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Friday, 15 May 1942

Mr FRANCIS (Moreton) .- 1 am gratified by the introduction of this measure, and I take this opportunity to pay a tribute to the work of the several joint committees that were recently appointed to review a number of subjects for the benefit of this Parliament. The committee that dealt with this subject, and other committees too, have rendered valuable service to this Parliament. Although I am chairman of one of the committees, I think that I can stress the view I have just expressed. I am happy to say that although we are passing through extraordinarily difficult times, this Parliament has not forgotten the many people of this country who are having a lean time because of ill health or other disabilities. The unfortunate persons covered by the bill are women who have lost their breadwinners. I make these observations regarding widows with particular force, because I live in an industrial area, and represent an electorate containing many industrial areas. From my experience 1 know how hard at times widows' circumstances can be, and how difficult it is to give them all the assistance they need. The bill will lift a big load from the minds of those members of this House who have a charitable nature, by assuring them that the problem has been tackled in a national manner. I believe in this case, as in that of invalid and old-age pensions, that the rise and fall of the cost of living should be taken into account in assessing the pension.

I wish to make special reference to one feature of the. debate. An honorable member who spoke this afternoon suggested that the present scheme should be adopted because the pay-roll tax introduced by a previous government to finance child endowment has produced a surplus of £1,600,000. I do not share that view. The proposal, on the contrary, should be put forward on its merits. I regard widows' pensions as indispensable to the national life of this country. My objection to a pay-roll tax to provide for child endowment is being borne out by this early experience. The figures show that £1,600,000 has bee"l extracted unnecessarily from the pockets of the people, and I believe that the proper method of financing all such proposals for the relief of the sick, the injured, and the poor of the community, should be, in the first instance, by payments from general revenue; but only until a broad scheme of national insurance has been built up on a contributory basis. In view of the surplus revenue received from the pay-roll tax, the contributions should be reduced.

I suggest to the committee that has brought in the recommendations on which the bill and other amendments to our social legislation have been based, to concentrate on recommending to Parliament a broad, general scheme of national insurance to cover the whole ramification of social activities, including invalid and old-age pensions, widows' pensions, child endowment, health, medical and hospital benefits, dental treatment, and unemployment. Those matters have been considered on previous occasions. There are reports in the Parliamentary Library dealing with them, and I suggest that in the light of accumulated experience, and of the action taken in other countries, the committee and Parliament should take early action. For a long time we have taken pride in the belief that we lead the world in social and industrial legislation, but until we have devised a broad, national insurance scheme, we shall be well behind the rest of the world. Already 33 or 34 countries have schemes of national insurance covering the social services that have been before this Parliament during recent weeks. Even the republics of South America have their national insurance schemes. We cannot claim to have done anything towards a new order in this country until we have tackled the problem systematically, in a broad and national way. By lending its aid the committee will help to confirm the good reputation it has already earned. I commend the Government for its action in introducing the bill and trust that it will have a speedy passage.

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