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Wednesday, 21 April 1915

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) .- I have not risen with the object of trying to rival the honorable member for Oxley, who proposes a tax on bachelors, and, in the one speech, finds himself the champion of the old, the blind, and the unmarried, and has left me only the halt and the lame with whom to deal. My own experience of married life leads me to believe that the bachelors of this country are already overtaxed by reason of the blessings of married life which they ara missing.

Mr Watt - After that the honorable member will secure the women's vote.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - I hope the honorable member does not think I rose for that purpose. My chief object was to draw attention to the anomalous position in which the Old-age and Invalid Pensions Act places old-age pensioners who become inmates of public institutions. Section 45 of that Act provides that -

If a pensioner becomes an inmate of an asylum for the insane or a hospital, his pension shall, without further or other authority than this Act, be deemed to be suspended, but when the pensioner is discharged from any such asylum or hospital, payment of his pension shall be resumed, and he shall be entitled to payment in respect of the period during which his pension was so suspended, of a sum representing not more than four weeks' instalments of the pension, if the suspension so long continued.

The committees of these public institutions undertake a very laborious and trying financial and personal obligation in their endeavour to set up and maintain establishments which will care for those who are afflicted or in ill-health. The Commonwealth, in assuming control of the old-age and invalid pension system, took over the obligation from those States which had then made provision for the payment of old-age pensions. It seems that the Commonwealth Government are prepared now to pay an old man or woman a pension as long as he or she remains in good health, but that should an old-age pensioner become afflicted with illhealth they cast on the State the obligation of caring for him. Some of these public institutions have two wings - one used as a genera.] hospital, the other as a benevolent asylum, and we have the spectacle of two roads leading to the one institution. In the benevolent wing, an old-age pensioner may become a paying guest. That is his position when he enters the benevolent wing, but should he enter the general hospital wing, then, under the Jaw, and its present administration, he does so practically as a pauper. I do not care to use the word* " pauper " in this connexion, but it seems to me that the Act as administered to-day declares, in effect, that the Commonwealth Government are willing to pay an old man a pension while he remains in good health, but that at the very time" when his necessity should demand some additional allowance his pension is stopped. We are all aware of the great difficulties with which these public institutions have to contend. In many mining towns, where the hidden wealth of the districts has been, to a great extent, laid bare and won, the population has dwindled Sown, but these institutions are kept going by the public spirit ana philanthropy of the citizens. It may be said that, approximately, one-third of the revenue of these institutions is subscribed by the State - that is the position in Victoria - and the finding of the remaining twothirds is an obligation cast upon the general community. It seems to me most illogical that the Commonwealth, having undertaken the guardianship of these old people - having determined that when they are no longer able to be hewers of wood and drawers of water they shall be able to end their days in reasonable comfort - should create this anomaly under which old people, to whom this privilege has been extended, are forced as beggars into these institutions when stricken down by illness. The late Government brought down a Bill - the right honorable member for Swan was in charge of it - to remove the anomaly. In that Bill it was proposed that four-fifths of the pension payable to a pensioner should be paid to the institution that he entered, and that the remaining one-fifth should accumulate for his benefit, so that when he had been cured of his illness for the time being, he might be able once more to face the world with sufficient to make a fresh start. That Bill was introduced, and I regret that an opportunity was not given to pass it into law. I have already, by correspondence and otherwise, brought the matter under the notice of the Treasurer in the hope that the Government would undertake to pass legislation to remedy the anomaly. It is a very hard impost upon localities for the Commonwealth to abandon an obligation definitely and honorably undertaken by it, as soon as the old pensioners become ill. Many of these old people wander about a good deal, It is not as if they lived always in one locality. When old people come from all directions to get the benefits of the institution, it is very hard on the local population that they should have to carry the burden. I hope the Government will take action to relieve these local institutions, which have done a great deal of good, of this additional burden to enable the pensioner to pay his way. I would support the proposal of the late Treasurer - the right honorable member for Swan - that four-fifths of the pension should go to the institution. It has to " carry the baby " for the time being, providing nurses, doctors, and medical comforts. When in good health the pensioner is allowed the money wherewith to carry on. Surely, if he falls into ill health, that is the very time that the Commonwealth should come to his assistance, and to the assistance of those who are trying to help him over a critical period. The question of the note issue has been ably touched on Dy previous speakers. I do not propose to offer any comments on the alarming state of the note issue, but a very patient, loyal, and patriotic community has been closely watching its startling inflation from about £10,000,000 to between £26,000,000 and £27,000,000. I would ask that a day be set aside for dealing with the finances, when the Treasurer could, with all candour, give the House a clear statement of the exact position, and how it is intended, at the termination of the war, to liquidate our obligations. The honorable member for Wimmera the other day asked the Treasurer how he proposed, at the end of the war, to liquidate the loan obtained from the banks, by means of which the inflation of the note issue was brought about, and will be continued far in excess of the amount borrowed. The Prime Minister replied that the States owed the Commonwealth money, which they were under an obligation to repay at the end of the war, and that the money would therefore be available from that source. The honorable member for Wimmera then asked the Treasurer if we would undertake to ear-mark that particular money for the purpose, and apply it to repay the banks at the end of the war. The Prime Minister declined to give any such undertaking. It would restore confidence and relieve a good deal of uneasiness in financial circles, because the banks have great obligations ahead of them, if the Treasurer took an early opportunity to further illumine the financial situation.

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