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Thursday, 26 May 1983
Page: 1047


Mr SAUNDERSON(2.54) —Mr Deputy speaker, I congratulate you on your election to your high office and hope that you will pass on a similar message to the Speaker of the House. In taking this opportunity to speak I would like to point out that I am the first Australian Labor Party member to represent the seat of Deakin. It gives me great pleasure to be able to stand on this side of the House knowing that many party members who have toiled for so many years have for the first time obtained representation in this House. I also feel the responsibility bestowed on me by the electors of Deakin and I am sure that the representation that I will provide them will meet their expectations.

At this stage, I would like to thank all of the members of my campaign committee who toiled so hard during the six months leading up to the election. Particularly, I would like to thank Phil Decker, my campaign manager, whose assistance and initiatives during the campaign were invaluable. I would also like to thank my wife and family, whose support was of great value to me.

The seat of Deakin, which was created in 1937 and which takes in a large section of the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, has always been-until 5 March of this year-a Liberal seat. With the State elections of 1982 the first signs of change became clear and in March of this year the electors of the eastern suburbs showed quite dramatically that they had rejected totally the discredited philosophies of the Liberal Party. Electorates such as Deakin and Chisholm have clearly swung to the policies of the Labor Party. The Labor Party is in government and has already taken steps to begin the process of reconstruction, reconciliation and recovery; but it is important that the enormity of the task that we now face should be clearly understood.

Before I expand on these problems and the reasons for them, I would like to make a comment in relation to remarks made by a member of the Opposition during his contribution to the debate on the Address-in-reply. Reference was made to the tradition of the House that maiden speeches should be heard in silence. Because of that tradition, there is also the expectation that the person making the maiden speech will not be unduly provocative. I certainly believe that it is not being provocative to point out the historical facts and the problems that this nation is now burdened with. I also point out that the tradition of hearing a maiden speech in silence means nothing if Opposition members decline to attend the Parliament while the speech is being made. Mind you, it is sometimes very difficult to detect whether they are in attendance or not, because their numbers are so few.

I return to the problems that we now face in Government and the reasons for them. The current economic situation we have inherited from the previous Government is the result of its incompetent management of the country over the last seven years. The previous Government was probably the most incompetent that this House has seen since Federation. Over the last seven years more than 20 Ministers were sacked or resigned because of bungling, pure incompetence or a scandal associated with their name or office. On average, there was a change of more than one Minister at each sitting of Parliament over those seven years. That is a disgraceful record in itself. If that had been all, it would have been enough to condemn the previous Government, but those sackings and dismissals were merely an indication of the incompetence and lack of planning which was a hallmark of the previous Government.

The previous Government usurped power in 1975 and maintained it with the use of deception, political opportunism and divisiveness. In 1975 it promised jobs for all. We are now faced with more than 700,000 unemployed and an accelerating unemployment rate. In 1975 it indicated that it would take care of young Australians and provide them with a future. We now find youth unemployment has reached more than 25 per cent of those in that age group. To further show its lack of compassion for the youth of Australia, it restricted the unemployment benefit rate for the young to that which applied in 1975; it was not increased until 1982.

In 1975 the former Government promised to maintain Medibank. We have since seen numerous revisions of Medibank and revised medical schemes, all of which have been ill-planned and ill-managed, with the result now that medical costs have gone through the roof, health cover has gone beyond the means of low income earners and the medical and health cover area is in a shambles. Fortunately, this Government has moved quickly to correct this shambles. The introduction of Medicare will provide proper health care within the reach of all Australians. In 1975 the former Government promised to care for those on fixed incomes. We now find that the level of fixed incomes has dropped from 25 per cent to 22 per cent of the minimum wage. The burdens of the last seven years were placed on the shoulders of the fixed and low income earners, while the wealthy and privileged groups within Australia had their already light burden eased. Our Government has already set about reversing that trend. What was probably the worst aspect of the previous Government was the way it used divisions within society to promote its political fortunes.

In 1975 it almost destroyed democracy within this country in order to gain power. It then turned the community against those who were unable to find jobs and made those who were unable to defend themselves the scapegoats. When it became obvious that community awareness was such that that particular line would no longer work, it turned the blame for the problems of the nation on those who had jobs. During this seven-year period it continually attempted to turn the community against the trade union movement. The continual confrontation approach of the previous Government was aimed at diverting attention away from its incompetence so that it could maintain power and continue to serve its own masters.

During the first couple of weeks of this Parliament, the Opposition has attempted to make great play of the wage increases which took place during 1981 and 1982 and our current wage policy which resulted from the National Economic Summit Conference. It has failed to point out that those wage increases during 1981 and 1982 came as a direct result of its own inept wage policies. The Fraser Government caused the abandoning of wage indexation and provided the basis for a wage race. Malcolm Fraser, the previous member for Wannon, argued that market forces should prevail. Having caused the problem, he attempted to blame everybody else for the result. The facts are very plain. The problems, both economic and social, are a direct result of the previous Government's mismanagement.

Having made these points, I return to the hopes of the new Labor Government. As I said earlier, the result of the election of March 1983 was a clear indication that people had tired of the Fraser Government. They accepted willingly the concept of reconstruction, reconciliation and recovery that the Labor Government had presented to them. Within the short period that we have been in office, we have already moved significantly to provide the framework for those things to take place. The National Economic Summit has provided, and will continue to provide, the basis from which that recovery will take place. The only group attempting to break down the results of that Summit is the current Opposition. We have already taken steps to raise by $4 the benefits paid to young unemployed , in addition to the normal increase they would receive. We have instituted changes to remove the inherent delay in indexed increases that the previous Government introduced.

