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Thursday, 7 May 1987
Page: 2796

Mr ROBERT BROWN(1.39) —My grievance concerns the current, intensifying campaign by the New Right to destroy the structure of social responsibility and social equity within the Australian community. The New Right, and those identified with it, are taking advantage of our present economic circumstances to wage a violent assault against fairness and justice. They are seeking a major realignment of privilege, with greater power and affluence going to the most wealthy and greater burdens being shouldered by the most disadvantaged.

In today's economic circumstances, when our earning capacity as a world trading nation has fallen, over a period of about two and a half years, by about $9 billion a year-which works out at some $30 a week for every household in Australia-and when we are annually spending about $14 billion dollars more than we can produce and earn, the Hawke Labor Government has accepted the fact that some restraint is necessary in order to remove imbalances and provide a firm basis for the future development of this nation. The Government, in its May economic statement, will attempt to reduce the public sector's claim on resources, including loan funds, and spread the burden of restraint with equity. There is a widespread understanding that this may involve expenditure cuts and other measures designed to achieve a net improvement of about $2,000m. But I use the expression of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) when I say that the Government will be seeking to pursue this objective with restraint and equity; and I repeat his assurance that the Labor Government will not abandon its traditional concern for the less privileged people of the community. While our approach might be one of restraint with equity, the approach of conservatives in Australia, and particularly those more closely identified with the New Right, can be more appropriately described as assault with savagery. They have embarked on an obscene competition to lift the level of expenditure cuts to heights which would wreak havoc on the economy and impose enormous suffering on the most disadvantaged in our community.

We all recall that when Labor came to government in 1983 it inherited an anticipated Budget deficit of $9.6 billion. We have progressively, each year, reduced the Budget deficit. Last year we budgeted for a deficit of $3.5 billion. There will be an attempt to reduce it further, because we understand that the circumstances we face are such as probably to require that that type of approach be adopted. Last year's Budget, for the current financial year, saw expenditure cuts of $2.5 billion introduced by the Hawke Government. As I have suggested, it is possible that under the May economic statement a further $2,000m worth of cuts will be made. Those on the Opposition benches and those who speak for them in the wider community, before suggesting that cuts should be even greater, that the burden should be imposed more heavily, should recall their own record of achievement in this area. The late Sir Philip Lynch's razor gang of 1981 was charged by the Fraser Government with identifying areas where cuts worth $500m could be made. They agonised over the task for 18 months and finally identified them. Some of the people involved-particularly their privileged and pampered friends-started to scream. Gradually these proposals for cuts worth $500m were in turn cut. The group finished up, after 18 months of agonised effort, reducing expenditure by $170m.

Last year the Government reduced Budget expenditure by $2,500m and spread the burden of that reduction with equity. This year we will attempt to make further cuts and will again spread them with equity. But let us not lose sight of all the macho conservatives who are out there in the community. In the light of all these circumstances a fairly responsible proposal was put forward by the Business Council of Australia. It suggested initially that in the course of the May statement we should seek to cut expenditure overall this year by $3,000m and reduce State borrowing programs by in excess of $2,000m. I repeat the Business Council of Australia proposed a reduction in expenditure of $3 billion. The Institute of Public Affairs, not to be outdone, said: `You wimps; $3 billion indeed; let us cut out $5 billion'. The National Farmers Federation was disgusted with such a proposal. Initially it called for cuts of $7,000m under the May economic statement and a further $3,000m under the August Budget. Ian McLachlan claimed that independent research showed that these cuts were possible in just four areas. I invite honourable members to note them-health, welfare, education and employment programs. Of course the Federation was not satisfied with that. It went back to its sums again. Then it called for cuts in excess of $11,000m. The Australian Chamber of Commerce, not to be outdone, said that over the next year we should seek a Budget deficit of only $2 billion-which is okay-and should seek to eliminate the deficit entirely in the following year. But further down the track, in today's money terms, the Australian Chamber of Commerce wants the Commonwealth to cut expenditure by something in excess of $15,000m.

Mr Staples —Lunacy.

Mr ROBERT BROWN —It is absolute lunacy; socially offensive and obscene-economic lunacy and political lunacy.

Mr Ian Cameron —It is a good idea.

Mr ROBERT BROWN —It is supported by the great friend of the New Right, the honourable member for Maranoa. Let me take advantage of the opportunity, in the light of his interjection, to remind the Australian people what he said when he endorsed the sort of cuts that were being made. I shall quote his words exactly. He was speaking for the New Right, for the National Party in Queensland, for the Australian National Party, for conservatism. He said:

. . . when I say cuts I mean cuts that every Australian is going to squeal like a stuck pig because they are all going to suffer.

Then he added:

No nothing's sacred.

The interviewer said `What about defence?' and he answered that perhaps some things are sacred. He was then asked: `What about pensions?'. He answered that they were not sacred; that they might have to stand still.

Mr Ian Cameron —Yes.

Mr ROBERT BROWN —The honourable member confirms it.

Mr Ian Cameron —Right.

Mr ROBERT BROWN —Let all of the pensioners of Australia know the sorts of proposals that are being advanced. Mr Deputy Speaker, the final proposal from these outside groups has come to light today. Some $12 billion worth of cuts have now been proposed by that Right Wing think-tank, the Centre for Policy Studies at Monash University. The proposed spending cuts involve the abolition of Medicare; the privatisation of education through a voucher scheme for primary and secondary students; the payment of university fees; the end of government employment programs; the abolition of the unemployment benefit for people under 18; and the freezing of the unemployment benefit after a period-in effect, reducing it. They are the proposals that have been coming out today. Now, of course, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) who has to make sure his credentials are seen to be great by the New Right of the Australian community has, with his Liberal colleagues, developed a proposal which has not been denied. Honourable members need only refer to the front page of the Australian Financial Review of Monday, 23 March to learn the details. Some $5,000m worth of cuts are proposed.

Mr Ian Cameron —Good on you.

Mr ROBERT BROWN —The honourable member for Maranoa says `Good on you', but let me indicate to him as well what the proposals include: To cut pensions and tighten eligibility--

Mr Ian Cameron —Good.

Mr ROBERT BROWN —The honourable member for Maranoa says: `Good'. I hope that the Australian people are listening to that obscenity. The proposals seek, further, to abolish all unemployment programs; to abolish the first home owners scheme; to abolish the fringe benefits tax and the capital gains tax; to cut the Medicare rebate and end bulk billing; to increase charges for pharmaceutical benefits; to increase the eligibility age for female pensioners to 65; to sell off the Commonwealth Bank, Qantas, Telecom and Medibank Private. Because the Australian electorate would clearly not tolerate such an obscene set of proposals, the final part of the strategy is devoted to preparing for a general national strike, which these people believe would follow within three months. That is a proposal of confrontation. It is the proposal of our opponents.

This campaign of the New Right is taking place in the context of a massive explosion in the size of the personal wealth of the richest Australians; a situation where one person can spend tens of millions of dollars to buy a private yacht and a private jet, where he can think about spending $71m for one painting to go into his private collection-enough to build homes for 1,500 Australian families. While that has been going on, the number of millionaires has increased in one year by 3,000 to in excess of 30,000. Meanwhile, the number of Australians who suffer comparative poverty has reached more than two million. It includes 800,000 children. The number of people without homes, those with nowhere to sleep at night, is 40,000. That obscene comparison is on record. The Australian people need to keep it in mind.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) -Order! The honourable member's time has expired.