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Wednesday, 21 September 1983
Page: 1067

Mr SIMMONS(12.32) —At the outset, I must acknowledge the concerns expressed by the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Hicks) about the prospects of the city of Broken Hill. Like him, I have a great interest in the welfare and progress of that city, as Broken Hill was my birth place. The city of Broken Hill has made an outstanding contribution to the wealth of this nation and all governments should recognise this fact when considering the implementation of the findings of the Broken Hill Committee of Economic Review. On 12 May this year I had the privilege of delivering my maiden speech to the House. In my opening remarks I made the following comments:

I enter this Parliament at a time when my fellow Australians, having lost faith in the previous Government, placed their trust in the Government led by the Australian Labor Party's leader and now the Prime Minister.

That sense of trust, that sense of hope manifested itself initially in the National Economic Summit Conference held in April this year. Let there be no mistake about it, despite the feeble and continued attempts of the divided rabble that postures under the name of the Federal Opposition, businesses in Australia, both large and small, the trade union movement, State and local government, and the vast majority of the people of Australia embraced the concept of the Summit as evidence of their sense of trust and hope in the new Labor Government. The May economic statement was further evidence that the Australian people's judgment on 5 March was vindicated as the Treasurer (Mr Keating) began to clear some of the kamikaze economic fabric that had characterised the previous seven years of conservative rule in this place. In its place the Treasurer launched some of the economic programs to reinforce further that sense of hope and that sense of trust that I mentioned-indeed, I might say a sense of social justice-in our society.

The Government's Budget announced to the people of Australia on 23 August was a most significant statement in the very short but nonetheless impressive six months of the new Labor Government. It is reflective to ponder the community reaction to the Budget. For the first few days following the presentation of the Budget the stock exchange reaction reflected the level of business confidence on the Budget. The all ordinaries index at the Sydney Stock Exchange rose by 14 points to 708.4 in the first move above the 700 barrier since 2 July 1981. Significantly, the Sydney Morning Herald commented that brokers had indicated that the market 'now had the bit firmly between its teeth and there was nothing to stop the index beating the all time high of 746.2, recorded on 17 November 1980'. Naturally, one would not expect an all embracing reaction to every single aspect of a government's Budget. Nonetheless, it must have been politically stunning to the Opposition to pick up most newspapers in Australia on the morning after the night before. I invite honourable members to consider the following editorial comment from the Australian Financial Review of 24 August:

The first Budget of the new Labor Government . . . is a Budget for recovery.. . . .

Certainly, the Budget is not marked by recklessness or excessive risk-taking.

Later, in a leading article by Anne Summers, we read this:

In framing its first Budget, the Hawke Government has sought to strike a balance between honouring its election mandate to stimulate the economy and assist those most injured by the recession, while trying to reassure business that it is seriously addressing the inflationary risks its recovery strategy contains.

Mr McVeigh —She is looking for a job with the Prime Minister. That is all she is after.

Mr SIMMONS —The reaction of the Sydney Morning Herald is also interesting. I am sure the honourable member for Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh) will be interested in this comment from that newspaper:

The Budget passes the test set for it by the Leader of the Opposition. It establishes a framework for economic growth with lasting job opportunities.

Mr John Brown —Which leader was that-Country Party or Liberal? They have two leaders these days.

Mr SIMMONS —The Minister makes a fair comment. I am somewhat confused by public statements as well.

Mr McVeigh —On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker, I have listened with a great deal of interest--

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar) —Order! The honourable member will quickly come to the point of order.

Mr McVeigh —This is an appropriation debate. The leadership of rival parties has nothing whatsoever to do with the business before the House. I suggest that the honourable member should get back to the business.

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

Mr SIMMONS —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. The response from the Western Advocate , the daily newspaper in what is my own city now, Bathurst, is to this effect:

It is not anywhere as bad as tipped . . .

In concluding its editorial on 25 August it notes the often quoted but not entirely accurate perception by some sections of the community that Labor governments are fiscally irresponsible and says:

The Federal Government under Mr Hawke has not been a big spender as Australians have come to know recent Labor Governments. For Mr Hawke it looks like a rebuilding program, steady as she goes.

A rebuilding program is an appropriate phrase to use to describe what the Government is seeking to do following the level of destruction by the manic depressive policy of fight inflation first unflinchingly followed by the previous Fraser Government. The 1983-84 Budget is a fiscally sound document. It is a responsibly expansionary document. It is a document overwhelmingly endorsed by Australians, a fact demonstrated by the Morgan gallup poll, the results of which were published in the Bulletin of 20 September. When the question ' Altogether would you say the Federal Budget was a good budget, an average budget or a bad budget?' was posed, only 14 per cent of the people indicated that they thought the Budget was bad. I might add that only 22 per cent of the Liberal- National Party respondents in that survey indicated that they throught the Budget was terribly bad. The same poll also indicated that the level of inflationary expectations was moderating in the community.

