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Wednesday, 10 October 1984
Page: 1554

Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(3.12) —The Opposition is bringing forward this matter of public importance for discussion in the context of it being a little over 18 months after the election of the Hawke Government and a little over 18 months since the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) made the promise of no early election. Now, of course, we have it from Mr Hawke' s mouth at last, officially, that we are having an election-an unnecessary and early election. There is no mystery about why the Government is proposing to have this early election against its promise of a year and a half ago. It sees the time for an election as being right for it now-not right for Australia but right for the Government. That view of why it is right for Mr Hawke to have an election for the benefit of the Australian Labor Party is based on a lift in the economy which has occurred over the last 18 months. We in the Opposition welcome that lift; we understand it and think that it is good for Australia. But it is very important to remember why the economy has lifted and to put this debate into that context also.

I do not want to have any lengthy debate on the immediate state of the economy. There are many other issues I wish to canvass, but in doing so it would be improper of me not to at least provide some economic environment. I agree that there has been a lift in the economy. I turn to one of the Government's Ministers, Mr Dawkins, the Minister for Finance, for the explanation for that lift. Mr Dawkins said, not very long ago:

. . . the Hawke Government came into office at the bottom of a recession riding on the coat tails of the previous Government's wages pause initiative and at a time when the rural sector was about to swing into a boom year.

I would respectfully adopt that view of the Minister for Finance. From our point of view the election was held at the worst possible time, at the bottom of a recession, with the breaking of the drought and other factors that were beyond the previous Government's control, and particularly the wage pause that was put in place by the Fraser Government, having given the present Government the opportunity to be in office during a time of increased economic activity.

It is important to know what the effect of that lift in activity was on the current Budget. It gave the Government a total of $9,000m of extra revenue. That is a very substantial lift and took the revenue raised by this Government to a record proportion of the gross domestic product. It provided the Government with an opportunity to do something for the long term economic health of Australia. The Opposition says that is an opportunity which the Government has squandered. I do not wish to go into detail on that, but I shall quote some non-political observers on the position Labor has taken us to in its recent Budget. I would like to quote from a couple of recent editions of a magazine called Syntec which is a service on money and the economy, and a very respected observer on the economy. One finds in the September edition of that magazine the following statement:

The Australian economy is enjoying the unusual and welcome combination of strong growth, rising employment, falling inflation and healthy corporate profits.

I say, by way of interpolation, that the Opposition welcomes any improvement in the economy. A little later on the same page the article goes on to say:

Labor's 1984-85 Budget raises doubts about its ability to determine the capacity of the second Hawke Government to carry this combination into 1985-86.

A little later on the same page the magazine predicts that if the Government is to act responsibly it must quickly rein in the growing structural component in the Federal Budget, which will mean an autumn 1985 package of fiscal measures. Put in the sort of language we use here, the magazine is saying that the Government has brought down a Budget that will require it to produce a mini- Budget next year to put the economy into some sort of order. Syntec repeats that prediction in its publication issued on 1 October:

The first step to re-building Australia's business investment base should be supplementary Budget measures next Autumn to cut the structural Budget deficit.

The Opposition is concerned about these matters of what the Labor Party is doing to the economy. Another impartial or non-political observer, the Westpac Banking Corporation, in a review which has been circulated recently, dated September 1984, makes the point that the Government is running great risks for Australia in its Budget. After pointing out that the Budget contained no major surprises, the article goes on to say:

A closer reading of the budget documents, however, makes it clear that 'no surprises' is not synonymous with 'no risks'. Indeed, the risks associated with this year's budget, especially in terms of upward pressure on interest rates, escalate next financial year.

During Question Time a number of Ministers expressed great faith in the accord. Westpac, in that same document, under the heading 'The Costs of the Accord', points out:

Despite the apparent innocuousness of the budget strategy, its overtones of short term expediency are disturbing.

The article states a little later:

Moreover, the Government seems to be prepared to risk all in order to keep the accord intact.

A little later the article continues:

. . . the accord may well yield some of these benefits. But substantial modifications are required if all are to be realised. As it stands, the accord is all about keeping happy the 91 per cent of the labour force which has jobs. It does nothing to alleviate unemployment by, for example, allowing scope to change wage relativities.

Finally, I wish to quote the bulletin of the Business Council of Australia which , in a publication released in August 1984, said that business returns are still in a parlous state.

