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Tuesday, 16 February 1971

Senator WILLESEE (Western Australia10.58) - It is very obvious from the closing remarks of Senator Buttfield that 2 questions have been introduced into the debate. The first is the question of intiation upon which the Government has been focusing attention in a very nebulous way, judging by the sketchy statement which was made tonight. The second is the question of pensions and the position of people on fixed incomes. As Senator Murphy has pointed out. we have experienced a steadily increasing inflationary trend throughout the world during the whole of our lifetime and probably during the lifetime of our fathers and mothers. Possibly the only exception was during the depression years. If one were to draw a graph of inflation over the last 50 to 100 years one would see the line steadily rising. On very few occasions would the line on the graph be steady or fall to any extent before rising again.

We have built into the economy in the Western world, in particular, a system whereby people can look after themselves by way of profits or through the arbitration court. In Australia the trade union movement has been able to look after its members, to some degree, by appearing before the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and making a very careful analysis of the economy and of price rises against demands. The people who have suffered are those who are not able to go before a controlled Arbitration Commission or to enter the uncontrolled business area to make profits. These people mainly are superannuitants and pensioners. This Government has been falling further and further behind in giving assistance to these 2 classes of people. Senator Buttfield referred to people on superannuation. People work for 50 years of their lives and pay into superannuation funds or, in the case of pensioners, pay taxation over a period of 50 years in order to receive something in return, not for 50 years but for a comparatively small number of years. The number of years may be none; it may rise to 15 or 16. 1 do not know what the average would be. It would probably be about 8 or 9.

In view of what has been said tonight and the clamour that has arisen because of the offending of the national conscience since last August, it does not seem to be loo much to say that dignity ought to be given for that short period of people's lives. In the field of superannuation, there has not been a review in the case of Commonwealth employees for a period of nearly 4 years. The Government will not do something which could easily be done; that is, write an automatic adjustment provision into the relevant Act or, as is being done by some of the private companies, write in a fixed amount of increase over the years. The Government is not doing that for that section of fixed income earners, lt is also refusing to do something similar for the people who are affected far more seriously by this problem, namely, the pensioners who receive so much less. The Government's approach is inherent in the way this debate has gone on tonight. The approach is that a pension is something that a government in its great generosity hands out to people. The fact is that a pension is a prepaid right. People have prepaid their pensions in the form of their taxation payments over 50 years of work. A pension is not some sort of generous handout; it is a right that has already been earned over 50 or more years of work.

What is civilisation? What are the things on which one judges how great a country is? I suggest that when one travels overseas and examines the situation in other countries, if one finds that they have a high infant mortality rate, a high disease rate, the hospitals and doctors are not somewhere near the optimum standard in looking after people or the poverty rate is very high, one regards them as uncivilised countries, lt is not on Rembrandts and that type of thing that one judges civilisation. One judges it on the way people treat their brothers, about whom Senate: Buttfield learnt at church today and from whom somehow or other she excludes the pen- stone* s. This is how we will be judged. If wc arc to judge ourselves, surely we ought to be looking at who are the poor people in the community. Senator Buttfield ranged very widely. She said that there were many needy people in the community, such as transport people. That is drawing a very long bow. The poor of Australia are in a very neat compartment. They are the aged, the invalid, the widowed, the sick and the members of very large families. That just abou: covers the people about whom we are talking - the needy people. When we talk of needy people we should think in terms of the things that affect the every day way of living and the things on which civilisation is judged.

I come now to the challenge of inflation - a point about which we are talking and on which Senator Buttfield closed her speech. She referred to the problem of galloping inflation, whereas I referred previously to steady inflation. In the last 8 or 9 months the rate of inflation has jumped from about 3 per cent to about 8 per cent. That is what the panic is ail about at the moment. It is nor sufficient to do what this Government is doing; that is, to move into the government sector only and say: 'We do not intend to increase pensions'. I thought the closing remarks of the Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin), who represents the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth), were very ominous. They ought to be noted by everybody listening to this debate tonight. I made a note of them. Her words were that 50c - the amount of pension increase that was given in the Budget - was the maximum amount that could prudently be given. So much for the hope of a little budget or for pension increases before the Budget which will be introduced probably next August.

