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Wednesday, 20 November 1974
Page: 2561

Senator PRIMMER - I ask the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation: In view of the Australian Labor Party's announced policy to restore the war widows' pension to not less than its 1949 value, can the Minister say whether this value has yet been reached? If not, when will it be reached? Can the Minister give an assurance that these pensions will not be allowed to drop to the unrealistic levels experienced during the 23 years of Liberal-Country Party government?

Senator WHEELDON -As I think all honourable senators would be aware- 1 hope they would be aware- and certainly all war widows would be aware, there was a steady deterioration in the level of the pensions available for war widows after the election of a Liberal-Country Party government in 1949. An undertaking was given by the Australian Labor

Party to restore to the 1949 level the position of war widows' pensions in this country. I am pleased to be able to say that not only are the war widows of Australia better off now than they were under the previous Liberal Governmentmuch better off than they were under that government- but they are in fact better off than they were in 1949 under the Chifley Labor Government. Not only has this Government excelled its Tory predecessors but it has excelled even the efforts of a previous Labor Government. Before the Australian Labor Party was elected to office in 1 972 the war widows ' pension was $20 a week and the domestic allowance, which is received by most war widows, was $8.50 a week. In the time since then the consumer price index has risen by about 20 per cent and the total pension and domestic allowance paid to war widows has increased by over 50 per cent. A 20 per cent increase in the consumer price index has been matched by a 50 per cent increase in the pension and domestic allowance payable to Australian war widows.

At the present time the war widow's pension, including the domestic allowance, is well ahead of the 1949 value if it is compared with movements in the consumer price index and if it is compared with the then basic wage and the present minimum wage. If the 1949 war widow's pension had kept pace with the consumer price index its present value would be $22.96 a week; it is now almost twice that figure under the Whitlam Labor Government. If the 1949 war widow's pension had kept pace with movements in the former basic wage, now the minimum wage, its present value would be $37.07 a week; again, the pension at the present time is well above that level. It is interesting to note- and I believe that the Senate should be reminded of this-that war widows who also qualify for an age or invalid pension can receive up to $62.50 a week tax free.

Senator Greenwood - A point of order, Mr President. Is the Minister correct and in order in debating an answer which he is purporting to be giving? If he is in order, is it proper for him to ignore in the figures he is giving the enormous rate of inflation at present?

Senator WHEELDON -As Senator Greenwoodhas raised the question of inflation, I should say that that is precisely the point I was making. I was comparing the increase in the pension with the increase in the consumer price index. Of course, Senator Greenwood is one of the people who talk about inflation without really knowing what it means. One of the ways inflation is measured is through the consumer price index, and as Senator Greenwood has not grasped that point I will explain it to him. When I was comparing the pension with the consumer price index I was comparing it with inflation. That is what it means, and I hope Senator Greenwood has now learned that lesson. If he has not, there are a number of elementary text books on economics for first year high school students which he may be able to understand.

To come back to the serious question that has been asked by Senator Primmer, I believe that these facts should be made known because Senator Townley earlier asked a similar question on this matter. That is, war widows who also qualify for an age pension can receive up to $62.50 a week tax free, and that is equivalent to a taxable income of $72. 1 5 a week or $3,752 per annum. A war widow with 2 children can receive up to $104.40 a week, which is equivalent to $128 a week if taxation is taken into account. In addition, war widows receive all of the free medical, hospital and dental treatment and a onethird reduction in their telephone -

Senator Sir Magnus Cormack - A point of order, Mr President. I wish to take a point of order, namely, that standing order 98 and subsequent standing orders have been violated by the Minister. The Opposition will afford him an opportunity to make a statement after question time.

The PRESIDENT -Standing order 98 says:

After Notices have been given Questions may be put to Ministers of the Crown relating to public affairs; and to other Senators relating to any Bill -

And certain rules shall apply. I think that Senator Wheeldon has given a very adequate answer to the question, and I understand that he is now concluding.

Senator WHEELDON -The only concluding remark that I make is that as the Opposition likes to talk about inflation but does not like to hear about the positive measures that have been taken by the Government to counter inflation, I feel that there is no point in pursuing the question at this time.

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