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Tuesday, 24 February 1987
Page: 645

Mr BLUNT(10.01) —It really is a very sad day for the Parliament of this nation and for the people who are listening to this debate to hear the standard of the contribution by the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Hand). It was always my impression that the honourable member for Melbourne had some credibility, that he pretended to be the factional leader of the Left; but here tonight we saw him reduced to the role of street corner comedian for the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and Leader of the House (Mr Young), who tonight has demonstrated his tactical ineptitude by bringing on this notice of motion in an attempt to embarrass the Opposition. The reality is that the Government is totally embarrassed. It has been able to muster only one Minister other than the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs to speak. We have seen the greatest motley lot of people coming in here and trotting out the greatest rubbish I have ever heard in my life.

The honourable member for Melbourne purports to have some document which has been leaked to him by someone in the Liberal Party. Well, it is so accurate that it does not even have the names of the members of the Liberal Party accurately. Senator Alston's first name is Richard, not Ken; that is how accurate the document is. I have a document that somehow came into my hands courtesy of some of the colleagues of the honourable member for Melbourne. The paranoia that must exist on that side of the House is absolutely amazing. Maybe they, like us, got advance warning of what the gallup polls are saying. The speech by the honourable member for Melbourne here tonight is probably his last in this House because obviously he was aware that the gallup polls show that the Government is down to 42 per cent in popularity--

Mr Hand —I rise on a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I did not think the honourable member would stoop to going through rubbish tins and getting inaccurate pieces of paper.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! That is not a point of order. It is quite frivolous and is not the sort of point of order that should be taken.

Mr BLUNT —The document that came into my hands is actually signed in the handwriting of the honourable member for Melbourne. It is hardly a forgery. If he would like to see the document and compare his signature with the one on the bottom of this, I would be more than happy to table it. Let me tell the House how paranoid they are on the Labor Party benches. They know what the opinion polls say. They know that popular support for this Government is down to 42 per cent. They know that tomorrow morning's gallup polls will show that the Opposition's support--

Mr Hand —On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker, I submit that that is just a blatant untruth. There is no document with a list of names with my signature on it at the bottom.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —There is no point of order.

Mr BLUNT —Let me be absolutely precise about what the document is that has the signature of the honourable member for Melbourne on the bottom of it. It is a notice of meeting and indicates the paranoia on the Labor Party benches. It states:

We will have a special meeting this Wednesday at 6 to 8 p.m. to discuss the New Right offensive.

The honourable member for Melbourne signed this, along with his colleague Bruce Childs. The paranoia is not just on the Socialist Left benches, on the tomato Left; it exists in the whole mainstream of the Labor Party. That is why the Leader of the House has brought this ridiculous, trivial, frivolous motion into the House. The reason that the Government has brought this trivial, frivolous motion before the House is to try to distract attention from the main debate in this nation at present, and that is on the declining living standards of Australian families as a result of the economic incompetence of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and his Treasurer (Mr Keating), and the callous disregard for the welfare of Australians generally in favour of the sectional interest of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and certain people it purports to represent.

Tonight we have seen a procession of embarrassed Labor Party speakers, who were dragooned into this House, trying to defend the failures of the Hawke Labor Government. The Minister for Social Security (Mr Howe), a man who purports to be part of the intellectual foundations of the Labor Party and the representative of the left wing in Cabinet, came into the House, sold out, and delivered the rhetoric of the Right. He did not address questions of social security because he does not have a social security policy. He is a man whose credibility in this nation could not be lower. He is a man who has done nothing to address the open door policy of fraud and overpayment. He is a man who has allowed the social security system to fall into total disrepute. He is a man who has pursued the vendetta of the Treasurer and the Prime Minister against the aged and the infirm. He is a man who does not have a heart. He is a man who purports to be compassionate, but who cannot add up and cannot even support his factional colleagues.

Mr Blanchard —Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The honourable member is casting aspersions against a member of the House, and I think that is uncalled for. You have already drawn attention to the honourable member for Melbourne for doing something somewhat similar earlier in this debate.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! I was listening to the language used. I had not thought it unparliamentary at that stage.

Mr BLUNT —Let us get on to the record of the Minister for Social Security. This man knows that 70 per cent of maintenance orders are not complied with, and he has done nothing about it in four years in office. He has brought into the Parliament a proposal which supposedly will do something about the matter but which is really a sell-out to the Democrats. It is opposed by every responsible community group, and in Cabinet it is about to be tossed out. This is a man who does not even prosecute social security cheats and frauds when they are caught, a man who has been condemned by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Ian Temby, for identifying cheats and not following through. He is a man who claims that prosecuting 2,000 people for social security fraud in 1986 is a proud record, but who comes into the Parliament and claims that they will find 10,000 cheats on unemployment benefits this year. If he could prosecute only 2,000 last year, how on earth does he expect us to believe that he will prosecute 10,000 this year?

