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Wednesday, 11 November 1998
Page: 74

Senator FAULKNER (10:34 AM) —On election night the Prime Minister said this—and I quote him:

I say to all of my fellow Australians that the government that you have elected tonight will lead this country into the 21st century. The government you have elected tonight will be a government for all Australians. The government you have elected tonight will dedicate itself to the welfare of all the Australian people.

This government never has governed and never will govern for all Australians. In the last two and a half years John Howard has done more to erode the welfare of the Australian people than anyone thought imaginable. For example, the government's most recent decision to slash 5,000 jobs from Centrelink comes just weeks after Mr Howard's statement about dedicating himself to the welfare of all the Australian people. We probably will be stuck with this government into the next century, but I can say this: John Howard definitely will not lead us there.

Commencing the 39th parliament, we return to a government presiding over an unemployment rate stuck above eight per cent. John Howard cannot and will not say whether that rate will come down. Mr Howard's government is back, but public hospitals are still underfunded—and we now have no prospect of that situation improving. The government might have ditched Warwick Smith, but older Australians are still stuck with upfront fees of over $4,000 to get into a nursing home and extra daily fees on top of that. Spending on education will continue to slide for our schools, our TAFE colleges and our universities. As Kim Beazley said during the election campaign, the very best Australians can hope for from this government is that it will be the same for the next three years as it has been for the last two and a half—and what an indictment!

When Mr Howard announced his front bench, he said that his front bench team represented—and I quote him—`a significant renewal of the government as we take on the challenges of a new term and a new century'. But John Howard lacked the ticker to make the necessary changes to reinvigorate his ministry and to choose a front bench that was truly up to the challenges of a new term and a new century. He has either kept or promoted his failures of the previous government. Of course, his so-called new front bench is set to be just as incompetent and muddling as the one we saw during the life of the first Howard government.

One of the biggest backward steps, in my view, was the appointment of that dinosaur, Mr Wilson Tuckey, to the ministry. I was pleased to see that Mitchell Grattan commented upon this in the Australian Financial Review. This is what she said:

And Wilson Tuckey. The PM's camp will tell that you Tuckey, that old Peacock man who intrigued against Howard, is Minister for Forestry and Conservation because he is a good political performer in WA. I prefer to think it's because of John Howard's sense of humour.

We all do. Perhaps that same sense of humour was behind the reappointment of Senator Herron as Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. The only defence of Senator Herron's appointment we have seen in the public arena, besides, of course, by the Prime Minister himself, who always seems to come to Senator Herron's defence, has come from the Prime Minister's own biographer, David Barnett, who called upon the Prime Minister, in a recent article he wrote for the Australian Financial Review , to leave Senator Herron where he was. Even Mr Barnett's best defence of Senator Herron was pretty weak. It was a pretty weak endorsement. All he could say was `Herron's task has not been easy, but he's trying.'

I am not sure how much easier Senator Herron's task can get. Every major challenge in Senator Herron's portfolio is given to someone else to manage. We had stolen children given to Mr Howard. We had native title given to Senator Minchin. We now have reconciliation with Mr Ruddock. Senator Herron brings nothing but incompetence and paternalism to this important portfolio. Without responsibility for the fundamental issues of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs and without a department, what has Senator Herron done? He has set about basically dismantling the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission. At least Senator Parer fell on his sword. Senator Herron really should have had the guts and the honour to do the same.

In my view, even taking into account some of these characters, such as Mr Tuckey and Senator Herron, there is no greater disappointment on John Howard's renewed front bench than the prematurely resurrected Minister for the Arts and the Centenary of Federation, Mr Peter McGauran. Mr McGauran's reappointment to the ministry has destroyed any hope that there may eventually be some substance—just a skerrick—to Mr Howard's professed commitments to higher ministerial and parliamentary standards and to higher ministerial accountability. We all know about Mr McGauran's history. But Peter McGauran is not the only dark cloud over Mr Howard's second term of government, and he is certainly not the biggest dark cloud. There is a much bigger storm looming with the goods and services tax, as we know.

It is fair to say that John Howard's campaign for his GST has been underhanded and deceptive right from the beginning. Do not forget that Mr Howard was first elected in 1996 on a platform that included the promise that he would never ever introduce a GST. It did not take him long to dump that commitment. In fact, I do not think anyone believes—I certainly do not—that the GST was ever off John Howard's agenda. But his announcement of the details of his GST plan was preceded by a hefty endorsement from the Business Council of Australia, which kindly ran a promotion campaign for him to pave the way for his GST launch. We look forward to seeing the details of the contribution to that campaign in returns to the Australian Electoral Commission.

But he finally launched the details of his GST plan weeks before the election. He refused to release the critical Treasury figures that would demonstrate the impact of the GST on ordinary Australians. Of course now that the election is behind him, he is apparently prepared to release a limited amount of that material. At the same time, he launched a $17.8 million advertising campaign to promote his election policy, which was not an operating program of government, sponsored by the Commonwealth government and paid for by Commonwealth taxpayers.

As the Prime Minister said at the 1 November state convention of the Queensland Liberals, this effectively gave him a seven-week election campaign. The biggest chunk of advertising dollars that was spent by the Liberal Party in what Mr Howard described as his seven-week election campaign was paid for by the Commonwealth taxpayer, not the Liberal Party. It was paid for by ordinary Australians. The Liberals have been skiting about it since the election. All through the election campaign, John Howard and Peter Costello maintained that there would be a proper examination of the parameters of the GST or, in their words, `the finetuning'.

