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Friday, 28 November 1986
Page: 3977

Mr HAWKE (Prime Minister)(3.07) —The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) has just made a speech, the quality of which may be tested by the fact that he began with and ended with a blatant and deliberate misrepresentation of what I said. In regard to the action of the Treasurer (Mr Keating), I said it was a fault; I said it was not one of immense consequence. Those were my words. Because the Leader of the Opposition knows that that was a correct statement, he could not found his motion of censure on the words which I used. At the outset, the quality and the sincerity of the motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition are to be judged by the fact that he deliberately chose not to base his motion on the words that I used because he knows that if he had attempted to do so on those words he would have been laughed out of court. He will be, at any rate, but he will be judged by the fact that he sought to censure the Prime Minister of this country and deliberately based his motion on words other than the words that I used. He is out of court from the beginning.

He is out of court, secondly, on the fact that his motion is scarred and characterised by the most blatant hypocrisy because, in the course of his pathetic speech, he referred to the fact that he would compare the standards of propriety of this Government with those of its predecessors. In the course of doing that, he had the temerity to refer to the findings of a royal commission during the office of this Government. All right, Madam Speaker, if he is to introduce the question of comparative standards of propriety, let us remind ourselves at the outset of what happened under the Fraser Government. The language of the Woodward Royal Commission into the Australian Meat Industry in relation to the standards of behaviour of a Minister of that Government was such that it was commonly acknowledged around this country that any Prime Minister in those circumstances would have had no alternative, if he were to follow the standards of normal propriety of behaviour, but to dismiss that Minister immediately. Such was the strength of the language of the royal commissioner appointed by the Fraser Government into the behaviour of the Minister concerned. But no, those opposite ignored, repudiated, the language, the findings, the decisions, the observations, of the royal commissioner. Worse than that, not only were they content with ignoring that language but they attempted virtually to bring into question the integrity of the royal commissioner himself. This Leader of the Opposition brings his baseless motion, his dishonest motion. It is dishonest in the sense, let me say, that he based it on language that I did not use. If one is going to attempt to censure the Prime Minister one should at least have the honesty to use the language that the Prime Minister used.

The weakness of the case of the Leader of the Opposition is that he recognised that he could not base it on the language I used and so quite deliberately put other words into my mouth. We do not need any other basis on which to test the integrity, character and quality of the attack launched by the Leader of the Opposition. If he ever reaches a point where he can honestly state what is said and what is done, there is just the beginning of a chance that those in this place and outside this place might begin to listen to what he has to say. It should come as no surprise, as indeed it does not, that he has no capacity to put the case based on an honest premise. This so-called man of principle, having been drubbed by the Australian electorate for the abandonment of any pretence of principle and having now been politically paralysed for months by his lack of leadership over any serious issue facing this country, has learned nothing from that process. He stood on his so-called principles and he lost. He played politics and he lost. Now he seeks to play the man, and he will lose again.

This is simply a motion born of fear. It has no other string, no other source. It is a motion born of fear. The Leader of the Opposition knows that he simply cannot match the Treasurer in this place. He has not got the guts, the courage, the wit or the wisdom to attempt to match the Treasurer on a matter of substance. As I say that of the Leader of the Opposition, what about the person who sits in the chair opposite now and who is going to second the motion? Have we ever seen such a pathetic performer, one so incapable of beginning to match the Treasurer in debate on matters of substance? They cannot do it, so in this position of abject incompetence and total fear they attempt to play the man. They will lose again. As I said, both the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Treasurer simply are afraid to take on this outstanding Treasurer on matters properly within his portfolio; they never take him on. What is a characteristic of this place as far as the Treasurer is concerned? It is the consistent and continual lack of courage on the part of the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Treasurer ever to begin to take him on because they know that, in terms of command of his portfolio and in terms of his competence, they get smashed into oblivion on the occasions when they have remotely begun to try to take him on. We have reached the stage in fact where, because of their fear of the man, they have lost the stomach for the fight on matters of policy and substance.

