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Wednesday, 14 May 1997
Page: 3324


Senator COOK —My question is to the Minister for Social Security. Can you explain what has happened to your government's proposal for a single youth allowance and why there is no mention of it or provision for it in the budget? Earlier this year didn't you identify the Youth Allowance Bill as essential for passage in the autumn sittings? Didn't the Prime Minister single it out on 4 February as one of his priorities for this year? When is the Prime Minister going to step in and put an end to the endless turf battles between you and Senator Vanstone and your departments and bring forward a firm proposal on the youth allowance?


Senator NEWMAN —I am very gratified to see that Senator Cook is at last taking an interest in social security matters. It is not before time, I guess. It is a pity he is not prepared take an interest in some of the important initiatives in social security in this budget such as the carers' package—


Senator Faulkner —You don't know. You haven't got a clue, have you, as usual?


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Faulkner, stop shouting across the chamber.


Senator NEWMAN —Senator Faulkner seems to confuse loudness with impact and he certainly doesn't make much of that.


Senator Cook —Answer the question.


Senator NEWMAN —I am happy to answer the question. I am just drawing attention to the fact that there are some very good things in the social security budget that the opposition is not prepared to ask questions about, like the pension bonus plan and like the carers' package, for example.


Senator Faulkner —Answer the question—the youth allowance!


Senator NEWMAN —Madam President, if that bully would be quiet, I would let him hear what the answer is. I am very happy to talk about the youth allowance. We announced in the last budget that we wanted to move, in principle, to a youth allowance and that we would undergo substantial community consultations. They have been undertaken by both Senator Vanstone's department and mine and a lot of work has been going on to try to develop a common payment. It is a matter which is extremely complex.


Senator Bolkus —Complex, is it?


Senator NEWMAN —It is extremely complex and we have been working very closely together. Despite the allegations that Senator Cook might like to suggest, we have in fact been working amicably and cooperatively to try to achieve good outcomes for the young people of Australia.


Senator Bolkus —Why has it taken you so long?


Senator Vanstone —You never managed to do it.


Senator NEWMAN —No, you didn't even try. The welfare organisations want success in this area and we are working through with them some of the complexities which go to make up the system which we inherited from you.

There is a disincentive in the system now which discourages young people from study ing and makes it financially more advantageous to take unemployment benefits. There is a difficulty for young people who become sick to also move from one payment to another effectively. We are doing this carefully and in a consultative manner both within government and outside government. It is an important matter which should not be rushed.

I will point out to you a much simpler matter in this budget—the introduction of the parenting payment, which has aligned the partnered parents with the sole parents, partly to reduce the stigma which sole parents get from the sole parents pension and partly to make it simpler for people when they are transferring from a partnered arrangement to a sole parent situation and perhaps back to a partnered arrangement again.

I am glad to say the Council for the Single Mother and Her Child, which is intimately concerned with this issue, has endorsed the direction the government is taking, as has the Catholic Social Welfare Commission. These things are to be achieved if we possibly can, because people who need help need to know what help is there and be able to access it. When the system is complicated, complex and contradictory, as it has been in the area of youth payments, we need to try to do something meaningful about it. We are working on that.


Senator COOK —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, all of this was known at the time you designated this bill as urgent for passage in the autumn sittings. So nothing that you have told us is different from what you knew then. Given that, why shouldn't it now be rushed? Were you telling us the truth before when you designated it as urgent for passage or are you telling us the truth now when you say it should not be rushed? Can you also say, should you ever get around to developing this proposal, who will administer the proposal—DEETYA or DSS? Will it be means tested? Minister, will you please try to answer the question?


Senator NEWMAN —Did I really hear correctly? Was the question: will it be means tested? Of course, it will be means tested. You presided over a means tested social security system; so do we. It goes to people who need help. That is the most stupid question I have heard in here for a long time. Of course, this is an important measure and we are not going to muck it up by rushing it along when there are still issues that need to be perfectly addressed.