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Wednesday, 7 March 1973
Page: 340

Mr WILSON (Sturt) - Mt Deputy Speaker, I join with other honourable members who have taken part in this debate and the debate on the Address-in-Reply in congratulating you and Mr Speaker on your election to the high offices that you now hold. This is not my first speech in this House, although it is the first opportunity I have had to speak in this chamber since the opening of this Parliament. In 1966 1 was elected to this House as the representative of an electorate which, although called Sturt, was substantially different from the electorate which 1 now represent.

I thank the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) for his acknowledgment earlier this week of my presence here. He knows full well that the fact that T am now sitting in this House at all is evidence of a resurgence of Liberal interest and support in South Australia. He will receive further proof of this resurgence next Saturday when he finds that the tide of public opinion is running strongly in favour of many Liberal candidates in South Australia. As- the honourable member for Adelaide knows, Sturt was won against an overall swing to Labor. The Liberal wins in Sturt, Stirling, Forrest and Bendigo should be a constant reminder to the Government of the Liberal Party's determination and capacity to regain the confidence of the people. The honourable member for Adelaide drew attention to the few vacant seats on this side of the House. The number available for Liberal members who will be elected at the next election is so limited that the only solution will be that we will have to move to the side of the House on which the honourable member for Adelaide now sits and he will have to move back here.

My election on 2nd December has given me an exciting and challenging responsibility to fulfil on behalf of the electors of Sturt, whether they voted for me or not. I will do my best to interpret their wishes and aspirations and to give expression to their idealism. I value greatly the opportunities I have had to talk with, rather than merely to talk to, many of the people who live in Sturt. I look forward to a continuation of this 2-way communication. It is important that a member should know the views of those he represents, and it is equally important that they should have some idea of his approach to government. The change in government resulting from the election on 2nd December will arouse increased public concern as to the political philosophies which motivate their politicians. This country has not had a change of government for 23 years. Some have forgotten, whilst others have never had the opportunity !o know, the full significance of such a change. But it involves not merely a change in the administrators but also a change in the let of values by which the administration is conducted.

In the Speech delivered by the GovernorGeneral upon which this Bill is based, for it deals with one of the matters referred to in the Speech, the new Government presented its program. The methods by which we as a people move towards new horizons in any policy area must be critically examined. A socialist government uses methods significantly different from those which would be used by a Liberal government. Because the methods they use are new, their prescription causes the excitement of a new wonder drug. At first it seems to many that it will achieve by a miracle the objective for which all profess to be striving, a better life for all Australians. This Bill is but an illustration of the use of the device of the wonder drug. Previous Liberal governments continuously improved Australia's social security program. Whilst there are still areas where reform is needed, to deny that improvements have been made is an exercise in political partisanship. 1 have for some considerable time supported the concept of index related pensions. It is fashionable to regard the average weekly earnings index as the best index with which to create a nexus. I venture to suggest tonight that there will come a time when we will question the efficacy and the suitability of this nexus. There will come a time when we will question the relationship of the pension to the index.

This Bill is claimed to be a first step to relating the pension to an index. It is a very tentative step, because if we look at the current rate at which average weekly earnings are rising we can be forgiven for estimating that over the next period of 12 months those average weekly earnings are likely to rise to an extent that would require an increase in the pension in excess of 2 instalments of $1.50 per week. 1 acknowledge that the Minister in his second reading speech drew the attention of the House to the Government's concern that it might have to review the question of the rate at which the pension was increased to achieve the target of 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. But one of the great bases upon which the Australian Labor Party put forward this proposal during the election campaign was its desire to have a pension rate 'that will no longer be tied to the financial and political considerations of annual budgets'.

Until the 25 per cent level is achieved the increases in pension rates will continue to be tied to financial and political judgments, yet in the way in which this Bill has been presented, in the way in which the proposals contained in it were referred to in the GovernorGeneral's Speech, there is an attempt at deceit by the Government to create the impression that the goal that it is setting out to achieve has already been achieved. It has not been achieved, and unless the Government makes a realistic assessment of the current rate of increase in average weekly earnings it will not he achieved for a substantially long period of time. In the meantime the Government, which itself claims that pensions are no longer to be determined on the basis of political considerations or of financial considerations, will find that these considerations will continue to influence the determination of the level of pension.

