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Monday, 10 September 1984
Page: 705


Senator WALTERS(3.54) —I thank the Minister for Social Security ( Senator Grimes) for his very generous gesture. We have just heard Senator Maguire put on the record the social security measures that the Government has taken in the latest Budget. He gave us a full description of the measures that the Government has taken in respect of the disadvantaged people in our community . All of these are band-aid measures. He also told us how the Australian Council of Trade Unions has looked after its own and insisted upon the full consumer price index rises being given to all those with jobs. We heard Senator Jack Evans give what I thought was a very thorough description of the devastating effect unemployment has not only on young people but also on middle aged people who are retrenched. Anyone who doubts how devastating that can be only has to stop for a few minutes and think how he would feel if suddenly he lost his opportunity to work. Perhaps the Government could find the answer if it had a look at the cause of these problems.

I would like to read to the Senate some extracts from the report of the Director of the Institute of the Family Studies which is contained in the Institute's latest newsletter. He says:

I am increasingly dismayed at the blindeye politicians of every ilk who turn to family policy issues. On the one hand is the rhetoric of each Party about the centrality of the family unit, the good deeds they will do for the families, their concern for motherhood, the welfare of the nation's children, the viability of the family home. On the other, sits an ignorance of what is happening to Australian families, of their real needs and problems and (worst of all) of the way every policy impacts on family life.

He goes on to tell us of the needs based welfare system. He then says:

Rarely is the central question asked-why are they dependent?

He asks some questions that I think are very relevant to today's debate. He asks :

Where are the funds to build adequate family support systems or to reduce economic stress?

Where are the funds for marriage preparation, preventive marriage guidance programs, financial counselling and parent support?

Instead, we have a meagre $3.8m for marriage counselling, a mere $80,000 for marriage education, $170,000 for a new 'advertising campaign' for marriage guidance, and as yet a vague move to establish 'family law centres', totally inadequate child care and family support services and a resentment . . . of the funds paid to supporting parents.

I think it is most important that we look not at the band-aid measures that the Government has instituted in this Budget but at the deepseated problems that the families of Australia are facing.

Senator Maguire told us of the job creation programs of the Government. We were promised that 500,000 jobs would be created. The people of Australia thought that meant that the unemployment rate would go down by 500,000. That, of course, is not the correct situation. It is interesting to note that over half of the jobs that have been created are in the public sector. Of course, we know that in part, because of this public sector borrowing is at an all time record. Because governments will be borrowing in competition with the private sector inflation will increase tremendously.

I have already indicated that Senator Maguire spoke about the ACTU looking after its own. The ACTU is not prepared to think of the unemployed. We were told before the last election by the leader of the ACTU that his job was to look after the 90 per cent of people who were in jobs. The Government, of course, agrees with him because it has an arrangement with the ACTU to continue full indexation of wages in order to avoid some problems in the industrial field. The Government has been patting itself on the back and saying that the prices and incomes accord is doing very well. The Government is doing very well for those with jobs but it is not doing very well for those who are not in employment.

An article in the Age the other day which was headed 'Hawke's brought us together, but it's only cupboard love', stresses very clearly that consultation and consensus are achieved at a price. The article says that this consensus does not come cheaply. It states:

. . . new committees and councils set up to further the consensus cause will cost more than $4m this financial year.

The Age says that this consensus does not come cheaply because the cost of the setting up of committees is $4m but the cost to the unemployed is a great deal more than that because of the continuation of full consumer price index wage indexation. There are other headlines which I find most interesting. At an international seminar hosted by the Institute of Family Studies Professor Shangmar-Hanleman said, when commenting on the youth of today, that their reluctance to take on marriage, child rearing and care responsibilities is a result of the failure of society to give adequate support and nourishment to those family functions. The professor stated that we are at the stage of needing new negotiations with governments regarding their relationship to the family. It is vital that any such negotiations take into account their likely impact on children.

