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Wednesday, 20 March 1985
Page: 518


Senator BROWNHILL(5.53) —I commence by thanking Senator Jones from the other side of the Senate for standing aside tonight to allow me to make my maiden speech in front of my wife and father-in-law. I speak in this chamber conscious of the enormous responsibility that is placed in me as a senator. I thank the members of the National Party of Australia for the honour they have given to me to represent that great Party in this chamber. The trust that the vast membership of the National Party has put in me will not be misplaced. My dedication and determination are at the service of the people of New South Wales.

I was elected as a member of the joint Senate team fielded by the New South Wales Liberal Party and the National Party. Our joint ticket arrangement in New South Wales is indicative of our mutual resolve to recapture the Government benches at the next election. I trust and hope that my stay in this place will not be dominated by the bombardment of rhetoric and oratory but that this House reviews and improves legislation that will make this great nation of Australia a better place for all people. This objective will not be achieved with words; it will be achieved only by action.

I follow into this Parliament a politician possessed of high integrity, dedication and ability. I refer, of course, to Senator Douglas Scott, Leader of the National Party in this place. Senator Scott is a true leader to my colleagues and to me. He has given great service to the Party. If one were to highlight only one of the great contributions that Senator Scott has made to this country and to rural Australia one would first nominate his efforts to remove death duties, which I regarded then and still regard as a cruel and unjust burden on all Australians.

Like many of my colleagues, including Senator Scott, I come from a rural background. Over the last few years I have seen and felt the cost-price squeeze bite into the rural communities. I have seen country towns start to dry up and die. Young country people are forced to drift to cities for work that they once found in their home towns. I have seen and I continue to see the diabolical effects of strikes on export industries, one after another, month after month. I saw all these things and I believed then, as I do now, that there must be a better way for Australia and all Australians. I do not profess to know all the answers. I am not sure that I even understand half the questions, but if I and all honourable senators here are to be of service to our constituents and to this country I believe that it is incumbent on all of us at least to try to understand the questions and to search for responsible answers.

Obviously I have a great interest and affection for rural Australia and the sector that that represents. But too often those who do not understand the problems of rural Australia tend to dismiss us. Too often city people have no idea that country people have just the same problems that they do. We all have mortgages, some so high that we could not even jump over them, not even in a lifetime of trying. We worry about where our children will find jobs. They cannot all stay on the family farms. Those in rural towns and cities cannot always find work where they want it. We all have the same problems, wherever we live. I think it is time for all Australians, irrespective of where they live, to look at where this nation is going and to ask themselves: 'Is it heading in the right direction?' I do not believe it is.

The cost of industrial disputation is immeasurable in any real sense. I can quote the costs of individual strikes. The last New South Wales rail strike cost $150m in lost coal markets. That meant a loss of $80m in lost rail freight, and $12m in lost wheat sales that cost the State Rail Authority over $2m per day-a strike that further put at risk our reputation as a reliable trading nation. But that is only half of the story. What of the strikes that cannot be measured in financial terms? How does one estimate the cost of the teachers' strikes, the power strikes, the sewerage workers' strikes and the cost of delays in loading live sheep for overseas export from Victoria and South Australia? How do we estimate the loss of production and productivity of Victorian dairy farmers who were forced to come to Canberra and demonstrate on the lawns of Parliament House to make someone listen to them?

The right of labour to be organised is not under debate, but the fact that it has assumed the right to cripple Australian industry and to ruin the livelihood of others most certainly is. Every day in every newspaper in every State there are reports of one strike or another which causes disruption, delay and disorganisation of the whole community. In fact, in 1984 there were 1,965 disputes compared with 1,787 in 1983. Days lost were down but disputes were up. Why? Yet at a Federal level and in the majority of States we have governments that supposedly understand the unions, governments that know how to get along with them and understand them, governments that have agreements and accords with them to ensure effective negotiation and the smooth running of this country, governments that stand idly by allowing strikes to cripple industry and initiative. It is time that governments did more than just stand idly by. It is time that employer and employee, government and union, got together and enacted some of what was promised before the election. I think the system is falling apart in many directions. Equally, I believe that the remedies must start to be implemented at the top. Governments are and continue to be too top heavy, too cumbersome, too expansive. I am saying these things in 1985. In 1920 Sir Earle Page, in his maiden speech to Parliament, said:

We have to consider whether this Parliament is going to be extravagant in the future. It is time parliamentary government was restored and the control of the public purse properly placed . . .

It is time for every party to consider that taxation should be levied and . . . the way . . . our Commonwealth revenue shall be dispersed before it is spent . . . Government expenditure is one of the prime causes of the high cost of living . . . Perhaps another reason is the addition to the overgrown civil service.

It is 65 years on and we are still pondering the question of government spending. We are bombarded with the rhetoric of Australia being a better place for all people, but that will not be achieved with words. It will be achieved only by action. I and my Party, the National Party of Australia, believe that government spending is too high. If governments want industries, small and large, primary and secondary, to cut their costs, prune their expenses, become more efficient and increase their productivity, the example must start at the top. Artificially imposed accords will not disguise inefficiency. They will not substitute for action. The prices and incomes accord has not made government more conscious of costs. It has not made it more efficient.

Summits, in whatever form, are not a substitute for government. Promises of farm prices summits and taxation summits do not replace action and management. Taxation summits and, more appropriately, government expenditure summits should be held before elections, not after them. They are not mandates to introduce a range of legislation to levy more charges or extract more taxes. They are not mandates to increase capital gains taxes or introduce wealth taxes or death duties, to all of which I am totally opposed. Governments should look at what they have to produce and provide before determining what taxation measures are required. When this has been done, the whole taxation system must be reviewed, refined and renewed-not patched up with band-aid measures. When the new system is set up it must have incentives for people who want to work hard. It must be equitable and, above all, cost effective. The urgency motion passed in this House this afternoon shows that many others agree with me.

