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Tuesday, 11 September 1973
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Mr COOKE (Petrie) - I am sorry to follow the honourable member for Hunter (Mr James) and deprive him of the opportunity of extolling the virtues of the country people who have just had their guts kicked out by this Government. However, I want to make one or two comments about the Budget which has recently been presented by the Treasurer (Mr Crean). After the election last year there was a general air of expectation in the country. People were still a little taken aback with their daring in flirting with a Labor government after so many years. They were trembling with anticipation to see what this great Government would do. The euphoria rapidly evaporated. The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) and his team quickly went to work to insult our traditional overseas allies and trading partners.

On the domestic front it soon became apparent that the Labor Government was committed to advance the policies of the trade union movement at the expense of the community at large. It has advocated a 35-hour working week and has encouraged enormous wage rises. It supported the national wage case claim of an 11 per cent increase, irrespective of productivity. The claim that was made before the election that there would be fewer industrial stoppages under a Labor Government has been proved by events to have been completely unfounded. In fact a new element of violence has emerged in union affairs - coincidentally, I suppose, with the introduction in this House of a Bill to remove penal clauses from the arbitration legislation and to exempt unionists from any form of legal punishment for civil wrongs. The Government has demonstrated over and over again this year that it has neither the power nor the will to restrain its union cronies. The policy speech delivered by the Prime Minister last December gave the impression that the millennium would arrive the moment the Labor Government took office. The Prime Minister posed as some sort of New Guinea cargo cult leader. On Budget night the Prime Minister was exposed for the fake he was. The cargo did not arrive.

I do not want to say anthing about the economic consequences in the larger arena. I leave that to those who have more expertise in economic matters. But I want to make one or two plain comments on the Treasurer's proposals. He has said that the over-riding theme of the Budget is one of reform. Let us have a look at some of the reforms that he offers to us. First of all the Government has accepted an annual inflation rate of about 10 per cent. The figures that are coming in at the present time would lead one to suggest that the inflation rate will exceed 10 per cent before Christmas. Nevertheless, that is an innovation because never before has the Government accepted a situation where inflation will run riot, and accepted it at 10 per cent, which has previously been held to be a most unacceptable rate at which the purchasing power of the dollar should decline. I remind the House that $1 in the pocket last December is worth something less than 90c today, and if this wretched Government runs it full distance $1 before it came in will be worth something less than 50c. That is certainly an innovation and a reform of which the Treasurer can be truly proud.

Let me mention his reforms on pensions. I believe the $1.50 increase in pensions which has been granted by the Budget and which has been introduced in Bills today is a creditable performance. However in view of the Government's own activities in accelerating prices rises in. the last 9 months it does not go anywhere near keeping pa.ce with the rise in prices. Some statistics were introduced by the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) this afternoon when he introduced the Bill to increase pension rates. All I want to say about that is to refer to the comment of an American statesman who said: There are lies, damned lies and statistics'. Statistics can be made to prove whatever one wants them to prove, but everyone on a fixed income knows that every time he goes to the supermarket to do his week's shopping lc or 2c has been added to every item he buys, and his pension is not keeping pace with the general rise in wages. If the Government is to have any credibility at all in its promise to increase the pensions to 25 per cent of average weekly earnings it should immediately link the pensions to average weekly earnings so that when there is an increase in average weekly earnings there will be automatic increase in pension rates otherwise the pension will fall behind in the period of rapid inflation that we are coming into at the present time.

