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Thursday, 14 November 2002
Page: 6368


Senator MARK BISHOP (2:01 PM) — My question is to Senator Vanstone, the Minister for Family and Community Services. What is the minister doing in response to the Ombudsman's claim in relation to her flawed family payment system that `the system inherently results in large numbers of debts' and that `these debts are significantly high' and that `debts arising from the scheme are affecting many low-income families'?


Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) —I thank the senator for the question. I do not know where Senator Bishop was when the government made some announcements in July or August making some changes—giving families more choice in this area. There were some implementation difficulties with a very good new family tax benefit policy—a policy that puts $2 billion extra into the hands of Australian families. Those features are well understood by the government and clearly by the opposition. The government made some changes to ensure that families would have more choice, which will avoid them getting overpayments. I say `overpayments' because I do not know of a family who expects to get more than another family in the same circumstances. Where that family has had an overpayment, that family would expect to pay it back. It is not a debt in the sense of money owed in some other way; it is an overpayment of a benefit. I do not know of a family that has argued to me—I cannot recall one—that they should get more money than another family in the same circumstances. I will dig out the announcements that were made giving families more choice to solve these problems and I will have them sent around to your office.


Senator MARK BISHOP —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. When is the minister actually going to fix the grossly unfair system of family payments which has delivered to 650,000 Australian families average debts of $850 per family?


Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) —I thank the senator for giving me the opportunity to highlight to his colleagues and to my own colleagues that typical Labor tactic—and that is, `When are you going to fix something?' containing the absolute assertion that something is wrong. Do we hear calls to fix a tax system whereby at the end of the year some people have to pay more and some get a refund? No. Why? Because people understand how the tax system works. The family tax benefit is inextricably linked into that. Senator Bishop, if you do not understand it, the majority of Australian families do.