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Tuesday, 29 October 1974
Page: 2074

Senator BAUME (New South Wales) - The Senate is debating the Social Services Bill (No. 3). I support Senator Guilfoyle and wish to make a few observations upon the Bill and its shortcomings. For a Labor Government that places such store on its social welfare initiatives this Bill is pitiful in the small amount of benefit it offers to people and the small number of initiatives it takes. It offers very little. We are very pleased about what it does offer, about the fact that there is to be additional payment for children of pensioners and beneficiaries, raising the payment from $5 to $5.50 a week. We applaud the supplementary assistance and allowance increase by $1 a week to $5 a week and the increase in the double orphans' pension by $1 to $11 a week. However, these increases plus a few other minor benefits are all that is offered. It is deplorable and we have nothing in prospect to suggest that any further benefits are to become available if this is in fact the Government's social welfare package as a consequence of the Budget it brought down.

My remarks are not entirely unfair because we had come to expect from the Government a continuing program of social welfare initiatives. We had every reason to expect that in this Budget we would see further action. Senator Guilfoyle mentioned an inflation rate measured at this stage at over 16 per cent and likely to be much higher next year, on the admission of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam). Unless the benefits paid to pensioners and other social service beneficiaries are increased they are in fact dropping behind all the time. The failure to give any extra increase in the basic standard pension in this year's Budget means that the pensioners are already receiving less than 25 per cent of average weekly earnings and will be receiving considerably less by the time we reach the autumn session of the Parliament.

We have available to us a document which should have guided the Government in its preparation of the Budget. We know that when Mr McMahon was Prime Minister he appointed a commission of inquiry into poverty to be headed by Professor Henderson. When the Labor Party / came to power, far from abolishing the commission it expanded and widened its powers. We know further that the Labor Government asked the commission to provide it with an interim report in May of this year so that the proposals it contained could be considered for inclusion in the Budget. The Budget was delayed, so that there was every opportunity for these particular proposals to be considered by the Government.

I am not saying that all the proposals put up by the commission are necessarily correct but the fact that almost none of them has been accepted is a sorry commentary upon the social welfare capacity of this kind of socialist government. The proposals put up by the Henderson Commission as matters of urgent need included a major increase in child endowment payments but in that regard there has been no action. It recommended changes in taxation deductions for dependent children and further increases in the basic rate of pensions, and sickness and unemployment benefits, special benefits, and supporting mothers' benefits, but in not one of those areas has the benefit been increased. The commission recommended an increase in the mother's or guardian's allowance from $4 to $8 a "week but no action has been taken. It recommended fringe benefits for fatherless families but there has been very little improvement in that field. It recommended that a pension and fringe benefits as are paid to widows and subject to similar conditions be paid to men bringing up children on their own, but again no action was taken.

The Henderson Commission recommended fringe benefits and health care be made available to all invalid pensioners so long as any part pension is paid; again no action has resulted. It recommended abolition of the 7-day waiting period for unemployment and sickness benefits, but nothing in that regard has been done. It recommended an increase in the amount of supplementary assistance from $4 to $8 a week. A pitiful increase of $1 a week has been granted. It recommended a change in the means test for supplementary assistance and offered recommendations on the general question of abolishing the means test.

We have to ask ourselves whether the Government has decided to repudiate the Henderson Commission's approach to poverty. Is the Government no longer interested in the problems of poverty? Does it not accept the figures as to the extent of poverty in Australia as set out by Professor Henderson in his interim report? If it accepts the figures which show the very great amount of poverty and the extent of the problem why has no action been taken?

Senator McLaren - What government was the cause of those conditions?

Senator BAUME - That is quite irrelevant. We are looking at what is being done by this Government and the answer is that nothing is being done. We can look around to find what other people have had to say about this Government's efforts in the field of social welfare, particularly in the last Budget and the Bill before us. The Australian Council of Social Service is a very respected body which makes many submissions.

Senator Button - Hear, hear!

Senator BAUME - I thank Senator Button for his agreement. The Australian Council of Social Service makes submissions on many matters of social importance and speaks generally with a responsible and moderate voice. It issued a Press statement after the Budget, on 20 September 1974, over the signature of the SecretaryGeneral, Edward J. Pennington. The Council said:

The Budget as a whole, however, is another piecemeal approach to the question of social development and shows once again the need for an economic and social planning unit.

We certainly see nothing in this Bill to give any hope that the Government has a commitment to the proposals put forward by Professor Henderson. I hope that when his final report comes down it is given a better hearing and that more action follows. ACOSS goes on about some of the other effects of the Budget and has some detailed comment to offer about the Government's proposal to tax income from rental property. It points out quite correctly that the people in receipt of social service benefits are the people paying rent. They are the people likely to be especially disadvantaged by the proposed tax because their rents will rise and there will be a disincentive to people to invest in building accommodation for rental. Therefore the stock of housing is not likely to increase appropriately. ACOSS goes on to comment that the Government's offer to increase supplementary assistance is supposed to help people in a rental situation and adds:

Further, the $ 1 increase to the supplementary benefit is completely inadequate, particularly in times when rents are rising quickly.

That is the story of the Social Services Bill. It is inadequate in its scope, its provisions and amount.

Senator Jessop - It is too little too late.

Senator BAUME -That is so. The ACOSS report finally comments on the Budget:

Thus although ACOSS welcomes the initiative that the Government has taken in several broad areas of social welfare it feels that the Budget has done little to help the ordinary person on a low income struggling to make his way in an inflationary society. In particular the present beneficiaries and the lowest income groups renting a home have received little help.

There is nothing in this Bill to make the Government proud. It has done the absolute minimum in terms of making any progress on the broad canvas of social welfare policy. This Bill has totally failed to achieve its aim. It is nothing more than window dressing. It provides nothing to attack any of the deep-seated problems, and I think it is shameful that it so completely ignores the recommendations of the Henderson Commission which were given in detail. It is a tragedy that so little acknowledgement was given to this report when the Budget was brought down.

Naturally I will support the Bill, because any benefits that flow are benefits that we will welcome. I also support the amendment moved by Senator Guilfoyle because it so obviously refers to an area of need not being met. I plead with the Government to accept this amendment and to try to extend these kinds of benefits to the group of people for whom Senator Guilfoyle has spoken so that we can do something at least to raise the level of this Bill to something decent and acceptable.

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