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Thursday, 2 June 2005
Page: 99

Mrs ELLIOT (4:27 PM) —I rise to speak on the Family and Community Services Legislation Amendment (Family Assistance and Related Measures) Bill 2005. I would firstly like to address Labor’s amendment to this bill regarding the access of adoptive parents to the maternity payment. Whilst I welcome the extension contained in this bill particularly recognising the many grandparents who raise their grandchildren today, the government have missed yet another opportunity to fix problems with this payment. They have simply slapped an arbitrary age of two years onto the eligibility criteria for adoptive parents who want to access this maternity payment. This means that parents who adopt a child over the age of two will often not have access to this financial support—but of course will still suffer the significant financial burden of a new child within their family. When you consider the small increased cost of the extension that the government is proposing, it simply does not make sense for the government to place an age restriction on adoptive parents’ access to this payment. So I urge the government to take up Labor’s amendment for the benefit of all adoptive parents.

This is an important piece of legislation for my electorate because families in Richmond are indeed doing it tough. The statistics paint a damning picture of the Howard government’s record on supporting local families. Ten thousand families in Richmond earn less than $500 a week—the fourth highest number of any electorate in the country. And we have the fourth lowest median weekly family income, at just $654. But probably the most shocking statistic is that 15.5 per cent of local children are living in poverty. It is both disappointing and horrifying that this government has simply ignored Australian children living in poverty.

While the improvements in changing the method of calculating family tax benefit B are indeed welcome in the case of those returning to work, the government has missed an opportunity to address the crucial policy problems of measures like the maternity payment in this bill. This payment remains without an income test, for example. This means that the family of the company executive living in Sydney’s North Shore and earning $5,000 a week will get the same $3,000 maternity payment as the 10,000 families in Richmond who earn just $500 a week. To any reasonable person, this is simply not fair. How can the government justify giving the same payment to rich Sydney families that it is giving to struggling families in my electorate? The Prime Minister has just abandoned all those battlers. Instead of providing the assistance to families who need it for the basics—for things like food, clothing and nappies—the government writes a cheque for $3,000 in public funds for rich Sydney mums to buy the latest designer outfits for their babies.

Make no mistake: I will always stand up for the families of Richmond. I do not believe that it is fair for rich city families to get the same government support that battling families in my electorate receive. A struggling single mother from West Tweed should rightly expect more support from the government than the wife of a rich north Sydney executive. They should not only expect it; they indeed deserve it.

Debate interrupted.