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Wednesday, 10 October 1984
Page: 1564

Senator MAGUIRE(4.03) — I rise to oppose this matter of public importance raised this afternoon by the Leader of the Opposition, Senator Chaney , that Labor is taking Australia in the wrong direction. This is the most pathetic matter of public importance I have seen in my 18 months in this Parliament. It is an absolute nonsense and shows the sheer desperation of the Opposition in the lead-up to the coming election. It is very clear to observers what is happening in Australia at the moment. The Opposition is very isolated in the community. It is out of step with the people. It is very clear from the soundings that have been taken in the media in the last week or so that the people do not wish to go in the direction in which the Opposition wants to go. I think one of the factors behind that is that there is a recognition in the community that the Opposition has shifted far to the conservative right on the political spectrum. One of the reasons for that is the relatively larger number of National Party of Australia members in the coalition caucus since the last election. I think that they have imposed a more conservative position on the Opposition which is becoming more and more out of step with urbanised Australia. In any case the people of Australia had enough of the direction of the Liberal Party of Australia in the eight-year period up to 1983.

I remind honourable senators of some of the aspects of that direction which occurred in the eight years leading up to 1983. There were fewer jobs in Australia. In the last 12 months of the Fraser-Howard Government almost 190,000 jobs were destroyed. In addition, over a quarter of a million Australians lost their jobs in the last 12 months of the Fraser-Howard Government. We found, on coming to office last year, that inflation in Australia was running at over 11 per cent. Housing interest rates were at record levels-13.5 per cent, a rise of four percentage points under the Fraser-Howard Government. That Government was so uncertain about its direction that in a period of five years it introduced four different health schemes. There were record small business bankruptcies under the Fraser-Howard Government. There was a divided Australia with confrontation on most issues and, worst of all, lower living standards. Those are the sorts of directions in which the previous Administration took this country. It was a direction which led to a dead end; it was a direction which led up a no-through street. It dashed the hopes and expectations of many Australians and it was made clear by the people early last year that they did not want to travel any further in the direction of the Fraser-Howard Government. No wonder the people firmly rejected the Liberals in March last year. They said: 'We have had enough. It is time for a change'.

The essential point is that Australia now has positive direction. It knows where it is going at last. That is the difference between this Administration and the previous Administration. It is very clear that the people strongly endorse the new direction that Australia is taking and that direction, I am pleased to say, involves facing up to the real issues, not the phoney issues drummed up by the Opposition. Not even the phoney issues are looking good for the Opposition at the moment, when one looks at the opinion sounding yesterday in the Melbourne Age. It was pointed out that there was no clear advantage for the Opposition in respect of the organised crime issue that is being drummed up. People clearly believe that the government of the day is no worse at fighting organised crime than the Opposition would be. I believe the Opposition would do much better to work on formulating some real policies rather than try to dream up these phoney issues. The important function of an opposition in our society is to be the alternative government, to present alternative policies to the electorate. I am sad to say that the present Opposition is falling down very badly in that duty.

Of course the real issues known to the Australian people at the moment are jobs , jobs and more jobs, lower unemployment, lower inflation, lower interest rates, the restructuring of taxation, the level of small business bankruptcies and fewer industrial disputes. They are just a basket of real issues that I put before the Senate this afternoon. I think it is a real tribute to the Hawke Government, a real tribute to the Labor Government, that the Opposition does not really want to debate these sorts of issues. It does not really want to place the bread and butter issues of the day firmly on the political agenda. Obviously the Opposition does not do so because it knows that there is nothing in it for it.

The opinion poll in the metropolitan dailies of this morning, I think, again indicates why the Opposition does not want to debate the real issues in this country. Look at the poll this morning on economic issues. The Age published a poll which suggested that 54 per cent of the electorate saw the ALP as a better economic manager. A mere 25 per cent of the people who responded in that survey believed that the Liberal Party would make a better economic manager. That is a majority of more than 2 to 1 in favour of the present Government. I was heartened by the breakdown showing the response by businessmen and professional people who, by a margin of 49 per cent to 30 per cent, said that the Labor Party was a better economic manager than the Opposition could be. I think that they are some of the factors that have to be noted when we look at the context of this sort of matter of public importance this afternoon which focuses on the phoney issues of the day and not the real bread and butter issues facing the Australian people.

