Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 8 September 1983
Page: 615

Mr HAWKER(8.14) —Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to congratulate you on your elevation to office. In so doing I ask you to convey my congratulations to Mr Speaker on his elevation to office. I commend you and Mr Speaker on the fair and impartial way in which you conduct the House. I stand in this chamber very conscious of the honour accorded to me by the people of Wannon. I am very much aware of my responsibilities as their representative in this House. I stand here very much aware of the support of so many in the by-election brought about by the retirement of the Rt Hon. Malcolm Fraser after 28 years of tireless service to the electors of Wannon since he was first elected in 1955.

I doubt that many people in this House fully realise the extent to which Malcolm Fraser worked for the people of his electorate. He was a most impressive local member. I can assure honourable members of this House that the people of Wannon remember their previous member with respect and gratitude for the way he served them. He worked tirelessly for their interests and no task was too much to ask. I share the pride of the people of Wannon that Malcolm Fraser went on to be Prime Minister of Australia, the second longest serving Prime Minister in Australia's history.

In the turmoil of party politics it is easy to criticise, but I would be failing in my duty if I did not remind the House of his achievements-his achievements in international affairs, the way he enhanced Australia's reputation and standing overseas. I would be failing in my duty if I did not remind the House that Malcolm Fraser led his Government to not one but three election wins. In two of those elections, the coalition parties won with greater majorities than this House has seen before-majorities that will stand in the record book for many years. I would be failing in my duty if I did not acknowledge that Malcolm Fraser is a great Australian, was a great Prime Minister and, perhaps most significantly for this occasion, a great member for Wannon.

I can do no better than quote from a paper recently published in Quadrant written by Dr John Carroll titled 'The Tragedy of March 5th, 1983: A Personal Tribute to Malcolm Fraser'. In his paper, Dr Carroll says:

Very few Australians are aware of what the nation has lost. The significance of this moment may take years to impose itself . . . It is now on record the number of world leaders who have paid tribute to this Prime Minister's statesmanship on the international stage. Less well known is the reported comment of Henry Kissinger at a private dinner. Dr Kissinger said, in relation to the Prime Minister's grasp of foreign affairs, that he was a kind of genius. Similarly a leading international banker compared his grasp of finance very favourably with that of any American President he had known.

Although this is the Budget debate-and I will touch on the Budget shortly-I would firstly like to enlighten honourable members about the electorate of Wannon-an electorate proud of its history and achievements. Wannon is the third largest electorate in Victoria, covering more than 31,000 square kilometres. Located in south-western Victoria, it stretches from the South Australian border east to the centres of Stawell, Ararat and nearby the town of Great Western-the home of Australia's most famous champagne cellars and a place all honourable members, I am sure, would have reason to appreciate.

In the south east is Warrnambool, the seaside city well known for many things including the factory of Fletcher Jones and Staff, a business famous Australia- wide for high quality woollen clothes and the progressive system of ownership-a system where the majority of ownership is in the hands of the staff. In the centre of the electorate stands the city of Hamilton, so aptly named the wool capital of the world. In the south west is the port of Portland, a magnificent deep water port with so much potential and the site of Victoria's first European settlement in 1834. In the north west bordering South Australia is the little town of Apsley which I am bound to mention, not only because I live there but also because I am proud to note that my predecessor, Malcolm Fraser, mentioned Apsley in his maiden speech. With considerable foresight the previous member for Wannon realised the potential of agriculture in the area-a potential that is still being recognised in this area despite the difficulties facing agriculture today.

Throughout the electorate of Wannon we have a diverse range of agricultural industry, including wool growing, beef production, cropping, dairying, timber milling, fishing and horticulture. Wannon can boast Victoria's largest merino stud, Australia's best known Hereford stud and, as I have said, Australia's best known champagne vineyard. But not only do we have all these primary industries; there are also many supporting decentralised secondary industries-many of these secondary industries processing locally produced goods. Included in these are woollen mills and textile factories to process locally grown wool, butter factories to service the dairy industry and abattoirs to process sheep, lambs and cattle. Other decentralised industries within Wannon include engineering works, agricultural equipment manufacturers and many service industries. The strength of these industries lies in the fact that nearly all of them are owned by efficient small businessmen, they are efficient because they have adapted to the changing world.

