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Monday, 23 February 1987
Page: 433


Senator NEWMAN(4.00) —I rise to support my colleague Senator Peter Baume on a matter of public importance regarding the failure of the Labor Government to take the necessary action to stop the decline in living standards of Australian families. This is a serious matter of great concern to a large part of the Australian population and I draw attention to the fact that the Hawke Government has not seen fit to provide a Minister to lead the debate from the Government side of this chamber. That is a disgrace, and it shows very clearly how this Government rates the problems and crises which Australian families are facing today.

In referring only briefly to Senator Zakharov's walk through history, to which Senator Powell just referred, I draw attention to the fact that the family income supplement which she claimed was introduced by the Hawke Government in fact was introduced and passed by the Fraser Government in the 1982 Budget. If Senator Zakharov is going to talk about history, she should stick to historical facts. I am glad to see that Senator Powell agrees that the living standards of Australian families have declined. At least that shows that we in the Opposition are not the only two parties that recognise that fact, even if the Government cannot. Of course, the Australian Democrats are in the rather advantageous position of being able to point out everything that is wrong but not ever having to be in a position of responsibility to set things right. We know that Labor has fluffed the hard decisions. We are ready to bite the bullet.

In 1985 the Sydney Morning Herald published a survey which showed that 70 per cent of 2,000 Australian families who were surveyed right across the nation rated the family as the source of their greatest satisfaction in life. I condemn the Hawke Government for failing those families. Let me list some of the ways in which those families have been condemned.


Senator Peter Baume —They think it is funny.


Senator NEWMAN —Thank you, Senator Peter Baume. Senators on the Government side of the House are laughing at this. We regard it as no laughing matter. Let me just list the ways in which this Government has failed Australian families and helped in the decline of their living standards. The family allowance and the dependent spouse rebate are the only financial support offered to traditional families. Together they amount to $15.97 for a spouse and $8.83 for each child in a two-child family. This obviously goes nowhere at all towards the actual cost of raising children. It is interesting to see the estimated cost for raising children today. Figures obtained from the Australian Institute of Family Studies show that recently it cost approximately $20 a week just to keep a two-year-old in a low income family. That rose to $50 to keep a teenager in a low income family. Those figures obviously would be slightly higher again for middle income families. But these are simply the survival costs. They are not the total costs as they do not include housing, transport, school fees, uniforms, child care, holidays or even medical and dental expenses. So much for the family allowance contributing to the cost of keeping children.

The Fraser Government increased the family allowance in 1982. Since that time the Hawke Government has allowed that allowance to decline by 24.5 per cent. The dependent spouse rebate has also declined by 24.5 per cent. As Senator Watson says, it really is a shame. People outside know it, even if the Government refuses to recognise it publicly. Let me draw attention to what the family allowance would be if it had been indexed to cope with inflation. The family allowance for two children, if indexed, would be about $18. It is under $13. That is where the Government is clearly letting these people down. The introduction of means testing for the payment of family allowance for 16-to 17-year-olds was introduced in the last Budget too, in case anybody has forgotten. Sixty thousand people have lost that payment from this year's Budget. It is these little sneaky ways and the fine print that people start to forget when they wonder why it is that it is getting harder and harder for families to cope. When one starts adding all these awful things together one starts to see why families are having so many difficulties. Australia now has a lower family allowance than almost any other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development country.

It is interesting to look at what has happened to costs that particularly impact on families in the last five years. From December 1981 to December 1986 food has gone up by 44.3 per cent, clothing by 42.4 per cent, housing by 48.7 per cent, transport by 56.3 per cent-and we all know what has happened to cars, petrol, public transport costs, repairs to vehicles and insurance, which is included in this 56.3 per cent increase-and education and child care by 52 per cent. Wages have not kept up. They have increased by 33.2 per cent over the same period. The upshot is that families are faced with ever increasing costs without the income to meet them. Families regard that family allowance as a very important part of their total income. Forty-nine per cent of all families, whether they are sole parent or otherwise, put the family allowance towards their children's clothing. So clearly the payment is not just icing on the cake; it is an integral part of their budgets.

Family allowances should be paid to all families with dependent children because they are the only recognition which families receive for the extra costs which they bear as parents. Should couples with children have to pay the same tax as couples without children when their capacity to pay is significantly reduced because of the number of children dependent on their income? No. Since 1976 all families have experienced a decline in their disposable income relative to single people and to couples without children. In 1976 an average wage earner with dependent spouse and children had 13 per cent more disposable income than a single childless person on the same income. He now has only 10 per cent more to care for three extra people. In March 1983 the proportion of average weekly earnings paid as tax was 17.5 per cent. It is now 20.6 per cent. Even after the promised second wave of tax cuts on 1 July, which now must be held to be in doubt, the proportion will be 20.5 per cent. A taxpayer with a family and additional income is at a considerable disadvantage. If he earns $200 a week and has no additional income, his tax liability is 78 per cent higher than if he and his wife each earned $100 a week. It is better for him to take a lower paid job or work less overtime and allow his wife to make up the difference.

