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Wednesday, 25 February 1987
Page: 715

Mr MILLAR(4.00) —There are no two ways about it. The innocent, the uninformed, sitting in the gallery listening to the remarks of the honourable member for Streeton (Mr Lamb) would be immediately impressed with his erudition and the lucidity of his presentation on economics, knowledge of which, by his own remarks, we are totally lacking on this side. That thought, no doubt, would be instantly replaced by the one as to why a government containing members of such blinding brilliance should be in control of a country that is rapidly sinking further and further into the mire. It strikes me as being somewhat similar to sharing a plunging lift with the honourable member and being comforted by his expert knowledge as to why the cable broke. What we must do, of course, is to ensure that the cable does not degenerate to a point at which we are at risk. In this country we have been singularly inattentive to that requirement for too long.

We have before us now a situation in which we are leaving an evil legacy to our children and our children's children and so on. We have done this simply by indulging ourselves, encouraged by governments which are committed to the view that a basic requirement of governments within a democracy is to accommodate the expectations of the electorate, with an overconcentration on the next election and little thought for the next generation. That is one of the inevitable consequences of democracy which no doubt moved Winston Churchill to describe it as the worst possible form of government except all the others because governments of necessity are bound to govern within the parameters of acceptability by the electorate and therefore not govern as wisely as perhaps they know they should, or as we certainly know they should. The inescapable fact is that a penalty attaches to that; a cost attaches to it; and it is now before our eyes.

This House is painfully aware of it, to the extent that today the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) in answering a question without notice from me in Question Time, which I acknowledge was a little curly, spoke with greater candour than he has within my memory. For the first time he acknowledged that the solution to this problem is not within the hands of government, that it is dependent on the support and awareness of our community in the broad. It is a matter of attitudes. I acknowledge that these attitudes have been forming for more years than those for which the Government is immediately responsible but these things took their rise during the Whitlam era. Within a period of weeks and months our electorate was encouraged to believe that expectation is synonymous with entitlement. There is invariably a substantial gulf between expectation and entitlement, and the irony of it is that the faster one goes to meet the expectation the greater the gulf becomes. This is evidenced in our social welfare programs. In spite of the best efforts of this and previous governments, over a period of years and after the expenditure of thousands of millions of dollars to relieve the problems of the needy, we are confronted with the awful paradox of having numerous people in more need.

Clearly, if we are dependent entirely on the attitude of the electorate, when people are imbued with the notion that that which they want they can have, we are in a dire predicament. It behoves us to come clean and tell the Australian people the precise nature of our circumstances. Perhaps there was just a glimmer of light in the Prime Minister's remarks today. I could be excused some doubt as to whether the Government would bite the bullet, but the bullet must be bitten. The thought that the future of our children is being mortgaged and that the prospects for ordinary development of this country are at an all-time low are more than we can contemplate with any peace of mind. When we get down to the fundamentals of it-we have this huge national debt and the realisation that the export earnings from wool, beef and wheat are absorbed in totality to pay the interest only on our national debt-it is an incredible state of affairs, yet with an historical inevitability we have pursued our folly. For those who have a thought for such matters it can be traced through the record of man. It is quite clear that we cannot handle the good times. If one studies man and his progression or retrogression, one will find a constant pattern, and if one projects that pattern into graph form one will see a rise to greatness from adversity, a plateauing out wherein there is time to lose touch with reality and plunge to adversity.

It calls for wise, persuasive and honest government to persuade people to accept the enormity of the problem which presently confronts us. Why do honourable members think an invader from the north is threatening to descend upon the scene? It is a product only of the disillusionment of the electorate, if I may be pardoned for saying so. Both sides of this House have endeavoured to find solutions within the parameters of conventionality when, in fact, we are in an exceedingly unconventional position. The ordinary cures will not repair our circumstances. Our country is afflicted with a malaise-a cancer, if one likes. For it to surrender to the treatment necessary to the restoration of good health it must firstly have confidence in the diagnostician and the surgeon to whom it must submit. To fill either or both of those roles it is essential for the Government to come clean. The Government knows with an absolute certainty what is wrong with the country. For heaven's sake, if the Prime Minister does not know what is wrong and what must be done to remedy the situation, who in this country could possibly know better? We are entitled to our respective views, of course, as to how best it could be handled, but the Government knows what is wrong with this country. It would help enormously if it came clean and told the electorate what is wrong with it and explained its dereliction thus far by trying to resolve the problem within conventional parameters. It should tell the electorate that it tried to accommodate the electorate's expectations but that the day of reckoning is upon us. I am sure that not one member of the Government does not acknowledge in his heart of hearts the truth of what I am saying.

Without wishing to affront the intelligence of people, there is little difference between bringing up a family, running a corner store and governing a country in fundamental terms. Within the family the children know instantly what they want but the parents, hopefully having acquired a modicum of wisdom through experience, are obliged to make a judgment on two points: Firstly, is it good for them and, secondly, can we afford it? If the answer is no on either score the kids instantly hate the parents' guts but they cannot vote them out in the next election. That is the only essential point of difference. This Government has compounded the mischief initiated by the Whitlam Government in encouraging the people out there to believe that what they ask for they can have. We have moved towards their expectations, and we have mortgaged the futures of our children and our children's children.

What can we do about it? The first thing is to spell out where the cancer in our body is located and whether it must be excised or subjected to radiation and treated. Oppositions are traditionally at risk in such a situation of, if not asserting, at least inferring that they can cure the cancer by rubbing ointment on it. Naturally the patient, relieved of the awful prospect of going under the knife, has an inclination to turn towards them. But this Opposition is endeavouring to point out to Australia the enormity of the problems confronting us. The extent to which it may be able to persuade the electorate to recognise and support the measures proposed remains to be seen, but surely to goodness we can at least be honest with the electorate. To persist in being dishonest with it, as we have been-not only this Government, but this Government in particular-will mean that we will simply destroy this institution which is all we have between us and anarchy.

The minutes are short; the days are short; it may be even too late now, but at least we have to try. The people out there who, disillusioned with not being able to meet the repayments on their houses or their cars or their overseas trips, whilst I have a passing sympathy for them, must be brought to a realisation that that which we expect is not necessarily synonymous with that to which we are entitled. Just ponder the fact that in this proud country, subject to some aberrations, with a mere 16 million people competing for a toehold on this planet with a population of 6,000 million, what an inexcusable conceit it is for us to strut and swagger in our belief that we are masters of our destiny. We are subject to that global market-place, and it is no good deluding ourselves into believing that we have a right here. If we do not earn our place under the sun out there the outcome is beyond doubt.