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Thursday, 25 July 1912

Senator FINDLEY (Victoria) (Honorary Minister) . - I have listened with a. good deal of attention to the speech which has just been delivered by Senator Chataway in support of his motion; but I feel that the honorable senator, whatever his motives may be', has not done himself justice, nor made his position clear as to the alteration that he desires to effect in our present invalid and old-age pensions system. That the system is not all that we could desire will be admitted by every honorable senator. That it could be made much more comprehensive, and, perhaps, give greater joy and comfort to numbers of old citizens, goes without saying. But Senator Chataway, though armed- with much information, did not illustrate in what way he desired specifically to alter the Act. He pointed out that he had quite recently paid a visit to the cottages in connexion with, the Old Colonists' Homes, in MelbourneThere he saw a number of satisfied and1 well-cared for inmates, who are livingamidst comfortable surroundings, and arein receipt of a weekly sum. But when ' I asked "him whether he desired', that the Government should do for the oldage pensioners what the Old Colonists Association does for a small number of people,, he was quite indefinite, and said he was in doubt. He did not know whether he desired that or not. He went on to point out what was being done in other countries. What object had the honorable senator in quoting from well known and highly interesting works unless he had in his mind a desire to bring about a specific alteration in the present Act or its administration?1 He also said that as a reader of the daily newspapers he knew that it was quite a common thing to see reports about old-age pensioners who have either been found dead, or in a dying condition, in the streets of the metropolis. I interjected that I thought that was an exaggerated statement.. I repeat that.

Senator Chataway - And I repeat that: the Chief Commissioner of Police in Melbourne is now having an investigation madeto find out what truth there is in the published statements.

Senator FINDLEY - Suppose the statements are true that some men or women in receipt of pensions, to which they are justly entitled, happen unfortunately to die in the streets of the metropolis. What has that to do with the administration of the Old-age Pensions Act? Men and women who were not in receipt of old-age pensions have also been found dead in the streets of Melbourne. Does the honorable senator want to try to prevent people from dying in the streets? I want to know what is in his mind. He told us that he had been to the Police Department in order to obtain statistics to show, if possible, the number of those of a certain age in receipt of old-age pensions who had unfortunately met their death in the streets of the big cities. It is well nigh a matter of impossibility to prevent such occurrences. The honorable senator said that he does not desire to see our old-age pensioners imprisoned, so to speak, by being put in barracks. He surely would not deprive old people of their liberty. Would the honorable senator deny an old man or woman his or her liberty on account of being in receipt of ah old-age pension? If he is anxious, as 1 feel sure he is, that citizens who are in receipt of pensions should be at liberty to walk about in any part of the city, as long as they conduct themselves properly-

Senator Sayers - Senator Chataway meant people who are incapable of looking after themselves.

Senator FINDLEY - Are we to understand that the honorable senator desires an alteration of the Old-age Pensions Act in this way - that there shall be a certain section of those receiving old-age pensions who shall be housed by the Government, and who shall not be at liberty to go about as they please?

Senator Chataway - The honorable senator is absolutely misquoting and misrepresenting me.

Senator FINDLEY - If we house the old-age pensioners, and do not decide to imprison those whom: we house, we must allow them to go outside their tenements.

Senator Chataway - Why should they not go outside?

Senator FINDLEY - Then would it not be just as possible for them to die in the streets of Melbourne, or elsewhere, as it is for old-age pensioners to die in the streets to-day?

Senator Sayers - They would not die of starvation.

Senator FINDLEY - Then do we understand that honorable senators opposite believe that the present pension is inadequate to support numbers of people in Australia?

Senator Sayers - Yes.

Senator FINDLEY - The honorable senator desires, then, .to increase the pension?

Senator Sayers - Where required, yes.

Senator FINDLEY - Then there is to be discrimination. Some are to get a minimum, and there is to be a graduated scale of pensions.

Senator Sayers - That is the case now. Some people do not get the full amount of the pension. They get a mere charity dole.

Senator FINDLEY - I hope the time will come when no person in this community will be in receipt of a charity dole.

Senator Sayers - That is all many of them are getting under the Old-age Pensions Act.

Senator FINDLEY - If aged persons are without any means, they get 10s. a week. They are also allowed to earn 10s. a week.

Senator Sayers - If they are not able to earn' anything, what is the use of "allowing ' ' them ?

Senator FINDLEY - That is the full amount they get, as far as Government aid is concerned.

Senator Sayers - Where do the deductions come in?

Senator FINDLEY - They come in regarding earnings and house property.

Senator Sayers - I will show the Senate differently.

Senator FINDLEY - We all -know what the deductions are. There i's "£i for every £10. If a person has £-300 worth of property, he gets no pension at all.

Senator Sayers - Is there no deduction from the pension on account of life assurance, even if the amount of the assurance is small ?

Senator FINDLEY - There is a deduction for every solid asset, as the honorable senator knows. He is just as familiar with the Act as I am with respect to the deductions made regarding property. Senator

Chataway made the remark that consideration was given in other countries to the deserving poor. The inference was that there are some old people in receipt of old-age pensions who are not deserving.

Senator Millen - Under the Old-age Pensions Act we recognise that now.

Senator FINDLEY - Yes, in a sense. ButSenator Chataway would lead the readers of Hansard to believe that there were no restrictions at all in regard to those who would become recipients of old-age pensions. As Senator Millen knows, and has just said, a person must be of good character before he can get the pension. A person who is not of good character cannot legally obtain it, although it may be that in some instances persons of bad character have managed to obtain it. I am one of those who believe that there should be no cjbweb line of distinction in regard to oldage pensions - that the system should be made universal. I do not believe that it should be a charity dole at all. But I am not with any of those who want to make a distinction between what they call the deserving poor and the undeserving ; who would discriminate between this person and that. Some would make such fine distinctions that they would convert the pension absolutely into a charity dole.

