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- Start of Business
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
- DISTINGUISHED VISITORS
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
(Mr GARETH EVANS, Mr COSTELLO)
(Mr LIEBERMAN, Mr COSTELLO)
Taxation: Goods and Services Tax
(Mr BEAZLEY, Mr HOWARD)
(Mr TONY SMITH, Mr COSTELLO)
Economy: Business Competitiveness
(Mr FILING, Mr MOORE)
(Mr MUTCH, Mr REITH)
Tariffs: Motor Vehicle Industry
(Mr CREAN, Mr HOWARD)
(Mr NUGENT, Mr DOWNER)
World Trade Organisation
(Mr SAWFORD, Mr DOWNER)
Discrimination: League of Rights
(Mr McARTHUR, Mr RUDDOCK)
Aboriginals: Stolen Children
(Mr BEAZLEY, Mr HOWARD)
Chevron-Comalco Gas Pipeline
(Mr NEVILLE, Mr ANDERSON)
(Mr MARTIN, Mr PROSSER)
(Mr RANDALL, Mrs MOYLAN)
(Mr JENKINS, Mr PROSSER)
(Mr CAUSLEY, Dr KEMP)
- Savings Rebate
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE: ADDITIONAL RESPONSES
- PERSONAL EXPLANATIONS
Answers to Questions
(Mr MOSSFIELD, Mr SPEAKER)
- Mr LEO McLEAY, Mr SPEAKER
- AUDITOR-GENERAL'S REPORTS
- MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
- APPROPRIATION BILL (No. 1) 1997-98
- MATTERS REFERRED TO MAIN COMMITTEE
- Procedural Text
- PRIMARY INDUSTRIES AND ENERGY LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL (No. 2) 1997
- VETERANS' AFFAIRS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (BUDGET AND SIMPLIFICATION MEASURES) BILL 1997
- INDUSTRY, SCIENCE AND TOURISM LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 1997
- MIGRATION LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL (No. 3) 1997
- CHILD SUPPORT LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL (No. 1) 1996
QUESTIONS ON NOTICE
Standing Committee of Attorneys-General: Human Rights
(Mr Melham, Mr Williams)
Department of Health and Family Services: Hire Car Companies
(Mr Laurie Ferguson, Dr Wooldridge)
Imports and Exports
(Mr Peter Morris, Mr Sharp)
Department of Industrial Relations Staff: Electoral Division of Corio
(Mr O'Connor, Mr Reith)
Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs: Office Closures
(Mr McClelland, Mr Ruddock)
National Drug Summit
(Mrs Crosio, Mr Howard)
National Gun Laws
(Mrs Crosio, Mr Howard)
People's Constitutional Convention
(Mrs Crosio, Mr Howard)
(Mr Andren, Mr McGauran)
- Standing Committee of Attorneys-General: Human Rights
Tuesday, 3 June 1997
Mr ALLAN MORRIS(10.09 p.m.) —I rise to make some comments on the second Howard-Costello budget in this debate on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 1997-98. A bit like their first, this is a budget of mirror and rubber. First you see it and then you do not; it is all done with mirrors when you try to find out what is going on, and, of course, the figures are rubbery, as they were in the last budget. In my speech on the Appropriation Bill last year I pointed out that the growth figures in last year's budget were never going to be met. We all knew that. They were always shonky. They are shonky now.
We can take little things like Telstra borrowing $3 billion and then giving it to the government. So you get a $3 billion cash gift. This is somehow good budgeting! We saw the transfer of $3.7 billion out of last year's forward estimates into a savings scheme that will actually reduce national savings. It is all mirrors. What is being put forward is something that the government, ourselves and the commentators all understand is not what is going to happen, and the words do not mean what they are supposed to mean. So savings are not savings and borrowings off Telstra are not borrowings at all. That money that comes from the government does not really affect it.
We have a government run by slogans. Let us go through a few of those slogans. I am talking about slogans such as `free market', the `black armband brigade', `comfortable and relaxed', and `the battlers', of course. That is a one-word slogan. The fact is that you cannot govern by slogans, you cannot govern by mantras and you cannot govern by mirrors and rubbery figures. I will give a few examples of that. Things actually change; the world moves on.
