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Tuesday, 31 May 1994
Page: 912

Senator MINCHIN —I refer the Minister for Family Services to the report in the Age of 13 May in which ACTU President Martin Ferguson called for the federal government to simplify the system of family payments, saying that it was too complex and not reaching people in need. Mr Ferguson's criticisms were supported by the chairman of the government's National Council for the International Year of the Family, Professor Cass, who said in the Canberra Times on 14 May that the government needed to re-examine the whole complex array of children's payments currently in place with a view to the integration, simplification and strengthening of payments for families with children under school age. Given this government's normal practice of doing what the ACTU tells it to do, when will the minister respond to Mr Ferguson's criticism by fixing up the mess over which she presides?

Senator CROWLEY —Senator Minchin is a brave man to take on this government and its payments to families, its parenting allowance, its child-care cash rebate, its child-care assistance and its payments for single families. I could go on and on, yet Senator Minchin wants to suggest that those payments are not good things for families. They are, and they are welcomed by the community.

  Let me pick up on some of the answers which my colleagues have been giving in this place yesterday and today: the recognition by this government of the importance of targeting its payments to people in need and people with children. Those payments have been increased and targeted since we came into office. We have set benchmarks for payments for children. These are matters of great importance and worthy of great celebration.

  The fact that some people out there do not necessarily understand all of the advantages that they are entitled to is a matter of continuing concern, a matter of why this government is at pains to make sure, as much as possible, that we advertise very widely exactly what the benefits are to those likely to be eligible in the community. That is precisely why we have an extensive campaign running at the moment to try to make people aware of the cash rebate for child care before 1 July 1994 so that those payments can cut in the minute the cash rebate starts.

  Advertising campaigns are conducted all the time to make sure that we target our payments and that all the people who are entitled to them benefit. One could never say that one is sure that everybody in the community knows. It is a matter of continuing concern. As well as producing the payments, targeting them and making sure that families get them, we are continually reviewing how effectively we are targeting that information to the community. It is always a matter of ongoing review.

Senator MINCHIN —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The government presides over the most complex system of payments imaginable—the basic family payment, the additional family payment, the parenting allowance, child-care assistance, child-care rebate and now the home child-care allowance. If, as Martin Ferguson quite rightly says, one needs a doctorate to follow this maze, how on earth can ordinary Australians be expected to understand this bureaucratic smorgasbord of benefits?

Senator CROWLEY —It is remarkable how many people do benefit and it is remarkable how many people are getting those payments. Senator Minchin's claim contradicts the number of people who are in receipt of payments by this government. We can be particularly proud of these very large payments. They are targeted payments, they are focused and thousands of Australians enjoy those benefits.

  So we should be cautious about the extent to which a maze out there prevents people from understanding what they are entitled to. I have already said that those payments are effective, they are targeted, they have been increased and they are focused. But we also have a continuing concern to make sure that people know what they are entitled to. It is an ongoing matter of concern and something this government has always taken into account.