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Wednesday, 18 February 1987
Page: 187


Senator RICHARDSON(4.44) —This matter of urgency brought on by the Opposition today, far from revealing any intelligent or positive response to Australia's economic problems, simply reveals, if we needed any more revelations, that the Opposition has lost political relevance. It has lost the political leadership of the conservative forces in this country. Somewhere on the way to the forum that leadership was hijacked-hijacked by Joh Bjelke-Petersen and his merry band of white-shoed land developers from Surfers Paradise. They knew that there was a vacuum; they could smell it because the smell of decay and death lies all about the Opposition. As they smelt it they stepped in and they hijacked it. It is pretty easy to smell that scent of death when one listens to John Howard, who is quoted so much by Senator Lewis. For Senator Lewis's edification, I would like to run through a transcript of the words of Mr Howard on the steps of Parliament House on 17 February. He was asked by a journalist:

. . . your attitude on indirect taxes. Mr Sinclair says he disagrees. How can the coalition survive that?

Mr Howard replied:

I haven't seen exactly what Mr Sinclair has said but my own views on the need to consider, as an option, broadening of the indirect tax base as part of a trade-off for lower income tax had not altered and cannot alter because I am not prepared like some people including the Queensland Premier to suspend the laws of arithmetic.

The journalist went on to say:

Mr Howard, until a few days ago this was a solid policy. Now it is consideration of an option.

Mr Howard's response was:

Would you please let me go to church.

I do not think he was going to find the policy there either. The journalist then said:

When did it become just an option instead of a solid policy?

Mr Howard said:

There has been no change in my own view at all.

The transcript continues:

JOURNALIST: But what about in the Opposition's-

Mr HOWARD: No, there has been no alteration of the principles that I laid down at the Federal Council meeting.

JOURNALIST: So Mr Sinclair is disagreeing with official coalition policy?

Mr HOWARD, I haven't seen exactly what Mr Sinclair has said-

he repeats-

and I don't propose to be drawn into discussion . . .

There is a bit of a problem in the Opposition.


Senator Lewis —Come on, Graham, you are sending everyone to sleep.


Senator RICHARDSON —I say to Senator Lewis that the whole of Australia is not going to sleep because it reads about your misery and decay every day. Every day we pick up the paper, we look at the headlines, and the grin takes over our face and stays the whole day. It cannot happen to a more deserving bunch of people than Opposition members. This Opposition professes, so we hear today, its concern for Australian families. Opposition members talk about crippling taxes and high interest rates. Then we are really touched when Senator Lewis raises the terrible issue of high unemployment and what we have done to car prices. I note in the wording of the matter of urgency reference to the `essential' of the family car. If Opposition members go over to talk to those single parents on the lawn who are raising families, they will find that those women are not too worried about the purchase of a $13,000 Camira. They are worried about putting food on the table, and this Government is worried about making sure that they get it. That is of no concern to the Opposition, which makes no reference to those people. Opposition members just do not care.

How did Opposition members handle the economy in the period 1975-83? They have the gall to come in here to tell of Labor using unemployment as a weapon. I remember, as I am sure do thousands of Australians, that the Government at that time put out of work 750 people every day in its last year of office. One could not count how many people that Government put out at the end. Opposition members also talk about the car industry. Have they gone back to 1981 and 1982 and asked the thousands who were laid off in the car industry from General-Motors Holden's, Ford and Chrysler, under the then Government's leadership, under Mr Howard's leadership, what they think of Opposition policy? I know what people think of it. People were led into industrial oblivion because of the Opposition and its policies.

Let us look at the Opposition's record and recite some of the facts. Let us look at the massive advantages in those years of office and at the chance the Government then blew. When that Government got into office it promised so much when coal and iron ore prices and indeed all our commodity prices were high. Those were the halcyon days and revenue was pouring in from Bass Strait-one could not count it all. The current Leader of the Opposition had the opportunity to embark on some sort of fundamental restructuring, but what did he do? He jumped on the back of the resource boom, took the easy way out, abrogated his responsibility and blew it for Australia. He was quite happy to see secondary industry fall apart because the tail that wags the dog-and I can see no National Party senators here at present-the real power in the Opposition parties in the Senate, Senator Bjelke-Petersen and Senator Boswell, the ones who really run the show, are not worried about secondary industry, and when they stand up and say something Opposition members bow down. They all lie down like craven dogs before the National Party. The National Party runs the show. So what happened? Those opposite tore the economy apart. They ruined it once again. They continued this insane policy of maintaining an overvalued dollar. Senator Bjelke-Petersen and the rest of the National Party liked it, they thought it was terrific, but the Liberals just kept it going. Their anti-inflationary weapon was actually devastating the Australian economy and manufacturing.


Senator Short —You know that that is simply not true.


Senator RICHARDSON —It is an absolute fact, and Senator Short knows it. Where was he when the National Party was wagging the tail on the dog?


Senator Walsh —Under the table.


