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Friday, 20 February 1987
Page: 461

Mr ROBERT BROWN —My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. I preface my question by referring to the continuing widespread community interest in questions of longer term economic adjustment and the continuing incapacity of the Opposition to make any contribution to that debate. I ask the Prime Minister to remind the House of the strategies being applied by his Government towards revitalising the Australian economy.

Mr HAWKE —I thank the honourable member for his penetrating and very relevant question. As to the policies of this Government, I remind him that not only did we, immediately on coming to office, undertake those policies that were necessary to rescue the economy from that worst recession in 50 years-the responsibility of the current Leader of the Opposition-but also we realised that we had to start immediately on a basic longer term strategy of restructuring the Australian economy. The honourable member, from his well known understanding of economic history and the economics of this country, would appreciate that when we came to office in March 1983, for 30 of the previous 33 years the control of the economy was in the hands of the Liberal and Country parties, and what a mess they made of it. So we set about the business of the fundamental restructuring of the economy.

Of particular interest to the honourable member, of course, is the situation of the steel industry. When we came to office Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd was seriously considering whether it would close down the steel industry altogether. That was its judgment. We said to the Australian people: `No Labor Government would contemplate, let alone tolerate-

Mr Sinclair —Why didn't you give the same help to small business?

Mr HAWKE —Be quiet, passing leader, your time has gone. The honourable member would know that we said that no Australian Labor Government would tolerate contemplation of the closing down of the steel industry. So we set about bringing in a plan, within almost 100 days of coming to office, which has revolutionised the steel industry from being one in contemplation of being closed down to one which has now been transformed into one of the most competitive, export oriented steel industries in the world. There has been a remarkable increase in productivity in the steel industry because of the outstanding co-operation we achieved between the industry, the unions, relevant State governments and the Commonwealth Government.

What we have done in the steel industry we have also moved to do in the restructuring of the Australian motor vehicle industry, the heavy engineering industry, the shipbuilding industry and the textiles, clothing and footwear industries. The honourable member will be aware of what we have been able to do in terms of the longer term economic restructuring of Australia. So our record is clear. It makes one wonder what to expect in the area of economic policy from the Leader of the Opposition. No doubt the honourable member, like all of us, looked forward with bated breath to the speech which the Leader of the Opposition delivered to the National Press Club earlier this month. I do not know whether, as a form of intellectual masochism, the honourable member has yet taken the opportunity to read it.

Mr Sinclair —Come on, wind up. This is a total abuse of Question Time and you know it, little boy.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The Leader of the National Party will cease interjecting.

Mr Sinclair —I suggest this is totally out of order. If he wants to make a speech, he can do it, but not within Question Time. He is hopeless, and you know it.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The House will come to order, including the Leader of the National Party.

Mr HAWKE —We looked to this speech for the statement of record, the outlook of what the Leader of the Opposition would do. I will go to only two or three pages and share these thoughts with the honourable member. On the first page we had this observation from the Leader of the Opposition, when he said:

Our higher education policy which-

Mr Spender —Madam Speaker, I raise a point of order. It is a very simple one. Under the Standing Orders it is provided-

Government members interjecting-

Madam SPEAKER —Order! I would appreciate it if those on my right would be silent.

Mr Spender —Yes, the kiddies are a little restless today. Under the Standing Orders it is provided that questions may be asked on those matters within the portfolio responsibilities of Ministers and the Prime Minister. Madam Speaker, you raised this objection on 9 September 1981 and you will recall that you got a favourable ruling on that occasion. This matter is dealt with on page 489 of House of Representatives Practice. In the past it has been ruled in this House, amongst other things, that questions which have been ruled out of order and, therefore, answers which should be ruled out of order, have included:

Statements . . . of the Minister's own party or of its conferences or officials, or of those of other parties, including opposition parties, . . .

If we are to have a serious Question Time which is directed towards the issues before the House and within Standing Orders, the Prime Minister should answer questions directed to those matters and not use it as a Max Gillies opportunity to try to divert himself from matters within his responsibility. It is not an occasion to use statements made by leaders of the opposition or anybody else outside Parliament. That has been the ruling in the past and it is the ruling that should be followed here now.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! I suggest to the honourable member for North Sydney that it has been the practice of many Speakers before me to give latitude to the Leader of the Opposition, the Leader of the National Party and the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister's portfolio ranges widely as he is the Prime Minister. However, I suggest that questions should be shortened. I call the Prime Minister.

Opposition members interjecting-

Mr HAWKE —It is not in my power to shorten the question, Madam Speaker.

Madam SPEAKER —I suggest to the House that the Chair has no authority to shorten the answers, but I can give advice that questions and answers are becoming quite long. It might be an idea if we cut them back.

Mr HAWKE —With due deference to your ruling, Madam Speaker, I will be briefer in dealing with this question than I otherwise would have been. I make this observation: One can understand why the Opposition wants to hide its statement of policies. On the first page of the Leader of the Opposition's speech he referred in these terms to the education policy:

Our Higher Education policy which contains some exciting proposals to meet the needs of the 30,000 to 40,000 young Australians locked out of tertiary--

Mr Sinclair —I suggest that none of this is relevant to the question.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! I have dealt with the point of order. Are you raising another point of order?

Mr Sinclair —I am raising a point of order. I suggest that within the Standing Orders it is necessary for the Prime Minister to be relevant to the question. He is referring to matters not within his responsibility. This is a specific matter canvassed by the Leader of the Opposition; it is not a matter which has been raised by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is using this matter as an excuse to deliver a political diatribe which he could more appropriately deliver by way of a statement to the House. I suggest, Madam Speaker, that you should apply the Standing Orders of relevance, even though the man delivering the answer is the Prime Minister.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! In regard to the point of order, the matter of relevance has been canvassed in the House on a number of occasions and, as I have pointed out on a number of occasions, relevance is very often a matter of opinion. In regard to the Prime Minister answering the question, it has been the practice of many back benchers to sit in this place and listen to longer answers than we have been getting today. Nevertheless, I caution those on my right that the answers have been getting longer and I would appreciate it if they accepted my advice to shorten them.

Mr HAWKE —I will not go any further than two paragraphs of the speech from which honourable members on this side of the House and, I think, those on the other side will see what weight they can attach to the assessments of the Leader of the Opposition. He concluded his speech in these terms:

The Federal Coalition between the Liberal and National Parties is one of the great success stories of Australian politics. Recent days have demonstrated the strength of that Coalition.