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Thursday, 31 March 1966

Mr HAROLD HOLT - lt is the practice of the Government, when considering the Budget, to make a thorough review of all social welfare policies in force at that time.

Mr Calwell - The same old cliche.

Mr HAROLD HOLT - It happens to be a statement of fact about the growing expenditure on behalf of the people of Australia by this Parliament for social welfare purposes. I think I am correct in saying that in the last year of office of honorable gentlemen opposite the provision was £90 million or $180 million-

Mr Pollard - Answer Yes or No.

Mr HAROLD HOLT - The Government has increased not merely the level of payment but the range of payment for an ever-increasing body of social welfare provisions throughout the period that it has held office, with the result that in the last Budget a provision of $940 million was made for social welfare purposes generally. The group to which the honorable gentleman refers will be included in the review that will be undertaken when the Budget is being considered later this year. lt is a scandalous state of affairs when age and invalid pensioners are so callously neglected by a Government which has failed to maintain a reasonable pension rate to meet the ever increasing prices of essential commodities. The Prime Minister uses the worn out bedtime story that pensions will be reviewed when the Budget is being considered later this year. There is absolutely no impediment in the way of the Government's bringing down a supplementary Budget to increase the pension rates when we resume this sessional period on Tuesday, 19th April. If the combined pension of a married couple had retained the relationship to the basic wage that prevailed on 30th October 1961, when it represented 70.29 per cent, of the basic wage, such a couple would now be receiving a combined pension of $22.75. In other words, the purchasing power of the combined pension has declined by 75c or 7s. Gd. a week over the period in question.

It is noticeable that the Prime Minister compared the amount of social service benefits paid in 1948-49 with the amount provided in the last Budget. This is a ridiculous comparison. In 1948-49 the total Budget amounted to about £500 million or $1,000 million. The £90 million allotted at that time for social services represented about 18 per cent, of the total Budget. The Prime Minister has told us that in the last Budget provision was made for $940 million for social service purposes. If one considers that as a percentage of the total Budget of $5,200 million one sees that it represents about the same proportion as prevailed in 194S-49. There has been absolutely no increase in the effective amount of social service benefits since 1948-49, when considered as a proportion of the total Budget.

Then the Prime Minister again produced the worn out argument that the Government will review the situation when the Budget is being considered later in the year. What happens to these people who, in the meantime, are struggling to exist on the paltry pensions they are being paid? Deeds count more than words. Whenever a question about social services is asked we receive the same stock answer from either the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair) or the Prime Minister that the matter will be reviewed at the end of the year when the Government is preparing the Budget. This is not much solace to the people who are forced to exist on the paltry pension now being paid. I suggest that if the Government is sincere and has any real regard for the welfare of age and Invalid pensioners it should bring down a supplementary Budget when we resume on 19th April so that pensions will be restored to a rate which will give them the purchasing power that they formerly had.

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