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Tuesday, 24 February 1987
Page: 629


Mr CARLTON(8.30) —The Opposition welcomes this opportunity to debate with the Government where Australia is going, where the present Government is taking Australia, and where Australia might be taken if there is a change of government at the next election. The Minister for Social Security (Mr Howe) is one of the best examples of a high-minded socialist, the practical effect of whose policies is to disadvantage the poor and to affect ordinary families adversely. The Minister himself, when addressing a group of his own kind within the Victorian Branch of the Australian Labor Party, described the Hawke Labor Government as `a mule with no future'. He, like the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Hand), who is the factional leader of his Party in Victoria, criticised the Hawke Government for leaving the poor worse off than they were before this Government came to office. It is the same old thing always with a socialist government-the people who lose out are the genuine poor and the people who come out on top are those clever, smooth people with bureaucratic smoothness who manage to get themselves at the head of the queue. I shall take the Minister up in very detailed terms as to just where people stand after four years of Hawke government.


Mr Cleeland —By comparison, I hope.


Mr CARLTON —By comparison, yes. Let us talk about practical matters. Before Mr Keating became Treasurer, before this Government came to office, the average food bill for a week was about $80 and now it is $105. Home repayments in the State of New South Wales for an average loan for the ordinary family-nobody special, no white-shoe brigade involved-at interest rates then prevailing were $436 per month; they are now $528 a month. For the ordinary family that decided to insure itself for a bed in a private hospital if its members needed it and could not get into a public hospital and were in a queue, if one takes Medicare payments and private insurance together and compares them with what happened before Keating, before the Hawke Government, health insurance costs then were $9.10 per week for that family and are now $15.44 a week, which takes into account the taxation differences. For a family of two adults and two children on average weekly earnings for a full time adult male-that is an average family with a single income-the weekly tax in 1983 when the Hawke Government came to office was $57.94. Would you believe it, Madam Speaker, the weekly tax bill for that family is now $106.19!

What other things do we have to worry about in addition to family tax? Family tax, incidentally, has gone up from an average of 17 1/2c in the dollar for the average family on average weekly earnings under the previous Government to 20 1/2c in the dollar, even after all the so-called Keating tax reforms. The same family paid a top marginal rate of tax in March 1983 when the Hawke Government came to office of 30c in the dollar. At the end of the so-called Keating reforms the marginal rate is 40c in the dollar and that is not taking into account the extra 1.25 per cent for Medicare.

Let me turn to interest rates. I talked earlier about home mortgage repayments, but interest rates affect every family in a number of ways. A savings bank home loan at an 11.5 per cent interest rate when the Hawke Government came to office is now at 15.5 per cent. For the small business person the small overdraft rate when the Hawke Government came to office was 14.5 per cent, and is now 20.5 per cent. What is even more disgraceful is that, in those areas where the Minister for Social Security claims to have a special interest, we find that the number of people on waiting lists for public housing-for housing commission homes, those who clearly are unable to afford private rentals and cannot afford to buy their own home-under the Labor Government, dripping with concern for the poor, has gone up from 124,000 to 158,000.

What about waiting lists in public hospitals under the much-vaunted Medicare scheme? The Government promised that nine out of ten Australians would be better off under Medicare, that they would have cheaper, better health care under Medicare. To take the State of Victoria alone, I point out to those who followed the Minister for Health (Dr Blewett), and believed his promise that if they dropped their private insurance there would be a bed waiting for them free in the public hospital, that queues in public hospitals in Victoria now total 34,000 compared with 10,000 before the advent of Medicare and the Hawke Government. I never know why Ministers such as the Minister for Social Security in the Hawke Government get so caught up by their compassion that they overlook the basic facts.

I went out to the electorate of Bankstown in Sydney during a State by-election. I went into the heart of the electorate which is occupied by the Treasurer and in which electorate the Labor vote dropped by 20 percentage points in the State election. It was claimed by the Treasurer as a great victory that the Labor vote dropped by 20 percentage points. The reason was that the food bills in Bankstown under Keating had gone up from $80 to $105; home repayments had gone up from $436 per month to $528 per month; the cost of health had gone up from $9.10 a week to $15.44 a week; and for the family on average weekly earnings the weekly tax bill had gone up from $57.94 to $106.19.

