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Wednesday, 24 October 1984
Page: 2340

Senator MESSNER(4.03) —The Senate is debating a matter of public importance entitled:

The failure of the Government to stand up for Australian families.

One does not have to look far to be able to find confirmation of why the Government does not stand up for Australian families. First of all we need to look no further than the Australian Labor Party platform which was drawn up in July 1984, only a few months ago. In that platform we have a clear statement, for instance in the area of taxation, which provides that the ALP maintains the individual as the tax unit for personal income tax purposes and places emphasis on the social security system rather than the tax system for further family assistance. That is the stated aim of this Labor Government. Apparently it seeks to assist the family through social security measures rather than through tax measures. Recently in a 3AW radio broadcast the Treasurer, Mr Keating, stated:

Our policy is not in favour of the family unit as a tax paying unit.

The point we made is simply that this Government has no regard for the family. While it continues to impose higher and higher taxes on people it has no regard to the effect of that tax on families. It has the cop-out that it will look at matters from a social security point of view only. Families will always suffer as their incomes are eroded by the impact of government taxation. Let us take the Government at its word. Let us assume that it is sincere in saying that it will help the family through the social security system. Let us look at the point which my colleague Senator Baume raised in that context. He spoke of family allowances and the failure of the Government to introduce family allowances and increase them. I remind the Senate that it was the Liberal Government which introduced the system of family allowances in the first place in 1976. Since coming to power, this Government has done nothing to increase the amount of family allowances. This flies right in the face of what the Minister for Social Security (Senator Grimes) told us a few minutes ago. He said that in fact there had been increases. I find no evidence of that, having raised the question with the Parliamentary Library. Again, I can assume only that the Minister is misleading us as he has in so many other ways in this debate. The Minister also made the further assertion that during the period of the Liberal Government there had been no increases at all in family allowances. That is patently wrong as well. In fact, there were three increases in the period between the establishment of the system in 1976 and when we went out of office in March 1983. All these were substantial increases.

We know who stands up for the family, and it is not the Government. Hence the importance of this matter which has been so ably brought forward today by Senator Baume, the shadow Minister for Education who is from New South Wales. The truth of the matter is that the word 'family' is simply not in the vocabulary of the Australian Labor Party. Its documents are not sprinkled with references to the family rather they are sprinkled with references to individuals. This indicates the great difference between the Liberals and the Australian Labor Party. We stand up for the family; apparently the Labor Party has no regard for the family at all. It reminds me of the famous Economic Planning Advisory Council meeting in May when a question was raised by Mr Bruce McKenzie, President of the Australian Council of Social Service, who asked the Prime Minister, Mr Hawke, what he was going to do about the poor in the course of developing his policies relating to the accord. Mr Hawke said that the poor were irrelevant and that they had no part in this economy. It is clear that the Government has the same attitude about the family.

A few minutes ago the Minister referred to the new taxation proposals of the Opposition. Obviously he is so shocked by the impact of these proposals that he is using every piece of hysterical hyperbole to try to knock down the arguments in favour of them. Even more than that, he has resorted to misleading the Senate by saying that the Liberal and National parties have no concern for the needy who would not receive the benefit of the proposed child care rebate. I quote from our policy document where this point is specifically made:

Specifically, the Liberal and National Parties will:

continue to provide assistance to the range of child care centres and to provide additional subsidies to low income families and individuals with special needs;

support needy families with children with special problems (particular disabled children) with respite care for both short and long terms;

I know this is not within the intellectual purview of the Government because it simply cannot come to terms with this next point:

institute a pilot study into the provision of privately owned and operated child care centres to establish their feasibility to provide services to low income and regionally deprived families.

I know that Labor senators will not take that kind of suggestion on board because of their socialist principles. They are not interested in the fact that privately owned centres can indeed provide as good a service as any community based centre. The Minister will not accept that proposition. He has the temerity to argue against our policy in this area, having not even read it or looked into the question at all.

