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Tuesday, 11 September 1973
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Mr COATES (Denison) - I shall draw breath and reply to some of the comments made by the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder). Ho referred to the Government as not knowing why it was doing things. But this is a Budget of a Party which believes in what it does. This Government does not shy away from unpalatable decisions. We do not believe that there should be anomalies or hidden subsidies, especially if they favour only special interested groups. We are not frightened of what a particular pressure group might say if we take away particular concessions rather than let unjustifiable concessions continue and allow further anomalies to develop. Instead of this we make courageous decisions to come out in the open, to take action and explain why even if this means receiving criticism. I believe that this is a good, forceful and decisive government. I believe that this is what people elect a government to be. The electors want a government which knows what it is doing and why. They do not want a government which is weak and frightened to do what has to be done.

It is an honour to be speaking in this debate on the first Labor Budget for 24 years. I congratulate the Treasurer (Mr Crean). I reject the Opposition amendment. It is fair enough for the Opposition to pick holes in the Budget and to criticise the parts of it with which the Opposition disagrees. The Opposition's job is to oppose. It would be surprising if it could not find some things in the Budget which it opposed, especially considering that it has an entirely different philosophy to that of honourable members on this side of the House. But it would not hurt the Opposition now and again to be big enough to give some praise where praise is due. Some time the Opposition may come to realise that it would do it no harm if it gave some praise to the Government. In fact, it would do it a lot of good. The public becomes sick and tired of constant criticism which is not sometimes alleviated by praise. That only leads to criticism, when due, having less impact. I do not believe that anyone in his right mind could condemn the Budget out of hand. I ask the Opposition: Why not be magnanimous for a change and praise at least some parts of what I believe is a very worthy Budget.

As I said a moment ago this is a Budget of a Party which believes in what it does. I am not one to say that the Opposition did nothing right and everything wrong during its 23 years in power. But I think it must be said that in general its Budgets and policies more often than not were merely a reaction to situations and to public demand rather than means of initiating action and setting a clearly defined course. Improvements in social security and welfare, if not always parsimonious, under the previous Government often had a tinge of reluctance about them. This Government's first Budget shows quite clearly that we have goals and priorities. We said that we would do certain things and we are doing them. Not all the election pledges are fulfilled in this first Budget. After all, it is a 3-year program. I reject entirely paragraph 8 of the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) which states that the Budget fails to honour election promises. Of course there are still election promises unfulfilled. Honourable members opposite cannot have it both ways. We are accused of doing too much and then in the next breath we are accused of not implementing all our policies of the 3-year program' in this first Budget of that period. This Budget is a beginning. It is not as far reaching in its changes to the entrenched system as some thought or hoped. But it sets the stage for these basic changes in the years to come. We must hope for basic taxation reform next year after there has been time to study the best and most equitable way of doing it.

I wish to spend some time highlighting some of the less spectacular but nevertheless important parts of the Budget to show some of the new initiatives which have been taken by this Government. No doubt in the past other governments have been saddened by the same thing but it is rather a pity that so many of these matters have become obscured by the major items of expenditure and taxation, especially the latter. People may be forgiven for thinking the contents of the Budget related only to increases in the tax on cigarettes and petrol which unfortunately were a necessary means of raising more revenue but nevertheless were justifiable on social grounds. I am pleased that so many have accepted this point and have acknowledged that if we smoke a little less because of it our health will be improved, and if we use a little less petrol because of it the resource tends to be conserved, there is less pollution, less of the costly traffic problems, greater use of public transport and so on.

These points have got home to the public and I think the Opposition ought to be a bit careful and recognise this. Even on the major items of expenditure some people would like to ignore the fact that this Budget almost doubles the spending on education. It might have been hard to believe last year that this sort of huge increase could occur, but it has. On social security benefits we are doing what we said we would do - an increase of $1.50 twice a year. All the Opposition can find to say about that is to repeat the incorrect calculation of its Leader that this is an increase of only 11.4 per cent. It is in fact an increase of 14 per cent. I would have liked the increase to be greater, but this has increased the percentage which the pension bears to average weekly earnings. I acknowledge that we will have to make the pension increase more than $1.50 at least once to meet our pledge to bring the basic rate up to 25 per cent of average weekly earnings within the 3 years of the Parliament.


Mr Wilson - It is falling behind.


Mr COATES - It is not falling behind; it is moving ahead. We said we would do it and we will, within the 3 years of this Parliament. I wish now to highlight just a few of the overshadowed but important social innovations in the Budget of which the House ought to be reminded. A couple of examples in the field of education are the $304 per annum means tested educational allowances to assist the children of low income families to complete the final 2 years of secondary school, and the grants to provide additional places for much needed trainee social workers. In health, $7.5m is provided to assist the States to develop community based mental health, alcoholism and drug dependency services, and $7 .9m for the national school dental scheme.

In social welfare, we are doubling the contribution towards the capital cost of senior citizen centres and increasing by one-third the subsidy towards Meals on Wheels, back dated to the beginning of the year. The handicapped children's benefit is being doubled. There is an overall doubling of expenditure on Aboriginal advancement in the areas of housing, health, education and employment. I notice that the honourable member for the 'Northern Territory (Mr Calder) who has now left the chamber did not mention that area of expenditure.


Mr Duthie - No. His was the most negative speech one would ever hear.


Mr COATES - That is right. In urban and regional development, finance is provided for the planning of future growth centres, including $500,000 for Tasmania. This will allow an overall assessment of how the State should develop in the future. There is $30m for the States earmarked to overcome the backlog in sewerage provision in major urban areas. There is $32m for upgrading urban public transport services. In the general area of quality of life the Budget provides $7m for the National Library, $ 14.7m for the National Gallery and $14m for the Council for the Arts. I wish the Opposition would stop for a moment and give some thought to those aspects of the Budget, which are new. The sum of $3.2m is provided for the development of community recreation complexes and $lm so that Australian sportsmen and sportswomen can be assisted to participate in national and international events. As part of our commitment to the environment and conservation $3m is set aside for the first time for national parks and the preservation of the national estate.

Of specific help to Tasmania is the Sim a year subsidy to the Australian National Line so that the important tourist link - the 'Empress of Australia' service across Bass Strait - can continue to operate. This will also have some secondary benefits on freight rates to Tasmania because the ANL will not have such a great loss on passenger services to be made up. The situation would not be so bad if it had been better looked after by the previous Government. An amount of S3. 2m overall is to be spent on grants for tourist attractions and for promoting domestic tourism.

Another grant to the States provided for the first time is for a $3m program of traffic management and improvement of locations with poor accident records. I do not think this matter has been mentioned yet by the Opposition. I am very pleased about this grant as it will allow urgent action at locations where road safety is bad.

Debate interrupted.







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