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Tuesday, 26 August 1980
Page: 741

Dr JENKINS (Scullin) - Mr Deputy Speaker,I suppose it is something of an anticlimax to have to speak this evening in the debate on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 1980-81, particularly following the speech of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden). The effectiveness of that speech can be judged by the fact that he dragged in the Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair) to follow him. Historically, I am sure that the speech of the Leader of the Opposition tonight will be recognised as the springboard upon which he launched the campaign to return to the other side of the House. His speech included competent criticism of the Government's program over the last five years, and it gave an indication of the temperate thinking which could be applied to return confidence to the ordinary individuals in the community. The Leader of the House gave what seemed to me to be a quaintly historical response. I wonder how much longer he really believes comments in regard to the 1972 to 1975 period will be accepted. I wonder how long he believes the mouthing of the anti-socialist, shibboleths, which were so effective from 1955 onwards, is really going to play any part. I think that they effectively disappeared in 1972. If his attitude persists and it is genuine, should the Opposition look at the period from, say, about 1966 to 1972 when the seeds of the downfall and defeat of the Government of that time were sown?

I listened to his remarks with regard to Mr Hawke, who undoubtedly will be the next honourable member for Wills. I have found this to be a rather circular argument. It seems to me that even his Government found that Mr Hawke was a representative of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, put there because of his ability. He was a man welcomed by the Government for his intervention in many industrial disputes. He is a man who obviously knows the industrial area and who is internationally recognised in this field. I would have thought it would have been a much greater criticism of the Opposition if its leader had suggested that Mr Hawke would not be used to effectively put forward policies and to negotiate in the industrial area. The argument of the Leader of the House was a rather quaint one.

Since 1975 I have listened to the Government's Budgets and I have looked for some changes in those Budgets in response to what has been happening in the real world of Australia. The only changes we have seen are the broken promises. Certainly they have not benefited the community. It seems that this Government has accepted the text book hypothesis that if we do X, Y will follow; on the other hand, if we want to achieve B, we must do A. But, all honourable members of this House are used to politics. We know that a number of factors cannot be controlled and that they cause the predictions to go wrong. In those circumstances, the thing to do is to admit that they have gone wrong and try corrective measures. To the idea that a policy is a hypothesis which has to be tested against reality and corrected in the light of experience, the Government responds: 'Nonsense'. Its dogma on economics is right and will always be right despite the evidence, the facts, that its measures are producing a type of Australian society which we have never seen before and which most Australians do not like. There is heavy taxation, absurd restraint on expenditure, a record number of unemployed and, despite all the promises, an inflation rate still above 10 per cent.

Whilst the Treasurer (Mr Howard) is able to claim that there have been income tax reductions, this has been made possible only by the Government's import parity pricing for our crude oil. This is a tax imposed on all Australians because its effects flow through all aspects of the cost structure and far exceed any tax concessions that are given. We are fortunate to have a substantial domestic production of crude oil. One cannot expect that we can allow this fact to keep costs of our fuel way below costs in other countries. But, Australians should expect some economic benefit from it not its use as an extreme taxing measure. I wish to illustrate that situation, because I like to illustrate what is happening to the ordinary people in electorates such as that in which I live, amongst ordinary working people. Let us look at how this taxing measure affects the low income earners, including the pensioners. I will not use my words, but the words of one of my local municipal councils. It may seem a pretty small matter on the national scale but it represents what happens to a lot of people. In this letter, the Shire Council states:

As you are aware, this Council has, for a number of years extended assistance to Pensioners by operating a Pensioner Fuel Subsidy Scheme. The Scheme provides assistance by way of payment of an amount equivalent to the cost of 3 bags of briquettes, which amount is presently $9.90 per annum.

That is little enough. The letter continues:

It has come to Council's attention that some Pensioners who have oil heaters installed in their homes, cannot afford to run their heaters, nor can they afford to have them converted togas.

Mr Sainsbury - They won't be able to afford to run them under Bill Hayden.

Dr JENKINS - They will have more sympathy and more opportunity under the Leader of the Opposition than they have under the present crowd.

Mr Haslem - Six hundred homes in Canberra are being converted for pensioners.

Dr JENKINS - The unfortunate part is that the honourable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr Sainsbury) will not be here. He will be out in the community and will have to observe it, along with the honourable member for Canberra (Mr Haslem). The letter continues:

It is considered that the hardship that is being experienced by these people is directly correlated to the Government's World Parity Oil Pricing Policy.

The purpose of this letter is to advise you of Council's concern that although it is offering assistance to Pensioners in meeting the cost of home heating fuel, the amount that it is providing is becoming insignificant to those operating oil heaters as the price of heating oil increases with the Federal Government's World Parity Oil Pricing Policy.

Perhaps this is a matter for interjection by honourable members on the Government side but if they had to live in the community that I live in, if they had treated these elderly people, as I have, as a medical practitioner and if they had represented them in State Parliament and Federal Parliament, they would have a lot more sympathy for the things that have been done to these low income earners by this despicable policy.

Mr Sainsbury - We have more sympathy for them than you have.

Dr JENKINS - Well, it is a pity the Government did not show it. There has not been any evidence of it in five years and the Government will get its answer, I assume, next month. I turn now to some of the other social costs of government policy.

Mr Graham - What about the family allowance scheme?

Dr JENKINS - 1 will get to the family allowance in a moment. One of the problems with the Government's attitude is the sort of psychological attitude it instills in the community with regard to the unemployed, particularly the young unemployed, and their chance of getting jobs. I cite another case. To save the individual involved any embarrassment, I will call him Tony of Reservoir. I quote from a letter I received about him. It was written by a friend of his. It states:

I am writing to you on behalf of one of your constituents--

I am referring to him as 'Tony of Reservoir' - and with regard to discriminatory and unjust action taken against him when he recently applied for employment with Australia Post.

