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Wednesday, 21 October 1970

Mr WENTWORTH (Mackellar) (Minister for Social Services) - The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) said that he would speak for less than his time so that the Minister for Repatriation (Mr Holten) and I might have an opportunity to reply. The honourable member was carried away. I realise - in fact I am quite certain - that the Opposition has approached this whole matter in a nonpolitical manner, because honourable members opposite have said so, and of course I must take their word for it. But judging from the tone of their speeches and the way in which they have been going on with this kind of rhetoric, one would have thought that they were concerned not with the pensioners but with the coming election. Indeed, it is rather peculiar to find that on the one hand the Government is accused of doing something good just before an election and, at another time, of doing something miserable just before an election. There does not seem to be very much consistency or logic in that.

I would have thought that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition would know the difference between the merged means test and the tapered means test. If he looks at Hansard he will see that on several occasions in the course of his speech he was speaking about the merged means test when he meant the tapered means test I do ask him to. do his homework and, if he Wants to help the. pensioners, to try to find out what the truth of the matter is. Would the honourable member please get his facts right? He is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and he should not make this kind of egregious error.

I wish to speak about one or two minor matters. The honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly) drew to my attention some time ago the case of a man who, he said, was 104. I had a look at the case. 1 found that the man concerned, as far as can be ascertained from our records, is not 104 but 100. But this is a small exaggeration. What was rather more to the point was-

Mr Daly - I raise a point of order. Might I point out to the Minister that the man took 5 years off his age to get into the country.

Mr WENTWORTH - -As far as we can see from the records, he was 94 when he came here. The important point is that he came here under a guarantee of full maintenance from his son who lives here and who is, I understand, able to perform the conditions of that guarantee. Furthermore, I found that the man was paid a special benefit for about 3 or 4 years, erroneously and under the impression - I do not know how it came about - that he had come into Australia without any maintenance guarantee. Although I think he is liable to repay this amount of special benefit which was being paid under a false declaration or a mistake, or whatever it might be, I can assure the honourable member for Grayndler that we do not propose to press this matter and we will write off this liability.

Let me come to some matters of rather more consequence and substance. It is a bit hard to be accused personally of doing nothing about the means test when the tapered means test which the Government brought in has been, I think, the greatest single advance on this whole front in the history of pensions in Australia. There have been other advances. Perhaps I am claiming too much when I say that it is the greatest single advance; at any rate it is a very, very great advance. It is a little bit hard to be told how little we are doing about pensions when, as a matter of fact, we have held their level - we have not increased it substantially, but we have held it at its peak. Do not let us run away with this kind of political propaganda, which is what it is. I want to do more for the pensioners, as everybody in this House on the Government side and on the other side wants to do more for the pensioners, and all sections of the Australian community. But the money we give to one section has to come from another. We have to try to balance this up.

I have no doubt that as the productivity of the Australian economy changes and improves - I believe it will do that in spite of the very considerable shackles that are being put on it by industrial disruption which, I am afraid, honourable members of the Opposition are sponsoring - it will be possible then to give more to one section without taking it from the other, because we will be able to give it from the increased productivity. 1 will not take up the time of the House by going into this in detail. I spoke about it in my second reading speech on the Social Services Bill. I am glad of the interest shown by honourable members in the estimates for the Department of Social Services. I appreciate the constructive things that were said on both sides of the House. Honourable members have spent a lot of their time in regard to the aged persons homes scheme. They have been good enough to describe it as an excellent scheme, which indeed it is. I know that, like all human schemes, it is not free from defect. But do not let us exaggerate these defects. It is true that at the present moment - if honourable members will look at the schedules which I have circulated they will see this - about two-thirds of the beds being provided under this scheme are being provided free of donation. I pay tribute to the church and lay organisations which make this possible.

About one-third of the beds come in with capital donations. One would think, listening to honourable members opposite, that they were not quite appreciative of these facts and that they were inclined to think that all beds in this scheme were beds donated by the incumbents and the residents. At all events let us be fair about this. The only other thing I want to say, because my friend the Minister for Repatriation needs to say something, is this: There has been a change in the outlook of the Australian community in regard to looking after its own old people. A few years ago there was none of this. The sub sidised nursing homes, were not available. The aged persons homes were not available. We are providing these things, and still our provision is not adequate for the demand. It is a new demand. It is a demand which is coming on because there is a new outlook among the Australian people and some improvement overall in the living standards of the whole of the Australian people.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drury) - I call the Minister for Repatriation.

Mr Daly - Tell us all you know, Mac. You have 3 minutes.

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