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Wednesday, 30 August 1972
Page: 544

Senator GAIR (Queensland) (Leader of the Australian Democratic Labor Party) - I rise to support the Budget. Really, it is a unique occasion for me to rise to support a Budget without having a great deal of criticism to submit in connection with it. This is the best Budget that the

Government has submitted in the period that I have been a member of the Senate, and it is probably the best Budget that has been submitted to this Parliament for many years.

Senator Georges - Well, the rest must have been poor.

Senator GAIR - That is true; they were, and not only from governments of one shade of politics. Commonwealth budgets have been poor for a long time. I could not help saying to a colleague of mine at the time when the Budget was read, and subsequently when Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson detailed a lengthy document in connection with the provisions that will be made for subsidising old people's homes and convalescent homes for the aged and the sick: 'Have we not come a long way in the field of social services in the last 25 years?' One could not but be impressed by the enormous fields of social services into which the Commonwealth Government has entered and at the extent of its assistance in those fields.

It is easy to be cynical and to fail to recognise just what has been done. A number of the provisions in the field of social services today were unknown in past years. Those who were in need of that aid and those services were not catered for unless they were able to obtain this assistance from some charitable organisation or a denominational church body which would go out of its way to give these people the assistance that they sought.

I have been very close to the people for 40 years or more. I know the difficulties that people suffer through sickness and want, their need for hospitalisation and ophthalmic treatment, schools for the blind and the deaf, and creches and kindergartens. I challenge any honourable senator to mention a field of social need that has not been catered for in some way or other in this Budget. Some of those fields may not have been catered for to the extent that you and I might wish them to be; nevertheless, it is gratifying to see that the Government is facing up to these demands and requirements.

There is a number of small matters about which I will have something to say in the course of my speech which will be limited. I have a very heavy cold, and whether my voice tonight will stand the strain of the long vigorous speech that I am accustomed to making in the Budget debate remains to be seen. But there is not the same necessity to be as critical of this Budget as I have been in the past. A great deal has been said to the effect that the Budget is good merely because this is an election year. Let us be realistic. We would not have much appreciation or much regard for a government that did not have enough sense to bring in a good Budget in an election year. That would be realistic. It is not that the Government probably did not want to do things before. I am sure that it had reasons for not doing certain things. We are grateful that, even if this is an election year, a number of people has been given something of which they are in need and which they will appreciate. I believe that this Budget will gain considerable public support for the Government when the election is held. This is not the main basis on which the Budget should be judged.

The Budget is the most important document that is presented to this or any Parliament. It is deserving of the closest scrutiny and consideration by the people's representatives in Parliament. It must be evaluated against the background of Australia's welfare in its widest sense. This includes the economic well being of her people and the requirements of national security. My general reaction to this Budget was expressed in a public statement that I issued on Budget night. I then commended the Budget because it contained long overdue welfare reforms and was clearly aimed at securing a more equitable distribution of the nation's wealth.

The Australian Democratic Labor Party has severely criticised past Liberal Country Party budgets for the lack of concern and practical assistance shown to social service recipients generally. I welcome the pension increase of $1.75 per week for single pensioners. Surely this was the minimum that the Government could possibly have granted. However, it is a great improvement on the 50c per week that the Gorton Government offered to pensioners. This pension increase represents a rise of approximately 10 per cent, which is not very much more than the current rate of price increases which stands at 7 per cent.

As I have done repeatedly in previous speeches on budgets. I express my continuing surprise at the discrepancy between the rate of pension for a single pensioner and for a married pensioner couple. Once again, the Budget continues this anomaly. A single pensioner enjoys a pension increase of $1.75 per week, while a husband and wife will receive a pension increase of only $1.25 per week each. On a fortnightly basis, the single pensioner will receive $40 while the married pensioner couple will receive only $34.50 each. This is a difference of $5.50 a fortnight.

I know that it is argued that 2 people live cheaper than one person. I suppose that in many instances that would be realistic and true. Against that argument can be put the example of the combined pension of single pensioners living together who could be spinster sisters, bachelor brothers or any 2 people receiving single pensions and living under the one roof. Their combined pensions total $5.50 per week more than that received by a married pensioner couple. I know that this is one pf those problems that is difficult to solve. But I know also of many cases in which that is the position. It is to the disadvantage of the elderly married couple.

