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Friday, 8 May 1942

Mr BREEN (Calare) .- The remarks I desire to make on this bill will not traverse ground covered by other speakers, for the aspects of the subject of social service to which I shall refer have not been discussed during the debate. At present a progressive movement for the uplifting of the conditions of the masses of the workers is noticeable among nations throughout the world. This is particularly so in connexion with backward peoples whose lot should, if possible, be brought more into conformity with that of the more civilized communities. Britain itself is at present applying a social services policy, similar to that being applied in other parts of the Empire, based upon the principle that the State should provide more adequately for its citizens who, in the stress and strain of modern life, cannot compete with their more fortunately situated fellows. In support of this view I direct the attention of honorable members to a debate which occurred in the British House of Lords on the 9th July 1941, on certain steps of the British Government to implement the provisions of the Colonial Development and Welfare Act passed in 1940. My reference, which is extracted from the Journal of the Parliaments of the Empire of October 1941, reads -

The Earl of Listowel said the Act enabled them to spend up to £5,000,000 a year for 10 years on raising the standard of living and improving the Social Services of 60,000,000 Colonial subjects. These were no longer to be the plaything of economic forces over which they had no control, for the financial assistance and scientific advice would be forthcoming from Great Britain to equip them to stand on their own feet.

Seeing that the Government of Great Britain has felt able, even in these times, to take such a step, it is only proper that a nation like Australia, which has been in the forefront of progressive thinking on these matters for many years, should also be making a progressive move. I therefore congratulate the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Holloway) upon having introduced this bill.

For many years a section of public men in Australia have supported the payment of invalid and old-age pensions on the humanitarian principle that would cause them to throw a piece of food to a starving animal. Such individuals regard the payment of an invalid or old-age pension in the light of a charity, find not of an obligation that one citizen bears to another or that the Government of the country should bear to citizens in general. I am glad to observe that a new principle is now being recognized by the British Government. In this connexion [ direct the attention of honorable members to a discussion that occurred in the British House of Commons, on the 13th February last, on a social services bill not unlike the one now before us. In speaking to the bill the Right Honorable F. W. Pethick-Lawrence, who represents Edinburgh interests, said, according to a report in the Journal of the Parliaments of the Empire for April, 1941 -

The bill shifted in the main the obligation to look after those who were ill or out of work from the family and the household to the community as a whole. It marked the recognition that unemployment had ceased to be a private affair and was the public concern of the State as a whole.

Despite that emphasis on the new principle to which I have referred and which I consider should underlie all social service legislation, a few individuals in this country still refuse to accept that outlook. But, beyond any question, the nation in general now regards it as an obligation of the central Government to protect the interests of the weak, the aged and the infirm in the community.

Another matter to which I direct attention is the need, in my view, for the Government to provide that the ownership of a home by a pensioner shall not debar that individual from continuing to receive this pension or from suffering a reduction of it if it becomes necessary for him to leave the home and reside elsewhere. Under our pensions legislation as it stands, pensioners are required to occupy a house that they now own or else suffer a reduction, or possibly loss, of their pension if they receive rental from such a property. Whatever may be said for the existing practice in normal times, it surely must be apparent to all honorable members that a different procedure is justified to-day. Normally many old pensioner couples may safely live in a somewhat isolated area, because they have sons and daughters, or other relatives, living nearby, who, in case of need, would be able to assist the old people, and even secure medical attention for them, if such became necessary. In these days the situation has changed. Many young women have left their homes in rural areas to undertake munitions work in Hip cities, and practically all young men have enlisted or have been called up for home service. Consequently, aged parents who in the past have relied upon the proximity of their children for help in time of need are no longer able to do so, and have been compelled to leave their homes and go to reside in places where medical and other assistance is accessible when needed. If, in such circumstances, they let their homes for, say, £1 or £1 5s. a week, the income so received may cause a reduction of their pensions.

This, I submit, is most unfair, particularly as by removing to another place of residence the old people often incur increased expense in excess of any amount they receive as rental for the home they have vacated. The law should be sufficiently elastic to permit variations of practice in times of emergency. I hope that the Minister will be able to see his way clear to introduce an amendment of the bill to cover such cases at least during the war period.

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