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Thursday, 28 March 1968

Mr COPE (Watson) - The Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) and the honourable member for Sturt (Mr

Wilson), who has just resumed his seat, seem to take some sort of comfort from the amount of pension that was paid in 1949. If they want to go so far back, why not start comparing pensions with the rates paid by the Bruce-Page Government, the Scullin Government and the Lyons Government - right back to the days of federation. But that does not provide the pensioners with any extra money with which to buy essential commodities. The question to be asked in respect of social service and age pensions is this: Can the economy afford to pay more and do the pensioners deserve a higher pension? That is the question before the House - not what rate of pension was paid in 1949.

We have heard no mention of the point that in 1949 the Budget totalled about $1,000 million whereas today it amounts to almost $6,500 million. It is natural that the Budget would increase over the years and that the rate of pension would increase also. It is ridiculous to go back to 1949 to find a comparison for the age pension rate. I am sure that after the performance we have seen from the Minister this morning neither Richard Burton nor Elizabeth Taylor could possibly compete with him for an Academy Award.

There is no doubt about this. His exhibition showed it. He wants the Opposition to put forward constructive ideas that will benefit pensioners. I make a constructive suggestion that 1 know the Opposition will support: Let the Government introduce a supplementary Budget this session to increase pensions and we will support it. We all know when pensions will be increased - in the August immediately before an election. We know that the Government could not possibly face the Australian people if it did not increase pensions then.

The pension rate has not been adjusted since August 1967, despite the fact that the Commonwealth Statistician's figures reveal that prices have increased by 5% since 1966-67 and are still increasing. Consequently, pensioners are asked to absorb price increases in their inadequate pensions. The honourable member for Sturt spoke about living in comfort on $13 a week. What complete rubbish. Why does be not try to live on the paltry sum of $13 a week? I refer honourable members to what the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) said in 1967 when he was being quizzed on a television programme in Melbourne. He said that when it is a matter of touching pensions, it costs us of the order of $50m. Then he said that he had sympathy for the pensioners. What does sympathy get the pensioners? Does it get them a few extra bob a week with which to buy essential commodities that are constantly increasing in price? The last Budget provided for an increase of Si 68m in expenditure on defence, increasing that expenditure from $950m to $l,118m, yet the Treasurer cries about not being able to find $5 Om for pensioners. Incidentally, this statement was not made in an election year, but 12 months after an election. Of course, the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly) explained the Government's policy as being similar to the policy that was pursued in Germany before the war, namely, guns before butter.

How ridiculous it was for the Treasurer to suggest that we could not find $50m for pensioners when almost every week he makes statements to the effect that our economy has never been sounder. If that is the position, what is there to stop the Government from introducing a supplementary Budget this session to give pensioners justice in their pension rates?

Let us examine unemployment and sickness benefits. Here we find the most scandalous situation ever permitted by a government. These benefits have not been adjusted since 1961 despite skyrocketing price increases during the last 7 years. At present a single person receives $8.25 a week. If he is married an additional $6 a week is paid for his wife and $1.50 for each child. Last Monday a married woman, aged between 45 and 50 years, with six children ranging in age from 15 years to 4£ years, and whose husband had a stroke recently, sought my help. An application had been lodged for the invalid pension, lt had been accepted but the family was awaiting the first cheque. In the meantime the family was receiving sickness benefits: It was getting $23.25 a week, which is not the equivalent of the amount received by a married pensioner couple without children. Admittedly it received child endowment of $9 a week. The total income was $32.25. When the invalid pension is received the husband will get $13 a week, the wife $6 a week and $1 .50 for each child, plus the $9 child endowment, giving a total income of about $37 a week. The man, his wife and six children have no other income and they will have to live on $37 a week. Yet the Government talks about being fair to the people in receipt of social service benefits. I have never known a more scandalous situation in my life.

Unemployment and sickness benefits have noi been adjusted since 1961. The Depart-, ment of Labour and National Service admits that several thousand people who are receiving unemployment benefit are virtually permanently in receipt of such benefit because they are not ill enough to qualify for an invalid pension and there is no light work available for them. A single person in such a position gets $8.25 a week. It is scandalous to expect anyone to exist on that amount. If a person is in poor physical condition, is aged between 50 and 65 years, is not 85% permanently physically incapacitated and cannot get light work, he has to exist on $8.25 a week. Does not the Minister agree that this pension rate should be adjusted after 7 years? Of course he does. He is nodding his head in agreement. Why has the rate not been adjusted? Is the Government taking advantage of the people in this category because they have no real value as voters and so need not be worried about? These rates must be adjusted, and adjusted immediately.

The Minister said that he wanted constructive suggestions. There is nothing to prevent the Government from introducing a supplementary Budget. The Minister is unfettered and if he does introduce a supplementary measure we will support it wholeheartedly. In 1967 the permissible income was adjusted. It had not been adjusted since 1954 and it had deteriorated in value. The Government eased the means test and suggested that the situation had been improved. However, in 1954 when the pension for a single person was $7 a week the allowable income was $7 a week. In other words the allowable income represented 100% of the pension. Today the pension for a single person is $13 a week and the allowable income $10, which represents only 77% of the pension. The allowable income for a married couple has deteriorated by 27% to 73% of the pension. This proves my claim that the value of the allowable income has deteriorated.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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