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Monday, 16 June 2003
Page: 16509


Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP (5:20 PM) —I rise in this debate on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2003-2004 to speak particularly on the philosophical aspect underpinning the tax cuts which have been a feature of this budget. Many members will speak about different aspects of the budget. It is always timely to remind all that this is our sixth in-surplus budget since we came to office in 1996. The fact that we have on this occasion acted in a philosophical way to return taxpayers' money to them—the fact that we have provided well within our budget in accordance with our responsibilities and returned money to individuals who will always spend their own money better than governments spending it for them and on their behalf—is a very important aspect of this budget.

The two philosophical schools of thought which prevail in this parliament are, on our side, individualism and its principles and the philosophy of free enterprise and, on the other side, collectivism. From our point of view, the individual will always be in a better position to be master of his own destiny than someone who claims to be able to look after that person's destiny on their behalf; in other words, it is fundamental to us that an individual must be allowed and have the opportunity to reach his or her maximum potential rather than have a decision made, as the collectivists do, that an individual's aspirations can be sacrificed to the overall attitude of the collective or the group.

People have said that the scale of the tax cuts, beginning at $4 a week and moving up to a greater amount a week, is in fact only small and should therefore be discounted. I would make two points about that. Firstly, if it had been the other way round and it had been a tax increase of that proportion there would have been major headlines of `Shock, horror, tax hike.' The sum would have been considered quite meaningful. The sum remains meaningful as a tax cut. Two-hundred dollars a year can represent two pairs of pretty good school shoes at about $79 a pair, plus another $40 which can be used towards school excursions or other discretionary expenditure which parents and their families may choose as a necessary expenditure.

Government member—A winter gas bill.


Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —Indeed, a winter gas bill, as my colleague reminds me. The fact of the matter is that $200 a year can make a difference somewhere along the line.

A Labor Party government would have the philosophy of collecting as much money as they possibly could and then spending it in the way they thought was beneficial for people. Our attitude is that you collect only as much money as is needful to carry out the necessary functions of government in accordance with our philosophy.

What is allegedly the business of government? According to the principles of free enterprise, the business of government is to do those things which the private sector either will not or cannot do and to provide for those people who cannot provide for themselves. This budget, I put it to you, performs precisely those two important functions.

Part and parcel of providing for those things which are not within the purview of the individual is a justice system. As we all realise, in our federated system we have nine jurisdictions, but what I have found as chair of the standing committee of the House on legal and constitutional affairs in the course of conducting the inquiry into crime in the community, including the fear of crime, is that the people of Australia are tired of hearing that crime is a matter for the states. They believe that the federal government has a responsibility as well. Indeed, they want leadership from the federal government, and hence the terms of reference that my committee has to look into, doing an audit of crime, if you like, across Australia which I think will be very meaningful for the future.

In this area drugs are an ever present category for discussion. But in the overall context an interesting paper was produced in May by the Australian Institute of Criminology. The article, paper and research were done by Pat Mayhew, who at the time of writing this was a consultant criminologist at the Australian Institute of Criminology. She worked with Dr Glenda Adkins, a lecturer at the University of Southern Queensland in Toowoomba. This paper is called `Counting the costs of crime in Australia'. It comes out with a bottom line figure that the cost of crime in Australia across all jurisdictions is $32 billion. It goes on to itemise those heads of crime which can then have a cost put against them. It is interesting in that context that the most expensive single entity of crime is fraud, which costs in the vicinity of $5.8 billion a year.

Drugs as an isolated item comes out at $1.9 billion a year. In the paper Pat Mayhew writes that a number of estimates were made to account for some of the human costs involved in coming to this figure. She writes that deaths due to drug dependence were estimated to cost about $510 million in 2001. Costs fell principally to lost productivity—assessed, for simplicity, as for homicide victims. Hospitalisations and emergency department visits due to drug dependence might cost in the region of $26 million. For the cost of other drug treatment, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data for 2000-01 on people registered for treatment were linked to the 2001 survey of clients of treatment service agencies, distinguished between residential and non-residential treatment. Costs for each were taken from Productivity Commission figures for mental health care, and this gave an estimated bill of $370 million. Methadone as a program costs $100 million a year. Lost productivity, which may amount to nearly $960 million, was a figure that they pointed out might be overestimated if you considered that drug users were probably less likely to have productive lives, but this has been balanced by the omission of any lost productivity on drug users not in treatment.

I make those points about drugs in the community for a very special reason: those people who are interested in having drugs decriminalised or indeed legalised are often people who say that our laws against drugs do not work and therefore we may as well legalise them. This is a fallacious argument. Indeed, the figures bear out that, since we have had a Tough on Drugs policy—and it must be that, with a clear and decisive message—there has been a recorded drop since 1998 in the usage of every category of illicit drug, with the exception of ecstasy. Our Tough on Drugs policy has meant that we are starting to speak with a consistent voice and not the mixed messages that were in existence from 1985 onwards with the introduction of harm minimisation as a concept. That was when the messages became very mixed.

We were able to say that marijuana, for instance, was a drug that was very dangerous to the individual, was cumulative in the body and brought about psychosis—and the range of crimes that could be committed in such a condition were right across the board, including homicide. This drug, which was so liberally labelled as a `recreational drug', had to be seen for the damaging drug that it is. Only last week my committee was taking evidence in two Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory: one at Wadeye, which is otherwise known as Port Keats, and the other at Bathurst Island. Here the problem of marijuana, cannabis, ganja—use whatever name you like—is seen by the community leaders as an ever-growing one. When I heard the principal of the school on Bathurst Island say that his competition for having 10-year-olds come to school was cannabis or ganja, one realised just how dramatic the problem was. Yes, alcohol is a big problem in Aboriginal communities, but it is a problem for adults whereas marijuana has become a problem for children as young as 10. It is scrambling their brains. They will never get a chance to live through those years and ultimately make a decision to also say no to alcohol.

The message that illicit drugs are just that—illegal—that they are drugs that are indeed detrimental to the functioning of the individual within our society, has to be strong and clear. Under our policy of `Tough on Drugs' it has become that. The expenditure that we have put into those policies has borne good fruit. We have seen, as I have said, a drop in usage of all drugs from marijuana through to heroin, with the exception of ecstasy. I think two other figures are quite significant in this. In the five years leading up to 1998 and the successful introduction of our policy, only 2.5 tonnes of illicit drugs were seized. In the period from 1998 to date, it has been eight million tonnes. So the seizures program is relevant as well.

I would like to return to the question of the budget and the philosophical strategy underpinning it. To say that we have evidenced our belief in the individual being the better manager of his or her own resources is borne out by the tax cuts that we have introduced in this budget. I would repeat: those who say it is too little should realise that to some it will be a very meaningful sum indeed, particularly to someone who has just got a new pair of school shoes.