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Tuesday, 26 March 1985
Page: 806


Senator SHORT(4.59) —Much of what I wished to say has already been covered very well by Senator Chaney, Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle and others. In the very limited time available to me I should like, therefore, to confine my remarks to that part of the proposal dealing with the apparent possibility of the Government means testing the spouse rebate. I assume that the Government is flying this kite because it is looking for ways to contain expenditure in the next Budget. Certainly, I would not find fault with the desire to contain government expenditure. On the contrary, I regard it as having the highest priority. The reason that we in Australia now have one of the highest Government taxation and debt burdens in the whole world is the spendthrift approach to government spending which this Government has taken since it came to office. I welcome any attempt by the Government to keep its spending within manageable limits. But the Opposition objects very strenuously indeed to what appears to be a blatant attack on the family which the proposal to means test the spouse rebate would constitute.


Senator Ryan —Didn't you listen to anything I said?


Senator SHORT —Yes, I did, and I did not learn a great deal. The family, particularly the single income family with dependent children, is already under strong attack in Australia. Only a decade ago, the report of the Henderson Commission of Inquiry into Poverty in Australia, found-this still applies today-that the single income two parent family with dependent children was at greatest risk in our society. So why is the Government now flying kites to suggest that it should adopt a policy which will make more serious the position of those families? With due respect to the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan), I do not believe we have heard a convincing answer to that this afternoon. It would not be unreasonable to speculate that the real reason lies in the apparent view of people like the Minister for Finance, Senator Walsh, and Senator Ryan that everybody somehow or other ought to be in the paid work force and that there is something wrong with parents choosing to remain at home to bring up their children. As Senator Harradine said, that line of thinking totally ignores the enormous contribution which parents who choose to remain at home to bring up their children make not only to the well-being of their own families but to the well-being of our nation.

The Opposition opposes what it sees as an attack on the family in this kite flying. We oppose it on other grounds as well. We oppose it for two reasons in particular. It restricts the freedom of individuals to choose and it confuses a welfare payment with the simple recognition that it costs more to support two people than one. Means testing of the spouse rebate restricts a family's freedom of choice because it treats single income families unfairly, compared with two income families. It ignores the fact that it costs a one income family just as much to live as a two income family. The tax system should take account of this. That is why we have the spouse rebate. If it is removed or severely additionally means tested, the Government in effect will be saying that the single income two parent family should be penalised because one member of that family, for whatever reason, has chosen not to be in the paid work force. It is quite wrong to penalise that decision and to limit the family's freedom of choice. The spouse rebate is not a welfare payment. It is simply a recognition of the obvious fact that it costs more to support two people than one.

The proposal is also totally inconsistent with the Opposition parties' policy of allowing single income families to split their income for tax purposes. That policy was developed by the coalition parties because of their recognition that single income families are disadvantaged by our existing tax system. To means test the spouse rebate would mean that the tax system would be changed to disadvantage those families still further. At a time when the tax summit is being foisted on us, it seems crazy for the Government even to contemplate tinkering with the system in this way. The summit appears to have enough difficulties as it is. It will be in even more difficulty if a proposal such as that to means test the spouse rebate is introduced in a vacuum and without regard to all those other elements of tax reform which may arise over the next year or so. We all agree that tax reform is very desirable and necessary, but it must be looked at as a package and not in a piecemeal way. A proposal such as that which we now have floated as a kite before us would certainly contribute only in a piecemeal way.

The matter raised in the motion brought forward by Senator Chaney today is an urgent matter. It deserves the support of all members of this chamber if they believe in freedom of choice, in a fair go for single income families, in an equitable tax system and in tax reform being introduced in a logical and consistent fashion. For those reasons, I move:

That the question be now put.

Question resolved in the affirmative.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —The question now is:

That the motion be agreed to.

All those of that opinion say aye, against say no. I think the ayes have it.


Senator Chaney —On a point of order, Mr Deputy President: We heard noes from the other side and we had a clear demonstration from speakers on the other side-


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —There was only one no, Senator Chaney.


Senator Chaney —No, there were two, Mr Deputy President.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Even if there were more than one no, there is no challenge from those who called no.


Senator Chaney —It is typical of the pathetic approach of members of the Government that they should speak against, but refuse to vote against, the motion. They are not prepared to divide.

Original question resolved in the affirmative.