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Tuesday, 16 September 1958

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) .- In presenting this bill the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) said that inquiries into the circumstances of the orphan children of superannuated officers ..showed that a pension of 30s. a week was not .adequate. He also pointed out that fewer than 40 children were involved. This raises in my mind the query: Is this a death-bed repentance on the part of the Government in an effort .to do {something realistic for these children? The honorable -member for Banks .(Mr. Costa) has pointed out .that only 28 children are, involved.

Sections' 31, 32 and 33 .of the Superannuation Act were amended only last year. If a' section of the community is suffering hardship it should npt be necessary to bring down :two separate measures within twelve months in order to give them justice. Whatever -the position -is at this stage, it must have applied with equal force in December last when consideration was being given by the -Government to this section of -the community. The Government's action highlights its-failure during its term of -office to -consider 'those 'things mentioned by 'the Treasurer, .namely, the Inadequacy of the amounts paid to certain sections of the community. When one finds the :Govern.ment 'considering a particular section of the community twice -within twelve -months, it makes one wonder just what -has -to be done before .-the Government 'realizes -its obligations and gives effect to the representations "that are 'made. The 1957 legislation increased the benefits 'paid to these orphans, who are undoubtedly a -.very 'deservingsection of the community, from £13 to '£26 in the »case of those covered by sections 31 and 32. That was in December "last, and at 'that time the Government thought .:i--I £26 ;per annum was sufficient for an orphan child. One might be excused for thinking that this sort of legislation brought in at the close of a parliament indicates one of two things. It either indicates the failure of the Government during its past three years of office to recognize the seriousness of the position that was underlined by the Treasurer and the inadequacy of the amount that was legislated for by this Parliament, or else - I hate to think this is the position - the Government is so miserly in its approach that it is only increasing the benefit because fewer than 40 children are involved. I am forced to the conclusion that the Government has introduced this legislation to correct an anomaly because of the small number involved rather than because of the hardships involved. It is a fact that in round figures the increase is 400 per cent.

When the Government was considering the Superannuation Act it should have given attention to some of the other anomalies contained in the act. Many contributors who retired a decade or so ago, and who are now in the evening of their lives, are suffering great hardships. I think the Government, by not providing for the relief of other sections of superannuated pensioners, has laid itself open to the criticism that it is only prepared to give relief on this occasion because of the small number of children involved. Those who have been retired for many years are suffering hardships because their- superannuation payments have not been increased. During the time that this Government has been in office, living standards have improved and the basic wage has been increased by more than 100 per cent. Yet those who retired before this Government came into office have received only a 20 per cent, increase in 1951 and a 16* per cent, increase in 1954, and nothing since. Employees who retired in the year that this Government came into office and who are paid under this Government's legislation do not receive an adequate amount to meet their requirements. Although, as the honorable member for Banks said, we do not oppose this legislation because it removes an inadequacy that existed under previous legislation, we say that superannuated employees who are suffering great hardship to-day should have received similar consideration; they should have been granted increases since 1954.

The Treasurer, when introducing this bill, delivered a short speech in which he mentioned the inadequacies in the standards of one section of the community. We should not feel happy about the legislative programme of the Government, because it ignores the needs of those who have suffered hardship since it came into office in 1949. Hundreds of thousands of children, other than those affected by this bill, would have received some benefit if the Government had been sincere in its consideration of representations that have been made and of petitions that have been presented to the Parliament. Other legislation of considerable benefit to the people could have been introduced, either now or at an earlier stage, if the humane approach that is made in this bill to one section of the community had been adopted in relation to other sections.

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