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Tuesday, 26 September 1972
Page: 1149

Senator GIETZELT (NEW SOUTH WALES) - On behalf of the Opposition 1 move:

At the end of motion add - but the Senate is of the opinion that the only satisfactory way to provide social services benefits is through a comprehensive national system of social security where benefits are above the poverty level and tied to an index adjusted at least annually.

The Opposition moves this amendment not in any formal fashion but because we believe that while the Senate will undoubtedly give its assent to this Bill there is a need for the Senate to express both in debate and in amendment form its attitude to the whole problem of social services in Australia. We commend the legislation because it is part of a move forward in respect to social services benefits for large numbers of the Australian people. It is, however, only one step in a mile which needs to be covered by the Parliament in order to have a share of the benefits of the prosperity and growth which have been part of Australia's development in post war years, made available to every citizen of this country. This is not the first occasion on which the Parliament has been presented with proposals for improvements in social service benefits. Improvements are invariably part of the Budget proposals, although analysis will show that on many occasions this Government has not made any substantial increase in social services payments. However, in respect of the general problems of social service benefits, this Government and its predecessors - under whatever names they have traded in the past years - sought on 4 separate occasions to improve considerably the lot of pensioners of all categories, and both Houses of Parliament have seen fit to pass legislation to that end.

It was the conservative government led in 1913 by Prime Minister Cook which made the first endeavour to put social services on a much better basis than existed at that time. That attempt did not proceed because of the advent of World War I. The Earle Page administration made a further endeavour in 1927-28 to accept its public responsibility to put social services on a firm foundation. However Australia had to wait until 1938, in the time of the Lyons administration, for legislation actually to pass through both the House of Representatives and the Sentate. The National Insurance Bill was passed in that period.

It is interesting to recall the political crisis that took place in that period. The Government, having had that legislation passed through the Parliament, failed to proclaim it and this brought about the resignation of the Attorney-General of that day. I am not suggesting thai the present Attorney-General (Senator Greenwood) would take such precipitate action if the Senate were to amend the legislation on this occassion. The then Attorney-General, Mr Menzies, was quite concerned at the failure of the Government of that day to implement the National Insurance Act. That was 34 years ago and the National Insurance Act has never been proclaimed and its benefits have not been passed on to the Australian people. The Chifley administration of 1948-49 certainly intended to place social service benefits on a firm foundation when it introduced the National Welfare Bill but again events intervened to prevent the enactment of legislation to give substantial benefits to the Australian people.

The 1949 election was fought on a number of issues. The leader of the newly formed Liberal Party that was successful in that election, Mr Menzies, obviously still had a social conscience because he promised on that occasion that his Government would abolish the means test. 1 refer the Senate to his policy speech of 23 years ago in which he said:

Australia still needs a contributory system of national insurance against sickness, widowhood, unemployment, and old age. It is only under such a system that we can make all benefits a matter of right, and so gel completely rid of the means test.

As that was part of the social services policy of the Government elected at that election one would have thought that there would have been considerable movement towards abolition of the means test or towards establishing a national superannuation .scheme by the enactment of a national insurance bill as a matter of conscience. In recent years a matter of conscience has been the subject of considerable debate in the Parliament. The of 1938. who was later to become Prime Minister, saw fit to resign the important position of Attorney-General in the Lyons Government. However, I want to go back, as 1 did recently when discussing the Income Tax Assessment Bill, and refer to the policy espoused by the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) because being a good Party man he was, in fact, putting forward the policy of his Party. I wish to refer to the documents of the Liberal platform of 1946 which were similar to the corresponding documents of the Liberal Party of Australia in 1948. 1 want to draw to the attention of the Senate the terminology used by the Liberal Party and show its likeness to the amendment that I have moved. This is what it says:

Generous provision by means of an effective social insurance scheme for superannuation, incapacity, sick pay, medical and the like expenses, unemployment, widowhood and family endowment. All children to be provided for by child endowment. No means test. The means test is the inevitable consequence of non-contributory social services and is a deterrent to thrift. Adequate and permanent social services will necessarily require contributions by all persons in receipt of income supplemented by grants from the Consolidated Revenue Fund.

