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Wednesday, 13 May 1987
Page: 3068

Mr JENKINS(11.49) —The Supply Bill (No. 1) 1987-88, the Supply Bill (No. 2) 1987-88 and the Supply (Parliamentary Departments) Bill 1987-88 seek to provide appropriations for the services of government for the first five months of the 1987-88 financial year. As has been mentioned earlier in the debate, they also give us an opportunity to review the Government's performance and to look at alternative policies which have been put forward in the economic area. I wish to discuss one such alternative proposal which was launched last week in a book entitled Spending and Taxing-Australian Reform Options and put out by the National Priorities Project. The National Priorities Project is a think tank set up by a small group of employer organisations which commissioned the Melbourne-based Centre of Policy Studies to study taxation and other economic reforms.

The Director of the Centre of Policy Studies and one of the co-authors of this book is Professor Michael Porter. Professor Michael Porter attended the inaugural meeting of the H. R. Nicholls Society and is a great proponent of New Right policies. It is interesting to look at the different associations which are involved in and which financed this study. Twenty-five umbrella organisations put up funds to support the National Priorities Project, including such bodies as the Associated Bread Manufacturers of Australia, the Australian Bankers Association, the Australian Federation of Employers, the Australian Small Business Association and so on. Another organisation is the Pharmacy Guild of Australia. The Pharmacy Guild of Australia has a problem. It has criticised the book as being uninformed, superficial, uneducated and irresponsible. We can gather why it came to that conclusion-the book suggests that there should be no pharmaceutical benefits scheme. I was intrigued to read in the Australian Financial Review today that despite the comments made by the Pharmacy Guild, its national council voted yesterday to continue its relatively modest financial support for the project. I wonder what it expects to get out of any mark 2 version of the National Priorities Project.

The proposal is one of the latest ideological fairy tales of the New Right. It outlines how a government would systematically abdicate its right to govern for all Australians, leaving a minimal shell to ensure that the rich get richer and to oversee the politics of greed. In December last year the honourable member for Goldstein (Mr Macphee), speaking to the Victorian Young Liberals about the New Right's philosophy, said that it:

. . . elevates selfishness to commanding heights and ignores the plight of the less fortunate and less able members of the community.

Perhaps that is a very good summation of the New Right's philosophy. The National Priorities Project is less of an academic exercise than extreme Right wishful thinking. Hard questions of social necessity are invariably answered by ideological truisms. The plan makes no apology for the fact that it is a blueprint to give the rich more incentive. The book states:

We do not apologise that people with higher incomes will do well.

The project also provides a more comprehensive view of the policies of the Opposition and those who support it from outside. We might well remember that passing star of the public relations stakes, the word `incentivation' which was launched earlier this year and which fizzled like many such launchings.

Mr McGauran —On a point of order: I understand, as all honourable members do, that the Supply Bills give range to a certain amount of latitude and the discussion of different topics. But, on a matter of relevance, this speaker has not once referred to any of the spending programs contained in the Supply Bills.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Keogh) — Order! There is no point of order. The honourable member for Gippsland correctly made the point at the introduction of his point of order that this is a wide ranging debate. The honourable member for Scullin is, as previous speakers have been, quite in order to refer to the matters he is covering in his speech.

Mr JENKINS —Thank you for your ruling, Mr Deputy Speaker. I was quite intrigued by the point of order of the honourable member for Gippsland, considering the speech by his colleague, the honourable member for Parkes (Mr Cobb). At a later stage I will talk about the amendment put forward by the Opposition and the plan the Opposition put forward. It is relevant to look at some of the alternative policies that have been put up by far Right organisations which seem to have a great deal of influence, not only over the Liberal Party, but also and especially over the National Party, of which the honourable member for Gippsland is a member.

Earlier this year we had the fly by night PR exercise of `incentivation'. The National Priorities Project has, perhaps, expanded the concept of this new word. Perhaps the National Priorities Project would have us believe that there should be incentivation for a few and disincentivation for most. In the $12 billion to $13 billion worth of welfare and expenditure cuts recommended by the project is the abolition of Austudy. If Austudy were abolished, where would that leave students in really disadvantaged circumstances in relation to their being able to continue at a school and go on to tertiary education? Also, the project suggests that dole payments for people under 18 years of age would be abolished. Is this to even up the disincentive? This approach being put forward by the NPP is a reversion to the worst form of nineteenth century utilitarianism, the principle of lesser eligibility. In 1834 the new poor law set up the appalling workhouses. These workhouses were in such an abysmal and degraded state that it was an attempt to force the poor to prefer starvation rather than enter one of those places. This lesser eligibility principle was the contribution of the utilitarians to the issue of cutting spending on welfare.

The proponents of the New Right philosophy are now ignoring more than 150 years of the development of socially responsible government. Organisations such as the NPP advocate a return to the past. The Government's role in the health of the population is to be cut to a minimum-a decision which would include the close of community health centres. If government were to take on board the proposal put forward by the NPP, education would be largely privatised and its quality eroded. The NPP suggests that job creation schemes should disappear. In all, a cut of nearly $13 billion in government spending has been proposed. This is fanciful nonsense. It relates merely to figures on paper conceived in the sanctity of academia, way beyond the fringe of political and social responsibility. No government can abrogate its right to govern. No government can stand back and let the welfare of ordinary Australians be subject to the unfettered reign of market forces.

