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Wednesday, 26 November 1986
Page: 3771

Mr GEAR(3.14) —One of the real disadvantages of being a member for a Western Australian electorate is that I have to travel 2,500 miles to listen to the sort of drivel that we have just heard from the honourable member for Mayo (Mr Downer). If the Opposition wanted to put up someone to talk about waste, it could not have picked on a better bloke than the honourable member for Mayo. I have said it before and I will say it again: The honourable member for Mayo is a future leader of the Liberal Party of Australia. I will tell honourable members why-because in his previous vocation he supported the assets test and spoke in favour of it. Yet as soon as he came into this House he did a U-turn and started bagging it. Anyone who has that sort of moral manoeuvrability will be a future leader of the Liberal Party and it is totally appropriate that he should be speaking today about waste. He would not have a clue how ordinary Australians live. I am told that, from his family fortune, he could most probably write out a personal cheque for many of the programs that he criticised today. The honourable member has not come in to this House with any sort of knowledge about the way in which ordinary Australians live and work. He criticised arts funding that goes to unionists. I know where he wants arts funds to go-to the blue rinse set up in North Sydney. When those funds go to unionists, to ordinary Australians, he puts the boot in. I point out to the honourable member that the trade unions of this country contribute a significant amount of money to the same programs themselves so my advice to the honourable member is to get back to his doll's house and not to worry about the trivial nonsense that he has put forward in this House today.

What are the real matters of public importance in this country? What are the real issues confronting us? The real issues include taxation. People are worried about the fairness of the taxation system. They are also worried about industrial relations, industry restructuring--

Opposition members interjecting-

Mr GEAR —Judging by the noise it seems that honourable members opposite agree with me. Ordinary people are also worried about education, housing, trade and all those things. What do we get from the Opposition? We do not get a matter of public importance on any of those issues; instead we get the Waste Watch Committee. It should really be called the publicity seeking committee. It is only necessary to refer to one example in order to show the duplicity of the Waste Watch Committee. Not once has this so-called Waste Watch Committee ever put forward a constructive suggestion on how the Government could save money. All it does is put questions on notice, which cost the taxpayer millions of dollars, in a fishing exercise so that it can come up with the sort of claptrap that we have just heard from the honourable member for Mayo.

Let us refer to just one example of the duplicity of the Waste Watch Committee. I refer to an article in the West Australian newspaper of 16 May by Lindsay Olney which was entitled `Ex PMs cost nation $370,000'. The ex-Prime Ministers of this country, most of whom were miserable failures, are still costing the Australian taxpayers $370,000 on top of all their pensions. The article in the West Australian stated:

The Chairman of the Opposition's Waste Watch Committee, Senator Michael Baume (New South Wales), said he did not think that the bills incurred by former Prime Ministers would attract the Committee's attention unless there was some evidence of misallocation.

I will let that sink in. The Waste Watch Committee is not interested in $370,000 of taxpayers' money going to those miserable failures as Prime Ministers, yet in one of its Press releases it bags $400 for a peace march in Perth. So $400 is important to the Committee, but $370,000 is not. What a bunch of hypocrites! Opposition members come here with no credibility at all when they put forward matters of public importance such as this. Yet the Chairman of the Opposition's Waste Watch Committee-the publicity seeking committee-comes out with a statement like the one I have just quoted. The Opposition does not come in here squeaky clean itself. The honourable member for Canberra (Mrs Kelly), who will follow me in this debate, will refer to just a few of the Opposition's expenditures. I will not waste my time on them.

While we are talking about wasted opportunities and waste in this country, let us talk about the issues that matter-issues such as the 23 years in which former Liberal governments sat on their hands with a protection policy. If we are talking about waste in this country, that is where we should start looking. Previous Liberal governments did nothing. In fact, if we were concerned about social justice in this country we should bring back those Cabinet Ministers from the previous governments and put them on trial for public negligence. Not only did they adopt a policy that was harmful to this country in the long term, but they also did nothing. The rest of the world was restructuring on a massive scale, yet in Australia we had Ministers of the Crown doing nothing, taking advice from the Public Service. If the Opposition wants to talk about waste it should consider those wasted opportunities. The epitome of the previous Government's sorry neglect was the 1983 Liberal slogan `We're not waiting for the world'. I will tell honourable members something: The world had passed them by. They were so far behind they thought they were coming first. It is a sick joke to dish up this sort of stuff to the Australian people.

How about another area of waste-tax avoidance? Every time we talk about tax avoidance we should look at the Opposition's record. Every time that we have put up Bills trying to get back the bottom of the harbour money, the Opposition has voted against it. Talk about waste! The bottom of the harbour schemes involved $600m of taxpayers' money and the Opposition opposed legislation to recoup that. Those opposite talk about $400 for a peace march but about $600m they say: `Well, don't worry about that'.

Mr Dubois —They are their mates.

Mr GEAR —Yes, they are looking after their mates. The old pay as you earn taxpayer paid that. Those opposite hit him in the neck every time. Every time we have tried to bring some decency back into the taxation system to eliminate the waste and to put incentive back into the system those opposite have opposed it. If there are wasters in this world it is those opposite. All they are doing is continuing a long tradition of Liberal Party waste, not only in what they do but also in what they do not do in their opposition to areas of tax avoidance and others since we have been in government. The tax on lump sum superannuation was a decision that ended the double-dipping in the social security area. It was $80m. Those opposite said that they would get rid of that tax and give the money back to the people who benefited from the lump sum superannuation, and they were not the PAYE taxpayers. I think that is a waste. This Government reintroduced the assets test at great political cost, but it was necessary. Those opposite would do away with it again-$150m. They would give the pension back to the millionaires. Is that not a waste? Would those opposite not call it a waste to give the pension back to millionaires who do not need it? I think by reintroducing the assets test we have eliminated waste on a grand scale.

