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Wednesday, 15 October 2003
Page: 21484


Mr GAVAN O'CONNOR (2:54 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Is the Prime Minister aware that every night in this country more than 100,000 Australians are homeless and that, under his government, the number of Australians experiencing housing stress has increased to 330,000? Prime Minister, why is the government giving grants to millionaire home owners while at the same time cutting $1 billion out of the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement? Prime Minister, given that it is Anti-Poverty Week, shouldn't we be providing housing to the homeless, not giving grants to millionaires?


Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —In answer to the member for Corio, I am aware that there are a significant number of homeless people in this country. Every person that is homeless ought to be a matter of concern to both sides of politics. It ought to be a matter of concern to all governments. One of the ways, of course, in which you reduce homelessness is to expand people's economic opportunities, and we have already had many occasions in this question time to remind the Australian public that over the past 7½ years the opportunity for people to earn an income, the opportunity for people to get a job and the opportunity for people to be more economically self-sufficient has grown. It has not been reduced. One of the remarkable things which was driven home about the poverty debate—


Mr Swan —You're not having one!


Mr HOWARD —which the opposition is obviously focusing on—


Mr Crean —We are; you're not!


Mr HOWARD —I am glad the opposition is focusing on it, because on every count over the last 7½ years this government can point to a better record in tackling poverty than can the former government. Look at real incomes; they have risen. Look at unemployment; it has fallen. Look at the number of jobs; that has risen by 1.2 million. As the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations pointed out earlier in question time, in relation to low-paid workers in this country—


Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The Prime Minister has failed on poverty and now he is failing to answer the question that was asked about homelessness.


The SPEAKER —The member for Werriwa will resume his seat or I will deal with him. No point of order has been raised with me.


Mr HOWARD —If we are talking about poverty, surely it is relevant to remind the parliament and the Australian people of the record of this government compared with the record of the last government in helping the lowest paid workers in our nation. If you look at the figures for low-paid workers—that is, those who are at the 10th percentile according to full-time total weekly earnings of adult employees—you find, as the minister pointed out earlier in question time, that between 1983 and 1996 there was a 3.1 per cent reduction. There was a 3.1 per cent cut and, worse still, the then prime ministers, both Prime Minister Hawke and Prime Minister Keating, and the then treasurers boasted about the fact that they cut real wages. I remember coming into the parliament day after day, and the then Prime Minister would get up and boast about it.


Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order concerning relevance. The question was about housing.


The SPEAKER —Let me deal with the point of order by pointing out that the Prime Minister has already linked the question of poverty to homelessness, and it was in that context that he was relevant.


Mr HOWARD —I will go further and point out to the House that the provision of public housing in this country does, after all, happen to be a responsibility of the states. There has to come a time in public debate in this country where the states no longer have it both ways. They cannot assert their constitutional power without discharging their political and social responsibilities. Fundamentally, that is what state government after state government wants to do in this country. Whenever they want to throw their weight around, they are the important states, guaranteed a position under the Constitution. But, when it comes to accepting a bit of political responsibility, be it for health, education, housing, roads or any form of transport or infrastructure, the state governments' constant refrain is, `The federal government should give us more money.'

That is another thing that this government have done over the last 7½ years—we have introduced a new taxation system that will guarantee steadily rising taxation shares to all of the Australian states over the years ahead. What we have done with the GST is taken away the alibi of the states in relation to housing, taken away their alibi in relation to education and taken away their alibi in relation to health. I say to the state premiers of Australia: you have responsibilities under our federal sharing arrangements; you discharge them. Face your electors, stop blaming the federal government and live up to your political and social responsibilities.