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Monday, 8 October 1984
Page: 1400


Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(5.38) —by leave-I move:

That the Senate take note of the statement.

That statement has been partly read and partly incorporated in Hansard. Of course, I have heard only that part of the statement which has been read to us by the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Button). Only about two years ago the present Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) made an undertaking that under him a government would run for a full term. That followed a series of statements which he had made, allying himself with the then Leader of the Opposition, Mr Bill Hayden, that the Australian Labor Party believed that the Liberals had been wrong in having early elections, and that parliaments in which the Labor Party held a majority would go for a full term. That was a view expressed by Mr Hawke not merely when he was shadow Minister in the then Opposition but also when he was for a brief period, Leader of the Opposition, and during the election campaign he reaffirmed that his government would run for a full term. By 1 December the Government will have been in office for approximately 20 months. That is a long way short of what I think the Australian people understand to be a full term, which is three years. Indeed, under the constitutional arrangements which apply the Government may run for a little more than three years if it wishes.

The Government indicated that one reason for wishing to have an early election- at least it has when the matter has been discussed on a theoretical basis; I do not know whether that is indicated in the statement-is the need to hold a half Senate election. Of course, the fact of the matter is that a half Senate election will be necessary by the end of the next financial year, that is before June of next year. A consistent view put forward by the Opposition is that if Mr Hawke were really determined to bring the two Houses together he would certainly have the option of having his election next year, say as late as April or May, a period which gives us a little more time to assess the worth of his Government and to assess the long term effects of the policies which Mr Hawke has introduced. That is a significant question and one that the people of Australia need to ponder. Why is it that Mr Hawke is going to an election a little over a year and a half after having taken office? The reasons for that are not hard to find.

Early today we had a debate about one of the issues on which the Government is obfuscating and that is whether the Government will introduce overriding national land rights legislation. I think there are more significant reasons than that issue and the issue of the secret human rights Bill of the present Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans). I am not sure how one protects human rights in secret but perhaps the Attorney-General will demonstrate that. However , he is not prepared to show us the legislation before an election. Of course, there are the Government's as yet unrealised plans for a capital gains tax and all the rest. I think there are far more significant reasons than the hidden agenda items to which I refer. The fact is that this Government has enjoyed a wonderful run of luck. There are plenty of Government spokesmen who have made that point as well as Opposition spokesmen. For example, Mr Dawkins has made that point. I think the fundamental criticism that can be made of us is that we were silly enough to call an election at precisely the wrong time, at the bottom of an economic cycle. Certainly I cheerfully make that admission.

The fact of the matter is that the breaking of the drought and other benign economic influences have served Australia well. I think the most that can be said of this Government is that so far it has not got in the way. However, we are now at a point where the Government has brought in its second budget which has given it some $9,000m of extra revenue. The Budget has given the Government that because there was a lift of just under 50 per cent in provisional tax as part of an increase in the income of the rural community because of the breaking of the drought. There has been a large once-off lift in revenues which has been substantially devoted by this Government to new, additional expenditure. A $9, 000m increase in expenditure and slightly over a $1 billion reduction in the deficit tells us something about the form of the Budget which this Government brought in. I simply say to those people observing what is really happening to the economy and what is being done to the economy that there are significant problems. We have opposite us the Minister for Industry and Commerce. I managed to call him the right thing. He has called me the Solicitor-General, Senator Fraser and the Leader of the Government over the last week. I really am beginning to think that he is very confused about what my role in this place is. The fact of the matter is that there would be no one more aware than Senator Button of the fact that in the area of manufacturing industry and private investment there are extremely worrying signs at the present. The concerns which are being expressed by respected economic commentators, including the producers of Syntec, over the last couple of weeks are concerns which I am sure are widely understood within the Government.

I say only that an election now is an election under which this Government is going, without coming clean with the Australian electorate both on what its plans for legislation are in the sorts of fields I have mentioned and, more seriously, the prospects for Australia under the continued policies of this Government. There are many things which the Government is concerned about. It is now spending vast amounts of taxpayers' money advertising Medicare. Why is this? The Government knows that the irritation against Medicare is mounting. The Government knows that people are put to the inconvenience of having to insure twice and of having to deal with two different bureaucracies to manage their health insurance. That sort of irritation is growing in the community. The Government knows that the irritation of the aged who are receiving their assets est forms is growing. The Government knows that there is concern about its tax plans and about its policies which are aimed at the short term instead of at the long term interests of this country.

I am sure we will have many opportunities in the weeks of sitting that remain to debate the issues. I wish to say that this is yet another one of the many broken promises of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister went to the people of Australia and said that under him things would be different and that he would keep Parliament in session for a full term. He has shown as little regard for that promise as he has shown for the hundreds of others he has broken. I welcome the chance to go to an election because I think we have sat far too long on this side of the House. I welcome the chance to return Senator Button to his rightful role as Leader of the Opposition.