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Tuesday, 13 September 1983
Page: 665

Mr BRAITHWAITE(3.50) —The Treasurer (Mr Keating), when he rose to defend his Government in this debate, mentioned that he would like to be a fly on the wall when the strategies of the Opposition are being discussed as far as the issues of the week are concerned. May I suggest that I would have liked to be a fly on the wall when the Australian Labor Party was determining its election strategy prior to 5 March. I am sure that in the framing of those promises and in the determination of its economic plans one would have seen some rather interesting discussions going on. Not only would I have liked to be there to listen to Labor's election strategy, but I am pretty sure that the then Leader of the Opposition would have liked to be party to some of the discussions that were held prior to early February at the time he was deposed.

Let us look at some of the promises that were made quite deliberately in the Labor Party's determination and thrust to take government. Nothing in those promises would have suggested that superannuation would be assessed. In fact, a very definite undertaking was given that it would not be. There was no suggestion that pensioners would be affected, in spite of the warnings that were given. Honourable members might recall the warning that pensioners should look out for the money under their beds. That is precisely what is happening at the moment. There were promises of a $300m direct taxation reduction, an underwriting of the sugar industry by $50m and the expansion of the tuberculosis and brucellosis campaign. Then there was that famous promise of a reduction of 3c a litre in the price of petrol. What has happened since the Budget? There has been an increase of 2c a litre. Labor promised to put 500,000 people back to work over a period of three years, a third of that figure each year. What has the first six months produced? It has resulted in 1,000 people returning to the work force and fewer job opportunities. All of those promises were made by a Labor Party which, in the course of two Budgets in the space of six months, is hell-bent on breaking every one of them.

There can be no doubt in anyone's mind that in a very short period of six months in office this Labor Government has not only repudiated most of its pre- election vote catching promises but also, by its repudiation of those promises, spread confusion and given a real feeling of insecurity to millions of Australian pensioners and retirees, and to those who are approaching that period of their lives. Part of this is due to the very ad hoc manner in which the Government has applied itself to the most urgent and the most sensitive of our nation's problems, that is, the area of pensions. In the Government's mini- Budget and later in the August Budget it showed no concern whatsoever for the sensitivities or the extent of the problem. In a very ill-conceived, very shortly researched, very on-again off-again type of program, the Government has begun taxing superannuation and has cut pensions for those people who are 70 years and over. Now we have this proposal, which will take place within 12 months, to change from an income test to a means test.

Let us look at the policies announced by Labor prior to and since the election, particularly in regard to pensions and superannuation. I quote a policy announcement made as late as 15 April:

The Prime Minister, Mr Hawke, has told the ACTU executive that the Federal Government does not intend to increase the tax on lump sum superannuation payments.

On 15 February, Senator Grimes is reported as saying:

Labor would introduce an expansionary economic policy that would put people back at work and provide more money for social security spending.

What do we have now? As I said, we have a determination to deny and deprive pensioners of their rights. As I said, warnings were given by the then Government in regard to the policies that Labor would bring in. The result of these changes is that they have spread confusion and placed pressure not on the rich, not on the privileged, not on the double dipper, not on those people who can reorder and reorganise their affairs, but on the aged who have tried to give themselves some security either through superannuation or through having investments which would be readily available to them in their old age. Further confusion and more insecurity have been spread by virtue of the fact that these changes have been made on the run by this Government. In fact one has to apply the 28-day rule to the Government's programs. The 28-day rule is that if the Government does not change the rules in that time then one can comfortably go out and perhaps espouse that cause.

Let us look not only at the Government's programs but also at the effect of the Budget on some retirees. A further promise was given in the ALP-Australian Council of Trade Unions Accord that there would be an extension and development of the automatic indexation provisions of pensions. Taking into account the last Budget, what do we see? There is an indication that the 7.5 per cent inflation rate has been depressed artificially because the Government is changing from private health insurance to the medicare program. So pensioners at the time of indexation will be affected by the reduction that will come about through the Medicare program. This reduction is estimated in the Budget at, I think, 1.5 per cent for this year and 1.5 per cent for next year. Consequently pensioners will automatically be denied that amount. There was also Labor's promise of providing fuel for the poor, the travelling pensioner. They were expecting to pay 3c less per litre but now pay 2c more per litre and that figure is to be indexed every six months along with tobacco, cigarettes and alcohol. All of these things are going in exactly the opposite direction to what was promised. Let us look at the fact that the Medicare program affects some people more than others. In Queensland, where such health care provisions have always been available, all that the new Medicare program, for which pensioners will pay, means is that there will be longer queues for the people who wish to get medical assistance. More people will be unemployed in that State, in fact right throughout Australia , due to a loss of jobs in the private health insurance companies.

Let us look at parliamentary and public servants' superannuation, again another area of confusion. Last week in this House the honourable member for Brisbane ( Mr Cross) asked a question about the superannuation entitlements of the former member for Fadden. But no question was asked, and one might be entitled to ask it, as to how the present member for Brisbane accounts for the fact that he might be double dipping because having retired from this Parliament he would have taken either superannuation or a pension for his time in parliament. Has he been called to account for that? We heard about double dipping here at Question Time, about people having fingers in the till and having outside activities. I refer to one person who is the biggest double dipper of them all. He knows all about lump sums. He is a former member of the Victorian Parliament and is now the Federal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding). One should ask how those members stand in relation to the question that was asked and answered last week.

As I have said, the Government's approach to these matters has been to discriminate against those who can least afford it. It has not made an attack on the affluent; it has made it on those pensioners who look towards the pension and to having a little security in their old age. For instance, what effect will the latest arrangements have on a person who can own a residence of unlimited value, a person who can own a Rolls Royce, a yacht, a piece of art, or a painting or jewellery worth an unspecified amount? A simple pensioner looking forward to retirement who owns a beach home or something like that will have his pension assessed on the value of that beach home. Worse still, a person on a rural property who wishes to retire on the family farm will find, I fear, that the value of his house will be put with the value of his property and assessed accordingly. The matter of double dipping has not been addressed at all. In fact the pensioner now can be faced with having to pay a penal rate of tax on his or her retirement benefit and then being means tested on the balance. They would have been subject not only to a capital gains tax-which I believe the tax on superannuation is-before the Budget, but they are now denied this benefit because the balance will be means tested for pension purposes.

Confusion exists because the programs have not been co-ordinated and as a result they are incoherent and illogical. An overall solution cannot be found in the space of a few months, particularly when this is a hip-pocket reaction on the part of the Government to get more tax from the people by reaping funds from those who cannot afford the mental stress of having their pensions altered and reduced. No consideration has been given to the special types of retirees such as policemen, servicemen, teachers and other persons who have, of necessity, to change address quite frequently in life in order to follow their calling. It will be difficult for those whom I have mentioned to provide an adequate retirement home and retirement assets if the Government is going to take a major part of those funds in taxes. No consideration is given for all these people. To cater properly for eventual retirement, encouragement and incentives have to be provided by Government programs, not the climate created by the Government which discourages thrift. The expansionary economic climate talked about will certainly be affected by the treatment of retirement pensions.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.