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Tuesday, 6 September 1983
Page: 383

Mr HAND(4.27) —I support the Government's opposition to this feeble attempt by the Opposition to bring to the attention of the community what the Government is supposed to be doing to the old people of this country. The two Opposition speakers probably have the worst records of any of the former Ministers in relation to their former portfolios. The proposer of the matter of public importance, the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Carlton), was the person who set about to cut back the health care made available under various schemes to the pensioners of this country. The second opposition speaker, the honourable member for Bonython (Mr Wilson), when he was Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, showed just how the then Government cared about that oppressed group in our community. The Opposition has a history of oppression of and attacks on the weakest people in the community. It has attacked the unemployed and the Aborigines. It has attacked and cut back services for aged people. Now one of its spokesmen on the front bench, the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) , regularly attacks in the House another weak group in our community, the people least able to defend themselves-the ethnic communities. Members opposite are full of hypocrisy. In the House they bleat, cry crocodile tears and try to score cheap political points to try to convince people. What they are really doing is creating fear. They are the ones who create fear. They are the ones who are misleading and causing concern amongst the people least able to understand some of these things-the elderly of this country.

Mr Hodgman —You are robbing the grandmothers of Australia. Shame on you! You socialist!

Mr HAND —The people in my electorate, in the inner suburbs of Melbourne, those people on lower incomes who worked and are now aged, suffered the effects of the decisions of the honourable member's Government.

Mr Hodgman —Granny robber! Why don't you pick on someone your own age?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) —Order! The honourable member for Denison in the course of this debate has made a number of interjections. I think he has had more than a fair go. I ask him now to interject no further.

Mr HAND —This Government intends to take a number of initiatives. In the recent Budget it announced some of them. It will introduce a spouse carers allowance to be paid to a male who provides care and attention to an age, invalid and repatriation pensioner spouse where care is needed because of the spouse's physical and mental disability. A new hostel care subsidy of $10 per week will be introduced in January 1984. There will be an increase in the personal care subsidy from $30 to $40 per week from January 1984 for those hostel residents who need assistance in the performance of daily living tasks. Pensioners will receive indexation increases from November 1983. The new rate will be $83.90 a week for single pensioners and $143.20 a week for pensioner couples. Fringe benefit limits will be indexed from November 1983. This will ensure that pensioners' concession rights are maintained. These are hardly the acts of a government that is trying to create hardship for the aged people of this country .

Let us consider what the previous Government did. Whilst we are not able to meet our commitment to raise pensions to 25 per cent of average weekly earnings in this Budget, we remain firmly committed to that objective. I take honourable members back to the famous policy speech of the former leader of the Liberal Party, Mr Malcolm Fraser, in 1975 when he said:

The real value of pensions will be preserved.

When Labor left office pensions were at 24.5 per cent of the average weekly earnings. I will take honourable members back a little to the time when Malcolm Fraser, who was probably the greatest manipulator of the truth that this country has ever seen, and his Government left office. In 1978-79 the September quarter rate was 24.5 per cent; in 1979-80, 23.4 per cent; in 1980-81, 23.7 per cent; in 1981-82, 22.3 per cent; and in 1982-83, when the Fraser Government was thrown out, it was 22.2 per cent. Who are the people who have attacked the living standards of the aged people in this country? They are certainly not members of the current Government. We would be the first to admit that everything is not a bed of roses for the aged people but, by hell, things will be a lot better and are already a lot better under this Government than they were in the eight years of the previous Government.

The Fraser Government was not content with attacking people's wage or income levels. It attacked other areas such as housing. In the last Budget of the Fraser Government, of which the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Carlton), who is sitting at the table was a Minister, allocated 40 per cent less in real terms than Labor had allocated in 1975 for pensioner or aged persons' housing. Not content with the extent of the onslaught, the final act of the Fraser Government -the cruellest blow and the one for which I emphasise the honourable member for Mackellar was responsible-was to take away from elderly Australians their access to adequate health care.

It is not just a question, as some have sought to suggest, of the Government singling out the aged in this process. In the ordering of priorities the question of pensions was assessed and action has been initiated. We have sought to bring about equity in the taxation system and that process will continue. I hope that this year when the relevant legislation goes to the Senate honourable members opposite, through their colleagues in that place, will not protect those manipulators of the tax system, those tax avoiders, those bottom-of-the-harbour promoters and prevent taxation revenue coming back to the Australian community and, in turn, being used for the benefit of aged people. The kind of measures announced in the Budget to which I alluded earlier in respect of increased services and facilities for pensioners can be provided only if we are rigorous in making sure that pensions go only to those in need and not to the richer people in the community and the tax avoiders. Every dollar which is paid out in benefit to people who could easily support themselves is a dollar less for more hospital wards for the aged, a dollar which could be used for modern medical equipment to service the aged and a dollar less for trained staff to help deal with pensioners' problems. These are the dollars that we cannot afford to squander on those not in need.

I turn to the support for our position. The Australian Council of Social Service, a body respected throughout this country, issued a Press release headed 'Assist the Needy Not the Rich' on 4 March 1982. The first paragraph states:

The Australian Council of Social Service supports the use of a means/asset test for old age pensions.

Even with the increased welfare expenditure these needs cannot be realistically met while universal payments are made to the rich.

In that comment the Council was referring to the way in which the previous Government had been dealing out pensions. I wish to quote also a person whom the honourable member who presented this matter of public importance would, I think, still support. Senator Chaney I think is still the Leader of the Opposition in the other place! He is reported in an article by Michelle Grattan in the Melbourne Age of 27 August 1983 as having stated:

I think we cannot escape the fact that there are some genuinely needy pensioners in the country who do not receive enough help, while some other people, by the advantageous arrangement of their assets, are able to draw on the system to a greater extent than their real degree of need would seem to justify.

I refer in conclusion to a critique prepared by the Australian Pensioners' Federation on the proposals introduced in the Budget as they affect pensioners. I wish to mention a couple of points. The pensioners say on page 2 of the critique that they would like to see the introduction of a wealth tax, the introduction of death and gift duties and the introduction of capital gains taxes. They say in conclusion on page 8:

The Australian Pensioners' Federation seeks to represent the views of those pensioners who clearly deserve the pension and who have suffered considerably over the last eight years as prices have outstripped the pension rises and public health and welfare services have suffered cut-backs.

That refers to the cutbacks of the former Government. Surely that is what the legislation being proposed by the Labor Government is all about. It is to cut into the income of those people who manipulate the system, to strip them of some of their wealth, but in no way to attempt to harm those people who need our assistance and the assistance of the Government.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) —The discussion is concluded.