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Thursday, 15 September 1983
Page: 927


Mr BLANCHARD(5.47) —We have just witnessed and heard a most sanctimonious performance by the Leader of the National Party, the right honourable member for Richmond (Mr Anthony)-sanctimonious because he was one of the leaders of the previous Government who caused the huge unemployment which he spoke about in his speech. In my speech on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 1983- 84 I intend to put some emphasis on that situation and to explain to the House why the people on his side of the House stand condemned in the eyes of the elctorate of Australia.

The people of this country have become accustomed in recent years to newspaper headlines pronouncing the sacking of large numbers of workers-in the steel industry, in the car industry, in the manufacturing industry and, more recently, in the coal industry. As the impact of these headlines has penetrated our national consciousness it would be difficult to find any Australian who would deny that the economic problems of this country are deep-seated and that they will not be solved quickly or by precipitate action. After eight years of Liberal government our country had not only caught the international recessionary disease but had developed a chronic case of it. According to international monetary statistics, Australia, since 1980, suffered the sharpest industrial downturn of all the industrial countries. During the past financial year our economy contracted by 2.5 per cent at a time when most other countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development experienced the first flush of recovery.

It is very easy for me to stand here and recite statistics. I can provide honourable members with a bundle of disastrous figures although Australian industry was hardly at full stretch in 1982, since then things have gone from bad to worse. Steel output in the three months to May fell by more than 30 per cent. Brick and cement production went down by 27 per cent. Motor car production went down by 23 per cent. In every area of textile production output was down by at least 10 per cent compared with the same period last year. As I said, I can provide the House with any number of disastrous statistics to illustrate just how serious was the economic ruin we inherited from the previous Government. But all these figures hide the extent of human suffering and indignity which the former Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, and the former Treasurer, John Howard, and their band of merry men inflicted on the Australian people. The statistics show that during the past eight years Malcolm Fraser, in his faltering interpretation of Treasury's economic wizardry, has ignored the welfare of the people. When this Government took office nearly three-quarters of a million Australians were registered as out of work. Mr Deputy Speaker, I ask you to remember that this is the official figure. How many more had given up and decided it was wasted effort even to register for work?

But enough of the past: With the election of an Australian Labor Party Government and the introduction of our first Budget, we have begun to put this country back on the long path to economic prosperity. We have begun to deal with inflation and unemployment simultaneously. In line with traditional Labor priorities, we have increases by 19 per cent aid to the needy in our community. We have increased the rate of unemployment benefit for single persons aged 18 years and over by $2 a week more than is needed to allow for inflation. Commencing in May 1984, pensions will be automatically indexed for increases in the consumer price index. The indexation of these benefits will mean that no longer can they be eroded by inflation. In addition, to encourage unemployed people to seek casual and part time work, the income test is to be liberalised from March 1984. Assistance for families, the handicapped and those living in remote areas has been increased.

In the Budget Speech we foreshadowed an assets and incomes test on pensions. I stress the word 'foreshadowed' because we intend to meet with pensioner groups and to listen to their arguments and a 12-month period will elapse before that test is introduced. Since the incomes and assets test was removed from pensioners in 1976, there has been considerable evidence of people who have large means at their disposal receiving the pension. These people have been able to maximise the capital gains and exploit the benefits of the pensioner system. However, as the Government does not have limitless coffers and we wish to help those most in need, we must, in the interests of fairness, ensure that full pensions are given to those who cannot support themselves.

Appropriation Bill (No. 1) also allows for the establishment of a new and much needed health system-Medicare. We had a debate in this House yesterday and during the early hours of this morning. Fortunately, we have now seen the first step taken towards the establishment of a Medicare system that the country can be proud of. The Medicare system will allow for freedom of choice for those who wish to use their own doctors and those who wish to use private hospitals. Most importantly, it will cover those Australians who have been unable to afford private insurance. In addition, a central feature of our first Budget is the allocation of nearly $1 billion for re-employment and training schemes. Under the community employment program we will provide funds for local groups to establish jobs of long term benefit to the community. When fully operational, CEP is expected to generate 70,000 jobs. In addition, we will improve this country's infrastructure in such areas as roads and country water supplies. We have established a systems program for the benefit of local government. Those are old positive measures to stimulate employment as well as to provide work experience for the long term unemployed.

To stimulate the housing industry so that it requires more labour, our housing programs provide increased and more flexible assistance for first home buyers and substantial additional funds for public housing. Our housing programs will present a 23 per cent increase on the funds allocated to this area under the previous Government. The spin-off effects of generating additional activity in the housing industry will be of special importance in my electorate of Moore. A leaflet on this issue put out by the Roy Weston real estate firm in Western Australia states:

We would like to pay tribute to the Federal Government's initiatives in firstly , announcing the improved Home Deposit Assistance Scheme effective from 1st August and, secondly, in bringing down a responsible Budget which must certainly assist in building confidence in the community.

As a member of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, I applaud the Government for its recognition of the problems confronting the original inhabitants of this country. To increase the number of trained Aboriginal teachers, one hundred teacher training awards for mature age students will become available. This initiative recognises one of the greatest needs of the Aboriginal people-more of their own people in responsible positions . Mr Deputy Speaker, this Appropriation Bill is the vehicle for the first stage of a complete but gradual re-ordering of the previous Government's economic priorities. We must get this country moving again. We will get it moving again. I commend the Bill to the House.