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Tuesday, 29 May 1973
Page: 2737


Mr WILSON (STURT, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I direct my question to the Minister for Social Security. Taking account of the rate at which average weekly earnings are rising, does he consider that the halfyearly pension increases of $1.50 per week will be sufficient to maintain the real value of pensions? Will increases of $1.50 every 6 months ever raise the level of pensions to 25 per cent of average weekly earnings? When will pension increases cease to be dependent on financial and political considerations and, instead, be truly index related? Can pensioners expect pension increases at a rate that will not allow them to become the victims of this year's inflationary spiral?


Mr HAYDEN - One of the interesting performances in the last Parliament but one was that of the honourable member who asked this question. He would make heart-rending speeches about the plight of pensioners and then oppose amendments proposed by the Opposition and aimed at improving the financial and material welfare of pensioners. At least he was keeping a family tradition going. The financial and political implications which he said have in the past determined pension rates ceased to determine pension rates with the advent of the new Government. For the first time ever an Australian Government has given a firm, unswerving commitment to relate pension rates to an index - a much more generous one than the one the previous Government of some 23 years standing suddenly, in a moment of panic, discovered was necessary on the eve of the last election. It was going to tie pension rates to consumer price index movements. We propose to tie pension rates to movements in average weekly earnings and, accordingly, the pension rate will eventually become a much more generous rate of benefit than would ever have been achieved under the previous Government's administration if it had continued.

I indicated when I introduced a Bill earlier this year to increase pension rates quite generously and, indeed, for the first time ever to my knowledge - certainly the first time in the past 23 years - to make payments retrospective, that that had not been done before and in fact had been resisted persistently and with some passion by members of the present Opposition. For instance, the honourable member who asked the question never took the opportunity of proposing in this House by some form of amendment that there should be retrospectivity or even that the pension rate should be more generous than was proposed by the last Government. It must be borne in mind that it was in the series of terms of office of the last Government that the relationship of pension rates to average weekly earnings eroded rather gravely. For instance, I think in the late 1940s, the standard rate of pension was about 26 per cent to 27 per cent of average weekly earnings. During the last Government's term of office it dropped down to about 18 per cent of average weekly earnings. This was a progressive erosion. That is the sort of record behind which members of the Opposition can stand. I would not care to be there with them. It is a mean record. It is unjustifiable.

This Government is keeping the situation constantly under review. If it is necessary to increase to more than the $1.50 the twiceyearly pension increases which we have proposed, that will be done. But the matter is being kept under review. What can be taken by the Australian public as a firm guarantee from this Government is that it will discharge all the pledges in relation to social security benefits, as they are now called, which it made in the last policy statement. In the course of the debate last week I was reminded that in 1968 it was this Opposition, which was then in Government, that said in its Budget Speech that it proposed to introduce pension payments for widowers quite soon. Some 5 years later that still had not been achieved. The last Prime Minister on assuming office said that a complete review of social services, as they were then called, was under way and that the fruits of that review would be forthcoming very soon. They never materialised. The same meanly conceived system was still applying at the time of the change of government. The present Government is taking new directions. The systems of social security benefits and health and welfare services will be vastly improved as the Government explores new horizons for the benefit of the community.







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