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Thursday, 17 September 1987
Page: 291


Mr FREE(9.07) —I am very pleased to support this Budget and to commend the Treasurer (Mr Keating) for his remarkable achievement in framing a blueprint for our continued national recovery. It is a Budget which protects and improves the position of the disadvantaged and which lays the solid foundation for a long period of Labor in government. This evening I would like to concentrate on two aspects of the Budget of particular interest to my constituents. I first refer to the measures contained in the Budget, which will expand education and training opportunities. I note with some pleasure that the Budget provides that general recurrent grants to schools will rise by almost $60m next year. That is a real increase of 4.8 per cent on this year. Since 1984 the Government's recurrent funding program has provided schools and systems with the stability and certainty they need so much for forward planning.

But more than that, along with our specific purpose programs, improved recurrent funding has contributed to a spectacular improvement in retention rates. The Government has as a target that by 1992 two-thirds of young Australians will be completing a full secondary education. The Government is on track. Retention has been increased by 16 per cent since Labor came to office. This process will continue and accelerate next year with the removal of the last financial barrier to young people remaining at school. As from 1988 unemployment benefits no longer will outstrip education allowances. A more generous income test for Austudy will mean that more families will qualify for assistance. The extension of the sibling concession to cover two or more children in different sectors of education is an eminently sensible reform contained in this Budget. To illustrate, I refer to the current system and use as an example a family with two student children. To qualify for assistance, if those two student children are in senior secondary school, an earnings limit of $32,034 applies. If that family has two students in the tertiary sector, an earnings limit of $38,294 applies. But if the family has one student in each sector-one in senior secondary and one in tertiary-two separate income tests are applied. For the secondary student the income limit drops to $23,894 and, for the tertiary student, $27,024. The current arrangement is silly, because in the case of a family on $30,000 with two students, both students would qualify for assistance if they were both in secondary school, but as soon as one progressed to tertiary education neither would qualify-and that is precisely the time when the family would be facing increased costs. The reform to extend those sibling concessions across the education sectors is a sensible improvement to what otherwise has been a very good scheme.

This reform, together with increases in the allowances themselves of up to $15 a week and the provision of $38.4m to fund an extra 4,000 new places in the tertiary sector, will mean that many more young people from my electorate and from the western Sydney region in general will complete a full secondary education and go on to higher education. I am also pleased that the Budget night statement of the Minister for Employment, Education and Training (Mr Dawkins) contained a commitment to provide $9m in 1989 for Chifley University College in my electorate. That commitment is most welcome. It is evidence of this Government's firm resolve to provide opportunities in a part of Australia which was neglected by successive Liberal governments for so long, as it would have been neglected again had the Liberals won on 11 July. I referred earlier to the establishment of Chifley University. I wish to read to the House part of a transcript of a news interview on local radio, Radio 2KA, on 25 June. The interviewer asked my Liberal opponent:

Can the Liberal Party guarantee a university will be brought to Western Sydney?

My opponent replied:

We feel that the overall education system should be improved a great deal and I do believe that the university in the west will be there in the future.

The interviewer responded:

John Howard hasn't said that.

The candidate replied:

John Howard did last year make a statement and say that he was sympathetic and that he believed we needed a university in the west. However, once again, I am saying that this government should put the money up prior to July 11 or shut up.

The interviewer said:

Yes, but John Howard hasn't even given a commitment that he will fund a university for Western Sydney.

The candidate responded:

As the candidate, if I am elected, I will push for the university in the west because I believe that there should be one here.

The interviewer asked:

But there is no guarantee from the party leader?

The candidate replied:

Once again, I'll go back and say that John Howard was sympathetic and when I spoke to him last year, John believed that we needed a university, however, he did say that we needed to fix up the whole of the education system first.

I have no doubt that Liberal Party candidates in that region were told to duck for cover on this issue because John Howard planned to bury Chifley University as part of a secret package of savage cuts to education had he been elected on 11 July. We all remember the Liberal Party's taxation policy, that long-awaited document of over 60 pages that will go down as the longest suicide note in history. We remember the spending cuts on which that policy depended. But in the area of education, the Liberals could not come clean on where the axe would fall and, as a result, the shadow Minister had to suffer the supreme embarrassment of this article which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 19 June under the heading `Education cuts not specified':

The Liberal Party's education policy shows no sign of the public sector spending cuts foreshadowed in the party's tax policy.

