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Tuesday, 26 September 1972
Page: 1158

Senator LITTLE (Victoria) - At this point of the debate 1 want to restrict my remarks to speaking against the amendment that is presently before the chamber. The Social Services Bill which we are discussing flows from the promises that were made in the Budget. A great deal of what is contained in the Bill has been accepted and indeed praised by the community. We, like everybody else, wish to see the good sections of this legislation implemented as soon as possible. The amendment which has been proposed by the Australian Labor Party is merely an expression of opinion and, from our point of view, not a very satisfactory expression of opinion as to what the future social services system should be. It leaves the question as to who is to pay for the proposed system completely in obscurity and tends to suggest that everything will fall as pie from the sky, and that all we need do is to say some pious words and everything will be very lovely.

We believe in restricting our criticism of the Bill and the advice which we offer to the Government and to people who will be concerned with the social services scheme in the future to the practical area of what we believe to be possible, what can be financed and how it should be financed. We believe that it should be financed in a manner which will make it a contributory part of the whole financial structure of the nation so that the things that we want to See achieved can be properly achieved. At a later stage in the debate, if the amendment before the Chamber is defeated, I will move on behalf of my Party a further amendment which / shall foreshadow at the conclusion of my speech. The amendment which the Labor Party has moved is in these terms:

.   . the Senate is of opinion that the only satisfactory way to provide social services benefits is through a comprehensive national system of social security . . .

How is it to be financed? What does it comprise? The amendment continues: . . where benefits are above the poverty level and tied to an index adjusted at least annually.

The first decision to be made is the type of index in order to make it a very practical proposition and then, in order to ensure that the benefits are above the poverty level, the next decision to be made is what actually is a poverty level. As Senator Webster has already indicated, today there are people - and I am in no way critical of them - who go in a motor car to pick up their social service benefits. It might not be the latest model motor car; it might be a vintage motor car. We all know that it costs a considerable amount of money to run a motor car. But would it bc suggested that because people own a motor car they are living above the poverty level? Sometimes people acquire, in a lifetime, habits which may not be in their best interests and which very often lead them Co the situation where they have to live below the poverty level.

Senator Webster - Horses are a problem there.

Senator LITTLE - 1 understand it is not the horses; it is the people who gamble on the horses. Horses themselves really cost people little, if anything at all, unless they develop the habit of considering the possibility of getting rich by being able to select which horse can gallop the fastest at a particular point of time. But I do not believe that we should deny completely to persons receiving social services the opportunity to engage in that form of entertainment. They have reached a phase in life where social service payments are their right because of the taxation that they have paid throughout a lifetime. In a democracy, how those people decide to get their amusement compared with other people is their own business. I do not believe that when you speak in terms of benefits being above the poverty level you have to establish exactly what is the poverty level. So we do not agree with the amendment that is before the Senate: we believe that what is contained in it may be tremendously improved.

Of course, the whole question of social services has been exercising the minds of people in the community for a long time. It is nearly 15 years since the

Australian Democratic Labor Party campaigned strongly for the abolition of the means test, and we have persisted in that campaign election after election. We find from the debate on social services today that the question of the abolition of the means test has become very popular with all political parties, and we are glad that that is so. We believe that it is a facing of the facts of modern life that this should be so. There should not be a penalty for thrift. People who have adequately superannuated themselves are cut off from the benefits which their own taxation has helped to provide. Thriftiness and in many instances compulsory systems of superannuation have prevented people, particularly those in the service of governments, who are forced during their lifetime, if they wish to remain in such service, to contribute to systems of superannuation, from receiving the benefits which their own taxation has helped to provide. They find that their retirement benefits derived from their contributions to superannuation schemes which are deducted from their wages cost them out of the benefits that are available to their next door neighbours who have not so provided for their future.

