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Thursday, 28 February 1985
Page: 409

Mr DUNCAN(4.22) —I congratulate you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and the other Deputy Speakers on your re-election to your important office. I also place on record my congratulations to Mr Speaker on his re-election to the highest office in this House. I was fascinated to hear the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) a few moments ago. I had been told about his acting capacity and it was very interesting to see it. It is a pity that radio actors went out many years ago. Perhaps it is about time we had television in this chamber so that all Australians could have the--

Mr Tuckey —Mr Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order. I am sorry, but there is another rule pertaining to maiden speeches.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for O'Connor is not in his right place. There is no point of order.

Mr Tuckey —Just a little warning.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for O'Connor will return to his seat if he wishes to be heard.

Mr DUNCAN —Thank you for your protection, Mr Deputy Speaker. I was saying that it may well be about time we thought about getting television in the chamber so that the people of Australian would be able to see the acting we have seen in the House in the past few minutes.

I noticed also that the Leader of the Opposition has some new speech writers who are refugees from the Fraser years. They are former Fraser staffers. I am surprised that they did not know that farm costs doubled under the Liberals between l977 and 1982. I am surprised that, in writing the speech that was just delivered, they did not mention that the wages explosion of 1981-82 occurred under the Liberal Party Administration of Prime Minister Fraser. I am surprised that they did not mention that farm costs this year are only 4.6 per cent, compared with 11 per cent under the Liberals in 1982-83. I am very surprised also that they did not record some of the other aspects of the disasters that occurred during the years of Fraserism. That is the fact of the matter, and next time the Leader of the Opposition speaks in the Parliament he would do well to mention a few more of the facts instead of going on with the sort of hypocrisy that we heard in the last 20 minutes or so.

I have the great privilege to represent in this Parliament the electorate of Makin. I am its first member. I take this opportunity to thank the electors of Makin for the confidence they have shown in me and the Labor Government. I can assure them that I will do my very best to see that they receive vigorous representation in this place. Makin is named after the Hon. Norman Makin, a man who was a truly distinguished Australian. He represented the people of South Australia, first as the Labor member for Hindmarsh and later as the Labor member for Sturt and the Labor member for Bonython, for a total of 36 years. I understand that he was the third longest serving member of this House. He was the member for Hindmarsh from 1919 to 1946. During that period he was a Temporary Chairman of Committees from 1923 to 1929, again in 1936, and from 1956 to 1961. He was the Speaker under the Scullin Government from 1929 to 1931.

Norman Makin also was a Minister in both the Curtin and Chifley governments. He was Minister for the Navy and Minister for Munitions from 1941 to 1946. He was Acting Minister for External Affairs in 1945. He was a member of the Production Executive of the War Cabinet from 1941 to 1946 and was a member of the Australian Advisory War Council from 1940 to 1945. In 1946, Makin resigned from this Parliament to become the first Australian Ambassador to the United Nations and to the United States, a post he held until the appointment was terminated by the Menzies Government in 1951. During that time he served as the first President of the United Nations Security Council in 1946 and 1947. He was awarded the United Nations peace medal in recognition of his leadership.

In 1954 Norman Makin returned to this Parliament as the member for Sturt. In 1956 he was re-elected as the member for Bonython, a seat which he held for the Australian Labor Party until 1963. During that time he was once again a Temporary Chairman of Committees. In 1980 Norman Makin was awarded the Order of Australia and he died in 1982. He was a lifelong member of the Australian Labor Party. I met him on many occasions, especially during my time as Attorney-General in the Dunstan Government. I found from my discussions with him that we had many shared beliefs. His lifelong fight against poverty and inequality and his interest in achieving peace were common aims for us both and we each shared great faith in and admiration for Don Dunstan, the then Premier of South Australia. Although Norman Makin was a very old man when I knew him, it was my privilege to do so. It is my particular honour to represent the electorate that now bears his name.

The Makin electorate is typical of average Australia. It has a high proportion of young families. It has a high proportion of home owners and home purchasers. It has a high proportion of medium wage and salary earners. It is a high growth area. But the electorate of Makin is not without its problems. First, there is the problem of housing interest rates which most people in my electorate, to a greater or lesser extent, bear. A particular problem in relation to that is the attempt by some of the major trading banks in recent times to talk up housing interest rates. We have already seen attempts to do this in the last couple of months. The issue affects many of my constituents and I will return to it in a few moments. Secondly, in some parts of the electorate there are still high levels of unemployment, especially amongst young people. Fortunately for these people, the Labor Party has been returned to government and they will be able to look forward with more certainty to some improvement in the situation in which they find themselves through no fault of their own. The achievements of the Hawke Labor Government in reducing the levels of unemployment have been very considerable. I will do all I can to ensure that unemployment is reduced further and that full employment in this country is again achieved.

