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Monday, 14 October 1985
Page: 1159

Senator CHILDS(4.48) —We are discussing a matter of public importance introduced by the Opposition, namely:

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

This is a new-found concern for the poor by the Liberal and National parties. Senator Walters and her Liberal colleagues for weeks on end have had this chamber reverberating with cries about the businessmen's lunches that are going to be no more, we hope. These people have been concerned that the elite in this society should have their privileges preserved. Senator Walters today has finally introduced poor people into the Liberal Party's concerns by referring to the soup kitchens.

That is an indication, when we consider the record of the Liberal and National parties, of just how insincere they are. Australians remember the assault that they made during their seven-year period in government on the social wage of the community; they remember the welfare, health and other aspects of the social wage and the Fraser Government knocking off $3 billion-indeed, close to $4 billion-in its last year. If we look at public welfare, housing and other components of the social wage and transfers as a share of gross domestic product, we find that the figure in 1981-82 was $11,484m, as against the proposed figure in 1985-86 of $19,077m. These figures show a real loss to people under the Liberal-National Party Government. We have to ask ourselves whether we can trust members of the former Government and whether they have changed. In considering whether they have changed, I go no further than to read the Australian of 13 September 1985, which contains an article entitled `Maintenance for sole supporting partents to rise'. The first paragraph stated:

A Federal Cabinet decision to change the Family Law Act will effectively increase the level of maintenance payments to separated supporting parents.

One would think that this is absolutely essential to help people in need. The article continued:

The Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Chaney, indicated the benefit to single parents would be one of the first targets of a Coalition government.

He said both supporting and non-supporting parents should `exercise their responsibility' in maintaining their children and that the Coalition would reconsider eligibility for the benefit.

Senator Chaney has the axe out for those people. He did not say in the article that over 50 per cent or half the sole parent families are living below the poverty line. They face the axe under a Liberal Party government. The figures to which I refer are from the Institute of Family Studies. The Liberal Party does not come to this debate with clean hands. I do not deny that there is a disagreement between the Federal and the State Government.

Senator Peter Baume —You can't deny it.

Senator CHILDS —I do not deny it. It is regrettable but it is not the first time that there has been a difference between a Federal and a State government. It must be considered in the overall context of the Federal Government's program and the Budget that is currently before this Parliament-the third Labor Budget that continues the Government's policy of progressively addressing poverty in Australia. The increases in this year's Budget continue the process of redistribution through the social security system begun in 1983. That is very important because the Government is continuing to assault the problems and is trying to redress the legacy of the Fraser period. Senator Peter Baume quoted from the motto on the Statue of Liberty when he said: `Give me your poor'. The Fraser Government certainly gave its poor. When we came to government we had a legacy from the Fraser Government, to which Senator Coates referred, of 632,837 people on the dole-unemployed. Taken in the context of the three million Australians living in poverty, that is very serious.

Senator Peter Baume —Then why are you withdrawing emergency relief from them?

Senator CHILDS —Our Government has reduced that figure to 529,744. That is a significant move against one of the major contributors to poverty in this country. Let us look at the past of the former Government. As Senator Richardson pointed out, we have to remind the Australian people that one cannot just wash away matters for which one is responsible. I will remind the Senate of some of those things in a moment.

Some of the problems in New South Wales come from the previous Government's cuts in spending on the social wage. Of course, the decrease in moneys allocated to the most populous States is a major problem. Senator Baume and Senator Puplick, during their period of office, did not say very much about the amounts that went to the State Governments of New South Wales and Victoria. New South Wales Liberal and National Party senators allowed the vast distortion of money going to the people of New South Wales being reduced by special hand- outs to Senator Boswell's State, Queensland, and other States that could stand over the Federal Fraser Government and demand additional payments.