Let us turn to the positive elements of our policy in relation to taxation. I acknowledge, as do all senators on this side, that the family is the base of our society. It underpins all else in the community and should be supported by community groups and voluntary organisations within society. In this way we help each other and bring Australians along with a sense of mutual concern, underpinned by voluntary organisations. Our policy in relation to taxation is designed to put more equity into the system so that single income families have as much tax benefit as do double income families. Senator Giles interjected a little while ago with the astonishing comment that this proposal was somehow inequitable, but the fact is that the tax system provides a special benefit to two income families at the moment. It is that anomaly, that positive inequity in favour of two income families, that our policy seeks to correct. That is a basic change which the socialists cannot accept.

Senator Coleman —No wonder the economists cannot understand your taxation policies.

Senator MESSNER —We know that Senator Coleman has no understanding of these matters and therefore she cannot possibly reason her way through them. The point is that these are important elements in providing more underpinning for families to enable them to look after themselves and their individual members and to provide support in times of need. We see this as very important. There are any number of intra family problems that we know of today. Senator Peter Baume has referred to those in great detail. They include the problems of drug abuse, criminality, prostitution, sexual abuse within families, physical and mental abuse and domestic violence, runaways and the institutionalisation of children. All these are colossal difficulties arising from intra-family problems. Our policies aim to strengthen families so that they can better solve those problems through counselling, financial support and support of non-government organisations.

Where is the Government on these matters? What does it say about these things? The word 'family' is not in the Government's vocabulary or in its lexicon. ' Family' is not anywhere in its rhetoric because it does not understand or want to understand the problems that arise in families. In this context I mention particularly the importance of migrant families and the difficulties they have in adjusting to the Australian community. They see the commitment that we on this side have to the adjustment of taxation arrangements in favour of single income families.

In this context I wish to mention also the position of the aged. We have a commitment to develop community support services to aid the family and to assist those members of the family and the extended family who are aging. This is the single greatest challenge in this area at the moment. It is not a problem for 30 , 40 and 50 years hence, it is a problem that is with us now because people are living longer. The real problem arising is amongst those aged people, mainly over 80 years of age, who may be suffering from Alzheimers disease or reaching senility, and who require constant assistance. In the main, the family is providing that care. However, we see this Government attacking that family group through the assets test and the introduction of the savings tax on lump sum superannuation-the first foot in the door for the introduction of a wider capital gains tax after the election, if it is re-elected.

That is what the Government is on about-the destruction of the ability of families to look after themselves through the maintenance and saving of assets throughout their working lives. Families do that so that they can look after themselves rather than, as will happen under the Government's proposals, have their capacity to do so destroyed.

Senator Robert Ray —You are a second rate carpetbagger.

Senator MESSNER —Senator Robert Ray casts comments. I suppose we ought to answer one or two of them. Let us have this as a comment: Does Senator Robert Ray know that there was a 7.3 per cent decline in the relative position of the disposable incomes of the age pensioners, invalid pensioners and married unemployment beneficiaries, compared with the poverty line drawn in November 1982? I remind him that that was just before his Government came into office. There was a 7.3 per cent decline in the disposable incomes of the most poor. I refer him to the Brotherhood of St Laurence if he wants to check that information. That is what the Labor Government thinks of the family. It wants to destroy the family by undermining its economic balance and security, through the assets test, through the lump sum superannuation tax and by imposing special penalties on pensioners.

Not only that; contrary to all of Labor members' previous statements made when in opposition, the Government has imposed more taxation on pensioners. Looking at next year compared with 1982-83, when an average single pensioner with $20 a week extra income paid $20 a year tax, the figure under this generous Labor Government will rise to $109. That is what this Labor Government is all about. It is destroying people's capacity to look after themselves and, in the meantime , it is carrying on terrorist activities in the community. As a special case, I instance the assets test and the lump sum superannuation tax.