They not only lack that courage, but also hide their policies. They will not bring them out; they are afraid to bring them into the sun. It is on that basis, a basis which is a factual exposition of what has been happening in this place, that they now seek to attack the man. It is a measure of their desperation and it is a measure of the personal quality of the Leader of the Opposition. It is the final straw that these men of straw seek to clutch at.

Let us examine the straw. The Treasurer has failed to lodge his tax return by the due date. That is a fact. As I have said, and I repeat, I will use the language again that I used in answer to a question, not the language that the Leader of the Opposition quite improperly and deliberately attributed to me. What I said was a factual statement of the position, that is, that for an ordinary pay as you earn taxpayer this would not be a matter of immense consequence. I will repeat that statement not only in this place but also outside. If the Leader of the Opposition says that he will use this on the campaign trail, there are two things wrong with that: Firstly, he will not be the Leader of the Opposition on the campaign trail so he will not have the opportunity of using it. I say that simply because I believe that that is what the Opposition will do, but as I believe it I will each day and night pray that I am wrong because I hope that he is still there leading those opposite. It happens to be the case that the people of Australia on whose behalf he purports to come into this place and speak have expressed their judgment about him and are continuing to show, like at least half the people behind him, that they do not trust him, that they reckon he is a sham and that they reckon he is a fraud. Look at the polls. He is assuming proportions such as those of the previous member for Bruce. He is a joke out in the electorate and because he is a joke he comes in here trying to play the man.

I repeat what I said before: The fact is that the Treasurer failed to lodge his return. That is a fault which he has honestly, openly and without qualification conceded. That is beyond dispute. I repeat: The fact that he failed to lodge the return is not of itself a matter of immense consequence. It would be if indeed he was trying to advantage himself, but the fact is that the fault has been one which has cost him money. The situation, as I understand it and as the Treasurer understands it, is that he will be entitled to a refund, so it cannot be said that the fault, of which he is certainly guilty, of not lodging his return is one that has been engaged in either deliberately or by oversight to financially advantage himself. To the extent that it is a fault-and it is-the financial sufferer will be the Treasurer himself. But if we listened to this Leader of the Opposition, would we have believed that? No, because at the very beginning he attempted to equate the action of the Treasurer with those activities in this community which I and the Treasurer have previously condemned and which we will go on condemning, that is, the activities of avoidance and evasion which added up to billions of dollars and which cost the ordinary decent people of this country, for whom he hypocritically claims to speak now-these ordinary decent people who the Leader of the Opposition said are going to be knocking on the doors in Bankstown and in the electorate of Barton. These are the ordinary people that the Leader of the Opposition robbed-that is what happened-because he allowed the tax avoiders, the tax evaders, to get away with billions of dollars. Because he allowed the privileged few to get away with billions of dollars, it is these people in the electorate of Barton, the ordinary people of Australia, who have suffered, not because of any oversight but because deliberately, as their own royal commissioner said, those opposite allowed the tax avoidance and evasion industry to become the fastest growing industry in this country. It is a measure of the hypocrisy, the indecency, of the Leader of the Opposition that he would seek to equate that behaviour, which did indeed rob and hurt the people of this country, with the fault of the Treasurer in not lodging his return. If the Leader of the Opposition believes that he can sell that pup to the Australian electorate, it is yet another indication of his intelligence and the insult he gives to the intelligence of the Australian electorate. The electorate will not buy that attempt to equate that behaviour which he condoned with the oversight, the fault, of the Treasurer in this case.

There is no question, therefore, of ministerial propriety. There is no question of financial gain. The Treasurer is indeed the financial loser as a result of his own fault in this case. That of itself, I suggest, dismisses immediately any proposition that there is impropriety on his part. There is not. The Leader of the Opposition demands the resignation of the Treasurer of this country. The Leader of the Opposition is the one who ought to be thinking about the security of his office and his position because it is well known that half his own members are just waiting for the moment to throw him out of his office. I believe that will happen. It will happen because those behind him share the opinion of the overwhelming majority of the electorate. It is the opinion of the overwhelming majority of the electorate that he is a man of no principle, no substance; a man completely of expediency. It is that expediency, that lack of principle, out of which is born this pathetic motion which I and the Government reject with contempt.