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Tuesday, 24 February 1987
Page: 624


Mr N.A. Brown(8.00) —The first thing to say in this debate, as I second the Opposition's amendment, is to thank the Government for the opportunity it has given the Opposition to draw attention to the economic shortcomings of the Government's policies for this country and to the Opposition's alternatives. I say that because one would have to go a long way to find a government so incompetent and so ham-fisted as to embark upon this procedure which results in the Opposition being given almost unlimited time to draw attention to the Government's shortcomings and to set out the Opposition's proposals, which are so essential if we are to get this country back on to the rails. So at the outset, in a charitable mood, may I thank the Government very sincerely for its indulgence on this occasion and wish it well in pursuing equally similar ham-fisted proposals and procedural matters in this Parliament.

Tonight the Opposition has an opportunity-we will proceed to take advantage of it-to draw attention to the very substantial economic damage that is being done to this country by the present Government, to draw attention to the burden that is now being imposed upon ordinary Australians as a result of government policies and to set out its proposals to set these matters at right and to get this country back on to the rails. What we say is set out very clearly in our amendment. We say that the policies the Government must embark upon, and the policy which this Opposition would embark upon if it were the Government, would be, firstly, to substantially reduce government spending and public sector borrowings. Secondly, we draw attention to the urgent need to reform the Australian taxation system. Thirdly, we draw attention to the urgent need to lift most of the foreign investment restrictions in this country so that there is an opportunity for people to invest and people are encouraged to invest in this country. Fourthly, we draw attention to the need, which falls squarely within my own responsibility, to reform Australia's over-regulated and over-controlled labour market. Fifthly, we draw attention to the need to increase immigration to provide a much needed economic boost in Australia. Sixthly, we draw attention to the need to lift the burden of government intervention in and regulation of the economy. They are the things we say are necessary. If there ever were a need in this country to embark upon those sorts of proposals it must surely be now because one only has to look to the economic record of this Government to see just how urgent these proposals are.

Let me ask Government members to pause for a moment and just think about the economic results that they have obtained over the lifetime of the present Government. Let me remind the Government that it now has the undistinguished privilege of being the biggest taxing government in the peacetime history of Australia. That is its record on tax. It talks a lot about the Opposition's taxation policy but before we go any further let us look at the Government's taxation record. The burden of taxation that the Government is imposing on the Australian people is such that it now qualifies for the accolade of being the biggest taxing government in Australia's peacetime history. As if that were not enough, it is also the biggest spending government in Australia's peacetime history. It has a fetish for spending taxpayers' money on every conceivable subject. So much of it is an utter waste of money but, in any event, it is the biggest spending government in Australia's peacetime history.

In terms of the value of our currency, it has produced the lowest value of the Australian dollar ever. That is what the Government has done to people's savings and the value of their money. In terms of the debt that it is leaving behind for future generations, it has achieved this privileged result: The largest stock of foreign debt that this country has ever had. Some $101 billion is the inheritance that it is leaving to future generations of Australians. As if that were not enough, it has also achieved the highest interest rates in this country ever. The home loan interest rate is 15.5 per cent and it has produced Bankcard interest rates of 22 1/2 per cent. That is the burden the Government is putting on the Australian people who are trying to buy things. It is making them pay a 22 1/2 per cent interest rate. As if that were not enough, what is the final accounting that the Government has produced when we add up the ingoings and the outgoings? What is the final account of the Government's stewardship? It has now produced the highest current account deficit ever in the history of this country.

We can compare ourselves with other countries with which, as Mr Whitlam used to say, we like to compare ourselves. Let us compare ourselves with some of those countries with which we like to compare ourselves-countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. For instance, when we look at our inflation rate compared with theirs we find that we in Australia now have the worst relative inflation rate ever in the history of this country, an inflation rate which is four times that of our rivals in the economic race. That is true; the statistics bear it out. I ask: How does the Government expect us to compete, how does it expect our people to invest, how does it expect our people to trade profitably when that is the record it has achieved with our inflation rate?

Finally-although one could go on all night giving economic statistics-to the Government's everlasting shame it has achieved what no other Government in the history of Australia has been able to achieve. It has been responsible-it was our day of shame-for our losing our AAA credit rating on any international test. That is the Government's record, so we say that if there ever were a need to introduce and put into practice the economic policies that the Opposition has set out in its amendment to the foolish motion of the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr Young) it must surely be now when we can see the economic results that the Government has achieved. The Government is hopeless. Its economic record is in tatters. It should be ashamed of itself and if it continues with its present economic policies ruin will certainly await it at the end of the day-make no mistake about that. That is the economic framework we are looking at.

