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Abolition of means test Macquarie Broadcast

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Good evening. Tomorrow night, at 8 o'clock, I shall be making, a speech in the Parliament in reply tci the Budget speech made by Mr. Snedden last Tuesday.

Tonight, I would like to deal with just one aspect of Mr. Snedden1s speech. The Treasurer inserted into his speech a few lines about a.promise to abolish the means test within three years. There are many curious .aspects about this undertaking. The first thing the public should note is that although the promise was made in the Budget speech, it is not itself part of the budget. The Budget makes no provision for it in the coming financial year. What the Treasurer actually said was this and, I quote :

"The abolition of the means test has, of course, considerable financial and social implications. Because of this the Government .proposed, to appoint, a committee of inquiry to examine, and. report on these matters and how the. proposal to abolish the means test may be responsibly framed with particular reference to national superannuation."

. Oddly enough,.Mr. Snedden did not attempt to give any estimate of the cost of abolition. This is rather strange because this very matter - the cost of abolition - has been, a burning argument between the Labor Party and the Liberal Party for nearly two decades. As you probably know, the.Labor Party is committed to the abolition

of the means test. My predecessors.and I have given an undertaking to abolish it at every, general election since 1.95^· Whenever we have proposed it,' the Liberals have. claimed that the natien could not afford it. Moreover, as recently as July, the Treasurer himself

and the Minister for Social Services, Mr. Wentworth, indulged in a public wrangle about the cost of abolishing the means test. The Treasurer maintained that it was impossible, t0-€Lo it, and implied that it was undesirable to do it. Mr. McMahon;was called" in to settle

the feud between his ministerial colleagues and came down on the side of the Treasurer. That was barely a month ago. But lo and behold, we now have this vague uncosted promise obtruded into a speech on the budget. .

The same background of opposition and denunciation applies to the proposal to have a committee of inquiry, into national superannuation. Again you will remember that at the 1969 elections I proposed, on behalf of the, Australian. Labor Party, to establish such an inquiry if we. were elected., We have moved five times, in

the Parliament, for such an inquiry and, five times, every member of the Liberal and Country Parties has voted against it. But it would be churlish, I suppose, to complain. Let’s rather welcome the repentant sinner.

If the Labor Party had been able to implement its program after the 1969 elections, everybody over the age of 69 would now be receiving the pension free of any means, test. Our proposal to complete the abolition of the means test by 1975 was put forward

on the basis of the Government's own figures at that time. In the light of the Government's changed attitude, there seems no reason now to change our original target. A Labor Government will complete the abolition of the means test by 1 9 7 5·

I should point out, that) the abolition of the means test should not be taken in isolation. It is part of a program for reform and for justice in social welfare. A Labor Government will give tbp restoring the value of the pension to one-quarter of average weekly earnings and ensure that it never falls below that level. That’s the value it had under the Chifley Labor Government. 1 don’t believe anybody can argue that Australia cannot

afford today what it was able to afford 25 years ago.

Again, let me welcome ..the .Liberals to the ranks of those who believe that abolition of the means test is a proper, and responsible objective for Australia. And,, may I make this suggestion: during the election campaign when you. hear the Liberals, as I have no doubt you will, denouncing this or that Labor proposal as impractical or beyond the nation's resources, just recall what they said and what

the. Treasurer himself was saying only six weeks ago about Labor's proposal to abolish the means test.