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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 7940

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) (5:20 PM) — The government's view on splitting the Family and Community Services Legislation Amendment (Australians Working Together and other 2001 Budget Measures) Bill 2002 is clear. Apropos of some remarks made by Senator Cherry and Senator Nettle, one thing needs to be put on the record about sole parents. Let it be clear that, through the changes it has made to family tax payments, particularly family tax benefit B, this government has advantaged sole parents more than any previous government has ever done and has done that quite happily. So any suggestion that this government is `out to get' sole parents is a joke—it is not plugged into reality. We can have polemics if you like, but as this is the last day I just put that fact on the record.

I also put on the record that I am aware that sole parents are the strongest economic contributors of any welfare group. The government is clearly aware of that. They have the highest percentage of people on benefit who are participating in the economy in some way. They want to get work. It is clearly understood that sole parents are largely not teenagers who have babies to go on welfare, which is a myth perpetrated by those who are not plugged in. A small percentage might be in that position. Sole parents are largely women and largely on their own as a result of a permanent relationship— usually a marriage but sometimes a de facto relationship—breaking up and leaving them with the children. They want to participate; they want to get jobs. We believe it is perfectly fair and sensible to require them to have one interview a year when the youngest child turns six—that is, when the youngest child is already at school. We want to interview them once a year when there is no child at home. Studies and past experience make it very clear that a compulsory interview will be far more effective than a voluntary one, and we want this to be effective so that people can maintain their skills.

It is very clear that we have community support for people on a benefit doing something when the youngest child turns 13 and is in high school. It is perfectly sensible to expect an average of six hours work a week over, I think, a six-month period, not required in holidays and not inconvenient to organise. What would be criminal would be to continue the situation we now have whereby we put money in their bank account every fortnight and then send them a letter when their youngest child turns 16 saying, `Now you have to get a job,' having not done enough before. I am very satisfied that these are positive changes to help sole parents to continue to be the greatest economic participators of all people on benefit. I think they are very fair. We oppose the amendment.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Collins)—The question is that schedule 1, as amended, be agreed to.