Senator RICHARDSON —He was under the table, hand on the phone, leaking documents. The Liberals were unable to do anything about the policy. When we came into government we had to have a look at what they had done. I have had a good look at that several times now. Again, here is an opportunity to remind those opposite of just some of the sins that they rendered upon us. Let us look at their record of concern for the Australian family. We have to refer to how many families were affected when the Liberals were putting 750 people out of work every day. I would have thought that Australian families would remember it. When those opposite left government what was the unemployment rate in this country? It was nearly 11 per cent. It is now just over 8 per cent. We have got the level down-not up. It is not a weapon that we have used except to try to put people back to work. Those opposite have always been prepared, and always will be-with their boarding school backgrounds-to put ordinary people out of work. It keeps them in a cosy sort of retirement. I might say that that is what a lot of those opposite seem to be in, here in the Senate.

Few Australians have forgotten that the work place became a battle ground in those days. That was when we had the fantastic experiment in deregulation. That is when the free marketeers opposite had their say. They were clever. They said: `We will leave it to the market place to work out and that will keep wages down'. What happened? In 1981-82 those opposite were getting a 13 and 14 per cent explosion in wages. They ruined the economy because they backed the wrong horse. I might say that their capacity to back losers was unparalleled in Australian political history. When it came to that, they did what they always do-they backed the wrong horse. And what happened? Small business, which those opposite now profess to adopt, was crushed because big unions and big business got together, did their deals and came to their arrangements. They forced them upon small business and there was devastation. That is the only recipe that those opposite can come back with again because they are far too frightened to take on the New Right. When it comes to the New Right or the old Right of Bjelke-Petersen-whatever right it is-again those opposite bow down.

We want to know what happened to the courage of those opposite. Where did it go? Somewhere along the line it dropped off the back of the cart. I do not think that they can put it back on. Fortunately, we kept our courage, and we kept our heads with it. Under the disastrous wages explosions of those opposite, average weekly earnings grew by 13 per cent in 1980-81, 14.5 per cent in 1981-82 and 11.5 per cent in 1982-83. That is what those opposite gave Australia. They gave it a wages explosion from which it will take decades to recover. If the latest figures of 8.3 per cent unemployment are to be taken into account-I might say that those opposite were laughing about this last August; they said that the Budget predictions just were not on, but as far as unemployment is concerned so far the Budget predictions are spot on-the Government will be dead right again, because we have the policies in place. We knew what we were doing and we held the line on unemployment. We delivered the goods.

We will not consign Australian families to the unemployment scrapheap, as did those opposite. We just will not do that. Also, those opposite have had the unmitigated gall to lecture us about inflation. Again, they should look at the figures for when they were in office. In 1979-80 the figure was 10.1 per cent, in 1981-82 it was 10.4 per cent and in 1982-83 it was 11.5 per cent. What credentials do they have to talk at all about economics here? They have absolutely none. Those opposite had the chance time and again and they blew it.

In addition, for the first time in 30 years of conservative rule-broken by a very small period of Labor rule-these economic geniuses who want to lecture us about how to run an economy brought about negative growth. No one else but John Howard could ever have achieved that. If one looks at his performance as Treasurer and his Budgets-and I think it is relevant to do so at this time as we would all have to agree that successful budgeting is a measure of any Treasurer's ability-how did the conservatives and John Howard perform on that score? On every single occasion when John Howard as Treasurer brought down a Budget he was wide of his estimated deficit targets, and was on the wrong side of them five times in a row. He could not do any better. He could not get near the figures. Three of the five Howard Budgets blew out beyond Budget predictions, culminating in that massive blow-out of 1982-83. Just remember how big that blow-out was. The Budget estimate for the year was $1.68 billion. The actual figure was $4.47 billion-a blow-out of almost $3 billion.

Honourable senators would remember the Budget deficit when we gained office in March 1983-and those rubbery figures. How those opposite must have fiddled with them in the back room to come up with a $6 billion figure! We had been in office for only five minutes when we found that the figure was almost $10 billion. That is the sort of destruction those opposite were prepared to wreak on Australia. The other interesting figure in all those Howard Budgets represented the Howard deficits-5 per cent of gross domestic product. That is why those opposite were thrown out of office and why-as they would know when they listened to the transcript I read out of John Howard ducking and weaving on tax policy-they cannot get back into office.

Last night we saw the spectacle of the man people refer to as `Sinkers', Mr Ian Sinclair, on the Carleton-Walsh Report-the artful dodger who lost the art of dodging, who got caught and who could not hack the questioning because he was done in his own Party room. The coalition is in shambles. Those opposite do not know where they are going on tax policies. There is a printed tax policy in John Howard's office which those opposite now have to reprint. Is that what Australia is to ask for: An opposition that cannot work out amongst its members who is leading it-whether it is someone from Queensland or someone in this Parliament-and cannot work out what tax policy it will run? We have waited breathlessly for two years for that tax policy and now, as we got near to the date when we could all see it come into the light of day, what happens? Joh Bjelke-Petersen gives it a rubbish and all those opposite run for cover. It is back to compromise. This shows John Howard to be weak and vacillating again. How can Australia ever handle that sort of weakness?

We know that the only industry that could ever grow under Malcolm Fraser and John Howard was the tax avoidance industry. Now, as those opposite go back and buckle under to that white shoe brigade that I referred to earlier, the Surfers Paradise push, all they will do is back up for one more time what Costigan said-that the tax avoidance industry grew like the heady days of the Victorian gold rush. At the end of the day those opposite do not know where they are going. The Australian people do not go where they are going and, as an Opposition, those opposite are finished. Their chances of winning the next election are nil.