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Tuesday, 6 April 1971

Senator MULVIHILL (New South Wales) - Senator . Maunsell commenced his speech by referring to these Bills as interim measures and he finished on the same note. I think that an examination of the Opposition's amendment to the motion that the Social Services Bill be now read a second time will show that the Opposition is trying to deal with that very point in paragraph 4 of its amendment. The history of social services in this country shows that numerous opportunities for a happier launching of the social services ship were lost. I start by referring to the period prior to World War II when a future Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, was very enamoured of the original British national insurance scheme which was then in its infancy. However, the Prime Minister of the day, Mr Lyons, was timid and held sentiments very much the same as those of Senator Maunsell today and nothing was done.

It is true, as was pointed out by Senator Fitzgerald, who led for the Opposition in this debate, that in Australia attempts were made in the war and post war period by the then Commonwealth government to consolidate what the various States had done. A system of social services roulette existed at that time. Certain benefits were available in some States but not in others. The consolidation done by the Chifley Labor Government was not the milleniumfar from it. However, as Senator Fitzgerald pointed out, it laid the foundations. I am prepared to concede that, until the early fifties, even with the change in Government, it could be said that Australia's social service benefits were on a par with those paid in Western Europe. However, at that period of time we came to the parting of the ways. As post war Europe recovered and Britain . adopted the Beveridge scheme, a large part of the political bargaining was taken out of social services. At least the social services schemes were self supporting.

Senator Davidsonreferred to the concept of a National Welfare Fund. Where the Opposition parts company with the Government is the. fact, that in the era of Sir Arthur Fadden a ceiling was virtually applied to the National Welfare Fund. The point I make is that so many members of our work force were at their peak earning period - I mean physically - that the Government of the day would hot have found any difficulty in introducing a national welfare scheme. I appreciate that in an earlier debate the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) referred to the introduction of a national superannuation scheme. Regardless of its mechanics^' the point 1 wish to make is that there were many opportunities to introduce such a scheme. 1 am not saying that it should have been completely in line with what the Australian Labor Party advocated at the time. However, if such a scheme had been implemented it would have. 'to a large extent shared the load rather than leave the determination of social service benefits to the whims of a particular Treasurer.

The decision of the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) to increase pensions reminds me of a B grade western movie. The settlers are beseiged' in a fort by Red Indians, who are riding around it with their bows and arrows, when all of a sudden the sound of a bugle is heard and the United States cavalry is seen coming to the rescue with General Custer at its head. This is the impression that honourable senators opposite try to create with the installation of a new Prime Minister in office. When, a few months earlier, John Gorton, the then Prime Minister said that he would have liked to increase pensions but he could nol do so because of the state of the economy his loyal supporters decided that they should get on the same wave length. However, the new Prime Minister, this General Custer comparison, brought in a whole new era.

I revert back to the words of Senator Maunsell that these pieces of legislation are only interim measures. 1 think it is significant to note that one of the greatest criticisms advanced about the nonintervention policy of the former Prime Minister. Mr Gorton, was that we were then in both the best of times and the worst of times, lt is unquestionable that there will be a dampening down effect in a war or depression era. I do not say that there is complete equality of sacrifice but the inequality is less. However, the moment there is an unfettered economy what have we found? We have found the gap between social services benefits and average weekly earnings widening.

I do not think enough people appreciate the concept of having a mobile work force in Australia. Far too often wonderful words of vision are expressed about national development and frontier outposts. A lot of people who live in isolated areas are earning short term lop wages. Otherwise they would not work in these regions. If every member of the community worked in a capital city he would be better off in many ways. Most of the people who work in isolated areas have only their labour to sell and if they are injured they are in trouble. When they get into their fifties they look back and find that they have lost opportunities to better themselves. I believe that at times in the upper echelons of government there is a belief that if things are made too good for the workers they may lose their, inclinations to indulge in a bit of thrift. Many people, at some period of their lives, have to tide sons or daughters over misfortunes. The shoe really pinches when one gets to the age of lost opportunity. This is the reason why the Opposition has endeavoured to inject some feeling into this debate. The Opposition has been not merely offering carping criticism.

I hark back to what Senator Maunsell said about this legislation being an interim measure. The Opposition has looked in vain for the creation of a national superannuation scheme. We do not say that a Labor government would wave a magic wand and over night solve all the problems, but we do suggest that each year we would phase in a certain number of age groups. Whether we adopted the British system or that which applies in Belgium or France, this inequality would cease to exist. To prove that point I invite honourable senators to consider that in Belgium and France - in fact in all the Common Market countries - 15 per cent of the gross national product is fed into social service payments. I think the percentage of our gross national product spent in this way would be considerably less than that. That is one of the points which we must bear in mind when considering a reconstructed Europe.

Even conceding to our rural comrades that there have been droughts, the plain fact of the matter is that we cannot look back on our social services record and say that ours has been a mighty good performance. lt has been characterised by stop and go measures. I know, and so does Senator Hannan who is now interjecting, that in his own State of Victoria various surveys have revealed that there are 600,000 really poor people. That should never have happened in Australia. Our country was never devastated by war and there have been no major economic disturbances since 1936; yet that situation has developed. The point I am making is that all these things vindicate our emphasis on the need to create a national superannuation scheme. 1 want to conclude by referring to the remarks of the third force party in this chamber. 1 have noticed that Senator Gair consistently talks about a tribunal, which he refers to as an independent tribunal. I am sure that Senator Little will relay my remarks to Senator Gair, who may take me to task about them over breakfast tomorrow morning at Brassey House. I should like to visualise the situation that would exist if Senator Gair had his way on this amendment. I ask honourable senators to cast their minds back to the time when Senator Gair was Premier of Queensland. If a State authority - not one dealing with pensions but one dealing with something else - stepped out of line or exceeded its economic ambit with costs which upset the equilibrium of the budget brought down by the Premier of Queensland, he would have had whoever was responsible into the Premier's office next morning and would have reminded him of who was Premier.

Without trying to defend the view advanced by Government supporters I am, for the benefit of Senator Little and his colleagues, making the point that it would be foolish to refer to a pensions tribunal as an independent tribunal because at some time the Treasurer of the day, whether he w>Senator Gair is always espousing, with this holier than thou attitude in which he says lv will not indulge in this filthy bargaining on pensions but will leave the matter to a tribunal.

I believe that there should be a certain amount of autonomy, but no matter who the Treasurer is - whether it is the future Treasurer, Mr Frank Crean, or whether it is the present Treasurer (Mr Snedden) - the plain fact of the matter is that at some point of time the Treasurer will have to dictate to the tribunal. 1 do not criticise the Government for not accepting the suggestion that an independent tribunal be appointed because I suggest in all sincerity that when Senator Gair was Premier of Queensland, by virtue of his temperament, he would have been the last person to allow a State subsidiary to override the Treasury's concept of finance. The Opposition's view is that it is not sufficient to say in respect of pensions that $1 has been given and other adjustments have been made. We feel that there needs to be immediate planning and a phasing in of age groups over the next 10 years. This course will be necessary if we are to come within striking distance of conditions applying in most European countries, whether they are in the East or the West, or to achieve some parity with the basic wage, which is lagging at the moment, lt is on that basis that I support to the hill the amendment proposed by Senator Fitzgerald. I believe that in my humble fashion I have more or less shot out of the sky the first paragraph of the amendment proposed by the third force party.

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