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Thursday, 30 April 1987
Page: 2275

Ms McHUGH(1.50) —I must congratulate the honourable member for Moore (Mr Blanchard) for moving this motion on the inequality and distribution of income and wealth in Australia. For a start, it has exposed the fact that members of the Opposition do not even know what we are talking about. Both Opposition speakers have referred to the myth that we on this side hate those in Australia-they have each used the word `hate'-who have acquired great wealth. All we ask is that Australian wealth be shared by all Australians. I must say I have to agree with the comments of the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Donald Cameron) about the inequality of distribution of numbers within the Federal parliamentary Labor Party.

This motion exposes the myth that we are an egalitarian society. It draws attention to those at the bottom of the heap in Australian society and to those at the very top, and to the large gap that divides them. Let us talk first about those on the bottom. Since the Minister for Social Security (Mr Howe) established the social security review in December 1985, we have started to see some of the community myths destroyed-myths which have been around for years and which have been perpetuated by members of the Opposition. The first of the social security review issues papers has shown that it is the families with children, families on low and middle incomes and sole parent families that are now suffering the most severe financial hardship. The statistics are very disturbing. Twenty per cent of children now live in families below the poverty line, while 50 per cent of sole mothers-that is, mothers struggling to bring up their children-live below the poverty line. The figures are lower, but hardly less comforting, for single fathers. Nineteen per cent of sole fathers are in the same position, trying to keep their children while living below the poverty line.

One of the myths that has been debunked is that relating to sole parents. For the first time, because of this review, we have a thorough analysis of sole parent families which shows that much of what the community thinks about sole parents is just fiction. There is a firmly entrenched community myth that the supporting parent's benefit has encouraged teenagers to choose motherhood instead of the boredom and low status associated with being unemployed. In fact, the proportion of teenage single mothers has actually decreased in the last 10 years. Only 4 per cent of all supporting parents are teenagers. Most sole parents-85 per cent-are separated or divorced; that is, the single parents come from very established relationships, most of them marriages, and the major increase has been in the number of women sole parents aged between 25 and 44 years. So much for the myth of the teenage single parent.

As poverty has grown, so too has inequality in wealth and income. In Australia today, in relative terms, the rich are richer and the poor poorer than at any time since 1942. Today the wealthiest one per cent of the population owns one quarter of all personal wealth. The wealthiest 5 per cent owns one-half of all personal wealth. At the top end, 80,000 Australians own $125 billion, or $1.5m each, and at the bottom more than 2.6 million Australians depend on social welfare benefits. I was glad to hear the honourable member for Barker (Mr Porter) refer to the difficulty that some people have buying an ordinary old Ford Laser car. To demonstrate what this disproportion means in concrete terms, just imagine if the wealth of the top one per cent were redistributed. It would provide a modest suburban home and a Ford Laser for every member of the bottom 20 per cent in Australia. If Mr Holmes a Court's personal wealth alone were redistributed, it would be roughly equivalent to a portable television for every one of the bottom 20 per cent of Australian households.

We do not hate those who have great wealth. As I say, that word `hate' was used by both speakers from the other side. We want Australian wealth to be shared by all Australians. Large corporations change hands for thousands of millions of dollars; business magazines join in conspicuous praise for Australia's multi-millionaires. The rich, it seems, keep getting richer. The poor have been frequently studied, but it is about time that the wealthy were studied. We have had many studies of the poor, including the myriad volumes of the poverty inquiry in the 1970s, but the rich have not attracted the same attention, leaving us with a very distorted picture of the inequalities in Australian society. What we need is an inquiry into wealth. Such an inquiry would be crucial for the evidence it would provide on the accumulation and ownership of wealth. But, in the interim, the quality of work available in Australia and the agreement in findings enables realistic estimates to be made of the total value, composition and distribution of the wealth there is to be made in Australia.

The figures show sharp extremes between the rich and the poor, between the 25,000 millionaires and the two million Australians living below the poverty line. It is sickeningly hypocritical for the New Right and the conservatives to be threatening to slash government spending when so many of their number refuse to pay their fair share of tax. That is all we ask: For a redistribution of wealth and for a fair share of tax to be paid. For example, in the year June 1985 to June 1986 Elders-IXL Ltd, run by the treasurer of the Liberal Party, increased its pre-tax profit by over 100 per cent, to around $233m, and yet paid only 10 per cent company tax. How does it pay only 10 per cent company tax when the company tax rate is 46 per cent? Easy-it borrows billions of tax deductible dollars from overseas.

Treasurer Keating has suggested that it is a crass political remark from a millionaire businessman, John Elliott, to talk about taking his headquarters off-shore. The Treasurer says Mr Elliott is whingeing about further tax concessions for business while his dry mates in the Liberal Party would take pleasure out of kicking wage earners and pensioners all around the country. Elliott has also talked about reducing nominal taxes for companies and the rich to 30 per cent. I suppose this would be something of a breakthrough if, by some miracle, they actually paid that rate of tax. Let us talk about another great owner of Australian wealth, Rupert Murdoch. An article by Allan Sloan in the Business Review Weekly says that Rupert Murdoch's bookkeeper treats financial reporting as a game to be won. In Australia, Rupert Murdoch treats preferred stock as equity for balance sheet purposes; in the United States he says it is debt, so he can deduct dividends from his income tax. It appears even that a range of tax planning instruments are already on sale which effectively anticipate the operations of the imputation system, and these schemes provide avenues for companies, investors and creditors to exploit any loophole they can find in that proposed system. Madam Speaker, we in this Government propose a social justice strategy to bring to an end the inequalities in wealth in Australia.

Social justice strategy for the Australian Government means a fair go for all Australians, not just for those at the top of the heap. It means equity and fairness in the distribution of economic resources and political power; it means equality in all areas, including housing, education and security; and it means access to and participation by all Australians in all opportunities offered in Australia.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! It being 2 p.m., in accordance with standing order 104, as amended for this session, the time allotted for precedence of General Business has expired. The honourable member for Phillip will have leave to continue her speech when the debate is resumed. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day under General Business for the next day of sitting.