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Thursday, 24 March 1994
Page: 2269

Senator PATTERSON (5.49 p.m.) —I want to reiterate yet again that in the government's election policy document—and it was stated in black and white—Mr Keating said:

Accordingly, a Keating Government will increase the dependent spouse rebate and pay it directly to the spouse at home caring for children. The new Home Child Care Allowance will be $30 a week and will provide some source of independent income for women at home caring full time for children.

There is no mention that families with students in full-time education would be excluded. There is no mention that families who are temporarily overseas would be excluded. There is no mention that families with students receiving Austudy would be excluded. There is no mention that families would be excluded as a result of the more onerous social security income definitions. The promise was cut and dried: the dependent spouse rebate would be increased and paid directly to the spouse at home caring for children. As I said before, this is not the first promise the government has broken since the election, and I guess it will not be the last. It does not mean that the Senate should not insist that the government keeps the promises it made to the Australian public prior to the last federal election.

  The opposition's amendment to the motion before the Senate seeks to give the government a final chance to abide by its pre-election promise to Australian families. It points out that the government's bill, in its current form, will exclude certain families from the home child-care allowance. It outlines the ongoing efforts that have been made by the coalition, Senator Harradine and the Greens to overcome this unacceptable anomaly—I do not know whether it is an anomaly but it is disadvantaging those families. An anomaly seems to indicate that it may be an oversight; but I do not think it is an oversight on the government's part, I think it is absolutely deliberate. The amendment puts on the public record the fact that the drafting of amendments to overcome this problem is complex. It puts forward a possible method of overcoming the problems which would, at the same time, minimise unintended consequences.

  Agreeing not to press the original request for amendments expresses the fact that the Senate in no way wants to put at risk the benefits contained in this bill. I have said that and I keep repeating it because the minister keeps putting out press releases saying that we are putting it at risk. As I said earlier, and I think Senator Crowley mentioned it, it refers to the relevant precedent which was set when Senator McMullan gave an undertaking in March 1994 that the government would give effect to the Senate's intentions by redrafting the amendment. Senator Crowley said that was because the government agreed with it. I do not think Senator Crowley has given me or Senator Harradine—and we have asked her a number of times—adequate reasons why she is failing to include families who would have been eligible and who have now become ineligible under the Social Security Act, as opposed to having the benefit under the tax regime.

  This amendment to the motion sends a very clear message to the government. It is telling the government that while the Senate will not jeopardise the benefits of the home child-care allowance, it believes that families who are in receipt of the with child dependent spouse rebate should be eligible for the home child-care allowance as was promised before the election.In the interim, since we have been debating this bill, we have had, again, the same old tactics that we are used to. What is the excuse now about this amendment? It is that if we pass this amendment as it is, we will not have time to get the bill back from the House of Representatives and this whole thing will be put in jeopardy because the start-up date is September. The same old tactics.

  When the government has a bill in the Senate, and it wants amendments to get through and it is the last sitting day, it sure as anything can get that bill to the House of Representatives. The government can have the House of Representatives waiting around and it can bring the bill back—it can do anything when it suits. But we are told that if we press this amendment and it is agreed to, we will jeopardise this bill because it may not get back from the House of Representatives and then we will not have time—poor things—to get the bill up and running.

  That is absolute bunkum. But I will not allow the minister, or Minister Baldwin, to waltz around the country accusing the opposition of putting this at risk. I will put it on the public record that we have given the government three opportunities—and this was a fourth opportunity—to do something about those families. I do not know how the minister can sit there, knowing that young families are working in care organisations but they will not be eligible for this. I just find it unbelievable. But so be it. When I go around Monash and the other universities, I will remind all of the young academics that the minister said today that she does not care about them—it is of no interest to her!

  We could be accused of caving in to political blackmail. However, I am not prepared to jeopardise the 840,000 families that will be eligible for HACCA for the simple sake of trying to beat my head against a wall. We have a government that will not listen and has no compassion for these families. So I will be withdrawing my motion, but I will say on the public record that I had every intention of pushing ahead with it. I am sure that I would have had the support of the people who supported me before. But the government is about blackmail—`If you do this, this bill will be jeopardised'. I do not believe that that was the case because I have seen innumerable occasions when a bill has gone down on the last day and come back. So it is just a feeble excuse. I do not accept it, and I do not believe that the public will accept it. So I seek leave to withdraw my amendment.

  Leave granted.