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Wednesday, 27 March 1985
Page: 863


Senator VANSTONE(11.11) —Mr Acting Deputy President, as you have so kindly drawn to my colleagues' attention, I have risen in this chamber to make my first speech. I stand here on the very back bench of the Opposition as a new senator representing South Australia. Albeit I have hundreds of grey hairs, at the age of 32 I am nonetheless the youngest member of this chamber. In this regard I am closely followed by Senator Black and then by another member of the Liberal Party of Australia, Senator Knowles. I am aware that the youngest senator ever to take a seat in this chamber was Hattil Spencer Foll, who took his seat in July 1917 at the age of 28. It is interesting that the youngest member of the Senate was a non-Labor representative and took his seat almost 70 years ago. He served this Parliament for 30 years. I cannot move on without making reference to a colleague who was recently returned to the Senate, Senator Puplick, who, I understand, has the dubious distinction of being the youngest senator ever to leave this chamber.

Australia is a comparatively youthful country. She has the future before her and it can be a bright one. We have the space, the physical resources and a marvellous mix of human resources blending skills and cultures from many countries. The very sad fact is that the young people in this country are not enjoying the benefits of the enthusiasm and energy that come from believing in the future that this country has and consequently are not realising the opportunities that they have as individuals in this country.

As the youngest senator, I feel compelled to address the disillusionment of young Australians. In my view it is an absolute disgrace that a country which has the wealth of opportunities that this country has can tolerate for one minute the degree of disillusionment that young Australians display. Let me outline the picture that young Australians see as they approach the time when they move out of secondary schooling and into their adult lives. They have approximately a one in four chance of getting a job. They have a one in three chance of getting tertiary education. They see a government with a Prime Minister who promised them 'a nation in which all can share fairly in the abundance and all the opportunities offered by this great country of ours' and they see a reality that does not match up to that.

Recent polls will have made the Government only too well aware of how disillusioned young people are with it. Young people do not accept the view put forward by the Prime Minister, Mr Hawke, on 13 November last year. They do not see abundance and opportunities; they see despair. There is despair in the young people seeking jobs. There is despair in the employers battling the flood of on-costs that threaten to drown their employment capacity. There is despair in our aging population, which is terrified that someone in the Government wants to know the value of their curtains and their keepsakes. There is despair in the general community over the burden of taxation and the horrific suspicion that more is yet to come. There is despair in the community at the realisation that this country is living on borrowed money and borrowed time. There is despair at having elected a government that now appears not to know where it is going or what it wants to do. It is a tragedy that there is so much despair in a country that has yet to reach out and grasp the fortune that lies before her.

On entering Parliament the Prime Minister rose like a sparkling skyrocket to his current position. The Australian people, particularly the young people, are now looking past the glitter of the Hawke ascendancy to the hard substance of things. What do they see? The first thing they see is that what goes up inevitably comes down, and in a skyrocket's case the descent is not nearly as attractive. They see the despair that I have already outlined. They also see a huge gap or void and they see that in that void should be this Government's plan and this Government's vision, a way out of our problems. If this Government has a vision, it is the best kept secret this Parliament has ever seen: or is it that the Left has one vision, the Centre Left another and the Right another, and that this Government, being stuck with a point in every direction, has ended up with no point at all?

Australians now realise only too well that promises are cheap and rhetoric is hollow. Vegemite nationalism is not a program or blueprint for the future. The Prime Minister is very good at being enthusiastic when we win the tennis, he is wonderful at being enthusiastic when we win the cricket and he is excellent at being enthusiastic when we win a boat race. He is a catalyst for what I have already referred to as vegemite nationalism. It is easy to be enthusiastic about winning but what I want to know, what young Australians want to know and what all Australians want to know is: Where is the enthusiasm to tackle the problems facing this country? Where is the enthusiasm to generate meaningful jobs for young people? Where is the enthusiasm to save our industries from being emasculated by restrictive wage environments?

I could recite a whole range of tasks that need to be tackled and I could point out that they need to be tackled within the framework of a comprehensive plan. However, I can understand that as this Prime Minister and this Government have no plan with which to tackle these problems, we are perhaps being unrealistic to expect them to be enthusiastic about implementing a non-existent vision.

This country has had an overdose of pantomime politics. We do not need any more speeches that sound good; we need ones that are good and sound. We do not need any more speeches that raise people to their feet so much as ones that bring them to their senses. We need enthusiasm to tackle the tasks ahead and we need determination. We also need something that in my view has been lacking in this country for a considerable time and it is a vital element: We cannot achieve our goals without political will. With that will, there are no doors this country cannot open and no limits on the achievements that we can make. The lack of this political will has been particularly evident with successive governments in the area of public excess, waste and failure. Successive governments have been scared off by some taboos or myths. These need to be not only challenged but also shattered.

