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Monday, 15 March 2010
Page: 2454

Mr KATTER (5:54 PM) —The magazine Marie Claire did a major article some years ago about parental leave. As has been brought up already in this House, out of some 30 prominent countries mentioned, the only two countries that did not have provision for parental leave were Australia and the United States. The legislation before the House, the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Child Care) Bill 2010, is very detailed and specific on child care. The debate in this place is constantly about child care. The parental leave issue is tailored for working mums. The childcare issue is about working mums. I pay great tribute to Tempe Harvey and her organisation, Kids First Parent Association, for bringing the issue to the attention of Australians such as me. When the Prime Minister announced his parental leave package, I thought it was a very good step in the right direction. When the Leader of the Opposition announced a much more generous arrangement, I thought that was very good too. I got a nasty broadside from this particular group, amongst other people, and deservedly so. I, like everybody else, was trapped into a paradigm of conventional wisdom that led us to believe that it was all about working mothers. I suppose we constantly run across working mothers in this place, but we do not run across non-working mothers.

It was very interesting to have pointed out to me that most mothers in Australia—albeit by a small margin; it is 51 per cent—with a child below the age of five were stay-at-home mums. They have made a very great sacrifice to give their children full-time mother’s care. I do not wish for my remarks to be construed as a criticism of those mothers who, quite literally, have to work. One night, when I pulled up for a burger at a late-night servo, one working mum said to me: ‘Do you realise how tough it is for people like me? I have a six-year-old child and, if I work here at night, I have to pay someone to look after her. If I had a day job, I would have to pay someone to look after her. If I don’t work then I am on a figure which, really, means it’s not possible for me to stay alive. If I break out and have a few smokes during the week then, of course, someone’s got to go hungry and that someone is me.’ I thought that was a fair sort of call.

Successive governments have done nothing to lean upon the banks in Australia who have said yes to every application for home lending, which has driven the cost of homes straight through the roof. The cost of a house in the eighties was twice the average annual earnings; now it is seven times the average annual earnings. This is much greater than in the United States, where the system simply collapsed. It was six times the average annual earnings there, and now it is down to about three times the average annual earnings. The price of a house in Australia is nothing more than the cost of bad government. I had a station property with a few hundred thousand acres, and the value of it was $4 an acre—in a country where, a stone’s throw from any city, you can buy land at $1,000 an acre and people are paying many hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The issue is very graphically illustrated, and I refer again to Kids First—because I think we will hear a lot more about them as time goes on. They have a little brochure out that talks about an unwaged mum—a stay-at-home mum—getting $5,000 on the birth of a child and then an annual payment of $3,000. So she gets $3,000 a year for having a child. Under the Rudd government plan, she will get $7,000 and an annual payment of $6,000. Under the opposition’s proposed plan, a woman will get $30,000 on the birth of her child and then an annual payment of $6,000. Is it fair that the mother who is working, who is on average weekly earnings, on an income of $60,000 a year, gets $30,000 when she has a baby and the person who is the stay-at-home mum gets $7,000, Mr Acting Speaker? Is this fair?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Peter Slipper)—Honourable member for Kennedy, the better way to refer to the chair is as Deputy Speaker. You have elevated me on three occasions, for which I thank you—but it is most undeserved.

Mr KATTER —We are all actors on a fleeting stage, as a famous man once said. Is it fair that one person should get $30,000 for having a baby, and the benefit that flows to another person is a meagre $7,000? It seems to me to be very unfair. To add to that burden of unfairness, the children of the stay-at-home mum do not go to child care. So they are not absorbing taxes—taxes that need to be paid to pay for the childcare facilities which are heavily subsidised, as we are all well aware. They are saving the government a substantial amount of money.

All that is being asked for here is fairness. There is only so much money to go around. What is being said here is that a stay-at-home mum should get an allocation of money and the person who chooses to work, to follow a career pathway, should get the same amount of money. Is one better than the other? Why should one group be discriminated against and the other group be subsidised by the public purse? It seems to me eminently unfair. It also strikes me as a good example of just how out of step we are in this place—and I must start with a criticism of myself, because I had not seen the very discriminatory allocation of funding that is taking place at the present time.

As I have pointed out on many occasions in this place, Australians are a vanishing race. There cannot be a more definitive judgment upon a race of people than if they simply eliminate themselves from the gene pool. We belong to a race of people called Australians who are simply eliminating themselves from the gene pool. When 20 Australians die they are replaced by 17 Australians. I read a major article in the Australian by the leading demographer in Australia at the time, Dr Bob Birrell, a professor at Monash University. In the article he said that the population of Australia in 100 years time would be seven million people. I took off at a hundred miles an hour down to the library because I thought that this had to be wrong—but he seemed like a very eminent person. The librarian who did demography work said, ‘It’s very simple to work out: if 20 Australians are replaced by 17 and then that generation dies off and they are replaced by 13 and that generation dies off and they are replaced by 10, you can do the mathematics yourself, Bob,’ and I did—and yes, that is correct. We will go from the current population down to a population of seven million people—and they will be very, very old people.

