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Tuesday, 29 October 1974
Page: 2072


Senator GUILFOYLE (Victoria) -The Opposition supports the measures which are contained in the Social Services Bill (No. 3) but wishes to move an amendment. I move:

At end of motion add- but the Senate is of the opinion that the Government should consent to the incorporation in it of a provision making widowers and deserted husbands with dependent children eligible for benefit on the same basis as widows and deserted wives'.

I shall address some remarks to that amendment a little later, but I take this opportunity to note that the Social Services Bill (No. 3) is the Government's program for social welfare in the Budget of this year. It is of interest to us to notice that the Government has provided additional payments to children of pensioners. It has advanced that payment to $5.50 a week. We are pleased to see also that there is an increase of $1 a week to a total of $1 1 in supplementary assistance and supplementary allowance for pensioners and sickness beneficiaries. We are delighted to see that the Government has sought to introduce a handicapped children's allowance. We support the inclusion in this year's Budget of $ 10 a week as a payment to parents or guardians of physically or mentally / handicapped children under the age of 16 who are cared for in a family environment. We believe that it will be of considerable assistance to those families who have accepted this responsibility in the home. It is pleasing to see that that assistance is not subject to a means test and is not treated as income in assessing other social security benefits. We believe that this measure which provides $10 a week and which will cover approximately 20,000 children should have the support of all members of the Senate.

A variety of other measures have been covered by increased benefits in the Bill, and they have our support. I am particularly delighted to see the attitude with regard to disabled people employed in sheltered workshops which also should have the support of all honourable senators. The fact that we are now encouraging more people to enter sheltered workshop employment and that we will eliminate the disincentive effect that supplementary assistance has had on earnings is of advantage to those people who can seek a degree of independence in a sheltered workshop situation without feeling that they jeopardise other support which may be basic to their needs. I believe that most of the matters in the Bill should have our support for the very simple reason that the people in Australia who are living under the inflationary conditions which we are all experiencing need assistance in a variety of ways. But most of all the people who are living on fixed incomes and pension incomes need assistance as a matter of urgency. For this reason we would not wish to hold up the Bill at a time when we have had a 5.4 per cent increase in the consumer price index in the September quarter. This leads us to understand that anyone who is dependent on social service benefits has a real need at this time for an increase in whatever payment is made to him.

I was hopeful that there may have been some initiatives in the matter of social welfare this year. It is a matter that concerns us all. This is important to the people who require government assistance and government programs have had a great deal of discussion. Social patterns are changing, and I had hoped that there may be some recognition of some of them. A considerable number of commissions and bodies have been studying the needs of the disadvantaged sectors in our community, and I had hoped that there may have been initiatives on some new areas. I speak particularly of the work that has been done by Professor Henderson and his institute, and I had hoped that some of the recommendations which were included in the reporting he has done to the government would have been carried.

I was somewhat surprised that there was not any evidence of a recognition ':v the Government of the changing social terns which I mentioned a little earlier. The . concept of parental roles in relat-' jil to children is changing and it will be well for the Government and people in this country to recognise that no longer is it the exclusive responsibility of the mother to stay in the home to care for and bring up the children. There is a role for the father figure in our society. In some cases this role has been forced upon the father who has become a single parent by the loss of a wife through either death, or desertionindeed a single parent who has been deserted and who has been given the custody of his children. It was for this reason that we wished to include in the Bill the amendment which I moved earlier to draw attention to the need of the supporting fathers in Australia and the lack of accessibility by them to any government programs of social welfare. I have seen figures which show that there are approximately 25,000 families in this category covering approximately 50,000 children. The work that was done by the voluntary organisations of supporting fathers and single parents prior to the Budget had led me to hope that Government could have given recognition to this group in our community who desperately needed access to some assistance. I know that deputations and representations were made to Government. Prior to the formation of the Budget I spoke in the Senate of the hope that I had that it would be possible this year to assist supporting fathers and the children in those families.

I also hoped that there may have been recognition by the Government that an advisory body which was easily accessible to supporting fathers would be of assistance to them in making many of the decisions which they have to make in their one-parent responsibility. I had hoped, too, that there may have been recognition by the Government of the work of the voluntary associations as groups of people with a common problem hoping to achieve the best for the children who are their responsibility, and that perhaps some Government assistance would be given for the administration of those associations. Representations have been made and questions have been asked by such people as my colleague Senator Martin in order to determine the Government's attitude with regard to supporting fathers and their needs. We have no evidence to indicate that the Government recognises the problem. Yet I am sure that those who work within the social welfare field acknowledge that there is deprivation in the emotional sense in a one-parent family and that there is deprivation in those families who reach the poverty level because of the problems of single parenthood. I had hoped that those disadvantaged groups which are living in poverty because of special problems may have been reached through this year's Budget.

