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Thursday, 11 October 1984
Page: 2188

Mr DAWKINS (Minister for Finance)(6.06) —This is the last day of this Parliament, at least insofar as this chamber is concerned, and it is, of course, the beginning of an election campaign. But it is a campaign which is more about the future of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) than it is about the future of Australia or the future of this Government. The trouble is that it has taken the Leader of the Opposition all this time to raise an issue which will be central to this campaign, that is, who can be entrusted with the economic and social future of this country.

The Leader of the Opposition's failure to address these issues is part of the reason why he goes into this campaign in the worst shape of any Leader of the Opposition in our history. He has behaved extraordinarily badly in recent times, demeaning himself and demeaning this institution by his reckless attack on the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke). He hoped that, by making enough noise, creating enough havoc and by making enough baseless charges, somehow the Government would be damaged.

Mr Tuckey —Baseless charges-you ought to talk.

Mr DAWKINS —I know something about the tactics of opposition. In fact, one of the reasons why the Opposition is over there and I am over here is that I do know something about the tactics of opposition. But one of the things that the Opposition Leader has not recognised is that the times have changed and the people out there have rejected his style of politics. They want politicians to be positive and helpful and to help to work Australia into a new period of prosperity. They have rejected the kinds of attacks that the Opposition and particularly the Opposition Leader have embarked upon in recent times. The more reckless he has become, the less popular he has become.

But that is only part of the Leader of the Opposition's problems. His biggest problem is of course his friends. First of all, there is his Party, the Liberal Party of Australia. Do honourable members know what they say in his Party? They say: 'The trouble with Andrew is that he is here today and still here tomorrow'. But that is not really the problem. The real problem is much more deep-seated than that. The real problem is in two parts. Firstly, there is his disloyal, discredited and, frankly, delinquent Deputy. Secondly, there is the alternative Deputy Prime Minister. What a dreadful combination it is for any Opposition Leader to have to rely on-the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) and the Leader of the National Party of Australia (Mr Sinclair). One of them, his Deputy, is always picking on him while the other is always picking pockets. But together they make--

Mr Howard —I raise a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Minister for Finance , true to form, made a scurrilous allegation against the Leader of the National Party and I require that it be withdrawn unambiguously and without qualification .

Mr DAWKINS —I withdraw unambiguously and without qualification.

Mr Steedman —Grave robber.

Mr Peacock —I take a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I ask that the remarks by the honourable member for Casey which related to the Leader of the National Party be withdrawn.

Mr Steedman —I didn't hear it. Repeat it. What was it?

Mr Peacock —I heard the honourable member say it and I am prepared to repeat it because he has to get up and withdraw. He said he was a grave robber. I want it withdrawn.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat. The level of conversation and noise in the chamber is just intolerable. I take this opportunity to remind the honourable member for O'Connor that, although he was not here, the Leader of the Opposition was heard in relative silence when he spoke. I suggest that the honourable member, having come into the House, should not engage in a tirade of interjection. I did not hear any remark from the honourable member for Casey but I suggest to him that, if he did make an offensive remark, he will assist the Chair and he will assist the Minister for Finance by withdrawing that remark.

Mr Steedman —Could the Leader of the Opposition tell me what it was?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —If the honourable member has made an offensive remark, he will withdraw it.

Mr Steedman —I will certainly withdraw anything that is offensive to the Leader of the Opposition. I withdraw unequivocally.

Mr DAWKINS —Of course it is an awful amount of lead for any Leader of the Opposition to have in his saddle bags when he has to take into an election such a deputy and such an alternative Deputy Prime Minister. How on earth can he begin to look good in the eyes of the people when he is surrounded by that particular pair of failures? Of course the former Treasurer is a failure and the people recognise that. They will not have him at any price. He is the one who withheld the truth about the size of the prospective Budget deficit for 1983-84 and who, though now wanting to take credit for stopping the tax avoidance industry, was the one who in fact let it start. It was his negligence, his failure to respond to the increasingly impassioned pleas of the then Commissioner of Taxation, which in fact created the industry. It was his negligence which allowed well over $2 billion to be robbed from revenue as a result of that.

Mr Tuckey —I take a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Minister just mentioned tax avoidance again. I have some documents here which I will take to the Tax Commissioner with him any time he likes to go.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for O'Connor will resume his seat. I remind the honourable member for O'Connor that, if he has come into the House with the idea of rising on frivolous points of order, he might reconsider that attitude. There is no point of order.

