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Howe was very concerned about the problems faced by the poor.

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James Howe

National Library of Australia

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James Howe (1839–1920)

Father of the Commonwealth old-age pension

Howe came to South Australia from Scotland when he was 17 and became a mounted policeman. He did country jobs such as running a pub, horse-breaking and farming. He entered parliament as a representative of the northern selectors, who were struggling to meet their repayments in the hard times of the 1880s.

In 1897 he was elected to the 1897–98 Federal Convention. He was not a very important delegate, but he was determined to see that the Commonwealth government got the power to provide old-age pensions. At first most delegates, even those in favour of pensions, thought this was a matter that the states should deal with. Howe said that in Australia so many workers moved across state borders that a national scheme for pensions was needed.

When Howe first spoke on this issue, he was defeated. But he would not give up. On the second vote he had a victory. No other power of the Commonwealth in the constitution can be said to be the work of just one man.

The Commonwealth Parliament passed a pensions scheme in 1908.