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Tuesday, 9 September 1958
Page: 966

Mr TURNBULL (Mallee) .- I rise to make one or two corrections to statements made in the speech by the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Coutts) that we have just heard. The honorable member made some errors. It has been said that if you make a statement often enough, people will come to believe it. Therefore, it is best that I correct the errors immediately. With regard to one statement by the honorable member, what I wish to do involves nothing more than putting my opinion against his, but in respect of the others, definite proof that he was in error can be obtained from the Budget Speech of the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), and I shall read the relevant parts.

The honorable member said that the Department of Social Services was the most important of all departments because it concerned so many people. I do not think that it is the most important. I think that the most important departments covered by the Estimates are those that foster the industries that make possible the payment of pensions. The honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) has said that rates of pension should be based on the capacity of the country to provide such pensions. I agree with that. Therefore, the departments that foster the industries that provide the money for the benefits are the most important. The other departments are only of secondary importance. When the money is available, it is distributed to the pensioners. Of course, the more they receive the better we all are pleased. The honorable member for Griffith has a way of putting things back to front. Those listening to him may not understand him readily and may therefore get a wrong impression.

The honorable member said, rather dramatically, that he preferred to believe the Treasurer rather than to believe me, but apparently he believes neither. For the benefit of the honorable member, I shall read a passage from the Treasurer's Budget Speech. If I read it word by word, he should be able to understand it. It is as follows: -

In reviewing its social services policy the Government has given consideration to the needs of certain groups of age, invalid and widow pensioners with little or no means apart from their pensions. It proposes to introduce a form of supplementary assistance to relieve hardship and improve the circumstances of single pensioners (and married persons where only one is in receipt of a pension and the other is not in receipt of an allowance) who pay rent and are deemed to be entirely dependent on their pensions. The rate of supplementary assistance will be 10s. a week.

Despite the interjections of honorable members opposite, it is clear that the supplementary allowance will be paid to both single pensioners and married pensioners. Those are the words of the Treasurer, whom the honorable member for Griffith prefers to believe. Yet, I said exactly what the Treasurer said.

The honorable member also took to task the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson). He stated that the honorable member for Sturt referred to the number of people paying rent, the number not paying rent, the number boarding, and the number in other categories, to support a claim that the rent allowance represented an amelioration of the means test. I do not think that the honorable member for Sturt said that at all. If I understood him correctly, his reference to a liberalization of the means test related to the following passage from the Budget Speech of the Treasurer: -

In addition it is proposed to liberalize the means test in a number of ways. The limit of property beyond which a person is debarred from receiving a pension will be raised by £500, that is, from £1,750 to £2,250, or by £1,000- from £3,500 to £4,500 - in the case of a married couple.

We know that the honorable member for Sturt has been a great fighter for the abolition of the means test, and, of course, every liberalization is pleasing to him, as he stated this afternoon. But the honorable member for Griffith completely misunderstands him and, misunderstanding him, quoted something that was quite irrelevant. I think that should be put right.

I do not think there is any member of this Parliament who would say that pensioners should not get as high a pension as possible. The honorable member for Macquarie said that pensions are paid according to what the country can pay - that they are based upon the capacity of the country to pay such benefits. The honorable member said also that pensions should be paid according to the service given to the community by pensioners. I hope that I have not misquoted his words or taken them out of their context, and I am sure that an examination of " Hansard " will show that I have not done so. What he meant was that pensioners have given great service to the community. I am not trying to gain political points from speeches made by Opposition members, and I agree that the pensioners have given great service to the community. But I do not think that, in that respect, they are any different from other sections of the community. Indeed, they are just a cross-section of the people, as are members of Parliament. I do not think that all the pensioners are pioneers. In fact, I think that the days of pioneering have largely passed. There may be a few people pioneering in the Northern Territory and a few other outlandish parts, but the real pioneering was done by our early settlers. I do not think Opposition members will contradict mc when I say that. Therefore, I should be loath to say that the pensioners are the pioneers of this country. They are a cross-section of the community. Some of them are among the greatest people that we have had, some are ordinary, everyday people, and some are not so good as we should like them to be. However, I do not wish it to be thought that I am trying to disparage them.

Some have fallen on poor times, through no fault of their own. Some have had large families to rear. Taking all those things into consideration, they are just a crosssection of the community, and as such should receive the highest pensions that the Government can give them. But the Government is budgeting, this financial year, for a deficit of £110,000,000; so money is not as readily available as it might be. It has been stated that this Government has not maintained the value of pensions at the same level at which it stood when Labour last increased pensions in its Budget in 1948. Authentic figures clarifying this matter have been presented in this chamber before.

Mr Galvin - The year was 1949.

Mr TURNBULL (MALLEE, VICTORIA) - It was in 1948 thai the Labour Government last increased pensions, but I know that Opposition members always like to refer back to 1949.

Mr Thompson - To the percentage of the basic wage that the basic pension rate represented then.

Mr TURNBULL - To that percentage. It has been pointed out that the percentage is the same now as it was in 1949.

Mr Griffiths - What does the honorable member think?

Mr TURNBULL - I think that the Government has done a pretty good job. Generally speaking, I have told the pensioners in my electorate that. I am prepared to support a move for higher pensions when the Government is in a position to pay higher pensions - when it is not budgeting for a deficit, but has available sufficient money to increase pensions. As with every other kind of social service benefit, the higher the pension we can give the better. A few days ago, we in this chamber were talking about the prosperity of Australia, and one honorable member remarked that the pensioners were not very prosperous. He said that we should make them as prosperous as possible. I have looked up the meaning of the word " prosperous " in a dictionary. Everybody knows its common meaning, but I found that its technical meaning was " well-to-do, successful in business ". 1 think we should make the pensioners as well-to-do as possible, but perhaps the word " prosperous " is not the most fitting to use in this context. I think that the pensioners should enjoy standards commensurate with the high standard of living that we enjoy in this country, which has been prosperous over the last few years, and the Government has done all in its power to assist them in every possible way. Some people say that the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) is a very hard man, but the people who know him best know that he is very human and that he will do all he can to help the pensioners and others who receive benefits paid by the Department of Social Services, over which he presides.

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