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Wednesday, 6 May 1987
Page: 2416

Senator CHILDS(4.48) —I wish to speak to the matter of public importance that has been raised by the Opposition today. We are at a time when all Australians must exercise restraint, and this Labor Government believes that we must face restraint on equity. My colleague Senator Maguire, in leading for the Government, pointed out how the Opposition has attempted to rewrite history. For example, it has tried to forget the period of the Fraser Government. Senator `Hans Christian' Watson has just told us a `Grimm' fairy tale. He told us about citizen John and he made up a beautiful fairy tale, but he was wrong. I remember that citizen well. In the last year of the Fraser Government John was one of the 186,000 people who were put out of work by the Fraser Government and the Treasurer, Mr Howard. John had a very tough time. I am pleased to say that he now knows that this Government has produced 700,000 jobs since it took office. So John Citizen and his wife Jane-

Senator Button —Joan.

Senator CHILDS —I was a bit confused because, although Senator Watson started off with Joan, somebody else had a prostate operation and Jane slipped in there somewhere. At this serious time we have had from Senator Watson--

Senator Watson —Treat it seriously.

Senator CHILDS —That is the point: I cannot treat seriously an Opposition which, on the one hand, seeks to tell a story based on a superficial analysis and, on the other, reacts-as my colleague Senator Maguire pointed out in leading for the Government-in a way typical of the Opposition. Senator Maguire correctly put the case that the Opposition has an obsession with cash income and a narrow view of the social wage. Referring to the social wage, Senator Short interjected and said: `Who do you think pays for it?' That highlights the fact that the Opposition does not believe in the social wage. Senator Maguire adequately pointed out that in housing, one aspect of the social wage, this Government has a tremendous record. Yet we had Senator Crichton-Browne bleating about public housing, although for the rest of his time he talked about the needs of business. That sums up the problem the Opposition has. It refers to the `average family' and to the `average person' but, unfortunately, all its policies are based on business interests. It is still not close to the average family, or the average person.

As Senator Maguire pointed out, the ratio of unemployment to job vacancies, a critical factor, is down from 28 per cent to 11 per cent. It is very important to all the John Citizens of this country that we have reduced unemployment. We have the runs on the board in terms of attempting to make the social wage effective. Under the Fraser Government the social wage was reduced. Under this Government the figures have been doubled. There has been an increase of 4 1/2 per cent. My colleague Senator Aulich has referred to the prices and incomes accord and the progress that has been made, including the progress made by the Minister at the table, the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce, Senator Button, with industry agreements which have brought people in this country together.

It is worth while going past Senator Watson's analysis to look at what we have, in sharp contrast, in the Liberal Party. There is no longer a coalition. The coalition was snapped like a dry twig. The Opposition parties are now a number of disparate voices. We have confusion. That confusion is manifest in the matter of public importance today. Senator Short's proposal makes no acknowledgment of the international nature of the crisis we face, which has led to our need to make a May statement. Senator Watson did not allude to anything like that because it might have prevented his superficial analysis and the narrow, petty, political point-scoring approach he took in his speech.

We must consider the terms of trade, which are outside the control of this Government or of any government. Using 1979-80 as a base of 100, our terms of trade dropped from an annual rate of 95.5 in 1982-83 to 87.1 in 1985-86. That is a problem because it represents a loss of $7,000m in 1985-86. As a background, prices for our commodities have been dropping for over 20 years. But in May 1985 the crunch came. We are seeking to recover from that crunch now. As Senator Aulich has pointed out, we have had a declining manufacturing industry. As other speakers on this side of the chamber have pointed out, unfortunately the overvalued currency which was encouraged by the Fraser Government drastically affected manufacturing industry. Manufacturing industry became inefficient and we relied too heavily on the rural and mining industries.