So, as a race of people, have we been successful? Have our belief systems dominated over the belief systems of other people on the planet? Where have those belief systems taken us? Where have those valued judgments that we have made in this place taken us? They have taken us to a situation of complete elimination of the human genome—or DNA. That must be the ultimate judgment on whether or not your decisions are right.

We have put this great value upon careers—whether for a man or a woman—and the value judgments that have been made in this place put them as far more important than having some little kid to love or some little kid to love you as a parent. We are here today talking about child care. The difficulty is that we are in this paradigm of child care and we cannot get ourselves out of this paradigm. We cannot think in terms of looking after the women who decide that they need to have a family and they need to bring up that family properly.

I represent farming areas. Unfortunately, within two years of this place deciding almost unanimously to deregulate the dairy industry, there was a farmer committing suicide every four days in Australia. I am afraid that an awful lot of those were in my area, because the sugar industry was also deregulated. The issue really rides higher than that. It is a place where we have a very high suicide rate, both by historical standards and by standards throughout Australia. Each of the people who committed suicide was a man. They were each moderately young. I asked, ‘What are the reasons here?’ People who have made a great study of it at this place asked, ‘How many male schoolteachers do we have?’ This gets back to roles, belief systems and value judgments when we are sitting here talking about child care. ‘How many male teachers do we have in this town at our high schools?’ and I said, ‘None.’ There might actually be one or two, but it is a fair call to say, ‘None.’ He said, ‘How many men do we have working at the banks in this town?’ Out of about 50 or 60 people working at the banks, I said there were none. He said, ‘How many male doctors do we have?’ I said, ‘Fifty-fifty,’ but I was wrong—it was sixty-forty. There are more female doctors now than males.

He said, ‘What exactly is the role of the male in modern society?’ I refer again—it sounds like I read Marie Claire a fair bit—to a quote from the ex-editor of the Women’s Weekly. She said one of the things that she was going to devote the rest of her life to was getting a fair go for her son because men do not really get a fair go in Australian society. There really is no place for men. This bloke added to that. He said, ‘You know, 40 per cent of the children in this town have no father.’ They are brought up with no male role that they can look to. That also means that there is a whole stack of men in this town who have no family and in 72 per cent of cases it is the wife who walks. She walks out and, under child support, the man is condemned to penury for the rest of his life and he will not be able to get married again.

When you add all these things up, you get a viewpoint where it does not really surprise you that we have the highest juvenile male suicide rate in the world. It does not really surprise us. Really, when you analyse it, it would be surprising if we did not have the highest juvenile male suicide rate in the world. So there has to be a reorientation and we have to be jerked out of the paradigm where we think only in terms of careers—people who are very self-centred, who are only thinking about advancing themselves. It is a very sad reflection upon a race of people that we do not love kids enough to have kids and there will be a terrible price to be paid for that decision further down the track. We are biting the bullet now with the cost of aged care, which is increasingly crippling the finances of the government of Australia and the people of Australia.

I think the point that is made by Kids First is a very valid point. The president has an honours degree in law from the university—she is no intellectual lightweight—and she makes a very valid point. I do not condemn anyone else. I will start with my own condemnation because my initial thinking was to praise both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. I think that they are both people who would think the same as me when their attention is drawn to this fact and reconsider the position that they have taken. Mr Acting Speaker, if you think for even a single second about the fate of a young family trying to have their own home and to have kids and about the financial burden which that places upon them, then you can see the very difficult choices which they have to make out there—choices which we impose upon them. I think that most of the difficult choices have been created by the value system coming out of this place. I think it behoves us, in a debate such as this, to reorient our thinking and to go into a paradigm where Australians will be a growing race. I personally have a very great opinion of Australians as a race of people. I think we have an immense amount to be proud of and it is right and proper that there should be more of us and that we should not be a vanishing race.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I thank the honourable member for Kennedy. While I do not want to be pedantic, maybe the honourable member did not hear what I said. What I said was that the Deputy Speaker should be referred to as ‘Deputy Speaker’ and not as ‘Acting Speaker’. He was in full flight and I was reluctant to interrupt again.

Mr Katter —I appreciate your forbearance, Mr Deputy Speaker.