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Tuesday, 23 April 1985
Page: 1377

Senator RICHARDSON(4.48) —I rise to speak on the matter of urgency brought down by Senator Chaney, which states:

The need for the Government to provide adequate information to enable proper judgment to be made of its economic policies.

I wanted to read out the subject of the motion because judging from the last few contributions from the Opposition, I think it has lost its way in attempting to follow the lead set by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Chaney). That a member of the Liberal Party of Australia could move such a matter of urgency in this chamber is, of course, demonstrative of the extraordinary effrontery and gall it continues to show. I should have thought that a member of the Party which perpetrated upon the people of Australia the great lie and frustrated the provision of information to enable proper judgment to be made who moves a motion such as this must have a pretty awful memory.

The very first thing with which the Hawke Government was confronted when it took office in early 1983 was the great lie about the size of the deficit. We came into office having been told that the deficit was going to be $6 billion. Within a matter of weeks-indeed I think within only two weeks-it was pretty obvious to the Government that, as the figures showed, because expenditure had at no stage been reined in the Budget deficit was going to come in at $9.6 billion. Yet the same Party that perpetrated this great lie upon the Australian people, in a deliberate attempt to frustrate proper judgment being made of what it had been up to, in the words of this motion, comes in today with this matter of urgency.

One comes up with another inevitable conclusion from some of the contributions by the Opposition. After two years and some months in opposition, the once great Liberal Party that ruled Australia for so long has suddenly realised that the born to rule mantle its members put upon themselves is gradually coming apart. No longer are they sitting in positions of power from which they can dole out, miserably, bits of information from time to time. Suddenly they are confronted with the sad spectacle of being on the other side, of having to wear whatever the Government is prepared to dole out to them. Obviously that is not sitting easily upon their shoulders. Those anxious to get into government, anxious to be sitting on ministerial seats, are finding that the distance between themselves and the ministerial seats gets greater and greater every day.

The Opposition must have been terrified when the Hawke Government took office that it would adopt the same stance as the Fraser Government adopted in regard to the way it handled the dissemination of information to enable judgments to be made on economic policies. Fortunately for the Liberal Party and the National Party, they would have discovered within the early months of the Hawke Government that that was not to be the case. If the Opposition had had any doubt about the sort of government the Hawke Government was going to be, and how it would handle the dissemination of information, it had only to await the first economic summit, which took place in the House of Representatives chamber only two years ago. There, for the first time, the Hawke Government established that it would share information with all sections of our community, with the trade unions, with those representing the poor, with business-with everybody-to make sure that enough information was on the table for us all to make deliberate and rational judgments.

However, it must be said-I would like it put into the record of Hansard very early in the piece-that enough figures must be around for senior Opposition spokespersons to make judgments. Indeed, I am sure that members of the Opposition would not be prepared to believe that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Mr John Howard, would in any way not be able to make a proper judgment. I quote from a Press release by John Howard of just a few days ago. Commenting on the publication of the national accounts figures for the December quarter he said:

I welcome the economic growth disclosed by the December quarter national accounts figures. They indicate that for the year to December 1984 overall growth was 4.6 per cent with non-farm growth being at 5.1 per cent. This is good economic news for Australia.

They are the real statements I would like members of the Opposition to take into account. If one had listened to what has occurred here over the last couple of hours one would not have heard much acknowledgment of the real benefit and good done by the Hawke Government. I am pleased to see that John Howard, at least, was prepared to recognise it over the last few days. The matter of urgency attempts to refer to two areas. The first is the question of whether forward estimates should be published. The second is whether the suspension of monetary targeting, however temporary it may have been, may have upset members of the Opposition. Let us look at the first area. The reality is that no decision has yet been taken as to whether the forward estimates will be published. After the Government has put forward its May statement, a decision will be taken on this matter. As I understand it, the Prime Minister reiterated today that it is still within the realms of possibility that those figures will be published.

The benefit to be gained from the publication of the forward estimates has, however, been completely taken away by the Government's announced policy on the trilogy. That represents an unprecedented discipline on this Government and, indeed, would have done on any previous government, insofar as finance is concerned. It is a commitment, a forward indication of fiscal policy, the clearest commitment ever given by an Australian government. It commits the Government to hold outlays growth and receipts growth to the growth in gross domestic product. Furthermore and, I think, most importantly judging by the contributions of those opposite, it commits the Government to reduce the deficit in money terms. If one is to reduce the deficit, obviously one has to look at outlays. In the last few days the Government has given the clearest indication I can remember in decades of what it is going to do about outlays. The Prime Minister's statement yesterday about the cuts of $1 billion must have given those opposite some idea of the Government's target. The statement yesterday was made so that people can make a proper judgment about economic policies.

