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Monday, 14 October 1985
Page: 1152


Senator PUPLICK(4.07) —The Senate is considering a matter of public importance put to it by my colleague Senator Peter Baume, namely:

The failure of the Federal Government, in common with the New South Wales Labor Government, to provide adequate emergency relief for the poor.

For a Party that likes to trumpet its concern about the poor and the needy, the Australian Labor Party's record and the record of its Federal and State Labor administrations relative to the poor of New South Wales is a shabby and shameful saga of neglect and betrayal. When this matter was raised by Senator Peter Baume it was responded to by Senator Coates. Senator Coates's speech consisted of two essential elements. In the first instance, he said how poor was the welfare record of the State of New South Wales. He rightfully criticised and bucketed the Wran Administration for spending less per capita on public housing than any other State in the Commonwealth, and for having increased its electricity charges in such a way that 37 per cent of total expenditure by people receiving emergency relief goes to pay electricity charges and 27 per cent of persons in receipt of that emergency relief have as the largest item of expenditure in their disposable income the paying of charges imposed upon them by the New South Wales Government. On the subject of electricity charges, I remind the Senate that, since the Wran Government came into power, from 1976 until December 1983 it had managed to increase electricity charges by 12.9 per cent greater than the rate of inflation; that in October 1982 it put up the electricity charges to pensioners by 38 per cent; and that in October 1983 it put up electricity charges to pensioners by an additional 57 per cent. This was largely as a result of its incompetence, in its management of the electricity supply, in its handling of industrial relations, and in providing the people of New South Wales with the elementary services for which they are paying the highest rates and taxes of any State in the Commonwealth.

The other leg of Senator Coates's argument was that members of the Liberal and National parties and their parties in general had no particular interest, or had only just discovered an interest, in questions of poverty and welfare. A little history would have persuaded Senator Coates, if any fact is capable of persuading him, that in the first decade of this nation's federation, it was the Deakin Government, a Liberal government, which pioneered at a Federal level the whole system of old age pensions. Senator Coates will recall that it was Bill Wentworth, as the Minister for Social Services in the Gorton and McMahon governments, who introduced the Commission of Inquiry into Poverty under Professor Henderson.


Senator Coates —Under pressure from us because you were too scared of McMahon losing the election.


Senator PUPLICK —Let me tell Senator Coates that I was on Mr Wentworth's staff at the time, and if he thinks he can get away with that sort of nonsensical interjection with somebody who is in a position to know just how wrong he is, he is mistaken. I remind him that in 1967 sheltered employment allowances were introduced by a Liberal government. In 1977 the supporting parent's benefit was extended to supporting fathers. Senator Coates will not get away with saying that there has never been any concern on our part about these problems. He sought to establish where there is a degree of responsibility in this matter. Let me tell him that there is absolute unanimity among Labor spokesmen on this matter. Senator Grimes, on 20 April 1982, put out a Press release which stated:

Along with a rise in payments, especially for those in greatest need, we believe that the Federal Government will have to take a greater responsibility in providing for the additional needs of people whose income cannot cover their necessary expenses, particularly those dependent on government.

I can understand the extent to which Senator Coates would now wish to back away from and deny the comments of Senator Grimes. I am sure that if we all wait quietly enough for long enough we will hear the cockerel crow three times. In exactly the same way, one can look at the statement made on 16 April 1982 by Mrs Toner in the Victorian Government in response to a question about who she thought had the responsibility for this. An article in the Age newspaper stated:

Mrs Toner said one of the Labor Government's main platforms was to get the Federal Government to assume its responsibilities on income security. `The voluntary agencies and the State government are continually having to top up on the deficiencies caused by inadequate Federal benefits,' Mrs Toner said.

Mr Walker, the Minister in New South Wales, is in no doubt on this matter. The Sydney Morning Herald of 14 September 1985 reported:

The Minister for Youth and Community Services, Mr Walker, said yesterday that the Federal Government had a responsibility for income maintenance which was clearly not being met.

`We have been turning thousands of people away for some time who have been seeking emergency aid because we haven't got enough money to help them all.

On 2 October 1985, again in the Sydney Morning Herald, talking about the impasse between the Federal and State governments, Mr Walker is reported as saying:

Senator Grimes knows full well that this decision by New South Wales was coming. He has been warned by State Governments for more than two years.

Senator Grimes has been on notice for more than two years. Senator Coates has come into this place and bleated about a statement, saying: `We asked them not to do anything, to hold off for six months, to make some temporary palliatives so that we could address the matter'. Yet his New South Wales counterpart is saying and has said that for two years his Federal counterpart has been on notice. I will quote again what Mr Walker has said of the situation. He was reported in a newspaper article as saying:

All the people who need emergency funds are already recipients of Commonwealth benefits-this simply goes to show that Commonwealth benefits are inadequate.

This morning's Sydney Morning Herald carries the headline: `Cash handouts: Wran is right'. The newspaper states:

. . . social security is a Federal responsibility.

. . .

But whatever the objections, they--

talking about welfare groups-

should be taken to Canberra. The States should get out of the business of shoring up the social security system.