The bottom line for this Government and the things that are hurting in the community are as follows: After four years of Labor government, after four years of the accord, which collapsed a couple of weeks ago, after all the promises we had made at the National Economic Summit, in this very room, Australian people are noticing that we have falling real wages after inflation, we have higher family and business taxes, and we have rising prices. Indeed, prices have gone up by nearly 10 per cent in the last year, which is five times what people in other countries similar to ours are experiencing. In other words, prices here have gone up 10 per cent versus 2 per cent in those countries with which we compete. For 15 relentless months interest rates have been at their highest levels in real terms since the Great Depression, driving people into bankruptcy and into household despondency. Unemployment is still over 8 per cent. In regard to youth unemployment, one-fifth of our youth are still unemployed, despite the promises of Hawke and the Summit; and we now have a crisis in home purchase and rental housing. I refer to the poorest people, the ones who are the most inarticulate, those who are least able to fend for themselves and to get to the head of the queues. In Victoria, just taking one State as an example, there are 34,000 in the hospital queues compared with 10,000 four years ago. There has been almost a fifty per cent increase in the number of poor people on the waiting list for Housing Commission homes.

Is it any wonder that, in the opinion polls that will be published tomorrow in the Bulletin, the Government's standing, despite the most extraordinary public relations bonanza over the last two weeks, has fallen to 42 per cent. Despite the bonanza over the last two weeks, its standing is rock bottom, and it is rock bottom because ordinary people understand that there are falling real wages, higher family and business taxes, rising prices, high interest rates, continuing high unemployment-particularly for youth-and a crisis in home purchase and rental housing.

What alibi does the Treasurer have for this gross failure in economic policy? What excuse does he have for the failure of the accord? What excuse does the Government have for the failure of all of those higher ideals and objectives that were so eloquently put to the people in this chamber on national television during the National Economic Summit in 1983? What excuses do they have? Let me look at the alibis. I suppose that the alibis that the Treasurer uses are the same as the alibis he uses for not putting in a tax return-`I forgot'-and the alibi he uses for claiming a travelling allowance which is clearly insupportable on the rules, because he forgot where he was actually living--


Mr John Brown —What about Anthony, Nixon and Sinclair? You have forgotten about them, have you, you hypocrite.


Mr CARLTON —He forgot where his principal place of residence was. If the Minister for a good time and good overseas travel, the Minister for Sport, Recreation and Tourism, wishes to draw attention to himself in this debate, let him do so. Let him also explain why he is letting a contract to an American firm in regard to the Exposition in Brisbane. Let the Minister at the table explain in this debate why he thinks an American firm can do a better job in constructing an Aboriginal display in our national exposition in Brisbane. We are prepared to take on any Minister in this debate. The Government brought it on. Who is taking part in the debate? We had leading it the clown and jester, Mr Young, the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, as he now is.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) —Order! The honourable member for Mackellar should refer to Ministers and other members by their titles or electorates.


Mr CARLTON —I am sorry, Mr Deputy Speaker; I recognise that. We have also the Minister for Social Security. But where is the Prime Minister? He should be defending the Government's record in this debate. Where is the Treasurer? Where are the other senior Ministers? Where are the people who are responsible for this? They have alibis. They say: `It is terrible. There was a deterioration in the terms of trade'. Of course there was a deterioration in the terms of trade. There has been one for the last 20 years. The period with which Government members seek to draw a comparison is the period during which they came to government-1982-83-a period of collapse in the world economy and the worst drought we have ever had, and one of the most destructive periods of trade unionism in Australia, led by the present Prime Minister. They compare all of their statistics with that period.

I have here a booklet called `Accord: The First 2 Years'. It is a glossy booklet prepared at taxpayers' expense to tell us that in the first two years of the accord everything was wonderful. Well, in the first two years of the accord many things did pick up. They picked up because the drought broke. They picked up because the world economy picked up. They picked up because the Fraser Government had implemented a wages pause, which restrained wages and inflation. That is what picked up. But there is no new booklet showing the second two years of the accord, because the second two years of the accord involved a period of falling real wages, higher family and business taxes, rising prices, high interest rates, continuing high unemployment, particularly for youth, and a crisis in home purchase and home rental. Overall, without doubt, this Government has totally failed, and it is quite clear to everybody in the community that it has failed. I have said before, and I will say again, that high interest rates will be the death of this Government.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member's time has expired. I call the honourable member for McEwen.


Mr McGauran —Bring on the heavyweights.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Gippsland will cease interjecting or he might not be here for long enough to hear the heavyweights.