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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 1993

Mr DAWKINS (Minister for Trade)(3.27) —The House of Representatives has been sitting for the past three weeks and this debate provides an opportunity for the Opposition to nominate a topic of its own choosing for the House to debate. The interesting thing about the past three weeks is that they have been, unquestionably, the most miserable three weeks in the life of the Leader of the Opposition, the honourable member for Bennelong (Mr Howard). His dismal speech confirmed absolutely the misery that he has been experiencing. Indeed, the speech that he has just given ensures that these three weeks will end with a very appropriate whimper. One might have thought that the point of the debate and the Leader of the Opposition's point in bringing the debate to us was, in some way, to draw attention to the record of this Government. What it was all about was a desperate attempt to diminish the importance of political promises. The Leader of the Opposition knows that he is not now, nor will he ever be, in a position to make believable promises to anybody.

He spoke for some time about the changes of policy which this Government has had to propose and endure. The important thing about the changes that we have had to propose is that we have done so unambiguously because of the circumstances confronting this country. We have not tried to deceive the people. We have not tried to cover up in relation to the changes that have had to be made. We have said to the people of Australia: `When we came to office and when we were re-elected to office, the circumstances confronting this country were very much different from those which now confront us'. Do the people of Australia want a government that clings nostalgically to policies which we know would only complicate the problems confronting us, or do they want a government which has the courage and the integrity to say: `The circumstances have changed. Therefore, in the national interest and in the interests of every single Australian, we as a government are prepared to adopt policies-perhaps not those which we anticipated earlier-which are right, correct and appropriate for the times during which we rule'. The reason the Leader of the Opposition is so galled by this question is that he knows that no one will ever believe anything he says. I do not believe that anyone ever has, but there are two particular reasons why no one ever will in the future. The first reason no one will believe him is that many of us, and many Australians, have a very vivid recollection of his stewardship of the position of Treasurer in this country.

Opposition members interjecting-

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) -Order! There are too many interjections on my left. Those members who are interjecting will cease interjecting, or they will be warned.

Mr DAWKINS —Very few Treasurers in this country have the opportunity of an uninterrupted period of seven years in which to superintend the economic circumstances, the economic policy, of Australia, and yet that dismal seven-year period, punctuated with disappointment, ended in absolute defeat not only for the Government but for the man who was Treasurer for the whole of that time.

So many people remember the tatty economy that this Government had to inherit from that Treasurer. They know that there was double digit inflation; they know that there was escalating unemployment; they know that there was ballooning government expenditure; and they know that what we had in prospect then was a deficit of a size which had never been contemplated in the history of this country. Not only was that the case, but also there had been a deliberate attempt to cover up the reality just before the election when the then government tried once again as it had on so many previous occasions, to pull the wool collectively over the eyes of the people of Australia. Well, the people were not fooled, and they will not be fooled again. So, the people do remember how dismal that period of the Leader of the Opposition's treasurership was, and therefore they are never likely to believe anything he says about economic policy or anything else.

There is another perhaps even more fundamental reason why no one will believe this man and why he will never be able to make a believable promise. Not only does he lack authority over the coalition; he lacks authority over his very own party. Let us consider for a moment the circumstances of the coalition. He is, if nothing else, a coalitionist. He wants the Opposition parties to go into the election, whenever it is held, as a coalition promising to be a coalition government, if the parties opposite are ever elected. But what he knows, and what he knows very well, is that he will not be in a position to make any commitments on behalf of at least a third of the Opposition, that is, half of those who belong to the National Party-because hardly any of its members were here to listen to him today, as they voted with their feet and walked out on him as they will later walk out of the coalition-and a significant number of people within his own party who harbour very great concerns, very great anxieties, about his ability as a leader and the policies he is trying to formulate.

But more serious than that, we know, as we knew on earlier occasions, that if the Opposition parties ever get into office this man will be incapable of standing up to the bully-boy tactics of the National Party. for the whole seven years that he was Treasurer he was not able to get anything through Cabinet unless it had the support of the National Party. I took the opportunity, during a very interrupted answer I gave today, to table a document which set out in some detail the sorts of issues on which the then Treasurer was defeated in Cabinet-not defeated by his own colleagues, but defeated by the junior coalition partner. In 1979 he put forward proposals to clamp down on family trusts. We knew at that time, and I am reminding the House now, that his original proposal was cut in half because the National Party wanted nothing to do with the taxation of family trusts.

As far as the report of the Campbell Committee of Inquiry into the Australian Financial System is concerned, which the previous Treasurer has claimed to be the most magnificent demonstration of his policies, the most magnificent jewel in the crown during his period as Treasurer, we know that he was unable to make a centimetre's progress with the implementation of that report because the Leader of the National Party at the time said that he would have nothing to do with it-he would have nothing to do with the deregulation of interest rates, nothing to do with concessions to particular industry sectors and nothing to do with the floating of the dollar.

