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Thursday, 28 February 1985
Page: 425


Mr COBB(6.01) —It is with a mixture of excitement and humility that I rise to speak for the first time in this place. When I was a small boy my father eked out a living from the soil by ploughing it and harvesting its produce with draughthorses. I guess in those days neither he nor my hard working mother ever dreamt that one day their son would have the honour of sitting in this esteemed chamber representing others who also struggle to make a living from the land. I am proud also to be the first member for the newly-created seat of Parkes, which is named after Sir Henry Parkes, the father of Federation.

The Parkes electorate takes in the main towns of Forbes, Parkes, Canowindra, Molong, Wellington, Gilgandra, Coonamble, Narromine, Trangie, Warren, Nyngan, Bourke, Brewarrina and Wanaaring. It is centred around the city of Dubbo, one of the most rapidly growing, free enterprise centres in Australia. I thank the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt) who, before the redistribution, serviced most of what is now the Parkes electorate, for he left it in very good shape. The size of the electorate is 125,000 square kilometres. I invite honourable members to compare this with the size of the 28 Sydney electorates which altogether total less than 3,500 square kilometres. We could almost throw a blanket over some Sydney electorates. Indeed, we could fit all 28 of them within the Parkes electorate 36 times over. That example serves to highlight the fact that, although we may have the principle of one man, one vote in this country, we certainly do not have one vote, one value.

My electorate is made up mainly of rural industry and small business. One of the main rural industries is wool. Some of the best and most famous merino studs in the world lie within the Parkes electorate. We also have some of the best wheat growing areas in Australia. Other primary industries include beef cattle, fat lambs, much of Australia's cotton and many irrigation products. The risks of rural industry are high and the hours long. Though export earnings are substantial for Australia, the net profits to producers are either low or non existent. The many farmers who have money borrowed to carry on often cannot meet their interest payments.

The position small business finds itself in is often no better. It is an education to doorknock nearly every small business in my electorate from Forbes and Parkes in the south to Coonamble and Bourke in the north to hear the tale each relates. Though each may use different words, they all tell the same story. The average small business in the Parkes electorate is built on the family unit and employs as little outside labour as possible because of the high costs of that labour. The average owner of these small businesses works 60 to 70 hours a week, has a relatively high capital outlay of hundreds of thousands of dollars, yet earns only $100 to $200 a week, much less than any staff he or she may employ. It is not as if these people are providing something which is not wanted. Their very existence is the reason many country towns continue to survive, but they are being strangled in a Gordian knot of red tape and crippled by the rate of taxes, licence fees, council and union regulations and every other device thought of by desk-bound bureaucrats to suck dry the life blood of these people's existence.

These examples are not invented stories. I only wish that I could take a delegation of any doubting members and Government Ministers around some of these businesses in my electorate to hear and to see the situation for themselves first hand. Even to call in to refuel one's car at an isolated service station in a town with only 10 people and to find that that petrol station has to have six licences before being allowed to operate makes one wonder at the madness which pervades this country at present. The message one gets from all this is clear: If we work, if we invest, if we take a risk and have a go in Australia today, the Government and the bureaucrats will punish us, grind us down and tax us to the status of peasants. On the other hand, if we choose not to work, not only will the Government leave us alone, it will also reward us and send us a cheque in the mail every other week. The system we have in this country today is completely upside down and I, for one, make no apology for the fact that much of my time spent as the member for Parkes will be devoted to restoring the position to what it should be.

There are many issues that I will pursue as a member in this Parliament. Basically these issues stem from my belief in free enterprise as not only the best system but also the only system that will maximise the well being of the people on this planet. If we take the 171 nations of this world and scale them from one to 171 according to how well off is the average man, an interesting correlation falls into place. By 'well off', I use two criteria: The degree of freedom and the purchasing power of the average citizen. Those countries at the top of the scale are ones such as the United States of America, whose system most closely approximate free enterprise. Below the United States of America are countries like Japan, Canada, West Germany, Australia and, still, New Zealand. As we move away from the free enterprise system through the mixed economies and socialist systems, not only does the standard of living of the average worker decrease but the gap between the rich and the poor within those countries widens.

