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Wednesday, 7 September 1983
Page: 476

Mr BEDDALL —I ask the Prime Minister whether the savings that the Government achieves from its decision to introduce an assets test on pensions and to tax lump sum superannuation payments will be used to help ordinary Australian pensioners and other Australians in need.

Mr HAWKE —Both the initiatives referred to in the question by the honourable member will undoubtedly enable the Government to maintain and increase social security payments to those members of the community most in need, including old age pensioners, in the years ahead, so contributing to the objective which the honourable member mentions. Before developing a more detailed answer to the honourable member, I should say that in respect of this issue the arithmetic of pensioners and of the pensioner constituency should be understood. It has been made quite clear by the Treasurer and by other Ministers directly responsible for handling this matter in the post-Budget situation that it will be a small minority of those who currently get pensions who will not receive the same benefit in the future. If in fact this Government, or any government in the future, is to be able to give the greatest benefit to the pensioners who need it , then it has to be in the position, as would any government, that it is not putting out money to people who do not need it. The great majority of pensioners in this country deserve-and, under this Government, will get-a better deal. But our capacity to do the right thing and improve the position of the great majority of pensioners in terms of the question asked by the honourable member depends upon the Government's capacity not to have dissipated its money in respect of people who do not need that outgoing.

Both of the measures referred to by the honourable member will remove fundamental inequities in the pension system. In the case of the assets test, it is quite unfair-I suggest that any reasonable person will see that it is quite unfair-that pensioners with very substantial assets can qualify for a full pension while many on relatively modest incomes receive reduced pensions or nothing at all. As I have tried to point out in this House and elsewhere for a long period, if people have any real decency and concern about the future of this country they have to understand the future demographic facts. They are quite stark and unavoidable. They are that this country will have an increasingly aging population and that a smaller proportion of employed people will have the responsibility of supporting relatively larger numbers of retired people. Without the difficult measures that this Government has taken, Australia would soon be experiencing crippling pressures to impose added taxation to meet those burdens of the aging population.

The Government has had to take courageous initiatives. In taking those, it has forestalled those pressures that otherwise would apply. As a result of what we have done, those measures have allowed some increases to be provided to people in the community dependent upon the social welfare system who are most in need of assistance. The Opposition's announcement yesterday that it would repeal the proposed assets test and the superannuation taxation legislation reflects the Opposition's extreme cynicism and extreme hypocrisy. Given the Government's commitment to reducing the structural deficit in the process of economic recovery-and any government must do so-we have to take action which reduces the requirement for outlays in areas in which there is no need.

Let me look at what the Opposition has to say about this matter. It has had the absolute gall to say, in that announcement, that it would not go ahead with those measures. It says that that would enable it then to have a co-ordinated approach to retirement policy. The fact is that the Opposition has no policy at all, let alone a totally co-ordinated one, and by cutting off the measures about which we are talking it would shut off two of the major options which are necessary for any government if it is to have a co-ordinated approach in regard to total retirement incomes. In that context, I ask that all honourable members look at the hypocrisy, particularly of the Leader of the Opposition, in regard to what he is saying now-that he and those behind him would cut out this Government's measures which are related to ensuring that social welfare payments will be paid on the basis of need. I ask members of this House and particularly the Leader of the Opposition, in the light of this hypocritical statement, to remember what the now Leader of the Opposition had to say on 9 September 1981:

Expenditure on social security and welfare will be a key area of Government spending for the future. Already it amounts to $9.9 billion or around 27 per cent of total Budget outlays.

He went on to say:

The value of all pensions has increased and more people are taking up the age pension. Since 1970 the number of income support recipients has risen from 15 per cent of the working-age population to about 27 per cent.

He then said:

With an aging population this ratio will move even higher. If the Commonwealth Government is to respond to this growing need and to protect the real incomes of those relying on it for support, without imposing an increasingly onerous taxation burden on the workforce, then a fundamental reassessment of the taxation welfare system is unquestionably required.

He continued:

Needed decisions will demand a good deal of courage from Government leaders.

There one can see, revealed in all its naked hypocrisy, the position of the Leader of the Opposition. In 1981 he said that what this Government has now got the courage to do was the necessary thing to be done. In conclusion, may I say that while we reveal-

Mr Newman —I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Could you arrange to have the loudspeakers turned off? It is getting a bit loud.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! I call the Prime Minister.

Mr HAWKE —I can understand that those opposite do not want to hear revealed the hypocrisy of their leader. But there is one saving grace about at least one member of the Opposition. While the temporary Leader of the Opposition is revealed for his hypocrisy, we will excuse his deputy, because I want to be fair to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, as I was yesterday. It is well known that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition supports the Government's approach in regard to what we are doing in means testing and assets testing the pension. It is well known that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition supports our approach. This fact is reported on the front page of today's Sydney Morning Herald, which notes, and notes appropriately, that he was absent from the shadow Cabinet meeting which took the decision.