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Tuesday, 26 May 1987
Page: 3350

Mr SNOW(9.01) —What a hide the Opposition spokesperson on social security matters, the honourable member for Barker (Mr Porter), has to call on this Government-I read his amendment--

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! No amendment has been moved as yet.

Mr SNOW —I have been given notice of an amendment that will be moved by the National Party of Australia. I completely forgot that the two Opposition parties are in complete disagreement on this, as they are on most other issues. But the National Party apparently intends to move--

Mr Porter —Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. I stated in my speech that the honourable member for Richmond would be moving an amendment with our support. It really is outrageous that Government members just get up and totally misrepresent the situation, even though it has been stated quite clearly in this House only five minutes ago--

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! That is a point of information, not a point of order. I call the honourable member for Eden-Monaro.

Mr SNOW —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is interesting that apparently both the Opposition parties do agree that this amendment should be accepted by the Government:

to undertake necessary and major reform of the unemployment benefit and welfare system in Australia to limit fraud and overpayment and to implement a work for unemployment benefit scheme, . . .

What a hide honourable members opposite have to ask us to undertake necessary and major reforms of benefits in the welfare system when they have rejected one of the most effective means of doing just that-introducing the Australia Card with photo. Each of us could carry identification-the Australia Card with photo-to show our identity. It would then be much harder to defraud either the taxation system or the social security system. Countless people come to talk to me and to the Department of Social Security about people who are incorrectly receiving benefits and countless people are asking for acceptance of the Australia Card. Someone came to me and told me that her ex-spouse was earning $40,000 a year and yet she was forced to be on the sole parent benefit. Another person's spouse was on $100,000 a year, and she was forced to be on the sole parent benefit simply because the Government could not get at him. We need to have the Australia Card.

In the second part of the amendment to be moved by the honourable member for Richmond, he asks that we:

integrate effectively the social security and taxation systems to overcome poverty traps, restore incentive and break the cycle of dependency.

That is just what the Australia Card will do, integrate the two systems. What is this Government doing if it is not integrating the two systems with the proposed child protection agency?

Mr Blunt —Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order or, more accurately perhaps, a point of information. The Australia Card does not address the integration of the tax and social security systems.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —There is no point of order. The honourable member will resume his seat.

Mr SNOW —How many people on that side of the House told us, when we introduced the Australia Card without photo, that they would support it if it had a photo and then, when the photo was included, they rejected it? The honourable member now tells us that we have discriminated against families with children. What did the present Opposition do during the years of the Fraser-Howard Budgets? Child care places dropped substantially and community health funding dropped substantially. Two million people had no health insurance whatsoever. I deplore the trickery that was involved in the speech made by the honourable member for Barker. He made great play about reducing family allowances, but of course he did not mention that the reduction in family allowances will apply to a family with a total income of over $50,000. How dare he talk with crocodile tears and syrupy words about low income earners with the sort of record that the Fraser-Howard Budgets have.

Any reduction in expenditure that is being confronted by a government, particularly a Labor government, needs to take account of the needs of the poor. If there has to be a reduction in expenditure the Government needs to target the well off. It needs to reduce careless expenditure and to reduce fraud. As far as I can see, the only three business people in this chamber at the moment are all on this side of the House. We have a very successful clothing retailer in the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment (Mr Cohen), a very successful wholesale butcher in the Minister for Sport, Recreation and Tourism (Mr John Brown) and, of course, in myself, a very successful retail pharmacist. It is well known in business that when things are going well we do not worry quite so much about the extra costs, and we can get careless about them. But when times get hard, we have a look at our costs and at where we can save; and it is the same with any householder. When times are good the householder does not worry quite so much about some of the extra costs, but when bad times come he or she looks at where they can save. This Government is faced with up to $9 billion less coming into the country through reduced income from exports. This means that there is less being spent in Australia, and that there is less available for the taxation system. This is why we have had to come up with expenditure cuts to obtain a $3 billion drop in the deficit. This is why we have had to sell some assets to the value of $1 billion. I compliment the Government on the way in which it has performed that very difficult task. (Quorum formed)

What are the Opposition and National Party alternatives for a reduction in social security spending? They call for a reduction, but let us look at some of their alternatives. They would abolish the assets test. This would not reduce expenditure in social security; it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars. We should not abolish the assets test. What we should be looking at is the alternative of a national superannuation scheme, which Opposition members have failed to support.