So it is important that the Australian people should understand that the objectives which the Labor Party promised to achieve in its policy speech and in the speech of the Governor-General are a long way yet from achievement. It is important that the people should understand that this is only a tentative step and that in the meantime the future determination of pension rates will depend upon political decisions. The Government is using double talk and the art of camouflage to create an impression that the Bill will achieve a relationship between the pension and an index. It is no closer to the achievement of that relationship than were any of the decisions of the previous Government which continued to increase the real value of the pension. Thus we can see that the pensions are not as yet index-related. Pensions are still subject to political and financial considerations and will be until the 25 per cent level is attained. Unless the Government takes early action in the light of the increasing level of average weekly earnings, pension rates could in fact fall further behind average weekly earnings than they are today as a consequence of the rapid increase in average weekly earnings. Yes, the Government has said that it will keep these matters under consideration, but in keeping them under consideration it has a situation in which the determination of rates of pensions is still contingent on financial and political considerations.

The honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Collard) referred to the back dating of the pension increases. A question that we might well ask is: When does spring begin and when does autumn begin, and when will the future increases take place? Everyone knows that following the election there was a period when there was a great deal of speculation as to the date from which these pension increases would operate. That they operate from the first pension pay day following the election date shows at least that the Government was consistent with some attitudes it had previously expressed, but I would urge it now to show a consistency in the future by letting the public, and particularly those who depend on the. pension, know when the pension increases will take place.

There are many other aspects with regard to the whole field of social welfare to which I would have liked an opportunity to have addressed some remarks, but the ambit of this Bill is limited to the proposals contained in it. Let me say briefly that I continue to support the early abolition of the means test and the introduction of a meaningful national superannuation scheme, but in looking at the establishment of such policies serious consideration must be given to the source of funds. I was concerned to hear speakers on the Government side indicate that they had in mind that contributions would be imposed as a means of collecting revenue to pay pensions. It needs to be pointed out that at the present time pensions are paid out of general revenues, revenues collected through a tax system, which in some areas is admittedly in need of reform to ensure proper equity across the community. Nevertheless one of the bases of the system is to achieve a redistribution of income. Merely to fulfil an election promise not to increase taxes by collecting the necessary income by calling it a contribution is again typical of the double talk that we are becoming accustomed to hearing.

Mr Cohen - How would you introduce national superannuation?

Mr WILSON - I would introduce national superannuation by paying adequate minimum pensions to all out of general revenues, and having an efficient and effective system of income taxation whereby the revenue is fairly collected, and on top of the basic adequate minimum pension I would give encouragement to the establishment of employer-based superannuation schemes with proper ability to integrate the benefits paid through those schemes with the basic pension paid out of the tax revenue. In this way people would be encouraged to save according to their own choice.

Mr Cohen - Is that not a form of taxation?

Mr WILSON - That is not a form of taxation, because by being involved in their employer-based superannuation schemes people would have various options open to them as to the extent to which they wished to provide out of today's income for their future retirement. They would provide benefits according to their own choice. They could be encouraged and rewarded for their efforts in choosing to move for retirement. To simply conceive a national superannuation scheme which involves a massive transfer of the responsibility of payment for present pensions away from the general tax revenue to a fund derived from contributions will impose upon the Australian community a burden which will be greater upon the middle and lower income groups than on the higher income groups. The people will quickly see that they have been misled into a scheme that they thought would provide for them real and genuine benefits when all that would happen, if such a scheme were introduced, would be to change a few names and collect revenue under the guise of contribution when, in fact, it would be taxation.

I applaud the proposal that pensions should be index related but I express concern that the impression is being created that the 25 per cent goal has been achieved and that the relationship sought has been achieved when, in fact, we are a very long way from it. I support the Bill because I believe that the increases to the pensioners are needed and deserved by them in order both to maintain their standard of living and enable them to share in the prosperity of this country.

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