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Towards a fairer Australia - social justice under Labor



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A FAIRER USTRALIA

Towards a Fairer Australia Social Justice under Labor l ll ll ll l

Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra

F O R E W O R D

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I am proud to be able to release this report on social justice under my Government. The report details Labor's social justice achievements and our agenda for further reform.

My Government's unswerving commitment to a fairer Australia is demonstrated by our social achievements to date. One million new jobs. Removing the tax lurks for the privileged and using the proceeds to help the needy. Universal health cover. Better eduction. More housing. Alleviating child poverty.

We will not relent in our pursuit of social justice. But this means setting priorities. Those priorities are laid down in our social justice strategy for the future, contained in this document.

In pursuing our social justice strategy we will ensure the benefits of a growing economy are distributed equitably. We will improve equality of opportunity. And we will enhance the rights of people, especially the underprivileged.

In short, my Government will continue to work for a fair go for all Australians.

Health Medicare Pharmaceutical benefits Health promotion

Housing Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement Supported accommodation First Home Owners Scheme

Community Services Child care Services for the aged Home and community care Residential care

Services to people with disabilities Family support Support for defence force families Assistance to local government

Working Conditions Wages policy Health and safety Industrial democracy

Industrial relations Superannuation

Legal Rights Consumer affairs Family law Administrative law and freedom of information Constitutional law

Human rights Legal aid

Aborigines and Islanders Land rights Employment promotion Education Housing

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O V E R V I E W

This Government's fundamental objective is to develop a fairer, more prosperous and more just society: a society in which every Australian receives a fair share of the nation's growing wealth.

The four key elements of such a just society are:

• equity in the distribution of economic resources; • equality of civil, legal and industrial rights; • fair and equal access to essential services such as housing, health and education; and

• the opportunity for participation by all in personal development, community life and decision-making.

After five years of the most wide ranging reform ever undertaken, Australia now has a society in which:

• the nation's income and access to services are more fairly shared; • the standard of living for the poorest Australians has been protected and improved; and • rights and opportunities for women and disadvantaged groups

have been enhanced.

These achievements have been built on a unique approach to managing the economy; an approach which has put jobs first. Despite the economic difficulties which faced Australia in 1983, the Government has created more than one million jobs and significantly reduced unemployment. Under the terms of the innovative Prices and Incomes Accord, the Government, the ACTU and ordinary workers have joined in a partnership which has delivered jobs and wages moderation matched by massive

improvements in the social wage; improvements which have been achieved even as total Government spending has been restrained. These measures include:

• the introduction of Medicare; • major improvements to the social security system including increased cash assistance to the disadvantaged and better targeting of assistance on the most needy; • improvements to the education and training systems to give

young people, particularly the underprivileged, a better chance in life; • increases in assistance for housing, including public housing, crisis accommodation and assistance to young first home

buyers;

• rent assistance payments have been increased for pensioners and extended to unemployment beneficiaries and low income working families; • the new Child Support Scheme has been developed to ensure,

for the first time, that all children of divorced and separated parents receive financial support from the non-custodial parent; and • new programs are being developed to facilitate the training or

retraining of the jobless, including sole parents.

These measures, and others, have resulted in marked real increases in incomes for the most needy. Details of this are shown in Table 4 in the chapter on social security. A married pensioner couple with two children and renting privately, for example, has gained a 12 per cent real improvement in living standards since 1983.

Further improvements will be made in future in line with the Government's commitment that, by 1990, no child need live in poverty.

The Government has also moved to enhance the dignity and living standards of the aged. The approach is two-pronged: increased age and other pensions and an overhaul of the services for the aged.

While pension adjustments have been delayed a little, full indexation of pensions has been maintained over a period when others have been asked to accept reductions in real earnings as

their contribution to the overall need for restraint. This has meant that the single rate of pension has increased from 22.7 per cent of average weekly earnings in March 1983 to 24.6 per cent in December 1987.

In addition, the Government has addressed the barriers which previously discouraged pensioners and beneficiaries from engaging in small amounts of paid work because of the fear of loss of pension. These 'poverty traps' have been ameliorated through a series of measures.

Education, training and youth l l l l l l l l

Adequate and relevant education and training is the essential first step to giving the young, particularly the underprivileged, the chance in life which they deserve.

Over the past five years the Government has increased recurrent funding for schools by 28 per cent in real terms and steps have been taken to encourage and assist the States to improve educational outcomes.

Moreover, for an average family, a return to the pre-Medicare system would result in an increase in health insurance costs of $21 a week.

For too long the aged and the disabled had only limited choices about the type of care available to them. As a result, too often people were forced to enter inappropriate institutional care.

The new Home and Community Care Program, introduced in 1984, has at last provided real choice. Funding for this program has been increased by 79 per cent in real terms since 1984.

There has been a complementary restructuring of assistance provided for people with disabilities. The approach has been to facilitate independent living wherever possible so that disabled people can play the more active role in society that they desire.

Similarly, the Government has sought to broaden the choices available to women through expanding the provision of child care. While recognising the value of the work of women in the home, the Government has moved to break down barriers which have prevented women from participating fully in the paid workforce.

Education and training are important, as are measures to eliminate discrimination and harassment at work and the landmark affirmative action legislation. But of particular significance has been the Government's firm commitment to affordable child care. Since 1983 the number of Commonwealth subsidised child care places has more than doubled to 110,000.

Housing ilium Adequate and affordable shelter is basic to the Government's social justice strategy.

Accordingly, the Government has doubled funding for public housing in real terms compared with the period 1978-1983. An extra 220,000 low income people have received assistance as a consequence - a major step towards removing housing-related

poverty for low income groups.

The shelter needs of homeless people have also received special consideration. Funding for youth refuges, women's refuges and shelter for homeless people has increased by 76 per cent in real

terms since 1984, providing assistance to over 60,000 people in need. In addition, as noted above, assistance for low income families renting privately has been increased and expanded in coverage.

The First Home Owners Scheme was introduced in 1983 to assist people in low and middle income groups to purchase their first home. Since then the scheme has assisted 270,000 people.

ignore or through any single initiative. Accordingly, it is committed to taking the broad strategic action required to achieve social justice.

It is committed to making social justice both a primary goal of economic policy and an indispensable element in achieving economic policy objectives.

As Australia enters the 1990s, with economic policies starting to bear fruit, the Government is committed to continuing and sharpening its social justice strategy - drawing in particular on the findings of the Government's Social Security Review.

The Government's priorities will be:

• achieving a sustained fast pace of job creation; • improving the position of working families and eliminating the need for children to live in poverty; • assisting the long-term unemployed, including by facilitating their

re-entry into the workforce; • improving the education and training opportunities of young people; • caring for the aged; • further improving the circumstances of women, Aborigines and

members of disadvantaged groups; • increasing employee participation in workplace decisions; and • constitutional reform.

