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Thursday, 13 September 1973
Page: 1003

Mr McKenzie (Diamond Valley) - This Bill is another example of the way in which this Government is fixing priorities. It was interesting to hear the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) speaking to the Bill. He said that the Opposition will support it. I am very pleased to hear it. I pay tribute to the honourable member for Mackellar for his consistent advocacy over the years of the abolition of the means test. However, some of his arguments, I believe, just do not stand up. I will refer to those arguments at the appropriate time. Of course, it is not possible to do everything at once, but a very good start has been made. The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), in his policy speech, said:

We are coming into government after 23 years of opposition. This program is ambitious. I acknowledge that. It has to be so; it should be so; because the backlog is so great. And we cannot expect to clear away that backlog in 3 months or even 3 years.

Of course, there are those who criticise because everything is not done at once. I acknowledge their right to do so. However, we on this side of the House have an equal right to point out where such criticism is inaccurate and hypocritical. This Bill is a positive move towards equality and social justice. The Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) and the Government are to be congratulated. I spoke a moment ago of inaccuracy. The point made by the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) in his speech bears some elaboration. On 22 August last the right honourable the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) asked the Minister for Social Security whether the Minister agreed that pension increases were falling behind average weekly earnings and that pensions would not catch up. That is the very same sort of point that the honourable member for Mackellar was just making. Six days later the Leader of the Opposition continued this line of argument. In his Budget speech the Leader of the Opposition said:

These increases, totalling $3, will raise pensions from $21.50 to $24.50 by the end of the financial year. This is an increase of 11.4 per cent. Yet the Budget estimates that during the year average earnings will rise by 13 per cent. In other words as a result of the present Budget - and its inflationary consequences - the aged pensioners, the widows, the invalids on social security will fall farther behind average earnings rather than beginning to catch up on them.

The Leader of the Opposition concluded with these words:

Where does that leave the pensioner with his 11.4 per cent increase?

The way in which the Leader of the Opposition has calculated this figure is interesting. One way to calculate the percentage rise is to divide $24.50 - the figure that aged pensions will be at by the end of the financial year if no other interim increase is made - by the $21.50 - the figure before the Budget - and then multiply the quotient by 100 over 1. This gives a result of 113.95. Then by subtracting 100 you obtain the percentage increase of 13.95 or, let us say, 14 per cent. What the Leader of the Opposition did was to look at the result calculated in this way, take the first 2 figures of the 113, put in a decimal point and call it 11.39 or 11.4 per cent, correct to the first decimal place. Even if one follows the rather dubious logic of the Leader of the Opposition in the section of his speech entitled Inflation and Pensioners' his whole argument falls to the ground on this arithmetical error in a sixth grade sum. As a former primary school teacher I feel that I can give the Leader of the Opposition no more than 2 out of 10, and then only for effort.

The honourable member for Mackellar spent a good deal of his time speaking about the means test. I believe - and I believe that this Government thinks this way - that everyone who has paid taxes during a lifetime's work is entitled to receive a pension. When this Government introduces its superannuation scheme this principle will be permanently enshrined in legislation. Such legislation was promised by our political opponents more than 30 years ago and they did not do anything about it except as far as the tapered means test was concerned, and that was not good enough by half.

While I am talking about equity I draw the attention of the House to the speech by the Minister, particularly that part dealing with fringe benefits. He said:

The Government has decided that the 1967 means test will continue to apply for 'fringe' benefits eligibility but that the pension increase to be paid in the autumn of 1974 will not extend benefits to people whose means are outside the new limits now proposed. The pension increases provided in this Bill will lift the disqualifying limits of means as assessed for 'fringe' benefit eligibility by $1.50 a week to $37 a week for 'single' pensioners and $3 a week to $57.50 a week for pensioner couples. What this means is that a married couple may have a combined income of up to $86.50 a week, including pension, and a single person a combined income of up to $49.50 a week, including pension, before eligibility for fringe benefits ceases.

I think it is important that we should note the following statement of the Minister:

There are many people in the community, such as young marrieds with families to support, homes to establish and pay off and a future to be made, who have less income than this but are denied such benefits. This raises questions of equity. We will give special consideration to the needs of all people through programs supported by the Australian assistance plan and programs to be developed following on the findings of the Henderson poverty inquiry, which of course, will provide useful guidelines for us here.

We need to note that there are some people on the minimum wage in Australia who are badly off and who also need a lift in their income. I agree with the abolition of the means test and I have expressed this point of view in election campaigns for this House since 1966. The abolition of the means test is a very important aspect of the work of this Parliament and the working of our social services system. It will encourage production in an age when people are living much longer as a result of developments in medical science and better nutrition.

I believe that in our community there are many people who have a great deal to give after the normal retiring age. Our society should not penalise them; they have something to offer.

The abolition of the means test also will save a great deal of administrative cost. When the means test finally is abolished, in the life of this Parliament, this saving will occur. I draw the attention of the House to the one-line reference in the policy speech of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam). Under the heading Means Test', he said:

The means test will be abolished within the life of the next Parliament.

We are on the way to the keeping of that promise, and when it is kept we will not have a great number of spies moving around the countryside and spying on people over the age of 65 years to see whether or not they are eligible for a pension. That will save a great deal of money. In the Budget Speech of 1968 the right honourable member for Lowe (Mr McMahon), as the then Treasurer, said:

Indeed, I believe it will be clearly seen that the Government has placed the objective of helping the aged, the sick and the needy in the forefront of its domestic programs.

Let us see what was the record of the LiberalCountry Party coalition Government. Let me read out the pension increases provided by the previous Government from the 1963 Budget onwards. In 1963 single pensions were increased by $1 while the pensions received by a married couple were not increased; in 1964 the single pensioner received an extra 50c a week while a married pensioner couple received an extra 50c a week each; in the Budget of 1965 pensioners received nothing; in 1966 single pensioners received an additional $1 a week while a married couple received an additional 75c a week each; in 1967 there were no increases; and in 1968, which was the year of the Budget Speech from which I just quoted, single pensioners received an extra $1 a week while an extra $1.25 a week was provided for married pensioner couples.

In the years from the 1968 Budget until this Government took office, married pensioner couples received increases of $1.25, $1, $1.75 and $1.50. In 1969 single pensioners received an additional $1 a week and in the succeeding years they received increases of $1, $2.25 and SI. 75. These figures completely refute the point which was made by the honourable member for Mackellar. Since this Government took office, it has increased pensions by $3 - a greater increase than in any other year from 1963 onwards.

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - Inflation is taking care of your gift; it is hardly worth a razoo. You might as well give the pensioners an additional $10 a week.

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