Fringe benefits, the good old rorts, are another area of tax avoidance. The fringe benefits tax puts some fairness and integrity back into the taxation system. Once again, those opposite opposed it. What a waste when all their mates could go to restaurants and book it up against the general taxpayer, when they could take cars and overseas trips and send their kids to private schools, booking it up to the general taxpayer. Was that not a waste? Why do those opposite not talk about those things? When we talk about waste in this country, that is what really matters, not those mealy-mouthed, wishy-washy little issues that the honourable member for Mayo on the other side indulged himself in. When waste in this country was really being tackled honourable members opposite were at the sideshow. The Government has been in the main ring addressing industry restructuring and getting a fairer taxation system in this country. We are putting fairness back into it and eliminating the waste. Those opposite do not want to know about those things and do not want to talk about those things; they would rather talk about the Government giving $400 for a peace march. That is the level at which they operate. They are at the sideshow. They do not even know what is going on. The Opposition putting up silly matters of public importance such as this reminds me that last night in the House we debated a report from the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Procedure, from which recommendation 78 states:

The public importance procedure be re-named Matter of Public Interest;

I tell those opposite that the drivel we have heard today would not even make public interest. No wonder the Standing Committee on Procedure had a look at the drivel those opposite have been serving up in the last few years and decided that it was time to rename this section of the debate in the House.

Mr Downer —You are contradicting yourself.

Mr GEAR —The honourable member has just given another example of a reason for such a change. `Matter of public interest' is much more appropriate, but the issue before us today does not do even that title justice. When this Government got rid of the entertainment expenses tax deduction those opposite, as usual, sucked up to their usual clientele and said that the restaurant industry would collapse, that a number of jobs would be lost and that there would be wide scale sackings across the hospitality industry. We can see with hindsight that there has actually been growth in that area. Those opposite would give the entertainment expenses tax deduction back to the people who have always enjoyed it. They would allow the people who took long business lunches at the expense of the taxpayer to continue with that policy.

If I had time I would go through the rest of the list but, in all, the Opposition has promised to do away with reforms that we have introduced to make the taxation system fairer. The total cost of that would be $5,900m. Why do those opposite not come in here and tell us about how they would pay for that? Why do they not bring that up in their matters of public importance? Why do they not show us where they would make the spending cuts to bring in that $5,900m lost revenue in the taxation area alone on measures that they have flagged their intention to abolish or on concessions they would give? I think that would be a much more important matter of public importance because when we are talking about waste that is where the real waste is.

On the issue of their policies we on this side are always at a disadvantage because we never know what they are. I would like to refer to two policies that those opposite have run up the flagpole. The first one is privatisation. Remember that wonderful policy called privatisation? We do not hear people talking about it too often because it got shot full of holes in the South Australian election and a couple of weeks later in the Western Australian election. Those opposite ran it straight down the flagpole and we have not heard anything since. Are those opposite still going to privatise Telecom Australia? Why do they not bring that up in a matter of public importance? Why do they not tell us why their privatisation policy is so good, instead of serving up the drivel that was served up today? After Thredbo they put the industrial relations policy up the flagpole.

Mr Braithwaite —What is your margin?

Mr GEAR —My margin is looking a lot better every day. With a mob of clowns such as those opposite I do not have to worry about the next election. Let us get back to the industrial relations policy. This is what the Confederation of Australian Industry said about the Opposition's industrial relations policy. I will quote from the Press release:

These critics of our centralised industrial system-

that is, those opposite, and honourable members should listen to this; this fits the honourable member for Mayo-

virtually none of whom have been involved in industrial relations, threaten employers with changes which would create conditions far worse than those that already exist.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I would not have to tell you that the Confederation of Australian Industry has never been known for its support of the Labor Party but here it is talking about the Opposition's industrial relations policy and it has just shot it full of holes. Further in the media statement it is stated:

They advocate massive change with its commensurate risk of massive dislocation, without providing any clear idea as to how this change will be brought about nor any evidence that it will in the end be better for employers.

Mr Reith —What has that got to do with it?

Mr Downer —What has this got to do with it? You have missed the point.

Mr GEAR —I notice there have been a few interjections: `What has this got to do with the matter of public importance?'. It has nothing to do with it. I think their matter of public importance is not worth talking about. I am talking about the real matters of public importance in this country. I will leave the drivel to those opposite because they are good at it. They are at the sideshow and they do not know what is going on in this country. They talk about giving $400 for peace marches, but they will not tell us what their taxation policy is. If we give those opposite time in this House, why do they not talk about something that the Australian people want to hear about? It is because every time they put up a policy it gets shot full of holes. That is why they will not give us another policy-they are too scared; that is, if they have got one, and I doubt whether they have. I will talk about matters of public importance, not the drivel that those opposite serve up.

If we want to talk about real waste in this country, we need only to look at the past of those opposite and the things they have done on taxation. They have opposed the Australia Card. This Government has introduced a policy and the Australia Card Bill to overcome waste in this country, waste in the taxation system and waste in the social security system. What do those opposite do? They oppose the Australia Card. I have not spoken about the Opposition's matter of public importance a great deal because I think it is irrelevant, just as those opposite are. I am talking about the matters of public importance that matter in this country. All that those opposite are is a hopeless group of individuals led by a leader who is going nowhere. He will be replaced next February. Those opposite are going nowhere. If they want to talk about margins, mine is looking better every day. While those opposite serve up drivel like this, they are at the sideshow. This Government is getting on with the real job of getting this country back on the rails. At the next election those opposite can talk about this drivel and I will talk about what we have been doing. I can tell honourable members who will come off the better.