Senator Sayers - Who wants to do that?

Senator FINDLEY - There are many persons belonging to so-called Liberal organizations in the Commonwealth to-day who, if they had the power, would so amend the present Old-age Pensions Act that they would make the amount received absolutely and essentially a charity dole.

Senator Sayers - There may be some individuals like that.

Senator FINDLEY - There may be, and there are. A prominent gentleman in another House not long ago-

Senator Millen - The honorable senator is not electioneering, surely?

Senator FINDLEY - No, I am not electioneering. A prominent gentleman belonging to the party of which the honorable senator is a member, in a recent speech, made pointed reference to our Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act.

Senator Sayers - The honorable senator makes many statements himself.

Senator FINDLEY - I stand by them, too; and I believe that this gentleman will stand by his statements.

Senator Sayers - He is "on his own."

Senator FINDLEY - I take him to be one of the prominent members of the Fusion party. I also take him to mean exactly what he says.

Senator Millen - Then quote what he says.

Senator FINDLEY - He said, in effect, that if he had an opportunity, he would! amend the Act, and would discriminate between the payments that are made to-day in regard to old-age pensions to such an extent that in all probability - these are my words - it would be an Act similar in essence to the Act that was on the statute-book in the State of Victoria up to the time when the Commonwealth took over old-age pensions.

Senator Sayers - He has a perfect right to believe that.

Senator de Largie - He does not want any of their "gelatinous compound."

Senator FINDLEY - No. We know of a certain gentleman belonging to the socalled Liberal party who introduced an amendment of the State Old-age Pensions Act. It was made absolutely a charitable dole. We know that married men, with large families, in some cases in receipt of only £2 per week, were brought up before the Courts, exposed to the public gaze, and had orders made against them to the extent of 3s. or 4s. a week to provide for their fathers' and mothers' keep.

Senator Sayers - They were very bad sons if anything like thatrequired to be done to them.

Senator FINDLEY - Now we are getting it ! There is not a son or daughter worthy of the name who does not cherish fondness for his or her father or mother y but I say that this is not a question of fondness or affection for parents. It is a question of absolute justice on the part of the community to see that the father or mother is not a drain or burden on a son or daughter, but that the community itself shall recognise its duties and obligations to its old citizens. The receipt of this pension should be a citizen's right, and not. a charity dole.

Senator Sayers - I suppose . that the honorable senator knows of people with incomes of £500 a year who would not give a penny for the support of their fathers and mothers?

Senator FINDLEY - If I had my way I would make no distinction whatever. I would say that the pension should be there for every person who liked to take it.

Senator Sayers - But that is not the law.

Senator FINDLEY - I know that it is not.

Senator Millen - It is not the point either.

Senator FINDLEY - It is difficult to know what the point is in regard to this motion.

Senator Millen - The honorable senator is not trying to know.

Senator FINDLEY - I feel sure that Senator Millen is as much in doubt as I am. Senator Chataway did not during any portion of his speech state what his real desire was. Indeed, he said, " I have no fixed ideas in' regard to this matter, but something ought to be done." In justice to himself and to his own side he should not submit a motion of this nature without being prepared to tell us what is in his mind, and what is his desire.

Senator Rae - He should not, in justice to the whole Senate.

Senator FINDLEY - Quite so. We are discussing something of a very indefinite nature, but if anything can be gathered from the remarks of the honorable' senator it is this - that be does not believe in the present old-age pension system.

Senator Millen - He did not say so, and that is not a fair inference.

Senator FINDLEY - He does not believe in the present method.

Senator Sayers - He does not believe thai the present method is the best.

Senator Millen - Senator Chataway is concerned about those old-age pensioners who for some reason or other are not able to husband their pensions.

Senator FINDLEY - And because he says there are some old-age pensioners who are living near billabongs, and who occasionally walk to an adjacent public-house for a glass of liquor or two, he holds that that is a reason why an alteration is desirable in our old-age pension system.

Senator Millen - No; only in regard to that class who are not able to look after themselves.

Senator FINDLEY - Then the issue is being narrowed down. The Opposition are only concerned with the class who are not able to look after themselves. Would Senator Millen, as Leader of the Opposition, be kind enough to tell the Senate what his desire or the desire of his party- is in respect to that section of old-age pensioners who, according to Senator Chataway, are not able to look after themselves? Does he desire that the Government shall build cottage homes for them similar to the homes of the Old Colonists' Association - that the Government shall house these people, provide them witha weekly sum, and with the necessaries of life, and when they are allowed to go abroad, if they are not able to look after themselves, that the Government shall police them or provide them with protection to see that no harm befalls them ?

Senator Sayers - He never mentioned any such desire.

Senator Henderson - What did be mention ?

Senator de Largie - It did not suit him to mention anything definite.

Senator FINDLEY - Honorable members opposite are apparently not altogether satisfied with the Old-age Pensions Act.

Senator Millen - There is only one honorable senator on this side who has spoken yet.

Senator FINDLEY - I know that Senator Sayers is going to speak. I am extremely anxious that honorable senators on the other side shall express themselves, and tell us definitely and emphatically in which direction they desire the Act to be amended, and in order to afford them an opportunity I shall resume my seat.

Debate (on motion by Senator Sayers) adjourned.

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