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Monday, 17 June 1996
Page: 1583

Senator TROETH —My question is addressed to Senator Hill, the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I draw the minister's attention to the report released by UNICEF last week showing that Australia is one of only five industrialised nations to have more than 10 per cent of its children living in poverty. Justice Marcus Einfeld says the report revealed that Australia has much to be ashamed of. How will the government's policy program alleviate this situation?

Senator HILL —I have had my attention drawn to the UNICEF report, The progress of nations , which ranked industrialised countries according to the proportion of children living in poverty. This report is an appalling indictment of the former Labor government's record.

We all remember Bob Hawke, the former Prime Minister, in 1987 saying, `No Australian child will live in poverty by 1990.' Yet with six further years of Labor, what happened? The position substantially deteriorated—so much so that this report, this independent, objective report, found that 14 per cent of children in this country are living in families with inadequate incomes.

Senator Carr —What's your answer.

Senator HILL —I will tell you. How does this compare with other countries? It is worse than Ireland, worse than Israel, worse than the United Kingdom, worse than Italy, worse than West Germany, worse than France—

Senator Schacht —So the first thing you do is remove migrants from the list.

Senator HILL —worse than the Netherlands—

Senator Schacht —So you remove migrants from the list.

Senator HILL —much worse than the Scandinavian countries, Senator Schacht. This is your record. The record of this former Labor government was that the battlers suf fered and the children of the battlers suffered even more. This was one of the reasons why it was thrown out of office.

It is pleasing that Labor spokesmen are just starting to accept the reality. You would have noticed Gary Gray, the party secretary, when he was asked a few days ago why they lost government, saying it was because they failed to understand the needs of families. That is what it is. Families suffered under your policy. Under your policy the gap grew between rich and poor; the poor became poorer and the families suffered. More children ended up in poverty. This is what you would call the social wage.

Senator Crowley interjecting

Senator HILL —This is what you, Senator Crowley, came in here and boasted about every day—the achievements of Labor in the social wage. The achievement of Labor was that the number of Australian children in poverty grew.

When Gary Gray was pressed even further as to what was the problem, he said, `It was arrogance.' How correct he was! The government was too arrogant and forgot the needs of its supporters; too interested in Mr Keating's so-called big picture to worry about the masses out there who were suffering. It is not surprising that they were suffering. There was mass unemployment. There is still three-quarters of a million Australians out of work. They gave us youth unemployment of 30 to 40 per cent out in the region. These are the young people of Australia who could not get jobs under Labor.

Senator Carr —Increase poverty—that's your answer.

Senator HILL —As I said, they showed us a growing gap between rich and poor, so much so that we started to have social commentators talking for the first time about the growth of an underclass in this country. This is the legacy of Labor; this is the legacy we inherited.

We have a better approach. It does require hard decisions. It does require us to cut back on public expenditure, which they were not prepared to do, in order that we can take pressure off interest rates, help small business to grow, provide jobs for Australians who are not in work and give some hope to those who are in work. Under Labor, not only did we have mass unemployment but the living standards of those in work fell.

We have a different approach. Our approach is to increase wealth so that all can benefit, increase productivity and put in place a regime whereby workers' wages can increase. What you did under the accord was to keep the interests of Australian people down. (Time expired)