John Citizen might have been forgiven the day after the presentation of the Budget for thinking he had come out of this particular period reasonably well. If he did not drink spirits he could say: 'This will affect only those toffy people who drink Scotch. They have to pay an extra 3c a nip'. If he did not smoke he could say: 'That is all right. Those people who are driving themselves into the grave with lung cancer will have to pay another Se a packet for their cigarettes, but of course that does not really affect me'. But of course he has not read the small print. When we read the small print, and as day by day more revelations are brought to us, we find that John Citizen's pocket has been hit very hard by this Budget. We were not told that there is to be a rise in the excise on beer. That was cunningly concealed in the Coombs report, and all the Treasurer told us was that the Government would change the measurement of the kilderkin. That sounds all very nice but now we find that an extra $7m is to be raised from excise on beer. If anyone imagines that breweries can carry that sort of a sock he is either a fool or something else. Price rises have already been hinted at. In fact in his report Dr Coombs says that the change in the measurement of the beer kilderkin will result in a price rise of about lc per 10 oz glass of beer. Typical of the Labor Government since it came to office, it has not told the people the straight facts all at the one time. It hopes that by telling the people one piece of dis.asterous news today and by leaving the next piece of disastrous news for a week nobody will ever put all the disasters together and realise how terrible this Government really is.

John Citizen might have thought: 'That is all very well. I am still on the up and up. I have an increase in wages and all is well'. Then he comes to the Se a gallon increase in his petrol. That does not matter to the businessman because the businessman will pass it on, but it matters to John Citizen. The man who has to drive his motor car to work will find his petrol bill going up each week. It might go up by $1 a week depending on how far he has to travel in his motor car. If he wants to take his family for an outing on the weekend it will cost him more because of the increase in petrol tax. If he has to leave his car at home for his wife it will cost him more on the bus and more on the train. Every time his wife buys the food she will find that prices have gone up on all those items that are delivered by motor transport. If he happens to be one of those thousands and thousands of people who are waiting to have a telephone connected the Treasurer has more good news for him. When he eventually gets connected in several months time he will have to pay another $10 for the privilege of having the telephone connected. If he reads the fine print in the Budget he will also find that if he has a holiday home or a weekender somewhere the rates on that property will not be deductible from his taxable income next year. This is another one of the small print parts of the Budget.

So it is not only what appears on the surface but also what comes later that is important to the pocket of the ordinary citizen of Australia. I think it. is disgraceful for the Treasurer to make a Budget Speech that gives only half the truth and half the facts. He mentioned also that there will be some restraint on private building. He did not say what it will be but we can make a pretty good conjecture at the present time because a few days after the Budget Speech he said in answer to a question in the House that he was proposing to introduce legislation which would place restrictions on all forms of non-banking credit. Building societies will be among the organisations he seeks to control. So if a person does not qualify under the means test for a housing commission home his prospect of getting a home in the near future looks bleak. We were blistered again this week by an increase in interest charges. Once again the Government adopted the approach of announcing a little bit at a time. We are told that interest rates will go up but the Prime Minister does not have the intestinal fortitude to tell us by what amount they will go up. I suppose that will wait for next week until we get over the shock of being told that interest rates will go up.

Mr Fisher - On Sunday afternoon.

Mr COOKE - Yes. I am told that possibly we will be informed on Sunday afternoon when nobody is around and when the Prime Minister hopes everybody is away at the beach. We have not only the tax slugs provided for in the Budget but also the blueprint for better things to come - wonderful reforms that the Treasurer has in store for us next year. He foreshadowed a few of them in his speech. One was a national health insurance scheme. This is the marvellous creature that the honourable member for Hunter said the people of

Australia were waiting for. In this Budget, $8m has been allocated for a computer so that we can all have our medical histories and details of our private lives fed into it. If this computer is to run the health system, heaven help the patients, because recently the computers in the Department of Social Security broke down and thousands of pensioners did not receive their cheques, files were lost and computer print-outs told people that their pensions had been reduced or stopped. That is the sort of thing that is happening at the present time in the Department of Social Security. One can imagine what it will be like when this computer for the national health program gets under way.

Next year there will be another levy on our taxable income to finance the Government's grandiose national health scheme. It will be a 1.35 per cent levy on all taxable incomes, including those of wives if they happen to go to work.

Mr Corbett - That will not cover it.

