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Wednesday, 21 September 1960

Mr DALY (Grayndler) .- Mr. Temporary Chairman,the committee is indebted to the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) and the honorable member for Scullin (Mr. Peters) for having pointed out to the Government again the glaring anomaly and injustice of its refusal to date back until 1st July last the meagre and miserable pension increases for which this bill provides. We live in an age of atomic energy, automation and bookkeeping and accounting machines of unparalleled capacity and efficiency. Yet the Government evidently thinks that the calculations that would be required if pension increases of 5s. a week were back-dated for a couple of months would be too complicated. I cannot see any justification for the Government's attitude. I do not see why it quibbles over this matter in the face of the arguments advanced by the honorable member for Batman and the honorable member for Scullin, even if there were no other argument in favour of the backdating of these pension increases. Salary increases of £18 and £20 a week for judges, members of Parliament and high public servants have been back-dated for months. Why does the Government refuse to date these pension increases back to 1st July last? The financial year on which its financial affairs are based commences on 1st July. Why should not an increase in any benefit paid under Commonwealth legislation date from the beginning of the financial year?

We have been told that the Labour Government and other governments did not date increases in benefits from the beginning of the financial year. The Labour Government may have been at fault and it may not. The fact is that this Government now has the power to do what we ask, and the failure of earlier governments to take similar action is no reason why the present Government should perpetuate mistakes or the old ideas. As the honorable member for Batman has said, the fact that something was not done twenty yearsago is no excuse for a government not doing that very thing to-day. Therefore, I cannot understand why the Government refuses to do as we ask. Its refusal would perhaps be understandable if the increases amounted to £5 or £10 a week. But we are here concerned with only a miserable addition of 5s. a week to a mere pittance. Indeed, the additional 5s. hardly seems worth taking. It represents only about 8d. a day. Yet the Government will not date it back a couple of months.

What is restraining the Government? When all is said and done, although 8d. a day may not seem much to many people, it means a little more to pensioners, and the Government's refusal to date these increases back to 1st July is unforgivable. I wonder what reasons the Government can advance for its refusal. Surely lack of money is not the reason. It will have to find money for these increases anyway, and very little more would be required if they were paid as from 1st July. Surely the reason for the Government's refusal is not the inability of the acountancy experts in the Department of Social Services to make the necessary calculations. As I have already pointed out, in this day and age we have marvellous accounting machines which could do the job. Indeed, they would reduce it to mere routine. I do not think the pensioners would mind if the payment of the increases were delayed for a couple of weeks, or even three or four weeks, to enable the necessary calculations to be made, so long as the increases were backdated to 1st July.

In my view, neither this Government nor any other has given a reasonable excuse for not back-dating increases in social service benefits to the beginning of the financial year. I believe that something should be done to rectify the matter. I urge the Minister in his wisdom, if it is possible for him to exercise wisdom, to be just and tolerant in his understanding of the needs of pensioners - I appeal to his lighter and more sentimental side now - and to see whether even at this stage he can back-date these pension increases to 1st July.

Having to wait until the passage of this measure for the payment of the increases is bad enough. I understand that those who are affected by the new merged means test proposal will have to wait until about next March before they will receive any benefit. For all that the benefit will be worth to them for the remainder of this financial year by the time they receive it they may as well wait until the beginning of next financial year. These things are well worth considering. Government supporters may snarl and sneer and sit down and interject. Let them get up and defend the legislation.

Mr Stokes - When we do speak you walk out.

Mr DALY - Wake up! You have been sitting there all night like dummies. You know full well this is unjust, but all you do is to interject, instead of getting up and defending this legislation. You know it is indefensible. If you think it is just and reasonable, stand up and say so. I know you will not do that, but you will go to your pensioner organizations and tell them that in the party room you tried to get them this pittance, but the Minister was hardhearted and would not agree to your request. You sit here to-night as silent as the grave.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN - Order! The honorable member will address the Chair.

Mr DALY - I am just pointing out the shortcomings of the Government, Mr. Temporary Chairman, and particularly I left your party alone, hoping for a little tolerance. The point I am making is that this payment should be back-dated to 1st July. The payments to the people coming within the scope of the new means test should be paid well before March of next year because by then nine months of this financial year will have elapsed. If these people have to wait until March of next year, the total amount they will receive will be meagre, because at the most it will last only for about three months, if the usual pattern is followed.

I ask the Minister to tell me why the Government cannot commence payments from 1st July. This seems to me to be a reasonable question, and it demands a reasonable answer. No reasonable explanation has ever been given. This is probably the only legislation in which payments are not made retrospective. As I mentioned earlier, people in much higher categories, who are well able to afford a loss of income, have their payments back-dated, and I am not quibbling at that. Probably it is right that their payments should commence from that time. You will find also that the industrial court has made payments retrospective for a week or two, a month or even more. Why take it out. for the sake of a few miserable pounds, on the most deserving section of the community?

The Government is certainly not giving the widows anything, so they will not be affected by the back-dating of these payments. The Government has not given the widows anything for a generation. It is not giving unemployed people any extra. People in receipt of child endowment will not receive any extra, but in the one piece of legislation where the Government has magnificently or - to use the Minister's own word, exhilaratingly - increased the pension by a miserable £13 a year. 5s. a week or 8d. a day, it refuses to back-date the payment a couple of months. It is scandalous in the extreme, unforgivable, and a most contemptible action by a government which has introduced a Budget of £1,700,000,000.

Shortly there will be a by-election in the division of Calare, and the people of that electorate will pass judgment on this Government for its callous and unjust treatment of this section of the community. These things are worth remembering when we have this kind of crime - if I may use that word - perpetrated in this country. I repeat that these people are entitled to payment from 1st July. The Government's action is unforgivable, and it is beyond my comprehension why it will not back-date this payment. We hear of all kinds of appeals made by the Government from time to time in an effort to assist people.

I mentioned earlier in the debate that we are spending millions of pounds on immigration. I am not quibbling at that at all. We are bringing to this country people who unfortunately are suffering from certain ailments and disabilities. If we are prepared to do that to build up our population, why not do something in the most practical way to assist those who are already here? We could do that by back-dating this miserable increase of 5s. for a couple of months. I hope that the Minister will take heed of what has been said by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird), the honorable member for Scullin (Mr. Peters), and by other speakers on this side.

I should think it would be within the Minister's own power to give these people back-dated payments. It is not very much to ask. It is not very much, even for a Liberal Government, to condescend to do, and I appeal to the Government of the day to see that it is done. I listened to members of the Country Party, but I take little notice of them, with due respect to you, Mr. Temporary Chairman. I take little notice of interjections made by the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson), because he will not be here for very long. But while he is here it would be better if he did a little for these people who are deserving of his sympathy by agreeing to support this move to back-date these payments to 1st July. It is all very well for honorable members to sit idly and smugly. They are enjoying good salaries, while many people have only £5 a week on which to live. By back-dating their payment a couple of months, the Government would alleviate their appalling living conditions and assist them to meet the high cost of living that has been caused by it.

Therefore, I appeal to the Minister's wisdom, tolerance, and understanding in the hope that his heart will be touched. He knows full well that countless thousands of people will be affected by this legislation, particularly those who are endeavouring to get the rent allowance of 10s a week, in respect of which a most vicious means test is imposed. I ask the Minister to back-date this 5s. payment in order to assist them and make their lives a little easier. When I look at honorable members opposite, I am certainly not hopeful that their hearts will be touched by my plea. I doubt whether there is any kindness in their hearts.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

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