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Monday, 25 March 1985
Page: 741

Senator KNOWLES(8.03) —May I begin by expressing my sense of honour at being elected to this chamber as the first female senator on the coalition side from Western Australia for 23 years, and as the second woman from my State to represent the Liberal Party of Australia in the Senate. It would be remiss of me not to recognise the effort and support of a number of State and Federal parliamentarians, members of the Party and close friends who assisted me prior to and during this campaign. I am proud to be a member of a chamber that must function not only as a traditional House of review but also and, most importantly, as a States House. As a Liberal senator I am firmly committed to both of these roles. I am a federalist simply because I believe that it is the only system of government that will enable Australia to reach its full potential. Concentration of power and decision making not only leads to inefficiency, but also threatens freedom itself. It is never healthy for legislative power to be centralised at one source and we have seen the majority of Australians agree with that belief by their overwhelming rejection of referenda proposals to do just that. State parliaments with full power to legislate in certain well-defined areas are an essential balance to the national Parliament, no matter how good its intentions. It is a balance that can continue to operate even when governments of the same party hold office at both levels.

The majority of matters closer to our daily lives have traditionally belonged with State parliaments. It is very unlikely that personal freedom will be advanced by transferring more of these functions to this Parliament. As a Western Australian, moreover, I am highly conscious of the role of the States in developing our country. Because of pressure from a former Liberal Government of Western Australia, the embargo on the export of iron ore was lifted in 1963, to the enormous benefit of Australia as a whole. The Western Australian governments led by Sir David Brand and Sir Charles Court possessed the entrepreneurial skill to attract the capital to get projects off the ground. State governments to a large degree stand or fall by their success in economic development and it makes sense for the Federal Parliament to let them get on with the job. We need only ask the question whether the State of Western Australia would have achieved the same level of growth in the 1960s and 1970s had resource development been centralised in Canberra to receive the obvious answer. Whenever in recent years the people of Western Australia have been asked by way of referenda whether they wish to hand greater power to Canberra over the States, or the House of Representatives over the Senate, they have returned a decisive no. I intend to keep faith with their wishes as their Senate representative. There is something fundamentally undemocratic in the current trend of eroding federalism by indirect means, by legislation rather than by referendum, by manipulating the external affairs power of the Commonwealth and by executive action.

One area where it is essential for State parliaments to make their own decisions is in the area of Aboriginal land rights. As a Western Australian Liberal senator I have been elected on the policy that land in this country should be available on the same basis to all Australians regardless of race and according to State laws. If we believe in one land and one law, we simply cannot consent to the granting of at least 47 per cent of the land area of Western Australia to 2.4 per cent of its population because of their racial origin. Let there be no mistake, we are not opposing land rights merely because there was a suggestion they may restrict exploration and mining, important as this industry is to my State. We are reflecting the view of the great majority of Western Australians who see land rights as unjust, divisive and wrong in principle. It is wrong for racially identified groups of Australians to have ownership of such national symbols and assets as Bungle Bungle in the Kimberleys and Ayers Rock, and to be in a position of dictating who can even take photographs there. We are truly living in a divided country when permits are required to enter large parts of it, such as the Pitjantjatjara land, and the problem changes little if permits are forgone but the law of trespass operates over this same public owned land.

The fight to maintain equal rights for all Australians is a matter of social justice and should be a high priority with all of us. Division has already been sown among Australians by the 1984 Aboriginal heritage legislation that seeks to protect the traditions and beliefs of one group of Australians above those of their countrymen. The Federal Government has claimed the power to pursue this goal by depriving Australians of the commercial use of land or of access to it through a ministerial declaration that a site and surrounding area are 'significant'. It is not in the interests of Aboriginal Australians that they be set apart from the general community, trapped and frozen into a pattern of collective title and living that may not meet their wishes in the future and that will preclude individual advancement. Some Aboriginal Western Australians are already saying that they do not want collective rights that will only arouse resentment among their fellow citizens. Their need is for assistance in raising their health and education skills, acquiring property and taking their place in our society. Least of all do they want governments to uphold and prolong the influence of tribal law that is profoundly alien to our fundamental concept of justice. There is no place for a system of law that ignores individual intention and personal moral culpability and inflicts mutilation and other savage punishment. Land rights cannot assist those Aboriginal Australians living in a detribalised state in the general community, and may prove a hindrance to those receiving them. The majority of Australians realise that there is no justice in basing policy on compensation for alleged past grievances. Two wrongs have always equalled two wrongs. One section of the Australian people cannot be given special treatment because of deprivation suffered by earlier generations. It needs, and should receive, special assistance in such areas as health and education, but it must be on the basis of present day need, not historical wrongs. The Liberal Senate team in Western Australia campaigned on the theme of equal rights to land and received the highest vote in Australia. I shall resist any legislation that divides Australia on racial grounds, in full accord with the policy of the Western Australian division of the Liberal Party.

