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Thursday, 12 May 1994
Page: 748

Senator PATTERSON —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security. Why, as a result of the government's white paper, will a family with one full-time worker earning $300 per week be nearly $30 per week worse off than a family earning an identical amount of additional income from two spouses working on a part-time basis?

Senator CROWLEY —I was reading my newspaper yesterday and I came across a very interesting article that is particularly relevant to this. Mr Hewson—

Senator Knowles —Dr Hewson.

Senator CROWLEY —All right; Senator Knowles wants to make him a doctor. Dr Hewson had this to say:

We will make the White Paper their Fightback. We will expose it, scrutinise it, look for anomalies and inconsistencies and poverty traps and dismantle it line by line.

Out of the mouth of the Leader of the Opposition there is clear evidence that the opposition is going for the nitpickers prize of the century. Here is a document that says to Australia, `We care passionately that you get back to work.'

Senator Patterson —Mr President, I raise a point of order. I asked Senator Crowley a very simple question: whether a full-time worker earning $300 dollars a week would be nearly $30 dollars per week worse off than a family earning an identical amount of additional income from two spouses working on a part-time basis. That is a very simple question. She is going on with a whole lot of nonsense. We want the answer to this question. Will that family be worse off or will it not be worse off?

The PRESIDENT —She has not got very far into the question, so it is pretty hard to judge that. I call Senator Crowley.

Senator CROWLEY —As I was saying, the opposition has come in here under a clear policy. Nothing it can do will break down the good news to the Australian people about the white paper and the budget.

Senator Knowles —Good news!

Senator CROWLEY —Good news; that is right. People will understand our commitment to creating jobs and reducing unemployment, our commitment to putting social security and economic policy together and looking at ways we can remove—

Senator Panizza —Mr President, I raise a point of order. The minister is already halfway through her answer and she has not attempted to address the question Senator Patterson asked. I ask that you direct her to be relevant and get onto the question.

The PRESIDENT —I still think it is pretty hard to know how somebody is developing a question when that person has not been given time to develop it.

Senator CROWLEY —As I was saying, those opposite are going for the nitpickers prize of the century and they are going to go through these documents and look for anomalies. They are missing the whole plot. They are missing the commitment of this government to wedding social security to economic, employment and industry policies and making sure that, as much as possible, we remove the disincentives in the social security system for people to go to work. Any understanding of the social security changes in the white paper shows that families—

Senator Patterson —You don't have any understanding of families.

Senator CROWLEY —Yes, we have a clear understanding that any family that takes up employment—part-time work, casual work or full-time work—will be better off under this proposal because of the reduction in the taper. If there are times when Senator Patterson can expose an anomaly of that sort, I will certainly make sure that I get the full details of each of these anomalies and check them. But if she wants to come in here and make mileage about this little point and that little point, go for it. I will find out and come back to her with all the answers. In the meantime, the people out there know that we are committed to creating jobs, removing disincentives and helping those families on social security—and where social security butts against employment.

Senator Kemp —I take a point of order, Mr President. On the issue of relevance, the minister has just admitted that she does not know the answer to the question posed by Senator Patterson. She has taken 3 1/2 minutes to get there. I ask you, Mr President, to be more careful in future in ruling on the issue of relevance—because presidents before you have found it possible to rule on the issue of relevance. She was completely irrelevant.

The PRESIDENT —Order! There is no point of order.

Senator PATTERSON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The minister could not answer that question; she has gone away to find out about it. While she is away—that is presuming the minister will able to answer the rest of these matters—will she confirm that the following groups will be worse off under the white paper: single jobsearch allowance recipients earning between $40 and $110 a week; JSA couples earning between $40 and $150 a week; homeless youth aged under 18 earning between $40 and $110 a week; JSA couples with two part-time jobs totalling up to $140 a week; single JSAs aged 18 to 20 earning between $40 and $110 a week; and single parents of any age earning between $40 and $110 a week?

  The minister could answer me now about whether that is right and why there are these differences. The minister said before that there was no difference under the old rules and the new rules. I have given the minister an example and asked her a question about couples earning $300 a week, and she could not answer it. Can she answer any of these questions, or will she have to go away to do that as well?

Senator CROWLEY —I believe that what Senator Patterson is referring to is the change involved in removing the $15 earnings amount and replacing it with a uniform simplified system of income assessment or tapering. That means people will be eligible for $30 without loss; from $30 to $70 they will lose 50c in the dollar; and above $70 they will lose 70c. Some people who under the previous unemployment benefit have been allowed the $30 and then the $15 earnings disregard will, as Senator Patterson rightly points out, be modestly disadvantaged as their income passes through the scales she mentioned.

Senator Kemp —You didn't say that in the budget speech.

Senator CROWLEY —Yes, it is there; it is clearly admitted. What is understood is that for those people there will be a modest disadvantage because we are moving to a simplified system and a uniform assessment of income, with an understanding that once those people's incomes go above that very low $100 a week, they will proceed to be better off.