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Monday, 23 February 1987
Page: 424


Senator PETER BAUME(3.11) —The subject of this matter of public importance is the failure of the Labor Government to take the necessary action to stop the decline in living standards of Australian families, and it will rest upon several main limbs: First, there has been a decline in living standards of Australian people and their living standards are dropping further today and every day-and the Labor Government does nothing about it. Second, within that fall in living standards Australian families have been especially hit, particularly those families rearing children. Our future generations have been especially disadvantaged by what is happening in this country. There has been no equality of sharing of the burden. It has fallen on our families. They have borne an undue part of what is happening today.

The third limb of the argument is that it has always been within the capacity of this Labor Government, had it so wished, to ease some of the burdens for families, but it has not done so and what it has done has been too little and insufficient. The fourth limb is that a Liberal-National Party government would recognise the problem. Our parties do recognise the problem. We give it priority and we have policies which would allow us to respond.

Since the Labor Government was elected in March 1983 Australian families have suffered, and continue to suffer, a massive drop in living standards. The support structure provided by families has been undermined and eroded, putting more strain on individuals within families, and making it more difficult for them to perform the vital functions they undertake on behalf of all members of society. That has added to the pressures, has compounded the problems and has increased the difficulties under which they work. Instead of being able to concentrate on their fundamental task related to our national future, they are busy today just trying to survive. One major cause of family breakups in Australia, as we know, is the economic pressure which a decline in living standards can place on families as they have fewer resources to provide for their own needs. Labor's policies have hit families where it hurts most. Accommodation is harder to get and costs more. Health care and basic necessities have become more expensive.


Senator Walters —Can't even get them in the hospitals.


Senator PETER BAUME —As Senator Walters says, we cannot even get them into hospitals. Taxation is increasing, and medical costs are increasing markedly. Just 10 days ago I attended a public meeting of protest on a Sunday afternoon in Glossodia, which is west of Sydney, just outside Windsor. That ratepayers' protest meeting was not a small meeting; more than 200 people-fathers and mothers and their children-turned up. The immediate cause of the protest was a New South Wales Water Board levy which has hit every household in that area with a charge of an extra $500 or so a year. But the underlying cause and the thing that the citizens of Glossodia were putting to me time and time again-I was the only politician there; the Labor politicians, although they were invited, found it more convenient to stay away and not one of them turned up-was that the levy was the final straw for many families who were trying to bring up children in the area. They had moved to the area to try to own their own homes and to provide decent living space for their children. They were determined to do this. They were caring, responsible, motivated people who wanted nothing more than to own and keep their homes, to care for themselves and to rear their children. But the levy was the final straw on top of other things which have happened during the period of this Labor Government.

What are some of the things that have made the functioning of these families so difficult? Inflation has risen and continues to be high, which has meant that everything families need, family essentials, are more expensive and are continuing to get more expensive. High interest rates, which have soared under this Government and are failing to fall in spite of its promises, have made families' mortgages too expensive for them to bear. Many of the families at that meeting asked me what they were to do. Were they to get out of their homes, give up and move away? How were they to pay off their mortgages and become home owners?

We have seen a national debt which has soared above the $100,000m mark. This debt is diverting community resources from families to debt servicing. We have seen record tax levels and record tax takes, so that each family is being impoverished as it has to pay more and more tax, even under Labor's new regime. We have seen snowballing business taxes. This is affecting families because it means that fewer jobs are available than there would have been. Many family people are finding it difficult to find employment. There is less employment and less wealth for all Australians.


Senator Walters —The businesses are going bankrupt.


Senator PETER BAUME —Many businesses are going bankrupt, as Senator Walters said. There is a housing crisis which is getting worse month by month, so fewer houses are available. Higher rents and higher mortgage costs are becoming unaffordable. The collapse of the accord is imminent, which means that we will see what has taken place all over again, and all those factors will get worse and worse.

