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Transcript of doorstop interview with Jim Turnour, ALP candidate for Leichardt and Adele Rigby: Cairns: 16 September 2004: Family payment debts.

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Wayne Swan MP Shadow Minister for Family and Community Services





SWAN: Well today I’m here with the Rigby family because they’ve been caught in the nightmare of John Howard’s family payment debt trap. The Rigby family will never see John Howard’s $600 family payment because it will be swallowed up by the debt that will be incurred through no fault of their own. These debts are caused by Mr Howard’s system and he doesn’t intend to change it. And I guess this case demonstrates that whatever John Howard gives with one hand before the election, he takes with the other afterward. The Rigby’s case is like so many other families, hundred’s of thousands of families have incurred debts through no fault of their own - that’s what happens in John Howard’s system. Under Labor’s system the Rigby’s wouldn’t incur a debt at all and they would have a substantial increase in weekly payments. This is a very good case which demonstrates why we’ve got to get rid of John Howard’s family payment debt trap. I guess it is a warning to many other families. Something like 1.8 million families have not received John Howard’s $600 payment and many of them will never see it because it will be swallowed up by John Howard’s debt trap. I just might ask Adele and maybe even William just to tell a little bit about her circumstances.

ADELE: Well basically trying to estimate my husband’s wage - well we’ve got it wrong, it came in a bit higher, so we’re stuck with a $3,000 debt that we have to pay back to the Family Assistance Office and it happens quite a lot to Defence spouses…

SWAN: …Because you were providing your payslips to the Government…

ADELE: Yes, yes. I would give that to them but there’s not much you can do because being defence, you can’t argue with the defence force over group certificates really, so what it comes in as affects our payments. So we’re stuck with debts and so are a lot of other families. I’ve got one friend with four children and she’s now on her own

because they split and she’s got a $7,000 debt to pay back because her partner’s income wasn’t estimated right. So that’s a big debt for a single mother.

JOURNALIST: ..and you were providing your payslips?

ADELE: Every time the figure changed we called…

JOURNALIST: There was nothing you could do to avoid it?

ADELE: No, no it’s a game of chance really. You call them when it changes, you let them know, but what it comes in at the end of the financial year is what it comes in at, you know bonuses in the defence forces are all included as income, it all adds up so at the end of the year it’s what you’re stuck with.

SWAN: …but because it wasn’t on your payslip…

ADELE: No it wasn’t on the payslip that’s right so that’s where it makes life hard for many defence families.

JOURNALIST: How are you going to pay it back?

ADELE: We’ll have to pay it back out of our family payments, just pay it back over a couple of years and do it through the payments.

SWAN: You see under John Howard throws family budgets into chaos because people like Adele don’t know; the Rigby family don’t know they’ve been overpaid.

ADELE: If we’d known in the first place we probably wouldn’t even have bothered with family assistance and if we’d known it was going to cause this much trouble. He’s not even one yet and we’re already stuck with a debt.

SWAN: And you see there are 1.8 million families who don’t even know they’ve got a debt under John Howard’s system.

JIM TURNOUR: And there are 5,600 of those families in Leichhardt who have got family payment debts that many of them don’t even know about and it’s just an unfair system that we’ve currently got.

SWAN: You see the sorts of families like the Rigby’s who are affected are families who have a sudden surge of income. They’re really targeted by this system and there’s nothing they can do to escape it. Or when a young mum goes back to work after the birth of a child. Or where one of the income earners in a family has a small amount of earnings from casual work. All of these people just get debts through no fault of their own because of the system they’ve set up.

So what families think is that the Government is more generous than it really is and then they get into debt. In the case of this election, 1.8 million families won’t even know they’ve got a debt before they vote. And that’s what John Howard has organised.

Because before the last election he gave families like the Rigby’s a thousand dollar debt waiver and he said there would be no stripping of tax returns and then came back after the election and clawed back the payments and stripped their tax returns. So John Howard’s up to his old tricks again. One thing before the election, handing out benefits, then clawing them back after the election. And 1.8 million families won’t know they got a debt before they vote on the 9th of October.

JOURNALIST: So how are you guys going to deal with those problems, the debts?

SWAN: Well we are absolutely going to make sure that we fix the family payment debt trap and we’re doing that by means testing from $50,000 of joint income and at the moment its means tested at $33,000. This debt wouldn’t happen to the Rigby’s under our new system because it is a more accurate and generous system which pays benefits to families when they need it on a weekly basis. And the Rigby’s would be substantially better off under our system as well as having no risk of debt. You see, naval personnel, casual workers, young mums who go back to work after the birth of a baby, they have all been caught up in John Howard’s family payment debt trap. Because that’s the way he gets the money back off them. He gives it to them before they vote and takes it back afterwards.

JIM TURNOUR: Can I just comment from a local perspective. We’ve got 5,600 families in Leichhardt with a debt. We’ve got the tourism industry here which employs a lot of casual workers. People really struggle in this area to estimate their income. They

get caught up in this very unfair system and what Labor’s done is announce a policy that fixes that. It gives families in Cairns extra income on a weekly basis. It gives families in Cairns extra income when they’re out doing their shopping. And we’ve fixed this debt trap. We’re putting in place a fair system and its going to be particularly good for far north Queensland.

JOURNALIST: Is it going to be easier for families to pay back their debts?

SWAN: Well at the moment the Federal Government strips the tax returns of families, sends in the debt collectors and makes threatening phone calls. We’ve already made the commitment that we won’t be out there stripping the tax returns of families and we’ve also made the commitment that we’ll treat people with courtesy and respect which is what doesn’t happen at the moment. So we’ll have a system that eliminates the risk of debts and also really helping those families that Jim was saying have got changes in income because under our system if people earn an extra thousand dollars below $50,000 they won’t lose any family payments. So it means that when you work some overtime you get a lot more in the hand and you don’t get a debt like the Rigby’s did. You don’t get a debt and you get more money on a weekly basis. It’s really important to get rid of the debt trap because what it does is throw family budgets into chaos.

ENDS Thurs 16 Sept 04 Web:

Contact: Wayne Swan on 0418 795 329 Matt Linden on 0407 430 613