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Thursday, 21 September 1972
Page: 1775

Mr JARMAN (Deakin) - I listened with some interest to the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) replying to the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) who introduced the Social Services Bill (No. 4) 1972 in the House this morning. I was surprised to find that the honourable member for Oxley spent his first 15 minutes talking about anything but the provisions of the Bill. He talked on about the economy and unemployment but did not have one word of praise or respect for the provisions of the Bill. He paid scant attention to what most people believe are giant steps forward in the whole social service structure of Australia. He said that the Government had done little or nothing regarding social services since it had taken over from the Labor Party in 1949. Obviously he has not seen a booklet entitled 'Developments in Social Services Between 1949 and 1972' which has been produced by the Minister for Social Services. I commend it to him. It shows what has been achieved since the last Labor government was driven from office in 1949.

The honourable member for Oxley praised the situation in Denmark and said that Danes who came to Australia found that social services here are not as good as those enjoyed in Denmark. I was in Denmark last year and I was surprised at the number of young people who told me that they wanted to migrate to Australia. I spoke to each of these people in turn and asked, if they had such a wonderful setup of social security in Denmark, why they wanted to migrate to Australia. The answer was always the same; that the whole of their incentive was being crippled by taxation. Young men who went to work were unable to make ends meet because they had to finance this social security system which, even then, they had doubts about.

The honourable member for Oxley talked about the pension being below the poverty line. As honourable members know Professor Henderson, in 1966, set out what he considered to be the poverty line. This has since been updated. Let us now compare present pensions with' this updated Henderson poverty line. For a single male paying rent the poverty line is $23.33 a week, as adjusted to Professor Henderson's figures. However, the single male pensioner paying rent receives $24 a week. For the single female paying rent the poverty line is $21.71 a week. The pension for a single female who is paying rent is $24 a week. For a married couple paying rent the poverty line is $30.98; the equivalent social service benefit is $38.50- well in advance of the poverty line. For a widow with one child the poverty line is $29.34; the actual social service benefit received is $35. For a widow with 2 children the poverty line is $38.79; and the social services pension $40.50. For a widow with 3 children the poverty line is $45.49; the actual social service receipt is $47. The only case where there is a discrepancy is for a widow with no children - the poverty line is $23 and the actual social service receipt is $21.25. These figures give the lie to the statement of the honourable member for Oxley that pensions are below the poverty line. As I have just demonstrated very clearly, they are not. The social service pension in every case except that of a widow with no children - who could probably go to work anyway - is well over the poverty line.

In its policy the Labor Party said that it would abolish the means test within the life of 2 Parliaments. Since the Government has said that it will abolish it within 3 years and, if possible, in even less time, the Labor Party has switched around and said that it, too, will abolish the means test within 3 years. I do not know what this alteration will do to the 5-year plan for a superannuation scheme of the honourable member for Oxley if the Australian Labor Party get into office. When the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) introduced the Budget on 15th August last he stated that it was geared to achieve social and economic goals of significance to all Australians and particularly to families. We had, I think, all expected a good Budget, one that would stimulate the economy and assist those in need. We certainly were not disappointed. This Bill gives effect to the increases in social service pensions and the widening of the means test outlined by the Treasurer in his Budget Speech.

Since the McMahon Government came to office some 18 months ago pensions have been increased on 4; separate occasions, with the result that the rate of the single pension has increased by $4.50 a week to $20 a week in that time. The rate of a married pensioner couple has increased by $7 a week to $34.50. This is a percentage increase of 29 per cent for single pensioners and more than 25 per cent for a married pensioner couple. It has far outstripped the rise in the cost of living,' which. has been 8 per cent during the same period. In addition, pensioners paying rent now receive additional assistance amounting to $4 a week. When one adds to these amounts the fringe benefits which are estimated at somewhere between $5 and $6 per week one sees that the financial position of the. pensioner has been improved considerably. In fact, since the Liberal-Country Party Government first came to office in .1949 the purchasing power of the pensioner has doubled; and this is as it should be. This trend must be continued. In an affluent society such as ours we should be able to see that those who have, during their lifetime, contributed to the wealth and development, of Australia can live out their lives in dignity and comfort in their twilight years.

Mr Cohen - Oh! You are a hypocrite.

Mr JARMAN - The honourable member might think, of course, that they should not, but this is the difference between the policies of the Labor Party and the Government. A lot still remains to be done in this regard. There are limited resources and there are limitless needs. We must always endeavour to bridge that gap.

