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Wednesday, 1 April 1987
Page: 1627

Senator CROWLEY(4.53) —We are debating this afternoon this urgency motion from the Opposition:

The need for the Government to reverse policies which have severely reduced family living standards.

The debate was led off for the Opposition by Senator Chaney, who was heroic and broad in his opening remarks, asking us all to clutch our bosoms and feel better for having even mentioned the word `family', but never once did he attempt to define what he meant by `family' and never once did he define which policies he thought the Government ought reverse. It was a case of `whack-and-slather, cover-everything, here-we-go-again'. As Senator Richardson said in his address, curiously it is exactly the same as the motion which was moved by the Opposition a mere five weeks ago. As Senator Richardson said, it is as though it could not think of anything further to say. Certainly, having regard to the opening remarks by Senator Chaney today, it was fairly clear that he did not want to be specific. He gave the Government a bit of a serve in terms of general economic policies.

Senator Tate —He gave me a serve.

Senator CROWLEY —I will come to that, Senator. Every now and again he mentioned the word `family' as though the families were the ones about whom we should be principally concerned. I say first of all that the Opposition has failed to define what is meant by `family'. I think it is supposed to be that group of people who give one a warm inner glow. It is important, I think, to understand what exactly is meant by `family'. I will make some brief efforts to try to address that point, but lest Senator Tate should feel I have not defended him, certainly he was given some broad swipes, not only by Senator Chaney in anticipation, but also by other Opposition senators who seemed to suggest that he was not strong enough on the human rights Bill, hiding behind it, or was prepared to throw it out. It did not seem that he could win. The point was that the Opposition did not want to hear what Senator Tate had to say.

The Labor Government is concerned, has been concerned, and ever will be concerned about all Australians, and that includes Australian families. I think we need to understand that `families' in this society can mean old people, can certainly mean single parent families and can mean childless families. There are many more examples of what is meant by `family'. What we have had from the Opposition is a series of myths and legends about the family. I say to the Opposition: `No, you cannot get away with saying that. You need to be specific. Which particular family are you talking about?' Senator Chaney said that families with no children were better off than families with children. So by his own definition, some families in our society are better off. Does he exclude them from his definition of a fall in family living standards? If so, could he please be more specific?

What we seem to understand colloquially by `family' is those people who have the care of children. Again, I say that that is not an understanding of what is meant by `family'. Any serious examination of `family' needs to cover the whole range of people and groups of people who now call themselves families, and who are being treated in that way. In particular, I hope to come back later to the paper tabled in this place last week which addressed reforms to child support and which picked up the absolute need to acknowledge the change in the constitution of family in this society.

Senator Tate, in leading the debate for the Government-Senator Richardson re-endorsed this-said that the most significant achievement of this Government in its first term, and its very clear priority when it came to government, was to create jobs, because unemployment is the greatest cause of poverty and of falling or failed living standards. Nearly three-quarters of a million jobs, as Senator Tate said, have been created since the Government came to office in 1983. How anyone cannot take account of that and still tackle an urgency motion in these terms is, I think, clear evidence of his or her insufficient analysis of the question and of the issue.

The Opposition in its meanderings had a broad swipe at the union movement. In fact, Senator Chaney was remarkable in the way in which he dragged into the past to come up with terms with which to abuse the current Government. One thing that clearly must come up on his `go' button is `whack the unions'. The accord between the Government and the union movement in this country has been of considerable significance in the creation of those jobs and the steps that have been taken in terms of recovery, particularly the recovery that Senator Chaney was so pleased to cite for us, to the year 1984 and through that year. The accord, of course, not only introduced the terms of wage settlement, but also included, very importantly, a dimension called a social wage, of which the Opposition blissfully seemed to take no notice and which goes to provisions for superannuation, occupational health and safety, child care, health, and so on, all of which contribute to the health of the breadwinner who lives in a family. The union movement is acutely aware of what is meant by family living standards; and it is much more than just the wage that people take home.

The other significant contribution that the union movement has made in the course of this Government's history has been industrial harmony. A deliberate and very coherent set of steps has been taken by the union movement to ensure that the steps needed for recovery in this country could proceed. The industrial record over the last four years has been absolutely extraordinary. It surprises me-I suppose that it still does surprise me a little-that the Opposition chokes on acknowledging that point, side- steps it and completely misses it.

Another great area on which Senator Tate touched relating to the important matter of family living standards has been the Government's education policy. Anyone looking at the figures will appreciate that, for example, in the tertiary area 8,000 places were created in seven Fraser years and nearly 37,000 have been created in the four years of Labor government. Those figures speak for themselves. The Government knows that unless people are properly educated and have the opportunity to proceed with their studies, they will be less likely to be able to obtain employment, or satisfactory or more constructive employment. Apart from the waste, the human misery in society of those who may be unemployed or who may have to work in the very least productive of jobs, with no job satisfaction and little financial return, there is the enormous economic cost to be considered.

