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Wednesday, 5 September 1984
Page: 497

Senator MESSNER(4.42) —Senator Maguire has left us with a challenge to say about which groups we are talking in this matter of public importance. I rise with a great deal of pleasure to support my colleague Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle in putting forward this matter of public importance, which states:

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

I shall turn to some of Senator Maguire's remarks, since he has issued the challenge to show about which families we are talking. I do not have to look very far, because I can turn to yesterday's edition of the Age which provides us with a report by the Brotherhood of St Laurence, demonstrating the change in incomes of families below the poverty line. The article compares the position in November 1982, when the Fraser Government was in power, with the projected position in November 1984 under the current Hawke Labor Government. The article refers to a married couple with two children whose income, with pensions and allowances, in November 1982 was $161.55. That income was acknowledged then to be 8.6 per cent below the poverty line, as described by Professor Henderson. That figure can be compared with the income for that couple of $194.05 in November 1984 under the Hawke Labor Government. The income has declined to 9.4 per cent below the poverty line. It is true that the size of that group of families will decrease by 1.2 per cent compared with the situation in November 1982 during the last period of office of the Fraser Government.

Can Senator Maguire stand up in the chamber to defend his Government's record against that kind of nonsense? I am talking not about figures cooked up by the Liberal Party or any other politically interested body but about figures from the Brotherhood of St Laurence, which is a well respected Anglican organisation working among the poor in Melbourne. Senator Maguire is apparently oblivious to or ignorant of that group. The figures that I have cited are confirmed in other parts of the article.

I do not ask Senator Maguire to use even that kind of background to put down a rational argument; I ask him merely to use his common sense. In the last Budget, single pensioners received an increase of $2.50 a week from this magnanimous and generous Government. Leaving aside any question of income tax or any other factor and merely looking at what the average family has lost by way of increased excises on fuel, daily necessities and other goods, we find that during the past 12 months those people have lost $1.92 of that $2.50, leaving them with only 58c.

We must then consider the fact that the Government rationalised its decision to introduce that $2.50 gain because the consumer price index had been fiddled by the introduction of Medicare-a deliberate action by the Hawke Labor Government to reduce the apparent cost of inflation. This magnanimous Government has come along and said: 'We shall compensate the pensioners for the loss of that benefit .' The Government, therefore, said: 'Look, here is $2.50 to help you out.' I think that the real loss was $2.15. In fact, people in those circumstances have gained 35c compared with the medi-fiddle loss. That is the position without, of course, taking into account the excise cost of $1.92. The average pensioner family in that category has lost at least $1.57 of its income 15 months ago. Senator Maguire tells us that that category of person is, in fact, better off. I wish Senator Maguire would apply to the facts of life a little more common sense , rather than academic economic knowledge, than he put forward in his remarks. During the previous election campaign the Government consistently said that it would be helping low income families. I have positively demonstrated in the past three or four minutes that the direct opposite is the case.

Let us consider one or two other promises to help families that the Government put forward during the election campaign. The Minister for Social Security ( Senator Grimes) might remember this promise in the Australian Labor Party policy document issued before the election. It states:

While Labor is committed to the maintenance of family allowances, our first priority must be to low income families. The most immediate need here is for reform of the absurdly restrictive family income supplement proposed in the last Budget. This will be done by relaxing the income test so that the supplement is reduced by only 25c for each extra dollar of family income, rather than the present 50c. This will ensure that eligibility is extended into a much wider range of lower and middle incomes.

Of course, nothing has happened about that. The Labor Party made a specific promise to help that same group of low income families about whom I just spoke. What about family allowances? The Labor Party said that it would restore the real value of family allowances. A comparison of the figures for March 1983 and the projected figures for June 1985 shows that there will have been a 10.4 per cent decline in the real value of family allowances.

Senator Grimes —What was the decline from the time you came to Government to the time you left-50 per cent?

Senator MESSNER —The Minister's only defence is to look at the past. He will not examine himself; he will not examine the mote in his own eye; he will not look at the issues which are before the people and which are worrying the people of Australia. He is not concerned about those matters at all.

There is a very real concern in this community, and it goes right to the heart of family life. I refer to the question of people's homes. Over the last few years many people have bought homes at what must be acknowledged as fairly expensive prices. Many have been encouraged to enter into very long term and very highly geared financial arrangements for the purchase of their homes. Of course, one of the effects of that is to reduce the capacity of people to meet their repayments from their ordinary incomes. In 1982 the Fraser Government introduced a tax rebate for housing loan interest and that rebate contributed greatly to the success of people being able to maintain their own homes at a time of rising interest rates. But in May 1983, two months after the election of the Hawke Labor Government, the tax rebate was removed. For the average family this meant a loss of something between $10 and $20 a week. The Minister for Social Security shakes his head. However, the point is that many people were induced to purchase houses on the basis that the housing loan tax rebate would be taken into account in such a way that would enable them to meet their obligations. What has happened with the removal of that rebate? I can take the Minister to the western parts of Sydney-Mount Druitt and St Clair-where houses are being sold by families because they cannot meet their repayments. One of the reasons for this is that the Government changed the housing loan interest rebate and thus reduced people's incomes by $10 to $20 a week; they cannot meet their repayments.

Senator Grimes —Fair go!

Senator MESSNER —Again the Minister refuses to acknowledge the facts and this happens to be a fact of life with the Minister. He refuses to face up to real life. He should go to Mount Druitt and talk to the people there.

Senator Grimes —I go to Mount Druitt. They see me more than they will ever see you.

Senator MESSNER —I am glad I did not see the Minister there. The situation is that people are losing their homes as a result of that kind of action, ill- considered and ill-thought through. It has been taken without taking into account the situations into which people get themselves. It is an academic and dogmatic approach to the situation. That, of course, is the hallmark of this Government. For those reasons we again see an attack on family life in this country, the very basis of what the Australian Labor Party previously claimed was one of its most cherished objectives to foster.

Let us look at what has happened, in summary, to the average family in the last 12 or 15 months. The first point we have to acknowledge is that people have suffered a tax loss of some $22 a week over the last 12 or 15 months. The Government has come in with its latest Budget and trumpeted tax decreases for all ranging from $7.60 a week, down to $2.70 a week for those earning above $700 a week. Pensioners are not too impressed with the fact that they get $2.50 from this Government while people earning $700 a week get a tax cut of more than $2. 70. For that reason this Government stands condemned. But let us look at the question of how much people have lost in net terms, a loss of some $22 nominally last year compared with a tax cutback or handback this year of some miserly $7. 60 a week. So people are worse off by at least $15 a week compared with the situation they were in when the Fraser Government lost power in March 1983. Let us examine some of the things that were promised but have not happened. Probably the most significant promise that the Minister, Senator Grimes, has made is that pensioners should not be forced to suffer taxes on their pensions to the degree that may have previously applied. That was one of the promises he made before the election. I believe he stated that in a Press release on 8 August 1982, before the election but I leave that aside. In 1982-83 a single pensioner, earning $20 a week over and above his pension, paid $20 a year in tax. In 1983- 84 he paid $24 in tax. This year the figure is $109. That figure has been calculated by the Parliamentary Library and is available as a public document. Again, it shows the paucity of Senator Maguire's study and understanding of the issues. Obviously it is clearly not in the interests of the very people whom he was claiming to represent. For all of those reasons, I support very strongly the matter of public importance which has been brought forward by my colleague Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle. It is about time the Government faced up to facts and started to learn what is happening in the real world rather than in his ivory tower, in the Cabinet room.