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Monday, 18 June 2001
Page: 27780

Mr ALLAN MORRIS (10:25 PM) —It is simply amazing to sit in the House day after day while members of the government go through the most convoluted verbal gymnastics to try and rationalise and justify their meanness and their dishonesty to the Australian people. The member for Menzies has just demonstrated this very adequately in terms of the advertising bill currently being incurred by his government. What government members fail to realise is that their self-proclaimed expertise in economic management has gone and the more they spend in such a profligate way and so obviously the harder it will be for them to ever get their reputation back.

The other thing he was talking about was this `practical welfare'. This is a fascinating new concept. I suppose it is like `practical reconciliation'—the one you are having when you are not having one. He also admitted that some of these issues and problems are longstanding; so they are not exactly expeditious if they are practical.

The point he did not make, of course, in talking about this Family and Community Services Legislation (Simplification and Other Measures) Bill 2001 was that, in this whole compensation area, we have had to date two preclusion periods for people who have received lump sum payments. The first was the pre-March 1997 period, where the lump sum compensation was attributed at average weekly earnings—and that is not an unreasonable way of approaching it. In March 1997 this government introduced the most draconian shift: it changed that figure to the level effectively of single rate pensions. So people who had been out of work seeking court action for some years and who finally got rectification were then told that, for the last three or four years while they had been waiting for it, they should have been living at the pension level, because the money they had got would preclude them now at the rate of pension—which was almost double in many cases. It in fact had to last twice as long. Most people who received lump sum payments after March 1997 were seriously and substantially out of pocket.

Government members talk about `practical welfare' when they have ripped that money out of those people. What happened to it? They spent it on tax cuts and they are now spending it on advertising. The people who are paying the bills for this massive advertising campaign are pensioners—people who had lump sum payments and who were precluded from pensions for years longer, who are forced to live effectively in poverty, to help the government pay for their current splurge. This is `practical welfare'. I find the term fascinating. The rationalisation that was coming out of the member for Menzies was so convoluted and so self-serving as to further lessen any skerrick of credibility that this government may have had left.

The bill before the House refers to `simplification'. Anybody who deals with these parts of the act will recognise that it is not much simpler at all—it is still incredibly complicated—because the government keeps on changing the rules. I said that the big change came into operation in March 1997 and in effect people were punished retrospectively because many people had been seeking compensation for some years before this change came in. If their payment was determined after that date then the preclusion period and their withdrawal from any income support was at the pension level—at the poverty level—rather than at the level of a worker. The fact was that compensation was for loss of income as an employee, as a worker, and not as a pensioner. The ethics and the principle of that government change were always disgraceful. The idea is that somehow this was practical welfare. What is being done now is almost a sop to tidy that up. It has more an effect on partners than on anybody else.

Debate interrupted.