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Thursday, 30 April 1987
Page: 2268

Mr PORTER(1.05) —The motion of the honourable member for Moore (Mr Blanchard) calls on the Government to `pursue anti-poverty measures as a major priority of government programs' and `support the efforts of the community, trade unions and State governments to end poverty'. Let me say at the outset that I am delighted that the honourable member has brought this matter forward for debate, although I must admit that I am a little surprised that he has done so. The motion is a very clear and frank admission by the Government that it has failed to address the issue of poverty. It has always been considered that the Australian Labor Party, especially its left wing, was concerned about issues that impacted upon low and middle income earners. In effect the motion says: `We have failed and should now do something about it.' I say to the honourable member: `It is a bit late to recant; the damage has been done'. The motion is an unequivocal indictment of the Government's tax and welfare policies.

Labor has been in power for four years. The result has been an increase in the number of those whose income is below the poverty line. The Social Policy Research Unit recently released figures which indicated that the number of married couples, with dependent children, whose income was below the poverty line had increased by 55,000. The incomes of 55,000 more married couples with children has fallen below the poverty line as a result of four years of Labor government! That figure alone indicates the extent to which the Government has abandoned those for whom it pretends to be concerned-the underprivileged of society. Of course, the honourable member for Moore, being a good left winger, whilst admitting that his Government's policies have been a failure, in true socialist style seeks to redress the problem by pulling down the achievers in the community instead of giving assistance, encouragement and incentive to low income earners to enable them to lift their status.

In light of the increased number of people whose income has fallen below the poverty line as a result of Labor's policy, it is not surprising that some left wing members are now claiming that the Government has lost touch with ordinary Australians. There is no doubt that the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) has lost touch with middle Australia. He no longer has at heart the interests of middle and low income Australians. He is much more interested in strutting the international stage. The forgotten people see in the Prime Minister a man who is committed to promoting big government and big unions while trying to get on side with big business. Going down the line, is there anyone in the Parliament who would suggest that the Treasurer (Mr Keating) is a man who has any interest in the middle and low income earners of Australia? The Treasurer's own electorate has a large proportion of middle and low income earners but he rarely goes there. Even after the recent by-election in New South Wales he had the gall to hold a Press conference commenting on the results. Did he hold it in his electorate? Oh no, he held it in Canberra. In other words, he reacted to the criticism that he had lost touch with ordinary Australians, and would not go to his electorate, by staying away from the electorate. He has thumbed his nose at middle Australia, just as he has thumbed his nose at the Taxation Commissioner.

Labor no longer represents middle Australia; it no longer represents the Australian family. It has lost touch with reality. The Government tries to blame all of our problems on some international trading crisis but the truth is that the real cause of the difficulties facing Australian families, the real reason there are more people now whose income falls below the poverty line than there were four years ago when the Government came to office, is the Government's economic mismanagement and crippling tax policy. The Hawke Labor Government has clearly indicated that it is a big spending government. Under Labor there has been a massive increase in the level of expenditure, a massive increase in the deficit and a resulting massive increase in taxes and charges. The result of this policy was obvious and predictable. We have been hit by increased inflation, increased interest rates, higher unemployment and economic recession. The increases which have occurred in taxes and charges, and in the cost of living, have had a disastrous impact on Australian families. The average family, especially that with children, is being squeezed as it has never been squeezed before. It is finding it harder and harder to make ends meet. How often does one hear such comments as: `I am paid fortnightly and it is getting harder to make it stretch for two weeks'. Single income, PAYE, families are finding it especially difficult to make ends meet. They are finding it impossible to save and damned hard to ensure that they can afford essentials, let alone any luxuries. The squeeze which this Government is applying to the family budget is not only having an economic impact on the family. It is also tearing at the heart of the social fabric of our society. Too many families with young children are faced with the economic consequences of being unable to maintain their standard of living on a single income. More and more mothers bringing up young children are being forced to return to the work force. Such a decision is no longer a matter of choice. Parents are having to face unparalleled financial stress, worry and uncertainty. Too often children are suffering because of the tension at home and because mum has been forced to return to the work force where she or her spouse would prefer to remain at home caring for the children. Family life is the very backbone of our Australian community but it is quite clear that families do not receive the special assistance that they deserve. They have not been treated with fairness and equity by this Government.

Lest it be suggested that I am overstating the case, or in some way exaggerating the impact on the family of this Government's economic policies, let me just point out some of the cost increases which the average Australian family has been forced to suffer over the last two or three years. Under the Hawke Labor Government the cost of health care has risen by around 50 per cent for those maintaining the same health cover as they had before Medicare.

Ms McHugh —They do not need it.

