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Tuesday, 31 March 1987
Page: 1779

Mrs DARLING(4.13) —The terms of the matter of public importance are indeed ironic for they suggest some notion on the part of the Opposition that in the comparative sense the policies of this Government are not as successful as those advocated and practised by the Liberal and National parties. The honourable member for Dawson (Mr Braithwaite) waxed eloquent, in opposition, on the effects of high and increasing interest rates. I wish to quote from the West Australian of 27 May 1982 to show just how this Opposition fared when it was in government. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard), then the Treasurer, told a Perth Chamber of Commerce luncheon that any attempt by the Fraser, Government to control or regulate interest rates would be doomed to failure. Mr Howard then told the Chamber:

If there were a simple easy way of lowering interest rates without jeopardising our anti-inflationary fight, then this Government would have long since implemented that solution.

He went on to say:

The regrettable fact is that the sheer complexity of the Australian financial system and its linkages with those of other nations make it plain that any attempt to control or regulate all interest rates in Australia must be doomed to failure.

Mr Howard said:

This is not a state of affairs which we welcome in either an economic or a political sense. The Government and myself receive more flak on the subject of interest rates than on any other issue.

This demonstrates the complete about-face that occurs when people such as those in the ranks opposite discuss economic affairs from the comfort of opposition. The honourable member for Dawson also decried any effect of external forces on the Australian economy; yet in 1982 Mr Howard said:

In 1981 for the first time in 20 years world trade failed to grow . . . Such trends, if allowed to continue will naturally sap the strength of western nations in a social as well as an economic and political sense.

Those trends have continued and I venture to say that if the Hawke Government had not, thank God, come into power at the time it did in March 1983, instead of looking at the peripherals of a push to get the economy back on the tracks again, Australians would indeed be facing the catastrophe of a full-blown economic depression.

The United States Conference Board forecast on Australia, published today, adds to the irony of the Opposition putting forward this particular matter of public importance at this particular time. I quote from the Canberra Times:

A US economic forecasting body has predicted that Australia's future economic performance will be equal to the strongest in the industrialised world.

The US Conference Board, which uses data compiled by Australian economic researchers, has shown the Australian economy's leading index-the index of future economic conditions-as growing by 13 per cent.

To approach this matter of public importance one must, therefore, ask: How does Australia compare today with the scenario which would have existed had the Hawke Government not put a brake on what was shaping up to the most catastrophic recession ever seen by the Australian people?

Mr Robert Brown —We are way ahead.

Mrs DARLING —As my colleague the honourable member for Charlton says, this Government is way ahead. The answer has to be that the Hawke Government's record in averting economic disaster and putting Australia back on the tracks is one of outstanding success. The success is all the more obvious when one asks whether the policies practised by the Leader of the Opposition during his unhappy term as Treasurer in any way stand up to the challenges facing our economy today. The answer must be a resounding no. No one doubts that this country is facing difficult economic circumstances but these difficulties have come largely from external forces and also from the adjustments made necessary by years of mismanagement and neglect by Liberal-National Party governments.

Ordinary Australians recall all too well the days of the Fraser-Howard Government in which economic growth actually stopped. It stopped for the first time early in 1983, when massive unemployment not only denied thousands of Australians the chance to support their families but it did so with a virtual acquiescence of the then Treasurer and now Leader of the Liberal Party, whose Party in government did nothing to introduce practical programs such as job creation programs. In fact in papers put out recently the Opposition has claimed that within its first hundred days of government it would do away with the Commonwealth employment program, the highly successful job creation scheme which has been introduced by the Hawke Government. Treasurer Howard presided over an era when a new phase was, to the previous Government's shame, added to our vocabulary-the infamous and unfair title `dole bludger'. That is all it did to assist people who were out of jobs in those times. It presided over a time when tax rip-offs went unpunished and when the burden of tax fell on ordinary Australians. In all the time difficult decisions about our industries, wages, prices and taxation were avoided, neglected or forced on low income earners and the unemployed.

These circumstances should be compared with the record of the Hawke Labor Government. Despite a loss of over $6 billion in our national income-a loss for which it cannot be held to blame-this Government has been able to create over 720,000 new jobs. It has consistently reduced the Budget deficit. It has slashed that deficit. It has halved the number of days lost through industrial disputes. Ordinary Australians will remember the times when day after day they would read of strikes in the daily newspapers. The Hawke Government, through a co-operative policy, has halved the number of days lost through industrial disputes. It has also lessened the tax burden on ordinary Australians through a comprehensive reform of our once archaic tax system. In addition, there has been considerable reforms and improvements in areas such as health, child care, youth services, education and the status of women. The essence of this matter of public importance, therefore, comes down to one point: The Australian people are given a choice between a government which overcomes economic difficulties through sensible policies and a loose collective of conservatives with an appalling track record of non-achievement.

Let us just compare what the coalition is actually advocating to see whether what it offers comes anywhere near what this Government is achieving. Tax is one of the most vitally important aspects of our economy. It is not only the means by which government services are financed; it is also an instrument of equality and fairness in our society. This Government, having inherited a tax system riddled with loopholes, rip-offs and bottom of the harbour schemes, went to work on the most effective program of reform ever undertaken. The results of that reform have been beneficial to all sections of the community.

Income tax cuts have been provided to ordinary Australians through revenue derived from the long term use of fringe benefits and other tax measures. There has been a complete overhaul of the imputation of dividends to provide investors, particularly the vitally important small business sector, with a fair tax system which injects much needed incentive into the private sector. From 1 July there will also be an easing of the income test limits for pensioners to free them from some of the taxation poverty traps which have limited their ability to earn extra income. All these reforms that have been introduced by the Hawke Government reflect the common principle of fairness and equity.

But what does the Opposition have to offer? If one sifts amongst the confusing rhetoric of the deeply divided sections of the Liberal and National parties, one finds that we have been given two possible policies-a flat tax or a consumption tax. Honourable members hardly need reminding of the regressive and unfair nature of both these proposals. I feel that it is an abhorrence that the coalition should be considering such alternatives while also suggesting the abolition of the tax on fringe benefits and free lunches, and the abolition of other measures which relieve the tax burden of low and middle income families. A flat tax helps no one but the rich, and let no one say otherwise. Analysis has shown that under a flat tax system any worker who earns less than $27,000 would be worse off, while those above this level would pay less tax. For example, a person on an income of $12,500 would have to pay over $900 more a year in tax.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) -Order! The honourable member's time has expired. The discussion is concluded. Before calling the Minister for Science, I point out that during the contribution of the honourable member for Mackellar in this debate I drew his attention to the fact that members should be referred to by their title or electorate, not their names. The House would seem to have come to the practice, however, that members refer to governments as the Fraser Government or the Hawke Government, and refer to Budgets as the Howard Budget or the Keating Budget and I would not want my remarks to be construed as being in conflict with that practice.

Mr Carlton —With your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker: I took that to be the case because Madam Speaker has admitted a number of matter of public importance statements which had wording of that kind.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —My recollection was that during the debate you referred to the Treasurer as Keating and I did not pull you up at that time. I call the Minister for Science.