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Wednesday, 11 May 1994
Page: 689


Senator MINCHIN (7.37 p.m.) —I want to take the opportunity of the adjournment debate to respond to some remarks made about me in the House of Representatives today by Mr Baldwin in an answer to a dorothy dixer he received in relation to the new parenting allowance. He referred to something called the `Minchin proposal' in relation to alternative ways of assisting families with children. Mr Baldwin took an example of a low income family on $300 a week, with two children under 13 years and living in private rental accommodation. He said that, under the government's new proposals, such a family would get $207 a week in family payments, rent assistance and parenting allowance and the Minchin proposal would involve a cut to that family of over $120 a week.

  That is a complete and utter misrepresentation of what I have been proposing and really is a case of comparing apples with pears, which of course this government does very often to its great discredit. I would like to take the opportunity just to put the lie to what Mr Baldwin has said today in trying to denigrate our attempts to bring fairness and equity to the government's programs. What I have been suggesting is that the government has an extraordinary mishmash of policies to assist families with children which the customers out there—the taxpayers—simply do not understand. One way of solving this problem is to come up with some sort of universal payment that everybody understands.

  To give some definition and dimension to what I am proposing, I have pointed out that the government in 1995-96, which is the next financial year when all these schemes come into effect, will be paying out over $12,500 billion on assistance to families with children. There happen to be approximately four million children under the age of 16 in Australia, so it does not take long to work out that, if we divide all of that payment, the $12,500 billion, by four million, we come up with an average—I stress average—of over $3,000 per child. If we take Mr Baldwin's example, we come, therefore, to a figure of $6,000 per annum for a family with two children, which works out a $115 a week. If we add the mention that he has made of rent assistance—that is $37 a week—we happen to come up with a figure of $152 a week.

  That is without taking account of the parenting allowance which he has just brought in and which, in the example he has given, is worth $54 a week extra. If we take the $54 from the $207 by which he said they would be better off, we come up with $153 a week that they would currently get from the government. Under my scheme, which I stress is based only on an average, they would get $152. So where are we at? The $120 that Mr Baldwin referred to has suddenly disappeared completely. This is what I mean by the government taking advantage of a comparison of apples and pears to come up with a figure that suits itself and which is totally fallacious and without any foundation.

  What has changed is that the government has belatedly recognised the difficulty that it has got itself into on the issue of choice, fairness and equity in relation to those mothers who wish to stay at home and care for their children, and our demand that they be given a fair and equal opportunity to do that. The government has belatedly recognised the level of support in the community for that sort of option and that sort of choice. It has brought in this parenting allowance which, in the example he gives—a family on $300 a week—will be worth an extra $54 a week for that family. But this new parenting allowance must really be seen in the context of it replacing the married couple unemployment benefit which used to be worth—or still is, until this takes effect, which is 14 months away—$260 a week to a married couple. So from now on, $132 a week will be paid to each of them.

  In effect, what the government is doing in bringing in the parenting allowance is a thimble and pea trick. It is taking it from unemployment benefits. In the case of unemployed couples, where a married couple used to get the married couple benefit, one will get the unemployment benefit of $132 a week and the other will get a parenting allowance. So it is really just changing the names of the benefits. Therefore, we are really dealing with quite different propositions and we are introducing a whole new element into this equation which did not exist when I first started talking about my proposition in relation to a universal benefit which would provide fairness, equity and choice to all families with children.

  In terms of developing my proposition and allowing it to take account of the government's new parenting allowance, the equation does change. Of course, there would be further funds available to assist low income families, particularly. I stress that the example of a universal benefit is only taken on the basis of an average. It should take some account of low income families, as the government is belatedly doing with its parenting allowance.

  I would certainly want to see any change to these arrangements having some bias towards low income families so that, having taken account of the parenting allowance, any change would not adversely affect a family on $300 a week. The family typified by Mr Baldwin would not be adversely affected, as I have demonstrated, in the absence of the government's new $54 a week benefit. When that comes into operation, I certainly would want to ensure that any universal benefit did not disadvantage the family that he refers to. I am sure that could be done without any difficulty and without increasing federal government expenditure.

  Mr Baldwin and others continue to ignore the discrimination that this government practises against mothers, depending on the nature of the care they seek for their children. The government's schemes still continue to discriminate adversely against a mother who sacrifices an income to stay at home to care for her children. Nothing that this government has done takes away from that discrimination or ends that discrimination, except in the case of very low income families. The poorest five per cent of Australian families with children are the only ones who benefit.

  A family on average earnings where the mother chooses to stay home to care for her children is still worse off than a family where the mother goes into the paid work force and puts her children in child care. That is completely and utterly unfair. The government should be neutral on this issue as to what form of care the mother chooses for her children and ensure that the mother is paid a benefit that is equal in each case and is not discriminatory against the mother who sacrifices an income to care for her children.

  In this adjournment debate, all I have sought to do is put the lie to what Mr Baldwin said when he referred to the `Minchin proposal'. He has completely distorted what I have proposed. He fails to take account of the change that is brought about by the parenting allowance being brought in in lieu of the married couple unemployment benefit. This, of course, changes the whole ball game but does not detract from the view I have put that the only way to achieve equity is to bring in a universal benefit.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.

Senate adjourned at 7.45 p.m.