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Thursday, 26 May 1983
Page: 1056

Mr CARLTON(3.53) —We are resuming the second reading debate on the Social Security and Repatriation Legislation Amendment Bill 1983. Its purpose is to reintroduce income tests on pensions of people over 70 years of age. The legislation will affect some 220,000 elderly people in their seventies, eighties , nineties or more. Of these 220,000 people, some 6,000 will have service pensions and they will be affected by this legislation. I refer to those people who currently enjoy income test-free age and service pensions. At the moment 220 ,000 people will come into the net of this legislation. In 1983-84 the amount taken from those elderly people will be $167m, so we are talking about a fairly large sum of money and therefore about something of great seriousness to our elderly citizens.

Mr Ruddock —Which old people are these?

Mr CARLTON —I say to the honourable member for Dundas that these old people are over 70 and currently enjoy a smallish old age pension free of a means test. Prior to the election the Government and the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) said that they would not touch or change these pensions. But, as we have come to expect with this Government, it has broken its promise to these elderly people and from November will impose a means test on those 220,000 people.

This morning at Question Time we had an indication of the Prime Minister's philosophy on election promises. He was asked about a list of some 15 or so promises that had clearly been broken since the election. He indicated basically that promises were things that came out during election campaigns. They were all subject to what the Australian Labor Party found when it got into office. In keeping with his no doubt high expectations, he came in to office but found that he did not have the wherewithal, once he won office on the basis of those promises, to meet them. Therefore they became inoperative. This is one aspect of what the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) has termed Hawkespeak. Hawkespeak is the form of address used by the Prime Minister when he is making firm and honest commitments. They are commitments made by a person of integrity, as opposed to the kind of commitments made by people on the other side of the House -namley, us. We are always lying and deceitful. If promises are made by the master of Hawkespeak, they are promises which are perfectly honourable and absolutely intended right up the point at which they are to be delivered, at which time there is some profound excuse as to why they are inoperative.

Mr Steele Hall —They have an inbuilt deniability.

Mr CARLTON —They have an inbuilt deniability, as my friend the honourable member for Boothby quite rightly says. In principle the Opposition does not oppose this measure because we believe in giving support to those most in need. Therefore, we are not in principle opposed to the income testing of age pensions. What we are concerned about is that elderly people-who are those least able to change their circumstances-perhaps because of illness or just increasing debility through age and certainly an incapacity to change their earning circumstances will be frightened by any material change of this kind forced upon them. It certainly would have been a much more humane approach to apply this measure to those who turn 70 years of age from the day of the announcement. That might have been a way of doing it which would not have disturbed the individual arrangements of a number of people who are really quite elderly. In fact, many of them would be relying on arrangements set up over a long period for their accommodation either at home, in rental accommodation or in nursing homes for which a supplement might have to be paid in order for them to stay there.

A large proportion of these 220,000 people would be well into their eighties- some of them into their nineties-and would be affected by inflation. Presumably, they would have discussed with their relatives at earlier times the kinds of financial arrangements they hoped would provide them with reasonable security in their old age. My belief is that in looking for ways and means of reducing public expenditure and directing assistance to those who are in most need the Government might have considered the particular plight of these elderly people, many of whom are frail aged, and said that the measures would not apply almost retrospectively, as it were, but would apply to those who turn the age of 70 years after the date of announcement. The Opposition certainly believes that that would have been a more civilised thing to do.

These people, when listening to the policy speech of the Prime Minister would have felt quite secure with the financial arrangements that they had set up. They would have relied on his assurance that he had no intention of disturbing our oldest citizens. However, following the statement of the Treasurer (Mr Keating) last week their lives are sorely affected. Many of them will be in a state of considerable anxiety. Some will be able to speak with relatives and friends; others will be in much more lonely circumstances and no doubt as November approaches many will be in great distress. If that is the case, that will be one of the unfortunate consequences of the continuing march of this Government's in breaking its promises.

These elderly people will join those who are in a situation of great uncertainty over their superannuation arrangements. Because of the new arrangements for the taxing of lump sum superannuation payments, partly announced by the Treasurer last week, nobody knows exactly what arrangements will apply in their old age. That uncertainty is just another aspect of what has happened and, of course, it is another example of a promise clearly given in the election campaign, clearly repeated during the National Economic Summit Conference, clearly made in private meetings with members of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and equally clearly broken last Thursday night.

Whilst the Opposition does not oppose the principle of this measure-it will not vote against the second reading of the Bill-it draws attention to its sudden death nature. The Opposition would have wished to have it phased in by applying it to those who turn 70 years of age after the date of announcement. That would have been effective over a reasonable period and it would have been worth the difference in money recouped to provide those elderly citizens with the peace of mind which I believe they have earned-particularly those getting into greater old age, the frail and the sick. Therefore I move an amendment to the motion that the Bill be read a second time, as follows:

That all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

'whilst not declining to give the Bill a second reading, the House is of the opinion that it disadvantages one of the most vulnerable sections of our community and fails to address the vital question of equity for all social security beneficiaries'.

This measure is one of the ad hoc shopping list arrangements of the Treasurer's economic statement. It does seem that such a shopping list-one might even call it a laundry list-has been prepared by a committee of the Cabinet without proper discussions with all Ministers. I believe that Ministers were present for only short periods of the examination of this legislation, and the committee picked items off the shopping list without considering their full consequences. The whole of the Treasurer's statement reads like that-there is a bit from here and a bit from there.

Some of the measures, such as that which affects the livelihood of very old citizens, have been taken without regard to the general picture of superannuation arrangements, pensions, housing support and the various other social security measures which really ought to be considered as a consistent and total framework. But the Government has decided not to do that. It decided to rush in, in an unfortunate fashion, in the same way that it has rushed into the question of lump sum superannuation payments. Perhaps the income test affects more citizens than the Government realised. The fact that in November some 220, 000 of our oldest citizens will be in a state of distress and difficulty because of this measure is something which did not occur to the cost cutters of the Cabinet committee. Of course the measure was subsequently endorsed by the full Cabinet with the full approval of the Prime Minister, who in only February of this year so solemnly promised not to do this very thing.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) —Is the amendment seconded?

Mr Steele Hall —I second the amendment.