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Monday, 1 June 1998
Page: 4379

Mr TONY SMITH (9:46 PM) —Tonight I want to talk about the need for change in the Australian political landscape. I want to start by reflecting on a judgment by the late Mr Justice Murphy in a decision called the Queen v Percy Neal. Percy Neal was an Aboriginal agitator described by the magistrate in Cairns. Percy Neal spat at a white overseer. The case ended in the High Court of Australia. Mr Justice Murphy dissented, in one of his many dissents as a High Court judge. I met Mr Justice Murphy in 1982 when I was a judge's associate. He was a very nice bloke; I found him an absolute gentleman privately. Politically, it is fair to say that I and Mr Justice Murphy would have very little in common except that I had enormous respect for the fact that he, too, was one of the agitators, one of the dissenters, one of the people we need in society to challenge the system.

It is absolutely essential for a healthy and vibrant society to have people like Mr Justice Murphy. Equally, it is healthy and essential to have people challenging the system from the other side of politics. To have those sorts of challenges is not a threat to the system; it is part of the healthiness of that system. To not have those sorts of people makes the system unhealthy.

We live in an age, unfortunately, in 1998—particularly the 1990s—where to challenge the system in any way, shape or form is to be branded something: an agitator, a racist, a bigot, a redneck. There is something wrong with you if you challenge the system. You are a little bit odd. Accordingly, those who do challenge the system, unfortunately, frequently get isolated by the system. It is absolutely essential, in my view, in the Australian political landscape, that we have people who are prepared to resist the merciless attack that is made upon them by the media and the major political parties if they stand up to the system; if they say, `This system is wrong.'

Now I want to say something: this place here is wrong. When the House is sitting, this place should not be sitting. That is wrong, in my view. I would like to be down there listening to the debate about a fundamental problem going on at the moment in the world, which is the nuclear testing on the Indian subcontinent. There is a debate going on at this time that all members of the House should be addressing because it could fundamentally affect our way of life. Yet we have this little chamber here.

What is also wrong is that on this side of the building here we have only ministers instead of every one of us being in every part of the whole building. We have ministers here and members there. It is wrong, because ministers are no more important than members. Yet they are isolated from the system. The executive is somehow different from the great majority of the people who are representing the great majority of Australians. That is wrong.

Likewise we are constantly faced, as members, with the plethora of statistics that are thrown at us. The budget papers alone are a plethora of statistics. Every day we are told that statistics say this and statistics say that. There is no possible way for an ordinary member of parliament to challenge that. Yet government policy is being formulated by some of these things. Let me give you an example. Naomi Wolf wrote a bestseller called the Beauty Myth in which she said that in a particular year 150,000 American women would die of anorexia nervosa. The actual figure from American research was 54. That is a simple example in American statistics of how pathetic statistics are thrown at people and people basically accept them.

Here is one closer to home. Three or four years ago, Carmen Lawrence put out a statistic in a press release that said that 70 per cent of all police call-outs in New South Wales were to domestic violence incidents. The actual figure was 0.7 per cent. That gives you some idea. I will give a more recent example. The Minister for the Status of Women (Mrs Moylan) put out a statistic—she gave a speech to the WestNET conference a few months ago. She said that men have to stop bashing women and children. In fact, the figures, by gender, of women and men abusing children are that more women than men—it is very hard to get those statistics—are abusing children. I say at the outset that we need a major attack in this country on the accuracy of statistics so that proper policies can be formulated. That means attacking the precepts, the political correctness, the social engineering that so underlies what we say and do.

Last week we had what was, in my view, the sorry spectacle of the so-called Sorry Day. Let me say at the outset that the forcible removal of innocent children from caring parents by government or church officials is indefensible in a liberal democratic society. But it is absolutely essential that any inquiry into that matter do everything in its power to ensure that the accounts of past practices and its conclusion are beyond any reasonable question.