These are very important points, yet we find that negotiation with families has not occurred. Certainly negotiations with departments have taken place, and I believe that negotiations with the Office of Child Care and the Office of the Status of Women have been very thorough. But bureaucrats have a totally different concept of the family from that of the people outside. A headline in the Australian reads: 'The Budget: It's Grim News for the Single Income Family'. One very short letter on that matter says: 'The year of the family-de factos one ; families nil'. That says a tremendous amount. There are around 51 per cent of families in Australia who have dependent children and are entitled to the dependent spouse rebate. They really feel they have been neglected and betrayed by this Government because they are the families in which the mother stays home to look after her children but they have received an increase in neither the dependent spouse rebate nor the family allowance. By the end of this financial year family allowances and the dependent spouse rebate will have declined by 10. 4 per cent since March 1983 when this Government came to power.

Let us look at the Government's priorities. I believe that what it is doing in many areas is very good. It has spent an additional $28m-a 72 per cent increase- on assisting the aged to be cared for in their own homes. That is excellent. I do not think any aged persons want to go into an institution before they have to . An additional $30m will go towards assisting children to be cared for outside their homes, in day care centres, but there has been nothing for families in which the spouse stays home to look after the children. An additional $7m has been spent on the dependent spouse rebate but that is only so it can be extended to de facto spouses. Yet, the Department of the Treasury tells us this is not on , that abuse in this area will be hard to overcome.

Let us look at just what has happened in the tax area. I compare a family of a single income earner with a dependent spouse and child with a husband and wife, both earning. If the husband and wife who are both working earn $250 a week each before the November tax cut, they pay $26.70 a week less than a single income earner on the same total income. So a two-income family unit pays $26.70 a week less. After November it will pay $34.30 less than a single income earner on the same total wage. This is an anomaly, an injustice, that I believe cannot continue. When in government we worked hard to overcome this disadvantage. In 1979 the disadvantage to the single income earner was 50 per cent. By the time we left government in 1983 the disadvantage was down to 11 per cent. We increased the dependent spouse rebate from $400 when we came to power in late 1975 to $1,030 in the case of a dependent spouse caring for children at home. This was a great advantage and, as I said, it ended up reducing the disadvantage from 50 per cent in 1979 to just over 11 per cent when we left government.

So, Mr Deputy President, the priorities of the two governments are vastly different. We are sincere when we talk about the family; we are sincere in our beliefs about what the family needs. The family needs to be given assistance so that it will not fall into the social security net. We should attempt to do that to save people from entering the social security trap.

In Australia, one of every two and a half marriages ends in divorce. In the Government's own words, it is one of this country's biggest problems, and to overcome that problem the Government said, in a telex sent to us all, that it would spend $100,000 on an advertising campaign against divorce-$100,000. The Institute of Family Studies calculates that broken marriages cost Australia $1, 200m a year. And the Government is trying to overcome the problem by spending $ 100,000 on television advertisements suggesting that people go to counselling a little earlier-though it says that divorce is one of the biggest problems facing Australia at the moment! We would all agree, considering the human suffering not only of the partners but also of the children, that something more should be done than trying to overcome this problem by spending $100,000 on it.

Why does the Government have these strange quirks? The previous Government steadily increased the dependent spouse rebate by an amount equivalent to well over the inflation rate, from $400 to $1,030 during the years it was in government? Why had the present Government stopped all this? The feminists on the Government benches, including Senator Giles, have said very clearly that they do not believe in the dependent spouse rebate. Senator Giles made those comments in this place and she would not deny it. She believes, and I suggest the Government believes, that the only good women do is when they are out in the work force. That is an entirely wrong concept.


Senator Button —You have no basis whatsoever for saying that.


Senator WALTERS —Senator Button says that there is no basis for saying that. I have just said that members on the Government benches believe the dependent spouse rebate should be wiped out. They have said very clearly that the single income earner should not receive any assistance to allow his wife to stay home to look after the children. That is a very clear indication that they believe the wife should be out working, earning her own living, and not at home looking after the children. I would be surprised if Senator Button could explain it in any other way.

As I have indicated, through inflation the value of the dependent spouse rebate and the family allowance has gone down considerably during the term of this Government. When we left office the figure was $1,030. To the end of this financial year, because of inflation, the figure has declined by $107.10, which is a considerable amount. I believe this Government has to look at its priorities regarding families. In the last minute I have remaining to me I reiterate what the Director of the Institute of Family Studies said in his report:

Rarely is the central question asked-why are they dependent.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! The discussion on the matter of public importance is concluded.