As inflation gathered pace and costs and prices rose, many people who thought that they had provided adequately for their future through superannuation schemes found that the drawings from the superannuation schemes were completely inadequate to provide the standard of living which they had expected they would be able to enjoy when they made their contributions to the superannuation schemes. At the same time they found that the benefits which they had built up for themselves out of their incomes over the years acted, if not completely to prevent them from receiving social service benefits, to reduce whatever they may have received, by comparison with other people, to the point of it being of no practical help whatsoever. Yet at the same time many people were excluded from the fringe benefits that were available to others who had not worked in the same type of industry or who had not voluntarily contributed towards their retirement. I do not believe that the great majority of Australians want to be dependent upon the State. 1 think people take a pride in being able to pro vide for their retirement and that they will continue to do so. But that is not a valid reason for arguing that at the closing stages of their lives they should be denied privileges that are available to the community and should be available to all who contribute towards them and to all who pay the adequate rates of taxation which have been devised by governments over the years according to the incomes which they have earned. The Democratic Labor Party does not believe in the application of the means test whether it be applied in the area of social services or of education or of scholarships or anything else. We believe that the young people of this community are equal to one another, that all are born equal and should have equal opportunities and that if they are able, by their own ability, to win scholarships that are made available by the community, then this is not specifically in the interests of the individuals themselves but in the interests of this nation so that we shall have a better educated, a better producing, a more highly skilled and a more proficient nation. Yet we tell the child whose parents may happen to earn a higher income, 'You are excluded from specific benefits because your parents earn a particular income'. Yet those parents may not have the same interests as parents on a lower income and may not be prepared to make available to their child the benefits of their higher income. They may be more interested, as Senator Webster suggested - and I remind Senator Webster that not only the poor go to the races - in backing winners on a Saturday than providing a highly intelligent young person who may be studying medicine at a university until he is 24 or 25 years of age with means which will enable him to live as a young person of that age ought to be able to live, at a reasonable standard in the community. One finds children of even well to do families dropping out from the higher level of education and giving up scholarships, because despite their parents' income, of which they are not necessarily beneficiaries, they arc denied the necessary living allowances that are made available to other members of the community. Of course, should these young people make the grade and attain higher skills through education and so earn higher incomes, they will pay the higher taxes under our system which we believe is fair and just.

But why should they who were capable in their younger years of winning a specific scholarship be denied all the benefits of that scholarship, simply because their parents may at that point of time have enjoyed an income which, as I have pointed out, they may not necessarily be sharing with their children who are trying to work their way through university? We believe that these things should be the right of every individual.

This leads me to make another criticism which the DLP has made many times before and which the Leader of the DLP, Senator Gair, in his speech on the Budget made once again, that the Government has seen fit to increase the gap that exists between those who happen to be married and are drawing a pension and those who may not be married at a particular time or who have been married and have lost their partner. It has been said in justification that 2 can live more cheaply than one; yet we find that every time pension increases are granted, more is granted to the single pensioner than to 2 persons who happen to be married. Only a few weeks ago I received a strange item of correspondence. Why it should have been addressed to me in particular, I do not know, and I wonder whether other senators and honourable members received similar letters. It was from 2 people who are particularly interested in the problem of homosexuality; whether they themselves were so afflicted. I do not know. They wanted equal rights for homosexuals in marriage and everything else. I did not think that this letter required a reply, but had I replied 1 would have been forced to warn them in their own interest that they should not seek the rights and benefits of marriage status in our community, as they put it, because if they were still interested in homosexuality at the stage when they became entitled to pensions, they would find that they might have the same rights as married people but would not get the same benefits as 2 single persons. They would be better off to be treated as they are today, in the state of single blessedness because under the Government's proposal in the present Budget, as 2 separate individuals they would be $5.50 a week better off than they would be if they were regarded as and received the benefits of a married couple from the social services legislation of this Government. The DLP cannot see the justification for this; we have pointed out this problem time and again and we will continue to do so.

