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Thursday, 7 May 1987
Page: 2806


Mr RONALD EDWARDS —Has the Treasurer noted proposals from Monash University's Centre of Policy Studies to cut $13 billion from Federal Government spending to finance a reduction in the top marginal tax rate to 30 per cent? What impact would such proposals have on the level of services and community support provided by the Government?


Mr KEATING —I have noticed in today's Press the report on the proposal by the Centre of Policy Studies for cuts of $13 billion to Commonwealth outlays to finance a tax structure with a 30 per cent top marginal rate. What is revealed is an attempt by Professor Porter and those whom he leads in this policy study to quantify-at least it is an attempt to do that-the kinds of outlay cuts which would be necessary to finance a tax scale of this dimension. The $13 billion which is identified by the policy studies unit indicates that $2 1/2 billion would be cut from an education program which is now costing about $5 billion, which would cut funding to universities and colleges of advanced education by 50 per cent. There would be no debate about the $250 administration fee. That would cost students $4,000 to $5,000 a year. It would mean that, if a student was not rich, that student would be out, and the same applies for colleges of advanced education. Funding to schools would be cut by 15 per cent.

In the health area there would be $7 billion of net cuts which is virtually the whole health budget. So it would mean that there would be no universal health insurance system. The two million families which are covered now by the Australian Labor Party's Medicare scheme would again be thrown to the wolves. There would be no Commonwealth contribution whatsoever to health insurance, hospital services, pharmaceutical benefits, nursing homes, domiciliary care, national disease control or medical research. The lot would just simply go.

Most of the $500m funding for labour market programs will be cut, which means that a person on the bottom end or the non-receiving end of the economic system who had been left out would stay out. On the University's theses there is no retraining or help for that person; he has missed out and he should do his best. Also $2 billion would be taken out of the social security system-that is, out of pensions, the unemployment benefit, family allowances and the like.

This is virtually the wholesale destruction of the public outlay system in order to finance a 30 per cent top marginal rate. Why? When this Government, through tax cuts, has brought the top marginal tax rate from 60 per cent to 49 per cent and rates below that of 48 per cent and 46 per cent to 40 per cent and 30 per cent why would it want to see a wholesale decimation, and the redistributive network which has been built up by a succession of governments put asunder, so that we could hand out to high income payers a low marginal tax rate when many of those people are now taking the rewards in the stock exchanges, the property market and elsewhere. This crazy quest to squash money into the hands of the wealthy is obscene.

But this is now the conservative agenda and, of course, this is what drives the Leader of the Opposition in his policies. Honourable members might remember the front page of the $5 billion spending cut plan revealed as the Opposition's policy. Is it any wonder, with this agenda coming from the Right, that we have not heard from the Leader of the Opposition about outlay spending cuts, about his secret tax agenda, and about the fact that he will not say because he is hemmed in. It is a squabble between the Monashs, the Johs, the Elliotts, the Hays, and all the others who are out there trying to rip off, to rape and to plunder the public system.

Those are the stakes. Who is sitting in the middle? The people in the Liberal Party of Australia who are interested in keeping some sort of equilibrium in fairness have all been shoved up on the back bench. The bleeding heart appeared on the Four Corners program the other night. What is left is a party trying to dodge through all these conservative pressures. Of course, what we would see from a conservative government led by the Leader of the Opposition, particularly with the National Party of Australia led by the Queensland Premier, would be basically this agenda and, if not all of it, a large part of it. That is why people on this side of the House are entitled to say that the Opposition parties in this House at the moment are the most heartless to have sat there since the war. The debate is about equity, decency and fairness. If this debate is not about people sleeping on the sidewalks of our cities, being driven into refuges and kids being denied a decent education or about this Government lifting the retention rate in secondary schools from 36 per cent to 50 per cent, what is it all about? Is it about looking after the white shoe brigade and the wealthy? This is the base line on the conservative agenda-the line which Australian politics basically will be fought over at the next election. Unless I am very badly mistaken the Leader of the Opposition will have something approaching this policy or looking like it to rip the public system to pieces.