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Tuesday, 17 March 1987
Page: 901


Mr HOWARD (Leader of the Opposition)(3.17) —Over the past week the Australian public has been treated to a deluge of propaganda and nonsense from the Government about one issue, and that is the issue of prices. We even had the ultimate in parliamentary comicry, and that is the appointment of the Minister for Science (Mr Barry Jones) as the Minister Assisting the Treasurer on Prices-the man dubbed by my colleague, the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Carlton), as the Inspector Clouseau of high prices in Australia. If ever a man will go down in the history of this country as the Minister for high prices, it will be the Minister for Science in the Hawke Labor Government.

I welcome the fact that the Government is now giving such prominence to the high level of prices in the Australian economy. So much do we welcome that fact that the Opposition will dedicate matters of public importance on parliamentary sitting days this week to Labor's record on high prices. It is a pretty abysmal record and is not confined to the outrageous increases that have occurred in fuel prices, which have been highlighted at Question Time by the Leader of the National Party (Mr Sinclair) and the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck); it goes into every aspect of Australian life. It is worth reminding the House that the great economic legacy of these great price watchers has been to produce an inflation rate, which at 10 per cent is the worst relative inflation rate that this country has had for 30 years-not 10 years, not 20 years but the worst relative inflation rate experienced in Australia for 30 years. That is the contribution to price restraint that we have had from the Hawke Government. That is the contribution that the now Minister for prices has given to the Australian public.

There is one area of high prices that I would like to talk about today. My colleague, the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Donald Cameron), who knows something about the high prices of housing and rental accommodation in Brisbane, and I will be talking about the high price of the most important thing that keeps family life together in Australia, and that is the high price of having a home. The one thing that this Government has put out of the reach of average Australians over the last four years is the great Australian dream of every family owning their own home. This Government has done irreparable damage to that dream and that aspiration. In every area, be it renting accommodation, buying a home or paying off a home, this Government has presided over the disillusionment of the hopes and dreams of hundreds of thousands of Australians.


Mr N.A. Brown —It's a nightmare.


Mr HOWARD —As the Deputy Leader of the Opposition says, it has turned into a nightmare for hundreds of thousands of young Australians. Let me begin with a subject that is very dear to the heart of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke)-or it should be-and that is the simple question of interest rates. After spending a couple of weeks in the marginal electorates in New South Wales and Victoria-in electorates such as Hunter, McEwen, Ballarat, Aston and Burke, all of which are held by Labor with majorities of less than 5 per cent-I can tell the Prime Minister and all those Labor marginal seat holders who have gone skulking back to their offices that they will die the most miserable political deaths on the issue of interest rates. Interest rates will do more to burn this Government out of office than any other single issue.

I have here a chart which represents more vividly the scandal of high interest rates under the Hawke Government. It shows a comparison of home loan interest rates in countries such as Switzerland, Japan, West Germany, the United States, France, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. This chart shows that Australia has by far the highest level of interest rates charged on new home loans. We are a full 3 1/2 per cent higher than the country with the next highest level, which is the United Kingdom. In the United States of America the rate is 9.2 per cent, in Japan it is 6.6 per cent and in Switzerland 5.3 per cent. Yet the Prime Minister has the absurd hide to get up in the Parliament at Question Time and say: `My policies on interest rates are working'. His policies are working all right! They are working to undermine the electoral futures of all the Government's marginal seat holders. No matter where one goes or what seat or area of Australia one visits, one finds exactly the same situation.

In March 1983 when the Hawke Government came to power the average mortgage repayment in New South Wales was $472 a month. It is now $678 a month, which is a rise of 44 per cent. The rate of inflation has gone up by only 30 per cent in that period. Who has presided over that increase? The Prime Minister and the Hawke Government. In South Australia the figure has risen from $415 to $622, a rise of 50 per cent. In Victoria it has risen from $405 to $609, also a rise of 50 per cent. Everywhere one goes in Australia one finds exactly the same pattern-soaring interest rates, Australian families increasingly not having enough money each week to make ends meet and increasing disillusionment amongst young people who are trying to buy their first homes. Young people are struggling not just with the problem of trying to accumulate a deposit and to afford the monthly repayments of the loan from the building society or bank, but also on top of that while they continue to live in rental accommodation they are watching the most astronomical increase that has ever occurred in the price of such accommodation in Australia. This is so in the major cities and particularly the city of Sydney. In the past 14 months there has been a 25 per cent increase in the rental for a three-bedroom unfurnished property in Sydney. It has gone from $214 a week to $267 a week. I invite the honourable member for Barton (Mr Punch) or the honourable member for Phillip (Ms McHugh) to tell people living in suburbs such as Hurstville or Bondi what their excuse is for having driven up rents to such unconscionable levels. How on earth does the Government expect one person, let alone a family, to live on an average wage when one has to pay $267 a week to rent a cottage in some of the suburbs of Sydney? Let Government members give their excuse to the swinging voters of Hurstville, the swinging voters of Bexley or the swinging voters of Bondi. They will get a pretty dusty response because those people know that increasingly the policies of this Government have failed, and failed dismally.

