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Monday, 23 March 1987
Page: 1280


Mr MARTIN —I refer the Minister for Social Security to reports that the Opposition would chop pensions to reach its target of spending cuts worth $2 billion in its first week in office. Can the Minister inform the House of the effect of such action on Australian pensioners?


Mr HOWE —I thank the honourable member for his question. Quite clearly, the document shows that any Opposition claim related not only to the development of any sort of sophisticated social policy but also, more seriously, to the concept of any fairness in social policy has been out of the window for a very long time. I think everyone in this House recognises the importance of indexing pensions. The indexation of pensions was a significant reform of the early 1970s, a reform which has been especially important during the very difficult economic times we have experienced since then and especially important in framing Budgets in which there is any component of fairness. The notion of freezing pensions or suspending indexation is not new. It occurred, for example, between November 1978 and November 1979. During that period no increase in pensions occurred. During the Opposition's term in office pensions fell in real terms by 2.4 per cent. Perhaps even more seriously, the value of pensions for pensioners and beneficiaries with children fell during the Opposition's term in government by 34 per cent.

In terms of our record, we have sought to redress the inequity of those years. During the period we have been in office there has been an increase in pensions in real terms of 5.7 per cent. For pensioners and beneficiaries with children there has been a real increase of more than 30 per cent. It is interesting to reflect that the views in the document have been canvassed before within the House, particularly with respect to pensions. On that occasion I raised the statement made by the honourable member for Maranoa who had suggested that there was no reason why we should be giving pensioners or anybody else in the community any more money. Apparently that statement caused some concern in the joint Opposition party room-I think, understandably. No doubt some members, and particularly back benchers of the National Party, feel some concern about saying to pensioners prior to an election: `You are going to have to take a chop'. So there was some concern. The honourable member for Richmond, who has been notable for the absence of any clear and firm statement of policy on anything since he has been the shadow spokesman on social security, was apparently told to come out with a statement in relation to the question of indexation. Apparently he was told that only for the purposes of the party room because, as we are all aware, there are enormous divisions between party rooms and divisions within party rooms. Pensions are a very serious subject. The statement was never made by the honourable member for Richmond. It was not made in the Parliament, and it was certainly not made by the Leader of the Opposition, because there is the secret plan, which is essentially a plan of reducing the standard of living--


Mr Blunt —Madam Speaker, I take a point of order. The Minister has said that a certain statement has never been made. I refer him to my statement dated 3 March 1987.


Madam SPEAKER —Order! There is no point of order. It may be a point of explanation, but it is out of order.


Mr HOWE —The honourable member for Richmond has been so quiet as the shadow spokesman that for the most part he is able to do his business by correspondence with country newspapers, rather than out in the open. The honourable member for Maranoa has a degree of honesty; he said he wants to see pensioners squealing like stuck pigs. Indeed, there will be some squealing if these propositions go ahead.


Mr Ian Cameron —I raise a point of order. Madam Speaker, that is not what I said and I ask the Minister to withdraw that statement.


Madam SPEAKER —Order! Would the Minister withdraw the comment?


Mr HOWE —The phrase `squealing like stuck pigs' in relation to cuts was certainly used by the honourable member for Maranoa. I will not withdraw that because it was a quote.


Madam SPEAKER —I did not realise that it was a quote. It is a quote, so it will not be withdrawn.


Mr Ian Cameron —Madam Speaker, I would like to explain that I was referring--


Madam SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member may have the right to make a personal explanation after Question Time.


Mr Ian Cameron —I ask the Minister to withdraw that quote. It is not what I said here in the House.


Madam SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member may ask for leave to make a personal explanation at the correct time.


Mr Ian Cameron —I ask for leave.


Madam SPEAKER —The correct time is after the presentation of papers.


Mr HOWE —While people within the honourable member's electorate will no doubt be extraordinarily concerned about the attack, not only on age pensioners but also on the invalids, widows and unemployed with children, while they are squealing and expressing their legitimate concern, let me say that their friends in the provincial towns and cities, under a conservative government-the Leader of the Opposition will not deny this-will be eating their lunches in restaurants, paid for by the taxpayers, driving around in hire cars paid for by the taxpayers--


Mr Hawke —It will be paid for by the pensioners.


Mr HOWE —As the Prime Minister said, effectively it is the pensioners who will suffer these kinds of cuts, under the coalition, in their standard of living. They will be sitting there while millionaires are getting their pensions and while people in expensive restaurants are eating the food out of their mouths. If I could just paint another picture which flows out of the secret policy we have had revealed today.


Mr Goodluck —I raise a point of order. I take offence at the statement of the Minister `taking the food out of the mouths of the pensioners' because it is not true and he knows it is not true; he is alarming the pensioners.


Madam SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Franklin is quite out of order. The honourable member will resume his seat.


Mr HOWE —The honourable member for Franklin should have the guts to stand up in the party room and stop this kind of stuff that is going on. He deserves all he is getting.


Mr Spender —Madam Speaker, you have allowed the Minister to go on now traversing everything save the question, talking about--


Madam SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member has not point of order. He will resume his seat.


Mr HOWE —I can understand, under the scenario I am painting, that there is the prospect in the honourable member for Maranoa's electorate of women aged 60 going on to unemployment benefit and being work tested, flowing out of this policy. Of course, there will be squealing and concern; so what does the Opposition propose? It proposes to abolish funding for the Australian Council of Social Service, so that organisation cannot lobby on behalf of the people that the Opposition is setting out to attack. I think this Government recognises that these are very difficult times and that people, as the Prime Minister has said, have had to take some reduction in their standard of living; but it is a question of fairness and some kind of decency, and it is a question of who is on the hit list of the Leader of the Opposition. It is not only the honourable member at the back over there who is on his hit list. It is the people of Australia, and in many respects those least able to look after themselves, who will be singled out for the most destructive attacks and cuts by this Opposition.