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Tuesday, 26 September 1972
Page: 1168

Senator LITTLE (Victoria) -I. move:

At end of motion add - but the Senate is of the opinion that a just, adequate and comprehensive social welfare system can be achieved only by the creation of a contributory national superannuation scheme and that pending the establishment of such a scheme, pension rates should be determined by an independent tribunal of experts including pensioner representation, and the Senate is also of the opinion that this Bill should have provided for increases in child endowment rates and maternity allowances which are long overdue for adjustment.

I shall speak to the proposition very briefly because the subject has been well canvassed. I believe that everybody would be in favour of the proposal in the amendment relating to a contributory national superannuation scheme, although there would be some contest of ideas on the establishment of an independent tribunal of experts to determine pension rates. It has been said that it would not be practicable to have such a tribunal. We have heard most of these arguments before, but the question remains whether the arguments have been valid. Decisions affecting much activity in our economy is entrusted to expert tribunals. In the case even of some industrial crises which have taken place, particularly in the primary industries, the Government often has been guided by expert tribunals which have suggested what is required to save an industry from oblivion. The Government's main function in these instances has been to give the suggestion legislative enactment and to provide the money to implement the scheme.

The proposition contained in my amendment is not a suggestion to establish some irresponsible body that will not consider a!l aspects. The great wage tribunals of this country when allowed to operate untrammelled take into consideration all factors that are necessary for the well-being of the whole community and when they come to fix wages they do not decide that someone should have a certain increase simply because he needs it or for some similar reason; they decide whether industry can afford to pay and whether the economy can stand the increase which is proposed. The tribunal that I have suggested would take living standards of pensioners out of the political arena. No government, whatever its political complexion, can deny thai pensions become a political football. I do not wish to raise a controversy in any shape or form, but one could easily suggest that it was because of its receding popularity that the Government suddenly found that the needs of pensioners were such as to warrant their receiving an increase in the current Budget. Even if that were not true, the Government must admit that at least prima facie it appears to be true.

Although the Government has been able to afford this increase, only 6 months earlier it decided that it was not possible to grant an increase. Anybody who argues that this area of social services does not become a political football is not facing the political facts of our time. It is a political football which is used by political parties when they are in office and when they are in opposition. When a political party is in opposition it often has no idea whether what it is advocating on behalf of pensioners is possible, but it will use this means to gain favour. We believe that an independent tribunal would be a sensible approach to this problem in a modern community. On many occasions we have made suggestions which at the time have appeared to b£ radical if not impossible of application, but the Government eventually has come round to our way of thinking. We hope that the Government will accept this suggestion. There is no reason why there should not be pensioner representation on the tribunal to tell the Government of the pensioner's needs. Someone should present the picture from their side. What happens at the moment? The Government makes its own assessment. Members of the Government are not pensioners. The Government has its experts who are highly paid public servants, but they have little or no appreciation of the circumstances of pensioners. I believe that with these salient points we can leave the matter to the good sense of honourable senators.

Surely no-one would suggest that the one increase in child endowment over 12 months ago or the increased maternity allowances are adequate or thai the increases have been sufficient to cope with the inflation that has taken place. In present circumstances a family can be regarded as a burden, but that burden should be removed from this category by lifting the rates to a more realistic level when compared with costs and charges in the community. We feel that maternity allowances have not been anything like adequate for a considerable period, despite the hospital benefits that are payable to those people who can afford to belong to hospital benefit funds. What is to happen to those people who cannot afford to belong to the funds? We believe that the proposition contained in the amendment is sensible and we commend it to the Senate.

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