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Monday, 16 February 2004
Page: 24766


Mr SWAN (2:37 PM) —My question without notice is directed to the Prime Minister. Prime Minister, isn't it true that cabinet agreed in December 2002 to develop a work and family package to address family payment debt recovery issues? Why did the Prime Minister deliberately refuse to change the family payment system, leaving 600,000 families to suffer with family payment debts when his cabinet minute recommended action in last year's budget?


Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —The claim made by the member is not correct. I take this opportunity, having now had the benefit of reading again the task force report—



The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Jagajaga! The Prime Minister has the call.


Mr HOWARD —to say that the claim mounted by the member for Lilley and others—that this report recommended urgent changes were needed to the family benefits system—is wrong. Let me read some paragraphs from the report, seeing that the member for Lilley is so fascinated by it.


Ms Macklin —It is your report!


Mr HOWARD —It is a very good report, and it reflects very well on the government. It is a very good report. Paragraph 80 reads in part as follows:

The government has introduced significant enhancements to arrangements assisting Australians to balance work and family life since 1996. The introduction of A New Tax System in 2000 brought lower personal tax rates and enhanced government transfers to families with dependent children. The government spends over $8.5 billion per annum on family tax benefit part A, which has strengthened financial support for low- and middle-income families. It spends over $2.5 billion per annum on family tax benefit part B, which has made the choice to have a parent at home caring for children full-time, particularly in children's early years, more viable for many families, including sole parents. Expenditure on childcare benefit has grown to over $1.3 billion per annum, improving the previously declining affordability of child care, particularly for lower income worker families.

Paragraph 81 goes on and gets even better. It says:

The government's reforms to the workplace relations system have increased flexibility for employers to provide and for employees to negotiate family friendly policies tailored to the individual workplace. The government has also expanded services for parents, particularly those returning to paid work, with a number of childcare places attracting Commonwealth financial assistance across all service types, increasing from 306,500 in 1996 to more than 500,000 in June 2001.

Importantly, paragraph 129 states:

the interdepartmental task force has concluded from Treasury modelling that tax arrangements and financial assistance for families are generally adequate in supporting ongoing choices by parents to stay at home or participate in the paid work force and overall do not favour dual income or single income families.

Of course, the report acknowledged that there were areas where further changes and enhancements could be made. That is always the case with any family benefits system. But the presentation of the opposition—that in some way this report said that a drastic overhaul was needed, that the system was falling apart and that families were being penalised as a result—is completely contrary to the thrust of the report.

For the benefit of the member for Lilley, might I remind him that I in fact made a presentation on the essence of this report at the Liberal Party convention in Adelaide last year. A summary of that presentation, with all the essential findings of the report, was made available to the media at the time. As the opposition will know, in preparing the last budget, after providing for necessary additional expenditure on defence and national security, it was decided that priority should be given to across-the-board tax relief. Any suggestion from the opposition that the government deliberately sat on this report, having the capacity to implement further enhancements while at the same time delivering tax cuts and extra spending on defence and national security, is completely wrong and one that I totally reject.