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Monday, 11 May 1987
Page: 2890

Mr BLUNT —My question is addressed to the Minister for Social Security. Is it a fact that in November 1985 the Government withdrew income earnings concessions for pensioners and that in February 1986 pensioners were promised a new, fair and simpler system? Is it a fact that since then the Hawke Government has deferred the poverty traps reduction measures affecting pensioners, has extended income averaging concessions to sports people and performers, has given some tax relief to wage and salary earners, and has deferred consumer price index adjustments for pensioners? In view of the obvious low priority the Hawke Government attaches to the needs of pensioners, when can they expect the new, fair and simpler income earnings scheme promised by the Minister?

Mr HOWE —It reflects on the ignorance of the honourable member for Richmond that he should suggest in any way that this Government has failed to protect the interests of pensioners, despite the extraordinarily difficult economic circumstances this country has faced while we have been in office. Opposition members often forget their mismanagement of the economy. They often forget the enormous cost of unemployment which they bequeathed to this Government and the massive growth that occurred in the number of welfare beneficiaries, not during our time in government but during their time in government, which added very significantly to the cost of social security. In terms of this Government's stewardship we have nothing to apologise for. We have been prepared to take some quite hard decisions. We have been prepared to take decisions that restrict eligibility for pensions and benefits for people with considerable assets. That sticks in the throat of the honourable member who asked the question because he knows that the coalition parties have not been prepared to face those tough decisions.

One of the most significant achievements of this Government is that it has recognised the special needs of pensioner and beneficiary families with children. We have been prepared, in the difficult circumstances we have faced, not only to look at where we can save money but also to redirect resources particularly to very low income families. The House does not need to be reminded, but I will remind it, of the very significant increases that have occurred in not only the mothers/guardians allowance but also the additional payments by 70 per cent for children of pensioners and beneficiaries and the introduction and raising by 70 per cent of the family income supplement.

In terms of the coming May statement, to which no doubt the honourable member refers, let me say again that the theme in every step of this Government's management of the economy is to ensure that there is some fairness and that the interests of people on very low incomes are protected. Without giving anything away about the May statement, people looking at the record of this Government will have every confidence that the statement, which must be a very hard statement to achieve the result that is necessary in terms of the economy, will have fairness written into it.

The honourable member referred to incentives and the need to build into the social security system measures which provide incentives for people to get back into the work force, particularly people of work force age, as early as possible. That is a theme which the Government is very well aware of. Notwithstanding the current difficult economic circumstances, in which we must place the greatest emphasis on the greatest need, we are also mindful of the need to provide incentives which will help people to move off pensions and benefits and back into the paid work force as quickly as possible.