Let me give some examples. The first example I choose is education. We now know that spending more money on education does not mean that we have better educated Australians. Since 1975 the average education expenditure per student in real terms has increased by more than 50 per cent. Honourable senators should ask themselves: Has the quality of education improved that much? The answer must be no. The education budget deserves the closest scrutiny, reappraisal and rearrangement.

The second myth is that the Public Service at all levels needs to be permitted the luxury of permanency. My personal view is that there is a level at which the Public Service needs permanency, but that level is considerably high. Disposing of permanency below that level would allow competition to thrive and would cast off the very debilitating net of dead wood that encompasses our Public Service. Allow me to liken the Public Service to a rose bush; I think it is high time that the secateurs came out, the dead wood was cut off and new blooms were permitted to come through. We should let the good public servants be really good. We should not make them waste their efforts fighting their way through fools and dragging the dead wood behind them. We should let the real stars in our Public Service shine.

Another area that needs close attention is that of Aboriginal affairs. My colleague Senator Knowles earlier this week outlined with a marked degree of clarity the depth of feeling that exists within this area. These conflicts cannot be ignored and must be resolved.

We need political will and wisdom to sort out our taxation system. The Prime Minister's impending summit is nothing more than a means of getting off the hook. If one has no ideas oneself or one has a complete inability to sort out one's own priorities, the best thing one can do is call a summit. This enables one to pass the buck on to the participants in one's pantomine. This summit shows that this Government has run out of ideas and is incapable of setting taxation reform priorities. I believe that no government should take in personal income tax a greater share of each dollar earned than the portion that the person earning it is allowed to keep. A personal rate tax of more than 50c in the dollar is, to my mind, the clearest disincentive to work longer, to work harder and to be more efficient.

The next area to which we must address ourselves is that of social welfare. I do not wish today to address any remarks to the entrepreneurs of welfare. I feel confident that we in this chamber all know what should be done with those people who use the system to their advantage and to the disadvantage of those who are in real need. However, the proper utilisation of taxpayers' money lies not only in meeting simple fiscal accountability, but also in meeting the legitimate needs of the people. In this regard I wish to look at the social welfare scene in this country and, more particularly, at the recipients. I refer to some changes in the welfare scene that have occurred over the last decade. There has been a disturbing increase in the number of single parent families-mothers with small children and without husbands or whose husbands have deserted them, who cannot survive and bring up their children without state intervention. There has been an increase in the unemployed and therefore in the number of those on the unemployment benefit. There has been an increase in the number of people on the age pension and the widow's pension. In fact, there has been an increase in the number of recipients of most pensions. I should not need to point out to honourable senators that women are particularly vulnerable in this area.

All of these welfare recipients have a limited income. They are all poor. A new identity has been forced upon them and they have become reliant upon the state for their most basic needs. This is a humiliating and dangerous position to put them in. They are becoming the children of the state. They have become institutionalised just as surely as if they had been given a uniform, and we probably have already given them a number. Few have yet adequately grasped or recognised the nature of this new client state-suspicious, more sophisticated, more articulate and yet more helpless, more bitter and more resigned. And so, with the best of intentions, the state has paid out millions in welfare and without realising it, has created this new client state with people trapped by the state-with no future beyond the next welfare cheque. There must be a better way-a way that enables welfare recipients to retain a greater degree of individuality, a way that will free them from the prison of dependence on the state and will enhance the individual's opportunity to set in train his or her own advancement.

Mr Deputy President, I have outlined some of the challenges we face. Let me now pin my colours to the mast so that this chamber can see the thoughts that will guide me through what I hope will be many years in this chamber. I am a passionate believer in capitalism. It is the system best equipped to cope with human frailty. It is a shame, in my view, that the proponents of capitalism have failed to market its benefits as adequately as they have marketed is products. Capitalism is a dirty word in some quarters and that is because the Left has hijacked the moral vocabulary of politics. They market their program as being based on a moral creed of selfless sharing, and this is meant to be achieved by the planned subordination of the individual to the well-being of the community. It of course fails to take account of the frailties of human nature. The capitalist system does, of course, take account of the frailties of human nature; it accepts human nature for what it is and makes the best of a bad job. Capitalism, with its corner-stone of individualism, safeguards liberty against the gross pretentions of the state and acknowledges that the energy of personal enterprise is far more productive than the planning of bureaucrats and that the whole community benefits from the greater productivity, innovation and enthusiasm of personal enterprise.