Meeting these challenges will require a consistent policy approach across the full range of Government activity, including economic policy formulation, health policy, policies on education and training and social security.

Underlying the Government's approach to all of these issues is the simple fact that there can be no social progress without social justice. That principle has informed Government decision making for the past five years and will continue to do so.

E M P L O Y M E N T

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Of all the factors operating to further social justice, the capacity of people to obtain paid employment is the most significant. A job provides the income necessary to improve the standard of living of the job holder and any dependents and the opportunity to

participate in personal development and community life. For people able to work, employment also offers the most effective way out of poverty and into a meaningful, dignified way of life.

Employment growth

llllllll For the reasons outlined above, when the Government entered office in March 1983 it made job creation its highest priority. At that time the Government undertook to create 500,000 new jobs over its first three years of office. This commitment was exceeded considerably, with 660,500 additional jobs being created in the three years to April 1986.

Since then, the growth in employment has continued so that over one million new jobs have been created between April 1983 and March 1988; an increase of some 16.1 per cent or 3.1 per cent each year. This is a marked acceleration from the average annual increase of 0.8 per cent a year for the five years from March 1978 to March 1983.

As a result of this major commitment to employment growth, Australia is at the forefront of world job generation. As indicated in Figure 1, the rate of increase in the number of jobs in Australia in the four years to the end of 1987 has been the highest in the Western world and over twice the average of all OECD countries.

Of the total new jobs created in Australia since April 1983, two thirds have been full-time jobs in a diverse range of sectors. The largest growth has been in the increasingly important services sector, particularly finance, hospitality, community services and the wholesale/retail trade, and over 80 per cent of the new jobs

have been in the private sector.

A particularly notable feature has been that close to 60 per cent of the new jobs have gone to women, with the result that the labour force participation rate among women has increased from almost 45 per cent in April 1983 to the present rate of around 50 per cent. There has also been a significant increase in the labour force participation rate among female sole parents, from 39 per cent to 44 percent.

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that in 1986 only 7.8 per cent of young people aged 16-17 were in receipt of unemployment benefit and that only 9.3 per cent of young people aged between 16 and 20 years received the benefit.

FIGURE 2: ACTIVITY PROFILE OF 16-20 YEAR OLDS, 1986

100 η

80 -

1 2

■ 16-17

E3 18-20 H Total

xf xr

co co CQ

3 4

1: Full-time Education 2: Full-time Employment 3: Unemployment (not in full-time education or full-time employment) 4: Other (including part-time education and part-time employment)

SOURCE: Australian Bureau of Statistics, The Labour Force, Australia

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traditionally participated in senior secondary education (i.e. young people from low socio-economic backgrounds, some young people living in rural areas and those of non-English speaking

backgrounds).

The Participation and Equity Program (PEP) operated from 1984 to 1987 as a program to develop innovative approaches to extending education provision. Many of these approaches have subsequently been taken up by schools and supported by school systems on a long term basis. PEP provided funds to both schools and technical and further education to increase levels of participation in education and to make outcomes more equitable between population groups.

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TABLE 1: YEAR 12 RETENTION RATES, 1982-1987

Year Males Females Persons

1982 32.9 39.9 36.3

1983 37.5 43.9 40.6

1984 42.1 48.0 45.0

1985 43.5 49.5 46.4

1986 45.6 52.1 48.7

1987 49.4 57.0 53.1

Percentage increases 16.5 17.1 16.8

The Government recognises that further increases in senior secondary participation rates are required in order to further extend access to the benefits of education and to enhance the economy's skill base. Accordingly, the Government has set a target of a 65 per cent retention rate to Year 12 to be achieved by

1992.

Higher education l l l l l l l l

Higher education plays an important role in furthering seif-development and increasing skill levels of benefit to both the individual and the economy.

Over the past five years the Government has sought to improve access to higher education for the most disadvantaged. To this end, emphasis has been placed on providing new institutions and places in outer metropolitan areas and regional areas with low rates of education participation and, under the Equity Program, funding projects which seek to improve access to members of disadvantaged groups. In addition, since 1983 the Government

has been providing funds for additional intakes into higher education, with emphasis on the provision of opportunities for young school leavers. In 1987 funds were provided for an additional 3,500-4,000 places for young school leavers.

In total, higher education enrolments have increased by 13 per cent since 1983, with almost 394,000 enrolments in 1987. This increase in enrolments has been accompanied by an increase in participation rates for young people in higher education, with the participation rate for those aged 17-19 years having increased from 10 per cent in 1983 to 12.5 per cent in 1987.

In December the Government released its Policy Discussion Paper on higher education, which raises issues concerning the further expansion of the nation's higher education system,

including factors affecting women, Aborigines and individuals from

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• the standardisation of maximum rates of AUSTUDY and unemployment benefit (UB) through most of the structure. This has been achieved without any decreases in the rates of unemployment benefit.

As a result of these changes, incentives to remain in or undertake secondary and tertiary education have been greatly improved and, as shown in Figure 3, the number of students receiving assistance has increased markedly.

FIGURE 3: NUMBER OF STUDENTS RECEIVING GOVERNMENT ASSISTANCE, AS AT JUNE 30, 1983 AND 1987

200000

150000 Ό O ) y 'co in roφ -Q E10000050000

■ Secondary*

E3 Tertiary

11 Total

includes adult secondary students

1983 1987

In addition to encouraging participation in secondary and higher education, the Government has placed a high priority on improving training and employment programs. Reflecting their diverse aims, these programs have taken a number of forms - formal trade training programs, including apprenticeships; labour

market preparation programs, including special programs which focus on the disadvantaged; and employment experience and generation programs.

Vocational and trade training l l l l l l l l

To better meet labour market demands and to increase the immediate value of training to the trainees concerned, a specific focus of the Government's approach has been to match training priorities with areas of labour shortage.

An important provider of skills training is the TAFE sector. Since 1983 enrolments in TAFE have increased by over 100,000 and TAFE has continued to be a major contributor to the vocational training system, both for young people and adults. In 1988 the

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These training opportunities have been supplemented by the introduction in 1985 of the Australian Traineeship System (ATS), following the Government's consideration of the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Labour Market Programs, (the Kirby

Report). The ATS constitutes a new form of quality training for young people. It involves a structured combination of on-and-off-the-job training in areas of non-trades employment with a nationally recognised certificate on completion. When fully developed, traineeships will provide a major point of entry to the

labour force for young people, particularly for those who have not completed Year 12 education.

Under the traineeship system, the Government provides $1,000 to employers for each trainee to assist in offsetting the cost of on-the-job training, with an additional $1,000 for disadvantaged trainees. In addition, $1,800-$2,000 per trainee is provided to off-the-job training providers.