Again it is the people who are important. I think that in this situation we are talking about the children in Australia who are increasing in number to such an extent that at least some 50,000 of them need assistance, and perhaps financial assistance to help to ease the disadvantage which they suffer. To this extent it was a disappointment to read the comment made by the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) in the other House when the matter was raised. The Minister's response to the amendment which was put forward by our colleagues in the other place was as follows:

There was a proposal to have included in this Bill an allowance for supporting fathers, if we can call it that treating the widowed, the deserted father, the supporting father with dependent children in the same way in which widows are treated. This is a highly commendable proposal and one for which there is total sympathy in principle from this side of the House. As I indicated only last week, the Government has under way an investigation into ways in which it can introduce a guaranteed income concept which will get rid of the categorisation 1 referred to then and which I repeat now.

He then talked about feeling no embarrassment in referring to categorisation. But I wonder whether there is a recognition of the immediate problem. It is not a matter of forming another committee or another commission to discuss the problem. It really is a matter of some Government action being taken and some access to Government support being given to families who have special needs at this time. It is not a matter of discussing these people any further to decide whether we are talking about a minimum level of income for all people. We are talking about a group of people who have been isolated from social welfare programs and the fact that the Government has acknowledged the needs of single-parent families if that parent is a mother. Apparently there is no recognition of the difficulties which can be faced by a father.

In this regard I mention the need for fathers in these situations to have access to retraining programs for employment opportunities. So often the hours of care that these fathers need to give to quite young children make it difficult for them to continue in the work for which they have been trained and in which they have been engaged. I hope that this sort of recognition is given perhaps at the same time as we are talking about the need for child care facilities for all of the children of working parents in Australia. These are the things which we regret are not contained in the Budget. But perhaps we also regret the fact that other disadvantages are now becoming apparent in the highly inflationary situation in which we find ourselves.

Professor Harris's report discussed the way in which we could fulfil the Government's program to raise the standard rate of pension to onequarter of average weekly earnings. Professor Harris pointed out that the likely success of the $ 1 .50 a week increase in pension which was originally mentioned by the Government would be related to an inflation rate of about 6 per cent per annum. Those of us who understand the inflation rate which we are now experiencing know that no longer would the granting of a pension increase of $1.50 a week achieve the Government's promise outlined in the beginning that it would award such increases until the pension rate represented one-quarter of average weekly earnings. I think that that problem will affect all of the people who receive pension payments from the Government. It is a national responsibility to undertake to decrease the level of inflation and the rate of increase in the consumer price index in order to allow these people to have the same purchasing power for the pension entitlements which the Government has granted to them. This problem is shared by all of us, but more particularly by those people who receive social security payments.

I wonder whether the Government, in forming the Budget, reached any closer to the proposal which was outlined earlier by the Minister with regard to a mother's wage payment? It will be recalled that the Minister mentioned the idea of providing a wage for the mother who is employed totally in the home in caring for young children. It will be recalled that the Department talked about this matter and that members of the Government Party talked about it. Then in October 1973 the Minister very quickly decided that it was a quite implausible situation to consider at that time. The Minister stated in 1973 that unfortunately it was not possible 'this year'. Do we take it from the casting of this year's Budget that it is also not possible this year and perhaps next year, or has the Government changed its attitude on this question which was formerly expressed by the Minister?

There are different points of view regarding the granting of a wage to a woman who is employed within the home. There is the conflict of interest of women who assert that there is economic value in the work that they do. There is the other point of view that the level of a pension payment of about $20 a week which would be set for that economic work would disadvantage the woman who is seeking to assert herself in the economic climate of our community. They are matters of interest in the changing social patterns which we are experiencing. Apparently in this year's Budget no attempt was made to present any new Government initiatives.

I return to the amendment which has been moved by the Opposition. It is impossible for us to cost what the benefit would be if access to social security benefits were given to supporting fathers in the way in which it is given to supporting mothers. A figure of some $35m has been mentioned by the Minister as being the cost of the program. We have a costing which would lead us to think that a figure of $20m or $25m would be the cost. The point we are making in our amendment is not to highlight the cost or the need to develop any accurate figures at this time but to show that there is a sector of the community which has been excluded from the Government's social welfare program. We believe that for this reason the wording of our amendment is wide enough to allow deserted husbands with dependent children to be eligible to receive benefits on the same basis as widows and deserted wives. We recognise that many income earning fathers in this situation would be means tested in such a way that possibly they would be excluded from receiving many of the benefits that are paid to a widow who is in the same situation of caring for young children. However, it is access to the programs and the support that we believe is needed. For this reason I commend the amendment which has been moved by the Opposition. Having taken this opportunity to express again our concern about this group in the community we hope that the Government will show new initiative in recognising the need and not talk about it any further, not set up a commission or an inquiry, but recognise the immediate need and the value of our proposal which will advantage many children throughout Australia. I commend the amendment to the motion for the second reading of this Bill.







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