This is a man who comes into this House and says `No way can we have an Operation Noah-style dob-in for social security cheats', when he knows that the manual for his own officers includes instructions on how to utilise public information dob-ins on social security cheats. This is a man who ran an amnesty and gave away millions of dollars in social security payments to people who were not entitled to them. This is a man who reduced field officer numbers. This is a man who ignored for three years Auditor-General's reports telling him what was wrong with his Department. This is a man who condones prisoners in New South Wales getting unemployment benefits. This is a man who said that there was no problem in Kiwis getting unemployment benefits in this country. This is a man who was dragged screaming into this Parliament at Budget time last year by the Treasurer and by the Minister for Finance (Senator Walsh) and told to do something about social security fraud.

This man is an absolute failure. It is no wonder that he came in here tonight under the pressure of the right wing, under the thumb of the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, and purported to support this Government's policy. This is a man who stood up at a conference of left wing groups and said: `The Hawke Labor Government is a mule with no political future'. How right he is. He must know what tomorrow's gallup polls will show. He does have some foresight because he knows the incompetence of the Treasurer and the ineptitude of the economic policies they are introducing. This is a man who purports to have compassion for Australian families. Let me tell the House and all those Australians who are listening just what this Government had done to Australian families. The tax package introduced by the Treasurer last September cost Australian families $1 billion. The non-indexation of the dependent spouse rebate cost $394m. The non-indexation of family allowances cost $513m, and the abolition of concessional expenditure rebates cost $170m. If members of the Government do not think that that is relevant to the way in which people vote, they should look at the situation in the suburbs of Australia. They should look at the disposable incomes of Australian families. They should see what the high interest rate policies of Treasurer Keating and this Labor Government have done to the average family paying off a mortgage. They should see what the high interest rate policy has done to the average family which is trying to buy a car. They should look at the car industry and talk to a motor salesman about how often he sells a car and who can afford to pay a rate of 19 per cent on hire purchase or a lease to buy a car.

Members of the Government should look at the impact of the declining Australian dollar on the cost of living in this country. They should look at the supermarket shelves and see what 10 per cent increases in the consumer price index are doing to the cost of food. They should ask the average wage earner how much money he has left at the end of the week after he meets those fixed commitments to provide shelter, transport and food for his family. The answer is: Precious little.

Under this Government, 100,000 people in this country are homeless. There are 158,000 people in the public housing queues. There are 700,000 families living in poverty. Yet this Government decides to means test family allowances for 16 and 17-year-olds. Even the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Hand), who cannot take the heat and has left the chamber, has said that it is embarrassing to him to have to acknowledge that under the Hawke Labor Government poverty in Australia has increased. The honourable member for Melbourne, the leader of the Left, a colleague of the Minister for Social Security, spoke in this debate tonight. He said: `It embarrasses me to acknowledge that under the Hawke Labor Government poverty in Australia has increased'.

What sort of integrity do members of the Labor Party have when they are prepared to make statements such as I have quoted tonight outside the chamber, yet come in here and be dragooned into supporting this trivial, frivolous motion, a motion that has embarrassed the Government? Where are the Ministers? Where are the members of the Labor Party's front bench, who should be arguing in favour of this motion? The reality is that the Leader of the House is the laughing stock of his colleagues for introducing this motion. The number of members on our side of the House who are prepared to speak in this debate is almost without limit. Yet this Government is not prepared to allow the debate to continue. I am told that it will close the debate tonight when it is time for the House to adjourn. If it had any real conviction or any preparedness to debate the real economic issues of this country, it would bring the motion on for debate tomorrow, and again and again, until every member of this House has had an opportunity to speak to it.

Members of the Government have the nerve to talk about the policies of the Opposition. In September 1986 the Treasurer rushed into this House with great fanfare and presented a so-called tax package. There were 20-odd items in that so-called tax package. Seven of those items have been changed dramatically since the Treasurer announced that this would be the tax law of Australia. It was announced on 19 September. Progressively, there have been dramatic changes to the proposals for the Australia Card. There have been changes to the treatment of fringe benefits taxes. There have been changes to the substantiation requirements. There have been total changes to the quarantining of farm losses and the deductibility of expenditure on soil and water conservation. We have seen a complete climb-down on the foreign tax credits system, and we have seen a dramatic, almost total, rewrite of the imputations system for company tax.

This Government purports to have policies. It purports to know where it is going. It has the nerve to suggest that the Opposition should justify its policy positions. The reality is that, even with the resources of government-even with four years in government behind them, even with the bureaucracy writing their documents-Labor brings its policies into this House and within 12 months is forced to climb down and change them dramatically.

Madam Speaker, there is only one conclusion that you can draw; that is, that this Government is incompetent. It has no comprehension of the real economic problems faced by Australia today, and it has no policy answers. This Government has adopted the policies of expediency. The Prime Minister is renowned for breaking promises. There is a list, about which just about every Australian knows, of the promises that have been broken by the Prime Minister. Let me list those promises. The Prime Minister said that inflation would fall. Inflation has gone up, and it is higher than in every other comparable Western developed nation. The Prime Minister said that interest rates would fall. Housing loans have gone up. It costs 20-odd per cent to use one's Bankcard these days, and rates are going up further. Yet the Prime Minister said that interest rates would fall. He said that there would be a 13.5 per cent ceiling on housing loan interest rates. What do those poor young Australians who are trying to pay off their mortgages think about that promise? He said that petrol prices would fall.

Debate interrupted.