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Tuesday, 14 June 2005
Page: 31

Mrs ELLIOT (4:07 PM) —I rise to speak in continuation on the Family and Community Services Legislation Amendment (Family Assistance and Related Measures) Bill 2005. I previously spoke in relation to Labor’s amendments to this bill regarding the access of adoptive parents to the maternity payment. It simply does not make sense for the government to place an age restriction of two years on adoptive parents accessing this payment. I urge the government to take up Labor’s amendment for the benefit of all adoptive parents.

While the improvements in changing the method of calculating family tax payment benefit part B are welcome for those returning to work, the government has indeed missed an opportunity to address the crucial policy problems of measures like the maternity payment in this bill. As I have said, I do not believe 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 that the wife of a rich North Sydney executive. Not only should they expect it, they deserve it.

While the government is giving families this $3,000 with one hand, it is taking it back with the other, with rising health care costs and mortgage repayments. Their now infamous broken promise on the Medicare safety net—the minister for health’s rock-solid, ironclad guarantee that turned out to be a waste of breath—has indeed weakened Medicare and increased health costs to families. This is at a time when families can barely afford to go to the doctor. For those 10,000 families in my electorate who struggle to get by on just $500 a week, there is often a real choice made between seeing a doctor and buying the groceries. The local bulk-billing rate is just 69.5 per cent, well below the state average of 78.1 per cent. Some local families simply cannot afford to go to the doctor, and the government has failed to address the problem. Local families also suffer because of the government’s removal of the federal dental health scheme in 1997. They now often have to wait years for treatment.

The government’s other famous broken promise on interest rates is also hitting local families very hard. On the North Coast the median house price is approximately $333,000, which means the March interest rate rise will cost an average of between $52 and $56 a month. So while the government seems to be giving families a helping hand, it is actually taking it back dollar by dollar.

The government has also missed an opportunity to cut red tape for these same struggling families. In order to get the maternity payment, families are required to fill in a very complicated 20-page form. Families in my electorate are telling me that this cumbersome and often time-consuming form would almost stop them from applying for the payment if they did not so desperately need the money. This is a government that continually puts up barriers to stop families accessing the help they need. This is a government that says, ‘We’ll give you $3,000, but we’ll make you walk through a bureaucratic minefield to get it.’ As anyone who has had a baby knows, parents of newborns barely have enough time to sleep let alone fill in a complicated 20-page document.

There are still very real and very valid concerns attached to this payment that the government has failed to address, as there are with most of the government’s welfare reforms. This year’s budget saw the creation of a two-tiered welfare system: which side of 1 July 2006 a person with a disability or a single mother goes on to benefits determines the level of government assistance they receive. The government has created a system where people suffering from exactly the same disability will have different work and income obligations and single mothers with the same needs will receive two different payments. It is an obvious display of the type of inequity we have come to expect from this government.

We have also come to expect this government to make these sorts of demands without providing the infrastructure needed to support its changes. The Treasurer is pushing sole parents back into work but has not given too much thought to who is going to look after their kids. In Tweed Heads there is only one after-school care centre. These people do a fantastic job, but their resources are stretched to the limit. They simply cannot take on any more children because they do not have the federal funding for more after-school care places. So where are the children of these sole parents supposed to go while their mum or dad is at work? The government certainly is not providing the child-care places needed to care for the children of the people it is forcing back to work. A new generation of latchkey kids will be created. This is not a measure from a government that values families. This is not a government that is providing for Australia’s future.

While I support the changes to the family tax benefit part B in this bill, they need to be looked at in the context of other government decisions. Local families in my electorate are struggling under this government with rising health care costs, no investment in local infrastructure like child-care places, a two-tiered welfare reform system and higher mortgages because of their poor economic management. It is not good enough for the Prime Minister to give with one hand and take with the other. I will continue to raise these issues until the families of Richmond are heard.