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Wednesday, 26 September 1906

Senator FINDLEY (Victoria) .- After giving the measure before the Chamber full and serious consideration, I fail to see why it should not be carried unanimously. Every member of the Senate who has addressed himself to the subject to-day has warmly approved of the principle of old-age pensions. But, whilst some honorable senators favour the creation of a pensions fund, they are not disposed to trust the people by passing this Bill. Senator Millen has argued that the special duties proposed to be levied will fall very heavily upon the majority of the people of the Commonwealth. But in their denunciation several honorable senators have simply shown themselves consistent in their inconsistency. Senator Clemons, in particular, has pleaded that the duties would fall harshly upon the poorer sections of the community. But when the Customs Tariff Bill was before the Senate in the year 1902, there was no warmer advocate of the imposition of tea and kerosene duties than Senator Clemons. Honorable senators will recollect that tea was placed on the free list by the House of Representatives. When the measure reached the Senate, Senator Glassey pointed out that Queensland was, under Federation,' receiving a much less sum from Customs and Excise than she hari done before Federation. A lengthy discussion ensued, and Senator Clemons, in supporting Senator Glassey's proposal, said -

So far as the duty itself is concerned, it commends itself to every one. It is fortunately a duty that has nothing to do with differences in fiscal views.

Yet we have Senator Clemons to-day vigorously ' denouncing the imposition of such a duty, on the ground that it would fall heavily upon the poorer section of the community. He also condemned the proposition to tax kerosene. Yet in 1902 there was no warmer advocate for the imposition of a kerosene duty than Senator Clemons. Senator Dobson to-day likewise urged that it was a wrong course to pursue to tax necessaries such as kerosene and tea. But in 1902, when duties of 3d. per gallon on kerosene and 3d. per lb. on tea were proposed by Senator Glassey, Senator Dobson warmly supported him. He said that he considered them fair proposals - probably because Tasmania before Federation had imposed a dutv of 6d. a gallon on kerosene. When Senator Dobson talks about the serious loss which the State of Tasmania has sustained by Federation, amounting last year to £150,000, he appears to be forgetful that about £22,500 was taken away from that State by the removal of the taxes on kerosene and tea. and that the people of Tasmania, in consequence of the removal of these duties, are obtaining tea and kerosene cheaper under Federation than they did before. Senator Glassey's proposal for the imposition of a duty of 3d. per lb. on tea was negatived by 17 votes to 9, and his proposal to impose 3d. per gallon on kerosene was negatived by 16 votes to 6. It is remarkable that one senator who professes to be strongly in favour of protectionist principles voted at the time for the imposition of tea and kerosene duties, though it appears to me that no conscientious protectionist was warranted in doing so. On this occasion, however, there is a special reason for the imposition, of the duties. The Victorian senator to whom I allude is Senator Fraser. I shall be curious to see what position he takes up in regard to the measure we are now discussing. In New South Wales, as has been frequently pointed out during the course of the debate, a fair measure of consideration was given to the aged poor, the maximum pension being ros. per week. But the difficulties that an Australian citizen undergoes in respect of that pension are very great indeed. A person is supposed to live in New South Wales for twenty-five years before being entitled to an old-age pension.

Senator Walker - Twenty years continuously.

Senator FINDLEY - If a person lived in New South Wales nineteen years and eleven months, and then, owing to circumstances over which he had no control, went to one of the other States, arid there did not succeed as he anticipated, he would be debarred from a pension on return to his own State, although we are all supposed to be citizens of the Commonwealth. In Victoria, there is an old-age pension, which is rapidly becoming a charity dole. There have been innumerable cases cf persons who, because -in a moment of anger they have used a swear word, have been deprived of their pensions by a magistrate; and other cases where poor men, with wives and children to support on 30s. or 35s. a week earned at precarious employment, have been ordered to pay 4s. or 5s. towards the support of their parents. Such cases are truly regrettable, because,- while I believe there is no man in any part of the Commonwealth who has not a strong love and affection for his parents, anc would be proud to do everything possible to sustain them in the winter of their lives, it is exacting too much to compel them to make up a sum which the State ought to be well able to pay. Senator Millen expressed the opinion that £1,500,000 will be inadequate for old-age pensions as the years rolled on. As a matter of fact, however, pensions are not increasing, but decreasing, in Victoria; and for more reasons than one. It is true that at the inception of the movement in Victoria many difficulties arose which have since been removed. 1 feel strongly in regard to the principle of the referendum though, perhaps, not so strongly as do some honorable senators who represent States where there are no oldage pensions, and I am of opinion that this matter should be submitted to the people. If the people are of the same mind as a majority of the senators evidently are, then we, and the members of another place, will know exactly what the public opinion is. But that the people desire the establishment of old-age pensions goes without question ; and those who oppose the Bill will find themselves on the horns of a dilemma. We have heard repeatedly inside this Chamber, and outside, the statement that the people ought to be trusted ; but where is the consistency of honorable senators who are afraid to trust the people?

