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Friday, 8 May 1942

Mr LANGTRY (Riverina) .- I wholeheartedly support the measure. 1 am very pleased that the Government has thought fit to bring down legislation of this kind at this juncture. I do not know of any section of the community more worthy- of assistance in these difficult times than the aged and needy. I disagree with the contentions . of the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) and the honorable member for Barker (Mr.' Archie Cameron) that we are treading on dangerous ground in passing legislation of this kind. They said that twenty years hence Australia might not be able to meet the liabilities which this Government is now incurring. I do not agree with that view. I think that twenty years hence this country will have developed to such a degree that it will be quite able to shoulder responsibilities of this kind. As the poet has said -

Onward, onward, must we travel,

Till our goal be won.

This measure will enable us to reach one of the goals at which we are aiming. It is one of the goals set out in the Atlantic Charter, namely, that we must remove the fear of want from our people, and give to them social security. Legislation of this kind will go a long way towards accomplishing the ideals for which we are fighting on the battlefield to-day. I have no doubt that twenty years hence this country will be well able to afford expenditure of this kind. The honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Spooner) pointed out that to-day our expenditure is of proportions previously undreamt of in our history. Honorable members who entertain any fears as to whether we shall be able in the future to meet commitments arising from legislation of this kind should bear in mind the tremendous developments which have taken place in recent years in every field of human activity. All of these develop-, ments have helped to improve the lot of the common people. It is not unreasonable to believe that much greater developments will be made along similar lines in the future. Our pioneers would turn in their graves if they were able to see Australia as it is to-day, and compare it with the Australia they knew as boys. This measure is only a step in the improvement of our social service generally. My only regret is that it does not go far enough. However, it is a step higher on the ladder of social progress.

I urge the Government to bring down further amending legislation with a view to increasing the permissible income of pensioners from 12s. 6d. a week to at least 30s. a week. Many old-age pensioners are able to do light work; but should they earn more than 12s. 6d. a week they become automatically disqualified from receiving a pension. I am particularly pleased that under this measure pensions are to be paid to aborigines. They are men and women like ourselves ; they, too, grow old and suffer hunger, they need assistance but their traditional mode of. life has been taken from them. To compel them to live in houses would be to commit them to the same restrictions as those imposed upon a white man who is sent to prison. The natural inclination of the aborigines to roam, whenever the spirit moves them, must not be hindered.

Other honorable members have analysed the bill so thoroughly that little remains for me to say. Despite the colossal war expenditure, the Government has not neglected the just claims of invalid and old-age pensioners, but this reform should have been made years ago. During the depression, the Scullin Government wished to borrow £18,000,000 for the purpose of providing employment and assisting distressed wheat-growers. The bill was defeated in the Senate on the ground that it was an inflationary measure. Although the Commonwealth Government is now expending £1,000,000 a day on the war, it is still able to grant to the pensioners an increase of 2s. 6d. a week in order to meet the rising cost of living. I disagree with the contention that the Government, by increasing pensions, is walking on dangerous ground. If the present financial system cannot meet the requirements of man and social progress, we must alter the system. As memories are short, I remind the House that in 1931 the British economist, Sir Otto- Niemeyer, warned the Commonwealth Government that it must " tighten its belt" and reduce the Australian standard of living in order to meet our overseas indebtedness.

Mr Calwell - Starve ourselves into prosperity!

Mr LANGTRY - That is true. Accepting that advice, the Commonwealth Government reduced social services, and pensioners suffered great hardship. Listening to the speech of the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) last night, I would have been justified in concluding that it would be a crime for a pensioner to receive more than 2s. 6d. a week above the cost of living. In the opinion of the honorable member, it would be a tragedy if the pensioner had turkey for dinner on Sunday. I congratulate the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Holloway) upon having introduced this measure for alleviating the plight of the aged and infirm, and I appreciate the action of the Government, in these strenuous times, in caring for the parents of many of the brave men who are now fighting to remove insecurity from the world.

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