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Tuesday, 9 September 1958

Mr LUCHETTI (Macquarie) .- I desire to speak to the estimates for the Department of Social Services and the Department of Health, and at the outset I wish to join with the honorable member for Isaacs (Mr. Haworth) in expressing my profound regret at the passing of Mr. Rowe. Mr. Rowe was a man who rendered outstanding service, and I think that the Parliament is poorer for his passing. He was a friend to all members, including backbenchers. He was one of those public servants who felt that he had an obligation to the Parliament, and not only to his Minister. I want to say how much I personally regret his passing, because I know that he was a great humanitarian. He rendered great service to the people of this country.

The operations of the Department of Social Service should be completely reviewed. To begin with, the National Welfare Fund should be revived and reestablished on a firm basis. We have continued along a haphazard line without any clearcut or defined pattern or policy. The Budget only emphasizes the tattered form of the patchwork quilt of our social services legislation, a type of legislation that seems to be born rather of political expediency than of the needs of the people. The time has long since passed for a complete overhaul of all our social services activities. Our social services should be based on realities and not varied according to the political temperature. Social services recipients should receive benefits based on the capacity of the country to provide. We must maintain a standard of living befitting our people. State and Federal differences seem to cloud the issue. Instead of supplementary legislation we find a clash of interests between

State legislation and Commonwealth legislation. All those things point to the need for a complete review of our social services legislation.

Take pensions! Before obtaining a pension an applicant must go through three forms of means test. He is tested to ascertain whether he is entitled to a pension. He is also tested to find out whether he is entitled to the rent allowance - something that so far has not been defined to the Parliament. He is also tested to discover whether he is entitled to medical benefits. The legislation should be amended to meet the needs of the people. The hardships of those who are suffering as a result of the means test should be ameliorated. Pensioners should be accorded a position in society in keeping with their past services to the nation and their present needs. When one considers the great contributions that many of our age pensioners have made to the development of this country - physical and social contributions - it is evident that a new approach is long overdue. Many age pensioners reared their families without the benefit of child endowment. They had to foot the bill for the entire upkeep of the family. Many of them received no unemployment benefit when they were unable to find work. Many of our age pensioners were engaged in industry when there was no workers' compensation as we know it to-day, only some sickness benefit to which the worker had to contribute. Many of the people who contributed to the development of this country, and who helped to defend it in time of peril, are now in receipt of a small superannuation which has lost its value because of rampant inflation. Those people to-day find themselves unable to obtain social service benefits. This situation should be corrected, but we cannot expect this Government to take any action in the matter. I affirm the need for the whole of our social services to be based on justice and equity, and to be administered on those principles - not on political expediency.

I welcome the new legislation in so far as it will help single people who have very great burdens and difficulties, but even the rent allowance hardly meets the situation I have received letters from many of my constituents, good citizens, who in the course of time have been able to buy homes for themselves. Those people now find that because of the enhanced value of property in their communities, their rates, have increased alarmingly. and not every council is prepared to assist the aged and infirm by granting rate allowances. In one particular area in my electorate the municipal council is not prepared to give any assistance at all because of the large number of pensioners within the municipality. Other councils, however, have helped in some way where the number of pensioners in the municipality has not exceeded the number of other rate-paying citizens. Some of those people pay up to £70 a year in rates. Recently, I received a letter from a lady who is paying £90 a year in rates. She has a problem. I have suggested that the logical thing to do would be to subdivide her land, but it is an irregularly shaped piece of land covering a mountain gorge and cannot be satisfactorily subdivided. That lady finds herself in a far worse plight than many people who are called upon to pay rent. The payment of rates is a real burden to pensioners, and this Government has a responsibility to care for the thrifty people in the community.

There is another matter that affects many people harshly, and that is taxation. Many people who are in receipt of incomes ranging between £500 and £600 - and this is little enough under present inflationary conditions - are still being taxed, despite the fact that they are saving the Government money in that they are not drawing any social service payments. All these things seem to me to indicate quite clearly that there is great need to review our social service legislation and to base it on standards of decency and justice. Decency and justice seem to have been overlooked in the recent legislation brought before us.

I admit that certain aspects of that legislation are to be applauded. The recent decision to pay a subsidy of £2 for every £1 subscribed by communities for the housing of the aged is very good, as far as it goes, but most unfortunately local governing bodies have been excluded from the provisions of that legislation. That is most unfair, for I believe that local governing bodies are the authorities best suited to lead in this particular field.

Mr Turnbull - But it is the best provision we have ever had.

Mr LUCHETTI - I agree that it is the best we have had up to the present, but I still believe there is room to expand this policy. Our main consideration should be not what we have had in the past but what is best for the aged and the infirm from now on. I suggest that local-governing bodies really understand the needs of the people, and if we could make it possible for those bodies to play their part in helping to house the aged of the community we shall be doing something worth while.

To counterbalance the advantages to which I have referred, we have another unfortunate position under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. I refer to the fact that the former economic rental provisions which were of great help to the aged in that they made houses available at reasonable rentals have been waived. The aged and the infirm are now denied the benefit of cheap rentals for houses built by the various housing authorities. In this way, those people are having great hardship visited upon them, and it is high time that this anomaly was corrected.

Another important matter to which I wish to make passing reference is the unemployment benefit. The present payment is out of all proportion to what is needed to maintain a family, and I take this opportunity of expressing disapproval at the paltry dole being paid at the present time. In my opinion, the least we should pay is an amount sufficient to maintain a family; in fact, I should like to see the payment so high that to have unemployment in the country would be unprofitable. Unless we have such a payment, the tendency will always be towards unemployment, and we all know that this country can ill afford to have any person unemployed. These are all urgent and pressing problems to which the Government ought to apply itself without delay.

I come now to the important question, of child endowment. This was introduce, in Australia first in 1925 by a Labour gr.vernment under the leadership of Mi. Lang in New South Wales. It was continued by a non-Labour Commonwealth government in 1941 when 5s. a week was paid for each child after the first. This amount was increased to 7s. 6d. a week by the Chifley Government, which increased the payment in 1948 to 10s. a week for each child after the first. In 1951, the present Administration granted a payment of 5s. a week for the first child, and there has been no alteration of any kind in these payments for the first child since that year. Further, there has been no alteration in the payments made for the other children since 1948.

We have admitted the need to educate our children, we have all realized that additional grants for universities are necessary, but our children cannot take advantage of the opportunity to matriculate and to take university education unless further assistance is given to the family man. We spend vast sums on bringing new people to this country. I have no quarrel whatever with that, because I am firmly of the opinion that if we are to build Australia, if we are to enjoy the great wealth that abounds in this country, we must add to our numbers; but I point out that by far the better way of encouraging development is to encourage larger families, and, if we are to have large families in Australia, we must encourage the parents.

The first and most urgent step in this direction is to pay to the wife a higher amount of child endowment and to continue paying that endowment so long as her children are attending school. The most costly period of a child's schooling is when it is studying for the intermediate or leaving certificate, yet, under the present system, child endowment is discontinued at the very period when it is needed most. I put it to the committee that this matter needs very careful and urgent attention. Children at that age need additional assistance. The present child endowment rate is totally inadequate, and I can only express the hope that the Parliament will give serious consideration to this important and pressing matter affecting the welfare of the people of this country, especially when we realize that when the present rate was fixed a 194:" the basic wage was £5 16s. a week.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

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