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Wednesday, 23 March 1994
Page: 2091

Senator WOODS (5.00 p.m.) —Mr President, at the outset may I thank you and, through you, the clerks, the officers and the attendants of the Senate for their advice and the courtesy they have extended to me. I am deeply grateful. May I acknowledge, too, the friendly greetings of honourable senators on both sides of the chamber, and I make a point of including in this Brian Harradine, an old friend for whom I have the highest regard.

  Those greetings are a valuable reminder to me that we are all here, whatever our party affiliations and our party platforms, to serve a common purpose—to serve the people who elected us according to our own individual aspirations, insights and values. However vigorous and impassioned our arguments may be from time to time, it is good to remind ourselves that we are here about ideas and not about people in terms of those that we are contending against. I might mention in passing, in view of my past experience, it is not always quite clear that that is the case in the other place. I hope to keep that in mind and, if I do not, I am sure others will remind me.

  I also acknowledge the members of my own party organisation who in the preselection process renewed their trust in me. I appreciate very much the responsibility that goes with that trust. I might mention in passing that it is in somewhat stark contrast to the procedures followed by those on the other side of the house with their perhaps not quite so democratic preselection procedures. I am sure that Pat Staunton and Franca Arena would verify that.

  Over the last year I have had the pleasure of working with Australia's largest health care group, the Moran Health Care Group. It has been a delightful and, indeed, enriching experience. It has broadened my horizons, which were previously in medicine, academia and small business. One of the reasons I chose to work for the Moran Health Care Group was, indeed, the high regard in which I held the group and its chairman. My judgment, I think it is fair to say, was more than justified.

  Although Doug Moran is a multimillionaire, he does not fit that mould. He is certainly a very astute businessman; he is not afraid to make tough decisions. But there is a compassionate side of Doug which many people have not seen. He has done many things for many of his employees who have been facing hard times. Not only has he not sought reward, but indeed he has gone out of his way to keep it secret in many cases. I know like many successful businessmen he has a lot of enemies, but he also has a lot of good friends, particularly amongst his employees. Contrary to the image put out about most millionaires, he is something of a rarity nowadays: he is scrupulously honest. It has been a delight to work with him over the last year. I count Doug as a good friend, and I look forward to continuing that friendship.

  I wish to express a warm word of thanks also to the electorate of Lowe, which gave me two most challenging and fascinating, I think it is fair to say, terms in office which taught me so much about the needs and the aspirations of an extraordinary and indeed very successful multiculture. I think that nowhere could I have been closer to understanding the true meaning of the expression `parliamentary service' than in the electorate of Lowe. It is an invaluable cross-section of all Australia. It provided for me a very valuable apprenticeship for a broader service and a vital lesson in concern and compassion, and the reminder—which more might be taken note of by the other side of the house—of the need wherever possible to assist, to beckon on and to uplift the dignity and self-esteem of individuals.

  For me the bicameral system is an essential part of the parliamentary process. I think in seven years time when we reflect upon the centenary of the Commonwealth Parliament we will pay strong tribute to the structure which was put in place by the fathers of federation. I guess we will also applaud the wisdom of the electorate which, although there was the opportunity via various referenda, has essentially made very few changes to the system. It is a unique system. It has built into it, in the House of Representatives, the vital principles of the Westminster system. It has recognised in the Senate the huge size and the huge diversity of this great country of ours, and the essential requirement of the protection of states which is necessary within our federation. Therefore the Senate was modelled on the American pattern.

  We should also remind ourselves that individual states demanded as an essential prerequisite for federation that there should be an upper house with equal representation for all states, and that the Senate should have the power to reject money bills. Without that representation and without that power I think it is fair to say there would have been no federation. Let me repeat, therefore, that without equal representation the two most populous states, New South Wales and Victoria, could have overtaken the smaller states in terms of the allocation of finances. I think it is also fair to say as a sequitur from that that if there were any serious attempt to change that system now there would be fierce protest not only from within this chamber but also from the general population at large.

  The method of election of honourable senators is not prescribed in the constitution, of course; it is determined by parliament. The only experiments with the preferential system that I have found really proved to be very unsatisfactory. On one occasion there was a majority of 33 to three, which would create an interesting situation nowadays.

  To be fair, I think it is greatly to the credit of the late Arthur Calwell, one of the most respected of Labor leaders, who changed the system to proportional representation, which was a more equitable reflection of voters' intentions. It is true that using a proportional representation system does give the opportunity for independents and minor parties to emerge, and the magnitude of that opportunity depends upon the size of the quota required to elect a senator. That quota diminishes in size as the parliament gets bigger. I cannot refrain from pointing out that the increase in size—and therefore the increased representation from minor parties—is a result of the Hawke government changing the size of the parliament.

