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Wednesday, 24 October 1984
Page: 2284

Senator HAINES(10.13) —At the adjournment of the debate last night I was discussing, or was about to discuss, a number of ways in which the Labor Government has reneged on various promises it made to the electorate, not least to families with dependent children. In the time available to me this morning, I shall seek to canvass a number of those areas. Anybody who passes even the most cursory glance at the 1984-85 Budget emanating from the Labor Government will be aware that the Government, intentionally or not, is making families with dependent children the new poor in Australia. The 1984-85 Budget made no real attempt to address the problems of families. Family allowances were not increased, families of unemployed breadwinners are still not eligible for rental supplements, and the unemployed have been sidelined with more short term bandaids under the community employment program.

There is no evidence of any strategy to develop long term jobs and to create new skills and work opportunities where jobs are lost through automation, and there is no attempt to direct absolutely assistance to families with dependent children. When the Australian Council of Social Service made these points rather strongly through the newspapers, with the help of the Brotherhood of St Laurence , the response of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) was to launch into a vicious personal attack on ACOSS staff. The Council had no right of reply, and not only was the Prime Minister's credibility questioned by his attack, but his rationale in so doing was also called into question. Mr Hawke decided that, instead of answering the criticisms of ACOSS, he would intimidate the people who fight for Australian families and who attempt to get people such as the Prime Minister to address the mounting problems of the three million Australians who are below the poverty line in a better way than was sought to be done in the 1984 Budget. He decided deliberately and cynically not to do this. Instead, he took the tack that the poor should continue to be sacrificed to what is known as the trickle down theory; that is, the argument that if the rich are well off some of the benefits will ultimately flow to those who are in need.

The reality, of course, is that those who are without will continue to miss out on the things that they need. To maintain the accord among the haves, the Prime Minister's 1984 Budget contained a number of significant anomalies. For example, a tax cut of $2.79 a week was provided to people with an income of $100,000. That compares rather poorly with the fact that pensions were increased by a mere $2.50 and the fact that we still have three-quarters of a million children in families living below the poverty line.

I think the most cynical move undertaken by the Government in this Budget was its deliberate decision to implement across the board tax cuts in lieu of directing more useful assistance to families with dependent children. The Government set aside $1 billion for across the board tax cuts. In doing that it said it was skewing them-indeed, it did skew them-to those on the lowest incomes . The maximum tax cut that goes to a taxpayer is of the order of $7.60 a week. That works out to a saving of $390-odd a year to a family with a single bread winner and two dependent children. Had that $1 billion been spent on increasing family allowances, family allowances would have doubled and that same family with a single breadwinner and two dependent children would have benefited by an increase of $55 a month or $660 a year. In addition, of course, there would have been the benefit accruing from the fact that rather than the small amount of $7- odd appearing on a weekly basis in the pay packet of somebody who, wittingly or not, could fritter it away on small things such as an extra couple of packets of cigarettes or a few extra cans of beer after work with the boys, the $55 coming in a lump sum each month, generally to the mother, would have gone directly to assisting the needs of the children in that family. But the Government chose not to do it. It chose to placate the unions, to keep big business happy and to sacrifice people on low incomes and, in particular, families with dependent children.

Mind you, Mr President, the policies on families as announced by the Liberal Party Opposition are not any big deal for that group of people either. They do not address the needs of low to middle income earners. The major elements in the Opposition's policy that I have been able to work out are related to the dependent spouse rebate, on which it always has placed a great emphasis, and on income splitting-something that the Liberal Party drags out only when it is in opposition. Both the dependent spouse rebate and the concept of income splitting assist more people on middle to high incomes than people on low incomes. All studies done by the Institute of Family Studies and others indicate that empirically this is not in doubt. Most of the money for the dependent spouse rebate, for example, goes to people on greater than average weekly earnings. The dependent spouse rebate is of very little help to people on low incomes simply because in the majority of cases both spouses have to work and therefore do not qualify for the rebate. Of course, the rebate does not help at all people who are bringing up children single handedly because they do not have a spouse for whom to claim it either. It would appear then that as far as the Opposition's policies on families are concerned, low income families with dependent children will have nothing to gain and their situation will not be improved any more than it would be by Australian Labor Party policies.

Labor's reneging on its policies in respect of low income earners is not the only way in which families with children have been affected by the Labor Government in the last 18 months. There is not enough funding for assistance for families in emotional or psychological need any more than there is for families in financial need. There is not enough money apparently for a sufficient number of counsellors in the family law courts. There certainly does not seem to be enough money to provide an adequate number of judges so that the business of those courts can be dealt with in a reasonably short space of time.

Funding for emergency shelters and services for women and children is patently inadequate. In my State of South Australia the staff of at least one women's shelter is feeling particularly insecure. Staff members have only ever been paid correctly this year. They have no access to a superannuation scheme and no real job security. I have been informed that in Tasmania, the State from which the Minister for Social Security (Senator Grimes) comes, between lack of Federal funding and lack of interest by the State Liberal Government, there is no women' s advisory service, no crisis care service for rape or domestic violence, no ground floor or shopfront women's information service which at least even Queensland has, no working women's centre, no women's health centre, no women's telephone information service and no migrant women's centre. In addition, Tasmania has inadequate child care services and outdated laws regarding rape, sexual offences and domestic violence. Indeed, the only thing that Tasmania does have, which is the Women's Place, looks like dissolving into a little heap some time in October because it is then that community employment program funding will run out. This Government has done nothing to keep its promises to women, children and people in need.

