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Thursday, 19 March 1987
Page: 1012


Senator COONEY(5.35) —We are debating a motion about the economic management of Australia. The Senate has been asked to condemn the Hawke Labor Government for its mismanagement of the Australian economy. A series of symptoms is given to try to show that the economy is sick. The motion then calls upon the Hawke Labor Government to introduce a mini-Budget to include lower and flatter rates of income tax, significant reductions in government expenditure and the abolition of the fringe benefits tax, the capital gains tax and the lump sum superannuation tax. Senator Messner has said just about all that can be said about the state of the economy.

I think that, as far as the Opposition is concerned, that is about all that can be said, because in trying to address the economic problems that this country presently has-there is no doubt that it is in difficult times-what the Opposition proposed was vague. The Opposition first calls on the Hawke Government to introduce a mini-Budget. It does not go into any definition as to what that might include, except to say that, amongst other things, it should include lower and flatter rates of income tax. Of course, this Government has given lower rates of income tax and it will give lower rates still as from 1 July. The top rate that will then be paid will be 49c. Therefore, those who pay lower rates will be enabled to pay still lower rates. So there will be a reduction from 46c to 40c in the dollar and the bottom rate will go down to 24c, whereas it was 30c when this Government came to power. These sorts of statements have been made again and again in this chamber. No doubt this almost wearying debate will go on and on. The cure for the economic ills of this nation deserves proper and deep consideration, which has not been given by the Opposition in this debate or in other debates.

The Opposition has given only a fairly vague remedy. It has said that the Government must lower tax rates, and it has already done that. It wants flatter rates of income tax. That gives us a clue as to what the Opposition is all about. Any flatter rates of income tax would mean, of course, that those who are in a position to pay proper rates of tax will have to pay less, and that those who are at the lower end of the economic scale will have to pay more. So the first prescription that the Opposition gives for the economic troubles of this country-this comes out from the terms of the motion-is to impose a greater imposition upon the poor and the weak in the community.


Senator Messner —Mr Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order in the form of a question. Is it in order for Senator Cooney to misrepresent totally the Opposition's position when it quite clearly means, in the statement that is part of the motion, that there would be lower taxes paid by everyone in Australia? I put it to you that he is misrepresenting our position when he says that the poorer would pay more while the richer would pay less. That is totally false, and I believe he is out of order in so saying.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Morris) —There is no point of order.


Senator COONEY —I will take the honour- able senator up on that. I am simply referring to the motion that he had put before the House; and he said himself that it just about says it all. If we look at the terms of the motion, what else are we to conclude? Senator Messner says that we should have lower and flatter rates of income tax. I take it that lower means a lesser rate than is presently paid. But, as Senator Messner knows, when we talk about rates of tax, that includes a concept of an average tax across the various rates. There is plenty of evidence to show that the result of flatter rates of tax is that those people who formerly paid more-that is, those who are better off-would pay less and those who--


Senator Messner —Would you not allow that that is not what we are saying?


Senator COONEY —Thank you, Senator. Can I take what Senator Messner has said to be an addendum? Can I take it that in the course of debate he is assuring us that if the Opposition ever came to power the flatter rates of tax would mean that absolutely everybody in the community would pay less tax?


Senator Messner —Yes, now you are right.


Senator COONEY —It is very helpful that Senator Messner has said that. It would be very helpful if at some stage-I certainly do not say now, but in the course of the year-he could produce more statements like that and produce evidence and figures so that we can be reassured of the Opposition's position. One happy result of this debate is that we now have some precision in the statement of claim which Senator Messner so happily presented. We now have further and better particulars.

The next thing for which Senator Messner asks is significant reductions in government expenditure. We will certainly go ahead with that. But what is significant? Is it $1m or $10m or $1 billion? At some time convenient to the Opposition-I certainly do not want to rush it into these things now-and perhaps before the next election, could we be given some details and perhaps some further and better particulars of what a significant reduction in government expenditure means? Then perhaps we can debate it with more precision. For example, Senator Maguire has often spoken to me about that. He is desperate to get just some details-not a great deal, but some-to enable us to understand the situation.

