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Thursday, 14 November 2002
Page: 6374

Senator HARRADINE (2:33 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Family and Community Services, Senator Vanstone. In a response to a question by Senator Bishop, the minister indicated that there was another $2 million available for family payments so that families would be better off. If so, how come so many ordinary families with children, particularly one-income families, are finding it more and more difficult to make ends meet? Has the minister seen—and I am sure she would have—the report of the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling here in Canberra, commissioned by the AMP, which shows huge increases in the cost of raising children? Is the government actively considering measures to provide up-to-date justice for those responsible for the raising of children? If so, what are those measures?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) —I thank Senator Harradine for his question. He is widely acknowledged as one of the senators with a very strong and consistent interest in the welfare of families, especially low-income families. I am aware of the NATSEM report to which you refer. Like everybody, I think, I was surprised at the calculation of the cost of raising a first and second child over the period of them being considered children. One is considered a child up to the age of 18 or 20, I think—that was the age they took it to. It is a very significant amount of money. This government has moved to very significantly help families, especially low-income families. The amount of money I referred to in response to the question that Senator Bishop asked was the additional $2 billion, through the family tax benefits A and B, which is going into the hands of Australian families.

Senator Harradine gives me the opportunity to remind senators, including Senator Bishop, of course, that families earning up to $30,000—which is not a lot compared to what everyone here earns; if you add on families with children earning up to $30,000, it is not a very large income—get the full rate of payments for their children, so they do not have to worry about variations of income until they go past that. Of course, income support goes from lesser levels up to families with even about $80,000 in income. The level of financial stress that a family feels is related not only to the income it has and the state and tax charges that I referred to going out but also to the number of children in that family. That is why the family tax benefit, which focuses very much on your income and the number of children you have, has been of tremendous assistance to families.

Over the next year, the government expects to spend nearly $19 billion assisting Australian families through the family tax benefit, the child-care benefit, the parenting payment, maternity allowance and maternity immunisation allowance. So I think you can see that this government has a very longstanding commitment to families when you add onto that all of the tax changes we have made since coming into government.

An incident having occurred in the chamber—

Senator VANSTONE —Somebody has a phone call; I am not sure who it is.

Government senators—Senator Carr!

Senator VANSTONE —Senator Carr might be being called to a union meeting!

Senator Faulkner —I'm amazed there's any mobile phone coverage.

Senator VANSTONE —I am pleased to see that Senator Carr's mobile works even in here. That is what we like to see: delivery of telecommunications around Australia.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator VANSTONE —If we can get away from the humour inspired by just one telephone ringing, which is apparently tremendously funny to people on the other side who have nothing else to think about, I will go back to where I was in my answer. Senator Harradine, you might recall that the family tax promises we made before we were elected were delivered on time and in full by a government that faced a $10 billion deficit. We had to fill a $10 billion black hole—all that debt we had to pay off—but we nonetheless delivered on time every cent that we promised to families in that very difficult process. Subsequent to that we have continued to add measures to assist families and, where we can afford it and where it is appropriate, we will continue to do so.

Senator HARRADINE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I go to this question of up-to-date justice for those people who are responsible for raising children. Minister, does the government have any process by which to evaluate why more and more families are finding it harder and harder to make ends meet? We get that information from our electorate officers, obviously, but also from our circles of friends and family. It is occurring. Is there any method used by the government to evaluate that situation to see how many are finding it more and more difficult to make ends meet?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) —Senator Harradine, let me give some consideration to that question and whether that is in fact possible. I will come back to you and perhaps have a discussion with you, because there might be something we can do to look at these things. But, of course, I raise the question that was asked of me earlier about state taxes and charges. These impact very heavily on low-income families—more than they do on people like us who, if the electricity bill goes up, simply pay it. If a levy on insurance goes up we simply pay it but, Senator Harradine, you would be aware that, of the third of the homes damaged by the fires in Sydney last year that were not insured, half of the families owning those homes indicated that it was the cost of insurance—on which there are significant state levies—which stopped them insuring and meant that they lost the lot. So we will look at what we can do to find out what match there needs to be, but we also need to look at the taxes and charges that are put on by the states and we need to look at the aspirations of families. (Time expired)