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Friday, 8 May 1942

Mr GUY (.Wilmot) .- There appears to be little or no opposition to the general principles of this bill. Consequently, it does not call for a lengthy debate. We seem to have developed a habit in this Parliament of conducting a full-dress debate on invalid and old-age pensions at least once a year. But, having regard to the Prime Minister's appeal to us to expedite the business of Parliament, I propose to be brief, and I shall deal with only two or three aspects of the subject. Needless to say, I support this bill, as I have supported all social legislation which has had for its object the improvement of the conditions of the least fortunate members of the community. Those who are eligible to receive pensions are entitled to the highest rate that the nation can afford to pay. However, we should not delude ourselves. There is a great deal of make-believe in the proposals now before us, and it seems to me that we are creating a vicious circle. As the honorable member for Darwin (Sir George Bell) pointed out, the Government proposes to hand out a higher rate of pension with one hand and to take the increase away with the other hand. The Government's policy of enormously increasing indirect taxation must have the effect of reducing the purchasing power of the people. Although invalid and old-age pensions will be increased by ls. a week as a result of this measure, the pensioners will not be able to purchase any more commodities than they could buy previously. Purchasing power is the real test of the value of a pension. Whether a pension is at the rate of £2 a week or £1 a week, what matters is its capacity to provide the recipient with purchasing power. Parliament could best help the pensioners by reviewing the amount of independent income allowed to recipients. This step has been advocated by honorable members on both sides of the House, and I associate myself with them. At present, if a pensioner has an independent income of more than 12s. 6d. a week, his pension must be reduced. That, of course, does not apply to blind pensioners, who are subject to special provisions. Why cannot we allow a pensioner to increase his personal income, and, at the same time, assist the nation to solve the acute man-power problem which exists to-day?

Sir George Bell - If the honorable member's plan were carried into effect, the number of pensioners would increase immediately.

Mr GUY - Unfortunately, that is true. However, I ask the Minister to consider my suggestion. At least for the duration of the war, the rate of independent income allowed to pensioners should be increased to 25s. or 30s. a week. Many pensioners are capable of performing light work, and are anxious to do so. It would he a godsend to some of the rural industries if such men were allowed to do farm work. I hope that the Minister will, at a later stage in the discussion of this measure, inform the House of the probable effect upon the nation of any increase of the rate of permissible income. I am glad that the anomaly in the existing law relating to the adequate maintenance of a pensioner will be rectified by this measure. The law now provides that the total income of an invalid pensioner's household shall be taken into consideration in assessing the amount of pension payable to him. This bill stipulates that only the income of the father and mother of an applicant for a pension shall be taken into account.

It was unfair that the meagre earnings of children should have been allowed to affect the rate of pension payable to the pensioner parents.

Mr Prowse - Children create extra demands upon the family purse.

Mr GUY - That is true. ' As the Prime Minister has asked us to expedite the business of the House, and as this matter has already been fully discussed, I shall not speak at greater length. I again ask the Minister to give special consideration to my suggestion that the rate of permissible income should be increased.

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