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Tuesday, 23 April 1985
Page: 1372

Senator ROBERT RAY(4.19) —Today's urgency motion is fairly thin in content. That is probably what prompted the Leader of the Opposition, Senator Chaney, when he first spoke to the motion, to let off a whole host of red herrings before he got down to the more substantial area. I think it is necessary to answer one or two of them. First of all, he was most upset that the Minister for Finance, Senator Walsh, may have implied a degree of disloyalty to members of the Opposition over their comments on the economy. I do not know whether that was Senator Walsh's intention, but there is not much doubt about where he may have got the hint of that tactic, because it is one that has been employed by those who sit opposite ever since the Australian Labor Party came into politics. They have based most of their election campaigns on the hint that Labor is not necessarily loyal enough to this country's interests. If Senator Walsh ever implied that, it is absolutely certain that he picked up the tactic from honourable senators opposite. That tactic has been used since 1981 while I have been a member of this Parliament.

The second thing Senator Chaney did was to attack the Minister for Education, Senator Ryan. He accused Senator Ryan of using Caucus to obtain agreement for her views on tertiary education fees. That simply is not true. Senator Ryan did not raise the matter in Caucus and she did not even raise the matter in the Caucus committee. We happen to have a Federal policy that is binding on the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party and that was raised in Caucus and an appropriate decision was made. Honourable senators may ask whether Senator Ryan was behind the scenes in it all. That is not true either. She would have won quite easily in the Cabinet committee and in Cabinet. There was no need for her to take that matter to Caucus. So again Senator Chaney is wrong.

Senator Chaney then went on to make some gratuitous remarks about a faction-ridden Labor Party and he denied that there was any difference of opinion within the Liberal Party of Australia. He is right there. Arthur Calwell was right 20 years ago when he said that there were only two places in this country where we do not get an argument: In the cemetery and in the Liberal Party. That is fairly right. But what Senator Chaney has overlooked is that whenever the Liberal Party has to form a government it has two very large factions-one called the Liberal Party and the other called the National Party of Australia. Those factions rarely, if ever, agree with one another. The worst squabbling in any government in this country's history has always been between the Liberal and National parties. We just have to look back to the issue of devaluation in 1971-that issue is now in the air again-to see what happened between Anthony and McMahon when they disagreed over devaluation.

Senator Chaney brought up the question of intellectual dishonesty. I can recall debates in this chamber when we were in opposition. We sought all sorts of information and we were given absolutely nothing. Senator Chaney went on to say that if we could answer one question all the problems would be over. If we answered one question and implemented a policy under which wages were discounted for the consumer price index increases caused by depreciation, all the economic problems would be solved. That sort of economic simplicity would not even be found in the Queensland National Party. Even members of that Party are more sophisticated than to put a point like that.

But when we have a motion such as this from the Opposition, it is nice to think of the good old days when it was in government for seven and a half years. Imagine the sort of information we got when we were in Opposition. I remember going to a meeting of Estimates Committee C and asking for information. It took 11 meetings and 40 hours before Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle would produce a post-Budget survey and I think it was only because of the persistence of former Senator McLaren and others that we even got that. The former Government rarely, if ever, gave information. At Question Time Senator Sir John Carrick always gave us a long and detailed answer. The trouble was that he gave the same answer to every question every day of the week. We never got any information. Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle, as the former Minister for Finance, was the greatest stonewaller I have ever known. I admire her for her ability never to answer a question in this chamber. That is the way it was. Now we suddenly have the born again civil libertarians and economists opposite coming into the chamber and saying that they want more information. In some ways I sympathise with them. I want this Government to make available more and more economic information. The more often it does that the more the past and tawdry efforts of the former Government in regard to economics become apparent.

It is necessary not only to make economic information available but also to recount the deeds of the past so we can make a fair evaluation of how this Government is going. The real problem is that we have Stalinists opposite in this chamber. I do not mean that in the sense of where they are in the political spectrum; I mean their approach to history. They have forgotten history. For them the past seven and a half years from 1975 to 1983 have disappeared. On 24 October last year I asked in this chamber: Where are all the Fraserites? There must have been a lot of them opposite and there must have been a lot of them in the other chamber because when Andrew Peacock accused the then Prime Minister Fraser of disloyalty and a hundred other sins, Fraser won the consequential leadership battle. Where have all the Fraserites gone with their adherence to those economic policies from 1975 to 1983? They have disappeared under a rock. They cannot be found. Suddenly, what has emerged out of that cocoon, two and a half years later, is people who now claim that they can solve the economic problems of the time.

