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Wednesday, 30 November 1983
Page: 3067

Mrs DARLING(3.46) —I am really appalled at the mental poverty of Opposition members. If, as the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) said, the Opposition were appalled by the assets test I would find it easier to accept its spurious arguments, but the Opposition could not give two figs. It is cynically using a situation to try to block the progressive policies of a Government that is willing to look at the situation which exists and is willing to work out how to meet the needs of two very diverse groups of aged people in Australia. Opposition members are very excitable because they have no basis for what they say. They are highly politicised and they do not have the intelligence to look at a situation which exists in Australia today and work out precisely what they would do about it. They stick to old-fashioned concepts. They see money equating with worth.

In the terms of the argument put forward by the Opposition the Government is attacked for penalising thrift in its proposed assets test. That shows that the Opposition is absolutely unaware that two and a half million people in Australia live on or below the poverty line because of its policies when it was in Government. It shows that the Opposition is unaware that there are thousands of families who, having worked their entire lives and having been very thrifty, cannot meet accelerating costs. There are people-Government members would never have met them, but I have met them and have been very close to them-who work and save. They are family people who work and save during their entire lives, and when they reach the stage of retirement they still do not have money apart from the pension.

Opposition members are not aware of the thousands of people in Australia in this position. They need a government which will honestly look at the situation and honestly try to do something. If Labor had not come to government when it did we would be in the midst of a full scale depression at the moment. It would not be a matter of who gets the pension and who eventually goes on to superannuation. It would be a matter of who would be able to survive at all. ( Quorum formed) I would like it placed on record for Peter Hollingworth and all the other people whose names have been abused by members of the Opposition by being quoted out of context, that when the Government tried to answer the question which they put forward and which they claim is of such concern to them, they resorted to calling a quorum to cut into the time of that Government speaker. I thank them for that.

I point out that Peter Hollingworth has done a superb amount of work for the really poor in Victoria. I know he will be concerned for the 2.5 million people who are under the poverty line. He has welcomed the welfare measures that have been brought in by this Government and is personally known to many members of this Government. He has based his concern on a misapprehension: Firstly, a lack of understanding has been fostered by members of the Opposition trying to blur precisely what we are doing. Secondly, there is a concern for those more comfortable members of society who quite reasonably wish for security in retirement. Both these concerns will be met by the Government's joint policy of an income asset tested pension and a national superannuation scheme. I point out that the national superannuation scheme is not something which is suddenly whisked out of the hat by this Government; it has been our policy for some time. In fact, it was when Labor was in government that we commissioned the Hancock report on the National Superannuation Committee of Inquiry to look at the feasibility of a national superannuation scheme. When was that national superannuation report kicked out? It was kicked out in 1979 by the then Prime Minister, Mr Fraser. That is the extent of his response to a scheme which the Australian people need and want. Let us face it, we should be looking at the resources we have and the needs, and balancing the two.

We do not want flibbertigibbet members of the Opposition, people who cannot even organise resources and put forward decent policies. We need an Opposition which can meet two strong expectations in Australian society. One is the absolute need of Australia or any healthy nation to meet the requirements of those people who reach old age, those people with families who have worked and saved what they could during their entire working years and yet at retirement have not been in a privileged position which has enabled them to have any backing other than the pension. They must be given that backing and we are not worth our salt if we, as a government, bow under to the spurious arguments put by Opposition members just so that some influential members of the electorate will pat us on the back and let down the needy. I think Opposition members underestimate Australians because those who protested against the assets test do not really want us to neglect the needy. They were merely afraid. It is not that they do not want us to put money in to help those who are poor, it is not that they do not want those less fortunately circumstanced to have a retirement income, it is just that they were afraid that in a position which is not affluent they would have to give up assets in order to maintain a pension. They were afraid, and mistakenly so, that they would be on the streets. I would like to point out which people will still be receiving the pension from this Government. I refer to an article in the Canberra Times, which states:

The lifestyle concession would effectively mean a total asset exemption, including the pension-free area, of up to $47,100 for single pensioners and $58, 500 for a pensioner couple with no other income.

For those people to whom the concession does not apply, exemption levels remain as previously announced: $17,100 for single pensioners and $28,500 for married couples in assessable assets before the pension is affected.

. . . a pension will cut out at assets of $106,400 and $177,400 respectively with correspondingly higher limits where the lifestyle exemption applies.

A single pensioner aged over 70 would be able to hold assets up to $105,500 before losing any part of the special-rate pension and $159,000 before entitlement stopped.

The corresponding figures for a married couple are $175,660 and $264,890.

For all pensioners, . . . the assets limit for fringe-benefit eligibility would be $31,140 single and $51,380 married.

Those are the facts. People within those limits will still be getting a pension. There is a definite right for the people who have assets beyond the amounts which I have just quoted. These people will benefit from the national superannuation scheme. It is not a scheme that has been suddenly whipped up, but a scheme which this Party has held as policy for a number of years. The background work has been done on the national superannuation scheme and it will meet the needs of a special grouping in our society and those people who have the expectation of a Labor government providing income security in their retirement regardless of assets and income. These people have been troubled and made afraid by the outlandish statements of an opposition which is trying to capitalise on the situation as it has done on other situations. The type of thing members opposite are doing in opposition is all a pattern. We put extra money in and Opposition members shout loud and in an hysterical manner that things are worse, and things are not worse. It is dishonest. It is typical of the education debate and the distorted figures and facts that have been put up by the Opposition regarding the amount of money that we have put into non- government schools.

Our Government has put into non-government schools $6.2m more than the Fraser Government provided. We have put in more money, but members of the Opposition have such tunnel vision that they adhere to old concepts. They cannot look at Australia as it now is. There are needs amongst the Catholic schools and amongst the many non-government schools and this Government is meeting those needs. The same situation and the same dishonesty applies to the Opposition's attitude to Medicare. Incorrect statements have been made that this Government is not giving Queensland the same money for health benefits as it is giving the other States. In fact, the Hawke Government is giving Queensland $130m more for medical benefits than did the Fraser Government. We are putting $173m more into public hospitals. We are looking at a real situation, and we are willing to do something firm and constructive to meet that situation. We believe that the young people of today, when healthy, will be willing to contribute to a scheme to see that all people, regardless of their income and assets, are covered in their retirement. They will do so in the knowledge that they, in their own old age, will be similarly covered.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Mountford) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.