Regarding recognition of the importance of our national heritage, we have already introduced Bills aimed at protecting South West Tasmania from the desecration which has been and would continue to be done to the region by the Tasmanian Government. I pause here to raise another matter in relation to the representatives of the Opposition. It is with some disappointment that we find that some members of the Opposition have come here not to provide rational or reasoned argument, to attempt to make Australia a better community, but simply to disrupt the running of Parliament. On 3 May the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck) indicated his intention and that of his fellow members from Tasmania. In Hansard, he is reported as saying:

Even though I could not get kicked out last week, we shall try again.

I am sure that all my fellow members on this side of the House are most disconcerted to find that people would come into this House, not with the intention of improving the quality of Australian life, but simply to get themselves kicked out of Parliament. We gave a commitment in relation to South West Tasmania and we will maintain that commitment and ensure the preservation of our national heritage, not just in Tasmania, but right around Australia, so that future generations will be able to enjoy the wonders that nature has presented our unique land.

Last week, we saw the first steps taken towards creating the basis for the strong recovery that this Government will provide during the next three years. The mini-Budget has laid the groundwork to overcome the difficulties of the $9.6 billion deficit left us by the previous Government, a deficit which it deliberately kept secret from the Australian public during the recent election campaign. It not only kept it secret but also misled the community by arguing that, indeed, the deficit was lower than it knew it to be. As I have said, the mini-Budget has begun to correct that and we have reduced the deficit by nearly $1 billion. We have instituted an expenditure program of some $500m, which is aimed at providing both immediate short term community jobs and long term stability and additional jobs in the housing area. These initiatives will provide substantial jobs for the future, and, at the same time, we are overcoming one of the most serious problems around Australia, that is the terrible shortage of public housing. The mini-Budget has also focused on removing some of the tax lurks and perks which the previous Government provided for its masters.

Our initiatives in relation to security have shown that we have the national security as a main concern. Unlike those members opposite who have shown that they are prepared to abuse the positions that they have and to deny the rights of individuals for the sake of political opportunism, we have set about to ensure, firstly, not only that the security organisations that exist within Australia operate efficiently but also that the rights of all Australians are not trampled upon by those organisations or the political opportunists. We believe that the Royal Commission on Security and Intelligence Agencies will show the deficiencies that exist in the security organisations and provide us with recommendations which will give us a more efficient and accountable security organisation. It should be pointed out that all of the problems which have existed in the security organisations of Australia have occurred during the administration of the previous Government. The leaking of the articles to the National Times, and other incidents which have been shown by those articles, occurred under the Liberal Administration. It is not us who have been shown to be unfit to take care of this nation's security, rather, it is the Opposition.

It is well known that the Australian Labor Party is the party of reform; it is the progressive party which always leads in innovation. It is pleasing to me to note that this Parliament has the largest representation of women since Federation. It is also indicative that all of the women represented in the House of Representatives are of the Labor Party. For the first time since Federation we now have, as Deputy Speakers, two women. I believe that it is an indication that this Party is setting about removing the discrimination which for so long has applied to females in the Australian community. I congratulate both the member for Henty (Mrs Child) and the member for Lilley (Mrs Darling) on their election to the position, and I am sure that they are conscious of being the first two women in it and of their responsibilities not only to the position but also to the cause of equality.

I applaud the move by the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) in indicating that Australia will sign the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Because we are committed to removing discrimination, it does not mean that we are, therefore, going to compel the women who wish to remain at home with their families to join the work force. The Labor Party recognises the many roles that exist in the community and the rights of every individual to choose which role he or she wishes to play. We are simply saying that the ability to choose should be equal for males and females.

The first Labor Government in 23 years came to office in 1972. The then Liberals, some of whom are still in this Parliament, refused to accept the decision of the people. They did not allow that Government to operate and achieve that for which it had been elected. They used every obstructionist means within their power to hamper the running of that Government, and in the three year period we saw three elections, in 1972, 1974 and 1975. The 1974 and 1975 elections came as a result of the Liberals' inability to accept the decision of the people. They had acquired the born-to-rule syndrome. It has become apparent, even in the few weeks of this Parliament, that there are some in the ranks of the Opposition who still have that belief. It is thankful that their numbers are so diminished that they will not be able to disrupt as they did during the Whitlam Government.

It is a damning insight to the born-to-rule syndrome that from December 1972 to March 1983, Australia has been through six elections all of which were brought about by the obstructionist political opportunism of the Liberal-National Party coalition. Since 1972 we have had an election every one year and nine months. It is no wonder that Australia is in the mess that it is in when we find that no government has run for the full term of three years; in fact, governments have barely run for half of that period. Typical of that obstructionism, the Federal Liberal Party Opposition used the recent Australian Constitutional Convention to throw out years of joint work by previous Labor and Liberal Party Federal parliamentarians in order to gain what they saw as some political advantage.

In finishing off, Mr Deputy Speaker, I point out that the Labor Government is here to stay. We intend to carry out reforms, and we shall not tolerate obstructionism from the Opposition. In fact, we hope that the Opposition will change the stance that it has held for the last 11 years and begin to provide constructive opposition to the Government. The Hawkespeak, to use a term that is being used by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock), makes a lot more sense that the Peacock prattle.