Mr DAWKINS —It is no good the former discredited Treasurer now relying on the statements of the new Taxation Commissioner because in fact the Taxation Commissioner said that it was during the Deputy Leader's period as Treasurer that the industry mushroomed, flowered, ignored by him. He failed to take the action that should have been taken and that would have resulted in the industry not ever getting off the ground and now he tries to take credit for having made some little contribution towards stopping it.That was the only thing he stopped. The real problem is that he stopped the economy. Under his careful care, Australia's strong economy was reduced to a zero level of growth, for the first time since the War. That is his great contribution to economics. Then, of course , we saw inflation go through the roof. We saw the great wages explosion. We saw interest rates climb. We saw the collapse of the job market in which nearly 200, 000 jobs were lost in just one year-his last year as Treasurer. Yet he comes here in support of his Leader as the one who can offer some solutions to the economic problems of this country. One would have to have some special kind of genius to mess up the economy in the way that he messed it up during the five years when he was Treasurer.

It is true that the Deputy Leader is occasionally disarming in his manner but the fact is that that will never disguise his incompetence, his unreliability and his great capacity for deceiving not only this House but also the entire nation. His use of statistics is probably the most sloppy of anyone in this House. I give honourable members one example. He stumbled across some figures which he thought would demonstrate that the Public Service would grow by 10 per cent during the first two years of this Government. In fact, growth will be only a little over half that. He is always very ready to correct the record as far as he is concerned but he is always very tardy in acknowledging his manifest errors and deception. The fact is that the people of Australia do not trust him and they will never forgive him for the havoc that he wreaked on the Australian economy. The trouble for the Leader of the Opposition is that he goes into the campaign with his great economic spokesman having one of the most appalling, disgraceful records of economic management of any person that any Leader of the Opposition has had to take into an election campaign.

The Leader's own ignominious popularity is not all his own work. His deputy and the Leader of the National Party have made a great contribution to it. It is not his own work but it will be if he does not do something about it. The Treasurer (Mr Keating) has already given the Leader of the Opposition a bit of advice. He said he can continue to have the Opposition coalition performing so abysmally that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the National Party will be glued to their own seats. They will not be able to participate in the campaign at all while they try to save their own political hides. He does have a more honourable course. The Leader of the Opposition ought to call a Party meeting immediately and get rid of his deputy because if he goes into this election with him as the spokesman on the economy, how on earth will anybody be able to trust the Leader as the alternative Prime Minister? I suggest that the Leader of the Opposition ought to take this course because he will benefit from a few more years as Leader of the Opposition. He will probably shape up to be quite a good Leader of the Opposition and a few more years in the job would be of great benefit to him. But he will not shape up unless he does something about the appalling condition that his Party is in as it goes into this election.

The economic and social challenges facing this country are serious, but the first thing the Labor Government had to do before it could face the future with any confidence at all was to restore the disintegrating economy that it inherited-an economy which disintegrated under the negligence and incompetence of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition while he was Treasurer. What have we done in the short period that we have been in office? We have halved inflation, taken growth from zero to 5 per cent and employed 250,000 people. Interest rates are down by 2 per cent. The rate of growth in wages has been halved. We have reduced the deficit. Private fixed capital investment is again on the way up. How could we have faced the future with any kind of heart, with any kind of confidence, if we had not restored some health to that battered economy we inherited?

Notwithstanding the constraints that confronted us during this period of restoration of the economy, during this country's return to economic health, we have moved massively towards doing something about the great social challenges which confront us. Look at education and the mess it had fallen into under the previous Government's policies. Participation rates fell to levels which were a disgrace to a country like Australia, a country which ought to be providing more and more opportunities for young people. We have begun to do something about creating those educational and training opportunities for young people. In the area of pensions, we have provided the first real increase in pensions since the indexation of pensions was first introduced. Then, if we look at the opportunities being provided for young people, we are not only providing opportunities in the area of education but also, as a result of an overall review of training allowances and training opportunities, starting to provide employment opportunities for a wasted generation-a generation which was neglected and abused by our predecessors. We saw more and more young people simply joining the dole queues as a normal expectation.

Then there are the circumstances of Aboriginal people who, while they continue to be the most underprivileged in this country, will have the very passionate concern of this Government. It is very sad to see this Leader of the Opposition go out with such a whimper. Unfortunately, unless he does something about it, he will deserve nothing but our pity. He goes into this election campaign like a punch drunk fighter. He will need in close order a couple of stretcher bearers to look after him when he drops.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Keogh) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired. The discussion is concluded.