Mr Tuckey —On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker: I seek your guidance as much as anything else. I understand that there is a convention that one does not use the Cabinet documents of a previous government--

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! There is no point of order.

Mr DAWKINS —So the previous Treasurer, desperate to have something to show for his tatty period of office, wanted at least to do something with the Campbell Committee report. It took a Labor Government and a Labor Treasurer to do that, because he could not get it past the National Party.

Then, at the time of the 1984 election there was a funny omission from the honourable member for Bennelong's costings of the Opposition's policy. He had omitted to put in the Darwin to Alice Springs railway. As soon as the Leader of the National Party discovered that, it took only a day for that to be reactivated as an extant policy of the Opposition. In more recent times we have had a repetition of something which happened much earlier in relation to consumption taxes. We know that before the 1980 election it was very much the policy of the then Treasurer to introduce a consumption tax-a retail turnover tax, it was to be called-which he wanted to introduce in order to bring about some change in the structure of the taxation system. He stomped around the country explaining the virtues of this change; yet it was the National Party again that said: `Not on your nellie will we be having a consumption tax'. Therefore, the then Treasurer had to back down, as he is now about to back down as he again attempts to resuscitate an idea to expand the indirect tax base. It is not just those in the Leader of the Opposition's own party whom he is worried about; it is primarily those within the National Party.

Then, when the honourable member for Kooyong (Mr Peacock) is apparently mounting some challenge, who is it who is brought out to defend the Leader of the Opposition? The person brought out to defend him is the man who tormented him during his period of office-none other than Doug Anthony. The person who humiliated him in office has had to be brought out to protect him in opposition from a suitor for his job. What is the reason for this? There has to be some explanation why someone like Doug Anthony would come out to support the Leader of the Opposition. The very clear reason is that the National Party knows that it can live with the present Leader of the Opposition, and it knows that because it knows that it can dominate him. He is not a Liberal leader; he is a weak and spineless leader who will always be trodden on, always stood over, by the National Party. That is why he cannot make any promises. The only promises he can make are those which the National Party is prepared to endorse.

This presents an interesting question. Our Treasurer (Mr Keating) has spent time enough talking about the credibility gap of the Leader of the Opposition. We have before us $16 billion worth of unrepudiated promises which collectively would add $16 billion to the fiscal deficit of this country. This is the man who also pretends, simultaneously, to want to reduce the size of the deficit. As has been pointed out often enough, that represents a $16 billion credibility gap. I am delighted to see the Deputy Leader of the National Party (Mr Hunt) here because on his very own he has been responsible for additional promises representing some $780m in relation to additional expenditure and taxation changes, and just the other week the Executive of the National Party made further commitments in relation to taxation policy, adding something like $22 billion to the fiscal deficit. So, what we have to look at is not Liberal Party policy itself but, more importantly, what the National Party says, because that is the tune to which the Leader of the Opposition will eventually dance.

Our promises have been explicit and out in the open. But we now know that the Liberal Party has a secret set of promises which it hoped to keep away from the people of Australia, which it hoped would not interrupt its miserable quest for power and which would be unveiled during the first 100 days of office. Its promises are: Cutting pensions; abolishing all employment programs; abolishing the first home owners scheme; abolishing the fringe benefits tax and the capital gains tax-two of the most important measures to reintroduce some equity into our taxation system-cutting bounties to manufacturing industry; abolishing the superphosphate bounty; cutting Medicare; increasing charges for pharmaceutical benefits; increasing the eligibility age for the female pension to 65; selling the Commonwealth Bank-putting at risk all the savings of the people of Australia-selling Qantas Airways Ltd; selling Telecom Australia; selling Medibank Private; abolishing the lump sum superannuation tax; and then, the great one, right at the end, preparing for a general strike.

That final promise really typifies the attitude of these Opposition parties. They do not seem to recognise that, in the circumstances confronted by Australia at the moment, we need more than anything a period of stability and policy consistency. The Labor Party and this Government offer at least four more years of policy consistency in order to deal with the very real circumstances confronted by the country. It is only this Party and this Government which have been prepared to face up unabashed to the circumstances confronting us. We have levelled with the people of Australia and said that, not as a result of anything we have done but as a result of the circumstances the world has wrought on us, we have had $6 billion taken off our national income. We seek to ensure that the necessary adjustment and burden of that is shared equally across the community, but we have none of that from the Opposition. It wants a period of such turmoil and such division within our society that it predicts that within the first six months of office it would have a general strike of such proportions, throwing the country into such turmoil that a new election would be necessary. These people want, as a matter of deliberate policy, to tear up the very great progress we have been able to make in regard to industrial relations stability and industry reform.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) —Order! The Minister's time has expired. The debate is concluded.