As I mentioned, many of my constituents are young home buyers. They have benefited greatly from the economic recovery and have been assisted directly by the Government's first home owners scheme. Others have been assisted by the substantial allocation of Federal money to public housing under the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement. The electors of Makin have also been assisted in the area of public housing by the far-sighted housing policies of the Bannon Labor Government which for the past two years has allocated 100 per cent of its loan funds to public housing. In this way, it has played a major role in promoting recovery in the building industry which, in turn, has had flow-on effects throughout the South Australian economy and, importantly, has increased the stock of public housing in the State by over 7,000. When this and the low interest housing loans provided by the South Australian Government for low income earners are taken into account, it is easy to see the advantages that Labor governments bring to ordinary Australians.

Home owners and purchasers have also benefited from the economic policies of the Hawke Labor Government. The reduction in inflation and home loan interest rates have been significant aspects of the economic recovery. As I have said, however, some of the major trading banks have not been acting as responsibly as they might in relation to interest rates on home loans. It is clear that some of them are more interested in maintaining high profits than in providing adequate funds to enable home buyers to have access to loans at reasonable rates of interest.

There are a number of reasons why increases in home loan interest rates should be resisted. First, the banks are experiencing high profit levels and near record liquidity. In fact, the net operating profits of the four major trading banks alone was almost $750m in 1983-83. Preliminary figures for 1983-84 suggest that profits will be in the area of $1,000m. Second, real interest rates are at an historically high level. Third, the recent establishment of the national secondary mortgage market will give a substantial boost to available home loan funds. This in turn should exert strong downward pressures on home loan interest rates. It appears that the banks have realised this and have purposely remained silent on the advantages which will accrue from the secondary mortgage market. Instead, they are trying to make it appear inevitable that interest rates will rise. It appears that they are promoting a strategy to make sure that any subsequent falls in home loan interest rates will be compensated by earlier rises, thus overcoming any potential losses to bank income.

Honourable members might like to reflect on the outcry we would hear from the benches opposite if the trade unions tried this sort of ramp. An interest rate rise of one per cent would increase monthly repayments for home buyers with a $50,000 loan at 11.5 per cent by about $10 a week. Wage and salary earners would need to receive increases in their pay packets of at least $12 before tax to compensate for such a rise. There is no doubt that any hike in housing interest rates would lead to inflationary pressures and demands for wage increases to compensate and would put the survival of the prices and income accord in real jeopardy.

It is disappointing that some banks have taken the attitude they have during a period when economic stability is required to ensure that the benefits of recovery are not dissipated. The attitude and approach of the building societies and other non-bank financial institutions, such as the credit unions, have been far more responsible. Some banks seem to want the privileges of both deregulation and the old, regulated financial system without taking the responsibility offered to them by deregulation. The Australian people would be much better off if these banks accepted the responsibility they have as leaders in the financial system and, from the process of deregulation, used their influence to ensure the stability and orderly development of the Australian economy.

It was the sorts of problems I have been talking about that led me to make a move from State to Federal politics. It had become apparent to me, expecially during the years of the recession, that it is simply not possible to effect any real change at the State level, other than at the margins, in the standard of living of ordinary Australians. Jobs, unemployment and the economy at large are affected most at the national level. As a State member of parliament who represented a strong working class electorate, I have been increasingly angry at some of the injustices that I saw on an almost daily basis. I can see no reason why, in a country which is as well endowed and rich as Australia, there are people who are homeless, people who are living in the streets or in caravans, in sheds or in the backyards of friends and neighbours and in cars, or who are crowded three or four families to a house in some cases and who, in some instances, live without hot water and heating because electricity costs are too high.

I can see no reason why elderly people must spend two weeks at home and go out only once per pension cheque because they cannot catch buses-the steps are too high-and because they can afford only one taxi fare per pension cheque. The shops are a $6 ride there and back. They have fresh food for only a few days after each trip, which can hardly have a good effect on their health. I can see no reason why people must go without teeth because their teeth were extracted four years ago and they did not have access to the information, or because some so-called professional did not give them the information, that they could get free dentures from the pensioner dental service, or why those who do know must wait for three months and longer before they can get dentures. I can see no reason why education is still better for the rich than the poor, why some people can buy clothes off a clean hook from a new warehouse and from new fabric, while others must buy their clothes from a box full of old clothes that someone else does not want.

I can see no reason why old people in need of care cannot find adequate nursing home or rest home accommodation. In view of the rapid ageing of the population, which we all know is happening, these problems inevitably are going to increase. I can see no reason why we have not re-oriented our health care services to provide such facilities as hospices for the terminally ill or why, because of the inflexibility of politicians, health administrators and medical practitioners, terminally ill people in pain cannot get access to heroin, which is recognised as the best pain relief for people in those circumstances. I can see no reason why conservatives are seen by some as nice people, fighting for a free society when, in fact, they are the ones responsible for maintaining the sort of economic structure which has created and continued the problems I have referred to.

