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Tuesday, 24 February 1959

Mr CLAY (St. George) .- Mr. Speaker,I, too, desire to extend my congratulations and felicitations to you upon being elected to your august position in this honorable House. I feel that it is fitting on this night that the honorable members for Braddon (Mr. Davies) and St. George should make their maiden speeches. Their election came as a sharp jolt to the Government.

Since this is the first opportunity I have had to speak in this House, I should like to begin with some references to the people of St. George whom I now have the honour to represent. As everybody knows, or should know, St. George is the patron saint of England. He is depicted as a mounted knight in shining armour, his lance penetrating the body of a hideous dragon from whose mouth flames and smoke are emitted freely and furiously. In emulation of their illustrious, though mythical progenitor, the people of St. George are everlastingly in search of dragons to slay. In the absence of dragons they vent their wrath upon the hapless citizens of Sydney and of Australia in and upon the fields of sport. Who has not heard of the mighty rugby union teams from St. George - unless it be the barbarians of Victoria? But whether it be upon the field of sport or of learning, or in war, the people of St. George enjoy equal fame, and he who represents them must shoulder a great and terrible responsibility. For my part, may I say now that I am conscious of that responsibility, and will endeavour so to conduct and to acquit myself as to make them proud of me, as I am of them.

I was never so conscious of the role that honorable members play in this, the nation's supreme Parliament, as when, by privilege,

I stood with our fighting men in the1 darknessduring the ceremony of remembrance, in the Returned Soldiers' Hall at Bexley, where I live, on Armistice Day last year. One could almost feel, as well as sense, the spirits of the dead gathered together there with their former comrades in arms. It is then, more than at any other time,, that we become aware of the trust which the people have reposed in us. We must not fail them. Among the words uttered during this ceremony of remembrance, in the period of darkness, these words occur -

They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old.

My- mind is turned to the many old soldiers and sailors who, in the haste of youth to rejoin their loved ones at the end of the First World War, concealed their inward wounds, and have now become the victims of what is called the onus of proof. Several of these cases have already been brought to my attention, and I direct this appeal to the Minister for Repatriation (Sir Walter Cooper). I suggest that he should apply a test based upon that principle of British justice that it is better that IGO guilty men should escape than that one innocent man should be punished.

Soldiers have much less chance to grow old than civilians, and so it follows, as a kind of corollary, that most of the old are, as they always have been, civilians. As president of the Rockdale Municipality Senior Citizens' Welfare Association, I am in close and frequent contact with our old. people whom the years have overtaken, and I never cease to be amazed at their patience and fortitude in these, their final years of trial. I am sure that it is not the Government's desire that old people who are in receipt of pensions should be made to feel that they are recipients of charity, but such, I am sorry to say, is the case. A stigma rests upon the word " pension ", and so I make this suggestion to the Government, for what it is worth. I suggest that the Government should cease to use the words " pension " and " pensioner " in all matters concerning or relating to the aged, and substitute therefor the words " annuity " and " annuitant ". An annuity is something which is conferred or received as a right, and certainly never as a charity. Our old people are proud people, and the least we can do for them is to place their right in a proper perspective by using a more properly descriptive word.

Let me say also that if the Government is really anxious to justify the title which it applies to itself,, it can take the first step, which I have just referred to, and follow that up by paying the extra 10s. a week to all annuitants, instead of the few who now receive it.. It will be readily perceived that I have commenced to practice what I have just been preaching.

The arguments in favour of my second suggestion are so obvious and so numerous and have been stated' so frequently by members of the Australian Labour party in this. House, that there is nothing to be gained by recapitulating them. I will, therefore, content myself with the observation that if the Government will not give justice to the old, it will give justice to none.

In this House, I have 'already heard a few references to our most important export, wool. This reminds me of the industry with which I have been associated, in the closest and most practical manner, for the past 30 years. I refer to the textile industry It is the largest industry in the world, and second in importance to none. In Australia, together with its allied industry, the clothing trades industry, it provides in normal times direct employment for at least 100,000 persons. Victoria is the State with the largest textile industry because in the latter days of the last century it was encouraged by the protectionist policy of that State, before federation. But twice in the last ten years, because of this Government's sloth in moving to the defence of this vital and valuable industry against unfair competition from aboad, it has been subject to blows, both grievous and harmful. That it has survived, and in some cases even managed to make some progress, is high tribute to the managements and operatives who staff the several thousand mills.

