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Tuesday, 29 November 1983
Page: 2965

Mr DAWKINS (Minister for Finance)(3.49) —I oppose and utterly reject the hypocritical motion moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) . Let us get straight what this debate is really about. Yet again in this House we have a preselection debate, not a debate about the economy. We are witnessing a contest between the contending leaders of the Liberal Party. We know, of course, that earlier today the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) gave notice that he intended to propose a matter of public importance, but so petrified were members of the Opposition at the prospect of yet again having to listen to his feeble attempt to attack this Government and to try to peddle some recently and badly learnt economics that they decided to change their tactics halfway through . They said: 'For God's sake, John, how can we get you into the act? How can we get you into leading this debate? We do not want to go through the embarrassment of having the Leader of the Opposition taking a leading role in an economic debate, a debate about which he knows nothing?' His speech just now has revealed exactly that. So, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition had to be saddled up to take the lead on this matter. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said: 'Oh, I know how I will get into this debate. I will move a motion about misleading the House because no one knows more about misleading the House than I do. I am the expert on deception'.

Opposition members interjecting-

Mr DAWKINS —Oh, these screeching jackals!

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! the honourable gentleman will resume his seat. The House will come to order.

Mr McVeigh —Mr Deputy Speaker, on a point of order-

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The House will come to order. The Opposition has made its point.

Mr McVeigh —Mr Deputy Speaker, will you make sure that the Minister for Finance does not alter the greens?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! I warn the honourable member for Darling Downs that another point of order as provocative as that will warrant action from the Chair .

Mr DAWKINS —No one in this House knows more about deception and deceit than the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition is not guilty just of misleading the House. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition is guilty of a much more heinous crime. He is guilty of misleading the entire nation. Before the election it was not just a question of not telling the people the truth about the prospective deficit for 1983-84. Not only did he not tell us what he knew, but also he tried to doctor the figures. He tried to say that a different figure, a different deficit, was in prospect. So it was far from just a cover up; it was a quite deliberate attempt to deceive and to mislead the Australian people. Now this discredited former Treasurer tries to lecture us here about the prospects and the outlook for the economy. The people opposite are the greatest economic iconoclasts this country has ever seen. They are the ones under whose management of the economy unemployment doubled. These are the people who saw the dole queues double. Yet they have the nerve to say that we will not be able to turn round as quickly as we would like the devastating depression in which we found this economy.

To the extent that there is a difference between the projections earlier released and the projections available to the Economic Planning Advisory Council more recently, the difference is that the forecasts on which the earlier ones were made did not anticipate or realise the depth of the recession and the extraordinary damage which our predecessors had done to the Australian economy. These people are the demolition experts. They know all about how to destroy an economy. However, they know nothing about how to retrieve the economic fortunes of this country. Even worse than all that, this debate indicates the extent to which the Opposition is prepared to pervert economic debate within this country. Everybody knows-even the most infantile and idiotic commentator or participant in the economic debate-that at the beginning of this year the economy was in very deep trouble. All the indicators were going precisely in the wrong direction. Everybody knew that we would begin to restore the fortunes of the Australian economy only if we could begin a process of getting all the people involved in the economy to work together and to co-operate rather than fighting each other and confronting each other in the way in which they had been encouraged under the Fraser Government.

This Government not only convened the National Economic Summit Conference but also established the Economic Planning Advisory Council. The purpose of that Council was to ensure that employers, unions, the States and others who had an interest in the economy and were able to influence the economy could sit down with the Government and work together through the problems that existed to try to find solutions to them. This Opposition is so desperately scared that that strategy will work. It is trying to destroy the efforts which have been made hitherto and which are now in prospect. Not satisfied with having destroyed the economy under its own administration, it is prepared to sabotage the improvement in the economy already occurring under this Government. The Opposition displays hypocrisy in wanting to distort and to misuse a process of co-operation, a process of sharing information with important elements in the community, to try to fabricate some charge of deceit on our part, to try to fabricate some charge of a cover up and, more fatuous than anything, to try to accuse the Treasurer ( Mr Keating), the man responsible for overseeing a vast improvement in the ecomomy, of some wrongdoing. To the chagrin of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, he will see in a year's time the success of this Treasurer, in just 12 months, so outshining his feeble efforts over five years that he will not be able to show his face publicly. The economy is on the mend, but we have to remember that the economy was much worse than even we realised at the time we took office.

