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Tuesday, 11 September 1973
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Mr BENNETT (Swan) - At one point during the speech made by the honourable member for Mcpherson (Mr Eric Robinson) I was about to commend him for his rather keen appreciation of the expenditure on cultural activities, tourism, social services and so on, but then he went on to say that the expenditure was far too high. I became a little disappointed because I know that the people in Western Australia appreciate the benefits which they have received in the city areas particularly in regard to sewerage facilities, which were so sadly lacking in my electorate where developers had been allowed to develop without any responsibility in this field. I thought for a moment that it would be pleasing to note that somebody on the Opposition side had a similar viewpoint. However, he was only building up to an argument in relation to an amendment to which we are all opposed.

It is to me a moving experience to be speaking to the first Labor Budget for so many years, for it is not only a budget from a government of which I am a supporter but to me it is a commemorative budget which sets out to bring about many of the social changes which this country has looked forward to for so long. More importantly, as a Western Australian, when I cast my mind back to this time last year I recall that I had to speak in a manner deploring the economic situation of the country, the widespread unemployment in Western Australia which had been caused by the then Government's failure to manage the economy and the human misery that was being caused. Let us not forget that after such a short period. It is pleasing to note that all these problems have now been eliminated by the change in administration. This country is amazed to find a government which is keeping its promises, and perhaps this would be one of the reasons for criticism of it. It is incredible to have people say that we are doing too much too quickly.

We cannot do enough quickly enough because of the terrific vacuum which has been created by the 23 years of maladministration.

In the last Budget debate I spoke not only of the unemployment but of the record number of bankruptcies and companies in voluntary liquidation or in receivers' hands. This situation has been mainly eliminated. I spoke of the excess migration which was crowding into our already overcrowded employment market. That too has been eliminated. As I look around I find that there are few problems left which need to be dealt with to solve the human problems which were looming so greatly at the time of the last Budget. The major one that is left is the question of inflation. With the co-operation of the States and perhaps of the Opposition it may well be that when the next Budget is presented this problem will have been grappled with to bring about a stronger measure of control. But I do not think that anyone in Australia would doubt that if this Government is given the power and the mandate to do something in that field, or any other field for that matter, that it will act. For it has proven in a few short months of office that it is a government of action, not of the promises and inaction which the Australian public has become so used to.

The commencement of the program to abolish finally the means test is something this nation has waited for since 1928. It is something which has caused much politcal campaigning over the last few years - unfortunately done by people who had already retired and who were personally affected by it. There are few who started initially to campaign in this field who have lived to see the day when what they set out to do has at last been achieved. I feel that this is something that we should cast our minds to. It is something over which we should feel deep personal regret. It is an indictment of the politcians of this Parliament that the campaign- was ignored for so long. It is to be hoped that the program can be accelerated so as to eliminate the possibility that the few remaining people who campaigned so vigorously do not pass from this world before seeing the fruits of their efforts to bring the social conscience of Australia to bear on the need for all aged people to receive social justice. I have known many people who spearheaded the action, and it was always my deep regret that they could not see the fruition of the many promises made to them so glibly by poli ticians and political candidates alike. Let this not be another field of always too little too late.

For the first time, the age pensioner has the assurance of a fixed increase in his pension, with a fixed amount in view. No doubt, the amount that has been set by the Government does not comply with the amount which has been outlined in petitions presented to this Parliament by hundreds of thousands of pensioners throughout Australia, namely, 30 per cent of the average weekly wage. The setting of pensioners' incomes needs to be taken away from the Parliament. If the average pensioner is below the poverty line on today's standards, that position should not be tolerated. If inflation continues to erode the very many advantages gained for the pensioner under this Government, there should be an appropriate independent assessment tribunal to set pensioners' wages. I have said for many years that the politics should be taken out of pensions, and I feel that this still applies. This is only my personal feeling; I only hope that the day will come when this will be accepted generally.

It must be dreadful for any worker who has no superannuation scheme and who is accustomed to living on the inflated wages of today to know that he must retire within a week or so and receive and make do on the pitiful amount in relation to his current wages that the pension would represent, even with the generous increases made by this Government. If retirement is not something to look forward to, it will become a dreadful limbo of merely existing. Those sections of the community which must bear further personal charges and increased indirect taxation and be asked to forgo some of their income to assist the pensioner will appreciate that the standards that are being set today are those that will apply to them tomorrow and that their sacrifice today is not only something for the pioneers of our country but also something to which they can look forward when they too become pensioners.

It is in this light that the actions - the overall actions - of this humane, socially orientated Budget must be looked at. It goes so far in the field of pensions, yet it still has a long way to go. This is because there have been heavy commitments to the easing of the means test, to education and to Aborigines. In regard to the easing of the means test, I know that the country people who at this point are enjoying prosperous times and who can survive without the many subsidies will appreciate that, in a large number of cases, the people "who will be assisted by the easing of the means test are the retired country people who have suffered many grave injustices and who very often have been forced to live in circumstances in which they would have preferred not to live, due to the lack of cash income and, no doubt, the so-called book assets. No doubt, this easing of the means test, with the consequent payment of a pension, will make their lives just that much more bearable. It is with this thought in mind, perhaps, that the country people, who are so generous in their nature, will look at that aspect.

