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Wednesday, 10 October 1973
Page: 1815

Mr SHERRY (FRANKLIN, TASMANIA) - My question is addressed to the Minister for Social Security. Is it a fact that the Government has responded to its social welfare commitment by increasing pension payments twice since last December? Can the Minister give an assurance that Government policy will be sufficiently flexible so that pension increases will not be eroded by inflation? Has the Minister noted the remark of a former Prime Minister, the right honourable member for Higgins, that there ought to be an election immediately with pensions as an issue? Finally, could the Minister inform the House precisely what tangible contribution to pensioners was made under the stewardship of the right honourable member for Higgins?

Mr HAYDEN (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) (Minister for Social Security) - The honourable member is correct. The pension increases which have occurred since the Australian Labor Party became the Government have been the most generous and, of course, will continue to be the most generous that have occurred in this country. There will be a further increase early in the new year. I think it is significant that over the long term the standard rate of pension as a proportion of average weekly earnings continued to erode until it was about 18 per cent or 19 per cent on average in the last several years of the previous Government's administration of this country. That contrasts very poorly with the relationship to average weekly earnings under the Labor Government of the late 1940s, when it was about 25 per cent or 26 per cent.

Specifically, the honourable member queried the performance of the Gorton Government. In the 1967-68 financial year, during the first period in which the right honourable member for Higgins was Prime Minister, there was an increase of 5.7 per cent in average weekly earnings but no increase in pensions. The following year there was an increase of more than 8 per cent in average weekly earnings and an increase in the standard rate of pension of 7.7 per cent. In 1970 there was a 9 per cent increase in average weekly earnings and an increase in the standard rate of pension of 7 per cent. In fact, there was a princely increase of 50c in 1970. That was a demonstration of meanness which I do not think the Prime Minister of that period would find particularly encouraging or creditable if he wished to make pensions and his performance in particular an issue in any election campaign.

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