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Thursday, 2 June 1994
Page: 1218

Senator WOODLEY (4.02 p.m.) —The subject of today's debate is one that comes very close to much of what I have committed myself to for many years, and I regret that in five minutes one could not even begin to address this question. The fact that the gap between the rich and poor continues to widen in Australia and most parts of the western world is incontrovertible. The reason for the widening of that gap, however, is the point that needs to be debated today.

  I want to quote from a number of documents—I certainly will not get a chance to quote from all of the documents that I have here—which suggest that in fact neither the opposition nor the government has policies which would deal with that widening gap. I will not necessarily put my own arguments but the arguments of others which reinforce that. In an article in the Sydney Morning Herald of Wednesday, 1 June, a Sydney economist, Frank Stilwell, stated:

  Contrary to the popular myth about an egalitarian society, there is a striking and growing degree of inequality in income and wealth in Australia. Paul Keating's jibes about Alexander Downer's privileged class position put this issue squarely on the political agenda. The irony is that economic inequalities have increased during the decade of Labor Government.

Despite Senator Sherry's detailing of some of the things which the government has done—and we recognise that—he has not addressed the question, which is that the gap continues to widen despite the efforts of his government. I want to quote from what I believe to be one of the best documents on this issue that has been issued in the last 10 years. It is a document issued by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference entitled Common Wealth for the Common Good. The document states:

Increasingly, in Australian culture, the measure of worth and well-being has been reduced to an economic calculation, and then to a bank balance, with a consequent impoverishment for everybody.

In other words, we measure people's value in terms of their economic contribution or their wealth, and we are increasingly rewarding those who pursue the profit motive in isolation from social ethics. To underline what this has meant, I quote again from Professor Frank Stilwell. In Australia Can Work: An Alternative to Recession, he states:

The share of the national income going to workers in the form of wages and salaries has fallen substantially, while the share going to the owners of capital in the form of profits, rents and interest payments has risen correspondingly.

Effectively, 10% of the national income was taken away from workers and given to the owners of capital in the period between 1983 and 1989.

In other words, we are rewarding those people who put money into enterprises at the expense of those who put it into their labour, time and skills. In their document, the Catholic bishops detail some of the people who are suffering in this struggle. They state:

  the proportion of women in poverty is rising (at least 50% of lone parent families headed by women live in poverty);

farmers' incomes fell in the 1991-92 financial year to the lowest ever recorded;

A document put out by the Australian Democrats asks the question: `When is a child living in poverty not a child living in poverty?' The answer given is `When its parents are farmers'. What has happened is Australian farmers and their families are suffering—(Time expired)