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Monday, 23 February 1987
Page: 442


Senator HARRADINE(4.57) —Mr Acting Deputy President, I will seek leave shortly to incorporate in Hansard figures that have only just become available and that indicate that over the last 10 years there has been on the part of successive governments the greatest robbery that has taken place in this country. Before doing so, however, I observe that 1987 appears to be the year of the family rediscovered. I welcome this debate because as you, Mr Acting Deputy President, and others would know, over a number of years I have been pointing out the fact that families with dependent children have been discriminated against by successive governments.

Let me turn to these figures that have been prepared by the Statistics Group of the Department of the Parliamentary Library. These statistics deal with family allowances. Honourable senators who were here in 1976 will recall that when the tax concessions for children were abolished and cashed up into family allowances, I said that that was a good idea because normally the tax concessions had gone to the taxpayer, who was usually the husband, or the father, and in some instances they did not get to the mother. On that occasion the money was taken out of the hip pocket and put in the purse. Since then government after government has been robbing that purse. The robbery figure is $10 billion. The purses of the mothers of dependent children in this country have been robbed of $10 billion. That is the greatest robbery that has been perpetrated in this country; and it has been perpetrated on the mothers of this country, who have the greatest vocation-nurturing children and bringing up our future citizens. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard those dramatic figures.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows-

Statistics Group

Department of the Parliamentary Library

FULLY INDEXED FAMILY ALLOWANCE

Question: What money has been forgone to families due to Family Allowances having not been fully indexed since 1977-78?

Answer: Assuming adjustments were made using the same method applied to Social Security pensions, i.e. May adjustments based on the six months CPI movements ended the previous December etc., the following money has been forgone.

Period

Cost at

1986 prices

$m

Jun. 1977-Nov. 1977...

116

Nov. 1977-May 1978...

267

May 1978-Nov. 1978...

350

Nov. 1978-May 1979...

410

May 1979-Nov. 1979...

486

Nov. 1979-May 1980...

560

May 1980-Nov. 1980...

630

Nov. 1980-May 1981...

706

May 1981-Nov. 1981...

763

Nov. 1981-May 1982...

827

May 1982-Nov. 1982...

759

Nov. 1982-May 1983...

343

May 1983-Nov. 1983...

455

Nov. 1983-May 1984...

529

May 1984-Nov. 1984...

608

Nov. 1984-May 1985...

608

May 1985-Nov. 1985...

648

Nov. 1985-May 1986...

708

May 1986-June. 1986...

257

Total 1977-78 to 1985-86...

10,029

Compiled at request by the statistics group of the legislative research service.


Senator HARRADINE —In 1976, whilst welcoming the transfer of the tax concessions to family allowances, I gave the warning that it would be important to ensure that those family allowances kept pace with inflation, otherwise mothers would not be able to buy with the family allowance what they could then buy. That is the situation now: Family allowances are now worth only two-thirds of what they were worth in 1976. As has been stated today by a couple of senators who spoke prior to me, the fact of the matter is that taxation for a family with four children has increased since 1976 by 435 per cent, whilst average weekly earnings have gone up in that time by only 135 per cent. Of course, I am flattered that people are using those figures which I first incorporated into the Senate Hansard about a year ago. I am a bit sick of standing up in this chamber and saying how families are being discriminated against.

I warn the Labor Government that it will find itself in very deep trouble at the next election unless it reverses the unfair burdens carried by ordinary families on average earnings. These families have made, and are prepared to make, sacrifices but the Government's family policies mean that the burden of Australia's economic ills is being unfairly visited upon families with children. By comparison with others in the work force, the net disposable income of male and female workers with family responsibilities, under all Federal and State awards, has fallen substantially. Those families have been saddled with an unduly greater share of the taxation burden. For example, the living standards of a family with four children on average earnings have dropped by 11 per cent over the last 10 years and will fall a further one per cent, even given the forthcoming tax cuts. In fact, the purchasing power, the real disposable income, of such a family in 1987 will be $1,230 less than for the same sized family 10 years ago. On the other hand, the purchasing power of a couple with no children and the combined income of 1 1/2 times average weekly earnings will increase by $910. Whom does this Government represent? Why has it adopted those policies? I am concerned that it is getting advice from the two-income Canberra aristocracy that would not know what it is like to live on one income.

I was travelling home in the bus the other day and a young fellow was sitting next to me. He said: `Brian, we can't manage'. His family has one income. He said: `Last year prices went up some 10 per cent and our wages by about only 3 per cent'. There has been an enormous hike in mortgage repayments. They now average 25 per cent of the income of the family. He said: `We can't make ends meet'. This Government's policy ought to enable families to perform their functions freely without economic discrimination. Had this discrimination been suffered at the hands of industrial tribunals or employers, the trade union movement would not have tolerated it. Why should the trade union movement tolerate this discrimination against the workers because it has been perpetrated by the government? Honourable senators may have noticed that the trade union movement is now considering readopting its advocacy role on behalf of workers with families. Unions can see from their members that there is discrimination between a worker who has a family and a worker who does not.

On previous occasions I have outlined in this chamber-or more particularly, elsewhere-the reason that the family concept in wages is no longer operative. Of course, that was understood and to an extent recognised by what happened in 1976. What has occurred since 1976 must be rectified and remedied. The time surely has come for the establishment of an industrially and politically supported social wage which recognises the family as the basic unit of society. This system would require specific government commitments before the trade union movement agreed to enter into any further accord or agreed to what is happening now-the attempt to get it to agree to a two-tiered wage structure. The government commitments should include action to lessen the unfair costs and tax burdens on workers with family responsibilities. As I pointed out, that burden is being unfairly visited on families. This is at a time when the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), recognising the economic problems that this country has, says that the burden should be spread fairly. But it is not.

The Government must also restore the true value of family allowances which, I remind honourable senators, in the words of the Institute of Family Studies, are the only measures in the tax transfer system that recognise the extra calls on the incomes of all families with children. The Government must declare right here and now that it will resist the accord-breaking threats to abolish the spouse rebate, and it must declare that it will give a fair go to families. Unless it does this it will be in very big trouble.

I notice that the Opposition has come forward with a family statement. I hope it is better than the last one we had, which provided proportionately a great deal more for the children of the dual income family than it did for those struggling on one income.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! The time allotted for the consideration of the matter of public importance has expired.