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Thursday, 14 November 2002
Page: 6384

Senator JOHNSTON (3:22 PM) —The most amazing ingredient in this chamber at the moment is the capacity to recite the problem but with no solution—to tell us how bad it is out there and offer nothing; to simply regurgitate the Ombudsman's factual assessment of the complaints he has had and then bring them into this place and let them lie on the table so that we can look at them with not one suggestion, iota or hint of a policy. It is a black hole over there. It is a black hole of policy, initiative, energy and ability, sadly.

The facts are, starting at the very top of the tree, that mortgage interest rates are the greatest panacea for families in this country today and there is only one party that can claim any ability in this regard. Of course, that is my party, the government. We have the lowest rate of unemployment, so mortgage payers are benefited not only by low rates of interest but also by very good jobs. In addition to that, we have agreed to top up family allowance. Let us analyse exactly what that means. If you get the assessment, evaluation and estimation of your income wrong, and you receive less than your entitlement, this government will top you up, this government will pay you up to your entitlement. The previous Labor government did not do that. It refused to do that. It drove around doing that. We also say, on the other side of the ledger, something that in my respectful submission is fair and reasonable and the Australian way: if you get a payment that is more than your entitlement—that is, to the exclusion of another Australian family—you have to pay it back, and you have to pay it back in an orderly fashion via your tax refund or by agreement or by future reduction. That logic is inescapably fair and reasonable.

Of course, the policy that lies underneath the complaints on the other side is that there will be no top up. That is the policy position of the Labor Party. They will not tell you that, but that is their position. You will not get a top up. If you fail to anticipate a decline in your income, such that you are owed money under family allowance, you will not get a top up under Labor. That is the obvious position that they bring to the table.

We have 403 projects, worth $56.2 million, under the Stronger Families And Communities Strategy. An amount of $144 million has been set aside for that. We have allocated $600 million over three years to cover the increased costs of child-care payments. Over the next year, this government will spend $18 billion in direct assistance to families in, among other things, maternity allowance, parenting payments, immunisation allowances, family tax benefits, child-care benefits et cetera.

Let us have a sample of what we are seeing from Labor, or what we would see were they to be in power. The fact is that costs for electricity, gas, car registration, public transport and, particularly, insurance have gone through the roof in states such as Victoria and New South Wales. Notwithstanding those hikes in charges, New South Wales, in the face of the worst drought in our living memory, has an underspend of $39 million. That is absolutely outrageous. In the face of families doing it tougher than ever before in outback New South Wales, it has an underspend of $39 million. It boggles belief.

The Labor Party opposed the GST because it attacked the most vulnerable in the community. Yet where do they think the principal amount of $196 million in South Australia, from a gambling tax hike, comes from? Obviously from the most vulnerable, and from families. It is very hollow to come here talking about these issues when the track record is a very sorry, sad one. (Time expired)