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Friday, 6 December 1985
Page: 3165

Senator COATES —My question is directed to Senator Grimes in his capacity as Minister for Community Services, Minister representing the Minister for Social Security and Minister representing the Minister for Health. Is he aware of suggestions in the media recently that this Labor Government has not made substantial achievements in the area of social welfare and is not committed to social welfare reforms? Will the Minister give details of the facts about this matter in order to set the record straight?

Senator GRIMES —I did see reports, particularly emanating, I gather, from the Sunday program last week when journalists with unbiased and disinterested political views, such as Mr David Barnett, stated that the Labor Government had achieved nothing in the way of social reforms and nor was it interested in doing so! I think that those suggestions are unfounded. I think they are scurrilous suggestions, but typical of the suggestions which emanate from that source. The Government's record, I think, is one of which we can be proud. I will list some of the achievements. Although I know Senator Coates knows about them, I think Mr Barnett and others should know about them.

We have achieved major reforms in the welfare area, I believe. The single adult rate of unemployment benefit, for instance, has been increased by over 40 per cent since we came to power-a benefit which had been left to erode by inflation since 1978 by the previous Government. Payments to pensioners and beneficiaries for their children have risen by between 56 per cent and 100 per cent, depending on the various payments. We have extended rental assistance to the unemployed. We have significantly increased the rate of rental assistance and will relax the current harsh income test for rental assistance. We have increased pensions and benefit-free areas by up to 100 per cent. We have introduced a myriad of new payments and fair entitlement conditions, including special arrangements for the young unemployed with children, remote area allowance and the carer's pension and payments for multiple births. We introduced the beneficiary tax rebate and exempted from tax several payments for children and rent. Our initiatives on the income security side alone will cost about $1,500m in any one year.

In my portfolio we have set major reforms either in place or on target. We have new programs which significantly increase funding for home and community care and supported accommodation, in co-operation with the States. We have reviewed all Commonwealth disability programs and have allocated $5m in this year and $15m next year for reform initiatives. We will introduce new disability legislation next year. We have increased and rationalised subsidies for hostels. We are currently reviewing the nursing homes and hostels areas with a view to further major reform. We have provided an additional 26,000 child care places and will, at a cost of $107m, provide another 20,000 places in the next three years. Of course, in Dr Blewett's portfolio we have introduced a new health insurance scheme, Medicare. I think that in the short time in which we have been in government we can be proud of our achievements. We will continue to seek achievements of this type in social reform. That is the answer to Mr Barnett and his ilk.