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Wednesday, 12 October 1983
Page: 1625


Mr MAHER(11.35) —We are debating the Social Security Legislation Amendment Bill and the Repatriation Legislation Amendment Bill. I am delighted to have the opportunity to make a few comments about this legislation because, like all honourable members, I am continually interviewing constituents with pension problems or veterans' affairs pension problems. All honourable members should have become expert at handling these inquiries because they see a wide variety of difficulties with pensions and the various situations that confront the ordinary Australian senior citizen seeking to obtain a benefit or pension to augment his or her income in retirement or declining years.

The Social Security Legislation Amendment Bill is an important Bill because it amends a number of Acts. First, it amends the Social Security Act. This amendment will implement one of the Government's major election commitments which was to restore progressively the rate of unemployment benefit for single adults to parity with the standard rate of pension. Another election commitment was that the rate of benefit for single unemployed and sickness beneficiaries aged 16 and 17 would be increased by $5 to $45 a week from November 1983. I was also pleased to note in the Bill a provision to deal with remote area allowances . Having last year been in the Kimberleys in Western Australia where I was confronted with the cost of goods and services in remote parts of our nation, I congratulate the Government for implementing this remote areas allowance.

Another area of great significance in the legislation is the proposal to introduce a spouse carer's pension from December 1983. This pension will assist men providing constant care and attention for their aged or invalid pensioner wives at home. At present men in these circumstances who have to care for invalid or infirm wives can qualify only for the special benefit. There is a harsher income test in relation to the special benefit; no pensioner fringe benefits are payable and there is no entitlement to the State fringe benefits such as rate rebates and transport concession certificates which are often important. I congratulate the Government for bringing in this spouse carer's pension. It is very sad for any of us to interview an elderly man who tells us that his wife is bedridden at home and needs his constant care. Naturally he finds that the family savings are soon exhausted because of sickness, his inability to work and the cost of medication and pharmaceuticals.

I noted that the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding), in the second reading speech, could only guess as to the number of men who will become eligible for a spouse carer's pension. He put the figure at about 2,000. From November 1983 the basic income limits will be $57 a week for a single pensioner and $94 a week for a married couple. The existing additional benefit of $20 a week for each child will continue to apply. The Minister pointed out in his second reading speech that currently 1.7 million Australian pensioners and beneficiaries are eligible for fringe benefits.

I also want to touch upon the commendable action being taken by the Government to amend the stringent conditions laid down by the previous Government in relation to the payment of unemployment benefit to people out of work because of strike action. I commend the Government in this regard. I was appalled by the comments of the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Carlton) who talked at length about the great work of his forebears. I had the privilege of knowing the honourable member's grandmother. Mrs Carlton, who lived in Ashfield, was a great and wonderful lady who would not have stood by and seen families starve because of a strike in a factory. If ever I have known a person who had compassion and sensitivity, it was the honourable member's grandmother. I am sure she would be appalled today by the attitude that her grandson is taking in this House. The Government will not pay the unemployment benefit to direct participants in a strike, nor will members of a striking union at an establishment at which a strike takes place be qualified for benefits. But members of other unions at the establishment at which a strike is taking place, who are not themselves on strike, will qualify for the benefit. Persons stood down at other establishments as a result of a strike will qualify for the benefit, irrespective of their union membership.

Two weeks ago I visited the Ford Motor Co. of Australia Ltd plant in my electorate at Homebush. I found that the 700 employees in the factory were all members of one union. I was delighted to learn from the Honourable Joe Thompson, MLC, of the Vehicle Builders Union that there had not been an industrial stoppage at the Ford factory at Homebush in Sydney since 1967. This says something not only for the union membership and leadership but also for the management of the Ford factory at Homebush. Yet I was informed that because companies do not stockpile equipment if there is a strike in Victoria at one of the plastics or moulding plants Ford could be without supplies in Sydney within a matter of a few days. So a strike in Victoria could throw out of work 800 people in Sydney. Under the former Government's test those people would have been denied the unemployment benefit. Of course, it should be pointed out that the spouse and the children of the worker were entitled to a special benefit, so perhaps the whole family did not starve. But the former Government had a nasty attitude in relation to paying the unemployment benefit during a strike. It was an emotive response when there should have been a clear-headed, conciliatory approach. The former Government's aim was to inflame the situation and in doing so all it achieved was to hurt the families. It does not say much for the Liberal Party's philosophy if it is a philosophy of strikes and starving the families of strikers. Certainly, no evidence has ever been given to me that its philosophy of not paying the unemployment benefit to people who are unfortunately out of work due to a strike which takes place somewhere else would have settled the strike one day earlier than it would otherwise have been settled.

Other important matters are contained in the social security legislation. There is a new scheme under, and amendments to, the Aged or Disabled Persons Homes Act . The Government is changing the method of funding as from 1 January 1984. That is just as well, because in my electorate St Mary's Concord Community Aid Centre for the Aged is about to build 40 units. The centre is concerned about this new scheme. I will be able to assure it that the legislation will be passed and that the grant it has received from the Department of Social Security will be paid promptly, because the new scheme comes into effect from 1 January 1984.

The only other matter I wanted to comment on, which other speakers have not referred to-except the honourable member for Grey (Mr O'Neil)-was the additional payment as from 1 January of separate meal and accommodation subsidies to centres caring for homeless men, such as the Sydney City Mission, the Salvation Army's centres and the Matthew Talbot Hostel in Sydney. The subsidies to those approved centres will be 50c for a meal and $1.50 for a night's accommodation. I pay credit to the people who work in a voluntary capacity at those centres and who care for homeless men. Of course, the situation is exacerbated by the economic circumstances of our nation. Many itinerant persons cannot obtain jobs and are forced to live in hostels and in accommodation provided by these important charities. The estimated cost of these measures will be $1.6m in the current financial year and $2.5m in a full year.

I pass briefly to the repatriation legislation. I do so because the Concord Repatriation General Hospital is situated in my electorate. It is certainly the largest hospital in the electorate of Lowe. It has an important community input. Twenty per cent of the patients are community patients. I am always pressing for a greater community involvement and a greater intake of community patients. To give the widest possible case range to the medical students in such a major teaching hospital it is essential to have more young patients and women patients so that a total range of community problems is represented The hospital is also the largest employer in the electorate of Lowe. Of course, I have many official contacts with the hospital every year. I make representations on behalf of the staff. I am delighted that the present Minister for Veterans' Affairs (Senator Gietzelt) visited the hospital at my request. I cannot say the same for his predecessor.

The repatriation legislation contains a number of important areas. One that particularly appealed to me was that, to bring it in line with the social security legislation, it will pay the burnt-out diggers pension to the husbands of returned service personnel who served in a theatre of war. I am told that there are about 32,000 recipients of what we call the burnt-out diggers pension and about 4,000 of those people are women. Many women approach me about receiving the burnt-out diggers pension, or other pensions, for serving in the war. They point out that women were discriminated against during the war and were kept here, driving trucks, out of theatres of war. I know the Government will deal with this important point so that women do receive their full recognition for what they did between 1939 and 1945 and for their national input to our war effort. The legislation also contains provision for a remote area allowance. Another area deals with the friendly societies and trade union income . They are the matters which I put before the House today. I commend the legislation to the House.