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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26332

Senator COLBECK (2:17 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Family and Community Services, Senator Kay Patterson. Will the minister update the Senate on how the Howard government has reformed the welfare system to the benefit of all Australians? Is the minister aware of any alternative policies?

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) —I thank Senator Colbeck for his question. One of the most important things we have done in this area is to introduce the Australians Working Together package, which has involved programs like the personal support providers, people who assist those who are in very difficult circumstances, who are not job ready and who need a lot of assistance. They have been very positive in working with those people who, under Labor, would have been on the scrapheap. Personal advisers have been working with young mothers and also with older workers to reconnect them with the community either through work or through voluntary organisations. We have had some tremendous outcomes from the program. We have introduced working credits which enable people who have been on unemployment benefits to keep some of their benefits as they go back to work and to make it easier for them to go back onto benefits if they go into casual or part-time work and it does not last long. So it makes it easier for them to get engaged and possibly stay engaged. We have introduced participatory requirements for people on welfare—Work for the Dole—and I can remember how much Labor opposed that when we suggested it. That program has reconnected young people and you see people working on those projects feeling a sense of responsibility and of being able to give back to the community when the community has assisted them.

We are now saving, as I said yesterday, $49 million per week by cracking down on welfare fraud. That is $12 billion over 8½ years. We have cut taxes, not once but a number of times—unlike Labor that had l-a-w tax cuts which they did not bring in. With the latest tax cuts in the recent budget we now have 80 per cent of taxpayers facing a tax rate of 30 per cent or less. We have increased incentive to return to work by, despite what Labor says, reducing the effective marginal tax rates for low- and middle-income families from 84 per cent on average under Labor to 50 per cent on average under us. That represents a 40 per cent cut in effective marginal tax rates. The greatest thing that we have done for people is provide 1.3 million opportunities—1.3 million jobs for people.

We could have done more had we had some cooperation from senators in this chamber, particularly from the Labor Party, on disability support pension reforms. If they had passed the unfair dismissal laws there would have been a greater effect on welfare. I read with great interest in the Sydney Morning Herald today that we are going to have a `courageous' family and tax policy. The Australian public has been waiting for a tax and family policy—any tax and family policy—not necessarily a courageous family and tax policy. It is 91 days since Mr Latham said he was going to give us a family and tax policy. Today we have heard the shadow Treasurer, Mr Crean, saying that he will be giving a speech in a fortnight in which he will develop a tax policy framework—not a policy, but a framework. Here we have got Mr Latham still standing with his kaleidoscope, twisting it around, and every time he twists the kaleidoscope there is another policy that pops out of his head. He gives the public the wisdom of his thoughts on the kaleidoscope on a radio program or on some sort of interview. But Captain Courageous Crean is out there on deck looking into his telescope for a family and tax policy that we have been promised. The shadow minister Mr Swan is nowhere to be seen. I am sure if Mr Crean got his telescope out he would not find Mr Swan in the telescope. He would not find the policy-free zone Mr Swan. Mr Swan would be missing in action—MIA. He is a policy-free zone, the shadow minister for family and community services. What we are going to have is Captain Courageous out there looking for a policy. (Time expired)