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Thursday, 24 August 1972
Page: 675

Mr WEBB (Stirling) - I rise to support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam). The honourable member for Ryan (Mr Drury), who just resumed his seat, commenced his speech with an unwarranted and dislocated attack upon the policies of the Australian Labor Party. From what he said, it is quite obvious that he gets his facts from his imagination. It is clear that he did not listen to what the Leader of the Opposition had to say on Tuesday night, to the speech presented by the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) or to the speeches of those members of the Opposition who have followed them.

However, I want to talk about the Budget. This Government should be described as the stop-go-stop Government. Last year the brakes were jammed on hard. This Budget releases them. But how long will it be before they are jammed on again? As the Leader of the Opposition said, there is not a word from the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) acknowledging the mistakes of the last Budget. There is not a word to imply that any of the economic setbacks and human hardship created then were of the Government's own making. Nothing is said about the fact that the last Budget was responsible for a loss of $800m in production. The fact that the Government was responsible for creating a pool of unemployment in excess of 100,000 lies to its eternal discredit.

This being an election year, the Government hopes that a spending spree will cause the people to forget what occurred 12 months ago and the repercussions that flowed from that. The people are not fools. They will not forget the misery and suffering created by the Budget strategy of last August. The handouts in this Budget, of course, are accepted with a grain of salt because the people are aware, as the Leader of the Opposition said, that what has been given can so easily be taken away if this Government remains in office. The increase in pensions does not even restore their value. The age and invalid pension under the Chifley Labor Government was 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. It was 19.6 per cent of average weekly earnings last year. Under this Budget, if average weekly earnings rise by 9 per cent as is anticipated in the Budget, the pension will be 19.7 per cent of average weekly earnings. A large number of people have been - and are still being - shabbily treated. For the life of me, I cannot see why a civilian widow should be treated any differently from a war widow. It is true that a war widow has lost her husband as a result of his war service. However, there are many widows receiving a civilian widow's pension whose husbands served in war but who could not prove that his death was due to war service. The onus is always thrown on the widow to do this. She does not get the benefit of any doubt.

In my view all widows should be treated similarly. No means test is placed on a war widow's pension. I have seen some pitiful cases of civilian widows who have taken a job to try to earn something more to give their children a better education. Because they have earned a little more than the allowable income, their pensions have been reduced. They then have to earn more and suffer a further reduction of pension or reduce the standard of living of their families while the amount that they have been overpaid is repaid to the Department. The latest increase in this Budget gives war widows and civilian A class widows the same pension. But, while there was an increase in the mother's allowance for the war widow, that increase was not given to the civilian widow.

This is the situation: Under this Budget a civilian widow and a war widow both get the same pension of $20 a week. The mother's allowance for a civilian widow is $4, while the mother's allowance for a war widow is $8.50. The child allowance for a civilian widow is $4.50 and for a war widow it is $7.35. This means that the civilian widow receives, including the allowance for one child, a total of $28.50 and the war widow receives a total of $35.85. It costs as much to feed, clothe and educate the children of civilian widows as it does in the case of the children of war widows. On top of that, of course, the war widow is not subject to a means test. I agree that she should not be subject to a means test. But I believe that all these conditions should apply equally to the civilian widow.

Consider the position of a B class widow - that is, a widow aged between 50 and 60 years with no children. Under this Budget she will receive $17.25 a week. However, a war widow in similar circumstances receives $20. The age pension for a married couple is to be $17.25 each on the ground that 2 can live more cheaply than one. How does this argument apply to a B class widow? The pension of $17.25 paid to a B class widow is about $6 below the recognised poverty line. How can the payment of that sort of pension be justified? The Government claims that it has taken another step in the direction of abolishing the means test. But, in fact, has it? The allowable income has been increased so that a single pensioner can earn as much as he gets in pension; that is, he can earn $20 a week, provided he has not more than S419 in the hank. In 1954 he was in exactly the same position. He could then earn the same amount as his pension. So we are back to the 1954 standard as far as the relationship between the pension and the allowable income is concerned.

Let us take the case of married pensioners. In 1954 they each received the same pension as a single pensioner - this is not the case today - and they were allowed to earn the same amount in allowable income as twice the single pension. On today's figures they could earn $40 a week provided that they had no more than $839 in the bank. This Government was responsible for reducing the married pension as compared to the single pension. Married pensioners are worse off now comparatively than they were in 1954. Under this Budget they can still earn as much as the pension but the pension for the single pensioner has been reduced. Therefore the socalled easing of the means test has not been improved since 1954. As a matter of fact, it has been reduced to some extent in the case of a married pensioner couple. The most that can be said is that both the single and married pensioner can earn as much in allowable income as they get in pensions. As I have said, they could do this in 1954.