  Since 1949 there have been lengthy periods in which the government of the day has not had a working majority, but it has not, by and large, led to stagnation or great frustration. Much rests upon the quantity and the quality of the independent contribution. I am sure that if there is ever a gross abuse of power in that regard there is always the judgment of the ballot box to remedy that or, in extreme cases, a double dissolution.

  It is for all of us to make the system work and not to exceed that measure of power which the electors gave us. I have to say that I think the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) should consider very carefully before making any legislative changes, whatever his temporary frustrations may be. By its very nature this place is a restraint on the absolute power or the absolute abuse of power by the lower house. The passage of legislation between the houses does provide that pause to take stock, to put to media and to public scrutiny a range of legislative procedures, and also for the Senate committee system to scrutinise and to review. After all, that is the Senate's essential role.

  It is clear to any observer that the real engine room of parliament is this place. This is the place where there is constructive debate, the ability to make sensible changes to legislation and, indeed, to have a very real impact on the country as a whole and upon individuals within our great country. For those who doubt me, I would have said this a year ago. I think I can say without being party political that probably every member of this house would share those views.

  I think that the recent comments from our Prime Minister that this place is composed of unrepresentative swill should be dismissed as the arrogant nonsenses that they are. It is so typical of the Prime Minister: if he cannot have his own way, he takes his bat home and tries to change the game. With all due respect, it is a power mentality associated with his particular faction in New South Wales, and not only the country but, I believe, the Australian Labor Party are the poorer because of that sort of approach.

  Whilst I would not agree that every change imposed by the Senate was sensible or constructive, I think it is fair to say that overwhelmingly the impact of review in this house is a very positive one. Having experienced the process of review in the other place I think I can say without fear of contradiction, particularly within this chamber, that it is at best superficial and at worst non-existent. Of course, by and large the government does not want constructive input, it does not want review; it simply wants its own way, and power for its own sake.

  It is always a matter of great pride, honour and privilege to be a member of this august chamber, but perhaps for me it is a little more special in as much as I am following in the steps of two illustrious senators. One senator I do not need to expand on; Senator Bishop left this chamber recently and her contribution is well-known. Her predecessor was John Carrick who, I am proud to say, is my father-in-law. I am delighted both on a personal basis and for the family that the baton has been passed on in this albeit indirect way. I have to say, and I think those who knew John Carrick here would agree, that if I can make a contribution one-tenth as worthwhile as that which he made, then I will have indeed achieved a great deal.

  I thought it would be interesting to look back at John Carrick's maiden speech, as first speeches were called in those days before political correctness took us over, to see what the issues were at that time and, with hindsight, to see whether they really were genuine issues. It is very interesting to see how many of them are relevant today.

  For example, he called in that speech upon the Commonwealth to initiate a comprehensive inquiry into the whole taxation system and its incidence upon the incomes of people because, as he said, `We' that is, the Liberal Party, `stand for progressive taxation and we should set up an instrument which translates theory into practice. This was in 1971, so we have come a long way since then, but plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose. I think most of us would agree that a review of the taxation system would not go amiss even now.

  He also said there should be a convention or a conference of the Commonwealth and the states to undertake a demarcation of roles. Very few people here would disagree with that. Indeed, those on the other side have even gone a short way—and I have to say a very short way—down that path. It sounds very familiar. He pointed out that we should try to decentralise some of the functions run by government in Australia in terms of the powers of government—an argument that, clearly, we on this side, at least, would support at this time. It is contrary to what the current government has been doing, which has been to centralise power and control in Canberra.

  He also rejected the idea that profit and profitability were not ugly things or that we should try to raid profit all the time so that there would be less and less. He said:

Unless industry is profitable there can be no industry except in a socialist state.

It is very interesting to look at what the ACTU was saying last week when company profits started to show an upturn for the first time in living memory almost. The first thing the ACTU said was that we would have to distribute those profits to the workers, otherwise there would be strikes and goodness knows what else—the veiled threats that we see so often. In fact, what we should be doing, of course, is seeking not only to make sure that the workers are looked after, but in particular to reinvest and increase productivity and our international competitiveness.

