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Wednesday, 10 December 1986
Page: 3696

Senator TATE —My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. The Minister will recall that an article in the Bill of Rights, which was proposed by this Government and frustrated by the Opposition, recognises that the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society. Will the Government consider building on its considerable record in relation to promoting the family and particularly in relation to the provision of employment, which of course is the greatest help that any family can have provided to it? Will it consider establishing an Office of the Family, possibly within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, to co-ordinate and monitor the impact of policies on the promotion of the family as the unit within which most Australians find economic and social support?

Senator BUTTON —I am able to answer only half the question, because I only heard half of it. If Senator Tate wants to ask a supplementary question because of any inadequacy of mine, I invite him to do so.

Senator Chaney —If that is your reason for asking supplementaries, you are in trouble.

Senator BUTTON —It is an inadequacy of hearing, Senator. I understand the nub of Senator Tate's question to be whether the Government would give consideration in the light of a number of factors to establishing an Office of the Family within the Prime Minister's Department or some other appropriate department. I do not know whether the Government has considered that question; I will certainly pass it on for further consideration. Whether or not the solution to the problems of Australian families is best arrived at by that route I do not know.

However, I draw attention to some of the considerable progress made by this Government in relation to a whole range of policies which assist the family. For example, under the present Government spending on welfare housing and health has increased from 40 per cent of Commonwealth outlays, excluding public debt, to around 44 per cent. Secondly, it is important to remember that employment is the single most important determinant of a family's welfare and that unemployment is the greatest cause of poverty in this country. This Government came to office when the dole queues had swelled by 254,000 in a single year under the Fraser Government and the unemployment rate had hit 10 per cent. Since then, in 3 1/2 years, some 670,000 jobs have been created-twice the number of new jobs in three years that was created in the whole seven years of the previous Government. The opportunity for women to participate in the work force and more fully in the community at large has been enhanced under Labor's child care policies. Similarly, housing commencements averaged 142,000 a year in this Government's first three years in office, more than 10 per cent higher than the average for the previous period of government under Mr Malcolm Fraser.

I do not think we have made enough fuss about the fact that in education 46 per cent of children are now staying on to Year 12 compared with 36 per cent during the period of the Fraser Government. That is not a statistic of which this Government can be particularly proud in terms of international comparison but in terms of the previous situation in this country it is an extraordinary improvement. I think we have a long way to go with that.

Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle —Why is the Government falling in the polls if you have done all that?

Senator BUTTON —I do not know, Senator. I suppose it may be because the public is enchanted by this virile Opposition.

Senator Chaney —It is because only families have to submit tax returns.

Senator BUTTON —I do not think that is the reason at all. I could make similar points about health and welfare payments.

Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle —You must be on the wrong policies though, don't you think?

Senator BUTTON —No, they are not the wrong policies, but I do not wish to make a statement about this. I will certainly see that Senator Tate's suggestion is referred to the Government for further consideration.