Mr Howard —What about answering the charges? Did he lie or not?

Mr DAWKINS —Of course, he did not lie. I would not be standing here defending him if I thought he did. The whole point is that EPAC discussed this matter. EPAC said that it was not prepared to accept the projections quite simply because it believed they were not an accurate likely outcome of the events as the members of EPAC were then able to predict them. They said: 'We believe that things are going to be better than this'. That is why they wanted more work done on the underlying assumptions that were used for the basis of those projections. The Treasurer has already gone to very great lengths to indicate that those projections were not intended to be a description of a likely outcome. They were designed to say what might be expected to occur, given certain circumstances and certain policy positions. In fact what had already been put in place at the time of the earlier projections, and certainly at the time of the later projections, were changed policies. We were not going to sit pat and rely on the failed policies of our predecessors. We have put in place policies which are already beginning to bear fruit. One has only to look at the most recent statistics and the most recent indications of what is going on in this economy to realise that the prospects for the next 12 months are very much more optimistic than has ever been thought. We have found recently that the turnaround has been much more dramatic than was expected even at the time of the Budget. Of course, the former discredited Treasurer might have a view of time being frozen at the time he makes particular decisions, but this Government recognises that things change and that our policies begin to have an effect and to improve likely outcomes. Therefore, we are prepared to provide information about how that is occurring. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition cannot accept that this Government has been the first Government prepared to publish and to share the information it has.

Mr Howard —That goes well. You will not even table a minute.

Mr DAWKINS —It is all right for those opposite to have purloined documents. They are experts at that as well. The documents, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition well knows, are the property of EPAC and it is for EPAC to determine whether it will publish its minutes. But as to the docment, the important-

Mr Howard —Wilson Tuckey will see that you do.

Mr DAWKINS —Do not worry about him; he will have his own problems to worry about before much longer. I refer honourable members opposite to the Sunday Independent. The point is that EPAC was not prepared to publish those projections; but that is not to say that at some later time EPAC will not be involved in the publication of important material which will be helpful to the whole of the economy in terms of planning for the future. That is why EPAC has been established. This Opposition cannot understand that we are a government which is prepared to make information available. We were the first government to make available the forward estimates report in March or April of this year. That has hitherto been a secret document. We are the first government which has been prepared to provide as much information as we have in our regular publications and in the Budget. All that is part of a very careful strategy to ensure that those other decision-makers in the economy have available the most up to date and reliable information the Government can provide.

The Opposition is really concerned that the economy is doing much better and that it will continue to strengthen. We now know that real farm gross domestic product will grow by as much as 30 per cent instead of the Budget-time expectation of 20 per cent. We see that in the housing sector commencements rose by 12.4 per cent in the June quarter-very much more than was earlier predicted. We see that production statistics indicate that the manufacturing sector has now joined the recovery. We find that motor vehicle registrations have continued on a healthy trend and that consumer confidence is returning to the economy for the first time in years. What we have in so many areas-it is written on the wall everywhere-is the fact that the economy is improving.

We have already been prepared to acknowledge-we have acknowledged time and time again-that one of the last indicators to turn around will be unemployment. As confidence grows, as people see that the policies of this Government are working , more and more people will be registering for employment. They will not be driven by the despair which coloured the last seven years into withdrawing entirely from the work force. They will say: 'We want to work'. Therefore, for a while we can expect, as we have admitted time and again, that there may be some increase in the unemployment figures, but underlying that will be a strengthening growth in employment. That, of course, is the point the Opposition will not face up to. It knows that in that statistic is the harsh reality of its fate, not just for the next three years but for the next three decades.