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Tuesday, 5 May 1987
Page: 2580


Mr KEATING (Treasurer)(3.10) —Mr Deputy Speaker, look at the state of the Press gallery. There is hardly a soul there. The reason is that the Leader of the Opposition and honourable member for Bennelong (Mr Howard) is just about washed up. He has spent all this year gambling on a coalition keeping his power, because he thought that if he had a coalition he would have power. He gambled on the coalition and lost. Now he is without power and without position. His Party is divided. We have the wets and the dries, and the agrarian part of the conservatives is now separated off by itself and run by the lowest common denominator in Australian politics, the Queensland branch of the National Party. Now he says of Joh, whom he has called a thug and who has called him a silly little boy, `Oh yes, I will do a deal with him if we have enough numbers. We will enter into a coalition with him'. He has no credibility, he has no policy; he is just washed up. That is why he goes on about compassion and about families.

The compassionate heart of the Liberal Party has been torn out of it by the Leader of the Opposition. It was beating away on Four Corners last night. That is where the people with concern for the social fabric were. They cannot even sit on the Leader of the Opposition's front bench. He will not allow them to stay. We see the infantile understanding of economics of the variety of the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Carlton), who has been egging on the Leader of the Opposition, and the effect of some of the people in the past who were the influences on him, particularly some of his former staff members from the National Civic Council. These are the influences on the Leader of the Opposition. This is the sort of right wing view of the world he now has. But the view that Australia is a complex society which needs to care about people and have government programs to look after people has been washed away. If one sits in the Liberal Party with a view about education or the social security system or the poor, the leader says: `You cannot sit on my front bench. You can go to the back'. It was the people on the back who were on Four Corners last night, making public the bankruptcy of John Howard's leadership in terms of the complexities of this society and how we should manage and look after them.

The honourable member for Bennelong leads the most heartless party to sit in this chamber since the war, without any shadow of doubt. That is a big statement, but it is true. It is true by virtue of the fact that those in his Party who have traditionally harboured concerns about the state of the social fabric of the country, who have had traditional concerns, were banished to the back bench. They are not to be heard in the shrill, hard politics of this Leader of the Opposition's Liberal Party. Let us not hear about what he thinks he did for the poor. We are having this sort of dishonest stuff thrown up to us. One of the last things he said was that the average level of unemployment in the Fraser years was less than the level of unemployment today. That statement means that if one abstracts the fact that for the last two years of his treasurership he put another 300,000 people on unemployment queues, and the fact that he left the present Government with 11 per cent unemployment, one can look at the unemployment rate he used to have before that and it looks better than the present rate. Really! Is that the state of his argument?

Here he is within a year of an election with no policy about anything. He went through this great litany of cooked up statistics, never mentioning the fact that this Government has put 750,000 people into jobs. In his last year he lost 250,000 jobs and in his last 18 months he lost 320,000 jobs. So the turnaround is a million jobs. The Opposition cannot start talking about social fairness or decency unless it starts talking about employment. It is no good talking about whether the unemployment benefit is indexed and whether an unemployment beneficiary is happy because if one were unemployed and one's benefit were not indexed, one would not be happy. It is the million jobs and the turnaround from the position that applied under the Liberal-National Government that make the difference. Yet, in the honourable member's glib presentation of the facts that was not mentioned. The honourable member mentioned my colleagues' seats and said that they would be hearing about this on the hustings. He talked as though the Government were frightened of him, as though we were terrified. The way he is going his seat will be the marginal seat and we will be after him-rather than his being after our marginal seats. That is the state of things.

The person who opposed 18 of the 20 national wage rises and who wants a wage freeze is crying crocodile tears about living standards. We have had a massive decrease in our national wealth yet the honourable member craves the support of the financial markets and business as a respectable business person who understands the arithmetic and mechanics of the economy. When we have taken a massive national drop in income living standards must fall. The honourable member wants that fact recognised when he is in the convention centres and the seminar halls but in the House he engaged in cheap politics to talk about diminished living standards while he opposes in shrill language, any wage increase that comes along.

The honourable member for Bennelong talked about a 35 per cent top marginal tax rate, an aligned company rate and a $6 billion gift to high income earners, paid for by cutting government services. Does anybody in this country believe that an administration run by the honourable member would not decimate the public infrastructure of this country-government services for the needy and the poor and the not so well off? Of course he would. Only the Australian Labor Party stands in defence of decent public services for people who need them. Only the Labor Party has tried to cut out indiscriminate payments of welfare. When we did that with the assets test, the honourable member opposed it. He runs around saying that he will take off the assets test. That demonstrates the bankruptcy of his position. Not only would he deny to people in need what they should have but when we put in the instruments to target assistance to those who really need it-through the income test for the over-70s, the assets test and the tightening up of the payment of unemployment benefits-he said: `No, I reject all of that'. What is his position?