At the end of February 1988, over 11,000 young people had commenced traineeships, more than 80 per cent of whom had left school prior to completing Year 12 and 15 per cent of whom were at a particular disadvantage in the labour market (e.g. through Aboriginality, disability or long-term unemployment).

Labour market preparation l l l l l l l l

In recent years the Government has restructured labour market programs in line with the recommendations of the Kirby Report that more effective, equitable and better integrated programs should be developed.

The present range of labour market programs is designed to assist job seekers who have most difficulty in finding employment, among them sole parents, those with English language difficulties, Aborigines, the long-term unemployed and people with disabilities.

Two of the schemes - the Youth Training Program (YTP) and the Adult Training Program (ATP) - have as their focus the provision of a range of short-term vocational training courses for unemployed people which are often provided through the TAPE sector. These courses are designed to assist participants to obtain employment through the acquisition of marketable skills.

Both programs are recent innovations which have replaced other programs with improved training provisions and a significant expansion in the number of available places. In 1987/88, more than 13,000 young people are expected to be assisted under YTP and a similar number of adults will be assisted under ATP.

In 1987/88 an additional $2m has been made available under ATP to provide training opportunities for sole parents and widow's

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BREAKTHROUGH WITH JOBSTART. V O IR CHANCE TO G ET BACK INTO A JOB. Women in Professional

Engineering Profiles of Change

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Under the Community Employment Program, it is estimated that between August 1983 and June 1988 over $1,250m will have been provided to create 121,000 short-term employment opportunities, enabling appropriate work experience for 145,000 unemployed people. A system of targeting within this program has ensured participation by the long term unemployed, Aborigines and women.

In addition, under the JOBSTART program, the Government has allocated extensive funding to provide subsidy payments to employers to facilitate access to employment for job seekers unable to compete on an equal basis in the labour market. A

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S O C I A L S E C U R I T Y

l l l l l l l l

The social security system has a crucial role in furthering social justice through the income support it provides people who do not have an adequate income as a result of old age, disability and

sickness, unemployment, widowhood and sole parenthood.

A major priority of the Government has been to improve the adequacy of the various income support payments, thereby improving the standard of living of pensioners, beneficiaries and low income families.

At the same time, the Government has sought to encourage self-provision by pensioners and beneficiaries by improving incentives within the income tests applied to eligibility for payments.

This has been complemented by greater integration of social security provisions with the education and labour market systems so as to encourage, where possible, increased independence and workforce participation by social security recipients.

These initiatives have been supplemented by measures to ensure that social security assistance is directed to those in greatest need and that the integrity of the social security system is maintained.

Within this context, in 1985 the Government embarked on a major review with the aim of achieving a fairer, better targetted and more effective social security system. The Social Security Review is to be completed this year. Work to date has set out short and long-term directions for reform within the context of changes to economic, social and demographic conditions.

Reforms implemented during the past five years have already resulted in major improvements in many areas of the social security system.

Pensioners and beneficiaries

llllllll Since 1983 the Government has worked towards increasing the single pension rate to 25 per cent of average weekly earnings (AWE), with steady progress in achieving this goal. The Government has ensured that pension rates have been fully adjusted for inflation, when wage earners have received less than full wage indexation. As a result, the single pension rate has increased from 22.7 per cent of AWE in March 1983 to 24.6 per cent of AWE in December 1987, with corresponding increases in the married rate of pension.

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The FAS itself provides a new non-taxable maximum payment of $22 a week for each child aged under 13 years in modest income families, both working and pensioner/beneficiary families, and a maximum of $28 a week for each child aged between 13 and 15 years.

As part of the package the Government also increased the rate of non-taxable rent assistance to unemployment beneficiaries with families from $10 to $15 a week and extended eligibility for rent

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payments (for family allowance and family allowance supplement) for children in low income families.

By 1990 these payments will rise to • 15 per cent of the married rate of pension for children under 13 years of age; and • 20 per cent of the married rate of pension for 13, 14 and 15 year

olds.

Once attained, these benchmarks will be maintained, thereby ensuring that the value of the payments is not eroded over time.

Increases in real disposable incomes illlllll These initiatives to improve the adequacy of pension and benefit levels and payments for low income families, combined with the

income tax reductions detailed in the chapter on taxation, have resulted in large real increases in the disposable incomes of the most disadvantaged in the community. Table 4 shows, for example, that a sole parent renting privately with 2 children has received a 13 per cent real increase in disposable income since March 1983.

TABLE 4: INCREASES IN REAL DISPOSABLE INCOMES FOR SELECTED SOCIAL SECURITY PENSIONERS AND BENEFICIARIES BETWEEN MARCH 1983 AND DECEMBER 1987

Category Percentage change

Single pensioner, no children +8

Sole parent, 2 children (under 13) - renting privately +13

- not renting privately +13

Married pensioner, 2 children (under 13) - renting privately +12

- not renting privately +12

Unemployed couple, 2 children (under 13) - renting privately +18

- not renting privately +12

Long-term unemployed single adult - renting privately +33

- not renting privately +21

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combination of social security income tests and income tax. As a result, changes have been made to both taxation and social security income tests.

Within the tax system, pensioners, beneficiaries and other low income groups have benefited from the increases in the taxation threshold and the reduction in marginal tax rates introduced by the Government, described in detail in the chapter on taxation. For

example, the basic rate of tax payable on incomes between the tax threshold and $12,500 a year has been reduced from 30 per cent in 1982/83 to 24 per cent.

Within the social security system, measures have been introduced to improve incentives for self-provision. Since 1983 the amount of private income unemployment and sickness beneficiaries may earn before benefits are affected has been increased by 200 per cent to $30 a week. The income test has also been liberalised to allow some income to be retained over these limits.

These initiatives have encouraged the unemployed, in particular, to increase their work experience and supplement their benefit through casual or part-time work. At the same time, the income test has continued to ensure that people cannot be better off on benefit than in full time work.

For pensioners, a range of measures has been introduced, some as part of the Government's Tax Reform Package. They include:

• increases to the income test free area from $30 to $40 a week for a single pensioner and from $50 to $70 a week for a pensioner couple; • doubling of the amount of extra income per child which can be

received before pension is reduced (from $6 to $12 a week); • abolition of the harsh separate income test for rent assistance; and • indexation of the income limits for eligibility for pensioner 'fringe

benefits', such as pharmaceuticals and transport concessions.

The combined effect of these measures has been to increase substantially the amount of private income pensioners can receive before pension is affected. For example, a sole parent pensioner with two children and renting privately with part-time earnings of

$80.00 a week has received an increase in income, after tax, of $23.36 a week resulting from these measures. A married pensioner couple without children renting privately and with the same private income will have received an after tax increase of up to $21.35 a week.

