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Thursday, 26 September 1912

Senator VARDON (South Australia) . - I had not contemplated making any observations concerning these Budgetpapers, because it seemed to me that debate on a matter that has been disposed of elsewhere is rather like whipping a dead horse. I noticed that, when the VicePresident of the Executive Council was introducing this subject, he, like an Irishman trailing his coat on the ground and beseeching any one to tread on the tail of it, challenged the Opposition to say whether they would reduce any of the expenditure proposed by the present Government. He particularly alluded to the payment of pensions. I do not know that the matter of pensions has ever been a party question here. Certainly it was not the Labour party that introduced old-age pensions in the Commonwealth, though, naturally, they hoped to carry the measure, as members of other parties also did. I do not know why it should be supposed that, simply because there is a Labour party in power, the Opposition wished to cut down pensions. There certainly is no disposition to act in that way. But I am free to express the opinion that a careful inquiry ought to be made into the administration of old-age pensions. I have said before, and now repeat, that there is a good deal of fraud and misrepresentation in regard to them. Talking with an official of the Pensions Office only a few da.vs ago he admitted to me that it is known that imposition is rampant, though the officials are not able to get evidence to bring a charge home to those who are perpetrating frauds. Sometimes, when a man has property, he dispossesses himself of it nominally by dividing it up amongst his sons, and then applies for an old-age pension.

Senator Ready - Does not the Department inquire into such matters now?

Senator VARDON - No doubt inquiries are made, but they need to be more thoroughly pursued to insure that there shall be no imposition.

Senator Findley - Does the honorable senator say that he was informed by one of the officials that what he has described is being done?

Senator VARDON - Yes; it is known that that sort of thing goes on. We established our pension system to assist, those who are in needy circumstances. It was not to be a universal pension system. Persons in certain circumstances were to be allowed the privilege of drawing pensions. I have not the least doubt that the system is being very much abused at present. I am anxious that no one who needs a pension should be without it. But at present we are faced with the position that some who ought never to apply for pensions, and ought not to get them, are enjoying them, whilst others who deserve pensions do not make application. Of what use was it for the Vice-President of the Executive Council to .ask the Opposition whether they desired to cut down old-age pensions? We do not desire to do anything of the sort,, but we certainly do wish to see the system fairly administered. Again, military and naval expenditure is not a party matter. All parties are committed to our defence policy. There may be extravagance here and there, and expenditure in some directions might well be saved ; but that does not affect the main issue. With regard to the proposed expenditure of ^58,000 on the Northern Territory, we have not been supplied with particulars as to how the money is to be spent, except that ^1,000 is to bo applied to the establishment of a steam laundry. There are in the Northern Territory a number of Chinamen who are supposed to be excellent laundrymen. It seems strange, therefore, that it should be considered necessary to establish there a Commonwealth Laundry-

Senator Stewart - Is not cleanliness next to Godliness?

Senator VARDON - I have often heard that said, and if it be so, Senator Stewart is a very Godly man. I listened to his speech yesterday with much interest. He endeavoured to apply a stimulus to his own party with the object of inducing it to carry out the policy to which the Labour party is pledged. He pointed out that the Government are in a more favorable position than any previous Ministry have been, and wanted to know why they did not give effect to their policy. He stated that the land policy of the party is that the State should take the community-created value of land. In other words it should take what is sometimes called the unearned increment.

Senator Pearce - It is incorrect to say that that is our policy.

Senator Millen - The difficulty is to find out what the policy of the Government is.

Senator VARDON - T do not think that I am misrepresenting Senator Stewart.

Senator Findley - But the honorable senator is misrepresenting the Government and the party who support them.

Senator VARDON - I am sure that Senator Stewart would not misrepresent his own party.

Senator Findley - He did in regard to that matter.

Senator VARDON - The honorable senator laid it down that the Government should tax land up to its rental value. He has always been honest enough to say that he does not believe in any exemptions. As I took it, what he advocated was practically the single tax.

Senator Stewart - I was not speaking on behalf of the party. Do not make that mistake.

Senator VARDON - I understood that Senator Stewart was applying a gentle stimulus for the purpose of inducing his party to give effect to the policy they advocated. His argument appeared to be one for the single tax, plus high Protection and plus new Protection.

Senator Findley - How could you have the single tax with Protection?

Senator VARDON - That is the point I was coming to. It seems anomalous to talk in that fashion. Henry George, the great apostle of land value taxation, made the position absolutely plain, and his followers lay it down that the economic rental value of land would yield revenue sufficient for all purposes, national and municipal.

Senator St Ledger - Henry George was a Free Trader.

Senator VARDON - Exactly ; the very idea of the single tax implies that there should be no other taxation.

Senator Stewart - I did not mention the single tax.

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