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Wednesday, 6 May 1987
Page: 2691

Mr GOODLUCK —I direct my question to the Prime Minister. I refer again to the Prime Minister's professed concern for the low income families of Australia, in particular the staggering 2.6 million Australians who now live below the poverty line. Can the Prime Minister explain to the House the principles of social justice involved in the position of single income families on half average weekly earnings who paid $9.35 tax per week under the Fraser Government, who now pay $15.50 tax per week under the Hawke Government and who, after the Keating tax reforms are implemented on 1 July, will be paying $16.46 tax per week?

Mr HAWKE —Let me say at the outset that I do not accept, without verification, any figures that come from the honourable member.

Mr Howard —Withdraw that. That is offensive.

Mr HAWKE —Why should I withdraw it?

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The Prime Minister may not cast aspersions on another member of the House.

Mr HAWKE —Madam Speaker, I ask for your indulgence. Would you hear me on your observation? I do not have to go to the honesty or integrity of the honourable member to say that I will not accept figures that he puts forward. I am not going to his integrity.

Madam SPEAKER —I accept the explanation.

Mr HAWKE —Thank you, Madam Speaker. This Government will stand on any platform, now or at any time between now and the election, if the honourable member wants a comparison of the record of this Government with the record of the Fraser-Howard Government. As far as the position of low income people in this country is concerned, we share what I accept is a very legitimate concern of the honourable member who asked the question. I am not in any sense saying that the honourable gentleman does not have a concern for low income people in this country. I accept that completely; I am not questioning it in any way whatsoever. What I am saying is that since we came to office two periods can be characterised in economic terms. The first was when we had to save this country from economic disaster that our predecessors had inflicted on us. The best thing that we could do-we said it would be the best thing we could do-was to get people back to work. I remind the honourable gentleman that the last 12 months of the Government of which he was a part saw an additional quarter of a million Australians thrown on to the unemployment scrap-heap. The best thing this Government could do for the people of Australia was to restore employment growth. I said that we would create half a million new jobs in our first three years of office, and a whole gaggle of honourable members opposite poured scorn upon us. In the restoration of employment growth-again I would think that the honourable member would share our pride in this matter-over three-quarters of a million Australians have now been put back into employment. That is the best thing we can do to start to restore the fortunes of the people in this country.

However, we did not leave the matter at that macroeconomic level. In those circumstances we had to bring down the very substantial Budget deficit which represented 5 per cent of gross domestic product. There would be very high interest rates if we did not bring it down, and the very people about whom the honourable gentleman is talking would be the ones who suffered most. As we went about the tough task of reducing the Budget deficit, we could not simply give widespread overall hand outs. What we have done-this has been particularly true in the last two years-is target assistance to those most in need.

By way of example for the honourable member in the area of welfare payments, I remind him of this fact: Under this Government the family income supplement and additional pension benefit have been increased by 70 per cent, and that action alone has assisted 447,000 low income families. I am trying to say to the honourable gentleman that in the context of having first of all to rescue this economy from the devastation inflicted upon it by our predecessors and in the situation in which we lost $9 billion in national economic capacity, we have sought to target special measures to those most in need. I can assure the honourable gentleman that those concerns will be uppermost, both in the May statement and in the Budget that we bring down later this year.

Mr Goodluck —Nobody can understand why the increase--

Madam SPEAKER —The honourable member is not entitled to ask a supplementary question.