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Thursday, 10 May 1990
Page: 346

Mr SNOW(9.40) —Mr Deputy Speaker, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Reith) has great courtroom flair. He can convince us that black is white and if I were in trouble with the law, he would be the first one I would go to. He even has convinced millions of Australians to vote against the referendum which meant that the people would be properly compensated for land that was acquired by State governments. Now, right along the route of the very fast train, people are complaining that State governments do not have to properly compensate them. I wish a lot of Australians had thought about that when they were voting in the referendum. So he is pretty good at looking good.

But, Mr Deputy Speaker, when you actually look at the arguments of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition things do not look so good. Just look at this list of amendments that have been put out by the honourable member. First of all, he complains about additional gross expenditure. The same Party was supporting a massive blow-out in the pharmaceutical benefits scheme, from $800m about a year ago to $1.3 billion at the moment and possibly another 25 per cent added in the next year. The cost has escalated 25 per cent a year and yet the Opposition members were not really prepared to say how they would deal with the costs and they certainly were not going to tackle the matter in any courageous way.

During the election they made plenty of suggestions for increasing expenditure-on roads, for instance. My neighbour, the honourable member for Gilmore (Mr Sharp), talked about increased expenditure on roads, as did a lot of other Opposition parliamentarians. They had plenty of suggestions about increasing gross expenditure. The honourable member talks about Budget cutbacks. That is not what they gave us when we came to power in 1983. There was no evidence of Budget cutbacks. We inherited a $9 billion deficit, which has now been turned into a surplus of over $9 billion by this Government.

The honourable member talks about labour market and micro-economic reform. At the same time he talks about the pilots. What sort of situation would we be in if we had done what honourable members opposite wanted us to do with regard to the pilots? They would have left us with an airline industry which would not deal with competition, which could not be deregulated successfully.

The honourable member talks about foreign debt. We had years of conservatism when we accepted high commodity prices, increased protection and created inefficient industries. That is what the previous Government left us with. Honourable members opposite are living in the past. They will not tell us what they would do. The Leader of the Opposition (Dr Hewson) did not tell us this afternoon what they would do. They did just what they did during the election campaign-criticising the Government all the time but not actually coming up with concrete plans themselves. I believe that is why they did not succeed in getting into government in very difficult economic times. Tonight the Deputy Leader of the Opposition did not tell us what they would do. All he did was criticise.

National Party members would love to tell us what we ought to do. They would love to tell us about increased expenditure on roads and in other areas. But at the moment they are very much the tail on the dog which is hardly wagging. Their numbers have suffered. We have an influx into this House of people like the honourable member for Barker (Mr McLachlan) who appeared on a platform with me in Cooma and argued for less expenditure on roads. There will be some difficult times for the Opposition ahead.

Honourable members opposite talked about expenditure cuts of $300m during the election campaign but it was difficult to tell-we could not tell and the people could not tell-where those expenditure cuts were to come from. They talked about abolishing unemployment benefits. They talked about people staying on benefits all their lives. We are getting rid of unemployment benefits altogether-not after six months or a year. We are revolutionising the whole system so that people are paid if they are prepared to train. We are taking a completely different approach, getting away from the approach of the dollar.

The sort of thing the Opposition would do would really hit people over 40, 45 and 50 years of age who have worked all their lives-conscientious workers-and who have been retrenched. I could give numerous examples, Mr Deputy Speaker. No doubt you could, too. These people exist in country towns. They have been retrenched and cannot find other jobs. They have been trained specifically in a particular type of job and cannot adapt to another type of job. The Opposition would wipe them off unemployment benefits after a few months. We will not do that. We will ask them to take the opportunity to train.

One of the great things that happened today was the legislation that was put through on training by the Minister for Employment, Education and Training (Mr Dawkins) so that we get away from the old concepts. Having an unemployment benefit but then suddenly abolishing it and putting people off the dole would cost more in welfare. Or does the Opposition want what happened in the United States? One can go there today and see people walking around with their worldly possessions in shopping trolleys. I have seen it in Los Angeles and New York. People who have been taken off benefits or thrown out of institutions are just walking around the streets. That is the sort of thing the Opposition wants. Opposition members think that is good economics but they do not consider people. One of the good things about the Appropriation Bills tonight is that we are actually spending money on important areas like this.

Honourable members opposite tell us about how there is conflict in the Government. It is nothing like the conflict in the Opposition parties. We have listened to Senator Walsh. He has been a great factor in what this Government has done, uniquely, since 1983. We have tackled a whole range of inherited macro-economic problems and now micro-economic problems. At the same time we have minimised the effect on unemployment. It has been the unique contribution of this Government that it was not prepared to have wholesale unemployment at the sorts of levels we had under the previous administration.

Honourable members opposite talked about the need for higher wages. They said that they are the party for higher wages. Would they get higher wages through their system of enterprise bargaining? I can see what would happen in towns like Bombala and Braidwood, in the electorate of Eden-Monaro. One could think of similar towns in north Queensland in the electorate of the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Lindsay), who is in the House tonight, and similar towns in the electorates of many honourable members. In these towns people do not have a choice. If the boss says to them, `Sorry Mary', or `Sorry Bill', I can only give you $5 an hour; that is the minimum legislated amount I can pay you, that is enterprise bargaining. They have little choice.

