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Wednesday, 11 September 1996
Page: 3304

Senator BISHOP(5.05 p.m.) —I welcome my opportunity in this speech to thank the people of Western Australia for electing me to take office in this parliament. It is a privilege granted to few to participate in the public affairs of our country. That privilege imposes high responsibility and my commitment is to honour that trust and faith. I offer my congratulations to my new colleagues and wish them well in their parliamentary careers. I offer also my warm best wishes to Senator Hogg, whom I have known for more than 15 years and whom I have worked with closely in a range of forums for all of that period.

As is customary, I wish to acknowledge the support of the people who have provided advice or assistance in my life to date in the Labor movement. They know who they are because I thanked some of them a few weeks ago in public in Perth. It is appropriate, however, to single out one person who offered me the opportunity to work in the trade union movement many years ago. That man was Jim Maher, a former national president of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association. He also held a number of senior and influential positions in the Australian community.

In 1981 he offered me the opportunity to assume senior office in the SDA in Western Australia at a relatively young age. He guaranteed no success—simply offered a vision of the likely growth of that state and said that a job needed to be done. He offered me the chance to participate in the building of an organisation from the ground up and to be part of the dynamic growth of service industry unions in the Australian economy. As later events were to demonstrate, that was no mean offer. I thank him wholeheartedly for his support and help over the intervening period and wish him and his wife, Fran, well in their retirement.

In my own case, I studied law at the University of Adelaide and graduated in 1981. After graduation I chose to pursue a career in the SDA, because it offered the ability to give practical expression to a number of longstanding interests. Those interests were, and are: law, economics, politics and history. Indeed, I took the opportunity to pursue some postgraduate study in economics and public policy in the United States in the years 1993 and 1994. If I had my time over, even with the benefit of 15 years hindsight, I would make the same decision again without reservation.

My family background is typical of many people who grew up in the outer suburbs of our major cities. My parents had few assets and many demands which did not shrink as their family grew to six children. Occasionally I read press or newspaper stories of the golden days of the 1950s and 1960s. Australia was apparently a land of milk and honey. I grew up in that period and have no memory of that fabled land.

Behind my family fence it was a time of insufficient earnings, mean comfort and poor to nonexistent public facilities. It was a struggle to keep family and home together. One of my clearest memories is of my mother waiting impatiently for the quarterly child endowment cheque doled out by the then government to fund purchases of school uniforms and other essential items. I do not, however, paint any extreme picture of unmitigated hardship, simply one of constant struggle.

Both my mother and father, for different reasons, placed great emphasis on the value of education, hard work and personal effort for individuals to make the most of their talents. Equally important was the expectation that individuals had an obligation to give something back to their community. Both of them were people who acted out their principles, and I know they are proud to see all of their children successful in their respective careers and professions. In particular, I have been touched at their pleasure in my election as a senator in this place.

I see the two big issues for public policy in the coming decade as reconciling the imperative for economic change and the natural desire for personal and family security. Government is the only mechanism we have that can hope to reconcile the potential for conflict between these two equally pressing imperatives and so avoid further polarisation of the Australian community. In terms of people's desire for individual and family security, the actions of the previous Labor governments in this area of family payments and family assistance packages were worthy initiatives indeed.

In this context, the policy initiative of the current government in providing tax assistance to single-income families with dependent children is an interesting development. It seems to suggest a heightened role for the states in the provision of assistance to families and is something worthy of further study. This is because the form of the payment reflects economic recognition of the partner in a single-income family with primary responsibility for dependent children. Personally I have no quarrel with this new direction. However, I do not think it should be at the expense of other family support programs.

I suspect this particular payment will cause much discussion in a range of circles in forthcoming years. It will be interesting to note how a government responds to the inevitable requests for its extension in future years.  The soft option of cuts in other programs will not be available forever. Our side of the house well knows this because for many years we looked everywhere for the painless cut. Unfortunately, they did not exist then and they do not exist now.

The second theme I briefly wish to address is the absolute need for our economy to grow and expand in future years. A lot of the reform initiated by the former Labor government in the period 1983 to 1991 will bear rich fruit in the next few years. I suspect the productivity growth alone will surprise a lot of commentators. If those policy prescriptions had been maintained, Australians might not continue to be satisfied with achieving the modest growth outcomes of western European or Anglo-Saxon economies but might start to understand that our country has the potential to match the economic outcomes consistently delivered by our Asian neighbours over the last generation.