Forward estimates, as we all know, are not a reliable guide either to total expenditure in the years ahead or to spending on specific programs. Ministers, whether at Expenditure Review Committee meetings or in Cabinet, have to go through those estimates and make decisions on cuts. They make changes. Things are altered up or down. In the end one comes out with the Government's decisions. The targets have already been revealed. The trilogy which we have announced our commitment to and which we will keep is the real information the Opposition needs. I will get to monetary targets later. First, I mention the question of Budget deficits. I am staggered by the fact that anyone opposite could raise the question, given the performance of the Opposition in the last election campaign. One does not have to go back to the Fraser years. One has only to look at Andrew Peacock's performance when he was promising all and sundry anything they wanted during the last election campaign. A quick rundown of promises suggests that more than $10 billion would have been added to the deficit last year if the Opposition had been elected to office. We would have had a deficit of $17 billion. All talk of fiscal responsibility went out the window. The ridiculous claim in the first place that ordinary families were $22 worse off and that their position would be immediately restored would have added $6 billion before one got to anything else. The figures I have just outlined do not even include any reference to what it would cost for the Darwin to Alice Springs railway, the other promise which was trotted out towards the end of the campaign and which would have cost more than $1 billion to implement. That sort of fiscal irresponsibility is too much for any country to handle. This country certainly could not handle it.

Whatever the position of this Government on providing economic information, it is an awful long way in front of what the Opposition doled out when it was in government. During the seven years of office of the Fraser Government I cannot remember information flowing out of the place; there was not even a trickle. Let us look at the $1 billion expenditure cuts that were announced yesterday. One has to go back to the period of the Lynch razor gang in, I think, 1981 to look at any claim by the Opposition about its intentions. The Lynch razor gang finally announced cuts of $560m. We announced cuts yesterday of $1 billion. Yet of the $560m in cuts announced by the Lynch razor gang, less than half was ever gone on with. Less than half of the promises of the Lynch razor gang were ever attempted in expenditure cuts. The Opposition never showed a commitment to being prepared to cut expenditure. Yesterday, the Prime Minister made what was an announcement of great importance, that finally this Government is about expenditure cuts. We have announced $1 billion worth of cuts.

To the extent that this mater of urgency reflects the complaint about the abolition of monetary targeting, all one has to do is concede-it is a concession that most, if not all, of the financial pundits around the country have already made-that the momentum caused by the movement from non-bank to bank institutions, because of the deregulation we introduced over the last few months, has distorted any possibility of getting proper monetary targets, at least in the intermediate period. The Government has not said at any stage that monetary targets are abolished for all time. All the Government has said is that for the foreseeable future, that is, for the next six months, while the movement for non-bank to bank institutions takes place because of this Government's policies on deregulation-policies so often talked about but never acted upon by its predecessors-monetary targeting had to be done away with. That does not mean for a moment that the Government has moved away from its non-inflationary monetary policy. It could not do that. It will not do that. No amount of complaints by the Opposition would ever bring the Government to do so.

I return to those words about providing adequate information. The Government's purpose for a very long time has been to insist upon that sharing of information in a wide range of areas. First, the Economic Planning Advisory Council, which the Liberal Party has promised to disband, has had a very significant effect in Australia for some time now. Information sharing has been going on at EPAC since its formation over two years ago. The Construction Industry Council set up by the Government, and the Australian Mining Industry Council-in all there are 11 industry councils-are further examples of bodies with which the Government is sharing information. We have the accord with the Australian Council of Trade Unions, which took a long time to bring about by careful negotiation, information sharing and consultation, which is the hallmark of the Hawke Government. It has meant that wage growth has been contained for the first time in many years. One only has to go back four years to see that in one year of the Fraser Government wages growth was 17 per cent. By consultation and sharing information with the ACTU the Government has kept wage growth down to a 2.6 per cent increase in 12 months.

In the housing industry the Government set up the Construction Forecasting Committee in 1983. In the housing industry, home dwellings commencement have grown from 105,000 to 150,000 in just two years. That is the sort of policy this Government is about. It has brought about a huge growth in home starts, new jobs and new confidence in that field. All that was done while material prices stayed fairly flat. They were not forced up and there was more non-inflationary growth.

This debate ought to be about growth. The Government is counting on growth with its trilogy, and it is growth that will see Australia come out of its uncompetitive position. In the last year we have had real growth of 5.7 per cent with 4 per cent from the non-farm sector. That is what this Government promised to deliver and it is what we have had. In fact, we have had more growth than any other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development country. There ought to be some acknowledgment from the Opposition in this chamber that the Government's economic policies have worked. If we are worried about the fall in the value of the dollar, doomsday predictions arising from past failures ought not to be the way we judge the matter. We ought to judge it on the real figures, which show that Australian is going ahead once again.