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Wednesday, 5 September 1984
Page: 492


Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN(4.11) —I am very pleased to be able to support this matter of public importance, namely:

The disastrous impact upon Australian families of the Hawke Labor Government's taxation and social security policies.

This matter, I believe, is of great interest to the majority of Australians, who are watching family life being eroded day by day, primarily by the actions of the Government, with little forward planning for the self-sufficiency of Australians. It is appropriate that I contribute to today's debate both as a family woman and as chairman of the Queensland Government's Year of the Family. This is an initiative by the Queensland Government to draw attention to the very real need we have in this day and age to revert to the traditional family as the cornerstone of a stable and positive society. As chairman of the committee, I have spent many happy hours this year travelling throughout our State, talking with groups of every creed and range of beliefs about the importance of maintaining a strong respect for the family, and indeed encouraging governments, both Federal and State, to implement policies which are designed to encourage family life and self-sufficiency, not to kill if off, which seems to be the present trend.

It is regrettable that the traditional family is not very trendy at the moment. Indeed, if we were to take notice only of what this Government considers to be priority issues, and if we follow media reports, we could be forgiven for thinking that in 1984 the majority of Australians live in either de facto or homosexual domestic situations, or perhaps both. I considered it an insult to the hundreds of thousands of women who are full time homemakers and mothers that the only consideration they got in this year's Budget was the fact that there was to be no increase in the spouse rebate and no increase in family allowances, although de facto spouses are to be granted the same entitlement that married women receive in that regard. A report of the National Women's Advisory Council stated:

Women care for children, care for older or disabled family members, take responsibility for preparation of food, cleaning and general maintenance and the provision of clean clothing. For many women there is a conflict between that role and earning money to support their families. Women who are not in paid employment say they are made to feel guilty at not bringing in income; women who are in paid work feel that they are being accused of neglecting family responsibilities.

If the women who stay at home were given a homemaker's allowance or a special home carer's allowance, whatever one might call it, that would be sufficient to help them feel that they had a special niche. I believe that any woman who stays at home and looks after a family has one of the best possible niches, and I speak from experience as far as that goes. The Women's Action Alliance called for a spouse allowance. It suggested that the Government should pay a special allowance to women who do not go out to work. It was suggested to me at lunchtime today that an allowance could be paid for occasional care to women who have children and feel that they want to get out of the home now and again. Perhaps they do not have grandmothers, who come in very handy when it comes to looking after little children. If a grandmother happens to be nearby, a mother will have an occasional carer anyway, but if she does not then something like a special allowance would be well worth while. The WAA's recommendation was that the spouse rebate and the sole parent rebate should be increased to remove an inequity between the dual and single income families. At present two-income families have two tax-free thresholds, while a single income family has one. That means that the single income families pay higher income tax. These are matters that the Government really ought to be thinking about.

I want to pay a tribute today to the women who do voluntary work in the community, something we quite often neglect to think about. I regard 1984 being the Year of the Family, even if it is only the Year of the Family in Queensland, as a real irony. The Federal Government this year has introduced more measures to erode the traditional family than perhaps have happened in the history of this Parliament. These include changes to the Family Law Act, the proposal to allow members of this Parliament to take their de facto spouses on their overseas trips, the implementation of the Sex Discrimination Act and the affirmative action provisions, and the changes to the criteria for the importation of pornographic material. All of these priorities of the Government have acted to erode the respect for the family which I would venture to say the majority of Australians still consider well earned, even if not trendy.

It is worth while establishing that when we talk about the family we are talking about the majority of Australians-men, women and children-who choose to live in this traditional domestic situation. In recent years the rate of growth in the number of families and households has been twice the rate of population growth, but associated with this has been a significant decline in family size from 3.53 persons per household in 1966 to 3.1 persons in 1981. One and two- person households now account for 47 per cent of Australian households, compared with 28 per cent in 1947. In 1947, 29 per cent of households had more than four members, whereas in 1981 this applied to only 17 per cent. It is very sad and telling that in our present society the fastest growing family type is the single parent family. Between 1976 and 1981 single parent family numbers increased by 90,000 to more than a quarter of a million, so that they now make up 6.6 per cent of all families.