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This has involved the phasing out of eligibility for Class B widows' pensions (which entitled widows without dependent children to a pension on reaching 50 years of age) and a reduction in the maximum age of a child who qualified his or her parent for sole parent's pension from 24 to 15 years of age.

In introducing these measures the Government was conscious that women affected by them may require assistance to re-enter employment. Accordingly, additional training places have been made available for sole parents and older women with few workforce skills. Additional child care places have been provided for women undertaking such training and greater efforts will be

made to provide appropriate information and advice for those who become ineligible for sole parent pension.

The Social Security Review has recently completed a report on the issue of income support for the unemployed which is currently under consideration by the Government. The report suggests that further steps could be taken to make the income support system

more positive and active, particularly in relation to the long term unemployed.

Targeting of assistance l l l l l l l l

in addition to increasing assistance to those in greatest need, the Government has taken steps to ensure that assistance is better targeted.

In 1983 the Government commenced phasing out the income test free pension paid to pensioners aged 70 years or more and in 1985 introduced an assets test on pension eligibility. In 1987 a similar assets test was applied to eligibility for unemployment, sickness and special benefits.

These changes were made because many people, demonstrably not in need of pension assistance to sustain a reasonable standard of living, were able to either receive a pension regardless of other income or take advantage of the absence of a test on assets to obtain a pension. In many cases this involved avoidance of the income test by the use of artificial investment

devices. This leakage' of assistance meant that fewer resources were available to assist those most in need.

The Government has also taken steps to ensure that assistance for families is targeted to those in greatest need. An income test on eligibility for family allowances was introduced in 1987 and was a major factor in enabling the introduction of the Family Assistance Package. The income test applies from a joint family income of $50,000 per year (plus $2,500 for each child after the first) and is withdrawn at a rate of 25 cents for each dollar of

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T A X A T I O N

llllllll Of major importance to social justice and the improvement of equity is the structure of the taxation system. A fundamental criterion for assessing the efficacy of a taxation system is equity - both horizontal equity (treating people in similar circumstances the same) and vertical equity (treating people in different situations differently, with those who are better off bearing a greater share of the tax burden).

Against this and other criteria, such as efficiency and simplicity, the Government has reformed the tax system over its period of office, with major changes in 1985.

These reforms were necessary because the tax system had deteriorated badly. It had reached a point of crisis where it had lost credibility and was seen by the general community to be unfair and open to abuse. This was brought about as a result of

the impact of inflation in the 1970's, the gradual whittling away of the tax base through exemptions and deductions and the growth of contrived avoidance and evasion schemes. In addition, some forms of income, such as capital gains and fringe benefits, had

remained untaxed.

These weaknesses in the tax system meant a greater tax burden was being placed on ordinary taxpayers.

The major reforms, announced by the Government in September 1985, represent a package which has broadened the tax base and reduced marginal tax rates for all. The Australian tax system is now much fairer, both between individuals with the same capacity to pay and between individuals with different capacities.

Personal income tax reductions llllllllIn the 1984/85 Budget the Government commenced restructuring the personal income tax rate scale by reducing the lowest marginal tax rate from 30 cents to 25 cents in the dollar. These measures provided a tax reduction of $7.60 a week for most taxpayers and, by significantly reducing the tax burden on low income earners, improved the equity of the taxation system.These measures were built on in 1985, when the tax free threshold was raised from $4,595 to $5,100 a year and further reductions in marginal tax rates were introduced.These changes, which significantly reduced the higher marginal rates, need to be considered in the context of the Government's overall tax reform measures. In particular, the widespread25

system, both in and outside the context of the 1985 Tax Reform Statement, which have sought to eliminate the tax avoidance and evasion practices which had become a feature of the tax system prior to 1983. These include:

• removal of tax shelters, including total denial of deductions for entertainment expenses and improved substantiation rules for expenses claimed such as car and travel expenses; • several pieces of tough legislation to stop blatant tax avoidance

schemes; • provision of increased resources to the Tax Office to improve compliance with the tax laws and to investigate tax avoidance

and evasion; • increased penalties for non-compliance with tax laws; and • the introduction of a foreign tax credit system to subject income

received from foreign sources to tax in Australia. This addresses the problem of taxpayers being able to avoid tax by arranging to give their income an artificial overseas source; often in a low tax country.

Other taxation changes ilium Apart from the major reforms of the taxation system outlined above, the Government has introduced other changes aimed at

ensuring a fairer tax system. These include:

• the introduction of special rebates for social security beneficiaries (and maintenance of the rebate for pensioners introduced in 1982/83) to ensure that people wholly or largely dependent on social security do not pay tax;

• removal of various rebates which tended to benefit higher income groups; and • introduction of a prescribed payments system for certain payments to sub-contractors.

In 1983 the Government introduced a non-retrospective increase in the tax on lump sum superannuation benefits to bring the taxation treatment of those benefits more into line with the taxation treatment of other forms of income, including superannuation pensions. As access to superannuation is skewed to high income groups, this change further improved the fairness and equity of the tax system.

As a result of those changes, the tax was increased from a maximum effective rate of 3 per cent to a maximum rate of 15 per cent for lump sums below $55,000 for recipients aged 55 or over, and 30 per cent for any excess over that figure. For recipients

below age 55, a maximum rate of 30 per cent applies. This rate of

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H E A L T H

l l l l l l l l

Access to affordable and high quality health services and participation in decisions relating to their health are basic rights of all Australians and an important element of social justice.

Over the past five years the Government has instituted major changes in health care in Australia; changes which have resulted in a better and fairer health system for all Australians.

Medicare llllllll One of the Government's first major initiatives was the introduction in 1984, of Medicare - a major social reform which provides a

universal and equitable system of health care for all Australians, financed on the basis of each person's capacity to pay. Medicare provides:

• automatic entitlement under a single public health insurance fund to medical and optometrical benefits for all Australian residents. Medicare provides a safety net by meeting 85 per cent of the schedule fee, for medical services provided out of

hospital with a maximum patient contribution for each service of $20. Doctors are also able to bulk bill for all patients and thereby eliminate any patient charge; • as an additional safety net, once the cumulative total of a

patient's 'gap' contributions reaches $150, Medicare meets the full cost of subsequent claims until the end of the financial year; • free shared ward accommodation and in-patient and out-patient treatment at public hospitals; and • subsidies for private treatment in public hospitals. Medicare

currently meets 75 per cent of the schedule fee for medical services provided to hospital in-patients and day surgery patients under private care. The difference between the Medicare benefit and the schedule fee is covered by basic private health insurance.

The introduction of Medicare is a major contribution to increasing the social wage. Prior to Medicare, two million Australians were without health insurance, with many of those not receiving adequate health care because of their inability to pay for it. Surveys show that in 1983 a higher proportion of high income earners than low income earners had health insurance cover and that a major reason for not having health insurance, particularly amongst married couples with dependent children, was cost.

