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Wednesday, 7 March 1973
Page: 305

Mr HOLTEN (Indi) - Before I start my comments on this Bill I would like to add my compliments to those of other honourable members to Mr Speaker, the Chairman of Committees and those honourable members who have made their maiden speeches, such as the previous speaker, the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Innes). We all have to agree that the standard of maiden speeches that have been made has been very good and whilst I do not agree with all the comments of the honourable member for Melbourne, he did make an excellent speech at his first attempt in this House. I cannot say that I wish him a long stay but I am well aware of the nature of his constituency and, with God's help, he should be here for some time to come.

Members of the Australian Country Party will not vote against the passage of this Bill. The Country Party appreciates that some of the improvements contained in the Bill will give needed assistance to many deserving people. We feel that the general community should be prepared to contribute to assist people who have lost their jobs through circumstances beyond their control. We agree that people who cannot obtain work through various sets of circumstances are entitled to be paid a reasonable sum to enable them to enjoy a reasonable standard of living. However, the trends in this Bill, together with statements made by the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden), are leading us towards the welfare state and do concern the Australian Country Party. We consider that some of the provisions in the Bill will create divisions and disturbance in our society. We are of the opinion that the increase of $1.50 a week promised by the Labor Government to be made at regular 6-monthly intervals will not reach the objective of 25 per cent of average weekly earnings.

The Country Party is further concerned with the implications of Labor's social security programme on the total economy in the long term. We are most concerned that parts of this Bill could discourage people from working, particularly those in the younger age group. Many people who have had long experience in the field of social services have expressed a degree of horror at recent instructions from the

Minister relating to the conditions under which the unemployment benefit will be paid. Members of the Australian Country Party are concerned at the octopus-like growth of the Department of Social Security. I .am sure that some members of the Labor Party, particularly the Minister for Health (Dr Everingham), have a great deal of concern also. In the comparatively short space of 3 months the Minister for Health has seen his Department decimated by the power hungry Minister for Social Security. And the Minister for Social Security has only just started. He has been in office for only 3 months and in that time the Department of the Minister for Health has been decimated. The expansion of the responsibilities, authority and expenditure of the Department of Social Security is one of the worst examples pf ruthless empire building. 1 understand that hundreds of public servants have had to transfer from the Department of Health to the Department of Social Security.

The cost of these proposals is $126m in a full year and for the remainder of this financial year is more than $60m. Members of the Country Party believe that the diversion of some of this money to create job opportunities in country areas would have served a more useful purpose than increasing so greatly some of the payments to various people. Of course, I appreciate that it is not practical to divert money provided under this Bill to country areas at this stage. However, I press the Government to make more funds available for the purpose of creating more job opportunities in areas outside the capital cities. The policy of providing money for this purpose was introduced by the previous Liberal-Country Party Government. Under that Government millions of dollars were made available to the States which administered the scheme in co-operation with the appropriate local government bodies. A tremendous amount of good work was done for many communities, particularly in country areas, with this money. In addition, jobs were created for many people. I am sure that many State and local government authorities will be appalled at the recent statements by the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) that the present Federal Government would demand a power of direction as to the use of any similar future provision of funds to counter unemployment. This implication dramatically illustrates the difference in philosophy between the Australian Country Party and the Labor Party in the preservation of the authority and responsibility of States and local government bodies. It is ridiculous to suggest that the Federal Government should specify the use of every few thousand dollars that local government spends from unemployment relief money.

This Bill, and other statements by this free spending empire building Minister for Social Security, clearly illustrate the basic differences in national philosophy between the Country Party and the Labor Government. There are 2 major issues to which I refer in particular. One is economic responsibility and the other is the creation of the welfare state. The measures announced in the Labor Parry's policy speech show a complete lack of financial responsibility and indicate that in the long run the interests of the average hard working taxpayer will suffer from having to support the cost of the welfare state. We believe that continuing and further emphasis and funds should be directed towards encouraging people to work. The Country Party believes that some provisions in this Bill will encourage people to become mendicants of the taxpayer and the State. The actual results, of course, remain to be seen after the provisions of this legislation have been in operation for a period. Although it cannot be predicted with certainty it does appear that the increase in some unemployment benefits will lead to an undermining of the will of some people to work and to make a worthwhile contribution to the progress and economic development of Australia.

Of course, all unemployed people do not fall into this category; nor can it be overlooked that there are different and difficult employment problems existing in differing regions of Australia. However, the financial payments available to single unemployed persons in particular, together with the recent instructions from the Minister for Social Security, appear to provide a dangerous incentive for them not to work. Under this Bill it is possible for a married couple with 3 children of 16, 17 and 18 years of age - all unemployed - to receive a total of $102 a week for not working. Instructions given by the Minister in his statement of 19th January this year - and these are new instructions - mean that it will be possible for practically anyone, if so inclined, to receive unemployment benefits. The Minister virtually says that if a person decides that a job he is offered is not within his trade or calling or is not to his liking, he will be eligible for unemployment benefits. He says further that if a person is refused a job because of his appearance this will be sufficient reason for that person to be eligible for unemployment benefits. The scope offered to certain people by these conditions is frightening.

