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Wednesday, 20 March 1957

Mr WARD (East Sydney) .- Earlier to-night, on another subject, I had to direct attention to the contemptuous attitude of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) to problems that confront Australia. I take this opportunity to direct attention again to the manner in which the Prime Minister has disregarded an appeal from deserving sections of the community. ] have a letter from the Paddington Branch of the Old Age and Invalid Pensioners Association of Australia, directing attention to the serious plight of many pensioners. The following resolution was passed by the Paddington branch -

That all our branches contact their respective members of Parliament and request them to advocate at all times and at every opportunity a rise in our pensions.

Many honorable members, including those on the Government side of the House, have been approached by representatives of pensioners' organizations. I sent the following telegram in reply to the letter from the pensioners -

Your letter 11th instant received and terms of recent resolution your branch noted. In complete agreement your members' viewpoint on need for substantial increase present rate pensions. Propose raise matter Commonwealth Parliament as matter of urgency soon as practicable after Parliamentary sittings resume next month. Meantime propose renew efforts other directions endeavour force Menzies-Fadden Government act afford relief.

The Prime Miniser sent me a telegram after I had made a further request to him on this matter. I consider that his reply was couched in the most contemptuous terms, and was completely outside the facts of the situation. He stated -

Your telegram 18th February about inadequacy of pensions and benefits.

There was nothing further in that sentence. The telegram continues -

I do not agree that effects of living costs are as you claim nor does our correspondence suggest any widespread distress among pensioners and others, but I assure you we shall examine all pension and benefit rates before presenting our next budget.

Sir Philip McBride - Hear, hear!

Mr WARD - The Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) has interjected " Hear, hear! " because he does not have to worry. He has not cashed last season's wool cheque yet, but the pensioners who were the real toilers of Australia, and who helped to make it what it is, have had a struggle to exist. Unfortunately, this Government has not been prepared even to consider their requests. According to the Prime Minister, their request will be considered some months hence. The Minister for Defence seems to take a great deal of pleasure in the misery of these people. He might be able to suggest how it is possible to exist on £4 a week, because that is all the pensioners get if they have no other income.

The Minister for the Interior (Mr. Fairhall) addressed a meeting of pensioners in Newcastle not long ago. According to the press report he was heckled and hooted. That is the usual reaction of those concerned because of the way they are treated by this Government. According to the newspaper report, one of the hecklers asked the Minister how he would manage to live on £4 a week. Unfortunately the newspaper did not print his reply - if he gave any answer at all. I would be interested to hear from him now what reply he gave to that question. I would like him to explain to the House how he could struggle along on £4 a week.

There is no doubt that the position of many of these people is desperate. Earlier to-day, the House discussed the housing problem. The pensioners have a housing problem, too. No doubt we shall hear the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) relating once again how much money the Commonwealth Government has provided since it introduced a scheme to assist the construction of homes for the aged. I would like the Minister to say how many of these old people have actually been provided with homes. He will find that the number is minute in comparison with the number of persons who require such assistance. The Government stands condemned for having done nothing to relieve the plight of these people. I am amazed that the Prime Minister should send me a telegram saying that there is no evidence to suggest widespread distress amongst pensioners. If the Minister for Social Services will let me know the first day on which he will be available at his office in Sydney, I will bring along enough age and invalid pensioners to tell him at first hand exactly what a terrific struggle it is for them to exist.

I ask the Government not to wait until the budget session, or brush these people contemptuously aside. Theirs is a real, immediate and urgent need, and I want the Government to do something to help them now. Doing something for the age and invalid pensioners involves no constitutional difficulty. The Government has the means. This year it is budgeting for a surplus. It has millions in trust funds and if it wants to use them in a worthwhile fashion it can do something to relieve the desperate situation of this deserving section of the community.

I ask the Minister, instead of waiting for some months to consider it, to take up with the Cabinet, and with his leader, the matter of immediate relief. We want a substantial increase in the pension rate.

Mr Hulme - How much do you want?

Mr WARD - Half a crown or five shillings - the most that the honorable member could imagine - would not be enough. We want the pensioner to receive considerably more than he does now. I ask the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme), as I did the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Fairhall), to explain how he could manage on the paltry allowance of £4 a week which these pioneers receive. If we were to assess their worth to this country we should probably find that they were morally entitled to claim more assistance from the community than is being received by many other sections at the moment.

I ask the Government to treat this as an urgent problem. I hope that the fullest publicity will be given to the Prime Minister's contemptuous wire stating that he does not know of any widespread distress among pensioners. I hope to correct that impression and produce to the Minister for Social Services sufficient evidence to show that it is false. 1 hope that, before 1 leave Canberra, the Minister will tell me when he will be available in Sydney for the purpose that I have mentioned.

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