The increase in age, invalid and widows' pensions is not near enough. The Australian Labor Party believes that the pension should be set as a percentage of average weekly earnings. We believe that at present the standard rate should be $24.50 a week and should be adjusted automatically in accordance with movements in average weekly earnings. If there is not some automatic adjustment it means that increases will be swallowed up by inflation. The present increases will disappear in increased prices before very long if something such as this is not done. Unemployment benefits remain at $17 for a male plus $8 if he has a wife and $4.50 if he has a child. A married man with 2 children would receive $13 below the recognised poverty line under this arrangement. One would have thought, having in mind that this Government has the unenviable reputation of having created the largest unemployment pool for more than a dec ade, that there would have been more sympathy for the victims of this vicious policy.

We have an unemployment pool of over 112,000. For every job vacancy there are about 8 people out of work. Close to 43,000 people are on unemployment benefit and the Government keeps them below the recognised poverty line. Onethird of those who are unemployed - over 32,000 people - are under the age of 21 years. Yet this Government gives a lousy $7.50 a week to those between the age of 16 and 18 years and $11 a week to those between the age of 18 and 21. The only concession which this Government has made for the victims of the August 1971 Budget was to provide $200,000 for their fares while seeking employment. The amount of $200,000 for 112,000 people unemployed will mean less than $2 each per annum. What a callous disregard the Government displays for those for whom there is little hope in the future under its administration and its policy of keeping a percentage of the work force unemployed.

As I have pointed out in recent debates, Western Australia has a special case for financial assistance in its unemployment crisis. In that State there are over 9,000 unemployed in the metropolitan area and less than 3,000 in the rural areas, yet the funds which the Commonwealth has made available for projects to relieve unemployment have attached to them a tag stating that the money must be spent in the rural areas. So no additional financial assistance is available to get our people back to work in the metropolitan area. Requests by the Premier of Western Australia to the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) for special financial assistance were for a long time ignored and then finally refused. The Federal Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Lynch) in reply to a question has admitted that the problem arose during the Brand-Court government's term of office. During the last year of office of that Liberal Government the number of unemployed in Western Australia increased by over 2,000. So it is useless to blame the Labor Government in Western Australia, which has been in office for only 18 months. Various factors have been responsible for increased unemployment in Western Australia. The McMahon Budget strategy of August 1971 contributed to it but in addition we had the downturn in the mineral industry due to international demand falling rapidly. Western Australia's work force was built up for the actual production of minerals, but once construction work was completed there was a fall-off in demand for minerals and there was nowhere to absorb the work which had been released. We did not have the secondary industries to absorb those workers, many of whom had come from other States to Western Australia to work in the mining industry and building industry. This is why Western Australia needs added financial assistance. The only source for this assistance is the Federal Government, but because of narrow political prejudice it is denying the State of Western Australia this assistance.

In my remarks on social services I interpolated to emphasise those points. Let us have another look at social services. Let us have a look at one or two of our shrunken social service benefits. Maternity allowances have remained unaltered for 29 years although costs associated with the birth of a child have risen 500 per cent. At one time the maternity allowance paid for all the costs of a confinement. The existing rate of maternity allowance was fixed by the Curtin Government in 1943. Child endowment for the first child has remained unaltered for 22 years and for the second child for 24 years. Families with 3 children in 1949 secured in child endowment a sum equal to 11.5 per cent of average weekly earnings. Today a family of the same size receives in child endowment a sum which is less than 4 per cent of average weekly earnings. In 1948 the basic wage was $11.60 and a family with 5 children received in child endowment $4 a week. In order to receive the same monetary value in purchasing power today a family of that size should receive $17.60, but it receives only $8.25. Let us look at this from a different angle. In 1949 a man with a wife and 2 children, On the minimum wage, paid $1.60 a year in income tax. Under the revised scale of tax deductions issued with the Budget papers a man on the minimum wage of $51, with a family of the same number, will pay $2.36 a week or $132.98 per annum. He will pay more income tax in a week than a family of comparable size paid in a year in 1949.

