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Tuesday, 26 September 1972
Page: 1163

Senator LAUCKE (South Australia) - I am delighted with the provisions of this legislation which show a very high degree of humanity. Never before has such a comprehensive range of improvements in the pensioner situation been presented in one budget. If one looks at the second reading speech of the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) in respect to the Social Service Bill we see that in the category of standard rates of pension alone the provision for single people and widows with children is to be increased by ยง1.75 a week to S20 a week. This increase will apply to no less than 671,000 people. This figure is made up of approximately 519,000 age pensioners, 112,000 invalid pensioners, 50,000 widow pensioners. Turning to the category in which the married beneficiaries are referred to, again we see that a total of no less than 394,000 people will benefit from these increases in the standard rates alone.

Looking at the provisions of the Bill, it is very obvious that there will be a wide dispersal of benefits to many people. I think that the Government can be very proud of the coverage of this Bill. When it is considered that the increases proposed in the legislation represent the fourth separate occasion on which the rates of pension have been increaed by the McMahon Government in the last 18 months, it will be appreciated that the increases we are now considering are even more meritorious and pleasing than they may appear at first sight. The best way in which any country can be judged as to whether it has the best interests of all its people at heart is by its attitude to ils elderly citizens and its atti tude to the youngest in the community. On both counts this Government stands preeminently as a very understanding and humane one. Provisions for education have been vastly increased in recent years. So we are giving the younger generation a better opportunity to fend for itself in the life which lies ahead. At the other end of the scale, our elderly and invalid are now receiving sympathetic national recognition of their rightful place in the sun. The Minister for Social Services and the Government should be highly commended for their close attention to the betterment of these people throughout the whole range of social services.

A very important aspect of the pension increases is their effectiveness. This is demonstrated by the real gains of pensioners in the purchasing power of the pensions they are to receive. Measured by the consumer price index, prices have risen by 8 per cent since the March 1971 quarter whilst the pension for single pensioners including the proposals now before us, will have risen during the same period by 29 per cent and by 25 per cent for married couples. I regard it as a very important observation that the pension increases have kept ahead of increased prices. In other words, the pensions have been improved as effective income to those who receive them. I was pleased to note in the Minister's second reading speech that special attention will continue to be given to detecting and further eliminating areas of need. Much has been dene but much still remains to be done. We have this statement of acceptance of the situation that there are areas of need still to be looked at and that it is a continuing matter to ensure that we provide for those Who are in need the best assistance in order to make their lives happier to the extent that our national income can reasonably afford.

The Minister has drawn attention to the Government's concern in regard to some couples who between them receive only one pension or a pension plus a wife's allowance. In this context 1 welcome the decision to extend eligibility for pensions at the married rate to pensioners' wives who are ineligible for a pension in their own right by virtue of their age. This new pension which replaces the wife's allowance and which is called the 'wife's pension' is to be paid to the wives of all aged and invalid pensioners who do not qualify for the pension in their own right. Therefore husbands who now receive age or invalid pensions at the standard rate and their non-pensioner wives will receive pensions at the proposed married rate of $17.25 a week. A total of 31,500 wives will benefit from this provision. The excellent move in this direction will provide greater security in this area and eliminate the concern over insufficient money coming into the homes of married couples as has occurred in the past purely because of the age qualification.

When one sees that expenditure on social services from the national welfare fund for 1972-73, other than that which is included in this legislation, is estimated to reach $l,327m, an increase of $119m over last year, combined with these proposals which will cost $179m in a full year, it can be seen that the Government is certainly taking a very big portion from the total Budget to devote to this highly necessary and desirable area of national need. 1 feel that the increase in the amount devoted to social services has been one of the most pleasing aspects of parliamentary provision in recent times. 1 am very pleased to note that the means test is to be abolished within the next 3 years. There has been a quite definite move towards the liquidation of the means test through the merged means test and the tapered means test as we know. Now we have this assurance of abolition within 3 years. A committee will be set up to inquire fully into how this will be achieved. I regard this as a real step forward.

This is in complete accord with the principle that benefits should not be denied any person who, through his or her endeavours, has sought to provide a nest egg for the later years of life or to meet difficulties which could arise with the passing of time. To see everybody being eligible, with those who can afford to do without the pension being taxed on ils receipt, does no harm at all in that area. This does close a lot of holes in the system whereby those who were on superannuation or those who through attention to personal provision for a better financial background had been denied the benefits of the pensions system. I regard this as first class legislation. It is enlightened, understanding and humanitarian. I have very much pleasure in supporting its passage through this chamber.

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