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Wednesday, 10 May 1972
Page: 2295

Mr COPE (Sydney) - I strongly support the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) in putting forward the claims of Archbishop Loane and Bishop Hulme-Moir for eliminating poverty in our community. I should like first to comment on a few of the remarks of the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth). As usual, after 23 years of this Government, he analogises what was paid by the Chifley Labor Government with what is paid today in social services. However, he does not tell us that the 1949 Budget provided for a total amount of £5 15m, or $1030m, as compared with nearly $9000m today. One would readily accept that if one had a little more money in one's pocket today than in 1949 one would be in a position to do more with it.

I speak in absolute opposition to the viewpoint of the Minister for Social Services that the incidence of poverty has been reduced.

In 1956 the Menzies Government, of which the Minister was a member, abolished the rebate system which was then in existence in respect of the Mousing Commissions in all States. The rebate system meant that pensioners were able to get Housing Commission homes because a portion of the number of houses available had to be allocated to them. For these houses they paid very small rentals - as little as 8s or 10s a week. After the abolition of that system the Cahill Government in New South Wales introduced a scheme out of its own pocket, without one penny piece being paid by the Commonwealth, to house these people. This scheme started with the building of 300 homes in the first year. These were let at very reasonable rentals for £1 for a single unit and 30s for a double unit. One readily can see that the inhuman act of the Menzies Government in 1956 in abolishing the rebate system had a great effect on pensioners, particularly in New South Wales. At present the average waiting time for a pensioner unit is 5 years. After applying for a pensioner unit one has to wait 5 years.

I believe that this Parliament and the people of Australia owe a great debt to Archbishop Loane and Bishop Hulme-Moir for recently suggesting the urgent need of an inquiry, the purpose of which would be to eliminate poverty. 1 was one of those who accompanied the Minister for Social Services, Senator Carrick, Bishop Hulme-Moir and the Reverend Buckingham of St Paul's Church in Redfern on an inspection of homes in Redfern in my electorate recently. I believe that the Minister was appalled at some of the things he saw. We visited only 3 homes because we did not have time to visit any more. In one of the homes was a family comprising 10 children, a husband and wife who were paying $25 a week rent. When the Minister asked the woman of the house how much rent she was paying and she told him it was $25 he nearly fell through the floor; he did not imagine that any landlord would have the audacity to charge $25 a week for that place.

The blame for the poverty that exists in the inner city areas of Sydney rests solely on the Minister's colleague in New South Wales, Sir Robert Askin. The Askin Government abolished rent control and as a result the Minister for Social Services in this House was flabbergasted to know that these people were paying $25 a week. If the place had been under rent control they would have paid probably $7 or $8 a week. When the Askin Government thought about abolishing rent control it should have taken into consideration subsidising the rents of people living in such parlous conditions as exist in Redfern at the present time. The group I was with was not allowed into any lodging houses because, naturally, the people who own them would not let us in. The Reverend Buckingham tried to get into some of them but they would not let him in. The fact is that pensioners are paying up to $12 a week for a room. Yet the Minister says that poverty has been reduced. It has been increased since the Askin Government abolished rent control in the inner city areas of Sydney. We find that in Redfern a pensioner can get a room for $8 a week, provided he is willing to share it with 2 other people. Yet this Government talks about reducing poverty, lt is absolutely ridiculous.

The point is that one has to live amongst these people to find out for oneself what the real position is. 1 have been living in Redfern for 40 years and I know a bit about the problems which face these people. We must always bear in mind that when a pensioner goes into a shop to purchase bread, groceries, fruit or vegetables - if he can alford them - he does not get any concession from the shopkeeper. The pensioner pays the same price as a millionaire pays. The pensioner gets no concession at all. Yet they are expected to exist on $18.25 plus a rent allowance of $2. a total of about $20, and have to pay up to $12 a week for a room.

Let us talk about the supplementary allowance. This allowance was first introduced in October 1958 when the amount was $1 a week and the pensioner was allowed an income of $1- The allowance was increased in 1965 from $1 to $2, but the allowable income of SI still remains the same as it was 14 years ago. Over the past 7 years that allowance has deteriorated in value, as the Minister well knows, because of the abolition of rent control, particularly throughout New South Wales where it has affected people who pay exorbitant rents. In 1965 when rent control existed S2 was worth $2, but it is not worth $2 today because, as everyone in this House knows, as soon as the pensioner gets a rise up goes the rent in lodging houses. On every occasion when there has been a rent increase, it has been due to the fact that the pensioners have received an increase in their rates of pension.

I should also like to remind the Minister that there used to be a Labor controlled council in Sydney and that every Christmas the council used to give out a few dollars - about $7 or $8 - to each pensioner in this area. It was called 'Pudding Week' because it used to give the pensioners something for Christmas. Who abolished this? It was abolished by the Minister's friends the civic reformers, who are all members of the Liberal Party. A small workshop was created to employ about 50 or 60 people, but about 4,000 or 5,000 pensioners have been chopped out of that Christmas 'Pudding Week'. This was done by the friends of the Minister. These are the people who are supposed to be humanitarians. They have not got a thought in their heads for the pensioners.

Let us look at the facts in regard to people employed in retarded workshops. In my electorate is a big workshop called Escarp Industries which the Minister opened a few years ago. These retarded people, as honourable members would be aware, have no assets and therefore they are not affected by the means test in this respect, but because they work in this workshop and receive $2.50 a week their allowance is reduced to 50c. I have asked the Minister to exempt these people from the means test to enable them to qualify for the allowance, but so far he has done nothing about it. Would anybody in this House object to the means test being eliminated in regard to its application to retarded people? These people work all the week and they are proud to take home $2.50 each week. Yet they are penalised because they work in this workshop to fill in their time and give them something to do. Their allowance is reduced to the paltry sum of 50c a week because they work in this industry. Nothing has been done about exempting them from the means test.

I always become emotional when I talk about pensioners because I have spoken repeatedly in this House on this matter over the years. I know the needs and wants of these people. I know that under the existing conditions pensioners, particularly those who are paying rents for rooms, cannot possibly exist. If it were not for the Labor controlled South Sydney Council and its amenity centres which supply a 3-course dinner every day at a charge of 20c these people would starve. This is a Labor controlled council. This service was established by a Labor controlled council in the city of Sydney, but it has been carried on simply because the council is not game to try to abolish it, which it would do if it could, I am sure. These centres have all been opened by the Labor Party. I reiterate that without these centres the pensioners who benefit from them would starve to death. That is not an exaggeration.

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