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Wednesday, 10 October 1984
Page: 1568


Senator JACK EVANS(4.31) —What a remarkable thing that we should take up time considering in the dying hours of this Parliament, which has a massive legislative program before it, a matter of public importance that is blatant political campaigning. I suppose it is not really all that remarkable when we consider the motivation behind the matter of public importance. As one would expect, of course, the Liberal and National parties have lined up on one side castigating the Labor Government and on the other side the Labor Government claims to have remedied most of the problems confronting this country.

From my point of view the Hawke Government has not been all that bad. It has been an approachable government, a government with which we find we can reason, just as we have been able to reason with the Liberal Party front benchers and the National Party leaders. In fact, we have found that all the parties have some quite good policies. The function we have tried to perform is to push them into implementing their better policies, many of which of course were introduced in the first instance by Australian Democrats. The primary Australian Labor Party objective is identical to the primary Liberal Party objective-winning elections. That is rather a sad reflection on their responsibilities as they perceive them to the Australian people.

The question that flows from the matter of public importance is whether Labor is good for Australia. Let us face it, Australia was stagnating under the previous Liberal-National Party Government. A lot of people felt that Labor brought a breath of fresh air into the parliamentary and the government system of Australia. Unfortunately in that fresh air there were far too frequent bad odours. A lot of that came out of ill-conceived moves which may have had good intentions. I think the assets test was a classic example of something which frightened a lot of people and which, although it was brought on for public debate in a very respectable and responsible way, did leave many people, particularly elderly people, very concerned.

There have been some ill-conceived moves by the Australian Labor Party for which it deserves the severest castigation by the people of Australia. One of those was its willingness to proceed with uranium mining at Roxby Downs. This is a party which was elected on a pledge gradually to reduce uranium mining in Australia then immediately set about opening up the biggest uranium mine in the free world. Of course that made the remaining uranium mining applications quite redundant because Roxby Downs will supply all the foreseeable needs of Australia 's potential market places. Also we were very disappointed with the Australian Labor Party's attitude to environmental issues. We were disappointed at the way it allowed the Daintree Rainforest road to proceed without intervening with the powers that we believe it possessed to prevent that road from destroying a substantial part of that forest.

However, the Labor Government had made some good moves and some brave moves. It freed the foreign exchange rate. I believe that was a bold move and certainly a very valuable move from the point of view of Australia's future relationships with other nations and with the financial systems of the rest of the world. The Government introduced human rights for a lot of women in this country with the Sex Discrimination Act. The Government is to be commended for that. Again that was a brave move and a bold move because it drew a lot of flack. The Government continued to fight against tax evaders. Here I have to give credit to both parties because I think John Howard finally realised that the tax evaders/ avoiders of Australia were destroying our economy and not just ripping off the rest of the Australian taxpayers. The Labor Party continued that fight, and, in fact, has increased that fight against tax evaders, a fight for which it deserves commendation.

In the environmental area we give the Government full marks for saving the Franklin River. The Australian Democrats were very proud to be associated with all the moves to help save that valuable area in the south west of Tasmania for all future generations. There is not much doubt in my mind, and the minds of all intelligent people, that the Tasmanian Hydro-Electric Commission management will change before the policy of one of the present leaders and directors of that Commission will have an opportunity to implement his plans for that region which would result in its destruction.

The matter of public importance refers to the wrong direction that Labor is taking Australia. To be able to speak to that matter one has to know the direction that Labor is taking Australia. I put it to the Senate that it is very difficult to perceive just in which direction Labor is trying to take this country. Frankly I believe that this Government and previous Liberal-National governments have not pointed in any direction consistently because they have had the principle of pragmatism as their governing force. Lest I be taken to task for not giving an alternative I spell out that the Australian Democrats is a party with a clear direction. It is a party which looks ahead and which is concerned for the future. Its whole policy is based on long term planning. It is based on a sustainable economy. It is based on the protection of our environment for the future, not ripping and raping our environment for the present. It is based on decisions for Australia made by Australians, not by foreign boards of directors. We have a very strong commitment to individual rights and an even stronger commitment, if that is possible, to leave the world a better place than when we entered it because otherwise that would interfere with the human rights of all future generations of this country and indeed of the world.

