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Tuesday, 23 October 1984
Page: 2194

Senator JACK EVANS(12.31) —The appropriation Bills we are considering are the result of some new directions being taken by this Government , some directions which are continuing from previous governments and, regrettably, very few new directions, despite the prodding and support which will be given to those new directions by the Australian Democrats. One has to look a little more deeply than the Budget Papers and the appropriation Bills before the Senate at the moment to discover why there is a lack of interest in the new areas, a lack of involvement in legislation which would bring to this Parliament a new approach for Australia, for our economy and for the people in this country. Regrettably, when looking for reasons, when one goes deeply enough into what is happening in Australian politics, one can draw no other conclusion than that for some time now the political parties have been heading towards a new conservatism. I refer to the Liberal Party of Australia, the National Party of Australia and the Australian Labor Party.

When one reads the Budget and the appropriation Bills before us one could quite easily make the mistake of believing that this is a Liberal-National Party Budget and these are Liberal-National Party appropriation Bills. What seems to have happened is that, on achieving government, the Labor Party has become as conservative, as stagnant and as backward-looking as was its predecessor. The effect is that we now have what amounts to an indistinguishable Liberal-Labor dominated Parliament. If we look to the reason for that we have to go back to studying the political parties. Just at the time when there is a diminishing pressure on the Labor Party from the Left of that Party there is a strengthening pressure on the Liberal Party from its Right. So we discover that effectively we now have in this Parliament two kinds of politicians. On the one hand, we have conservative politicians, the politicians of stagnation who are afraid to move into the 1980s, many of whom are still debating the problems of the 1950s when they first entered Parliament. On the other hand, we have a relatively small number-nevertheless, they represent a very large number of Australians-who may be termed radical or reformist politicians. These politicians are endeavouring to bring Australia into the 1980s, to prepare us for the challenges of the 1990s .

I put it to honourable senators that the Australian Democrats are at the forefront of that movement. We are giving the lead to this Government just as we gave it to the previous government. But that lead is being picked up too slowly by the government of the day. The difficulty that the present Government has is that so many of its members and supporters seem to believe that radicalism equates with either socialism or the dries' version of conservatism. Of course, to equate it with the sort of Whitlamesque socialism would be anathema to the pragmatists in the Labor Party. Whitlam made some tragic errors between 1972 and 1975 but at least one must give him credit for being prepared to try to bring Australia into the 1970s.

Senator Peter Rae —John Gorton had already done that.

Senator JACK EVANS —Indeed, John Gorton, to give credit to a small 'l' liberal, did endeavour to bring Australia up to date when he was Prime Minister. Regrettably, the forces on John Gorton were even stronger than the forces within his Party on Gough Whitlam; he was unable to achieve his objective just as Gough Whitlam was unable to achieve his; the forces of pragmatism played their part on both of them. Pragmatism to politicians of the Liberal Party, the National Party and the Labor Party means getting oneself re-elected. It has to be the number one priority. Radicalism is simply adapting to our environment and recognising and planning for the probable environment of the future. That is the role of the Australian Democrats and a few other parliamentarians, I am very happy to add, from the Liberal Party and the Labor Party-but a very small minority in each of those parties.

We have seen a change in the electorate. It has been interesting to watch how that change has been picked up by the politicians in their Budgets. The changes seem to have been from an attitude in the 1960s and 1970s of 'How much can I take from the system?' to a reversal of that in many people in the 1980s, to an acceptance of some sense of responsibility. It was recognised by parliaments in the late 1970s and more so in the 1980s that there was a growing disenchantment with tax avoiders and tax evaders. Malcolm Fraser was the first to recognise this and to take advantage of this changed attitude and these changed values of Australians when he introduced his first bottom of the harbour legislation. He took the first step towards outlawing tax evasion and making tax avoidance socially unacceptable.

Another change that we have seen in the sense of responsibility of Australians has been an awareness and an acceptance of the responsibility for the plight of unemployed and socially disadvantaged people. The term 'dole bludger', which was coined in the 1970s and accepted by many Australians as an excuse for sitting back and doing nothing about the unemployed, in the 1980s has been accepted as an area of responsibility which we all share. One would expect, therefore, that in an election in 1984 unemployment would be the number one item on the political agenda in the election campaign. But, of course, it has been buried by a fatuous taxation debate about which we will be speaking a little later in the day.

The new values in the 1980s include a responsibility for our environment-not to exploit the environment for what we can take out of it today, but a responsibility for what we will leave to future generations. This is not necessarily an acceptance right across the nation, but there is a growing recognition of the responsibility that all Australians should have for our environment.

There is a growing recognition of the need to share the limited number of jobs available. Regrettably, recognition of that responsibility has not yet got through to the trade union leaders who continue to exploit their strength and their domination over this Government to get better salaries, wages or take home pay for those who are employed and to ignore totally the plight of the unemployed who are not part of the system. Again, we will see this as part of the big tax debate which will leave three million Australians totally ignored in this election campaign while we talk about how much more we can give to employed people and pretend that we do not have a problem with unemployment.

The values of today include a recognition of the potential disaster to the people on this earth and to the earth itself of the nuclear holocaust. A growing number of people are expressing their concern and accepting their responsibilities as Australian citizens and citizens of the world to work and to fight for nuclear disarmament, to try to get the message through to the leaders of this nation and of the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics that the people of the world are not content to sit back and allow proliferation of nuclear weapons any one of which could trigger off the literal end of mankind as we know it.

New values also embrace an acceptance of the responsibility of the whole community for the health and safety of all of our people-not just those who are within our immediate family or work group, but the whole community. People are starting to recognise that there is a tragedy in occupational health which has grown and grown in this country. It is a tragedy for every person who is injured on the job. Although people may be compensated financially, their health can never be compensated for the disability which they suffer as a result of this. We are starting to recognise that we have a responsibility to the younger generation, not to lead those young people into an unhealthy lifestyle, not to tempt them, encourage them or entice them to take up smoking, not to try to persuade them that the way to adulthood is to become a big alcohol consumer, and to try not just to shelter them but to guide them into adulthood with different messages from those that they get from the advertisers of some of these products .

The new values also embrace a recognition-something which we accepted the responsibility for decades ago but which we seem to have abandoned in recent years in a very high proportion of our population-that we owe it to ourselves as a people and as individuals to care for the aged, to care for the disabled and to care for the young people in Australia-not just in financial terms; not just by dollar handouts in the form of an age pension, a youth unemployment benefit or a pension for the handicapped. Far more than that, we owe it to these people as well as to ourselves to recognise that we have a responsibility to help them to have a lifestyle which is acceptable to them, and not to put them into some hidden place out of the way, unrecognised and therefore not accepted as a responsibility of the whole nation.

Debate interrupted.

Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2 p.m.