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Monday, 20 May 1957

Mr THOMPSON (Port Adelaide) . - I regret very much that the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) in his remarks departed so far from fairness as to talk about literacy and illiteracy. I do not think the Minister should have done that.

Mr Whitlam Mr. Whitlaminterjecting.

Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member for Werriwa must remain silent. I shall not warn him again.

Mr THOMPSON - I would say that when it comes to a question of literacy, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, you will find there is equality on both sides of the House, because we have on this side men of as high intellect and just as well read as honorable members on the other side of the House. However, I do not desire to continue with that matter. I tell the Minister that we did not put this proposal before the House for discussion in order to make any comparison with what a Labour Government may have done eight or ten years ago. What the Opposition has done has been to bring before the House, as a matter of urgency, the pensions that people are receiving to-day. It is not a matter that has come from the ranks of the Labour party alone. I have received letters " galore " from pensioners' associations, imploring me to do everything possible to get an increase for their members, who are going through such a difficult time. We have had representations also from the highest dignitories of the various churches, pointing out the terrible plight that many pensioners are in to-day.

The Minister for Social Services has said that the amount paid in social services benefits has risen from £80,000,000 in 1949 to £227,000,000 in 1957. If one took into consideration the value of money to-day, one would find that no more could be purchased with the increased amount given to pensioners now than could be purchased with the smaller amount in 1949. Apart from that, a declaration has just been made by the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission to the effect that it is the duty of industry in this country to pay to the workers what the country can afford. I contend that it is the duty of the government of the day to pay as much as it can afford to those who are in receipt of pensions. The increase from £80,000,000 to £227,000,000, which was mentioned by the Minister, is almost a three-fold increase, but the increase of the pension from £2 2s. 6d. a week in 1949 to £4 a week in 1957 is not even a two-fold increase. If the weekly amount paid to the pensioner had been increased to nearly three times £2 2s. 6d., I doubt whether members of the Opposition would be arguing this matter to-day.

Mr Roberton - Three times the taxation would be required to pay three times the pension.

Mr THOMPSON - I agree that the extra money necessary would have to be raised by way of taxation, but when we find the Government saying that it can apply £100,000,000 of taxation revenue to enable State public works to proceed in all States of the Commonwealth - not Commonwealth works - I say that we can afford to pay extra taxes in order to give something more to those on the bottom rung of the economic ladder. It is all very well for the Government to talk about what it has done in making increases. The Minister has rightly stated that the permissible income has been increased, but he has not said that approximately 70 per cent, of those receiving pensions have no other income. Any increase of the permissible income does not help those people at all. A similar position applies in regard to the increase of the value of property owned. I admit that I have been arguing through the years for increases of permissible income and of the value of property permitted to be owned, but those increases do not help the 70 per cent, of the pensioners to whom I have referred. Many of these people do not know how to get along on the pension of £4 a week. I agree that since this Government has been in office it has brought in the pensioners' medical benefits scheme, which is good for the pensioner. I do not dispute that. I agree that the Government has brought in the allowance of 10s. a week for children, other than the first child, of A-class widows and invalid pensioners. But the great majority of pensioners are people who have no children. The great majority of them are elderly people who depend absolutely on what they can get in the way of a pension.

Last year, when the Minister went to Adelaide, a deputation representing the pensioners waited on him. It was just before the budget was presented to the Parliament. He told the deputation that the matter of pensions had been settled. I agree that the Minister can spend on pensions only what the Government or the Treasurer allocates for that purpose. He told this deputation that the rate of pensions had been dealt with and that it was too late to make any alteration. I had people coming to me - deputations from pensioners' associations - asking me to push the matter in the House so that they could get higher pensions. Even after the budget was introduced, people came to me, saying, " Can't you persuade the Government to give us something more? ". My answer to them was, " It is too late to do anything now. The budget is framed, taxation proposals are framed, everything is settled and the Government will not make any alterations ". That would have been the position no matter what government was in office. A government must have time to decide what it will spend, where it will get the money and what it will spend it on. As a result of last year's experience, the Opposition decided that before the budget was drawn up and presented to Parliament, it would raise the matter in the House. We felt that that would be better than waiting until after the budget had been presented and then moving an amendment, as I moved an amendment last year, seeking an increase in the pension rate. I knew when I moved my amendment last year that there was no hope of getting an increase. This year we have decided to raise this matter months before the budget is prepared and argue the case now in an effort to influence the Minister to move for an increase in the rate of pensions.

The Minister interjected to say that extra taxation would be needed to meet an increase in pensions. I tell the Minister that members on this side of the House are quite prepared to support any move for additional taxation to be levied if that is necessary to give the pensioners enough to live on. I am quite prepared, as are the other members of my party, to move in that direction. If the Minister is worried about levying more taxation to give these people a higher pension, he may accept our assurance that we will support him in such a move. I have addressed big meetings of workers and pointed out to them that if they want to do away with the means test and to have higher pensions, they will have to pay more in income taxation. Their reply has been that they are quite prepared to do that if they can have an assurance of security when they are too old to work. They do not mind paying a bit extra so that they will be able to have security when they come towards the end of life's journey. What members of the Opposition are trying to emphasize to-day is that no matter what was paid in 1949, we can argue that the value of that amount was much greater than the value of the £4 paid to-day. But I do not want to base my case on comparisons of that kind. What I want to ask the Government is: Are we paying enough to the pensioners to give them a reasonable standard of living, in view of the economic condition of the country? Are we doing enough? I say very definitely to the Government that we are not. Pensioner couples to whom the increase in permissible income applies can earn £7 a week in addition to their full pension. I am not worried about them, because I know that they can get along - even though not as well as they did previously. I am concerned most with the 70 per cent, of the pensioners who have no income other than the pension and who cannot possibly exist on the present pension.


Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

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