Let us look in more detail at some of the declines in family living standards. During Labor's period in office wages have risen less than has the cost of living, so there has been a fall in real living standards. This has been bad enough for individuals, but it has been compounded for families, which have been unduly hit and have borne more than their share of the burden. One would have thought that the Government would try to keep the position of families steady. It has not done so-quite the reverse. The purchasing power of families has diminished markedly during this Government's three-year period, partly as a result of the fall in wages. The rise in interest rates and rents to record levels means that families are now having to pay more for everything; more from a declining pay packet. The effect on mortgage repayments has already been disastrous. Only yesterday the Real Estate Institute of Australia released figures which show that the average family is now spending more than 25 per cent of its gross income on home loan repayments. I have shown to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Button, a table which shows that mortgage repayments have soared by amounts of up to 25 per cent during the past year, and I seek leave to have it incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The table read as follows-

MORTGAGE REPAYMENTS SOAR

State

Average

monthly

repayment

Increase

over

12 months

$

%

A.C.T....

718

+12

N.S.W....

698

+21

S.A....

622

+28

Vic....

609

+24

Qld...

532

+18

W.A....

495

+23

Tas....

468

+35


Senator PETER BAUME —I thank the Senate. Not only have interest rates and mortgages risen relative to real incomes, but also family health costs have been continually increasing because of a cost explosion, contributed to by the way in which the Medicare scheme is structured and operated. From last December Medicare costs rose by 25 per cent, when Labor broke yet another election promise-one of its many broken election promises. It raised the Medicare levy on all Australian families by 25 per cent. Even before this families experienced heavy increases in private health insurance costs and the lifting of the Medicare levy merely added to their troubles. The cost of basic necessities such as food and clothing have risen dramatically. Our inflation rate is now 9.8 per cent. I have a table here which shows our inflation rate compared to that of some of our major trading partners. It has been shown to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I seek leave to incorporate the table in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The table read as follows-

Inflation

rate

Japan...

-0.3

West Germany...

-1.2

United States...

1.3

France...

2.1

United Kingdom...

3.5

Canada...

4.5

Italy...

4.7

Australia...

9.8


Senator PETER BAUME —I thank the Senate. This table shows that the inflation rate in Australia today is five times that of the average of our trading partners and seven times the average of some major Western economies. I remind honourable senators that in Japan and West Germany inflation is actually negative-that is to say, costs are falling slightly-but Australia has a 10 per cent inflation rate. It means that it costs more here and that it is getting more expensive more quickly, and that is impacting on our families. Despite the much trumpeted Keating tax reform, taxpayers are paying more today in Australia than ever before. Even with the new tax regime, after 1 July the tax take from Australian families will be greater than it has ever been. Australian families are suffering and single income families are being particularly hit. They have had scant relief from any tax regime introduced by this Government.

Australian families at the moment are struggling economically on a large number of fronts. As this happens, families are finding that they have to do without. They have to do without their own homes when they wish to become home owners. Some families, in the process of buying a home, have to give up that home as they can no longer afford the mortgage repayments. I know a young man who took a mortgage a year ago. The interest rates since then have risen step by step and now he is forced to work in a second job merely to pay the extra interest rates that have occurred since the mortgage was taken, which was then in the capacity of that family to pay. Families have to do without their food if they are in the position of having to pay more than 25 per cent of their average gross earnings on their mortgage repayments. Clothes cannot be afforded, essentials have to be put aside, households have to do without necessities. This is not the way we wish to see our families function or our children provided for.

We know that economic pressure and stress are among the factors that have been identified by the Institute of Family Studies as contributing markedly to family breakdown in Australia. The regime being imposed on Australian families by the Labor Government today will mean more stress, more economic hardship, and will bring in its train more family breakdowns. Family living standards have declined because Labor's policies have taken us in the wrong direction. These policies have been responsible for the falling dollar. These policies have contributed to the collapse in our terms of trade. They have been responsible for Australia's massive increase in national indebtedness-more than $100,000m.

