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Thursday, 20 November 1941

Mr POLLARD (Ballarat) .- More in sorrow than in anger I have to say a few words about the remarks of the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) on this very desirable and necessary bill to amend the Invalid and Old-Age Pensions Act. I hope that 20 years hence the honorable member for Barker, in spite of his virility and high moral tone to-day, will not have to go down on his knees in repentance for his hard-hearted attitude towards the invalid and old-age pensioners of this country. In my brief span of life I have had the opportunity to associate with both the poor and the rich of this country, and I tell the honorable member that I have found improvidence more marked amongst the wealthy than amongst the recipients of the old-age pension. A man's capacity in this social order to become independent of the oldage pension 13 dependent on the gifts that Providence bestows upon bini and on his desire or capacity to exploit his fellowmen when opportunity offers. If by virtue of the Labour Government's budget we take from the fortunate people in receipt of incomes of more than £1,500 a year, a great number of whom arc undoubtedly improvident, so as to be able to give to the. less fortunate people, improvident or unlucky as they may have been, I can say with sincerity that that in itself will have justified my support of the great Labour movement of this country. The honorable member for Barker, with his talk of improvidence, amazes me. Even the most improvident wage or salary earner, or small business man or woman, who eventually has to seek the old-age pension, deserves that pension, and, in all probability, has paid for it. I take it that when the honorable member talks of improvidence lie talks about those who take a glass of beer or' a drop of whisky, or smoke cigarettes or a pipe. The people who do that contribute not less than £20,000,000 a year to Consolidated Revenue, and that contribution covers practically the whole cost of the pensions systems. What right has the honorable member to talk about thrift and providence? The most improvident contribute most towards the cost of the pensions which they will receive later in life. I have known many excellent citizens who have ultimately had to apply for the old-age pension through no fault of their own. Within the city of Ballarat, in my constituency, there are no fewer than 2,600 old-age and invalid pensioners. Many, of them are a .legacy from the gold-mining days, when the supporters of the gold-mining companies, and the gamblers and speculators on the Gold Exchange of Ballarat, exploited them and worked them under such shocking conditions that now they are practically destitute. Shame on the honorable member for Barker! The only good thing ifr. /'o/fground. Ministers of the Commonwealth and of the States are at. their wits' end to know what to do for the primary producers in these days of economic upheaval. Surely it is better that those who are in the greatest need, whether it be in war-time or not, should be given an opportunity to consume some of the surplus food products of the country, with advantage to both themselves and the primary producers, even though the people earning £1,500 a year and more who crowd the members' stands at racecourses may be thereby obliged to forgo some of the luxuries of life. I hope that these truths will soak into the mind .of the honorable member for Barker. He said to-night that we, on ' this side of the chamber, did not realize that we were engaged in a war. I point out to him that many honorable members on this side of the chamber served in the last war, and that our sons are serving overseas to-day equally with the sons of honorable members opposite. The honorable member for Barker should be the last to rise and say, in effect, that we are hardly conscious that a war is in progress. Should this House devote the whole of its attention to war strategy when it. is essential that morale should be maintained at the highest level in those sections of the community whose members are ineligible for war service? If Hitler and Goebbels could have heard the speech of. the honorable . member to-night they would have said : " Brother, how we would have loved to have had you in our inner councils, in order that we might have dealt in the most callous manner with those members of the least fortunate sections of the community." It is gratifying to me that one of the first actions of the new Labour Government is to increase the rate of invalid and .old-age pensions. It is gratifying to u3 also to know that the Menzies Administration would have made no provision for an increased standard of living for the pensioners if pressure had not been brought to bear on it by the Labour party, then in opposition. The Fadden Government also made no attempt, of its own accord, to improve the lot of these people. I regret that some eminently desirable provisions are still lacking in our pensions legislation. I hope that the Minister will incorporate one provision which I shall mention. It involves Asiatics, about whom the honorable member for Barker spoke so contemptuously. This measure provides that Asiatics who were born in Australia shall tie eligible for invalid and old-age pensions. But it does not provide that other Asiatics, who may have had long residence here, and many of whom have been better citizens than Australianborn Asiatics, shall be entitled to pensions. I am acquainted with an Indo-Chinese lady, a lady in every sense of the term, who has resided in Australia for 48'years, but against whom the door to security in her old age has been closed. There are very few such people in Australia, and if pensions were granted to them, the additional cost to the Commonwealth would not be very great. I cannot submit an amendment to this bill, because it would involve extra expenditure, but I hope that the Minister will take any representations into consideration and make provision for these people. The woman whom I mentioned is 70 years of age. She has reared six children in Australia, but to-day she receives a dole of 6s. a week from the Government of Victoria. Everybody who knows her - representatives of church organizations and charitable organizations, neighbours and many others - - speak of her in the highest terms, and doubtless there are others like her. Other honorable gentlemen have suggested desirable amendments, arid I agree that they should be incorporated in the bill. However, as the Government has promised that the Invalid and Old-age

Pensions Act shall bc amended again in March, of next year, I am satisfied to leave the matter for the time being, with the hope that the Minister will make provision for' the Asiatics whom I have mentioned. I commend the bill to the House. I' hope that it is only the first of a number of steps .towards- the inauguration, of a social system infinitely better than that which we have hitherto enjoyed.

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