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Tuesday, 4 September 1984
Page: 400


Senator ELSTOB —My question to the Minister for Social Security refers to the welfare system and supporting parents. What is the Minister's response to the position of supporting parents who obtain a job to increase their income and then find it extremely difficult to manage financially because they face the financial burden of taxation and child care expenses along with the loss of rental and Medicare subsidies and fringe benefits? Does the Minister agree that such a situation, in which supporting parents would be better off not taking a job, locks them into a poverty cycle? Does the Government intend reviewing that position so that supporting parents on welfare benefits have a real incentive to break out of the welfare cycle and are not disadvantaged by doing so?


Senator Walters —Hear, hear!


Senator GRIMES —I am glad to hear the cry 'Hear, hear' from Senator Walters. In all her years as a back bencher she supported a government that failed to assist supporting parents, particularly with regard to payments for children, and she is notorious for her defence of wealth and privilege in society. I think her cry was really a bit rich, like her.


Senator Chaney —It is better to protect the wealthy and privileged than criminals.


Senator GRIMES —Senator Chaney is the second honourable senator who likes to get up in the chamber and talk, but he never defends his record.


Senator Gareth Evans —That is offensive.


The PRESIDENT —Order! I ask the Leader of the Opposition to withdraw that remark .


Senator Chaney —There have been enough offensive remarks from the Government side of the chamber. They have been thoroughly offensive to Senator Walters.


The PRESIDENT —Order! I ask the Leader of the Opposition to withdraw the remark.


Senator Chaney —I withdraw at your request, Mr President.


Senator GRIMES —They are a touchy lot.


The PRESIDENT —Order!


Senator GRIMES —I am aware that supporting parents in the community, particularly those with more than one child, are in a difficult position and always have been. I remind Senator Elstob that because of provisions in the last Budget a supporting parent with two children and in private rented accommodation , as such parents frequently are, can receive after November an increase in payments of between $13 and $15 a week. Since the Australian Labor Party has come to power such supporting parents have received considerably greater amounts of between $25 and $30 a week. Of course, in some cases supporting parents, particularly those with more than one child, always will be better off in monetary terms on the pension with fringe benefits they may receive than in some of the low paid jobs that are available to them. We are likely to have to face that situation for a long time, although I believe-I am sure that this is true- that most single parents prefer to work if they can. Because of the assistance given to them through the family income supplement and the other benefits that are available through State and Federal governments, those parents should look carefully at the position before deciding to go on the pension rather than work.

There continue to be obstacles in our society for working single parents with children, the most obvious of which are the limited employment opportunities. Sole parenthood is often an added barrier to obtaining a job. The Government has been successful in increasing the number of jobs available and employment in the community. We shall continue along that path. We shall continue also to give single parents assistance in that regard.

The earnings of women-more than 90 per cent of single parents are women-tend to be low. Those women tend to have fewer skills and less experience than others in the community. The legislation on affirmative action introduced by my colleague Senator Ryan and her efforts with education and training will assist us in that regard in the future. Another barrier to obtaining a job is the absence of accessible and affordable child care. This year we increased the child care budget by $30m on top of the $20m-odd by which we increased it last year. That is a considerable increase in a program which accounted for less than $100m when the Labor Party came to power. The increased number of child care places throughout the country will gradually assist us in that regard. We intend to take that action despite the complaints of some people that expenditure on child care is somehow damaging the family in this country. We know that all these problems have to be faced. We believe that we have faced them in the first 18 months of government. We believe that in the future we will be able to reach the situation, through fuller employment and through better assistance to women, where single parents will not be in the position that Senator Elstob talked about.