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Monday, 14 October 1985
Page: 1155

Senator RICHARDSON(4.21) —I, like Senator Coates, am amazed to hear today two Opposition senators from New South Wales speak to us about the poor. Those two honourable senators, who represent in this Parliament wealth, power and privilege, tell the Australian Labor Party and the Labor Government, which has been elected by people from Sydney's western suburbs, what they should do to help the poor. The reality is that it is we on the Government side, not just while we have been members of Parliament but from the time we have been able to think and act, who have always acted with the underprivileged in mind.

One does not have to go back very far-only a couple of short years-to see just how the Liberal Party of Australia operated when in government, to see what its priorities were then and to realise that Senator Coates is right. The Liberal Party has only now discovered poverty as an issue because for seven years when it was in government not only did it do nothing about the poor but also it deliberately created, as a matter of government policy, hundreds of thousands of new unemployed Australians to fight, as it said, inflation. After seven years of fighting inflation by creating more people who could be poor in Australia, by creating more people who could not have enough meat on the table, members of the Liberal Party come into the chamber today and tell the Labor Party that it ought to do something for the poor. Looking back at some of the figures makes fascinating recollections. One realises that the Liberal Party will fail in this exercise because the underprivileged in Australia have a good, long memory. They remember what has happened to them over the last few years. Most of them, who have been caught in generational poverty, remember what has gone on for generations. They remember what honourable senators opposite represent and what we on this side represent. Fortunately for the poor-indeed, fortunately for Australia-we represent some hope. While we do not promise miracles overnight we get the runs on the board because we do things for the poor and we try to make sure that their lot is improved. That is in marked contrast with what the Liberal Party provided. Senator Peter Baume was a member of that Government, and he, along with the rest of the members of that Government, should be damned for his performance.

Let us look at that performance. Honourable senators will remember Malcolm Fraser. I know that he never gets a mention any more but I think we ought to be reminded today of his visage. At the National Press Club on 2 December 1975-those heady days-he stated:

. . . we will not attempt to reduce the assistance to voluntary welfare agencies.

Within a couple of years he was providing $500,000 when a government report had recommended $12m. In the first two years of the Fraser Government organisations faced a doubling of demand for money but got no increase whatsoever. On 21 August 1977-honourable senators will notice that these statements were made prior to elections; they were the times when the Liberal Party really had to act-Mr Fraser also stated-and it is another great quote:

We have acted by introducing a family allowance scheme. This has been recognised as the single most important reform in the Australian welfare system since Federation.

Let us look at what the Liberal Government did to show its concern for the poor. By 1982 a family with two children found itself $20 a week worse off under this scheme compared with its position in 1976 and a family with four children was doubly worse off. Simply those are facts and figures which cannot be refuted. Mr Fraser's 1975 election speech referring to pensions generally is the real classic. He stated:

The real value of pensions will be preserved.

There is one pretty simple statistic which gives the lie to that and that is that pensions were 24.5 per cent of average weekly earnings when the Labor Party left office in 1975; when the Labor Party regained office pensions were 22 per cent of average weekly earnings. As usual, Liberal promises, particularly when it came to the underprivileged or the poor, were disregarded because they were not in the electorates of the Liberal Party. They were not the people whom the Liberal Party was elected to look after, and abandon them it did, as it did in customary style every time it had the opportunity.

The unemployment benefit rate for 18-year-olds again tells a story. For the entire duration of the Fraser Government-seven years-that benefit lost 80 per cent of its value. It was only raised once, despite the Liberal Party's failures with inflation. Despite inflation racing away to figures over 10 and 11 per cent, the Liberal Party managed to raise the benefit for the young unemployed only once. I think we have to look at what happened to the young in order to see our whole social fabric for the future. In the last year of the Fraser Government 186,000 Australians lost their jobs-in one year. That is what the Fraser Government provided for the poor. When the Fraser Government came to office in July 1975, 170,000 were unemployed; seven years later, in July 1982, the number had gone up to 405,000.

Let us look at the unemployment benefit, additional payments and family allowances that were provided under the Fraser Government and compare them with what the Hawke Government has done in the 2 1/2 short years it has had the privilege of governing Australia. We must look at what we would have had to increase payments by in March 1983 to bring them into line with what they were in December 1975. The single adult unemployment benefit would have had to be increased by 7 1/2 per cent, but for 16 and 17-year-olds it would have had to be increased by 63 1/2 per cent. That is how much the unemployment benefit would have had to be increased in order to bring it into line with the 1975 level. In 1983 additional pension benefits were 28 per cent behind what they had been in December 1985.

