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Tuesday, 4 April 2000
Page: 15173


Mr CADMAN (8:27 PM) —This legislation before the House, the A New Tax System (Family Assistance and Related Measures) Bill 2000, is all about families. It is all about parents and their children. The House dealt some months ago with the goods and services tax and the personal and individual tax cuts related to the introduction of a new tax system. Tonight we are dealing with the compensation and payments that the government is making to families with the introduction of the new tax system. The new tax system is about a better and easier way of taxing, and it is also about giving benefits to those who are most in need, particularly those families with children.

This package before the House tonight involves $2.4 billion of payments to Australian families around the nation. It consists of three parts. The previous government developed the most complicated, complex schemes under the sun to make it appear that in each budget they were doing something beneficial for families in Australia, and a small amount would trickle out to a limited number of people. This government has said that it is too complex, that the funds are not getting to the people who need them most, they are not getting to those people with the most children, and it is costing so much to administer with all the complexity of means tests and income ranges, and the fact that, in total, 12 programs were being run by the previous government to deal with family income and maintenance benefits for children.

I will list the benefits currently available through Centrelink. They include: the minimum family allowance, the family allowance, the family tax payment part A, the basic parenting payment, the guardian allowance, the family tax payment part B and the child-care assistance. In addition to that, currently available through Medicare offices is the child-care rebate and currently available through the tax system is the family tax assistance part A, the dependent spouse rebate (with children), the sole parent rebate and the family tax assistance part B. I defy any mum with a couple of kids to go into Centrelink or anywhere and work out what the heck she is entitled to. It is a hopeless mess.

So this government has said, `Let us find out where the needs are, consolidate these programs and pay reasonable amounts of money to people, not just in compensation because there might be a slight increase in cost of living.' In passing I notice in a press statement from Woolworths dated 27 February, Roger Corbett, who is the group managing director, says that supermarket prices will go up by 0.8 per cent. Mr Deputy Speaker, you know and I know that for $100 worth of groceries that is 80c and for $200 worth of groceries it is an increase of $1.60.

Let us look at the benefits that are going to flow to families from the changes that we are passing through the parliament tonight. The family payments currently available to families—I am told there are 12, but it looks more like 20 on the page in front of me—have been consolidated by this government into three—just three. Anybody going into the Family Assistance Office that the government has established will be able to identify their entitlements, claim those entitlements and gain the benefits encompassed in this bill—$2.4 billion worth of support for families. It is a consolidation and extension.

There are just three payments and they are simply named. There is the family tax benefit part A, the family tax benefit part B and the child-care benefit. Part A will be paid for dependent children up to the age of 20 and dependent full-time students aged between 21 and 24 years. So this applies to kids who are still at school, are living at home and are up to the age of 24 or to dependent kids who are at home but are not students and are up to the age of 20. The maximum rate will be $140 a year more than it is now. So what will that make it? For children under the age of 13, that is about $3,000 a year; for 13- to 15-year-olds, it goes up to $3,700 a year; for 16- to 17-year-olds, it comes back to about $1,000 a year; and for 18- to 24-year-olds, it is about $1,300 a year. So there is maximum payment when the greatest cost is there and that is when the kids are getting into high school and the middle years of high school. This is a good program. This is a program that suits the families of Western Sydney. Anybody who tries to argue against the benefits of this program does not understand Australian families.

In addition, you get at least this much if your salary is between $28,000 and $73,000 plus an extra $3,000 in salary for each child after the first. So in summary the family tax benefit part A is for people with an income below $76,000 and who have a dependent child under 18 or for people who earn less than $77,000 and have an 18- to 24-year-old—but you need to add $6,257 to those limits for each additional child under 18 and $7,300 for each additional child in the age group 18 to 24. The tax benefit part A is a great extension.

What does the tax benefit part B do? That will apply to people who are partnered or who are sole parents but who do not have a source of other support. For partnered people the primary income earner's income is not taken into account. So that is for a couple. For example, if the husband is the major income earner and the wife earns a small amount of money, it is only her income that is taken into account. If she gets no income whatsoever, she is staying at home with the kids, then the family gets the maximum benefit.

So this is support for those families seeking to redress the disadvantage suffered by families which have a single income. It does not matter whether that single income is created through the efforts of a sole parent or whether that single income comes from one partner of a couple who works. So the maximum rate for part B is to compensate for the extra tax that is paid by single income families as compared with two-income families. The maximum rate under part B per year for families with children under five years old is $2,640, and for families with children aged between five and 16 years—or for families where the child is up to 18 years old and is a full-time student—is $1,851. So the benefits under part B are based on how much income that partner or carer gets.

The first part is based on the fact that there are children in the family, the second part is based on how those children are supported and the third part is the child-care benefit which allows people to place children in child care. The maximum rate of the child-care benefit depends on the number of children, but for one child it is $120 per week or $2.40 per hour and it goes up to $392 per week if there are three children.

That is the maximum rate for the child-care benefit. There is a minimum rate of roughly $20 per week. If your family income is less than $28,200 and you use approved care, you get the maximum rate of child-care benefit. The Australian Labor Party is saying tonight that those in need will not get the benefit. There is free child care for anybody earning less than $28,200. And there is support for families with a sole income and there is support for families where there may be two incomes. If they have got children, there is an additional benefit there.

