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Monday, 22 April 1985
Page: 1302


Senator COOK(4.41) —It seems that the Opposition is so persuaded by its case that the last two speakers on the Opposition side have declined to use their full time and finished five minutes early. However, that does not in any sense detract from the Government's answer to this matter of urgency. It is, today, a matter of urgency that is being proposed in the Senate-not, as it was last week and earlier, a matter of public importance. The significant difference about today's debate is that a vote will be taken at the end of it. Rather than just a general expression of opinion, we shall see where individual senators stand.

After dealing with the content of this matter of urgency, I want to come to a proposition that I would put honestly and, I hope, sincerely, to the Opposition: That is, that those Opposition senators who are concerned about civil liberties, those of them who have, during their careers, come to be commonly recognised as small 'l' liberals, should vote with the Government on this matter of urgency, because otherwise they will be placing themselves in a position of giving de facto recognition to major adverse actions taken by the Queensland Government against civil liberties, and, on the record of where they, as senators, have stood in the past, they will be making a mockery of some of the very sound and proud stands that they have taken in defence of the rights of the individual and general rights in the community.

The Government is taking this urgency motion very seriously, even though it would appear that the debate on this matter of urgency, a serious matter in itself, is led from the Opposition side by the most junior senators, supported by two of the most junior senators in this chamber. If that is the degree of importance that the Opposition attaches to a matter of urgency, one can assume only that it is not a very serious matter of urgency at all and that, in fact, it is what the speeches of the Opposition betray it to be-a political stunt, a sleazy vote-getting opportunity. It does not address the issues.

The Government is deadly serious about its management of the economy and about industrial relations in this country. Last Thursday the national accounts came out. One need not go much further than an analysis of what the figures revealed to see, as all the headlines around the country reported, that the national accounts indicate strongly that the Australian economy is beginning to improve even more, that the emphasis has been shifted from government sector stimulus to private sector stimulus, that investment from the private sector is lifting, that our inflation rate remains low, that our growth figures are coming on track nicely, and that what this Government set out to do when it took power-to provide a fiscal stimulus to the economy through the government sector and then withdraw to allow the private sector to move in and take over-is occurring.

I cite the headlines of several newspapers: 'Economic news good', said the Australian of 19 April, while indicating that the dollar stays down. The Age said: 'Dollar at new low despite good economic news'. The Australian Financial Review ran a special headline. It dealt with the dollar, but it said, 'despite a strengthening economy'. We are witnessing a resurgent domestic economy, but a falling dollar because it seems that international money markets are unable to come to grips with the subtleties of Australian economic growth and to make judgments-which they may well make from the textbook of the political opposition which the Opposition propounds-on mirages and false assumptions.

All commentators are united in the view that the Australian dollar was overvalued under the previous Administration. It is now emerging, in my view, to be undervalued, but I believe there is absolutely no need to panic, as this Government has said. If we were to panic, we would be repudiating the courageous decision which this Government made, and which the previous Government refused to make because it lacked the political courage-the decision to float the dollar. We made that decision. In all the cries coming from the Opposition now, is it asking us to end the float, or to make it a dirty float, by intervening to prop up the dollar? The Opposition is not saying any of those things, because it recognises that the economic choice of floating the dollar was the right one for the health of this economy. Opposition senators do not have the courage to say now that it was not right, but what they then turn their attention to are the inflationary effects that it might have in terms of the CPI.

In terms of the CPI and what will happen to future wage growth by the inflationary impact of a falling dollar translating itself into higher domestic inflation, I can tell Opposition senators not to worry. The Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Government have already had discussions about it. The fact is that the impact of the falling Australian dollar will not show up in the CPI for several quarters. Also, when it does show, it will be very slight. Also, as the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) has made clear in a number of very recent, very strong and powerful, and very persuasive addresses to the business community, there are ways and means of lightening the impact of that inflation on the CPI in such a way that we will not translate the fall into an inflationary upward spiral, for the very good reason that we have with the unions an accord. Moreover, it is an accord which has, since this Government came to power, enabled economic growth-as opposed to a negative economic growth under the previous Government-and economic growth which has meant that wages have risen but that inflation levels have remained down.

