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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 1968

Mr PRICE(1.35) —In listening to the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Peter Fisher) talking about small business and the Government's economic policy, I would have thought that he would be one to have applauded the Government's floating of the dollar and to have recognised the fact that the coalition Government had for years maintained an artificially high dollar which hurt the very rural sector that he was talking about. I would have thought that he would welcome the reduction in marginal taxation rates, the reduction from the 60c in the dollar Howard rate to 49c in the dollar that will occur on 1 July. I would have thought that he would welcome the imputation system for incorporated small businesses. We will be the second country in the world to have imputation, and in West Germany the corporate rate on imputation is 56c in the dollar, not 49c. I would have thought that he would welcome the removal of Division 7. Imputation and Division 7-that is, the taxation of retained earnings-are issues that small businesses have been campaigning about for years.

At least this Government has had the guts to tackle tax reform, tackle hard economic decisions and bring in, in at least two of those measures, things that businesses have keenly sought. In addition to that, I would have thought the tax concession of 150 per cent for small businesses and companies engaging in research and development would be welcomed by the honourable member for Mallee.

I did not rise on this occasion to speak about small business. I want in this grievance debate to talk about senior citizens. Being a fellow New South Welshman, Mr Deputy Speaker, you will know that the month of March was a very important one for senior citizens. A former Premier of New South Wales, the Hon. Neville Wran, instituted a very important measure, that is, classifying or identifying one week as senior citizens' week.

I think it is very important that the community acknowledge the contributions that senior citizens have made to this country-a contribution that we, quite frankly, are now taking advantage of. Hopefully, their contribution will serve as an inspiration for successive generations. I was very pleased to attend the senior citizens' concert that was put on in the Blacktown City Council area. We had senior citizens from Mount Druitt, Rooty Hill, Doonside, Blacktown, Lalor Park and Riverstone. We have a very strong senior citizens' organisation there as well as a combined pensioner organisation. We had something like 600 pensioners at the Bowman Hall and I am sure they enjoyed it as much as I did. I want to pay tribute to the senior citizens, not only of Blacktown or New South Wales generally but of the whole of Australia. I commend the institution of a senior citizens' week to those Premiers who have not followed the New South Wales lead. Senior citizens certainly deserve recognition of their contribution.

The concert was also important for me personally, because I had the pleasure of responding to the invitation from Mrs Lawson, the secretary of the western Sydney area combined pensioners association, to attend their regional meeting at Wentworthville Leagues Club. Indeed, this was the second time that they had invited me to attend. The first had been at Penrith in 1986. Something like 250 delegates turned up to that meeting. I found that it was very useful and fulfilling to be able to go there and talk to them but, most particularly, to listen to their concerns. Unfortunately, the meeting at Wentworthville was held on a day of very heavy rain. It had been raining for a few days and we did not get the roll up that we had hoped for or consistent with Penrith. But I understand why many of the delegates would not have been able to travel on that particular day.

There are a number of issues that senior citizens and pensioners are very concerned about. I want to reiterate the record of this Government as far as senior citizens are concerned and to raise a couple of specific grievance matters. The pension is now very close to 25 per cent of average weekly earnings, the level that this Government has sought as a matter of policy as a commitment to senior citizens. I remind the House that the coalition in fact reduced pensions from 24.7 per cent of average weekly earnings when it took office to 22.7 per cent when it left office. Mr Deputy Speaker, you will be aware that pensioners are looking forward to an increase on 25 June, increasing the single pension by $5.95 to $112.15 and the married pension by $9.90 to $187.00. This, of course, will bring it much closer to 25 per cent of average weekly earnings.

This Government to date has increased pensions by 37.5 per cent in nominal terms. Let us look at what the real increase has been. The Hawke Labor Government has made a 7 per cent real increase in the level of pensions. We compare that to the record of the Fraser Government, under which the real increase was 1.5 per cent over seven years. People sometimes forget this Labor Government's real commitment to improving the lot of the poor, the socially disadvantaged and, of course, the senior citizens, in particular, pensioners.

There was a real change in climate from the last time I addressed the regional meeting of the combined pensioners organisation to the most recent. When we were at Penrith we were talking and arguing, in a consensus sort of way, about the legitimate things that pensioners could expect to receive from a government of whatever political flavour. But pensioners are now very much under attack, I think mostly from the Opposition. Indeed, the shadow Minister for Social Security, the honourable member for Richmond (Mr Blunt), has suggested that we ought to introduce a welfare tax to pay for pensions. This sounds very much like the National Welfare Fund established by the Curtin and Chifley governments, which was absolutely gutted under Menzies. It was gutted by the parties now in opposition, and now they seem to be wanting to reintroduce it under a new guise.

More recently in Parliament we heard from the Treasurer (Mr Keating) a very interesting analysis. The coalition's commitment to abolish the fringe benefits tax, the capital gains tax and the entertainment allowance will cost $1,300m, and that money is very likely to be funded by pension cutbacks. I think it is disgraceful to propose giving tax breaks to the wealthy, those who are most able to afford their taxes, and taking from those who are most vulnerable and those who have made such a magnificent contribution to Australia.

We cannot talk about the effects on pensioners of Opposition policies without talking about a consumption tax. It is fair enough to say that this Government contemplated a consumption tax but one of our real concerns at that time, before we discarded it, was to compensate pensioners. In none of the literature coming from the Opposition benches do we see that any compensation for pensioners will result from the introduction of a consumption tax. To see the inflationary effects of a consumption tax and how that might affect pensioners, one has only to look at New Zealand where a consumption tax has indeed been introduced. Currently in New Zealand the inflation rate is 18 per cent and the home loan interest rate is 20 per cent. I ask the pensioners of Australia how they are going to cope if a consumption tax is introduced, there is no compensation, and they see the prices of the basic commodities they consume going up by 12 per cent, 15 per cent or 18 per cent. It is a very sad thing. Instead of there being a bipartisan approach to pensioners, it seems clear to me that it is the Australian Labor Party that has done most in government for pensioners. It is the Australian Labor Party that has a commitment to the future security of our pensioners but it is the Opposition which, with some glee, is preparing to take away bipartisanship regarding additional increases for pensioners and to really attack their benefits.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) -Order! The honourable member's time has expired.