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Tuesday, 9 November 1971
Page: 3187

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I suppose that to many honourable members in this chamber tonight and to many people listening to the broadcast this is an occasion for very great disappointment that the attempt by the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) to bring to a head the subject of a national superannuation scheme has again failed. It is not without significance that on a number of occasions this request for an inquiry into a national superannuation scheme has not met with the support of the Government. I have with me copies of amendments moved by the honourable member for Oxley to the Social Services Bill 1970. Here again was a request that a national superannuation scheme be established and the means test be eliminated. I also have with me an amendment moved by the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) to the Superannuation Bill 1970 in which he requested that further consideration of the Bill be deferred for several reasons, one being that the whole matter of superannuation could be considered in the context of overseas practices in relation to a national superannuation scheme.

I suppose that in recent years on five or six occasions the Opposition has attempted to encourage the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) to honour the undertaking which he had given, to honour the agitation which he had made for many years prior to becoming the Minister, to eliminate the means test and introduce a national superannuation scheme. Preceding this debate tonight the honourable member for Oxley advised honourable members generally of his intention to move in this direction. He had had his attention drawn to what some honourable members oppo-site regarded as a misdemeanour in that he had not given sufficient notice on previous occasions, so he attempted tonight to accommodate those honourable members but without success.

This Government has lost interest in social services. Australia once led the field and we were emulated by many other countries. But if honourable members look at the figures they will see why our social services are declining and why people who are dependent on social services are becoming more and more unhappy. The official figures show that Australia spends a relatively small proportion of its gross national product on social services. I will give some of the figures. European Economic Community countries spend 15.2 per cent of their gross national product. Sandinavian countries spend 10.9 per cent. Canada is spending 9.9 per cent. The United Kingdom is spending 8.6 per cent. Switzerland is spending 8.2 per cent. New Zealand is spending 6.6 per cent. The United States spends 5.9 per cent and Australia is down to 5.5 per cent. Is it any wonder that there are many areas of social services which are slipping into decline?

I understand that the maternity allowance, for example, has been unaltered for 25 years and, of course, confinement costs have increased at a very rapid rate, especially in the last 5 years. Child endowment has remained unaltered for the first child for about 18 years, for the second child for 20 years and for the third child for 4 years. In 1949 families with 3 children received endowment of 11.5 per cent of average male earnings but a family with 3 children now receives 5 per cent. They should get $12 a week in endowment if the value of the male weekly earnings had been maintained but in fact they get $6.75. These are very real figures which adversely affect the living standards of people in this country. I suppose honourable members will recall that almost immediately after the present Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) took office he unexpectedly made a very small increase in age pensions. In fact it was almost an off the cuff announcement - that might assist honourable members to recall the incident. If it had not been for the fact that the Opposition moved for an extension of time he would not have been able to increase the age pension on that occasion. When he made that announcement he said: _We will follow this immediate pension increase with a fundamental review of social services and related pensions and also of methods of adjusting such benefits. This review, which has already been commenced, will be under consideration in the near future with the object of bringing emergency decisions into effect for the year 1971-72.

I am not sure how long ago the Prime Minister took office.

Mr Foster - March 10th.

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - March 10th. It seems to me that a reasonable time has elapsed for the honouring of this promise. If the Minister for Social Services, who is now sitting very dejectedly at the table, is to say anything at all in this debate he should be very anxious to uphold the reputation, the prestige and the honour of the Prime Minister who unfortunately is not in Australia at the present time. Let me remind the Minister in a very unambiguous and unequivocal way of this assurance that was given by the Prime Minister to undertake this fundamental review and go into all the aspects with the object of bringing decisions into effect for the year 1971-72. We are in the year 1971-72. We have already reached it, so there is a belated implementation of the Prime Minister's undertaking and we cannot wait much longer. Will the Minister for Social Ser-vices remain in his seat tonight without giving some justification or some explanation for the Prime Minister's failure to honour what I believe was the first undertaking he gave to this country?

I feel very strongly because the matter has been brought to my attention by the Australian Commonwealth Pensioners Federation whose members naturally enough feel very strongly about this matter and regard such announcements by Australian Prime Ministers with some significance. I hope that the day will never come when pensioners or anybody else will not treat announcements by Australian Prime Ministers significantly. The fact of the matter is that the most deserving people in our community have been let down and a promise has been denied.

Mr Hansen - And 80,000 of them have missed out.

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - As' my colleague has said, 80,000 have missed out. The honourable member for Oxley has made many speeches, radio talks and Press releases about the intention of the Opposition to get on with the job of eliminating the means test and of introducing a national superannuation scheme. Is it realised that the Minister has already acknowledged that 123 countries have a national superannuation scheme? He has actually listed the countries concerned. The countries start with Afghanistan and run through Albania and Algeria to Uruguay, Venezuela, Yugoslavia and Zambia. But Australia, which once led the field, has been left behind. There is no need for the Minister to feel insecure in moving in this direction. He has all these precedents upon which he can draw. Then there are people like Professor Downing who have outlined several alternative schemes. I have them available in precis form if the Minister should like some assistance in this matter. I also have the Canadian pension plan which takes into account all the requirements of people who are dependent on social services in the context of a national superannuation scheme. The Prime Minister has given an undertaking about a review. The Minister for Social Services actually got his job because he advocated eliminating the means test and advocated a national superannuation scheme. I believe that both he and the Prime Minister will stand in dishonour unless they start to get on with the job of implementing their promises.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drury) - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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