This Labor Government is taking Australia in the direction of consensus and co- operation, not confrontation. It is working for a united Australia, not a divided Australia as we saw under the Fraser-Howard Government. It is working for a situation in which Australians are working together and not against each other and, importantly, it has set in train policies for an expanded economy with growth and better utilisation of our resources. It is also working for policies which provide for greater equity and fairness in the community. It is reapplying the ability to pay principle in taxation which I think is long overdue in this country.

Let us look at some of the results of those policies and strategies in operation. As a result of co-operation in the labour market rather than confrontation, working days lost through industrial disputes are at low levels. Business, trade unions and professional groups are all working together under the prices and incomes accord. That accord has provided the most important benefit to the people-an expanding economy with low inflationary pressures. It has resulted in 10 per cent real economic growth in the 12 months to the June quarter 1984-the highest in the world and the highest in this country for a quarter of a century.

There are more jobs in Australia. There are more people at work in both the private and the public sectors of the economy. I respond to Senator Chaney and Senator Martin by pointing out that the most important way of encouraging thrift and saving is to ensure that most people have jobs. It is almost irrelevant to talk of other factors which affect the level of saving. The most important single determinant of how much people can save is their level of income. I am pleased to say that there are many more thousands of people at work in Australia now and, therefore, able to save than there were when this Government came to office. In the first 12 months of the Hawke Government, 190,000 extra Australians had jobs in the private and public sectors. That is to be compared with a reduction of a similar magnitude in the last 12 months of the Fraser- Howard Government. There was a reduction of 32,000 in the number of unemployed people in the first 12 months of the Hawke Government. Compare that with the rise of over 250,000, which I mentioned earlier, in the last 12 months of the previous Administration.

Another factor which encourages thrift and saving is the inflation rate. We are now presiding over a situation in which inflation and the rise in the consumer price index are less than 7 per cent a year. When we took office the inflation rate was 11 1/2 per cent. That reduction in the inflation rate will have a large effect on thrift and saving, which I understand the Liberal Party professes to be so keen to promote.

Housing loan interest rates have come down under this Government-another way in which households are able to have more disposable income and more ability to save. Interest rates on home mortgages have been reduced from 13 1/2 per cent early last year to 11 1/2 per cent now.

The taxation structure has been re-scheduled under this Government. We have introduced the new 25c in the dollar tax rate on lower incomes. From 1 November that will increase the disposable incomes of lower and middle income families. The Government has been cracking down on tax dodgers to provide more revenue and the ability to restructure the tax burden later. The direction in which we want to take Australia is one of ensuring that our income tax is no longer a voluntary tax for the rich, as it was under the previous Government.

Under the present Government, as a result of the direction in which we are taking Australia, we have seen a sharp reduction in the level of bankruptcies. In answer to a question in this chamber recently, the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) pointed out that in the last financial year there was a 5 per cent reduction nationally in the level of bankruptcies. I recall Senator Martin saying that she wanted to see the dynamism of small business left unfettered. Good heavens! How can she say that when under the Government that she supported business bankruptcies were at record levels? Small businesses went to the wall at the fastest rate in recorded history in Australia, so how can she talk about the dynamism of small business? Under the present Government, the number of bankruptcies has been reduced. Apart from an expanding economy, that is the most important factor that will allow the dynamism of that sector to continue and to grow.

As a result of the direction of its policies, this Government has provided for more equity in education by making more resources available to the poorest schools. It has focused social security benefits on the neediest members of the community. I instance sole parent families, pensioners with children, and families renting accommodation in the private market. A continuation of those directions will be good news for Australians. The contrast with the performance of the previous Government is stark. The contrast with what we understand of the present Opposition's policies is stark. Going in the direction that we are led to believe the Liberals would take us would be like going on a journey into unknown territory without maps; a journey with few signposts to lead the way- those signposts being a lack of policies on the part of what should be the alternative government. Most importantly, following the directions that the Liberals would have us follow would be just going on a broken journey, because there will be a change of driver soon. It is no wonder that the Liberals cannot take the people with them in drumming up these phoney issues. It is no wonder that the Liberals and the National Party are so isolated, and it is no wonder that they are doomed to failure on 1 December.