When the black armband brigade slogan was working so well in the polls last year and was getting a good response in terms of the focus groups, the Prime Minister (Mr Howard) got very attached to it. Then we were suddenly hit with a report last week, the likes of which none of us have ever imagined or contemplated. Sure, we have all heard stories and, sure, we have all heard complaints about children being taken away and families being broken up. But I defy anybody in this place to actually admit or state that they actually knew of the dimensions, the depth and the sheer enormity of what has taken place in this country over the last 200 years, particularly over the last 60 years, as that report puts forward.
That report changes everything. You cannot go on saying that things are the same. What we said last week or the week before or last year does not get changed. The black armband brigade is not fashionable now. It is not appropriate. In fact, it is more than that—it is downright insulting. That report is not about guilt; it is about responsibility, it is about nationhood and it is about we as human beings, not what we thought hundreds of years ago or 60 years ago, but what we think now.
There was an article in the paper on Friday written by Tony Wright, I think, pointing out that there are probably thousands of men alive now who sexually abused young Aboriginal girls in the last 30 or 40 years. They are still alive, the girls are still alive and, in many cases, the official system knows about it, yet they have never been charged. At the same time we as a community are being adamant about paedophilia in all other forms. We are being adamant about the incidents that have occurred in religious orders and in state orphanages, but we are ignoring this one.
Why aren't the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General (Mr Williams) referring the information in that report to the federal and state police forces to investigate those foster homes where those young girls and boys were sexually abused? Why aren't they? Is it because of the black armband brigade? Is it because they will feel guilty about it? What kind of mentality and morality are we talking about here?
We were told in recent months about euthanasia and Christianity and how we should value the sanctity of human life. The same people are saying that they have no responsibility for this and it has nothing to do with them. The fact is that there are young Aboriginal girls alive now who were sexually abused, and it is being absolutely ignored. We have heard not one comment from the Prime Minister or the responsible minister. The sheer hypocrisy of that is breathtaking. And those mantras will come back to haunt them over and over again as the world moves on and they are seen for what they are.
I wish to look at another of those mantras—the free market. Last week a speech was given in Canberra by I think Mr Cameron which was reported on briefly. It pointed out that people in the community now have a concern about the lack of an industry policy. That became very clear when BHP made an announcement to terminate steel making in Newcastle, but the announcement was actually not about that; it was to reverse a decision to invest in new steel making.
A decision made in June 1995 to invest half a billion dollars in new steel making was reversed on 29 April. And the government said, `It's none of our business. It is because of market forces. It is a commercial decision. We are not responsible.' That they did not really care was the message that Australia got. The government said, `It's nothing to do with us. Sure, we will come and mop up the mess. If you need some employment programs, we might help you with a few bucks here and there.' Senator Vanstone offered $2 million, but the BHP workers qualify for none of it. To qualify for any of that money, people have to be unemployed for nine months. What a joke. What a hoax.
But the real message was that the government was impotent and uncaring and this was not part of their mantra because this was a commercial decision made by a commercial company on commercial grounds. BHP's commercial grounds on 29 April were a 15 per cent return on capital. Remember that?
Mr Ronaldson —Are you saying that Amanda—
Mr ALLAN MORRIS —I will come back to that interjection. Last week BHP announced their changed investment guidelines. In future, their investment decisions will be based on a benchmark of the world's top 20 per cent of companies in the same field. The fact is that their steel division is in the world's top 20 per cent. The BHP steel division in Australia is one of the best earners in steel in the world. It is one of the few in the world making money. According to their new guidelines, a few weeks later they would not have made that decision. How do you judge commercial decisions? What do they mean? Where is the government amongst all this? Looking at bandaid packages after the fact to try to minimise their electoral impact. To hell with the social and economic impacts in terms of the real economy, the exports of this country and adding value to our resources. The government are simply aiming at trying to stem the political haemorrhaging for their one member in the region.
