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Thursday, 18 October 1984
Page: 1973

Senator COOK —My question is also directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. In view of current media comment on the subject of deregulation, can the Minister say what the Government has done and what it intends to do on this subject? When considering whether to deregulate, what principles has the Government brought to bear on the matter and what is the Government's record in this area, compared with that of previous administrations?

Senator BUTTON —I am surprised that Senator Cook should ask me to make a comparison which will inevitably be odious, as comparisons often are. The Government is very much committed to deregulation in the business sector--

Senator Missen —Since when?

Senator BUTTON —I have been asked: Since when? If honourable senators will wait I will deal with that.

Senator Peter Rae —Since you lost the battle at the Australian Labor Party conference?

Senator BUTTON —I do not know what Senator Peter Rae is doing here. I thought I asked him to stay in the car and bark at strangers, not come in here yapping at me.

The PRESIDENT —Order! I suggest that the Leader of the Government withdraw that remark.

Senator Chaney —On a point of order Mr President: It was only yesterday that Senator Button was deeply affronted at being told he had a big mouth, and he sought the withdrawal of that remark. I agree that it is rather ludicrous to say that Senator Button has a big mouth, but I must point out that the sensitivity he showed on that occasion sits ill with the abusive attitude he is adopting in Question Time now. I suggest that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander and that you, Mr President, should ask him to be polite and to let his small mouth operate in the areas for which he is ministerially responsible.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Last week I made a plea for questioners to shorten their questions and for Ministers to shorten their answers. It appears to me that questions and answers are both getting longer and so, too, are the points of order. I suggest that Ministers, in responding to questions, should ignore the interjections, and that way we would give everyone a fairer go.

Senator BUTTON —Senator Cook asked me a thoughtful question about business deregulation. I said that the Government is totally committed to business deregulation and that that task will be difficult but one which we will tackle vigorously and comprehensively. We have to do that. Much of Australian industry is burdened by excessive regulation. These things constitute roadblocks to the competitiveness of Australian industry. Last week a meeting was held between various business organisations, various departments of the Government, and so on , in which we discussed these questions, and it was agreed that there would be an input from the business community and an input from government into an ongoing working party considering these matters. I have had discussions about them with the Chairman of the Small Business Council because regulation is an area which bears excessively on many aspects of small business.

The Government's record on deregulation has, I think, been widely applauded in relation to deregulation of the financial sector. It has even been applauded by the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party of Australia, Mr Howard. The applause came from someone who perhaps recognised that in seven years in government he did not quite have the courage to do these things which he so frequently advocated, but which this Government has done. We have an impeccable record in the course that we have taken in respect of deregulation of the financial sector for the benefit generally of industry during the time that we have been in office. That contrasts very sharply with the Opposition's record, to which I referred in passing. I refer to a report in today's Canberra Times of an interview with the Opposition spokesman on industry matters. When asked yesterday about what the former Government had actually done in the area of regulation, Senator Peter Rae is quoted as saying:

Yes, I confess that we tried to deregulate but we didn't deregulate very successfully.

In another part of the reported interview, he said that the Review of Commonwealth Functions had been 'a disaster'. Senator Peter Rae was operating in an environment in which one company director told him that this Labor Government had done more for business than the Liberal Party had done while it was in office and that he intended to vote Labor for that reason. Senator Peter Rae was also allegedly questioned by other businessmen, one of whom noted that there was a general feeling that the Liberal Party had produced a great deal of rhetoric, but was very weak on substance and performance.

Opposition senators interjecting-

Senator BUTTON —As you requested, Mr President, I will ignore the interjections. But that is the difference between the appearance and the reality, the appearance of the performance of this Opposition, which has been appalling and which reflects its seven years' appalling performance in government.