Less scrupulous people would use that system to force people into taking lower incomes. Other people with more scruples would be forced into the system to keep their costs down so that they could compete. The highly unionised people in the cities would be able to take advantage of enterprise bargaining and get higher wages, but not the people in small country towns, not the non-unionised, women or the disadvantaged. That is why we adhere to the system of arbitration and why we will not support a system of enterprise bargaining which is divorced from having basic awards in each area.

The Supply Bills have given political assassins an axe to remove governments, yet they give life to administration. That is what we are doing tonight. Expansive policies which took Australia into long overdue urban and regional development were reflected in the Supply Bills of the Whitlam Government, as was the historic 1975 refusal of Supply under the sensible Hayden Budget.

Supply Bills often make history. The Supply Bills from 1975 to 1983 reflected the uncomfortable changes in the Liberal Party. The National Party just tagged along. The dry forces began the development of philosophies which are much more evident now in this Liberal Party of the Thirty-Sixth Parliament. But unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately for country people, with the loss of Charles Blunt and John Stone, the National Party of today is back where it was. In total, the conservative parties are a confusing conglomerate. That is the dilemma of the conservative parties today. We will see this brought out on the conservative side in the next years of this Thirty-Sixth Parliament.

Even in difficult times many Australians have found the alternative to Labor too confusing and too unstable and have not not been prepared to accept it. There are problems and major philosophical differences within the Liberal Party, but especially between the Liberal Party and the National Party. They are trying to amalgamate in some areas, knowing full well that, if they do, there will always be some rural rump in some area--

Dr Bob Woods —Which area?

Mr SNOW —In Victoria, and I believe that in Western Australia there is an attempt to form even a Liberal-National Party branch. It could not exactly be called a love match between the Liberal and National parties in Victoria. I can recall Victorian members of the National Party being opposed to the commitment in Vietnam and giving preferences to Labor. I can recall them being in government with the Australian Labor Party sitting behind them and the Liberal Party in Opposition. There is a long history in Victoria that will make that match very difficult. It certainly will not be a love match.

If the Nationals and Liberals unite, they are condemned to lose ground in country areas. Local Country Party people will come up again because there is a conflict. The Liberals want to adopt the user-pay principle and they support a privatisation, while the Nationals say that they do not mind talking about deregulation as long as it does not mean getting rid of Telecom Australia, as long as the cross-subsidisation does not stop and as along as they continue to get their road and rail services in the country.

The message that the National Party finds so hard to get across sometimes is that the biggest proportion of our exports comes from country areas and it is worth Telecom cross-subsidising. If the Liberal Party wants to sell off the lucrative parts of Telecom and perhaps Australia Post and to sell off enterprises such as the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation in Cooma and take people from the country, put up country costs or taxes or reduce services, or the lot, National Party people know that there will be great difficulties. The future ideological direction of the coalition has to be seen to be in a great deal of doubt.

In contrast, through the Supply and Appropriation Bills this Government has begun to implement the important policies that were set out before the 1990 election. Let us look briefly at some of the things that have been announced in this Parliament in the last two days. Regarding training, employers with national payrolls of 200,000 and more will be required to spend one per cent on eligible training exercises. They will have a wide range of options to choose from, including making donations to institutions if they do not want to have structured training for their employees. But they will be required to contribute. This will mean that we will be able to move along the road of getting away from the dole concept. We will be able to get rid of the dole and give people training opportunities. They will get paid if they are prepared to train.

The increases in non-pension income before paying tax, which we announced pre-election, were dealt with in legislation introduced yesterday. Non-profit making sporting bodies and community service organisations are given tax exemption through legislation that has been introduced in the last two days. By giving incentives to young people to continue studying we have got rid of the terrible gap that existed between the time when people left school and the time when they got a job. People have got into the rut of unemployment because of that gap after they left school. We are stopping that from happening by giving young people an incentive to continue to study and by insisting on training. We are not just saying, `You can train if you want to'. Unemployment benefit no longer exists. They must train. They will get paid for training that will lead to a job.

We are giving people incentives to take out superannuation. These incentives will give them security and get us away from all the tests that we have to apply continually as the number of people who are living longer increases. The life expectation of all of us is much longer. If we rely only on pensions the tests will have to get harder. We do not want firmer assets tests and income tests: we want people to get a just return through paying into superannuation schemes. Of course, people will continue to get a pension but it will not be as expensive to pay them. I refer to those who may have been carrying out home duties or involved in other areas and have not had superannuation. Superannuation schemes will give Australia a large amount of savings that can be used to develop Australia. That is very important.

The Government has the inner strength to make the hard decisions and yet at the same time show compassion towards people. We also have the inner strength to develop a planned method of deregulating the economy which will not create massive unemployment. I believe that the micro-economic reforms that are being introduced will succeed. I ask the Opposition whether it has the inner strength and can be fair. Even if it does have the inner strength there will be a lot of conflict within the Opposition and within this Parliament that will not exist within the Government because we are able to continue the direction we have taken which is to give Australia economic strength and at the same time show fairness towards people.