The amendment by the Opposition refers to the Opposition's plan-but what plan? Even such an eminent member of the Liberal back bench as the honourable member for Kooyong (Mr Peacock) has referred to this matter. He was quoted in the Bulletin of 21 April as saying:

We must become more definitive because most sections of the community will not accept an undertaking, for example, to restore incentive by a significant reduction in income tax simply based on the statement `to be funded by significant cuts in government expenditure'. We will have to detail them.

Honourable members would also be aware of the statement that the honourable member for Kooyong made on the Sunday program, last Sunday, when he stated: `Policies should have been out nearly a year ago'. Of course, this is what we are calling for. The honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Carlton), leading the debate for the Liberal Party, has suggested that people are aware of the Opposition's plans. For example, in a Press statement made in March the honourable member for Mackellar stated: `The economic proposals of the Liberals are well known'. But they are couched in general terms. Ordinary Australians do not know what to expect if the Opposition had electoral success.

One must then consider the statement that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) made on the Schildberger program on 24 April, namely: `We have a policy on tax. The only thing that's missing is the numbers'. Surely the Australian community deserves better than a statement like that. Of course, tomorrow night, in response to tonight's May economic statement, the Leader of the Opposition perhaps has the chance to put forward some concrete policies rather than to continue to talk in the generalities as he has in the past. Therefore, in the absence of a concrete plan, which of the right wing fairytales are the people of Australia to be offered by honourable members opposite? There are many plans of the Right going around-there is the Joh plan, the Elliott plan, the plan espoused in the booklet `Mandate to Govern' from the Chamber of Commerce, as well as the National Priorities Project that I have mentioned. But what of the Howard plan? When will that be detailed? We can only go back to those suggestions made by these different modern conservative organisations-the organisations referred to as the New Right. There are so many different entries in the cost cutting stakes. However, all of them have one common feature: They would bring ruin upon ordinary Australians. I doubt whether those people who conceived the National Priorities Project have ever been to my electorate of Scullin. It is very easy to dismantle community health centres from an office at Monash University.

Mr McGauran —On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker: I rise on the point of relevance pursuant to the Standing Orders. During the whole of the contribution by the honourable member for Scullin, he has failed at any stage to refer to any department. Mr Deputy Speaker, you would be aware of the nature of Supply Bills.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar) — Order! The honourable member for Gippsland has made his point. The question before the House offers considerable latitude for honourable members to address questions in the broad.

Mr JENKINS —Thank you for your ruling, Mr Deputy Speaker. I understand that in the general sense Supply Bills and Appropriation Bills give latitude for wide-ranging debate. I am sure that the Minister at the table, the Minister for Health (Dr Blewett), would be aware that in the Supply Bills moneys will of course be provided for the continued funding of community health centres. Perhaps the fallacious efforts of the honourable member for Gippsland were simply to disrupt the workings of the House. As I have said, I doubt whether any of the people who produced the National Priorities Project have ever visited the electorate of Scullin and, further, it is very easy for them to dismantle community health centres from an office at the Monash University, for example, but it is another thing to do so after having seen the excellent and greatly needed service that is provided for ordinary Australians. Within my electorate there is the Broadmeadows Community Health Centre, which has a number of satellites; in fact it has five satellites throughout the city of Broadmeadows and they provide much needed medical and paramedical services to people in that community. There is another excellent community health centre in Lalor, which predominantly provides paramedical and support services to a community that is much in need. Without such services, and if we relied on the free enterprise type of medical services, areas in great need like Broadmeadows, Lalor and Thomastown would be provided with very little quality care in the medical field.

I note that the Whip has asked me to contain my remarks to allow my colleagues to participate in the debate, so, in conclusion, I would just like to mention a number of positive achievements of this Government. Many of these achievements would be removed by the alternative economic policies that are perhaps being entertained by the Liberal Party and the National Party and the many factions and groupings within those parties. The term of the present Government has seen the introduction of Medicare; it has seen real increases in pensions; it has seen an increase from 36 per cent to 50 per cent in the number of children completing secondary education; a doubling of child care places available has occurred; and 200,000 people have been assisted by the first home owners scheme. Further, there have been major reforms of the Australian tax system, and a large number of people have been advantaged by the creation of over 700,000 jobs. But that is not to say that simply because we have set in place an improved framework for the economy the task of government is now completed. There is still a long way to go.

One of the things that perhaps the Government needs to take on board concerns the change in the distribution of wealth in Australia. This is not something that honourable members from either side of the House would reflect upon well. In this regard I point out that an article in the May edition of Australian Society indicates that there are now over 30,000 millionaires in Australia; one-tenth of the population owns 60 per cent of all wealth but two million people live below the poverty line. The comfortable myth of a community with a relatively equal wealth distribution is exploded. No matter of which persuasion, a government must address this matter, because we have to not only improve the general overall framework of the economy but also ensure that in improving that economy some sort of justice is done in the way that the resources and wealth of that economy are distributed to all. I hope that at some stage the Government will be able to see its way clear to take on board the inquiry into wealth that has been suggested by a number of my colleagues.

In conclusion, I point out that of course the Government totally rejects the Opposition amendment, especially where it refers to the urgency to implement the Opposition's plan, which is couched only in four generalities. The Australian people are looking for concrete proposals, and they know this Government will continue to give them concrete government. I am sure that whenever the next election is held this Government will be resoundingly re-elected.