There are no dollar figures in the policy in spite of a statement earlier this month by the party's education spokesman, Mr Peter Shack, that when the policy is released there will be a full costing, and it will add up clearly.

. . .

Mr Shack said yesterday: `I don't want to give precise details [of savings]. We're on the outside.

`While we have every confidence that education will be able to make its contribution to the expenditure cuts needed to fund our tax reductions, schools are only one branch of the education department. The others are higher education and TAFE, and the savings are something we'll quantify when we are in government.'

It is no wonder the Opposition did not win the election. The only wonder is that the honourable member for Tangney (Mr Shack) is still on the front bench.

Let me turn to another aspect of the Budget which is of great importance to families, including those in my electorate; that is, the family allowance supplement. This exciting reform is part of the Government's commitment that, by 1990, no Australian child need live in poverty. This reform combines a more generous income test and increased payments. For example, a family in private rental accommodation with three children, two of whom are under 13 and one over, on a family income of $17,000, currently receives $16.48 a week under the family income supplement. Under the family allowance supplement that family will receive $85.98 a week.


Mr Mountford —How much?


Mr FREE —It will receive $85.98. In December that family will be $69.50 a week better off. If the Liberals had won on 11 July, that same family would have received a tax cut of a miserable $5.20, plus a child care allowance of $15.34-a total of $20.54. That is $20.54 from the Liberals as against $69.50 from Labor. So the difference between Labor winning and losing on 11 July will mean an additional benefit of $48.96 a week to such a family by Christmas. At this stage I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table which illustrates this point, as it affects a range of family incomes, in detail. I have shown it to the honourable member responsible.

Leave granted.

The table read as follows-

COMPARISON OF LABOR'S FAMILY PACKAGE AND THE LIBERAL'S ELECTION PROPOSAL ($/WEEK)

(FAMILY RENTING PRIVATELY, WITH 2 CHILDREN UNDER 13 AND ONE CHILD OVER 13)

Present

Family

Income

($pa)

Tax +

Medicare

Levy

Present

FIS

Present

Post-tax

Income

Labor Family Package

FAS

Post-tax

Income

Post-tax

Income

Increase

Liberal Election Proposal

Tax +

Medicare

Levy

Proposed

CCA

+ FIS

Proposed

Post-tax

Income

Post-tax

Income

Increase

Additional

benefits

of Labor

Family

Package

10000

2.80

51.00

239.99

87.00

275.99

36.00

0.48

66.34

257.66

17.66

18.34

11000

7.40

51.00

254.57

87.00

290.57

36.00

5.27

66.34

272.04

17.47

18.53

12000

12.01

51.00

269.14

87.00

305.14

36.00

10.07

66.34

286.42

17.28

18.72

13000

16.99

51.00

283.34

87.00

319.34

36.00

14.86

66.34

300.81

17.47

18.53

14000

22.55

45.25

291.20

87.00

332.95

41.75

19.66

60.59

309.44

18.24

23.51

15000

28.12

35.66

295.23

87.00

346.57

51.34

24.45

51.00

314.23

19.01

32.34

16000

33.68

26.07

299.25

87.00

360.19

60.93

29.25

41.41

319.03

19.77

41.16

17000

39.24

16.48

303.28

85.98

372.78

69.50

34.04

31.82

323.82

20.54

48.96

18000

44.80

6.89

307.31

76.39

376.81

69.50

38.84

22.23

328.62

21.31

48.19

19000

52.86

0.00

311.55

66.80

378.34

66.80

46.13

15.34

333.62

22.08

44.72

20000

61.78

0.00

321.81

57.21

379.02

57.21

53.22

15.34

345.70

23.90

33.31

21000

69.69

0.00

333.07

47.62

380.69

47.62

60.75

15.34

357.36

24.28

23.34

22000

77.60

0.00

344.34

38.03

382.37

38.03

68.28

15.34

369.01

24.66

13.37


Mr FREE —I thank the House. The table shows that the additional benefits of Labor's family package range from an extra $13.37 to $48.96 for incomes ranging from $10,000 to $22,000. I should add one cautionary remark about the family allowance supplement, a feature of which I know the Minister for Social Security (Mr Howe) is aware-that is, the danger of a low take-up rate if the scheme is poorly promoted. The family income supplement introduced by the Fraser Government failed to reach all or even a substantial proportion of the families that it set out to assist. I suspect that this happened because the scheme was poorly designed and insufficient attention was paid to its promotion in the community. I am confident that this Government, having developed such a good program in the family allowance supplement, will take the necessary steps to ensure that information about it reaches every eligible family and that benefits flow through to those needy families targeted by the scheme.