I turn to the anomaly that arises in connection with rent allowances. The Government gives single people a rent allowance and in this Budget it is giving a rent allowance to couples in a rented house. Provided they pay rent they get this rent allowance. It has been increased by 100 per cent or thereabouts. That is good. I am glad that that is happening. But the old couple who have paid off their home and do not pay rent still have to meet rates and the cost of repairs. They have gone unnoticed and it is a pity. When travelling around the city in which I live, and its suburbs, I frequently see, as other honourable senators would see in their respective districts, many substantial homes which are deteriorating for want of paint, a bit of attention by a handy man or a carpenter or a plumber. I have said to the people with whom I have been travelling: 'I will bet you that if we had time to make a survey we would find that the occupants of that substantially built place are age pensioners who cannot afford to have it painted or to have a plumber repair the spouts and guttering. It is in a state of disrepair because of that.' It is something to be regretted because such substantial buildings represent good capital value. They have been allowed to deteriorate because of a lack of financial capacity on the part of the occupants to carry out repairs. Perhaps the Department of Social Services would consider doing something in that connection and assist such people to keep their properties in good repair.

I believe that the real advance for the aged came in a variety of supplementary improvements. The means test limitations were increased to double their previous levels and this should give immediate benefit to thousands of pensioners. This gives my colleagues and I a lot of joy because I have said here year after year that the means test is an iniquitous thing. It is the penalty of thrift and providence. It has been an encouragement to people to waste their money during their active lives and not to think of their future. There are many people who are borderline cases. They are good, provident people. While they are paying taxes they were contributing to superannuation funds and similar funds such as retiring allowances - call them what you will - making provision for their old age, but under existing circumstances they cannot get a pension. They cannot get any recognition. They cannot get even the medical services or the pharmaceutical services. Yet somebody who has contributed to the minimum number of units that a superannuation scheme may lay down can get a pension. They also get the medical benefits and the pharmaceutical benefits because they said: 'Well, why should I make further sacrifice? Let the taxpayers keep me or help to keep me in my retirement.' This has a tendency to breed mendicancy which is not a good thing in a society such as ours. I welcome the indication from the Government that it is prepared to do something about the abolition of the means test over a period. It should be encouraged in this aim because it is very important to a big section of our people, not only financially but also psychologically.

The fact that the committee of inquiry that the Government has appointed also will have the question of national superannuation referred to it is a second move which I strongly advocated in my Budget speech last year. The Government's doubling of the supplementary assistance to the really hard-up pensioners and the subsidy to nursing homes are practical and humanitarian steps which were absent in so many recent budgets. Despite the increase in pensions and supplementary assistance now available, there is one problem I would like to point out. This lies in the fact, which recent inquiries revealed, that 80 per cent of people eligible for some of these welfare services do not even know about them or how to receive the benefits. That is not an exaggeration. This 80 per cent failure has been demonstrated in relation to the subsidised health benefits scheme for low income earners. There is little doubt that it applies also to many other social services. Often the people who most need help are the people who are least able to find out the services for which they are eligible. They are the aged and the invalid and others in that category. Unless they have a relative or friend who can inform them of the benefits to which they are entitled they remain ignorant of what is available to them.

A national superannuation scheme is the only solution to our social service problem. Honourable senators have heard me say this frequently and I do not want to dwell on the subject for too long. This is a big thing. It is something which should have been tackled yeaTs ago but there has not been that resolution in government which ls necessary to face up to a big problem. The Government was not prepared to grasp the nettle. The problem has grown and grown tremendously and has become a bigger problem. Do not let us defer it and delay it any longer. Let our people have the opportunity of subscribing to a national superannuation scheme. Let us all be contributors and let us all be beneficiaries under a scheme of a national character. That is the solution to the growing social services problem.

We have been reading in the last few days of this poverty inquiry about which we received notice from the Government. It is very timely. I think the Government is very fortunate to obtain the services of Professor Henderson who already has done an immense amount of work on this question of poverty and the fields in which poverty exists. We hope that the inquiry will be a big success and I am sure that Professor Henderson will bring a realistic approach to the question. I know that when he is examining poverty and the pockets of poverty he will not miss the reasons for it. We have to look for the cause of the disease as well as the cure. We have to find out what evil influence is contributing to the lack of provision of a lot of things that people expect in life at this time and in our age. We have to ask ourselves whether we have provided excessive gambling facilities in our community; whether we have encouraged people to gamble on our TAB's and our poker machines; and whether we are inviting the misguided, the weak willed and the improvident in our community to spend on these things money which they can ill afford.

