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Wednesday, 21 October 1970

Mr JACOBI (Hawker) - In speaking on the estimates for the Department of Social Services let me say briefly to the honourable member for Boothby (Mr McLeay) that his speech was the weakest defence of Government Estimates that I have ever listened to.

Mr Armitage - Don't waste time.

Mr JACOBI - I certainly do not intend to. Let me state bluntly in dealing with the question of social services that this is a great country to live in if one is fit. young and healthy. But if one falls by the wayside one faces dire poverty. These are the facts of life today. If ever a government stands indicted in the eyes of the people, this Government does. It deserves complete and utter condemnation. The miserable pittance which was grudgingly doled out to the aged, the sick, the infirm and the veterans of this country is an utter disgrace and a national shame. Let me bluntly put the economic facts. They are quite simple. The increase in Budget expenditure this year will be 11.2 per cent. The increase in the social services expenditure will be 5.8 per cent, slightly more than half the rate of the increase in the overall expenditure of the Budget. Last year the social services expenditure increased by 14.9 per cent There lies the problem. - Let me state briefly lo the Committee that the plight of the pensioners, of the sick and the needy, is to be dealt with by what is termed social welfare. In its handling by this Government over the last 2 decades it has become a social mess. To those unfortunates in our community it is sheer social misery. I am appalled at the sheer lack of understanding of the depth of poverty and degradation throughout our community. I am amazed by the number of people who are not fully conscious of it. People ought to be aware of the fact that in this so-called affluent society over a million people are living in poverty. That is an average of one in 12. I ask the honourable member for Boothby whether, after 20 years of Liberal-Country Party government, he can justify that. Two decades ago this nation had the greatest record in the field of social services of anywhere in the Western world. Today we are fifteenth down the list. That is an indictment of this Government's attitude lo those in need,

I turn to the question of poverty. The honourable member for Boothby always has the capacity to apply the philosophy of guilt by association. I personally have the greatest regard for the Brotherhood of St Laurence. It has called for a national inquiry, as has the Catholic Church in Australia. Let me just quote what Rev. Hollingworth said on 18th August last. His statement is apposite to this question. He said:

There is something wrong with an economic system in which the established minimum wage and pension rates are on the poverty line . . .

This country spends more on research into pigs and the pig industry than it does on people.

Mr Hollingworthsaid further: . . 120,000 Melbournians are living on or below the poverty line.

Professor Henderson carried out a survey into the question of poverty in the city of Melbourne. This survey has been quoted before and its findings need to be asserted again in this Committee. I believe that Professor Henderson contributed quite a substantial amount of money to the survey before the research could be undertaken. This fact in itself is an indictment of this Government. As I understand them, the statistics flowing from this inquiry clearly indicate that one out of every 5 married couples in the city of Melbourne is living in poverty. In the city of Melbourne alone there are 42,300 children who are living in poverty.

I turn now to the subject of child endowment. No reference was made to this subject either in the speech by the Governor-General in March of this year or in the Budget. If there is one group in this community that is suffering at poverty level this group is in that area to which child endowment is paid. I put a question to the Minister for Social Services on this matter in April of this year. My question sought the alleviation of the high proportion in our community suffering in abject poverty. I put this, in part, to the Minister:

To alleviate this poverty, will he take steps immediately towards an increase of existing child endowment rates to $3 per week for the third child and to $4 per week for the fourth child and subsequent children?

I proposed this action so that people living in poverty in this respect might be removed from this area of need. This question dealt with the City of Melbourne Survey into Poverty. The section of the question prior to the one that I have just read - it introduced the request that I made-reads:

Did the survey also reveal that 6 per cent, or 42,300 of that city's children are growing up in acute poverty and that of these children 40 per cent come from families with at least 4 children and 22 are children of fatherless families?

The reply to the compassionate needs of these people was a complete and utter rejection by the Government of the proposal.

Let us consider the question of child endowment on the statistics available. The payments have not been adjusted. In fact, in 1950, child endowment was set at 50c per week for the first child. That amount has not been altered since. If the Minister wishes to apply to that amount the indices that he used in his second reading speech in dealing wilh the subject of social services, that amount should now be $1.13 a child per week. The payment was set in 194S at Si. lt should be $2.56 a child per week now. In 1964, the amount was set at S 1 .50 a child per week. On the statistics presented, the amount should now be $1.84 a child per week. If one looks at this matter broadly, one sees that there is no question of relativity at all as far as social services is concerned.

Wage and salary earners throughout this country make applications to tribunals to keep their standards of living level with various costs which rise throughout the community. Doctors have extracted an undertaking from this Government that their fee level will be lifted concurrently with rising costs to maintain their professional status. Why is it that pensioners are to be denied this privilege. Really, it is not a privilege; it is a right.

What I fail to understand is why, throughout the whole 20 years that this Government has been in office, the Government will not depart from the question of the machinery applying to pensions. I believe that there can be only 2 reasons for this. One is that the amount paid out to pensioners is not proportionate to costs. It is a Budget issue and the Government wishes to keep the control of it within its hands. Secondly I think - and there is no doubt about this at all in my view - that pensions are used deliberately by this Government as a political gimmick at election time. The living standards of pensioners throughout Australia are in the hands of this Government and are nothing more than a vote catching medium. It is high time - I make this special plea - for pensions generally to be taken out of the sphere of politics. Pensions should be established on a scale commensurate with rising costs, that is, whether they be age, invalid or other pensions. Whatever the pension is, it should be taken out of the sphere of politics. In this way, the standard of living of pensioners at least will be commensurate with rising costs in the community.

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