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Thursday, 22 September 1983
Page: 1200

Mrs DARLING(5.36) —In extraordinarily difficult circumstances the Hawke Labor Government has, in its first Budget, pursued its major commitments to start Australia on the road to recovery. Australia needs new policies to initiate and sustain permanent economic recovery. They must be both short term- to make sure that no one is hurt in the changeover-and long term policies, fashioning policies and actions to meet the needs of a new technology. We in the Labor Government are moving to meet both challenges. Manpower and training policies are at the crux of social and economic recovery in Australia. We on this side of the chamber reap the bitter harvest of mismanagement sown by the Fraser Government-unemployment and inflation at double digit figures. I note that the honourable member for Bennelong (Mr Howard) is appalled at the fact that we do have double digit figures of unemployment and inflation. I point out that this situation developed from the beginning of the 1960s under a conservative government.

The policy dilemma arising from this situation stems from the fact that past governments controlled inflation by policies which reduced economic activity and thus deliberately created unemployment. It is obvious that the budgetary, monetary and exchange rate policies used to tackle unemployment or inflation in years past no longer work. Statistics show that it would now take a far greater level of unemployment to keep inflation at a certain level than was the case in 1970 or indeed in 1960. Using a controlled pool of unemployed people-not statistics but people out of work-as a tool to influence the economy has never been morally justifiable while there were other means of maintaining a healthy environment which is admittedly essential for the continuity of jobs. While there did exist another pool of affluent people who were deliberately defrauding the Government by large scale tax avoidance and evasion there were other means of achieving the desired results.

Moral considerations aside, if ever they can be put aside, the use of these traditional levers to stimulate the level of economic growth in the situation we have inherited and in the absence of other policies would inevitably lead to higher inflation which would in turn prevent that sustained economic recovery and substantially reduced unemployment which are our aims and our overriding priorities. While we as a government were restrained from moving along expansionary lines to the extent that we as a party of social reform would have wished, we nonetheless have taken the first important steps on the road to recovery. A successful prices and incomes accord is, of course, basic to a sustained long term recovery. The basis of that success is some confidence, confidence which should be instilled in the people and the businesses of Australia by members of this representative Parliament. While we on this side of the chamber are doing our bit to substantiate and back policies which will lead this confidence and lead this recovery, I am appalled at the point of view taken by members of the Opposition who were nothing but destructive today in their comments on this Budget.

This Government has in its first six months in office clearly demonstrated its commitment to implementing its side of the accord. The re-endorsement of the accord as the basis of the Australian Council of Trade Unions economic policy at its Congress in Melbourne last week added another rung to the ladder leading out of recession. The heartening positive response of the people of Australia to a Budget which strives to ensure that those people who have been suffering bitterly in the midst of our once affluent nation and who should now, have so relief as a priority provides the other rung. With such Australians, we must succeed.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said earlier in this debate that the Government is taking risks in this Budget. The party to which the honourable member belongs does not really mind taking risks; it is just that he would prefer that the risks be taken by lower income Australians. While in government he did not mind gambling with people's jobs. He thinks it is the right of the affluent to enjoy games of chance with the Commissioner of Taxation, as long as they do not get caught. Australia's big time tax avoiders enjoyed a prolonged hey day under the Fraser Government. The honourable member for Bennelong also said that Australia cannot afford full wage indexation. What we cannot afford is continuing large scale tax avoidance. If the honourable member for Bennelong were on the level he would have supported Government legislation to recoup much of the $6 billion lost to Australia because of his past inactivity. He did not move to recoup any of this money until forced to do so by the revelations of the report of the Costigan Royal Commission on the Activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union.

