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Wednesday, 1 April 1987
Page: 1619

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN(4.09) —I am very happy to be able to participate in this extremely important and relevant debate on the urgency motion today-namely, the need for the Government to reverse the policies which have severely reduced family living standards. I regret to say that the present Government is guilty of neglecting the family unit, the cornerstone of society and the fundamental structure around which all societal activity occurs and flourishes. Sir Robert Menzies was a politician of great stature and his words have stood the test of time. I can remember him. Some of the younger senators may not. All I can say is that, when Sir Robert Menzies was Prime Minister of Australia, Australia's economy was in a tremendously good and stable condition, which it is not in now under this Labor Government. It is very worthwhile, I believe, to quote Sir Robert Menzies. He once said about the family:

What is the value of this middle class? First, it has a stake in the country. It has a responsibility for homes-homes material, homes human and homes spiritual.

I do not believe that the real life of this nation is to be found either in great luxury hotels and petty gossip of so-called fashionable suburbs, or in the officialdom of organised masses.

It is to be found in the homes of people who are nameless and unadvertised, and who, whatever their individual religious conviction or dogma, see in their children their greatest contribution to the immortality of their race.

The home is the foundation of sanity and sobriety; it is the indispensable condition of continuity; its health determines the health of society as a whole.

So said Sir Robert Menzies. I believe it behoves us all to take a word of warning from those wise words. Real life exists out there in the suburbs, not in the trendy suburbs or the halls of great intellectualism. They have their value in society. There is no doubt about that. But reality for Mr and Mrs Australia begins at their front door.

There is not an ounce of doubt in my mind that single income families with dependent children are under financial pressure today as they never have been before, thanks to the disregard of this present Government. They have been hit by high taxes. Family allowances, which were introduced by the Fraser Government in 1976 to replace child endowment, and tax rebates for children have been eroded ever since by inflation and the Hawke Labor Government. I have to admit that successive coalition governments have been guilty of failure to index family allowances, as well as this present Government. However, the Government has severely compounded the situation with various disastrous budgetary measures. Of course, the larger the family the greater the financial loss caused by the failure to index family allowances. From 1976 to 1985 the real value of family allowances declined by 29.2 per cent. This failure to index family allowances has denied Australian mothers a total of $10 billion since 1977-78 which they otherwise would have had available to rear their children.

Senator Richardson —Who was in government in the first six years of that?

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —The Labor Government has not done anything since it came to power to help the situation. The spouse rebate has also been greatly reduced by the Labor Government over the years, even though in his election speech of 1983 Mr Hawke promised a substantial increase in the spouse rebate. That is another of Mr Hawke's broken promises. I am glad to know that he has not broken his promise about continuing to govern until the normal election time. I am glad that he has announced today that we will not have an early election. So at least he kept that promise.

Senator Collard —He wasn't game.

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —That might be one reason. The dependent spouse rebate, which is the only method under the present system by which single income families can receive a fairer tax deal, rose by no less than 16 per cent in real terms during the last five years of the Fraser Government. Under the Hawke Government, the value of the rebate has fallen 23 per cent in real terms. That is a rather sad and sorry story. But it should not surprise us at all really because it is well known that some sections-powerful sections, at that-of the Labor Party want to abolish the dependent spouse rebate altogether.

All honourable senators would be aware that the cost of raising children has risen rapidly over recent years. These days it is quite the norm for young couples who have just married to postpone by several years any thoughts of starting a family. It is simply a matter of finances. Interest rates at the ridiculous level they presently are virtually necessitate young couples who want to purchase a home having two incomes. The decision to have children very sadly has become a decision to reduce the family standard of living. Even with the so-called personal tax cuts that will come this year, a single income family with a dependent spouse and children will pay a much higher proportion of its income in tax than it did in March 1983 when the Hawke Government came to power.

Senator Richardson —What would it pay with a 25 per cent flat tax?

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —Senator Richardson will have an opportunity to speak in this debate after me when he can say just what he wants. He should just let me say what I want to say. In March 1983, such a single income family paid 17.5 per cent of its total income in tax. In July this year, even allowing for the so-called Keating reforms, the proportion to be paid in tax will be 20.5 per cent, an increase in income tax of some 3 per cent. In other words, the family would need to receive a further tax cut of $15 a week over and above what the Government has promised in order to be brought back to the position that it enjoyed in March 1983.

