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Thursday, 19 February 1987
Page: 357

Mr SAUNDERSON —Did the Minister for Social Security see today's Australian Financial Review, which reports a statement made by the honourable member for Maranoa--

Mr Ian Cameron —He can't read.

Mr SAUNDERSON —The honourable member will be interested in this. The newspaper reports a statement made by the honourable member for Maranoa on the possible need to cut pensions in real terms. Can the Minister inform the House of the possible impact of such a move?

Mr HOWE —I can do a little better than the report in the Australian Financial Review. I take the House to the transcript of the 12.30 Report yesterday. It is being suggested by some of my colleagues that it ought to be made clear to the House that the honourable member for Maranoa is not just an ordinary back bencher; he represents--

Mr Hawke —He is a surrogate.

Mr HOWE —The Prime Minister has just suggested that he is a surrogate. I would suggest that he is the pro tem de facto leader of the National Party. I know that the honourable member's views on morality would make him particularly offended by the term `de facto'. It will be recalled that apparently within the National Party room yesterday there was something of a struggle. As I understand it, the honourable member for Gippsland, I think, and the honourable member for Maranoa got into holts and things got pretty rugged. So the honourable member for Maranoa rushed out to do some interviews. I have here a transcript of the interview. Honourable members will recall that he has already made clear to the House today his position in relation to consumption tax; he is against it. Presumably he is against it on behalf of Joh and-we are not so sure-probably on behalf of the National Party.

Mr Ian Cameron —Madam Speaker, I raise a point of order. I am opposed to consumption taxes on my own behalf and my constituents' behalf.

Madam SPEAKER —It is not really a point of order but a point of clarification.

Mr HOWE —The honourable member was asked about the policies that he is advocating and he said, as has been said by the conservatives and by the New Right, that there have to be deep cuts. He said:

. . . when I say cuts I mean cuts that every Australian is going to squeal like a stuck pig because they are all going to suffer.

They are going to squeal like a stuck pig. That is the rural analogy coming from a pro tem member of the cowshed cabinet. He continued:

because right now everyone of us has got his hand in the till and we got to get it out of the till if we're going to get this country up and moving again.

Naturally enough, the interviewer was interested to pursue just where these cuts were going to be. That is something that oppositions do not like to reveal, but the pro tem leader was very frank. He was asked:

Can we assume then that you would also advocate the re-introduction of tertiary fees, the means testing of family allowances, measures like that that will be necessary to achieve that sort of . . .

The honourable member replied strongly:

Yes I believe that we have to make those decisions and we have to bite the bullet on the whole range of government hand-outs and government finances.

The interviewer said:

Nothing's sacred.

The honourable member said:

No nothing's sacred.

The National Party is something else. The interviewer said:

Defence. Defence spending should be cut.

The honourable member said:

Defence spending, I guess that's something that we have to maintain.

Mr Spender —Madam Speaker, I raise a point of order. What the Minister is doing, apart from taking up a great deal of time unnecessarily and deliberately, is travelling well beyond his portfolio into all kinds of areas that have nothing to do with it. Therefore he is out of order in doing that and should be told that he is out of order in doing that so that Question Time can be properly run in this House.

Madam SPEAKER —Ministers in this House for many years have chosen to answer questions in their own manner. I would suggest, though, now that the Minister get to the question.

Mr HOWE —Madam Speaker, I would be delighted to relate my remarks to my portfolio almost immediately, but let me just complete the quote. The honourable member said:

Defence spending, I guess that's something that we have to maintain. I guess that's probably one thing that is a bit sacred.

The interviewer then asked:

What about pensions?

The honourable member replied:

Pensions. I guess the pensioners might have to stand still . . . if we can have less taxes-

less expenditure-

there's no reason why we should be giving pensioners or anybody else in the community any more funds.

The heart of the issue and the fundamental problem with the Opposition is that it is more than willing to talk tough and to run around the country making all sorts of promises but, when it gets right down to it, it gets down to very difficult decisions. The record of this Government shows such integrity because this Government has been prepared to make difficult choices, to take tough decisions and to avoid the kind of situation of the honourable member for Maranoa. I can understand why he would want to single out welfare for cuts. As I reminded the House, effectively he is acting as a front man for the northern warrior.

Mr Goodluck —Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of clarification. I find this most offensive. Actually, I am sick of Joh Bjelke-Petersen.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member will resume his seat.

Mr Goodluck —And I am sick of some of the things that have happened this week.

Madam SPEAKER —Sit down.

Mr Goodluck —What about this country?

Madam SPEAKER —Sit down. Order! The honourable member for Franklin will sit down. The Chair gave the honourable member for Franklin a fair amount of latitude then. I suggest he not repeat the performance.

Mr HOWE —I conclude my remarks by pointing to the fact that the interviewer offered the honourable member a simple choice, on which he was clear. He said that it is pensions that have to stand still; it is pensions that have to be cut in real terms.

Yesterday we heard something about bankruptcies in Queensland. The position that I have been dealing with today is reflected in the allocation given by the Premier of Queensland. If we look at the estimates for net State expenditure on welfare, Queensland stands at $34 per capita, which is lower than any other State in Australia.