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Thursday, 21 September 1972
Page: 1762


Mr WENTWORTH (Mackellar) (Minister for Social Services) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The Budget contains a far-reaching welfare programme, part of which will be implemented by my colleague, the Minister for Health Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson and part of which falls within my own responsibilities. Service pensions, which are administered by my colleague the Minister for Repatriation (Mr Holten), will also be increased.

The social services aspects of the welfare programme are covered by 3 Bills. They are firstly the present Social Services Bill, secondly an Aged Persons Homes Bill and thirdly Aged Persons Hostels Bill. I have already introduced the latter 2 Bills and I now want to summarise the provisions of the Social Services Bill which is now before the House. Under this Bill the standard rate of pension for single people and widows with children is to be increased by $1.75 per week to $20 per week. This increase will apply to approximately 509,000 age pensioners, 112,000 invalid pensioners and 50,000 widow pensioners with children.

The married rate of pension, which is also payable to widows without children, is to be increased by $1.25 per week to $17.25 per week. This increase will apply to an estimated 324,000 age pensioners, 27,000 invalid pensioners and 43,000 widow pensioners without children.

A new pension, replacing wife's allowance and called wife's pension, will be paid to the wives of all age and invalid pensioners who do not qualify for a pension in their own right. Thus husbands who now receive age or invalid pensions at the standard rate and their non-pensioner wives will both receive pensions at the proposed married rate of $17.25 per week. An estimated 31,500 wives will benefit from the introduction of this new pension, of whom 23,500 already receive a wife's allowance at the lesser rate.

Supplementary assistance is to be doubled, to a maximum of $4 per week, and, subject to the usual eligibility conditions, will be available to married pensioner couples paying rent. About 108,000 age pensioners, 55,000 invalid pensioners and 23,500 widow pensioners will benefit from this increase. In addition some 58,000 pensioners will become eligible for supplementary assistance for the first time.

The adult rate for long-term sickness benefit is to be increased by $1.75 per week to $20 per week, and the junior rate will be increased by $1 per week to $13 per week. Approximately 7,500 beneficiaries will receive these increases.

In line with the proposed increase in supplementary assistance for pensioners, the rate of supplementary allowance for long-term sickness beneficiaries is to be doubled to a maximum of $4 per week. This increase will apply to an estimated 2,500 beneficiaries.

The pensions means test will again be substantially liberalised, by extending the amounts of means as assessed which permit the payment of full pensions to the same levels as the rates of pensions now proposed. The benefit of this principle, will of course, extend throughout the whole pension range because under it the so called 'free area' - that is the amount of means which does not affect the pension rate - will increase from $10 per week to $20 per week for those on standard rate and from $17 per week to $34.50 per week for those on married rate.

The amount up to which the computation of a pensioner's income may be reduced for means test purposes for each dependent child is to be increased by $2 to $6 per week

A special concession is to be made for recipients of superannuation payments and annuities. These 3 measures on the means test will benefit 228,000 persons at present receiving age, invalid and widows' pensions at part rates, and will make an estimated 75,000 additional people eligible for a part pension for the first time. Let me now turn to a more detailed description of the features of the Bill.

Rate of Basic Pension

The increases now proposed represent the fourth separate occasion on which the rate; of pension have been raised by the McMahon Government in the past 18 months. In March 1971 the standard rate was $15.50 per week and the combined married rate was $27.50 per week. With the current increases these rates will have been increased by amounts totalling $4.50 and $7 per week respectively. In no other period in Australia's history have increases iti pension rates been on a scale remotely approaching these amounts.

On previous occasions when introducing measures to increase pension rates I have pointed out to the House the extent to which the increases have represented gains to pensioners in real purchasing power. It is interesting to note that, measured by the consumer price index, prices have risen by under 8 per cent since the March quarter of 1971, while the pension, taking into account the current proposals, will have risen in the same period by 29 per cent for single people and over 25 per cent for married couples. Expressed another way, if pensions had been increased since March 1971 in accordance simply with rises in the consumer price index, current rates would be $16.74 per week for single people and $29.70 per week for married couples in lieu of $20 and $34.50 per week respectively as proposed in the Bill before tho House.

In the 12 months between the 1971 Budget and the 1972 Budget, prices have increased by approximately 6 per cent, but in the same period between the 2 Budgets, the standard rate of pension, even without counting in supplementary assistance, has increased by 15.9 per cent and the married rate pension by 13.1 per cent. If you count in supplementary assistance, the increase is 24.7 per cent for standard rate, and 26.2 per cent for married rate. Th is follows the Government's principles of giving special assistance to those in greatest need, and of continuing to raise the pension faster than the rise in the cost of living, so that its real value - the amount that the pension will purchase - continues to increase. The following tables, which I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard, exemplifies this.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Isleave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.

 







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