  He addressed the issues of a possible conflict between rural and city interests. I am sure my colleagues in the National Party of Australia will be interested in this. He pointed out then that 70 per cent of all rural costs were not on the farm, but were off farm—purchase of machinery and vehicles, tax, local rates and, in particular, freight. Again, it is amazing how, in 20-odd years, things really have not changed. He called for a national inquiry into freight costs which constituted 35 per cent of the costs of all goods at that time. I am not sure what the figure is now, but I suspect it is not vastly different. Bearing in mind that that was a speech given in 1971, he also showed some interesting foresight. He said:

The challenges that are before us in the 70's and 80's are vastly different from those that we faced in the past. We talk about ecology and the quality of life. I do not see ecology as being the relationship of man to his environment. I recognise its importance but not its preeminence. The one challenge confronting this Parliament, the people of the country and the world generally, is the challenge of the ecology of the relationship of man to man. How can we reduce conflict on an international level, whether it be in industry, on the streets or in delinquency—the challenge is to be cooperative, not divisive.

How true those words are today.

  I said earlier that I was proud, not only to be here, but also to be representing the great political party of our generation—the Liberal Party—particularly in this year on its 50th anniversary. Looking back over its 50 years it is with great pride that I proclaim the membership of the party, and my absolute and unerring support for the philosophies which have done so much to create a better and healthier Australia in every sense of the words. Although the Labor Party has been doing its best to undermine some of our traditions and some of our qualities of life, it still is a great country in which to live.

  From time to time the Labor Party claims the high moral ground; claims the innovations and the changes, particularly those with a social element, as its own. I thought it was time somebody put the record straight, and to list and perhaps touch upon some of the achievements of the Liberal Party over the last 50 years. I remind the Senate that for the majority of the 93 years since federation, the Australian electors have supported governments of a liberal persuasion. Indeed, for 30 of the last 48 years—since the end of World War II—Liberal governments have prevailed at the federal level.

  In a few months many people around Australia will join in the celebration of the 50th anniversary. Within those 50 years, a record number of enduring social and economic reforms have been implemented, falling within the liberal philosophy of governing for all people and not just for a section. The Liberal Party was formed within the vivid memory of the Great Depression and a world war, and it was very conscious of the country's very narrow basis in primary industry at that time, and the virtual absence of any worthwhile social security measures to assist and to protect against unemployment and ill health.

  It was Liberal governments of the 1950s and 1960s which embarked upon implementing unprecedented social reform policies, unprecedented economic development, unprecedented industrial expansion and great national security. Medical benefits, hospital benefits, pharmaceutical benefits, child endowment, home ownership available to the vast majority of average wage earners, a huge expansion of eduction funding at both school and tertiary levels, recognition of the needs of non-government schools, development of mineral resources, rapid expansion of secondary industry for both peacetime and defence needs, the realignment of our defence and our trade policies towards the USA and the Asia-Pacific region, and so on.

  There were two very exciting decades of great vision and great reforms resulting in full employment virtually, low inflation, a record rise in living standards, world record home ownership, expanded education opportunities, and a much greater sharing of wealth between rich and poor which, as Senator Kernot mentioned today, is sadly not now the case under this current government. It is very interesting to contrast those achievements with the achievements of the last 11 years. We finished up with a fairer, a more just, a more humane and a more compassionate society. Sadly, over the last 11 years since the Labor Party came to power, that poverty gap has widened significantly, and the level of compassion and humanity in our society has declined significantly.

  We had a very great achievement in our early and vital recognition of the relationships between Asia and the Pacific. It was in those years that those bonds were first formed. It was a Liberal government that negotiated the historic ANZUS treaty, which is the enduring foundation of our national security today. There followed the Colombo Plan, which brought so many Asian students to Australia to train and to become great ambassadors for Australia on their return to their own country—a policy which is still paying dividends in the Asian region.

  There was our participation in SEATO, the Five Powers Pact, the Korean War, the Malaysian confrontation, the stationing of our troops in Malaya and Singapore at their own request, the many aid programs, the Australia-Japan trade agreement and much, much more. There was a full realisation of our future role within the Asia-Pacific region, and our sensitive assistance in helping to bring Papua New Guinea towards full nationhood.  In the face of these very historic achievements, those who seek to portray the Australian governments of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s as being unmindful of Asia's potentials and tunnel visioned towards Europe, and the UK in particular, can only be branded as revisionists of history.