Mr COOKE - No, that will not cover it at all. There will have to be an increased amount coming out of Consolidated Revenue which, of course, comes out of the taxpayer's pocket. There will also be an increased amount coming out of motor vehicle insurance funds, and that means that motor vehicle insurance premiums will rise as well in order to finance indirectly this magnificent scheme.

Mr Killen - Things look grim, don't they?

Mr COOKE - They certainly look terrible. Quite a number of people to whom I have spoken have been looking for places to which to migrate. This is quite a serious suggestion. Not only do we have these clear indications of what is to come but we also have a blueprint in the Coombs report which the Treasurer tabled with the Budget Papers. The report recommends cunning and sneaky ways of introducing extra taxation to make it look not like taxation at all. But eventually it comes out of the taxpayer's pocket. If one has a report such as that tabled with the Budget Papers, if one finds that all the sneaky methods of increasing taxation which the Treasurer used this year are taken directly from the Coombs report and if no comment is made by the Treasurer as to whether the Government proposes to use the other items in the Coombs report, one must be left with the impression that the Government proposes to use some more of the Coombs report delights next year when it is short of cash. I can assure you, Mr

Deputy Speaker, that in view of the way this Government is spending money it definitely will be short of cash before next year.

Let me look briefly at one or two of the delightful suggestions that appear in the Coombs report. Firstly, there is the question of life assurance deductions. It is suggested that these be abolished. Of course, this will be a tremendous slug for the middle income group - the people to whom before the election the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) was so concerned about giving tax relief. That concern seems to have evaporated with the summer dew. It is also suggested that the Government tax child endowment. It is running at 50c a week - it was not increased this year by the Treasurer - and the Government is going to tax it. It must give the Treasurer tremendous comfort to know that he will have the possibility of introducing that reform next year!

One of the most interesting proposals in the Coombs report is to reduce the minimum taxable income. Only recently the LiberalCountry Party Government lifted the minimum taxable income to $1,041. The Coombs report suggests to the Government that if it reduces the minimum taxable income to $417 it can pick up another >$10m. What a marvellous reform! The Government will be able to pick up another 600,000 taxpayers, according to Dr Coombs. Those people comprise working wives, university students who work during the holidays and school leavers who work for only part of the year. What a marvellous way to get money out of the pockets of people and to hit at them when they earn such a pitiful amount of money in a tax year! But this is the era of reform and I suppose that the Treasurer has to scrounge around to pick up every cent he can to finance the grandiose schemes of the present Government.

I want to comment very briefly on two of the programs introduced in the Budget. The first is the education program. This was introduced with a great fanfare by the Treasurer who told us that it represented a 92 per cent increase on the education budget last year. That is all very well, but if one looks at the fine print once again one sees that it is simply a sleight of hand or book-keeping juggling. More than half of that increase has been taken directly out of the States' allocations for universities^ - a responsibility which this Government has now taken over. Most of the educational expenditure is for programs to which the former Liberal Government had been committed before the election period. So the increase in educational expenditure would be a natural follow-on from that. The only novelty is the classification of independent schools and the distribution of money on a needs concept. If this concept does not get the Government into a tremendous stew and a tremendous pickle before the end of the year, I do not know what will. One can see from the classifications of independent schools that the formula used by the Karmel Committee is hopeless. It takes no regard of the facilities of a school or what is required to give children at that school a decent education. When this is applied to Government schools as well - we are told that it will be - one can imagine the chaos and the mess that the Government will get itself into.

The other matter I want to mention briefly is urban programs. We were told that this was an historic move. It may be historic, but if one looks at the figures from a Queensland's point of view, as I am bound to do as a representative of that State, one finds that something like 72 per cent of the money allocated in the Budget by this Government for urban programs has been allocated basically to Sydney and Melbourne. If the Treasurer thinks that this Budget has increased the popularity of his Government he should stop reading Mickey Mouse comics, come back from Fantasyland and get down to reality.

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