The previous government agenda—including micro-economic reform, the reduction in tariffs, the emphasis on growth in manufactures, and the obsession with an export orientation—were correct. I make no apology for endorsing the overdue modernisation of the Australian economy in any way.

The years in a private sector union left me with an appreciation of the dynamics of that sector in our economy. I am not aware of any superior system to that of our mixed economy. That necessarily means a continuing role for government. Generally, the mechanics of price allocation as a determinant of outcomes is satisfactory. There needs to be good reason for government intervention in the marketplace, and in no way do I advocate a return to the dreary days of yesterday's economy. My earlier comments on my own upbringing bear witness to my attitude concerning the sad state of affairs that prevailed in the 1950s and 1960s.

However, the market is not God and government has a role to play, not only in mitigating the harm occasioned by efficiency but also in stimulating industries which show clear potential for national competitive advantage in the future. In that context, our country could usefully profit from rigorous study of a number of Asian economies.

The World Bank has indeed done that study and, in 1993, concluded that the ongoing growth of east Asian economies was due to the use of both fundamentals and interventionist policies by government. By fundamentals, the World Bank said that macro-economic management was unusually good in providing a framework for private investment. It was a focus on policies that, first, encouraged high levels of savings; second, provided education policies that equipped students with the ability to enter industry; and, third, provided agricultural policies that stressed productivity—all contributed to sustained high levels of growth.

The bank, however, also conceded these policies did not tell the whole story. The bank went on to observe that in most of these economies, in one form or another, the government intervened to foster development—in some cases the development of specific industries. In saying so openly, the bank acknowledged its own violation of neo-classical theory and went on to conclude:

. . . Government intervention resulted in higher and more equal growth than otherwise would have occurred.

So according to the World Bank there is a critical role for government intervention in the development of firms, industries, sectors and markets. We on this side have never doubted the wisdom of that conclusion.

The issue of industry policy and industry development is out of favour at the moment. Instead, the government has an alternative strategy of debt reduction, balanced budgets, transparent accounting and minimal social programs. If those policies are successful in giving us full employment, low inflation, low interest rates, a balanced current account and high growth, I will be flabbergasted and delighted. I have no doubt that on their own those policies are inadequate to give the Australian economy a period of sustained economic growth of above three per cent per annum. In the final analysis, those policies will result in massive unemployment and the undoing of this government.

There is nothing inherently wrong with balanced budgets, reducing borrowings to a minimum or even transparent accounting. In most circumstances, they are desirable options. However, this government will never achieve higher and more equal growth simultaneously, because its members fail to heed part two of the advice of the World Bank concerning government intervention.

I hope to be a member of the next Labor government, which will place more emphasis on this aspect of public policy. In my time in the Senate, I intend to maintain an interest in the areas of trade and industry policy. I have also been asked to take an interest in tax and defence associated areas.

This side of the Senate is currently suffering that most terrible of punishments. That punishment is rejection. Rejection, however, can be temporary and is very different indeed from irrelevance. The next few years are times of opportunity. The opportunity to revisit our roots, the chance to plan our future and the need to develop policies that guide our country are tasks I face with relish and anticipation. I know many of my colleagues share that sentiment.

In closing, I wish to publicly acknowledge the role of my wife, Fran Marsh, and two daughters, Gabrielle, eight, and Georgia, six. The travel in this business breaks your back, particularly when most flights are of five or seven hours duration. I have been doing that travel since 1980 and, in recent years, up to 30 or 40 times a year for a range of negotiations.

One of the interesting consequences of enterprise bargaining in both national and medium sized companies is that it has centralised the negotiation process more often than not in both Melbourne and Sydney. That was an unwelcome development for those of us who lived on the western side of our continent.

The end of the week is the best time for me, as it is the time I am welcomed home and find comfort. So to Fran, I thank you for your support and our two children. Finally, I thank my colleagues for their attendance in the Senate today and I look forward to many years of robust participation in the issues that face our nation. Thank you.

Honourable senators — Hear, hear!

The PRESIDENT —Before I call Senator Eggleston, I remind honourable senators that this is his first speech. Therefore I ask that the usual courtesies be extended to him.