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Tuesday, 11 September 1984
Page: 770

Senator COLSTON —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Treasurer. Has the Minister's attention been drawn to criticism of the Government because of alleged disregard in the Budget for persons on low incomes ? Is this criticism justified and, if not, can the Minister inform the Senate of some ways in which the Budget will benefit people on low incomes?

Senator WALSH —I did see some reference in the Press to a perception, or I should say a misperception, that pensioners have been badly treated in the Budget or that many people believe pensioners have not been helped much by the Budget, and that may extend to low income groups. One needs to remember that pensioners are not necessarily at this stage people who are needy in any real sense of the word . Although a great number of them are, that is not necessarily the case because of actions taken by the previous Government. The corollary of that, of course, is that those who really are needy have been disadvantaged because of that change which the previous Government made. This Government is in the process of reversing that decision by the former Government.

The perception of a low income is itself a variable. If one takes $12,500 for an employed person as a low income, that person's tax rate will be reduced from 30c to 25c in the dollar. That represents a tax reduction of almost 17 per cent for everybody on less than $240 a week. The unemployment benefit will be increased by $2.50 a week for single unemployed people and by $4.20 a week for couples, with a further increase of $2 a week in May next year for single adults without dependants. Those increases are in addition to the usual indexation arrangements which maintain the real value of the unemployment benefit and pensions. The general rate of pension was increased by slightly more than the indexation figure, adjusted for Medicare. In addition, and most importantly I believe, pensioners who pay rent will get a 50 per cent increase in supplementary rental assistance. Pensioners with children will receive substantial increases in assistance for children.

I will go through briefly the entire list of social security beneficiaries and the increases in money terms. Admittedly, since this Government came into office , the standard pension and the unemployment benefit have been increased by 19 per cent. The single adult unemployment benefit-that is for an unemployed adult without dependants-has been increased by almost 26 per cent. The junior rate has been increased by 25 per cent. The mothers or guardians allowance-this is a group which has been particularly needy in the past-has been increased by 67 per cent. Supplementary rental assistance has been increased by 50 per cent and the family income supplement by 40 per cent. It is the policy of this Government that increases in social security expenditure will be concentrated on the areas of real need or of greatest need. Those areas of greatest need were identified, I think very effectively, by the Minister for Social Security, accepted by the Government and acted upon accordingly in the Budget.