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Tuesday, 29 November 1938

Mr JAMES (Hunter) .- I propose to deal with some anomalies that exist in connexion with the administration of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act. Section 16(1) provides that Asiatics other than those born in Australia and Indians born in British India shall not be qualified to receive an old-age pension. Everybody will admit how unfairly this provision operates at times, particularly against people who are just as whiteskinned as are Europeans. Many Asiatics have been in this country for periods up to 50 years, are naturalized British subjects, and pay taxes regularly; but when they reach old age they are precluded from receiving an old-age pension. This section, which was directed against certain coloured races, is being applied even to people born in Constantinople, Europe. I know of one such case at Weston, New South Wales. I urge upon the Treasurer the desirability of amending the act in order to provide foT the payment of the old-age pension to Asiatics who after many years' residence in this country have become naturalized British subjects.

Hardship is also inflicted on certain people by the operation of section 17 of the act which provides that no person shall receive an old-age pension unless he is of good character. A pensioner, after having been " treated " by a few of his friends in an hotel, may bo hailed before a magistrate for drunkenness and suffer what the court regards as adequate punishment. Later the Pensions Department imposes a further penalty on him by withdrawing his pension, which means starvation. If a magistrate were aware of the harshness of the Pensions Department, which would follow his infliction of a penalty, he would probably dismiss all cases against these old pioneers. Many such cases have occurred. I daresay even the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) has " shouted " for some poor old-age pensioner as we all have done at times. I feel sure that every honorable member has received appeals from old people who have had their pensions cancelled in these circumstances. I appeal to the Treasurer to give more generous consideration to these cases.

Paragraph h of section 22(1) provides that uo person shall receive an invalid pension unless his relatives, namely, his father, mother, husband, wife or children, do not either severally or collectively, adequately maintain him. I recently brought under the notice of the department the case of a permanently and totally incapacitated constituent of mine at Weston. He is aged 51 years, and resides with his father, aged 78 years. Because he lives with his father who, being of a thrifty type, saved a few shillings and invested it in property, the son cannot get a pension. In . some instances, pensions have been granted during the period that the person concerned has left home to receive treatment in a hospital or other institution, but payment has again been withheld immediately on his return home. I am prepared to give to the Treasurer a list of the persons concerned, but I do not wish their names to appear in Hansard. I have in mind the case of a man living at Greta who has five children, including an invalid who is 26 years of age. Because the father is in receipt of £4 10s. a week, which is slightly in excess of the basis wage, he is supposed to be able to maintain his family adequately.' I have also placed before the Pensions Department the case of an applicant living at Paxton, whose pension has been refused. I bring these cases forward here only after having failed to receive favorable replies from the department. They show the injustice of the section of the act to which I have referred. Another case which is deserving of greater consideration is that of a man living in Abermain-street, Pelaw Main, whose wife is bed-ridden. He has one daughter who has dedicated her life to nursing her mother. There are two other unemployed children. Because the husband received compensation of £7 10s., covering a period of thirteen days, he was informed a fortnight ago that his wife's pension had been cancelled. That is grossly unfair. The section of the act under which that action was taken was part of the financial emergency legislation. During the term of- office of a previous Lyons Administration I had on the notice-paper a motion to repeal the provision of the act to which I have referred. A number of honorable members opposite promised to support it, but because of the way in which the businesspaper is treated by the Government, I did hot re-instate my motion on it. Honorable members who think that a motion standing in their name on the noticepaper is certain to be considered are deluding themselves. Should the Government not desire the matter to be dealt with, it makes certain that the motion relating to it is placed on the bottom of the business-sheet. As practically every provision that operated harshly against old-age pensioners has been repealed, I plead with the Treasurer to introduce legislation to repeal paragraph h of section 22 relating to invalid pensions.

Numbers of old-age pensioners who were born in England desire to end their earthly days in the district where other members of the family have been laid to rest. Some of them have asked that their pension be commuted in a lump sufficient to enable them to pay their fare to England, and although they have promised never to return to Australia, the department has refused their requests. It would be an economy to grant their requests rather than continue to pay pensions to them. I have placed before the Treasurer a request from an old-age pensioner living at Spion Kop, Pelaw Main, asking for this concession. It was refused once, but I told the officers of the department at Sydney that it was a matter for the Treasurer's decision, and that they had better send the request on to him. I repeat that I do not bring these cases before the House until I have failed to obtain satisfaction from the department. In these matters, I believe that there should be reciprocity between Australia and England. If a person who is in receipt of an imperial old-age pension chooses to come to Australia, why should not his imperial pension come with him? Similarly, a person who has qualified for an Australian pension should not lose it should he go back to the land of his birth. Many persons who come to Australia, leaving behind them their parents, try to save sufficient money to enable them to return home to see their own folk again.

This custom entails money going out of the country in the form of boat fares to overseas shipping companies - money that would otherwise be expended in home building and in other ways in Australia. In such cases, representations should be made to the Imperial Government with a view to some measure of reciprocity being arrived at. Already there is reciprocity in regard to war pensions, and under the national insurance legislation reciprocity is provided for, but there is no reciprocal arrangement in respect of invalid and old-age pensions. I hope that the Treasurer will give sympathetic consideration to my suggestions.

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