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Tuesday, 23 October 1984
Page: 2201

Senator MASON —My question is addressed to the Minister for Social Security and concerns the plight of the 300,000 children of the Australian unemployed. Is the Minister aware that social workers in the field regard the low level of assistance to these children as a major national problem resulting in a massive region of deprivation and even malnutrition, with appalling consequences for the future? Is it a fact that, when the dole and family allowance payments are taken into account, a one-child family is required to feed, house and clothe the child for a total amount of $19.70 a week and a two-child family for $20.92 per child? Assuming the most minimal costs for clothing and accommodation are deducted from this, does the Minister believe a child can be provided with a balanced and healthy diet for the $2 or so a day remaining? If so, will the Minister issue a statement recommending a healthy, $2 a day diet for a child? If not, will he undertake to institute an immediate inquiry into this area of need, with the objective of alleviating it as soon as possible?

Senator GRIMES —Yes, I am aware, as I believe every senator should be, that among the most deprived people in the community are the unemployed with children, particularly those in rental accommodation. I have never backed away from that; it is obvious to anybody. For that reason the Government since coming to office has done something Labor had advocated for many years: We removed the iniquitous state of affairs under which families who found themselves in such a situation were taxed on their allowances for children and their supplementary rent allowances. Since coming to office Labor has increased the allowance for beneficiaries' children in this area by 40 per cent. I am not saying that makes them wealthy or that that is enough. The Government was limited by budgetary restrictions, as is any government, but within the limits of what we could do we targeted our expenditure to those people because, as Senator Mason said, they are the people who are in the most difficulty. Other policies Labor has instituted in the area of public housing, and so on, have been aimed partly at alleviating the problem in this area, but in the long term the solution is to get the parents to work.

I am unsure of the source of Senator Mason's figures but I do not question them . I presume that they are from the Institute of Family Studies paper which has been released in recent months. I am aware that the people to whom Senator Mason referred find themselves in difficulties, despite the fact that the Government has increased their benefits as much as it has. The Government intends to continue to target social security assistance to those most in need. As Minister for Social Security, I have no intention of issuing a diet statement as requested by Senator Mason. What I shall continue to do is to try to get a fair go for these people by seeking to increase the benefits available to them and the services available in the community. In the past they have been sorely and sadly neglected by government.