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Thursday, 28 March 1968


Mr DALY (Grayndler) - It was in 1949, almost 20 years ago, that former Prime Minister Menzies, delivering the joint policy speech of the Liberal and Country Parties, and speaking on social services, promised:

Existing rates of pension will, of course, be at least maintained. We will, much more importantly, increase their true value by increasing their purchasing power.

The new Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) has made several statements promising priority to the problems of social welfare. Only this week in Melbourne he had this to say:

We must pay full attention to the requirements of the ill, the aged and the unfortunate among us if we are to hold up our heads as a civilised nation.

Yet the Prime Minister's performances are quite different from the sentiments he has expressed. In answer to a question by me in this Parliament, following an address by the new Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) to the Young Liberals of Newcastle, in which the Minister indicated that child endowment and social service benefits would be increased, the Prime Minister practically disowned the Minister for Social Services by saying that no decision on that matter had yet been made. Furthermore, the Prime Minister has placed the Social Services portfolio in twenty-fifth position in the Ministry, actually in second lust place, and the Minister is not a member of the Cabinet, as his predecessor was.

The new Minister for Social Services has much to live up to. His views on pensions, the means test and Government policy have been well known. He was a constant and constructive back bench critic on his way to the ministerial bench. On 28th February 1968 the Australian 'Financial Review* paid the Minister this tribute:

Here is a man who, for almost 19 years, has argued from the backbench, with unquenchable - sometimes seemingly quixotic - devotion to mission, for reform in application and principle at the pension end of Australia's social welfare machinery.

When the Minister made the statement on the birth rate a few days ago he completely ignored the fact that the maternity allowance had not been increased for 25 years. Despite what was said about him by the Australian 'Financial Review' he is also on record as having said in this Parliament in April 1967: 1 also agree that many people who are entitled to pensions under the laws of our land are not drawing them.

With that background lo the Government's intentions and actions, and with a new Prime Minister, it is interesting to note that on Thursday, 21st March 1968 in this Parliament the honourable member for Evans (Dr Mackay), a member of the Liberal Party, a churchman, a politician and a social worker, had this to say:

I have been recently investigating personalty the plight of various groups in my electorate in the suburbs of Drummoyne, Five Dock and Ashfield. What I have seen in some cases - I make no apology for saying it - has often made me feel physically sick, morally indignant and deeply determined to see the nation face its responsibility.

And at a later stage he said:

I could take honourable members to case after case of old people, singly or in couples, existing in misery and from which neither I nor they can see any prospect of escape except through death.

That striking condemnation of the pledges given by the Government as long as 20 years ago was made only a few days ago by a Government supporter, lt indicates that the Government has not honoured its promise to this deserving section of the community. It all adds up to the fact that the new Prime Minister and his Government arc following the Liberal pattern set as long ago as 1949 of raising false hopes of benefits for these unfortunate people, lt means that after 20 years of promises that gave false hopes to the aged, the widowed, the invalids and others dependent on social services, the Government stands condemned for its neglect of these people. In this age of prosperity the Government has reduced thousands of the pioneers of this nation to poverty and want.

This is an age when company profits have never been higher, when the Government boasts about prosperity and when our mineral, resources and potential national wealth are the talk of the world, lt is an a.ge of almost full employment, with husbands and wives working and young people enjoying to the full all that life has to offer because of their high earning capacity. In other words, we are living in an affluent society. It is an age when as a nation we should be proud to say that we provide adequately for those who are aged, sick, widowed or otherwise dependent on social services. This, however, is not the case, as I shall show. 1 intend to quote from documents made available to me by courtesy of the Minister for Social Services which set out the type of social service benefits, the present amounts payable and the effective dates of the last increase in each benefit. I have also obtained from the Library and other official sources the number of recipients. These documents prove conclusively that in this age of affluence the Government has neglected its responsibility. Let us look at the situation for age and invalid pensioners. The standard rate is $13 a week. This rate has not been increased since 1966 for either the married or single age or invalid pensioner and in that time the cost of living has risen by at least 5%. The figures I have before me indicate that 670,231 people are receiving age, invalid and widow pensions. Of these, 119,040 have not received a rise since 1966.

The wife's allowance of S6 a week has not been increased since 1963. The child's allowance has not been increased since 1961, a period of 7 years ago.

As we go further down the scale we find some glaring anomalies. Widow pensions classes A, B and C were increased in 1966, but the mother's allowance of S4 a week is like the maternity allowance; it will evidently never be heard of again. It also has not been increased since 1963 when the cost of living rose. We find that unemployment and sickness benefits have remained unchanged since 1957 for people up to 20 years of age and that it is 5 years since these benefits were changed at all. The birthrate is falling, and one reason may be that the maternity allowance has not been changed for 25 years. It was introduced in 1943, and for 25 years it has remained the same. Successive Liberal Ministers have never changed the rate, yet the Minister for Social Services, who is at the table, quibbles about the falling birthrate.

The last increase in child endowment for the first child was in 1950 - 18 years ago - and the last increase for the second child was in 1948 - 20 years ago. I cannot go over the full range of benefits, but they indicate precisely how the Government has neglected to increase social services to meet the increased cost of living. This is a valuable document, and as I have not time to quote it in detail, with the concurrence of honourable members 1 shall have it incorporated in Hansard.