I mention those matters as a prelude to my comments on the wrong direction in which Australia is being taken by this Government. I think that it is commonly felt throughout the electorate at the moment that we have had an economic improvement and that things are looking pretty good. What I wish to point out is that the economic improvement effected by the Government has arisen largely because of factors which are beyond its control. It has, however, presented the Government with a golden opportunity to do something for the permanent benefit of Australia. It is clear from the outside economic commentaries that are being made that that opportunity has been largely squandered. Put simply, the Government has had a surge of extra money into its pocket because of the recovery. Instead of using that money to put Australia into better order, it has simply spent it to buy comfort and votes in the short term and, as a result, the longer term prospects are being put at risk by the Hawke Government's actions.

I wish to mention one other feature of the approach that has been a matter of discussion in this chamber over the last days. We welcome the fact that the labour force in Australia has responded and reduced the level of industrial disputation, but I would point out that, notwithstanding the reduction in the gross level of industrial disputes over the last year or so, there is a warning in the figures which were released for July 1984. Those figures show that the number of working days lost in July 1984 was an increase over recent low levels and presents the highest monthly level since May 1983. Obviously there are some warning signs for the Government even in that area, where again it has been expressing great satisfaction.

Today, the concerns I want to express on behalf of the Opposition are about the general directions that the Government is setting both for Australia generally and for Australian society. The Government is setting wrong directions in so many areas. The Government is, in my view, against many of the values which Australians hold important. I know that today there was reference in a rather disparaging way to the fact that one of my colleagues identified himself as a Christian. I think that there would be great upset on the Government's benches if we went around identifying members of the Government as being atheists, agnostics or whatever. I cannot see the relevance of that. I thought the faintly sneering quality displayed was a straw in the wind.

The particular matters I wish to address relate to the way in which the Government is apparently against thrift and saving; the way it is quite clearly against personal responsibility; the way it is against the idea that people ought to be able to retain their own income for their own disposal; the way the Government is careless of youth unemployment, and the way the Government is against the individual compared with its great concern for big unions and big companies. I would say that the Government is against, or at best wishy-washy about, our national symbols, it is against the effective fight against organised crime and it is lukewarm about our defence. That is a considerable list of things that the Government is against. I have 10 minutes in which to touch on them. I wish to explain my argument that this Government is against thrift and against people saving and providing for themselves by saying in a compendious way that it is clear that the Government is putting the incentives in the wrong direction.

The Government is signalling to the Australian people that it is against self- help and self-provision. We see this in the assets test which, at very great administrative cost, attacks those who have saved for their old age. We see it in the response to lump sum superannuation. Self-provision through lump sums is one of the few avenues available during a time of inflation for people who do not have access to indexed superannuation on the Public Service model. The attack on lump sums is an attack on self-provision and thrift. We see it most clearly in this list of tax changes which this Government has introduced. When we lost office when Mr Hawke became Prime Minister there were tax incentives for people who were purchasing their own homes, people who were insuring their health and people who were seeking to invest in Australia and had modest investments in Australian companies. We find that the Government has made tax changes not just to lump sum superannuation and not just to the assets component of social security; it has removed the tax incentives which existed for those who were purchasing their own homes through the mortgage rebate, the tax rebate for health insurance has gone and the investment income rebate which prevented the double taxation of dividends has gone. Australia's savers, Australia's self- providers, have all been attacked by these changes.

We see that the Government is against personal responsibility on the part of Australians in their actions in so many fields. In Medicare we find the Government telling Australians, for example, that they are not legally entitled to insure themselves against 100 per cent of their health costs. That is now illegal in Australia. We find the Government attacking the doctor-patient relationship, fostering the idea that doctors should get their returns through bulk billing direct from the Government. I believe that, in a community which has been well served by the medical profession in general, in a community in which access to health care has been available to almost every Australian, we have seen a high quality of care because the doctor-patient relationship has been maintained. We go to doctors not because they are giving us grace and favoured treatment but as their professional clients entitled to seek their services, to pay for them and to cover our costs by insurance. All of that is being struck down and fought against by this Government with its pressure for bulk billing and its desire to reduce all doctors to bureaucrats and to remove the doctor-patient relationship in its traditional sense.

We see it in the Government's wish to limit the expansion of private schools. Private schools in Australia are not the preserve of the wealthy. The great bulk of private schools in this country are Catholic schools of the sort which I went to and schools which cater for the whole income range of the population. They are not the preserve of the rich and the wealthy. I believe that the evident desire of this Minister to restrict their growth is the clearest possible indication of the general attitude towards personal responsibility which this Government has assumed.

One very nice straw in the wind about this Government's attitude to personal responsibility is that when I was Minister for Social Security I restored what Mr Whitlam had removed, namely, the requirement that if somebody was thrown on to the Department of Social Security for support as a result of having been left by his or her spouse, the law required that some reasonable attempt be made to recover maintenance from the departed spouse, the person who was not providing support. Mr Whitlam removed that provision. We put it back on the basis that people who desert their spouses should have an equal responsibility with the taxpayer to support the supporting spouse, and the present Government immediately removed it. The simple fact is that we can see from a range of activities of this Government that it does not wish to foster personal responsibility. It wishes to foster responsibility being a matter for the state and ultimately that will do great damage to our community.

