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Wednesday, 16 October 1985
Page: 1313

Senator COATES(12.39) —I say in response to some of the comments by the previous speaker, Senator Peter Baume, in regard to poverty traps that he used his time to speak about a Bill which has not yet been introduced.

Senator Peter Baume —I was talking about the general problem of poverty traps.

Senator COATES —Certainly, but this Bill-the Social Security and Repatriation (Budget Measures) Amendment Bill 1985-which we are dealing with today does not arise out of the tax package announced in September. It is a package of amendments arising out of the Budget announcements. It is an all encompassing Bill dealing with social security and repatriation changes, and a couple of matters affecting the portfolio of the Minister for Community Services. Perhaps the reason why Senator Peter Baume did not comment in detail on these matters is that they were so well received in the community, as was the Budget generally, reflecting the general satisfaction with the Government's economic policy and our reform program.

As mentioned by Senator Peter Baume, there are other measures in the pipeline such as the attack on poverty traps as part of the tax package to be implemented next year. This Bill, affecting the Social Security Act and the Repatriation Act, increases expenditure on social security and welfare by $110m in this financial year and $245m in a full year. That is on top of expenditure automatically resulting from increases in the number of pensioners and beneficiaries and, of course, automatic indexation procedures. We have given substantial increases in assistance to people who are most in need, which is our priority-increases for low income families, single parents and those who are unemployed. They are very welcome measures, but, of course, they are not enough. We wish we could do more but I suggest that senators opposite are the last people to suggest such a thing to this Government because, despite the savings measures which were implemented by the Government in the May package, the Opposition is always clamouring for less and less government expenditure.

I will mention a couple of specific new initiatives in this Bill. One is the carer's pension which broadens the previous spouse carer's pension to include those caring for invalid near-relatives and not just the husband of a female invalid pensioner. That new initiative will come into effect in November 1985. Again, a relatively minor matter in terms of overall expenditure involves special assistance for families which experience multiple births. Until now there have been act of grace payments for people with triplets and quads, but I think it is much preferable for there to be defined benefits rather than discretionary payments for such people which acknowledge the vast extra expenditure they have. It is important to put this sort of entitlement into legislation, as this Bill does. The amount to be paid will be $150 a month for families with triplets and $200 a month for families with quads. These payments will continue until the children involved are aged six. For those senators who might be interested, the number of families involved throughout the country is only of the order of six in the case of quads and 180 in the case of triplets.

I now turn to changes in unemployment benefit levels other than indexation provisions, which do not need a Bill to implement them. This Government progressively has been moving to close the gap between the single unemployment benefit and the basic rate of pension and sickness benefit. It has been trying gradually to correct the unfortunate decision of the previous Government when it made a distinction between the entitlement of those who are unemployed and those receiving the sickness benefit or the age or invalid pension. As well as automatic indexation of the single unemployment benefit, the Government has been implementing special ad hoc increases to try to close that gap. This Bill provides an additional $3 per week above indexation. There needs to be specific changes to the junior unemployment benefit rate. This Bill provides an additional $5 a week for the junior unemployment benefit to bring the rate up to $50 a week, which is the same as it has been in recent times for those who have been unemployed for six months or more. An important initiative that will not take effect until May next year is the availability of rent assistance for those over 18 who are unemployed. Rent assistance of $10 will be provided to those who have been unemployed for more than six months.

Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2 p.m.