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Wednesday, 26 September 1906

Senator WALKER (New South Wales) . - I believe, with the last speaker, that we all sympathize with the object in view in granting old-age pensions to our indigent poor. But this Bill introduces a new principle, which may extend indefinitely, and which, it seems to me, is a verydangerous principle indeed. In fact, it reverts to an old system of raising special taxes and ear-marking them for special purposes. It is a system that is still in vogue in Turkey and China, but I fail to see why this Commonwealth should go to those countries for an example.

Senator Millen - It is also in vogue in one or two half-bankrupt South American States.

Senator WALKER - That is true, but it is none the more acceptable on that account. When I spoke on the Address-in-Reply at the commencement of the session, I indicated what seemed to me to be a practical way of getting out of the difficulty. New South Wales is paying something like £500,000 a year in old-age pensions, whilst Victoria is paying between £220,000 and £300,000. I suggested that, if the other States were agreeable, an arrangement might be made for old-age pensions to be paid throughout Australia by means of a Federal Commission until the Braddon section expired by effluxion of time. I cannot see how any other system is at the present time practicable. Senator Pearce has told us that, so far as he can judge, we can only raise something like £559,000 a year from tea and kerosene duties. It is anticipated that in the coming year the surplus revenue above the three-fourths returned to the States will be £500,000. The Treasurer has told us that he expects a surplus of only £300,000 over the threefourths ; but, in addition to that, there is the sum which the Commonwealth would lose by conceding penny postage, to which I strongly object at the present time, and which I hope will not be sanctioned. Let me put the matter in this way. New South Wales, with a population of 1,500,000, contributes £500,000 towards old-age pensions. Victoria, with a population of 1,250,000, contributes £300,000 a year. Therefore these States together contribute £800,000. The population of the other four States of Australia is, in the aggregate, approximately equal to that of Victoria. Therefore, on the same basis it would cost an additional £300,000 a year to pay old-age pensions in those States. If they chose to come into such an arrangement as I have suggested, the total payment on account of old-age pensions would be £1,100,000. Why should not that be done? The Treasurer seems to take it for granted that the money paid by the Commonwealth on their account will be saved to the two States which now pay old-age pensions. But when Commonwealth Customs duties were imposed in New South Wales, though it is true that in the first year the income of New South Wales was increased by something over ,£1,000,000 a year, we found that the result was simply to make the State Treasurer more extravagant. The more money goes -into the hands of the States Treasurers the more they will spend. I believe that if the States that are at present paying old-age pensions were relieved of those payments the taxpayer would not be relieved in the slightest degree. The Treasurers will find other means of spending the money. Another point in regard to this matter about which I have heard no opinion expressed is as to who are to constitute the pensioners. Are pensions to be paid at the age of 55 or at 65 ? I hope also that it is not intended that we shall pay pensions to persons who have relatives who are in a position to support them. It has been shown in New South Wales that numbers of persons in fair positions have actually allowed their parents to become pensioners. In one case a doctor allowed his father to become an old-age pensioner.

Senator Dobson - The Royal Commission's report recommends that we should make people who can afford it liable to pay for the- support of their indigent parents.

Senator WALKER - Certainly that should be done. My own opinion is that Western Australia should undertake her own old-age pensions system, and that Tasmania is not in a position to afford one.

Senator Pearce - Most of our old men in Western Australia came from the eastern States.

Senator WALKER - There is, no doubt, a great deal of truth in that ob- servation. If we had a joint Commission such as I have suggested to manage the payment of old-age pensions for the States/each State would bear its propor tion of the expenditure. I fancy that Western Australia would come out of such an arrangement very well indeed. But if we impose special taxation, I am satisfied that Tasmania cannot very well afford to pay her share. I cannot understand, therefore, why the Tasmanian senators should not be unanimous in opposing this Bill. It appears from the action of the local Legislatures that only two States in the group desire to have an old-age pensions law. However, I do not think that there is the slightest chance of this Bill securing the required statutory majority when its third reading is voted upon; though the second reading may be agreed to, .and the measure may get into Committee. At the same time, it must not be understood that those who vote against it do so because they are not sympathetic towards the object in view. All of us, am sure, desire that our aged poor should be made comfortable, and New South Wales has shown, by what she has done, that she is as sympathetic in this regard as any State in the Commonwealth.

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