Do not rely on my strictures about the Government. Look at what Frank Walker, the New South Wales Minister for Housing and a factional soul brother of the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr West) in this Parliament, said. He is one of Stewart West's left wing mates. What has Frank Walker said about it? He said that Keating has taken a colossal gamble on interest rates and, if it does not pay off, he will go out the back door electorally. Frank Walker, who lives slap-bang in the mortgage belt of Sydney, knows what he is talking about on this occasion, and he knows that rents have gone up all over Australia because of the stupid taxation policies of the Hawke Government. An ideologically blinkered policy abolished negative gearing. When the Government abolished negative gearing it did not put any of those wealthy developers in the gun sight and shoot them down. It shot down the poor and the underprivileged in the Australian community because when it abolished negative gearing it drove thousands of small investors out of the down market rental accommodation industry. They did not lose any money; they just took their money out of building rental accommodation and put it into something else. By that decision the Government has put the affordability of rental accommodation beyond the reach of average wage and salary earners, particularly in the major cities of this country. It has produced a scandal which the Master Builders Federation, the Real Estate Institute, building societies and banks are all saying now will get worse and, until there is a major change in Government policy, that rental accommodation crisis will continue.

If honourable members want to hear more on it, listen to what Dennis Cleary, who runs the State Building Society Ltd in New South Wales, said. His brother happens to be Michael Cleary, a Minister in the Unsworth Government in New South Wales. Dennis Cleary said that the imposition of the capital gains tax and the abolition of the negative gearing were decisions out of touch with the real world. He said that the consequences were hurting most those people whom the Australian Labor Party always swore to help-that is, the single parent, the elderly, the low income family and others who are dependent on a private rental market. He said that soaking the so-called rich is doing nothing but hurting the poor and the disadvantaged. He went on to say that members of the Hawke Government ought to visit hostels and refuges around Sydney to see the appalling consequences of their misguided policy. That is not from a propaganda handout from the Liberal Party of Australia; that is from a spokesman for a major building society in Sydney, the brother of a Labor Minister in the Unsworth Government, who is giving the truth about the consequences of the taxation policies of the Hawke Government.

Is the Minister for Housing and Construction not proud? Is he not absolutely delighted? Does he not feel proud to be the first left wing Minister for Housing in a Labor Government for 20 years to have presided over three quite disgraceful events? He has presided over the highest sustained housing interest rates that this country has seen for 40 years. He has presided over housing interest rates which are by far the highest in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development area. The second thing over which he has presided is an absolute scandal in the increase in the cost of rental accommodation all around Australia. The third thing over which the Minister has presided is the unbelievable scandal that the waiting list for public housing in Australia is now 60,000 to 70,000 longer than it was in March 1983 when the Hawke Government came to power. Can honourable members believe that a government that is supposed to help the battler, that is supposed to look after the low income earner, that is supposed to care for the downtrodden and the disadvantaged in Australia could, under a left wing housing Minister who is supposed to wear the concerns of those people on his sleeve, have 70,000 more Australians on the waiting lists for Housing Commission accommodation than there were in March 1983? It represents the most appalling ideological failure on the part of this Minister. I reckon that he would be expelled from the steering committee in New South Wales if the full extent of the disaster over which he has presided as Housing Minister were really known. Perhaps we ought not to be too hard on the Minister. We should never be too hard on the monkey when the organ grinders are about-the real organ grinders of high interest rates and the destruction of the dreams of low income Australians to have a roof over their heads. It is not really the poor misguided man from Warilla--


Mr West —Cunningham.


Mr HOWARD —I am sorry, I have got it wrong. What is wrong with Warilla? Are you not good enough to represent it any more? You leave Warilla alone; there are very decent people there.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) —Order! The Leader of the Opposition will refer to the Minister by his title.


Mr HOWARD —We really should not be too hard on the Minister. We should hold to account, as the Australian people will hold to account, the Prime Minister and the Treasurer (Mr Keating) for all the mistakes that they have presided over. But more than that, all those poor unfortunate Labor members in Lowe, Phillip, Dunkley, Hunter, Barton, St George, McEwen, Aston and Burke will hold far more against the Prime Minister and the Treasurer than I ever will, because their policies will burn them out of office at the next election.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.