The great performance of the Fraser Government was to see mothers and guardians allowances-again it is a poverty trap; something to which we can all look to see what happens to the underprivileged under Liberal governments-104 per cent behind what they had been in December 1975 when the Liberals took office. Rent assistance was down by 2 per cent. For the first child family allowances-and Malcolm Fraser referred to family allowances as the single greatest reform of welfare since Federation-needed to be increased by 413 per cent in 1983 to bring them into line; for the second child 266 per cent, for the third child 119 per cent and for the fourth child 94 per cent. That is what the Fraser Government delivered to the poor in Australia; it delivered them nothing. It deliberately created more people who could be under the poverty line set by Henderson so that it could-I use the Liberal Party's words-fight inflation. The only result it got was misery. It certainly did not cure anything as far as inflation was concerned. As usual, it was inflation which was biting at the poor, the very people whom the Liberal Party was creating more of in the name of fighting inflation. We wonder what Liberal senators who talk today about the negligence of this Government in respect of the poor were saying from 1975 to 1982. They certainly said nothing in this chamber. There are no reports of their saying anything in caucus rooms or party committee rooms. The Liberal Party simply disregarded the poor as it has done since Federation and as it will continue to do.

If one compares those figures with what has happened in the few short years of the Labor Government one starts to get some idea of the Labor Party's real commitment to the poor and underprivileged. If it would have taken an increase of 413 per cent in family allowances for the first child, it now takes an increase of 15 per cent to get them back to what they were in December 1975. The Labor Government has been on the move with all payments to social security beneficiaries. It has been making sure that something is being done to improve the miserable lot left to them by the Fraser Government.

When one looks at tax reform one can see that what we have done over recent weeks and what has been announced in recent days has been an attempt to get to the heart of poverty traps to make sure that we do something for the underprivileged. The tax threshold has been increased from $4,595 to $5,100. Marginal tax rates have been reduced. From September 1986 people earning $10,000 will be paying 27 per cent less tax then they were paying in 1984. People in receipt of the average income of $17,500 will have received a 17 per cent decrease in the amount of tax payable since early 1984. Again, the Labor Party has shown its commitment. It has made the announcements and it has done the deeds. If one looks at poverty traps, the exact things that were attacked by this Government-

Senator Peter Baume —Tell us about the starving in Sydney.

Senator RICHARDSON —I ask Senator Peter Baume what he did about people starving while he was in government. The answer is nothing. The removal of the separate income test in respect of rent assistance for pensioners eliminates poverty traps facing about 700,000 pensioners and beneficiaries who rent privately. The income for each child that is allowable before a pension is reduced has been increased from $6 to $12 a week. This is another major step forward, especially for sole parent pensioners.

Another poverty trap that the Labor Government has attacked is the amount of allowable income which could be earned before the level of pension was reduced. That amount has gone from $30 to $40, an increase of $10 a week for single pensioners, and from $50 to $70, an increase of $20 a week for couples. The elimination of poverty traps was seen by the Government as crucial. These measures go a long way towards reducing them. They might not eliminate poverty completely, but at least they go part of the way. I should point out that 450,000 pensioners will receive an increase of $5 as a result of the new announcements and 300,000 pensioners will get an increase of $15.

We have heard a lot today about public housing, especially from Senator Puplick. Again I think we ought to compare what happened in the area of public housing during the years of the Fraser Government with what has happened under the Hawke Government. As usual, the comparisons with the Fraser Government are odious. In the last year of office the Liberal Party spent $264m on public housing. In 1985-86, under the Hawke Government, a total of $654 will be spent in this area. This is almost three times as much as was spent in the last full year of the Liberal Government, in spite of the fact that this Government has got inflation down to levels of 5 per cent and 6 per cent.

In New South Wales, in respect of which so much criticism has been made today, $83m was spent in 1981-82 under the Fraser Government, In 1985-86 the amount has been increased to $212m. That is the sort of figure that Senator Puplick and Senator Baume attempt to ignore when they speak here today on their newly discovered topic of poverty. In percentage terms there has been a total increase of 160 per cent over what was spent in 1982-83. In New South Wales the increase is 163 per cent. There has been a total percentage increase of 250 per cent over what was spent in 1981-82. The increase in respect of New South Wales is 255 per cent. Of course, we have heard nothing-and we will hear nothing-from the Liberal Party about this because its own record in this area was abysmal.

That is not to overlook the point that there is a problem today in New South Wales and the other States. It is not to pretend that there are not people queuing up in food queues. Unlike the situation when the Liberal Party was in government, this is not a problem that this Government wants to run away from. Rather, it is something that we want to do something about. The reality is that Premier Wran and his Minister Frank Walker are acutely aware of the difficulty and are, even as we speak, trying to fathom out a way of getting around this problem. We are really talking about emergency aid of $11m. There is a disagreement between governments. Negotiations are continuing in an effort to get around that problem. It is my hope that we will manage to do something about it very quickly. However, we should not ignore the fact that we spend $15 billion on social security measures helping two million people. That is a marked improvement on the situation two and a half years ago. It is my hope that the improvement will continue. I am sure that the wrangle between the two governments will be settled properly and we will see a reduction in those queues.