I represent a rural and provincial electorate that has been devastated by drought for nearly five years. Thankfully the drought has now ended and all indications suggest that the 1983 wheat harvest, for example, will be a record one. Indeed, yesterday the Australian Wheat Board revised its forecast of the 1983 harvest, suggesting that it will be of between 18 million and 19 million tonnes. However, when it comes to the farm sector-whether one is concerned with communities in my electorate such as in Parkes in central western New South Wales where wheat growing is a major activity, or the orchardists at Orange, or the fat lamb producers near Oberon-one single theme abounds: It is in the long term interests of the rural sector for inflation to be minimised.

Whenever I travel throughout my electorate talking to individual rural producers or addressing meetings of organisations such as the New South Wales Live Stock and Grain Producers Association their overriding concern is the Government's ability to control inflation and inflationary expectations. Confidence is indeed a very fragile commodity. Nowhere is this more evident than among the farming community. After all, it is continually at the mercy of the vagaries of weather. I contend that there is a feeling of confidence among the rural sector. It has the drought largely behind it. The Budget deficit does not place undue strains on the money market. Should the Australian Wheat Board be forced to borrow additional funds to guarantee Australian farmers a minimum price for their wheat it now can borrow on the overseas financial markets. Despite the ramblings of certain National Party members, rural producers know that they have not been forced to bear a harsher economic burden than other sectors of the Australian economy. Much to the disgust of the National Party, the rural sector knows that in the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) it has a Minister who knows and understands the concerns and aspirations of all sectors of our great primary industries.

In addressing some specific aspects of the Appropriation Bill, I could not let this opportunity pass without commenting upon the outlays in the Budget for housing. In particular, I comment upon the contribution by the Commonwealth to the States for public housing assistance. One of the obvious and more regrettable aspects of the economic recession has been the increasing levels of demand that have outstripped the supply for public housing. Press reports only yesterday indicated that in New South Wales the demand for public housing has risen by some 11.5 per cent a year since 1981. However, it is noteworthy that the attitude of the Fraser Government did little to assist in this regard. Its approach to public housing provision was fairly typical of its miserable attitude to the needs of the disadvantaged in Australia. Significantly, while the Whitlam Government in its 1974-75 Budget devoted 1.1 per cent of total gross national product to the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement, by 1982-83 the Fraser Government had reduced this to 0.1 of one per cent. Clearly, the effect on the States of such a massive retreat by the Commonwealth was totally devastating, so much so that in New South Wales alone there are now more than 52 ,000 applications for public housing.

I congratulate the Government on its decision to increase substantially the level of assistance available to the States for public housing. This financial year there has been an increase of some 50 per cent in Commonwealth funds for this particular outlay. The Government is arresting the sorry state of neglect by the Fraser Government in the area of public housing. To those Australians about to purchase their first home after 1 October the generous levels of assistance of up to $7,000 will benefit some 37,500 first home buyers this financial year, rising to 137,500 in 1985-86. During the past few weeks I have written to every real estate agent in my electorate providing full details of the operation of this new form of assistance to first home buyers. Additionally, I have publicised the fact that this information is available from my electorate office. The response has been phenomenal. Real estate agents, who have been receiving many inquiries, have been able to provide information immediately. My office has also received countless inquiries.

I am at a loss to understand the reason for the cutbacks in housing finance by the previous Government, particularly at a time of depressed economic activity. Stimulation of the housing sector provides an impressive boost in so many other areas of economic activity. Just imagine-this year the stimulus provided under this scheme should produce sales of 37,500 additional refrigerators, 37,500 additional cooking ranges, thousands of metres of carpets, curtains, light bulbs and so on; the list continues. Many such component and white goods manufacturers are facing difficult economic times. Only last week a deputation of trade unions and management from Email Ltd in Orange met with the Government Caucus Industry Committee to express their concern about import competition, dumping and other matters related to the white goods industry. Major appliance companies such as Email welcome the initiatives of the Government in both private and public housing. Having today completed more than five years as a member of the Bathurst City Council I now wish to comment briefly upon the initiatives in the Budget aimed at raising the status of this important area of government in Australia.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar) —Order! It being 12.45 p.m., the debate is interrupted in accordance with sessional order 101A. The honourable member will have leave to continue his speech when the debate is resumed.

Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2 p.m.