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Tuesday, 11 September 1973
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The increases now proposed represent the second occasion on which the rates of pension have been raised by the Labor Government since it assumed office just over 9 months ago. In December 1972 the standard rate was $20 per week and the combined married rate was $34.50 per week. With the current increases these rates will have been increased by amounts totalling $3 and $6 per week respectively. The comparable amount for widow pensioners without children is even more dramatic. With the current increase, the December rate of $17.25 per week will have been raised by $5.75 per week. Moreover, we have removed the long standing discrimination against widow pensioners without children who were deemed eligible for pension but paid less than widows with children. Honourable members will recall that in March this year the Government adopted the general principle that common needs deserve common rates of benefit. Hence, unemployment and sickness benefits will be increased in line with the proposed pension increases. When the new rates have been paid, unemployment benefits will have been increased by this Government by amounts ranging between $6 and $15.50 per week and sickness benefits by amounts ranging between $3 and $15.50 per week.

The Government is, of course, committed to raising the standard rate pension until it reaches 25 per cent of average weekly male earnings. This is the effect of an undertaking of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) made when he delivered the policy speech of the Australian Labor Party on 13 November 1972. The latest available figures in respect of average weekly earnings are for the June quarter of 1973. Based on these figures, the Government's goal of 25 per cent of average weekly male earnings would be reached if the proposed standard rate were to be increased by a further $3.92 per week The Australian Government is determined to achieve its goal of a standard rate pension of 25 per cent of average weekly male earnings and, if it is necessary, the pension increase for the autumn session will be greater than $1.50 per week.

Unlike previous governments, we will not allow pensioners to suffer adversely from economic movements and we are certainly not going to allow them to bear the cost and disadvantages of tight money economic policies in the unconscionable way so regularly resorted to by previous Australian governments.

Indeed, this is the whole reason why we are pressing to quickly establish the standard rate of pension at 25 per cent of average weekly male earnings, and thereafter by regular adjustments to maintain this ratio.

In 23 years of conservative administration, previous Liberal/Country Party governments were never interested in such an objective. They resolutely eschewed proposals by successive Labor Oppositions, pensioner representative groups, other -responsible and concerned groups and people in the community urging a clear commitment to a formula such as this. They were unmoved that such a step should be undertaken in the interest of preserving social and economic justice for pensioners. I ought to point out at this stage that in the 12 months from the June quarter 1972 to the June quarter 1973 there was an 8.2 per cent increase in the consumer price index, and an 11.4 per cent increase in average weekly earnings, whereas the married rate of pension increased by 17.2 per cent and the standard rate by 17.8 per cent respectively. When the increase now proposed becomes operative, the married rate of pension and standard rate of pension will be $20.25 and $23 a week respectively. In turn this means an increase in pension rates since the June quarter last year of 26.6 per cent and 26 per cent respectively. I ask leave to have incorporated in Hansard the following table showing relative annual movements of average weekly earnings, consumer price index and the standard and married rates of pension.

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