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Wednesday, 7 March 1973
Page: 300

Mr BONNETT (Herbert) - The Opposition has no desire to delay unnecessarily the passage of this Bill through the House. However there are some aspects of the Bill introduced by the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) that the Opposition feels are in need of definite clarification and perhaps alteration for the benefit of all pensioners throughout this country. I therefore move the following amendment to the Bill:

That all the words after 'that' be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: whilst not opposing the provisions of the Bill, this House is of the opinion that (a) the Bill leaves unresolved the Prime Minister's policy undertaking to raise the basic pension rate to 25 per cent of average weekly earnings and (b) the adjustments to the rate of and basis of entitlement for unemployment benefit will disturb economically desirable employment patterns in our society.

I will be brief in my comments on the amendment. The Opposition is just as anxious to see this Bill pass through the House as is the Government but there are some confusing sections of the Bill which I feel should be cleared up for the benefit of everyone concerned, especially the pensioners themselves.

The main point of confusion seems to stem from that part of the Government's policy speech made during the election campaign which refers to an immediate increase in pensions and subsequent automatic adjustments twice yearly. Pensioner organisations, pensioner associations and quite a number of individuals have stated their concern to me personally. I feel there must be other people throughout the country who share that concern. I will read the specific part of the policy speech which I think is a little confusing. It states:

All pensions will be immediately raised by $1.50 and thereafter, every Spring and every Autumn, the basic pension rate will be raised by SI. 50 until it reaches 25 per cent of average weekly male earnings.

Mr Whittorn - When was that stated?

Mr BONNETT - This was stated in the policy speech made by the now Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam). This seems to be the confusing part and it has been bothering people who have been approaching me. I would say that very few honourable members have not experienced a reaction from this statement since it became public. The reaction was that the Labor Party would raise pensions by $1.50 before Christmas. The plain impression given by the Labor Party was that if it became the Government it would do that. This reaction was more evident when the Labor Party did form a government. In fact some of the Press mentioned this. The age pensioner could hardly be blamed for thinking that the increase would become a reality because 'immediately' means now.

The Minister for Social Security and other honourable members will recall that the Prime Minister, quite rightly, during a Press interview stated that this could not be done before the Parliament met and the proposal was placed before the House, because it was necessary to obtain authorisation for such a proposal. The Prime Minister said also that there would be an increase in the autumn, early after the House sat. I acknowledge that this is now being done. He stated also that he never said that there would be an increase before autumn. This is the area where all the confusion is currently arising. I realise that the Prime Minister and the Minister for Social Security intended that there should be 2 increases in a financial year, although the average person regards a year as being from Christmas to Christmas. It was proposed that the first increase would be retrospective to the first pay period after the election. The question has been asked of me: Is this the immediate increase that has been promised and will there be another increase before this spring? In other words will pensioners receive $3 increase over this year, from Christmas to Christmas, or will they receive $4.50? I have no quarrells with the provisions of the Bill, but I invite the Minister to clarify this matter which is bothering to many people. I feel that I know the steps the Government is taking in this matter, but I think it would be an excellent idea publicly to clarify the situation through Government channels.

I have doubts and reservations as to whether with increases at the rate of $1.50 the Government will be able for some time to raise pensions to 25 per cent of average weekly male earnings. However, I am mindful of the Minister's statement that the situation would be reviewed and alterations made if this result could not be achieved within a reasonable time. If this situation arises, will the Minister consider including provision for an increase in an annual Budget allocation? At present the average weekly male earning is listed as $104, 25 per cent of which is $26. The present pension is $20 and with the proposed increase of $1.50 it will be $21.50. A further increase of $1.50 in the spring would bring the pension up to $23. On this basis it would appear that it will take until the spring of 1974 to catch up with the proposed amount if average earnings remain static - a situation which I doubt very much. Can it be assumed that action will be taken to ensure that the pension will reach the desired 25 per cent by the end of 1974 or perhaps in the Budget of 1975? This seems to me to be an unusually long period to wait before the promise of the Government is fulfilled.

There are quite a number of other matters which we feel should be discussed and which my colleagues will elaborate later. I raised this one question with the Minister because there have been so many requests to have it clarified. I would like to give the Minister an opportunity to do this because I cannot defend the Government's policy in this respect. To avoid any further complications in this matter and perhaps to clear up the existing confusion in the minds of the pensioners I recommend that the matters I have raised be clarified by adopting this amendment. I have no wish to delay the passage of this Bill unnecessarily, but there are other matters which we feel need attention and which my colleagues will mention.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Luchetti)Isthe amendment seconded?

Mr Graham - I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.

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