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Thursday, 13 October 1983
Page: 1716

Mr LLOYD(11.43) —I wish to raise two matters on these estimates: First of all the disguised but significant increase in the Government's propaganda or public relations machine, of which there is evidence in the estimates for the Department of Social Security as in other estimates; and, secondly, the increasing difficulty for the self-employed to have anything like the same income security safety net which is available to every other Australian. Page 135 of Budget Paper No. 5, under the sub-heading 'Average Employment Analysis' indicates a massive increase in total average employment for the Department of Social Security this financial year. The number of staff will increase from 13, 110 to 15,554, an increase of close to 20 per cent. I draw the attention of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding) to one of the sections of that average employment analysis, and I would like an answer from the Minister. The number of staff in parliamentary liaison will be increased from 23 to 28. More particularly the number of staff in the Public Information Service will be increased from 58 to 69. Why is there such an increase-from 58 to 69-in the number of staff in the Public Information Service?

Unless the Minister can give some reasonable answer one has to agree with the allegation that the increase is part of a disguised but massive development of a government propaganda machine, a system to use taxpayers' money to promote, publicise and create a favourable political image for the Government, all at the taxpayers' expense.

Mr Hand —You ought to talk about that!

Mr LLOYD —If the honourable member sitting in the back row would like some further evidence I will give it to him. According to page 142 of the same Budget Paper, under the Department of Administrative Services, under four separate sections-Government Information Unit, National Media Liaison Service, Ministerial Media Group and Federal Information Offices; in other words, the central core of the Government's propaganda machine-the number of staff is up from 17 under the previous Government last year to 33 this year, an increase of almost 100 per cent in the direct central core of the Government's propaganda machine. Honourable members will remember the outcry that the Government-then the Opposition-made about the previous Government's Information Unit and Federal Information Service which had a staff of 16. There are 33 positions in this Government's two organisations which have replaced the previous Government's organisations. I believe that deserves an answer as does my question relating to the Department of Social Security. Why is there a massive increase from 58 positions to 69 in the Public Information Service? I could go through the position in other departments as well. Why was the number of staff in the Government's propaganda machine in the Department of Administrative Services increased from 17 to 33? It is nothing but a ripoff of taxpayers' money. It is completely contrary to the Government's criticism when it was in opposition and is contrary to what it claimed it would do when in government.

I express my concern at the increasing difficulty for the self-employed in this country to have anything like the same income security net which all other Australians have. The self-employed have always been disadvantaged by superannuation arrangements and benefits, that is, the basic form of somebody being able to assist himself for his retirement. The previous Government provided some remedy through the taxation system, but the advantage of superannuation in retirement still remains most decidedly with wage and salary earners. There has always been greater difficulty in obtaining, under any government, some form of government welfare assistance for the self-employed than there has been for the wage and salary earners. The system was obviously designed for the wage and salary earner and, in my opinion, has always been administered with a bias against the self-employed.

I will give examples of several ways in which it is now harder than ever for the self-employed to receive the income security net arrangement which is available for other Australians. I refer to the unemployment benefit. Over the last few months we have been advised that it is now almost impossible for a self -employed person to get unemployment benefit because of an Administrative Appeals Tribunal determination. I put this point to the Minister and I would like to receive an answer. Is that advice correct? Is that assertion correct? It appears to be correct because of the complaints coming into my office in the electorate from the self-employed who have tried to get unemployment benefit. If this Tribunal's determination does provide some impediment surely it is up to the Government, if it is a sincere believer in providing the same or anywhere near the same level of income security for the self-employed, to do something about it.

The self-employed have always found it harder to obtain unemployment benefit because of the different income test that is used for the self-employed, which is based on annual net income or corrected income, than for the wage and salary earner, who is on a weekly income. I will give an example of the absurd situation that this creates in my electorate which is the major dairying electorate in Australia. Many a dairy farmer, whose net income is under $8,000 per annum, is available for work but is not eligible for any unemployment benefit because that figure is above the annual income level he is allowed. If the $8,000 is not the correct figure at the moment it is not far from it. It depends on the number of dependent children. Such a dairy farmer is income tested out of any assistance whatsoever; yet a tanker driver, employed by a dairy factory in the same dairy industry in the same electorate, who is earning an income, salary or wage of over $15,000 a year but is laid off for a few weeks in the off-season, is immediately eligible for a full unemployment benefit. Does the Government call that fair? Does the Government call that equitable for the unemployed in this country?

A few years ago we had the equally absurd situation that one of the criteria for the payment of sickness benefit was that one must show loss of income. I think this still applies; I have not checked it lately. Farmers who showed a negative income in the rural depression of the mid-1970s-in other words they had a minus cash flow-were not eligible for sickness benefit. How could one have a loss of income if one did not have any income? That was the absurd logic that applied at one stage. To my knowledge that was corrected by Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle. I hope that is still the case. If it is not the case I would be pleased to be advised.

The final point concerning this question of income security for the self- employed relates to the asset test. I believe that the abolition of the asset test by the coalition Government in 1976 was a great social welfare reform. For years we had fought for its abolition. This was one of the recommendations of the Henderson Commission of Inquiry into Poverty. New Zealand had never had an asset test; it had always had an income test and, to my knowledge, it still has only an income test. A particular problem with the self-employed is a high ratio of assets to cash flow. In fact, one of the reasons for the Australian farmer's leading position in the world in relation to efficiency is this high capital per worker. In other words, on world efficiency ratings, the more capital a worker has the more efficient he is. The Australian farmer is at the peak in capital per worker. Even for a small farm one would need about a quarter of a million dollars of assets. I would say that, in seven years out of 10, there is no way in which farmers in my area could earn $25,000 net income or get 10 per cent return on capital. Yet they will be ruled out.

It is my understanding, from answers to questions on notice in this place and in the Senate that, the farm home is exempted from the assets test if the farmer , who is applying for the pension is still living in it. Of course, he has to be 65 years of age before he is eligible for the age pension. Who else in Australia is still working at the age of 65? That is an equally absurd situation. If he is not working that farm, if he has retired and somebody else is living in that home and maintaining the farm, the farm home is included in the asset test and is used against him. In other words, this Government, by reintroducing the asset test, is doing more to destroy the family farm than any other single thing that has ever been done in this country. The younger generation must be able to live in farm homes and to work farms to allow the transfer of family farms from one generation to the next. The asset test will do more to destroy the concept of the family farm than anything else that has ever been introduced. I hope that honourable members opposite are aware of that. Some special provision has to be made to exempt the family farm home from the asset test.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drummond) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.