  There remain the most precious of links with those countries—the great inherited principles of the Westminster system, the evolution of common law and the jury system, and the due processes of law accessible to all people. These links form the very foundations of our freedoms and are vital to Australians, whether they be born here, or whether, as in fact is the case, they form one of the essential attractions for migrants to come to our shores. It is as true today as ever before that, in John Donne's words, no man is an island. All nations, all people are now, more than ever, interdependent. Asia is very important to us, but not exclusively so.

  Of course, human conflict is not confined to nations; it can be tried and exacerbated in the workplace by self-interests, whether they be management or worker oriented. There should be no place in Australia for class conflicts—the pitting of boss against worker in an adversarial system. For far too long this has been institutionalised by elements in our society in renewed centralised arbitration.

  Over the last decade Australia's living standards have fallen steadily. Unemployment has risen to record, chronic and intolerable levels. The country for so long has depended upon our primary industries—mining and agriculture. It has allowed our industrial added value industries to decline significantly. We are being out-performed by nations such as Japan, which have virtually no natural resources at all, whose wage levels are higher than ours, but which happen, because of efficiencies, to be much more productive than our industries.

  The solution is not to work longer hours; not to have lower wages or lower living standards, or to coerce workers into working harder by the threat of unemployment—the very real threat of unemployment, of course. The solution, in the end, has to lie in cooperation and preferably no confrontation between management and worker, with the government simply creating an environment which can ease the burdens of unfair taxes and charges on business, and remove unnecessary regulations.

  If we give genuine incentives—bonuses, profit sharing and employee share owning—I have no doubt at all that the Australian worker will produce productivity and quality products second to none in the world. Sound trade unionism has played a valuable part in Australia's development. There is still a role for it—not a political role but a reasoned approach to employer-employee negotiations before moving on to sensible enterprise bargaining.

  Let me clarify my position with regard to the trade union movement. There are a number of trade unions in Australia. Many of these are responsible bodies that represent their members fairly and adequately. But, sadly, there is a very significant minority of trade unions which are not concerned with maintenance of the condition or position of their workers but are concerned simply with utilising the unions as a power base to further their own ends and to increase their own political influence.

  We have seen this at its extreme in the fact that no policy can be developed or implemented by this government without the blessing of the ACTU. It is the political master of this government. The ACTU represents a minority of people in this country. It has no mandate to control the agenda of this government and yet that is exactly what it does. Responsible trade unions are very beneficial, and have been beneficial to Australia and to the workers. But, sadly, the irresponsibility of a small number of trade unions has caused enormous damage to our standing as a nation, to our development as a nation, to the economy of the nation, and to the health of the nation.

  I am not into union bashing but I believe very strongly that we should encourage sensible and reasonable trade unionism as an option for those who wish it but not as a compulsion for those who do not wish it. We should all, on both sides of this house, try to ensure that the union movement recognises, firstly, that it represents a minority of the Australian population and the only stranglehold it has is over the Labor government and, secondly, that responsible union practices would do a lot to encourage increased membership of trade unions.

  Essentially, my beliefs are those of the Liberal Party. They are that we believe in the supremacy of the individual. We do not believe in collectives. We do not believe in lowering the individual to the lowest common denominator. We believe in equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. We believe in smaller government, in getting government off the backs of individuals and businesses, in less power to the government. What an interesting contrast that makes to the current government, which is solely concerned with increasing its interference, increasing its centralisation and increasing its power.

  I believe in change where change is necessary to improve society. Indeed, that was one of the reasons why the name `Liberal' was chosen in the first place: to reflect upon the need for change in society, but not change for change's sake. I do not and will not, for example, support changing our political system to become a republic. We have had a system which for almost a century has been the envy of the civilised world. It has produced stable government; it has worked well in every sense. Why on earth we would want to change such a system simply to satisfy the strange whims of the current Prime Minister is beyond me. There can be no sensible or logical justification for this, and I will not and do not support any such changes.

  Similarly, why on earth would we want to change the flag? To me, the flag represents symbols of where we have come, where we are and hopefully where we are going as a nation. Why on earth would we want to change something which has been there for the best part of a century simply to satisfy the whims and petty jealousies of one individual? For those who say to me, `Why don't we change the flag?', I say to them, `Why don't we change the government and keep the flag?'.

  Wherever we look, this centralisation—this grab for power—is evident. In the education sphere, under John Dawkins as education minister, centralisation of control of our tertiary institutions occurred in an unprecedented fashion. I say in passing that I think it was very much to the detriment of the leaders of our universities that they simply buckled under and did not stand up for their freedom and independence more firmly. They are seeing and paying the price now.