The people of Wannon are proud of the fact that our region is a productive area of Australia making a real and valuable contribution to the wealth of Australia, much of it earned through export income. More importantly, this wealth is spread widely throughout and shared among many. It is certainly not concentrated in the hands of the few. Most importantly, this generation of wealth is due to the efforts of many small businesses owned and operated by Australians.

Unfortunately, like much of Australia, we have felt the pains of the recession, a recession partly induced by events overseas but compounded and exacerbated by the recent drought. I wish I could say that I am confident that the Budget will give us hope that the Government will give us a lead to cement the base of recovery, to lower interest rates and to reduce inflation-at least in the short term-to the level enjoyed by our export competitors and lead to a recovery to reduce unemployment. Sadly I have many doubts.

While it is true that the drought has broken giving primary producers new hope, one good season does not make up for a drought. We must not forget that recovery from such a devastating season takes years. It is timely to remind ourselves that agriculture is still the nation's biggest export income earner. The people of Wannon are proud of their contribution to this.

It is also timely to remind ourselves that exporters generally are not in a position to pass on costs of production like most secondary and tertiary industries, costs that all too often bear little relation to the profitability of primary industries, despite enormous gains in productivity. Exporters do not have the luxury of passing on costs and must be price-takers and not price- makers. The Australian Government's decision to devalue the Australian dollar was a small mercy but it has not really rectified this imbalance. We in Wannon, as indeed does all of Australia, need policies that will encourage a healthy primary industry sector that will encourage our young to remain in the country and not drift to the city or join the ranks of the unemployed. It is timely to remind ourselves that history has shown again and again that a country which runs down agriculture is destined to decline. Agriculture and associated country industries will decline if they are saddled with higher and higher fuel, freight and communication costs while at the same time world prices for our exports are at best static and have in many cases declined in real terms.

Wannon is fortunate to have its own deep water port-Portland. Exports from the area presently being shipped from Portland include grain, live sheep and timber. This financial year trade through the port is expected to be 1.5 million tonnes. As I have said, the potential to increase this trade is tremendous. But Portland is a town under a cloud-a cloud of uncertainty. I refer to the partly finished Alcoa aluminium smelter. Alcoa has so far spent $250m in building this smelter-a massive outlay-and it is less than half way. This outlay has been more than matched by the State Electricity Commission of Victoria in building a huge power line to service this enormous project. But now all work has ceased at the site. Despite 17 months of negotiation it appears that no agreement can be reached between the Victorian Government and Alcoa on the price that Alcoa will pay for its electricity-17 months of uncertainty that is sapping the confidence of the people of Portland. For the sake of the nation as well as for the sake of Portland, the Victorian Government can no longer deny Alcoa the opportunity to proceed.

Because of the uncertainty about the future of the smelter project, we have an unfinished special purpose bulk berth at the port of Portland. Work on this project has also stopped. The aluminium smelter, if the project proceeds, would be the biggest user of this special bulk handling facility, using it both for importing raw material through the port and exporting aluminium ingots. The spin -off for the port would be much greater. It would provide the means to allow other exports to pass through Portland. It would increase the exports of meat, wool, dairy and timber products-all products grown or processed in Wannon and neigbouring areas, including the south east of South Australia. My predecessor, Malcolm Fraser, was instrumental in fighting for wool sales to be held at Portland. Despite much opposition he succeeded, and Portland had its first wool sale just over 20 years ago. His continuing efforts for the electorate in this and many other areas are examples that did not go unnoticed, least of all by me.