 

Other figures that I have obtained from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library and from official documents indicate that every age benefit at the present time is lagging behind the cost of living, if we take into account the very minimum increase in the cost of living. These documents cover the full range of benefits. If we take into consideration the cost of living, the maternity allowance for a mother with no other children should be $81.30 instead of $30. This benefit has not been increased for 25 years. The maternity allowance for a mother with one or two other children should be $86.72 instead of $32 at this stage. The maternity allowance for a mother with three or more other children should be $95.85 instead of $35. I suggest to the Minister that proportionate increases should be applied to every social service benefit that is being paid at the present time. If the Minister wants to increase the birth rate, first of all he should have a look at the maternity allowances and the cost of bringing children into the world, as well as the benefits paid to other pensioners to whom I have referred.

Age, invalid and widow pensions have lagged behind spiralling prices. Naturally, it is true to say, as the Minister probably will say, that rates have increased, but they have not increased anywhere near the speed at which prices have risen. It is also true to say that expenditure on social services has increased, but in the main this is not only because of increased pensions but because more people are receiving them. There is a greater number of people receiving pensions, but they are getting less value than ever before.

The Government will probably refer to percentages. It is all very well to refer to percentages of the cost of living and percentages of the basic wage to prove a pensioner's prosperity, but this proves nothing because pensioners and other recipients of social services cannot live on percentages. What is actually wanted is an adequate rate of pension to provide sufficient clothing, shelter and food. But this is not being provided, as was instanced by the Liberal member for Evans in this Parliament a few days ago. This fact has been proved repeatedly by articles in the daily Press and by pensioners' publications which have been distributed from one end of this country to the other. I refer to what Mrs Ellis of the

Australian Commonwealth Pensioners Federation had to say in a letter which was sent to all members of Parliament on 25th March 1968. She stated:

The Federation cannot but take note that pensioners had to 'forgo' a rise in the last Budget in a period of a steep rise in the cost of living, lt is true they had the sympathy of the Federal Treasurer, Mr McMahon, but sympathy will not put food in empty stomachs, or prevent consequent malnutrition and possible death.

A continued failure of the Federal Government to raise the living standard of the aged, the invalid, the widowed, the deserted wife, the service pensioner, and the dependants, will give substance to the claim that the Government is following a guns before butter' policy for which pensioners will be 'sacrificed'.

There can be no answer to their claim that they are entitled to a fair deal and an increase in pensions because of increased costs of living. If we look at what pensioners have to compete with today, we find that according to official statistics they have to compete with an average weekly earnings of $60.70 per person. The maximum pension that a single man who has no other income and who has worked hard all his life can receive is $15 per week. A married couple receive a pension of $11.75 each. Their pension is only a fraction of the basic wage and they have no other income. Where does their pension go? The figures given to me by the Department of Social Services show, whatever reservations there may be about other figures, that 70% of pensioners, or 604,300 of them, have no income, and 35% have an income up to $10 a week. Only 26,000 pensioners, or 4% of them, have an income exceeding $10 a week. So 70% of pensioners have no income other than the pension and have no other means to meet their responsibilities. Time does not permit me to go into the full details, but every journal in the country that deals with the facts of social justice reveals the situation for all to see. The facts that I have presented to the House indicate that wanton poverty prevails throughout this country in the realm of pensions and social services.

To the eternal discredit of the Government, though not of the present Minister, who sought inquiries, no inquiry has ever been made into the incidence of poverty, the want, the degradation and the suffering that are being experienced, and the need for the increases in pensions that are being demanded because the rates being paid are so low in the current state of our economy.

The time has gone when pension increases were considered only in proximity to an election, when some political end was to be gained. Surely, in this age, the Government should be able to assess the real cost of living for a pensioner, his wife and family, whatever the size of the family may be. The Government should be able to assess the needs of pensioners and give them better than a miserable fifty cents or a dollar merely to serve its own political purposes. This sort of approach, of course, may not have applied wholly to one side of the Parliament. But surely those days have gone. A full and complete inquiry should now be instituted to assess rates of pension that would be reasonable for all classes of pensioners, both widows and others, and particularly those who are entirely dependent on social services. Such an inquiry should be undertaken to assess pensions adequately, without the intrusion of any political considerations, so that just and equitable incomes in the form of pension will be provided for all pensioners. I hope that the Minister will give expression to this aspiration and put such a proposal into effect. 1 have the full support of the Opposition in proposing the discussion of this subject as a matter of urgency, and I am certain that many honourable members on the Government side will support my action because they know the injustice of the treatment that is being meted out to pensioners. Originally, we hoped for much from the new Minister. However, he has not shaped too well so far. He ran for cover the other day on the question of policy. 1 can only say that, judging by our experience of him in his days of exile, that is unlike him. I want to sec him, in his ministerial capacity, put into effect those vibrant and dynamic policies that he said were necessary to achieve desired changes in the social structure of this country. If he does that, he will have fulfilled not only his dream of attaining the Ministry but also bis obligations to the Government and to those Australians who depend entirely on social service benefits. I urge the Minister not to be deterred by the outdated policies of the Liberal Party of Australia which have caused the chaos and suffering that I instanced earlier. I appeal to him to give full expression to those qualities which he possesses and which we, on this side of the Parliament admire in him. We on this side are pleased that he now has an opportunity to do so. However, we would remind him that it is performance that counts. We look to him, in his first major speech on social services to be made in this Parliament since taking up his duties as Minister, to fulfil our hopes and the people's ambitions by indicating that he will give some measure of security to that well deserving section of our society for which 1 have spoken today.







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