With the election now over, not only do they want to deny the Senate the right to investigate the GST but they have given their own committee, the Vos committee, a completely unrealistic and ludicrous set of terms of reference and reporting timetable. It is a 17-day reporting time frame, which of course has been widely condemned by business and by community and interest groups. Even the committee chairman, Mr Vos, admitted that two weeks was inadequate and that he would have liked to have had, in his words, `a couple of months'.

Mr Howard and Mr Costello have got the nerve to argue that the Labor opposition have no right to push for an inquiry if we intend to oppose the GST regardless, conveniently forgetting their own arguments in opposition. Let me remind the Senate of Mr Costello's proposal in November 1994 for Labor's employee share ownership legislation. This is what he said:

We are going to vote against the Government's proposal to extend fringe benefits tax to employee ownership schemes. We will defeat it in the Senate and we will initiate a Senate inquiry to have a look at the whole matter and make sure bona fide legitimate employee ownership schemes are not rubbed out in the way that Mr Keating wants to do with his fringe benefits tax.

So, instead of coming clean, signing on to an adequate Senate inquiry into the implications of a GST, to reassure Australians that what he proposes is what he claims it to be—a painless conversion to a consumption tax—Mr Howard and his accomplice in this, Mr Costello, have fought tooth and nail to avoid scrutiny. They have fought tooth and nail against an effective and meaningful parliamentary inquiry, parliamentary scrutiny and public scrutiny, as they always do, because we know and they know that a GST is a job destroying tax that will hurt ordinary Australians.

John Howard and Peter Costello want to have their GST rammed through the parliament with minimum scrutiny before the new Senate takes its place in July next year. John Howard of course claims to have an electoral mandate to push ahead with his GST legislation unhindered. But remember the fact that 51 per cent of Australians voted in the House of Representatives for parties with an anti-GST platform and 60 per cent of Australians voted for a Senate that would oppose a GST.

What about Mr Costello? The Treasurer is in today's Daily Telegraph putting forward a ludicrous proposition that Labor senators who were elected in 1993 should vote for the GST because that was Paul Keating's promise at the time. I am a bit surprised, frankly, that the Daily Telegraph would publish this sort of tripe. This really is an illogical and ill-considered position of Mr Costello's. Whether his analysis is just a particularly shallow one or in fact is just a direct challenge to Mr Howard's leadership, time will tell—that is not clear to us—but what the article does reveal is how bankrupt the government's GST mandate argument actually is.

If you take Mr Costello's position, his argument, his analysis of mandate to its logical extreme, then the Liberal senators elected in 1993 and still waiting for their new terms in mid-1999—17 of them—should vote for a GST exempting food. That is Mr Costello's argument. After all, that was Dr Hewson's final version of Fightback that he took to the people in 1993.

And the Liberal senators elected in 1996 are all `never, ever' senators—those who should enforce the 1995 John Howard pledge and promise that a GST should never, ever be implemented in Australia. In fact, the 18 Liberal senators who were elected on Mr Howard's `never, ever' promise—that famous Tweed Heads declaration of May 1995—include Senator Hill, Senator Herron, Senator Kemp, who is over there, Senator Alston, Senator Newman, and of course the scrupulously honest Senator Watson who was muzzled by the leadership of the Liberal Party just last Monday. But, according to Mr Costello's logic, every Liberal and National Party senator, every Labor senator, and every Democrat and Green senator who was elected in 1996 was elected on a platform which was specifically opposed to a GST.

The truth is—and that dopey article from Mr Costello is really going to highlight this—that until July next year, only two senators in this whole chamber out of 76 senators can claim a personal mandate to support the government's current GST proposal—Senator Reid, the President of the Senate and ACT senator; and Senator Tambling from the Northern Territory. They are the only two who can claim a personal mandate to support the current GST proposal. But I think that Mr Costello's outburst was more likely an attempt to really get in there—just like he always likes to do—and humiliate Mr Howard as much as he can, to remind people of Mr Howard's commitment of May 1995—the Tweed Heads declaration; the `never, ever' declaration. It is just another subterranean attack by Mr Costello on Mr Howard.

You read in the media about Mr Costello. One of Mr Costello's close friends was recently quoted in the media as saying about Mr Costello—it sort of rang true to me—that `Every cell in Mr Costello's body is carnivorous.' This is just another example. Mr Costello knows that by putting forward that ludicrous proposition, that false analysis, that spurious nonsense in the Daily Telegraph people will point out Mr Howard's duplicity and what this really means in terms of personal mandates and party mandates of senators in this chamber.

I suppose Mr Howard is getting used to humiliation. Take, for example, his most recent humiliating backflip, his grovelling for the tainted vote of someone who was elected as a Labor senator and whose vote should be unambiguously anti-GST. In April last year, Mr Howard was forced to finally cut Senator Colston loose. It is worth remembering what he said:

Now what we have done has been measured, responsible, correct. What I am announcing this morning is a very, very clear message to the people of Australia: that until this matter is cleared up, we are not going to accept Senator Colston's vote.

John Howard said he would not accept the tainted vote of Senator Colston until the charges that Senator Colston was facing were resolved. Those charges have not been resolved. Nothing has changed since April last year except John Howard's desperate need for Senator Colston's vote in this chamber in order to deliver a policy that most Australians would prefer Mr Howard and the government to shelve.

It was an unprincipled and opportunistic move, a move which he deliberately concealed from Australians both before and during the last election campaign. The electorate was not put in the loop by Mr Howard on this matter. Not only has the Prime Minister said he will accept Senator Colston's vote but we know that he has actively solicited it.

The Prime Minister said previously it was a matter of standards. John Howard's standards speak for themselves. He has revived the disgraced Peter McGauran and he has embraced the tainted vote of Senator Colston. I think this next parliament will be more of the shabby, shameful, sleazy operation from John Howard. That is what augurs in the 39th Parliament and Labor will continue to expose his deceit.