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Wednesday, 24 October 1984
Page: 2301

Senator GIETZELT (Minister for Veterans' Affairs)(11.58) —For several long days and nights the Senate has been debating the Appropriation Bills. That, of course, is part of its obligation and responsibility. However, members of the Opposition parties have, if I can use the vernacular, hogged the debate. They have used the debate for the purposes of electioneering and have used this Senate as a forum for the approaching 1 December election. They have failed in the great majority of cases to address themselves to the appropriation matters that are currently before the Senate and, with one or two exceptions, they have failed to carry out their proper responsibilities in respect of the appropriations.

Yesterday when we were discussing the Senate's responsibilities to deal with the Appropriation Bills and other legislative matters that were before us, we were treated to a great deal of debate, cant and humbug by the Opposition and in particular by the various speakers from the Liberal Party of Australia who suggested that by putting some time limit upon the debate on the Appropriation Bills we were taking from the Senate its time honoured obligation to deal in the Committee stage with those Bills. Every Opposition speaker has taken his or her full half hour and has ranged right across the political issues of the day, instead of being out on the hustings where we should have been since the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) announced the Government's intention that the House of Representatives and the Senate would rise and that we should take our political programs to the Australian people in the proper and traditional way. The few exceptions among Opposition speeches were designed to create in the public's mind the impression that somehow or other this Government was failing in the responsibilities it took on when it was elected in March 1983. I shall canvass just one or two of those questions.

I do not intend to be selfish in this debate by taking up my half hour, which would mean that no time would be spent in the Committee stage. If the debate yesterday had any substance at all and we really are very concerned about asking questions in the Committee stage, the people who have created that problem are the selfish members of the Liberal Party. After all, the Government was elected in 1983 to get growth, to create employment, to solve the housing problems and to lift living standards and it has in its two Budgets embarked on a course of achieving those objectives.

I take umbrage at the statements, particularly by Senator Messner, that this Government is not concerned about the problems of the aged. We have indicated that in the next three years we will spend $30m specifically from the newly- established Office of Aged Care for the purpose of addressing those problems which exist in respect of the aged and frail members of the Australian community . I remind Senator Messner that the problems of the aged did not begin in March 1983. They have been with us for a considerable time and there has been a period of great neglect by the Liberal and National parties to accept their responsibilities in this area. In my portfolio of Veterans' Affairs we have taken specific steps to create employment and to keep aged persons in their own homes and out of institutions, and that has now been taken up by State governments. As a Commonwealth entity we are providing substantial funding for the development of home help and domiciliary-type assistance so that the aged will not be an institutional problem as they were under the Fraser Liberal- National Party Government. We will be creating a much better environment by allowing them to stay in their own homes, given a modicum or a minimum of assistance which will be part of the responsibilities of both the States and the Commonwealth in respect of funding and facilities.

Senator Messner spoke of the assets test. He did not tell the Senate or those who were listening that people who dispose of their homes may have up to $150, 000 before they need have any care, concern or responsibilities in respect of the assets test. There is abundant evidence from my Department, which was able to send out its forms 10 days ago, that there is not the degree of community concern that has been attempted to be whipped up by the Liberal and National parties. In fact, the great majority of the persons receiving forms will not even have to return them. Of course, it must surely be common knowledge within the Australian community that every pensioner has to fill in a form. This is not an unusual event. Even before the Hawke Government came to office, people in receipt of social security payments were required from time to time to fill in forms in respect of their entitlements. So this is nothing new.

In fact, the Government is being very generous in the way in which it has applied the assets test to bring about a redistribution so that it can meet its obligations to raise the living standards of aged persons. Senator Messner's suggestion that hundreds of thousands of people in their eighties will be required to fill in a form in respect of the assets test is attempting to strike fear into the minds and hearts of those people. The overwhelming majority of people who receive social security and service pension payments are in their sixties and seventies. That is why in my ministerial area in the last three years there has been expenditure in excess of $80m on service pensions as World War II veterans have reached the age of 60. No one is going to suggest that people in this age group are not capable of fulfilling their responsibilities and obligations in respect of filling in forms.

Of course, we heard a great deal from Senator Messner about the recent increase in social security payments to invalids. I remind the Senate, of course, of what the previous Government did in respect of payments to invalids. The previous Government introduced a new medical test in the Budget that was presented a couple of years before the Labor Party came to office. Invalid pensioners suffered great distress as a result of being required to undertake another medical test. Many invalids lost their pension because of this reassessment which resulted from actions taken by the Liberal-National Party Government. We have introduced a much more liberal interpretation in respect of an invalid person. I think it is proper that the Government took steps that were much more liberal than those taken hitherto to enable invalids to be eligible for a pension.

There is no doubt that on gaining office the Government had to take steps to create growth because growth not only creates employment but also in the same process creates revenue by way of taxation. The Government, with the support of both the trade union movement and the business community of Australia has acted responsibly in this area. For the first time in the history of this country we have had a prices and incomes accord which enjoys the support of both the business and trade union communities. It is in that environment that this Government in its 1984-85 Budget anticipates increased growth, regeneration of our housing industries and the creation of a quarter of a million jobs. The sum total of all of that economic activity will be the capacity to redistribute wealth by way of the collection of tax to a greater extent than had previously been the case.

I would have expected a much more constructive approach in the Senate to the problems that face this country and, of course, most of the countries of the Western world. Honourable senators opposite talk about this Government's deficit of $6.7 billion when the conservative governments of other countries, including the United States of America, have deficits which pro rata are many times greater than that. So I do not think there is any doubt that the Australian people will recognise that this Government has acted responsibly. We know from experience that the Australian people recognise that we have taken the correct step in regard to the Veterans' Affairs and Social Security assets test and have established a system which is based upon the needs and not the greed of the community.

The Government can expect that the Appropriation Bills will be passed. We thank the Australian Democrats for the assistance they have given us in this respect. They do not deserve the infamous condemnation that was heaped upon them yesterday having regard to the way in which the Liberal and National parties have wasted the time of the Senate. Although it is normal practice for the Senate to sit for an extra week after the House of Representatives rises we have now been sitting for 10 days. This has been a deliberate tactic carried out by both Liberal and National parties. Both sides of the Senate have always before an election adopted the process of declaring Bills to be urgent Bills. Legislation has been declared urgent so that the Senate can fulfil its obligations to deal with the Government's legislation program that obviously enjoys the overwhelming support of the other place. On the basis of that legislative program, the Government will clearly be re-elected on 1 December.