As this matter has been brought on for the blatant purpose of electioneering let us look at what will happen after the forthcoming election. I do not think that anybody in his heart of hearts believes that the result will be anything but another Hawke Government, perhaps with an even bigger majority giving the Government more problems with its internal factions. The result of that will be a dispirited Opposition. It does not require a great capacity to look into the future to recognise that within the Liberal and National parties there will be rivalries between the small Liberals and the ultra-right wing conservatives which are already becoming evident within those parties. Because we will have that problem within the major parties of Australia there will be a need for a moderating influence. That influence will be the Senate.

The Senate has become a genuine House of Review. I believe that most people who study politics and the parliaments of this country would agree that the Senate is now the principal legislative body because it is the only legislative body in this Parliament which has the power to amend, improve, adopt, reject- independently of the Administration of the country. The reasons for this, I believe are, firstly, that the Australian Democrats in this chamber, holding as they do the balance of power, vote on the issue and not on the basis of party dogma, not just to serve the interests of unions or big business. The second reason is the willingness of both the Government and the Opposition to negotiate with and through the Australian Democrats. I believe that has been a great leap forward, not just for the Senate but for the whole of the Australian Parliament. It has created great benefits for all the people of Australia. The third reason is that interest groups and individuals have discovered that the Senate represents all people and not just the power groups. They now have access to the Australian Parliament.

The big fear is that after this election a Hawke government would be dominated by the extremists. Only the Senate can protect Australia and Australians from the Labor Party extremists. Only the Australian Democrats can protect Labor from its own power blocs. If Australia is being taken in the wrong direction, it is because we have a government that lacks vision-in other words, it lacks direction. We see that in the way in which the Government is allowing unemployment, which is so tragic for the young and the middle aged alike, to continue. Band-aid measures are not good enough. There must be longer term planning to help the unemployed to get back into the system. Earlier voluntary retirement is essential, the link between education and training and career is vital, and government can provide some of that linkage.

We need to take on board the great innovations that can come out of our own scientific and technological experts around Australia. We need to stop the brain drain which is exporting that expertise at no cost to the importer. We need to adopt a foreign relations policy which is independent. We need to lead this region and, in that way, we can lead the world, particularly in just causes such as East Timor. We need to join the fight against nuclear weapons, as has New Zealand, by banning ships and aircraft. We need to stand independently as a nation and not just hang on to the coat tails of the United States of America or the United Kingdom. We need to look after our aged and disabled, to give a guaranteed minimum income and the fringe benefits to which all at retirement age should be entitled and receive. We need to be innovative and to lead the world in alternative power, such as wind, solar, tidal, and methane gas. We should be showing the world that it can do without uranium.

The future direction for Australia can be demonstrated by the Australian Democrats' attitude to this country's potential. We see an Australia which is a free enterprise nation; a country which is an independent leader in this region; a country which leads in human rights, particularly for its underprivileged; a nation with a non-partisan, long term economic strategy, and with tripartisan policies on tax, tariffs and duties, foreign investment, industry restructuring, with retraining and income supplement provisions. We should not be debating such matters on party lines. They should be debated, considered and agreed to as a uniform national policy. We see a nation which recognises the importance of quality of life through the protection of its environment, through the educational opportunities for its young in particular, through a health policy which is based primarily on preventive health and through a freedom from poverty . We see a nation which is a leader in multiculturalism. It has been an inevitability that this be a multicultural nation from the day that Europeans set foot on Aboriginal territory.

According to every poll produced over the past year, the next Government will be the second Hawke Labor Government. Therefore, the administration of Australia and the House of Representatives will be controlled by Labor. This election will focus on the composition of the Senate. If Labor controls it, the Senate will become a rubber stamp. If the Liberals and the Nationals control it, it will become chaotic, as it was in 1975. If the Democrats have the balance of power, it will be neither a rubber stamp nor chaos, but a moderating, balanced influence on the Government. This will give all Australians a say in our nation' s future-a consensus system for all.