Let me for a moment look in more detail at part of that economic framework to see what the Government's achievements are in part of the area for which I am responsible. I emphasise this matter in particular because above all the economic matter that the Government likes to trade on and claim credit for is employment and unemployment. That is the last thing, it says in its honest moments, that it can rely on. Let us just see how well the Government has done in terms of unemployment. It says that it has largely solved the unemployment problem in this country. People are unemployed. They probably always have been and they probably will continue to be unemployed, but what is the duration of unemployment? What concerns ordinary people who, unfortunately, are thrown into unemployment is how long they can reasonably expect to be unemployed. I do not say that the previous Government was perfect; what I do say is that when the Australian Labor Party came into government the average duration of unemployment was 36 weeks. It now has the proud record of doubling that figure to 64 weeks-that is the average duration of unemployment.

The number of people who have been unemployed for more than 12 months-the hard core of unemployment-has gone up substantially. It was 124,000 people when the Government came to office; it has gone up from 124,000 to 202,000, an increase of 63 per cent. The average number of people unemployed in any week has increased from 332,000 to, believe it or not, 559,000. So if the Government thinks that it can claim any success in the unemployment area it is mistaken. The unemployment rate in this country is now worse-I emphasise `worse'-than it was in virtually the whole of the seven years of the Fraser Government. If those opposite continue with the policies that they are presently pursuing they will have continued and high unemployment as one of the testimonials that they will leave behind them when they go out of government as surely they will at the next election. That is their record in the field of unemployment and in the whole economic fabric.

For those reasons we say that our six proposals which those opposite have so generously and kindly given us the opportunity to air for five hours today are really so essential. We say that if government spending and public sector borrowings are reduced, if the tax system is reformed and the burden of taxation taken from people as much as possible, if some of the restrictions on foreign investment are lifted, if this inflexible and rigid labour market that we have is reformed-and in the course of that incentive is given back to people-if the Government increases immigration and takes its hopeless, incompetent hands off virtually every area of commercial and industrial activity, this country will start to function again and will start to have a more vibrant economy than it now has.

We say that it is possible to reform these institutions in the way we have suggested and the particular area for which I am responsible is the one to which I will devote the final few minutes that I have-that is, the reform of our industrial relations system and our labour market system. We say three things about the industrial relations system. They are three straightforward and easily provable things. The first is that our present system is far too rigid and inflexible. The second is that it provides no incentive to the ordinary workers, the working men and women, to make the most of themselves and their lives. The third is that the whole thing is being stultified and controlled by excessive trade union power.

This system can be reformed by some simple but substantial measures. The first thing that must be done is to give ordinary working men and women a chance, for the first time in their lives, to have a direct say in bargaining with their employer on the terms and conditions of their employment. Give them a chance for the first time in their lives to have a direct say as to what their labour is really worth; to have a direct say on what their hours of work should be; and a direct say on the conditions of their employment and what is convenient for them rather than having those things handed down from on high by the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and imposed upon them by union bosses. That is the first reform.

Secondly, by introducing employee share ownership schemes and profit sharing schemes, which can be done by some simple changes to the taxation law, incentive can be restored to our industrial relations system where presently there is none. If we get that incentive back into the system people will give of their best. They will go the extra mile and produce more. They and the entire country will benefit as a result. Thirdly, those opposite can do something to reduce the extreme trade union control which is so much one of the inflexible barriers and a pillar of this industrial relations system.

We had the curious spectacle here earlier this afternoon of the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, who moved this absurd motion, saying that I had not spoken in this House this session. He obviously was not here last Friday afternoon at 4 o'clock when I drew attention to the evil of compulsory unionism. I suppose that he was not here at 4 o'clock because he was at one of his long lunches. If we had spoken at 5 o'clock, perhaps he would have been aware that we drew attention to the fact that there was compulsory unionism in Australia and that time and time again when the people have had a chance to vote on it they have said that they want voluntary unionism, not compulsory unionism. We made it perfectly plain that it is the Government which stands in the way of getting any reforms that can be introduced. If it is introduced we will have a much more flexible, sensible and practical industrial relations and wage fixing system.

We come back to the basic point which simply is that on any economic test-I repeat, on any economic test-this Government's economic performance has been appalling. It is driving this country into bankruptcy. It has removed whatever incentive there was for ordinary people to make the most of their lives-and there is an urgent need for change. Finally, we say that if these six proposals of ours in our amendment are accepted, if they are put into practice-which we will do when we are elected as a government at the next election-this country will be the more prosperous and its people the happier for that.