We have to approach these things in a proper and complete way. People from all walks of life have to appreciate that they must learn to live within their means. I am not a kill-joy - anyone who knows me would concede that I am not - but it irks me a little when I see people, who I know are not in a position to do so, wasting money on things from which they cannot expect to make any gain. They are putting their hard earned money, in the case of the workers and the pensioners, into things that will not return them anything but will only have the effect of leaving them short and adding to their misery. I express tha hope that Professor Henderson will examine very thoroughly the merits of any scheme the Democratic Labor Party puts forward if we are given the opportunity to express our point of view.

In dealing with this question of poverty the Government was wise to select Professor Henderson, and it was wise to make the terms of reference of the inquiry as wide as it did, because one can wager dollars to peanuts that had the Government not done so it would have been subjected to a lot of criticism. Those in Opposition have been bard pressed today to find any criticism at all. Professor Henderson often has been cited by the critics of the Government as an authority in this field, so they could scarcely offer any criticism about his appointment. I hope Professor Henderson will be able to overcome the problem of the growing complexity of welfare services by substituting one simple cash payment to the too many recipients of the incomprehensible maze of different subsidies, handouts, free services and other kinds of social welfare. Before finally leaving the question of pensions might I once again urge the Government to establish an independent tribunal of experts to determine pension rates. This proposal is not new to the Senate because from the time the DLP took a place in this Senate as an independent party it has been advocating the establishment of an independent tribunal of competent officers to determine pension rates and to take the question of pension rates out of the auction market so that it ceases to be a political football, which inevitably brings humiliation to recipients of the pension.

Unfortunately, the really big welfare deficiency in this Budget - this has been the case in most of the recent LiberalCountry Party budgets - was the failure to increase the rate of child endowment or to do anything about child endowment. That is the weakness and that is the vacant spot in what is otherwise a very good Budget. A lot has been said about the need to help the family man. The only effective way in which to help the family man is through child endowment. He is in need of that additional assistance, and the DLP has always advocated that child endowment should be increased. Let us look at the position of a married man who has a wife and 4 or 5 children in relation to a single man who is receiving the same pay. We now can include in this, since we have equal pay for the sexes, the unmarried woman who has neither chick nor child to keep but who receives the same wage. I am not opposed to that. Is the married man who has a wife and 4 or 5 children to keep not entitled to something more than the single man or the single woman who have no obligations? Why are we so slow to recognise the worth of the family man to society? Why do we not give him a hand in the maintenance of his f amily?

Senator Laucke - The little ones are our best migrants.

Senator GAIR - Yes, they are. They are Australia's best assets. Surely the Government does not need to hold an inquiry to discover that in practical terms thousands of families are obliged to live close to the poverty line. I refer to those families in which there are 4 or 5 children or more and the father is earning a low income. I refer also to widows who are struggling to raise their children. These are the families which are particularly in need of government concern and assistance. Perhaps the Government can remedy this serious Budget omission by making a firm commitment in its election programme to increase substantially in the next budget child endowment payments. 1 find it curious that a Budget which professes to help the family - in fact it takes important steps to do so - should in another instance discriminate against the family. 1 refer to the provision of $5m for child care centres. It is a very good move and one which surely seems designed to attract married women into the work force. I have no objection to mothers being free to work if they want to do so, but by failing to increase child endowment the Government has positively disadvantaged those mothers who wish to give full time care to their families, and particularly to their children. Those mothers receive no subsidy. Those mothers who elect to stay at home and look after their children are conducting child welfare centres of their own. There is no subsidy for them. The Government will subsidise child care centres^ - a good thing, too - 'when both parents go to work.

I suggest that the inquiry into the taxation system, which is to be conducted by Mr Justice Asprey, might consider the possibility of abolishing the present system of concessional tax deductions, except for those deductions which directly benefit families. There is a great deal more that I would like to say in connection with the Budget, but tonight I am obviously disadvantaged by my heavy cold. Had it not been for the fact that the debate on the Budget has not been very lively, I would not have spoken tonight. (Extension of time granted). I will not take the full extension, but I want to conclude in an orderly fashion. I have limited my speech because my larynx is not the best.

Senator Mulvihill - The honourable senator's thorax is not the best.

Senator GAIR - Senator Mulvihill says that my thorax is not the best. His knowledge of the body is about as good as his knowledge of politics.

Senator Mulvihill - The honourable senator does not know his first aid, because Senator Townley nodded in agreement with me.

