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Tuesday, 3 May 1994
Page: 41

Senator SCHACHT (Minister for Small Business, Customs and Construction) (4.44 p.m.) —I suppose we had to have this debate today because the opposition could not think of anything else to do while it was waiting for the government's white paper—a major statement—on employment, industry and regional development. Senator Short remarked that we have had 22 or 23 major statements in 11 years. We are proud of having that number of statements. It shows that this government is always active, is always willing to listen to the electorate, is always willing to listen to the concerns of Australians, and is always willing to adjust its policies accordingly. If we had not had that number of statements, Senator Short would probably be criticising us. Throughout the past 11 years those economic statements in their various forms have transformed Australia economically and structurally.

Senator Minchin —Higher unemployment.

Senator SCHACHT —Senator Minchin interjects `higher unemployment'. I point out to Senator Minchin that we have one of the highest participation rates in the work force of any country in the OECD. If we had the same participation rate that was available in 1981-82, when the coalition was last in government the unemployment rate, I am told, would be more like five or six per cent rather than the present far too high 10.5 per cent, because there are so many more people entering the work force—particularly women. We do not in any way discourage them; we believe that women have the right to that choice. I know that Senator Minchin, with his socially conservative views, would encourage all women not to have jobs but to go back and remain in the home. He does not want women to have that choice.

  After listening to Senator Short's remarks, one is led to the conclusion that the opposition at the moment is probably in its worst position since 1943, when the opposition in this parliament broke up into six different parties and was led by Billy Hughes at the age of 80. That is the level to which the opposition has sunk in Australia. In recent times we have had an opposition riven by personality feuds. We have reports of extraordinary events in the Liberal Party room.

  The opposition is here complaining about the government producing 23 economic statements at a time when the opposition is in the process of internal implosion in its own ranks. In an extraordinary article on 15 April the Australian Financial Review quotes Senator Noel Crichton-Browne as having the nickname of the garrotter in the Liberal Party and of using four-letter words to describe Bill Taylor, another member of the Liberal Party, who called the Leader of the Opposition, Dr Hewson, a cornered animal. All of this detail from the Liberal Party room was given to the press, indicating that internally the—

Senator Campbell —Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise to a point of order. I can contribute to this debate and give a blow by blow, article by article description of the implosion of the Labor Party in South Australia and the blood on the floor in the caucus room in New South Wales.

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Teague)—What is your point of order?

Senator Campbell —Senator Schacht's references to what Senator Crichton-Browne may or may not have said has no relevance whatsoever to the appalling state of a million unemployed, high suicide rates, breakdowns of marriage and the appalling state of the Australian economy in the middle of a boom. Mr Acting Deputy President, I ask you to ask Senator Schacht to make his remarks relevant to the matter raised by Senator Short.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —On the matter of relevance, I uphold Senator Campbell's point of order and I ask Senator Schacht not to persist with the matters that he was just discussing, but to relate his speech to the words that are in fact before us in the matter of public importance.

Senator SCHACHT —Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. Senator Campbell, in raising that point of order, basically said that this government is responsible for the end of civilisation, christianity and motherhood. That is typical of the opposition. In any debate on economics, or in any debate on what is going on in this community, the opposition goes to the extreme level of abuse.

  Let us have a look at the economic record of this government. In the last 10 years we have been going through a period of unparalleled restructuring. We now have the lowest inflation rate for 30 years—a fact that did not get one mention from Senator Short in his remarks. We have now come out of the recession and we have strong job growth. Since last March, 173,000 new jobs have been created in Australia.

  There has been no mention from the opposition or by Senator Short about the number of job increases brought about by this government. No mention was made by Senator Short about the fact that this government has a locked in budget deficit reduction program by 1996-97—namely, to get the budget deficit down to one per cent of GDP. We have had no alternative policies from the other side. We have heard nothing about how the opposition would go about reducing the deficit. Instead, we have had some vague mention that the deficit should be below $10 billion for this year. There has been no mention from those opposite as to where the opposition would cut expenditure, just a throwaway line. Then opposition members say, `But we will not spend any money on unemployment.' That was raised today during question time by Senator Tierney, who criticised the DEET programs. We accept that where mistakes are made they will be dealt with, but the opposition does not want to spend one dollar on the long term unemployed. Indeed, the opposition has no policies with which to deal with the situation and has ignored the success of the Labor government in restructuring the economy.

  Senator Short made no mention of the fact that in this year of 1994 we will have a GDP of around four per cent, and probably even higher by the end of this year. We will see sustained economic growth, one of the highest, if not the highest, in the OECD. We see business confidence returning. Certainly all the surveys by independent banks and independent organisations, including surveys by the chamber of commerce, reflect the fact that confidence is returning to the business community that will lead to an upturn in business investment.

We have seen strong housing growth and strong retail sales. All of these are leading to an economy that will be able to be sustained over a longer period than in the past. We will not go through the boom and bust cycle.

  One of the major successes of the present government has been in turning our economy into an internationally competitive and export oriented one. This has brought about remarkable change from the economy that obtained in Australia in the preceding 80-odd years. I think that is a remarkable achievement. Despite the cries of the opposition, it has been achieved because of the cooperation of the trade union movement, with the various accords signed by this government with the trade union movement. That has brought about the lowest level of industrial disputation in history. In the past 10 years unions and their members have been willing to forgo demands for wage increases to get the economy back on track. They have been willing to put up with major structural adjustment under which many jobs have gone from many industries. This has been done to enable those industries to be competitive so that we can create jobs elsewhere.

  Why are people from the Clinton administration coming here from North America to look at our industrial relations policies? People from North America did not come to look at Malcolm Fraser's policies or did not discuss with John Howard his chaotic industrial relations policies.

Senator Short —They did, actually.

Senator SCHACHT —Yes, and they rejected them. They are not going back to America saying, `Hallelujah, brothers and sisters, John Howard has given us the way forward.' They have not gone back saying that, but have come here to look at the policies that our Labor government has introduced. One happens to be Medicare because they see the advantages of having an efficient health system. Those opposite have tried for 11 years to have a health policy and have fallen at every hurdle. The present opposition is bereft of policies. The recent retreat of the Liberal Party—what a name, Liberal Party retreat—ended up with an announcement that it will have no policies for the next 12 months. But those opposite now have the temerity to raise with us the claim that we have no policies at work in this area. Opposition members do not even want to raise any policies. They indulge in nitpicking, carping criticisms backed by no policies.

  What has happened to Senator Hill's policy committee for which he is shadow minister? We have had from him and that committee no recommendations for the future. Those opposite feel they have no need to have any policies. Opposition members and their colleagues are the worst opposition in 50 years in this parliament, since the UAP broke up into six different parties. Until they get their act together and come up with decent policies, they do not even deserve the name of opposition. (Time expired)