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Thursday, 21 March 1985
Page: 721

Mr SINCLAIR (Leader of the National Party of Australia)(9.05) —The only time we hear the Governor-General speak in this place is at the commencement of a new parliament. In other parliaments prorogation takes place on more than just that one occasion.

Mr Scholes —We never hear him in this place.

Mr SINCLAIR —As my colleague across the table said, we never hear them in this place, but we hear them in the Parliament.

Mr John Brown —Excuse me.

Mr SINCLAIR —I will excuse the honourable gentleman. I regret that he will not benefit from the admonition I am about to give him. The circumstances of the Governor-General's address are extraordinarily important. What they do is lay down the general dimensions of the policy that a government-in this instance the one re-elected-will pursue over the next three years or over the term of the next Parliament.

I want to look at the circumstances of the last two Addresses and to comment a little on the changed horizons, as one sees them, in Australia, in this Parliament and in the electorate from 1983 through to 1984-85, and to talk about some of the problems I see now facing us.

Before I do so I compliment all those honourable members who have made their maiden speeches in this Parliament over the last few weeks in speaking to this motion. Of course, this is a stimulating time. I thought that those honourable members, particularly those on this side of the House and from my own Party, made a very valuable contribution towards the philosophic approach as well as the practical approach to the problems of the nation. To those honourable members of the Government I wish them well. I trust their tenure of this place will be short and that very quickly their electorates will return to the parties on this side of the House, where representation, of course, will be of a much higher order and the quality of concern more apparent. That aside, I wish honourable members on the Government side well.

As far as the Address-in-Reply is concerned, at this stage I wish to outline something of the climate back in 1983. Honourable members will remember that we had been through an extraordinarily difficult time internationally. Long after most of the countries of the Western world had found their economies sliding Australia had been able to preserve its economy in a way that was extraordinary. Of course, it was a product of the policies that our Government pursued and it was because the economies of the great productive industries were sound. Significantly, there was still investment in the mining industry. We were in a climate in which our rural industries were still able to market their products and costs were not completely squeezing producers out of existence. Then we ran into one of the worst droughts in Australia's history. In my own area of New England we had a drought for four years, in some places five years. The country which normally is lush and green lay bare and barren. Stock died, crops were barely harvestable and returns fell away to the point where many people were in extraordinary economic difficulties. Even today we are still suffering from the consequences of that drought. Honourable members will recall that we then had the wages explosion, which bore heavily on every employer. It meant that those employees who were trying hard to maintain their work force suddenly found the economics of their activities were such that they could not do so. Sadly, it meant that employment started to decline and many people-too many-were in a state of unemployment. Of course, we then decided that it was essential that in some way we contain that wage explosion. We introduced the wage pause, a wage pause which in fact has been continued under another name and in a formula which I regard as regrettable in the prices and incomes accord.

The wage pause significantly brought a period when people could again catch up, when there was an opportunity for business to make profits and when there seemed to be a chance once more for the private sector in our society to see its way ahead. Of course, as honourable members will remember, in the 1982-83 Budget we provided a significant stimulus to our economy. We were fortunate in Australia because that coincided with the stimulatory policies of the Reagan Republican Administration in the United States of America. At the time of the election of the Hawke Government, the Thirty-third Parliament, the drought broke. Putting all those matters aside, there were three things that lay behind the success of the economic policies of the Hawke-Keating Administration. I refer, firstly, to the benefits of the Fraser-Anthony wage pause, which was none of Labor's doing; secondly, to the success of the economic recovery internationally, which was again none of Labor's doing; and, thirdly and most significantly, to the breaking of the drought. The then Minister for Finance, the Minister for Trade (Mr Dawkins), commented on that matter on a number of occasions. He alone, at least in that instance, was honest enough to admit that it was none of Labor's doing but, significantly, circumstances beyond its control that led to the change in climate. Now, of course, things are different.

Let us follow through a few of the other elements before coming to 1985 and the circumstances that we face now as we are considering the Address-in-Reply. Honourable members will remember that our ANZUS relationship was strong then because there was a National Government in New Zealand. We had a government in Australia which, up to the end of 1983, was prepared to work hard to maintain our Association of South East Asian Nations connection and that with the United States and New Zealand. Indeed, we developed a closer economic relationship with New Zealand. We played a very leading role internationally to try to establish markets for our rural and mining products and to curb the protectionism that was rife within the European Community.

