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Tuesday, 11 September 1973
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I mentioned earlier that this Bill confirms the Government's desire to see an entirely new aproach to the question of cash payments. Confirmation lies in the fact that this Bill takes the first step towards abolishing the means test on aged pensioner eligibility for people aged 65 or more. Complete abolition will be achieved within the life of this Parliament. When the scheme is fully implemented and backed with national superannuation, national compensation, universal health insurance and a system of guaranteed income Australia will have one of the best systems of social security in the world. Indeed I would go further and say that Australia will then be a world leader in this field. We will restore Australia to its proper position as a great and successful social laboratory, a leader and trend setter in the field of social welfare - a position it rightfully held 50 years ago.

Abolition of the means test on age pensions for people 75 years of age or more will have immediate beneficial effects for a great many elderly people throughout the community. Immediate benefit will be felt by those now receiving age pensions at reduced rates. A great many others whose means presently exclude them from any pension entitlement will also benefit. The number of people in each group is estimated to be 34,000 and 31,000 respectively. The cost, including extension of free of means test service pensions for ex-servicemen and women, is estimated to be $40m in 1973-74. I think it fair to make the comment at this stage that in the first year of the new Australian Government the first positive step towards the elimination of the means test has been taken. Liberal-Country Party governments made promises on this for most of the 23 years they were in charge of the affairs of this country but produced nothing.

They were the governments, remember, which consistently from the mid- 1940s promised a national insurance scheme but never did anything about achieving such a scheme in the long period in which they were in office. Indeed, it is worthy to recollect that their first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, was a man who resigned from the Lyons Government in 1939 because the national insurance legislation enacted by that Government, which would have included a national superannuation type scheme, was not proceeded with. In spite of this dramatised demonstration of principle, Sir Robert Menzies, as Prime Minister of this country for 16 years, never introduced a national superannuation scheme. Our promises will be fulfilled. We currently have an inquiry into national superannuation under way. We will respond to the findings of that inquiry by introducing a national superannuation scheme. In the meantime, as I said earlier, we will abolish the means test. I repeat that this Bill represents the first step towards achieving that objective.

This Bill allows for a period of 3 months grace - that is, up to 31 December 1973 - during which, if an age pension is claimed by a person who qualifies solely as a result of abolition of the means test, payment may be backdated to the first pension pay day after the Bill receives royal assent. However, an important point to remember is that free-of-means-test pensions will be available only to people who satisfy the normal residence requirement for age pension eligibility. A period of 10 years residence in Australia at any time is required. This period is reduced where a person has lived in Australia for periods aggregating more than 10 years and has had a period of continuous residence of not less than 5 years. The guardian's allowance and additional payments for children will continue to be subject to the means test, as will the wife's pension." Supplementary assistance will also remain payable subject to the existing supplementary assistance means test.

A word about Australian Government fringe' benefits - that is, the pensioner medical service, funeral benefits and rebates on telephones, radio and television. These benefits are available only to people who would qualify for a pension under the 1967 means test. The Government has decided that the 1967 means test will continue to apply for 'fringe' benefit eligibility but that the pension increases to be paid in the autumn of 1974 will not extend benefits to people whose means are outside the new limits now proposed. The pension increases provided in this Bill will lift the disqualifying limits of means as assessed for 'fringe' benefit eligibility by $1.50 a week to $33 a week for single' pensioners and $3 a week to $57.50 a week for pensioner couples. What this means is that a married couple may have a combined income of up to $86.50 a week, including pension, and a single person a combined income of up to $49.50 a week, including pension, before eligibility for fringe benefits ceases. There are many people in the community, such as young marrieds with families to support, homes to establish and pay off and a future to be made, who have less income than this but are denied such benefits. This raises questions of equity. We will give special consideration to the needs of all people, through programs supported by the Australian assistance plan and programs to be developed following on the findings of the Henderson poverty inquiry, which, of course, will provide useful guidelines for us here.

At this point I should mention that, because increases in the basic rates of pension have the effect of raising the limits of income and property at which pensions cease to be payable, many people who do not qualify for a free-of-means-test pension will, nevertheless, qualify for either an age, invalid or widow's pension for the first time. As a result of the increases now proposed a single person without property affecting his pension will retain some pension entitlement until his income reaches $66 a week. A single pensioner without other income will be eligible to receive some pension until the value of his non-exempt property reaches $34,720. For a married couple, the equivalent limits of income and property will be $115.50 a week and $60,880 respectively. A widow with one child and no property affecting will now be able to receive income of up to $90 a week before losing her entitlement to widow's pension, or up to $94 if her child is under 6 years of age or an invalid child requiring full-time care. If she has no income affecting, a widow with one child may have property to the value of $40,480, or $42,560 if her child is under 6 or is an invalid requiring full-time care, before her entitlement to widow's pension is extinguished.