Senator Mulcahy - Would that not apply to almost any absurd amendment of the Constitution?

Senator FINDLEY - We would have to stretch our imagination very far to believe that any absurd proposed amendment of the Constitution would be submitted.

Senator Mulcahy - Does the honorable senator think that the people will understand the Bill as it appears now?

Senator FINDLEY - If Senator Mulcahy thinks that the people will not understand a measure of this kind, he has a very poor opinion of their intelligence. The electors had sufficient intelligence to express an opinion on the Constitution Bill. That was full of intricacies ; and yet nobody suggested that it should not be put to the referendum.

Senator Mulcahy - There was a very clear principle involved in that Bill.

Senator FINDLEY - And there is a clear principle involved in- the Bill before us - it is a. Bill to provide a fund for the piyment of old-age pensions. .

Senator Mulcahy - There is not a word about old-age pensions in the Bill.

Senator FINDLEY - Does the honorable senator think that the people will be called upon to express an opinion on a blank piece of paper? The Government consist of men of life-long experience of parliamentary government, who would not make themselves a laughing-stock by submitting a question which the people could not grasp and understand. Doubtless, the question will be presented in a very simple form and the people will be called upon to express their opinion in regard to the advisability or otherwise of an old-age pension scheme. The Government will, in all probability, indicate the commodities on which it is proposed to levy special duties ; and I have no doubt there will be a great majority in favour of the proposal. But if not, then the proposal can only be rejected. Those who oppose the referendum take a very undemocratic attitude. There is not a senator who does not believe in majority rule, and in any case, we know that finality cannot be reached until the proposal has been approved, not only by a majority of the people, but also by a majority of the States. Believing in old-age pensions, and in the principle of the referendum,, I cannot understand why the Bill should meet with such vigorous opposition, especially from those who express so much sympathy with the old people as deserving consideration in the winter of their lives. Some of the very members who oppose the Bill, and talk so much about the poor people, desired in 1902 to tax those poor people, simply for the purpose of getting revenue for their particular States. If there was any justification for their action on that occasion, there is justification for the creation of old-age pensions. I cannot see how Senator Dobson makes out that the scheme will cost Tasmania or any other State £60,000 per annum. It is proposed to levy duties on articles which are at present free.

Senator Mulcahy - The proposed special duties will not even yield two-thirds of the sum necessary to provide old-age pensions for Tasmania. '

Senator FINDLEY - That is very problematical. In any case, it is manifestly untrue to say that the scheme will cost Tasmania £60,000. That State will hot lose anything, but, on the contrary, will be a considerable gainer, because the aged poor there will receive that consideration which they are not receiving to-day, and the expense will be borne by the whole of the citizens of the Commonwealth.

Senator Mulcahy - Is the honorable senator aware that it is proposed to raise only £800,000 by these special duties?

Senator FINDLEY - I have heard various statements as to the probable amount which will be raised. But tea and kerosene do not present the only means of raising funds. I am as anxious as any member of the Labour Party for a tax on unimproved land values, but I am not unmindful of the fact that the very men who now express so much sympathy for the poor, are those who, if it were proposed to raise money by direct taxation, would vigorously denounce the idea.

Senator Givens - The honorable senator agreed that direct taxation would be the best way, if we could get a majority to support the proposal.

Senator FINDLEY - I absolutely believe in direct taxation. Between Senators Stewart, Givens, and Turley on the one hand, and myself on the other, there is an honest difference of opinion. We know the difficulties there are in the way of the land tax ; but if those honorable senators are right, there can be no harm in submitting the question to the people, because then the supporters of the Bill will be proved to be wrong. On the other hand, if the people approve of the Bill, it will not show that those honorable senators are wrong, but that the people are not prepared to wait for land values taxation. I do not desire a wrong impression to go abroad. I have said that I thought I would be placed in a quandary in regard to this proposal, which I felt to be intricate and complex in regard to certain matters. But I have thought seriously over the whole of the circumstances, and I have come to the conclusion that it would be wise and beneficial to pass the measure, which, therefore, shall have my support.

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