I believe that as modern thinking catches up both with the Government and the Opposition the DLP will be joined in this attitude as we have in many other fields; that is, that the Government and the Opposition will turn the clock the other way. I appreciate that it would be very difficult to bridge in one fell swoop the gap that has been created between those who are married and are sharing their old age and those who are single; but at least the tendency surely should be to begin to operate the other way, to close the gap. This must happen if one pauses to think of the circumstances and the responsibilities of the 2 sections of the Australian people, on the one hand the person who perhaps has never married or who has married but has lost his or her partner, and on the other hand those who are fortunate enough to be sharing together their old age and retirement. When 2 people are together they have a responsibility to each other which a single person never had. That responsibility does not disappear with old age but becomes accentuated because it is the elderly person who receives a very limited social services income. When 2 people are together, both can become ill, not just one. When one moves among people who are living in these circumstances, one finds time and again that not in their own interests, if they really understood the problem, and certainly not in the interests of the nation, they are skimping and saving and endeavouring to put aside a little from their social services payment in case one or the other becomes ill, because they realise that after a certain point enormous expenses are rapidly incurred as a result of illness.

I know all about the arguments in relation to free medicine and benefits to pensioners, and I know also when a person suffers an illness, particularly the long illness that often comes with the passage of years, just how impoverished people can be. lt is this responsibility to each other which causes the people of the group that I am discussing very often to become overcautious and not to spend even the small income they receive. As a result of this responsibility that they feel for each other they believe that some money should be put aside as a precaution, that this is necessary in accordance with the responsibilities which they have accepted through marriage.

How does this sum of ยง5.50 per week per couple affect people who are widowed? Any medical man will tell you that today one of the greatest medical problems of people in this group is loneliness. They have nobody to share things with. I refer particularly to those people who have had a very satisfactory lifetime of sharing and all the wonderful benefits that it can bring. We form elderly citizens clubs and pensioners clubs to bring these people together and lonely people become interested in one another. Yet there is this barrier against such people sharing their lives again. There are people who have reared families and refuse to accept the modern idea of a companionship that is not recognised by the rest of the community. They refuse to live together without marriage but if they get married their combined income is reduced immediately.

Why should this be so? Are we still looking at pensions on the basis of a subsistence philosophy? Will we stop pensioners from starving to death and then draw the line and say that we should not go beyond that point? Surely we should think of the quality of life in this area of the community. One of my greatest disputes with many people in society today is that they want licence and permissiveness to the detriment of the quality of life that we want to try to preserve. Surely the elderly people who helped to construct the economy and society that we have inherited today should be provided with social services. We should be thinking in terms of the quality of their lives, not the level at which they can subsist. We should not be thinking that if they happen to get married they will not use as much electric light in order to sit up at night. Indeed, probably they would use more. If they had companionship they would not crawl off to bed at 6 o'clock at night because they had nothing else to do. They could sit up and enjoy television or radio in one another's company. This would increase their expense budget. It would be the result of their enjoying the companionship that surely we want them to have. Of course, when one produces that argument everybody says that they want these people to have these things; but they are denied money from our social service provisions to achieve them.

Senator Hannan - That is an argument for frequency modulation, is it not?

Senator LITTLE - I do not think we need to get as technical as frequency modulation is. This is a simple argument to me. I believe in quality of life. I believe that young people should have it and 1 believe that they also need help by means of the experience that people gain with the years. Young people need protection against things which, because of their inexperience, they do not realise are a danger to the quality of life. I refer to pornography, dope and all the other things that can destroy the quality of life. I believe that at the other end of the life cycle we should hold to the philosophy that it is the quality of life that counts. I defy anybody to suggest that a life alone has any comparison with a life that is shared. Any doctor or psychologist will tell us how much mental illness in older people is brought about by sheer loneliness. We all know that because of the generation gap it is very difficult to provide the companionship that is appreciated. We should encourage elderly widows and widowers to remarry and enjoy life again but instead we impose a financial penalty on them in the form of the social service structure.