Mr PORTER —My God! Is the honourable member aware of the 100,000 Australians who are waiting to get into a public hospital when she says they do not need to take out health insurance cover? Having such coverage is the only way to guarantee access to a hospital bed in this country when one needs it. Labor's health policy has crucified low income earners and the underprivileged, who have never been worse off.

The average monthly mortgage repayment of a family has increased by $152 a month, from $508 to $660. In three years the cost of food has increased by 29 per cent, the cost of clothing by 28 per cent, the cost of transport by 30 per cent and the cost of recreation and education by 25 per cent. Heaven forbid if one needs to replace the family car.

Mr Donald Cameron —It has gone up by 50 per cent.

Mr PORTER —That is so. For example, the cost of a Ford Laser-not an extravagant car I would have thought for an Australian family-has, under this Government, risen from $8,000 to $12,000.

The irony of it all is that before Labor was elected to office in 1983 the present Prime Minister said in his policy speech to the nation that he was going to improve the lot of the Australian family. He promised, as one of the major points of Labor's tax reform, to increase `the spouse rebate and sole parent rebate, resulting in additional tax cuts of $2 a week to families'. Did the Prime Minister meet that commitment? The honourable member for Moreton (Mr Donald Cameron) may well laugh. Of course the Prime Minister did not. In four years the dependent spouse rebate has not changed in nominal terms. Rather, after inflation, it has declined by 25 per cent. In order to make it absolutely clear that the concerns that the Liberal Party is expressing about the family are fairly widely held, I need only refer to a union pamphlet that I was sent recently by the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association in which the following appears under the heading `Erosion of Benefits':

The spouse rebate is a taxation concession to a worker with a dependent spouse. It is worth $16 per week if there are no dependent children, and $20 per week if there are dependent children.

Over the years, inflation has eroded the value of the rebate.

In his election speech in 1983-

this is the union talking-

Bob Hawke promised a substantial increase in the spouse rebate. This promise has never been fulfilled.

The Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association sets out a table explaining the extent of the loss of income suffered by families under the Hawke Government, and states:

The figures show the larger the family the greater has been its financial loss.

Low income families have suffered the most from the decline in the value of family allowances.

It is little wonder that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) has seen the need to create a shadow Ministry and appoint me as spokesman for the family in order to focus attention on the serious impact that this Government's policies have had on the family. In addition, I will be ensuring that the Australian public is informed of the Opposition's policies for reversing Labor's attack on the family. Unlike Labor, we will promote policies which discriminate positively in favour of families.

I have indicated the extent of the cost increases that face Australian families as a result of this Government's inflationary policies. Let me turn now to the impact on Australian families of the Government's taxes and charges. Between 1983 and February 1987 international oil prices dropped by 38 per cent. Over the same period the average retail price of petrol in the United States of America dropped by 36 per cent, from around US30c a litre to US22c a litre. In the same period the Hawke Labor Government increased its fuel excise rate by 204 per cent, from over 6c a litre to nearly 19c a litre. In other words, Australian families are having to pay over 11c a litre more for petrol as a direct consequence of this Government's high taxing policy.

The Government's taxing policy has also had a devastating impact on the cost of housing. No doubt the left wing honourable member for Moore was delighted when the Government introduced a capital gains tax and moved to discontinue negative gearing. He would have been delighted because the Left hates those who have worked hard and put some money aside, especially those who have invested in real estate. But the impact of Labor's short-sighted capital gains tax and the ending of negative gearing has resulted in a flight of capital from investment in the building of residential homes and home units. As investors have stopped investing in residential accommodation there has been a decline in the availability of such accommodation for tenants. The obvious consequence has been that the real cost of providing rental premises has risen and demand is now in excess of the supply. These two factors have resulted in a substantial rise in rental costs. In other words, families who cannot afford to buy their own home are now faced with increased rental payments. Those who cannot afford these are forced to join longer and longer public housing waiting lists. There are now 160,000 Australian families waiting to be provided with public housing, more than ever before. More than 60,000 people have been added to public housing waiting lists during the period of office of this Labor Government. The Prime Minister--

Ms McHugh —How much money would you--

Mr PORTER —I beg the honourable member's pardon?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Phillip will have an opportunity to speak later. In the meantime, the honourable member for Barker might address his remarks to the Chair.

Mr PORTER —The Government's income tax policies also have impacted upon families. For example, a single income family receiving average weekly earnings, one that would have paid $65 a week in PAYE tax in March 1983, now contributes $102 a week and will continue to do so after the so-called tax cuts of 1 July have occurred. The Opposition will not stand by and allow this attack on the living standards of families to continue. Our policies will discriminate positively in favour of families. Our tax and welfare policies will involve a co-ordinated approach which will address the needs of the family and overcome the burdens which this Government has placed upon them. Unlike Labor we will not cut down the achievers and bring them back to the field. Rather, we will assist the middle and low income earners to obtain a high standard of living.

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