Tony having successfully completed the required entrance examination and also having been told during the subsequent interview that he was 'most suited to the job' was then finally advised (during the same interview) that he was unacceptable because of his so called 'unstable work record'.

Indeed, Tony has held three different jobs, each of which he left for extremely sound reasons, and has not surprisingly spent some time unemployed: (and sickness benefits). However, I suggest that given the economic/employment circumstances of the day, that fact that an individual has been unemployed or held a number of jobs, is absolutely no reflection of his character. Clearly, Tony as a victim of soaring unemployment, is being blamed as though he were responsible for it.

Mr Les Johnson (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Who wrote that?

Dr JENKINS - One of Tony's friends. The letter continued:

The dilemma is that if individuals are to be rejected on the basis of a 'non continuous employment history', then it seems that people who experience the misfortune of being unemployed are to be continually denied meaningful work.

That is one of the problems of the policies of this Government: The unemployed are caught in a vicious circle. Even in the Government's own offices if, because of their youth, because of the problems of unemployment, people have not been able to get a job, this is used as an argument against their being employed. The Government takes no note of the social costs this produces. It takes no note of the social costs of crime, broken health, drug taking, vandalism and the increased costs this causes in law enforcement, health costs, drug rehabilitation, domestic upsets--

Mr Les Johnson (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Broken marriages.

Dr JENKINS - And, as my colleague says, broken marriages. Then there are the private and public costs of repairing the effects of vandalism brought about by the frustration of a society produced by a government that does not care about it.

In many other areas there is hidden youth unemployment. In certain areas it is easy to identify the evidence of youth unemployment. I am convinced that in some of the middle class areas, particularly rural areas, because of the problems of respectability there is an enormous reservoir of ' hidden young unemployed. In fact, in one area after making inquiries I had cause to call a meeting for Friday of this week to discuss the evidence available.

It is the general air of heartlessness of this Government that causes so much despair in the community. It is reflected in the Government's attitude to social security. This Budget provides little or no help to the unemployed and to low income families. The Government talks about an overall 12.4 per cent increase in social security and welfare allocations but this reflects an expected increase in the number of welfare recipients rather than a better deal for many individuals. It has been said that under this Budget approximately two million people will be condemned to another year of poverty level living in Australia, an Australia which we are always being told by the Government is rich in resources - a lucky country. This is an intolerable position. What is the financial situation of the unemployed? What has been done? The benefit for the unemployed young remains at the 1975 level - $36 a week. The $2 a week increase for single unemployed people over 18 is 50 per cent less than an indexation increase would have given. While one could welcome the easing of the income test for the unemployment benefit to reduce work disincentives, it does not go far enough. The unemployed remain seriously disadvantaged compared with other welfare recipients. The impact of this contractionary Budget will further erode the chances of the unemployed finding part time work to supplement their meagre benefit. The Government always sneers at job creation schemes. No funds are provided in this Budget to create the additional half a million jobs or any part thereof that the work force needs. This gives no satisfaction to those seeking employment. 1 turn now to deal with single parents. Despite the removal of the six-month waiting period for the supporting parent's benefit and increases in payments to children of pensioners and social welfare beneficiaries, the increases will lift the incomes of very few families above the poverty line. What has happened with children's allowances? They have risen from $7.50 to $10 a child a week. But these payments have not been increased for nearly five years. Merely to keep pace with inflation the payments should have increased to approximately $12.50 a child a week by November 1980. Overall, the Government's measures mean that most pensioners and beneficiaries will continue to have an income below the poverty line - and this in the sort of country we are told Australia is.

In comparison with the small gains for the poor and the disadvantaged there are important omissions in this particular program. For example, there is no increase in the supplementary allowance to pensioners renting accommodation. That allowance is now $5 a week and was last increased in 1974. Only last week one of my constituents complained to me about this fact in my office. My colleague, the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson), will be concerned at what is an effective cut in public housing funds.

Mr Les Johnson (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - A massive cut.

Dr JENKINS - Yes, it is an effective massive cut in public housing funds. In this Budget there has been no increase in the personal care subsidy for frail aged persons hostels and there is no hope for the working poor. In the more general fields we find that expenditure, expressed as a percentage of total government expenditures, has fallen in the following areas: Education, social security, public housing, community development, labour and employment and even in payments to the States. We heard comment, of course, about the increase in the proportion of government expenditure directed to defence and to industry. As the Leader of the Opposition pointed out, this increase in defence expenditure has been brought about essentially because of the lag in defence expenditure over recent years. In industry, as always, the assistance is directed to the capital intensive industries and to the rewards that the entrepreneurs receive from those industries. Clearly we have a situation where, while we have declining real wages, we also have declining social wages. It is a Government strategy of planned social regression and as such should be roundly condemned.

Some time ago I had occasion to raise the question of benefits for veterans. The Totally and Permanently Disabled Soldiers' Association had made certain claims for the updating of benefits to keep them in line with current cost increases. Some changes have been made in this Budget, but the associations involved - in this case the Victorian Branch of the Returned Services League of Australia, the Totally and Permanently Disabled Soldiers' Association, the Limbless Soldiers Association, the Partially Blinded Soldiers Association, the Naval Association and the Tuberculosis Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen's Association - are all concerned that the Government has not overturned the decision of the Minister for Veterans' Affairs (Mr Adermann) to reject totally submissions made for the restoration of rights, services and the care of aging veterans which a grateful Government had previously given them but has now removed.

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