What would be their alternative to reducing the unemployment benefit? They say that people should work for the dole. This would not reduce the cost of the unemployment benefit; it would cost money. Work for the dole would cost at least an extra $700m. I have asked council officers and quite a lot of community leaders what they would require if they were to use unemployed people to do community work. There is no question that for every 1,000 people who were given work for the dole one would need to employ at least 50 supervisors on full wages. One would need to set up a bureaucracy to police the scheme. Uniforms and transport would often need to be provided. These are solutions which would cost more money, not save money. Some Opposition members have even talked about national service. This would not save $4 billion in unemployment benefit payments. It would cost more than twice as much-at least $9 billion. Of course, the defence chiefs do not want it.

Honourable members opposite have also told us that they will freeze benefits. The honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Ian Cameron) told us that pensioners would be squealing like stuck pigs. He was speaking for the Premier of Queensland. In 1978-79 we did not have a six-week delay in the payment of pensions; we had a six-month delay. This would obviously happen again. Honourable members opposite have asked us to toughen up. How far do they want us to toughen up? Do they want us to toughen up in the same way as the United States has toughened up? I visited New York only last year. In two days in New York I came across a person sleeping under scaffolding in the streets. It was raining heavily and the weather was cold. He was hanging his trousers over the scaffolding. I saw countless people wheeling shopping trolleys which contained their worldly possessions-far more people than we have seen in those circumstances in Australia. A family in Chicago had lived in a car for four years. I was told this by the President of the United States Conference of Mayors. There were lines of people outside soup kitchens. That is the sort of manner in which honourable members opposite are asking us to toughen up.

We do not want to toughen up on those most in need because it would be unfair. It would also cost money because it would transfer pressures to voluntary organisations such as the Salvation Army, the Brotherhood of St Laurence and the Smith Family. They would have to find the money somewhere. Of course, more people would be placed in government funded refuges. More people would end up in gaols as they were forced into crime, and more people would have to be placed in psychiatric hospitals.

The alternatives of honourable members opposite are not targeted properly. They are targeted at the poor. I believe we need to be careful about how our limited funds are targeted. Under any Federal Labor government there would not be a six-month delay in payments. There would be full consumer price index adjustments. Pensioners and persons in receipt of social security benefits have received an 8 per cent increase in real terms in their benefits during the four years of the Hawke Labor Government. Under Fraser-Howard Budgets the increase was one per cent-one-eighth of the amount-in seven years. I believe that the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) was quite right when he complimented pensioners on the way in which they played their part in bearing the burden of the economic stringencies that were forced on to this country. He thanked them and said that they would be left alone in the forthcoming Budget. I believe that that is quite right.

The legislation introduces changes to the family allowance for couples earning a combined income of $50,000 or more. If there is more than one child, a higher amount of income is allowed before the allowance is lost. The family allowance will not be affected in the case of handicapped children. There have also been changes to the unemployment benefit. There has been a change in emphasis to encourage people to move from the dole concept to the training concept. I believe that this is absolutely vital. This is an integral part of the changes which affect people aged 16 and 17 years. Training is working. I recently awarded 13 certificates in the Cooma-Monaro region to people who trained in the hospitality industry. I compliment the Government on including in the mini-Budget measures a $33m increase for training. It has worked. Approximately 60 people in the area have taken up traineeships in the clerical field. It has been realised that the receptionist who answers the telephone is really the shop window for the firm. Of course, people in the Snowy Mountains area have been asking for some years for people in the local area to be trained so that they do not have to bring people from Wollongong, Canberra or Sydney. They have been rewarded with a government sponsored scheme which has trained local people. Local people can now get jobs in local tourist industries.

Under the legislation there is also a penalty for failure of the work test and dismissal due to misconduct. This penalty will increase with each breach. There will be a $25 job search allowance for a child leaving school. Another way of putting it is that the unemployment benefit will stay at the present level of $50, but it will be means tested. This will encourage young people to undergo training. There will be a testing for benefits. This is necessary because the community has asked for it. Only today I brought to see the Minister for Social Security (Mr Howe) and a representative of the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) some people who said that it was necessary for people to be tested for benefits so that fraud could be reduced. It is also necessary because the Opposition will not support a way of saving hundreds of millions of dollars which is stolen from honest taxpayers and social security beneficiaries by fraud. The Hawke Labor Government proposed an Australia Card with a photograph. It was supported by 70 per cent of the surveyed population, but the Senate rejected it. I am glad that the Opposition has supported this legislation, but I suggest that it should go a bit further and support the Australia Card.