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Monday, 6 June 1994
Page: 1430

Mr GRIFFIN —My question is addressed to the Acting Prime Minister and Minister for Housing and Regional Development. As 1994 is the International Year of the Family, could the minister inform the House of the direct benefits the government's family policies have delivered to Australian families on low incomes?

Mr HOWE —Mr Speaker—

Mr Costello —How come you know this question without notice?

Mr HOWE —I suppose that the area of family policy is an area that I, like the opposition, take an interest in. It is important that both government and opposition should take a very keen interest in family policy. That is why the question, no doubt, is of universal interest to the parliament. We are all concerned about families. This year the government is investing something like $7 billion into assistance for families. Our approach to families is based on a social policy which we have reconciled with economic policy by ensuring that our policy is well targeted, that it is adequate and that it contains within it, as the Minister for Social Security said, the right work incentives.

  The system of family support we have in this country is certainly as good as any in the OECD and one of the best in the world. Since we came to office in 1983, the government has dramatically increased the value of family payments to low income families with young children by 80 per cent and to families with teenagers by 150 per cent. What does it actually mean? It means an increase for low income families of the order of $20 a week and an increase for families with teenagers of $33 a week per child.

  This government has indexed all family payments for the first time in Australian history. We extended rent assistance to low income families for the first time in 1987. We funded more than 220,000 child-care places with a fivefold increase. We have given the poorest 10 per cent of households of low income people across health and community services the value of $67 per household per week. This is largely due to Medicare, and we remember that the opposition had very grave doubts about Medicare and wanted to dismantle it at the last election. We introduced the child-care rebate and the home child-care allowance—election promises we met. We introduced in the white paper the parenting allowance, and we will develop a new maternity allowance as part of the landmark wage deal struck with the ACTU last week.

  From time to time there will be debates in this parliament about the questions of relative income distribution, poverty and inequality. Clearly those questions are not easy; they are complex. But I commend to the opposition a paper released a couple of weeks ago by Professor Ann Harding, Director of the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling. Dr Harding reports that since January 1990 measures such as the 33 per cent increase in additional family payments for young children and the 72 per cent increase in assistance for those with three or more children have had a very great impact. Poverty rates for sole parents appear to have fallen sharply since 1990, four years ago, by 20 to 30 percentage points. These are due to improvements in social security payments and the child support scheme.

  I itemise those changes because together they represent a very significant, if not radical, change in family policy. They were achieved, including those quite massive increases in child payments, within an economic policy and in times of very great economic restraint. They result in a commitment to families which has meant that the government has provided the greatest support and assistance to the poorest and the most disadvantaged. They have been achieved to provide the right incentive structure. They have been directed to reduce poverty and unemployment, as far as sole parents are concerned, in what everyone agrees is the most needy group—the group that requires the greatest assistance and support. Against that, the opposition has talked about families. It has talked about a direct—

Mr Reith —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. There are two parts to my point of order. Under standing order 321, I request that you ask the minister to table the document that he has been reading from. Secondly, I put it to you that the minister breaches standing order 85 which, as you know, is the one relating to tedious repetition.

Mr SPEAKER —Is the Acting Prime Minister quoting from confidential private notes?

Mr Beazley —Mr Speaker, I raise a further point of order. Not content with the endless disruption of question time, the honourable member raises a point of order—

  Opposition members interjecting

Mr SPEAKER —Order! I will hear the point of order raised by the Leader of the House.

Mr Beazley —The honourable member for Flinders has raised that point before and you quite correctly drew his attention to the fact that the appropriate moment to seek the tabling of a document is at the conclusion of a minister's answer—for the obvious reason that if a minister is half way through reading his answer the obligation on tabling means that you hand the document—

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The Leader of the House is now debating the issue.

Mr Beazley —The obligation on the minister is to hand the document to the clerk. Therefore, the minister can no longer quote from it.

Mr SPEAKER —The Leader of the House will resume his seat.

Mr McGauran —Mr Speaker—

Mr SPEAKER —No, I have to respond to this first. I have suggested previously to the honourable member for Flinders when he has raised the question about the use of notes by ministers in responding that it has been convention that a request for the tabling of that information come at the conclusion of a minister's answer, for the very reasons that the Leader of the House has outlined. I consider that position to be appropriate. In relation to notes, it is at the Speaker's discretion to ask the minister whether they are confidential notes. If they are then that is the end of the matter. I think the honourable member for Kooyong and I can well remember a debate on that particular issue some time ago.

Mr Peacock —This is true, but he is taking so long.

Mr SPEAKER —I was not inviting you to come into the discussion. I was using that as an example from our corporate memories.

Mr Reith —Mr Speaker, I raise a further point of order.

  Government members interjecting

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The member is entitled to be heard.

Mr Reith —Standing order 321 makes no reference to the alleged convention nor does it require that this point of order be raised at the end of an answer. Furthermore, if you look at House of Representatives Practice there is no reference whatsoever to this convention.

  Government members interjecting

Mr Reith —Hold your impatience. Just quieten down. There is no reference whatsoever and I put it to you, Mr Speaker, that that ought to be a matter of reflection given that we have had advice that there is no such convention. If you are to claim that convention and if that is to bind members, then there ought to be a ruling on a subsequent date at which time the matter can be debated.

Mr SPEAKER —The honourable member for Flinders has invited me to reflect on that particular matter and I am more than happy to do so.

Mr HOWE —I will conclude my remarks by coming back to the point I was making. I was being systematic by referring to the various elements of family policy. I was making the point that that reconciled with an economic policy of restraint. That policy is not encapsulated in a statement of attitudes or values. It gets down to a question of detail, a question of policy rigour and a question of being able to put together the discipline that is involved in a commitment to families, particularly the lowest income families, over a very substantial period. In an interview following the last election the then Leader of the Opposition made the point about the Fightback policies that he thought they were `intellectually right at the last election'.

  If those policies were intellectually right, they were catastrophic for families. If what we are going to get now from the opposition is an empty statement that contains no facts and no rigour then we must ask whether there is any intellectual rigour or any honesty in what the opposition is about. We are able to demonstrate a record of commitment to the family which is as strong as in any country in the world.

  Mr McGauran interjecting

Mr SPEAKER —I warn the honourable member for Gippsland.

Mr HOWE —That has to be contrasted to the opposition's performance. I flag that in view of any future general statement that those opposite might deliver.

  Mr Speaker, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.