In this industry incentive schemes of almost every kind, ranging from methodstime measurements to profit-sharing, are to be found in almost even' mill of any consequence. In fact, it can be said in all truth that the textile industry, more than any other, conforms to the ideals prescribed by this Government for a perfect industry. Internal competition is intense, and efficiency is high. In one mill, situated in the district of Newcastle, the efficiency rating exceeds that of any comparable mill in the United States of America, and, I think I can say, the world. This Government took away from us a depreciation allowance which enabled the industry to discard its machinery at intervals of three and one-third years. The interval has now been multiplied by three, and in that time our competitors overseas can change their machinery three times, and on each occasion the new machines are bigger, better and faster. This makes it more difficult for us to compete. We labour under an intolerable handicap and a burden which is completely unjustified, and the while our overseas funds are dissipated upon such things as imported confectionery. If this Government will remove the shackles that bind the textile industry, Australian management and Australian operatives will more than hold their own with the textile industry of any country. One would expect that, in the awareness of these things, an industry such as the textile industry would merit not merely the approbation of the Government but indeed its enthusiastic support. I say with regret that my experience inclines me to a contrary belief.

There is a further field upon which I should like to pass some observations. Quite recently, one of the service clubs in St. George has taken under its wing, and helped to form, an association of civilian widows. It may come as a surprise to many that there is a considerable difference in the help given by the community in the hour of need; it varies according to whether the breadwinner was lost in war or in peace. The civilian widow is less fortunate than the war widow in at least two ways. First, that very wonderful organization, Legacy, with its hands completely filled with its own self-imposed burdens, is not available to them. Secondly - this applies with special reference to the widow with children of school age - I cannot help but feel appalled at the paucity of the financial assistance available to them. The class A widow is expected to exist on £4 12s. 6d. a week, with no additional allowance tor the first child and only 10s. a week tor each other child up to sixteen years of age. Some times 1 wonder whether we approach problems such as this in the spirit not of how much but of how little we can do for the unfortunate. Verily in our community it pays not to fall by the wayside!

I am not unaware of the magnitude and the complexity of the problems that plague and perplex governments, but it does seem to me that a more humanitarian and Christian approach to our social problems would yield results far transcending in value the financial costs involved. I am not, Mr. Speaker, a very deeply religious man. However, it does seem to me that, as the light of science gleams brighter, with a brilliance dazzling to the eyes of mankind - so dazzling, in fact, that human eyes are so affected that the world seems to grow darker- there is a need more than ever for divine guidance. I am pleased to observe that we commence our proceedings with prayers. I believe that the. Carpenter of Galilee was a socialist and that if He were here to-day He would want us to equate heart with brain. I believe that He would agree with us when we say that we want to see the breadwinner usefully employed in the community and remunerated at a level that would enable him to discharge his family obligations. We want to see his wife freed from the drudgery of housework, as she well may be by the application of modern science in her aid. We want to see his children properly educated in wellequipped schools and properly prepared to take their places in a rapidly changing world.

I have read that knowledge is like light, and without light there can be no progress. Yet, in New South Wales where an election is about to take place, the organs of daily propaganda have commenced their triennial assault on the Government of that State, for the reason, amongst others, that the schools, so they say, are not all that they might be. The implication is that unwise expenditure has created difficulties which otherwise need not exist. It would be amusing, if it were not so tragic. Victoria, where the nature of the Government is diametrically opposite, is in an even worse condition. Who is to blame, if it is not the parent Government playing the part of a modern Scrooge as it enforces an unnecessarily parsimonious economy in an age which cries out for boldness of thought and faith and courage in action.

As I listened last week to the GovernorGeneral's Speech which preceded and precipitated these proceedings, my impatience mounted, for I felt that never 'before had I heard so little said at such great length. I did not hear in that address the voice and spirit of a young and vigorous Australia, with its mind teeming with ideas for a marvellous and brilliant future. It was the voice of a blind man travelling a new and unknown path. It was the voice of a government with nothing for the old and less for the new.

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