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Thursday, 14 May 1987
Page: 3229

Mr TICKNER(3.30) —When this matter of public importance was called on today, 36 members of the Liberal and National parties stood in unity in a call for it to be discussed. That is as close as those honourable members will ever come to unity on important political questions before this Parliament. If we put them to the test to debate this issue we would find not an Opposition speaking with one voice but an Opposition speaking with three, four or more voices. Not only is the Opposition bitterly divided between the parties; the most bitter divisions are within the Opposition parties themselves. It is Liberal member against Liberal member and National Party member pitted against National Party member in a struggle for supremacy of ideas. It is an Opposition which is brutally factionalised and one which the Australian people will not trust with government in this country. Above all else, the concern of Australian families is for stability and leadership in government. That is something they can never get from an Opposition whose members are so deeply divided among themselves.

It is a tragedy that some of the more compassionate and caring members of the Liberal Party have been relegated to the back bench and replaced by members who are, by their own acknowledgment, little more than spokesmen for extremist groups outside the Parliament. They are literally the voice of the New Right in the Australian Parliament. The tragedy is that the political agenda in this country and in the conservative parties is not being shaped by Liberal Party ideology, it is being shaped by forces outside the Parliament and outside the Liberal Party. Mr Deputy Speaker, if you doubt my views on the subject, there are many examples of prominent Liberals who are ready to speak publicly about this takeover of the Liberal Party and its threat to Australian families because they are concerned about what is happening to their own party. When the honourable member for Goldstein (Mr Macphee) was interviewed on Four Corners, he made a very forthright statement of concern when he was asked about the New Right and its representation on the Opposition front bench. He said:

They're well represented, yes, with sympathetic people at least on the front bench and some quite dogmatic people. But outside the party they are now well organised and are exerting considerable influence on the agenda within the party. It's the very situation that Menzies fought many years ago. He was determined, in fact, to stop that happening . . .

Mr Reith —What has this got to do with the matter of public importance?

Mr TICKNER —The honourable member for Flinders asks what that has to do with the concerns of Australian families. It has everything to do with the quality of government and the future direction of our country which, first and foremost, is the concern of Australian families. The divided Opposition is unable to meet those concerns.

Mr Reith —Tell us about interest rates.

Mr TICKNER —The honourable member continues to interject. He has raised a question which I will deal with in the course of my remarks. It seems to me that when we are discussing the concerns of Australian families, we are focusing on two important questions: Firstly, we must look to the standard of living of Australian families and, secondly, we must consider the quality of life of Australians. That issue was totally neglected in the contribution of the honourable member for Fadden (Mr Jull).

New South Wales has a Labor Government whose political philosophy and strategy is a return to basics-the basic concerns of families. The Hawke Labor Government also shares those concerns. The concerns are about employment, housing, education, health and social welfare-the basic things that go to make up the quality of life and the standard of living of Australian families. The Opposition is remarkably silent on the issue of employment. When Labor came to office, the dole queues had swollen to 254,000 in a single year and the unemployment rate had hit 10 per cent. Under Labor, in the four years since April 1983, some 780,000 new jobs have been created-roughly twice the number that were created during the seven years of the previous Government. Importantly, the opportunity for women to participate in the work force, and more fully in the community at large, has been greatly enhanced by Labor's child care policies. Those policies and commitments were reaffirmed in the statement made by the Treasurer (Mr Keating) last night.

The honourable member for Fadden raised the issue of housing. The Opposition is on rather difficult ground because every single group in the community that is concerned about housing lines up on our side of politics, supporting the re-election of the Hawke Labor Government and opposing the Opposition's policies. The honourable member for Fadden had the audacity to express his concern about public housing. The brutal reality is that the public housing queues were caused by the cutbacks of the Fraser Government. Under this Government there has been a 42 per cent increase in funds available for public housing. One would think that the Opposition would have some support from the housing industry itself. However, the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) has put on the record on a number of occasions in recent weeks the fact that the National Executive Director of the Housing Industry Association, speaking for the industry and its 16,000 members, wrote personally to him congratulating the Government on its housing assistance package. The letter states:

Not only will the new housing assistance package help to revitalise housing prospects, but of no less importance it will enable the States to alleviate housing-related poverty within our country.

On the issue of housing the Opposition, once again, is able to beat the drum of rhetoric, but all the experts and all those who are concerned to do something about housing are convinced that this Government's policies are setting Australia on the right track. A further basic issue that should be addressed is that of education. Under this Government, 46 per cent of children are staying at school until Year 12 compared with just 36 per cent when we came to office. Funding for government and non-government schools increased by an average of 4.5 per cent in real terms during Labor's first three years in office. Further real increases for schools have been guaranteed for an eight-year period from 1985. That is an example of this Government's forward planning in the education area. Also, the Government has created 36,800 extra places in universities and colleges of advanced education since its election and has contributed almost $300m a year to State-run colleges of technical and further education.