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thresholds are $8,980 a year for individuals and $15,090 for couples, with an addition of $2,100 to the threshold for each dependent child or student.

The Government also provides assistance to the States to reduce public hospital waiting lists for some types of elective surgery. A cost-shared program has been established for this purpose to

which the Commonwealth will contribute $50m over the two years to June 1989.

A further Commonwealth contribution to the public hospital system has been the Medicare capital equipment progam, which greatly improved public hospital equipment through the provision of $150m between 1985/86 and 1987/88.

Pharmaceutical benefits IIIIIEII Social justice requires that every Australian, regardless of means, should be able to obtain pharmaceutical prescriptions at an

affordable price. The present pharmaceutical scheme protects both low income earners and those who need a large number of prescriptions.

For general purchasers of pharmaceuticals the maximum payment for each script is $10, with the Government meeting any additional charge under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). The scheme provides free pharmaceuticals to most pensioners and certain social security beneficiaries. Other low income groups, including the unemployed, receive a Health Care Card and pay only $2.50 for each prescription.

In addition, in 1986 the Government introduced a scheme to protect people against excessive costs and, in particular, to protect the chronically ill and families with children. Under this 'safety net' scheme, once a family or individual has paid for 25 PBS items in any calendar year, further prescription items required in that year are provided free of charge. This scheme has resulted in lower pharmaceutical costs for many families and the chronically ill than afforded by previous arrangements. By the end of 1987 500,000 entitlement cards had been issued, providing free pharmaceuticals to an estimated 1.3 million people.

The ease and convenience of the new scheme, with all transactions taking place at the pharmacy, also ensures that those who need this form of Government assistance are not dissuaded from utilising it by bureaucratic or other barriers.

Further assistance for the chronically ill has been provided through the introduction, in 1987, of a scheme to subsidise the cost of syringes and testing agents for diabetics.

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the dissemination of information to enable people to make informed choices about their health and lifestyle and to promote attitudinal changes. In 1987/88 a total of $25.8m in Commonwealth funds will be available for the National Campaign and $20.5m will be spent on combating AIDS.

The release in April 1988 of the report Health for all Australians is a major step towards achieving better health and reducing inequities in health status between groups within the community. The report presents an agreed strategy for Commonwealth, State and Territory co-operation in implementing an improved approach to health promotion and illness prevention and identifies five priority areas for concerted action:

• the prevention and control of hypertension; • improved nutrition; • injury prevention; • the health of older Australians; and • the prevention of lung, skin, breast and cervical cancer.

Similarly, in co-operation with relevant agencies, a national policy on women's health is currently being developed. The policy will identify areas in need of attention on the basis of an analysis of the status of women's health in Australia.

Pilot programs have already been introduced, in association with the States, to evaluate the most cost-effective methods of providing screening services for women at risk of breast and cervical cancer and additional funds have been provided to Family

Planning Associations for new and expanded services for young people, the unemployed, people with disabilities, migrants and people in isolated communities.

The Government is also encouraging community participation in health administration. The Consumers' Health Forum, established in 1986, is an important development in extending formal community access to decision-making related to national health policies and services.

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interest rates for public housing. In 1987/88 all States may nominate for public housing up to 100 per cent of these loan monies, thereby providing increased access to low interest finance for public housing.

This major increase in funds has enabled a significant increase in the number of people assisted. For example, the public housing stock has increased by 24 per cent since 1983 compared to an increase of only 2 per cent in the five preceding years. The

assistance provided for low cost housing loans enabled 14,000 low income people to purchase their own homes in 1986/87; an increase of 36 per cent over the number assisted in 1982/83.

The Government has also introduced a number of important innovations into the CSHA to address particular types of housing need. These include:

• The Local Government and Community Housing Program, which funds local government and community groups to provide low cost rental housing and to facilitate greater tenant participation in the management of dwellings; • The Crisis Accommodation Program, which provides capital

funding for dwellings for women's and youth refuges, hostels for the chronically homeless and family crisis accommodation; and • The Rental Assistance for Aboriginals Program, which is in the

process of developing new arrangements to enable greater involvement by Aboriginal people in determining their housing priorities.

Supported accommodation l l l l l l l l

In 1985 the Government introduced a major new program, the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP), to replace and improve a range of previous programs providing assistance for homeless people and those in need of crisis accommodation. The program provides, in conjunction with the States and Territories, funding to non-government organisations

and local government to provide a range of accommodation and related support services. It assists people who are either permanently or temporarily homeless as a result of crisis and

those who need assistance to move towards independent living.

The program focuses primarily on funding youth refuges, women's refuges and accommodation for homeless persons. A wide range of service types are assisted, including crisis shelters, longer-term shelters, half-way houses, advice and referral centres, day centres and drop-in centres, meals services and rape crisis centres.

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the number of Commonwealth funded child care places has more than doubled, with a commensurate increase in expenditure. TABLE 5: CHILD CARE PROVISION, 1982/83 AND 1987/88

Percentage

1982/83 1987/88 change

Number of places 46,000 110,000 139

Recurrent expenditure $56m $188m______ 138*

Total expenditure $61 m $229m 166*

• in real terms As well as expanding the number of places, the Government has:

• introduced guidelines which give priority of access to the children of working parents and those training for or seeking work, children with disabilities and children at risk of neglect or abuse; • implemented needs based planning and targeting to ensure that

new centres and additional places are located in areas of highest need; • introduced an income-related fee relief system which ensures that fees are related more closely to capacity to pay; • redesigned and upgraded the funding system for occasional

care and provided 2,400 new occasional care places to assist parents caring for children at home; • provided substantial additional funds to special services for ethnic and Aboriginal children and children with disabilities.

This has involved the development of a specialised funding formula which enables services to properly address the special needs of Aboriginal communities.

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An important aspect of the HACC program is consultation with service providers and users on the gaps in existing services and priorities for developing new types of services.

Commonwealth expenditure on HACC has expanded substantially since it commenced. Since 1984/85, when the program commenced, funding has increased by 79 per cent in real terms, with $176m being provided in 1987/88. In addition, the

Government has allocated an additional $94m to be spent over the next four years.

Residential care MINIM The Government has been similarly concerned to promote access, equity and better matching of services to needs in its

funding of nursing homes and hostels. As a consequence, in 1986 the Government embarked on reform of residential care provisions based on these three objectives.

New assessment arrangements now ensure that aged people seeking help are referred to the services which best meet their

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p i /

1 |

Family support l l l l l l l l

In 1986/87 the Government established a new Family Support Program (FSP) as a co-operative venture with State and Territory Governments. The program funds community based services for families with young children and who are experiencing stress and aims to develop a national network of support, referral and self-help services.

