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Wednesday, 21 August 2002
Page: 3473

Senator HUTCHINS (3:34 PM) —Mr Deputy President, I take this opportunity to congratulate you on your election to this august post. As you would have heard in my question to Senator Vanstone, Mr Deputy President, one of the gutless wonders in the coalition wrote some sort of mealy-mouthed letter to one of their constituents, saying that the constituent was right about the fact that they should not have had their tax benefit taken away from them. Of course, that was one of these gutless wonders you see who do not think that people keep hold of documents and have them distributed. As Senator Faulkner outlined today, we had the name of the person who had been so harshly dealt with by the government and who was quite prepared to be identified, but the President advised that that should not occur.

Senator Knowles was quite interested in what the Labor position is in relation to the predicament that a number of people have found themselves in. I suppose it is probably fair to outline what the Labor Party's position is, and it is consistent with a statement made by one Senator Amanda Vanstone on 1 July 2001. The undertaking given by Senator Vanstone in July last year was this:

The Government has also decided that it would be easier for any family who still had an excess payment to have it recovered by adjusting their future payments, rather than taking it from their tax refund. This is because people may have earmarked their refund to use for specific things.

That was Senator Amanda Vanstone in July last year. As we know, there was an election pending sometime later in that year. That has changed, as we now have about 2½ to three years before a general election. So if Senator Knowles and the coalition want to know what the Labor position is, it is a position that was outlined by Senator Amanda Vanstone last year.

I was surprised at how heartless Senator Knowles appeared to be about the predicament some working families find themselves in when they are in the position of recovering. We have had an opportunity in the inquiry that Senator Knowles is conducting, along with me and Senators McLucas and Moore, to see how a lot of these families— particularly sole parent families—struggle to get back on their feet. They look forward to some sort of opportunity at the end of the taxation year to get an additional few dollars—to get that little boost in their incomes—to buy those things that they may have had to do without prior to being able to collect it. I was surprised this afternoon to hear Senator Knowles, who has always struck me as a fairly compassionate person, saying the usual sort of right-wing Liberal stuff that Senator Lightfoot and Senator Mason—the master race—are about to enunciate here. This is surprising to me, because it is blaming the victim.

I repeat: our position is similar to the one the government took to the election last year. However, that is not their position now. Once again, they want to blame the victims. They want to tax battling families, they want to attack struggling families—they want to blame the victim. I found it absolutely reprehensible to listen this afternoon to someone—Senator Knowles—whom, as I have said, I believe to be a compassionate person and who has heard the heartfelt stories of a number of people put to the committee that we are sitting on. Young people in particular can be put in some terrible predicaments which sometimes lead to their being forced to do without any sort of income, which leads to homelessness and sometimes to crime. It is a terrible thing that this government has done. It is absolutely reprehensible on its part and very uncompassionate. I think the government has its priorities wrong, particularly in attacking working, battling families.

Senator Faulkner —Mr Deputy President, I raise a point of order that I think the acting government whip, Senator Mason, will need to address. There has been no minister on duty for the last five minutes. I know Senator Mason is new to the job, but he has to lift his game.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —There is no point of order.