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Wednesday, 19 April 1972
Page: 1250

The PRESIDENT - Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document reads as follows):



Senator GREENWOOD - The first group, of pensioners who are now receiving the maximum standard or married rate of pesion, will receive increases of $1 or 75c a week, as appropriate. The second group, in the 'shaded area', qualified for only part of the increases granted in 1971, and will now qualify for increases of between 75c and $2.25 a week each for married rate pensioners, and between $1 and $2.75 a week for standard rate pensioners. The last group received no increases of pension during 1971, and will now qualify for increases of $2.75 a week in standard rate cases, or $2.25 a week each for married pensioners. Those who now receive more than $1 a week are those who missed out on the two previous pension increases. The present Bill now restores their full relativity with other pensioners.

Under the present Government, the purchasing power of the pension - its real value in terms of prices - has constantly increased. This Bill will lift this purchasing power to a level greater than ever before achieved, because the present rise in pension rate is greater than the corresponding rise which has occurred in prices. It is just 6 months since the pension rate became $17.25 standard and $15.25 married. At that time the 1971 September quarter consumer price index stood at 119.2. The index for the March quarter 1972 has just become available and is 123.3. That is to say that during these two quarters the price index has risen by 3.44 per cent. If the standard rate pension of $17.25 had been increased by the same percentage, the increase would have been 59c - much less than the $1 which is proposed under this Bill. Similarly, if the $15.25 married rate pension had been increased by 3.44 per cent - the same rise as in prices - the extra pension would have been only 52c - as against the 75c which this Bill provides.

Thus this Bill continues the Government's policy of increasing the pension by more than the rise in prices - that is, continually increasing the real purchasing power of the pension. On some other occasion I shall hope to give the Senate a summary of the Social Services advances which Australia has made since 1949, when Labor was last in power. I will also hope on some future occasion to discuss the underlying principles behind our policy. But I hope for a speedy passage for the present legislation, and will not open up these aspects now.

The full year cost for age, invalid and widows' pensions, together with the consequential increases for long-term sickness benefit and sheltered employment allowances will be some $71m. Corresponding increases in Service pensions will involve almost another $5m a year, giving a total cost of approximately $76m. For 1971-72 the cost of the proposals I have outlined, including those for rehabilitation allowances, sheltered employment allowances and service pensions, will be approximately $15. 5m. The increases in pensions and associated allowances will become payable from the first pension pay day following the royal assent, while the increases in long-term sickness benefits will operate in respect of the benefit week ending on the date of the royal assent and each benefit week thereafter.

Mr President,I am sure that all honourable senators will appreciate that the Government is anxious to pay these increases as soon as possible. With over a million pensioners involved, honourable senators will appreciate also that this reprasents a mammoth task for the Department of Social Services, which may need to cut. one or two administrative corners in order to make these increases available to all pensioners by the earliest possible date. For example, it is usual for pensioners to be given written notification of pension increases such as those now proposed; however, on this occasion it is probable that written notifications will not be available in time. I am sure that honourable senators will agree, however, that an omission such as this can easily be justified in terms of the time saved. Moreover, perhaps the omission is not a major one as the measures now before the Senate have received considerable publicity since the Treasurer's announcement and will no doubt continue to receive publicity in the news media as a result of our debate.

The Treasurer has announced that the new rates would apply as from the first pay day in May. If we can get the co-operation of the Senate, we may be able to beat this deadline, and have the Bill ready for the royal assent when His Excellency returns from New Guinea this week end. This will enable the new rates to apply to the widows' pension payment, which is due next Tuesday, and to the age and invalid pension payments due the following week. I understand that it may not be possible to adjust the widows' pension cheques - which go into the post over the week-end and on Monday - to the new rates; if so, the extra money will be included in their next instalment, so that they - like all pensioners - will benefit as from the first pay day after the royal assent. The Department of Social Services does, however, anticipate that for age and invalid pensioners the new rates will be paid immediately from the first pay day after they become effective.

This Bill marks another milestone in the continual improvement of our social services. That improvement will be continued yet further under this Government. I am sure that all honourable senators will welcome these further improvements in our social service assistance and, in recognising these proposals as benefiting not only (he direct recipients, but also the economy of the nation as a whole, will grant the Bill a speedy passage. Mr President, I commend the Bill to the Senate.

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