In the pursuit of justice for the people of Australia, any new senator must pay special attention to our system of taxation, as it stands now and as it may be changed in the near future. Too often it is somehow assumed that taxation is a morally neutral area, a simple exercise in the practicality of raising necessary revenue. I, however, recognise that taxation policy can have a profound social impact for either good or evil. For that reason, it would be an appallingly retrograde step for probate or capital gains taxes to be introduced as part of a scheme of tax 'reform'. Probate is a nice word for a tax on death, a time of private grief that should be free of all tax demands. The seizure of assets by the state at such a time has correctly been called a moral obscenity. It is a matter of great pride to me that a Liberal government after 1977 abolished this immoral tax at a national level. Those who now seek its reintroduction are not merely concerned with increasing the revenue. Their objective is the enforced redistribution of wealth. In pursuing that, they are prepared to deny a person's fundamental human right to acquire wealth and bequeath it to his children or to anyone near and dear.

Death duties have a particularly destructive effect on the members of the rural sector, whose assets are seldom readily convertible to cash, yet who most need to maintain continuity of ownership. If we want to eradicate the family farm, death duties are the surest means of doing so. Equally, as a Liberal I believe that there is no shame in inheritance. Similarly, the threat of a capital gains tax bears hardest on the person-often an ordinary wage earner buying a block of land-who has the courage to take a speculative risk. As it stands now, our taxation system gives the individual or the small business little help in acquiring and amassing modest amounts of capital. Death duties, wealth taxes and capital gains taxes will make this almost impossible. Australia needs the taxation of capital as badly as it needs a typhoid epidemic. Australia needs a sound taxation system that gives incentive to individuals to provide for themselves and their families, rather than one which creates a disincentive which ultimately weights heavily on all taxpayers in the form of social welfare.

The assets test has a similarly destructive effect in discouraging Australians from building up capital and other assets for their own enjoyment in retirement and to pass on to another generation. Most insidious is the option that allows a pension to be granted at the price of plundering an estate by the government after death. The assets test has involved the greatest denial of choice in its treatment of farming couples who enjoy little income from a property worked by their children, but who have been forced to resume control of farms, sell them on the open market, or forgo needed pensions.

Taxation can be socially destructive, but it can also have a positive effect in promoting real social justice. The last election campaign saw this attempted in the policy of the Liberal Party that advocates the averaging of income between husband and wife for taxation. I am sure that one day this will become law, giving true freedom of choice to wives and mothers, and to some men too, as to whether they enter the work force or remain at home, or at what stage of their children's development they may seek work. This kind of reform gives real help to the single income family that too often gets left behind in the 1980s economy.

In accordance with the philosophy on which I was elected, I will be fighting to increase freedom of choice for the people of my State and country in all areas of government policy. A most pressing need is in the field of health, where, under Medicare, our freedom of choice has been savagely eroded. If we rely on Medicare we lose the right to treatment by our own doctors in hospital, or we lose the ability to have so-called elective surgery because of outrageous queues in public hospitals. If we are unlucky enough to live away from big cities and hospitals with salaried doctors, as do some 300,000 Western Australians, we cannot be guaranteed public hospital treatment and have little choice but to pay for private hospital cover in addition to the Medicare levy. I might add that this lack of free choice among rural Western Australians falls hardest on the lower to middle income group or those who are really suffering under declining profitability on the land, both of whom were promised better and cheaper health care under Medicare.

If we decide to take private insurance, paying more in total in an effort to maintain our standard of health care, our freedom of choice is still limited. We do not currently enjoy fundamental free choice to insure for the difference between the fee and the 85 per cent rebate. I simply do not believe that governments should dictate to anyone what they can and cannot insure. To that end, I wholly support the Liberal policy to allow gap insurance and ultimately restore true freedom of choice so that those privately insured may opt out of Medicare. For those who are old and chronically ill and have maintained private cover, Medicare limitations hit them when the 35-day rule forces them out of public or private hospitals. Care and recuperation of patients should be given paramount priority instead of this inhuman approach.

By denying freedom of choice, by encouraging the over-use of some medical services and by discouraging self-provision, governments have decreased the quality of health services and increased their cost to the community, which pays the ultimate bills through taxation. All too often, health policy is inspired by the wish to destroy the traditional independent practitioner and the close doctor-patient relationship, by stealth if not by direct assault. Better health care for all Australians, particularly in country areas, is currently a secondary consideration, when it should be the object of the system.

As a Liberal senator, I shall be looking to maximise freedom in the private sector of the economy, both in the cause of personal liberty and in order to create wealth for all Australians. Economic growth was never enhanced by high taxes and heavy regulation, and government attempts to protect inefficient industries through tariffs cannot but damage both efficient manufacturers and the export industries that are so vital to Western Australia. In the long run, one cannot go on restricting economic freedom without, one day, also threatening political freedom. The free market is a source of knowledge and a warning system that becomes blunted when governments over-regulate. It is also the means of allowing not only the entrepreneur but also the consumer to have the maximum amount of choice in deciding how and where his money is to be spent. An over-regulated economy works to the detriment of us all, including the poorest.

