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Wednesday, 9 February 2005
Page: 78

Senator EGGLESTON (2:53 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Family and Community Services, Senator Patterson. Will the minister inform the Senate of how the Howard government’s strong economic management is delivering benefits to Australian families?

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women’s Issues) —I thank Senator Eggleston for his question. My answer follows on from the comments made by the Leader of the Government in the Senate referring to our strong economic management. Because of that, I have announced today that we are bringing forward our election commitment to increase family tax benefit B by $300 per year. This commitment was originally to have commenced on 1 July 2005, but we have decided to bring the payment forward by six months. This means that Australian families will start to accrue entitlement from 1 January this year and will be eligible for up to $150 when they lodge their 2004-05 tax return.

After the overwhelmingly positive reception of the $600 per child increase to family tax benefit A, we have decided that the $300 increase will also be paid as a lump sum. Families told us that this allowed them to purchase items such as school uniforms, pay for special sporting activities or replace household goods. From next year, families will be eligible for the $300 payment after they lodge their tax return. This measure will benefit over 1.3 million Australian families and be worth almost $2 billion over five years. As the shadow Treasurer has come to realise, albeit very slowly, this $300, like the $600 per child, is real money. Increasing this payment for stay-at-home parents—and they are usually mothers—is another example of how the Howard government is seeking to improve choices for families in balancing work and caring responsibilities. This builds on our already strong record of supporting families.

We have introduced the 30 per cent child-care tax rebate on out-of-pocket child-care expenses. Eligible families now receive an average of $7,000 per year in family assistance. The $3,000 maternity payment was introduced in July 2004 to assist families with the cost of caring for a new baby. Child-care places increased by a massive 83 per cent. Quarantining the FTB B for secondary earners who return to the work force, announced in the last budget, will soon be in place. Families have always been central to this government’s deliberations, but they are affected by decisions we make across portfolios. The new family impact statement will formalise cabinet’s deliberations of the impact on families of all new policies.

Another initiative to directly assist families that I have announced today is our contribution of $4 million for the development of a national parenting information web site. This will provide easy access to quality information on child health and development and parental wellbeing and services and no doubt will include the web sites to which Senator Coonan referred earlier. A further achievement of this government is the enormous reduction in overpayments of family tax benefit. Through initiatives that we have put in place, overpayments have been reduced by 75 per cent.

The Howard government is about choice and almost 800,000 families have taken up the More Choices for Families options. Choice, combined with initiatives such as the $600 per child family tax benefit A supplement and the $600 bonus per child before June last year, is making a difference to Australian families. Only the Howard government has policies that really assist Australian families, and our record goes to prove it.

Senator EGGLESTON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Will the minister advise of any other benefits the Howard government’s policies have brought to the Australian community; and will she explain why the government will not be adopting alternative policies to the ones she has outlined?

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women’s Issues) —When we look at the policies Labor put forward at the last election, I would not think that we would be adopting them. When we found that they had policies where lower income families were going to be worse off, and particularly worse off the more children they had, that beggared belief—although those families were being told that they would be better off fortnightly and worse off annually. They had a child maternity payment where only nine out of 10 mothers would benefit—and then it would depend on when they had the child.

Senator Eggleston, I do not think we would look at any of the policies coming from the other side. What Labor needs to do is to make sure that it can develop some economic credentials and demonstrate that it could run an economy soundly so that it could give dividends back to families, as we have been able to do in providing enormous assistance. As I have said, families are now receiving, on average, $7,000 per annum—and that does not include the assistance of the child-care benefit.