I have already mentioned the 2 new benefits called transitional benefit for the aged blind and double orphan's pension which are proposed in this Bill. The transitional benefit is designed to alleviate any financial detriment which blind persons of pensionable age might experience when their pensions become taxable. The benefit will be payable at the rate of $3 per week and it will supplement age and invalid pensions to permanently blind persons who have attained 65 years of age in the case of men and 60 for women. It is proposed that the new double orphan's pension of $10 per week will be paid to the guardian of a child both of whose parents are deceased. It will also be paid to the guardian of a child, one of whose parents is deceased, if the whereabouts of the other parent is unknown.

Double orphan's pension removes an area of human neglect that should not have been allowed to continue. It is incredible and inexcusable that this anomaly should have been tolerated for so long by past governments. Imagine the grave social distress and severe disadvantage that has been caused to thousands of unfortunate and innocent children over the years because of these injustices. Let me give one illustration of the intolerable nature of this injustice. Children of a widow receiving a widow's pension would attract a mother's allowance and additional pension for children. If the mother were to die, all pension entitlement from the Australian Government, until this Government accepted its responsibilities with this legislation, ended. Previous governments washed their hands of all responsibility. I am pleased that this important reform has been achieved as one of our earliest actions.

The new pension will not be paid in respect of an adopted child if both adoptive parents are still alive. However, a benefit will be payable to the guardian of a child if both adoptive parents are deceased or if one is deceased and the whereabouts of the other parent are unknown. There will be no means test. However, double orphan's pension will not be paid if the child attracts a war orphan's pension payable under the Repatriation Act.

The conditions for payment, generally, will be broadly along the lines of those applying to child endowment. Payment will be made in respect of orphans who are under 16 years of age or who are full-time students aged 16 to 21. My Department will make payment by the same method and at the same time as child endowment. In most cases the new pension will supplement child endowment.

In turning to the rehabilitation aspects of the Bill I should first say that the decision to remove the time limit of 3 years on rehabilitation treatment and training is a practical and overdue move. It is designed to meet the needs of a small number of disabled people who, because of the severity of their disabilities, or their need for specialised training, are unable to return to suitable employment within 3 years and consequently do not, at present, qualify for acceptance. Greater use is now being made of tertiary training at universities and colleges of advanced education as a means of giving handicapped people vocational or professional skill that will ensure for them a suitable and satisfying career. Some of these courses are of 3 or more years' duration and it is not unusual for training to be preceded by a period of treatment in a rehabilitation centre.

Provision is also made to increase the rate of rehabilitation training allowance from $4 to $8 per week to persons undergoing fulltime training; and to pay $4 per week to parttime trainees. The rates of livingawayfromhome allowance, payable to persons undergoing training, have been amended so that the married trainee will receive $16 per week instead of $8 per week. The new rate will also be paid to persons with the care, custody and control of children. All other trainees will have their rates doubled from $5 to $10 per week. When a handicapped person has been away from employment for many months it is natural for him to want to go back to work as soon as possible after medical treatment is concluded. This is a very good thing where the person's residual disability permits him to return to his former job. Frequently, however, it is in the handicapped person's interest, or sometimes a matter of necessity, for him to be trained for a different type of work.

Widow trainees, too, may need to be encouraged to train for a career that will afford them long-term satisfaction rather than turn to unskilled or casual employment.

It is not easy for an adult to adjust to training for a new vocation and it may involve a temporary financial sacrifice, especially if there are dependants to look after. The higher rates of training and living away from home allowances are intended to make it easier for handicapped persons and widows to enrol in training courses, and to encourage them to opt for the long term advantages that training will provide. Pension increases proposed in this Bill will also flow to persons receiving rehabilitation allowances. These allowances are paid in addition to the training allowance and living away from home allowance. Sheltered employment allowances will also be increased in line with pensions.

Mr Speaker,I would now like to give the House further details of the costs involved. The expenditure on cash benefits for 1973-74, other than that resulting from the provisions in this Bill, is estimated to rise by some $200m over the expenditure for 1972-73. This is partly due to the natural increase in the number of pensioners but mainly due to the full year cost of the significant increases granted after the Government assumed office, and the introduction of the new supporting mother's benefit. The cost of the proposed increases in cash benefits and abolition of the means test for residentiary qualified persons aged 75 years or more is estimated to add an extra $141m to expenditure which would otherwise have been incurred in 1973-74 on benefits payable under the Social Services Act. This will bring estimated expenditure in 1973-74 on benefits payable under that Act to $ 1,874m.

In accordance with the usual practice, it is proposed that the pension increases provided under this Bill will operate from and including the pay days following royal assent. The increases in unemployment and sickness benefits will, as usual, operate in respect of the benefit week ending on the date of royal assent and each benefit week thereafter. Mr Speaker, I commend this Bill to the House.

Mr Chipp - Will the Minister make available a breakdown of the costs to which he referred at the end of his speech?

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