Senator Messner calls for the abolition of the fringe benefits tax, the capital gains tax and the lump sum superannuation tax. But the question is: If we abolish those, where will we get the money from? Perhaps we could go into privatisation to get that money. Perhaps we could privatise this chamber.


Senator Boswell —We could not sell it if people had to listen to you.


Senator COONEY —On the back of Senator Boswell's seat we might see `Boswell Batteries'. Perhaps we could sell advertising space within the chamber and, as it were, privatise the seats in the Senate chamber. I just suggest that; the Opposition may want to take that idea up. We could also have `Crichton-Browne's Credit Union' on the back of Senator Crichton-Browne's seat so that when he got up we would all see that advertisement. We could also have `Messner's Machinery'. That is the sort of thing that we could have in this chamber. That certainly could be a way to raise money to keep us all here. In other words, we could sell advertising space.


Senator McKiernan —What would you do for Senator Vigor?


Senator COONEY —Perhaps we could have `Vigor's Vitamins-the jumping Senator Vigor, a man of vigour, vim and vitality'. That is what it will come down to shortly if we go into privatisation. Under such a scheme we could sell the airlines, the banks and all sorts of things. Perhaps we could abolish government altogether.


Senator Maguire —We could sell prisons to long term prisoners.


Senator COONEY —Yes, we could sell prisons to long term prisoners. The point is that the money has to be raised somewhere. Senator Brownhill has just made a plea, an eloquent plea, on behalf of the farmers. But if we are to help the farmers, where do we get the money from? That is the great difficulty. He said that the $20m put forward now for restructuring is not enough. He put forward a vigorous case on behalf of his constituents. But where will we get the money to help the farmers? He said that parliamentarians are better off than farmers. I certainly agree that parliamentarians are better off than some farmers. But, on the other hand, we note now that wool farmers, for example, are getting quite a good return under this Government for their wool. Will any credit be given to the Government for that?


Senator Boswell —Why would you claim credit for that?


Senator COONEY —I will tell Senator Brownhill how we claim credit for that-with the sort of argument that he uses. He says when things are going bad that it is the Government's fault. Senator Brownhill has brought up a very good point.


Senator Maguire —Boswell.


Senator COONEY —I am sorry, Senator Boswell. They are still together. The Brownhill-Boswell combination is still a combination, is it not?


Senator Boswell —It will be a formidable combination for a long time, too.


Senator COONEY —Senator Boswell says that it is a combination that will go on for a long time. I am sure that Senator Brownhill would agree that the Boswell-Brownhill combination will continue as a force. What Senator Boswell is saying is that we cannot claim credit for the increase in the price of wool and the turnaround that has occurred in the wool industry because they are due to other factors. I am happy to accept that argument. But why does he not use that argument when other things that are problems come before us? In other words, he says that high interest rates and all the taxes that are necessary are the Government's fault. He says that the fact that the housing industry is not doing as well as he would like is all the Government's fault. He says that all the bad things are due to the Government simply because they are bad, but the good things are not due to us.


Senator Boswell —Who put the Wool Corporation into place? That was the thing that kicked the wool industry along.


Senator COONEY —I am happy with that. Senator Boswell is saying that when we look to see whether things can be approved of or not we go back into the history of them. I am happy to do that, too. But if we are going to go back to the history of things, why do we not go back to the history of this country when too much emphasis was placed upon the production and sale of commodities? Let me make this quite clear. Primary producers clearly have contributed mightily to the country's wealth over the years, and let us hope that they will continue to do so in the future. But too much emphasis was placed on the development of primary industry at the expense of industries which added value to the commodities. An illustration of that was given on the Sunday program on Channel 9 last weekend. In discussion on the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, it was pointed out that that organisation failed to develop a computer industry where one was offered and instead went towards producing a mechanism to make it rain. That happened in 1951 and after all this time nothing has been done. But that illustrates how the emphasis in this country has been placed upon the commodity producing sector and not enough on that sector of the economy that produces value added goods. That is a perfectly good illustration of what I mean about history.