The matter of public importance raised by the Opposition makes no reference to or analysis of the decline in the value of our agricultural and mining exports. More significantly, the Liberal Party as the Opposition puts no alternative program. We had no proposals or solutions from Senator Short or from any of the other Opposition speakers. I do not blame them particularly because, as late as this morning, the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Howard, yet again ignored the clamour within his Party and the community and said that he will not release his tax policy. He will not release his solutions for the problems which he says we have. Australians cannot have a proper choice between the Government's policies, which are working, and the Opposition's policies with its niggardly approach and its inability to put up an alternative so that people can make their choice. When we note the words that are used in the matter of public importance, such as `policy failures', we see that the Leader of the Opposition and the Liberal Party, Mr Howard, really comes into his own. It was Mr Howard, the failed Treasurer in the Fraser Government, who left us with a projected deficit of $9.6 billion, as Senator Walsh is so often reminding us, as his legacy to this country. It was Mr Howard who failed to take effective action against the tax avoidance and evasion industries which grew under the Howard regime. As Senator Maguire said, today the Liberal Party denies its record.

Another thing we all remember is how under the Fraser Government it was the taxpayers who subsidised the business dinners, the holidays, and the private schooling of some. That has all gone now. I believe that the wage and salary earners, the very people whom the Opposition claims to speak for, are very relieved that they do not have to subsidise these people any more. They no longer have to subsidise the fringe benefits packages which the business elite squandered in the Fraser years. That has all gone now and I believe that the vast majority of wage and salary earners endorse this Government's decisions to take away those benefits from those greedy people in society.

We have introduced other measures. There has been talk about the capital gains tax. Capital gains are now taxed properly and we no longer have the distortion of investment which occurred in the Fraser years when so much income was converted into capital gain and investment did not go to the industries where it was needed. Finally, when we think of the Fraser-Howard years we remember the $570m we did not get from the bottom of the harbour schemes because the Liberal Party, the National Party and the Australian Democrats would not take the steps to get back the ill-gotten gains from those people who bludged on the average people in the community.

The Opposition has not realised it yet, but twice the Australian People have rejected the Opposition's policies. Mr Howard has learnt nothing. The Opposition has learnt nothing. Mr Howard's training-he is a lawyer by profession-has not helped him. Unfortunately, he is now taking his brief from an extreme group, the greedy ideologues of the New Right, extra-parliamentary people, the millionaires, who are making a power grab to control the coalition parties, as they were. Having succeeded in breaking them, these people are trying to take over both conservative political parties.

A number of Liberal Party members have reacted against all this. A number of small `l' liberals, who are established as being people who believe in fairness, and more particularly compassion, are clearly distancing themselves from the leadership of those who occupy the Opposition front bench. They are doing so at a time when there is an onslaught on the former coalition. Mr Elliott, Mr Hay and Mr McLachlan, who are outside the ranks of the Liberal and National parties, are now dictating to the Liberal Party and the National Party. Fairness and compassion are not synonymous with those people who are aggressively trying to turn the Liberal and the National parties into extremist organisations which will set out to destroy, in every possible way, the standard of living of ordinary people.

That is in contrast with what this Government has done, as Senator Aulich pointed out. It has gone ahead and made sure that reasonable wages go to wage and salary earners under the present circumstances. This year, wage growth for wage and salary earners will be over 6 per cent. At the same time, there are positive moves to remove antiquated management and work practices from Australian industry so there will be an increase in productivity. That is what is happening under this Government.

In the few minutes that I have remaining, let me remind the Senate that industrial relations will be the key issue which Australians must consider in the next few years. In 1982-83, under the Fraser Government, we had a productivity rate of minus 11.1 per cent. The rate is now plus 4.5 per cent. The number of working days lost was 36 per cent higher during the Liberal period of government. Australians are threatened with a Liberal Party and National Party industrial relations policy which is extreme and which reflects, if you like, the declaration of class war against wage and salary earners. It is designed to reduce the ability of wage and salary earners to bargain effectively to get a decent wage. We in this Parliament will see more and more people facing up to the fact that the extremists have taken control of industrial relations in the Liberal and National parties, which will disadvantage ordinary people. It has been pointed out that of the last 20 wage cases that have been held before the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, the Liberal Party has opposed 18. Furthermore, the Liberal Party is now setting out with individual agreements to disadvantage ordinary working people to the extent that employers will have a tremendous bargaining advantage over them and they will not be able to get the guaranteed wages that they have had under successive Labor governments.