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Thursday, 22 November 1973
Page: 3753

Mr TURNER (Bradfield) - I second the amendment. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch) has covered the general field very adequately, and I find myself in powerful agreement with him. It is not necessary to repeat what he has said, and I have no intention of doing so. I shall content myself, in the short time that is available to me, in referring to one matter only in connection with this taxation measure. I refer to the situation of people on low and modest incomes. I believe that inequities arise from the abolition of the age allowance for income tax purposes and the substitution of a $156 rebate, reducing as income increases. I will not vouch for the precise accuracy of my figures, but the effect so far as I can ascertain it is that single persons with a taxable income over about $2,000 will be worse off under the present rebate system than they would have been under the age allowance system that has been abolished. Again, all married persons with taxable incomes up to about $3,800 will be worse off. I may be wrong in detail, but broadly I think I am correct. The abolition of the means test on incomes of persons over 75 years of age will not at any time in the future, if the Labor Government remains in office, be applied to women aged between 60 and 64 years. This will affect many widows, who will in fact be worse off than at present if their incomes exceed $2,000, as I have already said.

I want to speak also about inequities m respect of the fringe benefits available to pensioners. These are numerous and valuable. I have before me the leaflet of these benefits issued by the Department of Social Security. I will not go into detail as to what these fringe benefits are, but I will simply mention them. There is the pensioner medical service. It will be said that soon everybody will be entitled to hospital beds in public wards and to a medical service free of charge, but this is not yet. There are other advantages such as transport concessions. It may be said that these are not granted by the Commonwealth or that if they are granted by the Commonwealth they affect mainly people in the States and these are benefits granted by the States. Pensioners enrolled in the pensioner medical service receive a 50 per cent rebate on water rates.

They receive telephone rental concessions. They receive concessions for ambulance services, television licences, dental services, hearing aid services and optometrical services and also funeral benefits - not much use to them in their lifetime, admittedly - and legal assistance. Generally these fringe benefits are numerous and valuable.

Naturally the value of them will vary from person to person. It is not everybody who necessarily has a telephone; it is not everybody who necessarily needs a hearing aid; it is not everybody who may travel to the same extent as others. But the value of the fringe benefits has been reckoned at between $500 and $1,000 a year. So we are not talking about peanuts. Who gets these benefits? Let me quote a piece of limpid prose read by the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) in what we call a speech. It was a speech on the Social Services Bill (No. 4) made on 11 September this year, as reported on page 756 of Hansard. The Minister said that the means test will continue as regards fringe benefits. He said:

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.

Mr Deputy Speaker,you may have followed every word of that. All I can say is that it is a gem of purest ray serene, so limpid that very few people can understand it. It seems to me at least that a means test dating back to 1967 will continue to be applied to fringe benefits. What it means is that if a person happens to qualify under the test, if one likes to work out what this means, he will receive benefits worth between $500 and $1,000 a year. But if he happens to have $1 beyond what is permitted to qualify under this test, he receives none of that at all. There is no tapered test whatsoever. This is a most extraordinary situation - or perhaps it is not, inasmuch as social services are a jungle through which few people can find their way. But I draw attention to the fact that these inequities exist as between those who are qualified and those who are not qualified, and between those who qualify by $1 and those who miss qualification by $1. It is true, as I said, that under the Government's health scheme all will soon be eligible for free medical and hospital care, if there are enough doctors and enough hospital beds to accommodate them. The pensioners health card in the past has been a kind of passport to all good things. It is the open sesame to a sort of paradise. Time has come perhaps when we should forget about this as kind of open sesame to everything and apply tests that are fitting in respect of each one of these particular benefits, or possibly they should be abolished or consolidated and a tapered means test substituted - a tapered means test that poses-

Dr Gun - Mr Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order. This is a Bill to amend the Income Tax Assessment Act. With all respect to the honourable member for Bradfield, I think he has the wrong Bill.

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