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Tuesday, 29 October 1974
Page: 2080

Senator WHEELDON (Western AustraliaMinister for Repatriation and Compensation) - In many respects I find this debate rather curious. On the one hand it would seem to indicate some sort of Scandinavianisation of Australia whereby the conservative Opposition attempts to outbid the social democratic government in the social services which it has -

Senator Withers - I thought you were a democratic socialist.

Senator WHEELDON -Senator Withers, with all the erudition which befits the Leader of the Liberal Party in the Senate, said 'I thought you were a democratic socialist', which, of course, is the same thing. The terms 'social democrat' and 'democratic socialist' are the same.

Senator Withers - You could have fooled me.

Senator WHEELDON - I refer the honourable senator to any standard text on the subject. I could have fooled him. I am sure that I could have. I am sure that there would be very few people who could not fool Senator Withers. I find it very easy to do that. I assure Senator Withers that the words 'social democrat' and 'democratic socialist' have precisely the same meaning.

Senator Withers - Use the term 'democratic socialist'.

Senator WHEELDON - I will use whichever term I choose to use. For example, the Social Democratic Party of Sweden is a democratic socialist party. It describes itself as such. Senator Withers may or may not like it, but that is its terminology. That is that Party's name and that is the name which I think it will continue to use even if someone as easy to fool as Senator Withers does not like it.

Senator Withers - I thought that you believed in democratic socialism.

Senator WHEELDON -Yes, I do believe in democratic socialism and social democracy. I think the honourable senator will find that they are interchangeable terms.

Senator Withers

Senator WHEELDON -Senator Withers does not know that, but I think most other honourable senators know that. Apparently, what honourable senators opposite are putting forward to us tonight is the proposition that the Government is being miserly in the expenditure of public funds; that, in fact, we have a Scroogelike attitude towards the expenditure of taxpayers' money on social services. We have been told that if Opposition senators were in government they would be much more lavish and the present miserable amounts spent by this Government on social services would be greatly extended. The proposals contained in our Bill that is before the Senate at the present time provide for an annual expenditure of $33m. The estimates by the Opposition and the Government of the cost of the proposals which the Opposition has put forward for increased benefits range between $25m and $3Sm per annum. That is approximately double the expenditure under the proposal which the Government is putting forward.

We have asked the question before: What is the Opposition's economic policy? I point out that it is no use for Senator Martin to say that she knows someone will raise that question and, having said that she knows someone will raise the question, to think that she has succeeded in disposing of the problem, because I state that somebody will raise the question. I will raise it now. I would like the Opposition to tell us some time precisely what is its economic policy. This is the same question as was asked during the debate on the subsidy for Tasmania. We have even had Senator Jessop tonight deploring the increases in postal charges. Apparently, we are to take it from the Opposition, if Senator Jessop is a spokesman for some element within the OppositionI am sure that there must be some loose strand on whose behalf he speaks- that the Opposition is opposed to increases in postal charges. If that were the case there would be a decrease in the revenue of the Government. But we are told that we ought to be doubling our expenditurepossibly more than doubling it or possibly somewhat less than doubling it- as proposed in the Social Services Bill (No. 3) which is before us tonight. We have heard Senator Marriott warning us during the debate on the Repatriation Acts Amendment Bill that we must be very careful.

Senator Marriott - You are completely out of order in referring to that debate.

Senator WHEELDON - I am not out of order. I am in order because this is relevant to the discussion. The same sort of proposition was put before.

Senator Marriott - You are out of order, though.

Senator WHEELDON - I thought that somebody might raise this question; so I have the Standing Orders in front of me. If the honourable senator refers to standing order 413 he will see that it says:

No Senator shall allude to any debate or proceedings of the same Session unless such allusion be relevant to the matter under discussion.

This is clearly relevant because it is relevant to the relationship between expenditure on social services and inflation. It is no use for Senator Marriott to say one minute that the Government must be very careful and that these additional moneys that are being spent on repatriation are inflationary and for Senator Guilfoyle to say the next minute that the Government ought to be doubling its expenditure under the Social Services Bill because somehow this is necessary. If it is inflationary in one case, it is inflationary in the other case.

I am yet to detect what is the Opposition 's policy on inflation. The Opposition has raised the matter of inflation tonight. I would like to know what its members are saying. How it is going to cut $ 1 ,000m from Government expenditure? Yet the Opposition would spend more on Tasmania. If Senator Jessop is a spokesman for the OppositionI assume that he was put up as a spokesman for the Opposition- the Opposition will cut down the revenue from postal charges and it will increase the payments under the Social Services Bill. So from where will this $ 1 ,000m come? The amount involved must be much more than $ 1,000m because it will be $ 1,000m plus what the Opposition will spend on Tasmania, plus what it will spend on social services, plus what it will give back in the reduced postal charges which I take it Senator Jessop, on behalf of the Liberal Party, has undertaken the Opposition will reduce if the unhappy day ever comes when it is in Government. But that is so obscure a possibility that I will not waste the time of the Senate developing it at too great a length.

