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Monday, 11 May 1987
Page: 2894


Mrs DARLING —I direct my question to the Minister for Social Security. I refer the Minister to the vaunted cuts of more than $2 billion in social security related expenditure proposed by the Centre of Policy Studies at Monash University. What would be the implications of such expenditure cuts if they were, in fact, implemented?


Mr HOWE —I thank the honourable member for a very pertinent question. I think that almost all national commentators who reflect on this Parliament have noticed that the Opposition that currently sits opposite is probably the weakest we have seen in the history of the Commonwealth. The Government for some time has made no secret of the fact that there would be a mini-Budget statement in May and that it would involve some very tough measures. It has not been beyond the Opposition to do some barracking in relation to that. Essentially, that is all it is; only barracking. When we ask the Opposition rather more specifically for some coaching in relation to the particular areas that it regards as requiring attention and to what extent it would want to go, we get absolute silence. We get no specific suggestions. We have to look outside the Parliament at some of the surrogates for the Opposition. One area is certainly the Centre of Policy Studies, which has been carrying out some major work in terms of how it would seek to advise the Opposition-an Opposition that never makes its own position clear, for example, about taxation-to achieve a 30 per cent taxation rate. It says that to achieve that would require about $12 billion of cuts.

When most commentators on national Bud- gets talk about cuts they talk about the area of social expenditure and the social wage. Clearly the highest priority talked about is the abolition of Medicare, and it is said that that would save about $7 billion; that sounds a bit like abolishing the health system. In terms of social security, a figure of more than $2 billion of savings is proposed. Interestingly, the approach is to target those groups that one might regard as the poorest groups existing within the social security system. It is one thing to talk about the young unemployed, but a cut of $400m is also proposed. That would be achieved by reducing the level of unemployment benefit by 25 per cent after six months. That proposition would seek to attack the already low living standards of people, many of them aged people in their late 50s and early 60s, to achieve a quite significant and vulgar reduction of those people's living standards. The Centre of Policy Studies, taking something of a cue from the National Party, believes that the other major group that needs to be assaulted is sole parents.


Mr Ian Cameron —Hear, hear!


Mr HOWE —The honourable member for Maranoa says: `Oh, yes'. His attitude to sole parents is on record. He said in this place that the married people get sick and tired of what is going on. He said: `I have four children and I am sick and tired of working my guts out'-not that we have noticed-`and paying taxes which are used to support unmarried mothers'.


Mr Reith —I take a point of order, Madam Speaker. This is the second long-winded answer we have had from this Minister during Question Time today. It is an abuse of Question Time and I seek your direction--


Madam SPEAKER —Order! I find the Minister in order.


Mr HOWE —So the honourable member for Maranoa singles out sole parents, who every commentator on welfare in this country says represent the poorest group. That group is targeted by the Centre of Policy Studies. It wants $340m taken out of the payments made to sole parents. Similarly, it considers the possibility of the abolition of family allowances, a program of considerable significance to low income families, as well as a number of other changes. It seems to me that it is one thing for an academic organisation to put out these kinds of proposals on behalf of various business organisations that seem very reluctant to pay the bill, but it is also incumbent on the Opposition to indicate where it stands. No matter what one may say about the Opposition, we know and the people of Australia know that it lacks any compassion and any feeling for low income families.