At the bottom of the list are the communist, totalitarian and dictatorship regimes, many of which are located on the African continent and in Asia. However much the left wing may hate the capitalist system and however much it may espouse the theory that ownership is better in public rather than private hands, the fact cannot be denied that in practice the average worker is better off under a free enterprise system than under a socialist one such as exists in the Union of Soviet Socialist-I stress the word 'Socialist'-Republics, the USSR. Wherever in the world the two systems exist side by side the average worker votes with his feet every time for the free enterprise, capitalist system. It is a fact that more people want to defect from East Germany to West Germany than from West Germany to East Germany. More people want to flee from mainland China to Hong Kong or Taiwan than the reverse. More want to go from North Korea to South Korea than the other way round, and we all know which way the migration patterns take between Cuba and the United States of America and Mexico and the United States of America. Even on the African continent, with the repugnant apartheid system of South Africa, more blacks are wanting to migrate from Mozambique to South Africa than from South Africa to Mozambique. Even in Australia we see more people shifting homes from New South Wales and Victoria to Queensland than the other way round.

The reason why the free enterprise system always works better than the socialist alternative is that it better suits human nature. If we own something privately we will look after it more carefully and always have an incentive to add to it. However, if we share something with everyone else we are more inclined to neglect it, even abuse it, and have less incentive to work harder to add to it. Before the revolution, Russia was the biggest exporter of grain in the world; now it is the biggest importer. For all its faults, the free enterprise system has proved to be the best for most people all of the time or, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, the free enterprise system is the worst one in the world, except for all the others.

Crucial to any free enterprise system is the maintenance of incentive. The greatest incentive of all is that if one earns something one is allowed to keep it. Unfortunately, if one is an average worker in Australia today, for every extra dollar one earns, one is forced by law to give almost half of it away in tax, most of which is spent on others. The temptation to cheat on this law is therefore high and the incentive to work more for this country is therefore low. Consequently, we see that fewer and fewer people exert themselves above a certain level. In fact, the highest marginal tax rate of 60 per cent collects very little tax at all-about $700m-contrary to what was originally intended. The simplest way to overcome the cheating and the incentive problems is to have just one single or flat rate of tax which need be set only at about the 23 per cent level to gather the same amount of tax as we collect now. With the incentive to work fully restored, more tax would eventually be collected and the 23 per cent rate could actually be lowered later.

This system is also very fair. If one earns five times as much as the next person, one pays five times as much tax. If one earns 10 times as much, one pays 10 times as much tax. What could be fairer than that? I have found an amazing acceptance of the concept of the flat tax rate by people of all political persuasions within my electorate. Provided steps are taken to maintain pensioners' real incomes, the party that has the foresight and the intelligence to introduce this system will win an enormous section of the Australian electorate.

I move now to the falling value of the Australian dollar. I must say that I am sorry that no reference was made to it in the Governor-General's Speech when Parliament opened. The dollar has fallen because people are waking up to the fact that the economy is in worse shape than the Government has led us to believe. However, I congratulate the Government for having floated the dollar during the term of the last Parliament. As the saying goes, every cloud has a silver lining. The floating of the dollar was the one good thing the Government did during the term of the last Parliament. Clearly, it was something the previous coalition Government should have done years before, but never quite had the fortitude to do. Although the dollar's fall is a reflection of our poorly managed economy, it is nevertheless good news for exporters, at least in the short term. Unfortunately, the increased prices we must now pay for our imports will force up the consumer price index and eventually flow on to increase wages, so locking us into another inflationary spiral. Neither side of the House wants that.