4.   The encouragement of supplementary voluntary schemes in addition to Government schemes.

It is rather interesting to refer to the current criticisms that have been made by Government spokesmen against the shadow Minister for Health, the honourable member for Oxley, Mr Hayden, who is the Labor Party spokesman on these mailers when he has indicated his proposition, which has been endorsed by the Labor Party and which will be part of its policy and to see the similarity with the thinking in the early years of the Liberal Party. We see that breath of spring that Menzies was to speak about in the formative years of the Liberal Party incorporated in this and many other of its earlier policy statements which have been bypassed in time. If we go back to 1960 and to 1971 we see that all references to the abolition of the means test have been removed from the policy of the Liberal Parly. Somewhere in the effluxion of time the message was passed down the line. Sir Robert lost his conscientious attitude to social services. The members of the Liberal Party came to favour not the abolition of the means test, but its progressive liberalisation both in regard to property and income.

Of course, we are aware that subsequent elections were fought on the issue of the abolition of the means test. Dr Evatt almost became the Prime Minister of this country on the basis of his proposals in 1954 to the electorate of Australia for the abolition of the means test within 3 >ears. Then the apostles of doom came on the scene and have been on the scene at every election subsequently when the Labor Party has endeavoured to do what the Liberal Party said it would do when it stated its platform in 1946, 1947, 1948 and those early years. We hear such statements as: Where is the money to come from? The country cannot afford it. This will mean increased taxation. We heard the same calamity howling in recent times. Mr Malcolm Fraser and the Prime Minister have both seen fit to criticise the Labor Party in some of its election policy matters which it is already prepared to place before the electorate within the next month or two. Of course one can analyse what Dr Evatt was seeking to do and refer to attempts by succeeding Labor leaders over the years right up until 1969 when Mr Whitlam presented his policy speech. He sought to place social service benefits in such a position that they would give the maximum benefit to those in need wherever they may be throughout Australia. Again we were informed that Australia did not have the resources, that the Australian Labor Party was immature and that it was unable to say where the money was coming from. Then of the eve of an election when, it must surely be admitted by Government spokesmen and defenders of Government policy, the tide is running very heavily against the Government - if we are to take cognisance of public opinion polls - a rabbit is pulled out of the hat. It is not a Petrov Commission; this time it is the abolition of the means test within 3 years. So after 23 years and after the Liberal Party has taken the policy out of its platform, we find that the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) has been able to prevail upon his colleagues in respect of the need to abolish the means test The Attorney-General (Senator Greenwood), who in this chamber represents the Minister for Social Services, went to great lengths in his second reading speech on Thursday to draw attention to the effect of the means test. He stated:

The present proposal will, of course, lose a great deal of its significance within the next 3 years, when the abolition of the means test for persons over 65 years of age become effective.

The Attorney-General went on to state that this was essential because of the effect of inflation. I am sure that the AttorneyGeneral cannot disagree with me when 1 say that in 1969 Australia was suffering just as much from inflation, as now. Yet he and his colleagues, encouraged to some extent by the mass circulation newspapers, endeavoured to make the Australian people believe that Australia could not afford to abolish the means test. We live in an entirely new era. We are one of the wealthiest countries of the world. In the post-war years we have had a tremendous increase in wealth and technology has moved very fast, particularly over the last decade or so. There is no question but that the country has the capacity to pay increased benefits to those who are needy. Our standard of living should be constantly rising if every person who contributes to this wealth is to enjoy the benefits of his labour or of increased technology. Therefore one finds it very difficult to accept the premise of the Government that these latest increases represent any substantial improvement in the standard of living. The Minister for Social Services in presenting this Bill in the other place went to great lengths to produce graphs and figures the like of which I have not seen before in Hansard - but then I am relatively new. i suppose they have appeared before. The Prime Minister went on record only a few weeks earlier to talk about the need for an inquiry into poverty. Such is the state of the nation that there is a need for the Government to inquire into the areas of poverty which exist in our community. Clearly the Minister had this in mind when he convinced his colleagues in the Party room of the need to increase pensions.

Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.

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