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Wednesday, 26 June 1996
Page: 2244

Senator CHAPMAN —My question is directed to the Minister for Social Security. The National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling has reported that under Labor in May 1995 almost two million Australians were living in poverty. Earlier this month UNICEF released a report showing that Australia is one of only five industrialised nations to have more than 10 per cent of its children living in poverty. How has this shocking number of poor and needy in our country been permitted to come about? What does this say about the previous Labor government's record on social justice and its social and economic policies? What commitments has the government provided on the social security safety net?

Senator NEWMAN —It is interesting, isn't it, that we have a Labor opposition now which seems to have discovered the poor and needy once it has come into opposition. It did not seem to notice them too much in the 13 years it was creating them. It is true that after 13 years of a Labor government Australia has one of the most unfair distributions of national income in the developed world. There has been a 3.9 per cent decline in average real household income between 1981-82 and 1993-94. During the same period there has been a 5.7 per cent increase in inequality.

Even the claims that we get constantly from the Labor Party that somehow the social wage has compensated for greater income inequality have been exposed as untrue. The recent ABS study proved that the transfer payments, which are the social wage, have not fully offset the growing inequality. Under Labor—they do not want to hear this and they do not want the people outside to hear this—the rich have got richer and the poor have got poorer.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator NEWMAN —You don't like to hear it, do you. The National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling report that Senator Chapman referred to reported that 11.8 per cent of Australians—some 1.7 million people, including half a million of Australia's children—were living below the Henderson poverty line in May last year; during the opposition's time in government. The evidence is overwhelming. That is the number and proportion of people living in poverty after 13 years of your stewardship.

Senator Chapman mentioned the UNICEF report on Australian children living in fami lies with inadequate income. Australia is one of only five industrialised nations to have more than 10 per cent of its children living in poverty. Shame on you! You can make a lot of noise like a rabble, but do you really care about our kids? Do you remember the great promise about the children living in poverty? You can make a noise now.

We not only have more income inequality than when you came to government in 1983 but also have many more people who need to resort to social security assistance. In June 1983 there were 1.5 million Australians of work force age receiving payments, excluding family payments. As at March 1994 there were 2.3 million Australians in that position.

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Newman has the call.

Senator NEWMAN —You should be ashamed of yourselves. You are great on the rhetoric of social justice and you are great on egalitarianism, but when it comes to the facts you do not—

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator NEWMAN —We are not going to erode the safety net. We have given promises that that will underpin our social security system. We will maintain the real value of pensions and other social security benefits. We will not force people with disabilities onto unemployment benefits. We will not place a time limit on the receipt of unemployment benefits and we will maintain existing sole parent pension arrangements. We will not force workers off awards. We will not introduce a $3 a week youth wage. We will retain Medicare. We will retain bulk-billing and community rating for private health insurance. No matter how much noise comes from the other side, the Australian people know who the guilty party is, and there is no getting away from it.