FAMILY POLICY: by John MorrisseyNews Weekly
Family-friendly policies at risk
, February 16, 2008
Will existing government family benefits be maintained by the new Rudd Labor Government, or will they be re-allocated to institutionalised child-care? John Morrissey reports.Finance Minister Lindsey Tanner has the unenviable task of having to find more than $10 billion in cuts to the federal Budget. This is argued to be necessary to lessen the pressure on inflation, to prepare Australia for life after the resources boom, and to free up funds for the government to make good its own pre-election promises.
Targets for the cuts include a) programs announced by the previous Howard Government but not yet implemented; b) any waste and duplication found in existing programs; and c) certain items not quarantined from cuts by pre-election assurances.
Some of the so-called "middle-class welfare" items remain unaltered, however much they run counter to the ideology of many in the new government: the private health insurance rebate and the postcode formula for funding independent schools.No guarantees
Other family-friendly benefits received no such guarantees, and these include Family Tax Benefit B, the First Home Owners' Grant, the Medicare Safety Net and the Baby Bonus.
At present, Family Tax Benefit B is the only government payment which recognises the primary carer's role in a single-income family with children. It provides a payment each fortnight, amounting to $3,584 per year, to the primary carer until the youngest child reaches school-age, and $2,595 after that.
This legacy of the Howard Government has been denounced as welfare for "the rich", but in reality it offers many mothers a genuine choice between paid work and home duties.
Australian Family Association secretary Gabrielle Walsh has described threats to scrap Family Tax Benefit B as "an attack on single-income families". To suggest that all these families are rich, she said, was "nonsense" ("Single-income families under fire", Letters, Melbourne Herald Sun
, January 24, 2008).
As it transpired, Mr Tanner was quick to clarify that Family Tax Benefit B would in future be subject to income-testing, excluding only those with family incomes of over $250,000.
This would eliminate only 4,300 primary carers and save a mere $14 million per year, leaving unaffected the payments to carers in 60,000 families on over $100,000 per year.
The government nonetheless has struck a symbolic blow at the principle underlying Family Tax Benefit B; but in the short-term most recipients can rest easy.
Other family-friendly programs considered for cuts may not get off so lightly.
Michael Cooney, a former adviser to federal Labor leaders Kim Beazley and Mark Latham, is policy director of Per Capita, a self-styled independent, progressive think-tank. He has flagged the idea of making the $4,187 Baby Bonus a "future bonus", deposited for pre-primary education, instead of being paid directly to parents.
While a few irresponsible parents may be blowing the bonus on plasma televisions, the majority of recipients would surely regard it as a godsend to help with all those expenses associated with a new baby - not to mention adjusting to living on a single income!
There may be an argument that it is more equitable to means-test the First Home Owners' Grant and the Medicare Safety Net, but would this necessarily be just?
Underlying the ideological nature of contemplated cuts to benefits for families is the contrasting attitude to the Child Care Benefit.
Although paid only to the one-third of parents who use "approved" centres, this program is viewed as sacrosanct, and Labor went to the election promising to increase the 30 per cent rebate of out-of-pocket expenses.
Both sides of politics endorsed this discriminatory approach favouring institutionalised child-care enshrined in the 2006 parliamentary report, Balancing Work and Families
By contrast, nothing is offered to working couples who make other arrangements for the care of their children, let alone where one parent stays at home with them.
Unlike other Howard Government family programs, the Child Care Benefit is seen as politically correct, as it supports the radical feminists' aversion to women staying home with their children. This is also the reason why Family Tax Benefit B may be at risk again in the future.
Families should be alert for any other threatened budget cuts to "middle-class welfare", which happen to accord with this strong feminist ideology, but really undermine the interests of the "hard-working Australian families" so beloved of Kevin Rudd during the election campaign.