I believe the ultimate morality must lie with the individual and, accordingly, that individual responsibility is not an accident or an adjunct of capitalism; it is its moral justification. I have great faith in the individual and I believe we must guard against the misuse of misguided notions of equality that threaten to reduce all Australians to the lowest common denominator. I believe in equality of opportunity, in equality before the law, in equal rights; I do not, however, believe that all men are born equal. This is a misguided notion: Some are intelligent, some not; some are born in fortunate circumstances, others are not so lucky; some are born with musical ability that others will never have. Our differences, our unequalness, is the very essence of our individualism. It is the misuse of the adjective 'equal' and its capacity to take on an all-pervasive meaning that can lead us astray. To one who says 'I believe in equality' we should ask: 'Equality of what?'. I believe individuals are unequal by nature and that therefore unequal rewards are fairer than fair shares to worker and shirker alike. That is, of course, why Senator Button, who is not here this morning, is on the Government front bench and other senators are not. It is an acknowledgment that his talents far exceed those of some of his colleagues, and therefore he is not equal among his colleagues.

In addition to being a passionate supporter of the capitalist system, I also hold the adversary system in high regard. We use it in our courts to get as close as we can to justice and we use a variation of it in this Parliament to get as close as we can to good government. It is a privilege to participate in our system of government and I, of course, wish to thank those who were so helpful to me in my passage to Parliament, however bumpy the road may have been. The people I refer to know full well who they are and they do not need to be named. They know how many envelopes they licked and how many telephone calls they made and they know they have my gratitude. I simply take this opportunity to place that gratitude on the public record.

I wish, however, also to address some remarks to some of those people who were not helpful-to those who actively worked for others and therefore against me; to those people, the likes of whom are found in many walks of life on both sides of Parliament, who wish to be with the winner and so they tittle-tattle between various contestants and supporters and in doing so display a degree of flexibility that makes the proverbial willow or bamboo appear rock solid. The message to these two groups is this: They also have my unreserved gratitude for the role that they played. I have indicated my faith in the adversary system because it forces each side to put its case to be judged and in this way achieve the best result. Preselections follow the same adversary type of system. Accordingly, my thanks for participating as my opposition go to those people I have just mentioned.

Mr Deputy President, opposition provides some wonderful benefits. It provides the challenge that feeds the spirit, the interaction that sharpens the wit, and the debate that heightens the intellect; and of course, there is nothing like the impending prospect of one's own blood being spilt on the preselection floor to get one's adrenalin going.

As an Opposition senator it is quite appropriate for me to expand on the reasons I have for being such an ardent supporter of the adversary system. I have already mentioned that such a system results in each side having to put its case as best it can. This has a further result in that a tension sets up between the various sides. The benefits of this creative tension should never be underestimated. It can generate new and interesting ideas and can make a positive contribution to the better government of this country. If in parliament each side puts its case with good faith the process and results of debate can only be enhanced. We should rejoice in the noise of public argument for it is the music of freedom.

Mr Deputy President, I have been quick to point out the realistic, albeit depressing, features of Australia today. I have pointed out the disillusionment of young Australians and their consequent lack of hope and vision for the future. I have pointed out some of the problems that force our industrialists to live in the world of today, here and now, rather than mapping out their plan for the future. I have pointed to one disastrous consequence of our welfare state-the creation of a client state with its participants imprisoned by state dependence and having no capacity to plan for their future beyond the arrival of their next cheque. They have been forced into the shortsightedness of poverty.

It is only fair, therefore, that I point out some of the aspirations that I have for this nation. I want to see a nation whose governments build individualism and oppose collectivism; who reward enterprise and not apathy; and who encourage the pursuit of excellence and spurn mediocrity. I want to see this nation with a taxation system that is fair to all; with meaningful job opportunities especially for young Australians; where our ageing citizens can feel secure; and with an education system that encourages individuals to realise their full potential. I want a nation where industry can operate without the excessive burden of governments on its back; with an industrial system based on equity rather than misplaced industrial muscle; and with a government that cares more for individual Australians than for its own re-election.

Mr Deputy President, this is but a sketch of the aspirations that I have for this nation. Perhaps I can sum it up this way: I want all Australians to be able to cast off the burdens that tie us down with shortsighted mentality. I want young Australians, industrialists, workers, entrepreneurs, the aged-indeed all Australians-to lift their eyes confidently beyond today's horizon and into the future before us.