In 1983 the Government changed. One part of the Labor Government's policy on which I believe we should have embarked was able to capitalise on the general economic recovery that lay in reasons quite outside anything of Labor's doing, but the Labor Government did start to deregulate the financial sector of the economy. For that, and that alone, I believe that there has been some benefit in the Government's economic programs. On the other hand, the Labor Government pursued a number of other economic, social and political measures. The people need to understand that in 1983 the Labor Government could look back on its predecessor Government and thank it for its economic, social, educational and health programs, whereas it can no longer look back on the Liberal-National Party Government's policies, for the policies of the last 20 months have led to significant changes in the nature and character of government in this society.

I want to analyse some of those changes and point out to the people in the electorate at large that those changes have now placed Australia in a position of considerable fragility in the international world. For the rural sector, the mining sector, the productive sector and the employers sector-for those who want to try to generate the wealth on which this nation must depend for its economic prosperity-there is real reason for uncertainty. If that were not bad enough, we heard today about the rigidity of the Government's approach on pensions. One knows that the Government has little sympathy for those at the eventide of their lives who depend so much on government assistance to try to protect them against the vacillations of the financial markets and to try to obtain some income security. It is necessary that people also recognise that these changes included the introduction of the disastrous Medicare policy. That program generally has cost the community and taxpayers dearly, has led to the total disruption of medical education, and today prejudices the nature of medical and hospital care.

There is no reason any longer for the Labor Party to look back pre-1983, for the sins of the present lie very much in the problems the Labor Government has created for itself. We have now in debating the second address of His Excellency the Governor-General during the period of office of this Government a climate which is largely of Labor's own doing. This period has seen not only a diminution of the Prime Minister's status in the community but also an eruption of factionalism in the Labor Party. There is little doubt that all of us who live and work in this place find it hard to know who is speaking for who in the Labor Party.

Mr Fitzgibbon —For whom!

Mr SINCLAIR —The honourable member is right to ask for whom the bell tolls. It is true there are problems. It is not merely a matter of listening to the Prime Minister and his faction, or even to the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden). It is a matter of listening to those from the Left who sit on the Government benches and who now, more and more, dominate the Government's economic and foreign policy programs. One should examine the climate to which those Leftist policies apply. One knows, for example, that in the industrial relations area the Labor Party has always been beholden to the trade union movement. But we need to remember that the present prices and incomes accord was the product of the first of the summits.

I refer to the National Economic Summit Conference when the Prime Minister, in a magnificent public relations exercise, took over this Parliament in what I regarded as a totally improper way to persuade those in business to a particular course of action which, prior to that meeting, had been determined not by a public forum or in any properly elected way, but by an accord established between the trade unions and members of the Labor Government. Sadly, the product of that accord pursued through the Economic Planning Advisory Council has been that Australia today has an industrial compact that has been costly to those who seek to gain jobs, and particularly costly to those who would provide jobs to the young and to those who are enterprising, particularly in the small business sector. The area on which the accord falls the hardest is small business, be it rural business, business in country towns, retail business, or the professions. To small business the prices and income accord has generally marked the death knell of profitability.

Furthermore, there has also been a general deterioration of Australia's medical and health schemes through Medicare. The Minister for Health (Dr Blewett) is unable to comprehend the fundamental changes that Medicare has meant in the practice of the senior elements of the profession. People need to remember that Australia has had some of the most highly-skilled medical professionals anywhere in the world and, frankly, the product of Medicare threatens the maintenance of those skills, not just for the present but for future generations of young medical practitioners. People also need to remember that in so many areas there is a marked and fundamental change which Labor itself has induced.

I have mentioned ANZUS briefly. One cannot specifically say that the Labor Party itself can be fully blamed for the fact that ANZUS is somewhere in limbo, but one can say quite properly that the Prime Minister has been neglectful in his efforts to persuade the New Zealand Government to a different course from that which it is pursuing. The action of the Prime Minister in unilaterally terminating the ANZUS Council meeting this year was not action he should have taken alone. Had he sought to preserve properly the United States relationship, he would have taken that action in concert with the American Administration. One can certainly look to the Foreign Minister and his escapades in foreign affairs and to the disastrous way in which he behaved in Vietnam the other day with the puppet Cambodian Foreign Minister. One can also look at the way in which our relations with the ASEAN countries have deteriorated, and can look at the circumstances of the change of vote in the United Nations in regard to East Timor the other day. So we find that with our principal friends and allies, with our ASEAN neighbours, Australia sadly is in a worse position than it was a few years ago.

With the present Treasurer (Mr Keating), Australia has the highest taxing government in history and another tax summit is coming up. There will be a conflict as to whether there is to be a capital gains tax or indirect taxation, with no proper examination as to whether there can be pruning of expenditure. It was said earlier in this place today that what we need, if we are to have a summit, is an expenditure summit. A man like Mr Hugh Morgan, who has been speaking so effectively in the last few days about excesses in government spending, might well be the first on the invitation list. I believe it is essential that we look at the areas of government expenditure and open areas of the practice of government to private enterprise, remove some tariff levels, and let us see whether we can provide within Australia a proper competitive position to ensure our rural industries and our mining industry have a chance to compete.

