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Wednesday, 24 October 1984
Page: 2344

Senator HILL(4.31) —The Senate is discussing a most important matter this afternoon, that is, the failure of the Government to stand up for Australian families. It would probably be difficult to contemplate a more important matter. I regret the comments that were made by the previous speaker, Senator Coleman, with regard to racism. Her comments were untrue and uncalled for. I particularly regret that they came from Senator Coleman because she is a senator who is highly respected in this place. I think that her attitude indicates that perhaps a touch of desperation is sneaking into the Government in the light of this early election. Perhaps it indicates that the Australian people are just starting to wake up to this Government. After the flattering opinion poll figures, it is clear that a cynical 'take the people for granted' attitude has emerged.

The Government is so confident that it does not believe it even needs to seek the endorsement of the Australian people to a specific program during this election campaign. The Prime Minister, Mr Hawke, says: 'Trust me'. Mr Acting Deputy President, I suspect you remember that in the last election campaign the Prime Minister condemned the then coalition Government for calling an early election. He called it political opportunism and assured Australia that it would never happen under a Labor Government. Barely 18 months into his term of office we are going to the people. The Prime Minister is taking us to the people for one reason; that is, he believes it is an opportune time for him to gain a second term. He wants to take advantage of the breaking of the drought and to take advantage of the turnaround in the world economy and to avoid facing the real concerns that are obviously further down the line. I only wish that I had time to detail those concerns. When we have a public debt that is now estimated to be in the vicinity of $90 billion, which involves an average interest bill of $34 a week for each taxpayer, one can understand the consequences that will be faced by the next government further down the line. The Prime Minister is refusing to be judged over a full term. His was the party which wanted to introduce fixed term parliaments so that governments would be judged over full terms.

The Government, in its short period in office, has been preoccupied with structures and regimentality. As the political arm of the union movement, it is not surprising that it has the mentality that attempts to regiment Australia into interest groups with spokesmen. So we have the concept of summit meetings with representative spokesmen who are said to have the voice of Australia. We have summits that are then further syphoned to produce organisations with spokesmen for spokesmen who become the Economic Planning Advisory Council-the representatives of the Australian people in economic matters. Then we have the illusion that to confer with this minute group is to communicate, according to the Government, with the Australian people. What a convenience, but what a falsity! Who misses out on having a voice? The majority of Australians. Who on EPAC represents the housewives, the working mothers, the pensioners, the students and the families? In its effort to regiment Australia into convenient working groups with which it is easy to reach agreement and, therefore, to claim consensus, the interests of the majority of Australians have been lost. The views of families in all their various structures are not heard.

We have heard in this debate Senator Baume considering how families have not been represented by and have not benefited from this Government in education and health. We have heard from Senator Messner how families have been neglected in the areas of social security support. I concentrate on the fact that families have not been considered in the area of taxation. What are the taxation policies the Government is putting to people for endorsement or rejection at this election? Of course it will not say. The Prime Minister just says: 'Trust me'. That is not good enough. Families are entitled to know what are this Government' s taxation plans. What does the Government say? It says: 'We will hold an inquiry and possibly another summit and then we will determine and implement'. That means that the Government either has no position, no views or it refuses to take the Australian people into its confidence. One must suspect that the answer is the latter.

The Minister for Industry and Commerce, Senator Button, comes into this chamber and says that there has been no discussion of a capital gains tax. The same day we hear the Prime Minister saying: 'Yes, we will hold an inquiry and if it recommends capital gains tax of course we already understand that certain matters will be excluded. We will be excluding, for example, the family home'. Clearly Labor knows what it wants to do but it is going to camouflage it with an inquiry or another summit. There have been many inquiries in this country into the taxation system. We know of the report of the Asprey Taxation Review Committee. We know of the report of the Mathews Committee of Inquiry into Inflation and Taxation. We know of the continual conferences, papers and books that have been issued on the subject of taxation. We know of the research institutes that constantly pursue the subject, one of which I am a fellow, the Australian Institute of Taxation. The material on the subject is on the table. It is ample. What is not needed is more information. What is needed is decision making.

