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Thursday, 26 May 1983
Page: 1063

Mr KEOGH(4.34) —In listening to the remarks of the honourable member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey), it was initially difficult to understand whether he supported this measure, the Social Security and Repatriation Legislation Amendment Bill 1983. If there is any honesty in him, I am sure that he would admit that deep in his heart he supported the measure but felt that as a justification of the position in which he sits in this House he had to rise and join the others of the Opposition who have been raving about the changes that we are now considering. I remind honourable members that what we are doing is debating legislation which is the outcome of the economic statement made by the Treasurer (Mr Keating) last Thursday evening. The whole basis of that statement is that this Government has very quickly shown the people of Australia that it is prepared to take a responsible stand and to rein in some of the previous Government's excesses; that it is prepared to take a stand and to reduce the expenditure level that was embarked upon by the previous Government; and that it has been prepared to move quickly to do these things.

I am sure that all honourable members on the Government side would agree with me when I say that we are not happy to see introduced any measures whereby any section of the community would be affected adversely. However, this measure-in fact all measures covered by the Treasurer's statement of last Thursday evening- have been directed at those sections of the community which this Government knows can bear the changes, and which the Government fully appreciates are able to withstand the changes that are being forced on them-not by the will of this Government but by the decisions that we have been forced to take because of the previous Government's irresponsible handling of the economy.

I remind the House that it was this Labor Government's predecessor, the Government of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in the years 1972 to 1975, which introduced a whole range of beneficial welfare measures, and that the abolition of the means test was included in those changes. So people can well appreciate that the present Government would not be making this change because of being anxious to change the situation introduced by that previous Labor Government. We are making the change because it has been forced upon us to take some action in a responsible fashion to pull the country back on to the rails of economic responsibility. The previous Government indulged in excesses over its seven years in office. Had it been more responsible in its handling of the economy, this measure and the other measures that the Government has introduced-and measures which will probably be introduced in the Budget in August-would probably not have been necessary.

This measure is estimated to reduce Budget outlays by $167m in 1983-84. It takes on something with which successive governments have grappled over the years-the problem of seeing that support for those in need is provided responsibly. The problem that has bedevilled previous governments, especially over the last seven years, is that they have sprayed around their favours in the direction of those whom they felt could bring support to them to keep them in office, rather than considering those in need in determining who should receive benefits under their legislation.

The honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Milton) adequately illustrated to the House the fact that these measures are directed as a first step towards the ultimate introduction of a national superannuation and compensation scheme, which is part of this Government's platform, and that with this and various other sound economic measures which will be introduced by the Government it will not be too many years before the people finally see the achievement of that long awaited national superannuation scheme. I support this legislation wholeheartedly. Perhaps I may draw the attention of the House to someone else who has publicly stated his support for this measure. It is someone whom I and many others have criticised in the past for being only too eager to participate in a means test-free pension, when everyone was well aware that he had no need of such a pension. I refer to the former Liberal Prime Minister and Treasurer, Sir William McMahon. He has been quite happy publicly to acclaim this measure and to express his support for it. When questioned about the fact that he was about to lose the age pension, he said that he could not be happier. He went on to say that he believed that the Hawke Labor Government was quite right in introducing this measure. I should like to quote his words to remind honourable members of the Opposition of the hypocrisy that they are showing in this House in their new-found interest in and concern for the welfare of people in the over 70 age group.

Mr Goodluck —I raise a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I take offence at the word 'hypocrisy'.

Mr KEOGH —I withdraw the reference to Opposition members as being hypocritical, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) —The honourable member has withdrawn.

Mr KEOGH —I draw the Opposition's attention to the fact that support for this legislation has come from a former Liberal Prime Minister, who has said that it was quite right that someone as wealthy as he should lose his right to an age pension because of the reintroduction of the means test. He said:

Personally, I think it is quite right.

He is at least honest in his assessment of the decision of this Government and the results of the decision. I congratulate him on making that public statement. I congratulate the Government on what it has done. I suggest to honourable members opposite who are coming into the House now and suggesting that these things should not be done and would not have been done had they been in office that they might, in all honesty, face the fact that these things are being done by the present Government because of the need for us to take action to show responsibility in the handling of the nation's affairs-and that is something that those members failed to do.

Debate interrupted.