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Monday, 20 May 1957

Mr WILSON (Sturt) .- The honorable member for Watson (Mr. Cope) in opening this debate, suggested that the question of social services should be above party politics. With that sentiment every member of the House agrees. It was unfortu nate, therefore, that in the latter part of the honorable member's speech he dragged the debate down to the level of party politics. Social services legislation should be based upon the principle that pensions should be the highest that the economy of the country can stand. I personally believe that pensions and other social services should be payable as a right - as a result of contributions - as they are in many of the most progressive countries of the world. At present almost all our social services are based upon need. If need is to be the basis, we must first examine the position and ascertain from what source the social services are to be paid. That necessarily brings the answer that all social services must come out of tax revenue. Therefore, in deciding the highest amount that a country can pay, we must examine the highest amount of taxation for the purpose of social services that the economy can stand. Secondly, we must ask, " Should persons on a lower range of income be taxed more so as to give social services to persons already on a higher range than their own? "

At present it is possible for married persons to receive, in income and age pension, a total of £15 a week. Would it be just to tax a married man on the basic wage of £12 16s. a week so as to enable an aged couple who now receive £15 a week to receive more? I suggest that we ought not to dismiss this problem of social services by simply saying that the rate of pension should be raised. Just as we can say that it would be unjust to tax a man on the basic wage so that an aged couple could receive more than £15 a week, we can say that a single person, or a widow, paying about £2 a week rent cannot reasonably be expected to live on the remaining £2.

Therefore, when looking at this question of social services, we must realize that if we are to do justice to the community - and that, I believe, should be the aim of all of us - we must examine it much more closely than simply on the basis of the quantum of the pension concerned. Modern thought is tending to the view that, insofar as we base a social service upon need, needs must be examined individually rather than as a group. Therefore, I think that in our future approach to this problem we must ascertain the maximum amount that the economy of the country can stand, then decide the division of that amount between the various social services in operation. For example, we have to consider the problem of the aged through the medium of the various benefits provided for the aged. We have to consider the problem of the young through child endowment and matters of that nature. Having decided the maximum amount that the economy of the country can stand, we have to segregate the various classes of social services offering in this country at the present time. Having achieved that division, we must decide which group of persons we are aiming to help, and decide how we can help the maximum number to the greatest extent possible.

If we look at the problem of the aged, I think we can agree that some of them are at present having a most dreadful struggle. But others, who are in receipt of a pension, have their own home, furniture and motor car and, with superanuation, receive a total income of £15 a week. They are able to manage quite comfortably. Those who are paying rent are undergoing a great struggle, and we must examine how we can best help those who are really in need. The Government has made a tremendous advance in this direction. For example, it has provided free medical attention and free medicine for all aged pensioners. This has been far more beneficial than would have been the provision of monetary payments. In addition, under the Aged Persons' Homes Act the Government has been able to give accommodation to elderly people who hitherto have been living in almost slum conditions, or at a low standard. They are now able to live in reasonable comfort in magnificent homes for a very reasonable charge. One of the ways in which we can best help the aged is by providing accommodation to a much greater degree than we have done so far.

As to the quantum of the pension, two main principles will have to be adopted. First, we must get the whole community to realize that old age, sickness and widowhood are all contingencies of life which must be provided for. Therefore, in our younger years we should be prepared to make a contribution so that in later years we will all have real age security. In addition, we must appreciate that the total fund that is payable for social services must be so allocated as to remove want from every section of the community. It is very loose thinking simply to advocate an increased pension not only for those who are in dire need and distress but also for those who, compared with many of their fellow men, are really not in need at the present time. I suggest that this matter is so important that it should be examined by members from both sides of this House on the basis that I think is acceptable to all, namely, that social services should be the highest that the economy of the country can stand. Secondly, it should be examined on the basis of the allocation of the available moneys between the various classes of social services, according to need.

Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

Mr. MINOGUE(West Sydney [4.4].- Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker-

Motion (by Mr. Cramer) put -

That the business of the day be called on.

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