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Wednesday, 24 October 1984
Page: 2342


Senator COLEMAN(4.17) —It is always a doubtful pleasure to follow Senator Messner in debate because I am never terribly sure what he has been debating. It is obvious that he has not been debating the matter of public importance that is before us today. We have had a weird and wonderful motley collection of these matters of public importance over the last few weeks. On a similar matter of public importance a couple of weeks ago I had occasion to suggest that it was rather like the bookmaker's tout-that those on the Opposition benches were so bereft of ideas that what they were doing was running them from one chamber to the other. They cannot even use that as an excuse now, because the other chamber is not sitting. However, I remind those people who are at all interested of what the matter of public importance is about. This is the way in which it is put forward by Senator Peter Baume, a senator for New South Wales, as a matter of public importance:

The failure of the Government to stand up for Australian families.

I regard Australians, no matter where they come from, as being part of the Australian family. It is not that long ago, however, that members of the Opposition were intent on dividing part of that Australian family by using racism as a means of developing a feeling of division within the community and, therefore, of winning seats-they thought-not only in this Senate but in the House of Representatives. That is how much regard they had for the Australian family.


Senator Peter Baume —I raise a point of order, Mr Deputy President. Do not the Standing Orders prevent an honourable senator misrepresenting the Opposition's policy? There has been no appeal to racism at all.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —There is no such standing order.


Senator COLEMAN —It is interesting, Mr Deputy President, to see that one can cut Opposition senators to the quick when one speaks the truth. I just want to follow my Deputy Leader's example by giving a few comparisons. Having become a member of the Senate in 1974 and, because of the disgraceful thing that occurred in this chamber, having been relegated to the Opposition benches for seven years , and now having returned to the Government side, let me relate a few things about the former Government's attitude to the family.

I can remember coming into this chamber time after time, and writing letters to various Ministers and virtually getting down on my hands and knees, begging for a few thousand dollars, or even a few hundred dollars, for such things as women' s refuges, children's centres, day care centres, and all those things that are, suddenly, so frantically important to Senator Messner. He was saying that we have no care for those who are the subject of abuse within the family, that we have no care for those who find themselves in some manner the victims of drug abuse, be they drug abusers or the families of drug abusers. He spoke, in particular, about migrant families and the special needs. I remember trying to get some refuge for migrant women who were the subject of physical abuse in their families, who needed special care and attention outside the bounds of the normal women's refuges that had been made available. I could not get one cent from the former Government.

Let us look at some of the matters that Senator Grimes raised which I wish to develop. It is important to keep reminding people that the former Government had seven years in which to do an awful lot of things and chose not to do them. It said, for instance, that it would make family security its major political plank . It did nothing for family security. In fact, in the last 12 months of the Fraser Government unemployment rose by 250,000. Two hundred and fifty thousand members of families became unemployed in one 12-month period of the former Government. Two hundred and fifty thousand families suddenly found that they were on social security benefits-and they were pretty meagre.

Some of the things that we have done so far because of our concern for the welfare of the family-the welfare of the Australian family for which today we are being told we are failing to stand up-have had to be done because of the previous Government's attitude and its lack of intestinal fortitude, to put it in a manner which can be recorded in Hansard. These are the thoughts of not just the Government but individuals and organisations throughout the world. If that is doubted, I remind honourable senators of an event which took place only a couple of weeks ago. At present we have the highest rate of economic growth in the Western world. That is not just idle talk. It is an acknowledged fact. It has been recognised by leading economists and by other governments, and it has certainly been recognised by individuals, some of whom have a much better knowledge of economics than honourable senators opposite. As a result of that economic growth, we have seen a tremendous increase in the number of jobs available. As a result of those jobs being available, we have had a subsequent drop in the numbers of unemployed. As I said, in the last 12 months of the Fraser Government unemployment rose by 250,000. We are now reducing that number. We are creating jobs and stability.


Senator MacGibbon —In the Public Service.


