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Friday, 24 August 1923

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Mr Bayley - My ruling was in accordance with the Constitution. I was not merely following precedent.

Mr FENTON - I am speaking in general terms. It is time that the Constitution was amended to give honorable members wider powers.

Mr Scullin - Surely Parliament should be supreme.

Mr FENTON - It ought to be. Honorable members may convince the majority of the Committee of the wisdom of certain amendments they desire to move, but unless the Government is agreeable, nothing can be done. We could well afford to be more liberal with our pensions, because a large accumulated surplus is in the hands of the Government. The Treasurer seems to think it would be an awful thing to increase the expenditure on this item.

Mr Maxwell - We shall be able to take a broader view if, and when, we outgrow party government.

Mr FENTON - If we abolish party government we shall be compelled to adopt log-rolling methods by which honorable members would make arrangements to suit their own purposes. That would cause utter chaos. Our hands are absolutely tied, so that we cannot move an effective amendment to this clause. An amendment that the value of property owned by a pensioner should be increased to £410 would be ruled out of order. I understand that the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) has a proposal to bring forward later which will increase the pensions expenditure. He will move by leave. Before a member of the Committee can do that, he must make special arrangements. I think we should not be so restricted. A great deal of time could be spent in discussing cases of individual hardship which have come under our -notice. I intend to place one or two on record, because debates of this kind are frequently referred to when amendments are contemplated to Bills of this character. Honorable members know that it frequently happens that the parents of a family are left alone in their little home because all their children marry, and go elsewhere to live. The time often comes when one of the sons returns to the old roof, and a general discussion occurs about the future. The mother says, " Well, John, we find that we cannot manage things any longer. A couple of years ago, I could do all the cooking, and we could get on very well, but 'those days have gone." The father tells very much the same story. Then John says, " Well, I have a proposal to make. We have a couple of rooms to spare in our home. Why not come with us, and spend the remainder of your days under our roof? We will do our best to provide for you in your declining years." An arrangement may then be made for the old people to let the old home for a few shillings a week and live with the son, who is thus in a position to provide his aged parents with a few additional comforts. It is unfair that because the old folk receive a little income by the way of rent from the original home that a reduction should be made in the amount of pension paid. This is not an unusual case. Another instance which came under my notice in my own constituency may be mentioned. A pensioner, seventy-five years of age, decided to add a few shillings a week to his income by cracking stones. Of course, he was not able to do very much, so, occasionally, the younger men working in the same locality would go over to help the old man by cracking a few stones on his heap. In this way, his income was supplemented, and in his case, also, reductions were made in old-age pension payments. I direct attention to another anomaly. Payments are allowable to incapacitated miners from what is known as the Miners' Fund, but deductions are made by the Pensions Department in the case of all beneficiaries under the fund established by the Victorian Racing Club for the assistance of incapacitated or aged jockeys or trainers. I do not blame the officials, because I understand they are guided by the provisions of the Act.

Mr Groom - It is a question of law.

Mr FENTON - I have made repeated requests to successive Treasurers on this subject, and although I have always received sympathetic consideration, no amendment of the Act has been introduced. I trust that the present Treasurer will see his way clear to rectify this anomaly. I understand that the Treasurer's objection to the amendment is that it would interfere with his financial proposals outlined in the Budget. The Government climbed down in connexion with the taxation on leaseholds, and agreed not to make the remission promised in the Budget speech. Why make fish of one and flesh of another. W[hy should difficulties be created because a little extra is asked for in connexion with invalid and old-age pensioners. The order of leave in connexion with any financial measure should be sufficiently wide to permit of members submitting amendments even if their effect would be to increase taxation.

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