I stand in this House as the member for Wannon, but I recognise, as does every honourable member, that I am not here solely as the representative of an electorate whose name, incidentally, comes from the Aboriginals of the area. I am here also as a member of the Parliament of Australia. Our responsibilities extend to all Australians. Our responsibilities extend to providing an honest and frank assessment of the Australian economy. We are facing an economic crisis , a crisis exacerbated by the world-wide recession and compounded by the recent drought. We must be honest and frank and admit that the fact that we have been so severely affected has to some extent been of our own doing. The Treasurer (Mr Keating), in his Budget Speech, said:

Our economic problems are deep seated and they cannot be resolved quickly or by precipitate action.

Having said that, I must ask: Why then does the Government increase its gross receipts by 8.6 per cent? Why increase taxes when the rest of the community must tighten its belt? Why increase spending by 15.8 per cent, requiring increased borrowings, and at the same time leave the rest of the community with more repayments and high interest rates? Because of this we now have a projected Budget deficit of $8.4 billion; in other words, creating a new debt for every Australian, a new debt for every man, woman and child-of over $500 each. Can a government earn the respect of its people by urging restraint while at the same time not practising restraint itself? It is time for us to be honest and frank and for governments, all levels of government, to lead by example. That example, I suggest, with respect, has not been a very good one for some years now.

The Treasurer says that our economic problems are deep seated, and they are. That they are so deep seated has, as I have said, to a large extent been of our own making. It is time we faced the problem that lies behind this. This can be summed up in one word-short-sightedness. All levels of government are to some extent guilty. In recent years all three sectors have been living beyond their means. All three sectors have been short-sighted. For too long we have been borrowing too heavily, and now we are paying the penalties. We are now facing the heavy burdens of interest payments and capital repayments. We have been living in a fool's paradise. Too often we have kidded ourselves that we can have more and more for less and less effort; buy now, pay later. Unfortunately, later is becoming now.

To say that this has been short-sighted would be an understatement. It is even more unfortunate that governments have a way out, a soft option if you like. That soft option is called inflation. We all know about it, we all talk about it , but what do we do about it? Inflation allows a government to increase taxes without admitting it. Inflation favours borrowers at the expense of lenders, because inflation effectively reduces the repayments on past debts. Inflation encourages industrial unrest. Inflation favours the strong at the expense of the weak. The greatest burden of inflation is borne by lower income groups. Inflation encourages the misallocation of resources. The world famous economist John Maynard Keynes said:

There is no subtler, no surer means of overturning the existing basis of society than to debauch the currency. The process engages all the hidden forces of economic law on the side of economic destruction and does it in a manner not one man in a million is able to diagnose.

With so much against inflation, why do we not halt it, assuming, of course, we do not plan to overturn the existing basis of society? The overriding question should be: Can we afford to continue with this soft option?

I suggest, with respect, that the challenge facing this Parliament is to give a lead to the people of Australia by recognising that governments are elected to set the example for the rest of the community, by showing responsible long term financial management that will lead to lower inflation rates. This is fundamental to a real, sustained recovery. Give a lead by being honest with the people of Australia, by telling the facts, by explaining that governments cannot go on spending more and more when the nation cannot afford it, by explaining wage rises above productivity rises lead to higher unemployment and are inflationary. We must be frank. Like all economic crises, the way out will be slow and painful. While there are hopeful signs, governments must resist temptation and not mislead people by suggesting there are easy cures. Such action leads only to cynicism. There will be false dawns. History does repeat itself. In time, with a responsible lead from this Parliament, the nation will prosper again. The degree to which it prospers will be reflected by the degree to which this Parliament shows responsible leadership to guide-I emphasise the word 'guide'-this country to worthwhile and achievable long term goals. As governments do not have a monopoly on wisdom, to do more than try to guide is not only presumptuous but can often prove to be counter productive.

In conclusion, may I say that the long term goals, the goals that the people of Wannon and the people of Australia should expect of governments are to have the opportunities and the freedom of choice to better their own future. It is the role of government to provide the sound basis on which to build, the most important ingredient of which is a sound financial base. The resilience of all Australians can and will do the rest. It is through the combined efforts of individuals that our greatest future lies.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) —Again I ask the House to extend the usual courtesies on the occasion of a maiden speech. I call the honourable member for Leichhardt.