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Thursday, 14 May 1970

Mr FOSTER (Sturt) - Recently in this House I have raised by way of questions and in debate the very extreme plight that age and invalid pensioners find themselves in as a result of the callous attitude displayed by the Liberal-Country Party Government towards those members of the community who are reliant upon social welfare handouts. The assistance given to age and invalid pensioners is totally inadequate when viewed against the background of the rising cost of everyday necessities to sustain themselves and recently increased rents which inflict a very great burden on those whose incomes remain unaltered. This social disparity continues under the policy of this Government. Surely, if one accepts the word of the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) and the Treasurer (Mr Bury) that we are a rich and lucky country, the discrimination that is directed against these people is most certainly worthy of the utmost criticism and condemnation.

Added to the number receiving social welfare payments are those in the community who are in receipt of some form of fixed income. While the Government continues to give lip service, commending the thrifty and even stating that thrift should be rewarded, it continues to impose a most vicious means test on those who are on superannuation or receiving other types of fixed income available upon their retirement. These are more often than not the result of saving over a considerable time and under schemes which when commenced provided for a limited amount of savings. Consideration over the years could not foresee the loss of such savings, so many years later, as a result of the loss of purchasing power under Liberal governments.

What then is the attitude of the Government to such thrift? The Government rewards thrift by imposing the so-called tapered means test or, viewed more realistically, it forces these people in the community to the conclusion that savings made by them merely provide their own pensions. The Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) must surely realise that he is a party to what surely must amount to a public conspiracy. Let me qualify my comment in this way: As taxpayers for all of their working lives, these people paid taxes in a way no different from that of others in the community. Surely what should be an age entitlement is denied them upon their retirement by a government which hypocritically stales that it has the interests of the pensioners at heart.

Mr Hunt - Who wrote this?

Mr FOSTER - 1 did.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! I would suggest to honourable members in the Country Party corner of the House that throughout the adjournment debates this week and last week there has been from that corner a consistent flow of interjections directed at speakers on the Opposition side of the House. 1 suggest that for the good order and conduct of this House such interjections should cease.

Mr FOSTER - The policy, in the Government's view, is the application of the least amount where the need is the greatest. This is so also in respect of education. The policy of the Labor Party is quite clear. It has the inbuilt feature of protecting the cost rise aspect which is so wilfully neglected by the Government. In addition, the Labor Party proposes to eliminate completely the means test for many in the community immediately and for others progressively so that it is non-existent after 6 years. Our policy also provides that when a man becomes the recipient of a pension his dependent wife should also be granted a pension regardless of her age. During the last election campaign the Labor Party went to the people claiming that there should be an investigation to determine the best national superannuation scheme for Australia and a firm commitment to its introduction, and that it should link the age, invalid and widows pensions to the. annual average wage.

The Labor Party said that abolition of the means test and national superannuation are inseparable aspects of a truly modern welfare system. It said that these 2 aspects exist side by side in all the advanced countries of Europe and Canada. It also said that the whole question of welfare and pensions must be taken out of the electioneering atmosphere engendered by the Liberal Party's cynical $1 rise on election eve. The Labor Party also said that I in 4 of the larger families in Australia live in real poverty and that they cannot begin to lift themselves out of poverty as long as the Commonwealth contribution is limited to occasional and meagre cash handouts. We said that Labor would enact legislation ulong the lines of the Canadian Assistance Act, to develop along with the States, local government bodies and voluntary agencies a new, regionally based pattern of social welfare arrangements. Finally we said that only if this were done would Australia make a real onslaught on the problem of poverty in the midst of prosperity.

The policy of the Government to continue to deny a pension to the wife of the breadwinner in the family demonstrates its stupidity and lack of understanding and commonsense. A man retires at 65 years or even 70 years and his wife, who is much younger, has not worked outside the home for all of her married life, which could be 30 or more years. She is in reasonable health but is very often unable to secure suitable employment. By its attitude the Government creates a sub-standard life for those members of the community and' creates misery for those forced, through no fault of their own, to an undignified existence.

This Government is a government of double standards. It regards a double standard as its pinnacle of successful administration. It believes that it should be recognised on that basis. It is completely out of touch with the realities of the problems confronting certain sectors of the public because Government supporters, in the main, come from and represent the privileged part of our society. How can men who have never had to live a lite consistent with the life of the majority of the people of the Commonwealth know what it is to live in substandard conditions? What possible concept have Government supporters of the plight of the people that the Government has forced to live in such conditions? They are the more unfortunate among us. The members of the Liberal Party are not with it. They refuse to recognise community problems. The Treasurer is concerned when wages and salaries increase. He becomes alarmed and panics and imposes restrictions designed to reduce the value of wages and salaries. He was obviously elated when Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd increased the price of steel by 4% and company profits increased. I conclude by stating that the Government is discriminating against most of the people by ignoring their needs, their welfare, their protection, their health and their security and imposing at the same time a taxation burden from which the country gets scant and reluctant government benefit.

Question resolved in the affirmative House adjourned at 11.41 p.m.

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