The Labor Government has said that it will relate the basic age pension to average weekly earnings. It has said that it will increase the pension by $1.50 a week every 6 months - the actual term the Minister used was 'spring and autumn' - until it reaches the target of 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. It is my opinion, and this is shared by other members of the Country Party, that the stated $1.50 a week will not achieve the desired result. This opinion is based on the increase in average weekly earnings over the last 12 months of $14.80 per week. Twenty-five per cent of that figure is $3.93 per week. It can be seen that the amount of $1.50 paid twice a year will fall behind the $3.93 that the average wage has risen per week in the last 12 months. Further, for the quarter ending December 1972 average weekly earnings rose by $7.20 a week to $104 a week. Extending this figure on a yearly basis, and assuming that this rate of increase continues, the increase in a full year will be $28.80 per week. Twentyfive per cent of this increase of $28.80 per week is $7.20 a week. So the Government's proposal will fall $4.20 per week behind its target.

In the event of this increase occurring, and if the Government adheres to its promise, it will not need $1.50 twice a year to raise pensions to the level of average weekly earnings; it will need more like $2.10 per week twice a year. This figure involves almost double the proposed commitment for the Treasury and for the taxpayer. Even now the commitment under this Bill is $126m in a full year. No dissection of the amount involved for the age pension and other associated pensions is available from the Minister's second reading speech. It would be fair to assume that the age, invalid and widows' pension payout would be by far the greater proportion of the $126m. If the payment has to go up from $1.50 per week to $2.10 per week to achieve the Government's target of 25 per cent the Government will have to provide millions of extra dollars to meet its promise. It is the opinion of many people that this Labor Government, and particularly the Minister for Social Security, will prove to be a taxpayers' nightmare.

The Government's lack of economic awareness and responsibility is illustrated on page 17 of its policy speech where it states:

The basic pension will no longer be tied to the financial and political consideration of annual Budgets.

Everyone would agree that a pension should not be tied to a political consideration. Then followed the Government's 25 per cent promise. How can any responsible person think that the payout on social welfare, involving as it does about one-fifth of the total Budget, can be disregarded when the financial aspects of Australia's annual Budget are being considered. Yet the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), when he was Leader of the Opposition, promised that the basic pension no longer would be tied to the financial consideration of annual Budgets. This is a very worrying situation for the future financial management of the nation. Many people have expressed great anxiety at the enormous cost of the Labor Government's proposals. I am amazed that the Treasurer (Mr Crean) has, if only by his lack of public comment, obviously given his blessing to this irresponsible concept. The social service expenditure by Australia, particularly under this Government, is surely inseparable from a Budget and must remain a basic budgetary consideration.

I am surprised that this Bill does not contain measures to help the people referred to on page 6 of Labor's policy speech. These are the people who 'depend on pensions for their sole income'. The leader of the Labor Party spoke of the 'needless anxiety, insecurity and indignity' that these people have suffered. This was before the general election. Now, when he has the chance to do something special for these people for whom he expressed such heart-rending concern, his Government gives to them no more than is given to people who have other sources of income. People who have property assets valued between $19,000 and $55,000 receive exactly the same sum of money as those people who are dependent on the pension. So the words of the Prime Minister set out in the policy speech, to which I have referred, have a very hollow ring. What has happened to the Prime Minister's proposal which was made on more than one occasion that every pensioner and every unemployed person should each be given $100 in cash? It is like many other Labor promises. These people did not see $1 of the $100 cash payment that the leader of the Labor Party promised them.

The unemployment benefit provisions for single people mean that some young people will receive more than apprentices in certain trades. This must cause dissension amongst the younger people. A further division in our society will be encouraged to occur when an Australian who is willing and able to do a good days work sees consistently a family of 5, all unemployed, receiving over $100 a week for doing nothing. It is, of course, a well known . socialist tactic to create division and dissension in a nation. This helps to weaken and even destroy the economy. Apathetic people may well shrug this matter off but time will tell. I am sure that a sufficient number of Australians will wake up to the situation and at the first opportunity will throw this Government out of office.

In summary, the Australian Country Party feels that there are some desirable and necessary changes in this Bill hut . there are also some very disturbing and perturbing possibilities some of which I have covered, which this Bill may bring about. I hope that the pensioners will actually be better off . under this Government's proposals but I warn the pensioners that financial expenditure on social services cannot be viewed in ' isolation from the general economy and the rest of the Budget. There is the ever present inflationary danger of unbalanced increases in Government expenditure. Unbalanced increases would cause damage to the pensioners more than to anybody else in the community. The previous Government was most conscious of its responsibility in this regard when it was implementing its financial policies. The Country Party will watch closely the effects of the measures in this Bill . and its members will continue to urge the Government to allocate more funds to create job opportunities and incentives to work particularly in areas outside capital cities.

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