Let us have a look at this Bill which the Opposition has said is so miserable. It does not only add 50c or whatever amount was mentioned to the pension. Members of the Opposition seem to have overlooked these matters in their rather churlish approach to what they see as our miserliness when compared with their tremendous generosity, their free wheeling approach to the public purse whereby no expenditure is too great for the Liberal and Country Parties. They say: Let us forget about the $ 1,000m. The sky is the limit as far as we are concerned'. We have been told that tonight by the Liberal Party. It believes in doubling the social security payments under this Bill.

But look at the proposals we are putting forward. We are providing for an increase of 50c a week to $5.50 a week in the rate of additional payments for children of pensioners, supporting mothers and unemployment and sickness beneficiaries; an increase of $ 1 a week to $5 a week in the rate of supplementary assistance and supplementary allowance; the removal of the residence requirement for invalid pension where permanent incapacity or blindness occurs in Australia; changes in the residence qualifications for widows' pensions and supporting mothers' benefits to permit a woman who becomes a widow or supporting mother while absent from Australia to obtain a pension or benefit on return to Australia if she has lived in Australia for 10 years continually at any time; payment of a mother's allowance and an additional pension for the children of class D widows; and the repeal of the 'character' and the 'not deserving' provisions of the Act.

I am enumerating these because we have been told that there are one or two things in the Bill. There are a lot of things in the Bill other than those which Opposition speakers were gracious enough to refer to. In addition we are providing for the payment of additional benefits to the de facto wives of unemployment and sickness beneficiaries where the relationship has existed for not less than 3 years; an increase of $ 1 to $ 1 1 a week in the rate of double orphan's pension; the introduction of a handicapped children's allowance of $10 a week- the introduction of that allowance; a means-test-free incentive allowance to $5 a week in lieu of supplementary assistance for people receiving the sheltered unemployment allowance; and changes in the rehabilitation provisions to make training and living away from home allowances payable at rates comparable with those under the national unemployment and training system.

I can understand Senator Martin's desire to dissociate herself from the previous LiberalCountry Party Government. Anybody would. She can say that she was not here then so she is not responsible. But that cannot be said of very many people sitting on the Opposition benches at present. Some of them were here for part of that time, some were here for most of the time, and some of them were here for all of the time that the previous Liberal Party-Country Party Government was in office. Let us look at its record with regard to widows ' pensions. (Opposition senators interjecting)-

Senator WHEELDON - It is different now that honourable senators opposite are in Oppositionit is very different- and it will stay different for a long time. Honourable senators will remember what the situation was for a deserted wife trying to obtain a widow's pension. Under the aggregation of parties which occupied the government benches for 23 miserable years, she had to prove to the then Department of Social Services that she had taken every available step to track down her absconding husband. She could not just go along and say: 'I have been deserted; I cannot find my husband '. She had to prove, and go through all sorts of rigmarole to do it, that every possible step had been taken to find her absconding husband and obtain a maintenance award against him.

It is not a very long time that this Government has been in office but I know that a number of Opposition senators have aged a great deal in that period of little over 1 8 months. But it is still a little too soon, I would suggest, in all decency for a party which tolerated and maintained that situation to come along and complain about our lack of generosity towards these people. I suggest that it ill behoves the Opposition to talk in these terms. I come back again to what the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) said in another place when a similar amendment was proposed there. He said that the Government did not accept the amendment but promised to give considerationwe have made a promise to give considerationto the proposal. In the meantime the special benefit is available at the same rate as widow's pension and there are certain circumstances in which the special benefit is made available.

I do not wish to detain the Senate on this issue but I do wish to say this: If anything has illustrated the total humbug of the Opposition it is its whole approach to economic policy. It can stump the country talking glibly about cutting out $ 1,000m of expenditure and every time a social security provision comes before this Parliament say it wants to increase the provision. Every time some local interest, for instance in Tasmania, says that it wants some special benefit, the Opposition promises to give it. Every time some group of farmers says that it wants the reintroduction of the superphosphate bounty the Opposition promises it. At the same time it will carry on as though it is going to reduce the expenditure of this Government. It is an Opposition which is totally devoid of any economic policy.

If it wants to have any plausibility at all I believe that its proper position is to stand up in this Parliament, as its ideological predecessors used to do, and say that social security payments should not be made at all because people were only hanging around the pubs spending their pensions. This is the sort of thing it used to say. I believe the Opposition would be much more consistent if it stuck to that rather than coming along here and performing as though it was the founder of the welfare State while on the other hand saying that it stands for a surplus Budget. The Opposition cannot have it both ways but certainly it will have to explain what its policy is. It cannot say it is going to make a $ 1,000m reduction and then on a social security Bill, or something else of this nature, come along and say: We are going to increase whatever payments you want'. On this Bill which we have before us at the moment it says that it will approximately double the Government's expenditure when already the Bill exceeds by far in generosity anything that the miserable collection of parties which made up the previous Government produced in its 23 years of misrule.

Question put:

That the words proposed to be added (Senator Guilfoyle's amendment) be added.

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