Senator COLEMAN —We are creating security for the family-which is something about which Senator MacGibbon would not know a great deal. We have these former Ministers-I stress the word 'former' because they will be staying on the Opposition benches for a long time-having the audacity to bring forward this matter of public importance as if they have an option on support for the Australian family, as if that is part of their prerogative as members of the Liberal Party of Australia and members of the National Party of Australia, that they are the only people who have any concern for the Australian family. They do this as if it is part of their God-given right to rule, that ethic that they put forward every now and then-that no one else has the necessary sense of responsibility, morality or anything else to be on the Treasury benches. I remind Senator Baume that we are on the treasury bench and we will remain here for many years to come because the Australian public sees through these matters which the Opposition brings before us.

The Opposition brings forward time wasting matters when we have a large number of Bills that still need to come before this chamber. Senator Baume knows as well as I do that he as much as anybody else is intent on this House getting up tonight. We have seen it all before. Senator Baume and I have been members of the Senate for 10 years. We have seen this happen at the end of every single session. Is it not amazing how quickly things can be done if it is a matter of catching the early morning plane or the late night flight. The Opposition's attitude in government belies the words that it has put forward here. It is filibustering. It is wasting the time of the Parliament and the time of the Australian people.

I have already mentioned some of the things that we have done in the last 18 months. Australia now has the highest economic growth in the Western world. We have reduced unemployment and we have created jobs. But other things have come about as a result of our actions. Next week the vast majority of Australian taxpayers will find they have an increase of anything up to $7.60 in their pay packet; they will have more disposable income. More disposable income provides greater security for the Australian family. The point which Senator Baume and other speakers-Senator Messner and Senator Harradine-made is that we do not have a care for the Australian family. We have a greater care for the welfare and the well-being of the Australian family than was ever evidenced in this Parliament when the Opposition occupied the treasury bench.

Because of our concern for the low income families of this country, not only have we rearranged taxes in order that those families will receive additional tax benefits but also we have increased the exemption level of tax, which means that an additional amount of money is available to those low income families. Because we were concerned about the Australian family we increased the family income supplement by a further $2 a week on top of the increase in last year's Budget. There has been a total increase of 40 per cent in less than 18 months. How does that compare with the performance of the former Government? In the midst of great brouhaha in this chamber and elsewhere the former Government decided to replace the child endowment and the tax rebate for dependent children with the family allowance. That occurred back in 1976 and, having 'done its duty ' by the family, it promptly forgot about the family. Senator Messner said today that there were three adjustments to the family allowance. That is not so. In 1981 the former Government adjusted the payments for a section of the family allowance and in 1982 it adjusted the payments for the other section of the family allowance.


Senator Peter Baume —And 1978 as well.


Senator COLEMAN —The former Government did nothing for the Australian family. Senator Baume is just expressing guilt today because he is now concerned that the Australian Government has the support of the Australian family. The former Government cared so little that at the end of its seven years in office the only thing the Australian family had to show for its care and attention was a decrease in the real value of the family allowance by more than 20 per cent. It is perfectly obvious to me-I am sure it is perfectly obvious to the majority of people who are listening to this debate-that the Parliament's sitting for four consecutive weeks has had an effect on some members of the Opposition. It certainly has an effect on some members of the Opposition because they have actually had to dream up this matter of public importance for themselves as the other chamber is not sitting. That is painfully obvious.

Senator Baume put forward the view in his speech that the family is a social responsibility. No one, certainly no one on the Government benches, would deny that responsibility. When we were in opposition we made every attempt to get the then Government to accept some of that responsibility. We found it very difficult, but now members of the Opposition come in here with a holier than thou attitude and suggest that the Labor Government has in some way failed to support the Australian family. The Australian family knows which party supports it. The Australian family spoke very loudly and very clearly on 5 March last year. The Australian family will speak very loud and very clearly on 1 December this year and it will demonstrate once again that it has the utmost confidence in the Australian Labor Party. It will totally reject the overtures of the Liberal and National Parties. I believe the Senate should totally reject this matter of public importance and treat it with the contempt that it deserves.