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Wednesday, 12 September 1984
Page: 1166

Mr MACPHEE(8.37) —Almost every submission which the Government received from women's organisations in respect of this Budget stressed the importance of child care facilities and the funding for them. The Government outbid the Opposition at the last election by promising to increase greatly child care funding. But, it has betrayed the trust of those who may have voted for it on those grounds. I remind honorable members in this chamber of what I said in my speech during the second reading debate on the Budget. I said:

The Government's proposals on child care are most inadequate. They do nothing to increase the availability of part time and occasional child care, and so do not meet the needs of women wishing to re-enter the work force on a part time basis or who may be in need of temporary relief from full time parenting.

That is, occasional child care. I also said:

Even the provision for full time care falls short of the expectations created by the Government at the last election. As well, they are inadequate for the actual needs of children. For example, in New South Wales there are currently over 70,000 under five who have working mothers but who are not placed in licensed child care centres.

The newly announced centres in this Budget will provide places for only 1,800 children in New South Wales. So there is a huge gap from 70,000 to 1,800. There is a desperate need for child care. This Budget fails to meet that need. What assistance is provided is targeted for fulltime care only. The Budget does nothing to assist the occasional or part time care and does not even try to assist existing centres to improve or extend their facilities. Mrs Child, as you would know, there is a great need for extending those facilities to children under the age of two years. The Government says that it is committed to equality of opportunity yet it has failed to take adequate steps to make further progress towards eliminating the greatest barrier to the exercise of that equality of opportunity by overcoming the grave shortage of child care. Published surveys by J. Walter Thompson Aust. Pty Ltd and John Clemenger Pty Ltd make it quite clear that child care and permanent part time work are major priorities for women. The Government pandered to those needs at the last election but it has ignored them substantially in this Budget and in the previous Budget.

The next most important issue for women is for there to be an increase in the family allowance. Every women's organisation asked the Government to increase the family allowance but the Government has refused. As a result it has added insult to injury by extending the dependent spouse rebate to men in de facto relationships and claiming it to be of benefit to women. Many women feel particularly incensed about the failure to increase family allowances. Some women's organisations asked the Government to remove the dependent spouse rebate and transfer the money to family allowances. Even those women's groups which did not agree with that recommendation will be appalled at the Government's sense of priorities in granting the dependent spouse rebate to males with de factos instead of increasing the family allowance.

As we know, quite simply family allowances are designed to assist in the nurturing of children. The allowance has been eroded by inflation and the Government has made no effort to increase the allowance. Rather it has given a rebate to males to support de facto spouses regardless of whether they have any children at all as a result of that relationship. As the family allowance assists in the care of children whether at home or in full or part time care or at school, it stands to reason that the only regular income of some women will be the family allowance. Very sadly, some married women find that even husbands on high incomes do not provide adequately for their wife and children. That indeed was the reason why the previous Government introduced this method of payment and by failing to increase it the Government has ignored the views of every organisation speaking for women.

The Government also seems to have ignored other views put to it by women's organisations. For example, the Council for the Single Mother and her Child referred to the survey of the Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research which showed that many social welfare recipients have earnings below the poverty line and yet they pay tax. For example, the poverty line at December 1983 for a single parent with two children was $158.40 and yet the tax threshold was approximately $90. The benefit for such a person was $125.90, the difference being $32.50 a week. Such a beneficiary is entitled to earn $30 extra before losing the benefit plus I think $6 for each child before they begin to lose the benefit by a scale, as the Minister for Social Security (Dr Blewett) reminds me. This means that some recipients will be taxed on earnings which are below the poverty line. If they earn the maximum allowable $30, plus the $6 per child, they will be approximately on the poverty line.

The Treasurer (Mr Keating) claims that the special rebate will ensure that needy women living on social security benefits will be saved from having to pay tax this financial year. Yet in the women's budget program announced by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) it is acknowledged that only a small proportion of the estimated 25,000 full year maximum rate beneficiaries will be women. Therefore, it is very insulting for women to be told by the Government that this is a major benefit to them. It is in fact a very minor benefit anyway and few women will receive even that minor benefit. Moreover the Government has given no incentive to welfare recipients, the majority of whom are women, to work their way out of the welfare system. The permissible income levels should have been raised so that people could make the transition from welfare to self-reliance. Instead, welfare recipients have every incentive to remain on welfare because they face loss of benefits and incur tax if they earn above the limited range permitted. An illustration of this is found in a letter written by a Leanne J. Connell from Northcote in Victoria to the Age on 7 June. It states:

Richard Yallop's article Single Mothers Cheat To Survive ('The Age' 31/5) raised the issue of the disincentive to work caused by Social Security's rule that single parents may earn only $30 per week plus $6 per child before the pension or benefit is reduced by 50 cents in the dollar.

The disincentive to work is however, a combination of this rule and the PAYE taxation scheme which in many cases results in a disposable income lower than the level of Social Security benefits for the working single parent.

I am a single pensioner with a 20-month-old daughter. I recently made inquiries about a part-time job which would give me a break from full-time child care, provide external involvement and stimulation, give my child the opportunity to develop some independence and have regular play at a creche, and which would provide some extra income.

The job I applied for is 20 hours a week and pays $9 a hour or $180 a week. At this rate my pension would be reduced by $72 per week ($180 - 36 = $144, divided by 2 = $72). After tax, I would receive an additional income of about $40 per week. From this bonus I must deduct the cost of child-care.

At present I cannot obtain subsidised child-care in a creche in the municipality where I live (demand far outstrips supply) at a reasonable cost of $25 for 20 hours per week. In private child-care, where I have again been unable to find a vacancy, the cost rises to about $45 per week.

In effect, by taking a part-time job, losing a large proportion of my pension, paying for child-care and transport I would reduce my income to below the level of the pension-about $120 per week with allowances.

Can I afford the luxury of a job? Can I afford to reduce my disposable income below the pension over the next 12 months for the sake of a $700 sole parent tax rebate at the end of the financial year?

The final insult is that the Taxation Department provides a rebate of some $200 more for the dependent spouse in a two-parent family. Perhaps two-parent families do not receive the additional concessions provided to single parent families by Government subsidised child-care centres-in which we are unable to place our children.

There is, very clearly, a strong case for increasing the $30 per week which the average beneficiary may earn without losing the benefit. An amount of $30 per week is an insufficient margin to enable one to gain a permanent part time job which would increase the skills and work experience of the beneficiary and, as a consequence, the beneficiary's employability in full time work, his or her self- esteem and the capacity to be self-supporting. Such persons should pay tax on their total income, including their benefits, but the margin of additional earnings should be much greater especially in view of the position I have referred to regarding the taxing of incomes below the poverty line.

I do believe there are many other issues that one should refer to, not least of them women's refuges. In the circumstances, because my time is short, I will conclude my remarks by saying that the Government, when in Opposition, and particularly during the last election campaign--

The CHAIRMAN —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.