Having worked in the small business sector, I am conscious that over many years it has been the recipient of much vague goodwill but little net positive assistance from governments. A cynic might say that governments so love small business that they are determined to keep it small! While it is acknowledged that the small business area is the largest employer in Australia, not enough is made of its potential as a vehicle for economic recovery. In the United States of America the value of goods and services produced by small business alone is greater than the gross national product of West Germany and is exceeded only by the GNP of Japan and the Soviet Union. Small business can be more flexible and adaptive than large business and meets market demands more quickly. It produces more efficiently when demand is either abnormally high or low, and it attracts innovators. Here in Australia there is a desperate need to assist small business by providing greater flexibility in negotiating wages and wage related costs, including penalty rates; a dual assessment of company and direct personal tax; incentives for increased research and development; deregulation of interest rates and generally getting government off the back of small business.

In addressing the Senate for the first time I must place on record my concern at the erosion of traditional values and standards of behaviour in the Australian community. This is far more than a mere matter of regret on the part of those who would class themselves as social conservatives. The decay of family life, of courtesy and of the sense of obligation and responsibility is a major cause of our national welfare bill and of the lawlessness that afflicts the streets of hitherto quiet cities like Perth. Sadly, this is an area where it is far easier for governments to be destructive rather than to restore the situation. We will require a change of national will before progress can be made. At a most basic level community leaders such as parliamentarians can at least play a part in trying to re-instil the courtesies of life among young Australians. The young may then grow up with a sense of consideration for others, without which callous indifference or even violence can become a habit of mind and of conduct. We need to ensure that while education systems are broad, they are based on traditional disciplines and ethics, instilling a real sense of both civic and personal reponsibility. The value of Christian ethics is appreciated far beyond the ranks of church-goers, and we should cease apologising for them.

Too many Australians are being taught to demand rights rather than accept duties, and the agencies of government must often bear part of the blame. Only a revived sense of individual responsibility will prevent the desertion of spouses and children, the failure to provide for families after separation, the rejection of adolescents by their families, and the neglect of the aged. Governments must walk a fine line in assisting the victims of this moral disintegration while avoiding action that fosters the abdication of personal responsibility.

I add here, Mr President, that such legislation as the Sex Discrimination Act falls into the trap of regulating social conduct by law. Proponents of affirmative action would have the manner of acting towards a person of the opposite sex removed from the area of individual courtesy to become a matter of public law. In turn zealots anxious to impose their own social values gain comfortable jobs regulating the lives of their fellow Australians. The freedom of choice of employers, whether business people or voluntary bodies, is compromised when they are threatened with expensive litigation should they refuse an unsuitable applicant for genuine reasons. There certainly have been, and in some cases still are, areas of gross discrimination against women, but any attempt to supposedly 'even the numbers' by law as opposed to ability should be totally rejected.

The Liberal Party is a firm advocate of freedom of choice and believes that freedom should also apply without equivocation to whether women pursue a career in the work force or remain at home. This personal decision should be made without any intervention from either governments or pressure groups.

Another major concern of Western Australians is the defence of our nation and in particular of its western third. A State and a nation so dependent on overseas exports needs far more than a coastguard service to protect its sea communications. Above all we have to be conscious of the reality of Soviet naval power, enjoying the support facility of Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam and now concentrating on expanding her capability in amphibious warfare. Any study of history shows that Soviet power is exercised free of the moral constraints observed by Western democracies. In the quest for world domination the Soviets have never hesitated to employ brutality and force, and the record of Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan must not be forgotten.

These unappealing truths are avoided by those talking glibly of neutralism, as though Australia were in the more comfortable strategic position of Switzerland or Sweden. There is a far greater wisdom among the masses of ordinary Australians who realise that we need to maintain alliances that are based on a community of purpose and outlook besides basic self-interest. Anti-Americanism only cheapens genuine Australian nationalism; it is an intellectual disease. No alliance can bring total security, but the United States is the only power with the will and the ability to assist us. In turn this relationship as a firm but independent ally gives Australia the effective means of contributing to the solution of world problems.

Finally, Mr President, I must express the profound hope for a renewed sense of patriotism in Australia. I refer to something deeper than mere rejoicing over sporting triumphs; rather the quiet affirmation of the values, and the belief in law and liberty, that have sustained our nation for 85 years. These values are so aptly symbolised by a national flag that most electors support in its time honoured form, and that should be the focus not of debate, but of pride and unity.

I extend my congratulations to all the other new senators and wish them well in their endeavours in the years to come. Mr President, I thank you and all honourable senators for the courtesies extended to me on this occasion.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Before I call Senator Black, I remind honourable senators that this will be his initial contribution to debates in this chamber and I ask that the normal courtesies be extended to him.