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Thursday, 2 June 1994
Page: 1222


Senator COONEY (4.20 p.m.) —The matter being discussed as a matter of public importance is:

The Keating government's policies which have widened the gap between rich and poor and entrenched a permanent underclass in Australia.

That is not the situation. I will make a comment on Senator Margetts's speech. We can point to very wealthy people in Australia but it seems to me that there is no harm in having people who are wealthy. If they can accumulate capital and income, good luck to them. The real issue is whether or not people are being left without proper support—support by income or other means. That is what we have to look at; whether or not there are people who are at such a disadvantage that the community ought to step in and help. It does not seem to me that we ought to look at the richest end of society; it is a matter of whether we can do something for those who are in great need.

  This government has done many things, including assisting the rural poor. I will cite some statistics. From March 1983 to March 1994, the following real increases in social security payments were achieved: an increase of 14.9 per cent—almost 15 per cent—to single age pensioners; an increase of 57 per cent to single unemployed renting; an increase of 31.5 per cent to sole parents with two children renting; an increase of 90.8 per cent in rent assistance for single people without children and 139.4 per cent for people with three or more children; and an increase of 152.8 per cent in additional family payments—AFP—for teenage children and nearly 80 per cent for children under 13 years.

  In all these areas there has been a marked and major improvement against the Henderson poverty line, which itself increased by 16 per cent in real terms over the last decade. These comparisons do not take into account the government's measures to improve self-provision resulting in an increasing proportion of all groups of social security recipients, and sole parents in particular, being able to partly or even fully provide for themselves.

  Moreover, improved client service delivery and family integration in January 1993 have increased the take up of benefits, particularly family payments. That is an illustration of what this government has done to help those whom we should be aiming at; those who are deprived in terms of income and the jobs available to them, education and other things.

  There is no doubt that the economy is booming and that is the headline in most of the papers today. That, itself, will bring back much more confidence and consumer spending, and much more activity in the community, which will then lead to a much greater distribution of income. I do not mean that things should be left to the trickle down theory. The reality is that as the economy gets better, the ability of this community to help those in need will increase—and this government will be foremost, as it has been up till now, in seeing that those in need are helped.

  In the last few seconds of my time I want to return to the point that Senator Sherry addressed; that is, the ABS survey which has been mentioned here today. As Senator Sherry said, that did not take into account non-cash benefits such as access to concessions, health services and public housing. That is a point that should be made in the context of this debate. It is not only cash that this government has made available, but other matters such as health services and Medicare, and these have been of great help to the less fortunate.