No longer will they have to tolerate the thought that for year after year the situation of counry Aboriginal reserves and shanty towns blighting the social scene of their country centres with a deprived Aboriginal community will continue. They know now that some positive action is being taken in this field, that this matter will be looked after for them in a proper and progressive manner and that they in turn will receive in their community the benefits of the improved standards of the Aboriginal section of their community.

Of course, it is to be expected that this Budget or, for that matter, any action of this Government, will not satisfy certain critics within the community because of their political stance or their vested interests. But then, of course, we must remember that these people do not represent the majority of opinion, even though they set out to mould and/ or to pretend to represent that majority. This is particularly so in Western Australia where certain sections of the Press can be expected to be critical with monotonous regularity. In fact, if their editorials were any other way, possibly Labor politicians would wonder where the devil they were going wrong and why they were serving the vested interests and not the community. This is to be expected. (Quorum formed) I appreciate the opportunity to address more people. I regret the lack of Liberals in the House. However, this is normal. It is interesting to note, of course, that when I started to speak of the vested interests of the newspapers it drew some reaction from honourable members opposite. I am pleased to see that at least it has brought them out of their usual inertia.

When I was so rudely interrupted, I was about to say that if one were to waste too much time listening to members of the Oppo- sition in the Western Australia State Parliament, one would wonder whether one's party lacked any State policies or State parliamentary aims, because the number of criticisms levelled at Federal matters and the number of times they talk about Federal matters is beyond comprehension. One often gets the feeling that they have not even read the Bills that they are criticising. I feel, when looking at newspaper comments, that we must have a particularly efficient air mail service to Western Australia which enables the local newspapers to approach leading State Opposition spokesmen in Western Australia who are then able to come out and say - no matter what the Bill is - that it is a disaster for Western Australia and that what the Minister presenting the Bill in the Federal Parliament said was all wrong. Perhaps, having so little to do, they are able to spend their time with their ears glued to the radio; I do not know. But the monotonous regularity of political statements made on Federal matters by people who obviously have not read in full either the statements made in relation to those matters or the content of the Bills, and who are relying only on newspaper reports, gives rise to much amusement on the part of the people who have read both the statements and the Bills in question.

It is little to be wondered at that the public very often is ill informed as a result of this type of misrepresentation, and it is pleasing to see that some provision has been made in the Budget to allow for the proper informing of the public, in a factual manner, of what the Government policies are and how they will affect the public. This may solve the problem that has been brought glaringly to my notice by young people in the community who said that they were in a position where they could believe only one-third of what was in the Press, whereas before the saying was that one believed only half of what one read. It is alarming to think that this attitude can arise in the community, and no doubt it would be to everyone's advantage if factual reporting such as our national newspapers have been able to achieve were to be extended to all sections of the Press.

One section of the community, particularly within Western Australia, which would not appreciate a Labor Budget is the people who are State-righters. One must bear in mind that Western Australia once voted for secession, which never came to fruition. Because of Western Australia's isolation, this feeling - whatever government may be in power - remains today, not so much in the younger generation but in the people who perhaps are in my own age bracket and beyond. When people refer to them as members of a colony they do not look on it as an insult but regard it as a compliment. In fact, we Western Australians are proud to be called Sandgropers We are proud to be Western Australians and we believe that no other State has the wealth of resources to prosper as a nation that Western Australia has. Thus I can understand the angry reaction of the people of the gold fields at the removal of something which they firmly believed they would retain for some time to come, probably because it had been fought for so vigorously by their Federal member, who at that time was a member of the Opposition. They believed that the matter would be carried on indefinitely.

Unfortunately, in the first Labor Budget for many years these benefits have been removed. Personally, I would like to see them reinstated or at least reviewed with a view to their reinstatement or to some early assistance being given. But all people when they have their backs to the wall and are fighting for what they believe to be their future become desperate and united, even if their political views differ. Freedom or the right to work has never come cheaply in any area but these matters are the same as in an industrial situation where the processes of conciliation and arbitration operate. Above all there must be personal contact and discussion to bring about an early settlement to all problems. It is only when a slanging match develops on one side or the other, based on politics, that matters are unresolved.

It is to be hoped that the unity of purpose shared by Western Australian colonists, sand.gropers, or call us what you may - Australians - will result in conciliation at an early date. It is unfortunate that some community dissension should occur as a result of a Budget that was aimed towards assisting the underprivileged, educating the young, healing the sick and sustaining them in their old age, and the housing of the aged and the young. It is a pity that one aspect should affect people in a State in such a way that they should think that action taken in Canberra in the interests of the nation followed an inhumane decision. That was not the intention. It is reassuring to see so many people co-operating to bring about a solution. I support the Budget.

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