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Wednesday, 28 February 1973
Page: 45


Mr SPEAKER - Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -

 

The most significant point the table illustrates is the long term neglect by previous governments which allowed these rates to fall below the updated poverty line, set by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research; to an appalling degree. The substantial improvements we propose in this Bill slice into this problem appreciably but still fall well short of what we regard as a satisfactory situation. We have made a positive start. Within a few months we will be taking further action to overcome this thoroughly undesirable situation where social security benefits provide a living standard below a poverty line defined by the researchers who set it as being at a very austere level. Incidentally I will be having more to say on the subject of poverty in Australia in the near future. I want to stress however that we see the problem of poverty in this wealthy country as much more than solely a matter of income shortfalls.

It is worth noting that in the last election campaign the then Prime Minister made no specific proposal to increase pensions. However, he did promise to increase pension rates in line with increases in the consumer price index, the adjustment to be automatic every half year; in addition he undertook to review pension rates in connection with the Budget, but this would not necessarily have guaranteed a further increase.

It is interesting to note that between 1961-62 and 1971-72 the consumer price index increased by 36.4 per cent while average weekly earnings increased by 95.8 per cent. It is instructive to look at this in money terms to see what $20 in 1961-62 would be in 1971-72 if it increased according to (a) the CPI increase of 36.4 per cent and (b) the increase in average weekly earnings of 95.8 per cent. In the case of (a) it would become $27.28 and in the case of (b) $39.16 or some $12 more. That is, the Liberals were trying to play a mean trick on the pensioners. We are mindful that, if there is not some abatement in the rate of growth in average weekly earnings in 1970-71 of 11.3 per cent, then the regular annual 2 promised increases of $1.50 will have to be increased to achieve pension rates at 25 per cent of average weekly earnings within a reasonable time. Of course, we would be prepared to respond appropriately if such proves the case. We aim at honouring our promises. However there is evidence of an abatement in this rate of average weekly earnings increase both for last year and on current trends and accordingly at this stage we are maintaining a careful watch on the situation.

Whenever the basic rate of pension is increased it has the effect of raising the limits of income and property at which pensions cease to be payable. This in turn enables many people who are excluded from pension entitlement to qualify for the first time. As a result of the increases now proposed, a single person without property affecting his pension will retain some pension entitlement until his income reaches $63 a week. A single pensioner without other income will be eligible to receive some pension until the value of his non-exempt property reaches $33,160. For a married couple, the equivalent limits of income and property will be $109.50 a week and $57,760 respectively. A widow with one child and no property affecting will now be able, to receive income of up to $86 a week before losing her entitlement to widow's pension, or up to $90 if her child is under 6 years of age or an invalid child requiring fulltime care. If she has no income affecting, a widow with one child may have property to the value of $38,920, or $41,000 if her child is under 6 years of age or an invalid requiring full-time care, before her entitlement to widow's pension is extinguished. At this point I should say that the proposed pension increases will flow to persons receiving sheltered employment allowances and rehabilitation allowances. These allowances are also payable under the provisions of the Social Services Act.

Mr Speaker,in the past, when no retrospectivity was given to increased rates, it was the practice to provide in the legislation for payments at the new rates to be made on the first pension payday after the Bill received royal assent. This provision was made, of course, to ensure that pensioners received the benefit of the increases at the earliest possible date. I am informed that, on this occasion, having regard to the retrospective nature of the legislation applying to the increases in pensions and the many time-critical administrative tasks which need to be performed, the earliest practical dates for my Department to pay pensions at the increased rates will be 22nd March in the case of age and invalid pensions and 27th March in the case of widows pensions. In this regard, my officers are working on the basis that the Bill will receive an early passage through both Houses. The increases in unemployment and sickness benefit will, as usual, operate in respect of the benefit week ending on the date of the royal assent and each benefit week thereafter. Mr Speaker, I commend this Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Bonnett) adjourned.







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