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Wednesday, 8 December 2004
Page: 61

Senator TCHEN (2:13 PM) —My question is also to the Minister for Family and Community Services, Senator Patterson. I ask: will the minister inform the Senate how the Howard Government is providing extra assistance to Australian families to allow them to exercise choice in the way in which they raise their children? If time permits, I ask the minister to further inform the Senate if she is aware of any alternative policies.

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women's Issues) —I said `excuse the overpayment' in the answer to the last question; it should be `excuse 10 per cent of the overpayment', I suppose, if I want to be absolutely correct. This is a reasonable and sensible question about family tax benefit from Senator Tchen. Families eligible for family tax benefit have lodged their tax returns, received a pre-Christmas windfall and benefited from the Howard government's strong economic management. Almost 1.6 million families with around 2.8 million children have seen the benefit of the $600 per child supplement. That is the $600 that Labor said is not real—the $600 that they went around trying to tell the Australian public during the election is not real. Wayne Swan said it is not real. Of great concern is that this is the man who is a pretender to the Treasurer's seat saying the $600 is not real. If that is the way he is going to run the economy, heaven help us if he ever gets the handles of the Treasury levers. When asked whether he still maintained that the $600 is not real, he said, `That's absolutely my position.'

Well, 1.6 million families know it is real. They know that they have received on average more than $1,000 extra in family tax benefit—that is, 1.6 million families have received on average more than $1,000 in family tax benefit. Through the initiatives that I have put in place, such as the simplification of forms and communication to families and the provision of more choice for families in how they receive their assistance, overpayments have been reduced threefold to around eight per cent. I would like colleagues on the other side to take note of that: overpayments have been reduced threefold, to around eight per cent. But I am not going to stop there, and I am still working to ensure families receive their correct entitlement to the assistance they deserve.

Labor is still standing by its failed tax and family policy, which would have cut financial assistance to over one million low-income families. Tanya Plibersek went out and said that Labor's policy was a `fantastic policy'. Wayne Swan called it a `real winner'. The reality is that Labor planned to scrap family tax benefit B. This would have reduced choice for families. Labor planned to scrap the $600 per child payment. Scrapping the $600 payment would have hurt families because the money is real, despite the fact that some people still say it is not real. Incredibly, Labor tried to con low-income families by telling them they would be better off weekly when in fact they would have been worse off annually. It just does not add up. Claims that the $600 is not real just do not add up either. These claims just prove that Labor does not have the skills to manage the budget. The $600 is real; 1.6 million families know it. It is Labor that is unreal in its treatment of families. Perhaps the Labor leadership should listen to the advice of the member for Ballarat. She said:

We should never again let ourselves be in a position where we attack sole parents. We lost votes because of it.

I have to say I agree with her. Labor lost votes because people understood that they could not be better off weekly and worse off annually. The very people that were going to be penalised under Labor were sole-income families and low-income families. Through strong economic management, we are providing the extra assistance that families deserve and the policies which allow them to exercise choice in the way in which they raise their children.