One difficulty that we have had in New South Wales is a result of many years of conservative governments not allocating the amount of money needed, particularly in the period from 1975 to 1982. The political football, the formula for deciding the allocation of Federal funds, has been changed to represent, on the most recent occasion, a fairer distribution of finance. Speaking as a New South Wales senator, I expect that for the first time that distortion will be eliminated. Under a Labor Government people in the most populous States will be given a reasonable chance of redressing some of the problems that are quite characteristic of very large populations, such as that in New South Wales. No New South Wales senator on the Liberal or National Party side cares to look at that.

I remind the Senate of some of the problems with which we have to deal. An amount of $3 billion is needed partly as a result of the additional payment for children, which was down by 27.7 per cent. The mother-guardian's allowance was down 104.3 per cent; rent assistance was down 2 per cent; the single adult unemployment rate fell by 7.5 per cent; and family allowances had fallen 23 per cent since 1976. These were the real problems that we faced. Of course, one of the things that contributed to the difficulties of the New South Wales Government, and indeed people throughout Australia, was that indexation of pensions and benefits was changed from six-monthly to annually. This was reversed only after a vigorous campaign by the Australian people. Indexation was abolished for single adults on unemployment benefits-one of the most hideous decisions of the Fraser Government which caused so much hardship to young people in distress.

It is important to remember that these decisions were taken by the Fraser Government at the same time that Medibank was demolished and funding for public housing was cut by two-thirds in real terms. And Liberal senators have the audacity to talk about public housing in New South Wales, or in any other State, when we are trying, with the tremendous housing program that this Government has introduced, to remedy the problems that were caused by the dearth of finance in public housing during their years in Government. Unfortunately, in this debate we are talking about a rather minuscule amount. It is certainly an important amount of money, but minuscule when we consider the amount that has to go into this Government's attempt to take up the slack that has been caused by the wasted Fraser years. Our main theme is the increase in the general prosperity of the community. We realise that, as I think my colleague Senator Coates said, on the eve of the 1983 election Senator Chaney increased the emergency aid amount to $2m. That is typical of the Liberal Party's way of dealing with things, especially with the poor. It has taken a piecemeal approach.

Senator Boswell —At least we fed them. That is more than you are doing.

Senator CHILDS —Yes, the Liberal Party made a promise. We have to compare that promise on the eve of an election and its implementation with what the Government has done. We have set about making sure that the economy is strengthened. As Ben Chifley, a former Labor Prime Minister, said-we stand by his statement-social security must be set in a framework of policies aimed directly and indirectly at full employment. It is common knowledge that we have been successful in turning around that debilitating level of unemployment that was a Fraser legacy. With that in mind, the Government has approached social security in this Budget with three aims: To improve the flexibility of the system, to direct resources to those in greatest need and to ease the transition from welfare to work. That is one of our main objectives. We are trying to make sure that people get out of poverty traps. The new carer's pension is just one example. We need to remember that this pension, this advantage to carers, has been increased by 40 per cent since we came to government.

Senator Peter Baume —Tell them that up in Darlinghurst Road.

Senator CHILDS —I am talking about poverty. Senator Peter Baume's Party is singularly unable to give a balanced view of poverty. All it can do is attempt to make capital out of a difference between funding for an important but, in light of what we are doing, very small amount of money. Honourable senators cannot deny the significance of a 40 per cent increase in the carer's pension to help people caring full time at home for an infirm or handicapped pensioner spouse or near relative. It replaces the existing spouse carer's pension which is paid only to husbands caring for a wife. This is just a small example of another section of people who have been helped by this Government.

Time does not allow me to deal with all of the matters to which I would like to refer, but I must refer to Senator Mason's contribution. I want to make it quite clear that although Senator Mason voted in the correct way when we in this Parliament were trying to get at tax avoiders, unfortunately the majority of his colleagues in the Australian Democrats did not vote to make sure that we would have hundreds of millions of extra dollars available to take care of some of our welfare problems. It ill becomes the Democrats also to be chastising the Federal or the State governments, because they cannot say that they have acted in the interests of poor people.