Tasmanian Independent Senator Brian Harradine has revealed that more than 107,000 families will lose up to $741 per year under a Government budget decision.
Family Minister Rosemary Crowley admitted in question time that families may lose anywhere from $64 to $741 per year as a result of the cutting off of family allowances after a child turns sixteen.
The changes are contained in the Student and Youth Assistance Amendment (Budget Measures) Bill 1995. Under the new legislation, to be voted on in Parliament next year, Basic Family Payment for families with student children aged 16, 17 and 18 will cut off, and will be replaced with a Basic Student Payment. The annual Basic Family Payment is $564 dollars. For the fourth and subsequent child it is a higher amount. The payment will be replaced with two half-yearly sums of $250 every six months, paid by the Department of Employment, Education and Training. Thus under the new scheme, a family with 16 or 17 year old school students will lose $64 a year, or $241 where there are four or more children. Families with a child turning 18 in January of the final school year will lose up to $741 a year.
When first pressed by Senator Harradine about the changes, Family Minister Rosemary Crowley said, “no, we are not planning to cut family allowances.” It was only after Harradine waved the proposed Bill in her direction that the fog started to clear for her. Yet she insisted at first that only a very small amount of money would be foregone by some families. Again, after the Tasmanian Senator pursued the matter, Ms Crowley conceded more ground, and said, “to the extent that I was in error, I apologise to the Senate”. Some might argue that her entire reign as Family Minister has been one big error. Be that as it may, we owe a debt of gratitude to Senator Harradine for getting to the bottom of this issue.
The Department of Social Security stated that if the legislation is passed, the more than 107,000 families affected would receive letters in April telling them of the cut off. “That is jolly good!” Senator Harradine responded. “That is dandy timing, isn’t it? Do you know what will happen about April next year?” Senator Harradine went on to question whether the letters will be delayed until after the election.
There are at least 107,000 families with children aged between 16 and 18, perhaps more. The legislation, if passed, will come into effect July 1, 1996. The Federal Coalition, in favour of cutting expenditure on a number of fronts, may have initially supported the idea. But when Senator Harradine exposed this debacle, they may have had to rethink the issue. “What about the opposition? How many of you know that you are probably going to vote – or are you going to vote – for a proposition that is going to reduce family allowances?” he asked. “Stand up and say whether you are or not.”
“The Government is proposing to go to an election telling 214,000 parents,” said Harradine, “that it doesn’t give a damn about their doing the hard and vital work of raising the next generation.”
The Government has made clear its cavalier treatment of families. The question remains whether the Opposition will back up its pro-family rhetoric with action, and vote against this anti-family bill.