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Wednesday, 7 March 1973
Page: 301

Mr INNES (Melbourne) - At the outset I should like you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to convey my congratulations to the honourable member for Sydney (Mr Cope) on being elected to the important position of Speaker of this House. I feel very confident that he will occupy that office for many years to come and will ensure that the proceedings of this Twenty-eighth Parliament will be conducted with efficiency and decorum. I am quite confident that he will cope. The Bill outlined by the Minister provides for substantial increases in all pensions, retrospective payments to 2nd December 1972 and then periodic increases until the pension reaches 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. The pension will then escalate with the movement of average weekly earnings.

The honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett) raised the question of the pension reaching 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. I direct his attention to the second reading speech of the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) who said:

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.

That statement may dispel some of the apprehension the honourable member might have had in moving the amendment. A number of anomalies have been removed, including 2 very important discrepancies which militated against the long term unemployed workers and junior workers. The Bill must be seen as the first stage of a new concept in social security. I am bound to say that the quantum of the pension is far from satisfactory. It is a mere pittance to those who find themselves, either through illness or for some other reason, unable to fend for themselves or their dependants, or who find themselves tossed onto the labour market by the policies of the previous conservative governments. It is typical, yet still shameful, that the discrimination against unemployed people should have been blatantly enforced by the defeated government.

The Government's ability to increase pensions is restricted at this time by the fact that the people who now sit opposite have left the economy of this country in an appalling mess. The disastrous economic policies have forced the Government to divert money towards a major economic reconstruction. The architects of those policies should hang their heads in shame. It would be remiss of me if for the record 1 did not go back to outline where thenbrutal plans originated. In the 1971 Budget the McMahon Government deliberately put people out of work to keep over-award payments down. Two years ago this policy was advocated by the then chairman of Broken Hill Co. Pty Ltd, Sir Colin Syme. On 14th April 1971, he said:

Inflation in Australia is reaching danger level. We should regard the situation as very serious and encourage the Government to take steps to control it. We should then put up with what the Government does without too much whingeing. One necessary measure seems to be to reduce over-full employment.

The statement was surprising only because of the blatant way in which it was put forward. It gave an insight into the thinking of the then Government's big business backers. Similar statements quickly followed from Ministers of the McMahon Government. For the benefit of profit, they argued, a situation should be created in which human beings who are able, willing and ready to work for their families, should be deliberately thrown out of work.

The demand-depressing action taken in the 1971 Budget when there were no real indicators of a demand recovery and the continued assertion in that Budget that wage increases were the basic cause of inflation led one to the conclusion that the McMahon Government had cynically decided to increase unemployment as a means of combating that inflation. This conclusion was reinforced by a statement made by the then Treasurer in January 1972.

The 'Australian' of 22nd January 1972 quoted the then Treasurer, when commenting on the latest unemployment figures which showed 120,574 persons registered for employment in December 1971, as saying:

We have achieved what we set out to do in that we have created an environment in which over-award payments are depressed.

The record speaks for itself. The former Government did achieve what it set out to do. The then Treasurer wanted to tame the militant unions, regardless of the cost in human misery. The man who carried through that cynical program of misery now sits opposite as Leader of the Opposition. He carries on a tirade of abuse at the drop of a hat, while pleading that he is not really anti-union. But he is the same person who before his entry into Parliament must have made a small fortune representing employers in the Commonwealth Industrial Court, kicking the insides out of the unions during the period referred to last night by the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) in his maiden speech.

At that time, with the right honourable gentleman - that is, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden)- leading on behalf of the metal trades bosses, the metal trades unions were fined approximately $500,000 including costs, for simply defending the right of their members to fight for wages and conditions. The right honourable gentleman must rank as a failure as Treasurer and, on his performance so far, he can have long odds - perhaps 33/1 - about himself remaining Leader of the Opposition for the full term of this Parliament.

Now it is Labor's task to put right the shameful wrongs of the right honourable gentleman's policies. So far Labor has provided, firstly, some immediate relief to pensioners as a first step towards a whole new deal, and secondly, for the removal of discrimination against long term unemployed workers and junior workers. It must be some satisfaction to people who lost their jobs that we have won government, and that members of the former Government who were responsible for that inhuman policy are in their proper place on the Opposition benches. Labor has provided, thirdly, a generally more optimistic economic outlook as Australians realise they once again have leadership from their national government.

I wish to refer now to a number of other matters arising out of the provisions of this Bill. However, before I do I am bound to say that I have listened with a great deal of interest to some of the contributions made by Opposition members on such subjects as defence, tariffs and revaluation. I have also been revolted by the irresponsible behaviour of some people in calling for divisions in a way which is obviously designed to frustrate the proceedings of this Parliament. It is the responsibility of every member of this Parliament to expedite the passage of Bills such as the one before the House now in answer to the demand of the Australian people that the reforms outlined in the policy speech of the now Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) be implemented without delay. The Labor Party has a clear mandate. I therefore call on members of the Opposition to sheath their sabres, forget for a while their profound interest in the welfare of multi-national corporations, get their heads from under the haystacks, and reflect on the plight of the human beings who are recipients of pensions outlined in this Bill. In particular, I would like them to listen to some of the problems confronting the underprivileged residing in the inner suburbs of Melbourne.

