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Thursday, 12 September 1996
Page: 3402

Senator KNOWLES —My question is to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Hill. Shadow Treasurer Gareth Evans admitted last month that many middle income Australians felt badly treated under Labor and, of course, the Labor Party National Secretary admitted that the Labor government had lied to the electorate. In contrast to the abysmal Labor record on assisting low and middle income earners, can Senator Hill inform the Senate how the government has delivered on its commitment to restore fairness and equity to the Australian community in its budget? In particular, what was the reaction to the government's move to introduce a higher Medicare levy for wealthier people who failed to take out private health insurance?

Senator HILL —I thank the honourable senator for the question. As she said, the now Mr Evans, formerly Senator Evans, former government minister—the one suffering relevance deprivation—said, with the wisdom of hindsight, `A great many Australian families earning between $30,000 and $40,000 a year felt badly treated under the Keating government.' That is not surprising. That is, as you say, Senator Knowles, a little more delicate way of expressing what Gary Gray, the Labor Party Secretary, in effect the boss of the Labor Party, said recently when he said, `We couldn't run on our record because they thought our record stunk.' That is what he was talking about.

He was talking about the great mass of middle Australians who felt so badly let down by Labor, not surprisingly. It was not only Labor that gave us record unemployment but also Labor gave us falling living standards and a growing gap between rich and poor. The legacy of the last Labor government was to leave a growing gap between rich and poor in this country, undermining that great egalitarianism that we all regard as so important. Senator, you will remember that Hugh Mackay said, when Labor was in government, `One thing this Labor government is giving Australia for the first time'—

Senator Bolkus —No-one is listening to you.

Senator HILL —Senator Bolkus, you might be proud about it, but not many of your colleagues are—`is the development of a new under-class.' That was the legacy of Labor.

In comparison, this government has sought to provide a fair budget and to give the battlers of this country a fair go. In particular, we directed our taxation benefits to lower and middle income families with family benefits of $1 billion of tax relief, particularly for families with dependent children at the lower end of the scale. Add to that the benefits that we have given to self-funded retirees who have been taxed at a lower threshold than pensioners earning exactly the same income. We have given those pensioners greater certainty for the future by funding their pensions at 25 per cent of male average earnings in the forward estimates. The benefits that we have given in the form of a tax rebate for health insurance adds up to a very fair deal for the less well-off within our community. I remind you of the extra $20 million we have provided for emergency relief for families and the $19 million we have provided in funding to tackle the terrible problem of youth suicide.

Also, we have launched an $8 million youth homelessness program providing $37.6 million over the next four years for a national respite plan for carers. It is not surprising that this budget was lauded by respectable press in Australia as a fair go—a fair budget for those who suffered most under the previous Labor government; a return to a fair go for low, lower and middle income earners, those Australians who deserve the support of government. They get it from the coalition in a way that they certainly did not get it from Labor.

Senator KNOWLES —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, you did not get around to answering the last part of my question: what has the reaction been to the government's move to introduce a higher Medicare levy for wealthier people who fail to take out private health insurance? Was it actually ever thought of by anyone in the Labor government?

Senator HILL —I ran out of time, but I am more than happy to note that it is of great embarrassment to the Labor Party that the penalty being put on high income earners who are not contributing to private health care, in other words, those who are expecting their health to be covered by the public purse, was put on by the coalition government. That is something that Labor should have done but never had the courage to do. They have been reminded by none other than former Senator Graham Richardson, who informed us in the Bulletin that that was actually his intention. He wanted to do this but he could not get the support of his colleagues in the Labor Party to tax the rich. The Labor Party would not do it. It had to come from the coalition. Why did he say they were not prepared to do it? He let the cat out the bag. He said Labor was uncomfortable with private health care. (Time expired)