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Monday, 11 November 1985
Page: 1875


Senator PETER BAUME —Has the Minister for Community Services seen today's Press reports indicating that the levels of poverty in Australia are rising, with 800,000 people in poverty, including 40,000 people forced to sleep out of doors, 60,000 people on the verge of homelessness, 135,000 people on the waiting lists for State housing authority accommodation, and a private rental market that cannot keep up with demands for rental accommodation? Does the Minister agree with housing industry concerns that Labor's abolition of negative gearing and its proposed capital gains tax will further reduce the availability of rental accommodation, so exacerbating the rental crisis and causing more people to be forced below the poverty line? I ask the Minister: Why are the levels of measured poverty continuing to increase, almost three years after the Labor Government came to office? What positive steps does the Minister or his Government intend to take to reverse this trend?


Senator GRIMES —I did see the Press reports this morning of a report which I believe has gone to my colleague Mr West. I have not seen the report, but I would certainly be interested in seeing it. In that report, according to the Press, as Senator Peter Baume says, the claim was made that there were 800,000 people in poverty, 40,000 people homeless and 60,000 people potentially homeless. Senator Peter Baume, I notice, was very careful not to say that the figures were necessarily accurate or absolute. I can remember, in the last years of the Fraser Government, reports claiming that there were one and a half to two million people in poverty in this country and Senator Chaney answering a question in much the same way as I am answering this one. I think that absolute figures of that type are very difficult to sustain.

Certainly there is too much poverty in this country. There has been for many years. The main cause of too much poverty in this country, I believe and I think most people believe, is long term unemployment. The great contribution to that long term unemployment was the policies of the previous Government from 1975 to 1983, culminating in double digit inflation, double digit unemployment and negative growth in the gross domestic product in the last year of that Government. Of course, during that time there was also considerable concern in the community about inadequate housing. There were very large waiting lists for public housing, which still persist although the position has improved. This Government recognised that problem and, as a result of the Government's policies in the first years following the National Economic Summit Conference, we caused the greatest increase in house building by way of stimulus to the building industry through the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement and the introduction of schemes such as the first home owners scheme. We still have a homelessness problem. I doubt whether it can be defined in the way in which this report allegedly defines it. When I was a member of the Senate Standing Committee on Social Welfare we tried to make that sort of definitive assessment of homelessness and we were unable to do so. I will therefore be very interested to read how the firm which wrote this report was able to do so.

I accept that there are too many people living in poverty in this country. I accept that there are too many people who find it too difficult to get housing in this country. But I believe that this Government has done more than any other government in the last 10 years, or probably 15 years, to overcome that problem. The suggestion that the abolition of negative gearing and the introduction of a capital gains tax will make that situation worse is not an accurate statement. Certainly, the presence of negative gearing and the absence of a capital gains tax during all those years did nothing to lessen the worsening housing crisis in the community. As I said, I have not read the report. I will certainly read it with interest. I will see whether I can get any further details from my colleague Mr West in regard to the question asked by Senator Peter Baume. But I believe that, until we have all read the report, it is probably very difficult to comment sensibly about it.