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Wednesday, 19 November 1997
Page: 10716

Mr TONY SMITH(10.06 a.m.) —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker; it is good to see you in the chair.

Mr Price —Don't suck up to the Deputy Speaker.

Mr TONY SMITH —It is always a pleasure to follow the member for Chifley. I know that his comment was meant in the spirit of the debate, but I do, unfortunately, find some disagreement with the member for Chifley in relation to what he identifies as a problem which he does not wish to address in reality. He is saying that the Labor Party stands for a target of five per cent unemployment. At the same time, to achieve that target, one needs to redirect attention to the private sector and, to do that, one needs to demand a whole of government attitude to it and not focus on one side of the line—that is, the public expenditure side—without looking at the fact that that money has got to come from somewhere. It will come only from a vibrant economy that permits the distribution of those funds to those in need, and those in need are a key and crucial element of it.

The youth allowance is an income support payment to around 560,000 people, including students and those looking for work. It replaces five existing payments, including Austudy, the youth training allowance, the newstart allowance and the sickness allowance for under-21-year-olds. The Austudy allowance is for under-25-year-olds. The youth allowance will be introduced on 1 July 1998. The reason for it is that the government is proposing to help young people make key decisions about education, training and employment and make income support arrangements simpler and more flexible.

The youth allowance is also designed to change the culture—this is what I was going to focus on in my few remarks—of handout. I am referring to the culture that at 15 years of age you can walk down to the CES and expect a handout from there on, never mind the necessity to engage in training, never mind the necessity to look to a greater educa tional perspective, but rather a culture that there is something there from age 15.

To change that culture, I think we also need to set examples at higher levels. It is no good just saying that this is a situation that does need changing. At the same time we have the youth of Australia saying, `Politicians, judges and what have you are also getting a slice of the cake and that is not fair.' I refer, for example, to double dipping. I think it is reprehensible that anyone in public life can receive a pension from the Crown and yet be quite able bodied and go out and work in a full-time job.

Young people are being asked to make sacrifices and to get out there and look for work. Yet they come back to us and say, `Just a minute, you're getting a pension or retired judges are getting pensions and then going out and doing royal commissions and inquiries.' We have seen a plethora of those in Queensland with the CJC. It really does strike a chord in the community. It is unacceptable and it is time that we, as people who should be setting an example, looked at these areas. When you leave public life, if you are an ex-judge, ex-public servant or what have you, you should not be allowed to double dip. Once you start working again, you should not be allowed to get that pension. I think that is something that we really have to look at very seriously if we are to set an example of expenditure restraint in these other areas. That is part of the total culture and total flavour of the thing. That goes to a lot of areas, as I have mentioned before. It is something that we have to look at.

Also as part of the culture we have to change—I think this bill does go part of the way but we have a lot further to go—we have to change the disturbing paradox we have, which is that if you are hardworking and looking for work, you are going to be hit hard because you are doing well, but if you decide to slip around the edges and be indolent, less than thrifty, avoid responsibilities and so forth, you are going to be rewarded. That is one of the problems that we have in society. More and more, the complaints that come through to my office are from people who are working very hard and who have, for exam ple, just gone over that little threshold level for any particular situation.

Recently, for example, a constituent rang up in relation to the so-called baby bonus. I thought that people collected that bonus irrespective of means. This particular couple were both working. They were not drawing a huge income jointly but it was over the amount to qualify for the so-called baby bonus. The constituent pointed out to my office that there was never any statement to the effect that they would not be eligible for it. They were not complaining about the fact of non-eligibility but they were generally raising something that is commonly raised—that is, hard workers are the ones who are more likely to pay for indolence. It is that conundrum that we really have to deal with in the culture in this country. It is something that is extremely difficult.

Recently I received a letter from a constituent from Ferny Hills. It was not a particularly favourable pro-government letter by any means. I will refer to it because it does touch on some of these matters which I think are necessary to touch on. The constituent wrote:

The Coalition's supposed non-interventionist stance is both selectively applied and poorly conceived. The fact is that levels of social, business, industry and rural welfare are higher than ever and exist in direct opposition to this Government's ideology. Personally I am not in favour of any form of welfare whatsoever as it gives rise to a false economy with no real foundation, neither am I in favour of tax avoidance whether by individuals or by multi-nationals. Welfare recipients should be required to either work for benefits or repay them when work is obtained and scrap the rest. Women should be paid to rear children in a family context only. Not new or terribly popular ideas I'm sure.

Some of those remarks struck a chord with me. I think we all have to realise in this place that there is a limit to the welfare dollar and there is a limit to squeezing those people who are working hard, yet again for them to be told, `Well, you're going to miss out.' We do do this. Unfortunately, we do this across a range of areas. In this particular area we are doing it to a group of people with parental incomes over $41,000 who have children at home aged between 18 and 20. This is a group that we will be targeting with this measure.

I understand that these measures are necessary but, by the same token, it is important to look at that culture and how those people see themselves as being targeted. I am not saying that it is the correct way to look at it, but that is the way they see it—for their thrift, energy and hard work, they are being targeted and kicked yet again. That is what they are saying to me.

