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Friday, 17 December 1993
Page: 4985

Senator LEES (Deputy Leader of the Australian Democrats) (3.01 p.m.) —The last thing we want to do is put anybody in this place in a difficult situation, but I cannot let the comments about a deal and the inference that there is something strange going on go without some comment.

  I have been trying now for three years to get the government to listen to the whole question of assets testing. I thought that I had lost out totally, considering what it has done in the bill that we have just dealt with—reduced it further. But when it came to the government's planned moves in this bill to take students from Austudy and put them into the family allowance system, that further exacerbated the problem for farm families.

  We have simply been saying to the government, `No, we are not interested in any changes or any compromises'. It was not until today—in fact, about an hour ago—that the government did come forward and show that it was prepared to move only a small way but at least it is prepared to move.

  If Senator Patterson wants to go on with this whole issue now, perhaps that is what we could do. But as a courtesy to Senator Patterson and also to some of my colleagues, I have deferred any statement as to whether or not we are accepting what the government is now proposing and, indeed, had it mentioned to Senator Patterson that if we continued with this bill until we get to about clause 87, with the Chair's guidance, then move to report progress, we would be able to in good time consider what is being done.

  So I do not want to leave anyone with the impression that there is some sort of secret deal. It is all above board. As soon as I had it in writing I passed it to Senator Patterson. Indeed, if anyone is in the dark it would be the parliamentary secretary because, unfortunately, with due respect, we have been dealing directly with the minister and the parliamentary secretary has been somewhat left in the dark as to what exactly is happening.

  I am very pleased to say that at last the government is considering the whole issue of assets testing for farm families and the fact that those pieces of paper they may have out there that say they own the property mean absolutely nothing in terms of putting food on the table, getting the kids off to school and putting clothes on their backs. That is why the Democrats are prepared to keep talking. While we acknowledge that there are some problems, I think the problems we have are minor compared with those problems that many farm families are facing, and I am sure we can sort this out.