Senator Boswell mentioned that the Australian Wool Corporation has helped the wool industry, which is a matter of history, but he does not look at history to work out whether the present problems also come from historical sources. They clearly do come from the sorts of decisions that were made by governments in the past, particularly by governments of the colour that he represents. All I want Opposition members to do, when attributing things on one side of the ledger-that side that deals with what is good-is to make the same attributions on the other side by acknowledging what has happened because of the history of the development of the economy in this country. This is exactly what this Government is doing now: It is struggling with the legacy of the past-and struggling, may I say, very well.

It has been said here today that this Government has not done enough about employment. Figures have been cited here again and again, and I cite them once more. Three-quarters of a million jobs have been created under this Government.


Senator Boswell —But they are government jobs.


Senator COONEY —No, that is not the evidence at all. Some of them are government jobs. Whether or not they are government jobs seems to me to be irrelevant.


Senator Boswell —They are government jobs financed by the farmers on high interest rates.


Senator COONEY —One cannot do that. That is the difficulty of the Opposition's position. Senator Boswell is saying that the farmers are the only people to worry about. But I worry about everybody. I love both the farmers and the city people. Senator Boswell's confrere, Senator Brownhill, for whom I have the greatest regard, says that these people in the city are driving around in cars but do they ever think about country people? I think we have to have great regard and respect for everybody. We will not get on in this country if we simply say that the only people we care about are the farmers or the city folk. We have to care about everyone. That is what this Government does, night and day, year in and year out. It cares for all. Senator McIntosh would agree with that. We do an injustice to the country as a whole if we sectionalise the community into farmers, city dwellers, union people and management. Somehow we have to co-operate as a nation.


Senator Messner —Well why do you hit the retired people and the pensioners all the time?


Senator COONEY —We do not hit the retired people all the time. We have done a lot for those people on pensions. We have considerably increased payments to all those who receive pensions. I think it is absolutely correct that we should worry about the poorer sections of the community and those in need, but in this chamber in regard to people who are less well off in the community we create an environment where hatred, ridicule and contempt are poured upon them. For example, people on unemployment benefits are very much in that group. We create an atmosphere where we say that we have to get after these social security recipients.

It falls ill from our mouths on the one hand to say that we should be helping the poor when on the other hand we are creating an atmosphere where they are brought into disregard. We sometimes attack those who are less able to help themselves, and this is particularly so of the Opposition in respect of its attitude towards trade unions. When talking about those who need protection, we are talking about those whom unions represent, and by and large represent very well. The Opposition often says here that people need encouragement and that for that reason, as this motion says, the Government should abolish the fringe benefits tax, the capital gains tax and lump sum superannuation tax, but then the Opposition wants to crush the unions so that people can be paid less. It seems remarkable to me that those best able to afford to pay tax should be given more and more rein so that they can have incentive and encouragement, but those least able to withstand the economic rigours of the community have to receive less and have to take reductions in their conditions and pay so that the community can recover.

From the remark made by Senator Messner it seems that there is an inconsistency and perhaps a confusion in the minds of Opposition senators. If they listen to the speeches of honourable senators on this side, no doubt their minds will become clearer. I am sure that by the end of this debate, when Opposition senators have heard the many speakers from this side-Senator Richardson and Senator McKiernan--


Senator Crichton-Browne —I am next.


Senator COONEY —Yes, and Senator Crichton-Browne. At the end of this debate matters will be much clearer to the community as a whole and I think they could be made even clearer if, as time goes by, we get further details of what the Opposition might do.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator MacGibbon) —Order! The time for General Business has expired.