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Wednesday, 25 November 1959

Mr LUCHETTI (Macquarie) .- This bill relating to superannuation forms part of a torrent of legislation which has been brought to the Parliament in the last two days of the session.

Mr Harold Holt - You can come back next week if you like.

Mr LUCHETTI - The Treasurer has invited honorable members to come back next week. If that is necessary for the adequate consideration of this and other legislation before the Parliament I will welcome the opportunity.

I take the unusual course of speaking on the third reading of this bill because I failed to obtain an opportunity to speak at an earlier period of the debate. My special concern is the inadequacies of the bill. It fails to deal with the continuing and growing inflation which is affecting Australia. Therefore, I consider that it does not meet the requirements of those who are on superannuation and those who will be compelled to accept superannuation in the near future. This bill, Mr. Speaker, helps those on the higher range of salary. I am concerned with those in the lower income bracket - those on the lower rung of the ladder who have great difficulty in meeting the challenge of life to provide a competence for when they retire. They will suffer because adequate provision for them is not being made in this legislation. I have referred to the continuing and growing inflation in Australia. It is well known that the Menzies £1 is worth approximately 6s. when compared with the Chifley £1. If fair consideration is given to this legislation I think it will be admitted that it fails to pay due regard to that deterioration of purchasing power.

Another matter on which the Government does not deserve to be congratulated is that the provision being made for widows in this legislation is shockingly inadequate, paltry and miserable. It falls far short of the requirements of the womanhood of this country. We have been told that there is equality in this country. We subscribe to the principle of equality of the sexes. Equal pay in employment is becoming the accepted thing. But when the bread winner dies the widow receives, under this legislation, only five-eights of the pension! And this is being submitted to us by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) as a reasonable proposition! The Treasurer said -

The five-eighths widow's pension will be a basic feature of the superannuation scheme for all future contributors who will be required to pay contributions at an increased rate in order to provide this new benefit. Those who are now contributing to the fund will have an option to take up the additional widow's pension provided they meet their proportion of the additional cost in extra contributions.

The widow, when her bread-winner has been taken from her, when her life's partner has been removed from this world, still requires to maintain the home, still requires to maintain her position in society, and she should receive no less than her late husband was receiving at the time of his demise. Her difficulty in meeting her obligation to society is well known. It is known, also, that this Government is not prepared to pay an additional pension in view of the iniquitous means test which is in operation at the present time. This bill fails to do a very important thing, and, in my opinion, it is an insult to the womanhood of Australia.

The Government proudly proclaims that the widow's superannuation payments will be increased from one-half to five-eighths of the amount that her husband would have received. In the higher salary ranges, this represents a slight improvement and will help the widow. In the lower salary ranges, however, it is only a pittance and is unworthy of this Administration. There are a number of widows whose payments from superannuation are about £8 per week, which disqualifies them from receiving the age pension. I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, as a responsible man with full appreciation of these matters, that these widows suffer a disadvantage in their community and in society generally.

The Government should give the widow a superannuation payment equal to that received by her late husband. But because it has been traditionally accepted that the widow should receive only half of the husband's superannuation, the Government persists with this cruel imposition. I suggest to the Parliament that we should be able to leave the past when a woman was a chattel, something inferior, and not entitled to the same kind of consideration as the husband who, generally, went out to earn the living. This Government is adopting a mid-Victorian, backward and unenlightened attitude in this important matter. It costs just as much for a widow to keep herself as it would cost the husband to live if his wife were to pass away.

I know of instances in which widows receive about £4 a week, and this miserable increase will give them only about 10s. extra. Because of this and other features of the bill I take my place in this Parliament to protest. I speak at an unusual time - on the motion for the third reading of this bill- because I think that we ought to be vocal on matters of this kind.

Another matter to which I desire to address myself deals with the pensioners and superannuated public servants, those stalwarts of other days who have rendered exceptional service to this nation in the Public Service in war-time, particularly during the Second World War, taking all the great responsibilities of that time, administering departments, conducting post offices and discharging their duties in a thousand and one ways. These people profit nothing under the legislation which is now before the House. I have in my hand a letter which I received from a retired public servant, a man whose worth to this nation would be very difficult to estimate or compute because of his outstanding qualities and qualifications. This man will not profit by this legislation. Those people who have gone out of the Public Service and have been compelled to meet the challenge of present-day living costs deserve consideration. Legislation which omits thought of them will certainly fail lamentably in meeting the challenge which now faces the Government.

It is not surprising that this situation has not been faced for although the Government professes that it has been working for twelve months trying to draft a measure of this sort of value to those who will be retiring from the service on superannuation, it gives to the Parliament but a few days to deal with this and a variety of other important measures vitally affecting the people of this country. In the course of this letter my constituent writes -

It is absolutely essential that the unit value of those who retired prior to the end of 1954 be increased from 17s. 6d. to £1 per week for at least the first 18 or 20 units. There is no necessity to increase the unit value of those still in service after January 1955. They are provided for by the large salary increases which naturally increased their units. Thus the cost to the Government will be infinitesimal and can be amply borne by the Superannuation Fund.

Two things should be, and I consider must be, done in fairness to us forgotten few.

1.   Our unit value increased to £1;

2.   Our superannuation be tax free.

I am taxed £1 18s. 6d. per pay leaving my superannuation only £14 odd. And this after 45 years service and second highest in grade in the postmasters.

Mr. Speaker,that speaks for itself. There is no need for me to address myself further to this subject. I leave it to the House, in anticipation that the Treasurer might be moved, not so much by my words but by the plea of those who have served this country and have retired from the Public Service, to give them justice even at this belated time. I support the attitude of the Opposition in this matter. I felt that the comments I have made in respect of these matters deserved to be made, and again 1 voice a most vigorous protest against rushing legislation through the House.

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