This is a reasonable program, and it should be endorsed by everybody in the parliament. But, typically, as has been the case with every measure adopted with the change of the tax system, the Australian Labor Party have moved in this parliament an objection or an amendment to seek to stop the progress of change. If they are so opposed to this change and they think it is so bad, it would be a very sensible thing, I suggest, for them to let it go through and let the government wear the mess that it creates out in the community. But, no, I do not believe the Australian Labor Party think it is a mess. I think they feel that it is going to be attractive, it is going to hit the mark and that families are going to accept and like it and think it is really well judged for their needs.

So what do the Labor Party do? They seek to play a spoiling game by disrupting, dislocating, preventing quick passage and delaying the implementation of these measures. That is a reasonable tactic in some language, but at least they ought to be decent enough to say, `We are going to delay this process because we do not think the details are good enough.' But, no, they just use a disruptive process and claim that the measures are flawed.

There are so many good measures in this change in the new tax system which are of benefit to families. I will just run though them as a summary: an extra $140 per year per child; an additional $350 per year per family for single income families, including sole parents with a child under five years of age; the assets test that applies to Australian family allowance will be abolished; higher maximum assistance with child-care costs for lower income families; more families using child care will be eligible for some assistance with child-care costs; extra assistance for families with older dependent children not getting the youth allowance—that is, $1,306 a year for each 18- to 24-year-old and $977 a year for each 16- to 17-year-old.

That is a summary of what this is about, and I think that that is reasonable enough. It fits in, in fact, with what this government has done since it has been in office, because it is targeted. This Prime Minister is the first Prime Minister that I have heard talk about the needs of families. There have been plenty of prime ministers who have made statements like `No child will live in poverty beyond the year 1990' and then done nothing. There have been plenty of spectacular statements like that. But they are statements that you hear once every five years. This Prime Minister and this government have consistently gone after the needs of families, sought to redress the difficulties of families and sought to compensate where hurt or disadvantage was felt.

I am proud to be part of a government that wants to put families first in Australia. Families are the building blocks of our society. They are the most significant part of our community. Why shouldn't this government and all governments focus on families? This is the first government that has focused on families with children, understanding the needs of parents. The coalition has provided greater levels of assistance to families in the area of family and community service and child care, where those in most need have been delivered the greatest benefits.

From July 1996 to June 1999 there was an increase of 230 child-care centres in Australia. Five hundred private care centres have opened. The government understands the relationship between private and non-private care. Despite its proclamation that the operational subsidy should not be withdrawn from community based long day care centres, the Australian Labor Party has backflipped and backed us on that—condemned it to begin with and backflipped when it saw it was sensible.

With the Child Support Agency, we have moved and changed the relationships and the responsibilities of families that are separated so that they are more reasonable and more likely to be based on the circumstances of the split couple and their split families. It is a very hard and difficult area, but already this government has made two sensible adjustments, and no doubt there will be more as we try to get this closer. I can remember the member for Chifley sitting over here when the Labor Party was in government making speeches year after year pleading with his government about the need to do something with the Child Support Agency. He even ran a committee at one point to try to get his government, the Labor government, to do something about the Child Support Agency—failing at every attempt. This government has made changes and will continue to make changes.

What have we done with the disability services of Australia? This coalition has been consistently doing things. The budget of last year built on previous budgets with an additional $20 million over four years for respite care and support for those charged with the care of those who are disabled. Nobody had thought of doing that before. We are putting in more money to give those who care for the disabled support in their homes. More than $1.4 billion will go to the states and territories over the next four years to assist them in providing accommodation support, respite care and day services for people with disabilities. These are all family based policies.


Mr Entsch —Top shelf.


Mr CADMAN —Top stuff. We have the crocodile tears about caravan parks and goodness knows what, anything but relevant topics dealing with families, from the Australian Labor Party, then some flimsy amendment of opposition to this legislation, seeking to delay it and disrupt it. What about homelessness and prevention strategies? There again we see active government decisions: $60 million towards the establishment of youth homelessness prevention and early intervention services; $50 million towards the prevention of domestic violence in conjunction with the Office of the Status of Women, and so it goes on—income support, the sort of stuff we have been on about tonight, for families.

This government has done so much and there is so much more yet to be done. That is why it is so challenging and exhilarating being part of a government that has some vision. This government is yet to deal with the areas that I am concerned about for the future. I believe we have to do something about gambling. We have that Productivity Commission report, but it is just sitting there. There has not been a lot of action from the states on it, but it is basically a state responsibility. Gambling by people with a gambling problem, who are usually on a fairly low income, is sucking the very life and the very existence out of their families. They are living in poverty and deprivation in many instances because of their gambling. To go through the report of the Productivity Commission and read about the difficulties created by gambling is a revelation. Encouragement for family members to relate to each other better is something that I regard as important, and I know my colleague from Greenway understands this. We have seen the `how to drug-proof your kids' programs and the strengthening of families as a result. I think governments need to give people some tools to work with in their families so that conflicts are resolved and so that it is possible to steer away from negative attitudes and responses and have personally winning formulas for operating in families. I believe governments have more to do yet. Jocelyn Newman, the Minister for Family and Community Services, is saying, `Okay, we have to take the cheats out of the system, but we also have to give encouragement to people.' So this government is driving at a sense of mutual responsibility, and I am looking forward to the next innovations and the next changes. (Time expired)