It is a message we must heed. We cannot ignore the number of people out there who have worked hard all their lives. A gentleman recently wrote to me and said that he had worked with the PMG for 46 years. In that time, he achieved for himself a self-funded situation. He had just been a worker in the PMG; he did not have a high flying job, as I understand it. At the end of his 46 years he received his full superannuation pension which he banked every fortnight into a joint account. But he said that this financial year he is going to have to pay tax because the very fact that he put that into a joint account, earning interest of $5.97—divided by two, because it was put into a joint account—meant that he would have to pay tax on that. That is bureaucratic stupidity, in my view. It is again an example of that group of people who have done the right thing being picked at in this way. We have to bear those things in mind.

I had a youth meeting in my electorate office recently, which was very interesting because of the range of views that came across. Many people who were there discussed the proposed youth allowance, and many of them discussed the difficulties they had obtaining part-time work. There was a range of views. One contributor to the discussion said that she can point to two or three jobs `just like that' when told by others in the group that there was no work for students. Obviously there are a range of views out there, including that work can be found if you look for it.

It is right for the government to encourage people to look for part-time work when they are studying. There are no free lunches any more. It is important to impart that to the community: the free lunch regime is finished. We have to impart that work ethic to the community. That does not mean by the same token that we can be heartless about it, but I believe that it is necessary to have the sorts of discussions I have had in the electorate to illustrate the range of views one way and the other.

The importance of that discussion was that in a networking sense a number of young people were able to identify areas where perhaps there were jobs that they had not accessed before. That was a very useful aspect of it. But, as a part of all this, it is true that the previous government cultivated this culture to a degree for self-interest reasons. There were substantial votes from a section of the community which became welfare dependent. Welfare was never intended to be a dependency thing; it was always intended to be a short-term situation. Unfortunately, over time many people have become dependent on it, and that is not a good thing.

This can flow through into other areas. I refer to the homeless youth allowance. Recently a youth worker said on a Brisbane radio station that more than half of those that he encountered on the streets preferred to be there. When asked why, he said it was because there was no discipline; they do not have the discipline of home. I say this about this sort of thing, the homeless youth allowance in particular: we have heard the reason being given for this allowance is abuse, but that is a ubiquitous word and I have a lot of trouble with the allowance. It should be available only in the most extreme circumstances and then on proof that the abuse is real and continuing, not imagined—we have heard about the tragedy of the Skye Walton case in Western Australia.

I also put this to the House: why is the responsibility for this allowance shifted to the taxpayer? If parents really abuse their children, they ought to be the ones who are responsible. By behaving in that anti-social, wrong way, they ought not be able to abuse the system and have their responsibilities shifted to the Australian taxpayer. The responsibility should stay with the abusers, if the abusers are real and if there has been proof.

I have had many examples of this in my own electorate. I do have concern that there are young people who have been abused but, by the same token, there are people who are working the system. One tragic example of that came to my attention late last year when I attended a meeting in my electorate of a group called Tuff Love. In this particular group a lady told me a horrendous story. Her daughter basically would not conform to the rules of home. She left home, went to the Department of Social Security and made allegations of serious sexual interference by her mother.

Twelve months later, the girl returned home after living on the streets and in various other places, and living with her boyfriend somewhere—and getting this allowance. She came back and apologised to her mother for all the hurt that she had caused but, at the same time, the taxpayers of Australia picked up the tab for that sort of behaviour. That is unacceptable; the person concerned should have a responsibility. As my constituent said in that letter to me earlier, there should be a requirement to pay back in those circumstances and in other circumstances where the system is being rorted.

It is important to change that culture. Efforts have been made in the United States to change welfare. Changes have been directed at ensuring that welfare is limited to relief—welfare for a term, not dependency. Very significantly, there was an article in the Financial Review some months ago about the successes and the great strides that have been made in some states in America by having caps on welfare. There is a limited time that you can be on supporting parent pension, for example. It is two years in one particular state, but I cannot recall which one.

These systems are working. They send messages out that there is not a free and open slather to live the way you want and the taxpayer picks up the tab, that responsibility needs to be put into this equation. The message coming through in America was that the programs that had been started, which had been going for about 18 months, have done tremendous things. In fact, there was a drop in welfare of something like 24 per cent across the board in the states of the US that had adopted these measures. It is important to look ahead. I do not at all subscribe to following everything that the United States does. But I do believe that it is necessary to look ahead with these things and to take a realistic view.

As I said before, this problem of punishing those who are thrifty and rewarding those who are indolent is a culture that has to change. It flows through into so many areas. It flows into the child support area. Abuses of that system are coming to the fore constantly. Yet again, people who have been the innocent party are finding themselves being punished by the state organised system.

It is important that the measure is brought in, and I urge the House to pass it. I ask all of us to reflect on the need for cultural change in these areas and on the need to take into account the hard workers who are concerned that yet again they will be punished for their hard work.

There has to be a balance in all of this. We have to send messages that cover fairly both the needs of parents—their need to be fairly treated in a taxation sense—and the needs of their children, whom they are trying to put through education and help into training, and so forth. Overall it is a good package, but obviously there is a need to go further in time with these sorts of measures. I urge that the House go down that track.