To overcome the inflationary problems resulting from the falling dollar and at the same time to retain the benefits the falling dollar gives our export industries, I advocate to the Government that now is the time to lower tariff protection. Tariff reductions now would lower many import prices to their levels of only a short few weeks ago and so would not harm the import competing manufacturers at all, such as the car makers and textile producers. Here is the chance to make these industries more competitive in the long term without harming them in the short term. It is one of those magical moments in Australia's economic history which I hope this present Government has the common sense to recognise and the courage to grasp. It is a no lose situation. I repeat: Carefully managed tariff reductions now will retain the benefit of the falling dollar for exporters which would be of enormous benefit to them. As import prices will come down to their previous levels, all the importers in Australia will also be delighted, instead of wearing the long faces they wear now. Even the import competing industries will see it as the best thing to do as it will make them more competitive on world markets, which is essential if they are to have a long term future.

If the Government cut tariffs now it would be hailed in the media and across the country as an economic miracle worker. If politics can be likened to a game of chess, perhaps I am telling the Government of the one move that could checkmate the coalition at the next election, when most observers sense we will be in a winning position. Nevertheless, it is such a beautiful move that I must point it out, for if the Government is bold enough to play it the whole of Australia will be the beneficiary.

I turn now to possibly the saddest problem in the whole of the Parkes electorate-the plight of the Aboriginal people. I have recently returned from Bourke, that town so indelibly etched into Australia's outback history. Even the term 'back o' Bourke' has become part of our folklore language. I am sad to report that Bourke today is a virtual siege town. Bricklayers have bricked in many shop-front windows in the main street because they have been broken so many times no insurance company will insure them any more. People cannot go window-shopping in these areas because there are no windows. Those who still have windows have them meshed and barred. Ceilings are meshed too, and some of the most sophisticated computer burglar alarm systems this country has seen are in operation there. I have seen one room protected by no less then ten locks. If photographs were permitted in Hansard I would ask permission to have included in it some of the shots I took of all this.

One cannot make a public telephone call out of Bourke. None of the telephones work. There are stories that when people go out at night they take their videos with them to a video baby-sitting service so that they are not stolen. Bourke has 27 police. Apparently, that is more police per head of population than in any other town in Australia. Unfortunately, the new laws do not allow the police to do much these days. They are not allowed to kick backsides any more and tell children roaming the streets at 3 a.m. to go home. The police themselves could be charged if they did so. The few cases that do get to court are treated indifferently. The laws of this country today are designed more to protect the rights of the criminal than the rights of the victims. Occasionally someone with 40 or 50 offences is convicted and sent away to a rehabilitation home for a few years. However, when he returns in a few weeks and chalks up another five to 10 offences in the first week back it is not hard to see why the locals are frustrated and angry. Many locals I talked to are on the verge of shutting down their businesses and moving out. They are holding on only a few weeks longer to see whether something can be done to improve the situation. In the meantime, the tourists are staying away and the town is getting a bad name. I am not talking about the Iraq-Iran border; I am not talking about El Salvador; I am talking about a town in Australia, a town in the Parkes electorate-Bourke.

Even though many people are suffering from this problem, it seems to me that the people suffering the most are the black people. We are destroying them as a race. By patronising them, by treating them differently from the whites and by lavishing them with money and handouts we are creating a bitter division between the white and black communities. We have stripped away nearly every shred of dignity that these once proud people had. I say to all honourable members in this chamber: For goodness sake, stop thinking we can solve the so-called Aboriginal problem by writing more cheques in ever-increasing amounts. It has not worked overseas, for example with the Red Indians in the United States of America; it will not work here. I know it is fashionable to label anyone who even dares question our Aboriginal policy a racist, but I say that if we are genuinely concerned with what our present handout mentality policies are doing to these people, if we have a shred of compassion left in us for their well-being, and if we only take the time to go out into the field and see what is happening, we must surely change our present, lazy, easy-way-out cheque book policy in an attempt to save these people before it is too late.

I have touched on many topics in my opening address. I congratulate you, Madam Deputy Speaker and Mr Speaker, on your election to the esteemed positions you hold today and I thank you for the courtesies that you have shown me as a new member of this Parliament. I thank the House for hearing me as it has done today. I look forward to the future so that I can make a positive contribution to this great country in the many areas that need attention.