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Thursday, 13 May 2004
Page: 23264

Senator FORSHAW (2:43 PM) —My question is directed to Senator Patterson, the Minister for Family and Community Services. I ask: can the minister confirm her office signed off on published budget cameos which claim that a single-income family earning $35,000 a year and with two children, one under five, would receive $43.74 a week from 1 July when the reality is that they will get just $6.24 a week? Can the minister confirm that she agreed to the publication of these misleading cameos, in which her department's new family tax benefit debt offset of $600 was represented as a $23.07 weekly payment to families when it is only available at the end of each financial year? Minister, don't these grossly inaccurate claims about the weekly gains for Australian families in the budget justify Mr Wayne Swan's claims on the ABC's Lateline program that you are, and I quote him directly, a `plodder', `an insult to Australian families' and `incompetent'?

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) —I have always said that when Labor do not have any policies they resort to misinformation, misleading the public or personally slagging off people. That is all they are capable of. When you have Treasury documents—

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT —Order! When the Senate comes to order we will resume question time. We can do without interjections across the chamber.

Senator PATTERSON —When the shadow minister, Mr Swan, does not have a policy he either misleads people or he denigrates people. What he ought to do—and what Australian families expect him to do—is give them an alternative policy. Australian families are concerned about Labor ever getting their hands on the levers again because they see that they make super bloopers. They have Mr Latham, who did not know he was going to benefit from the budget, and Mr Crean, the pretender to the Treasury bench, who does not even know how many families there are.

No wonder you find the shadow minister resorting to denigrating people personally. Sticks and stones can break your bones but names will never hurt you. I thought Mr Swan would have learnt that by now. He has no policies. In this budget we have given $19.2 billion in direct assistance to families. We have assisted families, particularly those who are caring for people with disabilities, in a way that has never been done before. We have assisted young carers. We have assisted people who are deaf, with Auslan interpreting services. We have assisted families in a range of ways. Mr Swan needs to come up with some policies rather than personally denigrating me and other people, because he continues to misrepresent the facts and the details. He tells people that the Treasury papers are wrong. The papers were prepared by Treasury and they represent the budget.

Senator FORSHAW —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The minister did not answer the question but I appreciate the fact that she acknowledged the truth of Mr Swan's claims that she is a plodder, an insult to families and incompetent. Can the minister say whether Centrelink is going to assist families to provide an inflated estimate of their annual income so that they can receive the government's annual $600 payment in accordance with the tables supplied by the Treasurer which indicate that families will get an increased weekly payment.

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) —That is a ridiculous question. I would have thought Senator Forshaw was beyond the sort of denigration that Mr Swan engages in. He is not usually like that but these people who have to be spokespeople for the shadow minister take on his character and I think it diminishes them.