Health is another basic issue for Australian families. Before this Government came to office, nearly 2 million Australians and their families who previously had no health insurance cover have received coverage under Medicare. In these very difficult times, the Government has a commendable record on social security. The Opposition and the honourable member for Fadden talk about compassion. The problem is that the honourable member for Fadden does not speak for the Opposition. Those who do speak for the Opposition are the ones who are acknowledged by their own prominent party members to have abandoned compassion, which was once the hallmark of the Liberal Party.

Mr Reith —Ha!

Mr TICKNER —The honourable member snickers. Perhaps he should read the statements made by Senator Puplick on the Four Corners program on 4 May when he and other prominent small `1' Liberals made their coming-out debut. In that interview Senator Puplick was asked this question by Mr Olle:

Is there a single word, if you had to, that sums up what's lacking in the current approach in the Liberal Party? I mean, is it courage? Is it compassion? Is it sophistication?

Senator Puplick replied, without a moment's hesitation, `I think it's compassion'. He is right, and I have great respect for his integrity. Of course, the tragedy is that the hard line extremists on the front bench do not share the concern and compassion that that tiny minority of small `1' Liberals do share, but that group has been exiled to the back bench and has no effective say in Liberal Party policy, which is now dictated by those extreme forces of the New Right outside the Liberal Party and the Parliament itself.

On the issue of pensions, again this Government has a commendable record. When the Whitlam Government left office, the pension was 24.7 per cent of average weekly earnings. Under the conservatives the pension fell to 22.7 per cent. Under this Government this pension stood at 24 per cent of average weekly earnings in the December quarter of 1986. Labor has addressed the situation by increasing pensions in real terms by 5.7 per cent.

A number of us in the Government are well known for our absolute dedication to defending the interests of pensioners. My colleague the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Brumby) is one of those members who, as I do, go to the barricades to look after the pensioners. I have received a letter from the Prime Minister only today which acknowledges the contribution that I and others, such as the member for Bendigo, have made in protecting pensioners. The Prime Minister, in his letter, says that he wants particularly to commend me for my persistent and uncompromising representations on behalf of the pensioners in Hughes. The senior citizens in the community know that this Government will not desert them. They have no confidence in the policies of the Opposition, and that fact will be reflected at the next election.

Another important issue concerning pensioners, Australian families and, in fact, all Australians, is the question of prices. In this area, a deep chasm separates government policy from opposition policy, because the Opposition is on record as being committed to dismantling the only effective means that the Commonwealth has to try to control prices-the Prices Surveillance Authority. The Opposition wants to leave it to the open market-place, to have open slather. Australian families will be forced to bear the brunt of the massive price increases that will affect them at the same time as they suffer the wage freeze proposed by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard). In the area of taxation reform, the Opposition stands condemned. If there is one area in which the Government has really intervened to protect Australian families, it has been the area of taxation, where we have tried to stamp out the rorts, which were tolerated, fostered and encouraged by the Opposition in government, and we have introduced for the first time in Australia a fair and just taxation system.

There are other areas which are not commonly thought of as basic but which go to make up the quality of life of Australian families and Australians generally. We do not hear much from the Opposition about its policy on issues affecting quality of life. We hear a lot from the members of the Waste Watch Committee, who attack many areas of government expenditure, such as funding for the arts and funding for scientific research, but we do not see any Opposition policy on such issues, because it does not have a credible policy in this area. We hear little from the Opposition about environment policy. The former spokesman for the Opposition on the environment, Senator Collard, has the same policy as the current spokesman for the environment, the honourable member for Mayo (Mr Downer), and their policy is to leave the matter to the State-leave it to Joh. They say that land use decisions are a matter for the States. That policy is simply to turn back the clock and to abandon the Fraser Government's commitment to protect Fraser Island; to flood the Franklin River; and to leave the Barrier Reef to Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen.

Another issue of concern to Australian families and Australians generally is what will happen to government departments under the Liberals, who are committed to smashing and destroying a range of departments. The Department of Veterans' Affairs is on the chopping block. When the Leader of the Opposition met the National President of the Returned Services League, the Leader refused even to give a commitment that the Liberals would not abolish that vital portfolio. Let there be no mistake: At the next election there will be a clear choice, and I believe people will support the Australian Labor Party.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired. The discussion is concluded.