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Thursday, 28 March 1968

Mr WILSON (Sturt) - lt has been suggested that when this Government came to office it was not aware of the insufficiency of benefits available to pensioners. This Government has a proud record of providing for pensioners, and particularly our elderly citizens. To suggest that nothing has been done is a complete fallacy. The Opposition has claimed that the Government has not taken cognisance of increases in the cost of living. We have had little in the way of documentary or factual evidence from honourable members opposite to establish that claim. Throughout its term of office the Government has recognised that during periods of rising prices pension rates must be increased, and it has increased those rates. The Government has recognised also that during periods of rising prices it must make adjustments to the means test so as to maintain the real value of the savings of the people. In the fulfilment of this desire the Government has progressively extended both the amount of the benefit and the range of entitlement so as not merely to maintain the value of pensions but also to preserve the real value of pensions in the income structure of the community. As real output per head of the population has risen pensioners have shared in the improving standards of living of the community.

If we compare the movements in the money incomes of pensioners with the movements in the consumer price index we find that the real position of pensioners has improved substantially over the years. As the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) has already pointed out, in 1949 the age pension was $4.25. If the rate had been increased according to the consumer price index the age pension today would be $9.49. However, in accordance with the two principles I have outlined, of ensuring that the real value of the pension is maintained and that the position of the pensioner as a recipient of income has been maintained relative to other recipients of income, the Government has increased the pension so that today the base rate is $13 per week. Those who qualify for supplementary assistance receive in pension and supplementary assistance $15 per week.

There have been studies of the relative value and real value of the pension. If one studies a book 'Social Security in Australia' by T. H. Kewley one finds that in a table he demonstrates how the real value of the pension has been increased over the years. If one projects the figures forward from the year at which his table concluded one finds that the pattern is in the same direction and his comments are as correct today as they were when he wrote them. He said:

Since 1923 maximum pension rates have thus more than kept pace wilh rises in the cost of living as measured by movements in the retail price index. In fact. Uley have outstripped it. the distance between them becoming more marked during the post-war years. The index of real value of the basic wage has shown a similar trend. However, the long term rise has not been so steep. That is true also of the longer period starting from the time when the age pensions scheme came into force ... the purchasing power of the pension, measured at 1963-64 prices, was worth 2.3 times as much during 1963-64 as it was during 1909-10.

This tendency of the real value of the pension to rise relative to the basic wage or minimum wage has continued to this day. Another writer, Ronald C. Gales, in an article entitled 'Incomes for the Aged' has commented:

The most striking impression to emerge is of the long-run increase in the maximum pension rate in both real and relative terms.

He has prepared figures which support this contention. So over the term of office of the present Government we have seen a positive plan whereby the real value of pensions has been maintained and improved. This is a record of which the Government is properly proud, and I am sure that it will do nothing in the future to impair that record. To raise this matter on an occasion such as this, in a session of the Parliament prior to a Budget session, will merely underline to the Government the importance of its reviewing the situation to ensure that at that time of the year when it considers what allowances are to be made through our social security programme these matters are considered and given their due weight.

The assessment of whether or not our pensions have maintained their value must be judged not merely by the monetary benefits paid; we must take into account also what are known as the fringe benefits of which there are two main categories. There is the category of fringe benefits which assist in providing those dependent upon social service payments with security of accommodation. Here the Government, through the imaginative Aged Persons Homes Act scheme, has provided finance which has enabled the building of accommodation sufficient to house more than 2% of persons of pensionable age. Indeed, in the State from which I come, accommodation built under this Act provides a home for 5.5% of those persons of pensionable age.

The Government has recognised also the special needs of the single pensioner with limited means who has to pay rent. Because he or she is not a home owner it has provided supplementary assistance to help these people. At present more than 94,000 people receive this supplementary assistance. This represents 14% of those receiving an age pension and 8% of those of pensionable age. in the other major field of special need that arises for people of pensionable age or those in receipt of pensions for other causes is the question of the cost of health. In this field the Government has, over the years, improved the measures which provide the pensioners with security in this regard. lt is very pleasing to have read in the Governor-General's Speech that the provision of greater facilities for those with chronic illness is being considered. I am sure that the special Cabinet committee which is being set up will take into account the special needs of those groups among those in receipt of a pension and come up with a solution to provide those who suffer from the fear of insecurity, either as to accommodation or in questions of health, a means by which this fear may be removed. At the same time the basic pension must continue to provide them with an ever increasing real value on which they can sustain their lives-

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