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Wednesday, 6 May 1987
Page: 2418

Senator BROWNHILL(5.03) —This matter of public importance brought forward by my colleague Senator Short highlights the policy failures of the Hawke Government. My only regret is that I have only some nine minutes in which to cover the Government's wide range of policy failures. It would be much easier if I had to talk about the Hawke Government's policy successes. There are so few of those that my speech could have been delivered much more quickly. The Hawke Government has failed the Australian people in numerous ways. Let me list a few. It has failed in regard to home ownership, interest rates, inflation, petrol prices, youth traineeships, the dependent spouse rebate, Medicare, the trilogy, the wine tax, the capital gains tax and all the other iniquitous taxes that it has foisted on the community. The Hawke Government has been a failure in each of those areas. The Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) promised in his policy speech in November 1984:

We pledge ourselves to bring home ownerships once again within the reach of Australian families.

The reality is that home interest rates have risen from 11.5 per cent in December 1984 to a record high level of over 15 per cent at present. Monthly repayments have risen on a typical $50,000 home loan by $172 a month. Record numbers of young people are on public housing waiting lists. Record numbers have defaulted on their mortgages and are back in rented accommodation. Some are homeless directly as a result of being unable to keep up their home repayments.

The Government does not have a clue what to do about interest rates either, or what interest rates are doing. Successive Ministers have said that interest rates would fall. Some said that they would fall significantly. The reality is that, over the past three years, interest rates have soared to record levels. The entire interest rate structure has risen to record or near record levels. For example, in 1984, the prime interest rate was 13.5 per cent; it is now 18.5 per cent. In 1984, home loan interest rates were 11.5 per cent; they have gone up to 15.5 per cent. In November 1984, the Bankcard rate was 18 per cent; it is now 22.5 per cent. In 1984, the small overdraft rate was 14.5 per cent; it is now 20.5 per cent. The slight falls currently noticeable in the market are doing little to reduce the cost of money for the homebuyer, the businessman and the farmer. Regarding inflation, which is another failure of the Hawke Labor Government, the Prime Minister said in late 1984:

We expect inflation will be less than 5 per cent in the year ahead and we are determined to keep it below 5 per cent.

If the Prime Minister lived in another country his words might have had some chance of success, but in Australia it will be difficult to keep our inflation rate below 10 per cent; 5 per cent is absolutely impossible in view of the current economic climate and present Government policies.

Two of my colleagues mentioned fuel prices. The Government's hypocrisy is nowhere better demonstrated than with petrol prices. Last year, when the cost of fuel to the Australian motorist should have dropped by some 18c a litre, the Government introduced a change to its fuel pricing policy-a new excise of 10c a litre. So the reduction was less than half of what it should have been. We understand that a further rise will be announced next week, which will put the excise up to 20c a litre. The latest rise will add $10 a week to a family's car fuel bill. Those people about whom Senator Watson told us earlier in his story will be slugged once again by the Hawke Labor Government as a result of the failure of some of its policies. In the Prime Ministerial address to the nation in August 1985, Mr Hawke pledged 10,000 new youth traineeships. He said:

Our aim of 75,000 young people in traineeships will be achieved in the Bicentennial year.

By September 1986, 12 months after that promise was made, only 2,025 people had found work, and of those only 58 were in the private sector. By January of this year, only 3,600 young people had found work, with only 500 in the private sector. Youth unemployment is now higher than when Priority One and the youth traineeship scheme were announced. That is another failure of the Hawke Labor Government's policies.

The Government promised to keep the Medicare levy at one per cent for the duration of the Hawke Government. It is now at 1.25 per cent and indications are that a further rise will be announced next week. That would be another failure of the Hawke Labor Government. Medicare is just one area in which we, the taxpayers, will have to pay more. This week in the Senate we have debated legislation which proposes an impost of yet another tax on the oil exploration industry, which lost some 3,600 jobs last year. I trust and hope that the Australian Democrats will stay with the Opposition so we can defeat that legislation in the next few days.

The imposts on the rural community have been well argued in this chamber on several occasions this year. The imposts are crippling the whole of the rural community-not only the farmers and the people who work on the farms but also rural towns and villages and those who live in them. The Government should be well aware of the effects that high interest rates, falling commodity prices and loss of competitiveness have had on the farming communities. They have been carrying the burden for the Government for too long. They have suffered because of this Government's failure to recognise that our overseas borrowings must be curbed, its failure to recognise that we must stop living beyond our means, and its failure to realise that we must stop the handouts. I ask honourable senators to look at some of the handouts that have been given recently, such as to Wild Women Surfboards from the Office of the Status of Women. That was a grant of $11,000 to design and develop a special surfboard for women. Another is the Footscray swimming pool project fiasco. The original community employment grant was $1.97m, but the final payment will probably be $5.3m or more. I think that saga will continue tonight.

We must use existing taxation legislation to better effect rather than just invent another tax, such as the fringe benefits tax, when we need more money. This Government has failed to recognise that we must bring incentive back into the work force. It is because of the Government's very ineptitude that the mini-Budget is necessary. It is because of those failings that cuts in the order of $4 billion will be necessary if there is to be any real improvement in the economy. If the present slight fall in interest rates is to be maintained, this Government must do more than just trim the edges. But of course the mini-Budget has already caused concern in the community and fear among many that we are heading for another depression. People see each month our balance of trade figures out of government control. Our inflation rate is so much higher than those of other countries and interest rates are so high that borrowing is outside the reach of most people. So many people are out of work with no hope of employment. They worry not whether the Australian economy will fall but when it will fall. This is all caused by the wrong policies of the Hawke Labor Government.

The mini-Budget, to be effective, must be tough, but that in itself will cause further hardship to many who have already been squeezed for too long. The mini-Budget has been necessary only because of this Government's total economic ineptitude, its complete lack of awareness of what is happening in the economy and its complete ignorance of the warning signs that the Opposition has been trying to get it to take notice of for three years. It is a relief that the Government has finally admitted its failure to manage the economy. Now all Australians must suffer for the sins of the few. One can only hope that the Government gets next week's statement right. If, after next week, the economy does not start to change direction, Australia will truly be in a mess from which it may never recover, unless of course we have a change of government, to the Liberal Party and the National Party of Australia, to lead this country out of the mess that it is now in.

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