The electorate of Melbourne which I now proudly represent in this chamber has changed little over the past decade. People who live in the electorate still cover a wide spectrum of the workforce. Accordingly, a great number of their hopes and their aspirations are union-based and union-orientated. My job in this place is to put their case. That poses, no embarrassment for me whatsoever. I am a unionist. I feel like them; I think like them; and I speak like them. I am of them and I am for them. For many years I have been a trade unionist and trade union official, and my years of experience in the industrial sphere of this country have demonstrated to me that the present welfare system, after deteriorating throughout 23 years of Liberal mismanagement, is now a crumbling, fragmented and socially unjust patchwork offering no real social security. I do not claim any literary pretensions. But I have noted with interest the title Dame Enid Lyons has chosen for her latest book dealing with her time as a member of this House. She has called it: Among the Carrion Crows.' Thinking about that title we can find the key to the national feeling which recently swept my Party into government, giving us one of the strongest and clearest mandates for change in the history of Australian politics.

On 2nd December the Australian taxpayer decided to sweep the carrion crows from the Government bench, in many cases, thankfully, never to return. Their places on the Treasury bench have been filled by a team which reflects and upholds the electorate's demands for new enthusiasms and new aspirations in government. It was Bulwer Lytton who said: 'The prudent man may direct a state, but it is the enthusiast who regenerates it'. Within that framework it is a pleasure to be able to reassure all Australians that this nation is now governed by a team of enthusiasts, bent on regenerating lost hopes and lost causes for a nation we can all be proud of. One of the key enthusiasts is the Minister for Social Security and it is a matter of great pride to me that my first contribution to discussion in this chamber is in support of the new deal in social security he is initiating. I do not propose to engage in specific endorsement of the legislation which he has put so logically, rationally and irrefutably. It stands on its own. However, I do want to stress the social consequences in broad terms.

What the Minister has done here is to start the levelling process between: the haves and the have-nots in a manner which is long overdue. We are ending 23 years of misgovernment during which this country lost its recognised place as a world leader in social and political reform. This Bill could be seen as a technical legal matter, merely' changing the rates of benefits, but to do so would be to neglect its real role. It is a symbol - a beacon - of things to come. No longer will a pension rise be a political football; dependent upon the imminence of an election or the likely collapse of another Liberal government. No longer will social security be used in a mean, vengeful spirit against workers in distress. No longer will workers grow older fearing that they will not be able to enjoy an adequate standard of living after retirement. Under the previous Government, workers who suffered injuries at work faced not only the impossibility of living on workers compensation payments but also the cruelty of not knowing for sure that they would get any benefit; workers were never sure when they would be facing up to the counter of a Commonwealth Employment Office week after week, having to wait 7 days to accept unemployment benefits which were only a fraction of the real cost of living; workers faced periods of sickness knowing that Commonwealth social security sickness benefits would barely keep a family from starvation; workers could never be sure they would not receive an injury at home which left them unemployable, and facing a lifetime on an inadequate invalid pension. More than any other electorate, the electorate of Melbourne will reflect the benefits in this Bill. Melbourne provides a perfect study in the extremes of affluence on the one hand and deprivation on the other - extremes which have been created within our society by a series of conservative governments. It is the heart of the nation's industrial and commercial wealth, the very hub of the smoke and profit philosophy in practice, yet it contains some of the nation's most appalling slums. This is the area in which live the homeless, the lonely and the needy. This is the area which requires dramatic improvements in the standard of education facilities to bring them into line with even moderately acceptable levels. This is the area which desperately needs locally-based, co-ordinated social services such as legal aid, emergency housing, community aid and professional counselling services. This is an area which requires urgent support for local government action to improve the social amenities such as libraries and childcare centres. This is an area where special attention needs to be offered to minority groups - Aborigines, migrants and students.

But, at the same time, it is the site of one of Australia's most exclusive clubs, The Melbourne Club. But one cannot get in if one's religion, race, or social position is not up to scratch. The area contains some of Australia's most outstanding private schools - the rookeries of a series of conservative Prime Ministers. Yet it also features schools where children are taught in century-old firetraps, where 800 children are forced to play in a quarter acre of asphalted playground space and where children are forced to use school toilets which were condemned in 1928.

It is the setting for Australia's biggest sporting stadium, the Melbourne Cricket Ground. But it could be filled twice over with the number of people living below the poverty line in the Melbourne metropolitan area. It is the evening playground for the people of the metropolis, the place where they spend their time and money.

But old people die unattended in their grey garrets just half a mile away, lt is the place where the knights of the Melbourne City Council conspired on schemes to add to their personal fortunes from profits which the underground rail loop proposal will bring.

It is the place where these reactionaries also decided, in conjunction with their allies in the Spring Street Liberal Government, to force the ratepayers of inner Melbourne to meet a bigger share of the cost.

As a member of the new Australian Labor Government I am pleased to have the opportunity of cementing the first brick in the foundation of a social security structure which will put the welfare of the community on a rational, socially-just basis and, for the first time since the last Labor government, offer some hope to the working man and his family.

Upon that foundation - this commitment to ensure the social security of all the people - we can build a new approach to the problems of the nation.

This Bill deserves support for the principle included of payments based on 25 per cent of average weekly earnings.

It deserves support for the $1.50 it gives to pensioners and the retrospectivity included in the payments.

It deserves support for the recognition that there is no difference between being sick in the short term and the long term.

And it deserves support for giving the younger worker the same benefts as the older worker. But for more than any of these specific reasons, it must be supported as a step towards a more democratic society, a more equal society and a more just society.

It is time the balance was restored and that is what I understand by social security. That is why it is my duty and my pleasure to rise in support of legislation of this type.

Finally, I wish to give warning to my Government that the election pledges which brought us to office must be implemented on a fair and balanced basis.

It disturbs me that the political pull of outer suburban areas may prompt discrimination against electorates such as my own.

All the social horrors that come with urban blight are clearly illustrated in inner city electorates such as my own.

I give warning that I cannot and will not stand by and see my people refused their fair and proper share of the new deal.

I commend the Bill to the House.

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