In the last couple of days many words have been written and spoken about the Budget. Many commentators have been lavish in their praise, but of all the comments I prefer those of Max Walsh. Honourable members may recall that Max Walsh wrote an article in June which I regard as the definitive article of the election campaign, and I think it is only fair that Max should be accorded, at least by me, the definitive comment on the Budget. Max Walsh said this about the Government and the Budget:

In two months of being re-elected, it has delivered a Budget which even its most caustic critics concede is a large step in the right direction, and at the same time, in one swoop, it has fully delivered on all campaign promises. No government has been so obligation-free in terms of its economic program as Mr Hawke now finds his at the opening of its third term.

To that I would add that no government has ever had a greater entitlement to look to its own future with greater confidence.

At this stage I wish to add my comments to the Australia Card debate because, like many honourable members, I was unable to participate in yesterday's debate. I regret very much the remarkable apparent turnaround in public opinion that we seem to be witnessing in published opinion polls. I regret it because it has been caused by a campaign of misinformation, a campaign which has been increasingly hysterical. I believe it is time to return to the fundamentals. I believe it is time to explain to the Australian community that the Australia Card program involves limited access to very limited information; that it is designed quite simply to establish that a person holding a job, opening a bank account or applying for a benefit is the person he claims to be.

Our opponents talk of rights and liberties. What about the rights and liberties of ordinary, honest Australians? What about their rights to feel secure in the knowledge that they are paying a fair share of tax in a fair system? What about their rights to know that the benefits they pay for go to people properly entitled to them? Ordinary Australians are entitled to enjoy those rights as well. What about their right to know that we have a fair and orderly migration system? There was an interesting article in the Sydney Morning Herald of 29 August about tourists working illegally in this country while here on tourist visas. The shadow Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Cadman), was guilty in that article of breathtaking double standards. The article stated:

`We don't even take the simple step of saying, ``can we see your passport?'' before offering a job,' says Mr Alan Cadman, the Federal Opposition spokesman on immigration. He says working tourists deprive Australians of jobs and estimates that $60 million is spent each year paying out Medicare, legal aid and other benefits to illegal aliens.

It is typical of the Opposition's approach that in this statement the shadow Minister should ignore the impact the Australia Card would have on the problem while, at the same time, complain about the problem. Opponents of the Australia Card call it an imposition on honest people and claim that it will not stop all cases of abuse. This argument is fundamentally flawed. It is the same as arguing that the compulsory wearing of seat belts and random breath testing somehow have failed because they have not stopped every single road fatality in this country. Quite clearly, they have been successful by reducing the incidence of such fatalities. In the same way the introduction of the Australia Card will significantly reduce tax and welfare fraud.

The opponents of the card bear a heavy responsibility. If they get their way they will deprive the revenue of $1 billion a year. Only this evening we heard the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) saying that he wanted to see more tertiary places created. He also said that he wanted to see more public housing built. The honourable member for Mayo (Mr Downer) in the debate this evening said that he wanted more tax cuts. At the same time that members of the Opposition want more they also want to deny the revenue of $1 billion a year.

The opponents of the card claim also that it was never raised as an issue in the recent election campaign. That is untrue. I remember very clearly that the first advertisement of the Australian Labor Party in that campaign dealt with this issue. It is not our fault that the Liberals ducked for cover during that election campaign and failed to pick up the ball on that issue. I put out more Press releases on this issue in my electorate during the recent election campaign than on any other single issue, as the honourable member for Macquarie (Mr Webster) knows.


Mr Webster —And as he also did.


Mr FREE —Exactly. The debate in the wider community on the Australia Card increasingly is becoming a battle between myth and reality; a battle between the irrational and the rational. It is becoming a debate in which the usual practice of basing an orderly argument on a common core of mutually agreed facts has been abandoned as the opponents of the card move increasingly into fantasy land. I know that opponents of the card object to being associated in debate with tax and welfare cheats. I understand that objection and certainly would not make that association in the debate this evening. However, as honourable members opposite continue to oppose the Australia Card they are attracting a very enthusiastic team of barrackers because cheering them on on the sideline as they continue their opposition to this reform is every tax cheat, welfare cheat, illegal migrant and con man in the country. I ask members of the Opposition to pause, take a deep breath, look at the company they are keeping in the debate and think again.