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Wednesday, 23 May 1973
Page: 2516

Mr WENTWORTH (Mackellar) - The honourable member for Corangamite (Mr Street) and the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Wilson) have both, T think very rightly, drawn attention to the need to look after the normal family to a greater extent and particularly to the need to look after the married couple at the birth of their first and second children. This is something which I hope the private member's Bill which I will introduce into the House tomorrow will deal with to some extent - although only to some extent and it will touch on only part of the problem. I should like to have spoken at greater length on the main provisions of the Bills before the House but I know that an agreement has been made in regard to the limitation of time for debate and I shall not violate that agreement.

I just place on record that I have some disquiet about some features of the Bills, but I will not go into those features at any length. Instead, I want to say something about an amendment which I propose to move in the committee stage which is not related to the matters which the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) mentioned but does come within the order of leave for the Bills. If the LiberalCountry Party government had remained in power and if I had been the Minister for Social Services there would have been a development of the program that we had under way. I want now to put before the House 2 of the things which quite inevitably would have been done had we remained in power and which I believe should be done. The first is a measure to help widowers with dependent children and the second is a measure to cure an anomaly regarding the application of the means test in sheltered workshops, particularly as it presses upon those at the bottom of the scale who by reason of their incapacity are earning perhaps only $3, $4 or $5 a week. Those are the 2 things to which I am directing amendments which I hope to have an opportunity of moving in committee.

I shall deal just briefly with those 2 matters. I refer first to widowers with dependent children. While the previous government was in power we tried to clean up one by one the more pressing pockets of hardship in the community. I think we achieved this. But one pocket that was left and one which I had hoped very much to have an opportunity of clearing up, at any rate in this present year, was that of the widower with dependent children. I speak first of the man whose wife has died. Very often it is a terrible thing for such a man that when he is faced with the loss of his wife, at the same time, because of the fact that he receives no social security benefits or help, he is faced with the loss of his young children because he is unable to keep them at home. This has always seemed to me to be one of the most terrible things that could face a man. There is another case which unfortunately is becoming more common in the community, and that is the case of the deserted husband whose wife has left him with young children. He also suffers from emotional deprivation. We should not be adding to this emotional situation the financial hardship of receiving no help from social security benefits.

Therefore, in Committee I shall move an amendment designed to place the widower with dependent children on the same footing as the widow with dependent children. This is something which by reason of the operation of the means test, of course, will not mean that a man earning a wage will receive the full pension, but under the measures which the last government brought in, by the tapering of the means test and by the raising of the free area of income from SIO to $20 a week, those men who perhaps have 2 or 3 dependent children and who are earning, say, $80 to $90 a week will still receive a considerable help. These are people whom we should be helping and whom I hope the Government will consider in accepting the amendment which I propose to move.

The second matter I mentioned applies only to supplementary assistance payable to people working in sheltered workshops. As the Minister may remember, there is a precedent for treating income from sheltered workshop employment on a different level from that of other income. I hope that we can get rid of the anomaly whereby the one for one loss of supplementary assistance presses on those in sheltered workshops. I do not know whether honourable members have had as much experience as I have had of visiting sheltered workshops and seeing what happens in them and what are the complaints and the difficulties in them, but very often these problems arise through the entire loss of supplementary assistance to the employees at quite low levels of income. I can understand the Government's desire not to make supplementary assistance too widespread through the community. However, I hope that it will do what the previous government would have done in this term if it had been in office, and that is to rationalise the means test on supplementary assistance as we did in regard to the main means test. 1 can understand that the Government might not want to go too far in this matter at one jump. Therefore I suggest that at the present moment income earned in a sheltered workshop should be considered differently from normal income and the free limit for supplementary assistance should be raised to $10 a week and the balance of income should be subject to a tapering means test. These simple measures - the widower's benefit and the change in supplementary assistance that I have suggested - between them will not cost more than $4m a year. This is a small amount in comparison with the $26m a year which the Minister has suggested - I believe it is an underestimate - is the cost per year of the. measures presently before the House. So, I do not think that the Government should be deterred by the financial impediment of my suggestions. I hope very earnestly that the Government will be prepared to accept my proposed amendments, which are reasonable and very modest. They are designed to cure 2 of the remaining defects in our social security system. Of course, they are defects which affect only a small minority of social service recipients and widowers, but that minority suffers great hardship.

In the name of humanity I hope that the, Government will act quickly, as we undoubtedly would have in this term. I do not propose to press this matter to the stage of calling for a division. I do not want to impair or impede in any way the main purposes of the Bills which the Minister has put before the House. I would not want the consideration of my amendment to be used as an opportunity to delay the Bills before the House. But I suggest to the Minister that he look at the matters I have raised on their merits and look at the hardships which my amendment might obviate and look at the comparatively small cost, when measured against the cost which he has given for the measures now before us. In Committee I hope to move those 2 amendments which, as honourable members know, have already been circulated in my name.

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