Another summit has been suggested. We know now how this Government's summits work. The Government appoints and selects the participants. It chairs a summit. It provides working papers and an agenda. The Government drafts the communique before the summit commences. In other words, the Government gets the results it wants and then says that those results have been endorsed by consensus of the Australian people. The families of Australia will not be fooled by that again. By contrast, the Party I represent, the Liberal Party of Australia, and the coalition have come clean. We have our tax policy. It has been made public. We have designed it to benefit families because that is where we assess the greatest need to be. We have put it up and we are prepared to debate it. We are happy for the Australian people to make a judgment upon it. We recognise that additional expenses are involved in raising children. The tax system should recognise that fact and be supportive of the family. I remind the Senate that the last coalition Government helped one-income families. For example, it increased the value of the spouse rebate for families with children from $400 in 1976 to $1,030 in the year in which it lost government. In its last two Budgets it increased family allowances by 50 per cent.

The Liberals now offer to go one step further, to reduce the income tax of families with children by allowing for a split of income. That will particularly benefit families where only one spouse is working but it will also benefit families where one spouse is working, say, part time or earning a small income. However, we recognise that, for economic reasons or simply choice, some families will desire to have both spouses working. We know that unless the second income is particularly high it tends to be gobbled up by child care costs. So in this program we are also offering tax rebates for child care in such circumstances. That benefit will also apply to single parent families, the type of family that is particularly in need, and will, no doubt, be received extremely favourably. We would like to have a specific timetable for the implementation of that program, but in the economic circumstances in which this Government-the highest spending government in Australia's peacetime history-has placed Australia it would be irresponsible of us to attempt to set out a timetable. But we will do it as soon as responsibly possible. We have set out the program, philosophies and principles and we will implement them.

What is this Government's situation by contrast? Labor has made no attempt to maintain the value of family provisions, the dependent spouse rebate or family allowances. Who can remember the policy speech of Mr Hawke during the last election campaign in which he promised to increase the dependent spouse rebate which he said would result in tax cuts for families of $2 per week? What has the Government done with respect to its much vaunted tax relief, the reduction of income tax? It has reduced income tax but it has increased the number of tax brackets. The average taxpayer is now being forced into a 47 per cent taxation bracket. The income tax cut has therefore become known as the Clayton's tax cut. Let us not just take my word. Let us look at what Eric Risstrom, Secretary of the Australian Taxpayers Association, said when asked:

What do you see as the advantages of the Liberals' proposed tax changes? Who will stand to gain?

He answered:

I should say about 1.3 million families would gain under the Liberals' tax proposal. One important thing that does not seem to have come out of many of the comments is that in recent Budgets almost one million people will be moving into a 46c or 47c in the dollar tax bracket.

But they are not the only two examples of where this Government has failed. Tax paying families will remember that this Government very rapidly removed the home loan rebate. But do they also remember Mr Hawke's promise to continue to provide security for home buyers to meet their housing repayments? He said: 'We will retain tax rebates for home loan interest payments'. That is another broken promise. The health insurance rebate soon went under this Government. It went within months of the Government coming into office. Do honourable senators remember Mr Hawke's promise on that? He said that Labor would keep intact existing financial arrangements in the health field until the introduction of Medicare. It did not happen. Indexation of excise duties is another example of where this Government has failed. Who suffers most under indexation of excise duties? It is families who are not well to do who suffer.

Time for this debate is extremely limited. This Government has been so busy congratulating itself and bathing in the glory of self-adulation that it has failed to understand the real needs of a critically important sector, the backbone of Australian society, that is, its families. We do not have to hide our past. We are not afraid to put forward our positive program for the future. We regret only that the Labor Government is not prepared to do the same. However , the people of Australia are not stupid. The Labor Government will suffer the consequences of its actions at the forthcoming election.