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Thursday, 20 November 1941

Mr DUNCAN-HUGHES (Wakefield) . - I wish to make a few remarks on the general subject of pensions. First, however, I point out to the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Martens), who has criticized the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) for having attacked people who are not here to defend themselves, that the honorable gentleman and his party have also spent a considerable amount of time in the last week or two in attacking people of another section of the community who are not here to defend themselves.The honorable gentleman, therefore,was guilty of exactly the same action as he attributed to the honorable member for Barker.

It was refreshing to me, as in fact it nearly always is, to hear the observations of the honorable member for Barker, who represents a constituency adjoining my own. The honorable gentleman faced the facts of the situation squarely as he saw them. I do not suggest that he is always right in his deductions, but, at least, he faces facts and puts his views bluntly and without ambiguity. When I first entered this House nineteen years ago I advocated that a national insurance scheme of a contributory nature should be enacted. Therefore honorable members will not be surprised to hear me say that I strongly support the views of the honorable member for Barker in that connexion. Our pensions bill is increasing year by year. I do not wish to say a word against pensioners, either as a class or as individuals. Everybody knows that there are fine people among them, hut there are also " wasters " who are in their present position simply because they would not make provision for themselves.

Our whole pensions policy is unsound. Of that there can surely be no question. The honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) said this afternoon that our pensioners had led a useful life. What guarantee have we that they have done so? Of some of them that may be true, but of others it is true that they took no steps whatever to provide for their old age. The basis of our pension is purely a question of means and needs. Neither this country, nor any other, can afford to expend money on pensions at the rate we are expending it. In the last two decades our pensions bill has increased from about £5,500,000 to £19,000,000. Additional expenditure is now contemplated which will bring the total annual vote for pensions to between £25,000,000 and £30,000,000. With the honorable member for Barker I ask: Can we afford this expenditure at a time when we should be devoting all of our resources to the winning of the war? In times like these should an increase of the vote for pensions be the first call upon the resources at our disposal?

This afternoon, the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Ryan) raised a point which, quite independently, had already struck me. There is a good deal in the contention that he advanced. An old-age pensioner is entitled to a certain income in addition to. his pension ; at present the figure is 12s. 6d. a. week. We live in days when there is considerable shortage of man-power. Many old-age pensioners would be glad to earn more than 12s. 6d. a week if they could do so without reducing or forfeiting their right to the pension. In the cities, it is extremely difficult, on account of the number of men who have enlisted in the different services, or who are engaged in making munitions, to get a casual man to do a' little gardening, to wash down a car, or to cut a small quantity of wood. In the future, the loss of man-power must become greater, and if we really wish to make a whole-hearted attempt to win the war we should endeavour to make good the deficiency by every reasonable and proper means in our power. Many men of 65 years of age would be glad, not only to make a little extra money for themselves, but also to feel that in some small way, even though it be indirectly, they ave contributing to the general effort in relation to the war. Would it not be possible for the Invalid and Old-age. Pensions Act to be altered temporarily for the war so that the?e men might play some part in the community effort? I cannot believe that there are insuperable difficulties to the adoption of that course. It might be said that the idea would be to break down wages. The reply to that would be that there is no competition in this field of labour because the man-power needed would not be available except in this way, unless woman-power were enlisted in its stead. The question must inevitably continue to be canvassed. Woman-power would first be considered. Then the question would be, what can children do? When that field was exhausted, attention would naturally be directed to old men who apparently had passed their period of service, and they would be called upon to assist in the fight against the common foe.

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