honorable member is one of 5,500,000. "We hold money in trust for the people.

Mr Brennan - It is a mutual trust. Mr. MANN. - That is so. We must be just before being generous. Honorable members opposite speak lightly of the expenditure of £1,000,000, but it must be remembered that if we are committed to this expenditure this year, it means a similar commitment every year, which is a- very different consideration.

Mr E RILEY (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member is " stone-walling ".

Mr MANN - It suits honorable members to call it " stone-walling " because I am placing unwelcome facts before them. During my election campaign, I pledged myself to endeavour to get an increase: in the old-age pensions, but I would not commit myself to any definite amount, because I was not in a position at that time to know what sum would be justifiable. Probably other honorable members who committed themselves to a definite amount went a little further than was justified, not knowing the amount involved. At that time, I strongly favoured the ^establishment of a comprehensive scheme of national insurance, and the appointment of a Commission for that purpose. I was, therefore, delighted when the Government decided to appoint a Royal Commission to report on a comprehensive system of State insurance.

Mr Lazzarini - On a point of order, is the honorable member for Perth- in order in discussing, on this amendment, the' appointment of a Royal Commission ? He is making a second:reading speech.

Mr MANN - The question of the oldage pension has a direct connexion- with the Royal Commission, because it will be considered with that of State insurance. Everybody admits that we are approaching the limit for pensions, and it would be very inadvisable to take a step to prejudice or annul the work of that Commission. It is very easy to increase the pension; but, supposing, for the sake of. argument, that the Commission recommended that the,maximum pension should be 17s. 6di, if this House had already voted £1 per week, difficulty would be experienced in reducing it. On the other hand, if, after- due consideration of the facts, the Commission recommended an old-age pension of £1 per week, then, taking into' account the financial position,, honorable members would gladly subscribe to it. But at present we are anticipating and may be going too far, and any further commitment will annul the work of this Commission.

Mr Scullin - It is an old game ti* get behind a Commission for protection.

Mr MANN - The honorable member has been glad, on more than one occasion during this session, to get behind the reports of Royal Commissions. If honorable members have conscientious objections in regard to this matter, well and good, but I refuse to be classed with those who will smother their real- convictions' and vote against their consciences upon- a matter in regard to which I have arrived at a deliberate and well -weighed opinion.

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