This is not the only area in which this Labor Government has shown its true colours. A lot of us thought that the Fraser Government would have to take the prize for lack of commitment to research and development, particularly in the areas of science and technology. However, recent information regarding Government funding for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, for example, indicates that the Labor Government could soon be taking that guernsey away from it. Senator Mason has already expressed the Australian Democrats' concern about Budget cuts in respect of the CSIRO. Following those cuts there was a report in the Australian newspaper suggesting that the CSIRO will have to close some of its areas of research. The report stated:

The Government, as it has already made clear to the universities, no longer intends to be the main funder of research, and other sources of support must be found.

Instead of crying out for more money, the organisation-

that is the CSIRO-

should approach industry for funding for specific projects. Already the agricultural and mining sectors provide the organisation with $40m of specific research-linked funding. Why doesn't the CSIRO go out to manufacturing industry for a similar amount to fund projects the sector really needs?

The article continued:

Many also see the Budget cuts as the only thing that will force the CSIRO to make some hard decisions-not just to prune some research programs but to make far reaching decisions on its future direction. Instead of piecemeal cuts across all areas it is a chance to actually close down whole research programs and even entire divisions.

That statement was made as if closing down whole research programs and even entire divisions is something praiseworthy or to be desired. In fact, in many areas it is unrealistic to do so. The reasons or rationalisations for this argument, varied though they are, are often quite impractical. For example, the areas that have been specified for cutbacks or closure include the Centre for Irrigation Research, and the Fisheries Research, Radiophysics and Human Nutrition Divisions and various reasons have been proposed for axing them. Among the more impractical was the axing of the radio astronomy area. No university can bear the burden of manning a $25m telescope without government assistance. Similarly, deep water fishing research is a matter solely, if the Senate will pardon the pun, for the Federal Government and not for States.

The Democrats are particularly concerned-I know that this concern is shared by the scientists involved-at the suggestion regarding human nutrition. The argument has been put forward that this is well outside the CSIRO's normal field . On the basis of that argument CSIRO would never have moved into computing research or any other high technology area and would still be basically a primary industry research organisation; and I suggest, with respect, that some of the excellent work that has come out of CSIRO outside those areas would not have been done and would have been sorely missed. Moreover, the article in the Australian and the Government's attitude completely ignore the fact that the CSIRO Division of Human Nutrition has recently had an extremely favourable review by an independent committee containing two overseas authorities and two Australian professors. They will obviously be disappointed to learn, having put out that review, that the Government is going to cut back one of the most effective areas in CSIRO. I would have thought that with a government that proclaimed its commitment to research and development and to the needs of human beings the cutting back of funding in the human nutrition area would have been outside-

Senator Button —The Government has not done that.

Senator HAINES —Certainly there are fears in CSIRO and in the community generally that Human Nutrition will be one of the areas to have its funding cut, and I am pleased to hear what the Minister had to say on that. Certainly that area has suffered from lack of funding in the past, as was evident from the fact that one section of the Human Nutrition Division in CSIRO had to apply to the United States for funding to entertain some research on trace element deprivation in isolated Aboriginal children.

Finally, I come to preventative health care and non-traditional medicine, something which interests a large number of people in this country. The British Medical Association has recently published the results of a five-year study on nutritional control of migraines in children. The BMA, like the Australian Medical Association, is hardly one of the more trendy organisations and if it argues that certain illnesses can be controlled by the correct intake of food I think we have to listen to it. At the end of that five-year study it worked out a quite comprehensive list of the sorts of foods that children, that is, people under the age of 16, should not consume if they are migraine sufferers or tend in any way to the symptoms that a migraine sufferer has. We know too that dietary control for children who are hyperactive can be of tremendous assistance to them.

One wonders why, then, the Government and the previous Government for years and under a succession of Ministers for Health have tried to sweep under the carpet the status of orthomolecular medicine, which is really only an extension of dietary control of certain illnesses. In one more prominent area it concerns psychiatric disturbances and the way in which these can be mitigated, if not cured, by proper attention to diet. What seems to be worrying governments of one sort or another is that before these sorts of dietary controls can be put into place a number of pathology tests have to be done, and governments of all persuasions over the last few years have gone into spasms over the cost of pathology testing and screening for other illnesses, including, extraordinarily enough, breast cancer.

A number of medical practitioners in this country who practise orthomolecular medicine have been attempting to get from governments a definition of what governments and in particular the Commonwealth Department of Health see orthomolecular medicine as being. They need that definition if they are to be able adequately to combat the hurdles that the Commonwealth Department of Health and the governments are throwing up in the way of development in this area. The debate has been going on since at least 1980 and we seem to be no further advanced in accepting this as at least a potentially valuable contribution to the health care of the nation. This is not withstanding that orthomolecular medicine has the support of no less a personage than Dr Linus Pauling, a twice winner of the Nobel Prize and a pioneer in orthomolecular research.

Senator Cook —He is a great man.

Senator HAINES —He is a very great man. His opinion is not one to be shrugged aside lightly. I recall writing to the Minister for Health earlier this year complaining about the treatment that proponents of orthomolecular medicine were receiving. I cited another great man, Dr Semmelweis, who, a hundred or so years ago, was rendered insane by the treatment his more traditional colleagues gave him when he made the 'outrageous' suggestion that diseases were not passed on by a miasma which passed over a particular hospital but by medical practitioners and surgeons in particular moving from patient to patient carrying the infection with them. Whilst nobody needs to support every piece of quackery or odd innovation that appears in the health field, at least we should remember the past and look with some concern, interest and certainly an open mind, at areas of medicine outside the drug related areas which may well assist the health of all Australians.