If one looks at the record of the Wran Government in terms of benefits and provision of support for people in need in New South Wales, it is interesting to see that since it has been in office in New South Wales the number of supporting parents who have to rely upon supplementary benefits has increased from 36 per cent of the total number of persons throughout Australia to in excess of 40 per cent. Senator Coates talked about the recovery. Where is the recovery for these people? Where are they in Mr Hawke's thinking while he suns himself in the Caribbean? Where are they in Mr Wran's thinking while he big notes himself around the Great Wall of China? He can always find enough money for another project. There is always enough money in New South Wales to satisfy Mr Wran's obvious edifice complex.

The New South Wales Government has imposed upon the people of New South Wales its regime of charges and taxes. Let this stand as an indictment of it: Under the economic administration of the Wran Government taxes and charges in New South Wales-they have to be borne directly or indirectly by the poor of New South Wales as much as by anybody else, if, indeed, not more-have increased by 160 per cent. Between 1976 and 1984 direct taxation per head in New South Wales has risen from $249 to $594-an increase in the vicinity of 140 per cent.


Senator Button —What about in Queensland?


Senator PUPLICK —Moreover, people living in New South Wales pay 62 per cent more than the people living in Tasmania and 51 per cent more than those living in Queensland, to answer Senator Button's helpful interjection. New South Wales has the dubious distinction of ranking first in Australia on a per capita basis in matters of payroll tax, land tax, gambling revenue, stamp duties, fees, fines, liquor and tobacco franchise fees and petrol taxes. As Senator Coates rightly pointed out, New South Wales ranks last in per capita expenditure on public housing. We have seen the debacle of public housing in New South Wales which resulted in Mr Wran, on 15 August, having to wind up the Land Commission of New South Wales because it was engaged in all sorts of wonderful speculations which did everything except benefit the poor of New South Wales who were supposed to benefit from the policies pursued by the Housing Commission and Landcom.

We have seen the amount of public money spent. Senator Coates said: `Perhaps they need $500m'. In the course of just the last couple of months we have seen $50m allocated for a soccer ground to complement the Sydney Cricket Ground. We are to have $1m spent on the building of a permanent pavilion in Centennial Park. We are to have $1 billion committed to the Darling Harbour project when people who are currently in that park area at Darling Harbour live on pet food and sleep on park benches. There is $1 billion allocated for all of the buildings to be put up by Mr Wran as part of his bicentennial obsessions.

We are told of the particular significance of the western suburbs. In the Estimates committee hearing I happened to criticise the amount of money being spent on sporting complexes in Mr Brown's electorate of Parramatta. Thirty-one per cent of the total amount of money to be spent on building sports projects is to be spent in Mr Brown's electorate in Parramatta. Mr Acting Deputy President, you will remember that I was chastised by Senator Ryan. You then chastised me for saying something nasty about the Wran Government. I will quote from the Senate Estimates Committee Hansard of 1 October, Senator Ryan said:

I would also point out that it is in an area, the western suburbs of Sydney, which has been notoriously underprovided with community services of this kind. I think any person familiar with the limited extent of community facilities in those areas would understand the policy sense in providing a major institution in this area.

That major institution is to be a sports stadium. This occurred at exactly the same time as an announcement from Mr Walker. The Sydney Morning Herald reported:

The State Government has made savage cuts in money allocated to community aid centres in western Sydney . . .

The Western Sydney Community Forum said spending on neighbourhood and community aid centres in the west this year by the Department of Youth and Community Services had been slashed by 10.6 per cent.

The cuts meant . . . Blacktown Community Aid, Auburn Community Aid, Blue Mountains Community Aid, Campbelltown Information Centre, Whalan Community Centre and Fairfield Community Aid would lose their funding in the next few months.

There is plenty of money for Mr Brown to chuck around at his sports stadiums, for Mr Wran to chuck at his Darling Harbour project and for these grand bicentennial gestures, but there is not a few hundred million dollars around-compared with that amount of money-for the poor and homeless of Sydney, for the people who do not have enough to eat, for those who do not have adequate standards of housing and shelter and for the people who do not have an adequate degree of clothing. It is no use Senator Coates coming into this place and saying that it is all the fault of the New South Wales State Government. That is precisely what he has done. It may be a fault of the nine years of neglect and maladministration by the New South Wales State Government. It may well be that it is primarily responsible, but that does not remove the fact that to a very large extent the Federal Government has abdicated its responsibilities. The best that Senator Grimes could do was to put out a statement on 30 August saying:

One of the most pressing needs of the families who seek cash assistance is to pay for State charges such as power bills and rates . . .

When he says that he condemns the New South Wales Government, he condemns his own Party and he condemns his own Party Federal President, directly and properly, for their responsibility in this matter. Mr Walker's response is: `It is not our fault'. The bottom line of the whole matter is, whether it be the State Labor Government or the Federal Labor Government, the people who suffer are the constituents whom Senator Peter Baume, Senator Mason and I represent. They are left in a state of poverty and destitution because these State Labor governments once again have betrayed the responsibilities which they have always claimed they hold especially for the poor and underprivileged. Once again as governments they expose themselves for the hypocrites that they are.