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Wednesday, 13 May 1970

Mr BONNETT (Herbert) - I rise on a matter which, to me, is of extreme importance and in which I have spoken many times before in this House, namely, the age pension. I have been reared in a hard school and I reckon I have seen my share of hardship and suffering. In the normal course of living such experience should probably harden a person's feelings towards the distress of others, but I find that J. am unable to disregard the enforced conditions in which so many of our older citizens exist. These people are fellow Australians. They are as much Australians as is every member of this House, and the aged persons in the category I speak of tonight are probably more entitled to be called good Australians than many of us.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well being of himself and ot his family, and the right to security in the event of old age and other circumstances beyond his control. I submit that the event of growing old is most certainly beyond anyone's control. Why then should so many of our elderly citizens be discarded because age has dictated that their useful productive life has finished? Why should they be forced to exist under conditions which they would never have tolerated in their earlier years when they had the strength and the physical ability to battle circumstances? The elderly people I speak of are mainly those who reared their families during the depression years; who, because of circumstances beyond their control, fought every inch of the way for years in order to feed, clothe and educate their children in a world that at that time was sick with poverty; who, many times denied themselves food so that their children could eat: who would have given anything within their power to have owned their own homes; and who worked 44, 48 and more hours a week at their jobs to earn a meagre living - and when I say worked, I mean worked, not just filled in the hours, because at that time there were 6 men ready to fill 4 men's jobs.

I know many men who displayed exceptional courage during World War II, but I know many more men and women who displayed even greater courage during the depression years; for their type of courage was both physical and moral, and the odds against them were consistently present. These are the people I mean when I talk of age pensioners. The society in which we live today has been classified as an affluent society. There is work for everyone who can work. Our development as a nation is expanding as never before, and will continue to expand. When we talk of our economy we express it in thousands of millions of dollars. All this is good and full credit should be given to the Government for reaching this desirable state, but what of the old timers who helped up reach this situation? In my opinion if their efforts during their working lives had not been productive we could not have made it as we have done at present.

This thought leads me to express my contempt for those people of a younger generation who classify the age pensioners as a drag on the community, a bunch of nohopers and damned old nuisances. I have heard these expressions uttered. Others airily dodge the pension problem by suggesting that these people should all be put in homes. For some people it is easy to forget that if it was not for the work done by the older generation they would not be enjoying the life they lead today. In case they have not thought of it, I remind them that one day they, too, will be old people.

Another problem associated with the age pension which 1 fail to understand is the situation that exists where a man has married a lass some 6 to 10 years younger than himself. When he reaches the pensionable age of 65 years his wife has not reached her pensionable age of 60 and consequently we find them trying to live on his pension pki* his wife's allowance. Some 12 months ago when I mentioned this to an officer of the Department of Social Services he said that there was nothing to stop the wife from working. This was an answer that I did not appreciate because it does not take much thought to realise that there would be very few people who would employ a woman in her late fifties even if she were capable of working after devoting most of her life to rearing a family. I feel that there is a definite need to have a look at this situation also. 1 have watched age pesioners in my electorate, prior to my coming to this House and during my term here, working out their budgets, in some instances I have assisted them with this task. Honourable members can believe me when I say that after such a task I was not the happiest of men. In fact, it is an extremely depressing business. I make this request: Let us take politics out of the age pension problem. Let us allot the pensioners an amount that is real and reasonable and do away with the handout we give them each Budget - a sum, which in the final analysis, amounts to something nothing. The care of our aged people is a government responsibility and the present Government is to be commended for the assistance it has provided so far - assistance such as medical service and free medicine, cuts in television and radio licence fees and telephone accounts, reduced fares on pub'ic transport and the easing of the means test.

Mr Webb - Why are you so worried? Your Government is responsible.

Mr BONNETT - I ask the honourable member to listen. When one realises that about 70% of our pensioners rely completely on the pension they receive, which is $15 to $17 a week, one must realise that few of these people would have television sets or telephones or would bc capable of travelling very much. The subsidy granted by the Government for Meals on Wheels is also of valuable assistance, but there is a limit to what Meals on Wheels can do for aged people. I believe that in assessing these problems we have started at the wrong end. I was solidly behind the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) when he said that his concern was for the aged and the needy, for this is as it should be. I am hopeful that the Government will go down in history as the government which recognised and gave justice to its elderly citizens who contributed so much to the affluent society we now enjoy.

These aged people do not need much. All I ask for them is enough to live out their lives with dignity; enough to ensure that they can afford 3 meals a day; enough to know that they can meet their rent or rates without depriving themselves of food or clothes to do so; and enough so that they can maintain their self respect and independence. I ask that in the next Budget we share with them the prosperity of this nation which they have helped to create.

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