What does Dr Ron Brunton say about this in a very lengthy paper, an IPA backgrounder on the stolen generations report? And may I say that, without having even read his paper— before I read it—having considered the stolen generation report I found it to be a very poorly written document that does not merit academic credence, that is rhetorical, that ought not to form the basis of government action. But I did not have the time to study it: that was my first impression of it. As a lawyer, you are looking for facts and something solid. Ron Brunton did have time to examine it. He was one of those who exposed the Hindmarsh Island fraud. He said this of the report:

Unfortunately, anyone who expects to find a rigorous, sober and factual assessment of the past in Bringing them home will be sorely disappointed. The report is a most unworthy and tendentious document.

He considers the report to be poorly argued and demonstrating `considerable intellectual and moral confusion' leading to a `damned if you do/damned if you don't situation'. He says that `the report misrepresents a number of its sources and ignores crucial information, and readily makes assertions which are either factually wrong or unsupported by appropriate evidence.' He adds the most damning indictment of all:

It is one of the most intellectually and morally irresponsible reports to be presented to the Australian government in recent years.

Can we ignore that? Can we say, `We cannot talk about that issue'? The issue that we have to solve is why those things were done in the cases where they were done. We have to ensure that it does not happen again. But do we push aside this damning critique? Apparently we do not. We say, `We cannot talk about that. It is a bit sensitive. What we will do as a government is throw some money at it to try to get the people who are most raising the issue to be quiet; we'll assuage the consciences of the others and we'll try to buy a few votes elsewhere in the equation.' At the same time, as Dr Brunton concludes, we lose any authority that we have to occupy any sort of moral ground. As he says, `Too many members of the Howard government seem to have lost confidence in the moral authority of their supposed philosophical principles of liberalism, and seem to accept that they have no right to occupy the high moral ground. They need to remember that Martin Luther King's stirring wish that his children would see a time when people will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character is a classic expression of the liberal ideal.'

How much more are we seeing this? We are seeing it in the absurd Office of the Status of Women. Why do we have the Office of the Status of Women in 1998? Why do we not have the office of the status of the family? Why are we trying to divide men and women? Why do women need protection in 1998? Women have come a long way, but why are we continuing to divide the sexes when we should be, as representatives of the people, be uniting people?

Why do we say that we are going to ensure that legislation is introduced to make superannuation fifty-fifty? Does that mean that a man can come home drunk from the pub every night, bash his wife, never do a tap of work, she works the whole time and he can claim 50 per cent of her super? Conversely, does it mean that a woman who does not provide for the home, who does not support her husband who is working, who has a multitude and string of affairs and relationships can get half of his super? What sort of a society is it when we are legislating from the state to tell people, `Notwithstanding your behaviour, you are going to part with 50 per cent of your superannuation because that is the law'? It is not good enough. This encroachment of the state into every facet of our lives effectively makes us little different to what Soviet Russia was or communist China was. The only difference is that we get a chance to vote every three years, but to hell with you after that. Many people are dragged kicking and screaming to the polling booths to vote for a very limited choice.

What are we going to do about these things? We heard the honourable member for Page (Mr Causley) talking about Telstra. I had grave reservations personally about the sale of Telstra. Unfortunately, when I had a look at the figures of the debt that had gone up sixfold between 1990 and 1996—that is our public debt—I concluded, `What can we do about that other than sell Telstra to pay it back? We cannot have $95 billion worth of public debt.' Reluctantly I concluded, as I would if it were my own situation and I had to decide whether I could keep my house going with the debt levels it had or sell part of my land to get rid of some of that debt, that I would have to make a decision to do that. Likewise, the government had to do it. I do not think it is a good thing that it has happened. But I believe that the government had to do it.

