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Wednesday, 16 August 2017
Page: 5804

Senator SMITH (Western AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (13:53): In the last few moments before we proceed to question time, I would like to talk about a man who no less than Gough Whitlam credited as being one of the most successful legislators in Australian history. Gough Whitlam said of this gentleman:

No private member has had as much influence in changing a major policy of the major parties.

Who was that individual? Gough Whitlam was of course talking about Bert Kelly. And I will come very shortly, Senator Paterson, to the great work of the Society of Modest Members—the very modest work of the Society of Modest Members!

We have heard lots in this chamber over the last two weeks about the importance of equality and the importance of fairness. In the wonderful book, called One More Nail, written by Bert Kelly, a discussion of his time in parliament and his reflections, he talks in chapter 16 about some of the sacred cows that parliamentarians come across as they do their electorate duties. I'm sure this is as true today as it was then in 1960s and 1970s. At the beginning of chapter 16, Bert Kelly says:

Members of Parliament soon learn that there are some solid, reliable subjects about which the electorate loves to hear their Member give tongue.

And he begins to parade a few of them in that chapter. At the end of that chapter he talks about this particular sacred cow:

Another sacred cow that the electorate loves you to pat is the idea of everyone being equal. By so doing you appear as a man of sympathy and understanding. But most times we have to make a choice between cutting the economic cake into equal but smaller slices, or having unequal slices cut from a bigger cake. This is a very great pity because I find the flaunting of unequal wealth irritating and demeaning. But the awful truth is that there are too many people around like me. If I find that taxation is taking too much of what I produce, then I stop working hard and taking risks, so the economic cake is not as big as it would have been if taxation had been lower. But most of our taxation goes to make people more equal.

This is a particularly important contribution, because over the last few weeks we have heard much talk in this place about equality and rising levels of inequality. Others on this side of the chamber argue that what Labor seeks to do is to provide a very simple analysis. But Bert Kelly goes on to say towards the end of chapter 16:

Everyone knows this, of course, but I have never seen it so clearly expressed as by Professor Hayek in his great book TheConstitution of Liberty:

And from that book he quotes:

The range of what will be tried and later developed, the fund of experience that will become available to all, is greatly extended by the unequal distribution of present benefits; and the rate of advance will be greatly increased if the first steps are taken long before the majority can profit from them. Many of the improvements would indeed never become a possibility for all if they had not long before been available to some. If all had to wait for better things until they could be provided for all, that day would in many instances never come. Even the poorest today owe their relative material well-being to the results of past inequality.

Kelly continues:

Hayek then gives point to this thesis with his powerful statement:

And he then cites page 48 of Hayek's book:

At any given moment we could improve the position of the poorest by giving them what we took from the wealthy. But, while such an equalizing of the positions in the column of progress would temporarily quicken the closing-up of the ranks, it would, before long, slow down the movement of the whole and in the long run hold back those in the rear. Recent European experience strongly confirms this. The rapidity with which rich societies here have become static, if not stagnant, societies through egalitarian politics, while impoverished but highly competitive countries have come very dynamic and progressive, has been one of the most conspicuous features of the postwar period.

In making this brief contribution this afternoon I would just like to highlight that debates about equality and inequality are not new to this chamber, nor are they new to this parliament.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Smith. Senator Bernardi you have one minute and 17 seconds.