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Monday, 23 February 1987
Page: 435

Senator RICHARDSON(4.14) —When one looks at a list and attempts to tote up the winners and losers with respect to the tax policy almost released by Mr Howard and Senator Messner, the one certainty is that the real loser would be the average Australian family. When one looks at the tax policies proposed to be introduced by Sir Joh Bjelke-Peterson and his ilk one is even more certain that the loser would be the average Australian family. When we look at the 1975 election and all that we were promised by Malcolm Fraser and at all those dark years through to 1983, what do we find happened to average Australian families in those eight years? The worst thing one can do to any Australian family is to take away the breadwinner's role, to make sure that there is no money coming in, to put breadwinners on to welfare. But what happened when that lot opposite ran Australia? Seven hundred and fifty people were put out of work every day in the last year of the coalition's reign. That means a quarter of a million people were put out of work in one year. That is what the previous Government did to average Australian families. It consigned family after family to poverty.

I thought we exposed the Opposition's hypocrisy and the shallowness of its concern last week. It is extraordinary that a party lacking so much in credibility when dealing with average Australian families could back up for even more--

Senator Walters —Where is your Minister?

Senator RICHARDSON —But if that is what Senator Walters wants, I am here to provide it for her.

Senator Peter Baume —Look at the polls.

Senator RICHARDSON —We will get to the polls in a minute. I am fascinated by the polls. There is one thing about the polls that I am sure of: I will be back in next time, but I am a bit worried about the honourable senator. Let us look at the terrible record of the coalition during its eight years in office when the breadwinners in all those families were pushed out of work and thrown on to the dole queue. The coalition let manufacturing industry, which employs average Australian families, run down. It kept up the overvalued dollar. It ruined our international competitiveness. Then there was the lunacy of the resources boom. Honourable senators remember the resources boom. Even Senator Peter Baume remembers the resources boom. What did Australian families get out of that? All that was ever presented to them was illusions. There was no reality. At the end of the day the cold, hard reality was that family after family faced the prospect of years without work. That is the only thing the coalition Government could do for them. I, for one, remember those days.

I was interested to hear the claims of some Opposition speakers this afternoon. Last week those of us who were interested-unfortunately they were only on this side of the House-were able to talk to some of the parents of the 100,000 single parent families that were just referred to by Senator Newman. I had the opportunity to speak with many of them. I would be the first to admit that they have some complaints about what the Labor Government had done in the last few years. However, one thing terrifies them-the prospect of the Opposition ever getting back into government. They know that in all the high sounding, upper crust waffle which the lot opposite go on with about families and care for families, single parent families do not rate a mention or a thought. They are not part of the normal society which people opposite like to see. Because they are not part of that normal society they are the ones who will get neglected. When they get neglected the real losers will be the children. It is the children whom we on this side of the chamber are concerned about. It is the children whom we want to try to help. They know, and their parents know, that if the Opposition were ever to get into government they are for the scrap-heap.

Opposition senators interjecting-

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Colston) —Order!

Senator RICHARDSON —Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President; it was getting far too rowdy in here. If I could praise Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Peterson for one moment, and I do not do that very often--

Senator Jones —Be careful.

Senator RICHARDSON —I shall be careful. If I could praise him just for once, at least he is honest about what he wants to do. He does want to kick to death single income families. He gets up and says it. But not the slippery Liberal Party. The Liberal Party is a bit more cunning about it all. It will dress it up in much nicer language, the language of care and concern. But at the end of the day the same reality is there.

On this side of the House we are acknowledging the difficulties of our times. When we have $6 billion wiped off our national income, obviously as a nation we have a big problem. There is no way that we could or should deny it. There is no short term alternative; we have no pot of gold to offer.

As one tries to peer through layer after layer of the cooked and rubbery figures of the Howard-Messner document-that is, those parts of it that are not being retyped in accordance with what Ian Cameron thinks should be in the policy-one finds that, on the one hand, it says that those opposite will do marvellous things for average Australian families and, on the other, they want to pay for it by starting with an 8 per cent consumption tax. When I consider what an 8 per cent consumption tax will do in the current Australian economic climate, I know the reality is that the real losers will be average Australian families. They will lose out every time. That will be the direct hit-right amidships-for all of those families, and the one they will not be able to survive.

Today in Question Time Senator Walsh outlined some of the things that a consumption tax would hit. When it gets round to hitting the food and clothing of the average Australian family, I know where Australian families will turn when they look, in years to come, for a culprit. It will be the present Opposition. The Opposition is out to wreck them. We, on the other hand, are out to try to make sure that, over time, their living standards can increase.

