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Thursday, 3 February 1994
Page: 305

Mr NUGENT (12.27 p.m.) —I would like to talk this morning about families. There has been a lot of media talk in this country and a lot of speeches and articles written recently about the family and, given that it is the International Year of the Family, it is something that is very appropriate. In particular in this grievance debate, I want to talk a little bit about how the government in fact intrudes—I think unreasonably—all too often in family life. The hand of big brother! Those intrusions are damaging family life in this country. It seems to me that the government is increasingly bringing in measures that do not leave the family to get on and lead their life. It wants to tell them how to spend their money and what to do with their lives: it wants to control every single aspect. It seems to me that that is a basic intrusion in our democratic system. The government should stick to providing roads and public services, and so on. It should leave the families to get on with their own things.

  I want to talk about a range of areas and mention one particular aspect of what I believe is an absolutely unconscionable intrusion into the private lives of Australian citizens, an intrusion that I have come across recently in my electorate of Aston in Melbourne. But, to give a general example, let me just mention the disability employment service. I understand the government is planning to get rid of sheltered workshops for the disabled, for example. It claims that this is taking advantage of people with disabilities. Yet families with disabled members are very happy to continue to have those sheltered workshops. They give an opportunity for some skills to be learnt and for some happy and productive times to be undertaken by the people concerned. ACROD is very much on the ground in this respect and will, in fact, attest to this. Unfortunately, the government has decided that it is going to take its big brother attitude; it is going to do away with those sheltered workshops.

  The Spastic Society is a particular example in my electorate and those people who are looked after by the Spastic Society will be very much affected by this. Another general area where the government seems to me to be interfering unconscionably these days in the activities of families is with its application of this draconian training guarantee levy. A whole new industry of people has been created. They are there for no other reason than to live off the backs of business. It provides training for those who do not want it, training for those who do not need it, and that often affects the family businesses worse than the bigger businesses.

  I also have concerns, in terms of industrial relations, about compulsory unionism and the inflexibility that workers get. For example, many women in the work force who want flexible hours and want to be able to negotiate flexible arrangements with their employers so that they can look after family commitments are just denied that flexibility.

  A final good example of the government's attitude to families and the unconscionable mind-set that we often have was Senator Crowley's child-care accreditation guidelines, where, for example, Christmas carols and Santa Claus are deemed to be `culturally inappropriate'. It seems to me that those restrictions are absolutely unacceptable. Of course, included in those guidelines was the ultimate whip, where only those who abide by that politically correct philosophy are going to be given assistance because they were told very clearly that if they took their child elsewhere they may well not receive their child-care assistance.

  I want to mention the story of Adrian and Lorraine Thomas, who are constituents of mine in Knoxfield in my electorate of Aston. A few days ago a card was put underneath the front door of the Thomases from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, asking if an appointment could be arranged to go and see the Thomases about a survey.

  The Thomases rang up and made an appointment for Saturday 29 January. A lady from ABS arrived with a large book and proceeded to ask questions relating to all the expenses of the Thomas household: their purchases, receipts and so on. The interview ran for about an hour and a half—which Mrs Thomas felt was a bit excessive—but the interviewer indicated that she had to complete this large number of questions, that it was part of the law and they had no option but to give this information.

  Five minutes before the interviewer left, the Thomases were told that they each had to complete personal diaries for the following week. They had to do this every day with every single little detail recorded as to what they spent on all sorts of things. But not only did they have to complete the diaries for this week but the interviewer would return at the same time next week, go through those diaries at length and then they would be given diaries for the following week. They had to do this for the following month. This was going to go on for a full month.

  Mrs Thomas was horrified and told the interviewer that she just did not have time; she had a job to go to, her husband ran his own small business and they really did not have time to provide all of this. Anyway, it really was an invasion of their privacy. She asked what would happen if they did not complete the diaries. The interviewer basically said that it was the law and they had to complete them. When pressed as to what would happen if they did not, the interviewer refused to say what would happen. The ABS is due to call back this Sunday and pick up the diary. Mr Thomas came to my office, so my office rang the ABS to ask to be told at least what the punishment is if people do not comply. The ABS will not tell my office.

  It seems to me that we have a situation where the bureaucrats can come and knock on our door, insist on taking up our time, insist that we complete records with all sorts of information and threaten us with a punishment if we do not comply, but nobody will actually tell the individual and nobody will tell the individual's member of parliament exactly what that punishment will be. It seems to me that that is an absolutely unconscionable state in a democratic country like this.

  Let us look at the sort of survey information that we are talking about. I have about 20-odd pages and I am told that this is just part of the exercise. Not only do we have to give information about what we spend, but let us look at what it is all about. It covers all purchases and all expenditures, including newspapers, bread, butcher's account, credit cards, debit cards and so on, but also the type of store—whether it was supermarket or a service station or a milk bar. The weight, volume and quantities that are bought are to be listed. The amount of money spent in dollars and precise cents and a description of the item purchased, the method of payment for each individual item and things like lotto tickets and bingo purchases must be given. Expenditure that may be partly refunded and any goods that might be obtained from an employer should also be given. Payments that may be partly relevant to any business or farm and so forth have to be listed.

  It gets down to ridiculous little things. If people go out and buy the kids some ice-cream, they have got to put all that down, and any lollies they might buy, or any football tickets, subscriptions, birthday presents or postal charges. When somebody comes around and knocks on their front door and tries to sell them a brush, they even have to record those purchases: item, cost, where they got it from, who it was from, what it was for, and so on. Laundry bills; bus, train and taxi fares; fees for doctors—even the children's pocket money—all have to be recorded on these forms.

  We are asking citizens to fill in these forms, and I have a number of samples here of the forms that are to be filled in. They are quite lengthy and very detailed and, obviously, it is going to take a number of hours during the week not only to be briefed by the person who has come and knocked on the door, but also to fill the forms in and then to be debriefed on the following weekend. And that goes on every week for a month! I am told that the Thomases were statistically chosen, and it seems that one cannot statistically choose anybody who might be available to do these things or might be willing to do these things: people have to be statistically chosen, even where the imposition is unreasonable.

  Mrs Thomas goes to work early in the morning, and she is out most of the day. Her husband is out running his own business. It seems that what we have actually done here is not only to impose on people's privacy and to ask for unreasonable detail of information, but to threaten people with punishments which we are not even prepared to publicly define. We are also denying their member of parliament information, when he seeks it openly and honestly. Of course, ultimately, it is going to be self-defeating.

  When the Bureau of Statistics gets this back—not from the Thomases but, I am sure, from many other people who will fill these forms in—people will not come up and openly complain and say, `Look, we think this is an intrusion'. A lot of people will say, `To heck with this! We'll just quietly sit down the night before the form is due for collection, and we'll fill it in willy-nilly with any sort of information—valid or not—just to get the thing out of the way'. So the whole basis of the statistics that the government is using is going to be a sham, anyway. The system should be changed. (Time expired)