The increased financial pressure on families is shown in the declining size of Australian families. In 1985 only about 20 per cent of families had three or more children. In 1969 the figure was 35 per cent. Over that period the total number of married couple families with dependent children rose by 300,000 while those without dependent children rose by 400,000. People are opting not to have children in this so-called lucky country.


Senator Giles —That has nothing whatsoever to do with income.


Senator NEWMAN —It has a lot to do with income. It is clear that an income which is adequate for a single person will not provide the same standard of living for a family. The Government is taking the contribution of those who do meet their family responsibilities for granted. It has made no effort to acknowledge, support or encourage their efforts. The Institute of Family Studies has stated:

If the Australian community sees itself as requiring a future, it needs to invest in its children. Families with children cannot and should not be expected to stand alone, to shoulder the entire burden of providing for the next generation out of their own resources.

The Government ignores that at its peril. Let us not forget some of the things that are worrying families too when they face having to see their children leave school and go on the dole. What is the Government going to do about that? Nothing. It has had four years and the situation gets worse and worse. We intend to introduce junior wage rates to the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission to assist employers to put on young people who, for their first year or so in employment, contribute very little to the productivity of the business. In the past children got jobs because it was financially advantageous to both parties for them to do so. Now they are condemned to the dole. The Labor Party might think that is fair on kids but certainly we on this side of the Parliament do not think so.

Women are being discouraged from being self-supporting. They are encouraged to stay on social security. The $250 fee per subject for women gradually trying to get their qualifications upgraded was introduced by Senator Ryan, a Labor Minister for Education. This Government sits by while a textile industry award prevents women from taking casual work to increase the family's income. This Government says that it cares about women, but we see what it really does. In this lucky country no child should be brought up in poverty, yet Bettina Cass said that 20 per cent of children are in families poor enough to receive means tested welfare payments. Many of those families are not getting those payments, either because they do not know about them or because they are too proud. I welcome the Government's decision to try to do something about maintenance for the 70 per cent of families whose maintenance orders are not being honoured, but it is dragging its feet somewhat. I wonder whether we will get the legislation through before the election or whether it will be put in the too hard file. It looks to me as though that is the way this Government is going with maintenance legislation. I urge the Government to hurry and get our children out of poverty and away from dependence upon a social welfare system which bodes poorly for their future.

It is not just sole parent families which are in poverty in this country. The Institute of Family Studies found that about 220,000 married couples as well as 164,000 sole parent families are in poverty. The poverty traps that have been mentioned by previous speakers are urgently in need of attention. We cannot allow people to continue to face the disincentive to getting off social security and into the work force of an effective marginal tax rate of 75 per cent to 80 per cent.

Housing is another area which is impacting very heavily on families in Australia today. The housing situation is directly related to the Government's action: Its mishandling of the economy, interest rates that are going through the roof and the abolition of the negative gearing arrangement which encouraged people to provide rental accommodation. This latter has increased the number of families on public housing waiting lists, the length of which is increasing. This Government does not care about how families are housed.

The August Budget hit hard on families with children. An example is given by the Institute of Family Studies which I would like to cite to illustrate my point. It compares the after tax situation of two families, each earning $40,000 per annum. Each family comprises a toolmaker earning $26,000, including overtime, and a part time secretary earning $14,000. Family A includes two children aged 16 years and 18 years, both students. Family B is childless. Before the changes in the last two Budgets family A was eligible for a concessional tax rebate and family allowance. Family A now has no concessional rebate and no family allowance. It has a higher Medicare levy but lower marginal tax rates. The net result is that, after the tax cuts are accounted for, family A will have $6.23 per week less disposable income and family B will have $10.77 more. So much for a government that is supposedly looking after this country and its families. There is no way this Government cares about families.

The coalition parties have already spelt out their policy overview concerning the matters I have raised. We are committed to ensuring that the interests of families are protected through the policy and decision-making process. We will not implement policies detrimental to families, some of which I have tried to outline. There are many more but time does not allow me to cover them. We say that government policies should ensure that the efforts of individuals who meet their family responsibilities are acknowledged and supported in practical ways. Our taxation, social welfare, health and education systems, together with other areas of government action, should provide encouragement rather than the reverse. I condemn the Hawke Government for its failure to take the necessary action to stop the reduction of the living standards of Australian families.