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Thursday, 29 March 2001
Page: 23337

Senator SANDY MACDONALD (2:04 PM) —My question is addressed to Senator Vanstone, the Minister for Family and Community Services. Minister, given that the federal government has committed $240 million to our Stronger Families and Communities Program, will you inform the Senate of the importance of supporting Australian families? Further, are you aware of any other policy commitments to Australian families and to Australian pensioners?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) —I thank Senator Macdonald for the question. We have, as Senator Macdonald identifies, allocated $240 million to the Stronger Families and Communities Program. That program focuses on early intervention, supporting family relationships, encouraging community leadership, volunteering and partnerships. And that is on top of a range of other initiatives that are particularly beneficial to Australian families. Our personal income tax cuts benefited millions of Australians, including millions and millions of mums and dads. Family tax benefit is helping 2.2 million families with over four million children. Our management of the economy also benefits Australian families, because when interest rates are low families benefit from lower mortgage repayments. Small and large businesses benefit by having lower costs and are able to employ more people and more securely employ them, and that is better for families.

However, Senator Macdonald, through you, Madam President, what do we see when we turn to the ALP and look at what Mr Swan, their spokesman, has to say? Get ready: he has made an announcement. Yesterday, Mr Swan identified for the world at large—stop the cameras and get ready—that `Labor has several initiatives in mind to strengthen family and community life in this country'. They have got them in mind! About nine months out from the election the best he can do is tell the electorate he has something in mind. I am glad there is something up there. Labor cannot keep going to conferences and saying, `We've got something in mind,' and scurrying away. Having something in mind does not help the electorate know what you are going to do. Having something in mind is not saying what you are going to do. It is not a commitment and it is not a policy; it is just saying that you are still thinking. In reality, it is just a stalling mechanism because Labor cannot think of anything.

But Mr Swan went further. He said that Labor was facing up to the real social policy challenges Australia will face in the next 50 years. It sounds interesting, it sounds promising; unfortunately, having made that announcement that it was facing up to the challenges, there was a full stop—not a hint of how we were going to face up to the challenges. Mr Swan has nothing to say about what Labor or he is going to do. Mr Swan claims that Labor will—and this is a good one—`monitor and strive to improve the wellbeing of families and their children'. Does he in his right mind think that any government should not make that commitment? Does he think it is news that the Labor Party would make that commitment? Does he think they have not loved families in the past? Does he imagine in his wildest dreams it would be acceptable for a government not to say that is a given? What the electorate wants to know is what Labor is going to do for Australian families.

I am afraid for Labor the time has come. Mr Beazley is very fond of having his photo taken with Labor icons such as Gough Whitlam, so he knows what `it's time' means. And it is time now. It is time for Mr Beazley to make commitments on costs. It is time for Mr Beazley and Mr Swan to put their policies on the table. It is time for a few policies on families, on tax, on health, on education. But in particular, it is time for Labor to tell Australian pensioners and allowees if they are going to put their money where their mouth is.

Labor says this group was short-changed by two per cent. We know that is not true. But if Labor actually believe what they say, are they going to make a commitment to increase pensions and allowances by two per cent? Is that what Labor are going to do? Are they going to make a multibillion dollar commitment to Australian pensioners and allowees? It is time for Labor to stop treating the electorate with the contempt that it does. It is time for Labor to put up or shut up.