Senator GAIR - That does not make Senator Mulvihill right. If 1 want a plumber I send for a plumber. If I want a doctor I send for a doctor. Inflation, which raises the level of tax being paid by continually shifting people into higher tax brackets, is felt by all taxpayers under our existing tax system. Therefore I welcome the Budget's major tax cuts, which will average 10 per cent, and the associated increase in dependant deductions. The Budget's associated proposal to lift the minimum taxable income to $1,041. per annum is a good step and one that is long overdue.

We welcome the announcement with regard to estate duties because, as honourable senators know, we have pioneered the matter in this chamber from the time my colleague Senator Byrne moved an amendment to an amending estate duties Bill, which amendment was defeated because the ALP and a large section of the Government parties voted against it. Since then we have carried on the campaign. We are glad to welcome to our ranks Senator Negus who is interested in this matter. He is a new recruit to the DLP's anti-estate duty party.

Senator Mulvihill - Is he a DLP member?

Senator GAIR - There is nothing wrong with him. He is of good character. The Budget has raised the exemption level for primary producers, and this step is only just. It has always been unfair that primary producers, because they are running a family business rather than a company, have to pay off their property during their lifetime and, when they have paid it off, all too often the Commonwealth and State estate duties take a large proportion of these hard earned productive assets. The home savings grant has been increased from $500 to $750. This increase also is in conformity with DLP policy. The acknowledgment of credit union savings is something for which we have barracked here. Honourable senators will recollect that Senator Little played a very important part in getting the Government to recognise this factor.

I deal now with the proposal to establish a national rural bank, something for which the DLP can claim some credit. Nothing gladdened my heart more than to hear Mr Sinclair, the Minister for Primary Industry, announce that it was the Government's intention to establish a national rural bank with the particular purpose of providing long term loans.

Senator O'Byrne - Because the private banking system has failed the primary producers.

Senator GAIR - I suppose it has. This bank will be something special. It will be established by the Government to aid primary producers and to keep on the land people who have been there all their lives and who have run into debt because of circumstances beyond their control.

Senator O'Byrne - The riches opening the door.

Senator GAIR - I can see no fault in it. We have lived off the back of the sheep and off the back of the primary producer for a long time. Surely we will not allow this country, which is basically a primary producing country, to drift away from primary production because of the Government's failure to recognise what is an essential requirement of the maintenance and furtherance of this great country. The bank will be established to deal with specific cases, as distinct from everything else, I take it. That is our idea of how it will operate. It will provide long term loans at a minimum rate of interest. Deductions will be made for administrative costs, but the remainder of the money will be made available. The money is available.

I listened with interest to the speech made last night by Senator Gietzelt. I listened to it intently. Having been a Premier and Treasurer of a State, I commend him for the great industry and the gre it research that he put into his study of the financial relationship between the Commonwealth and the States. While I do not agree with all his contentions, I commend him for his industry and research. The position today is no different from what it was in Chifley's time or in Curtin's time. There were no great signs of generosity in Menzies' time or in Fadden's time.

Senator Mulvihill - Do not people expect more from local government now than they did 10 years ago?

Senator GAIR - That could be true. People expect more from State governments, too. I think they are getting more. The States are getting a lot more from the Commonwealth than they got when I was Premier. The manner in which the States use their money is the important thing. Wc are very happy about this proposal to establish a national rural bank. It is just another example of the DLP leading and others following. We will continue to lead in the important and essential matters concerning this nation. We will not be bogged down by a lot of trivia. We put matters in their proper order of priorities. That is why we have advocated, since the formation of our Party, that defence should be high in the order of priorities. I am glad that the Government recognises the necessity to provide adequate defence - to build up our Navy and our Air Force. To keep ourselves prepared for any attack that might take place is nothing more or less than insurance for the defence of our people. Other speakers from my Party will contribute to the debate later.

Even though I have been hard to listen to tonight because of my repeated interruptions by coughing I believe that I have covered most of the ground that 1 wanted to cover. I conclude by saying that the DLP is pleased with the main effects of the Budget, namely, to extend social welfare reforms and to attempt a more equitable distribution of Australia's wealth. We hope that the failure to increase child endowment will be remedied before the coming election. We are concerned that the Budget fails to recognise or provide sufficient weapons to combat inflation. But it avoids the error made by many past Treasurers of spreading its benefits so widely that no one notices them. Lastly, its emphasis is placed on the family man and it seeks to alleviate his more pressing economic problems. The DLP hopes that this emphasis will continue in following Budgets because in our view the family man is the basis of a sound and healthy Australia. Let us help him in every practical and possible way. I. believe that in addition to making it a contribution to his existence we will be making a very valuable one to Australia's continuance.

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