That is the achievement of the accord. It has worked for the last two years because it has been effective. Just because there is a problem now is no reason to say that it is time to jettison an overall strategy which has the flexibility and the responses to the market that are necessary to make sure that what the national accounts showed last week continues and that we have economic growth.

However, one ought to contrast the performance of the Commonwealth's economic management with that of the Queensland economy. Earlier in this debate, my colleague Senator Maguire very capably listed 11 key indicators, all of which told the sorry tale that while Australia was doing better in every area, Queensland was doing worse, and if Australia's overall economic performance is down, it is because the Queensland economy has pulled it down. That is the real reason. I do not intend to repeat the long recitation of key indicators that Senator Maguire has caused to appear in Hansard. They are there. It is a record of which the Opposition knows; it is a record to which the Opposition never addressed itself. Whilst there may be special factors in Queensland that affect that State's economy-international commodity prices are at a low-such factors also affect the Western Australian economy, because that State, like Queensland, is a trader in agricultural products and minerals. But if one made a comparison between Western Australia and Queensland, as Senator Maguire did for Queensland, one would find that in the Western Australian case the indicators are up. Western Australia on every front is performing positively. If we have two similar economies trading in two similar commodities and one is down and one is up the question is: What is wrong with the domestic management of the economy which is down?

That brings us to Queensland, to Joh, to this strategy and to what is at the hub of this debate. What is at the hub of this debate is that in Queensland the economy is sagging because it is mismanaged. The Queensland Government must soon bring in a domestic Budget which will increase government costs and charges. Next year it will face an election and it wants to divert public attention, so it has engaged in promoting what was a routine industrial dispute, properly able to be handled by the State Industrial Commission, into a national issue. We have the old scapegoat approach of diverting the eyes of one's constituency from the real problem. That is what is happening in Australia. Moreover, the Queensland Government has done it in such a way that it has now come clean and announced that its real purpose is to try to unseat the Hawke Government. What an extraordinary statement that is by the Queensland Premier. Just five months ago we received the mandate of the Australian people yet this megalomaniac, the Queensland Premier, wants to deny us the mandate we have received to continue with the effective economic management of this country that we have so far pulled off. (Quorum formed) I notice that the Opposition does not want to hear the arguments, so it is eroding my time by calling quorums. It is the Opposition's motion and its members should be here to support it.

However, let me turn now to the Queensland dispute. It is claimed by the Opposition that we are doing nothing. That is an absolute misstatement of the case. We have called for negotiations. The Opposition would be better minded to support that call for negotiations because in its heart of hearts it recognises that the only way this matter will be resolved will be by proper negotiation. I now ask a number of honourable senators from the Opposition benches to indicate whether they will consider supporting the constructive face of this motion by joining the Government in the vote that will shortly be taken and voting down the motion in order to support what the Hawke Government has done in calling for negotiations and to allow the Prime Minister, who has an enviable record of industrial conciliation, to use that experience and skill to the benefit of resolving this problem for Australia. I give that invitation on the grounds that, if Opposition senators vote for this motion, they will be voting for de facto approval of some of the laws that the Queensland Government has enacted.

Senators Chaney, Missen, Puplick, Hill, Guilfoyle and Rae-I would have included Senator Vanstone before I heard her address-have records as senators who support basic human rights; they are regarded universally as little 'l' liberals. I ask those honourable senators, given that the legislation enacted in Queensland does not go to emergency powers but to ordinary powers that would be provided to the police and the Government, given the gerrymander and rorting of electoral laws that have occurred in Queensland, and given their notions as decent human beings of democratic rights for Queensland electors, to consider supporting the Government in three areas. The legislation in Queensland is basically an offence against the separation of powers; it is basically a reversal of the onus of proof and it is basically in part a gagging of freedom of speech. In those three areas, as little 'l' liberals, they should find common cause with this Government in voting that legislation down.

On the issue of the separation of powers, the Commission made a decision. The Commission is separate from the Queensland Government; it is not a government agency; it is independent from the Government. It made a decision and the response of the Queensland Government was to avoid that properly constituted independent authority, the Commission, and to enact legislation to set aside the Commission's decisions and to bring in new legislation. What an offence against democracy! On the issue of reversal of proof, in Queensland one has now to prove that one did not do something. What has happened to the longstanding basic British policy that one is innocent until proved guilty? The burden of proof in criminal proceedings--


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.