One would have thought that if the Government had wanted to do something about prices and inflation it would have reduced sales tax on a lot of commodities. Sales tax is the hidden thief which takes our money and adds to the cost of about one-third of the goods which are sold in Australia. This financial year the Commonwealth will collect from each man, woman and child in Australia about $59 in sales tax, which is more than $1 each a week. The bigger the family, the more sales tax is paid. Sales tax more than swallows up the 50c child endowment for the first child and $1 for the second child. Most people are unaware that they are making this contribution to the Commonwealth Treasury. Do they know that they pay sales tax on toilet soap but not on dog soap? Leading a dog's life has a different meaning these days. People pay sales tax on biscuits which they buy for their babies but not on dog biscuits. The mark-up, according to the Cosmetics and Toiletry Manufacturers Association, is being operated by the Government to the tune of 55c in every $2 spent on everything from hair cream to contraceptives. There is a 27i per cent sales tax on face powder, face cream and the like. There used to be an old song entitled 'Love Makes the World Go Round'. I do not know whether that applies today, but if it does there is a 27i per cent tax on it. What was once a luxury tax now increases the cost of everyday necessities. It is an unfair tax because a man on $12,000 a year pays the same tax on razor blades as does a pensioner who needs to shave. Sales tax adds to the cost of living and therefore it adds to the cost of production and inflation.

I was wrong when I said that there had been no reduction in the sales tax. I apologise most humbly. There has been some reduction. I forgot about it. The Budget states that exemption from sales tax will apply to imported works of art which are exempt from duty under various provisions in the customs tariff such as paintings, drawings and pastels executed entirely by hand and having a value exceeding $50 each; original engravings, prints and lithographs and original sculptures and statuary. They will be exempt from sales tax. What a vague idea of value. Imported works of art are exempt from sales tax but school requirements, including exercise books, are subject to a 15 per cent tax. I have mentioned how sales tax inflates prices. This Government does not propose to do anything about prices. It believes in giving to those who fix prices a free rein, lt is not a question of price control or no price control; it is a question of who controls the prices in this community. At the present time a mere total of 200 companies control prices in Australia. They meet in the secrecy of their board rooms. No evidence is given, no witnesses are called and there is no thought of the public interest. How different it is when the workers want an increase in the price of their labour; the workers have to appear before a tribunal, call evidence, call witnesses and the Government submits evidence in opposition to their claims. Even if they do prove their case in support of an increase it can be refused because it is not in the public interest.

While the Prime Minister was calling on the unions a few months ago to practice restraint the Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd put up the price of its steel by 5.3 per cent. That increase was reflected in almost everything, including food because these days a lot of food comes in cans which are made from BHP products. With the increase in the price of steel, building costs went up and also the price of motor cars. During the past 3 months the cost of living has jumped by nearly $1 for a family living on ! the average wage. The Federal Government cannot escape the responsibility for the diminishing value of the dollar. As prices rise each dollar buys less. Taking the value of the dollar as being 100c in 1950 its value has dropped to less than 40c today. In 1950 a person could buy 1 lb of rump steak for 25c; today we would have to pay 120c per lb. A 2 lb loaf of bread cost 7c in 1950 but it now costs 25c. The cost of posting a letter was 1.7c but it is now 7c.

The Australian Labor Party believes that as we have a system of wage justification we must also have a system of price justification. A Labor government will introduce 2 measures to implement its policy on this. Firstly, it will establish a price justification tribunal. Secondly, it will establish a parliamentary select committee on costs and prices. That committee will identify, publicise and otherwise expose unfair prices or practices and the exploitation of consumers.

It will recommend to the Government any legislative or administrative measures which should be taken to prevent unjustifiable price increases and to protect Australia from excessive inflation. The Australian Labor Party also will take other necessary measures to deal effectively with the great concentration of foreign and local monopolistic power which exist in Australia and to eliminate trade practices which restrict competition and produce inefficiency and inflation. We can help to control inflation not only by justifying wage and salary increases but also by ensuring that price rises are justified.

The Government, knowing that it is on the way out, has tried to retrieve the position. Its 1971 Budget deliberately created unemployment. It now realises that unless it can retrieve the position in the few weeks before the election, it has had it. The lesson of 1961 has been learned too late. The McMahon Government is on the way out. The in-fighting that has occurred indicates that it has more wings than a centipede has legs. Its wings are about to be singed. This Government will have a rough landing on polling day 1972.

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