He voices concern that more people will be thrown out of work. It is a pity that he did not feel that concern a few years earlier. Little he and other members of the Opposition care about people out of jobs. In government they refused point blank to change from the perilous course on which their outdated policies had placed Australia-a course leading directly down to our worst recession in 50 years. How dare he comment on the size of the deficit, when if he were now in government, on the basis of the figures given to us he would have a deficit of at least $2 billion more. It is a matter of a decrepit, outcast, past government now calling for results which it was not able to achieve. I was likewise unimpressed by the comments of the Deputy Leader of the National Party of Australia (Mr Sinclair). He sees the accord as suspect. He implies that the workers of Australia will not co-operate with the Government. He suggests that the highly regarded and intelligent business people who participated in the National Economic Summit Conference were tricked by a snow job. No wonder his party when in government failed so resoundingly. He could not instil job confidence in the heir apparent to a senile monarch.

On the other hand, we in the Labor Government are proud of the extent to which we have been able to offer expansionary policy to the Australian people. I remind you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that because this Government inherited an economy undergoing its worst recession in 50 years with nearly 750,000 people unemployed -an increase of 263,000 on the number unemployed in the previous 12 months-and with an inflation rate at 11.5 per cent, more than double the average of the countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, we have been prevented from implementing our full program immediately. This has been distressing. It has been suggested that we used the inherited deficit as an excuse for not fully implementing our policies of social reform. What party in its right mind would choose to put forward an excuse for not implementing policies rather than use the money which it expected would be in the Treasury to implement the policies it was planning in opposition? Our key task must be to facilitate a sustained recovery that wears away the unacceptably high levels of unemployment we are now experiencing. This Budget is about meeting crisis needs until the economy lifts. We can all feel the benefit.

Meanwhile, even with that scenario, I would like to give a brief rundown of some of the increased expenditure that we, as a government of social reform, have managed. Our first priority is jobs and training. Expenditure on jobs and training will increase by a massive 110 per cent over last year to $733m. These funds will be allocated as follows: $300m to the community employment program to create up to 40,000 new jobs for the long term unemployed and other disadvantaged groups; $100m to generate jobs for about 10,000 unemployed people under the wage pause program; and $333m, an increase of 35.7 per cent, for other labour force programs and services. Queensland is to receive $41,268,000 under the community employment program. Overall, expenditure on jobs and training for 1983-84 will be $958m ultimately benefiting 300,000 people annually. In addition , over the next five years $100m will create 500 to 600 jobs a year in the steel industry.

This Government is interested in facts and figures rather than a negative knocking of Australian governments, Australian business people and Australian unions. We are putting forward positive policies setting us on the road to recovery and putting the unemployed people first-on the top of our list of priorities. Until we came to government unemployed people had been right at the botton of the list, for political expediency. It is well known amongst politicans that many young, unemployed people who are thoroughly dissillusioned with society and with any government do not enrol on the electoral roll and therefore do not vote at general elections. It would take an entirely cynical government to fashion its policies for trendy, more affluent people rather than be willing to put money towards alleviating the plight of unemployed people who are not voting for any part at the polls. But this Government is motivated by moral as well as economic considerations.

Another great initiative is that taken in the area of housing. I would like to point out the practicality and the logic of our putting funds into the housing sector, and in doing so not only stimulating the private housing sector and giving many people jobs but also putting homeless people into homes. I was appalled this morning to hear a member of the Opposition attacking our Government for expending money to look at alternative lifestyles. It was quite apparent that this gentleman would rather see people sleeping under bridges than do anything so appallingly new as to consider ways and means in which we can alleviate the trauma felt by people caught between two different types of economy. I am talking about the poor kids from 18 to 25 years of age who have not been in work yet, who are required to have experience before they can get a job, who are part of a lost generation and who, if it were not for the new training and employment schemes being introduced by this Government, would not be able to qualify for jobs when employers want to pay for 16 or 17 year old inexperienced people in coming years.

Total funds for public housing have increased by 50 per cent to $500m. Overall outlays on housing in 1983-84 are estimated at $912m. Queensland is to receive $ 63m, a 52 per cent increase. A total of $120m-an increase of 40 per cent-will go to direct non-repayable grants of up to $7,000 for many first home buyers. Young people at last can aim towards being in their own homes. I pay tribute to the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Hurford) for his attitude and his foresight in meeting the needs of this important sector. People who are really interested in families and in their welfare will be applauding moves to see that young couples can at least afford to move into their homes.

