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Thursday, 28 March 1985
Page: 1147

Mr HAND(10.47) —Tonight I raise a matter of particular concern to me and that is the position of single parents in our community. As some members of the House may be aware, a group of women from an organisation called the Council for the Single Mother and Her Child have been in Canberra for the last two days to try to get through to the people in this place and, in particular, the people who will be making the decisions in respect of their future income levels, just how desperate their situation is. I put on record my support for these women and the women and children whom they represent.

Sole parents are no longer a minority group in our community. In June 1984 some 252,000 sole parents were receiving income support, representing some 9 per cent of the social security pensioners and beneficiaries. Of these, 94 1/2 per cent were female. The evidence is clear that substantial numbers of sole parents and their children are among the most disadvantaged people in our society. They represent a high proportion of users of emergency relief.

The current total pension for a single parent with one child is $115.90 a week-it will be $118.30 from May 1985-plus up to $15 a week if eligible for supplementary assistance and $5.25 a week in family allowances. Despite a 40 per cent increase in rates in the past two Labor Budgets, current rates of additional pension for children are still well below their 1976 real levels, resulting in a redistribution of income away from the poorest families with children. The mother's and guardian's allowance is the one payment targeted only at sole parents. Despite a 25 per cent increase of $10 a week in the last Budget, this allowance has declined by 21 per cent relative to inflation since June 1976 and by 27 per cent relative to average weekly earning movements. These declines can be reserved only by providing further real ad hoc increases.

The Institute for Family Studies has estimated that it costs $21.20 to provide for the basic needs of a five-year-old child from a low income group. The equivalent rates for an eight-year-old and an 11-year-old are $26.14 and $27.90 respectively. These costs do not include items such as housing, childcare transport, dental and medical costs and school costs. If a supporting parent attempts to gain additional income for herself and her children she is severely penalised by a means test which reduces the amount of non-pension income earned by 50 per cent for every dollar earned over and above $30, plus $6 for each child. This allowable income level has risen only $10 in the past 11 years, while the allowable income per child has not increased at all from $6. The combination of benefit withdrawal and taxation on earnings results in an effective marginal tax rate of 62.5 per cent on a total weekly income of $195, a higher marginal rate than that for most of the wealthy people in our community. This severely limits the viability of part benefit-part earnings income for supporting parents benefit recipients.

As a consequence, many women in this predicament are being forced into the underground economy where they are open to extreme exploitation. Even worse, many are being forced to give up their children. I would like to read to the House part of a statement delivered by one of these women who was in Canberra today because I think it expresses much more forcefully than I could ever do the position which these women face. I quote:

It is with regret that I must inform you that due to financial and emotional stress I like many women in similar circumstances have had to make a very painful and traumatic decision affecting my three youngest children and myself as I feel I can no longer cope with watching my children go without food, clothing and opportunities that other children take for granted. No mother can be expected to feed, clothe and educate a child on $14 per week. I cannot wait for the war on poverty as I and my two youngest children have been left on the battle field too long and the cavalry will arrive too late to save us. I have decided in the best interests of my two children, Joanna, aged 13 years, and Nick, aged 11 years, to place them in the care of two families.

That woman's being forced to give up her children in this country in 1985 is a gross indictment of our society. I hope that some of us in this House are in a position to prevent this situation continuing. I would like to refer to the Press comments attributed today to a leading spokesman of our Party and place on record my total rejection of the views of the Minister as expressed in the Melbourne Sun News-Pictorial and the Daily News. I will be one member of this Government who will continue to fight for the poor in this country, despite his remarks today.