This Government set as another priority in its education requirements an increase in the retention rates of children in secondary school and the provision of increased opportunities at tertiary level. The Government has done that and can stand on its proud record in both areas. I do not need to elaborate them. Time is short and Senator Ryan covered that ground with comprehensive ability in Question Time today, as she has on a number of occasions recently. Our education policies are very much part of the improvement of family living standards, the importance of which this Government has recognised. Senator Ryan also today mentioned the increase under Austudy-a financial contribution and dramatic increase to encourage and assist the children and the parents whose children want to continue and complete their secondary education to the end of year 12.

I was interested that the Opposition argued this matter in terms of single income earners in the fairly traditional or model nuclear family of one man, his wife and 2.3 children, which I think is the current figure. That is not a very wide representative sample of families in this country. Certainly those people have to deal with the same sorts of issues that are being tackled by all sorts of people in our community. But at the same time they are benefiting from those education policies and from the health care policies introduced under this Government. My difficulty lies in the fact that the Opposition seems to focus on individuals and has no understanding of redistribution or community facilities that benefit all families. The Opposition seems to have no regard for dollars spent by governments for the benefit of all citizens. I find that a very curious notion. Opposition arguments on health care and Medicare clearly illustrate the difficulty on the part of Labor members in trying to argue with the furphies and the nonsense offered by the Opposition. The reason that this Government changed its health policy when it came into office and introduced Medicare was to cover two million Australians who previously had been uninsured and who had not enjoyed health care coverage.

Senator Reid —That is not true.

Senator CROWLEY —That was quite clearly so. That is what Medicare did and many of those two million people were members of families. Senator Reid says that it is not true, but it is true. That is precisely what the Government had in mind when it came into office. It had to do that, not to replace the previous system, but the previous seven systems under Fraser that were altered for economic reasons and not health care reasons. The important issue in this whole debate is that the Opposition has no understanding of redistribution, except that it redistributes away from the poor or the masses to the wealthy and to the few at the top. This Government has been concerned to redistribute so that all families, not those in the middle or at the top end, are advantaged. Everybody in this society appreciates that times are tough. That has been spelt out very well by previous speakers in this debate, and everybody appreciates that it is critical that that hardship be borne fairly by the community. But the Opposition understands not at all the importance in that redistribution of the introduction of Medicare that covers the two million people who previously were uninsured. Talk about waiting lists is the Opposition's usual furphy. While this is a grave and serious matter, it is not of immediate relevance to the argument. The same applies to this Government's education policies which are aimed at benefiting all families. Such policies may not be seen in the individual wage packet, but they will benefit all those families.

Another area that has been of great interest to me is the dramatic increase in child care facilities. Never before have we seen anything like the number of places that have been funded, not as tax benefits to individual taxpayers, but through general revenue to create the places that no tax allowance would create. Those child care places will benefit every family that wants to take the opportunity to use them. This Government gives priority to those at the lowest income level, or on pensions or the unemployed. Those people have the advantage. Furthermore, where possible, priority is given to women who need to work and who need child care being given access to child care places. Only recently the Government has announced its occasional care policies so that child facilities are available for women at home. Senator Bjelke-Petersen claims that the Government does not acknowledge that factor. That is a disgraceful statement. We certainly do, we have often spoken on the matter, and indeed it was dealt with only the other day in the National Agenda for Women and in Senator Ryan's statement on the survey on women who work at home. We know of these things and strongly support them. Our occasional care policies will clearly help those women who are at home.

The Opposition in its motion is seeking to have a whack at the Government on the economy in general, but the Opposition takes the view that any discussion of falling commodity prices is not relevant to policies about families. Opposition members cannot have it both ways. If they want to argue macroeconomics from their side, they will have to cop macroeconomic arguments from this side. Of course they affect the living standards of families and affect everybody's standards. This Government is the one that is tough enough to deal with the situation. Despite difficult times, the increases to which I have alluded will benefit all families. One wonders why the Opposition is so busy seeking to defeat the Australia Card legislation, which will recoup huge amounts of revenue dollars for the Government. It will allow further policies that will benefit families and every other citizen to be put into place. I strongly oppose this urgency motion. It is a clear indication of the insufficiency of the Opposition. Opposition members do not tell us their policies. They give us no evidence of what they would do. They simply wish to come into the chamber to carp, criticise and use up a couple of hours. I thank them for the opportunity to say what this Government has done.