I will come back to steel later but, as to the interjection from the parliamentary secretary, yes, virtually all of those programs announced by Senator Vanstone are for those who are eligible, for those who are suitably qualified. For the 100 NIES places that were offered—
Mr Ronaldson —Were they a joke? Do you stand by your comment that they were a joke?
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl) —Order! The parliamentary secretary will not enter the debate.
Mr ALLAN MORRIS —Just learn a bit about what you are talking about for a change. You come to town and parade around, making promises that you know are false. Virtually all of those programs were for the long-term unemployed—not for the people who are currently working at BHP but who are going to lose their jobs. The programs that do that are linked to the industry. They are not broad ranging programs.
Another slogan that was quite interesting was `comfortable and relaxed'. That really does invoke a nice image: people work hard, they go home, they put up their feet and they relax, feeling secure and confident. People want to be confident that when they retire we will support and protect them in their old age.
Firstly, in terms of working, job insecurity has never been worse than it is currently. And why? Because the government spent the last year talking the economy down. They spent the last year telling us all how bad it is. Go and talk to my constituents—they all think it is dreadful. Why? Because every day the Treasurer (Mr Costello) got up and told them so. For the first nine months of this govern ment they got up every day and said, `Things are dreadful. We're in a dreadful mess. What a dreadful situation which needs massive surgery,' and they cut the hell out of the economy for half a per cent of growth. In other words, they were going to kill the economy to cure it. I am sorry but the economy is actually dead right now. It has been dead for the last six or nine months. It was killed by the current government. So much for being confident about the future.
Apart from the contraction of the work force, particularly the Public Service in Canberra, which is appalling and unnecessary and will eventually cost us more than it saves, apart from the message about Telstra and its job losses, apart from the whole message about downsizing that the government has been on about—one of its mantras, again—those who are working are not comfortable and relaxed. They are nervous, scared and worried.
In our parliamentary inquiry we saw the response from those in small business. I was part of that inquiry, and let me tell the House that those out there in small business are not comfortable and relaxed at all. If that report is not adopted in the key parts of the legislation underpinning the franchising code, the tenancy code and the changes to the Trade Practices Act, you guys will have a real problem because that is not just good but absolutely essential for those people.
I have literally dozens and dozens of constituents who are facing bankruptcy right now because the economy has been flattened and they are defenceless at the same time. Of course, those who were looking to be `comfortable and relaxed' when they retire knew our system and made their plans for retirement according to that, but in many cases they have been forced to take a retrenchment. Whether or not they have some assets or whatever, they knew about nursing homes and hostels and the system was understood. How do they feel now that nursing home access will cost $88,000, if they are lucky? It will be more like $120,000. The $26,000 entry fee was never on. Look at the figures and talk to anybody who knows the industry and you will find that was always a joke. We are talking about $100,000 more. We all know that, and we have known that since the last budget.
The fact is that you cannot rip out of a budget half a billion dollars for residential aged care without making someone else pay for it. What about retired people, people facing retirement or families with a retired relative—in many cases uncles and aunties with no other family? What happens to residents in a nursing home which has been sold and are required to move? Many such cases have involved distant relatives and they have been required to pay entry fees into the next nursing home. They cannot do it. They have been moved from one nursing home which has been closed and they have to try to find a bed in another.
As well as the impact on the nursing homes, the assault on the PBS system and the new, `wonderful' technology that can now group therapeutic drugs into families for like conditions, we have this `wonderful' new science where the federal bureaucracy can now tell doctors how to prescribe drugs—anti-depressants, anti-hypertension, anti-ulcers. There are a range of conditions, but for any one condition a family of drugs can be chosen.
So we are now telling our aged, our chronically ill and people who desperately need medication daily—and in many cases in large amounts daily—that their doctor is required to prescribe the lowest drug in that family. If they do not, they pay the extra. Whether that drug suits their condition does not matter. The idea that somehow these conditions are simple to treat and that everybody with high blood pressure has the same problem and can therefore take the same drug is codswallop.
This is absolute bureaucratic, governmental interference at its very worst, and it will not work as well. Already we are being called by people anxious and concerned about how it is going to work, what drug will be available and how much extra it will cost them. We did not do that. This is a government that is somehow caught up in its own ideology and its own mantras.