The National Party believes strongly in the principles of free enterprise, private ownership and the minimum amount of government interference in industry, commerce, production and distribution. Socialism does not work for Australia. We believe in the need to lower taxes, reduce the size of government, and encourage individual economic freedom. These things cannot happen while successive governments increase taxes, increase the size of the bureaucracy, and stifle and over-regulate the private business sector. These things cannot happen while there is gross wastage and inefficiency in government at all levels. The Australian Telecommunications Commission and the Australian Postal Commission are only two examples of excessive bureaucracy, over-regulation and red tape.

I am concerned at the wastage of resources and money in the social security area. Social security expenditure in Australia is probably the largest and fastest growing industry. It costs each and every Australian-man, woman and child, pensioner and baby alike-$964 a year. It costs every taxpayer $2,440 a year. We spend $18 billion a year on social security and the system still does not work. We have some 570,000 people on unemployment benefit. The deserving definitely need help, but the undeserving should be exposed. Identity cards should be used for the receipt of unemployment benefit. This is no more an interference with individual rights than the advent of the Medicare card. I also believe there is a genuine desire for people out of work to do something in return for the unemployment benefit. Over one million people are on invalid pensions, sickness benefits, disability pensions or service pensions. I do not disagree with the deserving receiving help.

Australia is an aging nation, with some 1.4 million people on age pensions. The number of people over 65 years of age will jump from 1.6 million this year to 3.5 million by the year 2021. In other words, fewer people will be working and paying taxes to provide that $18 billion for social security payments, which by then will be much higher, of course. Our aging population is increasing and we are doing nothing to prepare for those people or to help them prepare for themselves. At present our aged people are in fear of an iniquitous assets test. Those receiving a pension and those coming close to retiring age have no assurance, no idea of what they will be entitled to. At present the thrifty are being penalised for the sake of the careless spendthrifts. Those who have saved during their working life for their retirement are now finding that it was not wise to do so.

I believe we should give encouragement for people to provide for their retirement. There should be incentives for personal savings through the taxation system. The time is right for a national superannuation scheme run by private enterprise. The alternative is higher taxation. I believe that the very young, the aged and the disadvantaged are entitled to the support of society and should receive the help they need to live in comfort and dignity. For example, I consider that present arrangements for sick aged people are both costly and unfair. The eviction or threatened eviction of chronically ill people from hospitals is wrong. Again, I do not believe that the system is working. I believe that there must be a better and fairer way. I am not advocating a return to or support for the big spending policies which are a hallmark of Labor governments; I simply ask for better financial management and for compassion.

Never has an understanding by government been needed more than in the area of primary industry. I am pleased that this Government has acknowledged the significance of rural industry in the economic recovery and I look forward to the promised major report this Government is planning on primary industry to the year 2000. I believe that, unless government takes serious notice of the pleas of farmers and their organisations, Australia's major income earning industries will continue to decline in international competitiveness. I remind the Senate that the people of rural Australia are the same ones who carried this country and made it what it is today. The average yearly farm income per unit of farm labour is now predicted at about $6,000. This should be compared with the average male earnings of $22,399 per annum.

It must not be forgotten that the farm sector employs some one million people. They produce $10,000 million of export earnings every year and supply more than 90 per cent of the Australian householders' food, something this Parliament, this Government, and the Australian people should never forget. Ignore agriculture and our cities will decay. The National Farmers Federation, in its recent submission to government, blames high farm costs on five government functions-excessive tariffs on imported goods, excessive government spending and borrowings at both State and Federal levels, a rigid labour market, over-regulated service industries, and government taxes and charges. Fuel prices are a classic example of excessive government charges. For every dollar we pay at the bowser for petrol, over 50c goes in State and Federal levies and charges, of which only a small proportion is spent on our roads.

The wheat industry has been hard hit. Diesel has increased by some 700 per cent in 14 years while the price received for wheat per tonne has increased by only 300 per cent. Add these to road and rail freight costs, increased interest rates, export meat inspection charges-are there any other countries in the world that have a tax on exports-and one starts to see the crisis facing every farmer in Australia today.

While all these taxes are being extracted from the rural sector, successive governments have done, and continued to do, precious little in areas such as soil conservation. A 1977 joint Commonwealth-State soil conservation study described the extremely serious situation of land degradation and called for an immediate national action. The odd millions that are being spent on soil conservation are not even sufficient to stop the degradation, much less reverse the situation. I realise the pressure that is put on governments to spend the money on people and services. However, if governments continue to neglect our soil there will be no way in which to produce food to feed the people in future. We have had many words on the subject of soil conservation but precious little action.

Obviously, in one speech I cannot hope to cover all the issues and philosophies in which I believe and wish to see implemented. I am concerned for the young people of Australia today. I am concerned that the decisions that we, as a parliament, make should provide a better future for young people and their children. According to a 1984 survey, the majority of young people perceive politics and government as lacking relevance to their lives. We must help to change that. We must have better communications. We must make sure that this wonderful human resource is not wasted on the unemployed scrapheap or allow young people to become disillusioned with society. I saw on a motor vehicle in Canberra only the other day: 'If you think the system is working, talk to someone who isn't'.

As a member of the National Party of Australia I consider the family unit to be the basis of a strong and stable society. I thank my family-all of them-for backing my decision to enter the Senate. I know, as we all must know in this place, what disruption a member of parliament in the family causes. However, I know that my family believes in and supports me in what I am doing. That is shown today by the fact that my father-in-law is visiting this House for the first time since 1927 when he heard Dame Nellie Melba sing on the steps at the opening of this House. A quotation that should perhaps apply equally to all in this place is:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

I thank the Senate.