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Wednesday, 21 April 1971

Senator BUTTFIELD (South Australia) - I hasten to say that although I am not going to support this motion of urgency I very strongly believe in the importance of a vital family life. I believe in the importance of healthy, happy children, in a home ownership community and in child endowment to go to the mother for the direct assistance of the child.

Senator Georges - Why does the honourable senator not support the urgency motion?

Senator BUTTFIELD - I am going to tell the Senate why I do not. 1 certainly hope that in time the Government will be able to increase child endowment. We know that the Government has looked at this subject on many occasions. But it has assisted the happy family and the happy, healthy child in many other ways. That is the important point. To pick on a point and say that the Government has been culpably neglectful is most unfair. The Government has an amazing record of assistance for the family. I was surprised to hear Senator Byrne stressing the poverty aspect of this situation. If that is the reason for objecting to the fact that the Government has not increased child endowment why does not the honourable senator suggest a means test so that it will go specifically to those in most urgent need? Why does he not suggest that child endowment bc made taxable in all cases because obviously those in the higher income bracket will not then receive anything. But the honourable senator has not suggested that. He has suggested that child endowment should be raised but he has stressed it is for the people who are in need and in the poverty bracket. That is an unrealistic argument. It seems to me amazing, too, that Senator Fitzgerald has stressed that this urgency motion is hypocritical because all it does is suggest that we resume 5 minutes earlier tomorrow. I am amazed to hear anybody from the Australian Labor Party make that point because we sit here day after day listening to urgency motions moved on behalf of the Opposition when we ought to be getting through the business of the Senate.

We are nearing the end of a session. Very often we waste time on something which cannot affect legislation. Then at the end of the session we will be told over and over again that we are not allowing enough time to debate matters of legislation. That is an incredible argument to come from the Opposition. Senator Fitzgerald also said that the Labor Party initiated all the social services legislation for age pensioners. To me it seems appropriate quickly to run through one or two benefits which the Liberal Party and Country Party have introduced such as medical benefits for pensioners, aged persons income tax concessions, pharmaceutical benefits for pensioners, the aged persons home savings grant scheme, television licence concessions for pensioners, additional pension for second and subsequent children, home nursing subsidy, supplementary assistance for pensioners, nursing home benefits, mothers allowance for widow pensioners with children, subsidies for the provision of accommodation for disabled persons, telephone rental concessions for pensioners, guardians allowance for aged and invalid pensioners with children, sheltered employment allowances, hearing aid services, double pension entitlement to widows or widowers for 12 weeks followng the death of a spouse, training scheme for widow pensioners, subsidies for dwellings for aged persons, personal care subsidy for aged pensioners, home care and paramedical services, and meals-on-wheels subsidy. This is an incredible record. Yet Senator Fitzgerald said that the Labor Party initiated all social services for pensioners.

I said that the Government has an amazing record. I think the Minister for Health (Senator Greenwood) listed some of the things the Government has done to assist the family. I am not going into detail because of lack of time but I shall repeat the things this Government has done to assist the family, either indirectly or directly, and also to assist children in addition to the child endowment allowance. The Government has introduced and increased the benefits under the health scheme. It has introduced the pharmaceutical benefits which assists the family and the child and introduced income tax concessions in respect of children at a total cost to revenue in the year 1967-68 - the latest figure I could obtain - of $266m. The Government has made free milk available for children. It has made provision for handicapped children and the children of pensioners. It has made available hearing aids, education scholarships, maternity allowances and the home savings grant about which I will have a few more words to say in a moment. This Government has made available a wide range of benefits. I repeat that it is unrealistic to pick on one aspect and say that the Government has been culpably neglectful of children.

The second item in the matter of urgency was in respect of a New Zealand scheme for capitalisation of child endowment. I think Senator Byrne would find if he went to New Zealand that this scheme has not been a success. What can happen and what has happened on many occasions is that people who are finding it difficult to buy a home capitalise on their endowment and buy a home which is too expensive for them. Perhaps they cannot keep up their payments properly. Then the child suffers very much because there is no regular payment coming in as our system provides when a mother is receiving a payment directly for the benefit of the child.

Senator Little - That scheme has been in operation since 1959.

Senator BUTTFIELD - ft is certainly not unanimously agreed that it is a good scheme. I am saying that it can lead to abuse. We have a much better scheme in Australia where the mother knows that while her children are under 16 years of age she will receive a weekly payment for their direct assistance. I believe that the combination of the 2 schemes which we have in Australia - the home savings grant and child endowment - are much more equitable, generous and effective for children than if we adopted a scheme like the New Zealand one.

Finally, I want to say something about the homes savings grant because it is the third item mentioned in the matter of urgency which states that the Government has failed to assist young married couples by up-dating the amount of assistance given under the Homes Savings Grant scheme. I believe the Government has done a great service for young married people who either have or are about to have families by assisting them to buy their homes. We believe in a home owning community. This scheme has assisted enormously. Two hundred thousand such grants have been made available to families to buy their homes. Under this scheme, those people who receive the grant have to buy their homes. As 200,000 people received this grant that is the number who have bought their homes. This is of enormous benefit to families and children who know that they can obtain this assistance.

The Government has amended the homes savings grants legislation on 3 occasions and has increased the value of a house which can be bought with the aid of this grant. If homes savings grants were increased to $600 at this moment it would cost the Government more than $2m and I do not think it would achieve a great deal. On the matter of costs I should like to cite a few figures to show what would be the cost of implementing the first point contained in the proposal advanced by the Opposition, that is, to raise child endowment If the endowment for each child were raised by 50c per week it would cost about $101m

Senator Little - We have just spent more than that on a wool scheme.

Senator BUTTFIELD - We have to make expenditures in all directions. So much is being done in such a wide range of areas that it is not realistic to spend $101m on one item, thereby possibly sacrificing other benefits which would achieve greater effect. It is interesting to note that there are 1,700,000 first children in respect of whom parents are receiving child endowment, that there are 1,165,000 second children, 569,000 third children, 232,000 fourth children, 85,000 fifth children, 32,000 sixth children, 12,000 seventh children, 4,000 eighth children, 1,500 ninth children and 818 tenth or later children. To increase the endowment in respect of each of those children would cost $!01m. Tt seems to me that we should be praising the Government for what it is doing, for having such a wide range of interests in respect of which improvements are made regularly for the benefit of the family and the children, instead of picking out one item and saying that in this respect the Government has been culpably neglectful. I repeat that T hope that the Government can increase child endowment, but T would not like to see it sacrifice other community interests and community services to achieve an improvement in one area only.

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