I suppose we could blame that increased number on the alarming increase in the divorce rate. In the last session the Government decided that it would make available $100,000 to those people who wanted to get a divorce. I feel in my own heart that it would be better if the Government made that $100,000 available for counselling before they get married, so that we do not have such an increase in the divorce rate. The divorce rate has increased from 10 per 10,000 population in 1971 to 28 per 10,000 in 1980. Many men and women are being deserted and left alone to care for their children in single parent families. As well, many young girls have babies and choose to keep them and not put them up for adoption. It has been said before in this chamber that some girls deliberately set out to have babies so that they can get their single mother's benefit. I do not say that there are a lot of them, but it has been said that this is so. Although there are many men who are in the category of single parents, it is quite alarming to realise that more than 90 per cent of single parent households are headed by women.

I believe, and I think this belief is shared by many, that the family is the primary social unit of our society. This should have far-reaching implications for policy makers. Because the family performs the vital role in developing the next generation we must view it as an essential unit of society, not just an economic unit. As well as taking this positive attitude towards family policies, or indeed any decisions which affect the family, we must also be mindful of the prevention of family break-ups. I was talking earlier about the divorce rate and how necessary it is to have counselling for people before they get married.

While still giving service to needy families-I know that this is very important indeed; there are many needy families in our society, particularly people who are not able to get work-encouragement and skills for family self-sufficiency and independent living must also be provided and encouraged. That is where I feel that this spouse allowance, or the home carer's allowance that the WAA was talking about, is well worth while.

Whilst on the one hand the Government is discouraging self-sufficiency and independent living by families through anti-family legislation, on the other hand if it is having to cop the increased pressure placed on it by the recipients of welfare payments-those people who would be self-sufficient given half the chance and a little encouragement. The emphasis of this Government, and indeed of any government, should be on the responsibility of individuals and families, with welfare sources reserved as a safety net for the very needy in our society. Actually, the 1984-85 Budget brought down by the Treasurer, the Hon . Paul Keating, a couple of weeks ago did not do too much for the self- sufficiency of the average Australian family, although we must acknowledge that with regard to low income families who are not in receipt of social security or similar pensions or benefits there was an increase to $14 per week per child in the maximum rate of family income supplement.

There was, of course, a lot of flag waving by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and the Treasurer about the fact that the average taxpayer would be $7 a week better off after the supposed tax cuts. That was a lot of nonsense. The Hawke Government has done little to solve the fundamental longer term problems facing most Australian families. All it has done is put average Australians into a higher tax bracket while at the same time telling them that they are better off. Interest on the public debt has risen by a massive 29 per cent this year. The interest on it alone is now costing the average taxpayer about $17 a week. Honourable senators can bet their bottom dollar that, after the next election, they will see huge tax increases to help pay for the large social welfare bill which is the hallmark of this Government's philosophy.

This year's Budget was very clearly an election Budget. Ultimately, the Government will have to come to grips with the staggering deficit, which is too high and which must place upward pressure on interest rates and the exchange rate. The Labor Government's two Federal Budgets so far have increased government spending in real terms by more than the former coalition Government's Budgets did in seven years. Commonwealth interest payments are up by a massive 29 per cent to $5,601m. This has to be paid for not only by today's taxpayers but also by the taxpayers of tomorrow. As I have said, paying for the interest debt will cost every taxpayer $17 a week. Believe it or not Labor now has to spend more on interest payments than it spends on defence.

These are some of the facts that I wanted to bring to honourable senators today in speaking to this matter of public importance. I just want to reiterate one or two points that I have made, points which I feel are central to the whole question of the impact upon Australian families of this Labor Government's taxation and social security policies. As I have said, the family is the primary social unit of our society, whether or not the trendies in the Government want to admit it. This should also be taken into consideration when looking at the overall Budget context. We cannot continue on this never-ending path to social welfare madness. If we are to really--


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Colston) —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.

(Quorum formed)