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Thursday, 28 March 1968

Mr COLLARD (Kalgoorlie) - I support the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly), who introduced this matter of public importance. I could present figures relating to pension rates and 'he cost of living. They would prove conclusively that the income of the majority, if not all, of the recipients of social services is dropping further and further behind the cost of living. But the honourable member for Grayndler has already produced figures to show positively thai this is so. This should not be the position, lt must be obvious to everyone that the social service payments are too small. Anyone who is not willing to accept as a fact, without reference lo figures, that a large number of pensioners and other recipients of social services are now existing in a state of poverty or near poverty has his head in the clouds or has buried his head in the sand. Such a person is not interested in pensioners and is not willing to improve their position.

Mention has been made of an inquiry to be held into all aspects of social services. This could be a very good inquiry if it is expedited and if action is taken quickly on the report that is produced. The inquiry can only show the need for substantial increases in social services. But no doubt, like many other inquiries, it will drag on and the report will become an historic document before it is ever made public. What will be the position of pensioners between now and the time the inquiry is finished? Are the pensioners to continue to starve and suffer from the lack of normal provisions? Surely it is obvious that something must be done immediately. The Government will be failing in its responsibility to the people if it does not take immediate action to remedy the existing situation. I was surprised and disappointed to find from the opening remarks of the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) that apparently he is now running for cover. The rebel has become a yes man.

This debate presents a wonderful opportunity to several honourable members opposite to express their support or lack of it for petitions which they presented to the Parliament last year and this year. On 19th September last year the honourable member for Lalor (Mr Lee) presented a petition praying that the well-being of the aged, the infirm, the widowed, the deserted wives and dependent children, and the service pensioner be improved to parity with the national general living standard of the Australian people. It will be interesting to see whether the honourable member enters the debate today and supports the Opposition's arguments.

On the same day the honourable member for Ballaarat (Mr Erwin) and the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess) presented similar, if not identical, petitions. On the following day the honourable member for Flinders (Mr Lynch), who is now Minister for the Army, presented a similar petition. On 4th October last year the honourable member for Ballaarat again presented a petition to the Parliament. Surely we can expect to hear from him and to have his support on this occasion. On 5th October the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Jeff Bate) presented a petition calling upon the Commonwealth to provide increased social service benefits. On 17th October the honourable member for Henty (Mr Fox) presented a similar petition. Only yesterday the honourable member for McMillan (Mr Buchanan) presented a petition in the same terms as those presented last year. So at least seven honourable members opposite should support the

Opposition today. If those honourable gentlemen believe that the petitions which they presented were proper and that substantial increases in social service benefits are warranted and necessary to overcome suffering and privation, surely they will come down on our side in this debate. If they did not believe that the petitioners were correct in their representations, they should have refused to present the petitions to the Parliament. The matter is as simple as that.

Our initiation of this debate could be accepted as a criticism of the Government for its failure to do any of those things listed in the petitions to which I have referred. I for one will be interested to see where the honourable members opposite to whom I have referred stand and whether they accept this opportunity to support the signatories to the petitions which they presented.

Our criticism of the Government is not that increases have not been made. We are fully aware that when elections draw near the Government invariably makes small increases here and there in the field of social services. Our criticism is levelled at the Government for failing to make adequate increases. There is a vast difference between increases and adequate increases. For instance, simply to increase the age and invalid pension by 25c, $1 or $5 does not necessarily mean that the increase is adequate having regard to how much it costs for a person to live in reasonable circumstances. We say without fear of proper contradiction that the increases which this Government has made in social service benefits, not only in recent years but over several years, have never been adequate when measured against the cost of living. The Government's failure to measure up to its responsibilities over the years and its failure to grant increases sufficient to meet the ever-increasing cost of living are aggravating the plight of pensioners and making it more difficult for them to live as normal respectable citizens. That pensions are not adequate and increases not sufficient must surely be obvious not only to members of the Labor Party and to pensioners but to everybody who takes an interest in the welfare of pensioners and social service recipients generally. Because this fact is so obvious and so real, so many people have attached their signatures to the petitions which I referred to earlier, calling on the Government to increase pensions to a reasonable level. Very few, if any, elderly or disabled people would protest so vigorously against the low rate of pensions if they were receiving sufficient to live on in proper and reasonable manner - if they could live as ordinary citizens. If the petitions contain signatures of people other than pensioners you can bet your life that those people are convinced, from their own experience of the circumstances of pensioners and from their observations of the way in which pensioners live, that pensioners are not receiving an adequate pension or a fair deal. It is a disgrace that this Government should ignore people who are prepared to present their opinions to this Parliament.

Our argument is that amounts being paid today in social service benefits are not sufficient. In some fields there has not been an increase for several years, it is futile and demonstrates lack of interest and responsibility simply to refer, as so many Government supporters do and as the Minister for Social Services did, to the situation that existed in 1949. Whether pensions or other benefits were sufficient or insufficient at that time does not help people today. I would not suggest for a moment that pensions or other payments were sufficient in 1949. Certainly they were not sufficient in 1959. In my book they have never been sufficient. They will not be sufficient in 1969 or 1979 if this Government is allowed to remain in office. Why, 1949 is almost 20 years ago. Surely any Government which has been continually in office for almost 20 years has had plenty of time and ample opportunity to correct any shortcomings or insufficiencies which it knew existed in 1949, if it had any intention or desire to do so. No-one can suggest thai this Government has done these things. No-one can suggest that it has any intention of doing so. Government supporters have always carefully avoided any argument about the plight of the pensioner who has no other income and who is completely dependent on his pension. Such people, whether they are single or married, are in an almost impossible position. They cannot live unless they receive handouts of food and clothing. Everyone knows this to be so. lt is shocking to see members of this

Parliament apparently content to sit back and do nothing for so many of our senior citizens. Unfortunately many people are not in the happy situation of having any income)-

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr StewardOrder.' The honourable member's time has expired.

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