Whilst it is true that we should make enough economic information available to enable reasoned debate in this chamber, I do not think it would make any difference what information we made available to those opposite-I exclude the Australian Democrats-in the Liberal and National parties. I do not think it would matter to them because they do not know how to analyse it and act upon it. All they did from the period 1975 to 1983 was implement outdated economic ideas and ideologies based on the statistics. Of course, they did not use statistics properly on all occasions. The 1977 Budget shows that they rubbidy-dubbed the figures. They bodgied up the figures they produced that year. Those who want to analyse the figures now will see that in reality the last Liberal Government produced in that period some of the worst figures for any of the countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Let us look at the former Government's record. In its last 12 months in office the Liberal Party, led by Fraser, lost 187,000 jobs. We have only to compare that with the figures we have made available to see that 360,000 jobs have been created. Unemployment has come down from 10.4 per cent to 8.8 per cent and, at the same time, the participation rate has gone up in that period. The inflation rate has gone down from 11.5 per cent to 5 per cent. Those statistics are available. Do honourable senators opposite want to debate those statistics? We do not see members of the Liberal Party coming into this chamber and saying that they want to debate the employment figures or the inflation rate. The reason they do not wish to do so is that they do not like those statistics. They do not come into this chamber and debate the question of economic growth because there was a negative economic growth rate for the last 12 months they were in power. In a very short period of two years and a couple of months this Government rejuvenated the Australian economy and we have a growth rate of which we can be justifiably proud. When it comes to making economic information available, we set up the Economic Planning Advisory Council through which we can consult some of the key people in the Australian economy, be they employers, employees or important organisations. The economic information that has been made available by those people and the advice they have been able to give has been very beneficial to the economy and the Australian Government.

Let us look at the two summits-one which has been held and one which is to be held. It is true that we did not invite anyone from the Opposition to the first summit. I guess that we felt that if we had invited Howard or anyone else, we would probably discredit the summit. We did not want their diseases from the past inflicted on people in the future. Nevertheless, in a very kindly gesture, we offered the Opposition an opportunity to appear before the tax summit where all this information will be available to it, where it can debate matters and make a contribution. What has been the response from members of the Liberal Party? They do not want to turn up. Where will they be? Will they be skiing at Thredbo or going there for another get-together? This is where all the disjointed forces of the Liberal Party have to go every six months to kiss and make up. That is where they will probably be. They have refused to attend the tax summit. The reality is--

Senator Lewis —Kiss and make up. Listen to the Labor Party from Victoria.

Senator ROBERT RAY —That has been mentioned before, Senator Lewis. If the honourable senator wants to go into the history of some of the things that happened to the Liberal Party in the late 1970s, the various rorts and fights that went on, I will go into them with him. I will condemn them wherever they occur. I did not see Senator Lewis getting up to condemn the roughhouse tactics used by dairy farmers when they cut hydraulic cables and all the rest. Senator Lewis is selective in his criticism of any of those areas.

Let me move on to another area where the Government has been able to exchange information usefully. I refer to the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the area to which Senator Messner so incompetently devoted most of his speech. We have established a relationship with the ACTU that has been beneficial to the Australian economy. We have managed to provide it with information so that it can make reasoned decisions and so that it knows what is going on. When the Liberals were in power all they wanted was confrontation with the ACTU. They did not sit down reasonably and discuss the future of the Australian economy and they did not let the ACTU into the decision-making process. It was excluded as much as possible. Through the accord we have managed to consult with the ACTU at every opportunity, so it has been able to take a far more responsible attitude to the development of the Australian economy.

If members of the Opposition were so serious about bringing on an urgency motion today, why did they not read the record of the Estimates committees over the last couple of weeks, when the Department of the Treasury and other officials were here. How many questions on economics did the economic gurus opposite ask? Virtually none; they were far too lazy to do their homework. They did not persist and did not pursue the amount of economic information that they may have wanted. If they are not capable of doing that I suggest that they not bring on these pious motions.

I concede that there is a need for more economic information to be made available. I would like to see in the long term the material provided to the Economic Planning Advisory Council made available to all parliamentarians to assist us. I would like also to see a decent wealth inquiry in this country. That is something those opposite would never support. They are all in favour of inquiries into poverty but they are never in favour of inquiries into wealth. When we come to vote on this motion we will be voting not on whether the Government should make more information available but on whether it has made enough available, and to make that sort of decision this Government's record can be compared only with that of the Liberal Party. I say again that the born-again civil libertarians and economists opposite would not give us anything when they were in government; they would concede absolutely nothing. They were reduced to the Opposition benches and now they expect everything to be handed to them on a plate.

Senator Chipp —This locks them in for next time.

Senator ROBERT RAY —It does not lock them in for next time, Senator Chipp. We know what will happen; they will crawl back under the rock in exactly the same way as they did two years ago. We know that.

Senator Lewis —Just give us another chance and see what we will do in two years time.

Senator ROBERT RAY —I doubt whether the Opposition will get another chance, especially given the style, the panache, we have seen exhibited by the front bench in the last couple of weeks. Oppositions in this Parliament and most parliaments of the world are in a disadvantageous position. Members of this Opposition will have to learn to get off their behinds and go and do some work and research the hard way like we had to do in opposition. They have been given more of a start by this Government than I would ever have given them in terms of resources and material. I must say my colleagues the Special Minister of State (Mr Young) and others have been far more kind than I would ever have been or than members of the Opposition ever were to us. Their usual policy is to starve oppositions to death. This Opposition has had more information and material made available to it than any other opposition in history. What have members of the Opposition been able to do with it? Absolutely nothing. Senator Chaney made a pathetic speech, containing dozens of red herrings, and addressed his attention to the main area for no more than three of four minutes.

I believe that this urgency motion is basically a farce. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the intention behind it other than the speeches that have been made implying that this Government has been less forthcoming with economic information. Compare its performance with the record of the last Government and it has been brilliant.