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Thursday, 8 September 1983
Page: 630


Mrs CHILD(9.50) —I point out to the previous speaker, the honourable member for Paterson (Mr O'Keefe), that forms for the withholding tax have been freely available and the Australian Taxation Office has been able to cope with them in the scheduled time. Further, the withholding tax that we introduced was almost identical with the withholding tax that the previous Treasurer intended to introduce. According to most of the critics of the Labor Budget brought down on 23 August by the Treasurer (Mr Keating), this is a traditional Labor Budget, having given its greatest emphasis to those in need. Labor was founded on a floor of welfare and throughout the many years of our Party's history the needs of the disadvantaged have had priority.

The Parliamentary Library put out a basic paper No. 9 in 1982 which concentrates on the Commonwealth social security cash benefits since Federation, a chronology of major events to November 1982. It is an interesting book to go through because, as one reads page after page, one finds that almost every initiative, every major break from tradition, every new benefit given and every increase of any significance throughout the years has been brought down by a Labor Government. I draw this to the attention of the House and to the attention of people in the community.

There has been criticism that the increases in this Budget do not go far enough . I say: 'Why don't we go back a bit and have a look at the history of pensions and the history of benefits'. Let us start with the widow's pension. When Labor came into office in 1972 a widow's pension was $28.50. When we went out of office in 1975 it was $50.25, an increase of $21.75 during Labor's three years. That had never happened before and it certainly has not happened since. It could happen only under a Labor Government; it certainly did not happen under the seven years of Fraser Administration. Again in 1973, for the first time a Labor Government introduced a supporting mother's benefit and gave it the same rate as a Class A widow. The supporting mothers who have enjoyed that benefit will remember that a Labor Government introduced it.

When Labor came into office in 1972 there was a $4.50 additional pension for the children of widowed pensioners. In Whitlam's three years he increased it to $7.50. During his three years, sickness benefits and unemployment benefits were paid at the same rate as pensions. Labor has brought about the innovations in pensions going right back to the Chifley years. I am not asking social security beneficiaries to feel grateful for what the Labor Party has done whenever it has been in office. I am just asking people to recognise that whenever there has been any move in the welfare area it has been a Labor initiative. Whenever community centres have been built it has been Labor that built them; whenever there has been money for rape crisis centres, for halfway houses for homeless refugees and the like, it has been Labor who initiated them. Pre-1973, pensioners got an increase once a year of maybe 50c or $1, depending on whether it was an election year. If it was not an election year they finished up with a kiss on the front steps. I know because I was a pensioner at that time, not that I got the kiss.

When Labor came into office under Whitlam, it introduced twice yearly increases in pensions for the first time ever. The Fraser Government continued that trend because it did not have the guts to knock it out. But it is the Labor Party that introduced the twice-yearly increases. It is the Labor Party that decided a pensioner should not be a political football at the mercy of whichever Government was in office, or whether an election was imminent. Labor brought in twice yearly increases and now we have indexed them. In 1973 it was Labor that removed the age limit of 21 years for additional pensions for full-time students and for the payment of an additional guardians or mother's allowance. It was Labor that helped to keep students at school. It was Labor that introduced as additional pension for the children of widowed pensioners. It was Labor that introduced a rate of $10 a week for children under 16, or full time dependent students where both parents were dead or where one was dead and the other was unknown. Again, it was Labor that introduced an allowance of $10, not subject to a means test, for parents or guardians caring for a severely handicapped child. The history of Labor's initiatives in the social security field are well documented in Paper No. 9. I think it may be an idea if some of the welfare bodies which are very quick to criticise Labor read the book. I wonder what would have happened to them if there has not been three years-1972 to 1975- which set a pattern that not even the Fraser Liberal Government had the guts to slash.

In this Budget pensioners will receive indexation increases from November 1983. The new rates will be $85.90 for a single pensioner and $143.20 for a pensioner couple. Fringe benefits will be indexed from November 1983 and this is a great breakthrough for pensioners. This will overcome a major difficulty for pensioners particularly, those on modest indexed superannuation payments who sometimes lose their pensioner health card when they receive cost of living rises. It will ensure that their pension rights are maintained. In addition, from November a single pensioner can have income of $57 a week and a pensioner couple $94 a week and still be eligible for fringe benefits-another first for Labor.

The benefit income test will be eased from March 1984. Unemployment, sickness and special beneficiaries will be able to earn $20 a week-that is an additional $10-without affecting their payments. This is real breakthrough, one that has been long overdue and one that the Fraser Government of seven years' duration might have taken a look at. It is an area that has been discriminatory and created great hardship. These payments will be made tax free from March 1984 and this will remove a major area of discrimination against unemployment, sickness and special beneficiaries who have been the only group paying tax on additional payments for children. In fact, we have actually been taxing them for having children.

Health care cards will be issued to unemployment and special beneficiaries for three-monthly periods instead of the existing two-weekly periods. Again, this will be a great comfort. Those people who need health care cards or whose card is running out, who perhaps have an accident and get rushed to hospital have a terrible time trying to prove that they are entitled to a health care card. Another first for Labor is the new pension that we will introduce in December 1983 for men caring for an aged or invalid pensioner spouse where the care is required for an extended or indefinite period because of the spouse's disability . In similar circumstances, a wife caring for an invalid pensioner has received a wife's pension, but a caring husband has been eligible only for special benefit which has carried a harsher income test and no fringe benefit entitlement. This change will redress the inequity and enable several thousand men each year to cope better with caring for their spouses.

Despite all the publicity before the Budget, family allowances have been maintained because we recognise the additional costs incurred on behalf of dependant children. I am particularly pleased to be able to say that the rumours which were rife before the Budget about the spouse rebate were also untrue. The spouse rebate has been maintained. I note that there was some criticism that the $2 increase in the children's allowance to bring it up to $12 did not make up for the loss in value of the allowance over the past seven years. What happened in the past seven years was the responsibility of the now Opposition, not the responsibility of this Government. It is a fairly hard task to put on a new government coming into office facing a $9.6 billion deficit, that it should make up the leeway that the last Government has carried on for the past seven years.

A representative of Shelter Victoria has commented that the Budget offered the housing industry more of the same. She went on to say that there would be an increase in public house spending from $333m to $500m. I would hardly call that more of the same. I point out to Shelter Victoria that funding under the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement has increased 50 per cent over last year and that all of the additional funds have been provided as grants in recognition of the difficulties being faced by housing authorities in meeting the needs of low income home buyers and renters. In total, $354m of the $500m is being provided as grants, and $146m as highly concessional loans repayable over 53 years at the very moderate interest rate of 4.5 per cent per annum. I do not consider that more of the same. I think it would be fair for Shelter Victoria to acknowledge this. I thought that we would have got some reaction to the fact that we have indexed unemployment benefits. After all, Mr Fraser flatly refused to do this because he thought people were being lazy, that there were jobs about and they would not go after them. Labor has recognised that unemployment benefits need to be indexed. Labor in office has a responsibility towards the disadvantaged and the needy. It is our responsibility to put forward out policies and do the best we can under the circumstances to assist. This is a compassionate Budget. It looks at the needs and the rights of the poor.

Debate interrupted.