The honourable member for Bennelong has been running around saying that he will gut Medicare. When this Government came to office two million Australian families had no health insurance. We are supposed to be heartless, but the only people with any compassion in his Party have been relegated to the back bench. This is his position. The honourable member charged the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) about the school retention rate. I would have thought the point the Prime Minister made was reasonable. We had a 35 per cent retention rate in secondary schools and that figure is now up to 46 per cent. That is a pretty big change, but the honourable member has given the Government no credit for it. He thinks it is only featherbedding, that we should turf all the students out of school-that we should not keep them there-and push them into the work force. However, when they get the unemployment benefit he thinks it should be ripped off them. This is his position.

The honourable member for Bennelong talked about housing. When we came to office the number of housing starts was 105,000 for the year. For a couple of years we got the number up to 140,000-odd and this year it will run between 125,000 and 130,000. This very day the Housing Industry Association has written to the Prime Minister lauding the Government's interest in housing which the Government has broadly protected despite the fact that we have had a massive terms of trade collapse. That is the fact. This Government has brought Australia through one of the most savage periods in our external circumstances and made certain that the restraint was restraint with equity, and it has been with equity. But there would be no equity under the policies of the Opposition.

The honourable member for Bennelong then talked about pensions. When he left office pensions were equivalent to 22.5 per cent of average weekly earnings. They are now equivalent to over 24 per cent. That is the Howard record. It is a shameful one. In the areas of the tax system in which we have introduced measures to provide equity, such as the capital gains and fringe benefits taxes, he says that he will throw them out. He says that, if people are lucky enough to have stock on the stock exchange in these boom times, they should put it in their kick and they should not pay any tax on it; but it is all right to tax the working person who is getting $18,000 a year and who has a couple of kids. He says: `Belt him, but don't tax anybody in the stock market'. The Leader of the Opposition says: `If you're lucky enough to have BHP or Westpac shares when the market is rising by 250 per cent, stick it in your pocket or, stick it in your kick, because I want the votes of the conservative constituencies. We'll berate Hawke about his record. We won't mention the three quarters of a million jobs. We won't mention the $10 billion of lost national income. We won't mention the trade depression'. Of course, he then has the hide to say: `Hawke and Keating are running around saying: ``It's not our fault''.'

During the whole of 1982 the alibi was that the world had left them behind. Do honourable members remember that? Do they remember the campaign slogan: `We're not waiting on the world'? Every morning throughout 1982 the then Treasurer, Mr Howard, stood on the front steps of Parliament House and said: `Of course, you understand about the downturn in economic activity around the world'. It was just one shocking apologia for his incompetence. The fact is that, with much more advantageous terms of trade than this Government has ever had, he gave Australia a domestically induced recession. He gave Australia-all his own work-a domestically induced recession which threw people on the scrapheap.

He talked about families. Who does he think the 750,000 people were, if they were not members of Australian families? Does he think they were Martians? How does he separate those who were unemployed from those who were members of Australian families, or those who did not have a house or had no real support from the social security system? What about the single income people with kids who were living in rented accommodation? What did he ever do for them? He did very little. We have increased support for those people markedly in the years in which we have been in government because we have targeted that social welfare assistance.

What we see now is not just dry economics, but the new dry social justice strategy, which is basically about looking after the rich and letting the poor go and chase themselves. That is what would happen under the kind of Liberal government that the Leader of the Opposition would run. That is why the Leader of the Opposition has basically run out of ideas. In September 1985 I introduced the tax package. It was at the time that he became leader. It is now May 1987 and he still does not have a policy. He is without ideas or a structure. He has a few vague thoughts about market economics and deregulation which he has picked up from the honourable member for Mackellar, who has a Simple Simon view of the world in terms of economics. He has picked up his social politics from his mate who has now left his staff, who was with the National Civic Council. He has gone somewhere else. I forget his name.


Mr Beddall —Henderson.


Mr KEATING —Henderson. These were the influences on him. They have left him high and dry. The mainstream of Australia has passed him by. That was never evidenced more than by the fact that four of his colleagues, on television last night, essentially damned his strategy. That is where his leadership is. He cannot command a majority in the Parliament. He could not put together a government, even if there were enough raw numbers on the conservative side, without Joh. Joh would rip asunder any lingering notion of fairness or equity. The Leader of the Opposition has a party which is divided, and he has no social strategy.

This Government sits for the economic test again on 13 May. The Opposition sits for the test on 14 May. If it fails the test, it will be in an even worse state than it is now. It is bankrupt of ideas, bankrupt of morality and bankrupt about knowing where this country ought to go.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) —Order! The Treasurer's time has expired.