Another area in which I am proud of the Government's performance is that of roads and road safety. Grants to the States and the Northern Territory for roads will total $1,233m, an increase of 45 per cent on last year's allocation. Queensland is to receive $262m, an increase of 42 per cent. Road safety funds will increase by 56 per cent to $6.1m. As chairperson of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Road Safety I speak for the entire Committee, which is apolitical in make-up and intent, when I congratulate the Government on its interest in road safety.

The Budget gives families a boost. We have, of course, retained family allowances. We have allocated $118.95m for children's services and pre-schools and we have increased benefits for children of pensioners. We have put forward an increase of $21m for children's services over the amount for 1982-83 and made a forward commitment of $30m for 1984-85 for new projects.

Mr O'Neil —And helped the Aboriginals, too.

Mrs DARLING —Of course. We have put extra money into trying to alleviate the lot of pensioners and people on welfare. I find it offensive that members of the Opposition, who are trying to stir up antagonism towards this Government, are trying to belittle our efforts for pensioners. The plight of the disadvantaged has deteriorated sharply over the past seven years. It is generally accepted that the damage cannot be repaired overnight and that job creation is not a solution. But it will alleviate damage to this generation, who have had to cope with a shift in emphasis of the life-style through technological change.

Help for the unemployed is a high priority for the Government. The Budget has introduced significant changes in respect of the unemployment benefit. It is appalling that people suggest, for political reasons, that there are young people in Australia, or indeed, people of any age, who would prefer being on a meagre unemployment benefit to having a job. Anyone who has close contact with those who are suffering trauma through their lack of ability to find a suitable job, or any job, will be aware that the need for and the dignity of having their own job and making their own money is to the forefront of their thinking. However, the jobs are not there, and until we are able to effect the change that will result in greater activity in the different industries--

Mr Connolly —Why are the jobs not there?

Mrs DARLING —They are not there because for seven years we had a government which absolutely refused to change course and did not, until just before the election this year, consider introducing any job creation schemes. I point out that in February this year different noises were made by the then government, which suddenly changed its tune and thought: 'Yes, indeed; we should have job creation'. This Labor Government does have a job creation scheme. I remind members of the public that if this Government had not come to power Australia no doubt would have continued on the downward trek. No doubt we would not have seen the introduction of programs such as the community employment program, which has been accepted so well by people throughout Australia. There has been intense interest in the community employment program in Queensland. The Department's employment branch has received 546 inquiries from organisations and individuals throughout Queensland.

Meanwhile, the under-18-year-olds will get an additional $5 per week from November 1983. Single adults without dependants will receive an increase, from $ 68.65 to $73.60 per week-an increase of $8.50 since May-from November, and from this date their payments will be indexed in line with consumer price index increases. A further $2 a week on top of indexation will be granted from May 1984, in line with the Government's election commitment to increase unemployment benefits for single adults progressively to the standard rate of pensions. We are encouraging people to take casual or part time work if they can find it by allowing them to earn $20 a week without loss of any benefits. Additional payments are to be made for unemployed people with children from November 1983.

There are a number of areas in which this Government has moved despite the very difficult circumstances which we inherited. Under Medicare, which begins in February next year, all Australians will automatically be covered for the cost of basic health regardless of their income. The defence budget provides $5,280m for defence, an increase of 10.4 per cent. Total expenditure on legal aid is estimated to increase by 23 per cent to $71.4m. There has been a direct spending increase on education, a rise of 11 per cent to $4,211m. Secondary allowance schemes and tertiary education assistance scheme allowances will rise. The parental or spouse income testing of the student assistance scheme will be eased . We have managed increases in a number of very important areas that will benefit the public socially, in jobs and training, in roads and road safety, in housing, and in every important area.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.