The appointment by the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) of Professor Henderson to inquire into all aspects of poverty in the community should highlight the areas of greatest need and be a great guide to future governments as to where our limited resources should be directed. It is probably not widely realised that out of the 13 million people living in Australia somewhat fewer than 4 million are taxpayers. This means that roughly one-third of the population must support the other two-thirds. In the past, however, there have been those who, in order not to be a burden on the community in their old age, have joined superannuation schemes and have gone without some of the pleasures and comforts of life so that they would have an income in their old age. However, due to the inflationary forces apparent in economics on a world scale, these people have found that their resources are inadequate to cater for their meagre needs. In many cases those who found themselves ineligible for a pension because their income was just outside the means test, were worse off than some pensioners who, in addition of course, receive medical and other fringe benefits. These people have become our genteel poor - those who have watched their fixed incomes dwindle with every price rise. These are the former hard working citizens of our community - people who have never in the past made great demands upon the nation's resources, but who now find themselves, through no fault of their own, on the poverty line. They have been too proud to seek voluntary assistance and have been unable to obtain government assistance - assistance which should rightly be theirs. There are many such people in my electorate of Deakin.

In this Budget the Government has recognised the plight of these people and has announced that the means test will again be substantially liberalised and that it will be completely abolished within 3 years. The Prime Minister has said that the Government may well be able to abolish the means test within a much shorter period. This liberalisation of the means test means that a single pensioner with property valued at less than $420 may have a private income of $20 a week and still receive the full pension of $20, making a total income of $40. Some pension will still be payable until his income reaches $60 a week, or married couples some pension will be paid until their combined income reaches $103.50 a week. There are some working men who have to raise families and pay off their homes on less.

In addition, the Government will set up an inquiry to make recommendations regarding a national superannuation scheme. I am one who has long advocated such a scheme to which all will contribute and from which all will benefit, not as charity but as of right. Such a scheme would encourage thrift, self-help and selfreliance in the community. It would also mean the retention of dignity on the part of the pensioner. Successive governments have for years endeavoured to find a way to do justice to the needs of pensioners and at the same time provide a national retiring allowance on a basis satisfactory to all and one which suits Australia's national needs. The Government has set out in this Budget to eliminate the financial worries of our elderly. Age brings enough burdens on its own - physical weakness, loneliness due to the passing of old friends, the inability to do physically what one once did and the various phychological problems associated with ageing. The Government has done much to overcome these problems. Last Monday the Minister for Social Services came to my electorate of Deakin and together we visited, among other places, 3 aged people's homes, 'Strathdon', a Presbyterian home, 'Annesley', a Methodist home and 'Lakeside Lodge' a home for the aged deaf opened only the previous day. At Annesley' we dined and chatted with those who reside there. In all these homes it was most exhilarating to see how happy these people were. They all had a vital interest in life. As more and more homes for the aged are built and as the hostels for the aged come into being as a result of this Government's policy, more and more people will spend their later years in these happy surroundings.

I cannot pay enough tribute to the present Minister for Social Services. He is a man of compassion with a driving zeal to achieve happiness and security for those in the community for whom we have a special responsibility. The Australian people are fortunate that we have such a man in this Government. Yesterday at question time in reply to a question asked by me, he revealed that his Department had produced pamphlets in various languages so that all people would be aware of their social service entitlement. I congratulate the Minister on this move. We, as a Government, want everyone in this community who is entitled to a pension to know what his entitlement is.

Mr Cohen - I'll bet you do.

Mr JARMAN - Is the honourable member for Robertson suggesting that he does not? In commercial terms social welfare is the largest service industry in Australia. Expenditure on Commonwealth financed social security, health and housing is in excess of $l,900m a year. This amount is exceeded in the Commonwealth Budget only by grants to the States. Expenditure by State and local governments and voluntary agencies adds another $400m to the nation's health and welfare bill. This is a gigantic sum in any man's language. The present provisions have grown in a haphazard manner over the past 70 years but it is obvious from the action of the present Government in deciding to abolish the means test in the near future that the winds of change are blowing to usher in a complete reshaping of our social service structure. The early introduction in Australia of some form of contributory national superannuation with a base rate pension which bears an adequate relationship to previous earnings is urgently needed. I welcome the steps that the Government has taken in this direction. This Budget has been one of understanding and compassion, not just for the noisy and the clamorous but also for that silent majority to which we have an obligation and which seldom complains. This Government certainly does care for these people. I congratulate the Minister on the steps taken in this Bill and on behalf of the elderly people in my electorate of Deakin thank him for all he is doing to improve the lot of those passing along the dimly lit corridors of old age.

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