Fortunately, the memories of Australian families are not so short that they have forgotten the years from 1975 to 1983 when many people were put out of work. When the previous Government left office-Senator Newman was not a senator at that time, so we cannot blame it all on her; although I am told that her husband had something to do with it-the unemployment rate was 11 per cent. I saw figures of only a week ago which show that it is down to almost 3 per cent-under a Labor government. Instead of creating extraordinary unemployment, as the previous Government did, we have provided 700,000 jobs. We have not knocked them out of the economy; we have put them in. We have put more people in work. The 500,000 people John Howard managed to put out of work in the last 18 months of his reign can be contrasted with the 700,000 that Paul Keating and Bob Hawke have put back to work since we got into government.

Looking at the Liberal Party's history, one sees that the normal and easy thing for it to do when the economy is in trouble is to say: `Do not worry about responsible solutions. Just make sure that you get the unemployment rate up. Let the people at the bottom end pay for the problem, and all will be okay eventually'. The problem is that each one of those 750,000 people who went out of work was part of an Australian family. They took money home and paid off mortgages and car loans. What happened when those people went out of work? The economy ran into a hole. The Opposition's record in that respect borders on the criminal. It had no policy on wages and prices.

I will turn to the policy it has now and contrast it with what happened in those days. In 1981, there was an 11 per cent increase in wages and in 1982, a 14 per cent increase. Those opposite, with those two little efforts, sent inflation through the roof. As I recall, that was their experiment with part-deregulation. That is a great advertisement for the policy that the Opposition has coming up! There are several policies, but the Opposition parties disagree as to what the eventual policy will be. Who knows what it will be. I cannot say that I do, but I can say that, if it provides for a deregulation free-for-all, again the losers will be Australian families. In the end, it will mean more and more unemployment. Some among the Opposition ranks talk about wage freezes, and some talk about semi-deregulation with minimum awards. But the one consistent thing that coalition spokesmen have done-perhaps the only consistent thing-is to oppose any increase in every single wage case in the four years since the Hawke Government came to power. Where would average Australian families be if, on every single occasion, they got nothing out of wage cases?

I would be the first to admit-I would be proud of it, because of the times-that we did not support the Australian Council of Trade Unions in its claims. Constantly we asked for, and got, restraint. We did not allow a free-for-all. On each occasion the Opposition opposed any increase, even the smallest one. Where would Australian families have been in the last four years without those small increases that they did get? The Opposition would have consigned more and more of them to living in poverty. Wages count when one looks at living standards. If one does not look at wages when one looks at living standards, one wonders what one can look at. The fact that the Opposition has opposed every single increase shows just how empty its claims this afternoon are.

Let us consider a little further the legacy left by the previous Government. The number of children in low income families more than doubled during the eight years that those opposite were in government-from under 9 per cent to just under 20 per cent. One in five children was a member of a family which was eligible for a pension or benefit. The numbers started off being less than one in 10. That was their contribution to average Australian families. The family allowance for a one-child family decreased, in real terms, by 24 per cent. For a three-child family, the real decrease was 20.1 per cent. That is what they did for average Australian families. For a sole parent pensioner with two children and no private income, there was a decrease again. Every time-no matter which indicator one considers for average Australian families-that was the case. Those opposite forced more and more Australian families to the wall. They allowed ordinary pay as you earn taxpayers to carry the can, to do the work for all of the tax rorters, the crooks and the cheats who flourished under John Howard's term as Treasurer of this country. They did nothing about providing tax relief. They could not bring down tax rates. It took a Labor government to do that. Under the Liberal-National Party Government, tax rates went up and up. As for all this preaching about new lower tax rates now, let none of us forget whose invention the 62 per cent rate was. It was John Howard's rate, and it took Paul Keating to get it down. The only memorable thing of the period was that infamous fistful of dollars.

As I said earlier, average Australian families have a long memory. They remember what those opposite did with the fistful of dollars and how long it took for them to rip it back off them. In the 1977 election campaign they promised people a fistful of dollars, as well as tax indexation. The promise lasted a whole three months after the election before they got up and walked away from it. In those days, they had everything going for them. Oil was flowing from the Bass Strait, and obviously money was going into the Treasury from that. Commodity prices were high; our commodities were in demand all over the world. With a real chance to do something about average Australian families and their plight, once again they did absolutely nothing, except force more and more people to the wall.

Let us contrast that with the record of the Hawke Government. It has had one standard to run on in its four years: Fairness and equity-not just in the tax system but in the welfare system as well. We have sought to improve the position of the poorest. There has been a fringe benefits tax, a capital gains tax, and the abolition of negative gearing. We have brought about the end of the free lunch. We have done as much as we can to ensure that average Australian families get a fair go and that those who have been able to avoid paying their fair share can do so no longer. Many Australian families have shared in those benefits. Given the length of time we have left in this term and the other term which we are sure to win, more and more average Australian families will benefit. We will not consign them to the economic scrap-heap. We will look after them, something which those opposite have never been able to do and never cared to do.