We of the Democratic Labor Party were pleased with some of the things contained in this Budget but we could not help but be bitterly disappointed that the Government again has not given the attention that it should have given to child endowment and maternity allowance. These are 2 areas in our social services that have dropped far behind because of inflation. They have not received the attention that they ought to have received from political parties. It seems strange today that people are advocating things which were argued against 30 or 40 years ago. In the 1930s we seemed to realise that a community which was decreasing in numbers could not be a forward looking and prosperous community. Indeed, some nations adopted all sorts of techniques to increase the number of members in families. Today there is a switch in the opposite direction in many countries, lt could be argued that from a social and economic point of view it is sound for those countries to take that course. However lt certainly is not wise in this country because Australia still is vastly underpopulated. In spite of what we are told today, our immigration programme and our natural increase will never, on present tendencies, ensure that we will have a rate of growth sufficient to develop this country and to maintain th: standards that exist today. Those standards cannot be maintained with a static or receding population.

Today a person who has coped with a large family or, indeed, is happy with a large family, is treated almost like an unwanted citizen. However those people are makin;; the greatest contribution that can be made to the future wellbeing of this nation. I am appalled that the Government considers that child endowment is no longer an important area of political activity. It is important in the eyes of the Democratic Labor Party. We do not run around and suggest that everybody should have 5, 6 or 7 children because that is a matter for the individual. However such people certainly should not be economically squeezed as a result of having families of that size.

Recently i was talking to the daughter of a personal friend of mine, a man of great character who once graced another House of this Parliament. This woman is a nurse and is the mother of 6 children. She is in her early 30s and she has lost a child. We were at a social function. She is a most vivacious person and I think she was one of the best looking young ladies there. She does nursing for 2 afternoon shifts a week in order to help supplement the family budget. Her home is spotless and you never see her without a smile on her face. She is successfully rearing 6 children, the eldest of which is about 10 years of age. Her family is her life and when you talk to her about the permissive society today she laughs and asks: 'What have I got to be sad about: this is the most wonderful thing that can happen to anybody'. We have people like that in our community who have to care for 6 children. There are others who are not emotionally equipped to do the same thing or who may not have had the advantage of the training that this young woman has had to fit her for a wonderfully useful life not only for herself but to her husband and 6 young dependent Australians.

Why should such a woman be looked upon as a misfit in our community, as she is by many people today? I believe that people of this sort should receive from our social services the necessary assistance at least to meet the extra sales tax that they have to pay on behalf of 6 children. When those children attend school that mother will have to buy six 15c ball point pens. People with smaller families have to buy only one or two pens at the beginning of the school year but the mother of those 6 children will be paying 5c tax on every one of those 15c pens. At least, if child endowment is not keeping pace with the inflated prices it ought to be keeping with the inflated taxes that are imposed through sales tax measures upon people with larger families.

We of the Australian Democratic Labor Party believe that the provision for the wives of aged pensioners to be brought within the scope of social services is only sensible. For years now, there has been a large discrepancy in regard to payments to husband and wife. Perhaps a husband has leached retirement age and the wife, who has done nothing else but housework, may be in her early fifties. No proper provision has been made for her to enjoy social services. Within this category, there is a large group of people who still have dependant children living at home. All sorts of devices have been used to have the wife declared to be in charge of an ailing husband if the husband has any sickness at all. I pay full credit to officers of the Department of Social Services who have often assisted in these sorts of cases. Indeed, very often I have known of cases in which, as a temporary measure, such people have beer able to register as unemployed so that they can receive at least for a limited period the unemployment benefits which are available in the community.

Having criticised the Government in regard to child endowment and maternity allowances I state that I believe that very worthwhile steps have been taken in this

Budget. We propose to move a further amendment which I now foreshadow and read to the Senate. If the amendment is defeated we will accept the opportunity to speak on the measure. We will move to add the following words at the end of the motion:

But the Senate is of the opinion that a just, adequate and comprehensive social service system can be achieved only by the creation of a contributory national superannuation scheme and that pending the establishment of such a scheme pension rates should be determined by an independent tribunal of experts including pensioner representation. And the Senate is also of the opinion that this Bill should have provided for increases in child endowment rates and maternity allowances which are long overdue for adjustment.

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