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House of Representatives debate on three Appropriation Bills

BRUCE WEBSTER: This week and last debate has continued in the House of Representatives on the three Appropriation Bills which are simultaneously being considered by Senate Estimates Committees. The Second Reading debate in the House is quite different from that detailed Senate committee consideration because it traditionally is seen as an opportunity for backbenchers to talk about any matter relating to Government expenditure.

We've put together a set of excerpts from recent debate in the Reps on the Appropriation Bills, and we begin with Lloyd O'Neil, who talks about problems for the older unemployed.

LLOYD O'NEIL: A continuing problem causing concern for constituents in my electorate of Grey is the level of unemployment in the age group over 55 years. It is a requirement for each person in receipt of unemployment benefit to provide the unemployment benefit form SU-19B. This form needs to be completed each fortnight by the claimant to prove that he or she has, in actual fact, been actively seeking or searching for work. While I'm in favour of beneficiaries providing proof as to their willingness to seek employment, it is of grave concern to me that many older men and women, many who have health problems which restrict the scope of occupations available to them, over and above their age disadvantage, are finding it increasingly difficult to approach three different employers each fortnight to provide the required information.

I understand that a provision has been made whereby lodgment of the SU-19B form can be made on a 12 weekly basis under certain conditions. However, the problem still remains that through the limited business houses and companies in the area, and the long period of time in which the benefit would be drawn, these people still face the trauma of constant rejection.

BRUCE WEBSTER: From Lloyd O'Neil to Leo Price, who's worried about the road toll and unrealistic speeds of interstate vehicles.

LEO PRICE: Well, let me just say this, that no one argues that better roads can have an impact, but the real cause tends to be driver-related. And I want to raise a couple of issues, firstly with buses. In my own State of New South Wales, bus timetables are approved by the Department of Motor Transport. So if I am a bus proprietor and I want to get from one town to another town, and establish a timetable, they have to approve it. Now, what we find happening with the Department is, in fact, that they are approving a time which involves the bus driver driving at average speeds greater than the speed limit.

BRUCE WEBSTER: Leo Price. Next, Michael Lee on a traditional Anzac Day pastime.

MICHAEL LEE: Later this month, of course, we have Anzac Day. And it's been a bit of a tradition with the RSL clubs in my electorate that games of two-up, which are, I suppose, technically illegal, have been, I've learned through rumour Mr Deputy Speaker, have been known to be held at several of my local RSL clubs. And the profits that are made are always passed on to local veterans' charities such as Brisbane Water Legacy - large amounts of money have been made. And I've been sad to learn from my State Member of Parliament, Harry Moore, that the New South Wales police have warned local RSL clubs that they will risk losing their licences if they allow any two-up games on their premises on Anzac Day.

BRUCE WEBSTER: Several members were concerned about small business. One was Peter Cleeland.

PETER CLEELAND: God help the day, that whatever come that we get some magical means tear up all the regulations this Parliament has passed since 1901, and all the regulations the State Parliaments pass, and get rid of them. But you know and I know and everyone in this place knows, and the marketplace knows, that there would be chaos. There'd be predatory practices. Small business would be decimated by the big players. The securities industry would be full of rogues and criminals. The banks would take over and there would be no marketplace. The economy would be hopeless. Now, that's a real reality, and that's why parliaments regulate, right throughout the world. That's why we need to be very careful about how we regulate, but we need to do it. What is the Trade Practices Act for? It's a regulation. It's to try and make a fair and free marketplace. It is trying to level the playing field for small business and big business.

BRUCE WEBSTER: From Peter Cleeland to Alan Griffiths.

ALAN GRIFFITHS: I think the important issue that I want to address today, Mr Deputy Speaker, is that broad issue of business ethics and how that relates to what we ought to be doing, both in terms of legislative framework to regulate business conduct in this country, and also, on the flip side of that coin, to encourage decent business behaviour, to ensure that small shareholders can, in fact, invest in companies, safe in the knowledge - or as safe as one can reasonably make it - that their investment will not be arbitrarily removed from them via corporate misbehaviour; in terms of where we ought to be going internationally.

It is often said to me by Australian businessmen who are involved in the international area that it is almost impossible to be honest, that you simply can't win a contract in some of these countries without slinging money to some crooked intermediary or to somehow or other bribe your way into a good business outcome.

What I would say there is that once again a long term perspective is probably more important than the short term gain scenario. I believe it would be very important for this country to develop a reputation that where we go for a government or business contract we have a reputation - just like Qantas has for safety in flying and good maintenance - that we have a reputation for delivering honest contracts.

BRUCE WEBSTER: Alan Griffiths was especially concerned about small business ethics. Many MPs talked about economic management - if they were Government backbenchers - or about mismanagement if from the Opposition. Here are some samples. Stewart McArthur summaries his view of the Government's tax record.

STEWART McARTHUR: New taxes have been introduced disregarding the fiscal drag and bracket creep on the poor old income tax earner who's now $58 worse off because of that aspect of the income tax - and I'll refer to that later. The new taxes in this so-called reformist Keating Government that have been introduced year by year - 1983, CPI was introduced on beer, cigarettes, petrol and of course lump sum superannuation taxes were introduced in that year. So year after year the CPI moves in on these luxury items, and the poor old taxpayer is not quite aware that he's paying more, but he knows at the end of the 12 months it seems to cost a lot more than the beginning of the year.

1984, a one per cent Medicare tax; 10 per cent on wine; resources rent tax; excise on new and old oil. 1985, that wonderful capital gains tax that Prime Minister Hawke was never going to introduce; 1986, fringe benefits tax. The company tax moved from 46 cents to 49 cents; wine tax moved up to 20 per cent. And, of course, in 1988 we had this complicated tax on superannuation. I will concede that the Government were forced by international pressures to reduce the company tax from 49 cents back to 39 cents in an endeavour to attract investment here to Australia.

BRUCE WEBSTER: Stewart McArthur. Now, Neil Andrew.

NEIL ANDREW: I have a simple, and I hope not inadequate illustration of what's currently happening in the nation, and I want to put it to you this evening. I say to the people in my electorate, a largely rural electorate, I believe that running the nation is not unlike running the farm. And the problem currently facing Australia is just the same as the problem that faces any farmer who discovers that he has more coming in through the farm gate, in the form of fertiliser and seed and livestock for fattening and farm chemicals, than he has going out in the form of grain for sale, fattened livestock and produce ready to be shipped to market.

That's the nation's problem. Just as a farmer discovers more coming in the gate than going out, so the nation currently finds itself importing more than it's exporting - importing more than it's exporting to the tune in January of $1.5 billion and to the tune in February of almost $1.3 billion. Astonishing sums of money, and at that rate, stumbling backwards as a nation, probably to the tune of 14 or $15 billion for the year.