As far as disposable income is concerned, this Government is clearly against people retaining control of their own incomes. In the recent Budget we found the Government taking a higher proportion of what this country produces in taxation than ever before. It is going into a campaign on the basis that it is providing tax cuts when its own figures show that individual pay as you earn taxpayers will on average pay more this year than they paid last year. There will be a continued increase in the amount paid per pay as you earn taxpayer this year. Last year the average per pay as you earn taxpayer was a little over $78 a week. This year on the Government's own Budget figures, after taking into account the increased number of taxpayers and everything else, the average pay as you earn taxpayer will be $87 a week. So much for a government which claims in this Budget to be cutting taxes. The key thing is that this Government has maintained at the highest point of our history the take which it is making through the tax system from the Australian people.

This Government is also careless of the greatest social problem which this country faces, youth unemployment. It is true that unemployment has reduced over the last 18 months to a modest extent, but the relationship between youth unemployment and the general rate of unemployment has worsened. Again, I have time for only a few figures. The Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that the unemployment position for young people is worse now than it was at the time of the commencement of the Labor Government. On a seasonally adjusted basis , the proportion of young people, from 15 to 19-years-old, looking for a full time job to all people looking for a full time job is higher now than it was in March 1983. In March 1983, 27.4 per cent of 15 to 19 year olds were looking for a full time job. In August 1984, 25 per cent were looking for a full time job, but that was in the context of a lower unemployment rate generally. Under this Government the position of the young unemployed has worsened when compared to the position of the unemployed generally.

Again, time does not permit a careful and a complete analysis of this situation . But the real issues in this area have not been faced by this Government. It has buried the report which was commissioned by the Fraser Government on this issue, the report of the Bureau of Labour Market Research; it has failed to face up to the fact that youth unemployment is substantially contributed to by our rigid system of wage fixation; it has not opened up the lines of inquiry that are required in this area; and it has done nothing to improve the relative position of young Australians who are unemployed. I think that is one of the major condemnations that can be made of the Government.

It has also failed to show that it is interested in the position of individual Australians as against the interests of trade unions and even of big business. We find that comment being made not just by politicians who might be regarded as having a partisan view but by observers such as Maximilian Walsh who, as recently as last Monday, in an article wrote as follows:

. . . industrial policy as now outlined in the party platform--

he was referring to the Australian Labor Party platform-

was virtually written by the industrial movement. The key union involved here is the left-wing Amalgamated Metals, Foundry and Shipwrights' Union.

He went on to say, in talking of the accord:

. . . adherence to the letter of the accord is plainly absurd in economic terms .

He went on to say:

If the existing industrial movement gains the sort of policy input in this area which it is attempting to do then the spectre of state corporatism really begins to take on substance.

Such corporatism where big government, big business and big unions combine to protect what they perceive as the comfort of the status quo was a feature of Mussolini's Italy and Peron's Argentina-both, incidentally charismatic regimes. In other words, it is an economic system which has profound social implications.

Put simply again, this Government is prepared to co-operate with big trade unions, to involve them in the preparation of its Budget and to hand to them major decision making. It is not prepared to consider the interests of individual Australians and in particular it is not prepared to consider the interests of the unemployed and the long term unemployed. We see its kowtowing to the union in its attempts to repeal section 45D of the Trade Practices Act, one of the few effective mechanisms that was made available to employers to resist unreasonable trade union behaviour.

The last thing which I have a chance to mention is the question of national symbols. The Government, without reference to the Australian people, made changes to our national anthem. It has made changes which show that it is seeking to send Australia off in a different direction. I suppose the simplest example is the cassettes which we, as politicians, made available to our constituent organisations when they wanted Australia's national symbol, the flag , the national anthem, the portrait of the Queen and so on. Those symbols have been altered. We do not find God Save the Queen, but the old national song on both sides of the cassette. Senator Martin will be speaking and has had a lot to say in the chamber recently on this matter. The fact of the matter is that most Australians would believe that Labor is taking us in the wrong directions here as elsewhere. Honourable senators will note the way the Government has had to turn to support the Bill introduced by Senator Durack to protect the present Australian flag. I believe that Australia has become what it is by Australians being encouraged to look after themselves, to be self-reliant and to seek to improve themselves. Under this Government we are moving in the opposite direction. The Government will take away our self-reliance, our independence and the desire to improve ourselves. I believe it will leave us a much sorrier country.