Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 26 March 1985
Page: 802

Senator HARRADINE(4.30) —I rise to support the motion. I do so because the proposal to abolish or seriously undermine the dependent spouse rebate is a hare-brained idea. It has absolutely no hope of getting off the ground, as everybody knows, and it would undermine the prices and incomes accord. I will read from a Press statement issued yesterday, 25 March, by the largest union affiliated to the Australian Council of Trade Unions. That union indicated quite clearly that the suggestions would undermine the prices and incomes accord. I refer, of course, to the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association, which is the largest union affiliated to the ACTU. Under the heading 'Re: Threats to abolish the spouse rebate' it states:

Recent media reports have suggested that the Government is considering the future of the spouse rebate.

One report in particular has suggested that a senior Cabinet Minister, Senator Susan Ryan,--

actually, I thought it was the Minister for Finance, Senator Walsh, whom we were talking about but apparently it is the Minister for Education and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women, Senator Ryan-

is advocating the complete abolition of the benefit and disguising the move by phasing out the rebate slowly or by removing it in conjunction with significant tax cuts.

The Shop Distributive and Allied Employees' Association supports the retention of the spouse rebate because it constitutes a significant tax concession to single income families, particularly those with low incomes.

The spouse rebate is worth $16 per week in the pay packet of a worker with a dependent spouse and $20 a week for a worker with a dependent spouse and children.

One can imagine, if it were abolished, that there would be an absolute scream if suddenly the workers found that they were $16 or $20 a week worse off in their pay packets. The SDA went on to state:

To abolish this tax concession, whether in one fell swoop or by phasing it out, is an attack on the take-home pay of single income families and is therefore a deliberate and serious breach of the prices and incomes accord.

To abolish the spouse rebate and disguise the move by granting significant income tax cuts is equally a breach of the spirit and intent of the accord, particularly if the tax cut is accompanied by an increase in indirect taxes which hit low income earners hardest. Such a double slug against single income families would leave them worse off financially than ever before.

Incidentally-Senator Ryan might be interested in this-an interesting feature is that it did make suggestions as to what to do with the spouse rebate and how to put it into the spouse's pocket which deserve further consideration.

Senator Ryan —Oh, good.

Senator HARRADINE —Yes; it is something that we can talk about. Incidentally, I mention to the Minister at the table, Senator Ryan, that I was not trying to be offensive to Senator Walsh. I was simply trying at the time to ask him, in an innocent way, whether he meant that that equity was a horizontal equity or a vertical equity question?

Senator Ryan —I think Senator Maguire answered that question. We are concerned with both.

Senator HARRADINE —Yes. But the point I am making is that Senator Walsh then, in his usual fashion, started to personalise arguments about a matter which is of great national interest. It does not matter what Harradine or his wife gets as far as that is concerned. But if that is the name of the game that sort of policy can apply to the de facto debate. I have rigorously avoided personalising that debate. I do not intend to personalise it. It could also apply to many other debates in this chamber. For example, it could apply to those Ministers, of which there are at least two, who have no dependent children but whose total income, with the income of their wives, is in excess of $140,000 a year. But I do not want to personalise those things. Senator Walsh has started that sort of nonsense; I just want to stop it right here. Where is the Senate paymaster? I must ask the Clerk at the table or the Clerk Assistant, Miss Anne Lynch, where the paymaster is. According to Senator Walsh, I am supposed to be getting 90,000 bucks a year.

Senator Ryan —The equivalent.

Senator HARRADINE —The equivalent? Well, I am not getting 90,000 bucks a year. I can tell the Senate that here and now. I am getting, I think somebody said, $41,000.

Senator Lewis —You are getting that car that picks you up at the airport and brings you in here. That is what it is worth.

Senator HARRADINE —Oh; that is it, is it? I am getting 41,000 bucks, I think, and it is taxed to the eyeballs-and so it ought to be. I presume that the figure includes the electorate allowance. I do not get that much in electorate allowance. I do not know what it is but I think it is $14,000. But out of that I am supposed to pay my electoral expenses, assist in paying my campaign expenses-bear in mind, of course, that I am an Independent-and help pay for at least one of my office staff. That is the situation. I am perfectly happy to open my books if anyone wants to look at them. I reckon I would probably be the worst off member of parliament.

Apart from that aspect on which Senator Walsh was wrong, he went on to say: 'Look at all the family allowance Harradine is getting'. As I have said, I am not getting a brass razoo in family allowance. My wife happens to receive some family allowance. I will do a quick sum. She is receiving about $150 a month less than what Senator Walsh was talking about. But my wife is doing what for her is absolutely the most important job in the world: She is nurturing and raising a very large family. Senator Walsh should not be criticising what she gets or personalising this debate. I should let her have an argument with Senator Walsh; I think he would come off worse. She is up at the crack of dawn and does not go to bed until midnight or afterwards. What are people like her right throughout the country contributing? They are contributing $64 billion to the gross domestic product-and it is not recognised.

For Senator Walsh's information, I knew what my wife's work entailed when Barbara died in 1980. I knew what it was when I was left with a family of six. I knew what the mother did in the home. I knew it before she died, but it did not come home to me until after her death. But, my word, one certainly knows what the situation is then, not only in emotional but also in economic terms.

Talking about social welfare, we can take the case of a widower with six children receiving the supporting parent benefit and a widow with seven children receiving a widow's pension. When such a couple get married what do they save the taxpayer?

Senator Townley —Tell us.

Senator HARRADINE —They save the taxpayer an amount of $20,061.60 a year. The Treasurer, Mr Keating, should give me a medal. That is what such a couple save the taxpayer. That is the situation if the widower is receiving the supporting parent benefit. But, of course, I was not receiving that benefit. In my actual case we saved the taxpayer nearly $16,000 a year. Senator Walsh should have another go. He should not personalise these things. It is not a matter of what I get or what anybody else gets. I stand here for the people who believe that it is important to recognise marriage and to recognise the family as the fundamental group unit of society. We have to have equity there. As the motion says, there must be recognition of the additional responsibilities of those with dependants. If Senator Walsh is going on that track, why does he attack the most important business in this nation?

Senator Ryan —He did not.

Senator HARRADINE —He is attacking it, and so is Senator Ryan. This is not done to business, is it? The Government does not say to a business, 'Oh, you are well off, so we shall charge you an extra amount of primary tax'. The Government imposes the same amount of primary tax whether the business is well off or is not well off. The Government is now attacking the family, the most important business in Australia. Why does the government not take that approach to business and differentiate between well-off business and not so well off business? Let us hear the answer. It will not come, because I do not think that the Government has thought the matter through to that extent.

I take the stand of the average family, which is alarmed at these further attempts to undermine its viability. A major part of my concern is the low income families. Unfortunately, time does not allow me to point out what would happen to low income families if the hare-brained idea of abolishing spouse rebate and transferring it into family allowances got off the ground. The lower income families would be the ones affected. I refer, of course, to Senator Walsh's answers to questions Nos 866 and 867 of 7 June 1984. I do not have time to go into them now, but honourable senators should look at them. There it is analysed what families are receiving. The Government should not abolish the spouse rebate. It is a rebate and not a tax concession-with that I agree; it should be a rebate and not a tax concession-and, therefore, to the lower income family it means a heck of a lot more than it does to the higher income family.

If the Government is looking at these sorts of things, I invite it to consider for tax purposes the income of the family unit. I should like to proceed with that subject, but my time has almost expired. I just regret that most of my time this afternoon has been taken up by an attempt to defend myself against a personal attack. That attack was totally unwarranted. All that I did was to ask Senator Walsh: 'Will it be horizontal or vertical taxation?'