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Tuesday, 29 August 1972
Page: 784


Mr REID (Holt) - There is no doubt that this Budget has been framed to assist those in greatest need. I take this opportunity to congratulate the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) on introducing one of the most popular social service welfare Budgets post-war. In doing so, I direct my remarks to the field of social services in which some very important decisions affecting the welfare of many of our best aged citizens have been made. In saying this, I am not unmindful of the very big part played by the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) in strongly pressing for increased benefits, particularly insofar as the abolition of the means test is concerned. At times during the negotiations he pressed his case almost to breaking point, and in his endeavours he had the support of the Government Members Social Services Committee. The decision to abolish the means test over the next 3 years and to set up a committee to investigate the introduction of a national superannuation scheme is a significant and historic decision. Such a scheme has been contemplated by successive governments over a very long period of time. We know that there are many injustices in the present system. Unfortunately these affect many of our best aged citizens, many of whom regard their life savings as an encumbrance at the present lime.

The introduction of a national superannuation scheme would result in the phasing out of the existing age pension scheme and hence bring an end to the means test which many people regard as objectionable. To commence with it is necessary to remove the means test on all persons over 65 years of age because in its present form the means test is an impediment to any reasonable plan of national superannuation. lt is also inequitable because it deprives people of the benefit of their initiative and planning, lt discourages self-help and self-reliance and it debars people from taking casual or part time work. This could prove detrimental to their physical and mental well-being. Surely our aged citizens should not be denied the right to work if they so desire. However, with the present means test they are prevented from so doing. It should be remembered also that the age pension is one of the few social benefits which is subject to the means test. Health benefits, nursing benefits and most repatriation benefits are free of both the means test and income tax. In other words, the means test is regressive as the rich receive greater benefits through taxation concessions.

Pending the removal of the means test considerable concessions have been made in this Budget. At the present time pensions taper off once a single pensioner earns more than $10 a week and a married couple more than $17 a week. However, under the new proposals introduced by the Treasurer the tapering off will not occur until a single pensioner earns more than $20 a week and a .married couple more than $34.50 a week. This will considerably assist single pensioners as it means that they can have an income of $40 before the taper comes into effect, while a married couple can have an income of $69. Eligibility for part pension will not cease until the income reaches 3 times the pension, that is, $60 a week for a single person and $103.50 for married couples. When we consider that the average earnings are about $96 a week and that the pension is not taxable, these increased benefits are most generous. As a result of the Budget considerable benefits will now become available to those drawing superannuation and to those receiving annuities. These payments have in the past been treated as income ' under the means test. Under the new proposals in the Budget, superannuation and annuities which are payable for life will be converted to a property equivalent which will be taken into account along with any other property, in applying the means test. In most cases this would work to the pensioner's advantage, but in particular cases where it did not the change would not apply.

A new benefit announced in the Budget, and one I have consistently advocated, will be paid to a person who accepts responsibility for an aged relative. I know of many instances where a son or daughter has been prevented from marrying because he or she has accepted the responsibility of looking after parents. Surely people should be encouraged to look after their parents. I have said often that families should accept a greater responsibility for their aged parents. If they are not prepared to make some sacrifice to help them they can hardly expect others to do so. However, there seems to be some tendency these days for young people to hand this responsibility to the Government. This course should never be contemplated as children can never repay their parents for the care and attention they have received over the years. If we have no respect for our parents and are not prepared to make some genuine effort to assist them in their old age there is little chance of the golden rule really working. A home for old people is certainly no substitute for the love aud care of one's family and every effort should be made by young people to accept a greater responsibility for their aged parents.

It is for this reason that I am so pleased to see that a special benefit of $14 a week will be paid to those people who look after an aged relative. I know there are a number of people who make a considerable sacrifice to do so and they should receive every encouragement from the Government. To all those who now become eligible for these special benefits I say that these entitlements are well deserved and I extend my sincere thanks to them for providing the necessary love and care that their parents so richly deserve in old age. This benefit will, of course, encourage others to accept a greater responsibility for an aged relative and it will be a big factor in keeping many aged persons out of the nursing homes. More than half of these people would not be in homes if their families accepted a greater responsibility and if more hostels and adequate home care services were available.

I wish to single out for special mention a number of other important measures contained in the Budget. The first one is the supplementary rent assistance which has been raised from $2 to $4 a week. This subsidy is paid to single pensioners living alone and paying rent. Approximately 120,000 people come into this category. I am pleased to see that their supplementary allowance has been increased to $4. Many of these single pensioners living alone are paying between $10 and $12 a week and they are the ones in greatest need. I am glad that this additional benefit will be paid. For the first time, under this Budget a rent allowance will be paid to married couples. This is most welcome. This increased benefit really means that a single pensioner living alone and paying rent will receive an increase of $3.75 under the Budget and I do not think this is generally understood by the public. Whilst speaking of pensioners I want to say that the Government also will introduce a nursing home benefit for hospital insurance contributors. However, holders of pensioner medical service cards will receive the benefit without having to join a hospital benefit fund. This will give pensioners more security in old age, as nursing home costs will be met and there will be $6 left over to provide the few personal belongings a pensioner may need. These additional nursing home benefits will cost $9.1m this year and $21.9m in a full year. Of course, they are in addition to the $24.50 a week for ordinary care patients and $45.50 a week for intensive care patients. The additional benefits will provide greater financial protection against the increasing costs in nursing homes. This will ease considerably the burden on relatives who have had to bridge the difference between Commonwealth subsidies and nursing home costs. I know that the increased benefits will be welcomed by many people.

I now briefly mention home savings grants. The increases in this area will greatly assist many young married couples buying their first home. The maximum value of a home which may attract a grant will be increased from $17,500 to $22,500. The maximum grant also will be increased from $500 on savings of $1,500 to $750 on savings of $2,250, with an appropriate increase in the limit on the amount qualifying as savings. An important concession in regard to these increased benefits is that they will be retrospective to 15th August. This will be welcomed by all those who are eligible.

I have confined my remarks to social services. To those who say that the Government should be providing more I point out that in this Budget, which authorises the expenditure of SI 0,078m, approximately 32, 500m is being spent on social services and repatriation, which works out at about 25c in every dollar. I must say that this is a most generous proportion. Under the present programme we will always need a continuing increase in funds for social services. However, perhaps sometime in the early life of the next Government a committee should be set up to investigate the distribution of funds already made available. I repeat that $2,500m is a large sum of money. It is the second largest item of expenditure in the Budget. It is larger than the amount being spent by the Commonwealth and States on education. It appears to me that such a large sum of money should be adequate to eliminate most pockets of need in the community. It is with this thought in mind that I suggest to the Minister that consideration should be given to setting up a committee to look into this matter. Those of us who say that more money should be spent on social services should perhaps indicate where the money will come from. Should we reduce grants to the States for education, health, housing and other services, or should we raise taxes? I repeat that 25c in every dollar is a most generous contribution. I believe that it is the highest percentage ever allocated to social services by any government since Federation. For these reasons the amendment should be rejected.







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