By attacking only the Government sector not only win pensions be affected but those people working in the Public Service will be told: "You will not receive promotions. Recruitment will be stopped. You will not get overtime. There will be no staff replacements and travelling must be curtailed'. It the Government were administering the Public Service correctly and efficiently it would not be necessary to say this, because the Government should not employ more people than are necessary, overtime should not be worked unnecessarily and people should not be travelling the countryside unreasonably. Ultimately the Public Service must recruit staff, so this proposal is merely postponing that day. The Government says that overtime is nol to be worked before 30th June, but the work must be done at some stage. The Government is discriminating between the private and public sectors and those who work in the Public Service and are beholden to the Commonwealth Government will become the second eleven in the working community and pensioners will drag behind them.

If the Government curtails expenditure in the Government sector we will reach the situation that Professor Galbraith referred to when he said that there could be private affluence and public squalor, because the public side of our community will run down. We have heard much in this chamber of Mr Justice Nimmo. His committee investigated medical costs. He estimated that in Australia there are one million people below the poverty line. During the last Budget debate many honourable senators suggested that more than one million people would be driven below the poverty line as a result of Budget proposals. It is now obvious that more than one million Australians are in that situation today.

Earlier this evening Senator Gair pointed out that much was expected of Mr Wentworth when he became Minister for Social Serices but that it is now a different Mr Wentworth from the Mr Wentworth who spoke as a backbench member, lt has been pointed out during this debate that the spin to this vicious financial wheel was given in the last Budget. When the Government increased petrol prices it did not merely put up the price to the person who owns a car. The increased cost applied to everything that was carried in a petrol driven vehicle. Even pensioners have to pay this added cost on the articles they have had to purchase. When the Government increased telephone charges pensioners were affected because they had to pay more for telephone calls. Indirect taxation applies to pensioners the same as it does to low wage earners.

Senator Buttfieldhas referred to the middle income earner but as was pointed out when the Government provided a 10 per ecn: rebate in taxation it did not assist the low and middle income earners to the extern that it assisted upper middle and high income earners. This rebate was granted because of a rash election promise which the Government wanted to honour quickly It did not give the Taxation Office time to work out a proper curve and the 10 per cent flat rate of rebate was introduced. This is why the rebate granted totalled more than what the Government had promised prior to the election.

Mention has been made of the 6 per cent increase which was granted in the national wage case. During its 20 years in office the Government has adopted a laissez faire approach to things. It has allowed a situation to develop where people believe that the moment there is a wage increase then ipso facto there will be a price increase. Never at any stage has this Government encouraged by way of legislation, influence or otherwise a method of overcoming this ipso facto approach. This is a technological age. Manufacturers should not say. 'The wage increase 1 have to pay has increased my costs by $X. I will divide that sum by the quantity of goods I sell and add a little more along the line.' lt was obvious following the last Budget that immediately the Government gave the green light by raising prices through increases in indirect taxation, the sellers of goods went in for their cut as well. Prices were increased not only because of indirect taxation increases but because a little bit was added by the sellers. lt has become increasingly obvious that the community was shocked by the last Budget, as taxpayers were not really to receive a handout and pensioners were to receive an increase of only a miserable 50 cents a week. 1 have been interested to hear figures cited here tonight. I have some sets o! figures of my own and it has been interesting to see how they differ from those cited by other speakers. The fact is that the pensioner is worse off today when his pension is compared to the average weekly wage. A study of the cost of living index shows that pensioners have been made remarkably worse off by the 50c a week increase granted in the last Budget. If the words of the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) are to be taken as seriously as I took them to be, and the maximum pension that can prudently be paid is being paid, it is a living disgrace to this Govern ment. That situation is exacerbated by claims by Government supporters that we are in a situation where it has become necessary to grapple with inflation. That is even more disgraceful.

There is no doubt that the terms of the motion emphasise what was said al the time of the last Budget nol only by the Australian Labor Party but by the people of Australia. The national conscience has been offended. There is no justification lor denying justice to these people who have already paid for their right to an adequate pension, lt is noi charity, as seems to be implied. These people paid during a lifetime of work for their right to a pension. Surely to goodness any government that wants to be judged by world standards ought to be ensuring that our pensioners can live out the remaining period of their lives and die with some dignity.

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