Commonwealth funding for such activities has increased from $3.4m in 1982/83 to an estimated $9.7m in 1987/88. With the advent of the new program, assured ongoing funding and indexation of grants have been introduced for the first time.

It is estimated that over 170,000 families a year will be assisted under the program.

Support for defence force families llllllll The Government has also taken steps to address the special needs of families of defence force personnel, particularly those

who face frequent posting moves.

Arising from its study of the circumstances of defence force families, the Government has established the Australian Defence Families Information and Liaison Services (ADFILS). This service will provide information and referral on education, employment and community facilities as well as personal support to defence force families.

Assistance to local government llllllll In recognition of the potential for expansion and improvement of local government delivery of community services, the Government

funds a number of demonstration and pilot projects under the Local Government Development Program. It also promotes the development of more rational and efficient arrangements in this area through working with individual local governments and training authorities.

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W O R K I N G

C O N D I T I O N S

ilium The Government's commitment to social justice is reflected in measures to promote fairness, job security and involvement at work. Over the past five years the Government has introduced a

number of measures - many of which are part of the Prices and Incomes Accord with the trade union movement - which have improved employment conditions and industrial rights for workers. These include:

• changes in Australia's wage-fixing arrangements which have reconciled social justice with economic necessity by protecting the real incomes of the lower paid; • steps to allow employees in both the public and private sectors

to participate in key decisions at work. The Government believes that all employees and their unions have a right to be involved in change; and • measures to improve working conditions for employees to

ensure fair treatment at work and, in particular, to expand the rights and opportunities available to women.

Wages policy l l l l l l l l

The Government's wages policy has had to be sufficiently flexible and adaptable to adjust to the needs of an economy confronted with drastic falls in the terms of trade and a consequent large devaluation of the Australian dollar. The wages outcomes arising from this policy have been achieved co-operatively, without severely depressing the economy and while maintaining a record level of employment growth.

The wage system has delivered, and is continuing to deliver, the wage restraint necessary to bring Australian labour costs into line with those of our trading partners while maintaining the competitiveness gained from depreciation. However, the

Government's social wage measures, introduced as part of an integrated approach to wages policy, have served to ameliorate the effect of this restraint on wage and salary earners. The Government has been particularly concerned to provide protection to lower income earners.

The current two tier system of wage fixation has provided particular assistance to the lower paid. The two flat rate first tier wage rises supported by the Government and awarded by the

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private and public sectors and annual grants to organisations undertaking projects which will lead to a greater degree of democratic participation in decision-making.

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The Government has also taken steps to ensure that occupational superannuation schemes provide genuine retirement benefits. These include:

• the introduction of standards relating to the portability, vesting and preservation of benefits; • changes to taxation and life insurance laws to make pensions and annuities more attractive; and • legislation to enable the introduction of Approved Deposit

Funds, where benefits paid out can be deposited and earnings accumulated on a tax free basis pending retirement or transfer to another fund.

The Government is currently in the process of replacing the total general exemption of superannuation schemes from the provisions of the Sex Discrimination Act with several more limited exemptions. The Government is also committed, as part of the

National Agenda for Women, to extending standards relating to portability, vesting and preservation of benefits to ensure that such arrangements do not indirectly discriminate against women.

As a result of initiatives to date, within the next few years most workers should have access to occupational superannuation which will provide them with a genuine retirement benefit.

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protecting consumers and providing information to business. A priority of the Bureau has been to raise consumer awareness of rights and responsibilities. This is done through the preparation and dissemination of education and information materials targeted to people least likely to possess such knowledge, for example, young people and Australians of non-English speaking backgrounds.

Family law

l l l l l l l l

To ensure fair, timely and proper administration of dispute settlement under the Family Law Act there must be sufficient resources to do so. Such resources have been significantly expanded by this Government: funding has been increased by over 25 per cent in real terms; staffing has increased; and new registries have been established in a number of locations.

Recent changes to the Family Law Act have improved the way it serves the community. For example, the referral of legislative power in the family law area from certain States has enabled the Government to provide a uniform Commonwealth law relating to the custody, guardianship and maintenance of children and to allow the Family Court to deal with all disputes of this kind in those States. This initiative has improved access to the provisions of the Act by extending their coverage and making the process less complex.

The Government has also provided people with access to speedier and less stressful resolution of more routine matters by enabling non-dissolution applications to be settled without defended hearings, through being dealt with by registrars and magistrates rather than the Court.

As part of the Government's commitment to providing alternatives to litigation in resolving disputes within family relationships, in 1985 it established two Family Conciliation Centres as pilot programs. The Noble Park Centre in Victoria is continuing to provide a

service but the Wollongong centre closed after a study showed that it largely duplicated services offered by other agencies in the region.

The Government has continued to fund marriage counselling and marriage education organisations, which assist in preventing marriage breakdown and promote stability in family relationships. In 1987/88 funding has been increased by $923,000 to $5.85m.

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In December 1986 the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission was established to replace the Human Rights Commission. The new Commission has expanded functions in relation to discrimination in employment, and has investigation, conciliation and reporting functions in relation to acts and practices in the Commonwealth sphere which are discriminatory on the grounds of race, colour, sex, religion, political opinion,

national extraction and social origin.

A further major initiative in this area was the enactment of the Sex Discrimination Act in 1984, described in the chapter on women.

Legal aid mum The Government believes that the system of legal aid should be funded and administered in such a way as to provide ready and

equal access to the Courts and to legal assistance, including provision of funding to community legal centres.

Accordingly, Government funding for legal aid has been increased by an estimated 11 per cent in real terms and 59 community legal centres are now being funded; almost double the number

operating in 1983. In addition, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs funds 19 Aboriginal Legal Services which contribute to improved access for Aborigines to legal advice and representation before the Courts. Other activities in the legal arena which relate

particularly to Aborigines are outlined in a later chapter.

The Government has also introduced a new structure to administer, co-ordinate and advise it on legal aid through the establishment of two new bodies, the National Legal Aid Representative Council and the National Legal Aid Advisory Committee. In line with the Government's commitment to consultation with users and providers of Government services, the Advisory Committee includes members drawn from legal aid consumers and community legal centres.

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activities and introduced new programs to address previously unmet needs. The policy takes account of the great diversity of Aboriginal communities, especially those in remote areas with little or no employment base.

The major employment generating elements of the AEDP are the Community Development Employment Projects Scheme (CDEP) and the Enterprise Development Scheme (EDS).

CDEP provides funds for communities to develop and manage their own local projects. It now operates in 59 communities, compared to 40 in 1982/83, and involves 16,000 people. Wages for the scheme are provided by pooling the unemployment benefit

entitlements which would otherwise be paid to unemployed community members, with an additional 20 per cent provided for tools and materials.

EDS provides funds to help Aboriginal communities establish community enterprises, thereby fostering economic independence.