Sadly, the level of costs that affect each one of our great rural industries today is such that they are denied almost any chance of survival. For those industries whose markets have collapsed, such as the sugar and the dairying industries, we know only too well of the disastrous approach of the Australian Labor Party. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) met with the Premier of Victoria immediately before the Victorian election. He shed crocodile tears and said that he would endorse a national plan. Now that the Victorian election is behind us look at the change in his attitude.

I come now to the sugar industry. It contributes to the economic viability of many communities. Indeed, it was not so long ago that more than one third of the population of those who lived north of the Tropic of Capricorn were entirely dependent on sugar. I am told that today about one hundred thousand people in all are directly dependent on sugar. Many communities, including that which you represent, Mr Deputy Speaker, through to Mossman in North Queensland and down to the northern part of New South Wales, are in a very sad and parlous state. This Government, despite the undertakings given before the Federal election, is doing nothing to try to overcome those problems. We recognise that there needs to be adjustment but, frankly, a Government which is not prepared to adopt positive policies to provide for the future of whole communities does not deserve to be in government.

Of course, there are problems in every one of our mining industries. Our mining industries are beset by that high government burden to which this Government contributes through its expenditure programs. If the Government is seriously looking at holding a tax summit I commend again the idea that it be a tax and expenditure summit, with a program aimed at reducing Government expenditure as well as adjusting taxes. We have that remarkable conflict between members of the Labor Party as to just who will do what. We know that the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Button) and the Minister for Social Security (Mr Howe) both very strongly advocate a capital gains tax. The Left is telling us that we will inevitably have death duties and the Treasurer is endorsing a proper program for broadening the base of taxation. He is trying to ensure that there is a way by which a general indirect tax increment will apply to a range of goods in order to ensure that meaningful personal income tax cuts can take place. Indeed, at times I suspect that the Treasurer and the shadow Treasurer, the honourable member for Bennelong (Mr Howard), might be in some type of unholy alliance. I think that the Treasurer has a particular sympathy for the economic programs that the shadow Treasurer pursues, and I commend him for the responsible way in which he at least within the Labor Party seems to be prepared to embark on personal tax cuts. But for those of us in the community, particularly in the rural community, any suggestion of capital taxation is to be regarded with considerable horror.

In this program for the Thirty-fourth Parliament there is a range of matters of very serious concern for the people. As far as the Labor Party in government is concerned, factions have taken over. The economic bounty that it received from the breaking of the drought is now behind us. For those in the rural part of Australia, whether in agriculture or in the mining sector, the present economic difficulties are really quite extraordinarily extensive. We know that costs are rising, many induced by this Government's programs. We know that market access is not being pursued anywhere near as vigorously as it should be. It is in that climate that I suggest to the people of Australia that there is a time, and the time is now, for them to realise that the Labor Party, be it at Federal or State level, is not the Party which is capable of exercising proper policies in government.

I have not mentioned the crime difficulties. I have not mentioned the problems in the wider community concerning education, the family and drugs, but I say that the time has come for the people of Australia to recognise the disastrous program that the Governor-General's Speech represents. I therefore move:

That the following words be added to the Address:

'but the House is of the opinion that the Government's program outlined in the Speech fails to address critical problems facing Australia in that-

(1) it fails to reassure the Australian people that the country's defence arrangements within the Western Alliance will be preserved and strengthened following-

(a) the Prime Minister's capitulation to internal party pressures on the issue of Australia providing logistical assistance to the US for its testing of the MX missile, and

(b) increasing uncertainty as to the future of the ANZUS Treaty fuelled by members of the Labor Government, including a Cabinet Minister;

(2) it contains no coherent economic strategy at a time when recovery is threatened by-

(a) record government taxation and spending;

(b) continuing pressure within the Government for new taxes on assets;

(c) growing demands for higher wages and other extra cost burdens on industry;

(d) the level of public debt repayments, and

(e) loss of value of the currency reflecting world concern about Australia's competitiveness and government instability, and

(3) it endorses a rigid, centralised wage determining structure which imposes the same cost burdens on commerce and industry regardless of ability to pay'.

Passage of that amendment would ensure a proper recognition by the Government of Australia of the very real difficulties that the people of Australia face under Labor today.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar) —Is the amendment seconded?

Mr Ewen Cameron —I second the amendment, Mr Deputy Speaker.