This comparison makes no allowance for the huge increases in interest rates, for any impacts of the fringe benefits tax, or for any impact of the other tax imposts of the Hawke Government that affect families. We heard earlier in this debate about the increases in the cost of flavoured milk. A tax was placed on flavoured milk and fruit juice. I have seen the tremendous increases in the cost of goods in the supermarkets when I go shopping. These things all come back on to families. They affect rural people. We know the tremendous increases in interest rates and the costs families have in trying to meet their repayments on rural farms. We have seen in the papers pictures of families being put off farms that have been repossessed. Rural families suffer. We know too that single income families, pensioner families and others also suffer.

Responsible parenting has been made very difficult by the successive Budgets of this Labor Government, Budgets which supposedly, in the name of equal sharing of the burden, have unfairly hit those with unequal and greater responsibilities. Families with dependent children should not have to be further burdened by new or higher taxes on basic items such as petrol and health insurance. I listened to our Leader of the Opposition (Senator Chaney) talk about how when Labor came into power fuel cost 44c a litre and now costs 55c a litre. Whether it costs 55c a litre depends on where one lives. If one lives way out in the outback of Queensland or up in Darwin one will pay a lot more than 55c a litre. That increase in the price of petrol came about even though the Prime Minister said that when he got into power there would be no increase in the price of fuel. That is an unfortunate promise and one that he has not been able to keep.

Would not people think that a government which cared for the majority of Australians-that is, the families of Australia-would have acknowledged the adverse impact of increasing the Medicare levy and removing private hospital subsidies? Many Australian families put the health of their children first and joined private health insurance funds. These families should not have to contribute to the public health system through the Medicare levy. They want to be able to use a hospital of their choice, if it is necessary. The education system provides the same difficulty. The Hawke Government continues to discriminate against those families which choose to send their children to private or independent schools. What about the students who are having to pay a $250 tertiary entrance fee? The Government knows that that is an unnecessary burden too.

The tax burden on ordinary Australian families continues to grow daily. Between 1976 and 1985 average weekly earnings rose by 135 per cent while the income tax payable on such earnings rose by 435 per cent. This proves that Australian families are indeed suffering from a very real increasing tax burden. A single income family pays more tax than a dual income family earning the same total income because the latter has the benefit of two tax free thresholds. This automatically penalises families in which one spouse works as the full time mother at home. When I first became a member of the Senate people asked me what it was like to be a working woman now. I looked at them with horror and said that I was a working woman before I became a member of parliament. I think that mothers who stay at home and look after their families as full time carers are really working women. There are no doubts about that. The Government should recognise this fact and do something about it.

Every wage earner in Australia realises that whether or not he gets the promised tax cuts at the end of this year he will still be worse off. Higher taxes, inflation and interest rates, in particular, will make sure of that-tax cuts or not. The Australian Taxation Office is the big winner, not the average Australian family. If the Labor Government were really serious about trying to help the Australian family it would reduce the tax burden and interest rates.

Under this Government the whole economic system of this country is geared towards breaking down the family rather than helping it to maintain its position as the strength of this country. At present a couple with two children can improve their financial position from a joint income of $181.20 to $320.15 a week by separating. When a family's position can be improved by parents separating it is indeed the bottom line. What an incredible situation that is. The Family Law Act needs an overhaul. The present Act makes it too easy for people to walk away from their community responsibility to raise their children in a two parent family.

To give credit where it is due, I was very pleased to hear last week that measures were to be taken to ensure that maintenance payments were to be deducted from the responsible parent's pay packet. This is a start. I still believe that more funds should be made available for pre-marriage and marriage enrichment education. Only $100,000 was allocated in the last Budget towards pre-marriage education. It was certainly not enough. Present Federal funding amounts to about 2 1/2c per family for marriage guidance compared with about $470 per family when families break down. This Government has done absolutely nothing to help Mr and Mrs Australia and their children. We are seeing daily the decline of the single income family and the best way to help them is to reduce taxation and interest rates. Accordingly, I support the urgency motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition because it has been proved that there is certainly a need for the Government to reverse the policies which have severely reduced family living standards in Australia.