This scheme is supplemented by Enterprise Employment Assistance payments which provide wage subsidies to employees of new and existing Aboriginal enterprises where those employees would otherwise have been unemployed and in receipt of social security benefits.

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The Aboriginal Study Assistance Scheme (ABSTUDY) aims to increase Aboriginal participation in post-secondary education and training programs through providing study grants. The number of students supported under the scheme has more than doubled

from 12,100 in 1983 to 26,820 in 1987/88.

The availability of ABSTUDY and the provision by the Government of 1,100 additional higher education places for Aborigines over the period 1985-87 has led to an increase in Aboriginal participation in tertiary education. Over the period 1983-1987 the number of Aboriginal students enrolled in higher education courses leading to awards increased from 700 to 2,000. In 1988 some $8.7m is being provided for further places for Aborigines through the Aboriginal Participation Initiative.

ABSTUDY has also been instrumental in enabling large numbers of mature-age Aborigines to pursue short courses of study and training; a valuable means of developing personal and work-related skills.

The Government also conducts a number of programs which contribute significantly to improving educational access and outcomes for Aborigines. These include:

• the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander element of the Capital Grants Program, which provides funds for the building of schools and school facilities where these are non-existent or inadequate; • the Special Courses provisions under ABSTUDY, which enable

institutions to mount courses designed to meet the needs of Aboriginal students and which provide support for students enrolled in tertiary courses; and • the National Scheme for Facilitating the Placement of Teachers

in Aboriginal Schools, which seeks to improve the quality of teaching, and to provide Aboriginal communities with greater influence in teacher selection.

Housing l l l l l l l l

Obtaining adequate housing is an urgent priority for Aboriginal people. To assist in meeting these needs Government funding is provided through several channels:

• grants to Aboriginal housing organisations and loans for individuals through the Aboriginal Development Commission (ADC); • funds for hostel accommodation through Aboriginal Hostels

Limited (AHL); and

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means for substantially increased Aboriginal and Islander self-determination and improved participation in the development of Commonwealth policies and programs. The ATSIC structure has been developed after an extensive round of consultations with Aboriginal and Islander communities.

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the provision of goods, services, facilities and accommodation. It also encompasses sexual harassment.

In the four years since its introduction the legislation has played a major role as a catalyst for improved access by women to non-traditional employment and training opportunities through its complaint handling and community education functions and by reviewing discriminatory industrial legislation.

The Affirmative Action (Equal Employment for Women) Act 1986 requires all higher education institutions and private sector employers of 100 or more staff to develop an eight-step affirmative action program for women with the aim of removing discrimination against women in employment and promoting equal employment opportunity. The operation of the Act is being phased in, with higher education institutions and companies with 1,000 or more employees the first to be covered. By 1 February 1989 all relevant employers will be required to have developed and implemented an affirmative action program.

The Act is administered by the Affirmative Action Agency and requires that employers lodge annual reports with the Agency which outline progress with their programs.

This initiative is consistent with earlier legislation introduced by the Government to ensure equal employment opportunity for Commonwealth employees.

Assessment of the impact of the Budget on women ilium On Budget night 1984 the Prime Minister tabled in Parliament the world's first public report on the impact of a national budget on

women. Four annual editions have now been completed, co-ordinated by the Office of the Status of Women.

The Women's Budget Statement, as it is now known, provides a detailed report on the impact of all Government programs and policies on women, including details on the distribution of Government expenditure. In the future the Women's Budget Statement will also report on progress in implementing the

National Agenda for Women, outlined below.

The processes involved in preparing annual contributions to the Women's Budget Statement have served to raise the level of awareness of gender equity issues in Government departments and agencies and have contributed to the development of monitoring procedures which enhance equality of access and provision for women. Community awareness has also been raised through the availability of this gender-based analysis.

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M U L T I C U L T U R A L I S M

l l l l l l l l

The Government's policy on multiculturalism is built on the recognition that Australians have a diversity of ethnic and racial origins and the belief that the nation should make effective use of all its human resources. The Government also believes that conformity to a particular cultural stereotype should not be the price demanded for equality, equity or participation.

The Government's approach to multiculturalism focuses on three areas for action:

• the encouragement of acceptance by all Australians of our cultural and linguistic diversity; • the provision of equal access to all programs and services regardless of ethnic, cultural, linguistic, or religious background;

and

• the maximisation of the nation's human resource potential through removal of barriers to education, training and the labour market which often confront Australians of non-English speaking background, including Aborigines, Australians born overseas and their children.

Through the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) within the Prime Minister's portfolio and the Advisory Council on Multicultural Affairs (ACMA), the Government is developing a co-ordinated program to address these issues. Elements of the program include:

• the implementation of the Government's Access and Equity strategy in the provision of Commonwealth Government programs and services to Australians of differing backgrounds; and • the development of long-term strategies for meeting the needs

of Australians of differing ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious backgrounds, including the development of a National Agenda for a Multicultural Australia.

The Government initiated the Access and Equity strategy in 1985 to strengthen its efforts to ensure that every Australian, including those from non-English speaking backgrounds, should have equal access to and an equitable share of the resources managed by it on behalf of the community. This requires all relevant Government departments to prepare three year plans for the implementation of the strategy. An important aspect of the process to date is that immigrant women have been identified as a priority target group.

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S E R V I C E S

T O M I G R A N T S

Australia has a global, non-discriminatory immigration policy under which applicants are assessed regardless of race, colour, nationality, ethnic origin, sex or religion, against universal

selection criteria.

In September 1987 the Government established the Committee to advise on Australia's Immigration Policies, the report of which is expected shortly.

Settlement services

Immigrants have a number of basic requirements immediately on arrival or soon after, including access to accommodation, the labour market and a source of income; acquiring the ability to communicate in English; access to information about and orientation to their new environment and to support networks.

Most migrants coming to Australia have resources adequate to meet their basic requirements. Others, particularly refugees, need some support. Steps taken by the Government as part of its social justice strategy to better address these needs include:

• improvement of accommodation facilities for new arrivals, including increased provision of self-contained living units located within the general community;

• increases in funding to the Migrant Resource Centre Program (MRC) and subsidies to community organisations to employ social workers to provide services to migrants with special difficulties; • introduction of the Migrant Workers Rights scheme to increase

migrants' understanding of their rights in the workplace; • enhancement of the Adult Migrant Education Program (AMEP), including increased provision of child care, introduction of distance learning arrangements and location of AMEP centres

in areas of high migrant density; • increases in funding to the Council on Overseas Professional Qualifications to improve procedures for assessment of overseas qualifications and thereby assist migrants to obtain

employment commensurate with their qualifications and skills; and

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raise awareness within local communities of the needs and cultural backgrounds of immigrants. To make MRCs as accessible as possible, priority has been given to locating them in

highly industrialised areas where immigrants are concentrated.