I want to come back to the issue of steel for a moment because there are some things I want to put on the record which I think are going to be important in the years ahead. I have said in this House on more than one occasion that we, as a country, export 130 million tonnes of iron ore worth about $40 a tonne. That would equate to about 100 million tonnes of steel worth between $400 and $500 a tonne. So the fact is that the actual change in value is enormous, apart from the hundreds of thousands of jobs that are involved.
If we are going to maintain a steel industry in this country, we need to invest in it. At the moment, virtually 80 per cent of the industry has decided not to invest any further. They have announced that they are going to run down the capital base in steel. What is therefore likely to happen is one of two things. Firstly, our industry will run down and eventually implode and collapse as imports get stronger and stronger. The second option is that we may develop a new industry on the west coast which will be foreign owned with foreign investment and transfer priced. So we would convert our iron ore into a higher value, but the total control of that would be by the foreign investors, not by Australia. So we would have a steel industry in Australia that was not Australian. That is one of the very serious choices and one of the very real possibilities that we are likely to see.
In talking about those things in recent months we have been talking about the need for an industry policy. We have been talking about the need for a steel plan—call it a plan, call it a strategy, call it an approach, call it what you like. It does not matter what the word is, but the plan needs to be coherent and it needs to encourage the conversion of our raw materials of iron ore, gas and/or coal into metals of some form and sell them at a higher value.
That plan needs to have incorporated in it probably things like competitive investment regimes so that we are a competitive country to invest in. It probably needs things in it that make sure we look at technology for our raw materials as a major national priority. It probably needs things in it like bilateral negotiations with other countries to make sure that we can export to them at a higher value and not always at the bottom of the chain, as we are now in virtually most of our exports into Asia. It also probably needs in it the idea that BHP may need to get out of steel. If our biggest iron ore company is not interested in steel, then it should make way for someone who is. I do not doubt the possibility of Australia attracting investment in that kind of way.
This second Howard budget is different from the first. The first, if you like, was triumphal in how much damage it was going to do to individuals and to the economy. It made, if you like, a virtue of the pain it could cause, knowing that the pain would not come until much later on. This budget is almost the opposite. It is totally deceitful, because it pretends to be doing something when it is doing very little—other than those very narrow, nasty targets, particularly on pharmaceuticals, and of course the savings rebate, which will end up reducing our nation's savings.
We are seeing a government that is now consolidated into a process of government by mantras and by slogans. In fact those mantras are now turning into negatives and they are the opposite of what the country needs. Mr Speaker, I welcome you to the chair.
Mr SPEAKER —Thank you.
Mr ALLAN MORRIS —This country needs some vision. It needs some competence.
Mr SPEAKER —It's nice to be back!
Mr ALLAN MORRIS —I am speaking through you, Mr Speaker, unlike most of your ministers, who ignore you. The way you have been treated in recent days by your colleagues is appalling and sooner or later you are going to have to do something about that. The country needs vision. It needs confidence in that vision. It needs inclusion. Most of all, it needs a bit of depth. Slogans and mantras might be helpful at election time, but you do not run a country with them.
What we have seen in this budget, as in these past 15 months, is ideology—make conclusions and then work out how they are going to work. The nursing home up-front fees were announced last August. We still do not know how they are going to work. Nine months later we are still trying to work out how the things announced in the last budget as conclusions are going to work. You do not govern by making a decision and then working out how it is going to be implemented or what it means. That is what this government has done and that is what it is doing in this budget. We still do not know what certain areas in this budget mean, as with things like Wik and others. But the one area that is the most nasty is the pharmaceutical area.
This budget will go down in time as a turning point—from a government that could do no wrong last year, as it thought, to a government that can do no right, and both for the same reasons because it is a government that did not know what it was doing at all. This budget will be seen as a recognition of ignorance and impotence. This country needs neither. It needs enlightenment, confidence and capacity, which it is not getting from the government that we have.
Debate (on motion by Mr Cadman) adjourned.