Labor's policies have been responsible for the double downgrading of our AAA credit rating, something of which we were proud. It is these occurrences which have contributed to families living less well and to the fall in family living standards. Labor cannot avoid responsibility for bringing each one of them about. The Labor Party in government has busied itself with redistributing wealth before it has created the wealth-a sure recipe for disaster, but it has done it. It busied itself with increasing wages before it had the productivity-a sure recipe for national economic disaster, but it has done it. It has propped up a rigid and inflexible labour market, adding further to our problems and to our costs. It has added to our costs with more Government intervention which has made it more difficult for people who want to create wealth, who want to give jobs to people. Private employers have found it more difficult. The Government has launched a savage attack on Australian business, and Australian business understands that in spite of what Government apologists may say. We are aware that Labor's new capital gains and fringe benefit taxes, its accord with the Australian Council of Trade Unions-now breaking down-its ending of negative gearing for the providing of housing and its big spending, big taxing, big borrowing policies have all impacted, perhaps through a series of steps, and ended up with our families being worse off. We have ended up with high inflation, high interest rates, uncompetitive business and a massive foreign debt. Under this Government we have a dollar which has collapsed, we have an Australian economy which is internationally uncompetitive and we have disastrous terms of trade.


Senator Zakharov —So, we are borrowing for takeovers.


Senator PETER BAUME —Perhaps Senator Zakharov will tell us about our terms of trade and tell us what her Government is doing to make this nation prosperous again. The story is a pretty sorry one, and I inform the honourable senator that it will get worse unless her Government repents and alters what it is doing.

We must become competitive again if our living standards are to be raised, and only when this happens or when the Government decides to move decisively in a pro-family way will we see our families doing better. The coalition under John Howard's leadership is prepared to take the necessary action to restore Australia's trading position. More specifically, a government under John Howard will be prepared to take action to help the families of Australia. Honourable senators on this side will all know that the Opposition has put out a policy overview relating to families. We were the first major political group to get such a document out, and it states what we are going to do for Australian families.


Senator Teague —A good policy.


Senator PETER BAUME —It is a good policy, as Senator Teague says. It shows that we care for families and it contains some of the value statements which are so important. I will quote just one of the statements from it:

We will implement policies which help form, support, encourage and maintain the family and promote its role in the continuing development of the Australian nation.

I challenge Australian Labor Party members to say that they share that noble ideal or that they are prepared to take action to make it a reality. Of course they are not. This is the Government which gave us the inflation which made essential goods so expensive for every family; this is the Government which gave us the high interest rates which are causing families to be turned out of the homes that they are trying to buy; this is the Government which has made rentals so expensive; this is the Government which has given us the debt which has made less community money available for community purposes; this is the Government which gave us the levels of taxation which are impoverishing our families right across the nation; this is the Government which gave us such business taxes that we cannot create the jobs that we want; and this is the Government whose housing crisis has meant that fewer houses are being commenced, that fewer houses are available for rental, that rentals are too high and that mortgages are now unaffordable. Some housing record from a Labor Government! This is the Government that is promising that it will all get worse as its famed accord falls.

In Question Time today Senator Button was asked a question by Senator Chaney about living standards in Australia. Senator Button readily acknowledged in his answer, as Leader of the Government, that family living standards have fallen in Australia. He said all living standards have fallen. I would like to say to the Leader of the Government that Australian families are worse off-we are delighted that he admits that everyone is worse off-and that this is not a particularly good record for a government. But Senator Button went on to say that Australian families were not badly off. Senator Button-on a Minister's salary of perhaps $100,000; perhaps a bit less when it is all added up-would not know what it is like for the average Australian family trying to cope. He would not understand the problems. I have news for him: They are badly off and they are hurting, and when they come to the protest meetings they are concerned that a water rate levy of $500 has tipped the balance, that they can no longer cope and that they do not know what to do. It does not matter to them what level of government is involved. This Government has always had, and continues to have now, the capacity to apportion the load differently.

The Labor Government could, if it wished, take decisive action in the next few months to make sure that Australian families are helped a little with the job they are trying to do. But it has failed to do that in any effective way. Anything the Government had done has been just tinkering at the edges, and we have assumed this, of course, to be an expression of deliberate and a determined government policy. What has happened, what is happening, to the families of Australia is a tragedy; it is shortsighted; it is ideological and it will work to the disadvantage of the whole Australian society.

This Government could help, it could intervene, it could do things which it has failed to do and we call upon it to recognise the falling living standards of Australian families and to do the things within its powers today to restore to Australian families the place they deserve and the opportunities they deserve. A Liberal-National Party government could do it; a Liberal-National Party government will do it as soon as we are given the opportunity.