  This grab for power is also evident in the health sector. It is an interesting contrast to compare Senator Richardson with his predecessor, Brian Howe, as Minister for Health. Brian Howe was and remains an ideologue who is and was committed to complete nationalisation of the health industry, and he had the decency to make no bones about it. He loathed everything which even reeked of private enterprise, individuality or freedom of choice.

  In contrast, we have Senator Richardson who is much more subtle in his attack on the health system. His aim is the same. His aim is centralisation of control and effectively nationalisation of the health industry. Under the guise of attacking a few doctors who may earn inappropriately high fees, he will abolish the freedom of doctors to charge fee levels commensurate with their abilities. He will lower doctors to a common denominator where their fees will indeed be controlled either by the government or by the health funds working on behalf of the government. He will achieve this by getting virtual complete control over the private hospital industry, using the health insurance funds as the agents of the government. The health insurance funds will pay a price: their number may be reduced from 80 or so to about a dozen. I am delighted to see they are now objecting to this.

  Private hospitals will finish up in the same situation as nursing homes: they will be private in name only. They will simply be run by the government which will control financial inputs and outputs and, indeed, the day-to-day management of those hospitals. That will be to the detriment of the quality of care offered and certainly to the detriment of the freedom of choice offered.

  A number of other things are occurring in the system which relate to health quality. Among them is the imposition of what are called DRGs—diagnostic related groups—which essentially means that hospitals will get paid $X for treating a given condition, regardless of how long it takes. I have no problem with DRGs as a tool; they are a problem when they become a compulsory tool. If the health insurance system is changed so that there will be no option about taking out health insurance as we know it now, we will be able to take out health insurance only for a DRG. If we do not like the DRG system, then we will have to pay out of our own pockets.

  It is that lack of freedom of choice in terms of where we go and the amount we pay that I object to. I am sure we all object to that in terms of removing our freedom of choice. Many hospitals, for example, at present give discounts to pensioners and charge more to millionaires. I am sure that, in the egalitarian way of those opposite, they would agree with those sorts of approaches. Those sorts of approaches will almost certainly not be possible under the proposals that Senator Richardson has put forward.

  The incentives from those sorts of systems are to cut corners and to send patients home early because that is the way hospitals make a profit. So what we are talking about here is introducing a bargain basement health system. Unless those proposals are changed, I think we will face a number of problems in our health system.

  In nursing homes, for example, the government already has virtually total control and is misusing that control in a somewhat amazing way. The validation procedures, for example, which are currently being undertaken to validate payments made in 1986 and 1987—seven or eight years ago—are currently ongoing. Since that time nursing homes have often changed hands but the current owners are being held responsible for debts that may have been incurred or mistakes that might have been made in 1986 and 1987 by the original owner. Notwithstanding the fact that clauses were often written into contracts to say that if there are problems the new owners will be covered, the government has taken so long to carry out the validation procedures that many of those legal clauses are now out of time. We now have the situation where nursing home owners are going broke and owing, in many cases, millions of dollars.

  The bottom line here is who looks after the patients? Either they go out into the streets or they are taken over by the government which means that the government has to foot the bill. In the end, that is a much higher bill than would be the case if the government were subsidising the private industry. It is very short-sighted. It is undemocratic in terms of the retrospective nature of the process. It is very sad to see that the government is still continuing with this line.

  Potentially, Australia has every element available to it for its success and for increasing our living standards and competitiveness. We have a huge, diverse continent of temperate climate, a great mineral and agricultural resource base, an educated and innovative work force and access to burgeoning Asian markets.

  Finally, as I reach my conclusion, I would like to mention just one more comment made by John Carrick in his maiden speech. He said that he, as a senator, did not stand for any section of the community. The people he represented were not measured by the size of their pay packets, the colour of their shirt collars or the nature of their religious devotion. He said that divisiveness was the evil of politics and he hoped to do something about it. I think every person in this whole chamber would want to echo those sentiments.

  My life's journey has been an invaluable experience and an apprenticeship towards greater human understanding and appreciation of individual needs and aspirations. My youthful observations of underprivilege and struggle and my training and practice as a doctor in one of the most demanding of specialties have, together with my intensive involvement in the most marginal electorate, equipped me with vital questions and vital issues for resolution. Within this chamber and within the vigour and range of debate, dialogue and ideas, let us hope that together we may find at least some of the answers.

  Honourable senators—Hear, hear!

The PRESIDENT —Before I call on Senator Neal, I remind honourable senators that this is also her first speech and I ask you to extend the normal courtesies.