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Tuesday, 16 February 1971


Senator BUTTFIELD (South Australia) - 1 rise tonight not to support this motion but to express a few views which I think have been expressed before but which obviously need to be repeated in answer to this motion. I was amazed to hear the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Murphy) say that he supports the Australian Democratic Labor Party because he agrees that the matter should be debated urgently. I see no reason for not agreeing if a subject of urgency needs to be debated. But that is not the basts of the motion. The motion is in the terms that we need the immediate introduction of necessary legislation to alter the pension rates. I do not agree with this. 1 deplore the fact that the pensioner, the person who is perhaps i little less well off than some others in the community, is being used for political purposes.

In his opening remarks tonight Senator Gair himself said that this was the first time that the DLP had been able to move a motion of this type without having to seek support. In other words, the purpose of his moving this motion is to show the new found strength of the DLP. He is exploiting the pensioner in order to show the public that the DLP can now move a motion without seeking the support of somebody else. This is the wrong motive for debating in this chamber the needs of any one particular section of the community. Senator Gair gave us many reasons why the pensioner should nol be exploited - I think they were his words - because of inflation. But. after all, is not the pensioner the person who will suffer quicker than anyone else if inflation does escalate? The Government's responsibility, and prime responsibility, is to consider all sections of the community, and this means the whole of Australia. The pensioner is a part of that whole. If we cannot control inflation at this present time the pensioner, along with all other people in the community, will stiffer. For this reason we are all sympathetic to the pensioner's plight; but we must control inflation first. I would be the first to support any move to increase pensions in the next Budget, if inflation is controlled by then. But I repeat that we must see that inflation is the first thing that we do control.


Senator Gair - You did not think of them when you increased the judges' salaries.


Senator BUTTFIELD - Intiation was not imminent at the time the judges' salaries were raised. Although this is not a factor in assessing judges' salaries here, in other countries corruption and bribery have entered into the law. I hope and pray that by giving judges the best of salaries we will continue to eliminate any bribery and corruption. 1 am not suggesting that it might creep in. I said that we must pay people properly for the jobs they do so that they are not tempted by such things. I am fully in support of good wages and salaries for the workers. I think that the Arbitration Commission has made a great mistake, in raising wages lo the extent to which it has done, but I do nol entirely blame it for this. Probably employers have contributed to this inflationary trend by offering incentive wages for skill. It is unfortunate we have not sufficient skilled people but they are all contributing to the inflationary trends.

Today I went to the religious ceremony to mark the opening of this Parliament and it interested me very much that one of the lessons was based around the story of the Good Samaritan and of Christ's message to the people to look after their neighbour and to love their neighbour as themselves. The servant was placed in the same light in the Good Samaritan story. In his sermon the preacher asked: 'Who is my neighbour?' Today we should be thinking about that serman and asking ourselves: Who is our neighbour? Who are we concerned with in this Parliament? As the preacher said, our neighbour is everyone in need and there are many people in Australia in need. 1 would venture to say that most people in Australia have some need which they require the Government to consider.


Senator Georges - Some need an extra car.


Senator BUTTFIELD - That is not what I call need. There are people with health needs and the Government is concerned with them. There are people in the rural industries who have needs and the Government is considering them. There are people in the industrial field, the educational field and the housing industry who have needs. Then there are the needs in regards roads, railways, shipping and air services. The Government has to consider all of them. There are people with physical and mental handicaps who have needs and they are being considered. Child endowment is another need. There are people who have a need in the field of drug abuse and the Government is paying attention to that aspect by making grants for education. There are needs of people overseas which are perhaps even greater than our pensioners' needs and we are contributing towards meeting their needs by our overseas aid. There are many people in need in Australia and the Government is paying attention to all those needs.


Senator Cavanagh - Are there any pensioners? You have nol mentioned them yet. They are our neighbours, are they not?


Senator BUTTFIELD - I said these were in addition to pensioners. Of course the pensioner is a neighbour and one who needs attention. As to the rise in pensions and the provision of fringe benefits over the years 1 do not need to repeat what the Minister and many of us have said on many occasions in this Senate. However, it suits certain people to forget those benefits to the pensioner in order to arouse the emotions of the people, ft is very easy to say that the poor pensioner is not getting a fair deal. I ask: Who pays for the extra things which Senator Gair is asking the Government to do? Who will pay for the abolition of the means test? Who will pay for many of the things he has asked for? The main payers will be the family man who has great needs himself and the young person who will probably pay into the taxation pool for 50 years before he qualifies for any of these benefits. He may never qualify at all. It is the young person who is about to establish himself who is trying to set up a home to get married or to rear children, who should be given the best of opportunities. Senator Gair would call on him to pay. I am sorry for the young person, the married man and the family man. They need attention also. I am not unsympathetic with the pensioners but let us keep these problems in balance. Let us consider ail people in need in Australia and stop seeking political credit by picking on those subjects which we know can arouse the emotions of the people. We heard an honourable senator, I think Senator Murphy, speak about the judgment of the people or the judgment of the churches on the Government. After all, ii is the responsibility of the churches to pay attention to those who are in particular need. The churches can well pass judgment because theirs is not a balanced responsibility; it is a particular responsibility. 1 am saying that we in this Parliament have to maintain a balanced responsibility in order to see that everybody gets a fair go


Senator Mulvihill - Would it be a detached view?


Senator BUTTFIELD - No. we certainly have not a detached view. We have a very involved view. It embraces all the people who need attention. It would be irresponsible for any government simply to pay attention to one section and to prejudice all the other sections by allowing the inflationary trend to be aggravated. To me it is completely ridiculous to hear Senator Gair and others ask for a pension equal to half the minimum wage. After all, a married pensioner couple do not have the responsibility to build a home, of beginning to educate their children or building up their requirements. This is the basis on which the minimum wace is fixed - the requirements of a man, his wile and his growing family. In most cases the pensioner - the invalid pensioner could be the exception - and certainly the age pensioner does nol have those responsibilities and therefore does not need half of the minimum wage to maintain himself.

I shall make only one further point. 1 am amazed at the campaign for a little Budget, lt is most .selfish to suggest that the pension rate should be raised, and that in order to find the money to pay for the increase the tax benefit granted to the lower and middle income earner should be revoked. After all, during the years that this Government has been in office the pension rate has been raised, I think, on 1 4 occasions, but the rate of taxation for the lower and middle income taxpayer has not been reduced once. Now it is his turn, and it is completely unreasonable to say that the pension rate should be raised at the expense of the lower and middle income earner. I hope that this suggestion is not repeated because, as 1 have said, this is an area of need and we, as a Government, have to watch for these areas of need. 1 think it is most unreasonable to ask that the pension rate should be increased at the present time when we are devoting our attention to checking inflation and thereby eventually benefiting every section of the community.







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