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Friday, 8 May 1942

Sir GEORGE BELL (Darwin) . - The invalid and old-age pensions system has been debated many times in this House in my presence, and I should be interested to hear something new said on the subject. I should, therefore, be interested in my own speech, because. I intend to point out the grave inconsistency of the Labour party in its treatment of and attitude to the poor. I would draw the attention of Labour members of this House who claim to be the particular champions of the poor - the " down-trodden ", as they describe them - to whom they for humane reasons from time to time grant increased pensions, to the fact that, whilst they better the conditions of one section of the poorer members of the community, they worsen the conditions of another section, the thrifty. I do not intend to say anything about the promises made to the invalid and old-age pensioners by members of the Labour party during the last general election campaign; for my purposes in this debate I accept what they say in this House, namely, that the aged poor should be given the means of livelihood, which, as many honorable members claim, they are not being given to-day. T compare the attitude of the Government towards the pensioners with what it has done to what I regard as the best section of the Australian community, the thrifty and frugal people who, in many cases, are very much poorer than those who draw the old-age pension. I exclude from what I am about to say, the invalid pensioners, because I take no exception at all to the payment of the invalid pension. But, by order under Statutory Rules Nos. 76 and 127, interest rates payable on savings banks deposits were arbitrarily reduced. I use the word " arbitrarily ", because I can see no need for that reduction. I cannot see how there can be any special gain to the Government. I remind honorable members opposite that wealthy people do not deposit money in savings banks; those deposits are the savings of the workers. A person with property to the value of more than £400 is debarred from drawing the old-age pension. A person with £500 in the Savings Bank of Tasmania - I specify Tasmania because I am familiar with the rates paid there - on fixed deposit at 3£ per cent., received before the order came into force, £16 5s. per annum. The savings banks are now compelled to reduce their interest to £2 5s. per cent., which means that that person will now receive only £11 5s. per annum. The person who saved £1,000, prior to this arbitrary reduction compelled by the Government, received £32 10s. per annum. He will now receive £20 10s., which is less than one-third of what is to be paid under this legislation to an old-age pensioner. People who have been thrifty in their ways of living in order to provide for their old age are being savagely struck at in order that their opposites, the thriftless, may receive more. The aged people with savings banks accounts are those who have not gone into hotels to buy beer every time they have had a shilling in their pockets, or gone to picture theatres three times a week, or allowed their wives and children .to buy pretty dresses too frequently. They have foregone those pleasures which other people have had in order, as it turns out, to receive less than one-third of the income paid to old-age pensioners. Yet, Government supporters claim that they are the friends of the poor. They certainly are not and never have been the friends of the thrifty and hard-working people of this community, because never in their existence have they done one thing to assist them. This is a most important phase of this matter. The tree is known by its fruit, and we should judge what the Labor party does for the poor, not by what its members say in this House or on the platform, but rather by their actions.

The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) referred to the fact that the Labor party believed in socialism. I assume that he means that the Labor party would at least put every body on the same standard of living, but what are its actions? This measure, I suppose, represents what the honorable gentleman calls socialism. He will deliberately take from one section of the poor in order to better the position of another section. That is what is being done. The thrifty people at a time when the cost of living is constantly rising, as the result of increased indirect taxes and other causes, are being asked by the Government to reduce spending and to put their money into government bonds, not to prosecute the war, mark, you, but to provide such benefits as increased pensions, whilst they themselves are having their own incomes from savings cut down. In order to earn an income equal to the amount paid to an old-age pensioner, a person would need to have £4,000 invested in Commonwealth bonds at 3 per cent., because that is the rate which applies to-day.

Mr Paterson - To be precise, £4,333 6s. Sd.

Sir GEORGE BELL - As I never give to my opponents the opportunity to dispute with me on figures, I prefer to understate. At any rate, the amount needed to produce an income equal to that earned by the old-age pensioners would be at least £4,000. Few workers in this country, no matter how thrifty they may be, could ever save £4,000. This measure, then, is what my friends on the Government side call " socialism ".

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