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Tuesday, 22 September 1987
Page: 452

Mr HOWARD —I refer the Prime Minister to his election promise of a family package designed to lift Australians out of poverty and ensure, in the Prime Minister's words, that `by 1990 no Australian child will be living in poverty'. Is it a fact, as Senator Walsh asserted at the Society of Labor Lawyers conference, that under the package 20,000 low income Australian families will face effective marginal tax rates of up to 110 per cent, thus destroying any incentive for these families to try to improve their earnings, and effectively condemning them and their children to remain in poverty? How does the Prime Minister reconcile the reality of the family package for these 20,000 families with his solemn and unequivocal election promise?

Mr HAWKE —I am very pleased that the Leader of the Opposition has addressed the question of child poverty. Let me make it very clear that prior to the package that we have introduced this Government had already taken major steps to tackle the problem of child poverty in this country. Since coming to office we have directed our attention to the appalling situation that we inherited as a legacy of seven years of conservative neglect. I remind the Leader of the Opposition also that since coming to office the additional pension benefit and family income supplements payable to low income families have been increased by 70 per cent from $10 to $17 a week per child. The mothers guardian allowance has been doubled from $6 to $12 a week and rent assistance has been increased by 50 per cent from $10 to $15 a week. Nevertheless, we as a government recognise that more needs to be done to reverse the callous neglect of the previous Government. The number of children for whom additional pension benefits was paid rose by nearly 50 per cent in the last three years of the coalition Government, owing to the dramatic increase in unemployment which flowed from its inappropriate economic policies. During the seven years of the conservative Government, the additional pension benefit was increased only once, and that was by $2.50 a week, and the mothers guardian allowance was increased by only $2.

The first substantial step in achieving our goal will be the introduction in December of the new family allowance supplement (FAS). This will be paid at the rate of $22 a week per child, plus an additional $6 a week for children aged between 13 and 15. That is a very large increase from the maximum rate of $17 a week which is paid under the current additional pension benefit and family income supplement (FIS), which the FAS replaces. We acknowledge also that families who are renting privately are particularly vulnerable. These low income families will also be eligible for rent assistance of $15 a week. The fact is that the FAS will benefit some half a million Australian families and over one million children.

I acknowledge the element of the introduction of this plan to which the honourable gentleman referred and, of course, we were concerned about that aspect of it. However, in the totality of our attempt to bring about a substantial improvement in this area of abysmal neglect by the Leader of the Opposition and his colleagues in those seven years, we have formulated a scheme which has been welcomed, and strongly welcomed, by the people in the community-the social welfare practitioners who have been face to face with the dramatic problems caused by the neglect of the seven years before we came to office. They acknowledge the problem that can exist in the area to which the honourable gentleman referred. But in the totality of bringing in a scheme calculated to benefit one million Australian children, the judgment of the welfare community is that, historically, this is the greatest single step that has ever been taken by any Australian government to address this fundamental social problem.