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Tuesday, 28 April 1987
Page: 2081

Mr BILNEY(3.45) —I would like to remind the House that what we are debating in this matter of public importance brought down by the Opposition is the living standards of Australian families. I think it is worth while to remind the House and the Opposition that the greatest determinant of the living standard of any Australian family is whether a member or members of a family have jobs. In accordance with the promises we made before 1983, and which we have since honoured, we have created over half a million extra jobs in the time that we have been in government. This financial year alone about 127,000 extra jobs have been created. Every one of those jobs represents a family whose welfare has been greatly improved over the situation that applied beforehand.

Let us compare that with the record of those who presume to lecture us about living standards in Australia. In the last year of the Fraser Government over a quarter of a million jobs were lost. Over a quarter of a million people had to go on social welfare as a result of the policies followed by that Government. Under the Liberal Howard-Fraser Government, that brought unemployment to around three-quarters of a million people. The unemployment rate was in double digits-around 11 per cent. As a result, I have one statistic that I am sure no honourable member opposite wants to hear. The percentage of children who were reliant on social security payments under the Fraser Government tripled from 7 per cent to around 20 per cent; yet honourable members opposite presume to tell us what we should do about the living standards of the Australian family.

I really think they have an enormous hide to bring forward a matter of public importance of this kind, particularly when, as the Minister for Social Security (Mr Howe) has pointed out, they have not advocated one single measure-I have not heard one in the entire debate-that they would take to improve those living standards. In fact, listening to the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Carlton) and the honourable member for Bruce (Mr Aldred) one would think that family welfare was solely a matter of taxation, industrial relations and bankruptcy statistics. The fact that they focus on these things rather than on the important aspects of family welfare, which I will now mention, just shows the tunnel vision of the Opposition and the way in which it is totally out of touch with what is happening to families in Australia.

I would like to focus on four key aspects of family welfare which the Opposition members simply did not mention. The first relates to assistance with child care. In the view of the Opposition, it is almost as though families do not contain children and that children are not legitimate members of families. In the view of this Government they are and the policies that we have followed have given effect to that belief. The second aspect I would like to mention is assistance with facilities for aged care; the third aspect is assistance for those family members with disabilities; and the final aspect is assistance to families to obtain housing.

As far as the first aspect is concerned, it is an important part of our belief that an indispensable facility available to people who need to work, to single parents who need to work, and to families who need to work, is affordable and decent child care. This Government has done more in the past four years to provide affordable child care than all previous governments have achieved since Federation. That is a very substantial claim that I do not make lightly. Because we have recognised the importance of child care to enable children to be developed and to enable women to participate fully in the community, we have given it a high priority. We have more than doubled the number of child care places. There was one government-funded child care centre in my electorate when the Hawke Government came to office and there are now seven. As a consequence, the growth in places available has increased dramatically. Nationwide we have increased the number of long day care places from 42,000, which existed when we came to government, to 85,000 in June 1986, and many more have been approved since. Since that time about 50,000 additional child care places have been approved. We have not concentrated on just long day care; we have also concentrated on occasional care, family day care and outside school hours care. By June next year we will have created a total of 106,000 places which is one and a half times more than were available when we came to office. That means that another 85,000 children will have access to government funded child care services. I remind the House that those services are very substantially subsidised by the Government.

It costs something like $100 a week for a child in care but under the subsidy scheme, which we have greatly expanded, the amount which parents pay is often considerably less and in some cases, for those most disadvantaged, the cost is something like $10 a week. That is an extremely significant achievement for the welfare of Australian families particularly as it has taken place in a period of very considerable economic restraint.

The second matter I would like to mention is the assistance we have provided to families through aged care services. Again it is as though the Opposition does not believe that elderly citizens are part of families. This Government happens to believe they are and it has given them very high priority. When we came to government the Opposition almost solely devoted expenditure to the 7 per cent of people who are in nursing homes. Those people are, of course, a very important segment of the community and we have maintained, and indeed increased, that funding to such an extent that we now spend over $1 billion-$1,100m-on supporting people in nursing homes. However, we have looked wider, at the great majority of elderly people who prefer to remain in their own homes. It is those people on whom we have attempted to focus attention through initiatives such as our home and community care program. Under the home and community care program we have sought to provide a better and wider range of domiciliary care services so that elderly people can continue to live in their own homes which most of them want to do. As a result of that program today we subsidise about twice as many home care services as were available in the year when we came to government. We have increased expenditure from just on $50m to over $130m this year and we are committed to continuing that program at an increasing rate.

We have also increased the range of services through hostel subsidies which are a less expensive form of aged care but one which many people prefer. Emphasis has continued on capital funding and on a number of other aspects, particularly assessment programs, to make sure that people who take up places in nursing homes really need to be there. That is the second area in which the record of this Government is much better than that of those who presume to tell it what it should be doing about family living standards.

The third area-this is one of the most crying needs that we inherited-is a better deal for people who are looking after people with disabilities. No group's living standards in Australia are so seriously depressed as the group of people who take up the obligation to look after in their own homes family members who have a disability. In my view this can have more of an impact on their living standards than any other single event that can befall them. That is why the Government established the handicapped program review which discovered what the needs are and what should best be done about them; that is why it has made an absolute priority of improving the services to those with disabilities. We are just at the beginning of that program but we have spent something like $20m on demonstration programs which tell us how in future we can do better regarding people with disabilities.

Lastly, I will mention very briefly the assistance we have provided to people requiring housing. We have introduced the first home owners scheme which, for example, has had a great impact in the area I come from-the electorate of Kingston. Over 2,000 people in my electorate have received subsidies to enable them to get a roof over their heads and, hence, to achieve a decent standard of living. I do not agree for one minute that the Opposition ought to lecture this Government considering the enviable record it has had in increasing families' living standards compared with the appalling record that it had.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired. The time for the debate has concluded.