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Wednesday, 8 June 1994
Page: 1540

Senator TEAGUE (6.24 p.m.) —The Minister representing the Minister for Employment, Education and Training (Senator Schacht) has not been in the slightest way persuasive. I wish to refer to five of the points he made, and I will do so as briefly as I can because I do not wish to delay the Senate. I reiterate all the arguments I have already put. The minister referred to benefits to isolated children and said that the Liberal and National parties are the heroes in Australia for having established benefits for isolated children. He inferred, though, that what the Liberal and National parties had gained—which was in the statute book and was of benefit to isolated children—was somehow at risk with this legislation.

Senator Schacht —We are providing further benefit.

Senator TEAGUE —That is not true. The bill in front of us is shifting the provisions that are already there from a regulation to a statutory basis. The program is already there. No isolated children will suffer if the government chooses not to go ahead with this legislation. It is in the government's hands.

  Secondly, the minister tried to put what he called a political point. He said that that political point was about the deficit. The deficit in the Australian budget is too high. Through you, Mr Temporary Chairman, I put two simple points to Senator Schacht. We do not accept the $10 million estimate that the minister and Mr Free referred to. It is an exaggeration, and we do not believe that that is the case. The government has not demonstrated that it is anywhere near that amount. And I put the argument back that actually this legislation has a number of very good elements to it that we support.

Senator Schacht —But you are putting it at risk.

Senator TEAGUE —Hang on. Those are disciplines that will limit overpayment, that will tie together benefits under veterans' entitlements, the Social Security Act and the Austudy provisions, for example, and we believe these disciplines are fair for all taxpayers and that they will save taxpayers and the government money. The savings are much greater even than $10 million. If the government does not go ahead with this legislation for want of the two amendments on this one matter, the government will make the deficit worse and, therefore, the responsibility for lowering the deficit relies upon the government accepting this legislation that it has moved. We called for the disciplines with regard to Austudy, we called for the saving of taxpayers' dollars, and it is in this legislation. The legislation will not proceed if Minister Free and his colleagues in the government do not accept this reiterated message from the Senate.

  Reference was made to the health care card. Senator Schacht's rhetoric, his debating point about Collins Street farmers, fell flat last time and it has fallen flat again. He says that all the fast accountants will fix their affairs through a great loophole that we are opening up. That was his term—`they will fix their affairs'. He shed all sorts of crocodile tears about how all sorts of wealthy Collins Street farmers would fix their affairs to take advantage of this health care card provision. But he cannot show me one who has already done it; they do not exist. The minister puts up a straw man, and it is not convincing.

  The fourth point is the minister's reference to families who are struggling in the rural recession who happen to have a large asset. We acknowledge that this occurs. But he wants to deny the children of those families access to secondary and tertiary education. He is saying, `Don't worry about the farm boys and the farm girls, the rural families of Australia.' He is saying, `If their parents have an asset that in normal times is substantial and that normally would preclude them from access to secondary and tertiary education assistance, we won't have anything in our hearts for those children in those families when the recession means that they haven't got an income that could pay for their studies in a school or a university.'

  The Liberal and National parties have different values from that. We are saying there is a temporary problem regarding these normally asset rich families. But we will not see the children of the bush suffering the denial of secondary or tertiary education on that account. It is a strongly held value within the Liberal and National parties that we will stand up for rural children, we will stand up for the bush—and we will stand up for anyone in the cities who is in like circumstances. It happens to be the case that increasingly over the last decade those who have least access to education in this country are from rural communities.

  Studies at the Australian National University on participation in higher education demonstrate again and again that the children of families living in rural areas have the lowest access to higher education in Australia, and we will not allow this measure to be taken away from the bush by a hard-hearted Labor government. We will put in place a provision that will make it a little easier for the families of the bush to get access to education, and we will ensure that there is some equity for those who are in a disadvantaged position.

  Finally, the fifth argument that the minister put was: if this legislation fails, it will be on the heads of the Liberal and National Party coalition senators. He must be joking! There are enough advantages for the government in this legislation that it would cut off its nose to spite its face if it did not agree to this legislation going ahead. It is to the advantage of taxpayers, to the advantage of the government's budget, and it is to the advantage of sensible outcomes of debate in parliament that this legislation proceeds, and it will proceed on the basis of the Senate amendments being agreed to.