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Wednesday, 14 June 1989
Page: 4019

Senator HARRADINE(6.20) -Because of the sittings of a joint parliamentary committee and other concerns, I have not entered this debate on the Social Security and Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment Bill and associated Bills until now. That is regrettable, because I have had a very keen interest in this area for many years. I ask honourable senators to recall 1976, though I do not think anybody else present was in the Senate at that time, when the then Government abolished tax rebates for children and introduced the family allowance scheme. Had the then Government simply abolished tax rebates for children, there would have been a tremendous outcry. But what the Government then did was to apply the money thus saved to a family allowance paid directly to the carer, mainly the mother. It was an exercise which transferred money out of the hip pocket into the purse. I recall getting up in this place at that time and saying that I agreed with that concept but that there was a need to ensure that the family allowance was indexed; otherwise the Government, through inflation, would be stealing the money out of the purse of the mother. Of course, that is what happened. I remember the then Leader of the Opposition, who was also the Australian Labor Party spokesman on social security, agreeing with me at that time. I could go to Hansard and drag it out, but honourable senators can take it from me that he agreed with me.

Since then successive governments have stolen out of the purses of the mothers of Australia in the order of $12 billion. The Government makes great play of its family package, trumpeting it throughout Australia. What it does not say is that it is giving back only a minuscule amount of the money that has already been stolen because of the failure to index family allowances and because of other aspects dealt with in the taxation debate last week. I feel that the Government should acknowledge that, and also acknowledge that even this latest change will not restore the family allowance to its 1976 value. It is not doing that in this legislation. It is not even up to the 1976 value.

I acknowledge what the Minister for Consumer Affairs, Senator Bolkus, said about this legislation increasing one of the child payments beyond the level that would otherwise apply following indexation. I was not dealing with that particular aspect; I was dealing with the aspect of family allowances. I feel that there is merit in indexation. The question is whether that indexation should be on a yearly basis or a half-yearly basis. I am of the view that that mechanism which enables people to maintain their standards of living and which is capable of being properly implemented ought to be implemented. I listened to what the Minister said. I am not sure that I can see any major administrative problem which would attach to adjustments on a half-yearly basis. In respect of the family allowance supplement, I understood him to be saying that people would be phasing in and out of eligibility, but that happens on an annual basis in any event. I do not see that there would be an enormous problem with that on a half-yearly basis. There is no problem with the family allowance, which is a universal payment. Adjusting it on a six-monthly basis will be as easy as adjusting it on a 12-monthly basis. It is just a matter of punching a few numbers into a computer, a matter of five minutes work by somebody in the Department of Social Security. So I really cannot see the argument there.

I understand what Senator Bishop has been saying about the Opposition not having had time to put this matter to its appropriate meetings and so forth. I am in the fortunate position of not having to go through that particular process, although I can assure the Committee that I argue with myself regularly. I understand the predicament of the Opposition completely. It is very awkward to have in front of us amendments such as this which are not able to be considered at length. But I have considered it, and I am going to support it.