The Migrant Worker's Rights Scheme is targeted at trade unions which have a high proportion of members from non-English speaking backgrounds. Under the scheme, grants are provided to enable unions to employ development officers to address the workforce-related needs of immigrants which arise from the

combined effects of coming to terms with a different society as well as a new working environment.

This year $58.2m has been allocated for the Adult Migrant Education Program, compared to $36.6m in 1982/83. While the program's central purpose is to provide English language learning opportunities for adult migrants - essential to access and participation in this country - it also promotes confidence and assists migrants to adjust to life in Australia.

The funding of child care services is particularly important to ensuring the participation of women in English classes. In recognition of this situation the Government will this year provide over 600,000 hours of free child care to children whose parents are attending AMEP classes.

These have included:

• a major program of public works, totalling $92m over the past five years, to expand, modernise and improve the Repatriation Hospital system so as to ensure the continuation of the high level of care provided to the veteran community; • the establishment of geriatric assessment units in repatriation

hospitals to assess patients and refer them to the most appropriate form of treatment or care; • an expansion of the Vietnam Veterans' Counselling Service, which provides specialised counselling to Vietnam veterans and

their families in accessible locations; • changes to the Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme to improve the quality of drug prescribing to veterans and to make the provisions of the scheme consistent with the general

Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme; • increased administrative resources to substantially reduce the long processing times for disability pension claims and assessments which existed prior to1983; • the extension of medical and hospital treatment entitlement to

all ex-service women who had operational service in World War II in order to compensate them for past disadvantages (e.g. exposure to danger, low rates of pay); and • consistent with Government action to assist people to remain in

their own homes, outlined in the chapter on community services, the introduction in 1984 of the Veterans' Home Service Program which provides a range of home help services to enhance the quality of life for many veterans. From 1 July

1988 the program will be subsumed into the general Home and Community Care Program in order to place home help services to veterans and their families on the same footing as those available to the community at large.

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Meeting these challenges will require a consistent policy approach across the broad range of Government activity including economic policy formulation, health policy, policies on education and training and social security. This chapter provides a broad outline of that approach.

Family living standards mum The Government's economic and social policies are built on the fact that a job is the surest way out of poverty for those of working

age and their dependents. The Government will therefore continue to implement policies which create jobs at the fastest possible pace.

At the same time, the Government also recognises that the living standards of many ordinary Australians have been reduced in recent years. This has been the unavoidable consequence of the

international deterioration of Australia’s terms of trade.

However, as Australians continue to work successfully together to reduce the external deficit and the nation's international indebtedness, the living standards of ordinary Australians can again begin to rise. The consistent application by the Government of policies to reshape the Australian economy are

important in this regard, being a necessary element in permitting the resumption of steady growth in living standards. The evidence is clear that these efforts have begun to pay off.

As in the past, the Government will continue to support wage rises for Australian workers which are as large and as prompt as the country can afford. In addition, living standards within individual households will be supported by significant tax relief during the life

of the present Parliament, and by further improvements to the social wage for the less well off.

Moreover, by 1990 most Australian workers will have access to occupational superannuation. This substantial reform will improve the capacity of ordinary Australians to make provision for a decent retirement.

To protect families against excessive charging the Government will continue to fight for the rights of consumers and intensify the scrutiny of supermarket prices through the National Prices Network.

Child poverty l l l l l l l l

A central element of the Government's social justice strategy is to eliminate the need for child poverty. The Family Assistance Package, introduced in the 1987/88 Budget, is the centrepiece of

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With a view to increasing access to adequate and affordable housing for low income families, the Government will review the relationship between the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement and rental assistance payments made through the social security system.

Employment, education and training opportunities l l l l l l l l

The Social Security Review has highlighted the particular needs of people receiving social security benefits and pensions for greater opportunities to break out of poverty through improved assistance to obtain work.

The Government has already undertaken pioneering work on the linking of social security payments with labour market provisions, especially for younger job seekers and sole parents. This approach has linked income support, incentives to undertake education, training or retraining and appropriate guidance and counselling services.

However, there are particular needs in this area for people who have been unemployed for more than twelve months. For these people the cycle of unemployment, poverty, low self-esteem and diminishing 'employability' has to be broken. Accordingly, the Government's intention is to give particular attention to addressing the special needs of the long term unemployed.

A related aim is to further improve access to, and the quality of, education and training for young people. With the on-going reconstruction of the economy, improved education and training

are required to address Australia's need for a more highly skilled and adaptable workforce and, through doing so, secure improved living standards for the future.

The document Skills for Australia, released as part of the 1987/88 Budget, sets out a blueprint for ensuring that Australia's education and training systems respond to these requirements. The document identifies objectives which will guide the Government's development of policies and programs in this area. They are to:

• increase participation in education and training, including the Government's target of increasing the year 12 participation rate to 65 per cent by 1992; • improve the distribution and balance of the education and

training effort, with special emphasis on increasing opportunities for unemployed and other disadvantaged Australians; • improve the quality and flexibility of the education and training

systems so as to improve the quality, breadth and adaptability of skills acquired; and

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intensive forms of care. The Government is also moving to improve the general standard of care available in nursing homes.

Women llllllll The Government will continue to improve the circumstances of women through:

• implementing the National Agenda for Women; • fulfilling the child poverty pledge, including implementation of the Child Support Scheme; • supporting adequate provision of child care; • enhancing education and training opportunities for sole parents

(the majority of whom are women); and • continuing to encourage girls to complete Year 12 and to undertake a broader range of subjects.

Aboriginal people llllllll During the last 200 years Australia's indigenous peoples have been subjected to many injustices, with social inequality and

disadvantage still evident today. This situation cannot be allowed to continue.

The enormity and complexity of the task of redressing this demands a concerted and sustained commitment. This requires not only co-operation between all levels of Government but also an obligation to create an understanding to ensure that together the nation addresses these inequalities with sensitivity to ensure a fair and just resolution.

The Federal Government is therefore committed to developing, in co-operation with Aboriginal and Islander people, appropriate policy initiatives. These will include:

• responding to the findings of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody; • establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission in order to give indigenous people a much greater

say in how they are governed and in priorities for Government spending; • promoting community discussion on the subject of a treaty or compact; • developing a national policy on Aboriginal health; and • developing a public awareness program to inform the public of

these issues and their importance.

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workplace reform and has released a policy discussion paper on Industrial Democracy and Employee Participation. Further steps are being planned in the light of reactions to the paper. In particular, the Government recognises the growing interest in employee financial participation, provided it is linked with genuine involvement in decision-making.

Underlying the Government's approach to all of these issues is the simple fact that there can be no social progress without social justice. That principle has informed Government decision-making for the past five years and will continue to do so.

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