When we are talking about the debt levels, we have to ask ourselves why there are these debt levels. Why is it that we have such great levels of debt? What is happening at the other end? In relation to the tax debate, that is what we have to consider first. Surely we have to ask why it is that we need to raise so much tax to cover so much expenditure. Why is it, then, when we are spending more than $20 billion on the health system, that Kerry Packer and I can go to the doctor tomorrow for nothing? That is not right. We should have to pay to go to the doctor. I can afford to pay to go to the doctor. Kerry Packer can afford it a damned sight more. A lot of other people can afford to go to the doctor but they do not pay under this system. Why do they not pay? Because this system says that we make it fair for everybody. But it is not fair for everybody. With this system, we create a massive amount of debt and expenditure within the state that has to be paid back, or we increase our taxes to ensure that these debt levels are met.

Do we want that to continue? Can we possibly have a tax reform structure without addressing the level of expenditure? It seems that we can; the government says that we can have tax reform without addressing expenditure levels. Yes, we have an expenditure level that has been reined in—and I give credit where credit is due. But I say this: we have a definite and urgent need in this country for a major capital works project, or several of them, to create real jobs. What are we doing about that?

What are we doing about the fact that our country is the driest country in the world? Are we looking at major capital works, something in the nature of the Snowy Mountains scheme, to do something about our dry continent? It is fundamental for the future of this country to address that need. What are we doing as urban sprawl swallows up more and more good farming land and more and more marginal land is opened up? What are we doing as our El Ninos come and go with monotonous regularity? We have not had a wet season for many years in the part of the world where my property is located. It is all changing, and we are not doing anything about it. But we have to do something about it. We have to create real jobs—not mickey mouse jobs, real jobs. We owe it to our youth to do that.

We also owe members of our society, including our youth, access to justice and an end to the division within society. In talking about access to justice, about a year or so ago I put forward a proposal to help provide access to justice to people who are unable to get access to justice because of the legal aid system cutting them out. If you are a criminal, you get it. But if you are in that middle range, just having your basic house, you get nothing and you miss out on access to justice.

My plan is very simple; it virtually will not cost the government anything. My plan is that every legal process to be filed in this country—and there are hundreds and hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of legal processes which are filed—would attract a filing fee of just 50c. A fee of 50c would not hurt a soul, but all those 50c fees would amount to a great pool of money which could be replenished by people accessing that fund for damages claims and agreeing to part of any proceeds of their damages claims being taxed to the extent of a percentage going back into the fund. That is not going to hurt them. They would never have got near the court otherwise. They would have had their justice denied. But under that system which I gave to the Attorney-General (Mr Williams), they would have a chance.

There are a lot of people out there in that situation. Medical negligence is a classic case, with people not being able to get to court when serious consequences have arisen from an operation. In some cases people have died—and I have seen cases like that. There was one case in particular where a widow came to see me about her husband, and I have no doubt that there was medical negligence. But I had to tell that widow, `I am sorry, this will be a very hard case.' I gave the advice to legal aid for nothing; legal aid would not pay me for it, and it took me a week and a half to complete it. At the end of the day I had to say, `I am sorry, but this is a difficult case; sorry, no legal aid.' That woman went without access to justice.

There is a way through that, and yet we are cutting legal aid. Fine, I understand that we need to cut legal aid. But why aren't we looking at these other areas, taking the opportunity to use those sorts of things? Why aren't we opening up our minds to the fact that we need changes to the child support system, that we need to do something urgently—not just a little scraping around here and there at the edges? We need to address these situations urgently.

One chap rang me just tonight and said, `Two months ago I was up to date; today I have an $11,000 debt. Because of the way the system is calculated, I now owe $11,000. There was an error in some calculation and now I owe $11,000.' He said, `The children are well, they are healthy, they have their clothes, but I now owe a debt of $11,000. How can I possibly pay it? I'll never be able to pay it,' he said to me.

So we have all these situations that need addressing, yet we are not addressing them. We are trying to paper the edges. I get back to the fundamental issue: when I joined the Liberal Party, I believed that it addressed the rights of the individual. Now, unfortunately, I believe the Liberal Party stands for nothing.