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Wednesday, 14 June 1989
Page: 4015

Senator BOLKUS (Minister for Consumer Affairs)(6.03) —The quickest way for me to close this debate would be to endorse most of what Senator Crowley has said in response to Opposition speakers. I anticipate that much of what is in contention will be discussed in the committee stage, so it does not need to be addressed now. Briefly, at this stage I need to make a number of points in response to some of the basic points made by some Opposition speakers during the debate.

The first point that needs to be tackled is the one made by Senator Bishop, Senator Powell and Senator Sheil. They claimed that the family package has helped only 30 per cent of children who were previously living in poverty. Senator Crowley made the point rather convincingly that their speeches must have been written a few years ago. That figure of 30 per cent applies to those children who were lifted above the Henderson poverty line by the first family package in 1987. Since then there was an increase in 1988 and this legislation encompasses a further big increase. When making assessments such as this, one needs to point to the relevance of the Henderson poverty line-a relevance that has been disputed not only by the Government but also continually by official Opposition spokespersons.

The second point that needs to be addressed-I think it was made by Senator Bishop-is the claim that Australia ranks second worst in the world in terms of the number of people living in poverty. It should be recognised that the figure that was quoted came from a Luxembourg study on income distributions that was conducted in 1981. That study spelt out the situation in 1981. Without going into a massive political debate, people should recognise that, in that period, another party was in government.

In this brief summary, the third point that needs to be tackled is the claim that somewhere in the vicinity of 800,000 children are now living in poverty. We know where that figure came from as well. We would have expected some degree of honesty in this respect. The Government figure relates to the number of children living in poverty before the introduction of the family package. This fact has been widely acknowledged-Senator Crowley also referred to this in her contribution-by organisations such as the Brotherhood of St Laurence and other independent organisations. The magnitude of the Government's performance in this area can be measured by the fact that over 530,000 low income families and 1.1 million children are encompassed by the Government's plans. I have dealt only with the family package. When we take into account the fact that over one million Australians have found employment in the course of this Government's period of office and recognise that employment security is the most basic part of income security, we can then see the massive inroads that this Government has made in this area.

Let me signal the Government's position in relation to some of the amendments that will be moved later today. I anticipate that Senator Powell will move an amended amendment in respect of the 008 national line. I also anticipate that the Government will be able to accept that amendment. Basically, the Department of Veterans' Affairs already has a national 008 line for its clients. The Department of Social Security has an extensive and very proud record of use of its 008 lines. But, as we discovered in the debate last week on telecommunications legislation, the technology involved with 008 lines is moving very quickly. It may well be that an appropriate strategy can be linked to the changing technology which will give 008 lines the flexibility to lock into a number of either national, State or regional lines. Accordingly, the amendment which will be moved by the Australian Democrats will be acceptable to us. However, it should be stated that all of the other Democrat amendments that will be moved during the committee stage will be opposed by the Government.

The Government will oppose the amendment moved by the Democrats to the motion for the second reading which refers to rental assistance payments and so on. That amendment does not take into account the Government's announcements in the last Budget which have led to a major restructuring of the rent assistance program. The Government has encompassed a system whereby payments can be linked to market rental. Even though the Democrats' approach has a superficial attractiveness, we need only look at a similar system to that of the Democrats which operated in the United Kingdom to see the inherent dangers in their proposal. We would finish up with a system under which market rents would increase. All sorts of discriminatory flow-ons would result because of the lack of a well thought out system.

The Government has targeted rental assistance. There will be add-ons for children in recognition of the fact that families with children have high housing costs. The Government will take into account the cost of housing through the rent threshold. This measure was also adjusted by the Government yesterday. As I have said, we reject the Democrats' amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Original question resolved in the affirmative.

Bills read a second time.