One advantage I had as a politician in a safe Labor seat in a lower socio-economic area was this: If I ever felt like taking things a little easy, like enjoying life in the Parliament, that mentality could not survive longer than the next day in the electorate office when again I would be faced with the line-up of the problems and discomforts faced by my constituents. These problems obviously had a very different face to those brought to the conservative members of Parliament in their lush, green, spacious suburban electorates. I am angry that this is not the just society that the conservatives insist it is. It is a society of haves and have-nots. There are those who have the power and those who have no access to it, and no chance to gain that access. There are those who are rich and have the information and the means so vital to enable them to enjoy the benefits of society and there are those who are not and who do not. I am angry because many of the problems which I describe could be resolved with the application of a little imagination, some lateral thinking and redistribution and reallocation, rather than the expenditure of massive amounts of money.

In 1980 the new member for Wills, the present Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), pointed out in his maiden speech to this Parliament that the expenditure of $600m would eliminate poverty in this country. He said that, if the Fraser Government had been prepared to amend tax laws:

to ensure that the laws in respect of taxation applied equally to the rich and to the less rich alive, then the revenue would have been available to effect this great purpose without any increase in the rate of tax.

He went on to point out:

If in 1979-80 taxes paid by the non-wage and salary earner category of personal income recipients had kept up the same proportion to taxes paid by wage and salary earners as they did in 1975-76, the public revenue would have been higher by $715m.

As we are aware, the burden of taxation continues to be unfairly placed on pay-as-you-earn taxpayers, especially the lower and middle income earners. I have been quite vocal in my support for taxation reform in Australia. The debate on taxation reform is one of the most important facing us. If we fail to provide Australians with a just, equitable and progressive tax system we will be entrenching further the problems to which I have already referred. I do not believe that we should meekly accept the pronouncements about taxation that are fed to us by the so-called economic experts. Australia is the only member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development without death and gift duties. It is, with the Netherlands, one of two member countries without a capital gains tax. It is not a highly taxed country, although the tax burden in this country is unfairly borne by the middle class and the poor.

We must ensure that the taxation burden is reallocated so that it falls more equitably. As the Prime Minister illustrated in his maiden speech, even a slight reallocation could eliminate poverty. Of course, since he made his estimates we have suffered another full term of the inequities of the Fraser Government, but his point remains valid. If we extend this point, so that we undertake more substantial reforms rather than act merely within the parameters of the existing system, however inadequate or otherwise they may be, not only will we be able to eliminate poverty in this country but also we will be well on the way to raising the living standards of the great majority of Australians in the lower and middle income range. It is of no credit to all the parliaments of this nation that a million Australians live in proverty. We should make a much greater effort to eradicate the grind of poverty from our nation. Following the Henderson poverty inquiry it is my view that with the database that that provided this House should have established a committee on disadvantage, inequality and poverty to spearhead the fight. The problem still exists; we should delay no longer. A parliamentary poverty committee could be a great educative medium, particularly for Liberal and National Party members who show no understanding of the magnitude of human suffering caused by our community. It would also be a focus for exposing the problem to the community at large. It would be a bold step and a sign from this Parliament that we have hope for the future and a belief that all Australians can be helped to share in a better life.

I wish to raise one or two further issues very briefly. The first is that of Aboriginal land rights. I am proud to have been a member of the Dunstan Government which negotiated the land rights agreement with the Pitjantjatjara people in South Australia-an agreement which received bipartisan support and was enacted finally by the Tonkin Liberal Government after we had left office in 1979. We have an obligation to Aboriginal people which has been too long unrecognised. We must ensure that we achieve a just settlement which takes into account the interests and wishes of Aboriginal people.

Recognising that I and all other members of this Parliament have enormous obligations in this place, I believe that one of the most fundamental is that we, more than any others, are the trustees of the Australian nation-at least for the duration of our time here. We are under a tremendous obligation to future generations of Australians not to leave this country in any worse condition than it was when we came here. Hopefully we will be able to pass it on in a better condition. I have come here as a representative of the Australian Labor Party and the trade union movement upon which it is based. I would like to thank all my supporters and campaign workers for their tireless efforts on my behalf. My campaign committee was composed of people who believe in the things that I believe in and who are concerned with the sorts of issues that I have raised today. It is my hope that I will not let them down.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Mildren) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired. Before I call the next speaker there are two points I wish to make. The first is that this is the next speaker's maiden speech and I request that all members of the House extend the courtesies to that member to which he is traditionally entitled. I also remind the House that that is a courtesy, not a rule. There is an obligation on all members of the House, including the speaker, to recognise that.